- Museum number
- Object: Giotto's Chapel, Padua
Exterior view of the Arena Chapel, Padua; seen from the back, showing the hexagonal tower with the amphitheatre to the right, after a sketch by Peter Powell; frontispiece to Maria Callcott's "Description of the Chapel of the Annunziata dell'Arena; or, Giotto's Chapel in Padua" (London, Printed for the author, by Thomas Brettell: 1835). 1834
Lithograph on chine collé
- Production date
Height: 121 millimetres (framing lines)
Width: 205 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- For all the illustrations see 1850,1014.1028.1-13
Maria Callcott described this lithograph as her "very last attempt at holding a pencil" (letter addressed to Thomas Grenville pasted inside a BL copy of the book). In 1831 she became a permanent invalid, having been plauged by ill-health for years, and her letters after this date are full of expressions of her certainty that she did not have long left in the world. There are a number of lithographs by her in the British Museum collection which likely date from the early 1830s (see, for example, 1878,0713.4563).
The "Description of the Chapel of the Annunziata dell'Arena; or, Giotto's Chapel in Padua" was the first fruit of the year-long honeymoon 'Grand tour' undertaken between 1827 and 1828 by the landscape painter Augustus Wall Callcott (1779-1844) and notable author and bluestocking Maria Graham (1785-1842). The multitude of journals, notebooks and sketchbooks filled by the Callcotts during their travels, which encompassed the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Austria, Prague and France (MSS in the Bodleian Library, Oxford and the Courtauld Institute, London) reveal a strong preoccupation with art of the medieval and early-Renaissance periods. The paintings and sculpture of the Italian and Northern European 'primitives', as they were derogatorily termed, were considered unfashionable and unworthy of attention in the early nineteenth century outside of a very exclusive circle of progressive artists and collectors. Orthodox taste in art at that time was predominantly for classical, High Renaissance and seventeenth-century art, which was thought the most beautiful. The fact that this book was printed privately for dissemination amongst just the authors' friends evidences the lack of interest in the art of Giotto and his contemporaries.
A preface to the book informs the reader that the text was written by Maria and the illustrations were provided by Augustus. Following this is a numbered plan of the interior of the chapel (1850,1014,1028.3) to demonstrate to the reader the arrangement of the frescoes around the walls of the chapel and which correspond with the chronologically-numbered descriptions of the frescoes that comprise the main body of the text. The volume then begins with an introduction which briefly details the history of the chapel, its appearance and the condition of the frescoes. This concern with preserving (in Maria's words) "a memorial of the state of this interesting relic" makes this volume the forerunner to the Arundel Society’s decision to commission and publish a series of wood-engravings recording the entirety of Giotto’s fresco cycle in the 1850s. Each narrative fresco in the Arena Chapel is then described, prefaced by the scriptural reference and lines from which it takes its subject. Not all of the frescoes are illustrated, however, and the illustrations become more reductive as the volume
progresses. Callcott's illustrations are essentially outline drawings (with no shading and thus no evocation of colour and/or texture) and thus recognisably recognisably in the 'primitive drawing tradition' popularised by John Flaxman (See, for example, 1860,0310.1.2).
Despite there being issues with Callcott as a copyist (see the entries for the individual illustrations for more on this: 1850,1014.1028.2-13), the "Description" is of much significance both for the history of the reception of Giotto specifically and early Italian art more generally. This book was the first English monograph on both Giotto and the Arena Chapel, and it was well-received by the artists, critics, bibliophiles and friends to whom the Callcotts gave it. However, it has been largely overlooked in critical accounts of Giotto and in the literature exploring the revival of interest in the primitives. This can likely be attributed to both its restricted readership (because of being published privately) and the competition of, first, a detailed Italian account of the chapel, Pietro Selvatico's "Sulla Cappella Scrovegni" which was published only a year after the Callcotts' book, and, second, the series of woodcut engravings of every scene of the entire fresco cycle published, along with a monograph by John Ruskin, by the Arundel Society between 1852 and 1860.
The book is bound in burgundy linen and cardboard with the following text gilt-tooled on the front cover: "Giotto's Chapel in Padua". It contains thirteen pages, most of which contain both text and illustrations; there are also endpapers.
(Carly Collier, October 2013)
Francis Haskell, "Rediscoveries in Art" (Oxford, 1976) pp. 91-93.
David B. Brown and Christopher Lloyd (eds.), "The Journal of Maria, Lady Callcott, 1827-8", microfilm, (Oxford, 1981).
Christopher Lloyd, `Lady Callcott’s Honeymoon, 1827-8: Art Historical Reflections in Germany and Italy’, in Graham Smith and Charlotte Richardson (eds.), "Britannia, Italia and Germania: Taste and Travel 1815-1870" (Edinburgh, 2001), pp. 45-58.
Carly Collier, 'British Artists and Early Italian Art, c. 1770-1845', unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Warwick 2013 (Chapter 7).
Carly Collier, ‘From “Gothic atrocities” to Objects of Aesthetic Appreciation: The Transition from Marginal to Mainstream of Early Italian Art in British Taste during the Long Eighteenth Century’, in Frank O’Gorman and Lia Guerra (eds.), "The Centre and the Margins in Eighteenth- Century British and Italian Cultures" (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013) pp. 117-139.
- Not on display
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Description of the Chapel of the Annunziata dell'Arena; or, Giotto's Chapel in Padua
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number