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Santa Maria in Organo
Via Santa Maria in Organo


History
The original complex dates to the 7th/8th century - a Lombard-era monastery traditionally said to have been established with the will of Duke Lupo and his consort Emilenda. The church and monastery, then called Santa Maria in Gazzo, being rebuilt in 1131 after the earthquake in 1117, went into a bit of a decline, due in no small part to looting by the Scalegeri and Visconti lords. In 1444 the complex was sold to Olivetan Benedictines, led by Abbot Correr, who reversed the decline, rebuilt the monastery, the nave and lateral chapels and created the cloister, under the direction of Fra Giovanni, resulting in the church we see today and a new monastery. The scriptorium here employed Liberale da Verona in the 1490s and examples of his work can be found in various collections. The Benedictines remained until 1808 when the convent was suppressed and demolished. The name 'in Organo' is said to derive from an organum, a Roman tower used in irrigation, one of which was supposedly situated where the campanile is now.

The fašade
In 1547 the Renaissance marble fašade was begun, designed by Michele Sanmicheli according to Vasari. It remains unfinished, allowing the upper part of earlier Gothic-Romanesque facade to still be seen.

Interior
A Latin cross with a nave and two aisles and stout striped columns of alternating red and grey marble. Four quite deep and mostly dark chapels each side. Steps up to wide transept with a deep apse and two deep side chaps. This is a large church with walls that are almost totally fresco-covered and is a bit of a pantheon, as it contains works by most of the foremost Veronese Renaissance painters.
In the nave the frieze of frescos between the tops of the arches and the barrel-vaulted ceiling date to the 1530s. Those on the left, Stories of the Old Testament, are the work of Gian Francesco Caroto, whilst the right-hand panels of Stories of the New Testament, somewhat crowded compositions, are by Nicol˛ Giolfino.
The first chapel on the right had the fine Nativity With Rabbits (now in the Castelvecchio) by Girolamo dai Libri. It now has a much later Virgin with Saints Catherine and Anthony by Balestra. The third has a painted wooden sculptural group scene featuring Christ & Mary which looks very like a trip to the dentist. First on left had? but now also has another Balestra.
The transept is spectacular. The vault frescos are the work of Domenico Morone, with the help of his son Francesco. On the left are roundels depicting The Four Evangelists, on the right The Four Doctors of the Church. The central vault has Musician Angels with Bible figures beneath and an Annunciation over the apse arch. The chapel at the end of the right transept arm has the Archangels Michael and Raphael in a pair of illusionistic niches. Raphael's lower half was lost during bombing in in WWII, and post-war repainting was removed during the 1970s and during restoration in 1996 the affected area had a monochrome suggestion of the original appearance added.
The chapel to the left of the
presbytery (The Cappella della Maesta) has frescoes on the outer wall (of the Resurrection, two Sibyls, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Jerome) by Domenico Brusasorci. Inside is an altarpiece depicting Saint Benedict and the Miracle of the Resuscitated Child by Simone Brenta and wall and vault frescoes (The Miracles of Christ) by Brusasorci again. These were restored in 1993.
The chapel to the right of the presbytery (The Cappella del Sacramento) has an Ascension on the outer wall, with Two Prophets by Niccol˛ Giolfino beneath and an Annunciation by Paolo Cavazzola beneath that. Inside is an altarpiece depicting St Helena Finding the True Cross by Brentana and wall and vault frescoes by Niccol˛
Giolfino.
The
presbytery has large flanking panels by Paolo Farinati with landscape scenes below by Agostino, Felice and Domenico Brusasorci. The choir behind has the famous and wonderful illusionistic intarsia work by Fra Giovanni da Verona from 1490s (see left). Fra Giovanni was an Olivetan monk here who received his training in intarsia in Ferrara from Sebastian of Rovigno. He worked in Urbino, Perugia, Spoleto, Rome and Venice before returning to Verona towards the end of the 1400s to produce his masterpieces in this church.
His work is also to be found on the cupboards in the very decorated
Sacristy (1519-24) praised by Vasari. The sacristy (see photo right) also has paintings by Agostino and Domenico Brusasorci (all twenty square landscape scenes on cupboards). The frescoes of Bendictine Popes (in the lunettes) and illustrious Benedictines (in white robes in the lower frieze, one of whom is Fra Giovanni by Caroto) are by Domenico and Francesco Morone, who also painted the ceiling, in which Crowe and Cavalcaselle saw a lot of Mantegna influence. The faces of the the illustrious members of the order were based, according to Vasari, on the faces of monks then in the monastery. Also an altarpiece of Saints Francis and Anthony by Alessandro Turchi (Orbetto).
Under the raised presbytery is the crypt (with access from the apse) of the earlier church which retains some of the 8th-century columns and capitals and fresco remains.
Unseen: Guercino's Santa Francesca Romana of 1638.

