Chamber of St. Paul and Cell of St. Catherine
Monastery in Parma
Visitors can now explore two rooms within the ancient Benedictine nuns’ monastery, rebuilt in the late 15th century. Access to these rooms, which once belonged to Abbess Giovanna da Piacenza, is gained through a tree-lined path.
The two interconnected rooms represent the work of two distinct artists. Alessandro Araldi undertook the decoration of one room in 1514, while the other was adorned by Correggio and completed in 1519.
Araldi’s work aligns closely with the artistic conventions of Roman painting from that era. His decoration features a vault adorned with candelabras set against a blue backdrop. Surrounding this central motif are roundels, squares, and lunettes, each illustrating scenes from both the Old and New Testaments.
In contrast, the room decorated by Correggio, known as the Chamber of Abbess Giovanna, introduces a distinctly humanistic pictorial language to Parma. Correggio’s clever use of painted vegetal patterns effectively eradicates the creases typically found on late Gothic umbrella vaults. In this way, he transforms the architectural space into a painted one, aligning with the philosophical principles of Neoplatonic culture.
The decoration within this room evolves from its central point—the triple lunar coat of arms of the Abbess—dividing into sixteen segments. Putti appear within the ovals, nestled amidst intertwining branches and leaves, each bearing allegorical symbols related to the hunt. Sixteen monochrome lunettes correspond to each oculus, featuring mythological characters illuminated from below, creating the illusion of bas-reliefs. A representation of Diana, symbolizing the Abbess herself, can be seen on the fireplace, depicted as driving a chariot, poised for a hunting expedition.
Adjacent to this room, there remains a smaller space housing a copy of Araldi’s Last Supper.
Additionally, the Cella di Santa Caterina, situated on the garden’s edge within the former convent of the Benedictine nuns of San Paolo, features frescoes by Alessandro Araldi depicting scenes from the life of Saint Catherine, including her dispute before Emperor Maximin and a portrayal of Saint Catherine alongside Saint Jerome.
The guided tour of the Chamber of San Paolo offers a unique opportunity to delve into the museum’s itinerary, which includes the rooms of Abbess Giovanna da Piacenza’s private apartment. Visitors can explore the history of the monumental complex of San Paolo, which reached its zenith between the 15th and 16th centuries. The tour will shed light on the significant figures of Abbesses Cecilia Bergonzi and Giovanna da Piacenza. The focal point of the tour will be the Chamber of Abbess Giovanna, featuring the original late Gothic umbrella vault adorned by Correggio in 1519. This masterpiece of the mature Italian Renaissance can be accessed by passing through the room decorated a few years earlier by Alessandro Araldi, featuring intricate grotesque ornamentation.
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Visiting Chamber of St. Paul and Cell of St. Catherine
Opening hours: Monday, Thursday and Friday from 9.30am to 5.30pm (last entry at 5pm); Saturday, Sunday and holidays from 9.30am to 6.30pm (last entry at 6.00pm); closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
Opening during public holidays for Easter and Easter Monday, 25 April, 1 May, 2 June 2023. Open on Tuesday 15 August and 31 October 2023.