Overlooking the Oglio valley, the church of San Bartolomeo (St. Bartholomew) stands in the southern most region of the village of Branico and preserves an interesting cycle of 14th-Century paintings.
The church is south-facing and has some exterior features shared by the Costa churches: a Sarnico sandstone porch with an elegant portal, with a mixtilinear cornice contrasting with the rigorous simplicity of the architectural forms of the rest of the building.
Inside it is clear that the sanctuary corresponds to an older church, to which the current single-nave was added in the 16th Century, covered by a wooden ceiling. The simplicity of the church is also revealed in the scagliola technique frontals of the altar (1731), which replicate the rich marble furnishings of the Sebino churches. Marble is reserved for the holy oil and relic tabernacles and the frame of the high altar which originally housed the modest painting of the Madonna in Glory between Saints Bartholomew and Gotthard now in the nave. The frame of the St. Rocco altarpiece, on the other hand, is ornately carved and gilded, painted the mid 17th Century by an artist of average skills influenced by Domenico Carpinoni. Next to it is a beautiful and recent painting by Emilio Del Prato (The Good Samaritan).
The most interesting works in the church are the paintings in the sanctuary: the large and crowded Crucifixion on the altar, the Baptism of Christ and the Last Supper on the left wall and the theories of saints that had to cover the walls on the left and right, now flush with the paving due to the raising of the floor. The paintings can be connected to a dissemination of a version of Giotto styles popular in the 70s and 80s of the 14th Century, and in particular are associated with the activity of the so-called Master of Cambianica, the artist of the paintings of San Michele (St. Michael) in Tavernola.
Within this cycle and of particular interest is the Last Supper which, due to the date of around 1380-1390, represents an early witness to the dissemination of this theme from the North European area (especially Flanders) along the long routes of the travelling merchants.
For more information:
A. MAZZUCCHELLI, Gli affreschi di Branico fra storia e arte, in Johannes de Volpino. Un caso nel Trecento pittorico nel solco dell’Oglio e dell’Adige, a cura di G. Maculotti, A. Zaina, Sarezzo 2012, pp. 43-50.
Ricordi e immagini di una comunità in cammino, Costa Volpino 2003.