Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me…

May 14, 2021 at 6:23 pm (Art, Family)



Art books, a cookbook, and a mystery, all wonderful, all courtesy of this terrific guy:

Oh,and if you look closely, at the table, you will note the presence of an Amazon Gift Card.

Such bounty, such generosity! Such love.

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‘Art has been a blessing and a lifeline for so many.’

April 21, 2021 at 6:39 pm (Art, Magazines and newspapers)

It certainly has been, for me.

The above title comes from an article by Caroline Campbell in the December 2020 issue of Apollo: The International Art Magazine.

Campbell continues:

It reminds us of our humanity, and links us to others. In it, we can resilience and comfort.

She then observes:

The  art of the past, however, has a task that seems particularly salient at this moment: to remind us that creativity endures in hard times, and  that crises and pandemics are nothing new. Nor do they last forever, or entirely define the life and experience of those who live  through them.

This is the first time I’ve seen an Apollo’s Awards Issue. It proves to be an especially enriching trove. A few of the highlights:

Toyin Ojih Odutola, selected as artist of the year.

I’d never heard of this Nigeria-born, America-raised painter. I definitely like her work.

The Firm

The Missionary

For Museum Opening of the Year:  The Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art, Nigeria

And the British Galleries, Metropolitan Museum of Art:


Obviously I can’t wait to see this, ardent Anglophile  that I am!

In other venues, notable acquisitions:

Marie Antoinette in a Park, by Elisabeth Louise Vigee Lebrun,  acquired by the Metropolitan Museum


Palm Sunday by Elisabeth Sonrel, acquired by the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 

Nice work by the women, I think. It puts me in mind of a  book I read recently, entitled Eighteenth Century Women Artists: Their, Trials, Tribulations, and Triumphs. The author is Caroline Chapman. If this sounds fascinating – well, it is, and then  some.

Several of these women were familiar to me: Elisabeth Louise Vigee Lebrun (whose self-portrait graces the cover), Angelica Kaufmann, Rosalba Carriera. But others were new, and I was happy to get to know  them.

Summer, by Rosalba Carriera. This artist, who worked mainly in pastels, was in her day much in demand as a portraitist.

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A Much Beloved Painting

April 5, 2021 at 1:31 pm (Art)

Garden at Saint-Adresse, also known as La Terrasse à Saint-Adresse, by Claude Monet, 1867

As I approach my seventy-seventh birthday (!!), I find myself increasingly frustrated by the inability to make time stop. Yes, to stop in its tracks. To cease, desist, quit robbing others and myself of our ability, vitality, and just plain life force. We know where we are headed, inexorably.

There is one way to stop time. From the beginning of the world, image makers have known this. You will pass, but the image will remain. Thank God – literally – for this.

It is the gift given to us by the arts of painting and photography. The Garden at Saint-Adresse is one of my favorite paintings because it fixes in time a moment of supreme happiness. The people, the sun,the wind, the flowers, the sea – all there, bathed in golden light, forever.

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‘That arm, hacking like an executioner, performed an act of the most extreme cowardice.’ – The Wreck of the Medusa, by Jonathan Miles

February 26, 2021 at 4:02 pm (Art, France)


The size of the above image does not convey the full impact of this painting. The format of this blog does not allow for anything larger. So I suggest that you click here . Then click again on the image displayed.

The Raft of the Medusa depicts the actual aftermath of a terrible maritime disaster that took place in July of 1816, off the coast of what is now Mauritania. The artist is Jean-Louis André Théodore Géricault.

There were 148 persons aboard  the raft – 147 men and one woman. These were the ones that didn’t make it into the lifeboats. At first, the lifeboats were towing the raft. But then, those in the boats felt that the raft was too much of a drag on their efforts to reach the shore.. So one among them took an axe and hacked away at the rope that connected the sea-going vessels. Thus, with those brutal strokes, the raft was set adrift, with almost no food, precious little water, and no navigational instruments with which to aid their passage through the stormy Atlantic.

Everything terrible that could happen to those on the raft, happened. Every desperate measure was acceded to. When they were finally rescued, only fifteen survivors remained.

