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Art in the Valley of Saas

Having been told by Mr. Fortescue, of the British Museum, that there
were some chapels at Saas-Fee which bore analogy to those at
Varallo, described in my book "Ex Voto," {12} I went to Saas during
this last summer, and venture now to lay my conclusions before the
reader.

The chapels are fifteen in number, and lead up to a larger and
singularly graceful one, rather more than half-way between Saas and
Saas-Fee. This is commonly but wrongly called the chapel of St.
Joseph, for it is dedicated to the Virgin, and its situation is of
such extreme beauty--the great Fee glaciers showing through the open
portico--that it is in itself worth a pilgrimage. It is surrounded
by noble larches and overhung by rock; in front of the portico there
is a small open space covered with grass, and a huge larch, the stem
of which is girt by a rude stone seat. The portico itself contains
seats for worshippers, and a pulpit from which the preacher's voice
can reach the many who must stand outside. The walls of the inner
chapel are hung with votive pictures, some of them very quaint and
pleasing, and not overweighted by those qualities that are usually
dubbed by the name of artistic merit. Innumerable wooden and waxen
representations of arms, legs, eyes, ears and babies tell of the
cures that have been effected during two centuries of devotion, and
can hardly fail to awaken a kindly sympathy with the long dead and
forgotten folks who placed them where they are.

The main interest, however, despite the extreme loveliness of the
St. Mary's Chapel, centres rather in the small and outwardly
unimportant oratories (if they should be so called) that lead up to
it. These begin immediately with the ascent from the level ground
on which the village of Saas-im-Grund is placed, and contain scenes
in the history of the Redemption, represented by rude but spirited
wooden figures, each about two feet high, painted, gilt, and
rendered as life-like in all respects as circumstances would permit.
The figures have suffered a good deal from neglect, and are still
not a little misplaced. With the assistance, however, of the Rev.
E. J. Selwyn, English Chaplain at Saas-im-Grund, I have been able to
replace many of them in their original positions, as indicated by
the parts of the figures that are left rough-hewn and unpainted.
They vary a good deal in interest, and can be easily sneered at by
those who make a trade of sneering. Those, on the other hand, who
remain unsophisticated by overmuch art-culture will find them full
of character in spite of not a little rudeness of execution, and
will be surprised at coming across such works in a place so remote
from any art-centre as Saas must have been at the time these chapels
were made. It will be my business therefore to throw what light I
can upon the questions how they came to be made at all, and who was
the artist who designed them.

The only documentary evidence consists in a chronicle of the valley
of Saas written in the early years of this century by the Rev. Peter
Jos. Ruppen, and published at Sion in 1851. This work makes
frequent reference to a manuscript by the Rev. Peter Joseph Clemens
Lommatter, cure of Saas-Fee from 1738 to 1751, which has
unfortunately been lost, so that we have no means of knowing how
closely it was adhered to. The Rev. Jos. Ant. Ruppen, the present
excellent cure of Saas-im-Grund, assures me that there is no
reference to the Saas-Fee oratories in the "Actes de l'Eglise" at
Saas, which I understand go a long way back; but I have not seen
these myself. Practically, then, we have no more documentary
evidence than is to be found in the published chronicle above
referred to.

We there find it stated that the large chapel, commonly, but as
above explained, wrongly called St. Joseph's, was built in 1687, and
enlarged by subscription in 1747. These dates appear on the
building itself, and are no doubt accurate. The writer adds that
there was no actual edifice on this site before the one now existing
was built, but there was a miraculous picture of the Virgin placed
in a mural niche, before which the pious herdsmen and devout
inhabitants of the valley worshipped under the vault of heaven. {13}
A miraculous (or miracle-working) picture was always more or less
rare and important; the present site, therefore, seems to have been
long one of peculiar sanctity. Possibly the name Fee may point to
still earlier Pagan mysteries on the same site.

As regards the fifteen small chapels, the writer says they
illustrate the fifteen mysteries of the Psalter, and were built in
1709, each householder of the Saas-Fee contributing one chapel. He
adds that Heinrich Andenmatten, afterwards a brother of the Society
of Jesus, was an especial benefactor or promoter of the undertaking.
One of the chapels, the Ascension (No. 12 of the series), has the
date 1709 painted on it; but there is no date on any other chapel,
and there seems no reason why this should be taken as governing the
whole series.