Campanile
Also designed by Fra Giovanni, but not completed until 1533, after his death. It is thought that the remains of the ancient watermill which gave the church its name are to be found under the campanile.

Lost art
The wonderful Trivulzio Madonna, a Virgin and Child with Saints John the Baptist, Benedict, Gregory the Great and Jerome and Musician Angels by Andrea Mantegna (see below right), signed and dated 15th of August 1497, painted on linen for the high altar here. It is said to have been commissioned by Abbot Antonio Correr and is now in the Castello Sforzesco in Milan. The name comes from the Trivulzio Collection of Milan, to which it belonged from 1791 to 1935, when Prince Trivulzio's collection was given to the Sforza Castle gallery. Saint Jerome, at far right, carries a model of this church.
Girolamo dai Libri and Francesco Morone collaborated on organ doors for this church in 1515, now in the church of San Pietro in Marcellise near Verona. The two panels by Girolamo depict Saints Catherine and Mary Magdalene and the Nativity; the two by Morone are Saints Benedict and John the Baptist and The Prophets Daniel and Isaiah. They also collaborated on an altar frontal for the high altar and frescoes in the crypt and other works, now lost.
Girolamo had begun his career here as an illuminator and Francesco as a painter. One of Girolamo's earliest known altarpieces is the Deposition with the Virgin and Saints Benedict, Scholastica, Helena, John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene painted for the Da Lisca family altar here, with a view of Verona on a hill behind the cross (see photo far right). It was replaced by a Virgin by Balestra in 1720 and moved to the church of Santo Stefano in Malcesine, near Lake Garda.
There's also an early Nativity with Saint John the Baptist and Saint Jerome (1500) which Girolamo painted for the Maffei chapel here. Since the Napoleonic suppression in 1812 it's been in the Castelvecchio. Jerome's lion and Jesus are both keeping an eye on the two rabbits after which it's sometimes named. The Castelvecchio also has many fine pages from graduals and psalteries from this church with miniatures by Girolamo and his father Francesco. (see initial left) In the Fondazione Domus in Verona are two panels by Girolamo of Saint Peter and Saint John the Evangelist.

A panel depicting The Washing of the Feet by Francesco Morone of around 1503/5 is in the Castelvecchio. Three panels of episodes from the life of Lorenzo Giustiniani by him are in the collection of the Aurora Trust in New York.
A Self-Portrait with his wife Placida (1530) by Giovanni Caroto (the brother of Giovanni Francesco) now in the Castelvecchio (see left) was part of an altarpiece destroyed by fire, showing the Virgin in Glory with Saints and the artist and his wife as donors. Vasari says that the altarpiece was in the chapel of San Niccol˛ here, which was frescoed by Gian Francesco, and was where the brothers were buried. It was Giovanni's uncle, Don Stefano, the cappellano (chaplain) here who left him a house and 500-1000 ducats, enabling him to devote himself to his studies, on condition that he married.
 


Vasari says
Giovan Francesco Caroto was buried in the Madonna dell' Organo, in (his family) chapel of San Niccol˛, which he himself had adorned with his paintings.




The church once faced a branch of the Adige River called the Canale dell'Acqua Morta which was filled in in 1882. In the left aisle is a marker showing the scary height the water reached during the Adige flood of the 17th September 1882, the event which is said to have led to the filling-in.

Bibliography
Luciano Rognini La Chiesa di Santa Maria in Organo (in Italian) Cierre edizioni 2016

Opening times

A group called Verona Minor Hierusalem seem to have taken over the touristic visit times for this church, and four more nearby. (My enquiring emails have been ignored.) The times they publicise are
Thursday, Friday 10.30 - 5.30
Saturday 10.00 - 4.30
Sunday 11.00 - 5.30
I assume that the churches will be open at other times too.









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