Switzerland: A 16th Century Altarpiece Restored in Santa Maria degli Angeli

September 05, 2021
Source: fsspx.news

The altarpiece, dated between 1548 and 1551, two and a half meters high, is the work of the Italian painter Callisto Piazza da Lodi (1523-1561). The representation of the Assumption and the Coronation of the Virgin Mary had been commissioned by Battista Rusca in 1548 for the Franciscan Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Lugano, Ticino.

Returning from London, where it was bought at auction at Sotheby's by the canton of Ticino, the diocese of Lugano and the city of Lugano, the painting will be returned to the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, as soon as the restoration is completed.

The work was part of a triptych placed on the main altar, which included two side panels representing Saints Paul and Francis and Saints Bernardin of Siena and Peter Martyr of Verona, now preserved in the Museum of art Sorlini di Cavalgese della Riviera (Brescia).

The triptych had been sold by the Franciscans in 1768. Having passed through several private collections, the whereabouts of the altarpiece was unknown until recent years.

The church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, annexed to the Franciscan convent founded in 1490, was consecrated in 1515. By government decree of July 15, 1848, the monks were expelled from the canton of Ticino. The convent was partially demolished and in its place, during the years 1852-1855, the Hotel du Parc was built without regard to the size and harmony of the pre-existing church.

In 1903, the hotel took the name Grand Hotel Palace: from the old convent, a wing of the cloister, with two stories of windows, is integrated into the hotel structure. Today, the municipality of Lugano has demolished the dilapidated hotel, which is being replaced by luxury apartments, meeting rooms, and a theater.

As cultural assets, are protected: the portico of the cloister, the ground floor and the respective rooms, the entrance hall of the staircase, and the vaulted corridor of the first floor, as well as decorative elements and important fragments of 16th century murals in the portico of the cloister: 16 episodes (1591-1607) on the life of St. Francis are made visible.

The typology of the building corresponds to that of the Lombard convent churches of the Bernardine Reform divided into a space for the faithful - the nave with four polygonal side chapels covered with barrel vaults with bezel, communicating with each other, on the north side - and a space for monks, square shaped; the square choir was enlarged in 1772 with the addition of the apse, as evidenced by the date on the outside of the building.

The church underwent restorations in the years 1922-1930 to restore the Renaissance aspect (unveiling of frescoes, alterations to the façade and choir) and in the years 2005-2007. The exterior of the building and the adjoining cloister of the convent were restored by the Cultural Heritage Directorate in 2012-2015; the interior restoration of the church is scheduled for this year.

Among the remarkable works preserved in Santa Maria degli Angeli is the fresco by Bernardino Luini, the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ painted in 1529.

The painter, Callisto Piazza, grew up in a family of artists and trained in his father’s studio. A generation younger than Bernardino Luini, he was a representative of the Mannerist period and enjoyed some success in Milan from 1534 onwards.

In this altarpiece, the artist combined the iconography of the Assumption with that of the Coronation by placing the Virgin crowned by Jesus in the upper part. Below, one can see the apostles gazing anxiously at the empty tomb.