The wooden choir of the ancient Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption on the Priamar was commissioned by the Massari of the church the 30th of January, 1500 to two master carvers Anselmo de’ Fornari from Castelnuovo Scrivia (1470 – Genoa until 1521) and Elia de’ Rocchi from Pavia (? – in Genoa until 1523).
Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere, future Pope Julius II, and bishop of Savona at that time (he held the Diocese from April 1499 to January 1502 and again from August 1503, to the subsequent October, when he was elected Pope), was present at the commissioning.
It is likely that the real promoter of the project was indeed Della Rovere, who financed the project for the same amount of money provided by the Municipality of Savona, for a total expenditure of 1,132 golden ducats.
The historic moment was particularly favourable to the city of Savona.
He could therefore proceed with particular ambition in his role of artistic patron of the city and in particular of the Cathedral on Priamar, the decorations and interior furnishings of which were completed in those years.
With the construction of the wooden choir, Della Rovere faces the most challenging, time consuming and expensive work for the improvement of St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral.
By contract, the work should have ended within four years, but the pope died in 1513, without being able to see it completed.
The act for the commission of the work established that the choir of Savona included 38 stalls, 19 on each one of the two sides and it reproduced in the choice of wood, size, workmanship and aesthetics, that one of the Certosa of Pavia, including the inlaid figures in the reredos with their iconographic attributes.
The Savona choir is a double order (for canons and for chaplains), while the one of Pavia is a single order (for Carthusian monks) but the similarities planed in the document that commissioned the work have been, in principle, respected.
The original configuration of Savona artefact is now lost due to the cathedral on Priamar being demolished in 1543.
Here it was adapted to the semi-circular apse, reversed compared to the previous configuration and assumed the new inverted U-shape that has remained unaltered.
In the new adaptation, two stalls have been sacrificed: the first order now has 37 stalls instead of 38, the second 21 instead of 22.
In the centre there is a larger and higher stall, perhaps the old bishop’s chair, the back of which is decorated with a marquetry with the Redeemer.
On both of its sides, branch off the two wings, 18 stalls each. The reredos of the stalls reproduce, according to a symmetrical correspondence left-right, the Madonna with Sixtus IV (right) and the Madonna and Julius II (left), then the apostles, Evangelists, Martyrs Saints, Doctors of the Church, monks Saints and Saints Martyrs.
Even the lectern, with the underlying counter with small doors, is part of the original complex of the choir, while the bishop’s throne was certainly built in the early seventeenth century, when the choir was placed in the new cathedral of Holy Mary Assumed, using as a back, an existing reredos with Mary Magdalene.
The presence of Anselmo de Fornari signature, in two inlay works at end of the choir, allows thinking that he was the main author of the artwork.
At that time, the master had to be a little more than twenty-five years old.
He was obviously joined by other employees.
AA.VV., cura di Giovanna Rotondi Terminiello, “UN’ISOLA DI DEVOZIONE A SAVONA, il complesso monumentale della cattedrale dell’Assunta”, Marco Sabatelli Editore, Savona, 2002.