When I left the busy Milan street and stepped inside the Church of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore, I could not believe my eyes. The entire interior was a work of art. The Renaissance church featured 16th century frescoes by Bernardino Luini, his brothers and his son. Divided into two parts, it included a worship area for the public and another for the nuns. (An adjacent 17th century former cloister for Benedictine nuns now houses the museum of archeology.) There are eight chapels in the part of the church for the faithful and ten in the section for the nuns. On pilasters between the chapels in the Hall of Nuns, scenes from the life of Christ are portrayed.
I saw a vaulted nave and vaulted chapels in addition to the Hall of Nuns on the other side of the partition. On the dividing wall in the Hall of Nuns, I gazed at Bernardino Luini’s creations from the 1530s – the figures of Saint Catherine and Saint Agatha as well as scenes from the Marriage at Cana and the Carrying of the Cross of Christ. I also saw his frescoes showing the life of Saint Maurizio. The Martyrdom of Saint Maurice and the Theban Legion, probably by Bernardino Luini, shows Maurice fervently praying as an execution is about to behead him. A decapitated body is seen nearby.
In one chapel, Bernardino Luini rendered the martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. In the central panel, blood oozes from Jesus’ collapsing body. The masterful Luini renders the moment of the miracle when Catherine is about to be tortured, but is saved by God.
The main altar of the public area with the painting of the Adoration of the Magi by Antonio Campi took my breath away, too. The high altar dates from the second half of the 16th century. The rear end of a horse plays a prominent role in the foreground of the painting. I had never seen the backside of a horse dominating a canvas in 16th century art.
I especially liked the Chapel of the Flood by the Luini brothers. I gazed at the beasts making their way onto Noah’s Ark. A rainbow flitters across the sky. Yet the landscape is decrepit, in ruins.
Saints are rendered on lunettes of the chapels. For example, on two lunettes flanking the altarpiece, Saint Stephen, Saint Benedict and Saint John the Baptist make appearances.
The Eucharist Chapel boasts illusionist features as putti appear to open a canopy. The depiction deceptively looks three-dimensional.
I saw The Last Supper rendered above a door. It reminded me of the church not far away, where I had seen Leonardo’s Last Supper. I will never forget those masterful gestures and facial expressions of the protagonists as each gesture and expression told a story.
I noticed the organ with many 16th century features. It was a rarity as it had 12 pedals. The cornices of the case were richly decorated with fantasy-like figures, musical instruments and still lifes. Another depiction on the case included Saint Maurice holding a model of the church.
There were so many stories told on these masterful artworks that it was impossible to absorb them all during one visit. The church was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen. It was bewitching, enthralling. I vowed to come back because this church was one that beckoned the viewer to return, to experience its stunning beauty time and time again.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.