Scala Family Tombs
In 1259 Mastino della Scala was elected
Capitano del Popolo (sort of commander in chief) of Verona. The
decision was taken by the council (sort of local parliament) to
face a moment of difficulty in which the feuds between families
were devastating the city. Mastino did a great job bringing back
peace and stability, but didn't quit at the end of the mandate. It
was the beginning of the brief but intense Signoria
Scaligera (Scala family rule),
one of the first in medieval Italy, which for a century, with ups
and downs, ruled the fate of the city.
In Piazza dei Signori, the center of Verona's political power since the 13th century, the della Scala family built their residence. Next to the palace, Santa Maria Antica became the private chapel of the lords of Verona and the courtyard of the small Romanesque church became their private cemetery. The first simple and austere red stone sarcophagi were followed by large and imposing mausoleums, the Arche Scaligere (literally 'Scala family arks'), among the most shining examples of Gothic architecture and sculpture in Italy. Between the first monumental tomb, that of Cangrande, and the last, Cansignorio's one, there are about fifty years in which architects and sculptors, both Veronese and Lombard, worked to the completion of these masterpieces.
The first ark to be built was the one of Cangrande della Scala.
The sarcophagus and the monument were placed inside the wall of
the church whose main entrance was moved from the facade to the
side of the building. Entering the church you have to pass under
the ark of Cangrande paying homage to him. The sarcophagus is
supported by sculptures of dogs holding the family coat
of arms, the shield with the ladder
("Scala" in Italian).
On the sides of the stone sarcophagus there are bas-relief representing the Annunciation and the victorious battles of the leader of Verona. On the lid there is the representation of Cangrande on his deathbed. On the top of the pyramid shaped stone canopy above the sarcophagus stands the equestrian statue of the Scala lord, the unsheathed sword, the helmet resting on his shoulders and a wide smile on his face while he looks down to the citizens of Verona (and today to many tourists as well). To protect the statue from the elements, the equestrian statue was replaced a few years ago by a replica. The original is now in the Museum of Castelvecchio.
Cangrande is certainly the most famous of the lords of della Scala. He was a valiant and daring leader who brought peace and prosperity to Verona, considerably expanding the possessions of the city. Under his rule Dante and Giotto stayed in Verona, which at the time was one of the most prestigious capitals in northern Italy. In 2014 the sarcophagus of Cangrande was opened revealing the mummified body inside. The autopsy, conducted almost seven hundred years after his death, has allowed us to discover that the mysterious death occurred by poisoning, thus giving rise to a mysterious case of murder still to be solved. Inside the sarcophagus was found the sword of Cangrande, now on display at the Museum of Castelvecchio. The pattern on the precious brocade that wrapped the body allowed to trace the path of the Silk Roads that connected the Far East with Italy, bringing into Europe spices and silk.
The second ark is that of Mastino II. One of the fiercest of the
Scaligeri, it can also be understood by the arrogant and
contemptuous posture of his equestrian statue with the
knight holding his lance completely closed in the armor and
concealed by the helmet, as if he is ready to fight against
anything and anybody. With his despotic ways, the rule of the
Scala family was progressively transformed into tyranny.
Many believe that it was he who had his cousin Cangrande poisoned
to succeed him to the power of Verona.
The square mausoleum of Mastino was built on a corner of the courtyard of the church of Santa Maria Antica, the work of Veronese craftsmen of the school of scultptors Rigino d'Enrico and Giovanni di Rigino. Similar to the ark of Cangrande, on the sarcophagus is placed the effigy of the lord on his deathbed while at the top of the cusp stands the equestrian statue, also in this case a replica, while the original is located inside a tower of Castelvecchio.
Giovanni della Scala
Of lesser impact than the others but still particularly refined in the sculptural decoration is the ark of Giovanni della Scala. Missing the large stone canopy that characterizes the mausoleums of Cangrande, Mastino II and Cansignorio, it can be seen just inside the iron fence that surrounds the Scala family cemetery, only in Summer it can be seen up close, when it is possible to access the inside of the monumental cemetery.
Cansignorio is last of the great Scaligeri lords. After having
killed one brother and imprisoned the other, remained alone to
rule over Verona, dedicating himself to the embellishment of the
city. He build the fountain of Madonna
Verona and the Tower of Gardello, but disregarded the
politics of Verona already in decline, that ended up with the loss
of independence soon after Cansignorio's death. At the end of XIV
century Verona was in fact conquered by the Visconti family who,
because of the marriage of Beatrice della Scala, daughter of
Mastino II, and Bernabò Visconti, lord of Milan, claimed rights of
succession over the city.
The ark of Cansignorio (in the picture), with its polygonal plan, is the most elaborate and sumptuous mausoleum within the small Scala family cemetery. The same craftsman from Campione that in those years were working at the construction of the Duomo of Milan contributed to the creation of this mausoleum that reminds, albeit to a much lesser extent, to the most important Gothic cathedral in Italy.
Scala family tombs, being one of the most important monument in
Verona are included in every guided tour of the city.
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