Within the old city centre of Padua – a place rich in history, artistic wealth and religious significance – the eight buildings or complexes of buildings that make up the four component parts of the nomination house frescoes that illustrate how, over the course of a century, Italian painting developed upon the innovative impetus, which originated with Giotto. Painted between 1302 and 1397, these cycles are entirely open to the public and constitute a unified whole distributed over an area of just a few square kilometres.
All these works draw upon the lessons learnt from Giotto, who within the city of Padua would create a unique masterpiece: the frescoes of the Scrovegni Chapel, which mark a fundamental turning-point in the history of art.
While painted by different artists for different types of patron within buildings of varying function, the Padua fresco cycles maintain a unity of style and content, which means that, as a single whole, they are unique. Within the artistic narrative that unfolds in this sequence of frescoes, the different cycles reveal both diversity and mutual coherence; as a result, they form one complex of work that is not only of exceptional beauty but can also be read and interpreted at different levels.
The ‘Padova Urbs picta’ nomination covers fresco cycles that are housed in eight buildings or complexes of buildings: the Scrovegni Chapel, the Church of the Eremitani, the Palazzo della Ragione, the Cathedral Baptistery, the Chapel of the Carraresi Palace, the Basilica and Monastery of St. Anthony of Padua, the Oratory of St. George and the Oratory of St. Michael. Within the application, these are grouped into four component parts as follows: Scrovegni and Eremitani (part 1); Palazzo della Ragione, Carraresi Palace, Baptistery and associated Piazzas (part 2); Complex of Buildings associated with the Basilica of St. Anthony (part 3) and San Michele (part 4). Each one of the four has its own distinct dominant characteristic.
The artists who played a leading role in this achievement were Giotto, Pietro and Giuliano da Rimini, Giusto de’ Menabuoi, Altichiero da Zevio, Jacopo Avanzi and Jacopo da Verona. Working for illustrious local families, the clergy, the city commune or the Carraresi lords of the city, they would – within buildings both public and private, religious and secular – produce fresco cycles that gave birth to a new image of the city.
The aspects that account for the Outstanding Universal Value of these frescoes can be summarized as follows: technique and composition, all are large-scale works with a complex narrative content; date, all were produced during the course of the fourteenth century; authorship, all are the work of artists who are known to us by name; innovation in the depiction of pictorial space, starting from Giotto’s exploration of the possibilities of perspective, they work towards a trompe-l’oeil depiction of space; innovation in the depiction of states of feeling, the works develop upon Giotto’s interest in the realistic portrayal of human feelings; the new role of commissioning patron, the patrons begin to appear in the scenes depicted, and ultimately even take the place of figures participating in the biblical narrative. In effect, the works use a contemporary, secular setting to celebrate the ruling powers and associated noble families.
Giotto’s arrival in the city marked a new relationship between artist and commissioning patron. And as artists passed from one patron to another, from one project to another, there was not only an interchange of ideas but also the creation of a situation that both nurtured closer links and stimulated rivalries. Padua thus saw commissioning patrons take on a new role, requiring artists to produce work that celebrated their power and thus model a new image of the city itself.
The rejuvenation of fresco painting in fourteenth-century Padua was in part due to the fact that the city’s aristocratic and burgher families commissioned the adornment of private chapels that would express their own social prestige. These commissions led to the frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel, the Cathedral Baptistery, the Chapel in the Carraresi Palace, the Oratories of St. George and St. Michael and in various chapels within the Church of the Eremitani and the Basilica del Santo. More than any other city, Padua during the course of the century would see the emergence of a new interpretation of a ‘place of worship’.