What it is and where it is
Salò has for centuries been the capital of the Magnifica Patria, a confederation of 34 municipalities on the Brescian shore of Lake Garda and its hinterland, established in 1334 under the Republic of Venice and ceasing in 1797 at the time of the fall of the Serenissima at the hands of Napoleon. The Cathedral of Salò is the most eloquent symbol of a city of such rank and such prolonged wealth: a veritable treasure chest of art, in which, however, one work more than all others captures the attention, the great wooden Crucifix hoisted on the triumphal arch that introduces the most sacred part of the church.
Why it is special
Theuniqueness of the Crucifix is grasped at first glance, not so much because of its size, which is still considerable, but rather because of the virtuosic workmanship that stands out even in the half-light. A document from 1449 mentions the commission of the work to a certain John Teutonicus, "virtuosus et mirabilis intayator." A master of unspecified Germanic origins, who at least for a time resided in Torri del Benaco; and he later produced-himself or collaborators in his workshop, but the name appearing was always his- numerous other crucifixes, reported especially in Tuscany and Umbria.
Not to be missed
The fact is that the Salò Crucifix is considered the highest work of Giovanni Teutonico. A chronicler of the time, probably from Salo, had in fact to write: "it was praised by messer Andrea Mantegna depintor illustre and put to credit as one of the most be' crucifixes in Italy." Despite a certain distance, pay attention to the details: the face, framed by a beard with stylized curls; the half-closed eyes, which give a glimpse of the corpse's dull iris; the painterly finish that even renders facial and body hair; even translucent drops of resin to replicate the blood.
A bit of history
The reference to Mantegna is not the exaggeration of a local chronicler. Suffice it to say that the leader of the Renaissance at that same end of the 15th century was reported in Verona, engaged in the preparation of the famous San Zeno Altarpiece, of which a Crucifixion, now in the Louvre, was part. Well, the stylistic correspondence with the Salò sculpture is striking, as if the Teutonic master had treasured Mantegna's work, breaking away from the austere manners of the northern tradition in favor of a more naturalistic rendering of the body of Christ on the cross.
The restoration of the Crucifix revealed amazing aspects of its creator's working method. Worth mentioning, for example, is the network of veins, made with extreme realism by laying thin strings on the wooden surface, then covered, skin-like, by the layer of plaster and glue that would have been used to spread the color. Or, another crucial detail: on the left calf, a monogram in capital Gothic letters, "JH," standing for Johannes, the Latinized signature of the Teutonic master!
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