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  • La Rivoluzione Giottesca raccontata attraverso un secolo di Storia

Criterion i

From Giotto’s work in the Scrovegni Chapel to that of the artists who followed him in the city, the fresco cycles in the ‘Padova Urbs picta’ nomination are an example of extraordinary creative genius. In Giotto’s case, that genius resulted in: the rejuvenation of the tradition of fresco painting; a new depiction of pictorial space (in particular, the exploration of the relationship between the space in a painting and the actual space of its architectural setting); a new attention to the portrayal of human feelings and emotions; the adaptation of sacred art to serve the secular celebration of prestige and power.
While in Padua over the years 1303-1305, Giotto would paint his absolute masterpiece: the frescoes of the Scrovegni Chapel, which is now also the best- known and best-preserved of all his fresco cycles. After having completed the fresco cycle in the Franciscan Basilica at Assisi, the artist had worked for Pope Boniface XIII in Rome and ultimately moved to Padua, where he developed new ideas that would rejuvenate the tradition of fresco painting. The fourteenth century, in fact, would see the emergence of the use of perspective in the modelling of pictorial space. At times, the command of perspective might be rule-of-thumb but this was still a total innovation, and its potential in the representation and organization of pictorial space was first exploited by Giotto, in Padua. Perhaps in part thanks to contacts with figures at Padua University, the artist was able to develop his ideas on the pictorial depiction of three- dimensional space, and his handling of both interior and external scenes began to demonstrate a new skill in overcoming the two-dimensional plane of the painted surface: with an unprecedented degree of realism, figures were now painted within spaces that projected in depth. Thus Padua in the first years of the fourteenth century was witness to a new way of perceiving and depicting space, in part thanks to the recovery and re-application of notions that had been known to classical antiquity. Throughout the fourteenth century, artists within the city – such as Giusto de’ Menabuoi and Altichiero da Zevio – would develop the use of perspective to create the illusion of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface.
Another innovative feature in Giotto’s Scrovegni frescoes had been his attention to the depiction of human feelings and emotions. Never before had an artist shown such refinement in making each figure an individual, portrayed not solely as a physical body of defined volume and anatomy but also as a fully-fledged person whose reactions and feelings were captured with great psychological insight. Giotto was the first to attempt to people his scenes of biblical narrative with fully-rounded human beings, and this was another aspect of his art that would be developed upon in later fresco cycles within the city, in particular those by Jacopo Avanzi, Altichiero da Zevio and Jacopo da Verona.
Giotto’s work in Padua also marked the beginning of pictures which aimed to depict religious subjects within the context of everyday life and contemporary history – a tendency which in literature might be said to have begun with Dante’s Divina Commedia. When depicting scenes from the Bible, both Giotto and those who worked with him or after him would include not only saints and prophets, patriarchs and madonnas, but also recognizable contemporary figures and depictions of the clients who had commissioned the work (perhaps together with members of their family). At first, these depictions were only intended as portraits, but soon these contemporary figures were shown participating in the lives of the saints or biblical events; indeed, characters in the gospel narrative might even be depicted with their features.

Criterion ii

The different fresco cycles and works that make up ‘Padova Urbs picta’ illustrate the extraordinary interchange of ideas which existed between leading figures in the worlds of science, literature and the visual arts. United by shared cultural and human values, these figures would enjoy the patronage of not only Enrico Scrovegni but also of the court of Padua and the families connected to it.

By the beginning of the fourteenth century, the political, social and intellectual climate within Padua was benefitting from a period of peace, stability and steady development, a combination of circumstances, which made the city a model to which various other centres in Italy aspired. From 1318 onwards the city was ruled by the Carraresi family. The cultural climate established by their court has been described as ‘pre-humanist’ – thanks partly to the presence in the city of the poet Francesco Petrarch – and within this setting an early form of courtly International Gothic flourished. Moreover, Padua University, one of the oldest in the world, played its part in furthering exchanges between the scientific and artistic world – especially with regard to developments in the science of optics, an important influence on the exploration of spatial depiction to be seen in the work not only of Giotto but also of Guariento, Giusto de’ Menabuoi and Altichiero da Zevio.

