Comune di Brescia tourism website: useful information about what to see and where to go.

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Points of Interest: Masterpieces

Goddess head

Thu, 08/01/2015 - 10:05 -- Laura
Brescia,Goddess head, Santa Giulia City Museum

The head was discovered in 1956 while excavating the site of a Roman theatre, between the so called “aula dei pilastrini” (pillars’ room) and the western entrance to the theatre.
It is a valuable and special object, even though the face is damaged especially around the nose, mouth and hair.
The head was part of the colossal statue of a goddess, sculpted according to the technique of acroliths that are sculptures created from assembled pieces. Such technique was particularly diffused in the Greek and Roman world for cult statues of colossal size: only the naked parts of the body were made of marble, the remainder was a sort of wooden structure concealed by drapery - often in painted plaster - or by gilding. 

"Madonna con il Bambino e San Giovannino" Virgin with Child and young Saint John the Baptist by Francesco Francia

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 14:17 -- Laura
Brescia, "Madonna con il Bambino e San Giovannino" Virgin with Child and young Saint John the Baptist by Francesco Francia

The precious tablet was part of the collection of Count Paolo Tosio, inherited by Brescia Municipality in 1844 and founding core of Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo. The Tosio collection
was mainly composed of paintings, but also sculptures, prints, and drawings. The distinguished owner distributed it in his house with the help of Rodolfo Vantini, who arranged some dedicated rooms with the most important pieces. The Count’s taste oriented him towards Neoclassical artists (among contemporaries) and to painters who, in the past, embodied the same ideals of beauty and harmony. He is responsible for the acquisition of two paintings by Raphael, among the most valuable pieces of Pinacoteca and also of this Virgin with Child and young Saint John the Baptist, which in the 19th century was one of the most admired paintings of the collection.

The Boethius Diptych

Mon, 03/11/2014 - 12:05 -- Laura
Brescia, Boethius Diptych, Santa Giulia City Museum

Conceived as a consular diptych to celebrate the election of Marius Manlius Boethius – father to Boethius the philosopher - as Roman consul in 487 AD, this precious artifact underwent a radical transformation through time from its secular use to an ecclesiastical purpose.
The front ivory leaves portray the Roman consul standing motionless on the left; on the right, he is sitting on a cathedra as he presides over the circus games. In both portraits the consul holds a scepter crowned with a flying hawk in his left hand, and in the right he holds the mappa, a linen cloth used to start off the races of quadrigas, a tradition probably introduced by Nero. 
In the right leaf the consul is pictured in the exact moment when he starts off the race, but he is not interacting with a narrative scene, which can only be imagined. This is meant to be a purely representative image, where the consul seems detached from the world (just like a king or a saint), fixed and frozen in sober and simple gestures.

Amazonomachy - The battle of Amazons

Tue, 14/10/2014 - 11:20 -- Laura
Brescia, Amazonomachy, Santa Giulia City Museum

The slab in white, medium-grained marble presents part of a battle among seven Amazons. Two of them are riding a horse and one is standing beside her steed; they are wearing a Phrygian cap, the Greek kiton pinned on the left shoulder leaving the right breast naked, and boots with flaps, called embades. The Amazons are fighting against six naked warriors, some wearing a helmet and one on the ground wearing a klamis.  

The phalerae from Manerbio

Mon, 29/09/2014 - 11:57 -- Laura
Brescia, the phalerae from Manerbio, Santa Giulia Museum

The term phalera, unusual in our modern vocabulary, is a word of Latin origin, and indicates a metal object such as a boss, or various decorations used as military ornaments to be worn on the chest or left hanging from horses’ trappings. 
Most probably, the phalerae from Manerbio were decorations for the harnesses of two horses. They are fourteen, all preserved in the section dedicated to the protohistory of Brescia territory of Santa Giulia Museum. Fourteen embossed silver disks, two large (average diameter 19 cm) and twelve small (10 cm), found together with fragments of other four curved longitudinal elements and three small silver chains.
The phalerae were found by accident, as it often happens with the most exceptional archaeological findings. They were buried under “two shovelfuls of soil” (about 50 cm), and found in February 1928 by the farmers of Gorno noble family while they were expanding the dung hole near Cascina Remondina, not far from Manerbio village. This treasure was immediately passed on to police officers and on 11th Feburary 1928 was in the hands of Giorgio Nicodemi, at that time director of Brescia Museums. Acquired by the State, the phalerae were temporarily loaned to Civiche Raccolte d’Arte in Brescia (today Civic Museums of Art, History and Science) where they are still preserved. They seemed some extraordinary objects right from the beginning, so unique that they were initially considered as products from the Langobardic era. Instead, they are one of the pieces produced by Celtic masters in metalworking. Carlo Albizzati was the first that in 1933 recognized them as “the most peculiar artifacts of Celtic art that our country is proud to own”.

Shield of Parade, Bartolomeo Piatti (?)

Tue, 08/07/2014 - 11:01 -- Laura
Brescia, Bartolomeo Piatti (?), Luigi Marzoli Arms Museum, Castle of Brescia

This elegant shield of parade, formerly in the Rotschild collection and now in the collection belonging to the businessman Luigi Marzoli, falls in the category of circular shields used in the 16th century. This particular shield owes its name to the use ad pompam vel ostentationem, which had to symbolize wealth and power for its owner. It seems more like an art piece rather than a shield to be used in battle. Together with prestigious armours, this shield was used only in rare occasions where the aristocrats of the time gathered to celebrate an important event.
This object is expensive because of the rich and damascened decorations carved in relief. It probably dates back to the luxury armour production which spread from the fourth decade of the 16th century. In this period, the producers of armours began to create, together with war armours, also pieces decorated with scenes from historical events and the classic mythology which symbolized the legitimacy of the power held by the aristocratic class, exerted both through arms and a right that had ancient roots.
The images and the archaic style were derived from engravings, largely diffused, of mannerists followers of Raphael and Giulio Romano. In the majority of cases, these were a mixture of different iconographic sources that were attentively juxtaposed to create a well-balanced picture.

