Tug-of-war over baroque church of San Luca in Genoa as baroque gem falls into ruin

The Spinola family has created a Foundation and is looking for sponsors; the State would like to get possession of the sadly-neglected building


Set in the narrow streets of the Spinola and Grimaldi districts, in the very heart of the old town, stands the little church of San Luca, a jewel of Genoese Baroque. The building fronts its own square, now the haunt of itinerant traders, choked with street stalls, rubble and debris. The façade is virtually hidden by scaffolding. Commissioned in its original form by Oberto Spinola in 1188, San Luca was raised to the dignity of a collegiate church by Innocent VIII, in 1485, and later entrusted in perpetuity to the care of the Spinola and Grimaldi families and licensed for their private use by Pope Sixtus V, in 1589. In the early seventeenth century, the two families undertook a radical remodelling of the building, probably using the services of the Lombard architect Carlo Mutone, whose façade was designed to create a theatrical effect embracing the whole square with its surrounding palazzi. Inside is a fine fresco cycle of the life of St Luke by Domenico Piola, painted around 1695 with the help of Antonio Haffner; a wooden sculpture of “The Deposition”, carved by Filippo Parodi and painted by Domenico Piola; a baroque altar; seventeenth-century wooden choir stalls; and a nativity scene by Grechetto, currently in the safekeeping of the Soprintendenza. Having suffered total neglect, all are in an advanced state of decay.

Controversy has now arisen between the private owners, who still exercise legal control, and the State and Church authorities, who are accusing Oberto Spinola’s heirs of gross neglect. The owners’ defence is that they currently lack funds to undertake urgently needed restoration of the slate roof of the dome, the windows, façade and frescoes, but that they have set up a Spinola Foundation and are looking for sponsors. Powerless to intervene, Soprintendente Giovanna Rotondi Terminiello replies: “In the meantime, at least let the Soprintendenza act to safeguard our cultural heritage. It is shameful that one of Genoa’s ancient buildings should be a danger to public safety, and it is high time the city authorities exercised their responsibility and cleared the square of unlicensed street traders”.

If the family were prepared to hand over the building, following a precedent set by the Pallavicini with San Torpete del Cattaneo and San Pancrazio, the Soprintendente would like to see it restored at public expense and linked by a twenty-metre tunnel to the nearby Galleria Nazionale, which is housed in Pelliceria’s recently-restored Palazzo Spinola. This would create a complete museum complex, with a lecture hall, bookshop and meeting rooms located in the former quarters of the parish priest. The church itself would be used for concerts of classical and sacred music and organ recitals. The result: a cultural centre in a quite unique location, and the recovery of a vital part of Genoa’s heritage.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Tug-of-war over baroque church of San Luca'