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Treasure of San Lorenzo Cathedral in Genoa

May 22, 2012

Travelling to Genoa you should not miss the opportunity to visit the Museum of the Treasure of San Lorenzo, an hypogeal construction just under the San Lorenzo Cathedral. The Museum was built 1956 based on the Milanese architect Franco Albini’s design and boasts a host of exhibits which bear witness to the art history and religious devotion of centuries past. From the ticket-office and book-shop situated in the sacristy of San Lorenzo Cathedral a short flight of stairs leads to the entrance to the four rooms of the Museum.

The museum is designed around the exhibits. The brick-work, in grey local limestone, the circular shape of the smaller exhibition rooms and the tonal hues in the underground areas recall the architectural history of the past such as the Mycenaean and Etruscan tombs and the sacred crypts in Romanesque cathedrals. The reinforced concrete ceilings do, however, reveal its modernity. These ribbed ceilings, incorporated with glass bricks, are decorated in a series of ray formations producing a very suggestive effect which features this masterpiece of Italian post war architecture.

Following a couple of pictures I took during my visit and the exhibit’s description provided by the museum’s attendant.

This silver statue is the reliquary of St. Lawrence, San Lorenzo, to whom the cathedral is dedicated. The statue, dating back to 1828, illustrates the saint holding a palm and trellis – an instrument of torture-symbolizing his martyrdom. The statue was deliberately chosen as an introduction to the collection since it constitutes a symbolic link between the cathedral and the treasure. Indeed many of the works of art on display are used, even today, during mass and on special religious occasions.

The crucifix, the so-called “Croce degli Zaccaria” was in the possession of the Zaccaria family until the 15th century. This was one of the most important merchant families trading in the eastern Mediterranean sea when the Dominion of Genoa had reached its political and commercial peak. This splendid example of the expertise of Byzantine goldsmiths dates back to the 13th century. The gold, precious gems and natural pearls are in perfect harmony with its function: that of a holy reliquary containing fragments of the True Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The crucifix was later to be used by the archbishops in Genoa in the benediction ceremonies of newly elected Doges.

The Cassa Processionale, a ceremonial casket which is used to hold the ashes of St. John the Baptist during processions, immediately strikes the visitor’s eye. The work, in silver and silver-gilt, dates from between 1438 and 1445 and is attributed to various artists: the ligurian Teramo Danieli, began the work which was completed by Simone Caldera, another ligurian artist who served his apprenticeship in Tuscany and was master of an international workshop which included goldsmiths from the Lombardy region and Burgundy. In this “miniature cathedral”, similar in many ways in the spires of the Duomo in Milan, there are numerous scenes from the life of St. John, ranging from the annunciation to his father Zaccary to his death brought about by the whims of Salome.

The large Statue of the Immaculate Conception dates back to around 1747 and are the work the Genoese sculptor Francesco Maria Schiaffino. This was originally a gift on the part of the people of Genoa to Doge Gio. Francesco II Brignole-Sale, but he preferred to donate in to the Duomo di San Lorenzo as a symbol of the devotion of the Genoese, a witness to the close links binding the city and the cathedral, the very emblem of Genoa. This silver leaf statue represents the Madonna according to the Revelation of St. John with a star tipped crown and the moon beneath her feet.

The Cassa Processionale del Corpus Domini, the ark used during the Corpus Domini procession, was commissioned by the Padri del Comune in the mid 16th century. The original idea belonged to the Milanese artist Francesco de Rocchi, but the work was completed by the joint effort of numerous artists. A group of Flemish goldsmiths who were living and working in Genoa as guards in the service of the Doge were given the task of decorating the lower part with scenes from the Passion of Christ. The upper part is decorated with little statues of the prophets and sibyls who foresaw the coming of the Messiah while the angels represent symbols of the Passion of the Lord. The funds necessary for this work were donated by Genoese abroad. This offering gave them the opportunity to participate in the life of their cathedral. The casket is wooden in structure and finished in silver leaf. It weighs approximately seventy kilograms and is still carried during the Corpus Domini procession bearing the Holy Eucharist in its monstrance.

The Piatto di San Giovanni, the platter of St. John, dates back to the Augustan age. Tradition has it that the severed head of the Baptist was served to Herod on this platter. This rare and high1y refined artefact made of chalcedony – a transparent precious stone – was certainly suitable for a king. The gilt edging and the enamelled head in the middle of the platter were added in France between the 14th and 15th centuries by master craftsmen who were probably in the service of the royal court.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 23, 2012 6:25 am

    Informative post .thank you for sharing.

    marg swarnabhoomi

    • May 23, 2012 10:48 am

      Thanks for the comment and for sharing projects on your blog. Such large developments do not happen anymore in our old Europe. It is very interesting (and impressive) to see!

  2. James Davies permalink
    February 28, 2017 10:32 pm

    I visited Genoa in the early Fall of 2016 and an old friend who is an Architect in Genoa took me around the City to see several of the Albini works. I thought this was a very interesting building. He took me outside afterwards and showed me where the roof of the Museum is located to see where the little skylights are located. If you are in Genoa it is well worth the effort to visit the Albini works as he was a very talented designer. His exhibit design is very good and influenced people such as Carlos Scarpa. Regards

    • March 2, 2017 10:45 am

      hello James, thank you for your nice comment! Indeed Albini and Scarpa designed some of the most beautiful architectures of last century in Italy. Antonio

      • James Davies permalink
        March 4, 2017 6:16 am

        Also when I was there was a religious festival and I got to see The Cassa Processionale del Corpus Domini being carried back to the Cathedral. There was a huge processions of Nuns and Monks as there was a World Congress taking place in Genoa. At the end of the procession was the The Cassa Processionale del Corpus Domini. It was quite moving to hear the monks singing as they came up the hill to the Cathedral.

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