Friday, April 24, 2020

The Abbey of St Benedict in Polirone (Part 2)

Here is the second set of Nicola’s photos of the abbey of San Benedetto in Polirone near Mantua. As I mentioned in the previous post, the church was founded at the beginning of the 11th century, but as it stands today, is the result of a significant restructuring and redecoration by the architect Giulio Romano in the 1540s. As you can see below, one of the chapels preserves extensive remains of the mosaic pavement of a previous church, dated to the year 1151.

Niches in the apse above the choir, with terracotta statues of Abraham, Moses and Aaron by Antonio Begarelli, several of whose other works are shown in the previous post.
The dome of the crossing.
The tomb (now a cenotaph) of Matilde, countess of Canossa, more commonly known in English as Matilde of Tuscany, whose grandfather, the count Tedaldo, founded the abbey in 1007. She is famous among the powerful lay rulers of her era as one of the most important supporters of the Church, and particularly of Pope St Gregory VII, during the Investiture Controversy. As a sign of her support, she freed the abbey from her control and gave it to the Pope, who in turn gave it to the abbey of Cluny, which made it into one of the great centers for the spread of reforming ideals in northern Italy. She was buried here when she died in 1115. Over 500 years later, when the abbey had fallen on very hard times, the abbot permitted the Pope to transfer her remains to Rome in exchange for a large sum of money. Since 1645, they have been enshrined in a large tomb by Bernini in St Peter’s Basilica.
A bust of Pope Pius II Piccolomini (1458-64), who visited the abbey in 1459 while attended a council which he had called in order to proclaim a crusade.
The sacristy
The chapel of St Mary, a structure which survives in part from the previous version of the complex, connected to the north side of main abbey church. The area fenced off in front of the choir stalls on the right, and behind the two large columns at the back, preserves several parts of a mosaic floor dated to 1151. This seems to have been the location of the countess Matilde’s tomb when it was originally set up.
The mosaic in the transept, with representations of the cardinal virtues...
while the upside-down animals in the meander around them represent the vices.
Two symbols of good triumphing over evil: a unicorn fighting off a dragon...
and a warrior spearing a griffin.
The cupola of the chapel, largely rebuilt and entirely redecorated by Giulio Romano.

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