The Tornacoro: The Semi-Circular Screen of the Duomo of Verona

Typically when you think of "choir screens," you will either think of a straight wall like feature separating the chancel from the nave, or in some instances a rectangular one. Today, I wanted to show you something a little bit different and rather more rare. It comes from the Duomo of Verona and the screen here -- called the "tornacoro" -- is semi-circular in shape.

This particular choir screen is a product of the Renaissance, designed by the Venetian architect Michele Sanmicheli (b. 1484, d. 1589) -- the same man who was designated the master builder of the stunning cathedral of Orvieto. It was built between the years 1534-1541 at the behest of Bishop Gian Matteo Giberti.  The screen is comprised of ten columns with ten candlesticks found along the top of the choir screen -- much like the balustrade found in the Sistine Chapel. Above the entrance of the screen is a great crucifix and to either side of it, Our Lady and St. John. 

Left: Our Lady   Right: St. John

The inclusion of a crucifix (not to mention Our Lady and St. John) leads to an inevitable comparison of this screen with a medieval rood screen, but as mentioned above, this screen also has similarities to a balustrade as one might see in San Marco in Venice, or in the Sistine Chapel or other churches of Rome such as S. Maria in Cosmedin. In fact, some suggest that the balustrade of Old St. Peter's may well have served as part of the inspiration for the Veronese screen. Whatever the case, the semi-circular form of this particular stricture was not typical, nor did it ever become typical (though some were made in other locations in the area, no doubt taking their inspiration from this one) and its purpose seemed to a combined mix of both providing separation of the presbytery and choir while concurrently giving an relatively open view of the altar and tabernacle -- a fucntion that was important in the counter-reformation period.

Here are some modern images of the tornacoro to give our readers a better sense of it and its relation to the altar and tabernacle:

Easily missed on it are the two angels of victory found above the entrance to the presbytery. 

To tornocoro replaced an earlier, rectangular wooden structure akin to that found in S. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice. In its present form, it aligned itself with the concerns for visibility of altar and sacrament in the counter-reformation period, while giving echoes and homage back to the prestige of antique, paleochristian forms such as those found in Old St. Peter's in Rome.

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