The Baschenis and the Dance of Death

The Baschenis And The Dance Of Death title=

The works of baschenis in Val Rendena

In the history of Trentino fresco painting, the Baschenis family plays a central role. They came from Averaria, a village near Bergamo. For over seventy years, from about 1470 to about 1540, about ten members of this family , father and son, uncle and cousin, grandfather and nephew, worked in Trentino (Giudicarie, Rendena, Sole, Non and Molveno valleys) as well as in their land of origin.

Their paintings are very uniform, in many cases it is quite difficult for experts to distinguish from one another. It is an art poor in perspectives, shades and anatomic drawings of bodies, but it is rich in colours, faith and desire to make churches more suitable for worship.

From an iconographical viewpoint , their store of knowledge is quite standardized.

The saints proposed are always the same: saints of simple faith, well characterized by their attributes. The martyrs Catherine, Agatha, Lucy and Barbara with the wheel, the breast, the eyes, or the tower. Francis with stigmata, Antony with a little pig and a pilgrim’s staff, Martin cutting his mantel in two, Sebastian wounded by arrows, Lawrence with a grill, Rocco with sores.

Then, of course, there are the local saints. Vigilio with clogs and the “Blessed” Simonino covered with wounds and with a white scarf around his neck. On the background there are majestic Crucifixions and on the walls many depictions of the Last Supper. On the apsidal vaults the four Evangelists and the four Fathers and Doctors of the Church are originally but so often represented, that these eight saints are probably another constant element in Baschenises’ iconography.

The Dance of Death

The most important fresco is certainly “The Dance of Death” which occupies the top of the south wall for a length of 20 metres. It is the work of Simone Baschenis da Averaria (BG). The painter finished his work on 25.10.1539.

The “Dance of Death” is a popular representation of a fundamental idea: everyone has the same destiny, everyone must die. Other death dances can be found in many locations throughout Northern Europe and Italy. A part of another “Dance of Death” by Baschenis is visible on the western wall of St Stefano Church in Carisolo.

The “Pinzolo Dance” can be divided into three parts: a group of skeletons forming a type of orchestra to accompany the dance; then a crucified Christ, and, invited to take part in the ball, are eighteen couples who represent religious and civil authority and the different social classes; finally St. Michael and Lucifer who are collecting, respectively, the souls of the good and those of the sinners. Underneath each figure there is a rhythmic folk comment.

Pelugo, S. Antonio Abate church


The first documented work, in chronological order, by Baschenis in Rendena is S. Antonio Abate church in Pelugo.

There is a big fresco of S. Cristoforo on the main facade, with the name of the painter Dionisio de Averara and the date 1493. Around the gothic portal there is the Trinity representation. Besides, there is a decorative frieze frescoed dedicated to S. Antonio story with captions in varnacular.

The big lunette inside  is decorated with tales about Christ. Moreover, there is the Last Supper fresco rich in details, in particular with the presence of the red crayfish, typical of Baschenis painting.

Going up the valley along Sarca river, there are two places you can't pass up: Carisolo and Pinzolo with their "Danza macabra" frescos.

Carisolo, S. Stefano cemetery church


In S. Stefano cemetery church in Carisolo, the southern wall was frescoed by Simone in 1519, as documented by his many original signatures; there are the stories of S. Stefano with captions in vernacular, the "Danza Macabra" and the seven Capital Vices frescos.

Besides, there are the Annunciation painted by Simone, the Last Supper rich in sacred symbols and the legend of Carlo Magno, who should have crossed Rendena valley with his bishops and warriors. Under this fresco there is a long inscription in ghotic characters that tells the passage of the Frankish king.

Pinzolo, S. Vigilio church


In Pinzolo, after few years, in 1539 Simone Baschenis presented again the "Danza Macabra", which was usually painted in the nordic churches and cemeteries.
Along a fresco 20 m long, the protagonist is Death, that recalls all people without distinction to penitence and conversion. All are the same in front od Death and the passing of time.

S. Antonio di Mavignola


Near Pinzolo, before reaching Madonna di Campiglio, there is S. Antonio di Mavignola village with its church. Dates and frescos attribution on the facade and inside are controversial.

On the wall in the background there is a sweet Madonna on the throne with angels, near S. Antonio Abate and S. Barbara.



Inside S. Lucia church in Giustino there is the fresco of the Nativity (about 1540) by Simone Baschenis.

The presbitery was decorated by Simone Baschenis works as weel, but unfortunately they were destroyed during the building enlargement in 1866.

There is also a very suggestive timber frame in sacresty, made up by fragments and particulars of faces, as a mosaic in the decoration of the church.

Massimeno, S. Giovanni Battista church

The paintings inside and outside the very old Church of S. Giovanni Battista in Massimeno are unfortunately damaged.

It is a little church deep in the green hills, with a panoramic view on Rendena valley.

On the main facade there is S. Cristoforo  fresco by Simone Baschenis.


Javrè, S. Valentino church


The Church of S. Valentino, set in the homonymous valley, keeps the old frescos of Dionisio; it was built for the blessing of the herds moving to the mountain pastures around.
Inside there are Simone Baschenis paintings: in the centre God and the Annunciation, the Evangelists seated on clouds and the doctors of the church all around.

In Javrè, the Baschenis de Averara decorated also the church of Santa Maria Assunta in 1543.

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