Villa Banfi - Former convent of San Francesco
Built around the middle of the thirteenth century on the edge of what was then the town of Vimercate, the convent of San Francesco is one of the oldest minority foundations in the Milan area. Established in the fourteenth century as a very important and vital religious institution, the structure underwent numerous alterations between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries. After several interventions and architectural additions, in 1798 the convent, suppressed by the Cisalpine Republic established by Napoleon, was auctioned and purchased by the Banfi family who assigned it to residential use, a function that persists until today. In different areas of the former convent some fragmentary frescoes survive which allow to identify two successive decorative campaigns inside the church during the first half of the fourteenth century, testifying the prestige achieved by the monastery in that period. The most intact fragment, depicting the Madonna della Misericordia.
The convent complex is articulated around the cloister, renovated in the XNUMXth century and closed to the south by the church; there are also other buildings for residential use and an interesting rustic courtyard, with a boundary wall and portal towards the road that date back to the XNUMXth-XNUMXth century.
The oldest surviving of the complex is the Romanesque portal that gave access to the courtyard of the convent. On the masonry, then incorporated into the surrounding wall, there is a portal with an all-round arch, which can be seen both inside the courtyard, identified as a farmhouse courtyard, and outside. Outside the portal was surmounted by a lunette, which featured a fresco with the Blessed Virgin. In 1971, instead, a bas-relief with St. Francis was placed which still exists today.
The church, with a single nave with three altars, built at the end of the XNUMXth century, saw an initial renovation in the middle of the XNUMXth century. The building was then lengthened at the end of the seventeenth century and equipped with a new brick facade in the eighteenth century.
The church was occupied by the soldiers of the Savoy army during the Risorgimento. After the battle of Magenta (June 4, 1859), when the Franco-Piedmontese defeated the Austrians, some senior officers and Vittorio Emanuele II himself encamped in Vimercate. The current bell tower is not original, but built "in style" in the years 1907/1908, after lightning struck the original bell tower. On the walls of the internal staircase of the bell tower there are frescoes, very damaged but interesting, which can be dated around 1340.
Vimercate is a town immersed in the industrious and dynamic Brianza which, in these times of changes and transformations, has been able to preserve and enhance a historical and artistic heritage of high value, developing new cultural and tourist potential and maintaining a role of reference for the whole surrounding area.
The new hospital, the renowned civic library; the Must Museum of the Vimercatese territory; the Torri Bianche district are just a few examples of this "liveliness" that has belonged to Vimercate since ancient times. Vimercate has in fact over two thousand years of history. The oldest material evidence dates back to the Roman age, with the discovery of numerous archaeological finds. Since the Middle Ages Vimercate carried out important religious and administrative functions: important traces of the time still remain, such as the power plant Pleban Church of Santo Stefano with the mighty bell tower; Via Cavour, along which you will find prestigious historic buildings including theOratory of Sant'Antonio with its fifteenth-century frescoes and the Ponte di San Rocco, the true emblem of the city, the only Lombard example of a medieval fortified bridge.
In the vicinity of Vimercate there is also the Casino of Caccia Borromeo, with the cycle of frescoes in International Gothic style from the 2nd half of the 400th century. Among these ancient wonders of the history of Vimercate the Convent of St. Francis
In different areas of the former convent some fragmentary frescoes survive which allow to identify two successive decorative campaigns inside the church during the first half of the fourteenth century, testifying to the prestige achieved by the monastery in that period. A first decorative phase, dating back to the early fourteenth century, is documented on the north wall of the bell tower by simple ornamental pieces with tailed stars highlighted on the white plaster, similar to those that originally decorated the cathedral of Monza.
THE OUR LADY OF MERCY
A still Byzantine fresco from the fourth decade of the fourteenth century depicts the Madonna della Misericordia, while on the walls of the bell tower of the former church there are surviving parts of a large-scale fourteenth-century cycle, illustrating scenes from the life of Christ and images of devotion
THE CRUCIFIXION AND SAINTS
The fresco of the Crucifixion and Saints of 1354 is the only one present in the convent of San Francesco whose precise dating is known. On one wall of the corridor where the fresco was before it was restored, there is a marble plaque with a quote engraved from the Memoirs of Count Giorgio Giulini: “ISTUD ALTARE CUM PICTURIS QUE SUNT IN ISTO PARIETE FECIT FIERI DOMINUS GUIDOLUS PIXIT TUNC MARTEXANE PRO DOMINO MEDIOLANI MCCCLIIII. "
It is now divided into two parts: on the right the Crucifixion, with the crucifix in the center and on the sides the Virgin and St. John the Evangelist; on the left side, instead, two saints are depicted: San Giovanni dei Pellegrini and Santa Francesca Romana. The two scenes are separated by a thin polychrome spiral column. The work, a beautiful composition characterized by firm design and skilful use of color, is proof of the spread of Giotto's art throughout Lombardy in the first half of the fourteenth century.