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Palazzo della Ragione (The Hall of Justice)

Palazzo della Ragione (The Hall of Justice)
With a length of 82 meters and a width of 27 the Salone or Palazzo della Ragione, once the seat of the town courts of Padua, is one of the widest rooms with a roof unsupported by columns in Europe. Acknowledged as one of the most famous civil monuments built in Europe in the age of the Communes, the erection of this building started in 1218.

Between 1306 and 1308 Fra' Giovanni degli Eremitani turned the three chambers into which the upper floor was at first divided into a single hall, and designed a roof in the form of an upturned hull of a ship.
In the first decade of the Fourteenth century, Giotto and his workshop were hired to fresco the walls of the great hall; unfortunately the cycle of frescoes was destroyed by the fire that wiped out the archives of the da Carrara family in 1420.

The frescoes were restored by the Paduan master Nicolò Miretto with the cooperation of Stefano da Ferrara and other painters, and adhering to the studies by Pietro d'Abano, a wealthy scholar of the time.
The cycle of frescoes is divided into 333 panels organized into three tiers, one above the other. It is an extremely rare astrologic cycle of frescoes painted in the Middle Ages that has survived to present day.
The tight relationship between the paintings and the function of the place explains why various animals - both true and fantastic ones - were painted to form the sign of the various Courts. The functions performed by these courts were also linked to the allegories of Justice, Law, the Commune within the Seigniory, and to some frescoes depicting the Judgement by Solomon and a scene from a process. The Salone also preserves the "pietra del Vituperio" or stone of shame, where insolvent debtors, in their underwear, were forced to hit their bottom three times; and the huge wooden horse that was recently restored to its old splendour. This horse was carved by Annibale Capodilista for a joust, and later his family donated it to the town. Today the large hall is a venue for cultural events and exhibitions; therefore it has preserved its central role in the public life of Padua.



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The wooden horse


The big wooden horse kept in Palazzo della Ragione was ordered by Annibale Capodilista in 1466: it was one of the big machines - and the only one that has survived - made for an extraordinary celebration that was organized in Padua, in the squares Piazza dei Signori and Piazza del Capitanio. The parade saw the participation of all the people in town, and of more people who had been attracted to town for this exceptional event.

Later the poems by Giovanni Giacomo Cane and Lodovico Lazzarello give us a detailed report of that huge parade, while the horse is recalled in the palace of the Capodilista family in San Daniele by Vasari, who described it in 1568 and attributed its making to Donatello.

This gigantic artefact remained in the palace until 1837, as is mentioned by Scardenone and old guides on the town. That year the earls Giorgio and Giordano Emo Capodilista donated the horse to the Municipality of Padua for it to preserve the artefact and restore it, or else they would take the gift back.

The Horse had lost its head and tail; these were remade by carver Agostino Rinaldi upon a horse model of the equestrian monument to Gattamelata made by sculptor Antonio Gradenigo.

Since then we have no news of more far-reaching interventions on this work of art, with the exception of some sporadic, small maintenance work.



Restoration works


The actual restoration work was preceded by careful diagnosis, which ended in 2003. The analysis identified the types of wood used for the various parts of the horse - mainly spruce for the parts made in the Fifteenth century. Some types of wood were not from the original artefact, but had been integrated during some interventions in the Nineteenth century.

A precise mapping of damage was made, with the analysis of wood compactness and alteration, of the deterioration caused by xylophage insects, and of the problems with nails and other metal elements.

Absolute dating tests confirmed the traditional dating.

Special attention was devoted to structural analysis; this revealed that the most compact parts - the legs - are made of a lamellar structure and that the whole weight rests on the leg that is placed on a metal sphere weighing 615 kilos. The latter was designed to confer balance to the whole. The legs support the hollow, rather light trunk into which the other secondary elements are grafted: the neck, the head, and the tail. The analysis of the interior, that was left hollow to allow people enter, shows clear structural similarities with the ship construction technique, given the presence of ribbing and of a stiff horizontal plane.


Among the interesting discoveries are some traces of plastering-puttying that originally covered the whole horse, to hide the wooden planks and produce a bronze-like surface.

Only after data and observations were processed did restoration works start. Work scaffolding was built all around the wooden structure, to serve also as a support and to avoid that the workers, when reaching the horse, might transmit negative stresses to the horse.

After the first dusting, the artefact was disinfested. The structure was wrapped in plastic sheets and kept under controlled atmosphere, so that the percentage of carbon dioxide inside the wrapping could guarantee the elimination of all xylophage insects in three weeks' time.

Only once these preliminary stages were over, the true phase of structure strengthening and cleaning could start both inside and outside the artefact.


All frail connections and sagging gluing were restored; the most corroded metal connections, now unable to guarantee the static balance of the structure, were replaced. Experts decided not to remove oxidised oils and waxes, but rather to infuse new life in those substances that had become mat due to alterations and dust. White spirit was spread all over to make these materials soluble again, and after some well-targeted removal a new colour balance was achieved and the function of protective materials restored.


In the most damaged areas by xylophages, where wood looked frail especially in the anchoring points to the underlying structure, wood was strengthened.

Structural analysis offered the opportunity to restrict static interventions to the critical points for horse stability, by inserting plugs and tension devices in those parts that had suffered mechanical deterioration due to general oscillations and to the wanting technique applied at the time when the horse was crafted.


Restoration works were completed at the end of the month of October 2004. All the study made on that occasion and the report on the restoration works were published in a special monographic issue of the magazine "Progetto Restauro", supplement no. 1 to issue no. 31 of the quarterly magazine for the safeguard of the cultural heritage, publishing house Il Prato, 2004.



For further information:

Palazzo della Ragione, access from the staircase "Scala delle Erbe" on the square Piazza delle Erbe
Entrance for disabled people from via VIII febbraio
tel. +39 049 8205006

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday
09:00 a.m. - 7.00 p.m. from February, 1 to October, 31
09.00 a.m. - 06.00 p.m. from November, 1 to January, 31
Access is allowed until half an hour before closing time
Closed on: all non-holiday Mondays, Christmas, December 26, New Year's Day, May 1st.
Tickets: full fare euro 4,00; cheap fare euro 2,00; free entrance for children under the age of 6 and for people with disabilities


Management Office of the Town Museums, via Porciglia 35
tel. +39 049 8204513
fax +39 049 8204566



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