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Oratorio di Santo Stefano

Piazza San Vito, Lentate sul Seveso

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History and Architecture

At the behest of Stefano Porro, official and diplomat at the court of the Visconti, the oratory of Santo Stefano was built in 1369, facing onto the square of the village of Lentate. This private chapel is an independent ceremonial space, whose individual elements, unified in an iconographic continuity, trigger a chain of transverse relations that make it immediately clear in whose honour and at whose bidding the building was erected. Count Porro, conscious of the great potential of visual art as a vehicle for communication of the messages he wished to convey and, at the same time, fully abreast of the dominant taste in the Lombardy of the Visconti, commissioned a workshop to carry out a decoration that would extol him and his family, establishing a privileged relationship between himself, as a lay and yet devout man, and God. The ancient sin linked to the murder of Saint Peter Martyr, perpetrated by some members of his family, led him to conceive a plan of decoration that emphasized the eschatological vision, and with it, the ineluctability of the Last Judgement. At the same time it stressed the power of intercession with God exercised by Christ and the Virgin Mary, along with a considerable number of saints linked in various ways to the patron and his relatives, with the aim of attaining a quantitatively sound relationship with the after world. The main difficulty in the interpretation of the cycle of paintings lies in trying to give a coherent reading of the different episodes, without going beyond the intentions of the man who commissioned them. The area used for worship consists of two rooms, one square and the other rectangular, located along the same longitudinal axis. The two side walls and part of the counter-façade are frescoed with scenes from the legend of St Stephen the Protomartyr. However, the forty-third episode in the series is depicted on the triumphal arch, underneath the Last Judgement. An indication that, along with others, suggests that the entire decoration of the interiors was executed in a single campaign, probably over an interval of time between 1368 and 1369. Inside the oratory, the area of the presbytery has always been the most controversial, both from the viewpoint of attribution, for those who have chosen to see Anovelo da Imbonate at work in the vaulting cells, assisted by a minor painter but still one of good quality, and from that of the iconography, owing to the heterogeneity of the subjects represented here. The four cells into which the space of the vault is divided are occupied by splendid high-backed chairs on which are seated, side by side, the Virgin Mary and Christ, the Evangelists and two of the Fathers of the Church. A large Crucifixion takes up the whole of the east wall and is the first thing to attract the visitor’s attention. On the north wall, instead, is set the tomb of Stefano Porro, a perfect blend of sculpted and painted features, as well as self-celebratory and devotional elements. On the opposite wall is located the famous depiction of the Donation of the Oratory to Saint Stephen by the Porro Family. The painter of this scene also paid great attention to the definition of precious details and the style, characterized by a subtle but refined emphasis on line, is ideally suited to this family picture, in which the profiles of the different members, all kneeling, stand out against the background, as does the model of the church, which is shown as it appeared at the time of its construction, with spires and a pyramidal crown to the bell tower. The proximity of the portrait of the count to that of St Stephen, on the wall opposite the sarcophagus, establishes an indivisible connection between them, so that it will not be possible to forget the piety of the client who chose to dedicate such a monument to God. And, in the face of this piety, it is hoped that the prayers of his family will be renewed in order to shorten his torments in the world to come. We have no knowledge of the actual extent and sincerity of Stefano Porro’s devotion, but it seems to be undermined by the proud and haughty gaze that Stefano appears to turn on his patron saint, as if to define a mutual exchange of “favours” between this world and the next.

Hours of opening to the public

The oratory is open to visits and guided tours can be arranged with the Associazione Amici dell’Arte. The opening of the monument is managed by the Associazione Nazionale Carabinieri in Congedo. From November to March: every Sunday from 2:30 to 4:30 pm. From April to October: every Sunday from 3 to 6 pm. Closed: month of August and Easter Sunday.

Entrance fees

Full: individuals – €. 3.00 Reduced: groups (minimum 15 – maximum 30 people) – €. 2.00 per person Free: residents of Lentate sul Seveso – under 18s Booking required for groups (minimum 15 maximum 30 people).