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Legnano (Milan, Italy): Basilica of San Magno

Foto Basilica of San Magno
Foto Basilica of San Magno
Foto Basilica of San Magno
Foto Basilica of San Magno
Foto Basilica of San Magno
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Places  of historical value  of artistic value around Milan (Italy): Basilica of San MagnoThe Basilica of San Magno is the main monument of Legnano and it represents a noteworthy example of Renaissance architecture that deserves to be better known and more visited.

The Basilica of San Magno was built between 1504 and 1513 in place of the previous Church of San Salvatore, from the Longobard epoch, irretrievably collapsed in the early 16th century.
It is said that the church was designed by Donato Bramante. We do not know if this is true, but surely the church is among those that best reflect the aesthetic and architectural conceptions of the great Renaissance master.
To build the church, however, provided a master builder whose name is not known, but who evidently was near the Bramante. He was flanked by the greatest artist in the area, the young painter Gian Giacomo Lampugnani.
The bell tower of the ancient church was kept. Its remains can be seen in the current base of the bell tower, built in 1752.
In 1513, at the completion of the masonry, the works stopped for economic and political reasons when the outside was still unfinished (and it remained so until 1914). The decoration of the interior was however started, with the realization first of all of the frescoes of the dome by Gian Giacomo Lampugnani.
The church was consecrated in 1529.

It must be said that the initial orientation of the church was different from the current one. In fact, the entrance portal was on the north side (in front of the current Town Hall building), corresponding to what is now the Chapel of the Immaculate, while a secondary entrance was placed in correspondence with what is now the Chapel of the Holy Crucifix.
The displacement of the entrance of the church in its current position was accomplished in the first half of the seventeenth century by the architect Francesco Maria Richini. Initially, however, only two entries were planned, the ones that currently make up the secondary entries on the sides of the main one, which was added only later.
Richini also modified the external appearance of the basilica by eliminating the ribs in relief, adding pilasters, gables and architraves to the new entrance doors, opening baroque windows on the dome and building the lantern and the tiburium.
In the middle of the eighteenth century the old bell tower collapsed to a large extent, so that a new one was built, completed in 1791. The new bell tower was built in brick, and not in stone as the previous one.
What remained of the old bell tower was transformed into a chapel associated with the church.
In 1909 the new sacristy was built.
Between 1911 and 1914 various works were carried out: the roof and the facade were redone, after adding a span at the entrance. The new entrance doors were embellished with three gables. From an aesthetic point of view, the Baroque additions of Richini were eliminated, the seventeenth-century frames of the tiburium windows were removed and externally, pilasters recalling the forms and lines of the interior were added. On the occasion also the graffiti on the façade were realized and the window frames were replaced.
The Church of San Magno became a basilica only in 1950, when Pope Pius XII raised it to a minor Roman basilica.
Picture of the Basilica of San Magno
Picture of the Basilica of San Magno
Picture of the Basilica of San Magno
Picture of the Basilica of San Magno
Picture of the Basilica of San Magno

The Basilica of San Magno presents a Greek cross plan, typical of the early Renaissance. On the sides of each of the three main chapels (one is missing because it has been replaced by the entrance hall) there are two smaller chapels.
The pillars of the main chapels are thus located at the corners of the octagonal dome which serves as a covering of the central main space. It should be noted that the central space is also octagonal, because the pillars of the main chapels are connected by arches.
The goal of this arrangement of spaces is to make all the directions equally important, so as to confuse the spatial perception of the visitor and make the interior of the church appear indefinite. This would require that all the main chapels be equal to each other, as dimensions, as well as, in turn, the secondary ones. Obviously the creation of the current atrium has broken the perfect symmetry. However, the symmetry is also broken by the main chapel (the presbytery) which is actually deeper than the other two homologous chapels. It seems, however, that in the original version it actually had the same dimensions as the other two and that it was expanded later.
To make the perception of space even more difficult, the position of the windows, which are placed on two orders along all the walls of the church, so that different light effects are created depending on the position of the sun in the sky.
In fact, it can be said that in spite of the imperfections illustrated above, the Basilica of San Magno in Legnano represents one of the best examples of Bramante architecture.

Externally the Basilica of San Magno is very sober. It should be remembered that until 1914 it was left without plaster, with exposed brick walls. It was for this reason that the new bell tower was built in brick and was left without plaster. In 1914 the church was plastered and monochrome graffiti were added as decoration on the main façade.
The three bronze entrance doors are even recent, as they were built and set up only in 1976.

