Padua is a beautiful medieval city and an easy day trip from Venice. It also has two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: its Botanic Garden and its medieval frescoes. Why are Padua’s fourteenth-century fresco cycles so important, and where can you see them?
What Are The Padua Fresco Cycles?
The UNESCO site known as Padua’s Fourteenth-Century Fresco Cycles is a collection of eight buildings throughout the city containing spectacular medieval frescoes. Painted by a number of different artists between 1302 and 1397, they are in a mixture of religious and secular buildings, the most important being the Scrovegni Chapel.
The Padua frescoes are magnificent, important artworks in their own right. The UNESCO designation also emphasises their significance in the history of art. Despite their different artists they display “a unity of style and content”; they also illustrate the development of fresco painting during the 14th century.
The Frescoes Of The Scrovegni Chapel
The Scrovegni Chapel is a small church beside a former monastery (now the Eremitani Museum). It was built by Enrico Scrovegni, a wealthy banker, as a private chapel for himself and his family. The exterior is uninspiring but in 1303 Scrovegni commissioned the artist Giotto to paint the interior, and the walls are entirely covered with frescoes.
The paintings cover the life of Jesus, and of his parents and grandparents, as well as medieval themes such as heaven and hell, virtues and vices. These frescoes are said to have revolutionised painting, using modern techniques such as perspective, and they set the standard for later works within the city.
The chapel and the paintings have recently been restored, and visitor numbers are strictly controlled. Visits are timed, and no more than 10 people are allowed into the chapel at one time. Advance booking is essential.
Basilica Of San Antonio
Don’t miss the splendid 13th century Basilica Of San Antonio. This was the burial place of St Anthony, and it remains a place of pilgrimage today, a place to request help in overcoming illness and finding lost possessions.
Walking into the domed Gothic church feels like entering a large art gallery. It is full of side chapels, sculptures and Renaissance artworks. Amongst the artworks are several late 14th century frescoes, many of them in the Chapel of St James, to the right of the nave. (Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside the church so you’ll have to go and see it for yourself…)
Where Else Can You See Padua’s Fourteenth-Century Fresco Cycles?
The other fresco sites in Padua are as follows:
- Padua Baptistery. Another very important fresco cycle is in the Duomo Baptistery. Painted by Giusto de’ Menabuoi around 1375, it has the lives of Jesus and John the Baptist and other religious scenes.
- Chiesa degli Eremitani. Unfortunately, the most important frescoes in this 13th century church, very close to the Scrovegni Chapel, were destroyed during wartime bombing. However some minor works have been preserved.
- Oratorio di San Giorgio. Less well known than the Scrovegni Chapel, the Oratorio di San Giorgio is also a private family chapel decorated with frescoes. The pictures include a large Crucifixion, scenes from the lives of Jesus and the saints, and St George and the dragon.
- Oratorio di San Michele. This is yet another small family chapel. The frescoes include scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, but they have deteriorated over time.
- Palazzo della Ragione. This was Padua’s medieval market hall and court room. The upper floor was originally painted by Giotto but later damaged by fire. The frescoes were re-created in the 15th century and feature astrological themes.
- Loggia dei Carraresi. Only parts of the frescoes in the former Carraresi Palace now remain. These are on biblical themes but, as befits a grand residence, are depicted in a medieval aristocratic style. The building now houses the Accademia Galileiana di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti.
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