On 7 December 2011, during the Hermitage Days, an exhibit of the Giotto's icon God the Father, opened as part of the series Masterpieces from the World's Museums in the Hermitage.
Giotto di Bondone (c. 1270-1337) laid the foundations for the art of the Italian Renaissance. Specialists consider him the progenitor of what we now refer to as "realistic painting". Giotto spent time in Rome, worked in Florence, Assisi and Milan. In 1328, he was invited to Naples to the palace of King Robert of Anjou. He returned to Florence in 1334, where he was in charge of the work on erecting the city walls and fortifications of Florence, along with early stages of the construction of the Cathedral bell towers; the latter project was finished after his death. Giotto died in Florence in January of 1337.
The wall and ceiling paintings of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua are among
Giotto's early works
Paintings dedicated to episodes from the lives of the Virgin Mary and Christ, cover the walls of the chapel in three belts positioned underneath one another. Scenes from the lives of Joachim and Anna, the parents of Mary are presented on the upper row on the south wall. The middle and lower registers are dedicated to episodes from the lives of Christ, from the Nativity to the Ascension. On the lower part of the walls, there are images that imitate marble sculpture in niches: on one wall there is a personification of the seven virtues, and on the other there is a representation of the seven deadly sins. The Last Judgment is depicted over the entrance door, according to medieval iconography, and on the opposite, under the triumphal arch is God the Father, surrounded by angels.
The work being exhibited in the Hermitage is the only one in the Scrovegni Chapel that was completed not using fresco techniques, but on a wooden (poplar) board, consisting of two parts. The shallow space behind the icon and the well-preserved hinges that are were used to attach it to the wall, make it possible to conclude that the icon served as a small door; the purpose of this door, on the other hand, has been interpreted in different ways. It has been suggested that, during the Annunciation Day liturgy, a white dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit was released from behind the door. Some unknown trick made it descend directly towards the image of the Madonna. According to another version, ceremonial objects could be displayed behind the open door.
From the very beginning, the place over the triumphal arch was intended for the figure of the Almighty, which is confirmed by the preparatory drawing that was applied to the wall.
God the Father has a noble face with regular features, a straight nose and narrow, close-set eyes. His gaze is directed toward the messenger, who is being assigned a divine mission, to proclaim Maria the future Mother of Jesus. The soft touches of white, modeling the form of a face, make light play on it in an interesting manner. The Almighty's right hand is extended towards an archangel in a commanding gesture, and the left hand holds a rod that blooms with lilies. The body has been given an almost cubic volume. It is draped with an elegant white chiton, with folds that suggest the position that his feet are firmly planted. Dabs of paint imitate precious stones, delicately placed around the collar and the edge of the mantle. Decorative golden bands on the collar, clothing and chiton are decorated with incredibly detailed writing, imitating Arabic script. The gold ornamentation echoes the golden halo, which has not survived.
Removed from the general context, the icon loses some of its expressive quality, since the artist precisely considered its interaction with the composition as a whole. The three levels of the wall decorations, including those made in fresco style, lead to the wooden board. Along with the throne of the Almighty, they create a unified whole, which emphasizes the depth and perspective of the altar. God the farther, both compositionally and in terms of the meaning it expresses, was connected with the two angels that stood near the throne. God's commanding gesture is addressed to one of them, Gabriel, and the archangel is looked upon the Almighty through the "cut" in the side panel of the altar.
This image of an anthropomorphic Divinity embodies an ideal typical of all of the characters depicted by this artist, who was inclined not towards individualization, but idealization, yet still created a series of diverse characters. The figure of God the Father, typological and ideal in its own way, which is the key to understanding the broader meaning, was probably created at the beginning of the cycle.
Upon entering the Scrovegni Chapel, a person finds himself in the bright world of the scenes that unfold before him, which are proportionate to him, designed with his gaze in mind. Here there is none of the overwhelming greatness of the grand interiors of the Middle Ages, inspiring thoughts of man's minuteness and insignificance in an enormous space. The masters of the Middle Ages aspired to create spiritual impact with their work, while the most important thing for Giotto is a particular viewer's perception.
Giotto's frescos in Padua open up a new page in the history of painting, not only for the Italian Renaissance, but also for all European Art.
A booklet has been prepared by the State Hermitage Publishing House.
The exhibition curator and author of the booklet is Tatiana Kirillovna
Kustodieva, leading researcher of the Department of Western European Art
of the State Hermitage and a custodian of the Italian Painting of the
Opening Remarks by M.B. Piotrovsky