Church of the Santi Filippo e Giacomo agli Eremitani



Commonly known simply as the Church of the Eremitani, Santi Filippo e Giacomo agli Eremitani was one of the most richly decorated in fourteenth- century Padua.

From the 1330s to the 1370s, both Guariento di Arpo and Giusto de’ Menabuoi would work here on cycles that show how these artists developed upon the model set by Giotto.

Guariento in particular reveals his pronounced interest in the depiction of space: the painted architectural features in his frescoes here are rendered with greater precision and complexity, creating a scenography that accurately reflects the Gothic style of architecture which had inspired it. Indeed, the architectural features here are fundamental in articulating the spaces within which the scenes from sacred history are being acted out.

Elsewhere in the Church of the Eremitani, Giusto de’ Menabuoi focused his attention on what could be achieved through the use of colour. It was this aspect of Giotto’s work that interested him most, and here colour becomes an ever more decisive factor in the rendition of both spatial setting and bodily volume.

The church itself, attached to an Augustinian monastery, was a place of public worship, but in both cases these fresco cycles were commissioned for private chapels by aristocratic families linked to the Carraresi court. Furthermore, the Eremitani frescoes have a feature that they share solely with only one other cycle in the nomination: the presence of works commissioned by a woman. Here, these are the Giusto de’ Menabuoi frescoes commissioned by Traversina Cortellieri; in the Baptistery, they are the works painted at the behest of Fina Buzzaccarini (component part 2).

The frescoes cycles by Guariento covered by the nomination are to be found in the Chapel of St. Anthony Abbot (now the Chapel of St. Anthony of Padua) and in the Great Chapel, whilst the Giusto de’ Menabuoi frescoes are those in the Cortellieri Chapel and the Spisser (or Sanguinacci) Chapel.

The earliest is that in the Chapel of St. Anthony Abbot, where – around 1338 – Guariento depicted episodes from the Lives of the Saints in a cycle that still survives in six half-length female figures (on the intrados of the entrance archway) and numerous fragments along the walls. The second cycle came around thirty years later, in the Great Chapel – that is, in effect, the high altar and apse – where one can still see parts of Guariento’s most important frescoes. Complex both in scale and variety of subject-matter, these works show the artist to have achieved rigorous mastery of perspective; the compositional skill demonstrated here enabled him to create a much more convincing illusion of three-dimensional space than that one sees in his earlier frescoes in the chapel of the Carraresi Palace (component part 2).

The extant cycle comprises seven scenes spread across three levels on the north wall, all recounting Episodes from the Life of Saints Philip, James and Augustine; beneath these is a monochrome dado painted with The Planets and The Seven Ages of Man – a feature that was inspired by Giotto’s Vices and Virtues in the Scrovegni Chapel (component part 1). The tondi in the rib-vaulted ceiling depict four Doctors of the Church.

The presence of a crest here, with transversal stripes of yellow and red, has given rise to the idea that this work may have been commissioned by the Curtarolo family, a member of which appears here in the foreground of the Last Judgement with his hands clasped in prayer.