A painting revealed

by Saveria Masa

The painting which, after 500 years, came to light on the façade of the former parish priest's house in piazza SS. Giacomo e Filippo in Chiesa during the recent works to restore the building, opens a new page in the history of the Valmalenco.

The painting on the façade of the former parish priest's house in Chiesa

What appeared before the eyes of restorer, Giorgio Baruta, who recently worked on the conservative restoration, was a well-structured work, a painted document which was also historic evidence and a page of art, rich in symbology and significance.

The fresco can be dated back to the early 16th century (1500-1519) and the main subject is the noble emblem of the Larian family of the Andriani of Corenno Plinio (Dervio). Interesting political and religious plots lie behind the portrayal of this noble coat of arms which was found, not by chance, on the main façade of the house, which had been the ancient residence of the curates. Even before that in mediaeval times, it was a tower house built by the Capitanei family during the feudal period of Sondrio and the Valmalenco.

The castle of Corenno Plinio (Dervio)

From a first investigation into the documents preserved in the State Archive in Sondrio, it would appear that the painting was especially commissioned and clearly intended to self-celebrate and strengthen the power of the archpriest of Sondrio, descendent of the the Andriani family and also the parish priest of the Valmalenco and, therefore, of Chiesa. At the time, a deadly argument had arisen between the archpriest, Giacomo Andriani, who had appointed his nephew, Giovanni Giacomo, as curate of the Valmalenco, and the inhabitants of the valley who, on the contrary, asserted their right to autonomously appoint a priest in whom they trusted, in this case, Giovanni Buzi from Chiesa. The case lasted almost twenty years and the people of the Valmalenco even had to ask the Pope to acknowledge their petitions.

Finally, Pope Julius II agreed to allow the people of the Valmalenco to choose their valley caurate. However, the appointment remained the apanage of the archpriest of Sondrio, who was to all intents and purposes the parish priest of the Valmalenco.

The archpriest, Giacomo Andriani

In the light of these intricate events, the reasons why the façade of the parish priest's house was painted with the heraldic coat of arms of the Andriani family were understandable, as this was the noble Larian family from which both the archpriest and his nephew descended. The twenty-year controversy which somehow risked undermining the foundations of the archpriest's authority over the Valmalenco, led the archpriest himself to consider opportune or, better still, strategic to commission a depiction of his lineage on the outside of the building, in a place for all to see, overlooking the church square, the most important place in the entire Valmalenco: a sort of "taking" possession" of the valley, as was the custom at the time.

This beautiful painting which reappeared, perhaps not by chance, 500 years later on the façade of the curate's house, which became the parish priest's home, continues to maintain the function which made the archpriest have it painted: for aesthetic and decorative reasons of course to embellish the building, but above all the desire to celebrate his own lineage, to continue the memory of his family, which each one of us continues to do to fulfil our need for eternity...

For more details on the formal aspects of the work to restore the painting, click on the page The restoration.