Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple

The representation is currently on a wall inside the Chapel of St. Sixtus.
On the left of the composition, a steep rocky path covered by slight horizontal lines, leads to the entrance of the Temple, near which Zechariah stands in place to welcome the Virgin; behind the priest, three other male figures protrude from inside the building. Mary is depicted with the features of a young girl.
On the other side, the space is delimited by the ruins of classical architecture (symbolic allusion to the passage from the Old to the New Testament or the end of the pagan era), before it the family group of the Virgin that assists the event is assembled: the elderly Joachim and Anna and two other women, barely visible behind them.
On the background, the rocky path continues towards a hill and on top of it are the ruins of another imaginative building standing out against a sky crossed by small clouds: in the middle of the path there is a small twisted tree; its roughness and its crown are described in detail.
In the foreground, under the path to the temple, there is a sarcophagus from which rises a male figure, characterized by the tonsure: he is represented in the act of pronounce the following words engraved in capital letters on the scroll coming out of his mouth: HINC METU TU PIENTISS(IMA) MATER.
The presence of these particular symbolic elements, evoking the theme of the resurrection from death, together with the text of the inscription, emphasize the value of consecration of the Virgin in her role of link to the Incarnation of Christ.
The representation, which probably belonged to an altar, is identifiable with one reported by Ratti and Bertolotti among the artworks from the ancient Cathedral; it is located, in the new Cathedral, in the chapel at the right end of the transept, the one dedicated to the Holy Cross and called Chapel of “the Souls in Purgatory” or “dead”, where the Torteroli saw it and described it.
The exquisite sculpture was seen instead in the current location by the anonymous author of a manuscript dated before 1867, which claims its origin from the ancient Cathedral.

AA.VV., cura di Giovanna Rotondi Terminiello, “UN’ISOLA DI DEVOZIONE A SAVONA, il complesso monumentale della cattedrale dell’Assunta”, Marco Sabatelli Editore, Savona, 2002.

Madonna and Child with Saints

The marble altarpiece, on the western wall of the “Old Sacristy”, is the evident result of a new composition. The whole piece presents a cornice divided in three parts and decorated with modules and bears, at the centre of the main module and the side modules, three niches topped by a crowning valve of seashell, each one of it containing a figure carved almost in the round: the central one in higher position, the Madonna and Child are depicted, in the right one St. Peter, and on the other side St. Paul. Around the niche with the Virgin four panes are placed, each one contains a representation depicting an evangelist sat at his desk and identified by its own symbol: clockwise from the top, St. John, St. Luke, St. Matthew and St. Mark.
The frames containing the Saints, John and Matthew are decorated laterally with pillars with light pattern leaves and marble, is characterized by pink shades.
Four other niches, arranged at the corners of the central compartment, are delimited by arches and crowned by an elegant apex composed of a vase from which botanical motifs and dolphins couples originate laterally; inside the niches, the representation of the four Doctors of the Church are visible, depicted frontally and on thrones: Saints Gregory and Jerome down, Ambrose and Augustine on top.
What complete the lateral compartments are four panels, each one presents a saint depicted half bust, behind a sort of parapet decorated with a pattern of short vertical lines: the figures in the two bottom panels (two Holy Apostles?) hold a book, the left one is holding an object now lost, the other has a cross (Andrew?). The top left figure can be identified with St. Stephen for the presence of the tiny stones placed on the head and shoulders, whilst the other young martyr in the upper right, presumably St. Lorenz, part of the palm tree and the object on which he rested his right hand, has been lost.
The altarpiece is now completed by an entablature surmounted by two figures in the round of little angels (“putti”), surmounted by a separate representation depicting the Eternal Father within a “Mandorla” decorated with angels’ “Protomes”.
The restoration carried out in 1998 by the Superintendence for the Artistic and Historical Heritage of Liguria (project manager L. Lodi) has unearthed many traces of original polychrome and gold – plating, which was hidden under a brown cover spread in order to give uniformity to the various marbles.


AA.VV., cura di Giovanna Rotondi Terminiello, “UN’ISOLA DI DEVOZIONE A SAVONA, il complesso monumentale della cattedrale dell’Assunta”, Marco Sabatelli Editore, Savona, 2002.

