Frescoe chariot 1

Frescoe Palazzo 2

After travelling through Turin, Pavia, Cremona and now Mantua I have come to the conclusion that to follow this itinerary you have just GOT to adore frescoes. The ancient churches of these towns, and not just the Duomos, are coated with them – and not just the walls, but the ceilings, galleries, arches and columns too.

Bas San Andrea 1

Floor to ceiling frescoes in the Basilica di San Andrea


Bas Andrea Dome

These frescoes were painted by masters and are of course exquisite works of art, all the more special to me in that they cannot be moved (usually) and placed in museums, but still grace the walls they were intended for after so many centuries.

Frescoe San Andea

At first one stands in stunned awe but, although my appreciation never waned, my sense of wonder after such an abundance began to pale by the time I reached Mantua. Is it possible to have a surfeit of wonderful art?   I felt as if my brain’s culture-nodes had melted.  There is only so much awe a girl can emit.

Frescoe palazzo old

Frescoe Palazzo Ducale

Added to which I started to feel more and more uncomfortable about the wealth of the Roman Catholic Church. Many of you will be ahead of me on this but I have always appreciated that if it weren’t for the power and protection of the Church the artworks they contain would have been neither created nor preserved. Now, after so many priceless works of art, golden altarpieces, silver candlesticks as tall as a child, chalices and copious marble, something started to feel out of synch in my tummy.     I imagined the poverty of the masses at the time that these precious objects were fashioned or donated to the Church.   Is it morally right to be admiring them now?   I pondered this conundrum in these cathedrals of gold and jewels – for without the Church we would not have these marvels at all.

Dumomo gold

The Duomo Gold

Then, just when my head was teeming with gorgeous Church art, I visited the Palazzo Ducale of the formidable Gonzaga family, who presided over Mantua in the 14th century, and was completely blown away by its artworks – the fabulous rooms, ceilings, paintings and total display of utter, utter wealth. This is the largest residence in Italy after the Vatican and it is replete with every kind of work of art.  As well as all its medieval and renaissance collections it even had heartbreakingly beautiful 1st century Roman sculpture tucked away like an afterthought.

Roman woman

The lovely face of Roman sculpture

Perhaps that was why I sat for a long while with something of a sense of relief in the small red-brick Rotunda of San Lorenzo.

Rotunda San Lorenzo

Rotunda window

This simple 11th Century circular church, sunk below the Piazza Erbe, is like a layer cake with its galleries ringed above you.

San Lorenzo interior 1

Rotunda 1

Once, the inner rim of this cake was painted with Bible stories but these frescoes have long-gone or faded which only added to its charm. Here there was no gold or silver but a 15th century terracotta Madonna Enthroned with Child, possibly the loveliest Madonna I have ever set eyes on, inspired by the words of Saint James in the Book of Revelation : “her dress was like the sun, the moon was under her feet and she had a crown of twelve stars on her head”.

Rotunda MAria 1

After all the sad, tragic, pained religious images I had seen in most churches, and the gold silver and fine art in the cathedrals,  the simplicity of this work seemed to me a great deal closer to the Divine.

Simple yet perfect too, on my last evening in Mantua the local fishermen and I were given the gift of a burnished sunset that set fire to Mantua’s lakes.

Sunset & boat

Sunset red

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  1. Jenny says:

    Absolutely beautiful xxx

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