Over and above this, there exists in Saas a tradition, as I was told
immediately on my arrival, by an English visitor, that the chapels
were built in consequence of a flood, but I have vainly endeavoured
to trace this story to an indigenous source.

The internal evidence of the wooden figures themselves--nothing
analogous to which, it should be remembered, can be found in the
chapel of 1687--points to a much earlier date. I have met with no
school of sculpture belonging to the early part of the eighteenth
century to which they can be plausibly assigned; and the supposition
that they are the work of some unknown local genius who was not led
up to and left no successors may be dismissed, for the work is too
scholarly to have come from any one but a trained sculptor. I refer
of course to those figures which the artist must be supposed to have
executed with his own hand, as, for example, the central figure of
the Crucifixion group and those of the Magdalene and St. John. The
greater number of the figures were probably, as was suggested to me
by Mr. Ranshaw, of Lowth, executed by a local woodcarver from models
in clay and wax furnished by the artist himself. Those who examine
the play of line in the hair, mantle, and sleeve of the Magdalene in
the Crucifixion group, and contrast it with the greater part of the
remaining draperies, will find little hesitation in concluding that
this was the case, and will ere long readily distinguish the two
hands from which the figures have mainly come. I say "mainly,"
because there is at least one other sculptor who may well have
belonged to the year 1709, but who fortunately has left us little.
Examples of his work may perhaps be seen in the nearest villain with
a big hat in the Flagellation chapel, and in two cherubs in the
Assumption of the Virgin.

We may say, then, with some certainty, that the designer was a
cultivated and practised artist. We may also not less certainly
conclude that he was of Flemish origin, for the horses in the
Journey to Calvary and Crucifixion chapels, where alone there are
any horses at all, are of Flemish breed, with no trace of the Arab
blood adopted by Gaudenzio at Varallo. The character, moreover, of
the villains is Northern--of the Quentin Matsys, Martin Schongauer
type, rather than Italian; the same sub-Rubensesque feeling which is
apparent in more than one chapel at Varallo is not less evident
here--especially in the Journey to Calvary and Crucifixion chapels.
There can hardly, therefore, be a doubt that the artist was a
Fleming who had worked for several years in Italy.

It is also evident that he had Tabachetti's work at Varallo well in
his mind. For not only does he adopt certain details of costume (I
refer particularly to the treatment of soldiers' tunics) which are
peculiar to Tabachetti at Varallo, but whenever he treats a subject
which Tabachetti had treated at Varallo, as in the Flagellation,
Crowning with Thorns, and Journey to Calvary chapels, the work at
Saas is evidently nothing but a somewhat modified abridgement of
that at Varallo. When, however, as in the Annunciation, the
Nativity, the Crucifixion, and other chapels, the work at Varallo is
by another than Tabachetti, no allusion is made to it. The Saas
artist has Tabachetti's Varallo work at his finger-ends, but betrays
no acquaintance whatever with Gaudenzio Ferrari, Gio. Ant. Paracca,
or Giovanni D'Enrico.

Even, moreover, when Tabachetti's work at Varallo is being most
obviously drawn from, as in the Journey to Calvary chapel, the Saas
version differs materially from that at Varallo, and is in some
respects an improvement on it. The idea of showing other horsemen
and followers coming up from behind, whose heads can be seen over
the crown of the interposing hill, is singularly effective as
suggesting a number of others that are unseen, nor can I conceive
that any one but the original designer would follow Tabachetti's
Varallo design with as much closeness as it has been followed here,
and yet make such a brilliantly successful modification. The
stumbling, again, of one horse (a detail almost hidden, according to
Tabachetti's wont) is a touch which Tabachetti himself might add,
but which no Saas woodcarver who was merely adapting from a
reminiscence of Tabachetti's Varallo chapel would be likely to
introduce. These considerations have convinced me that the designer
of the chapels at Saas is none other than Tabachetti himself, who,
as has been now conclusively shown, was a native of Dinant, in
Belgium.

