Friday, July 13, 2018

Santa Maria in Organo in Verona, Italy

The church of Santa Maria “in Organo” in Verona takes its name not from its own organ, but from an ancient Roman water clock which was powered by the river Adige, which runs through the city; as the water flowed through the device and turned it, it also passed over pipes that played music. The clock was perhaps already badly damaged by the flooding of the Adige when it was destroyed by the Lombards in the 8th century.

In 1444, the church was given to the Olivetan monastic order, who held it until the suppressions of the Napoleonic era, in 1808. At the very end of the 15th century, a monk of this order, Fra’ Giovanni da Verona, built and decorated the sacristy, a work which the great artist historian Giorgio Vasari described as “the most beautiful sacristy in all of Italy.” Here are some photos taken by Nicola; those of the church itself are given below.

“ the lunettes he painted various Popes in pontifical habit, two per section, those who were elected to the papacy from the order of St Benedict. Around the sacristy ... there is a band ... in which are depicted in monastic habit various emperors, kings, dukes and other princes, who left the states and principalities which they had, and became monks.” (Vasari)

“And truly it was because of this decoration that this became the most beautiful sacristy in all of Italy, because, apart from the beauty of the well-proportioned space of a reasonable size, and the fact that the paintings are very beautiful, there is also in the lower part the doors of the cupboards, worked in cut and inlaid wood, with lovely images in perspective, done so well that in those days, and perhaps also in our own, none better are to be seen, since Fra’ Giovanni da Verona, who made the work, truly excelled in that art...  as is also demonstrated (by his other works.)” (Vasari)

The city of Verona has an ancient Roman amphitheater, known simply as “the Arena”, built in the first century, but severely damaged by an earthquake of 1117, as seen here in Fra’ Giovanni’s representation of it. After various modern restorations, it is now used for operatic performances and many other events.

The center of the ceiling vault.
The church was originally constructed between the 6th and 8th century, when the Lombards dominated northern Italy, but was destroyed by an earthquake in 1117, and rebuilt in various phases after that. The church’s bell tower stands on the base of the ancient Roman water clock, the only part of the latter that survives. The façade was begun in 1547 by Michele Sanmicheli, but never finished.
“Fra’ Giovanni also carved ... a 14-foot tall candlestick for the Paschal candle, all in walnut, with incredible diligence, and I do not believe that there is any better example of such a thing to be seen.” (Vasari)

Andrea Mantegna’s Trivulzio Madonna was made for this church in 1497; the angels playing the organ at the bottom allude to the church’s nickname. On the left side are Ss John the Baptist and Gregory the Great, on the right, Ss Benedict (shown in the Olivetan habit) and St Jerome, who holds a model of the church. The painting is now located in the Painting Gallery of the Castello Sforzesco in Milan.
A statue of Christ on a donkey, designed to be carried in the Palm Sunday procession.

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