The Romanesque decoration of the church of San Tommaso in Acquanegra sul Chiese (Mantua, Lombardy), formerly a Benedictine abbey church and now a parish church, is the result of a single project that can be attributed to the long-lived and enigmatic Abbot Peter (chronicled in 1101, 1119 and 1130). According to its architectural features (Piva in this volume, Architecture) and the archaeological evidence (Gallina, Breda in this volume), the church was built around the middle of the eleventh century, or slightly later, as an aisled basilica with a transept, a deep presbytery raised on a crypt-oratory, and three apses. It was done in brickwork and covered with a wooden roof. At the beginning of the twelfth century Abbot Peter had the nave and the presbytery raised (by 2.20 metres) and the clerestory windows enlarged, in order to considerably increase the brightness as well as the surface area on which an impressive painted cycle would unfold, modestly preserved today and split by late Renaissance vaults. The decoration was executed in two stages (first the presbytery, then the nave) by different painters, who may have been hired by a single workshop, and was completed soon after by a figurative mosaic pavement (Vaccaro in this volume). The paintings and mosaics were so closely connected to the architecture as to allow us speak of a visual device, involved in the dynamics of the monastic liturgical space. The iconographic programme starts on the west side of the west crossing arch with a sequence showing the story of Adam and Eve. It continues on the nave walls with forty-four Old Testament figures standing in two registers, from the probable Noah (S01) to Judas Maccabeus (S44), each one formerly identified by a titulus and holding a scroll reading a verse drawn from the relative Book of the Bible. Between the arcades, close to the point of view of the monks or members of the faithful, a scene concerning the Prophet Balaam and the Ass (Num 22, 22-35) is depicted on the south side, while a rare narrative sequence about Jerome and the lion is displayed on the north side. The representation of the Old Testament continues on the west side of the east crossing arch, with the ascensions of Elijah and Enoch flanking what is probably the Ark of the Covenant inside a clypeus held by two angels. On the other face of the arch is juxtaposed a similar composition, with angels bearing the Holy Lamb (or Christ) in a clypeus worshipped by two enigmatic men without halos, who are coming out of arched city gates next to a domed ciboria in perspective: could they be the Witnesses of Apocalypse 11 in Jerusalem? Perhaps the Benedictine commissioners? Or other people entirely? Paolo Piva's contribution to this volume (Iconography and Liturgical Space) attempts to identify them. A part of what is probably an apostle holding a book, on the north wall, is all that remains of the apse depiction, which must certainly have included the Christ in majesty on the half dome. The historical narrative reaches its conclusion with the Last Judgment on the counter-façade, without leaving aside the semantic connections to the unfortunately lacking mosaic. The whole cycle is framed by several meander bands; the most luxurious, alternating full-coloured perspective ribbons and framed figures, run at the top of the walls next to the missing painted wooden ceiling, as documented by archaeological evidence. The progressive variation on the theme from the apse (swastika ribbons and angels), through the crossing (swastikas and Temple Priests dressed in decorated breastplates: Piva and Kessler in this volume), and into the nave (double "T" ribbons and secular representations), seems to have been connected to the underlying narrative sequence, which attests the function of Ornament in pointing out the iconographic meanings. This complex visual device has been researched since 2009 by an interdisciplinary team from the University of Milan, led by Paolo Piva and including the author. At the beginning of the project, some figures had completely disappeared, others were extremely fragmented and those in the upper registers had been cut by vaults; in addition, most of tituli and scroll verses were unreadable. Only few figures had been identified: five of the twelve Minor Prophets in the lower North register; Judith and Judas Maccabeus on the opposite wall, towards the counter-façade; Jerome and Balaam between the arcades; Adam and Eve, Elijah, and Enoch in the crossing. Meticulous observation of the painted surface, as well as photo sessions assisted by post-production software, have made it possible to identify scenes from the book of Genesis and recognise some standing figures that are useful in rendering the sequence, which becomes progressively «more Romano» from the apse to the façade. The synthetic cycle of Adam and Eve is modestly preserved above the vaults. While Roman iconographic tradition implies one or more scenes depicting the Creation of the World, according to the Ambrosian tradition the sequence starts with the Creation of Man, following the illustrated Carolingian Bibles. In Acquanegra, the Lord, in the form of Christ seated on the Globe, is blowing the breath of