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Giotto's frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel

Every painting is a voyage into a sacred harbour.
~Giotto di Bondone


My visit to the Scrovegni Chapel was a highlight of my recent trip but truly, it was more than that…it was one of the all-time great art experiences I’ve ever had. The chapel and the Giotto frescoes just blew me away.

Giotto lived from 1266-1337 and painted these frescoes in 1303-5. Before Giotto, most devotional art was pretty static - icons of the Madonna or the saints that were more like portraits than narratives. Giotto was the first great artist to paint the stories.

Sometimes I think that the so-called “Greatest Story Ever Told” has been told (and painted) for so long and in so many ways, it’s become too familiar and often feels very worn out. At times I find myself in churches looking at paintings and feeling like, “Ho hum, another nativity, another crucifixion.” The thing that really blew me away about Giotto is that he made the story completely fresh for me which, considering that his frescoes are 700 years old, is so amazing and truly genius.

In the chapel, there are three bands of images. The top row shows scenes from the life of the Virgin and the bottom two rows are scenes from the life of Christ. The chancel shows the Annunciation, and the Last Judgment is on the opposite west wall. You can see these frescoes very well because the chapel is so small, and there’s all this cool and colorful architectural detail painted in between the scenes with some impressive illusionistic work and painted marble. Around the bottom, there are these funky little images of the Virtues and Vices painted in monochrome, and the vault is frescoed in sky blue with stars.

There’s something very special about seeing an entire chapel painted with one man’s vision. Really, my emotions at the Scrovegni were very similar to the ones I had in the Sistine Chapel – just sheer awe and amazement at the genius that created such beauty. But in some ways, I enjoyed the Scrovegni Chapel more because it’s smaller and more intimate. Michelangelo is all about grandeur and magnificence and drama (and I love his work), but Giotto's art has this innocence and sweetness that's very wonderful and moving. I left this Chapel completely blissed out.

There are a bunch of places on the web where you can see the entire fresco cycle; I picked out a few images and some quotes that I like.

“When I see the Giotto frescoes at Padua, I do not trouble myself to recognize which scene of the life of Christ I have before me, but I immediately understand the sentiment which emerges from it, for it is in the lines, the composition, the color.”
~Henri Matisse

The Nativity


"He painted the Madonna and St. Joseph and the Christ, yes, by all means ... but essentially Mamma, Papa and Baby.”
~John Ruskin


The Adoration of the Magi (I loved all the animals in these frescoes but especially these camels!).


Wedding at Cana


"Everyone who saw 'The Lamentation of Christ' on the chapel walls would have known the story well - that Jesus died on the cross and that a profound sorrow ensued. Giotto took that intellectual conviction and made it throb in the nerves."
~Sister Wendy Beckett


"Giotto threw aside all the glitter, and all the conventionalism, and declared that he saw the sky blue, the tablecloth white, and angels, when he dreamed of them, rosy, and he simply founded the schools of colour in Italy -- Venetian and all. And what is more, nobody discovered much about colour after him."
~John Ruskin



Architectural details and images of saints in between each scene:


From the Virtues and Vices panels, this is Hope (Spes):


The photo at the very top of this post is the view facing the chancel while the one below is the opposite wall, where Giotto's "Last Judgment" is.


"Giotto brought to life the mysteries of faith, and art was never the same again."
~Sister Wendy

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Comments (15)


Annie, what a beautiful post. I'm gobsmacked even by these reproductions -- imagine when I see the real art!!!

Part of what amazes me with Giotto are his colours, the lapis lazuli is stunning. (I love the Ruskin quote.)

The movements by the dive-bombing angels is wonderful. (I think I have to watch Sister Wendy again, I can't recall her discussion of the Scrovegni.)

Even the animals are so sweetly rendered, yet they're never cartoonish.

When I get to Padua, I may have to try for an afternoon slot and an evening double turn!

Thanks Sandra, I can't wait to hear what you think after you've been there. I love the colors too and the emotional angels. And while I enjoy looking at reproductions of individual panels, there's no way to reproduce or even explain the experience of seeing the place as a whole, it's just so perfectly unified inside. I can't wait to see it again.

Annie this chapel is gorgeous. I can see why your visit was such a highlight.

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, thank you for this wonderful post. I really love the colors. And there is a kind of tenderness to his style. I really like how you broke down each section with the quotes. It must be so amazing to see this in person.

Thank you so much for writing about these beautiful frescos. Have a great day tomorrow!

"Michelangelo is all about grandeur and magnificence and drama (and I love his work), but Giotto's art has this innocence and sweetness that's very wonderful and moving. I left this Chapel completely blissed out."

Wonderful photos and wonderfully written. Captured the moment for us all. Thanks, M

Andrew :

Hi Annie When you say order tickets online 24 hours in advance, do you mean at least 24 hours. Could we order them the week before we go to Italy and print them out at home? You've inspired us to make the trip to Padua when we go to Venice in Sept.Normally we never leave the city as we love being there so much.

Thanks everyone.

Hi Andrew, Yes, it's "at least" 24 hours in advance so you could do it from home. I'm so glad you're going to go! I know how hard it is to get motivated to leave Venice (I'd been meaning to go to Padua for several years and then would get to Venice and not want to leave). I'm so glad I finally went!


I really didn't know anything about Giotto before I read your post, but now I want to know MORE!

Thank you for a wonderful blog post!

These photos are incredible. Are you allowed to take photos or are they from the web? I am seriously thinking about making a visit to see the Scrovegni Chapel on my next visit to Italy. I even checked out the reservation website and checked the train schedule from my friends house in Coccaglio. I am even more bummed that it was closed for restoration the last time I was in Padova.

Nancy, thank you!

Girasoli, no you can't take photos inside and you have to check all your bags before you go in. These reproductions are scans. Glad you are thinking about going (you will love it!).

What a great post! I am glad it was one of your best art experiences ever! It really is amazing and I kind of wonder if I appreciated it sufficiently when I was 18... Maybe it is time to go again. The colors are so gorgeous and the blue of the ceiling is fantastic!

Monsour louie Sangalang:

i do really love giotto than his master.. cimabue... love it..?!!! ADORABLE WORK.. MAGNIFICO


Hi Monsour Louie,

Thank you for your comment! Annie


very nice!!

Visitors should look into the PadovaCard at these sites. Good for 48 hours or 72 hours (21€) they cover one adult + a child under 14, and include entry to the Scrovegni(13€) plus several other must-see sites and free use of the city bus system; and discounts at other sites.


Bill, thanks. That is helpful info!

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 11, 2009 2:17 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Scrovegni Chapel (my ticket).

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