Cremona: Sant’Agostino

The Sant’Agostino.

The church of Sant’Agostino is an enormous brick building from the fourteenth century. The church stands on the Via Breda, and the name of this street gives a clue about the predecessor of the church. This previous church was the San Giacomo in Braida, with the Germanic word braida meaning ‘field of grass’. The word was incorporated into the Italian language as breda or even brera. In 1336, the bishop of Cremona granted the Eremitani or ‘hermits’ of the Order of Saint Augustinus, who until then had made use of a church in the vicinity (the lost San Tommaso), permission to demolish the San Giacomo and replace it with a larger building. Construction of the Sant’Agostino started in 1339 and the new church was completed in 1345. Two cloisters and a library were built on the northern side of the church, but unfortunately these are gone today. On the southern side a couple of chapels were added, and these are still there.

The building with its typical hut-shaped façade has managed to retain its Gothic character on the outside: note the pointed arches. The interior of the church, however, was completely remodelled in 1553. The Gothic arches of the nave did not survive the remodelling and the square pillars that we see today were added. The statues of patriarchs and prophets in the nave, six on either side, were put in place in the seventeenth century. They were made by Giovanni Battista Barberini (1625-1691), who was also responsible for the group of statues in the second chapel on the right. This group, an exceptionally dramatic version of the Crucifixion of Christ, is very beautiful (see the large image below). However, the two true highlights of the church are to be found elsewhere.

Giovanni Battista Barbarini – Cappella della Passione.

Interior of the church. The chapel on the right with the curtain is the Cappella Cavalcabò.

The first highlight is the third chapel on the right, the Cappella Cavalcabò. Ugolino Cavalcabò (ca. 1350-1406) commissioned it in 1399 when he was Lord of Cremona. Unfortunately he was murdered by a rival in 1406. Much later his daughter Giovanna Cavalcabò hired the painter Bonifacio Bembo (ca. 1420-1480) to decorate the chapel with frescoes. Regretfully a large part of these frescoes has not been preserved, although those on the cross-vault are still in relatively good condition.

What is special about the chapel is that we also find portraits of Bianca Maria Visconti and Francesco Sforza here. The former was the daughter of Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan. Filippo Maria died in 1447. He had been the last male member of the House of Visconti, and after his death the citizens of Milan proclaimed the Ambrosian Republic. It proved to be short-lived. Filippo Maria’s daughter Bianca Maria (1425-1468) was married to the mighty condottiero Francesco Sforza (1401-1466). It took Sforza just three years to bring down the Republic, and after its subjugation he took the title of Duke of Milan for himself. The wedding of Bianca Maria and Francesco had taken place in Cremona, which explains their presence in this church. Unfortunately the church of Sant’Agostino is a very dark church, and the light in the Cappella Cavalcabò is not very good either. I was therefore unable to take any pictures that are of acceptable quality, but the photos here and here give a decent impression of the art in the chapel.

Madonna and Child, Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Augustinus – Perugino.

The second highlight is a panel painted in 1494 by the great Perugino. Perugino (ca. 1446-1523) painted it in Florence, for the Roncadelli family from Cremona. The result was a fairly simple painting featuring a Madonna and Child, Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Augustinus. There can be no doubt that Perugino was the painter, as the work was signed PETRVS PERVSINVS PINXIT, followed by the year 1494 (MCCCCLXXXXIIII). To the right of the altar on which the panel was set up one can still see the remnants of older works of art, in this case frescoes. Traces of similar frescoes can be found elsewhere in the church. Judging by their style they were probably painted shortly after the church was completed in 1345.



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