life upon a no longer visible Adam as he reclines beside the tree. The following Lord/Christ was plausibly creating Eve, as we can gather from Roman examples like San Giovanni a Porta Latina in Rome. The edge of the vault most likely hides the Eating of the Forbidden Fruit. The fourth scene represents the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden: the head and a wing of the Angel reproaching the frightened Adam and Eve, side by side and still naked, are recognisable. Finally, Adam and Eve labouring after their exile must have been depicted, an argument supported by vanishing evidence. While the absence of the Creation of the World points to the Ambrosian tradition, the represented episodes are influenced by Roman models, which attests to the commissioner's and workshop's wide figurative culture. Proceeding along the upper south register, over the vaults, the little remaining evidence of an elderly man in S03 must be Abraham, according to the vanished “BRAH” over his left shoulder. The imperious armed man in S07, dressed in leather armour, is supposed to be Joshua. The vigorous warrior in S10, with long wavy brown hair and a beard, must be the hero and Judge of Israel, Sampson. The series can consequently be deduced as follows: the old Adam and Noah, or Noah and Seth, or rather Noah and Melchizedek, in S01-02; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses in S03-06, representing the Pentateuch; Joshua in S07 representing his own Book; perhaps the young Gideon, another Judge of Israel and Sampson in S08-10, from the Book of Judges. Turning to the north wall, in N14 it is possible to read the faded titulus DAVID close to a young crowned and bearded man: King David who, according to tradition, is not only the author of the biblical Wisdom literature (Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus), but is also the founder of the Kingdom of Israel and a paradigm of kingship throughout the Middle Ages. At the end of the row, in N20, the scroll reads an interpolation of 2Kings 23, 21, a verse identifying its holder as Josiah, king of Judah (ca. 640-690) and promoter of major reforms: he had the sanctuaries, or High Places, destroyed and the Temple of Jerusalem set free from the worship of Baal; he encouraged the exclusive worship of Yahweh and reintroduced the celebration of Passover in Jerusalem. The Church Fathers considered him a paradigm of orthodoxy, a wall against any heresy. Thus, a selection of Kings of Israel/Judah was represented in the upper north register. In N11-13, Eli, Samuel and the controversial Saul are recognisable. Eli was the tenth Judge of Israel, High Priest and Samuel's teacher. It was Samuel who designated Saul and later David as King of Israel. David was certainly followed in N15 by Solomon, as indicated by the regal garments worn by the headless figure. Between Solomon and Josiah (N16-19) there were four Kings of Judah that «did what was right in the eyes of the Lord», from among Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jehoash, Amaziah, Uzziah/Azariah, Jotham. The sequence continues in the lower north register where the twelve Minor Prophets (N21-32) appear in biblical order: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The verses shown by Micah, Nahum and Malachi were already known; those of Obadiah, Jonah and Zechariah have now been decoded for the first time (see the Corpus of Inscriptions). According to the exegesis, in particular that of Jerome and Bruno di Segni, they seem to hide a figural sense along three main lines: the struggle against any heresy, the exhortation to keep the faith throughout tribulation, and the prefiguration of the Last Judgment (Chiesa, Guglielmetti in this volume). Positions S33-35 in the opposite and final row have been lost. Strenuous effort in decoding the scrolls and tituli has made it possible to identify the following figures: Job, Elijah, King Hezekiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Tobias, Judith, Esther, and Judas Maccabeus (S36-44). Although he was not an historical figure, Job is considered as belonging to the age of Prophets by the major commentary on his Book, Pope Gregory I's Moralia in Job. Elijah’s scroll reads 1Kings 17, 14, a verse that is explained with reference to the Eucharist and the Anointing, and also to the Last Judgment. Hezekiah, the wise thirteenth King of Judah, is addressing the Prophet Isaiah and is holding a scroll showing 2Kings 20, 19. Ezekiel introduces his prophecy with the Vision of the Tetramorphos (Ez 1, 4). The scroll held by Daniel, who is dressed in Persian garments with a short tunic, belt and dagger, refers to the first episode of the Lion's Den (Dn 6, 23). It is not by chance that opposite him stands the Minor prophet Habakkuk (N28), who in the second episode of the Lion's Den (Dn 14, 28-42) feeds Daniel, after having been carried to Babylon by an Angel, who is depicted under Daniel between the arcades. The last four figures represent the Deuterocanonical Books that are placed in the middle of the Latin Vulgate Bible but at the end of the Atlantic recension, which was developed in central Italy during the Gregorian Reform and is characterised by its folio