The university town of Padua, about 20 miles from Venice, has long been overshadowed by its more glamorous neighbour. But in the 14th and 15th centuries, it was the centre of a rich intellectual, artistic and religious life.
Unlike Venice, Padua was a Roman city, which claimed to have been founded by the ancient Trojan prince Antenor. In the late Middle Ages, students from across the continent flocked to study at its university, particularly famed for its excellence in the law, medicine and the classics. Visitors were also drawn to visit the tomb of Saint Anthony (1195–1231) in the church of the Santo – then, as now, the patron saint of lost objects and causes.
Attracted by the opportunities it offered, established artists of the calibre of Giotto, Guariento and Donatello came to work in the city. Others received their training in the ‘Academy of Design’ established in Padua by Francesco Squarcione (1394–1468), an influential artist, teacher and entrepreneur. His pupils included Andrea Mantegna, Giorgio Schiavone and Marco Zoppo. Although Squarcione proved an exploitative mentor, not averse to selling his talented pupils’ work as his own, his art academy opened their eyes to the importance of drawing, and to the inspiring example of Classical art.