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La Certosa di Pavia

Link to page on the Sforza family


Italian Cistercian Abbey Pages


History in Preparation



What it looks like from the front - a magnificent monument to the Visconti and Sforza Dukes of Milan (the building on the right was one of their summer palaces).




From the back, what it was theoretically all about - each of the 24 Carthusian hermit monks had their own cottage at the back of the Certosa, where they could get on with closing with God whilst the lay brothers popped the occasional meal into the serving hatch which was built into each cottage.





Small scale bas-relief in the main porch of the church - Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1351 - 1402), the first Duke of Milan, laying the foundation stone of the Certosa on 27 August 1396.  This is a copy of the original, which can be seen along with other narrative bas-reliefs in the museum - it's well worth spending time there.





The magnificent nave of the church, watched over by the duty Cistercian monk.







Gian Galeazzo, supported by his three sons,  presents a model of the church to the Virgin Mary in a fresco above the apse on the South (Visconti and monastery buildings) side of the transept.





Tomb of Ludovico Sforza ("The Moor"), 7th Duke of Milan (1452 -1508 (46)), and his wife Beatrice d'Este on the North (Sforza) side of the transept.





Centre panel detail



One thing to do with hippopotamus teeth and bits of bone - an ivory and bone narrative triptych, with (from left to right) the stories of the Virgin, the Magi and the Prophet Balam.  This is the only significant remaining artefact from the original church after a thorough loot by Napoleonic troops at the end of the 1700s.  It's about 2 meters wide.





Small cloister - snuggled into the junction of the south transept and nave.





On the south side of the cloister is the lavatorium for the monks to wash their hands on the way into the refectory (on the one day a week they were allowed out of their cottages).  The terracotta relief above shows "the episode of the Samaritan to the well" (sic).  More attractively, above this is a riveting two panel annunciation (below).





The refectory, which was the church for the first 100 years or so of the Certosa's life.  Note the screen wall which separated the monks (who had a cottage each and only came together for Sunday lunch) from the lay brothers (who had a bed in the communal dormitory).  This was a universal feature of Carthusian churches, their Cistercian counterparts and indeed all abbey churches.  You won't find any evidence of the screens in today's remaining Cistercian abbey churches, but the screens in most ex-monastic English cathedrals have the same origins - the separation of choir monks from "the rest".




The coat of arms of the Visconti family, showing a snake swallowing a Saracen (Arab).  This had been a popular motif for military standards during the crusades of the 1100s and 1200s.


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