Padua’s Baptistery of Saint John: Giusto de’ Menabuoi’s masterpiece
The Baptistery of Saint John was originally built in Padua in the 12th century and consecrated in 1281. Inside, a triumph of frescoes by Giusto de’ Menabuoi (1330-1390) proves the Florentine artist’s sensibility, especially in terms of color, and his likely ties to Giotto.
Giusto painted “Paradise” on the dome, with a crown of saints and blessed figures around Christ Pantocrator and the Mother of God; on the walls, the “Lives of Saint John the Baptist, Mary and Jesus”; in the spaces around and above the altar, the “Crucifixion”, the “Descent of the Holy Spirit”, a polyptych and some images from the “Apocalypse” of Saint John; in the tholobate, the “Stories of the Genesis” and on the pendentives the “Prophets and the Evangelists”.
He was entrusted with the entire project by Fina Buzzicarini, wife of an important representative of the Carraresi family, Francesco da Carrara, who had included Giusto in his court around 1370. Indeed, Padua (with his hometown Florence and Milan) always was one of the cities where Giusti worked most successfully, even before the Baptistery was built.
Art critic Vittorio Sgarbi has commented, “His vision is an original synthesis of Tuscan and Lombard at the same time, and reaches epic levels in the grand endeavor of Padua’s Baptistery […], an endeavor that has the magnitude of one of Dante’s poems.”
“On the walls,” Sgarbi goes on, “the artist worked with the precision of a painter creating miniatures on the pages of a book: no rush, no shortcuts. Thus his painting is soft, precise, especially in defining interiors. […] Giusto tackles the dome’s “Paradise” like a repetitive obsession, in a surreal dimension, to accentuate its metaphysical nature. He is more of a storyteller in biblical and evangelical stories, and reaches perfect balance in the “Annunciation”, conceived within a space where prospective was already defined” (translated from V. Sgarbi-M. Ainis, “Il tesoro d’Italia”, Bompiani, Milan 2013).
Enjoy the wonderful fresco in the images below.