The Marbles that Walked

Written by  Giorgio Franceschini
On the trail of the strange pilgrimage of ornamental elements and works of art.
The marbles that walked is the story of the vicissitudes of certain ornamental elements that wound up being used in buildings different from those for which they were originally intended. A story of times gone by and of places in which marble was precious, hard to find and therefore very costly; places such as Ferrara, which is a glorious monument to the brick.

We could begin in Corso Cavour and observe the portal of the Stock Exchange: an architectonic composition created towards the end of the 17th century with marble elements of diverse provenance, including the "icon FROM the high altar" of the church of San Benedetto. Then we come to the church of San Francesco, and pause in front of the side entry in via Savonarola.

The portal, until little more than a century ago, was located on the façade where it adorned the smaller door on the right. When the sculptor Ambrogio Zuffi finished the two lateral doors with columns, architraves and tympanum, the old portal was moved to where it is now; the urn that stood above it, which contained the bones of the jurists Gerardo and Francesco Saraceni, was also moved.

If we push on as far as via Scandiana, we might consider Righini's remarks about the marble portal of palazzo Schifanoia, brought thence from the former convent of San Domenico, which had been turned into a barracks by the French. Experts would have preferred to see this portal applied above number 25, a few metres from the majestic main entrance to the palace.

At this point, I would like to devote some more careful consideration to two of the most noble churches in the city: Sant'Apollonia and Santo Stefano.
Until 1839, in what today is piazzetta Combattenti, there stood the church of the Holy Spirit, built between 1616 and 1625. The arrival of the French in Ferrara, at the end of the 18th century, was its death knell: it was closed, converted into a hemp storehouse and subsequently bought by a certain Fulgenzio Folegatti, a lawyer.

This Folegatti demolished it to build his own home in its place (number 5, on the corner of via Borgoleoni). Luckily, Folegatti realized that the portal was worth saving from demolition and he gifted it to the town council. In its turn the council gave it to the church of Sant'Apollonia in via XX settembre.
The façade of this church, built in 1593 to drawings by Francesco Mazzarelli, had never been completed. The marble portal from the church of the Holy Spirit suited it but the brotherhood of the Addolorata then officiating there did not have the means to proceed with the work. The marbles were stored for another thirty years until it was decided to complete the façade, in October 1866.
Under the supervision of the architect Antonio Tosi Foschini the portal was erected in exchange for a fee of 200 scudi by Giovanni Beretta, the founder of the prestigious firm of marble workers attive in Ferrara for about one hundred and fifty years. Most of the cost of the work was borne by the Cassa di Risparmio of Ferrara.
The 16th century lines, and those of the tympanum broken up by the coat of arms above it, the supporting columns and those in granite to the side of the door make this a sumptuous portal, which reminds many of the portal of the church of San Carlo in corso Giovecca.

And right at the end of corso Giovecca, in front of the palazzina Marfisa d'Este, roughly where the entrance to the casualty department ot the hospital stands today, from the early decades of the 16th century there stood the church of San Silvestro, complete with a convent-annexe of Benedictine nuns closed and abandoned around 1820. San Silvestro, with its wealth of artworks by Ferrarese artists including Garofalo and Scarsellino, had a handsome portal attributed to Biagio Rossetti.

In 1825, this component of what was by then a ruined church was acquired by a certain Giovanni Gambupi, the priest of the parish church of Santo Stefano, who had the portal added to the façade of his church thus making it the only part of the exterior that was not in brick, as Eugenio Righini observed in his well known work on the remains of old Ferrara published in 1910.