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Giotto's Triumph: The Arena Chapel and the Metaphysics of Ancient Roman Triumphal Arches

journal contribution
posted on 2022-11-03, 00:00 authored by Henrike Christiane Lange
Positioned on the site of the ancient Roman arena in Padua, Enrico Scrovegni’s family chapel, Santa Maria della Carità, has long been known as the Cappella dell’Arena, or Arena Chapel (figs. 1–5). The interior of the oratory was painted by Giotto in the years after the Roman Jubilee of 1300, following his employment in Rome as court painter for Pope Boniface VIII in the 1290s. Wall to wall, floor to ceiling, the chapel is covered in frescoes that create the illusion of an articulated architectural structure. At the dado level, fictive marble paneling surrounds stony faux relief figures: seven Virtues oppose seven Vices on the two walls of the nave, forming a visual psychomachia. Above these allegorical figures appear scenes from the lives of Mary and Jesus set against a blue ground. Overlooking the fictive architrave, the blue barrel vault carries a pattern of golden stars and medallions with two focal apparitions of Mary and Jesus Christ. Celebrated for centuries, the chapel’s walls have been said to exemplify “the utter finality and absolute density of [Giotto’s] images.” The chapel is “an important contribution to the representation and perception of reality”; the blue of its interior is “Giotto’s joy.”


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