The story of the  survivors’ ordeal on the Medusa’s raft is fairly well known. What is less wel known is the story of the survivors on the lifeboats. They put ashore in what is now Mauritania. (Their original destination was Senegal.) They found themselves in the Sahara, marooned with almost no food or water and harassed by hostile tribesmen. The heat alone was nearly unbearable. For sustenance, they were forced to drink milk mixed with camel’s urine, a “…common source of nourishment for the nomadic tribes who spent up to a week without solid food….”

After a horrific ordeal, the survivors of the shipwreck were finally rescued. It is a miracle that any of them lived to tell the story. And yet, miraculously, they did.

Horace Vernet, Jean-Louis-André-Théodore Gericault, probably 1822 or 1823, 1998.84, MET.jpg

Theodore Gericault, by Horace Vernet, 1822-1823

And let us not give short shrift to the artist. Gericault was the very embodiment of the tormented Romantic artist.   While still in his teens, he embarked on a passionate love affair with Alexandrine Caruel, Baroness de Saint Martin. She was young and beautiful, and possessed a keen interest in the arts. In short, she was everything Gericault wanted in a woman. She was also, by marriage to his father’s brother, his aunt. Alexandra Caruel by Géricault

The affair went on for several years. Gericault absented himself for a time in Italy, partly in an effort to forget Alexandrine, but it didn’t work. As soon as he returned to France, he fell back into her embrace. Eventually she became pregnant, and this finally put paid to their affair. Their infant son was farmed out to the care of another; Gericault never saw him.

Gericault was a man of overmastering passions. He transferred his obsession with Alexandrine to an obsession with the story of the Medusa shipwreck. He shaved his head and sequestered himself in his studio as he labored on his great masterwork. He obtained body parts from the mortuary of a nearby hospital to aid him in his quest for a realistic depiction of a horrible event. (At the time, the composer Hector Berlioz was a reluctant medical student at the same hospital.)

The painting was completed in 1819. By that time, Gericault was beset by illness – depression and tuberculosis. He died in 1824 at the age of 32.

Today, The Raft of the Medusa is one of the most renowned works of art in Paris’s Musee du Louvre.

This book was recommended by Paul Glenshaw. Mr. Glenshaw has recently presented a number of fascinating art webinars for the Smithsonian Associates Streaming Service.

Theodore Gericault’s monument is located in Paris’s famed Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

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Christmas 2020, in Art and Music

December 25, 2020 at 8:07 pm (Art, Christmas, Music)

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Associates streaming service, I recently had the great good fortune to attend via Zoom a webinar entitled ‘The Nativity in Art: Centuries of Storytelling.’ Our speaker was art historian Elaine Ruffolo.

Here are some of the images she shared with us:

Domenico Ghirlandaio

Taddeo Gaddi

Jacopo Tintoretto

Gentile da Fabriano

Lornzo Monaco


Federico Barocci

Hugo van der Goes (from the Portinari Altarpiece)

And my favorite of all these gorgeous works of art – I can’t say exactly why: Giorgione’s Adoration of the Shepherds:

Elaine Ruffolo was speaking to us live, in real time, from Florence, Italy, where she resides.

And now, some music:







My Chicago family, at Thanksgiving. They’ve been a model of resourcefulness and buoyancy. Hopefully, I will be seeing them again, before too long. I am starved for hugs!

This has  been a tough year for many of us. I believe that next year will be better. Love to all. And to my British friends: Hang in there, as you always have, with courage and resilience.



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More on Paul Gauguin and Brittany

November 29, 2020 at 8:53 pm (Art, France)


….in February 1888, Gauguin returned to Pont Aven. Brittany suited his temperament. At that time, he wrote to his friend Schuffenecker:’I love Brittany. I find a wildness and a primitiveness there; when my wooden shoes ring out on its granite soil, I hear the muffled, dull, powerful note that I am looking for in my painting.’ The moors, the valleys gouged by rivers, hidden pathways, hedgerows, the old slate-roofed grey dwellings huddled in the hollows, dark forests of beech, ash and oak-all these contributed to the romantic atmosphere of the legendary landscape. A dampness in the air, a special quality in the light, revealed that the sea and its rocky coast were not far away. Gauguin found a spiritual climate here that was perfectly in tune with his desire for a simpler, more intimate form of painting. The little chapels nestled among mossy trees, the stone Calvaries and the crudely carved wooden statues became fused in his mind with other primitive forms that haunted him.