The Saas chronicler, indeed, avers that the chapels were not built
till 1709--a statement apparently corroborated by a date now visible
on one chapel; but we must remember that the chronicler did not
write until a century or so later than 1709, and though, indeed, his
statement may have been taken from the lost earlier manuscript of
1738, we know nothing about this either one way or the other. The
writer may have gone by the still existing 1709 on the Ascension
chapel, whereas this date may in fact have referred to a
restoration, and not to an original construction. There is nothing,
as I have said, in the choice of the chapel on which the date
appears, to suggest that it was intended to govern the others. I
have explained that the work is isolated and exotic. It is by one
in whom Flemish and Italian influences are alike equally
predominant; by one who was saturated with Tabachetti's Varallo
work, and who can improve upon it, but over whom the other Varallo
sculptors have no power. The style of the work is of the sixteenth
and not of the eighteenth century--with a few obvious exceptions
that suit the year 1709 exceedingly well. Against such
considerations as these, a statement made at the beginning of this
century referring to a century earlier, and a promiscuous date upon
one chapel, can carry but little weight. I shall assume, therefore,
henceforward, that we have here groups designed in a plastic
material by Tabachetti, and reproduced in wood by the best local
wood-sculptor available, with the exception of a few figures cut by
the artist himself.

We ask, then, at what period in his life did Tabachetti design these
chapels, and what led to his coming to such an out-of-the-way place
as Saas at all? We should remember that, according both to Fassola
and Torrotti (writing in 1671 and 1686 respectively), Tabachetti
{14} became insane about the year 1586 or early in 1587, after
having just begun the Salutation chapel. I have explained in "Ex
Voto" that I do not believe this story. I have no doubt that
Tabachetti was declared to be mad, but I believe this to have been
due to an intrigue, set on foot in order to get a foreign artist out
of the way, and to secure the Massacre of the Innocents chapel, at
that precise time undertaken, for Gio. Ant. Paracca, who was an
Italian.

Or he may have been sacrificed in order to facilitate the return of
the workers in stucco whom he had superseded on the Sacro Monte. He
may have been goaded into some imprudence which was seized upon as a
pretext for shutting him up; at any rate, the fact that when in 1587
he inherited his father's property at Dinant, his trustee (he being
expressly stated to be "expatrie") was "datif," "dativus," appointed
not by himself but by the court, lends colour to the statement that
he was not his own master at the time; for in later kindred deeds,
now at Namur, he appoints his own trustee. I suppose, then, that
Tabachetti was shut up in a madhouse at Varallo for a considerable
time, during which I can find no trace of him, but that eventually
he escaped or was released.

Whether he was a fugitive, or whether he was let out from prison, he
would in either case, in all reasonable probability, turn his face
homeward. If he was escaping, he would make immediately for the
Savoy frontier, within which Saas then lay. He would cross the
Baranca above Fobello, coming down on to Ponte Grande in the Val
Anzasca. He would go up the Val Anzasca to Macugnaga, and over the
Monte Moro, which would bring him immediately to Saas. Saas,
therefore, is the nearest and most natural place for him to make
for, if he were flying from Varallo, and here I suppose him to have
halted.

It so happened that on the 9th of September, 1589, there was one of
the three great outbreaks of the Mattmark See that have from time to
time devastated the valley of Saas. {15} It is probable that the
chapels were decided upon in consequence of some grace shown by the
miraculous picture of the Virgin, which had mitigated a disaster
occurring so soon after the anniversary of her own Nativity.
Tabachetti, arriving at this juncture, may have offered to undertake
them if the Saas people would give him an asylum. Here, at any
rate, I suppose him to have stayed till some time in 1590, probably
the second half of it, his design of eventually returning home, if
he ever entertained it, being then interrupted by a summons to Crea
near Casale, where I believe him to have worked with a few brief
interruptions thenceforward for little if at all short of half a
century, or until about the year 1640. I admit, however, that the
evidence for assigning him so long a life rests solely on the
supposed identity of the figure known as "Il Vecchietto," in the
Varallo Descent from the Cross chapel, with the portrait of
Tabachetti himself in the Ecce Homo chapel, also at Varallo.

