GUIDED TOURS TO VISIT THE FRESCOES BY LORENZO LOTTO IN THE SUARDI ORATORY
Please contact the Tourist Information Office to visit and admire the frescoes by Lorenzo Lotto in the Suardi Oratory. On Sundays (from March to November) without appointment, guided tours at 15.00 h. On other days (morning and afternoon) and for groups from 4 up to 25 persons on appointment.
Price per person for guided tour (approximately 45 minutes)
€ 8,00 per person
€ 6,00 per person for groups (more than 15 persons), over 65*, and children from 6 up to 14 years
It is not possible to visit the oratory without one of our guides and/ or with more than 25 persons per group.
Tourist Information Office (IAT Valcavallina)
Via Suardi, 20 – Trescore Balneario (Bg) 24069 Tel: +39 035 944777 – Mobile +39 335 7507917 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org – email@example.com
Office opening times: Monday to Saturday from 08.30 to 12.45
The Frescoes by Lorenzo Lotto in the Suardi Oratory – Trescore Balneario
“A small chapel dedicated to the glory of St Barbara and St Bridget”
Thus is defined, in a sixteenth-century survey, the building where L. Lotto realized the cycle of frescoes which, both for its dimensions and complexity of the themes, is generally considered the most demanding work of his artistic career.
Enclosed in the garden of the suburban villa of the Suardis, one of the oldest and most famous families in the Bergamo region, the ” small chapel ” overlooked once the road of the Val Cavallina, run often through by merchants and mercenary soldiers.
The first frescoes, dated 1502, were made in the apse by a still unknown artist, whom recent criticism believes of the circle of Jacopino de’ Scipioni.
In 1524, in answer to a request from Battista Suardi, a learned and deeply religious gentleman and an important representative of the public life in Bergamo as well, L. Lotto frescoed the two main walls, the one at the end of the room and the ceiling. It was a period of profound political and religious crisis.
The decaying reformers’ ideas aroused doubts and feelings of anxiety. Besides, people all over Europe feared a new deluge, which, presaged by astrologers and seen as a divine punishment, in the Bergamo region seemed to be confirmed by unusual and violent floods.
In such a situation , the iconographic programme, most likely dictated by the client himself and realized by L. Lotto in the direct and appealing language of popular drama, aimed at restating the religious truths denied by the reformers.
The central idea of the cycle is the possibility given to every man to share in the divine life.
On the large wall opposite the front door, the huge figure of Christ opens his arms; from his fingers the tendrils of the vine grow and rise to circle and enframe ten Saints of the Church.
Christ and the Church are therefore closely connected and together with the Saints, generated by the vine itself, are part of the Mystical Body, which the faithful too are called to share in. The evangelical line ”Ego
sum vitis vos palmites”, written in gold above the haloed head of the saviour, sounds as an explicit invitation.
At the centre of the lower register, Battista Suardi, half length, with his wife Orsola and his sister Paolina, his hands joined in prayer and his eyes gazing the sacred image, shows by his presence his assent to the theses of the complex doctrinal programme. One the extreme left and right of the wall are two ladders from which some vintners are falling down , each of them with a hatchet in a hand.
The meaning is clear; in their climbing up the ladder to cut the vine they are similar to those who in the past had tried to break the unity of the church.
On each figure, in fact, is the name of a heretic or a sect. Inside the first and the last circle, St Jerome and St. Ambrogio open the Holy Scriptures causing them to fall to the ground.
The two saints had bravely defended the Church against those very heretics whose names appear in the fresco.
In the meadow at feet of the ladder, a small green lizard, symbol of death, announces the inevitable damnation to the guilty vintners, while a greyhound and a snail, hinting at fidelity and spiritual rebirth, are leaving and heading for Christ, source of life. Above, the tendrils of the vine extend to the ceiling, forming a mystical vine were puttos are gathering grapes, suggesting the Eucharist, a meaning which is underlined by the writings in the scrolls.
The spatial organization is complex. Christ – vine, the Saints, the heretics, figures of the ideological programme, to which images of prophets and sibyls are added, symbolical tower in the foreground.
