Churches and art have always been deeply connected in Italy. Most of the great painters prior to the Renaissance created primarily religious works, often with the support of the local nobility. Invaluable artistic treasures adorn the famous Cathedrals in Rome, Florence, Venice, and so many other cities across the country, often the destination of tourists from all over the world.
However, over the years, I have found splendid examples of artworks from "minor" artists, many who worked within the “studio” of the better-known maestro or who were simply influenced by their famous paintings. These regional painters often remain unknown to the masses even though, on occasion, some are now being discovered and admired for their previously ignored productions.
As we get close to the Christmas season, I found it worthwhile to share some obscure examples I have collected over the years, often, unfortunately, without good records of the church or the artist. Fig. 1 was taken in a small church in Formello, 20 miles outside of Rome. Here, we see the newborn Jesus being held by an older woman, with Mary apparently recovering from the delivery in the back of the room. I found the composition rather unusual, but I must claim significant artistic ignorance on these issues. Fig. 2, in the same church, is a more traditional piece adorning a side altar. Fig. 3, from a church in Ariccia, shows a large fresco surrounding the Cross and depicting numerous saints and angels. The Sanctuary dedicated to St. Rita in Cascia (fig. 4) is a newer Church, which needed some repairs after the recent earthquakes. Extremely vibrant frescos on its ceiling (figs. 5,6) depict the life of the Saint, leading to her tortured death. A small chapel dedicated to S. Carlo Borromeo in the Umbrian village of Monteleone appeared so simple yet so sentimental. Its small altar and surrounding walls (fig. 7) were warm and meticulously cared for by the locals. The Spoleto Cathedral (fig. 8) is rather dominant when compared to the previous smaller sites. It is dedicated to St. Maria Assunta (fig. 9). The Church of S. Giuseppe in Leonessa contains the remains of the Saint protector of this town below the main altar (fig. 10). The main church in Sermoneta has a beautiful central altar (fig. 11). The final image (fig. 12) is one of my favorites: the adoration of Jesus surrounded by an angelic group as the Blessed Virgin observes with a smile.
Nearly every small town or Italian hamlet where a chapel or an old church remains will contain some intriguing artistic treasures, often hidden away and rarely known, but always well worth the time and the interest.