I find additional reason for thinking the chapels owe their origin
to the inundation of September 9, 1589, in the fact that the 8th of
September is made a day of pilgrimage to the Saas-Fee chapels
throughout the whole valley of Saas. It is true the 8th of
September is the festival of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, so
that under any circumstances this would be a great day, but the fact
that not only the people of Saas, but the whole valley down to Visp,
flock to this chapel on the 8th of September, points to the belief
that some special act of grace on the part of the Virgin was
vouchsafed on this day in connection with this chapel. A belief
that it was owing to the intervention of St. Mary of Fee that the
inundation was not attended with loss of life would be very likely
to lead to the foundation of a series of chapels leading up to the
place where her miraculous picture was placed, and to the more
special celebration of her Nativity in connection with this spot
throughout the valley of Saas. I have discussed the subject with
the Rev. Jos. Ant. Ruppen, and he told me he thought the fact that
the great fete of the year in connection with the Saas-Fee chapels
was on the 8th of September pointed rather strongly to the
supposition that there was a connection between these and the
recorded flood of September 9, 1589.

Turning to the individual chapels they are as follows:-

1. The Annunciation. The treatment here presents no more analogy
to that of the same subject at Varallo than is inevitable in the
nature of the subject. The Annunciation figures at Varallo have
proved to be mere draped dummies with wooden heads; Tabachetti, even
though he did the heads, which he very likely did, would take no
interest in the Varallo work with the same subject. The
Annunciation, from its very simplicity as well as from the
transcendental nature of the subject, is singularly hard to treat,
and the work here, whatever it may once have been, is now no longer
remarkable.

2. The Salutation of Mary by Elizabeth. This group, again, bears
no analogy to the Salutation chapel at Varallo, in which
Tabachetti's share was so small that it cannot be considered as in
any way his. It is not to be expected, therefore, that the Saas
chapel should follow the Varallo one. The figures, four in number,
are pleasing and well arranged. St. Joseph, St. Elizabeth, and St.
Zacharias are all talking at once. The Virgin is alone silent.

3. The Nativity is much damaged and hard to see. The treatment
bears no analogy to that adopted by Gaudenzio Ferrari at Varallo.
There is one pleasing young shepherd standing against the wall, but
some figures have no doubt (as in others of the chapels)
disappeared, and those that remain have been so shifted from their
original positions that very little idea can be formed of what the
group was like when Tabachetti left it.

4. The Purification. I can hardly say why this chapel should
remind me, as it does, of the Circumcision chapel at Varallo, for
there are more figures here than space at Varallo will allow. It
cannot be pretended that any single figure is of extraordinary
merit, but amongst them they tell their story with excellent effect.
Two, those of St. Joseph and St. Anna (?), that doubtless were once
more important factors in the drama, are now so much in corners near
the window that they can hardly be seen.

5. The Dispute in the Temple. This subject is not treated at
Varallo. Here at Saas there are only six doctors now; whether or no
there were originally more cannot be determined.

6. The Agony in the Garden. Tabachetti had no chapel with this
subject at Varallo, and there is no resemblance between the Saas
chapel and that by D'Enrico. The figures are no doubt approximately
in their original positions, but I have no confidence that I have
rearranged them correctly. They were in such confusion when I first
saw them that the Rev. E. J. Selwyn and myself determined to
rearrange them. They have doubtless been shifted more than once
since Tabachetti left them. The sleeping figures are all good. St.
James is perhaps a little prosaic. One Roman soldier who is coming
into the garden with a lantern, and motioning silence with his hand,
does duty for the others that are to follow him. I should think
more than one of these figures is actually carved in wood by
Tabachetti, allowance being made for the fact that he was working in
a material with which he was not familiar, and which no sculptor of
the highest rank has ever found congenial.

