Tempio civico dell’Incoronata and the symbolisms of Lodi

In Via Incoronata in Lodi, in the 15th century known as Contrada de’ Lomellini, there was a brothel. However, the intriguing aspect was not the common practice of erecting such places for the enjoyment of rich citizens, but rather that, just in front of a load-bearing wall facing the street, there was a crowned Madonna [1]. It was a 14th-century fresco in which the Virgin lovingly held her son, the saviour of the world. This seemed a unusual dissonance to what happened within the walls of the brothel.

Tempio Civico dell'Incoronata
The ancient contrada de’ Lomellini, nowadays via Incoronata, where the Tempio Civico dell’Incoronata stands

One day, the virgin suddenly began to speak. Weeping, she admonished a frequenter of the brothel and the tears of sorrow copiously flowed from the sacred painting. From that moment on, there was no inhabitant of Lodi who did not tell of prodigious events and graces received. We can imagine the clamour that the event aroused, so all the faithful asked for a church to be built in contrada de’ Lomellini to host the miraculous icon.

7th October 1487. Women were chased out of the streets, due to the numerous miracles miracles performed by our Lady, and it was decided to build a church in her honour called Santa Maria de lincoronata.

Defendino Majani and Jacobus Biello, Cronichetta di Lodi del XV secolo, preserved at the Ambrosiana Library in Milan

The Tempio Civico dell’Incoronata of Lodi

This is what popular tradition tells us about the origins of the Tempio Civico dell’Incoronata in Lodi. According to the historiographical sources, we certainly know that the first stone of the building was laid on 29 May 1488 [1], at the behest of Bishop Carlo Pallavicino and the Duke of Milan Ludovico il Moro. The construction of a church in contrada de’ Lomellini was probably the pretext for the city authorities to move the brothel to a more appropriate location and demolish the edifice. Lodi architect Giovanni Battaggio was appointed to direct the work. He was a disciple of Bramante, so designed an octagonal temple inspired by the style of the church of Santa Maria presso San Satiro in Milan, which Battaggio had participated in. After a year of work, responsibility for the project was assigned to Gian Giacomo Dolcebuono who soon completed the work (1494).

Tempio Civico dell'Incoronata
The 19th-century façade of the Tempio Civico dell’Incoronata in Lodi. Three arches mask the façade decorated with frescoes.

The symbolism of the Tempio Civico dell’Incoronata of Lodi

The symbolic architecture is one of the most interesting aspects of the Tempio Civico dell’Incoronata. It was designed with precise numerological criteria of profound significance. The Temple is built on a central plan, an innovation derived from Bramante’s studies. In fact, the central plan is one of the characteristics of Renaissance architecture, the realisation of a principle of universal harmony in which perspective places man at the centre of the cosmos. For his contemporary Marsilio Ficino, the circle was a representation of the perfection of the divine and creation [2]. In the shape of the circle is inserted the octagon of the dome, with lantern, and of the entire structure, symbolising eternity. Seven are the days of Creation, to which is added the day of eternal life.

Tempio Civico dell'Incoronata
Interiors of the Tempio Civico dell’Incoronata of Lodi

Even the exterior elevation of the building has eight faces, with alternating windows and oculi.

Tempio Civico dell'Incoronata
The octagonal tholobate of the Tempio Civico dell’Incoronata of Lodi

Interior of the Tempio Civico dell’Incoronata

The architectural rhythm is evident in the internal arrangement of spaces, marked by niches and pilasters along the perimeter. Some trapezoidal chapels host paintings by Renaissance authors and others, including four exceptional panels by Bergognone. There are seven minor chapels, a symbolism that recalls the relationship between God and man and holiness. This is why they are decorated with sacred scenes and depictions of saints; the same symbolic meaning applies to the perspective illusions of the upper barrel vaults, which ideally extend the perspective towards God.

Tempio Civico dell'Incoronata
Tempio Civico dell’Incoronata of Lodi
Bergognone’s four panels: top left, Annunciation, followed by the Adoration of the Magi; top right: Visitation of the Virgin Mary to St Elizabeth and Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. This latter depicts the interior of the Civic Temple as it looked in the 15th century.
In the centre of the chapel is a painting by Callisto Piazza depicting the Conversion of Saint Paul.

The architectural lines of the chapels end upwards in the dome, which has eight segments and was frescoed in the 19th century by the Bergamo painter Enrico Scuri with scenes celebrating Lodi saints.

Tempio Civico dell'Incoronata
The eight ‘segments’ dome with depictions of the triumphs of the Lodi saints

Crowned Mary icon and the main chapel

The last chapel, which figuratively is number eight to recall the concept of salvation, hosts the main altar. Here, in 1494, during a solemn ceremony, the wall fresco of the Crowned Virgin with Child, which had inspired the construction of the temple, was placed.

Tempio Civico dell'Incoronata
The main altar where the fresco of the Crowned Virgin with Child is placed

Mary is venerated as the new Eve, she who made redemption of humanity possible through the saving work of her son Christ. This symbolism is so significant for the people of Lodi, as the church replaces a brothel and sin is ideally redeemed by divine grace. Thus, the Crowned Virgin is the Mother of God, and, as prophesied in the book of Genesis, her progeny will ‘strike the serpent’s head’ [3]. Similarly, in chapter twelve of the Book of Revelation she is described in heaven fighting the ancient dragon, symbol of evil, and on her head is a crown of twelve stars [4].

Behind the main chapel, the building was extended in the 17th century to contain the wooden choir and the decorations were entrusted to Andrea Lanzani.

A symbolism that returns

Over the centuries, as the artistic and architectural styles changed, so did the symbols, adapting to new and emerging cultural contexts. Thus, in the same way in Lodi, it is possible to find that representative background, which has given so much splendour to the Tempio Civico, in the previous constructions. In particular, the symbolism of the eschatological struggle between good and evil, between the woman and the dragon, has ancient origins and crosses different epochs and worlds, from the early Christian era to the present day. It had great importance in the Middle Ages, before Renaissance artists overshadowed its stylistic features with the emerging language of perspective and a renewed sense of beauty.

Lodi Cathedral

Lodi cathedral contains and strongly expresses the same eschatological symbolism as the Tempio Civico, in the ways of the time in which it was built. It is not a coincidence that the Romanesque basilica, dating back to the 12th-13th centuries, is dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Interior of Lodi Cathedral. It has a basilica plan with a nave and two aisles with round arches.

The eschatological symbolism of Lodi Cathedral

On the asymmetrical façade with its prothyrum and rose window, there are some elements that refer to an eschatological struggle. On either sides of the main portal splays, the half-capitals feature sculpted depictions of human figures, dragons and fighting sphinxes.

On the jambs of the main portal, facing each other, Adam and Eve support two small columns, whose tops are supported by suffering telamons, symbolising man overcome by sin. The stylophore lions support the prothyrum, the work of the Campionesi Masters, as a symbol of Christ watching over His Church.

The central portal

Just above the circular rose window of the façade, on the arch of the aedicule that holds the bronze statue of St. Bassianus, there are three flowers of life, an ancient symbol linked to the concept of resurrection. The same symbolism is found on the vaults of the crypt.

Samuele Corrente Naso, Daniela Campus

Notes

[1] Beatrice Ambreck et al., Atlante della nuova Provincia di Lodi, Lodi, Il Giorno, 1996.

[2] Marsilio Ficino, Theologia platonica.

[3] Genesi 3,15

[4] Book of Revelation 12,1.

error: Eh no!