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Renaissance and Sixteenth-century Brescia

Brescia the Loggia

The first two centuries of Venetian rule

In 1426 Brescia  became a possession of the Venetian Republic and remained so until 1797.  An episode which disturbed the four centuries of tranquillity  under Venetian rule was the terrible siege by the Visconti troops led by Nicolò Piccinino, which lasted from 1438 to 1440.  At first  forty bombards battered the walls for months then the final attack was launched, only to be repelled by a thousand Brescian foot-soldiers and  six hundred horse; according to tradition their victory was also owing to the miraculous apparition of the patron saints of the city -Faustino and Giovita. A sixteenth century monument half-way along Via Brigida Avogadro,a road named after a Brescian heroine of the period, marks the spot where the saints appeared on the bastions of Roverotto to help the Brescians,the allies of the Venetians, drive back the fifteen thousand Visconti soldiers who had launched an attack from the Ronchi, while five hundred of their horse tried to breach Canton Mombello. There was also a brief interlude of French domination (1509-16) ,which marked one of the most tragic moments in Brescian history, when the city was sacked with a brutality rarely equalled.

Brixia fidelis was added to the city's coat of arms in the XV century by the Venetians, who  when they regained possession of the city in 1516 fortified it : the Castle was surrounded with a second wall, and for military reasons every building outside the walls within a mile's radius was razed to the ground, a trench was dug,which has now become the road of the Pusterla,to separate the Castle from the Ronchi and in 1610 the rebuilding of the excternal ring of the city walls reinforced with the modern bastions of Canton Mombello and the Posterla was finished, thus making the city impregnable.

During the two centuries of Venetian rule Brescia was transformed from a medieval city into one, which, although it was on the edge of the territories dominated by Venice, was an example of  graciousness and magnificence.

Its urban areas were reallocated (in particular with the inauguration of Piazza della Loggia and Piazza del Mercato), new roads were built (the Garza was covered over) lined with frescoed houses; a great hospital united all the various hospices, and a complex system of commercial premises was set up where we find Piazza della Vittoria today. At the beginning of the XVI century Brescia had a population of roughly 40,000, and, after the interlude of the French occupation, saw another burst of building activity. This was made possible after the demolition of the Citadel built under the Visconti,  provided new building land. The old construction had been an obstacle to the ever-increasing urban traffic.

Piazza della Loggia, in typically Lombard-Veneto Renaissance style, became the hub of the city and the acumen of the urbanists employed by the town council during the forty years between 1520 and 1560 is witnessed by the fact that the town centre assumed during those years the appearance it still has today. The buildings along the sides of the square (the Palace of the Loggia, i Monti della Pietà , the Arcade and the Clock Tower) are evidence of the dignified architecture, the XV century atmosphere of fervid humanism  and the splendour of Renaissance Brescia. Nor do some of the church buildings rank any lower: above all that jewel of Renaissance sculpture, the Sanctuary of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, but also the churches of San Giovanni Evangelista and San Giuseppe and the VI century Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie.

The local noble families produced industrious and able men; the great families (the Martinengos, and also the Averoldis, the Lechis the Gambaras and others), knew how to take advantage of long periods of political stability to improve the productivity of their country estates.The many palaces built in town under Venetian domination show their wealth and cultural level  These palaces were usually constructed to a U-shaped plan round an arcaded courtyard, with a rear garden. A wide staircase leads to the main reception room on the first floor facing the main road. The most famous architects of the Renaissance and manneristic period were Lodovico Beretta and Pietro Maria Bagnadore. The long period of peace brought great economic progress  (with the production and transformation of wool and silk and the manufacture of arms, sold using  the trade routes Venice had opened up long before) and a flowering of science, literature, architecture, sculpture and above all painting. This last began with the founder of the XV century Lombard school of painting,Vincenzo Foppa (c.1427-1515). The three great  XVI century Brescian painters: Romanino, Moretto and Savoldo belonged to this school and were also influenced by the great painters of the Venetian school, above all Tiziano, who painted one of his youthful masterpieces for the noble Brescian, Altobell Averoldi. This painting, the Averoldi Polyptych, was destined for the church of Santi Nazaro and Celso, where it still is today.