Hidden treasures

Donatello’s Altar in the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua

Historical Curiosities

Donatello’s Altar in the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua

When visiting the city of Padua a not-to-be-missed monument is the magnificent Basilica dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua, a Franciscan friar of Portuguese origins who lived between the 12th and 13th centuries.

The Basilica, built between 1233 and 1310, is a shrine of valuable art treasures produced by the greatest artists of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, who were invited to work in the Basilica, including the famous Tuscan sculptor Donatello.

After the commission to execute a large bronze crucifix in 1443, Donatello was also tasked by the friars to build the high altar.

The original arrangement was probably suggestive of a three-dimensional 'sacred conversation' with the six free-standing statues of the saints - Francis Anthony, Justina, Daniel, Louis and Prosdocimo – positioned around a Madonna with Child under a sort of shallow canopy, supported by eight columns or pillars and placed next to the arches of the deambulatory. The base, adorned with bas-reliefs on all sides - St. Anthony's miracles and a Christ  Entombment - was likely composed of a predella and a platform decorated with marble inlays.

With the restoration of the presbytery in 1591, the altar was taken to pieces and its various art works destined to different parts of the Basilica. Only a few of Donatello’s statues were added back to the redesigned baroque altar, especially in the crowning portion. In 1895 the altar was reconstructed by the architect Camillo Boito, who, however, created an arbitrary arrangement different from the original composition.

If you want to visit the Basilica accompanied by a knowledgeable local tourist guide, please contact us to arrange an exclusive private tour of Padua!

By Insidecom Editorial Staff

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