It was around 1510 when Girolamo Romanino arrived on Lake Iseo for the first time. It is probably the Fenaroli family of Tavernola Bergamasca who commissioned him to decorate part of the Church of San Pietro.
The frescoes are early works of the great painter who here paints on the left wall of the presbytery the Virgin Mary enthroned with Child among the saints Giorgio, Maurizio, Pietro and Paolo who present the offerers. Despite his young age, the artist demonstrates that he has already reached a level of excellence in the art of fresco painting. The perspective perfection of the backdrops simulates an ancient architecture, the liveliness and variety of colours, the expressiveness of the faces make this work a real masterpiece. The intensity of the profiles and the silence that envelops the scene seem to connect the fresco to the tragic climate of those years.
Romanino’s extraordinary ability to look into the hearts of men to grasp their reality can also be found in the “Three heads”, sketched on the wall of the counter-façade. It is probable that the three faces (a monk, a woman, and a man) are the fragment of a larger scene, perhaps the crucifixion, left unfinished by the artist.
Tavernola’s work, one of the first masterpieces by Romanino, already shows the exceptional artistic talents of the great Renaissance painter.
Inside the refectory of the guesthouse, a space intended for welcoming guests and visitors, in 1530 Romanino created a cycle of frescoes connected to the sacredness of lunch In the canteen are still visible, in a lunette, the Virgin with Child and San Giovannino and, inside two panels on the wall, Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well and on the right a pantry with crockery, a rare still life by the artist from Brescia.
The Virgin Mary in the lunette is depicted as she looks towards San Giovannino, who has the lamb by his side announcing the sacrifice of the Redeemer At the bottom left, the scene of Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman, a theme linked to the motif of charity and refreshment, and on the right, the trompe l’oeil of an elegant plate rack. Traces of other frescoes can be glimpsed on the opposite wall; they were detached in 1864 and are visible today in the Tosio Martinengo Art Gallery in Brescia; the dinner in Emmaus and the dinner in the house of Simon Pharisee. Depictions chosen, also in this case, to celebrate the theme of hospitality.
The name of Romanino is also linked to the Abbey for another important intervention, in fact he is also the author of the cartoons that were used by Fra Raffaele da Brescia for the creation of the panels of the large choral lectern, which is exhibited at the Tosio Martinengo Art Gallery, in the immediate vicinity of the two large frescoes from the guesthouse.
The cycle extends to the full height of three walls, on which the depiction of some male figures immersed in landscaped backdrops delimited by imitation marble pillars and an upper entablature with grotesque friezes is repeated. On the south-east wall, the best preserved, are depicted San Rocco, San Sebastiano and a third martyr identified as San Pantaleone, framed by fake architectures and behind them is painted what appears to be Monte Isola surrounded by the lake and the typical boats. San Sebastiano is tied to a tree and pierced by an arrow, San Rocco holds the stick of pilgrims, and San Pantaleone, a doctor who practiced his profession without asking for compensation. On the right wall a standing male figure positioned in the doorway of a building. On the left wall, San Rocco is visible, probably in a kneeling pose, on the edge of a wood.
The altarpiece depicting the Resurrection of Christ by Gerolamo Romanino (Brescia circa 1484/1487-1560) is undoubtedly the most precious painting kept in the land of Capriolo. The wooden table, made around 1526, was made expressly for the church of s. Giorgio and adorned the altar of the Blessed Sacrament from the outset. In Romanino’s painting we see, against the background of a fiery dawn, Jesus Christ rising from the tomb. Head slightly bent, right hand raised in blessing and left hand to hold the banner. At his feet are four soldiers in armour and feathered hats, two of whom are fast asleep. Romanino, in fact, perhaps for the first time in the 16th century art scene in Brescia, presents us with a reality the likes of which we had never seen before, a reality far removed from that to which certain painting – certainly very noble – had accustomed us. And he does all of this in the way that most belongs to him, that is, in a frank, wild, popular way or to put it in the words of a great art historian: “dialectal”. Thus we see that our “provincial” Christ is no longer Apollonian and triumphant as, for example, in the central compartment of Titian’s Averoldi Polyptych (immediate reference for Capriolo’s altarpiece) but rather seems more like a boy stolen from some work in the fields and not too eager to soar in the sky: one eye is still half closed from sleep and the feet (at least the right one) are firmly planted on the tomb! The banner he holds does not swell triumphantly in the wind for the glory of God but looks more like a humble household cloth, limp and well attached to his staff. Similarly, the armigers on the ground, especially the “Armed Brancaleone”, seem to lose all pomp with those open mouths from the much snoring and the grotesque mugs close to a certain Nordic painting. And what about the luminist effects and the wonderful contrasts that cross the shovel! Starting from the fiery dawn that pierces the darkness in the background, up to the material density of the Lord’s body or the white light (alternating with the dark shadows of the folds) that bathes the standard or that which reflects on the armour of the soldier from behind in the foreground floor.
