ORATORY OF ST. GEORGE
DESCRIPTION OF THE FRESCOES CYCLE
Entirely covering with the walls of the Oratory, the frescoes here are by Altichiero da Zevio working in collaboration with Jacopo da Verona; the latter would also paint the fresco cycle in the Oratory of St. Michael (component part 4).
The iconography is centred around scenes from The Life of Christ and from the Lives of the patron saints of the Lupi family (saints George, Catherine and Lucy). The narrative material is taken from Jacopo da Varagine’s Golden Legend, and the decorative programme was probably drawn up by Lombardo da Seta, a learned Franciscan monk and secretary to Francesco Petrarch (who is depicted alongside the dukes of Soragna in the scene of The Baptism of King Servius). While continuing to explore the trompe-l’oeil possibilities offered by the relation between actual and painted architectural space, the frescoes here show a new attention to luminous colour. Some scenes, such as The Flight into Egypt, take up and develop upon the models provided by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel (the two versions of this episode share such features as the wooden cabin, the rocky background and the fortress). However, overall there is a narrative movement leftwards from one scene to the other, which emphasizes the temporal sequence. The images in the cycle also highlight the martial and courtly virtues that the Lupi family embodied in their service to the Carraresi lords of Padua – the idea of valour being a key feature of the tomb that once stood in the middle of the Oratory. Within the frescoes themselves, members of the family are shown in full armour, kneeling before the Madonna and each identified by a painted inscription.
Set within broad cornices that link real and pictorial space, the scenes are organised on two levels, while the barrel vault is divided into three bays by painted decorative bands.
For various reasons this cycle may be considered a masterpiece that heralds the exploration of pictorial space that one finds in fifteenth-century art: the artist’s command of his medium, his mastery of perspective and his careful rendering of visual reality. Certain features reveal Altichiero’s clear intention to draw upon the model Giotto had established: the use of an architectural layout; the framing of the frescoes in different bands set one above the other; the starred vault complete with figures painted within tondi. Nevertheless, in the decoration of the Oratory of St. George this model is explored in a way that reflects the new style of International Gothic.