The area where Provesano stands was inhabited since pre-Roman times as evidenced by the remains found at the archaeological site of Gradisca by the Cosa stream. The name is of Roman origin; it consists of Probus or (Publicius) and the suffix –anu, indicating the landed property.
From the 11th century the lands of Provesano were property of the earls of Spilimbergo. In the following centuries several documents record the history of the community which for religious matters was part of S. Giorgio, and continued to be subjected to the house of Spilimbergo for civil matters. In 1871 the inhabitants of the hamlet formally asked to join the municipality of S. Giorgio della Richinvelda.
The Parish Church
The sacred building, dedicated to St. Leonard, dates back to the second half of the 15th century. It has a nave and was built on a previous church, It was restructured in 1700, when it was enlarged and took the present features in 1828, a period of great urban and structural changes in the town (fig. 13).
The Cycle of Frescos by Gianfrancesco daTolmezzo
The building preserves an important cycle of frescos that the painter Gianfrancesco dal Zotto also known as da Tolmezzo painted on the walls of the presbytery in 1496 (fig. 14).
The artist decorated the apse with his largest cycle of frescos and probably his masterpiece. On the vault he portrayed the figures of the Doctors of the Church, the Prophets, the Evangelists according to the iconography already experimented in other works, but “with more compact figures, with more credible architectures and a less noticeable use of the line” (Bergamini). But the innovation of the cycle lies in the narration of the various moments of the Passion of our Lord, which reaches its climax in the Crucifixion on the wall behind the altar, valuable in the details and persuasive in the landscape.
Besides the scenes of the Passion of our Lord on the side walls (Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Last Supper, Jesus is Arrested, and Condemned on the right; Jesus is Judged by Pilate, He is Scourged and Crowned with Thorns, He Takes up his Cross and He is Taken down from the Cross and Laid in the Tomb and the Resurrection on the left) and at the base Heaven, Hell, and the Apostles, the artist painted St. Rocco and St. Sebastian on the pillars of the triumphal arch and the half-length portraits of the Saints Ursula, Martha, Apollonia, Lucy, Agatha, Catherine from Alexandria (fig. 15), Barbara, Rose from Viterbo, Agnes, and Magdalene on the intrados.
The dramatic atmosphere which permeates the cycle (figs. 16, 17, 18), the typology of the faces, the crowding of characters, the graphic elements more complex if compared to previous works, impressed the critics even in 1800 (Cavalcaselle), who noticed a manner of painting which felt the influence of German models, identified later in the series of engravings of the
Passion of our Lord by Martin Schongauer, the great painter and engraver from Colmar. Even if he clearly follows the German model, mainly for some scenes, Gianfrancesco “tries to soften the sharp cut of the engraving with a more fluent, thicker line, with a pleasant use of the chiaroscuro and a plastic rendering of the figure. After all, beyond the iconographic model, in spite of the dramatic expressionism, the Venetian influence prevails” (Bergamini).
As with other works, the technique is simple and immediate: “the colours, mainly in subtle tones, are directly spread without shading. The picture is not only made by the colour. For Gianfrancesco this constitutes a kind of chromatic base of the drawing which completes and defines the painting. Both the bodies and the draping are at first painted and then drawn with clear and thin lines” (Bonelli).
A cycle of frescos, therefore, complex and particularly demanding, and certainly successful, which the artist was perhaps so aware of to hand down to posterity not only with date and signature, but he also added a quick self-portrait, in profile, on the apse wall.
The frescos by Gianfrancesco had a double meaning for the community of Provesano: they not only embellished the church, but also marked the return to normality after the frequent ferocious invasions of the Turks, particularly that in 1478.
Other Paintings and Sculptures
The holy-water stoup (fig. 19) - dated 1497 in an inscription on the rim with the names of the camerlengos - decorated with leaves on the basin and shapes of lions on the column, and the baptismal font (fig. 20) - signed and dated 1498 -, with bas-relief representing cherubs on the basin and the Baptism of Christ at the base, reflect both the typical art of Pilacorte.
On the triumphal arch two devotional frescos portraying the Virgin Mary with Child and Saint Rocco and an Angel can be admired (fig. 21). On the decorated frame at the bottom of the frescos the artist, Pietro da San Vito, and the date of execution, 1513 appear, with a clear reference to the escaped danger of the plague of 1511.
If compared with the frescos by Gianfrancesco da Tolmezzo, the work by Pietro da San Vito is undoubtedly inferior. Even if his figures remind the Venetian tradition, they are static, the faces are not very expressive and the scenes are out of perspective and not always effectively composed.
Among later works, noteworthy is the altar with the tabernacle in polychromatic marbles of the end of 1600, attributed to the Venetian sculptors Bettanelli who were masters in these works.
Two stone statues portraying the Saints Leonard (fig. 22) and Andrew (fig. 23) date to 1790. They were originally commissioned to an unknown Friulian sculptor for the high altar and successfully placed on the facade. Now they are placed in a niche on the right wall of the nave.
Another noteworthy work is the altar-piece with the Saints Florien, Rocco and Sebastian (fig. 24) painted by the Venetian Luigi Bello in 1846.
Two works date back to 1900: the wooden sculpture of the Virgin of Lourdes (ca. 1935) by Giuseppe Scalambrin from Fossalta di Portogruaro and the Way of the Cross (1942) by Pierino Sam.