A real masterpiece, in short, in which Romanino presents us with a new way of understanding reality: certainly less solemn but at the same time more real and concrete; a reality where beauty is replaced by truth however rough, pungent, tormented it may be.
The walls of the presbytery preserve the pictorial masterpieces of Romanino, which date back to 1535. The whole cycle leads back to the episodes of the biblical book of the prophet Daniel.
The frescoes on the back wall are almost unrecognizable, on the sides of the large altarpiece by Calisto Piazza from 1527 depicting an Enthroned Virgin with Child among the Saints Sebastiano, Rocco, Antonio Abate, and Siro. The setting is similar on all the walls, with the sacred scenes in the lower part and the architectures in which the characters who are watching the scene are placed in the upper part, with the protagonist in the centre. The characters who observe the events have real faces, faces to which Romanino manages to give extreme drama thanks to his brushstrokes. We see them commenting and observing the viewer as well as the scene, inviting him to enter the scene itself.
In Bienno, in the church of Santa Maria Annunciata, there is one of the best-known pictorial cycles by Romanino, the last work in Valle Camonica, after Pisogne and Breno. Here the artist from Brescia frescoed the walls of the presbytery around 1540 with scenes from the life of the Virgin. On the right wall the scene of the Marriage of the virgin and on the left the Presentation of Mary in the temple. Also, in this work by Romanino the faces present in the scene have a “village” appearance, as if all the citizens of Bienno were present at the wedding ceremony.
In the scene of the “Presentation of Mary at the Temple”, at the centre of the loggia, above, the High Priest is waiting the little Mary, Anna and Gioacchino, on either side of the balustrade. Various animals are scattered throughout the scene: the rabbit held by a child, a turtle dove, a small dog, and a calf.
The work that Romanino carried out in Pisogne between 1532 and 1534 began the Camunian phase of the artist, which would later also lead him to Breno and Bienno. A large cycle of impressively theatrical frescoes on the theme of the Passion decorates the Church of Santa Maria della Neve. Also known as “The Sistine Chapel of the Poor”, the church of Pisogne is considered one of the highest points of Romanino’s poetics.
The vault, the holy arch, the side walls and the counter-façade are a riot of often grotesque faces and bodies, inspired by the locals. The fifteenth-century frescoes, therefore not attributable to Romanino, which covered the apse, and those on the external walls have been lost. Of these, only two detached scenes remain regarding the Adoration of the Magi, preserved in the apse.
The left wall represents the dramatic moments of the Passion, while on the right wall, in the sail of the first span, there are sequences of the Resurrection. All the episodes depicted act as a corollary to the theme of the Crucifixion, grandly expressed on the counter-façade. In the sails of the three cruises there are 24 extremely “Michelangelo-esque” figures of prophets, kings, patriarchs and sibyls. Eight seers decorate the two arches that separate the three bays. On the holy arch one can admire the Eternal Father and the Annunciation, with the Archangel Gabriel on the left and the Virgin on the right; below, the Descent of the Holy Spirit and the Deposition at the Sepulchre. On the walls the main moments of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.
The fresco on the counter-façade is the culmination of the entire cycle; the great and dramatic Crucifixion. An agitated scene full of violence, a narration very distant from the idealized forms of Renaissance classicism from which Romanino increasingly distances himself by coming into contact with places, people and a simpler and more popular spirituality.
In the centre there is the figure of the crucified Christ and at his feet a Magdalene with the arms and face of a peasant girl desperately embracing the cross. On the sides of the cross of Christ the figures of the two thieves, while under the crosses the scene is full of various and decomposed figures.