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The Rendenas Jewel: San Stefano

ominating the Rendena Valley is the lovely village of Carisolo where history, legend and art all combine to enhance its significance. Dominating Carisolo on a high granite promontory is the historic cemetery church of San Stefano erected in 1100 extended and decorated in the following centuries.. It stands as the gateway to the Val di Genova and the Natural Park of the Adamello Brenta. Once possibly a prehistoric fortress, records refer to it as early as 1214. No less than the great Charlemagne is said to have stopped and passed its very location. The legend narrates how he saw the church isolated on a rock, went to it and left a document regarding his exploits. This episode is part of the cultural and the oral tradition of the Rendena people but is in evidence in the magnificent fresco in the church along with its expressive legend underneath the images confirming this history or reinforcing the legend. San Stefano is a magnificent art treasure; the jewel of the entire valley. Its ancient interior and exterior walls are bedecked with contributions of a variety of artists, but in particular, its walls were the canvases of the Baschenis, a 200-year dynasty of iterant painters, who left their work throughout the Trentino. The Baschenis were able to establish themselves as the painters of the labors and sufferings of the people of mountain farmer. San Stefano has a magnificent display of their frescoes both in the interior and on the exterior walls.

Charlemagne The large fresco which can be seen on the inside northeast faade tells of the legendary expedition of Charlemagne through Val Camonica, Val di Sole and Val Rendena. The landscape of these valleys forms a background to the scene in which the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, surrounded by his retinue attends the baptism of a catechumen. This baptism is administered by the Pope in the presbytery of a chapel. In this fresco, Simone II Baschenis, recounts a Medieval legend in Renaissance style. Thanks to the bright colors and lush decorations of the garments, the painter conserves the legendary dimension of the story. Under the fresco there is a long inscription in the vernacular, explaining the painting. The text known today as The Privilege of St Stephens in R e n d e n a recounts the story of the passing of Charlemagne in the area. 22

The Dance of Death The splendid fresco of the Dance of Death can be found on the external south-west faade. It is a late Medieval iconographical theme which shows humans and skeletons dancing together.The skeletons are a personification of death, whereas the humans are usually dressed in the representative clothes of the various social categories of the time, from the most powerful like the Pope and Emperor, prelates, princes and noblemen, to the most humble, like the middle classes and peasants. The fresco was painted in 1519 by Simone II Baschenis, one of the most talented 16th century artists, who belonged to the famous dynasty of Bergamo painters, the Baschenis family. This work communicates the inevitability and impartiality of death which strikes everyone without distinction, churchmen and laymen, rich and poor, young and old. The images evoke fear in observers and seem to exhort them to think in time about saving their souls.The inside of the church has a series of fascinating 16th century frescoes of great beauty.

The Last Supper The upper internal south-west faade of the church is covered with a fresco depicting the Last Supper. This famous scene is frescoed with spontaneity and immediacy despite the rudimentary prospective, typical of the Baschenis. The twelve apostles are looking towards the viewer and are seated with Jesus at a Renaissance table, covered with a white cloth. The table is lavishly set with an abundance of earthenware and food. The lamb, the symbol of Christs sacrifice, is served on an imposing gilded dish. The plates are filled with fish and on the tablecloth there is abundant bread with bottles of wine and different types of glassware. The many red prawns spread over the table give the banquet a note of color and are a constant in the Last Suppers painted in the church found in the Alps. The artists painted the shellfish to create a direct contact with the people. In fact in the past the prawn abounded in the Trentino rivers and was an integral part of the diet at that time. This animal also lends itself to a symbolic reading. It can thus be seen as a reference to resurrection and the human soul, which returns to life after death. The color of the prawn, which turns from grey to red after cooking, also alludes to the Passion. The church is now used for special celebrations such as art exhibits and concerts. 23