The atrium is, as mentioned, also the result of the works carried out between 1911 and 1914. Unfortunately, most of the frescoes in the original chapel were lost. What remained are in particular two scenes placed under the frame on the side walls (the first depicts the Sacred Host between Sant'Apollonia, Sant'Antonio from Padova, Santa Sabina and San Biagio, the second a Madonna and Child between San Magno, San Sebastiano, Sant'Eusebio and San Rocco) All the frescoes are attributed to Gian Giacomo Lampugnani.

The interior of the church is dominated by the large octagonal dome (Fig, 3). It includes a drum, also octagonal, and the proper dome. At the base of each segment of the dome there is a round window, and an other circular window at the apex lets the light of the overhanging lantern pass.
The decoration of the dome was realized, already in 1515, by Gian Giacomo Lampugnani.
Each segment of the cap includes a grotesque decoration depicting an elaborate and very tall gray candelabrum on a blue background from which branches and stylized plant elements depart, between which are putti, eagles, dolphins and mythological creatures of various kinds. The segments are divided by reddish ribs in which there is, again, a candelabrum, similar to the others, but obviously even taller and thinner.
The drum is decorated instead with a geometric pattern that resembles a labyrinth, whose color combination is different from panel to panel. Each side of the drum includes three niches.
In correspondence of the pillars between the various sides of the drum the decorative motif of the candelabrum reappears. It is also present in the pilasters of the central body, but in this case they are decorations made in 1923 by Gersam Turri mimicking perfectly the original Renaissance style. In the same way, he also realized the decorations of the areas between the major arches and the capitals that were still missing. In fact, those of the main chapel had been originally decorated by Lampugnani and those of the Chapel of the Holy Crucifix by Lagnanino. In this way, in every space between arch and capitals, a round with a bust of a prophet is now present.

The floor, in white, black and red marble from Verona and made in the 18th century, corresponds to the large dome. It presents a geometric design with white and black rays converging towards the center and interrupted regularly by red marble rays corresponding to the ribs of the ceiling.

Central Main chapel
The central main chapel (largeer picture), corresponding to the sum of presbytery and choir, is one of the focal points of the basilica. Its walls and ceiling are completely occupied by frescoes painted by Bernardino Lanino, presumably between 1562 and 1564.
On the left of the altar there are the Marriage of the Virgin, the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Visit of the Magi. The right wall is decorated with the Journey towards Nazareth, the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Slaughter of the Innocents, the Return to Nazareth and the Dispute. In this last scene there are portraits of Lanino and his helper.
The cross vault is decorated with fruit festoons and pairs of cherubs, made in grotesque style. The ceiling of the main chapel is much lighter than that of the central space and the contrast is accentuated by the better illumination, guaranteed by the presence of five windows.
In the lateral lunettes the four evangelists are represented: Saint Matthew and Saint John in the left one, Saint Mark and Saint Luke in the right one. In the lunette of the back wall the first four Doctors of the Church were painted, that is, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Jerome and St. Gregory.
The back wall houses the major masterpiece of the basilica, ie the polyptych by Bernardino Luini. The work, of 3m x 5m and enclosed in a valuable gilded frame of the time, was painted in 1523. It includes five main panels, plus the tympanum and nine smaller panels in the lower part. In the central panel, larger than the others, there is a Madonna with Child surrounded by musician angels and flying cherubs. The Virgin is depicted in the Leonardesque style, with splendid clothes and a very sweet smile. In the four side panels there are St. John the Baptist, St. Peter the Apostle, Saint Magnus and St. Ambrose, with the latter two that seem to indicate the central scene. In the lower part, inside the small vertical compartments, are depicted in chiaroscuro St. Luke and Saint John, the Ecce Homo, St. Matthew and St. Mark, while in the horizontal panels are painted, always with the same technique, Christ nailed to the Cross, the Pose in the Sepulcher, the Resurrection and the Encounter of Emmaus.
On the back wall, at the sides of the Luini polyptych, are painted San Rocco and San Sebastiano, while on the entrance pillars are depicted Jesus Christ and Saint Magnus. Above the latter ones canopies embellished with purple curtains.
Unfortunately, the two protective doors of the polyptych, also decorated, one with Santa Caterina, the other with a group of angels, have been lost.
The bottom of the chapel is occupied by the choir seats (Fig. 6), made in the seventeenth century in walnut wood by the Coiro brothers. Of valuable artistic workmanship, they were realized in Renaissance style. The structure was however significantly modified at the beginning of the twentieth century. Each seat is carved with a different architectural motif in perspective and is separated from the adjacent ones by striped columns placed on a base and equipped with a Corinthian capital. A part of the wooden choir, originally twenty-one seats, is now in the chapel of Sant'Agnese.
The high altar was built in 1587 in one piece from a single block of marble. On the side facing the faithful there is a silver and brass metal frontal. It was created in 1845 by Antonio Cassani. The cantilevered work is enriched with floral volutes. In the middle there is a medallion with two figures of saints in bishop's clothes, kneeling in front of the Holy Lamb.
Also worthy of note is the walnut wood pulpit probably carved in 1586. It is one of the two original pulpits of the church, until 1967 installed on the pillars located in front of the triumphal arch.

