The Cappella degli Scrovegni was commissioned in 1303 by Enrico Scrovegni in atonement for his father’s usury, which was so vicious that he was denied a Christian burial. Giotto was commissioned to cover the walls with illustrations of the life of Mary, the life of Jesus and the story of the Passion, and the finished fresco cycle is one of the high points in the development of European art – a marvellous demonstration of Giotto’s innovative attention to the inner nature of his subjects. In terms of sheer physical presence and the relationships between the figures and their environment, Giotto’s work takes the first important strides towards realism and humanism.
The Joachim series on the top row of the north wall (facing you as you walk in) is particularly powerful – note the exchange of looks between the two shepherds in the Arrival of Joachim. Beneath the main pictures are shown the Vices and Virtues in human (usually female) form, while on the wall above the door is a Last Judgement – in rather poor condition and thought to be only partly by Giotto. At the bottom is a portrait of Scrovegni presenting the chapel; his tomb is at the far end, behind the altar with its statues by Giovanni Pisano.