Where Piacenza’s Basilica of Santa Maria di Campagna rises today, there used to be a small oratory. According to some, this was the small building where pope Urban II launched the first crusade in 1095, to recapture the holy land in the Near Orient from the Arab Muslim people who had taken it from the Byzantine Empire in the 7th century.
Almost five hundred years later, in 1522, the first stone of the Basilica was blessed: it was the year the Ottoman Empire conquered Rhodes and reached the height of its splendor under Suleiman the Magnificent.
Designed by architect Alessio Tramello, the church is home to masterpieces by Giovanni Antonio de’ Sacchis, also known as Pordenone, who between 1530 and 1532 painted frescoes inspired by Correggio’s and Parmigianino’s works – such as the one at the entrance, which represents Saint Augustine, and the cycles that decorate the Chapel of the Magi and the Chapel of Saint Catherine.
The highlight of Pordenone’s work – later finalized by his student, Bernardino Gatti – is definitely the dome, featuring a rich and complex cycle in which figures (prophets, saints, episodes from the Gospel, myths and pagan deities) and decorative elements (putti, grotesques and Christian symbols) fill every segment, rib, tondo, pier and intrados.
Here is a taste of its splendor.