The Life of Christ by Lattanzio Gambara

A splendid cycle of frescoes by this Brescian painter decorates the central nave of Parma Cathedral

By Fabbriceria della Cattedrale

La navata centraleFabbriceria della Cattedrale

The first impression that the visitor feels upon entering the Cathedral is that of entering a sumptuous room full of symbolic images.

The frescoes which adorn the nave were the latest intervention in a dense series of works which over time brought the Cathedral from the Romanesque style into the sixteenth century, following a global project conceived by Gerolamo Mazzola Bedoli, cousin of [the painter] Parmigianino, and created between 1555 and 1585.

Navata centraleFabbriceria della Cattedrale

The cycle of frescoes on the walls of the main nave, depicting the Life of Christ, were commissioned from the Brescian painter Lattanzio Gambara who painted them between 1567 and 1573, in various phases.

The cycle of frescoes ends with that of the counter-façade.

7th span on the right with a partial view of the balconyFabbriceria della Cattedrale

On analysing Gambara’s work, we can see how the main scene depicted in each bay takes its cue from a Gospel episode in the life of Christ, frescoed in the squares above the women’s galleries.

Below these are biblical quotations from the Old Testament and a monochrome panel of the First Covenant, both being fulfilled prophetic anticipations of the life of Christ.

OrganoFabbriceria della Cattedrale

The reading order of the frescoes begins, clockwise, from the first bay on the left, near the entrance, continues as far as the organ, and then resumes on the right-hand side to reach the counter-façade.

Ciclo affrescato by Lattanzio GambaraFabbriceria della Cattedrale

The succession of scenes sees the representation, on the left, of the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary, the Adoration of the Shepherds

Ciclo affrescato by Lattanzio GambaraFabbriceria della Cattedrale

Circumcision and the imposition of the name

Ciclo affrescato by Lattanzio GambaraFabbriceria della Cattedrale

The Massacre of the Innocents

Ciclo affrescato by Lattanzio GambaraFabbriceria della Cattedrale

Jesus among the Doctors of the Temple

Ciclo affrescato by Lattanzio GambaraFabbriceria della Cattedrale

and finally, the Baptism of Jesus

7th span on the right with a partial view of the balconyFabbriceria della Cattedrale

On the right, we have the Healing of the Paralytic, Peter saved from the Waters, the Transfiguration of Jesus before Peter, James and John

Ciclo affrescato by Lattanzio GambaraFabbriceria della Cattedrale

the Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem

3rd span on the rightFabbriceria della Cattedrale

The Last Supper

Ciclo affrescato by Lattanzio GambaraFabbriceria della Cattedrale

Christ raised on the cross

1st span on the rightFabbriceria della Cattedrale

the Resurrection of Jesus

Navata centraleFabbriceria della Cattedrale

The counter-façade was frescoed by Gambara in its entirety, and even if the wall does not follow the architectural subdivision of the nave bays, the scenes are inserted into the space in a way that is consistent with the prior design.

Volta affrescataFabbriceria della Cattedrale

In the upper register is represented the Ascension of Christ above the large window with the Apostles at the level of the women’s galleries facing the sky, from which great angels dressed in white are descending.

Navata centraleFabbriceria della Cattedrale

At the bottom, to the sides of the door, are depictions of a King and Samson, while the characters looking towards the interior of the Cathedral are traditionally identified with Lattanzio Gambara on the left, and Bernardino Gatti on the right.

At the conclusion of this description of the cycle dedicated to the Life of Christ, we note how the Ascension of Jesus can be connected to the Assumption of Mary painted in the dome and also to the Redeemer who will return at the end of times of the apse: a homogeneous programme which connects the glory of the Christ to that of his mother Mary, and which is part of churches’ ancient orientation eastwards, of a clear Christological symbolism.

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