Spilimbergo (part 1)

Duomo of Spilimbergo, with the conspicuous seven oculi.

The charming town of Spilimbergo, with a population of about 12,000, is among other things known for its Saturday market. We had more or less accidentally picked a Saturday to visit it and the streets were simply crowded with people. Fortunately we managed to find a spot to park our car behind the local bus station. Having no real interest in the market, we decided to go and find the cultural and historical treasures of the town. The name “Spilimbergo” does not sound very Italian. It is in fact the Italian version of the German-Austrian name Spengenberg. The Spengenberg family was originally from Carinthia and in the eleventh century built a castle along the river Tagliamento. A settlement soon sprung up around the castle, which ultimately grew into a town. The Spengenbergs became vassals of the Patriarch of Aquileia, who granted them the title of count.

We first of all visited the Duomo of Spilimbergo. Its location is a bit off-centre, as we find the building on the eastern edge of the town centre. The construction of the Duomo started in 1284 on the orders of count Walterpertoldo II. The foundation stone was laid on 4 October of that year. Around 1359 the construction was completed and the edifice was consecrated in 1453. The building has a remarkable Romanesque façade with seven circular windows or oculi. Apparently this is a reference to the Book of Revelation, which informs us that the Lamb of God has seven horns and seven eyes (oculos septem in the Vulgate). The main entrance to the Duomo can be found in the long north side of the building, which faces the Piazza del Duomo. This entrance has a nicely sculpted portal dating from 1376 and made by Zenone da Campione (Campione d’Italia being a town on the border with Switzerland). In the lunette we see a representation of the Coronation of the Virgin with two angels playing musical instruments. Below the Coronation are more scenes, featuring the archangel Gabriel, the Lamb of God, the Virgin Mary (who combined with Gabriel forms an Annunciation) and Saint John the Baptist. To the left of the portal a fresco of Saint Christopher has been painted, which has unfortunately faded a lot.

Side view of the Duomo. The building and its tower are not symmetrical. During the construction the trajectory of the old city walls was followed.

Portal with the tympanum of Zenone da Campione.

Inside the Duomo the Gothic arches immediately catch the eye. The chief reason we wanted to visit the building was the work of the mysterious Maestro dei Padiglioni. In 1350-1380 he painted a series of beautiful frescoes in the central apse in the style of Vitale da Bologna. Presumably the Maestro dei Padiglioni was actually a group of painters that imitated the work of the great Vitale. They may even have been his pupils. Unfortunately the central apse was just undergoing restoration when we visited the Duomo, a typical case of much-needed maintenance postponed because of the COVID pandemic. A large canvas featuring a copy of the Maestro’s Crucifixion hid the central apse from view. This meant that regretfully for this time we had to skip the cycles of stories from the Old and New Testament, highly praised by our travel guide. What was left for us was a large fresco in the left apse. According to an inscription that has been preserved this fresco was commissioned in 1350 by a certain Paulus (the Latin text reads HOC OPVS FECIT FIERI PAVLVS). It represents the Nativity of Christ with the Adoration of the Magi.

The organ of the Duomo is very special. It was decorated by the painter Giovanni Antonio de’ Sacchis, more commonly known as Il Pordenone (ca. 1483-1539). On the left organ hatch we see the fall of Simon Magus and on the right hatch the conversion of Saint Paul. Especially the conversion has been very well done. While the future apostle is struck with blindness, his horse extends a leg outside the painted frame, a very good example of a trompe-l’oeil effect. Il Pordenone was very good at painting trompe-l’oeil effects, something we have previously seen in Cremona. When the organ hatches are closed, a scene of the Assumption of the Virgin should become visible. Among the other interesting works of art in the Duomo are a Crucifixion of Saint Andrew by the German painter Joseph Heintz the Younger (ca. 1600-1678), several late medieval frescoes by unknown painters and two pulpits from the end of the fifteenth century. The pulpits were made by Giovanni Antonio Pilacorte (ca. 1455-1531). Do not forget to visit the crypt of the Duomo. Here we find the tomb of count Walterpertoldo IV, who died in 1382.

Organ with painted hatches by Il Pordenone.

After visiting the Duomo we walked over to the local tourist information office (Ufficio Turistico Spilimbergo), located on the other side of the Piazza del Duomo. On a column in the loggia of the office we saw an image of the Macia, a unit of measurement from the Middles Ages that was used to measure pieces of cloth. The unit is alternatively known as the “ell”. The upper part of the Macia closely resembles a menorah, the familiar Jewish candelabrum. Jews were very active in trade in Spilimbergo, as were merchants from Lombardy and Tuscany.

La Macia.

The lady at the tourist information office informed us that it was unfortunately not possible to visit the small church of Santa Cecilia behind the Duomo. We therefore skipped it and made the Castello, once inhabited by the Spengenberg family and visited by the emperor Charles V in 1532, our next goal. From the castle the counts of Spilimbergo dominated the spot where the river Tagliamento was fordable. This allowed them to levy a toll from merchants. The Castello is nowadays partly municipal and partly private property. Among other things we find a restaurant and a museum dedicated to photography here. The best part of the Castello is the so-called Palazzo Dipinto, decorated on the outside with frescoes by Andrea Bellunello (1430-1494).

Palazzo Dipinto.

From the Castello we walked to the actual centre of town. On the Piazza Garibaldi we again saw the Macia, which had been made part of the pavement. It was now time to have lunch somewhere. There are more than enough good restaurants in Spilimbergo, but we chose to go to Osteria Al Mus C’Al Svuale. It is hard to say whether we managed to pronounce the (Friulian) name of the place correctly, but the food was certainly excellent.

Corso Roma in Spilimbergo.



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