Part 3 of the series about the Museo di Santa Giulia in Brescia is dedicated to the nuns’ choir (Coro delle Monache), which has been built against the eighth century church of San Salvatore. Construction of the choir was closely related to reforms within the Benedictine Order in the fifteenth century. Benedictines once again emphasised the need for seclusion, and the choir allowed the nuns to attend mass in the church without actually being seen. One can find a similar construction in the church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere in Rome, and it should hardly come as a surprise that a convent of Benedictine nuns is attached to this church as well. Construction of the nuns’ choir in Brescia is usually dated to 1466. Later, between 1593 and 1599, an entirely new church arose west of the choir: the church of Santa Giulia. This church was deconsecrated long ago. It was turned into the seat of the Museo dell’Età Cristiana in 1882 and is currently in use for conferences. Although the present museum is known as the ‘Museo di Santa Giulia’, it is – as far as I know – not possible to visit the church of Santa Giulia.
Things to see in the nuns’ choir
The nuns’ choir has been embellished with beautiful frescoes painted by Floriano Ferramola (ca. 1478-1528) and Paolo da Caylina the Younger (ca. 1485-1545). Ferramola had previously provided the Santa Maria in Solario with frescoes (see part 2) and the nuns apparently found his work to their liking. Unfortunately the painter died at a rather young age and experts therefore assume that Caylina the Younger had to continue the project after his death. Regretfully he too was unable to finish the decoration of the choir. It was only in 1559, well after the painter had died, that the project was finally completed. It follows that more painters were involved, but the only thing we know for certain about them is that they were less talented than Ferramola and Caylina, which may be the reason that their names have not been preserved. A very impressive work of art is the large and colourful fresco of the Crucifixion, which is attributed to Ferramola and must therefore have been completed before 1528. Caylina was responsible for the frescoes in the chapels on the north side of the choir, and here a beautiful Resurrection catches the eye.
In the choir we can admire several funerary monuments, but all of them originally stood in other churches. First of all there is the splendid monument for the Venetian condottiero Niccolò Orsini, count of Pitigliano (1442-1510). It is made of Marmo Botticino and is attributed to the sculptor Antonio Mangiacavalli from Como. On the sarcophagus is an effigy of the deceased, lying in full armour. The front of the sarcophagus has images of the Virgin Mary, Saint Anthony Abbot and Saint George. The monument had originally been placed in a church in the town of Ghedi, south of Brescia, but rather ironically it never served as the final resting place of Niccolò Orsini. As he was a ‘great Venetian’, he was granted an even more beautiful tomb in the immense church of San Zanipolo, the national Pantheon of Venice.
Even better is the Mausoleo Martinengo, designed by Bernardino delle Croci (ca. 1450-1528), a goldsmith from Parma. It originally stood in the church of the Gesuati in Brescia, the Santissimo Corpo di Cristo, and had been intended for Bernardino Martinengo. The mausoleum was commissioned by his two sons, who served as executors of the deceased’s will. Bernardino Martinengo had died in 1501, and the assignment for the mausoleum was granted in 1503, but initially progress was slow for several reasons. There were conflicts about money, one of the brothers passed away and in 1512 the French took Brescia and sacked it (the notorious Sacco di Brescia). Nevertheless, there is documentary evidence that Bernardino Martinengo was laid to rest in his mausoleum in 1515. In 1516 Delle Croci received the last payments, so it seems fair to assume he finished the work soon after.
In 1526, captain Marcantonio Martinengo was laid to rest in the mausoleum. He was a scion of a different branch of the family. His entombment caused quite a lot of confusion, for it has long been assumed that the mausoleum had in fact been made for him. In 1883 the object was moved to the recently established Museo dell’Età Cristiana in the church of Santa Giulia, where it was placed in the nuns’ choir. When the Museo di Santa Giulia opened its doors to the public in 1998, the mausoleum was moved to the west side of the choir. Although there is no doubt that the job to make the mausoleum was granted to Bernardino delle Croci, it is often assumed that he cannot have worked on it alone. He was, after all, a goldsmith, not a sculptor. It is possible that the sculptor Gasparo Cairano (see Brescia: The Duomo Nuovo) and his studio were involved in the project. The name of Maffeo Olivieri (1484-1543) is often mentioned as well.
To conclude this post, I would like to draw your attention to a nice marble triptych that originally stood in the church of Santi Faustino e Giovita. In the centre of the triptych we see Saint Honorius (Onorio), who served as bishop of Brescia between 592 and 598. He is flanked by Faustinus and Jovita, the city’s patron saints (see Brescia: San Faustino in Riposo). The triptych dates from the fifteenth century.
- Evert de Rooij, Lombardije Oost, p. 50-52;
- Information panels in the Museo di Santa Giulia;
- UNESCO nomination file, p. 241-242.