Wooden Choir

The wooden choir of the ancient Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption on the Priamar was commissioned by the Massari of the church the 30th of January, 1500 to two master carvers Anselmo de’ Fornari from Castelnuovo Scrivia (1470 – Genoa until 1521) and Elia de’ Rocchi from Pavia (? – in Genoa until 1523).
Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere, future Pope Julius II, and bishop of Savona at that time (he held the Diocese from April 1499 to January 1502 and again from August 1503, to the subsequent October, when he was elected Pope), was present at the commissioning.
It is likely that the real promoter of the project was indeed Della Rovere, who financed the project for the same amount of money provided by the Municipality of Savona, for a total expenditure of 1,132 golden ducats.
The historic moment was particularly favourable to the city of Savona.
He could therefore proceed with particular ambition in his role of artistic patron of the city and in particular of the Cathedral on Priamar, the decorations and interior furnishings of which were completed in those years.
With the construction of the wooden choir, Della Rovere faces the most challenging, time consuming and expensive work for the improvement of St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral.
By contract, the work should have ended within four years, but the pope died in 1513, without being able to see it completed.
The act for the commission of the work established that the choir of Savona included 38 stalls, 19 on each one of the two sides and it reproduced in the choice of wood, size, workmanship and aesthetics, that one of the Certosa of Pavia, including the inlaid figures in the reredos with their iconographic attributes.
The Savona choir is a double order (for canons and for chaplains), while the one of Pavia is a single order (for Carthusian monks) but the similarities planed in the document that commissioned the work have been, in principle, respected.
The original configuration of Savona artefact is now lost due to the cathedral on Priamar being demolished in 1543.

Here it was adapted to the semi-circular apse, reversed compared to the previous configuration and assumed the new inverted U-shape that has remained unaltered.
In the new adaptation, two stalls have been sacrificed: the first order now has 37 stalls instead of 38, the second 21 instead of 22.
In the centre there is a larger and higher stall, perhaps the old bishop’s chair, the back of which is decorated with a marquetry with the Redeemer.
On both of its sides, branch off the two wings, 18 stalls each. The reredos of the stalls reproduce, according to a symmetrical correspondence left-right, the Madonna with Sixtus IV (right) and the Madonna and Julius II (left), then the apostles, Evangelists, Martyrs Saints, Doctors of the Church, monks Saints and Saints Martyrs.

Even the lectern, with the underlying counter with small doors, is part of the original complex of the choir, while the bishop’s throne was certainly built in the early seventeenth century, when the choir was placed in the new cathedral of Holy Mary Assumed, using as a back, an existing reredos with Mary Magdalene.

The presence of Anselmo de Fornari signature, in two inlay works at end of the choir, allows thinking that he was the main author of the artwork.
At that time, the master had to be a little more than twenty-five years old.
He was obviously joined by other employees.

AA.VV., cura di Giovanna Rotondi Terminiello, “UN’ISOLA DI DEVOZIONE A SAVONA, il complesso monumentale della cattedrale dell’Assunta”, Marco Sabatelli Editore, Savona, 2002.

The Altar and Ciborium

In the presbytery, in all its grandeur, stands the great late baroque altar made by Pasquale Bocciardo in 1764. Its current front screen is very recent: it dates back to 1909.
Prior to this there was a much more simple plate, by Stefano Sormano (1603) that well fitted the much more sober and essential lines of the ancient altar.
Dating back to 1604 are the two marble eagles, placed at both sides of the altar, holding up the banner of the city of Savona. They are the only original element of the altar and the only sign left on site of the patronage of the Municipality on the main chapel of the cathedral.
On the altar structure there is the monumental ciborium (the tabernacle in the shape of a small temple), remarkable roman work in the early Baroque style.
Thanks to the efforts of Giulietta Gavotti Ferrero and Violante Grassi Nano the ciborium project had been entrusted to Orazio Grassi (1583-1654), Jesuit of Savona who wanted it to have the same form and magnitude characteristics of the one that was in the church of Jesus in Rome, with some variations and improvements.
It was requested greater value in the quality of marble, finish, and gilding, and that prophets’ statues would have been inserted in the niches and a relief depicting the Last Supper in the prospectus, all in gilded bronze, based on the models manufactured by Alessandro Algardi.
Once the contract with the manager and marbles merchant Santi Ghetti was concluded in Rome in 1636, the new tabernacle was set up by the marble worker Giovanni Piloti the following year, according to the agreements, and placed in 1638 on the high altar in a central position in the presbytery space as a tangible sign of the primary role of the Eucharist in the life of faith. Such was in fact the will of Father Orazio Grassi, indicating that this tabernacle had to be perfectly finished on all four sides, so that it would have been visible and appreciated from any point of view.

