An Unlikely Nativity

One of the most important masterpieces of Western art was painted as a fresco by the Italian Renaissance master Giotto in a chapel on the estate grounds of a money lenders son who in atonement for his father’s sins commissioned the fresco cycle. Reginaldo Scrovegni was a wealthy moneylender fromthe city of Padua. He was portrayed in the Seventh Circle of Hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy, where usurers are to be found  swatting away fire, like animals swat bugs with purses around their necks emblazoned with their family coat of arm, their punishment served.

An unlikely setting for one of the world’s most touching and poignant scenes of the Nativity. The vaulted chapel is a work of breathless beauty with a ceiling that resembles a starry blue sky. There are generational scenes that unfold like a family album of the life of Christ and his mother Mary with her parents Joachim and Anna and a particularly sweet scene of the nativity of Jesus and the adoration of the Magi that you might expect on the cover of  a Christmas card.  The walls of the chapel contain 37 panels in 3 tiers with scenes of the Annunciation, Allegories of the Vices and Virtues and  a compelling scene of the Final Judgment.  Rather than a fire and brimstone rendition, the final judgment scene is a gentler reminder of the consequences of sin. One that might be part of a   children’s catechism in which their elders stand in judgement with Christ while the saints and angels gather in support of their good deeds and mitigate the bad.