San Giacomo was built on the lake shore near to a convenient landing place to the north of the centre of Gargnano: here the road “Regia” coming from Salò becomes a dirt track going towards Muslone and Tignale and the church, with its portico on the southern side, must have offered shelter for pilgrims and travellers.
Traditionally, San Giacomo is considered one of the most ancient churches of the Garda territory, but its first citation goes back to 1194 and there aren’t traces of structures prior to the Romanesque age.
In 1194 the ecclesia Calini is the place where the monastery of Santa Giulia collected the canons of some olives in the area: the choice of the place of consignment, not the harbour as at Villa or Lovere of Gargnano, but in the church suggests a relationship between the church and the Brescian monastery.
The church presents three principal phases of construction: the nave and the southern portico are the earliest nucleus: in the XIVth century the portico was enlarged and joined to the northern perimeter wall; afterwards at the end of the XVIth century, a new presbytery was built, that substituted the Romanesque semicircular apse, and the façade was transformed with the enlargement of the entrance and the opening of two square windows.
The nave of San Giacomo, constructed in a single moment, presents however the use of differing techniques in the selection, in the cutting and in the finishing of the stonework, according to modalities well documented in the Romanesque age. The well laid masonry with blocks of red and pink stone recall that of Sant’Andrea of Maderno; photos from the beginning of the XXth century show the presence of two rows of scaffolding holes left on view; also the southern perimeter wall, visible from the lake,which constituted a privileged viewpoint: it is not surprising then that the walling was in precisely squared blocks, in which opened single windows made with great care in the sharp cutting of the sides and a large quadrangular door with massive and very regular monolithic jambs and lintel.
In the interior the walls, destined to be covered by plaster, present in the northern side, a wall constructed with regular unsmoothed blocks.
The pictorial decoration – that can be placed to the mid-XIIth century – was completed by successive interventions that continued from the end of the century to the XIVth century. Having lost the apsidal murals, it is the portico that conserves the earliest fragments: the San Cristoforo is the oldest, dated probably to mid-XIIIth century, comparable to examples in the Verona area with a strongly accentuated Byzantinism. The painting is of undoubted quality and, notwithstading its degraded condition, one can still see its secure spatial orientation (evident in the hand of the Child), and the volition to create a picture of strong devotional impact: the monumental cornice with city towers and the complement of lining and metal foil, of which are conserved traces on the staff of San Cristoforo, must have given to those who approached the church particularly from the lake, a sensation almost of a numinous presence. Slightly later (end of the XIIIth-beginning of the XIVth century) would have been the San Giacomo, on the north wall of the nave: there has remained small fragments of what must have been a votive painting that recalls the clean and the insistently graphic art of the Romanesque decoration of the apse of the baptismal church of Manerba or the earliest mural of the bell tower of San Francesco at Gargnano.
Of Veronese influence are the Tre Santi (Antonio Abate, Giacomo and an evangelist) painted in the external portico, around about the mid-XIVth century by a master painter who frequented the atelier of Da Riva, extremely active in the Garda territory in the second half of the XIVth century.
Innovative and, as with the San Cristoforo in the portico, and of a great cultural advancement, is the intervention in 1360-1370 that realized the cultual painting for the external altar of the church, now incorporated within the church: the Crocifissione, painted on plaster, presents a singular mixture between the late Giottism of the Veneto of Guarienti and techniques and practices that are typical of the Trento and Alto Adige area; also in this case there is a widespread use of metal foil, of which one can see the incisions for its application.
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Middle ages on Garda