7. The Flagellation. Tabachetti has a chapel with this subject at
Varallo, and the Saas group is obviously a descent with modification
from his work there. The figure of Christ is so like the one at
Varallo that I think it must have been carved by Tabachetti himself.
The man with the hooked nose, who at Varallo is stooping to bind his
rods, is here upright: it was probably the intention to emphasise
him in the succeeding scenes as well as this, in the same way as he
has been emphasised at Varallo, but his nose got pared down in the
cutting of later scenes, and could not easily be added to. The man
binding Christ to the column at Varallo is repeated (longo
intervallo) here, and the whole work is one inspired by that at
Varallo, though no single figure except that of the Christ is
adhered to with any very great closeness. I think the nearer
malefactor, with a goitre, and wearing a large black hat, is either
an addition of the year 1709, or was done by the journeyman of the
local sculptor who carved the greater number of the figures. The
man stooping down to bind his rods can hardly be by the same hand as
either of the two black-hatted malefactors, but it is impossible to
speak with certainty. The general effect of the chapel is
excellent, if we consider the material in which it is executed, and
the rudeness of the audience to whom it addresses itself.

8. The Crowning with Thorns. Here again the inspiration is derived
from Tabachetti's Crowning with Thorns at Varallo. The Christs in
the two chapels are strikingly alike, and the general effect is that
of a residuary impression left in the mind of one who had known the
Varallo Flagellation exceedingly well.

9. Sta. Veronica. This and the next succeeding chapels are the
most important of the series. Tabachetti's Journey to Calvary at
Varallo is again the source from which the present work was taken,
but, as I have already said, it has been modified in reproduction.
Mount Calvary is still shown, as at Varallo, towards the left-hand
corner of the work, but at Saas it is more towards the middle than
at Varallo, so that horsemen and soldiers may be seen coming up
behind it--a stroke that deserves the name of genius none the less
for the manifest imperfection with which it has been carried into
execution. There are only three horses fully shown, and one partly
shown. They are all of the heavy Flemish type adopted by Tabachetti
at Varallo. The man kicking the fallen Christ and the goitred man
(with the same teeth missing), who are so conspicuous in the Varallo
Journey to Calvary, reappear here, only the kicking man has much
less nose than at Varallo, probably because (as explained) the nose
got whittled away and could not be whittled back again. I observe
that the kind of lapelled tunic which Tabachetti, and only
Tabachetti, adopts at Varallo, is adopted for the centurion in this
chapel, and indeed throughout the Saas chapels this particular form
of tunic is the most usual for a Roman soldier. The work is still a
very striking one, notwithstanding its translation into wood and the
decay into which it has been allowed to fall; nor can it fail to
impress the visitor who is familiar with this class of art as coming
from a man of extraordinary dramatic power and command over the
almost impossible art of composing many figures together effectively
in all-round sculpture. Whether all the figures are even now as
Tabachetti left them I cannot determine, but Mr. Selwyn has restored
Simon the Cyrenian to the position in which he obviously ought to
stand, and between us we have got the chapel into something more
like order.

10. The Crucifixion. This subject was treated at Varallo not by
Tabachetti but by Gaudenzio Ferrari. It confirms therefore my
opinion as to the designer of the Saas chapels to find in them no
trace of the Varallo Crucifixion, while the kind of tunic which at
Varallo is only found in chapels wherein Tabachetti worked again
appears here. The work is in a deplorable state of decay. Mr.
Selwyn has greatly improved the arrangement of the figures, but even
now they are not, I imagine, quite as Tabachetti left them. The
figure of Christ is greatly better in technical execution than that
of either of the two thieves; the folds of the drapery alone will
show this even to an unpractised eye. I do not think there can be a
doubt but that Tabachetti cut this figure himself, as also those of
the Magdalene and St. John, who stand at the foot of the cross. The
thieves are coarsely executed, with no very obvious distinction
between the penitent and the impenitent one, except that there is a
fiend painted on the ceiling over the impenitent thief. The one
horse introduced into the composition is again of the heavy Flemish
type adopted by Tabachetti at Varallo. There is great difference in
the care with which the folds on the several draperies have been
cut, some being stiff and poor enough, while others are done very
sufficiently. In spite of smallness of scale, ignoble material,
disarrangement and decay, the work is still striking.

11. The Resurrection. There being no chapel at Varallo with any of
the remaining subjects treated at Saas, the sculptor has struck out
a line for himself. The Christ in the Resurrection Chapel is a
carefully modelled figure, and if better painted might not be
ineffective. Three soldiers, one sleeping, alone remain. There
were probably other figures that have been lost. The sleeping
soldier is very pleasing.

