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Castiglione Olona (Varese, Italy): Collegiate Church of Saints Stephen and Lawrence

Foto Collegiate Church of Saints Stephen and Lawrence
Foto Collegiate Church of Saints Stephen and Lawrence
Foto Collegiate Church of Saints Stephen and Lawrence
Foto Collegiate Church of Saints Stephen and Lawrence
Foto Collegiate Church of Saints Stephen and Lawrence
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Places  of historical value  of artistic value around Milan (Italy): Collegiate Church of Saints Stephen and LawrenceThe complex of the Collegiate Church of Saints Stephen and Lawrence (or, shorter, justa "Collegiate") of Castiglione Olona stands on one of the two hills on which the village extends. It was built starting from 1422 at the behest of Cardinal Branda Castiglioni, on the remains of a pre-existing castle.
The church was consecrated just three years later, in 1425.
The collegiate title derives from the presence of a chapter of canons, or, indeed, a college, established by Cardinal Branda Castiglioni himself and suppressed only in 1798.
The church is a lombardogothic basilica, with a Latin cross plan comprehending three naves without transept, gabled facade all in exposed bricks, as the whole building. Buttresses punctuate the exterior and emphasize the internal subdivision.
The church was built by the brothers Alberto, Giovanni and Pietro Solari, protagonists of the Lombard Gothic also in Milan and Pavia.
The façade is characterized by the presence at the center of an artistic rose window. It is placed above the central door, whose lunette is occupied by an important sculptural complex (Fig. 5). Dated 1428 and in perfect state of preservation, by virtue of the type of stone used, it depicts the characters related to the Collegiate: the Virgin, who holds Jesus child while he blesses Cardinal Branda kneeling at his feet, the saints Lorenzo and Stefano, kneeling on the sides. Finally, there are the saints Ambrose, patron of the diocese, and Clemente (dedicator of the church in Rome of which the cardinal Branda Castiglioni was responsible).
Two large pointed windows on the sides of the door and four smaller windows on the upper half complete the façade.
On the side walls there are gothic style windows that recall the main windows of the façade. Towards the courtyard there is a side door, also with a carved lunette.
The main apse is polygonal and illuminated by two pointed windows plus a large oculus in the center.
The bell tower, which is ancient in itself, is however unfortunately messed up by a concrete cover of the tip dating back to the second half of the twentieth century.
The interior of the church includes three naves. Although their neogothic/eclectic-style decorations date back to the late nineteenth century, they fit rather well to the older elements.
The two apses of the side aisles are enriched with fifteenth-century altarpieces in painted sandstone.
The great treasure of the church is however represented by the great cycle of frescoes dedicated to the Virgin that decorates the walls and the vault of the central apse. Rediscovered only in 1843, when the layer of white plaster that had been laid on them in the eighteenth century was removed, they represent a precious example of Tuscan Renaissance style in Lombardy.
In fact, their authors are Tuscan: Masolino da Panicale and his collaborators Lorenzo Vecchietta and Paolo Schiavo. The first frescoed the ribs of the vault with episodes from the life of the Virgin, arranged nonetheless not in chronological order. The frescoes are populated by slender and elongated figures, painted using bright colors. The architectural structures in the background shrink toward the top following the shape of the ribs.
The walls of the apse are dedicated to Santo Stefano (right wall, frescoed by Paolo Schiavo, as well as by the same author are the frescoes in the lunettes) and San Lorenzo (frescoes on the left and on the bottom, painted by Lorenzo Vecchietta). The latter are unfortunately the most ruined, but also those of more pictorial value.
To complete, on the great arch and rediscovered just in 2003, a Transit of the Virgin, attributed to Paolo Schiavo.
In the apse, under an arch, there is also the tomb of Cardinal Branda Castiglioni. It is composed of a marble sarcophagus supported by four pillars with the allegorical representations of four virtues, symbolically supporting it. The burial is completed by figures of saints and prophets.
In front of the apse there is also an antique chandelier hanging from the ceiling, German or Flemish, dating back to the fifteenth century and acquired by Cardinal Branda during one of his missions abroad. Not present in the photos on this page, because on loan for an exhibition when they were taken, it depicts in the arms St. George piercing the dragon and the liberated princess.
The other jewel of the Collegiata complex is represented by the Baptistery (Fig. 1), probably obtained from the transformation of one of the castle's corner towers into a chapel and which can be reached from the court. Used in the nineteenth century as a tool store, the chapel houses a spectacular cycle of frescoes dedicated to St. John the Baptist painted in 1435 by Masolino da Panicale, probably with the help of Lorenzo Vecchietta.
The walls of the chapel are completely occupied by representations of episodes from the life of the saint, presented within daring perspectives, designed to compensate for the small size of the chapel, in a way that almost anticipates the baroque technique of the Trompe-l'œil.
In particular:

  • The back wall is dominated by the Baptism of Christ, with Jesus immersed in a Jordan River that flows downwards in the direction of the observer. On the vault of the apse a God the Father surrounded by ethereal multicolored angels.

  • The scenes of the capture and the imprisonment are depicted on the wall of the main window (the right one), with the imprisoned saint visible on the left wall of the window, so that the window is effectively incorporated in the fresco cycle and does not appear as an interruption.

  • On the right wall are represented three different episodes: the Banquet of Herod on the left, the macabre gift of the head of the saint to Herodias on the right, the burial of the saint on top, small and in the background. The scenes, instead of being divided by paneling, are defined through the different parts of the scenography itself, to form an artistically harmonious and homogeneous complex.

  • Above the entrance door there is an extraordinary and detailed view of Rome, in which some buildings, including the Pantheon, are unequivocally recognizable.

  • On the ceiling there are the four evangelists and their symbols, while on the sottarco there are the four doctors of the Western Church.

Unfortunately not all the frescoes are well preserved. In particular those on the left wall have particularly suffered the effects of time.

It is also worth mentioning the museum, obtained from some rooms of the ancient rectory and which houses jewels, ancient books, sculptures and other ancient objects of great value, from a period from the Renaissance to the eighteenth century.
In particular, among them there is the Crucifixion attributed to Neri di Bicci, arrived in the Collegiate only in 1928 and characterized by a very high level of detail.

Finally, antique furniture and other valuable objects are also present in the sacristy, the entrance door of which is surmounted by a lunette with a small colored and very ancient sculptural complex.

Categories: Places of historical value of artistic value

Via Cardinal Branda, 1, 21043 Castiglione Olona VA