The Giotto Circle in the Chapel of Scrovegni in Padua is in every sense a quiet miracle. It was commissioned by the rich moneylender of Enrico Scrovegni and painted by Giotto in 1303 – 05. Originally it was part of the Scrovegni family palace. This was later torn down and only the chapel remained, but left in a derelict position. Around 1800 an exterior porch collapsed and the chapel was filled with dust. Later during WW 2 it miraculously survived the heavy bombing which reduced the nearby Mantegna Chapel of Ovetari to literally dust. In the 1970’ies conservationists discovered extensive destruction by pollution and in the last ten years the chapel has been threatened by overzealous restoration projects and flooding due to underground aquifers.
Now, only 200 metres from the chapel a plan is unfolding to build an auditorium, a parking lot and a multi-story building with – rumour has it – 104 floors. This has caused a huge outcry among conservationist, who worry that the rumblings from the building site will damage the fragile frescoes beyond repair. Is this really necessary, people ask? Might it not be a better idea to cordon off cars and busses in order to limit the pollution in the area? Already tickets are severely limited and visitors are obliged to by tickets on the internet 24 hours in advance and pick them up an hour before at the counter, plus they have to spend 15 minutes in a “dehumidifier” to look at these precious pictures. Why not restrict builders and entrepreneurs in the same way?
That the worry is not insignificant, the archive at Köln is a vivid reminder of. In 2009 it collapsed due to metro-tunneling. As a result precious documents dating back from 922 were forever lost due to the negligence and greed of the builders. Elsewhere this warning has gone unheeded. As of today the tunnelling for a metro in Copenhagen is threatening the beautiful church of Marmorkirken next to the Royal Palace.
The Scrovegni Chapel, dedicated to St. Mary of the Charity, is one of the foremost masterpieces of Western art. The frescoes, which narrate events in the lives of the Virgin Mary and Christ, cover the entire walls. On the wall opposite the altar is the grandiose Universal Judgement, which concludes the story of human salvation and where on might see the handing over of the chapel by the penitent money-lender, Enrico Scrovegni.
The – so far – ultimate book about the history of the chapel and its founder is:
Chiara Frugoni: L’affare migliore di Enrico. Giotto e la cappella Scrovegni. Einaudi 2008