UNDER the dictatorship of the Carraresi Padua was a major Italian power, rivaling and threatening Venice. In 1378 Padua joined Genoa in attempting to subjugate the island republic. In 1380 Venice, exhausted by her war with Genoa, ceded to the duke of Austria the city of Treviso, strategically situated on her north. In 1383 Francesco I da Carrara bought Treviso from Austria; soon afterward he tried to take Vicenza, Udine, and Friuli; had he succeeded he would have commanded the roads from Venice to her iron mines at Agordo, and the routes of Venetian trade with Germany; i.e., Padua would have controlled vital sources of Venetian industry and commerce. Venice was saved by the skill of her diplomats. They persuaded Giangaleazzo Visconti to join Venice in war against Padua; Gian, while doubtless distrusting Venice, seized the opportunity to extend his frontier eastward with Venetian connivance. Francesco I da Carrara was defeated and abdicated (1389); and his son, namesake, and successor renewed (1399) a treaty of 1338 that had acknowledged Padua to be a dependency of Venice. When Francesco II da Carrara resumed the struggle and attacked Verona and Vicenza, Venice declared war to the death, captured and executed him and his sons, and brought Padua under direct rule by the Venetian Senate (1405). The weary city abandoned the luxury of a native exploiter, prospered under an alien but competent administration, and became the educational center of the Venetian domain. From all quarters of Latin Christendom students came to its renowned university—Pico della Mirandola, Ariosto, Bembo, Guicciardini, Tasso, Galileo, Gustavus Vasa who would be King of Sweden, John Sobieski who would be King of Poland…. The chair of Greek was founded in 1463 and occupied by Demetrius Chalcondyles sixteen years before he went to Florence. A century later Shakespeare could still speak of “Fair Padua, nursery of arts.”
One Paduan was himself a famous educational institution. Trained as a tailor, Francesco Squarcione developed a passion for classic art, traveled widely in Italy and Greece, copied or sketched Greek and Roman sculpture and architecture, collected ancient medals, coins, and statuary, and returned to Padua with one of the best classical collections of his time. He opened a school of art, installed his collection there, and gave his pupils two main directives: to study ancient art and the new science of perspective. Few of the 137 artists whom he formed remained in Padua, since most of them came from outside. But in return Giotto came from Florence to paint the Arena frescoes; Altichiero came from Verona (c. 1376) to adorn a chapel in St. Anthony’s; and Donatello left memorials of his genius in the cathedral and its square. Bartolommeo Bellano, a pupil of Donatello, set up two lovely female statues for Gattamelata’s chapel in the same church; Pietro Lombardo of Venice added a fine figure of the condottiere’s son, and a splendid tomb for Antonio Roselli. Andrea Briosco—“Riccio”—and Antonio and Tullio Lombardo carved for the Gattamelata chapel some superb marble reliefs; and Riccio set up in the choir of the church one of the most imposing candelabra in Italy. He shared with Alessandro Leopardi of Venice and Andrea Morone of Bergamo in designing the unfinished church of Santa Giustina (1502f), a chaste example of the Renaissance architectural style.
It was from Padua and Verona that Iacopo Bellini and Antonio Pisanello brought to Venice the seeds of that Venetian school of painting through which the splendor of Venice was blazoned to the world.