LUINI, Bernardino
(b. 1480, Luino, d. 1532, Milano)

Crucifixion and Scenes from the Life of Christ

Santa Maria degli Angeli, Lugano

The picture shows the rood screen of the church.

In the Renaissance period the decoration of the church is frequently focused on the apse and the entrance wall. These terminal walls of extended interior spaces are visible from a great distance, catching visitors' attention. The decoration of the apse towers over the events of mass at the high altar; the decoration of the inside wall of the façade serves as an admonition or reinforcement for the visitors as they leave the liturgical ceremony and the church. Large format in both places called for fundamental, weighty themes.

Examples of large-scale painted apse recesses are common in the areas ruled by Venice but also in Emilia. A special form of decoration for end walls is found in Lombardy. Particularly in the monastery buildings of the Franciscan Observants, large rood screens cut across the nave of the church. These walls separate entirely the chancel area of the monks from the area of the lay brothers in front. The front of the wall, facing the space for the laity, would be used as a large surface for frescoes with scenes from the life and Passion of Christ.

The partition in Santa Maria degli Angeli in Lugano was frescoed in 1529 by Bernardino Luini. In contrast to early examples, Luini unites the entire wall into a single picture plane. To achieve a huge, overwhelming scenographic effect, Luini relinquished any division of the wall into small parts. The view looks through an illusionistic architectural frame to an enormous, crowded panorama of the Crucifixion. In the foreground, the crosses, Christ's death, and reactions of people push right up to the viewer, as if to the edge of a stage. Small, separate subsidiary scenes are arranged in the background landscape. In a symmetrical arrangement, three episodes on the left that preceded the Crucifixion are contrasted with three episodes on the right that followed Christ's death.