The other chapels
Most of the chapels are bordered by balustrades in polychrome marbles, the same ones used for the floor.
First left chapel (Chapel of Sant'Agnese) (Fig. 4): The frescoes that decorate it are a work of Giangiacomo Lampugnani, who built them in 1516 in the fifteenth century style. On the vault there is is St. Agnes placed on a bust, while on the lunette on the back wall are depicted two winged cherubs supporting two coats of arms, one of the Lampugnani family.
The decoration of the vault recalls the candelabrum theme of the main vault.
On the back wall there is a fresco depicting a Madonna with Child on throne; right to her are depictions of St. Agnes and St. Ambrose, while on her left there are St. Magnus and St. Ursula.
On the right wall there is a Nativity (Fig. 10), with a kneeling Madonna in an act of prayer adoring the Child lying on the ground. The stable is curiously represented like an elegant colonnade.
On the columns are instead represented San Gerolamo and Sant'Origene.
Second left chapel (Chapel of the Immaculate or of the Assumption) (Fig. 7): Before the work of Richini it was the atrium corresponding to the ancient entrance of the basilica. At first it was dedicated to St. Mary and St. Joseph.
The frescoes on the vault, made by Francesco and Giobatta Lampugnani, date from 1633 and depict the Assumption of Mary. The same artists also painted the frescoes on the arches, which depict five cherubs, and those on the columns (Santa Lucia and Sant'Agata). The walls, with trompe l'oeil representations of marble columns surmounted by coffered ceilings, were frescoed in 1646 by Giovan Battista and Girolamo Grandi. The back wall was frescoed in the 18th century by Abbot Molina.
The altarpiece is the so-called altarpiece of Giampietrino, a polyptych presumably dating back to 1490 (it belonged, according to this dating, to the previous Church of San Salvatore, but according to other experts it was painted between 1520 and 1530) and once depicting in the middle a Madonna and Child, lost around 1650. In its place today there is a wooden statue of a Madonna and Child in the act of crushing the snake symbol of Satan, sculpted in the eighteenth century.
On the other hand, the paintings on the left (St. John the Evangelist) and on the right (St. Joseph) have been preserved.
Furthermore there are three panels at the base (from left to right, St. Joachim bringing the good news to St. Anne, the Nativity and the Presentation at the Temple), and the single top panel (Ecce Homo by the Lampugnani brothers).
On the wall, on the sides of the altar, are painted two statues in natural size of Saint Helena and Saint Apollonia.
Third left chapel (Chapel of San Carlo and San Magno): Originally the chapel was dedicated to Saint Anthony the Abbot. It received the modern dedication only in 1923. Unfortunately, paintings and furnishings relating to the first dedication have been lost. In 1924 Gersam Turri frescoed the vault with paintings depicting putti and the inner side of the entrance arch with allegories of Charity and Faith.
The chapel contains since 1942 a relic of Saint Magnus from the Basilica of Sant'Eustorgio of Milan and two paintings of the seventeenth century that depict San Carlo: St. Charles visiting the plague victims (the altarpiece placed in a frame richly decorated with festoons, garlands and heads of cherub) and San Carlo in mystic ecstasy.
Chapel to the left of the main chapel (Chapel of the Sacred Heart or of the Baptistery): It received this dedication only in 1948; originally it was dedicated to St. John the Baptist and to the Apostles James and Philip, then to Our Lady of Sorrows and finally to the Sacred Heart. The chapel is closed by a wrought iron gate. The chapel may seem homogeneously baroque, but in reality it contains elements from different epochs.
The frescoes of the vault are from 1862, the paintings on the pillars and in the under-arch of 1853. They were all realized by Mosè Turri in eighteenth-century style.
The altar is from the eighteenth century, the altarpiece with a Sacred Heart theme, dates 1948.
The oil painting on the right wall with the deposition as subject is from the seventeenth century, a work of one of the Lampugnani.
The tympanum above the altarpiece and the putti resting on it are nineteenth-century works of the brothers Moses and Daniele Turri.
Then there is the baptismal font in the center of the chapel. It dates from the second half of the sixteenth century and is in Verona red marble. The base is made up of four figures with a lion's foot. The multi-lobed tub is surmounted by a small wooden temple with precious bas-reliefs and statuettes of the late sixteenth century by Giovanni Ambrogio Santagostino and Giovanni Taurini.
First chapel on the right (Chapel of St. Peter Martyr) (Fig. 9): The original frescoes, painted by Evangelista Luini, son of the more famous Bernardino, in 1556, have been lost. They had initially been covered with plaster as an act of renunciation during a plague epidemic in the second half of the sixteenth century. During the following centuries a part was then finally destroyed during church works.
The ancient frescoes were rediscovered only in 1830 and Beniamino Turri right then repainted the figure of St. Peter Martyr. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Gersam Turri then repainted the Eternal Father, while in 1967 Mosé Turri junior finally restored the entire cycle of frescoes, discovering other fragments of the original frescos.
On the back wall Saint Peter Martyr is depicted with a billhook in his head and in the background the scene of his martyrdom. On the left pillar there are San Magno and San Rocco, on the right pillar St. John the Evangelist and San Sebastian. The Eternal Father is in the lunette.
On the vault, finally, four putti playing music, the only original frescoes left.
Second chapel on the right (Chapel of the Crucifix) (Fig. 8): This chapel became such only after the entrance had been moved by Richini. Before it housed the passage to the provost house.
Originally it was dedicated to San Carlo. The dedication changed when the third chapel on the left was dedicated to San Carlo and San Magno.
Also this chapel includes elements from different epochs, although they fit to each other very well.
The precious marbles altar is from the eighteenth century.
The frescoes on the walls and on the vault are instead of 1923. The unusual style is due to the fact that they were painted by Eliseo Fumagalli, who was a painter but also a theater set designer.
The crucifix is accompanied by two papier-mâché statues decorated with stucco in eighteenth-century style, which depict the crying Sorrowful Mother and Mary Magdalene, they to created by Eliseo Fumagalli.
Under the altar in a glass case there is a precious wooden statue of a deposed Christ.
Third right chapel (chapel of the passage): It was left completely bare as a reminder of how the basilica was inside before 1923. Nevertheless it houses the "Madonna with Child" by Francesco Lampugnani, of 1620.
Chapel to the right of the main chapel (Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament): Also in this case there are elements of different epoches.
On the right wall there is an oil painting of the seventeenth century by the Lampugnani brothers having the Crucifixion for its subject.
On the left wall there is a recent painting of Santa Teresa del Bambin Gesù of S. Calcagno.
The frescoes of the lunettes, attributed to Giovan Pietro Luini known as Gnocco, date back to 1630 and represent playing angels.
In the rounds on the ceiling there are four angels bearing the symbols of the rosary and painted in 1925 by Gersam Turri.
The altar, finally, dates back to the nineteenth century. It replaced the previous one destroyed in 1836 due to a fire.

