Book Review: Giotto

This is a book all about beauty. It is also all about a remarkable achievement: the restoration of one of the greatest masterpieces of Western painting.

The Scrovegni Chapel, also more commonly known as the Arena Chapel, in Padua, has been famous since 1305 for the remarkable cycle of frescoes by Giotto.

The history of the building of the chapel provides many insights into the influence of religious beliefs on medieval daily life. It was built by Enrico Scrovegni to expiate his father’s sin of usury – ironically using their wealth at the same time to create a building that clearly demonstrated the family’s worldly status.

This book is an account of the work of the Instituto per il Restauro and their relationship with the Commune of Padua to conserve the frescoes. A brilliant account of Giotto’s paintings compares them favourably – and, I think, rightly so – with the more famous Assisi frescoes. It admires the greater monumentality of the Padua figures against subservient landscape and architecture.

Who can forget the ‘Kiss of Judas’ in the Paduacycle, potent with emotion and filled with a sense of betrayal and forgiveness?

From wide-angle photographic reconstructions of the whole chapel to intense details, this book devotes more than 400 of its 450 pages to superb colour photographs of the frescoes. They illuminate theological truth through the humanity of every stroke of Giotto’s brush.

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