The Other Last Supper

Scrovegni chapel frescoes

Ceiling frescoes in Scrovegni Chapel also known as the Arena Chapel – Padua

One of the most important fresco cycles in Italy is by the Italian Renaissance master Giotto located in a chapel on the estate grounds of a money lenders son who in atonement for his father’s sins sought redemption through art. Reginaldo Scrovegni was a wealthy moneylender from the city of Padua. His reputation was such that he was portrayed in the Seventh Circle of Hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy. It’s no wonder that Enrico Scrovegni, Reginaldo’s son, felt compelled to build a private chapel next to the family palazzo in penitence for his father’s sins. He must have been frightened out of his mind after reading Dante’s description of his impending doom and hoped not only to atone for the sins of his father but his own as it was suggested that Enrico was also involved in usurious practices. So Enrico commissioned Giotto to design a chapel with a series of frescoes on the site of a Roman arena that was on the grounds of his family estate.

Giotto last Supper

Giotto’s Last Supper

The vaulted chapel is a work of breathless beauty with a ceiling that resembles a starry blue sky.The walls of the chapel contain 37 panels in 3 tiers with scenes of the life of Christ and his mother Mary including a pre da Vinci painting of the Last Supper that in someways is as intriquing as Leonardo’s masterpiece in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. In Giotto’s versione the apostles are arranged around the table, some with their backs towards us, in a more realistic scene of a Passover meal. It’s interesting to note that the Last Supper had been portrayed many times prior to da Vinci’s Il Cenacolo including a 13th-century image with Mary Magdalene embracing the feet of Christ beneath the table while the beardless apostle John reclines his head on his Lord’s chest.

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