The organ of the basilica was built in 1542 by the Antegnati family and is therefore even older than that of the Milan Cathedral. The walnut wood choir is instead the work of the painter Gersam Turri.

Categories: Places of historical value of artistic value

Piazza S. Magno, 10, 20025 Legnano MI
Further pictures of Basilica of San Magno in the section Photography
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Panoramic view of the interior of the Basilica of San Magno
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Ceiling of the Basilica of San Magno
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Chapel of the Immaculate or of the Assumption in the Basilica of San Magno
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Main Chapel of the Basilica of San Magno
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Back wall of the Main Chapel of the Basilica of San Magno
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Grotesque decorations on the ceiling of the Chapel of Sant'Agnese in the Basilica of San Magno
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Interior of the Basilica of San Magno
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Frescoes in the Chapel of Saint Agnes in the Basilica of San Magno
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Chapel of the Immaculate (alias of the Assumption) in the Basilica of San Magno
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Ceiling of the main chapel of the Basilica of San Magno
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Interior of the Chapel of the Crucifix in the Basilica of San Magno
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Back wall of the main chapel of the Basilica of San Magno
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Left wall of the presbytey of the Basilica of San Magno
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Crucifix and angels above the entrance to the main chapel of the Basilica of San magno
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Vault of the main chapel of the Basilica of San Magno
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Choir of the Basilica of San Magno
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Interior of the main chapel of the Basilica of San Magno
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Vault of the chapel of the Immaculate (alias of the Assumption) in the Basilica of San Magno
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Interior of the dome of the Basilica of San Magno
Legnano (Milan, Italy): Right wall of the presbytery of the Basilica of San Magno