Museo Civico Polironiano - Museum - The monastery complex
San Benedetto Po is situated just a few kilometres from Mantua. Its name, San Benedetto in Polirone in ancient time, is related to the Benedictine monastery founded in 1007 by Tedaldo, Matilda on Tuscany’s grandfather, on the island between the river Po and the river Lirone. The town centre was developed along the river shore and surround the huge monastic structure; both have played an essential role in the life of the community for centuries and continue to do so today. In particular, the monastery has played a primary religious, political and cultural role in the history of Italian monarchism, before being suppressed (1797) by Napoleone Bonaparte. More than 2000 years of history are set in the structures of this great monument, which offers different ways of visit.
WHAT CAN YOU VISIT?
THE ABBEY CHURCH
Dating back to the XV century, was restored by Giulio Romano in 1539 and still preserves mosaics of the XI century, clay statues of Saints made by Antonio Begarelli, altar pieces by several artists such as Girolamo Bonsignori, Fermo Ghisoni, G. Maazzola Bedoli and wooden furnishings by G. M. Piantavigna.
This cloister belongs to three different constructive periods: the first one, before the XV century, in the southern side and on the northern side ground floor (with the Abbey’s little cloister, originally leading to the Abbot’s palace, now replaced with the sixteenth-century grand staircase); the second construction, around 1475, involved pre-existing buildings to present porticoes and new alleyways with rectangular windows on the east and northern porticoes. The third edification, in 1674, is an alleyway above the west portico and also the cloister windows were extended and decorated with Baroque stuccoes. East and south side ground floor was a guest quarter for poor people and pilgrims, while the first floor was reserved for respectable guests. Through the spectacular sixteen-century grand staircase you can enter the Museum of Popular Po Culture.
Giovan Battista Barberini made this marble staircase in 1674. Originally it linked the Abbots and Mantova’s dukes palace at the monastery entry cloister and it probably contained statues of Tedaldo, Bonifacio and Matilde di Canossa.
Stuccoes on the vault four corners represent cardinal virtues (Prudence, Justice, Strength, Temperance) and there is a Christ’s bust upon the entrance.
The fresco in the centre reproduces a balcony open to sky, in which the wind rose was originally linked to a windward sphere.
On top of the first flight stairs there is the crest monastery (hind, mitre and crosier) while at the end of stairs there is the Cassino Congregation’s crest. A putto overlooks each window.
On the left, on the top of the grand staircase, there is the entry of the Civic Po Museum.
SAN SIMEONE CLOISTER
Old infirmary occupied the eastern side of cloister first floor, library and abbey residence the southern side, monks’ dormitory cells the western and northern sides. In the ground floor there were cells for the monks passing by, tailor and cobbler shops and the cellar. The cloister, in a late Gothic style, took the present look between 1458 and 1480. The frescoes (layer below) under the arches of the porticos with painted busts of bishops ? replaced with popes images a century later ? and the frescoes with Histories of San Simeone, in the lunettes of the cloister, are attributed to Flemish painters and date back to the second half of the 15th century. Cultural Popular Po Museum is at the first floor. LUNETTES A FRESCO (1567 ca.)
THE CAPITOLO HAL
The capitolo hall, between San Simeone Cloister and San Benedetto Cloister, was the executive centre of cenoby. Romanesque and late ancient foundations revealed that it was the most ancient construction of monastery, built at the time of the first church.
It date back to 1458-1459 and it is divided by aisles with cross vaults supported by three red marble columns in late gothic style. It opened to San Benedetto Cloister with two pointed portals and two windows in terracotta and it was linked with major church and dormitories.
Since 1500 a wall divide monks’ chapter-house to that of lay brothers.
SAN BENEDETTO CLOISTER
San Benedetto Cloister, next to the Church’s side, was rebuilt in 1450 in the context of Polirone architectural renovation. Of the original cloister, integral in 1799, only the northern and eastern sides still remain; Giulio Romano shifted the southern side to build Abbey’s left chapels.
THE MONASTIC REFECTORY
Il refettorio fu edificato nel 1478 circa. Nel 1510 Gregorio Cortese (abate del monastero) decise di decorare tutta la parete ovest, e chiamò per questo due artisti: il veronese Girolamo Bonsignori che dipinse l'Ultima Cena su una tela incastrata sul muro (oggi conservata nel Museo Civico di Badia Polesine - Rovigo) e il giovane Antonio Allegri, detto il Correggio, che tra il 1513 e il 1514, affrescò l'architettura dipinta in cui il Cenacolo si immaginava inserito.
The new Infirmary building, lying perpendicular to the Refectory, dating back to the early sixteenth century but was only completed in the eighteenth century on the top floor, with the great hall and the apartments side.