Zouave camp on Brescia city walls in June 1859, by Angelo Inganni

Thu, 19/06/2014 - 10:15 -- Laura
Zouave camp on Brescia city walls in June 1859, by Angelo Inganni

The battle of Solferino and San Martino was fought on 24th June 1859 between the Austrian and the French-Sardinian armies, thus ending the second Italian War of Independence.
Since over 230,000 soldiers took part in it, this battle is the most important after Leipzig in 1813. In Italy it is still remembered because it was the first concrete step towards Italian national unity, and around the world because it led Henry Dunant to found the International Red Cross.
In the French-Sardinian army fought the group of Zouaves, put together in 1830, shortly after the conquest of Algiers by the French army. The group was originally composed by a single regiment of mercenaries, who largely came from the Berber tribe of zouaoua. Later on, the soldiers of French origins (generally volunteers) became the majority, whereas the indigenous troops were integrated in the “tiralleurs algeriéns” (1841), also called “turcos”. Until 1962 they both kept wearing the elaborated Arabian-Algerian style uniforms. As part of the colonial infantry, the Zouaves proved excellent in facing the most difficult and risky situations, also thanks to their strong “group spirit”, emphasized by the informal presence of squads (tribus) inside every army, guided by a veteran of renowned authority (the débrouillard), who distributed roles during breaks or transfers. 
The Zouaves distinguished themselves also in the Crimean war (1854 – 1855), especially in the battle of the Alma and the conquest of Malakoff. In the following “campaign of Italy” (1859) the three regiments, together with the one included in the Imperial Guard, decidedly contributed to the successful result of the Palestro (30th May), Magenta (4th June), and Melegnano (10th June) battles. On the dawn of the 24th June, the Zouaves on reconnaissance mission were the first to engage in a fight with the Austrians and, later on, participated in the assault and the conquest of Solferino hill.
Few day before the great battle of Solferino (24th June 1859), the French-Piedmont army swarmed in Brescia (from the 18th to the 21st June), as temporary headquarters of the king Vittorio Emanuele II (welcomed in Valotti palace, in Corso Magenta) and Napoleon III (in Fenaroli palace, Via Marsala). The Imperial Guard armies settled on the city walls together with a Zouave regiment.

"Santa Giulia crucified", Carlo and Giovanni (?) Carra

Wed, 14/05/2014 - 10:13 -- Laura
Brescia, "Santa Giulia crucified", Carlo and Giovanni (?) Carra

Written sources from the 17th century – by Bernardino Faino (1630-1669) and Francesco Paglia (1660-1701) – record the excitement in front of Santa Giulia crucified in the new church of the Benedictine nuns. These sources also mention the artists: Giovanni and Carlo Carra, sons of Antonio, who owned the most important sculpture workshop in the 17th century Brescia and province. The Carras are responsible for the Ark of Saint Faustino and Giovita in the church in Brescia of ‘Santi Faustino e Giovita’ (1618-1626). When Antonio died (1632), Giovanni and Carlo – the third brother, Stefano, would succeed as an architect – followed the steps of their late father and worked in a sort of symbiosis. The only exception that is worth noting is when Giovanni proudly signs the Altar of Saint Benedict in the ‘Santi Faustino e Giovita’ church (1645-1648).

Therefore even the Santa Giulia in the City Museum is an output of that workshop – but before 1630, when Faino recorded it – though the delicacy in the marble descriptive technique, the fine expression and the gentle progression of shades on the sculpture reveal a different touch from that of Saint Benedict signed by Giovanni. Here the rough outline is sharper and the drapery very schematic, though fascinating. It is only a hypothesis, but Santa Giulia crucified may have been sculpted mainly by Carlo, who worked as only responsible for the building activities of Duomo Nuovo between 1621 and 1659, in the role of “inzegnero soprastante alla fabbrica” (responsible engineer). Carlo also signed the majority of the contracts that survived until today, thus marking his role as coordinator of all activities related to the family workshop.

"Angel bust", Raphael

Wed, 30/04/2014 - 11:23 -- Laura
"Angel bust", Raphael

In 1821 the painting could be found on the antiques market in Florence described as “Portrait of a Young Man”, and at the time it was already considered as Raphael’s work. Paolo Tosio, thanks to the support of Teodoro Lechi, managed to buy it with a certificate of authenticity from Accademia Fiorentina. Along with the Christ Blessing, the other painting already belonging to the collection of Count Tosio, the “Portrait of a Young Man” became one of the most celebrated works among Brescia experts and beyond. Why was the little painting called “Portrait of a Young Man”?

Desiderius' Cross

Wed, 05/03/2014 - 11:13 -- Laura
Brescia, Desiderius' Cross

Desiderius’ Cross is a processional cross that used to be carried on a tall staff by hand or on carriages.  Considered its use, it was built in wood and covered with golden metal plates. Tradition recounts that it was a gift to San Salvatore and Santa Giulia monastery from the Longobard king Desiderius, who founded it between 753 and 760 together with his wife Ansa.
Among the examples of crux gemmata survived to the present day, this is the largest and it is covered with 211 gemstones set on the four arms. As unique case for this type of decoration, the goldsmiths here reused numerous ancient gems – about 50 – many of which came from other decorative pieces.