As calling cards go it does the job – simple, functional and just what is needed if your stock painting will be halos.
With a swish and a brush of red paint Giotto di Bondone had announced himself to the Papal envoy with his freehand circle.
And within a few years he would announce himself to the world with his magnum opus.
His fresco in 1305 in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padova would in turn inspire Michelangelo when he came to adorn the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
For all of us who have attempted a still life and ended up with an egg in a basket of fruit instead of an orange you will know how difficult it is to draw the perfect circle.
But only perfect circles would do as Giotto’s patron Enrico Scrovegni had let his halo slip and needed a grand gesture.
To gain absolution and enter through the gates of heaven.
Enrico’s crime was usury – charging excessive interest on loans.
A crime so serious that it resulted in the banker being damned the fires of Hell.
Worth a shot in Ireland.
Rather than appealing straight to Our Lord, though, Scrovegni had the bright idea of asking Jesus’s mother to intercede on his behalf.
And then dedicated the chapel and the frescoes to her life with a celebration of her role in human salvation.
And just to leave nobody in any doubt of his devotion he had Giotto paint him into the main scene.
Presenting a model of the chapel to her in the fresco The Last Judgment.
The Scrovegni Chapel is Padova’s calling card but it is only a hint of a more expansive canvas.
I am in Padova (Padua), 38km west of Venice in the Veneto region and 209kms from Milan.
As well as looking upwards – Padova is the City of Frescoes – it looks outwards.
It has been home to the Venetians, French and Austro-Hungarians over the last millennium and embraced all their influences.
Today it is looking westwards which is where we Irish probably come in.
But more immediately to Milan’s Expo 2015, a showcase for feeding the planet and energy for life.
Padova has a rich history of doing both.
The Brenta River which leads right down to the Grand Canal teems with life.
While the Venetian Plain attracted the mariners of that great city to avail of its rich agriculture.
And build grand villas and palaces to entertain dignitaries.
It is also home to the oldest botanical gardens in the world.
On this trip, we will get to witness all of this.
But today it’s Sunday so Church and a visit to the Basilica of St Anthony of Padova.
Yes, that St Anthony, the one who helps you – for some coins in his charity box – to find your keys,
St Anthony we are told has a wider reach than just those objects that fall out of your rucksacks and handbags.
He is also the patron saint of people who have lost their way in life or lost or fear losing something or someone close to them.
St Anthony’s bones are kept in an altar tomb in the basilica and people pass it in veneration, touching the side.
Which is adorned with photos of their loved ones.
A little bit more of St Anthony
The image of a young man, his head bowed and his hand placed on the side in silent invocation was truly moving.
I have to confess that this simple devotion touched me more than the veneration to St Anthony’s tongue and the bottom of his teeth in elaborate gold reliquaries further up the church.
The story goes that when St Anthony’s body was exhumed his tongue was still moist in recognition of his great preaching prowess.
So the Padovans decided to place it on show for veneration.
St Anthony hailed from Lisbon, but had he been Italian then you’d have to think his hands would have been on display.
They are a famously expressive people, the Italians.
And while in the big cities there is less of a willingness to indulge those who wish to try out their Italian.
I found the Padovans and, in particular, our guide Mariaclaudia charmingly engaging.
Perhaps it is because this is a university city but not just any old university city, among the top ten oldest in the world.
And where Galileo taught.
Naturally the statue to him which is among 78 in the Isola Memmia in the Prato della Valle portrays him with his hands outstretched.
It is also where the first woman anywhere in the world graduated.
An inclusive place then and one where you can, if you don’t have two left feet like your writer, get up to dance the tango.
With dozens of other Padovans in the piazza at night.
Perhaps with another glass of Venetian Spritz – the local speciality of Aperol (think Campari), Prosecco and mineral water.
Well, next time.
My own personal foodie
A word on the food and drink.
I had the good fortune to have accomplished Travel writer, food expert and bon viveur Peter on our trip.
I’m insisting that he come on all my future expeditions with me.
To describe in erudite fashion how good the likes of regional favourite Risi e bisi is.
A merely English translation as rice and peas clearly doesn’t do it justice.
So it’s best left in Italian.
A work of art on a plate
I’m sure other restaurants do Risi e bisi just as well as Taverna degli Artisti but my dish came at the end of an enchanting visit to Cittadella.
It is a 13th Century walled city which stands 14-16ft high and 4,793ft around.
Taverna degli Artisti stands opposite the quaint old we entered behind a market stall.
And through what looked like a lock-up door.
A treasure more memorable because it feels hidden away.
There is nothing shy and retiring though about the baroque Villa Pisani in Stra on the banks of the Brenta.
Built by Alvise Pisani, the 114th Doge, or leader, of Venice in 1735, there would be 114 rooms.
With frescoes of gods and men and women living and loving lustily.
With vino flowing as copiously as the water on the nearby Brenta.
And without the dams that that river employs to hold it back.
Pride of place in the villa is Napoleon Bonaparte’s bedroom – the little general bought it in 1806.
Bony’s bedroom is surrounded by empirical emblems and deliberately is the first the sun hits in the morning.
Not to be outdone, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler met here in Villa Pisani for the first time.
One imagines there must have been a fight to get Bony’s bed.
The Villa Pisani comes with its very own maze, the Labyrinth of Love.
Where we are told a young cloaked woman would stand in the centre at the top of a spiral staircase.
She was, of course, the prize for the man who managed to wend his way through the maze.
There is no historical record that Bony, Benito or Adolf burrowed their way manically through the maze.
But you would imagine that like us, they did.
We can only assume too that the young woman was on a day off when we visited!
But anyway it was time to get back on our burchiello – or boat.
As we skirted along the river at a gentle pace, gurgling wine and scoffing hors d’oeuvres we feel like those nobles of old.
Energy of the water
We are informed that many of the villas along the banks are also richly blessed but lie empty, still needing to be renovated.
It is a theme that keeps recurring: that the Italians, having finished what they had set out to build during the Renaissance packed up early.
And laid back and enjoyed the fruits of their labour.
So with dragonflies gently skimming along the water by our side I contemplate how the energy of life sometimes has to come in great rushes.
But it is often best captured in quiet moments and in water colours.
A gondola by the banks suggests Venice is drawing nearer but that is for another time.
And besides the Brenta boat voyage runs both ways and it was inland to Padova and its environs that the Venetians, after all, came for their pleasure and sustenance.
So, who am I to argue?
How to get there: Aer Lingus flies to Venice on Fridays, returning Sundays.
Package: The Only Weekend Padova option offers a double room in the central Hotel Europa which offers a comfy night’s stay, a balcony and breakfast. For two nights at €155.
And some extras
Extras: Padova Terme Euganee Convention & Visitors Bureau offers the PadovaCard for free www.weekendpadova.it/en/hotel-europa.
The Padova Card is valid 48 hours (€16) or 72 hours (€21) and valid for one adult and child under 14 www.turismopadova.it/en/context/423.
Besides free admission the Padova Card www.padovacard.it also provides discounts on attractions and allows visitors to use urban transit buses for free.
This article was first published in the Irish Daily Mail.
And why not check out some other Italian adventures https://jimmurtytraveltraveltravel.com/small-roads-lead-to-rome/ And https://jimmurtytraveltraveltravel.com/2019/08/04/see-rome-on-e50/.
And I’m flagging up http://www.topflight.ie and their Italy sale in https://jimmurtytraveltraveltravel.com/2019/08/10/holiday-snaps-save-money-on-italy/.