In Piacenza, also known as the 100-churches-city, there have been lots of paintings on the vaults and domes of religious buildings. Pordenone (Giovan Antonio de Sacchis) started, with his job in Santa Maria di Campagna, a series of glimpses which brought the sky inside the architectures of the Cathedral, the church of Sant'Antonino and other minor buildings such as San Cristoforo's oratory and the chapel of Immaculate Conception in San Francesco's church.
Even the Dukes and noble families wanted their palaces decorated with painted architecture or scenic designs.
Here is an itinerary to discover the sky in the rooms of Piacenza, where even a rainy day can provide blue skies... it's just necessary to look upward!
The trip starts in the western part of the city, from Santa Maria di Campagna, the architecture of which is inspired by Bramante and planned by Alessio Tramello between 1522 and 1528. The simple bricks of the external walls are misleading compared to the richness of the interiors decorated with frescoes, statues and paintings.
The dome, decorated by Giovan Antonio de Sacchis called Pordenone and then finished by Bernardino Gatti called Sojaro, is characterised by colourful frescoes and daring foreshortenings.
The highest and starting point is God the Father in the oculus; shifting your gaze you'll notice the Prophets and Sybils in daring positions, a typical characteristic of Pordenone, whose work includes the ovals and the frieze, where both religious and pagan subjects are represented also using the monochrome technique.
On the way to the city center, at the end of Via Campagna, there's the church of Santa Brigida (St. Brigid), built in the IX century and dedicated to the homonymous Irish saint.
Next to the church there was a “hospitale”(hostel) for pilgrims, where people speaking gaelic could find help in their own language. There were lots of Irish people traveling in this area because of the monastery founded by San Colombano (St. Columbanus) in Bobbio.
The building has been decorated in different centuries and styles. The dome was decorated by Robert de Longe with a weightless Ascension. De Longe was an artist of Flemish origin, after some years in Rome he came to Piacenza in 1685 and he became very successful by working for religious and private clients.
The third stop foresees a detour: once on Corso Garibaldi, you have to turn right in Via Croce and walk until the end of the street. There you'll find San Giovanni in Canale, a church built together with the Dominican monastery in a district that in the XIII century was controlled by the noble family named Scotti; inside there are still the family tombs.
The most suggestive decoration in the church is certainly the one on the presbytery. The frescoes made by Giovan Battista, Francesco Natali, Sebastiano Galeotti and Bartolomeo Rusca between 1721 and 1734 create the illusion of the sky entering into the architecture.
Walking along the right nave you'll meet a chapel, added at the end of the XVI Century and dedicated to the Immaculate Conception.
In contrast with the austerity of the building this space is characterised by spectacular decorations. It was Giovan Battista Trotti, called Malosso, who made it. In the vault the Virgin receives the crown from the Holy Trinity in a sky full of clouds and foreshortened figures painted with bright colours.
After the whole morning looking upward it's time to turn down your eyes on a menu for a typical meal.
The dish offered to pilgrims in ancient times was the original version of Pissarei e fasò. It's pasta made with bread crumbs and flour served with tomato sauce and beans.
Pissarei were made before the discovery of America, in the Middle Ages it was actually a noodle soup with black-eyed peas.
The dish should be nourishing in order to revitalise travelers and pilgrims, so in the current recipe the sauce is enriched with some fat, which can be Pista ad gras (beaten lard with garlic and herbs) or Pancetta, one of Piacenza's PDO together with Coppa and Salami.
In the apartments of the duchess, which nowadays host the Picture gallery, some precious frescoes are preserved. The large vaults of the rooms were decorated by Andrea Seghizzi, a painter from Bologna and an expert in architectural and scenic designs.
The Museum collections include: paintings, sculptures, ancient weapons, carriages and an Archaeological Museum opened in June 2021.
A visit to the Museum ends the first day in Piacenza.
The second day in Piacenza starts from the Basilica of Sant'Antonino, where the relics of the Patron Saint of the city are preserved. Antonino was a soldier killed in the IV Century AD because of his religion, not far from Travo.
The building, widened and decorated in different historical moments, shows stuccos, paintings and frescoes which decorate the presbytery.
Between 1624 and 1628 Camillo Gavassetti painted the vault. He was protected by the cardinal Odoardo Farnese.
Looking at the vault over the presbytery it becomes clear that Gavassetti knew what Guercino was doing in the cathedral in the same years. Gavassetti represented “God the Father among the Gospel writers, angels and saints”. In the vault over the choir the artist chose “The Elder of the Apocalypse” as a subject, next to the elder some saints and the patrons of the city are depicted.
After leaving Sant'Antonino church, we suggest going to see the Municipal Theater on Sant' Antonino's square and walking along the narrow streets of the city center, where you can discover the Roman orthogonal urban grid until you reach the corner of Via Gregorio X and Via Genocchi. Here there's the not-to-be-missed jewel of the itinerary: San Cristoforo oratory (open on Saturdays and Sundays or upon reservation), which hosts the Piccolo Museo della Poesia (Poetry museum).
The building is the result of the collaboration between the decorator Ferdinando Galli Bibiena and the architect Domenico Valmagini, who used scenographic culture on an urban level here, cutting the corner with a diagonal facade.
In the afternoon it's time to reach the imposing Romanesque Cathedral of Piacenza.
Built starting from 1122, after the first church was destroyed by an earthquake in 1117, the result is a classical basilica divided in three naves with strong pillars and thin single lancet windows.
The decoration over the presbytery and dome are of great impact. They were painted in the XVII Century. The vault and the apse were commissioned to Camillo Procaccini and Ludovico Carracci in 1609, while the dome was first decorated by Morazzone, who suddenly died, and the fresco was then finished by Giovan Francesco Barbieri called Guercino.
The artist respected the project of Morazzone, but he managed to let his style emerge. The figures of the prophets were magnified in order to make them visible from the cathedral floor. The lapis lazzuli of the heaven, in opposition to the warm color of the prophets skin tone, highlights their corporeality.
Thanks to a path inside the Kronos Museum it's possible to see these frescoes up close: climb up the ancient stairs of the Cathedral and you can also admire the city from above.