St John the Evangelist Complex

Between art and spirituality

The facade of the church (1604/1607) by Simone Moschino, Giovanni Battista Carra, and Giovanni Battista MagnaniComplesso di San Giovanni Evangelista

The building of the monastery

The Benedictine monastery of Saint John the Evangelist in Parma, built at the end of the 10th century, was rebuilt in its present form between 1490 and 1519. The construction of the church, initially directed by Gigliolo Dall'Argine, then, from 1510 by Bernardino Zaccagni and Pietro Cavazzolo, was inspired by the Benedictine commission, which determined the innovative design choices. The facade was built between 1604 and 1607 on a project by the ducal architect Simone Moschino. The interior with a Latin cross plan is divided into three naves; in the side aisle there are six chapels, to which are added two in the presbytery.

A scene of the "Frieze of Prophecies" in the central nave (1519/1523) by Correggio and Francesco Maria RondaniComplesso di San Giovanni Evangelista

Correggio's decoration

The rich decoration of the building reflects the client's unprecedented choices: particularly "The frieze with Prophets and Sibyls" that runs in the central nave, painted by Correggio with the collaboration of Francesco Maria Rondani (1519-1523), is central to illustrating the meaning of the entire pictorial project of the church. 

The cycle is inspired by the culture of the Congregation of Santa Giustina of Padua, to which the Parma monastery had joined since 1477, and declines a figurative path which, thanks to the significant presence of sibyls and prophets, uniforms the pagan message to the Christian one.

Del Bono Chapel. V chapel on the rightComplesso di San Giovanni Evangelista

Correggio's enterprise (1519 post 1524) extends from the nave, to the dome, to the apse, and to the outer walls of the choir enclosure; after 1524, the master completed the two canvases for the Del Bono Chapel, now in the National Gallery, with the Lamentation over the Dead Christ and the Martyrdom of four saints.

The view of the dome (1519) by CorreggioComplesso di San Giovanni Evangelista

Inside the church the gaze runs to the apotheosis of Christ in the dome, (1519 - 1521 ca.); the iconographic system alludes to the Ascension of Christ, who descended on earth to ascend to heaven with the elderly Evangelist, here crouched on the extreme edge of the outer belt.

"St. John the Evangelist's lunette". Left transept (1519/1520) by CorreggioComplesso di San Giovanni Evangelista

As emerges from the most recent studies, Correggio made his debut in the church in 1519 with the fresco of the dome and the frieze of the nave; perhaps at the same time, he completed the decoration of the lunette over the door with the young Evangelist (1519? - 1521 ante quem non).

"Coronation of the Virgin". Semi-dome of the apse (1586) by Cesare Aretusi ( Bologna, 1540 – Toscana, 1612)Complesso di San Giovanni Evangelista

Cesare Aretusi

the apsidal basin the fresco with the Coronation of the Virgin, the
Evangelist, John the first abbot, Saint Benedict and the Baptist,
copy of the fresco correggesco, was made by Cesare Aretusi
(1549-1612) in 1586, when due to the enlargement of the apse area was
demolished the basin painted by Correggio in 1522. 

The central group of the original with Christ and the Virgin is kept in the National Gallery of Parma, and its sinopia at the Palatine Library. Other extremely interesting fragments are kept at the National Gallery in London, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and in some private collections.

St. Luke and St. Amrbose. A dome pendentive by Correggio, Francesco Maria Rondani, and Francesco TonelliComplesso di San Giovanni Evangelista

Multiple hands guided by Correggio

In the pendentives are depicted the Fathers of the Church with the Evangelists, and along the tambour, monochrome, the symbols of the evangelists among the angels: in the arches the Correggio painted monochrome figures of biblical heroes and the grotesques of the cruise above the presbytery. The seventeenth-century installation of the choir compromised the other frieze with sacrificial themes carried out perhaps by the master and his close collaborators along the walls of the sanctuary; only one fragment is preserved in the Chapter Hall. 

A detail of the transept frieze by Cristoforo Caselli ( di San Giovanni Evangelista

The entire pictorial layout of the church and convent seems to match a common program, derived from the Benedictine culture; as is the frieze with scenes of sacrifice alternating with a series of tondi with busts of popes, bishops and Benedictine monks that runs along the transept.

"Adoration of the Magi". St. Felicita and St. Flavia's Chapel altarpiece (1499) by Cristoforo CaselliComplesso di San Giovanni Evangelista

Giovanni Antonio da Parma and Cristoforo Caselli

The difference between the decoration of the left and right section is clear: the first, dated 1514, is signed by Giovanni Antonio da Parma, while the second, of better quality, is attributable to Cristoforo Caselli (1460ca.-1521 ), author of the panel depicting the Adoration of the Magi, completed in 1499 and located in the third chapel on the right of the Monastery.

The domed vault of St. Mauro's Chapel. Left transept (1521) by Michelangelo AnselmiComplesso di San Giovanni Evangelista

Michelangelo Anselmi

Michelangelo Anselmi (1492ca-1554) was awarded the decoration of the six cruises and arches of the main nave with candelabra, cherubs, eagles, allegories of the time, monochrome on a blue background; Saint Benedict among the Scholastic Saints, Mauro, Placido and Giustina in the apsidal basin of the left transept (1521); Bishop Siegfried appoints John the first abbot of the new monastery of Saint John the Evangelist and The Virgin appears to John, first abbot, on his deathbed with the original coat of arms of the Cornazzano family, the latter emerged thanks to recent restorations, in the right; Saint Agnes and Catherine of Alexandria (1522-1523) in the chapel on the left of the presbytery; the fresco with the Four Doctors of the Church and the table with Christ carrying the cross (1522) in the sixth chapel on the left, (Bergonzi); finally, the doors of a reliquary cabinet in the Sacristy with Saint Sebastian and Saint John the Baptist. 

"St. Catherine's mystical marriage and St. Nicholas from Bari". Altarpiece of the Zangrandi Chapel (1536) by Girolamo BedoliComplesso di San Giovanni Evangelista

Girolamo Bedoli

Even Girolamo Bedoli (1508 - 1572) made his own contribution to the monastery, bringing to completion: the canvas with the Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine (1536) in the fourth chapel on the left; The Madonna, the Child and Saint James Major in the fourth chapel on the right, the large altarpiece with the Transfiguration, painted in 1556 in the apse, the Last Supper within an architecture on the back wall of the large refectory in the convent, and Saint Cecilia and Saint Margaret in the arch of the chapel to the right of the presbytery. 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Parma 2020+21
Discover the excellence Italian Capital of Culture
View theme
Google apps