Visiting the collection of paintings belonging to the Oratory of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Guided visits to see the cycle of paintings can be booked in advance for small groups (max. 18 people) on certain days and times (see the updated calendar on the Compagnia di San Paolo website).
The Oratory of the early ‘Compagnia di San Paolo’ in Turin
The Compagnia di San Paolo’s artistic patronage was always an activity of the first importance. In addition to the canvases in the Oratory itself, there is the altar-piece in the chapel dedicated to St Paul in the ‘Santi Martiri’ church in Turin by the leading late Mannerist artist Federico Zuccari, who joined the confraternity in 1605 and who at the time was working in the city for the Duke Charles Emanuel I and his ‘Grande Galleria’. The Compagnia also commissioned a history of the confraternity, published in 1657, from the writer Emanuele Tesauro, attached to the Ducal court and celebrated throughout Europe in the Baroque period: Istoria della Venerabilissima Compagnia della Fede Cattolica, sotto l’invocazione di San Paolo, nell’augusta città di Torino.
The surviving ten canvases from the cycle today belong to the banking group Intesa Sanpaolo, who have been responsible for their conservation and then for the exhibition held at the Reggia di Venaria Reale and the publication of a volume on the cycle, L’oratorio della Compagnia di San Paolo a Torino. Il restauro del ciclo pittori nelle collezioni Intesa Sanpaolo (Umberto Allemandi, Turin 2013), from which, by kind permission of the publishers, extracts are included here.
For the 450th anniversary of the foundation of the Compagnia di San Paolo (1563-2013) the cycle of paintings, one of the most important artistic productions ever to be undertaken in Piedmont and one of the most important cycles dedicated entirely to the life of St Paul, was restored and brought together.
The early Oratory
The Oratory designed for the private worship of members of the Compagnia was created in Turin in 1578 in the church of the Holy Martyrs and its adjoining buildings. It had a late Mannerist altarpiece depicting the conversion of St Paul (1580) by Alessandro Ardente, an artist from Faenza.
Tesauro’s iconographic scheme
In 1663, to mark the centenary of the foundation of the Compagnia di San Paolo, the writer Emanuele Tesauro was commissioned to devise an iconographic scheme for a new cycle of paintings to decorate the Oratory, in addition to Ardente’s altarpiece. Each large painting would depict an episode from the life of St Paul, and would be accompanied by an inscription. Thus images and words would tell the story of the saint, from his conversion to his martyrdom, in a lively and theatrical narrative which also celebrated the Compagnia and its activities.
The leading artists of the time in Turin were commissioned for the work: the Frenchman, from Lorraine, Charles Dauphin, one of the most esteemed artists working at the court, and the Piedmontese painters, Giovanni Bartolomeo Caravoglia, a member of the Compagnia, who carried out no fewer than seven of the paintings for the Oratory cycle (two now in other collections) and Giovanni Francesco Sacchetti. Paintings in the newer artistic styles were also added, by the Genoese artist Pietro Paolo Raggi and Andrea Pozzo from Trent (the creator of a work added in 1689, after the cycle had been completed, and now lost). In 1686 the Compagnia di San Paolo decided to add the coat-of-arms of each member of the confraternity who had commissioned each individual painting. At the same time the elegant scrolls, containing Tesauro’s descriptions, at the bottom of each canvas, were repainted.
The artists who worked on the Oratory cycle were leading figures in the Piedmontese Baroque style of the second half of the 17th century. Almost all of them were members of the ‘Compagnia di San Luca’ (the professional association for artists from Turin, founded in 1652). Several of them, like Dauphin and Caravoglia, also worked on the major artistic projects undertaken by the Savoys in this period, from the Palazzo Reale to the Palazzo di Città. In the palace at Venaria, in 1659-60 Tesauro also devised the iconographic programme for the pictures there: Dauphin and Caravoglia worked on the paintings in the Sala di Diana, while Sacchetti drew the portrait of the duchess Maria Giovanna Battista di Savoia Nemours, reproduced as the frontispiece engraving to Amedeo di Castellamonte’s book Venaria reale Palazzo di piacere e di caccia.
The new Oratory
In 1703 the cycle of paintings was moved to the new Oratory in Via Monte di Pietà in Turin, which finally closed in 1876, and displayed in a new arrangement which had less to do with the narrative sequence of St Paul’s life than giving prominence to the local families who had commissioned the works. 18th century inventories also include details of the pictures’ frames, richly carved and gilded on a turquoise background (now lost), by means of which the different dimensions of the paintings were grouped together.
The paintings after 1876
After the Oratory was closed in 1876, the cycle of paintings was stored in the Arcivescovado in Turin. Over the following decades three of the paintings disappeared. In 1963 the Istituto Bancario San Paolo di Torino acquired those which remained and displayed them in their two main buildings in the city, Piazza San Carlo and Via Monte di Pietà.
Between 2010 and 2012 Intesa San Paolo financed restoration of the entire cycle, carried out by the Conservation and Restoration Centre ‘La Venaria Reale’ and were displayed in the Reggia of Venaria Reale, in the Chapel of Sant’Uberto until 2015. In the same year Intesa San Paolo gave the paintings on longterm loan to the Compagnia di San Paolo so that they could be displayed in the Compagnia’s main building in Piazza Bernini, in the entrance hall and in rooms on the first floor of the palazzo.
The restoration (2010-2012)
As a result of the restoration funded by Intesa Sanpaolo and carried out in the workshops of the Conservation and Restoration Center ‘La Venaria Reale’, for the first time in over a century the cycle of paintings were brought together and studied by a specialist team of restorers, technical analysts and art historians. The technical analysis has revealed significant data on the techniques the artists used and also uncovered some portions of the canvases which had been folded on the back in order to adapt the size of the pictures for the rooms in the palazzo in Piazza San Carlo.
FIND OUT MORE
The Tales of St. Paul. The paintings of Compagnia’s old oratory in the Intesa Sanpaolo collections, edited by Compagnia di San Paolo-Intesa Sanpaolo.
The video on the restoration of the cycle of paintings from the Oratory can be viewed on the Fondazione 1563’s YouTube channel.