Giotto di Bondone. Greatest painter in the history of the world.
For starters, Dante.
What about Michelangelo?
He thought so, too. The very first drawings we have by Michelangelo are copies of figures from Giotto’s frescoes.
No, I mean, there are a lot of great painters who might be the greatest—Leonardo da Vinci, for instance.
He said Giotto was the greatest of them all.
If Giotto is so great, why have I never heard of him?
If Everest is so high, why haven’t you ever seen it?
You’re saying I should go to Padua?
I’m saying if you do, you’ll find that the Italians call it Padova.
But that’s where I will find the Arena Chapel?
You’ll find the Scrovegni Chapel built on the site of the old Roman Arena. You’ll also find you are in the most beautiful manmade space on the planet.
Why is it called the Scrovegni Chapel?
About 700 years ago, Enrico Scrovegni, one of the most preposterously rich moneylenders in Italy commissioned Giotto to fresco the little chapel attached to the palace Enrico had built for himself.
What’s the palace like?
Gone. Destroyed by Napoleon’s troops. And then half of Padua was and most of the nearby churches and homes were reduced to rubble during the two World Wars.
So, you’re saying that the most beautiful made space in the world, painted by the greatest painter in the history of the world, could have been blown to bits and no one would ever have known it existed?
I honestly can’t imagine the world without it. Can you?
MICHAEL DOWNING’S novels include the national bestseller Perfect Agreement, named one of the 10 Best Books of the year by Amazon and Newsday, and Breakfast with Scot, a comedy about two gay men who inadvertently become parents. An American Library Association honor book, Breakfast with Scot was adapted as a movie that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. His nonfiction includes Shoes Outside the Door: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center, hailed by the New York Review of Books as a “dramatic and insightful” narrative history of the first Buddhist monastery outside of Asia, and by the Los Angeles Times as “a highly readable book.” His essays and reviews appear in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and other periodicals. Michael teaches creative writing at Tufts University and lives in Cambridge, MA.