The Church of our Lady of the Assumption in Celana

The Church of our Lady of the Assumption in Celana has ancient origins, dating back to the XIII century. The first documents refers to a small parish in Celana and are from the 1244. All the subsequent changes to the church have been extensively documented. These transformations finally gave it its final layout with its late Baroque and late XVIII century features. Most of the renovation works of the church can be placed around the XVI century. This was a very important period from a political point of view, since the division of the village of Celana from the municipality of Caprino Bergamasco was being discussed. Such a change would lead to the establishment of an independent seminary and to the separate management of the assets acquired from offers and donations. The new church with the annexed convent had enough space to include all the donations made by the devoted inhabitants of Celana, with the gifts to the parish being a symbol of gratitude and of further confirmation of the self-management desire of the community. It is precisely in this context of inner fighting that Balsarino Marchetti de Angelini, a rich wool-cloth merchant from Caprino, commissioned the altarpiece of the Assumption to Lorenzo Lotto (in 1527). The altarpiece presumably served as an instrument in the power game that wanted Cristoforo Marchetti de Angelini nominated as head of the parish, since he was a distant relative of Balsarino.

The dispute had a favourable outcome for the inhabitants of Celana, who were handed over the management rights of the assets of the church of Celana by Cardinal Borromeo in 1610, directly at the seminary. The current layout of the building is due to the works carried out by an anonymous "talented architect" from 1790 onwards. The exterior of the building is simple, with a sober neoclassical façade and consistent pilasters that are marked by turned corners, overlooked by Ionic capitals.
The interiors have a well-structured and complex appearance. The church has a single longitudinal nave which is divided into three progressive parts. The first one is a rectangular space with a rib vault marked by a series of niches in its lower part. The second one is a medium sized space with a square base. On its top, a tholobate structure is installed that is part of a semicircular painted dome with coffered panels. Finally, there is the main altar area with an apse vault. The latter has a rectangular plan and stands on a higher platform structure needed to sustain the Serassi organ from 1856. On the right side, there is the annexed Chapel of St. Joseph, while on the left there is a room from which it was possible to attend religious functions. The spatial balance is underlined by the wall decoration as well: these consists of a series of polychrome Ionic pilasters, which are exactly placed at the tensile stress points of the vaults, and are enriched by a system of high placed corbels with golden ribs.

Altarpiece by Lorenzo Lotto (1527)

Altarpiece by Lorenzo Lotto (1527)

The altarpiece of the Lady of the Assumption by Lorenzo Lotto is located in the apse and is placed in a magnificent frame with prominent Baroque features. Although it was designed two years after the artist's return to Venice in 1525, at first glance the artwork seems to be just another depiction of the Virgin’s Resurrection. It should be considered instead as a comprehensive sum of the artistic experience gained by Lotto from his debut up until the thriving years of his stay in Bergamo. In this regard, it is interesting to notice that the altarpiece is multifaceted and can be analysed on three different levels: the landscape with background scenario, the figure of the Lady of the Assumption in Heaven and the Apostles in the foreground. Especially the latter part is a composition that flourishes with colours and gestures.

These details show Lotto’s in depth study of Leonardo da Vinci and of the Old Masters of the north, especially Dürer.The soft and nuanced chiaroscuro elements that define the look on the faces and their glancing eyes show a clear influence by Leonardo da Vinci’s work, with references to character interactions from “The Last Supper”. Connection to the work of Dürer, on the other hand, can be linked to the rigid presentation of the garments and bodies, which are aspects that can be noticed in Dürer’s famous collection of engravings of the Life of Saint Mary. Finally, it is worth mentioning that Lotto was familiar with the work of Titian, especially with the “Frari Assumption”, a painting that focuses on the same subject depicted by Lotto. Lotto exhibits, once more, an informal and intelligent use of his figurative sources, seizing the excited movement of the followers of Christ who try to reach out towards the levitating body of Saint Mary. The mild and subtle use of colours that define Lotto’s figures distance itself, however, from the strong shades and the rich reds used by Titian.