At the same time, there were active cultural circles within monasteries and other religious foundations, as well as those which centred around the court of the city’s ruler. And exchanges of ideas also occurred between clients commissioning works and the artists from other Italian cities that had been called to Padua to collaborate on the various fresco cycles. Those commissioning works in the city made specific requests of their artists, perhaps inspired by scientific and astrological allegories or ideas on sacred history gleaned from contemporary intellectuals and scholars. And those artists showed great skill in giving these ideas visual form. This was, in fact, a period that saw a certain competitiveness between different patrons, who might hold political or religious power in the city or else be members of its most illustrious families. Sometimes these patrons commissioned the same artist – his work being highly appreciated – but what they required was that the work produced should not only reflect the function of the building it was to adorn but also celebrate themselves (such celebration almost always being incorporated within the religious content of the work). Following Giotto’s arrival in the city and the creation of his major work here, the Scrovegni Chapel, the visual arts in Padua flourished, thanks to the presence of artists who took the Tuscan as their model. Drawn here from such cities as Milan, Rimini and Verona, these were men whose interaction with each other and with the works of Giotto would be a feature of painting in Padua throughout the fourteenth century.

The artists who came to Padua from outside were exposed to new cultural ideas and, thanks primarily to Giotto’s great masterpiece, encountered advances that would enrich their knowledge of technique and formal composition. Over closely-linked periods of time, they worked on projects that were located within a single city, hence there were plenty of opportunities for the exchange of technical know-how between those who either collaborated on one particular fresco cycle or succeeded each other as court artists. It was this which would make Padua the centre from which new cultural ideas and artistic practices spread elsewhere.

Criterion iii

The fresco cycles covered by the nomination bear witness to a fundamental moment in the history of art, when, in both technical and formal terms, Giotto rejuvenated the ancient technique of fresco painting. Further developed upon by the other artists who would work in the city, the invaluable body of knowledge contained within his Scrovegni frescoes would inform the different cycles painted in the city throughout the course of the fourteenth century. Another key aspect of these frescoes is that they were an instrument for the assertion of power by Padua’s ruling class, particularly of the Carraresi court and those associated with it. This is a sociological feature of fresco commissions that would continue to be significant right up to the beginning of the twentieth century.

Drawing upon what was known about the fresco techniques of classical antiquity, Giotto would develop a workshop tradition in which artists possessed the technical skills to adapt to the demands of a particular commissioning patron and the nature and location of the support surface upon which the fresco was to be painted. It was the extraordinary technical abilities possessed by the artists who followed him that would be decisive for their success, the Padua fresco cycles not only becoming a model for others but also proving remarkably resistant to the passage of time. In this veritable rebirth of a pictorial technique, Padua therefore supplied a new way of both seeing and depicting the world. After these works, artists could no longer ignore what Giotto and his followers had done in exploring the pictorial rendition of space; what had been achieved in frescoes that can be taken as heralding the advent of Renaissance perspective. The Tuscan’s innovations mark a new era in the history of art, producing an irreversible change in direction.

Over the following centuries, Padua would remain one of the key centres of fresco painting in Europe, thanks to the work of such figures as Andrea Mantegna in the fifteenth century, Titian in the sixteenth, Pietro Liberi in the seventeenth, Sebastiano Ricci in the eighteenth and finally Massimo Campigli and others in the twentieth. Such continuity is clear evidence of how deeply rooted the lessons learnt from Giotto had become in this area, and of how they were developed upon over the centuries. Nor should one overlook the fact that the fresco tradition benefitted from the presence of other artists in the city. Their sketchbooks, models, cartoons and even recipes for the preparation of paints meant that fundamental information circulated between artists; that practical know-how within a workshop was handed down from generation to generation. Clear evidence of this renewed influence of fresco painting can be seen as early as 1398, in the Libro dell’Arte that Cennino Cennini wrote in Padua itself; in this, the very first treatise in history with detailed practical accounts of different artistic techniques, the author explains at length the fresco techniques used by Giotto, whose work is described as marking “the beginning of modern painting”. The author, who like Giotto and Giusto de’ Menabuoi was from Tuscany, was in Padua as court painter to the Carraresi, and made a conscious decision to write his work in the vernacular, in his case a mix of both Tuscan and Veneto. Clearly, he wanted to make sure that information regarding this technique was easily accessible, and that the great fresco tradition which Giotto had started in Padua would survive and flourish over as large an area as possible.

