“A treasure in the heart of the city”
Museum and ascent of the cupola
An extraordinary chance to discover the marvels hidden within the walls of the cathedral of Piacenza. A fascinating journey through the museum and a climb up into the cupola frescoed by Guercino.
The first museum of sacred art in Piacenza goes back to 1930: it housed objects loaned by local churches. Today’s museum, Kronos, was opened in 2015 with the aim of documenting the history and life of the Cathedral and the Diocese. It is arranged on three levels: the ground floor with the permanent collection, a second level dedicated to temporary exhibitions, and third dedicated to the Codex 65 and the archives. The ascent of the cupola frescoed by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as il Guercino, between 1626 and 1627 starts from this level.
Entering from via Prevostura, the visitor will find the bookshop and the ticket office, and will then proceed to the room where the fourteenth-century triptych by Serafino De’ Serafini is displayed. This is a most unusual panel painting, a portable altar of considerable size, recounting the story of the Passion of Christ. A video projection tells the story of the development of the episcopal complex in Piacenza from the 4th century up until the construction of the present cathedral.
The Sculpture Room houses examples of wooden carving and works in papier-maché: among these are a Saint Nicholas by Giovanni Sceti from the Sesia valley, and a Guardian Angel by the Fleming Jan Geernaert. Continuing to the Treasury Room a selection of sacred vessels in precious metals is revealed: of particular interest is the silver dish, a virtuoso achievement created by Gaspare Mola in 1841 from an altar frontal commissioned by bishop Barni in 1716 for the high altar.
Precious altarpieces are found in the small pinacoteca or art gallery, including The Ten Thousand Crucified Martyrs by Giovanni Andrea Sirani, the Madonna dello Zitto by Giovanni Battista Tagliasacchi, Death of Saint Francis Xavier by Robert De Longe, Saint Jerome and the Angel by Guido Reni, contrasting with Achrome by Piero Manzoni, from the Mazzolini Collection (Museum MCM in Bobbio).
The upper sacristies
At the second stage of the visit, at the level of the presbytery of the cathedral, the upper sacristies house the section dedicated to vestments and temporary exhibitions. In the first of these rooms are displayed precious examples of particularly splendid vestments. In the second sacristy, an octagonal space designed by G. Antonio Perreau (1852-1856 ca.) and decorated by G. Pietro Giorgi, a display of sacred reliquaries is housed in the grand neogothic cupboards. Stories of saints are recalled by the immense collection of relics and reliquaries of various forms and materials that belong to the diocese, found in the deposits and now restored to the public view after years of neglect.
At the entrance to the sacristies, before climbing the stairs to visit the Libro del Maestro, a small room recreates a mediaeval scriptorium fitted with all the tools monks used to produce illuminated manuscripts.
The Libro del Maestro (Codex 65)
Of outstanding interest, at the end of the visit to the museum, is the section dedicated to the Libro del Maestro (or Codex 65), a model and treasury for the liturgy that is also a summa of mediaeval culture. The Libro del Maestro is the most important and mysterious volume belonging to the cathedral, but also the most significant book in the city. The writing, or rather compilation, of this great volume began in the 12th century. In its pages we find references to astronomy and astrology, calculations of the lunar cycles and how these affect human life and agriculture, advice on treatments of illnesses and remedies useful in every season of the year. The Codex illustrates, in a splendid series of miniatures and musical sequences (known as tropes), the first mediaeval theatrical liturgical dramas, performed in churches and convents as a way of communicating the stories of the Bible. Visitors enter the room in semi-darkness, welcomed by a voice and images that illustrate the process of creation of the Libro. They then cross the threshold of a “Time Machine” to enter an experience room created by Gionata Xerra, where, thanks to the total involvement of all the senses, the visitor is projected into a fantastic imaginary trip into the Middle Ages, a virtual library where the story takes life. Touch-screens make it possible to leaf through the pages of the Libro in an extremely high definition virtual reality.
Ascent of the cupola of Guercino
The ascent of the cupola (you must be accompanied by a custodian) starts from the third level of the museum. This ascent follows the mediaeval passages in the thickness of the walls, with spiral staircases, to the level immediately under the roofs, giving breathtaking views over the city and into the interior of the Cathedral. Passing a series of installations by contemporary artists, the visitor reaches the space under the roof of the central nave, which gives access to the gallery round the drum of the cupola. A light show illuminates the cycle of frescoes painted by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as il Guercino, between 1626 and 1627, continuing the work begun by Pier Francesco Mazzucchelli known as il Morazzone; moving round the gallery it is possible to admire from close up the prophets David, Isaiah, Haggai, Hosea, Zechariah, Ezekiel, Micah, Jeremiah, the lunettes with episodes from the infancy of Jesus – The Message to the Shepherds, Adoration of the Shepherds, Presentation in the Temple and Flight into Egypt – and the eight fascinating Sibyls.
Descending on the opposite side of the church from that where you came up, you find the section dedicated to the restorations performed at the end of the 19th century, where some of the pieces removed are on display, including candlesticks, sculptures, memorial plaques and parts of altars.
Going into the campanile means it is possible to admire from below the massive structure of the walls and observe the series of wooden structures that support the stairs inside the tower.
ENTRANCE TO THE MUSEUM AND THE CUPOLA:
via Prevostura (behind the Cathedral)
Opening Times and Tickets: