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.
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.
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.
The large canvas “Working Women” is part of a 14 canvas collection that was documented for the first time in 1931. Back then it belonged to Bernardo Salvadego’s collection and was located in the Martinengo castle in Padernello, in the province of Brescia. Later on, the canvases were separated and acquired by different private collections such as the Lechi Museum in Montichiari and the Tosio Marinengo Art Gallery. The identification of these masterpieces led to the actual rediscovery of their author, the Milanese painter Giacomo Ceruti, who is today considered one of the major artists from 18th century Lombardy.
Known as the “Padernello cycle”, these canvases were conceived as decorative pieces for various noble palaces in Brescia only to be subsequently grouped in the 19th century. They depict humble people intent on everyday chores. This could be ascribed to the tradition of genre painting, which typically represents scenes from ordinary life: such paintings were particularly appreciated by aristocrats especially for their light and inviting tone. Nevertheless, the paintings by Ceruti dedicated to such themes (all dated to the period he spent around Brescia, between 1724 and 1735) are characterized by a completely different atmosphere.