Pavia, in San Michele Maggiore after centuries, the frescoes from the ‘400s are again visible

In Pavia, in the Basilica of San Michele Maggiore, after two centuries, the frescoes of the nave of the nave are again visible: made between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, they had been matte in the nineteenth century. Now the layers that covered them have been removed.

TO Paviain Basilica of San Michele Maggioreone of the most important religious buildings in northern Italy (it was also the site of the coronation of kings of Italy from ancient times), from June 22 the precious frescoes in the nave’s cross vault. The paintings, made between the end of the fifteenth and the middle of the sixteenth century, covered in the nineteenth century, find the light thanks to the just completed restoration, which is added to the already completed one, which involved the rectory of the rectory and delivered last March 2022 .

The public will have the opportunity to find a basilica of San Michele Maggiore completely changed in appearance, different from how it was used to admire it until recently. In fact, frescoes from bright colors which visitors find by looking up at the vaults. The rediscovery of the frescoes was possible thanks to one descalbatura work which freed them from the layers of images that covered them. Just that chromaticism of his paintings it was a feature for which the basilica was famous in antiquity: however, the colors also appear very clearly on the capitals, which are also the subject of restoration.

The novelty of this intervention isupdate the look of the basilica after the restoration carried out in 1865, which was based on a historicist theory that recognized neutral tones, albeit dull, in a Romanesque style architecture. Among the most important discoveries is the discovery of a fresco depicting a man, originally identified in Frederick Barbarossa, crowned emperor of this church, but who is believed (without any exact certainty) to belong to Emperor Constantine, by virtue of a cartouche that appears next to his figure.

The works were led and coordinated by the architect Carlo Bergamaschi of the A7design design studio in Pavia, in collaboration with the Scientific Committee and the Supervision of the Superintendence of Archeology, Fine Arts and Landscape for the provinces of Como, Lecco, Monza-Brianza, Pavia, Sondrio and Varese, the scientific collaboration generated by the agreement with the three universities, as set out in the Annex and promoted by the Il Bel San Michele non-profit association of Pavia. The realization of these restorations, included in the project planned by the Integrated Cultural Plans – PIC, in Lombardy, which has contributed in an important way together with the Luigi Rovati Foundation in Monza, to ASM Pavia, to the Community Foundation of Province of Pavia, to the Bracco di Milano Foundation, Coop Lombardia, Universitiamo di Pavia and donations from private individuals. Work in San Michele will continue in the coming months and will insist on cleaning the vaults and opening to the public the inframural paths that run through the thickness of the facade walls and along the women’s galleries.

“The restoration and improvement interventions,” he says Vittorio Vaccarichairman of the Il Bel San Michele non-profit association of the Basilica of San Michele in Pavia, “arises from the strong desire to be able to pass on a monument to future generations, bequeathed to us by our fathers and at the same time, today’s society guarantees its greater liturgical and cultural applicability and a knowledge of its own history, for which reason we have set ourselves the goal of reaffirming this architectural jewel as a religious and cultural reference point for the city, characterized by dozens of civil and religious testimonies of the Romanesque.

The frescoes found

Historical notes on the Basilica of San Michele Maggiore

Of Lombard foundation, the church of San Michele di Pavia was probably built on the site of a former pagan building converted by Constantine into a Christian church. Subsequently, perhaps destroyed after invasions (such as the Hungarians’ in 924), fires (in 1004), destruction of the palace (in 1024) and earthquakes (in 1017), it was probably rebuilt in the 12th century. It became the seat of the coronation of several Italian kings, such as Arduino d’Ivrea (1002), Otto II (1004) and Federico Barbarossa (1155). The importance of this basilica is to be attached to essential constructive elements of Romanesque stylewith particular reference to the uniqueness of the bas-reliefs on the façade, which highlights the influence associated with a large system of international connections, especially with the East, performed by highly qualified people (from St. Ennodio onwards) and from several experiences arising from a large network of territorial migrations, with particular reference to the builders, who collect and exchange experiences, which they then deposit in their works, revealing memories of dialogical forms and techniques from across Europe.

The special thing about San Michele, built in sandstone, is that all the other Romanesque emergencies in Pavia during that period were built in brick. It may also be pointed out that the reconstruction of the present Basilica of San Michele with the demolition of the former Lombard Church takes place in a period of strong municipal transformation, in which the role of the bourgeoisie and the increasingly present role of the bishop are confirmed; at that time the imperial delegates were based in Lomello: it is symbolic that a church of this structural and stylistic significance is not a cathedral.

L ‘Romance experience in Lombardy find the important reference points in Santa Maria a Lomello, in San Michele in Pavia, in Sant’Abbondio in Como and in Sant’Ambrogio in Milan, where the large columns originally alternated with the smaller ones with a composition in which i.a. rectangular span assembled in a single vault the two arches of the women’s gallery and the upper rectory. A very heavy construction that unloaded part of its mass on the large pillars and corridors, but which allowed openings that gave the church a greater brightness. In San Michele, the nave was only covered by two vaults, which directly supported the roof of the basilica. At the height of each vault there were double single-lane windows on both sides: the weight of this structure compromised the static conditions of the central nave to induce a subsequent intervention of complete reconstruction of the order of the new cruises. , which took place in the late 15th century.

Between 1488 and 1491 he was called to intervene Jacopo da Candia, master architect, with his son Agostino. The intervention does not restore the two partially collapsed vaults, but knocks them down and replaces them with four times lighter ones, which have so far withstood very well. The large sandstone cross has been replaced by two smaller and lighter brick crosses. To date, the only original cruise is the Prebyteral. The picture heritage, the frescoes covering the vaults, can be dated between the end of the fifteenth and the middle of the sixteenth century.

The intervention on the vaults made it possible to initiate lines of research both on the imaging systems, on the construction systems of the vaults and roofs and on the characteristics of the brick wall cladding for a specific knowledge of the construction systems and methods of intervention performed on the basilica.

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