AA.VV., cura di Giovanna Rotondi Terminiello, “UN’ISOLA DI DEVOZIONE A SAVONA, il complesso monumentale della cattedrale dell’Assunta”, Marco Sabatelli Editore, Savona, 2002.


The pulpit, hexagonal shaped with one side open, is currently located at the end of the central nave of the new Cathedral, leaning against the left pillar of the cross vault.
The five sides, interposed by angelic herms, enclosed the figures of the four Evangelists, among which fits St. Paul preaching to the crowd.
St. Mark, with the lion; St. Luke, with the bull; St. John the Evangelist, with the eagle; St. Matthew, with the angel, are well recognisable.
The four evangelists are represented full length, each one seated on a throne, which insists on a rocky base with beside their symbols.
St. Paul, identifiable by the long beard and thinning hair, stands above a quadrangular pulpit over a multitude of figures described with variety of attitudes and expressions.
Above these panels, stands the inscription: VIDETE FRATRES QUOMOODO CAUTE AMBULETIS NON QUASI INSIPIENTES SED UT – SAPIENTES REDINIENTES TEM/PUS MPUS Q(UONIA)M DlES MALI SUNT. In correspondence of the joint capitals, there is the repetition of a few letters and the cancellation of others.
The exhortation meaning of the inscription has to be referred to the depicted preaching of St. Paul.
Under the panels of the Evangelists, there is a series of small relief figures of saints (going clockwise from the side facing the presbytery: St. Peter, St. John the Baptist, St. Jerome, St. Gregory the Great, St. Augustine and St. Ambrose ).
The current marble staircase seems constituted by some original parts (support shelves).

The 18th of March, 1522, Antonio Maria Aprile and Giovanni Angelo Molinari undertook the construction of this pulpit, which has been collocated in its position two years later.
The pulpit was built between 1521 and 1525.
The Alizeri proposed hypothesis seems acceptable; according to him, the figures would have been due to Aprile (or at least his workshop), whilst it is likely that Giovanni Angelo Molinari was entrusted with the commissioning of the whole work and execution the ornaments.

AA.VV., cura di Giovanna Rotondi Terminiello, “UN’ISOLA DI DEVOZIONE A SAVONA, il complesso monumentale della cattedrale dell’Assunta”, Marco Sabatelli Editore, Savona, 2002.

Our Lady of the Pillar

The story about the image of Our Lady of the Pillar took place at the beginning of the construction of the present Cathedral.
In St. Francis’s church (where the Cathedral had been placed by the papal bill of Pope Paul IV of 9th September 1556) there was an image of the Virgin Mary painted on the curved surface of a column: people of Savona were very devoted to the image, and they loved to stop before it praying with great devotion.
The image was known by the people as “the Virgin of the Pillar.”
When the demolition of the St. Francis’s church was decided, in order to make way for the new Cathedral (the current one), the big problem was not to mortify the devotional feelings of the people destroying the painted image; various ways to remove it without damaging it were studied, but the solutions proposed by artisans and technicians of the time, were not able to guarantee the success of the operation.
The chronicles and testimonies of the time (March 14, 1601, approximately noon) report a prodigious, that many quickly defined miraculous.
While some craftsmen were discussing how to remove the image, the pastor of the Cathedral (Don Giovanni Maria Lamberto), looking at the image of the Virgin, noticed that it was slowly sliding down, following the surface of the column on which it was painted. He instinctively rushed to the image in order to hold it so that it would not brake touching the ground.
Immediately he asked those present to help him protect the image. It was taken and immediately placed in the chapel of Sixtus IV, where it was placed at the bottom of the altar and then was brought over a church confessional, where a lot of people went to pray.
The event was certainly mysterious and providential: on the one hand it could be seen as a sign of appreciation for that choice, so bitterly contested by many, on the other hand it seemed to encourage the works on the new Cathedral.