The Nabis: Bonnard, Vuillard, and Their Circle, by Claire Freches-Thory and

Antoine Terrasse 

Maybe it’s my current immersion in art, but this paragraph struck me as exceptionally beautiful.

Paul Gauguin en Bretagne

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Recent Reading

November 26, 2020 at 12:34 am (Art, Book review, books, Nature)

The Cold Millions by Jess Walter.

So, after reading Ron Charles’s rave review of this title in the Washington Post, I felt I had to give it a try. (I get a kick out of Ron Charles; he becomes almost incoherent with enthusiasm sometimes, especially when he REALLY, REALLY [as my grandson would declare, for emphasis] likes a book.) So…

A jumble of riotous action set against the backdrop of labor unrest and free speech suppression, chiefly in Spokane, Washington, in the early years of the twentieth century.. Main characters are brothers Gig (Gregory) and Rye (Ryan) Dolan, struggling to survive amid the tramps and hobos out of work and out of luck in the Pacific Northwest.

I could  believe in Rye and Gig, but my credulity was strained by the character of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a nineteen-year-old married and pregnant firebrand and uncompromising crusader for workers’ rights and freedom of speech. Yet in his acknowledgements, the author states that she’s drawn from real life.

And lo! Here she is, in full haranguing mode:

Of course, truth can be stranger than fiction, but…well, read it and decide for yourself. In any event, the book is a wild ride, and great  fun (if confusing at times).

Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald 

What science does is what I would like more literature to do too: show us that we are living in an  exquisitely complicated  world that is not all about us. It does not belong to us. It never has done….

Centuries of habitat loss and slow attenuation of our lived, everyday knowledge of the natural world make it harder and harder to have faith that the way things are going can ever be reversed.
We so often think of the past as something like a nature reserve, a discrete, bounded place we can visit in our imaginations to make us feel better. I wonder how we could learn to recognize that the past is always working on us and through us, and  that diversity in all its forms, human and natural, is strength. that messy stretches of species-rich vegetation with all their invertebrate life are better, just better, than the eerie, impoverished silence of modern planting schemes and fields. I wonder how we might learn to align our aesthetic and moral landscapes to fit that intuition.

One could become impatient with too many of these generalized exhortations,  eloquently expressed though they may be. Fortunately, Macdonald does leaven them with specifics. Of course there is much delightful writing about birds, not surprising from this author, but here’s a less expected passage, from an chapter entitled “Nothing Like a Pig.” The set-up: her boyfriend has taken her to see an animal she had previously known only from stories and folk tales:

This creature was not what I expected, despite its slap of familiarity. It had the forward-menacing shoulders of a baboon, and the brute strength and black hide of a bear. But it was not really anything like a bear, and what surprised me most of all was that it was nothing like a pig. As the beast trotted up to us, a miracle of muscle and bristle and heft, I turned to the boy, and said, surprised, “It’s nothing like a pig!” With great satisfaction he grinned and said, “No. They’re really not.”

This essay collection has been much anticipated by readers of Macdonald’s award-winning work H Is for Hawk. A number of people have asked me if I’ve read that particular book. Truth to tell, I tried to, but I ran afoul of Macdonald’s description of the steps involved in taming the hawk. I felt an intense aversion to the whole process – it seemed to me a form of avian torture. So that it was it, for me. Vesper Flights is blessedly free of such content, and a very rewarding read.

The Revenge of Thomas Eakins, by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick

What an interesting man: a deeply gifted painter and, except for a brief  European sojourn in his youth, a life long resident of the City of Brotherly Love. Born in 1844, Thomas Eakins grew up saturated with the rich artistic culture that characterized Philadelphia in the late 1800s.

Painted in 1875, The Gross Clinic is probably Eakins’s most famous work:


Another work, one of my favorites, is Max Schmitt in a Single Scull (1871):

The artist’s wife, Susan Macdowell, 1884-89

Self-portrait, 1902

The Writing Master (Benjamin Eakins, the artist’s father), 1882


Portrait of Walt Whitman-1887. The poet and the painter were great friends.

