Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344


The illustrations to this book are mainly collotype photographs by Messrs. Maclure, Macdonald & Co., of Glasgow. Notwithstanding all their care, it cannot be pretended that the result is equal to what would have been obtained from photogravure; I found, however, that to give anything like an adequate number of photogravures would have made the book so expensive that I was reluctantly compelled to abandon the idea.

As these sheets leave my hands, my attention is called to a pleasant article by Miss Alice Greene about Varallo, that appeared in The Queen for Saturday, April 21, 1888. The article is very nicely illustrated, and gives a good idea of the place. Of the Sacro Monte Miss Greene says: --"On the Sacro Monte the tableaux are produced in perpetuity, only the figures are not living, they are terra-cotta statues painted and moulded in so life-like a way that you feel that, were a man of flesh and blood to get mixed up with the crowd behind the grating, you would have hard work to distinguish him from the figures that have never had life."

I should wish to modify in some respects the conclusion arrived at on pp. 148, 149, about Michael Angelo Rossetti's having been the principal sculptor of the Massacre of the Innocents chapel. There can be no doubt that Rossetti did the figure which he has signed, and several others in the chapel. One of those which are probably by him (the soldier with outstretched arm to the left of the composition) appears in the view of the chapel that I have given to face page 144, but on consideration I incline against the supposition of my text, i.e., that the signature should be taken as governing the whole work, or at any rate the greater part of it, and lean towards accepting the external authority, which, quantum valeat, is all in favour of Paracca. I have changed my mind through an increasing inability to resist the opinion of those who hold that the figures fall into two main groups, one by the man who did the signed figure, i.e., Michael Angelo Rossetti; and another, comprising all the most vigorous, interesting, and best placed figures, that certainly appears to be by a much more powerful hand. Probably, then, Rossetti finished Paracca's work and signed one figure as he did, without any idea of claiming the whole, and believing that Paracca's predominant share was too well known to make mistake about the authorship of the work possible. I have therefore in the title to the illustration given the work to Paracca, but it must be admitted that the question is one of great difficulty, and I can only hope that some other work of Paracca's may be found which will tend to settle it. I will thankfully receive information about any other such work.

May 1, 1888.


Unable to go to Dinant before I published "Ex Voto," I have since been there, and have found out a good deal about Tabachetti's family. His real name was de Wespin, and he tame of a family who had been Copper-beaters, and hence sculptors--for the Flemish copper-beaters made their own models--for many generations. The family seems to have been the most numerous and important in Dinant.

The sculptor's grandfather, Perpete de Wespin, was the first to take the sobriquet of Tabaguet, and though in the deeds which I have seen at Namur the name is always given as "de Wespin," yet the addition of "dit Tabaguet" shows that this last was the name in current use. His father and mother, and a sister Jacquelinne, under age, appear to have all died in 1587. Jean de Wespin, the sculptor, is mentioned in a deed of that date as "expatrie," and he has a "gardien" or "tuteur," who is to take charge of his inheritance, appointed by the Court, as though he were for some reason unable to appoint one for himself. This lends colour to Fassola's and Torrotti's statement that he lost his reason about 1586 or 1587. I think it more likely, however, considering that he was alive and doing admirable work some fifty years after 1590, that he was the victim of some intrigue than that he was ever really mad. At any rate, about 1587 he appears to have been unable to act for himself.

If his sister Jacquelinne died under age in 1587, Jean is not likely to have been then much more than thirty, so we may conclude that he was born about 1560. There is some six or eight years' work by him remaining at Varallo, and described as finished in the 1586 edition of Caccia. Tabachetti, therefore, must have left home very young, and probably went straight to Varallo. In 1586 or 1587 we lose sight of him till 1590 or 1591, when he went to Crea, where he did about forty chapels--almost all of which have perished.

On again visiting Milan I found in the Biblioteca Nazionale a guide- book to the Sacro Monte, which was not in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, and of whose existence I had never heard. This guide-book was published in 1606 and reissued in 1610; it mentions all changes since 1590, and even describes chapels not yet in existence, but it says nothing about Tabachetti's First Vision of St. Joseph chapel--the only one of his chapels not given as completed in the 1590 edition of Caccia. I had assumed too hastily that this chapel was done just after the 1590 edition of Caccia had been published, and just before Tabachetti left for Crea in 1590 or 1591, whereas it now appears that it was done about 1610, during a short visit paid by the sculptor to Varallo some twenty years after he had left it.

