Friday, July 09, 2004

July 8, Thursday

Padova

Colleen and I were both exhausted today after two days in Venice following immediately on a weekend of trips to Bologna and Siena. On our way back from Venice we stopped in Padova because we wanted to see the Scrovegni Chapel. We didn't have any idea that we would only be allowed in the chapel for 15 minutes in exchange for 5 Euros. It is somehow insulting, both to the viewer and to Giotto, to be expected to take in those works in that amount of time. Furthermore, I suspected that the frescoes had been overcleaned or touched up with the wrong colors, because the whole thing had some of that too-light, chalky look which I've noticed goes along with a lot of restorations. Nonetheless, we got to see it, which was like a gift from God.

This cycle of frescoes was the most convincing portrayal of the story of Jesus' life that I have ever seen. It was explicated by an almost invisible genius with depth, humility, simplicity, certainty, and clarity. For the first time, I seemed to grasp the simple facts of Jesus' story. Giotto shows emotion with great, quiet depth that doesn't require exaggeration and as a result doesn't interfere with the communication of the relationships and events in the story. Many of the compositions are great genius in themselves, but, again, he doesn't overplay his hand here, not requiring spactacular arrangements for every scene, but using the most innovative and quietly brilliant groupings and use of gesture to express drama, emotion, and in every way conveying the experience of the actual events. It took seeing this in person to realize that Giotto is not only one of the greatest painters, but one of the greatest storytellers that has ever lived. If I were going to make a film of the life of Jesus, I would instruct my lead actor to work from Giotto's Jesus and I would build a story board around the fresco cycle in the Scrovegni Chapel.

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