Padua has a few draw cards, but none so irresistible as the Giotto frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel. They were painted around 1303 to 1305, and are things of extraordinary beauty. Almost as extraordinary is their sate of preservation. In a country absolutely replete with priceless treasures of art and antiquity, Italy has – so wisely – chosen to spend a lot of time, money and expertise in preserving these Giotto frescoes.
700 years is a long time for a painting on a wall to survive. Not only do the frescoes have to resist humidity, damp, light and heat, the building itself has to remain standing, avoiding earthquakes and the bombs of war. The Scrovegni Chapel was not part of a famous church or public building. It was built as a private chapel for a well-heeled Paduan nobleman, and the adjoining palace has long since gone. But it survives.
Visitors to the frescoes must book in advance, and only 25 people are allowed in at any one time. Those 25 must assemble ahead of the appointed time-slot and wait for 15 minutes (entertained by an informative video) in a climate-controlled glass room, while the air, humidity and temperature in the waiting room are adjusted down to that of the frescoed Chapel. Each time the doors are opened and the groups go in, the Chapel is given a short breathing space to regroup before the next gentle onslaught. In this way, it’s hoped that no more of Giotto’s very ancient and beautiful lapis lazuli blue will fall from his Madonnas’ cloaks. You know something’s very fragile when your very breathing could destroy it.
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