To What Extent Was Giotto Constrained by the Patronage of Enrico Scrovegni When He Painted the Arena Chapel?

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To what extent was Giotto constrained by the patronage of Enrico Scrovegni when he painted the Arena Chapel?

Within this I will discusswhether the painter behind The Arena Chapel, Padua (The Scrovegni Chapel) frescoes was limited by its Patron. Enrico Scrovegni whom built the chapel c.1305. The painter commissioned was Giotto di Bondone. Although Giotto gained inspiration from Scrovegni, on what to depict. It would be inaccurate to say that Giotto was completely constrained by this. Due the many other artist aspects of the paintings, that Scrovegni would have had no input.

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Enrico Scrovegni was a wealthy Paduan money-leader. The wealth had been cultivated by his father Reginaldo. This allowed Scrovegni the funds to purchase land, where he would build the family Palace. Next to this he then built the Arena Chapel, within what used to be the roman arena. It has also been proposed that Scrovegni built this chapel as a means of compensating for his father’s sins of usury. An attempt to rid his family name of this sin and ask for forgiveness.  Due to this he would then go on to dedicate the chapel to the Virgin Charity. This could be due to the Virgin being the intercessor. Scrovegni would have wanted to earn her mercy.

Within the interior of the chapel, Giotto uses a form of narrative. In order to tell the stories of Christ and The Virgin Mary. Through the 38 paintings that stretch along all the walls and arch ways (c.1315). Certain scenes appear to have personal connections to the patron. This demonstrates, the power and influence Scrovegni had over the design of the interior.  This could be because the chapel was built for personal, family prayer and worship. And then later as a place to bury Scrovegni’s body. Initially it was built as a plea for clemency for his fathers’ sins. Therefore, it would be appropriate if Scrovegni commissioned for particular, biblical scenes.

Giotto’s art within the Chapel would be defined as naturalism. This is because Giotto wanted to break away from the Byzantine traditional style of two-dimensionality. Instead wanted to portray reality. This can be viewed in the use of drapery on figures. Allowing them to appear more three-dimensional. The light and painted folds of the fabric give the idea of the shape of a body beneath it.  For example, The Virgin of The Annunciation. This portrays the Virgin Mary kneeling as she is given the news of Christ by Angel Gabriel. This can be seen through the folds in the fabric. Where it creates the illusion of where her knees would be. Making the figure appear more naturalistic.  Giving the impression that the fabric is being stretched as she kneels. Additionally, it could be noted that this may have been inspired by the drapery of French gothic sculptures, that Giotto would have seen in the thirteenth century[1].

Within this painting the Virgin is also framed by a building.  Here Giotto paints the building protruding from the scene. Allowing it to appear more scientifically accurate. Creating more depth, to make it seem as if we are looking in on the scene happening in front of us. Furthermore, the chambers that Giotto painted the Virgin and Gabriel situated in, can be seen to rupture the plane, projecting it into the nave. Radke would believe that this is ingenious as the moment in which Christ enters the body of the Virgin, Giotto also breaks the illusionistic veil of his wall- helping his paintings seem an integral part of the chapel [2]. This helps represent Giotto’s style and personal influence. Opposing the suggestion that he was limited by his patron. Nevertheless, the scene could be argued to have been assigned by Scrovegni. Because the Virgins Annunciation is a dedicated subject of the chapel, meaning Giotto would have had to be aware of this. Giving us the knowledge that Scrovegni was involved. This is because the architectural setting of the scenes of the annunciation, resemble the stage setting that would have been used in the annual annunciation ceremony [3]. That would take place within the chapel each year.

Within the lower register of the same arch way there is another scene that may argue Scrovegni’s impact. The Pact of Judas. This is the moment when Judas is being paid after his betrayal of Christ. The scene stands out due to it being out of chronological order. This was purposely done, in order to acknowledge the sinfulness of usury that allowed the Scrovegni family to gain their wealth. This is due to it strongly correlating with the story, as Judas earned the thirty pieces of silver by betraying Christ. It is also no coincidence that the scene before this was: The Expulsion of the Merchants from the Temple. This also relates with the sin of usury as the merchants were seen as being guilty of greed. Similar to how the Scrovegni’s family name would have been perceived within Padua at the time.

Yet, even still Giotto’s early renaissance style is reflected within The Pact of Judas. For instance, it was common to crop figures at the side of a composition, to help suggest convincing three-dimensionality[4]. Established through Giotto, cropping Satan. This is also a striking choice made by Giotto as it strips Satan of his status. This stylisation from Giotto, continues throughout the Chapel. It is once again used in The Adoration of Magi.  While within this scene he is more conscience on whom he crops. Ensuring that it is not an important figure within the scene i.e. an angel – ultimately deciding to crop the midwife.  This allows us the knowledge that Giotto created the narrative, style and formation of the scenes painted.

