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Padova 21 September 2011

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Treasures of Padova

If you're interested in Renaissance art, Padova has some delights for you.

On the last page you saw a picture of the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua; during the day, it is the destination for hundreds of earnest pilgrims come to give thanks, or beg intercession, for one of St. A's many responsibilities: lost things, broken body parts and health, the elderly, travelers, pregnant women, the unwillingly single, troubled marriages, fishermen, the oppressed and poor, Brazil, American Indians, horses, and many others. Falling as we do into a few of these categories, we were glad to be among them.

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<p>Nave and high altar</p>

Nave and high altar

There is so much here -- in this basilica; in this city -- that I am culling harshly, and it goes against the grain. The sculptured panel above is one of nine by the greatest workers in marble of the early 16th century, Tullio Lombardi. In it, St. A. is working one of his many miracles. The good Anthony began life in Portugal with a different name, but attracted the attention of St. F. -- that would be Francesco of Assisi -- and became the spokesman for the Franciscans. Anthony is celebrated around the world for his many miracles and intercessions, continuing to this day. You yourself have benefited: when you miraculously found that important lost thing, that was St. A's work.

The decoration here is so rich, and largely anonymous, because this was the time when pride of authorship was just beginning.


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Interestingly, the Basilica is not in Italy (technically). It's part of the Vatican State. While Franciscans benignly roam the wide aisles, there are also a cadre of sinister looking thugs patrolling for rogue photographers, so all the pictures you see here endanger my mortal soul. One must wonder what it is about photographs that offends God. I agree with Her about flash photography ...but is She worried a photo would steal Her soul?

(Sienna explained this to me (with some heat): it isn't Him, it's his minions on earth, and unfortunately under that kind of, um, transubstantial? organization, the mini part of minions becomes, unfortunately, officiously operative. "We have no reason, but we do it because we can.")

One of the chapels we like most wasn't about any cult of personality (no offense meant, Anthony; you and Francesco are okay in our book) but about pure spirit descending from ... well, wherever spirit resides. The effect of the 500-year-old fresco; the light through the stained glass windows, the whole presentation was ... well, spiritually uplifting.


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Giotto, whose work we saw on the doors of the baptistry in Firenze and whom we shall see again very soon, broke through the convention of painting idealized faces, and painted real people with real emotions responding to the stories in real time. We don't need to know the story of these people, who are on a dark wall in an unemphasized apse opposite the saint's tomb. We understand. Turning away in dismay, fascination, sorrow. This is a small part of a larger, very complex fresco.


Kudos to this little camera for capturing such richness in such poor circumstances: Canon PowerShot S95. Awesome.

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Meanwhile, outdoors, the sun is shining brightly, and Nature is doing her inimitable business...

Just across a stream from the Basilica is the University of Padova's Orto Botanico (Botanical Garden), one of the oldest in the world, with plantings beginning in 1545. It is magnificently kept up and by far the most complete collection of the world's trees that I have seen. Yes, redwoods, three: gigantea, sempervirens, and the Chinese Dawn Redwood. A palm tree doing business in the same site since 1545, known as the "Goethe Palm" because the poet/philosopher came all the way to Padova to see it.

Great pride is taken in this treasure, as evidenced by the gate detail at left.

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<p>mostly water plants in September - the famous palm is in the background second from left</p>

mostly water plants in September - the famous palm is in the background second from left

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<p><em>Pinus nero</em></p>

Pinus nero

I could have spent hours wandering here. A large section of medicinal plants -- the original reason for the garden, for in 1545 a principal interest for academics was trying to makes sense of the use of plants for healing and health. A new collection of rare and endangered plants from all over Europe, where population pressures are causing accelerating extinctions. The presentations of the water plants from all over the world, especially at this time of year, was thrilling.

Nevertheless, onward: many more wonders to see ... Here followed a somewhat unmemorable lunch, but only by comparison, and we have joined the Italians in honoring the hottest part of the day by retiring for a couple of hours, to emerge refreshed and ready for further excitements about 4pm. For us, the excitement was to be the Scrovegni Chapel, Giotto's acknowledged masterpiece.

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