Last day, amazing artwork at a recent UNESCO site – 4/5/17

Cannot believe we are at the end of our trip. Three weeks ago the time strectched out in front of us now it is all compressed into one final day.

We leave Verona and head toward Milan. We are staying at the airport tonight and the last place we are seeing is not far from Milan Malpensa.  Castelseprio was the site of a Roman fort in antiquity, and a Longobard town in the early Middle Ages. It was destroyed and abandoned in 1287. So the archeological site is mostly of ruins which are interesting but not the main draw. There is a small intact church, Santa Maria foris portas, that holds some really unique frescoes. The site was rediscovered in 1944 and became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2011. According to UNESCO –

“The frescoes decorating the central apse of the church of Santa Maria foris portas constitute the finest early medieval pictorial cycle in terms of artistic quality, and are considered unique in early medieval European art.”

Here are some of the ruins.

Ruins of the abbey at Castelseprio

Luckily the small church escaped destruction and inside are some unique Middle Ages frescoes. The people look like real people with expressions and there is perspective. All the things that happened in the Renaissance were already in place at least in this artist. It is stunning. I am thinking back to the early almost stick figures that we saw in Cividale dei Fruili and the Byzantine thickly outlined Madonnas from the early 13th century. Finally Giotto at the end of the 13th painted his stolid but real Madonnas. But these 9th century frescoes are on a whole different level.

Church of Santa Maria foris portas

Here are the frescoes –

Mary passes the test of the bitter water held out to her in a jug by the priest, Zachariah
The Angel appears to Joseph to allay his doubts over the Divine Maternity
The journey to Bethlehem
The adoration of the Magi
The Presentation in the Temple
The nativity and the announcement to the shepherds

All I can say is “WOW!” These are frescoes found under plaster and dated to the beginning of the 9th century. There are people standing in front of other people, Mary actually sitting on a lifelike donkey, and lying on a bed. There are small trees and animals in the background. It is amazing. This is a perfect way to end our trip.

After this we head to our hotel for the night, MOXY at Malpensa. The rooms are small and the AC is not turned on. We need to leave the window open so the room will not be stifling. We are treated to planes taking off on a nearby runway and DHL putting cargo on its trucks all night long right under our window.  From the sublime to the ridiculous in a few short hours.

The trip home is fine. Take-off from Heathrow and landing at SFO are delayed so we enjoy driving home during an unusally heavy rush hour.  We arrived home Thursday late afternoon and it is Monday now.  We are just emerging from the haze of jetlag.

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