Tuesday, January 14th, 2014
Students wait to enter the University of Padua
Scrovegni Chapel, Ovetari Chapel, University of Padua
Arrivederci Venice! Bongiorno, Padua!
Travel time for 17 Americans and our tour guide came all to quickly as we had to bid Venice goodbye. At 9:00 am, we set out on our journey to Padua. Two boat rides and a 30-minute bus ride later, we arrived in this ancient, gorgeous city.
Ovetari Chapel, Chiesa degli Eremitani, Padua
We made our way to our first destination of the day: the Ovetari Chapel in the Church of the Hermits (Chiesa degli Eremitani). There, we saw the remains of frescoes by the great Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna. The paintings depicted scenes from the lives of Saint Christopher and Saint James. During World War II, an Allied bomb was accidentally dropped on the Chapel; the frescoes were almost entirely destroyed. Fortunately, they had been photographed before the accident. Restorers projected images of the photographs onto the walls and then used them as guides to return as much of the original paintings to the walls as possible. What we saw in the Chapel, then, were colored fragments of the painting superimposed on black-and-white photographs. From this extraordinary effort, we could imagine the appearance of the original works of art. And we could see how Mantegna, who worked from around 1448-57, created amazing examples of illusionism. The visit also made us all even more aware of the high price that art often pays during wartime.
Scrovegni Chapel, Padua
Next to the Church of the Hermits is the Scrovegni Chapel. Before you enter, you must sit in a kind of decompression chamber for 20 minutes that removes excess dust and humidity from the viewers. The process is vital to maintaining the frescoes, which the Late Gothic artist Giotto di Bondone painted in the early 1300s. As we stepped inside the Chapel, we all stopped and stared. Around us were gorgeous depictions of the life of Jesus and Mary. All of the frescoes–paintings done originally on wet plaster–remained intact and look almost freshly painted. As we walked slowly along the nave of the Chapel, looking intently at each of the paintings, it was hard not to be overcome with emotion by their sheer beauty. Giotto was one of the most important and famous artists of his time; his work influenced generations of later artists.His lifelike scenes and representation of human emotions set the tone for the future of Renaissance art in Italy.
University of Padua
After a quick lunch, we toured the University of Padua. Founded in 1222, it is the second oldest university in Italy (the oldest is in Bologna) and remains very much in use to this day. Highlights of our tour included the Great Hall (Aula Magna) in the Palazzo Bo, where Copernicus and Galileo taught astronomy to their students, and the Anatomy Arena (built in 1594), an ovoid room on six levels where students stood along a concentric banister. The body would be raised on a table so that students could observe the dissections below. Andreas Vesalius, who founded the modern study of human anatomy, worked here. We also learned that the University of Padua awarded the first doctorate to a woman–to Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, in Philosophy in 1678.
On to Mantova (Mantua) & Sabbioneta
The last leg of the journey was a two-hour bus ride to Mantova, where we had our class discussion. We talked about Aristotle’s Ethics in relation to Giotto’s frescoes and how Copernicus’ discoveries in science related to the work done in anatomy in Padua.
Tomorrow, we’re off to the beautiful Renaissance city of Sabbioneta, just outside of Mantova, and the magnificent Byzantine city of Ravenna. With only two days left in Italy, the trip is coming to a close..but there is still so much to see in this majestic country.