Immagini e graffiti: alcuni esempi di devozione bergamasca tardomedievale

Author: Barbara Villa

Images and Graffiti: Devotional Cases in Bergamo Area

The aim of this paper is to introduce the study of iconic and alphabetical graffiti in connection with religious images. The case study presented is a Virgin in throne placed in a Romanesque contest in the church of S. Alessandro in Canzanica, Adrara San Martino (BG). In this church are depicted three frescoes of the Virgin Mary with saints and a Crucifixion in which are clearly visible St Ludwig from Toulouse, St John and maybe St Bartholomeus. Above these frescoes it is possible to find a multitude of graffiti engraved: devotional – such as prayer, petition, invocation –, obituary or iconic graffiti.
The most particular are placed on the mantle and next to a Virgin Mary painted in the 14th century: this is a ‘miraculous’ image moved in the 17th century from the outside into a chapel built expressly for this image. Above the fresco are engraved different kinds of graffiti: a date, 1389, ante quem limit, some invocations directed to Christ, IHS XPS, some round objects for which is quite impossible to suggest a reasonable interpretation, a Solomon knot (sigillum Salomonis) and a formula dedicated to the Virgin Mary: «Virginis i[n]tacte cum veneris ante figuram praetereundo cave ne sileatur [taceatur] ave».
This formula is situated also under the Annunciation in the Dominican convent of S. Marco in Florence painted by Beato Angelico in the middle of the 15th century and in other different cases in Italy and England: frescoes, illuminations, nude pillars.
For this reason, the formula became the instrument of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of images in Middle Age: an attempt to examine images through liturgical, historical, anthropological and visual perspectives. The idea of a prayer ante figuram is related to role and status of images in the Middle Ages and to the activity of Mendicant orders in laical society.