book size and full-page portraits (Orofino in this volume). After Tobias (S41) telling how his father was miraculously saved from blindness, come the only two women of the cycle: Judith, the virtuous and fashionable widow who cheated the Assyrian general Holofernes and decapitated him; and Esther, the Jewish consort of the Persian King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I of Persia, according to tradition). The proud Judas Maccabeus (S44), whose scroll reads 1Mac 3, 58, encourages the Jewish people before the clash against the Seleucid army led by Antiochus. He was considered a paradigm against evil, which was first represented by the Pagan threat, and later by heretic forces. The neighbouring Last Judgment completes the New Testament, which today is only represented by fragments in poor condition in the upper part of the apse, that plausibly also extended into the transept. Angels playing trumpets (tubicines), which are leaning out of vertical meanders, and which were once displayed at the top of the composition, are waking up naked young men who are emerging from sarcophagi aligned above the earthly Court. The missing Christ in mandorla was flanked by the Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist (configuring the Deesis), both of whom were in turn followed by six apostles seated on jewelled benches. Below, on the right hand side of Christ (the viewer’s left) the Blessed are grouped by social status: kings, laymen, monks and priests, including a bishop, are recognisable. On the other side, where the painted surface is heavily damaged, the same categories of people are packed in together among the Damned, above slight traces of a standing, plumed monster. Under the Blessed, beyond the missing plaster, two further representations are barely visible: the three patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with a crowd of blessed souls in sinu, perhaps referring to the individual Judgment (passing away) and/or to the Patriarchs' Limbo, as well as an unidentified episode opposing a threatening man and an animal. From the Creation of Adam and Eve on the west crossing arch, through the forty-four figures of the Old Testament, the cycle depicts the history of Man up to the second century BC. Whoever developed the iconographic programme most likely followed a common source in the Middle Ages: a Universal Chronicle, i.e. a chronological chart covering the history of Man from the Creation to the chronicler's time. Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea and biographer of Constantine the Great, edited the first Chronicle in the early fourth. He composed comparative tables linking the extensive and exotic sequence of names and places listed in the Old Testament with well-known Greek and Roman events. His work was updated by Jerome and later by authors like Isidore of Seville (ca. 615-616) and Bede the Venerable (ca. 725). The correspondence between the cycle of San Tommaso and Isidore's Chronicle, which is split into six Ages, is surprising. The first Age, from Adam to the birth of Noah, is represented by the sequence on the west crossing arch and by the figure in S01, whether the old Adam or Noah. The second Age, from the Great Flood to the birth of Abraham, was likely synthesised by S02, whether Noah or Seth or rather Melchizedek. The third Age, which includes all the Patriarchs and Judges up to the first King of Israel, Saul, corresponded to the remaining upper south row and to the beginning of the north one (S03-10, N11-13). The fourth Age, proceeding from King David to the Babylonian Captivity, covered the remaining part of the upper north row, up to Josiah (N14-20). The fifth Age elapsed from the Captivity to the Incarnation, including all the Prophets and also referring to the Book of Maccabee, which is suitably positioned at the end of the San Tommaso series. The sixth Age, corresponding to the present day and lasting until the Last Judgment, is placed on the counter-façade so as to be visible to the monks from the choir and to the faithful as they exit the church.
San Tommaso ad Acquanegra sul Chiese : storia, architettura e contesto figurativo di una chiesa abbaziale romanica / [a cura di] F. Scirea. - Mantova : Società Archeologica Padana (SAP), 2015 Oct. - ISBN 9788899547004.
|Titolo:||San Tommaso ad Acquanegra sul Chiese : storia, architettura e contesto figurativo di una chiesa abbaziale romanica|
|Data di pubblicazione:||ott-2015|
|Parole Chiave:||Middle ages; Romansque architecture; Romanesque Wall Paintings; Romanesque Mosaics; Iconography; Lombard|
|Settore Scientifico Disciplinare:||Settore L-ART/01 - Storia dell'Arte Medievale|
Settore M-STO/01 - Storia Medievale
Settore L-ART/04 - Museologia e Critica Artistica e del Restauro
Settore L-FIL-LET/08 - Letteratura Latina Medievale e Umanistica
Settore L-ANT/08 - Archeologia Cristiana e Medievale
Settore L-ART/02 - Storia dell'Arte Moderna
|Citazione:||San Tommaso ad Acquanegra sul Chiese : storia, architettura e contesto figurativo di una chiesa abbaziale romanica / [a cura di] F. Scirea. - Mantova : Società Archeologica Padana (SAP), 2015 Oct. - ISBN 9788899547004.|
|Appare nelle tipologie:||06 - Curatela di volume|