The Re-discovered Fresco

Written by  Giovanni Lamborghini

The missing piece from the crucifixion of Santa Caterina the Martyr.

We Ferrara inhabitants know that frescoes detached from numerous churches in the city are kept at the Casa Romei Museum. One of these is the fresco from the Santa Caterina the Martyr church, which also includes a Crucifixion from the middle of the XIV century and which is attributed to an unidentified Ferrara artist. A large gap on the left hand side of the Crucifixion was thought for a long time to have been removed accidentally. The church of Santa Caterina the Martyr was founded in the XIII century. The walls of the church were painted by a Ferrara artist around the middle of the XIV century with scenes from the final judgement, and Saints and doctors of the Church and the crucifixion.

During the Napoleonic wars, the building was first turned into an army barracks, then a military hospital, and then the headquarters for the Royal Gendarmerie. At the end of the eighteen hundreds the Municipality came into possession of the building, and it became a School of Veterinary Science. It was then turned into the Natural History Museum at which time a floor was built to divide it into two areas. As this work was being carried out the fresco suffered a horizontal gash running across about half of it.

Santa Caterina the Martyr and its frescoes suffered new indignities in 1916. Count Olao Gulinelli who owned the building adjacent to the church applied to the Municipality of Ferrara to acquire the building to destroy it and build new houses to rent. Fortunately this did not happen. At that stage the paintings are described as being covered in damp. In the 1930s, the Municipality of Ferrara organised some lessons in the Church of Santa Caterina the Martyr, and so decided to detach the frescoes completely. The restorer Enrico Podio was put in charge of detaching the frescoes and transported them all to the Municipal Picture Gallery between 1936 and 1937. They were brought to Casa Romei in 1956 and are still there.

But during all this the great gap in the Crucifixion remained. I recently managed to solve the mystery. In the eighteen hundreds, the Municipality of Ferrara entrusted the restoration of its art treasures to well known art restorers from large centres of art such as Florence, Rome or Milan. Due to the lack of resources available for this type of work as time went on, it decided to entrust the restoration work to local masters. In 1847 an artist and restorer from Ferrara called Giuseppe Saroli detached a piece of the Crucifixion from Santa Caterina the Martyr, showing the Three Marys, to prove his skills to the Municipal commission. The piece representing the Virgin fainting into the arms of two women at the foot of the Cross then became part of Saroli’s collection, and was later left to his son-in-law Riccardo Lombardi, who sold it to Duke Galeazzo Massari at the beginning of the nineteen hundreds.

Believing it lost, I had never wanted to give credence to this hypothesis, and I persevered in my research, until the time I found new documents on file which helped me trace the missing piece of the fresco showing the Three Marys to a private collection, where it is still held to this day.



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