(Eakins  was a great portraitist; his skills were much sought after in this area.)

This is the house in which Eakins live:

Designated as an historic landmark in 1965, it now houses an artists’ cooperative. In Eakins’s time, the place seemed to be bursting with life – relatives an friends would come frequently to visit an often to stay. There were numerous children (although Eakins and his wife  not have any) and pets also -including, for a while, a monkey who caused untold mischief.

You could understand why, in the above portrait, Susan Macdowell looks rather long suffering. And there were other reasons, as well.

Thomas Eakins was not only a great painter, but an enthusiastic and committed teacher. He also became infatuated with photography. And that’s where the trouble began…

While some of the photographs are entirely decorous, others are…well, something else. A large selection of works by Eakins in both media can be accessed at WikiArt.

Why the title of this biography contains the word “revenge” I am not sure. Unless it refers to the frequently heard saying, “Living well is the best revenge.” Eakins’s life was turbulent, that is for sure, but most of the strife he encountered he brought on himself. He was stiff and unbending in his principles, even in situations where a little bending would have cost him little.

The subjects of a number of his nude studies, both painted and photographed, were often drawn from his young male students, many of whom seemed all too willing to doff their garments in order to please their esteemed instructor. The speculation prompted by this practice, can be easily imagined.

Whatever took place in his personal life, as a professional, he was exact and uncompromising. He was left us a legacy of realistic art for which we can only be grateful. As for this book, I found it utterly absorbing – a  great about an artist and his  times.



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More on the Post-Impressionists

November 22, 2020 at 9:10 pm (Art, France, Mystery fiction)

[Click here for the previous post on this subject.]

Roderic O’Conor was an Irish artists who lived and worked with the Pont Aven painters, for a time.

Yellow Landscape 1892, by Roderic O’Conor


Moonlit Lndscape, Roderic O’Conor

On the Irish Times site, there’s an excellent piece on O’Conor. Be sure to watch the video; there’s a presentation by an exceptionally eloquent curator.

  Our instructor recommended to us a mystery novel set in Brittany. Death in Brittany, translated and published here in 2014,  features Commissaire Georges Dupin. Judging by  the name, c’est un hommage, I assume, to Edgar Allan Poe’s famous Parisian armchair sleuth. But this Dupin spends very little time sitting around waxing intellectual. Instead, he traverses the length and breadth of his adopted  home, trying to solve first one murder, then another.

Being as he’s a newcomer – only lived in Brittany for three years, specifically resident in Concarneau – he is still in the process of getting to know the place, and to understand it:

Inhale in Concarneau and you tasted salt, iodine, seaweed, mussels in every breath, like a distillation of the entire endless expanse of the Atlantic, brightness  and light. In Pont Aven it was the river, moist, rich earth, hay, trees, woods, the valley and shadows, melancholy fog-the countryside.

And there’s more:

The landscape became more and more enchanting as the narrow little streets of Pont-Aven gave way to thick woodland. The trees were dripping with mistletoe and ivy, overgrown and moss-covered. some of the trees here had entwined as they grew, forming a log dark green tunnel. now and then the Aven shimmered between the trees on the left hand side as though it were electrically charged, a pale silver color. The last of the day’s light bathed everything in its glow, lending the landscape even more of a fairytale atmosphere.

As for the painters of more than a century ago – their traces are still very much present. Dupin enters a room in the main floor of a hotel that’s central to his investigation and at once  beholds stunning collection:

There were twenty-five of these by his estimation, maybe thirty, by artists from the famous artists’ colony such as Paul Serusier, Laval, Emile Bernard, Armand Seguin, Jacob Meyer de Haan and of course Gauguin….

The Talisman, an 1888 work by Paul Serusier, so called because it attained an iconic status for Les Nabis. They thought of it as the jumping off point for their artistic movement.

The author of Death in Brittany writes under the pseudonym. Jean-Luc Bannalec is German but spends much of his time in Brittany. Monsieur Bannalec is the holder of a doctorate from l’Université Johann Wolfgang Goethe de Francfort-sur-le-Main. He has worked as an editor and journalist. There’s a Wikipedia entry for him in French under his real name, Jorg Bong.

The Georges Dupin novels currently number five. I look forward to reading the next one.