The image (fresco) of Our Lady of the Pillar dates from the fourth decade of the ‘400.
It is disfigured by an insistent “pitting” that mutilated in some parts the pedestal and the Virgin’s mantle, discovering an underlying plaster layer, from which transpire some words written in Gothic from the fifteenth-century.
However difficult to read, given the scarcity of syllables and the obstacle posed by the support bracket, the Farris proposes the following hypothesis: “[di]vine aque [ductus]” “[ve]ritas domi[ni]”.
These words indicate some of the names given to the Virgin, and it would be the sign that an image is probably located below the current one.
If this supposition were shown to be real, not only would it be the foundation of a long tradition of Our Lady of the Pillar in the faith of the people of Savona, but it would also provide us with a symbolic key to the painting as we know it.
In fact, if the bird indicates the soul purified by grace which rises towards the sky, Maria would be exalted as a mediator of grace, “Divine Aqueductus”.
The book (from the position of the clips it is possible to deduce a parchment codex), would than indicate to all that Word (Veritas Domini) that Mary has deeply internalized and made it familiar in a lifetime.
We would therefore, be in front of the symbols that summarize a well – rooted Mariology in the Franciscan philosophy, for which the Virgin becomes the icon herself of their theological beliefs (so according to father Giovanni Farris, canon of the Cathedral of Savona).

AA.VV., cura di Giovanna Rotondi Terminiello, “UN’ISOLA DI DEVOZIONE A SAVONA, il complesso monumentale della cattedrale dell’Assunta”, Marco Sabatelli Editore, Savona, 2002.

The Assumption’s lunette

The monumental representation, in an acute arch lunette shape is currently placed in the Cathedral, above the lateral door of the left aisle.
The composition is enclosed within a frame decorated, in the centre, with a festoon decoration with bunches and vine grapes; on the right, it seems uncompleted; the outer edge, maybe not completely original, bears at the top a fragmentary Gothic epigraph that says: ..]em + beate virginis marie [….] [temp]ore MC[CC ..].
The Virgin, covered with a cloak trimmed with gold, is seated within a “Mandorla”, which is carried by six angels and surrounded by a decoration with plant motifs; her gaze is fixed, her face a little squared, the eye profile elongated and a thin mouth.
The group is above the empty sarcophagus; laterally the twelve apostles are aligned, full length, six on each side: among them it is possible to recognize James Major or maybe Paul (the fourth from the left with the sword of martyrdom); Giovanni (the next figure, identifiable thanks to the youthful facial features); below, Peter (on the left side of the sarcophagus, with the symbolic key); Thomas is kneeling immediately to the right of the tomb, he is shown in the act of receiving the belt of the Virgin (to prove the assumption of her body).
Some apostles are exchanging astonished glances; one of them indicates the miraculous event.
Over the twelve apostles, on both sides of the “Mandorla”, two groups of three angel musicians are assembled: some musical instruments bear traces of red colour.
Finally at the top, two figures of flying angels hold a huge crown; the space between this and the apex of the “Mandorla” is decorated with four engraved and gilded stars.
All figures gain importance by the abundant distribution of gilding.
The lunette was originally crowned the main portal of the old Cathedral and was a part of a larger decorative complex, which covered the main door entirely.
The lunette’s original location was mentioned by two citizens of Savona in a deposition given in 1624 to the Vicar of the Diocesan Curia of Savona, in relation to a miraculous episode in which the artwork would have been protagonist that same year: as told by the witnesses, it had already been the subject of popular devotion a century earlier, when credit for the end of a plague was given to the intercession of the Virgin.
Also, according to one of the witnesses, the lunette was granted to the communities of Savona, along with other marbles, following the dismantling of the old cathedral.
During the transportation from the District of the Mount (where the ancient cathedral was), the lunette fell but without suffering damage and, thereafter, remained abandoned for about twenty-two years outside the new cathedral, with the sculpted side facing the wall, until the aforementioned miraculous event occurred the 23rd of November, 1624, would have made it reveal the sacred image.
After that event, also mentioned in subsequent local sources, and the discovery of the representation, the artwork was placed in the chapel on the left side of the transept, as altarpiece of an altar that was dedicated to the Assumption, and yet here the Torteroli, who believes its date is the end of the twelve-century, and the anonymous author of a manuscript date back to 1867.
Consequently to the renewal of this chapel, the lunette was removed and placed in its present location around 1870

AA.VV., cura di Giovanna Rotondi Terminiello, “UN’ISOLA DI DEVOZIONE A SAVONA, il complesso monumentale della cattedrale dell’Assunta”, Marco Sabatelli Editore, Savona, 2002.

