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S. Maria Assunta in Otricoli:
Works of Art
(as noticed by two visitors from different centuries)

[image ALT: missingALT in the church of S. Maria Assunta in Otricoli, Umbria (central Italy).]

The main altar: the front is a slice of porphyry cut from what must have been a very large and tremendously expensive ancient Roman column.

[image ALT: missingALT. It is a painting of the martyrdom of SS. Victor and Corona in the church of S. Maria Assunta in Otricoli, Umbria (central Italy).]
[image ALT: missingALT. It is a chapel in the church of S. Maria Assunta in Otricoli, Umbria (central Italy).]

Left: the story of the arrest and martyrdom of SS. Victor and Corona. The Martyrologium Romanum makes him a 3c soldier who refused to swear to the pagan gods; the ancient stories vary widely as to his nationality and place of execution, and for my money they may never have existed: their names suggest the generic victor and crown of martyrdom. At any rate, the ten smaller vignettes, thoughtfully numbered I to X clockwise from the upper left, recount various tortures and attempts at execution: the pattern is classic, and classically concludes with his decapitation. Of note is vignette X: St. Corona, a young girl of sixteen who witnessed his martyrdom, comforted and exhorted him to hold fast; she herself was strapped to palm trees which were then released to tear her apart (detail).

Right: St. Fulgentius, the 6c bishop of Otricoli who found St. Victor's remains: after he was tortured by Totila, he somehow gained that chieftain's admiration, and lived. The inclusion of those two churches in the background of the painting is very likely designed to help identify him; one of them must be the church of S. Vittore at Poggio di Otricoli that I haven't yet seen.

Victor and Fulgentius would become co‑patrons of Otricoli.

[image ALT: missingALT. It is a processional standard in the church of S. Maria Assunta at Otricoli, Umbria (central Italy).]

The 17c gonfalon you see here, an oil-painted cloth standard carried in processions, represents the Scourging of Christ; it's somewhat peculiarly captioned Ego in flagella paratus sum (see detail photograph): "I have been prepared for the scourges", a slight adaptation of Psalm 37.17(18) — when it's clear that he has already been struck at least once.

[image ALT: missingALT in the church of S. Maria Assunta in Otricoli, Umbria (central Italy).]

The inscription on the ribbon under the cross reads Stazione X Gesv spoliato delle sue vesti — "Station X, Jesus stripped of his clothing" — and thus has nothing to do with the underlying painting: at some point the Stations of the Cross were added to the walls of the church, by overpainting whatever was in the way. The fresco itself (17c) must surely represent St. Fulgentius again, giving alms in a city far grander than Otricoli; maybe Rome, only 59 km due south.

[image ALT: missingALT. They are high-medieval remains in the church of S. Maria Assunta in Otricoli, Umbria (central Italy).]

Fragments of high-medieval carving, possibly from the first church on this site; now set up over the door down into the crypt, I suspect they were once part of a cantoria — a stone enclosure common in the best early churches, like those in at nearby Lugnano in Teverina (21 km NW of Otricoli) and S. Maria in Cosmedin in Rome.

This, along with my page on the crypt, would seem to present a fairly representative tour of the church; and so it does. Yet such is the wealth of art in this part of the world that another visitor, looking at the very same building, reports an equally representative sample of art: and the two descriptions have barely the crypt in common. What would Mariano Guardabassi, the 19c Umbrian art historian, have felt I missed? See his version of S. Maria in Otricoli: Indice-Guida . . . dell' Umbria, pp160‑161 — with one more photograph of my own.

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Page updated: 15 Oct 17