The Nun’s Choir of Santa Giulia: a stunning Renaissance masterpiece in Brescia
In the heart of Brescia, among the cobblestone lanes where you can still catch glimpses of what was once Augusta Brixia, the Roman city, lies one of the most remarkable Italian museums, a complex of buildings that houses nearly 3000 years of art and local history: the Santa Giulia Museum.
As with other famous museums featuring vast collections, it is probably best to break your visit into 2 days, taking time to enjoy the various sections, with one day dedicated to the convent and the second to the city’s history.
The restoration work that began in 1998 to most effectively display the more than 11,000 pieces of the collection and to refurbish the original splendor to the architecture that houses them will be evident to you as you tour the complex. This work was completed in 2011, when part of the museum “The Longobards in Italy” became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As mentioned above, it is better to focus on an area of the complex to appreciate fully its stories and beauty. Here we will consider the section that is probably the biggest surprise for those who are visiting for the first time and know nothing about it, the unexpected and magnificent Nun’s Choir.
It is part of a well-planned tour route, made up of corridors, staircases and small passageways. It strikes you like a vision when you walk in, a magnet that attracts the force of the colors, with the tone and vibrancy of the narrative episodes, a collection that is one of the most interesting, and unfortunately, one of the lesser known, of the Italian Renaissance.
The Nun’s Choir is located between two adjoining churches, Santa Giulia, built at the end of the 17th century, and San Salvatore, built in 753, by the Longobard King Desiderio and his wife Ansa. They also built the convent, with the intention of making their daughter Ansalperga the first abbess. The convent and church grew over time, and in 1466, it was decided to build the choir to allow the nuns to participate and sing at the services without being seen.
The space extends over two levels. The upper level contains the actual choir area, connected to San Salvatore on the east wall through three grated windows, on the west wall with Santa Giulia through a large arch. The lower level is an expansive and closed vault. Curved arches break up the walls that are clearly in the Renaissance style. The walls are decorated with frescoes by Floriano Ferramola and Paolo da Caylina il Giovane. The theme is salvation and recounts episodes from the childhood, the passion and the resurrection of Christ. The crucifixion is particularly impressive, occupying an entire wall and contains surprising details illusionistic details, such as the jug in relief gripped in a soldier’s hand. In general, both the color scheme and the artists’ touch create a consistency in the work that make it suggestive and surprising.
There is also a display of the Martinengo Mausoleum, a funereal monument in marble and bronze created by Bernardino dalle Croci at the beginning of the 16th century, which is one of the masterworks of its kind for the Renaissance in Lombardy.
Once you have completed your visit to the Nun’s Choir, you can continue on to the three cloisters that make up the convent and spend some time enjoying the stillness of the courtyard.
1 October – 15 June: Tuesday through Sunday 9:30am to 5:30pm
16 June – 30 September: Tuesday through Sunday 10:30am to 7:00pm
Closed on non-holiday Mondays.