Val Camonica and Lago d’Iseo
I love the lakes of the north of Italy–particularly the smaller ones. One of Italy’s lesser known yet spectacularly picturesque lakes is Lago d’Iseo. You may have seen news coverage of the 2016 installation entitled The Floating Piers by the artist Christo. He chose this setting for his artwork many years ago because of its splendor. The lake, much smaller than Lakes Como and Maggiore, maintains a quiet ambiance and slow pace. Its eastern shore and its island, Monte Isola, are dotted with small towns and fishing villages. Among its hidden secrets are multiple small churches that were frescoed in the 16th century by Girolamo Romani, known as Il Romanino.
In the 1530s Romanino began working on frescoes in various churches of Lake Iseo and Val Camonica. My favorite is in the town of Pisogne in chapel of Santa Maria della Neve in Pisogne. The frescoes here feature stories in the life of Christ. His work stands out among Renaissance artists, and it is characterized by a strong sense of realistic depiction of gestures, expressions and customs. This chapel was nicknamed by Giovanni Testori as the “Sistine Chapel of the Poor.” It truly merits that moniker: the scene of the Crucifixion and the several stories of Christ’s life are painted in a very accessible manner, seemingly asking for the emotional participation of the faithful.
“Everything is questioned here,” says Alessandro Nova. “The construction of space seems to almost ignore the rules of renaissance perspective; faces and bodies are deformed to the grotesque and the characters’ poses seem to sometimes derive from the experience of a Sacro Monte (a devotional pilgrimage), as if the artist was in search of a more direct and participatory spirituality, free from the rites of the institutionalized Church.” The scene of Jesus carrying the cross struck me in this direct and participatory way. Christ’s eyes look directly at the viewer, regardless of angle of approach to the fresco. It is as if he is either directly implicating my role in his sacrifice, or as if he is asking me to bear his cross.
While Lake Como is most famous among Americans and Lake Maggiore is the largest, I highly recommend a visit to Lago d’Iseo. The villages surround you with a quietude that makes whatever is going on in the rest of the world seem unimportant. If you do visit, please seek out the stunning Romanino masterpieces of the late Renaissance. I hope you enjoy these treasures as much as I do. Buon viaggio! …Chris Stephens
This section of La Rondine will feature special places in Italy shared by ICSTL members. A wealth of insights exists within our membership to enrich each other’s travels.
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