Finally, one should also point out that the iconography developed by the fresco painters of fourteenth-century Padua would frequently be a source of inspiration not only for other painters but also for sculptors and goldsmiths, whose work was another channel through which it became familiar in Europe as a whole.

Statement of Integrity

The diverse yet complementary parts that are the covered by the ‘Padova Urbs picta’ nomination possess all the features required to demonstrate Outstanding Universal Value. As a whole, these works recount the history of an extraordinary artistic revolution, which began with Giotto and would have consequences that can still be seen in the field of mural painting.

The four component parts covered by the candidacy nomination comprise eight buildings or complexes of buildings in the centre of Padua – some publicly, some privately owned; some secular, some religious. All come under national and local legislation regarding listed buildings, which has protected not only the four parts that make up the nomination but also the entire area of the old city centre that forms their buffer zone. This entire centre is homogeneous in character and incorporates the various areas which saw important development during the fourteenth century, the period over which the different fresco cycles were produced.

The works illustrate the development of this medium within the city throughout the fourteenth century, and the buildings which house them are still used in a way that is compatible with their historical and artistic importance; all of those which had a religious function have maintained it to some degree.

All the component parts in the ‘Padova Urbs picta’ nomination illustrate the various aspects of a new image city in the fourteenth century, be they political, religious, artistic, cultural, social or commercial. It was that new image which would then become a model followed by other Italian cities in their pictorial representation of themselves.

Thanks to the activity of the institutional bodies with designated responsibilities in this field (Padua City Council, the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities, the University of Padua), each of the bodies that own the different sites have, with the help of both public and private financing, promoted the research, maintenance and restoration work necessary to maintain the various fresco cycles in a good state of conservation. Such work means that each of the single parts can still be read and understood both individually and in relation to each other.

Statement of Authenticity

The authenticity of the component parts that make up the ‘Padova Urbs picta’ nomination is borne out by an exceptional range of bibliographic source material, ranging from documents that are contemporary with the creation of the works themselves to the studies in which scholars throughout the world continue to publish the fruits of their research.

The various procedures used in ascertaining this authenticity drew upon: the cataloguing of actual works (via the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities, the department responsible for cultural heritage still owned by ecclesiastical bodies and the City of Padua’s MABI service); specific graphic and photographic records; archive documents and bibliographical materials; the body of documentation resulting from metric and photogrammetric surveys carried out by the offices of the Padua City Council responsible for such work. The Padua fresco cycles are still fully legible, and the iconography used within them can be identified as belonging to authentic work of known fourteenth- century artists. Furthermore, their authenticity is supported by technical analysis carried out during different campaigns of restoration to examine the materials in the paints used and the support to which these paints were applied. Various historical documents – some of civic or religious origin, others literary texts or works associated with the University – provide us with information regarding the original use and function of the buildings: public or private religious worship; monastic; civic; the expression of political power. As a whole, these buildings made up the heart of the city, being those of the greatest social, political or religious significance within the city walls. And even nowadays, this is the area of the city that continues to perform a good number of those original functions (see Table II).

It should also be pointed out that the eight buildings or complexes of buildings are still in their original location, and that the fresco cycles are still in the place for which they were painted. The overall context within which they exist – that is, the area containing the buildings which house the different cycles – is still that which was enclosed within the old city walls and now coincides with the centre of the historic city. Furthermore, the individual buildings and complexes have maintained their original names.

Requirements of Protection and Management

All of the buildings and complexes of buildings which house the frescoes included in the nomination come under the strictest protective measures laid down by Italian law (listed buildings), the main expression of which is the law decree 22/01/2004 n. 42, known as the Codice dei Beni Culturali e del Paesaggio (Code for the Cultural Heritage and Landscape) There are further protective measures in the instruments for territorial administration that exist at both a regional, provincial and city level, all guaranteeing the preservation of the characteristics of Outstanding Universal Value possessed by the buildings and their surroundings.

