My trip to Padua
The final day trip that I have yet to talk about while I was in Italy was my trip to Padua. All History of Art students were invited to visit Padua to see the interior of Giotto’s amazing Arena Chapel, Donatello’s bronze equestrian Gattamelata sculpture, and the Basilica of St Anthony.
The Arena Chapel is something that all Art Historians will study at some point because it was simply so revolutionary to see such a large and detailed fresco cycle around 1305 and it is considered to be an important masterpiece of Western Art. Before entering, you are presented with a video of the history of the chapel (which should be taken with a pinch of salt) and then all visitors enter a ventilation chamber to ensure that the frescoes avoid becoming contaminated due to their age and delicacy. Time within the chapel is short so you really have to try to take in as much of it as you can and it is astounding to see some of the visual effects that Giotto achieved using such a problematic medium to control and master. Unfortunately, some of the areas of the fresco have not withstood the test of time and climate and have been damaged but the remaining paintings are still vibrant and beautiful but cannot be truly comprehended until you are in the space itself. The Civic Museum is located in the same grounds as the Arena Chapel and houses many gorgeous paintings and sculptures if you want to see a little more.
After this, we all visited the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua, outside of which, is Donatello’s bronze equestrian sculpture called the Gattamelata. Gattamelata, which means “honeyed cat”, was the nickname of Erasmo da Narni, a mercenary who fought for Venice and the person depicted riding the horse. The city of Padua wanted to honour Erasmo after his death, and they did so by placing this equestrian statue of him in front of the main church in the city. While equestrian statues of this type may not seem notable to us nowadays, in the mid-fifteenth century, it was significant at the time for its naturalism and the way it rivalled ancient sculpture such as the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius and there is a fusion of contemporary dress, such as the extremely long spurs, and the armour of Roman imperial rulers. The front foot of the horse stands upon a cannonball as Donatello was unsure as to whether the sculpture’s weight could be supported without this counterbalance and highlighting a flaw within Donatello’s design.
The Basilica has a giant edifice without a precise architectural style. Over the centuries, it has grown under Romanesque, Byzantine and Gothic influences as shown by the interior and exterior details. The domes, like the domes of St. Mark’s Basilica, were raised in height externally, giving a Byzantine appearance to the building, while the multitude of small belfries which accompany the domes recall Turkish minarets. The interior of the church contains the tomb of Erasmo and his son, as well as many other funerary monuments, some of noteworthy artistic value. The Relics of St Anthony (his tongue and jawbone) are to be found in a gold reliquary in the ornate baroque Treasury Chapel. The body of the saint lies in the Chapel of St Anthony, the interior decoration being attributed to Tullio Lombardo, who also provided the sixth and seventh reliefs depicting the miracles of St Anthony.
Right next to the Basilica is the oratory (St George Chapel) which was commissioned by Raimondino de’ Lupi as his family funeral chapel and is decorated with gorgeous frescoes which are the work of Altichiero and are the artist’s principal work. Both the architecture and the system of decoration is strikingly reminiscent of the Arena Chapel, completed about eighty years earlier. Unlike the Arena Chapel, however, the pictorial fields here are of varying sizes, partly because of the positions of the windows, and partly owing to the subject matter of the pictures. A further difference can be found in the lack of uniformity in the pictorial program. Also next to the Basilica is the Scuola del Santo which features some beautiful and well-preserved frescoes by Titian, the cycle decided upon for the building was, unsurprisingly, to be based on the life and miracles of St Anthony.
In conclusion, Padua is a rich destination for Art Historians, it has frescoes, sculpture, architecture and a rich culture, with works that simply cannot be seen or rivalled anywhere else in the world and was a charming place to visit that I would wholeheartedly recommend!
Thanks for reading,