In the background a city view opens the wall to space, and in it the instructing episodes of the life of St Barbara are represented. As in a Miracle Play, the different places where the action takes place are set out as on a platform; the streets, squares and interiors of the imaginary town are accurately described and so are the embattled walls with gates opening on a landscape painted in delicate hues.
The small space of the oratory is by a play of illusion enlarged as far as the mountains, the very bright horizon, ending in a tone of an intense sky – blue above.
In continuous narrative, the episodes of the story follow each other inside the prospective spaces from left to right: the building of the tower in which Barbara’s father would have liked to shut his daughter, her conversion, her baptism in solitude, her outraging the pagan idol, speaking to her father, her words revealed in her simple and expressive gestures, her looking for shelter up the hills and, discovered, being dragged to town by her father, the different stages of her martyrdom, Christ appearing to heal her wounded body, an angel covering her naked body while the executioners are trailing her to the market place.
The story narrated is simple, but it is enriched with realist details, and shows L. Lotto’s preference for situations taking place. On the hills drama comes to an end: against a bright sky in the background, Barbara dies, her head cut by her father who, in order to disclose his wickedness even to an unlettered audience, is dressed like a Turk.
Next to the girl, her faithful little dog which more compassionate than men, has followed her all the time in her painful journey.
On the wall at the end of the chapel, is the fresco with the figures of St Catherine of Alexandria and St. Mary Magdalene, now in very bad conditions.
Of the former, Lotto sums up the story by presenting, together with the episode of the martyrdom, the philosophers, called to persuade the saint to abjure, die on the stake, convinced as they are of the truth of the religious faith professed by the girl.
The open landscape, the depth of which is underlined by the distance between the hills, contrasts with the dark narrow space of the cave, where Mary Magdalene, her body covered by her long hair, is waiting for the heavenly food which is to nourish her. A sham architectural frame with a trabeation supported by Corinthian pilasters connects real and imaginary space and continues on the entrance wall.
There the story of the nine miracles of St. Bridget, the Irish lady saint protectress against bad weather is presented. Flowers sprout out of the predella, made of dry wood, on which the girl is leaning her forehead when taking the veil, in front of the family of Maffeo Suardi, cousin of Battista, sharing with him the commission of the decoration of the chapel.
Then, masterfully alternating views of interiors and bright landscapes, Bridget is seen giving the poor the meat she has carried in her apron, white by miracle, or changing the water into beer, healing a blind man whose face shows the joy of inner light even before he is able to see, taming a wild boar, driving a storm away, punishing a greedy woman by withering a tree in her kitchen garden, dividing a silver vase into equal parts, subtracting a man from a violent death. There is nothing exceptional in the saint’s look, the miracle is presented without solemnity, through the simple gestures of the girl.
Faith and good actions, this is the message presented in the stories of St Barbara and St Brigdet, are both necessary to men to save themselves, in opposition to what Protestant doctrines asserted.
Above the entrance door a solitary hunter keeps an owl tied to small plate in his left hand; a symbol of heresy, it has just been used to attract other birds towards a trap in which they have found their death; now they are carried carelessly by the hunter on his shoulders. Recent criticism has confirmed the traditional interpretation of the hunter as self-portrait of L. Lotto. After pointing out the dangers that people who let themselves be seduced by attractive false doctrines may meet, the author leaves, fixing his eyes on Christ-vine on the opposite wall.
In the cycle, the most different suggestions can be found. Very old iconographic motifs, as the one of Christ-vine, are given life and modernity, almost in anticipation of Counter -Reformation patterns. Echoes from the art of northern countries, references to Raffaello, suggestions from the novelties in the language of Gaudenzio Ferrari are employed with great originality.
In his insistence on verity of appearances, detachment from schemes and conventions, use of the simple and popular tale, the painter’s sensibility meets the Lombard tradition of naturalism and creates passages of immediate truth, as the one, rightly famous, of the market, painted in lively colors and communicating a sensation of true life. Filtering his manifold experiences, Lotto achieves his highest creative moment and realizes a cycle which, besides being an example of his capacity to join art and culture, owing to his dignified language and deep meaning can stand comparison with the cycles of frescoes realized by his great contemporaries Raffaello and Michelangelo.