Thursday, October 06, 2016

The Charterhouse of Pavia

For the feast of Saint Bruno, the founder of the Carthusian Order, here are some pictures recently taken by Nicola of one of the most beautiful of the order’s monasteries, that of Pavia in Lombardy, about 8 kilometers north of the city. It was founded by the Duke of Milan, Gian Galeazzo Visconi, in 1396, partly to fulfill a vow made by his wife for a safe childbirth, partly as an expression of the artistic patronage which was so important to powerful Italian courts of Italy in that era, and partly because the Carthusians were regarded as the best kind of monks to have praying for you. The monks were more than once expelled from the complex and replaced by other religious orders, until they definitively left in 1947; since 1968, it has been home to a Cistercian community. Notwithstanding the theft of its land endowment by the Emperor Joseph II, and damage to the complex itself from the troops of Napoleon, it is an almost indescribably rich collection of artworks, of which we can only give a small idea here. (Although the Carthusian were so widely esteemed for their extreme austerity of life, it is interesting how many of the Italian charterhouses were founded by royalty who welcomed them, apparently, on condition that their austerity would not be expressed in the design or decoration of the church itself.)
The main entrance to the complex, which was originally with the park of a fortress of the Visconti; the fortress itself no longer exists.
The rising sun in the middle of the ceiling, the symbol of the Visconti, is also present in several places in the Duomo of Milan, another project of Gian Galeazzo.
The façade was constructed in the early decades of the 16th century, but never completed, and is missing its upper part, as will be seen from a design shown in another photograph below. It is incredibly rich in decoration, including not just Saints, but a series of medallion portraits of famous figures from classical history.
Although the central nave and side aisles are relatively simply, each of the side chapels in the latter is fully decorated.
This metal screen separates the nave from the transepts and the main choir. The cross seen above it stand over a marble portal at the entrance to the choir, which is shown in another photo below.
The cupola seen from behind the metal screen.
The entrance to the choir. 
The altar of the choir.

The tomb of Gian Galeazzo Visconti

If you look carefully, you can see a cleverly playful painting of a man peeping into the church from one of the windows. 
The counterfaçade 
The church seen from the cloister
The individual cells of the monks are seen from within the great cloister
Among the medallion portraits of great classical figures is the Emperor Nero, under whom Ss Peter and Paul were martyred. The positioning of the Holy Innocents behind him is certainly not accidental, although they died in the reign of Augustus: a reminder that great power can be used both for great good and for great evil.
In the panel on the façade, Gian Galeazzo Visconti is represented laying the first stone of the church. Above, workman carry a model of the building, which shows what the completed façade was supposed to look like, and above that, the city of Pavia is seen with many of its medieval towers still intact.
Just above the main entrance.
The Charterhouse of Pavia seen from a distance.

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