CUNEO, The Civic Museum
The monumental complex of San Francesco
Cuneo's civic museum is housed within the monumental complex of San Francesco, which is undoubtedly the most important medieval building in town. This neighbourhood was one of the oldest in the city and housed a church dedicated to the saint from Assisi as early as the end of the 13th century. A larger church with a cloister was built in the 14th century and then it was further enlarged in the following century. Noble families, guilds and the municipality itself had their altar inside this building and so took great care to decorate it and look after it. Many illustrious representatives of the town were buried here, and their tombstones line the floor of the church. Not only religious ceremonies were held here, but also political agreements and public meetings. After Napoleon's suppression of the religious orders in 1802, this church was closed for worship and completely stripped of all its assets. After a series of events, the church passed into the hands of Cuneo’s municipality, which in the 1980s decided to set up a Civic Museum inside it. Today the church space is used for important exhibitions, concerts and cultural events.
Church and cloister
The church façade is characterised by an imposing carved-stone portal, which according to the Gothic inscription dates back to 1481. The interior of the building is divided into three naves by mighty pillars that were once frescoed. Along the left aisle, a part of the archaeological excavation was left exposed and it can now be looked at through a glass walkway. Here the remains of the older church and the junction of the present one are clearly visible. The vaults of the naves show what remains of the 15th-century decoration. There are geometric elements, but also particularly beloved saints, Doctors of the Church and Stories of the Passion. Many of these campaigns are due to the Pocapaglia workshop, which worked here for almost the entire century: several masters alternated on the scaffolding, including Antonio and Pietro, known as "from Saluzzo". Along the right aisle we can observe the modern remodelling of the church: the so-called "baroque addition" led to the opening of chapels with stucco decorations, trompe l'oeil architecture and richly painted canvases. The oldest frescoes, however, were located along the perimeter of the 14th-century cloister and were discovered in the 1980s, during the first restoration work on the complex. There is a fine painting of St. Christopher, which is partially concealed by a wall, but the best known image is certainly the Madonna and Child with Saints Francis and Elizabeth and donors, now on display in the entrance to the collections. The present cloister dates back to the 17th century and features frescoed lunettes with stories of the saint to whom the church is dedicated.
The archaeological tour starts with the prehistory room, dedicated to Livio Mano. New technological tools allow you to interact and delve deeper into the themes dealt with. The finds are displayed in chronological order, starting from the Palaeolithic period. A large showcase is dedicated to the findings of Ursus spaeleus or "cave bear", an inhabitant of many caves in our mountains and which went extinct during the last ice age. In particular, there is a skull of a specimen found in the Bandito caves in Roaschia. This finding was dated between 80,000 and 40,000 years ago. The visit shows numerous Neolithic artefacts from the Aisone cave shelters in the Stura valley, where some human groups set up a seasonal settlement. There are vases, fragments of millstones and stone tools for processing skins. From the Bronze Age there are weapons such as the sword from Borgo San Dalmazzo and a cinerary urn containing the remains of a child, while the set of armillas and fibulae coming from Pontechianale belong to the Iron Age. Some 20th-century casts of rock engravings from the Mount Bego are also displayed in the room. These include the "Tribe chief", one of the best known prehistoric depictions, the original of which is on display at the Museum of Marvels in Tende, France.
The section dedicated to the Roman period displays finds from three different archaeological sites, which emerged along the Asti - Cuneo motorway. Of particular interest is a natural resurgence found in the territory of the hamlet of Castelletto Stura and which must have been considered sacred already in pre-Roman times. Water, being the source of life, is linked to human fertility, as well as the fertility of fields and livestock. The evidence of the presence of devotees includes about 200 terracotta oil lamps, more than 170 coins, and the remains of sacrifices or ritual meals consumed at this resurgence. The necropolises of Montanera and Cascina Bombonina, on the other hand, have yielded numerous cremation tombs datable between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. Many of them contain personal objects of the deceased and grave goods. These include not only ceramic pottery and glass balsam jars, but also silver jewellery, cosmetic and toiletries such as mirrors, make-up panels and eyebrow tweezers.
The Longobard age
A few years ago Cuneo’s Civic Museum was enriched with a very important section dedicated to the Longobards. The hall on the first floor houses a selection of finds from the large necropolis discovered in the hamlet of Ceriolo di Sant'Albano Stura in 2009. The necropolis is of exceptional importance in Italy in terms of its size and the number of tombs investigated: 842. The necropolis was located on a terrace of the river Stura and it has graves neatly arranged in long parallel rows with a north-south orientation. The acidity of the soil led to the disappearance of the skeletons, but numerous grave goods have been preserved thus documenting the use of the cemetery between the 7th and 8th centuries AD. The objects that have come down to us, are able to tell us about a people who loved beauty and had a great knowledge of metalworking techniques. The refined belt trimmings in agemino iron, weapons and splendid jewellery displayed here will certainly capture your attention for both their modern and elegant features. In addition to this exhibits, there are also three-dimensional reproductions, as well as explanatory panels and videos that allow visitors to fully understand every aspect of this necropolis.
Ethnography and sacred art
Continuing their visit along on the first floor, visitors get into the more recent history of the town and its territory. The sacred art section houses several 16th-century panels attributed to Defendente Ferrari and his workshop coming from dismembered polyptychs. The small room displaying numerous ex-votos and the wooden sculpture of the Madonna and Child, dating back to the 15th century, is very impressive; these works come from the Sanctuary of Madonna degli Angeli and represent a small space of devotion. One of the most popular places for visitors is the long corridor that houses trousseaus, sculptures, a large puppet theatre and a wide collection of historical signs, evoking the town of the past. The ethnographic section was strongly desired by Euclide Milano, the founder and first director of this Civic Museum. Much space is devoted to tools for working in fields, but also to popular festivals. Here tools, looms, musical instruments and carved furniture mingle with the multicoloured paintings commissioned from Giulio Boetto in 1936 to narrate the world of popular traditions. Alongside all this, there is what might be considered the museum's most famous painting: Funerali a Casteldelfino (Funerals in Casteldelfino) by Matteo Olivero from Saluzzo. In the 1930s Euclide Milano also bought dozens of Lenci dolls, which he then got dressed up in the traditional costumes of the valleys by the skilful hands of our mountain seamstresses. This collection is still one of the museum's most admired and valuable ones. A final section houses the elegant clothes that once belonged to Giò Abrate, an internationally appreciated model: clothes, fabrics, handbags, shoes and accessories tell us about Giò's refined taste, alongside with creations from the most important fashion houses of the time.
Direction: Paolo Ansaldi
Post-Production: VDEA Produzioni
Translation: Europa 92
Copywrite and research: Laura Marino
Rotary Club Cuneo 1925
Ornella Calandri, Michela Ferrero