Baptismal font

Made in Greek marble, the baptismal font is currently against the wall behind the facade of the new cathedral.
Traditionally it is believed to come from the ancient Cathedral of St. Mary on Priamar. The first explicit news regarding it, is given by De Monti.
It is identified with the font, seen by the notary Giordano, inside the octagonal baptistery on the Priamar and described as “marble made and all carved with figures.”
Its conservation is quite good, except for a small palm nicked on the front left corner; the edge of the tub bears some signs of lock-picking due to the fixing of the covering elements.
The font has received little attention from critics.
The last quote is in the book “The Building of the Savona Cathedral”, which states that it was “carved out from a big capital of the Byzantine period.”
The artefact is, however, distant for technique, type and style from Byzantine capitals, to which, by the way, it is inspired.
It was found that for the decoration of the front and rear sides, virtually identical, various reference models were used: the branches, the palms, the acanthus leaves are finely worked, and it is possible to find an accurate match in Constantinople capitals of various type and belonging to a wide range of ages, from the sixth to the fourteenth century.
The work was carried out between the second half of the fourteenth and early fifteenth century.
It should be noted that the hole for the water outlet, surrounded by a square framing almost non visible; it is placed at the centre of the tank, carefully excavated, without any trace of rework,
So this is an ad hoc creation of a western sculptor, of late Gothic culture, who took as a model a motive taken from the architectural decoration of various buildings of Constantinople (some already in ruins), to create an original and “exotic” font.

AA.VV., cura di Giovanna Rotondi Terminiello, “UN’ISOLA DI DEVOZIONE A SAVONA, il complesso monumentale della cattedrale dell’Assunta”, Marco Sabatelli Editore, Savona, 2002.

The marble cross

The cross, carved on both sides, and carved from a single block, is currently placed at the counter facade, on a thick not original marble base.
The front of the cross is bordered by a continuous decoration with tapes, palms and grapes (also present on the back) ornate with shells; the lateral surface between the two decorations, has a pattern forming a bundle of flowers and bay leaves with the apex facing downwards.
The front is carved very distinctly, the crucified Christ, who stands out from the cross below, by the whiteness of the most polished marble: his thorns crowned head falls on the right shoulder, his hair falls down in curls on both the sides of his face in great detail, the cloth knotted on the left side adheres to the legs with a thick drape characterized by deep parallel ripples.
Under the suppedaneum, a shield is carved (coat of arms or emblem that it originally contained are missing). Above Christ there is a scroll bearing the inscription INRI in capital letters. The image is accompanied, at the ends of the transversal arm, with the now headless figures of the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin of the Annunciation; at the top, an also headless pelican (a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice), stands with its baby on the nest and is surmounted by a shell.
The back of the cross has the full length and almost in the round representations of the Madonna and Child. The Virgin is bandaged from the cloak that adheres to her dress bringing out the volume of the body, the posture of the legs and the slight angle of the right knee; the light draping fixed on the left side, from where it descends with regular waves, creates on the front, bundles of dense and fine folds that are loosened in the lower part.
In the four ends of the cross the symbols of the Evangelists are carved: proceeding clockwise from the top, the eagle of St. John, the bull of St. Luke, the winged lion of St. Mark and the angel of St. Matthew.
The work has come to us with significant signs of fractures.

In his sixteenth-century description of the ancient cathedral, Ottobuono Giordano mentions a “great crucifix with the ornament”, estimated 150 shields, as part of a list with the value of each element specified and that later, in the seventeenth-century memories of Verzellino, are referred to the patronage of Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere during his episcopate in Savona.
It is possible that, in agreement with the local tradition, these short references are to be referred to this cross but according to Fusconi (1977), the crucifix mentioned by Giordano is identified with this work “only in a very hypothetical case” and Zanelli (2000 ), does not exclude the possibility of it coming from another religious complex in the city, such as St. Francis church.
The work was placed in the new Cathedral after being at the bridge “of the Sbarro”, at the beginning of the road to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mercy, until 1809 and then from 1812, along the path called “della Tagliata”.
In 1881 Bertolotto announced that the cross was moved to the Cathedral for “a few years”.

AA.VV., cura di Giovanna Rotondi Terminiello, “UN’ISOLA DI DEVOZIONE A SAVONA, il complesso monumentale della cattedrale dell’Assunta”, Marco Sabatelli Editore, Savona, 2002.