No one with an interest in art history can help wondering about the added cultural prestige the Palazzo della Ragione would enjoy nowadays if Giotto’s frescoes here had not been destroyed by fire in 1420. And one cannot resist the temptation to attempt some sort of comparison between what the phenomenally talented Tuscan artist must have created and the work we have now – produced by two less phenomenally talented artists.
What we know of Giotto’s work in this building is that it comprised a cycle of astrological frescoes that culminated in a ceiling painted as a star-strewn sky.
What we have from his ‘successors’ – Giovanni Miretto and Stefano da Ferrara – is another massive scheme of wall decorations comprising a total of 330 panels of varying size that unfold in logical order around the space and are themselves dedicated to astrological subject-matter. Even as it stands, this is a work that has very few parallels.
Futhermore, we know that it follows the iconography of the original frescoes, which was inspired by the work of the physician, philosopher, alchemist – and suspected heretic – Pietro d’Abano (1257-c.1315), a scholar who consulted astral cycles when mixing medicinal treatments for his patients.
A short walk from the Palazzo della Ragione takes you to another astrological gem: the Dondi clock in Piazza dei Signori. The earliest wall clock in the world with a still functioning mechanism, this was designed in 1344 by Giovanni Dondi. Within the Zodiac dial on the clock face, one sign is missing: Libra. One local story to explain the absence is that the clockmaker was actually paid less than agreed upon, so allowed himself his own little ‘discount’. It is interesting to note that the Marchesa Dondi, a direct descendant of the clockmaker’s family, lives near the historic clock – in Via Dondi.
Discover the itinerary from Torresino Church to Ca’ Lando, with a stop in Palazzo Dondi.