Italy is well known for its frescoes, but I’ve never seen so many in one place as in Trento, in the far north of the country. The pictures are everywhere, clinging to the sides of buildings like a kind of Renaissance street art. They are inside the buildings, too, most notably in the magnificent Castello de Buoncastiglio. So it is no surprise that Trento should be known as “the painted city”.
What Are Frescoes?
Frescoes are a particular type of mural, which can be painted on an internal or exterior wall. They are created by painting a picture onto wet plaster, so that the pigment becomes a part of the wall as it dries.
This creates a durable design, but has the disadvantage that the work has to be done very quickly before the plaster dries. Before starting work the artist would always make a full scale drawing (or “cartoon”) of the final picture which they would then trace onto the wet plaster before painting. Occasionally they would speed up the process by using a stencil for repeated motifs or images.
Frescoes in Italy
Frescoes have been in use since antiquity, and probably came to Italy via Greece. You can see some early examples at Pompeii, where they were used as a sort of wall paper (longer lasting than the modern variety…)
But it was in the Renaissance that Italian frescoes really flourished, when they became an art form in their own right. Perhaps the most famous are Micheangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. However the technique was widely used in cities such as Trento, where frescoes started to appear in churches, public buildings and private houses.
The Frescoes of Trento
The centre of Trento is full of historic buildings, many of them built during the 15th or 16th centuries, when fresco-painting was common. Some of the pictures depict mythological scenes, but others were more topical. So there are pictures of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I greeting his subjects, or of bishops travelling to the Council fo Trent in 1545.
Where to see Frescoes in Trento
You can’t avoid seeing frescoes if you walk around the historic centre of Trento. Probably the best place to start is at the Piazza Duomo (not forgetting the pictures on the inside of the Cathedral). Then walk along Via Belenzani with its impressive palazzi and other buildings, many of which retain their original murals.
Many of these buildings also have frescoes inside. They are not all open to the public but, if you do get the chance to go inside, take it. For instance, the Palazzo Roccabruna (an exhibition and events space) has mythological and religious pictures on the piano nobile (first floor).
The most impressive frescoes in Trento must be those in the Castello de Buonconsiglio. The castle is worth a visit in its own right: a massive fortified building from the 13th century, with wonderful views from the Venetian Loggia right at the top. But it is the frescoes that are the main attraction.
The castle is covered with frescoes, inside and out. The paintings in the main palace date from the 16th century, with a variety of themes from classical and religious subjects to contemporary life and portraits. However the most famous paintings of Buonconsiglio Castle are the “Cycle of the Months” in the Torre Aquila (“Eagle Tower”). This is a series of pictures showing the life of the castle and the surrounding countryside during each month of the year. It is a vivid illustration of the work and other activities of the nobles and the peasants as the seasons change.
Entrance to the Torre Aquila is by timed ticket, and you will be given an audiotour headset (in a choice of languages). A great way to end your exploration of the Painted City of Trento!
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