this outstanding Renaissance church, one of the most splendid of the town, was begun in 1521 in order to give shelter to a picture of the Madonna said to be miraculous that originally hung on the wall of a small oratory called “dello steccato” or wooden shield.
Consecrated in 1539, the church is built in an elegant Bramante style in the shape of a Greek cross with semicircular apses and square corner chapels. Pilasters, windows and mullions are topped by a marble dome with loggia and lantern, almost certainly built with the help of Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, who had come to Parma in 1526, sent by Pope Clement VII to strenghten the city’s defenses. In the interior, to the left of the entrance, is the tomb of Count Adam Neipperg, the morganatic husband of Marie Louise of Austria, built between 1829 and 1831 by Lorenzo Bartolini.
The most elaborate work in the church is the fresco cycle on the arch above the presbitery, painted by Parmigianino between 1530 and 1539 with great accuracy of detail. It depicts the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins with a profusion of animal and plant motifs set against a red background. On the intrados, with gold decorations on a blue background, are four monochrome figures: Eve and Aaron on the right and Adam and Moses on the left. Another remarkable work left unfinished by Parmigianino.
The altar, adorned with 18th century statues, contains the fresco of the Madonna Suckling the Child, taken from the original oratory and painted by an anonimous late 14th century artist. Behind the presbitery is the Knight’s Choir and above it, a small bronze of Christ Risen by Andrea Spinelli.
A door on the left leads to the sacresty and the burial chapel built in 1823 by Marie Louise to house the tombs of the Farnese and Bourbon dukes of Parma.
Annexed to the church is the treasure of art and history on display at the Costantinian Museum.
Strada G. Garibaldi, 5 43121 Parma
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