Spotlight: Arena Chapel Paintings (1305 AD) – one of the most important masterpieces of Western Art

Arena Chapel

The Arena Chapel (Scrovegni Chapel) – a church in Padua, Veneto,Italy – contains a fresco cycle by Giotto, completed about 1305, that is one of the most important masterpieces of Western art.

Giotto’s fresco cycle focuses on the life of the Virgin Mary and celebrates her role in human salvation. A motet by Marchetto da Padova appears to have been composed for the dedication on 25 March 1305.

Before the chapel was built, this area was an open-air procession and sacred representation of the Annunciation to the Virgin for a generation.

Giotto’s Last Judgment covers the entire wall above the chapel’s entrance.  Opposite it, on the chancel arch above the altar, is an unusual scene of God in Heaven dispatching an angel to Earth.  Facing the altar, the narrative sequence begins at the top of the right hand wall with scenes from the life of the Virgin, including the annunciation to her mother, St. Anne, and the presentation at the temple. The series continues through the Nativity, the Passion of Jesus, the Resurrection, and the Pentecost. The panels are noted for their emotional intensity, sculptural figures, and naturalistic space. Beneath the main scenes at dado level, Giotto used a faux architectural scheme of painted marble decorations and small recesses containing figures of the Virtues and Vices painted in grisaille (monotone).

One of the most gripping paintings in the chapel is Giotto’s portrayal of The Kiss of Judas, the moment of betrayal that represents the first step on Jesus’ road to the Crucifixion.

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