The church stands on the outskirts of the inhabited area, halfway between Riva and Zorzino, along the ancient route that connected the lake to the hills and Val Cavallina (Cavallina valley) and is the oldest building of worship in the territory of Solto; although documented very late, it does feature structures of a pre-Romanesque era and two high-quality decorative painting campaigns.
The current building is the result of a complex process of transformation, which in 1605 underwent a rotation, originally east-west, together with the construction of a new sanctuary to the south and the façade to the north. A bell tower was built in this same period, which still retains its original wooden structures that support the bells.
Looking at the church from the outside, along the path that runs alongside it on the right, you can see the first nucleus of the building with a narrow small portal which is now closed off; the masonry is uneven showing a masonry technique that dates back to a pre-Romanesque era, before the 10th Century, as confirmed by the absence of jambs in the small portal and the shape of the apse. In the 13th Century, a new building was constructed against it which essentially doubled the size of the church; a new portal surmounted by a lancet window was opened. Standing on the lawn in front of the church one can see the original apse, raised probably in the 14th Century, and the layout of a second apse, demolished in the 17th Century to build the sacristy, partially visible inside.
The dedication to the Saints Hippolitus and Kassian (martyrs respectively in 250 and perhaps in 304-305) mainly spread in the early Middle Ages and in the Lake Iseo area is noted in the churches of Martignago (Sulzano) and Zone.
On the walls there are frescoes from various eras, to which it is probable that Andrea Pionnio referred to in his report after visiting the church on behalf of Cardinal Borromeo in 1575. In the conch of the oldest apse, in the left side of the nave, there is a fresco of the blessing Pantocrator in almond with the four Evangelists associated with their respective symbols and sitting at desks. The fresco, dating back to the late 14th Century, shows various traces of repainting works; however, it still retains the engravings on the plaster of the haloes and, in part, the gold foil finishing which highlight just how precious the work was, and the Gothic style of the workshop assigned to the works. The shapes of the desks, and in particular the canopy in which St. Mark is positioned, seem to suggest models of northern origin. The unknown artist is characterised by the faces with layers of brick-red paint and the white paint used for the fingers that are very long. There were two other frescoes on the wall of the apse: the one on the right has been largely destroyed by the opening of an entrance, the one on the left depicts the Madonna and Child with Saints Lawrence and Stephen. The entire east wall is occupied by the remains in the upper portion of the cycle of the Passion of Christ; each scene is placed within a simple limestone coloured frame. In the section toward the altar one can see the final episodes of the Passion, from the Priest tearing his clothes to the Ascension of Christ. The frescoes, dating back to the 15th Century, are similar to the subdivision and instructive style of those found in the oratories of Clusone and Solto Collina. However the construction of the bodies, especially that of the naked Christ, the rendering of the clothes and the use of space, portray an artist who is less gifted than Giacomo Busca: the maestro from Gargarino seems, in fact, to propose a more popular version, perhaps even inspired by a more academic cycle, probably the adaption of Northern imprints. In the front of the apse arch you can see the remains of an Annunciation, referring to the same context; between the two apses there is a fresco of the Madonna and Child (15th Century) framed by a baroque marble aedicule (small temple), the work of the Selva workshop. The marble altar (1729) is also the work of the Selva workshop from Riva di Solto; the most valuable part is the frame in which there is an average quality painting of 1625 depicting the Holy Trinity with the Saints Hippolitus, Kassian, Lawrence and Francis.
A rare 14th Century fresco, stylistically closer to the Maestro of Cambianica than the paintings of Gargarino, is preserved in a house in Contrada Terlera (Terlera district) and depicts the Virgin Mary feeding Jesus and a holy queen.
Monica Ibsen, Federico Troletti
For more information:
PASINELLI B., Riva di Solto, Zorzino e Gargarino, Bergamo 2013.