The next scene to explore would be The Lamentation. This is when the body of Christ was removed from the cross. It depicts the Virgin Mary mourning over her sons’ body. Giotto paints with the emotion of those surrounding Christ in mind. He shows the tragedy of the scene, expressing it in their gestures and facial expressions; making it appear more painful and human. This scene also had a sense of individuality, through Giotto personalising each figures expression. For example, the angels appear to be heartbroken mourning Christ, while other figures are tearing at their hair, stricken with grief. This helps to once again demonstrate Giotto’s style of naturalness and realism, through their expressions. Giotto’s effect is also demonstrated through some figures having their backs to us, enabling the viewer to place themselves into the scene.

Proceeding to the entrance wall where The Last Judgement resides. This large depiction of the Last Judgement is dominated by Christ at the centre, as supreme Judge within a rainbow coloured mandora. It then has the twelve apostles sitting at either side of him. The scene itself is spilt with the heavens above and then the hell below. Depicts the angels leading the faithful to heavens. In contrasted has the demonic figures dragging the sinful to hell. Giotto may have also taken inspiration from the Florentine Baptistery Mosaic depiction of the Last Judgement (c.1200). This could be the case due to him being Florentine. Also, Christ is painted in an identical pose. With his right foot sat on the mandora and hands gestured the same with the thumbs directing up and down. Indicting where each soul was going. This means that Giotto’s style would have had to be influenced by Florentine art, something Scrovegni may have had little knowledge on.  Giotto’s style also emphasises on emotion and narrative drama. This can be viewed especially in this scene. Due to Christ being a real character in the drama, who acts and dominates every scene[5]. Emotion can be identified in Christs expression as he appears to look much sterner than in the mosaic depiction. This is further shown in the expressions and faces of those suffering in hell.

The fresco in addition appears to be the most important within the chapel in accordance to Scrovegni. This is because the painting has some reminisce of the description Dante gave within “Inferno”. This book is about the description of hell, were the Scrovegni’s families coat of arms is personally quoted: “And one, who bore a fat and azure swine, Pictur’d on his white scrip” [6]. This is in reference to his father’s sin of usury. Due to the personal connections, it would be rational to believe that Scrovegni asked for this to be the main fresco. Being a way for him to admit and stand accountable for his father’s sins. Also, within the lower area of the fresco there is prominent emphasis on the punishment of usury. This once again allows us to believe that Giotto was instructed to include this. There are more descriptions from Dante’s writing that can be viewed in the Arena Chapel. Such as Envy. Whom is depicted as an old hag, standing in burning flames, holding a bag of money. This could be a direct reference to Renginalo Scrovegni. Reinforcing the connection with Scrovegni’s father and his sinfulness.  It is clear Scrovegni wanted to display the sin and its consequences in hell. This can be evident with the act of Judas hanging himself in hell. For instance, it  once again can be viewed as an analogy referring to the usurer Renginaldo Scrovegni[7].  Similarly, the sin of usury is also further depicted alike to this in the setting of hell. As it shows those whom committed the sin, hung by their purse strings, or identified with money bags. 
In a Lower register of The Last Judgement, Scrovegni is also represented. He can be seen kneeling offering a model of the Arena Chapel to the Virgin. This would be a physical representation of Scrovegni giving the chapel to the Virgin, in dedication. This is something Scrovegni has obviously commissioned to include. This is because it reads as a request for forgiveness. This is due to Scrovegni’s belief that the chapel could be his way into heaven. This can be further seen as his intention due to the Virgin Mary’s offering her hand forward to Scrovegni. Seen as her gesturing her forgiveness to him. Behind the Virgin there is also the scales of Justice. That appear to be are balanced. It could be an unofficial confirmation that Scrovegni truly believed this to be his anointment for his father’s previous sins.

In conclusion, I do not believe that Giotto was constrained by Scrovegni. Although it is clear Giotto may not have had any direct say on what the frescos would depict; since many appear to have personal meaning to Scrovegni. It, however, can also be said that Scrovegni would have not had any influence on the style of the paintings themselves. Therefore, this gives us the indication that the paintings within the Arena chapel, appeared to be more of a collaboration. Seeing that they were not confined by one man’s ideas.

Bibliography:

  • Ailghieri, D (2018) Inferno, The Comedy Divine, Publisher s19595, pp.131 (e-book)
  • Gundi, C (1959) Giotto, William Heinemann Ltd. London.
  • Ladis, A (1998) Giotto as a Historical and Literary Figure, Garland Publishing, Inc.
  • Rough, R. (1980) Enrico Scrovegni, the Cavalieri Gaudenti, and the Arena Chapel in Padua. The Art Bulletin, 62(1), pp.24-35. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3049960 (Accessed: 08-10-2019)
  • Sandona, D (2004) The Cambridge Companion to Giotto, Cambridge University Press.
  • Semenzato, C (1988) Giotto e I Giotteschi a Padova: Itinerario, Itinerary, Itinerarium, De Luca.
  • Stubblebine, J.H. (1969) Giotto: The Arena Chapel Frescoes, Thames and Hudson. London.

Word Count: 1,939


[1] Stubblebine, J.H (1969, pp.91)

[2] Sandona, D (2004, pp. 92)

[3] Stubblebine, J.H (1969, pp.80)

[4] Ladis, A (1998, pp.347)

[5] Gundi, C (1959, pp.158)

[6] Ailghieri, D (2018, pp131)

[7] Rough, R (1980, pp. 27)

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