12. The Ascension is not remarkably interesting; the Christ appears
to be, but perhaps is not, a much more modern figure than the rest.

18. The Descent of the Holy Ghost. Some of the figures along the
end wall are very good, and were, I should imagine, cut by
Tabachetti himself. Those against the two side walls are not so
well cut.

14. The Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The two large cherubs here
are obviously by a later hand, and the small ones are not good. The
figure of the Virgin herself is unexceptionable. There were
doubtless once other figures of the Apostles which have disappeared;
of these a single St. Peter (?), so hidden away in a corner near the
window that it can only be seen with difficulty, is the sole
survivor.

15. The Coronation of the Virgin is of later date, and has probably
superseded an earlier work. It can hardly be by the designer of the
other chapels of the series. Perhaps Tabachetti had to leave for
Crea before all the chapels at Saas were finished.

Lastly, we have the larger chapel dedicated to St. Mary, which
crowns the series. Here there is nothing of more than common
artistic interest, unless we except the stone altar mentioned in
Ruppen's chronicle. This is of course classical in style, and is, I
should think, very good.

Once more I must caution the reader against expecting to find
highly-finished gems of art in the chapels I have been describing.
A wooden figure not more than two feet high clogged with many coats
of paint can hardly claim to be taken very seriously, and even those
few that were cut by Tabachetti himself were not meant to have
attention concentrated on themselves alone. As mere wood-carving
the Saas-Fee chapels will not stand comparison, for example, with
the triptych of unknown authorship in the Church of St. Anne at
Gliss, close to Brieg. But, in the first place, the work at Gliss
is worthy of Holbein himself: I know no wood-carving that can so
rivet the attention; moreover it is coloured with water-colour and
not oil, so that it is tinted, not painted; and, in the second
place, the Gliss triptych belongs to a date (1519) when artists held
neither time nor impressionism as objects, and hence, though greatly
better than the Saas-Fee chapels as regards a certain Japanese
curiousness of finish and naivete of literal transcription, it
cannot even enter the lists with the Saas work as regards elan and
dramatic effectiveness. The difference between the two classes of
work is much that between, say, John Van Eyck or Memling and Rubens
or Rembrandt, or, again, between Giovanni Bellini and Tintoretto;
the aims of the one class of work are incompatible with those of the
other. Moreover, in the Gliss triptych the intention of the
designer is carried out (whether by himself or no) with admirable
skill; whereas at Saas the wisdom of the workman is rather of Ober-
Ammergau than of the Egyptians, and the voice of the poet is not a
little drowned in that of his mouthpiece. If, however, the reader
will bear in mind these somewhat obvious considerations, and will
also remember the pathetic circumstances under which the chapels
were designed--for Tabachetti when he reached Saas was no doubt
shattered in body and mind by his four years' imprisonment--he will
probably be not less attracted to them than I observed were many of
the visitors both at Saas-Grund and Saas-Fee with whom I had the
pleasure of examining them.

I will now run briefly through the other principal works in the
neighbourhood to which I think the reader would be glad to have his
attention directed.

At Saas-Fee itself the main altar-piece is without interest, as also
one with a figure of St. Sebastian. The Virgin and Child above the
remaining altar are, so far as I remember them, very good, and
greatly superior to the smaller figures of the same altar-piece.

At Almagel, an hour's walk or so above Saas-Grund--a village, the
name of which, like those of the Alphubel, the Monte Moro, and more
than one other neighbouring site, is supposed to be of Saracenic
origin--the main altar-piece represents a female saint with folded
arms being beheaded by a vigorous man to the left. These two
figures are very good. There are two somewhat inferior elders to
the right, and the composition is crowned by the Assumption of the
Virgin. I like the work, but have no idea who did it. Two bishops
flanking the composition are not so good. There are two other
altars in the church: the right-hand one has some pleasing figures,
not so the left-hand.

In St. Joseph's Chapel, on the mule-road between Saas-Grund and
Saas-Fee, the St. Joseph and the two children are rather nice. In
the churches and chapels which I looked into between Saas and
Stalden, I saw many florid extravagant altar-pieces, but nothing
that impressed me favourably.

