The church of Santa Maria in Silvis is now on the edge of the village of Pisogne but, in the past, it was one of the most important buildings in the Sebino area both for its artistic value, and because it was a baptismal church. The building carried out parish duties until the new church was built (completed in 1798) which overlooks the village’s main square. The importance of the site was confirmed by the findings, during the paving work in 2001, of various levels of occupancy below the current surfaces that were incorporated within the Renaissance building. It amounts to almost 200 square meters of medieval structures, for the most part demolished for the construction of the present church. It is possible to descend under the paved surface and visit some of the rooms: they are part of a building occupying the first two bays of the church; the structures should also include the baptismal section composed of several elements including the baptismal piscina that, in actual fact, is the re-use of a portion of a Roman funerary monument dating back to the middle of the 1st Century AD with a dedication to the Augusti sacerdos Tiberius Claudius Numa. The façades boast low relief figures of naked Cupids holding a burning torch. Situated further east, and so toward the high altar, the remains of a 50 square metre crypt with three naves have been identified; the bases of the columns are still visible. The crypt proceeds under the current day sanctuary.
The structure dates back to the late 15th Century; the facade features a gabled roof decorated with a series of blind plastered arches while to the sides it is lined with rather prominent pilasters. An element of extraordinary quality, especially when compared with the contemporary structures of the Sebino area, is the vaulted portal in Gorzone lintel stone, with a round arch lunette and white marble inserts for the keystone and the two statues. The sculpture (1485) is signed by Damiano from Milan, a follower of Giovanni Antonio Amadeo with works also found in Santa Maria in Valvendra (St. Mary’s in Valvendra); one can note references to the contemporary Milanese culture in the Madonna and Child in the lunette, particularly in the stiacciato technique used for the legs of baby Jesus. The portal with a Renaissance structure and motif decorations is similar to the one of the nearby church of Santa Maria della Neve (St. Mary of the Snows).
The building has a single-nave structure with a quadrangular sanctuary. The side chapels, dedicated to the Our Lady of the Rosary and St. Jerome Emiliani, were built a later date compared to the 15th Century structure. The bays are divided by three pointed arches that rest on imposts and support the gabled roof with exposed wooden beams. The building has undergone various interventions over the centuries that have changed the layout and destroyed some frescoes. One can see the 17th Century restoration of the sanctuary with the modification to the vault and the opening of the windows; the walls still boast the remains of the History of the Virgin Mary, one of the most interesting productions by Giovan Pietro from Cemmo dating back to the last decade of the 15th Century. There are several works by the master (and workshop) in the church, with devotional frescoes by other contemporary painters and those of the early decades of the 16th Century. Among these we can see the Dance of Death (or Dogma of Death) dated in the 15th Century that winds its way along the inside façade and the north wall: here we can find different characters from different social backgrounds marching in the same direction sharing the same end.
In the sanctuary, the marble and wood high altar hosted the two statues by Andrea Fantoni in the frontal niches, but they were subsequently stolen. The wooden frame dates back to the 16th Century and hosts the Assumption by Antonio Gandino. Another example of fine carving, although some parts have been stolen, is the pulpit assigned to Pietro Ramus. Whilst for the painting of the Madonna and Child and Saints Charles Borromeo and Fermo, in the past attributed to Domenico Carpinoni, it is in fact thought to be the work of a collaboration with Pietro Ricchi.
For more information:
BERTOLINI A., PANAZZA G., Arte in Val Camonica. Monumenti e opere, vol. III, parte 2^, Brescia 1994, pp. 251-301.
BREDA A., La stratificazione archeologica della chiesa plebana di S. Maria in Silvis, in Il segno minore, a cura di Sansoni U., Marretta A., Lentini S., Capo di Ponte (Bs) 2001, pp. 213-216.
ROSSI F., L’area del sacerdote imperiale Tiberio Claudio Numa, in Il segno minore, a cura di Sansoni U., Marretta A., Lentini S., Capo di Ponte (Bs) 2001, pp. 217-222.
SOLANO S., Un’ara romana nella chiesa di S. Maria in Silvis, in ”Itinera”, VII, 2006, p. 47.
BURLOTTI A., Santa Maria del bosco o in Silvis, in “Itinera”, VIII, 2007, pp. 51-55.
BIANCHI A, MACARIO F., In loco de Pisoneis, Gianico 2008, pp. ****.
E.M. GUZZO, Il soggiorno bresciano del Lucchese, in Pietro Ricchi, 1606-1675, catalogo della mostra (Riva del Garda, Museo civico, Chiesa dell’ Inviolata, 5 ott. 1996-15 genn. 1997) a cura di M. Botteri Ottaviani, Milano-Ginevra 1996, pp. 109-122.