Giotto! Giotto!

Way back when, I used to take Art History at high school and when I was about 15 we studied the work of Giotto, among others. I remember it well because my friend Scott came up with an amazing jingle to help him remember the date Giotto painted the Scrovegni Chapel in Padova, it was along the lines of: “Giotto! Giotto! He painted a fresco-ho in 1305!” Scott sang it with such gusto that it has stayed with me ever since.

As luck would have it, today I went to Padova (with Rilla and the folks) to see the Scrovegni Chapel and those infamous frescoes inside it. Actually, all of Padova turned out to be a great place to visit (definitely check it out if you’re in or around Venice) – particularly excellent was seeing the university where Galileo taught (and where endless, droning teaching still goes on!) and also the observatory he used to study the skies. Seriously, that is cool.

The Giotto experience was an odd one. You buy a ticket for a very specific time, then turn up at the chapel only to be confronted by an ominous black glass room attached to the side (it’s actually a lot like the alien structures in Half-Life 2 – that forced grafting of old and all-too-new). Turns out you have to go into that room and “decompress” (actually, dehumidify) before you can go into the chapel itself. Before you ask: no, it didn’t feel like much of anything, and, yes, the documentary they showed before we went in was a bit mediocre.

After decompression, you go into the chapel. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect – I’m no Stendahl, but I do have an attachment to art all the same, so I wondered if it would be a bit emotional. In fact, no, but the chapel really is pretty amazing. This is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that although we theoretically had 15 minutes (or perhaps a bit less) in there, it went away in the blink of an eye. I felt as though I’d only just got done looking at the judgement day images of hell (which are pretty amazing) before we were being swept back out into the sweaty reality of The Outside.

There wasn’t really time to “take it all in”, there was just the feeling of a strobed transition from being 15 listening to Scott’s singing and being 32 and standing in the Scrovegni chapel looking at the originals of the images we’d looked at in slide form or in a text book.

You get old, and you keep getting older.

30 May 2011
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