The buffer zone is bound by the perimeter of Padua’s old city centre, an area that comes under special protective measures laid down in Padua City Council’s “Works Ordinance” (Piano degli Interventi; see Chapter 5.d). In this area, the buildings are classified on the basis of their historical interest and cultural importance, with a description of the sort of operations that are permissible, depending upon the category to which they belong. In short, all the buildings housing the fresco cycles in the nomination are subject to the most rigorous forms of protection envisaged by Italian law.

The areas around the buildings themselves, which are of particular importance to their conservation (forming so-called ‘areas to be respected’), come under measures laid down by national legislation. This means that any sort of intervention or operation that would affect not only the buildings but also the circumambient external spaces has to be approved by the appropriate superintendencies, which are responsible for deciding if the proposed work is compatible with the conservation of a structure’s historical, artistic and architectural value. Such departments of superintendence can give or refuse authorization, as well as requiring modifications to a proposal and laying down other requirements.

Furthermore, all the buildings come within the categories of the Works Ordinance subject to the strictest measures of conservation (A and B). This Ordinance envisages that these buildings may only undergo restoration work that has been authorized by the appropriate superintendencies (local agencies of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities). Whether private individuals, public authorities or ecclesiastical bodies, the owners of the buildings are legally required to adopt the measures of protection and conservation laid down by Italian legislation regarding the cultural heritage, and they can only initiate any such work after it has been authorized by the appropriate Superintendency. Furthermore, they must also respect local legislation with regard to work within the old city centre.

All of this demonstrates that the fresco cycles included in the nomination enjoy the highest levels of protection at both a national and a local level, and that there can be no work upon then without all the necessary authorization from the various superintendencies and other local agencies of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities.

In preparing the nomination it became apparent that a new system of overall management would have to be introduced, predicated upon close coordination between the different bodies that own the buildings and complexes of buildings which house the fresco cycles. Thus from independent management by four different bodies – Padua City Council, the Accademia Galileiana di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, the Pontifical Delegation for the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua (together with the ‘Veneranda Arca di Sant’Antonio’) and the Diocese of Padua – one moved to a model of governance in which the City Council presided over a Committee whose members included those bodies as well as representatives of the Regional Government of the Veneto, the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities and the University of Padua (present as scientific consultants).

This new system of administration arose from close discussion between those involved and, as the nomination was being drawn up, saw Padua City Council take on the role of overall coordination. This function was, to be more specific, taken on by the Council’s Cultural Affairs Department, through a specially-created agency within its ‘Culture, Tourism, Museums and Libraries’ section. This agency has guaranteed: adequate scientific supervision (drawing on the specific expertise of the Director and Conservator; see the Plan of Administration for further details), project management, promotional activities and communications (Executive Secretariat). Since 2014, representatives of each of the bodies belonging to the Committee have taken an active part in the coordination meetings held on a monthly basis. And in July 2016 all the institutional partners involved in the nomination signed a ‘Note of Interest’ and then, in April 2018, a Memorandum of Understanding for the Drafting and Implementation of a Management Plan for ‘Padova Urbs picta’.

The Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities participates in the Committee both through the central and local offices concerned with such issues – in particular, the Territorial Superintendency and the Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione e Restauro (Higher Institute for Conservation and Restoration) in Rome, the latter being Italy’s supreme body in the field of preservation and restoration. Alongside the actual administration structure there are also representatives of civic associations who have a consultative role (see the Plan of Administration for further details). Padua City Council has also engaged in discussions with representatives of the manufacturing and business sectors. The shared strategy embodied in the Plan of Administration is predicated upon the 5 C’s (Conservation, Capacity Building, Communication, Communities and Credibility) and will guarantee constant monitoring of the activities outlined in the various Plans of Action. It is envisaged that the Work Group will be maintained in existence and that coordination and the activities of the Executive Secretariat will be reinforced through the formal incorporation of the body within the structures of Padua City Council’s Department of Cultural Affairs, and through the creation of a UNESCO office.

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