Breton Girls Dancing, by Paul Gauguin


Although Van Gogh is classified as a Post-Impressionist, he did not go to Brittany to paint. He famously went to the south of France instead, hoping to found an artists’ colony there. Gauguin joined him there for two months. It did not go well.

There’s an interesting book on this failed experiment: 

Alas, poor Van Gogh; very little went well in his short, sad life. I read a biography of him recently that was excellent, very engrossing, but…”If you have tears, prepare to shed them now….

Many of us wish that Van Gogh could somehow come to know how much his art is loved and valued in the present era. There’s an episode of the long running British series Doctor Who that made  that happen. I for one am very grateful to them:








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Dueling Post-Impressionists

November 22, 2020 at 2:30 am (Art, France)

Of late, I have  been taking an online course entitled Dueling Post-Impressionists. Initially I was intrigued with the title; now I’m enthralled with the art.

The term Post-Impressionism encompasses a wide variety of artists. who followed the Impressionists in their triumphant march toward modernism. Two specific schools of painters fall under this rubric: the Nabis, and the School of Pont-Aven. The dates we’re talking about are roughly the mid 1880s to the turn of the twentieth century.

Our instructor provided these background notes;

Everyone’s heard of Gauguin who started his serious painting career in Brittany in 1886 at what was later called the School of Pont Aven. He was noted for his experimental use of color and Synthetist style that were distinct from Impressionism.

At the same time, a group of Parisian Post-Impressionist painters called themselves Nabis from the Hebrew word for prophet. They were a loose-knit group of over a dozen young artists in Paris. The Nabis played a large part in the transition from impressionism and academic art to abstract art, symbolism and the other early movements of modernism….

Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard were two of the most distinguished Nabi painters.

They were inspired by many sources, including Cezanne, Gauguin, and Japanese art. The Nabis created wallpaper, folding screens, and domestic scenes of remarkable intimacy. They have come into their own with 3 major exhibitions in 2019 in Paris, NY, and Washington, DC.

It should also be noted that the main impetus for the move to Brittany was that it was cheaper to live there than in Paris.

An explication of  the term ‘Synthetism’ helps the viewer understand the principles which governed the art of the Nabis painters and those of the School of Pont Aven. The chief characteristics, enumerated by our instructor, are as follows:

Abandonment of faithful representation;
Creation of a work based on the artist’s memory of the subject but reflecting his feelings while painting;
Bold application of pure color;
Absence of perspective and shading;
Application of flat forms separated by dark contours;
geometrical composition free of unnecessary detail and trimmings.

So at this point, let’s consider ourselves finished with the academic aspect of the art, and go on to the actual art.  The leading light among the painters who took up residence in Brittany was Paul Gauguin. Many of us are familiar  with Gauguin’s depiction of girls and young women from his years in Tahiti. These are earlier works, which I, for one, had never seen. Here are two of my favorites:

Water Mill at Pont Aven, Paul Gauguin, 1894


Le Champ Lollichon et L’Eglise de Pont Aven, Paul Gauguin

Gauguin settled in at an establishment called Pension Gloanec in Pont Aven. Not only was the rent low, but the food was excellent.

The Pension Gloanec no longer functions as a hostelry; instead, it houses a book store and event space.

Our instructor has thus far shown us many enchanting paintings. Then just cruising around on the web, aided by her list of artists, I found more on my own. (To obtain such lists on your own, go to the Wikipedia entries for Les Nabis and the Pont-Aven School.)

Little Girl in a Red Dress, by Maurice Denis


Les Delices de la Vie, by Armand Seguin

(The above work was until recently owned by David Rockefeller. Mr. Rockefeller passed away in 2017, at the age of 101.  Les Delices de la Vie, which translates roughly as ‘The Delicious, or Wonderful, Things of Life,’ was among the works in his collection that went to auction. Christie’s had estimated that it would sell for between $1,000,000 and $1,500,000. In the event, the price realized was $7,737,500.)

Paysage de Martinique, by Charles Laval.


Dining Room on the Garden, Pierre Bonnard


Farmhouse at Le Pouldu, by Paul Serusier


Little Laundry Girl, by Pierre Bonnard. (The word en francais is especially lovely: ‘Blanchisseuse.’) This work shows the influence of Japonisme on Bonnard’s art.

