BUSCA, the frescoes of the Biazàci brothers
The Biazaci brothers from Busca
During the second half of the fifteenth century, the workshop of Tommaso and Matteo Biazaci created more than thirty or so fresco and panel paintings, which are scattered all over the plain of Cuneo, the valleys of the Marquisate of Saluzzo and the ancient diocese of Albenga. Naturally, not all the works have the same quality, but several of them are signed by “Thomas Biazacius de Buscha et Matheus eius frater”: allowing us to know the painters’ names, their kinship and where they came from, being Busca of course. At that time, the town had approximately 3000 inhabitants and its hub was along the Contrada Maestra.
The four chapels involved along the route are located in the area around Busca. The sites are mostly in hilly areas and are connected by a network of paths with appropriate signage that can be covered by bike or on foot.
Cappella di San Sebastiano
Located along the road that leads to Villafalletto, near the cemetery, the chapel shows different construction phases: Romanesque in the internal apse, fourteenth-century along the south side and eighteenth-century in the small choir and the bell tower. The fresco decoration dates to the last twenty years of the fifteenth century and is commonly considered one of the most representative works of the Biazaci brothers.
The scenes of the life of Saint Sebastian, protector against the plague, are painted on the rib vaults of the portico, which was later closed; there are tondos with the Evangelists in each rib vault. The story takes place at the time of the persecutions implemented by the emperor Diocletian against the Christians between 303 and 310. The story begins in the rib vault over the entrance with Sebastian baptising the new Christians. It continues with Sebastian’s visit to Marco and Marcellino, in which the saint exhorts his imprisoned companions, accompanied by their relatives who are in tears; in the same rib vault we can see Sebastian before Diocletian who condemns him to death. The rib vault in front of the entrance is the most important, portraying one chapter of this story: the martyrdom of Sebastian pierced by arrows. In the next rib vault, Sebastian, who has survived the archers, no longer has the clothes of a noble knight and is again condemned to death, this time by flogging; the divine presence is represented by the blessing hand above the saint. In the last scene, situated inside scenographic architecture, soldiers are throwing Sebastian’s body into the Cloaca Maxima (above), but Saint Lucina recovers it (below) to give him a respectable burial in the catacombs.
The substantial decorative displays framing the scenes, the precise custom data describing the clothing accessories, weapons, architecture, but above all the inscriptions are particularly interesting. As in cartoons, the scrolls show the words of the protagonists who express themselves in the Italianate language of the time, showing evident references to the world of sacred portrayals.
Cappella di Santo Stefano
The chapel, immersed in greenery, is situated along the road that goes up to the Hermitage in the Parco Francotto area. The Roman defensive castrum, on which the medieval castle was then built, was not far away: at that time the walls of the fortification reached our little church.
The chapel was frescoed by the Biazaci brothers around 1490. The triumphal arch, bordered by an elegant twisted band is divided into three sections: Christ is painted in the sepulchre between Mary and Saint John in the centre; the two protagonists of the Annunciation, the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary on either side.
The apsidal conch is also divided into several panels: above is Christ Pantocrator in a multi-coloured frame (called “almond”); next to him, the symbols of the Evangelist, accompanied by fluttering ribbons bearing their name and initial verse of the Gospel. In the lower part we can see the Madonna enthroned with Baby Jesus in the centre and on the sides, the stories of the saint to whom the church is dedicated, the first Christian martyr: Saint Stephen, healing a sick child, Saint Stephen discussing with the Jews, the stoning of the saint, the burial. The characterisation of the personages is particularly interesting: commoners, lawmen or evildoers wear characteristic clothes, fashionable hats, refined accessories. Among them a hurdy-gurdy stands out, a traditional instrument of the Occitan valleys: it is one of the first pictorial representations we know.
If the phrases on the scrolls in the chapel of Saint Sebastian are in an Italianate dialogue, here they are all in Latin, except for the prayer of the saint struck with stones: the words taken from the spoken language were certainly clearer and mainly involved the faithful. They refer, not by chance, to the words pronounced by Christ on the cross.
Throughout the centuries, the chapel was the object of great devotion, as evidenced by numerous graffiti on the frescoes, especially on the scenes of the martyrdom and the burial.
Cappella della Madonna del campanile
In the document dated 20 May 1281 – which approves the submission of Busca to Marquis Tommaso I di Saluzzo – this church, then already called Madonna del Ciocchero (being the bell tower), was mentioned. Destroyed in 1691, it was rebuilt in Baroque style on the ancient ruins and still preserves fragments of the Biazaci frescoes, dating back to eighties of the fifteenth century.
On the left side of the church there is a panel depicting St. John the Baptist (of which only the legs remain), the Piety between Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, and Saint Anthony the Abbot. Despite it being restored in 1983, the work still remains difficult to read, but the beautiful face of the Madonna, the details of the clothing and features of the saints, like the nice pig at the feet of St. Anthony can still be admired.
Chiesa di San Martino
The church of San Martino is situated on the hill north of the town, near the Roman road that connected Cavour (ancient Caburrum) to the Gauls, passing through Pedona (today, Borgo San Dalmazzo). The beautiful façade and left side have a masonry wall made of bricks and river pebbles and show the many transformations the building has withstood.
The Biazaci frescoes are in the central apse, at the sides of a small single-lancet window, which the light filters through. On the left are the Saviour, St. Francis, St. Fiorenzo, St. Martin the Bishop; on the right the Madonna enthroned with Baby Jesus, Saint Joseph and Saint Bernard. Until 1928, the frescoes were covered by light plaster that was removed in 1962; shortly after, radical repainting was carried out, integrating the figures and backgrounds rather liberally, completely changing the aspect and making studies difficult. Despite this, scholars believe that the original frescoes were created by the Biazaci brothers in the eighties of the fifteenth century.
Direction: Paolo Ansaldi
Post-Production: VDEA Produzioni
Translations: Europa 92
Copywriter and research: Laura Marino
Municipality of Busca
the Marsengo family
the Galliano family
Silvana Giletta and Federica Fino