Parma: Santissima Annunziata

Church of Santissima Annunziata.

The district west of Parma’s historical city centre is called Oltretorrente, which means ‘beyond the river’. This is of course a reference to the river Parma. It is hard to miss the church of Santissima Annunziata while exploring Oltretorrente. The church, which is alternatively known as the Basilica del Paradiso, has a rather striking shape. The edifice is basically an ellipse with a vestibule and ten radial chapels. The façade of the building looks a lot like a triumphal arch, and above the main entrance we find a sculpture of the Annunciation and words from the first chapter of the Gospel according to John:

(“And the word became flesh”)

The construction of the church started in 1566. Previously there had also been a church and a Franciscan convent on this spot, but these buildings were demolished in 1546 by order of Pier Luigi Farnese, the first duke of Parma and Piacenza. His father Pope Paulus III (1534-1549) had created this duchy for his illegitimate son.

Panorama image of the interior of the Santissima Annunziata.

Central chapel with high altar.

In 1547 Pier Luigi was murdered, and after an interregnum of several years he was ultimately succeeded by his son Ottavio Farnese. Ottavio decided to replace the demolished church with a new building and laid the foundation stone for it on 4 June 1566. The architect Giambattista Fornovo (1530-1585) was commissioned to lead the project; the street east of the church is named after Fornovo, who achieved little fame. The project must have encountered very few problems, as the architect was able to celebrate his wedding in the church as early as 1570. We do not know when exactly the church was finished, but we do know that the current roof of the building was constructed between 1626 and 1628. It was designed by the architect Girolamo Rainaldi (1570-1655), father of the more famous Carlo Rainaldi. The large convent south of the church also dates from the seventeenth century. One of the architects involved in its construction was Giovanni Battista Magnani (1571-1653).

The light interior of the church is splendid, but you should not expect to find many impressive works of art here. What is remarkable is that the church has, among other things, two copies of paintings from the sixteenth century. In the vestibule we find a copy of Correggio’s Annunciation, painted by Ignazio Affanni (1828-1889). The scant remains of the original are in the Galleria Nazionale of Parma. The altarpiece of the church is a copy as well. We see a Madonna and Child with four saints, including Saint Franciscus of Assisi. His presence should not come as a surprise: church and convent belong to the Friars Minor. The original work is by Francesco Zaganelli (ca. 1470-1532) and the copy was made by Antonio Brianti (1739-1787). Zaganelli presumably painted this work for the predecessor of the present church. Unfortunately I have not been able to establish where the altarpiece has gone. If you are looking for original works in this church, I can refer to a painting by Ilario Spolverini (1657-1734) in the fourth chapel on the left side.

If you visit the church or have just visited it, do also go for a stroll along the river Parma. There does not seem to be much water left in the river, but the environs are nice and green. Great egrets also like to sit on the rocks in the river and they happily pose for pictures.

Parma river with a great egret.

Sources: Treccani, Wikipedia.

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