Enfant avec Goblet, by Edouard Vuillard

This past Wednesday, we were shown a painting by Vuillard called The Garden of Vaucresson. It fairly took my breath away:

One painting that I discovered just  recently that very much appealed to me is a landscape by Robert Bevan, a British painter. (Although Les Nabis and the Pont Aven artists were mainly French, there were others from farther away: England, like Robet Bevan; Ireland, like Roderic O’Conor; The Netherlands, like Meijer de Haan; and Poland, like Wladislaw Slewinski. In addition, there from time to time quite a few Americans.)

In fact, I was so enchanted by  this image that I have ordered this:

More to come on this, my current favorite subject.





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‘He is the Shakespeare of Painting.’ – Giotto’s Arena Chapel

July 30, 2020 at 6:58 pm (Art)

A panel from Giotto’s Arena Chapel serves as the cover art for a book I am currently reading – very slowly and deliberately: . The Arena Chapel, in Padua, Italy, was originally designed as a private place of worship. Covered frescoes painted by Giotto di Bondone, with assistance from those in his workshop, it was commissioned by a wealthy banker, Enrico Scrovegni, in the early 1300s. (Hence it is also referred to as the Scrovegni Chapel.)

The exterior of this edifice is appealing yet modest.

It gives little hint of the riches contained within:

In the book’s first chapter, Clark offers a minute analysis of  the panels that tell the story of Joachim. This rendering of that story appears on the site Christian iconography:

The canonical scriptures say nothing of the birth or parentage of Mary, but countless art works through the ages have taken their cue from legendary material. Starting in at least the 2nd century, this material proposes that Mary’s parents were named Joachim and Anna. Because they had been childless for 20 years, Joachim was expelled from the Temple when he brought his offering on the Feast of Dedication. Despondent, he went with his flocks into the mountains far away. Five months later an angel told him he was to be a father and should go to meet Anne at Jerusalem’s Golden Gate. While Joachim sacrificed a lamb in thanksgiving, the angel brought Anne the same message, and the couple met and embraced at the Golden Gate. When the child was born they named her Mary.


The Expulsion of Joachim

The absolute blue in Joachim’s Expulsion…conjuring an emptiness no human effort can ever stave off, uninflected and godforsaken, the Temple floating on it like a tipping life raft–seems to speak to a bleakness of vision that Giotto’s art, taken as a whole, surely exists to refute.


Joachim Among the Shepherds. I particularly love this panel because of the dog’s spontaneous expression of joy at seeing Joachim, and Joachim’s tender acknowledgement.


Annunciation to St. Anne


Joachim’s Sacrificial Offering


Joachim’s Dream

The blue in Joachim’s Dream is less cruel–the angel, after all, does appear in it–but it remains as cold as a color can be, pressing down into the desert at  the angel’s behest almost as far as Joachim’s halo….

Is that blue sky so cold; is it pressing down with such force? It does not appear so to me. And that angel seems more like a harbinger of goodness than anything else, caught as he is in the very act of materializing! And the animals there once again, sweetening the scene with their simple goodness.


Meeting at the Golden Gate

How wonderful is this image! Joachim and Anna embrace: they are going to have a child after all. And this child, a daughter they will call Mary, will become a most awesome part of the history of the world.

The story goes that Enrico Scrovegni commissioned the chapel as an act of penance:

There is a tradition that he hired Giotto to atone for the sin of usury, although there is debate about whether this idea has any foundation. Dante placed his father in the Seventh Circle of Hell for his notoriously ill-gotten gains, and Enrico himself was a moneylender on a grand scale; it is these facts that have given rise to the tradition. Against the idea that he founded the chapel as an act of atonement may be cited the fact that it was a very sumptuous commission for his own personal use, attached to the grand palace that he built for himself. In 1320 Enrico Scrovegni fled the wars and civil strife that plagued Padua at the time, and settled in Venice. He was formally banished from Padua in 1328, and died in Venice in 1336.

from the Wikipedia entry

If, in fact, the tradition holds true, then Scrovegni’s act of contrition gifted the world with one of its greatest works of art.





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