PALAZZO DELLA RAGIONE [2015]

Palazzo Della Ragione, Padua.

Is everything that can be thought and lived (to adapt a phrase from Hermann Hesse) painted on the walls of the Palazzo Della Ragione in Padua? That is one way of looking at it, or at least of attempting to understand the intent of those murals. Pietro d’Abano’s astrological scheme was inspired, in large measure, by the earlier thinking of Michael Scott from Fife. It was first given painted form by Pietro’s contemporary Giotto. That version was destroyed by fire in 1420 but Pietro’s ideas expressed in three hundred and thirty three panels survive and enchant. The current version restores the fifteenth century work of Nicolò Miretto, Stefano da Ferrara and others. That version was itself damaged after most of the roof of the Palazzo was ripped off by a tornado in 1756. Yet whatever its vicissitudes, the roof is the other great wonder of that building. It is a kind of inverted ship’s hull, designed, it is said, by a marine architect from Venice. The design allows the space below to be uninterrupted by even a single column. That space is about ninety yards long and thirty yards wide. It is Europe’s first truly modern covered space, predating the great exhibition halls of London and Paris by half a millennium. Ruskin drew the arcaded exterior, but not the interior. Was he simply horrified by its radical architectural purity? Nothing could be less like the Oxford Museum, which for all its nineteenth century ironwork, is deliberately and beautifully cluttered with stone columns and capitals. The Palazzo Della Ragione is also a museum in some fundamental sense, a place in which one can muse about the nature of reality, for covering every inch of its walls is the elaboration of the cosmos and the seasons, and the assertion of the nature of justice and fate and change. It is an artist’s book in architectural form. It is the book of the commune of Padua.

Murdo Macdonald, July 2015. [text for Fifty Years of Reiach and Hall].