In a recent comment, one of my readers said, “some Renaissance art can really bore a person to tears”. This is true, but it can make a person smile too, as well as trigger reflection, and spark inspiration. To prove my point, I’ll take you on an adventure many await with dread as tourist buses squeeze through cobbled viales in search of a suitable place to disgorge their sweating contents. Yes, it is visiting an “average” cathedral in a “half-a-day-worth-of-staying” Italian town.
I personally believe there’s no such thing as an Italian town worth staying for half a day only. While I can’t promise I won’t run away from a hill-top medieval citadel in a month, I can guarantee at least a week-long satisfaction, given the town is located inside a wine-making region.
So, I am taking you on a tour. Our bus has just parked outside the Basilica of San Zeno in Verona.
Nothing extraordinary. A Romanesque church with a rosary window, huge gates, a bell tower, and marble bas-reliefs on the facade.
This square is the best place to think of European history and culture. Not because it is pretty, but because of WHO had a hand in the Basilica construction.
It was initially a small church on top of Saint Zenon’s grave, set up by Theodoric (5th century AD), the guy who killed Odoacer. I’d love to strangle Odoacer too, for he was a Goth chieftain who introduced us to the Dark Middle Ages by deposing the last Roman Emperor. Odoacer got his one-way ticket during a reconciliation dinner with Theodoric, and it was a sword blow that cut the former almost in half. Odoacer’s wife was stoned to death, and his brother was killed by archers. All Odoacer’s troops were killed too. If you are a GoT fan, you’d find a connection to the series’ most gruesome scene.
Having wiped his sword on Odoacer’s tunic, Theodoric became the King of Italy, married a Byzantine princess, developed an interest in arts, and started sponsoring philosophers working on Aristotle and Plato translations. Were it not for the Great T, we might have a delayed Renaissance.
The small Theodoric’s church was replaced in the 9th century by a cathedral, sponsored by King of Italy Pepin, a son of Charlemagne, and brother to Pepin the Hunchback, immortalised in the musical Pippin, wildly inaccurate historically, but warmly received by the public. Pepin [the Normal Back] made Verona his capital and the epicentre of the Carolingian Renaissance which set the standard of lavishly illustrated books and pushed visual arts in new directions. Look at the pink sky against the blue landscape in this manuscript:
Without those books, the “real” Renaissance would also have been delayed.
Finally, in the 10th century the Cathedral took its more or less current shape with the help of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, who launched the Ottonian Renaissance (again, mainly in book illustration, but with the valuable addition of ivory miniatures).
Thus, we are standing in a square that has seen three kings from the Dark Ages (two Germans and one French), who promoted progress and innovation, and thus sped up the Italian Renaissance, and, ultimately, the modern world as we know it today.
Now the boring part is over; and we are at the bas-reliefs. Click on Page 2 at the bottom of the post.