Venetian influences are apparent in the union of complementary colours with warm and cold ones, as well as in the use of diffused and clear light patterns that seem to unite sky and earth. The artist never forgot the teachings of Giovanni Bellini, Lotto's first point of reference in his youth. Not even his stay in Rome lead to a stylistic change in his colour-preferences. These elements are also evident from the depiction of the Virgin Mary that, with her delicate and majestic appearance, strongly differs from Titian’s version, and bears more resemblance to the graceful Raphaelesque Saint Maries as well as the ones from Fra Bartolomeo. From the latter, Lotto seems to have taken the inspiration for one of the drape-holding angels that accompanies Saint Mary in her ascent to Heaven. The bottom-up perspective seems to further soften her pious expression, while she turns her holy gaze upwards with folded hands. The design of the Mother of God figure is based on the traditional iconography, with the Virgin Mary being enclosed in an imaginary oval form, delineated by a frame of heavy grey clouds in the upper part and a ‘V’ shaped, green valley in the background. The landscape is full of botanic details, drawing parallels to the Flemish painting style and to the naturalistic studies of Master da Vinci, who likely inspired the slight aerial perspective of the painting.

The minor scenes in the background represent once more a reference to the Flemish painting style based on a meticulous eye for detail. The background together with the main foreground scene seem to include three different narrative moments in the painting: the Assumption of Mary, the arrival of St. Thomas at the Josaphat Valley and the episode where the Holy Virgin’s belt miraculously reaches the unbelieving Saint, intact from Heaven. The latter reference deserves special attention as it embodies the wit of Lotto's visual metaphors. The scene shows Thomas bending on the empty tomb, with a sceptical and concentrated expression pointed towards its inner self. To highlight his need for the truth, a pair of glasses was painted on the Saint's nose, a very unusual element for the religious iconography. Lotto may have drawn inspiration from paintings such as the “Virgin with child and canon van der Paele “ by Van Eyck (from 1436), specifically from the worshipping clergymen character. Another influential work for him may be the group of frescoes of the St. Nicholas Convent of Treviso painted by Tommaso da Modena (in 1352). In the painted scriptoria scenes the monks carefully analyze the sacred scriptures, focus of their studies, through the aid of lenses. Lorenzo Lotto, however, does not limit himself to the mere scientific use the optical instrument, he also plays with the double meaning of the Saint's name. The etymology of the name Thomas shows references both to the terms "abyss" and "separation" (from the Greek thomos), referring to the Saints innate ability to shed light on the darkest mysteries of humanity and his talent to separate the divine from the human sphere. Through this character, Lotto seems to put emphasis on the fact that it is thanks to vision that humankind can get to know the world, but that only by opening our soul we will be able to grasp the celestial truth.

TO FIND OUT MORE

  • G. L. BAIO, G. ROTA, Lorenzo Lotto. Assunzione della Vergine. Chiesa di Celana, Fucina Ghislanzoni, Caprino Bergamasco (BG), 1998; 
  • D.A. BROWN, P. HUMFREY, M. LUCCO, Lorenzo Lotto. Il genio inquieto del Rinascimento, catalogo della mostra, Washington – National Gallery, ed. Skira, Milano, 1998;
  • R. PALLUCCHINI, G. MARIANI CANOVA, L'opera completa del Lotto, Classici dell'Arte Rizzoli, Rizzoli Editore, Milano 1974, pp. 108-109;
  • F. SRICCHIA SANTORO, Il Cinquecento L'arte del Rinascimento, Jaca Book, Milano, 1997, pp. 64-66-147-150;
  • S.N., Cinque Capolavori del Lotto ben custoditi in terra orobica, in: Bergamo post, 2 dicembre 2016;
  • C. ZOCCA, F. ZURLO (relatore), L. FOIS(correlatore), L'anello del tempo. Ufficio diffuso per telelavori. Rivalorizzazione di Caprino Bergamasco attraverso il Design di servizi, tesi di laurea, Politecnico di Milano, 2011.

HOW TO GET HERE

From Caprino Bergamasco, 7 minutes by car.
  • From the cemetery, take Via Piave. 
  • After 160 m, turn right in Via Adolfo Biffi.  
  • After 800 m turn in Via Celana for 1,9 km til the park in Viale Papa Giovanni/Via Portola.
  • Left the car and walk for 140 m in Viale Papa Giovanni. 

INFORMATIONS

La chiesa è visitabile solamente durante le funzioni religiose. Per ulteriori dettagli inerenti giorni ed orari contattare: 

  • Parrocchia di San Biagio, via Piave 24030 - Caprino Bergamasco (BG), Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Telefono: 035.781176
 

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