LOTTO, Lorenzo
(b. ca. 1480, Venezia, d. 1556, Loreto)

Legend of St Barbara (north wall)

1523-24
Fresco
Oratorio Suardi, Trescore

The iconographic program of the north wall, uninterrupted by door or windows is more complex and embraces two distinct themes. The centre of the wall is dominated by the huge figure of Christ as the Vine, a literal representation of Christ's words in John 15:5: "I am the vine, ye are the branches." The figure of Christ, with the praying figures of Battista Suardi, his wife, and sister at his feet is presented as the trunk of the vine, and the branches sprout out of his upturned fingers. The branches then curl into circles, forming natural counterparts to the roundels on the south and west walls, and likewise containing half-length figures, this time of saints. Sprouting leaves and bunches of grapes, the branches extend into the gable of the west wall and across the ceiling to form a fictive bower, filled with clambering putti. At either side of the composition are ladders placed against the branches of the vine, and two groups of early Christian heretics, duly labeled with their names, are attempting to climb to join the Elect. But two of the church fathers, Jerome and Ambrose, resist their advance and send them tumbling down beyond the confines of the fresco into an unseen pit of perdition.

The second theme of the north wall, portrayed on a much smaller scale in the background and middle-ground landscape and buildings, concerns the life of St Barbara, cotitular with St Brigid of the oratory. The story is taken from the Golden Legend, and like so many of the saints' lives retold in this popular compendium, it concerns the many trials and tribulations courageously suffered in Christ's name by one of his martyrs. It begins at the far left, where Barbara, recognizable by her blue dress and yellow cloak, is imprisoned in a tower by her pagan father. The story then unfolds from left to right, following a meandering course as Barbara is chased into the fields, arrested, forced to undergo a succession of cruel tortures, and finally beheaded. In one of the last episodes Barbara's father, the chief author of her persecution, is struck dead by a thunderbolt, a reminder that one of Barbara's most characteristic powers was to defend her devotees and their possessions from unexpected catastrophe.




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