Seeking Redemption

The Scrovegni Chapel was built as a son’s attempt to atone for his father’s “white-collar crimes.” Reginaldo Scrovegni charged outrageous interest to those in his debt, so the church would not allow him the rite of Christian burial. In the hope of saving him from eternal damnation, his son, Enrico, commissioned Giotto to decorate the chapel.

I’ve waited to see the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua for many years, and our evening visit did not disappoint. The chapel is located where a Roman arena once stood, as did the Scrovegni’s palazzo, which was torn down in the 1820s.

I love the way Giotto uses color, even using lapis lazuli pigment in the blue sky. Even though perspective in painting had not yet been formalized, Giotto was pioneering the practice. He also uses light in ways that seem to bring his frescoes to life in ways that no earlier painter had. Giotto (and his assistants) painted the chapel in two years, from 1303 to 1305. Rather than say he presaged he Renaissance, I think it is fairer to Giotto to appreciate his art for itself. Clearly, Renaissance painters were standing on the shoulders of giants.

I’m not going to do much analysis of these pictures, other than to say we know what they meant: they were an attempt to buy salvation for someone who apparently did not “forgive his debtors as he wished to have his debts forgiven.” The narrative they tell mirrors the historic creeds: born of virgin, suffered, was crucified and rose again. Not much on what happened between his baptism and the last week. Hmmm…

The other thing I have not included is the uppermost register, which is a retelling of the extracanonical story of Mary, her parents, marriage, etc. The lowest register shows virtues on one side along with their corollary vices on the opposite wall. I also have not zhuzhed up the color like some books have done (or even like the iPhone’s algorithm). I have brightened a few since I shot these at night. Enjoy!

Why does old Joseph look more tired than Mary?
Note the cute donkey…you’ll see him later, too!
Jesus is still naked, and they haven’t gone to “splash and dash” baptism in imagery…still immersion.
Cute donkey again!
Table already overturned.
Washing feet on Thursday.
The beloved disciple “listening to the heartbeat of God.”
Never the last word.
Real, human grief.
…and the men standing back watching.
Noli me tangere.