In the parish church at Saas-Grund there are two altar-pieces which
deserve attention. In the one over the main altar the arrangement
of the Last Supper in a deep recess half-way up the composition is
very pleasing and effective; in that above the right-hand altar of
the two that stand in the body of the church there are a number of
round lunettes, about eight inches in diameter, each containing a
small but spirited group of wooden figures. I have lost my notes on
these altar-pieces and can only remember that the main one has been
restored, and now belongs to two different dates, the earlier date
being, I should imagine, about 1670. A similar treatment of the
Last Supper may be found near Brieg in the church of Naters, and no
doubt the two altar-pieces are by the same man. There are, by the
way, two very ambitious altars on either side the main arch leading
to the chance in the church at Naters, of which the one on the south
side contains obvious reminiscences of Gaudenzio Ferrari's Sta.
Maria frescoes at Varallo; but none of the four altar-pieces in the
two transepts tempted me to give them much attention. As regards
the smaller altar-piece at Saas-Grund, analogous work may be found
at Cravagliana, half-way between Varallo and Fobello, but this last
has suffered through the inveterate habit which Italians have of
showing their hatred towards the enemies of Christ by mutilating the
figures that represent them. Whether the Saas work is by a
Valsesian artist who came over to Switzerland, or whether the
Cravagliana work is by a Swiss who had come to Italy, I cannot say
without further consideration and closer examination than I have
been able to give. The altar-pieces of Mairengo, Chiggiogna, and, I
am told, Lavertezzo, all in the Canton Ticino, are by a Swiss or
German artist who has migrated southward; but the reverse migration
was equally common.

Being in the neighbourhood, and wishing to assure myself whether the
sculptor of the Saas-Fee chapels had or had not come lower down the
valley, I examined every church and village which I could hear of as
containing anything that might throw light on this point. I was
thus led to Vispertimenen, a village some three hours above either
Visp or Stalden. It stands very high, and is an almost untouched
example of a medieval village. The altar-piece of the main church
is even more floridly ambitious in its abundance of carving and
gilding than the many other ambitious altar-pieces with which the
Canton Valais abounds. The Apostles are receiving the Holy Ghost on
the first storey of the composition, and they certainly are
receiving it with an overjoyed alacrity and hilarious ecstasy of
allegria spirituale which it would not be easy to surpass. Above
the village, reaching almost to the limits beyond which there is no
cultivation, there stands a series of chapels like those I have been
describing at Saas-Fee, only much larger and more ambitious. They
are twelve in number, including the church that crowns the series.
The figures they contain are of wood (so I was assured, but I did
not go inside the chapels): they are life-size, and in some chapels
there are as many as a dozen figures. I should think they belonged
to the later half of the last century, and here, one would say,
sculpture touches the ground; at least, it is not easy to see how
cheap exaggeration can sink an art more deeply. The only things
that at all pleased me were a smiling donkey and an ecstatic cow in
the Nativity chapel. Those who are not allured by the prospect of
seeing perhaps the very worst that can be done in its own line, need
not be at the pains of climbing up to Vispertimenen. Those, on the
other hand, who may find this sufficient inducement will not be
disappointed, and they will enjoy magnificent views of the Weisshorn
and the mountains near the Dom.

I have already referred to the triptych at Gliss. This is figured
in Wolf's work on Chamonix and the Canton Valais, but a larger and
clearer reproduction of such an extraordinary work is greatly to be
desired. The small wooden statues above the triptych, as also those
above its modern companion in the south transept, are not less
admirable than the triptych itself. I know of no other like work in
wood, and have no clue whatever as to who the author can have been
beyond the fact that the work is purely German and eminently
Holbeinesque in character.

I was told of some chapels at Rarogne, five or six miles lower down
the valley than Visp. I examined them, and found they had been
stripped of their figures. The few that remained satisfied me that
we have had no loss. Above Brieg there are two other like series of
chapels. I examined the higher and more promising of the two, but
found not one single figure left. I was told by my driver that the
other series, close to the Pont Napoleon on the Simplon road, had
been also stripped of its figures, and, there being a heavy storm at
the time, have taken his word for it that this was so.

Samuel Butler

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