Finding that Tabachetti returned to Varallo about 1610, I was able to understand two or three figures in the Ecce Homo chapel which I had long thought must be by Tabachetti, but had not ventured to ascribe to him, inasmuch as I believed him to have finally left Varallo some twenty years before the Ecce Homo chapel was made. I have now no doubt that he lent a hand to Giovanni D'Enrico with this chapel, in which he has happily left us his portrait signed with a V (doubtless standing for W, a letter which the Italians have not got), cut on the hat before baking, and invisible from outside the chapel.

Signor Arienta had told me there was a seal on the back of a figure in the Journey to Calvary chapel; on examining this I found it to show a W, with some kind of armorial bearings underneath. I have not been able to find anything like these arms, of which I give a sketch herewith: they have no affinity with those of the de Wespin family, unless the cups with crosses under them are taken as modifications of the three-footed caldrons which were never absent from the arms of Dinant copper-beaters. Tabachetti (for I shall assume that the seal was placed by him) perhaps sealed this figure as an afterthought in 1610, being unable to cut easily into the hard-baked clay, and if he could have Italianised the W he would probably have done so. I should say that I arrived at the Ecce Homo figure as a portrait of Tabachetti before I found the V cut upon the hat; I found the V on examining the portrait to see if I could find any signature. It stands next to a second portrait of Leonardo da Vinci by Gaudenzio Ferrari, taken into the Ecce Homo chapel, doubtless, on the demolition of some earlier work by Gaudenzio on or near the same site. I knew of this second portrait of Leonardo da Vinci when I published my first edition, but did not venture to say anything about it, as thinking that one life-sized portrait of a Leonardo da Vinci by a Gaudenzio Ferrari was as much of a find at one time as my readers would put up with. I had also known of the V on Tabachetti's hat, but, having no idea that his name was de Wespin, had not seen why this should help it to be a portrait of Tabachetti, and had allowed the fact to escape me.

The figure next to Scotto in the Ecce Homo chapel is, I do not doubt, a portrait of Giovanni D'Enrico. This may explain the tradition at Varallo that Scotto is Antonio D'Enrico, which cannot be. Next to Giovanni D'Enrico stands the second Leonardo da Vinci, and next to Leonardo, as I have said, Tabachetti. In the chapel by Gaudenzio, from which they were taken, the figures of Leonardo and Scotto probably stood side by side as they still do in the Crucifixion chapel. I supposed that Tabachetti and D'Enrico, who must have perfectly well known who they were, separated them in order to get Giovanni D'Enrico nearer the grating. It was the presumption that we had D'Enrico's portrait between Scotto and Leonardo, and the conviction that Tabachetti also had worked in the chapel, that led me to examine the very beautiful figure on the father side of Leonardo to see if I could find anything to confirm my suspicion that it was a portrait of Tabachetti himself.

I do not think there can be much doubt that the Vecchietto is also a portrait of Tabachetti done some thirty years later than 1610, nor yet do I doubt, now I know that he returned to Varallo in 1610, that the figures of Herod and of Caiaphas are by him. I believe he also at this time paid a short visit to Orta, and did three or four figures in the left hand part of the foreground of the Canonisation of St. Francis chapel. At Montrigone, a mile or so below Borgo-Sesia station, I believe him to have done at least two or three figures, which are very much in his manner, and not at all like either Giacomo Ferro or Giovanni D'Enrico, to whom they are usually assigned. These figures are some twenty-five years later than 1610, and tend to show that Tabachetti, as an old man of over seventy, paid a third visit to the Val-Sesia.

The substance of the foregoing paragraphs is published at greater length, and with illustrations, in the number of the Universal Review for November 1888, and to which I must refer my readers. I have, however, here given the pith of all that I have yet been able to find out about Tabachetti since "Ex Voto" was published. I should like to add the following in regard to other chapels.

Signor Arienta has found a 1523 scrawled on the frescoes of the Crucifixion chapel. I do not think this shows necessarily that the work was more than begun at that date. He has also found a monogram, which we believe to be Gaudenzio Ferrari's, on the central shield with a lion on it, given in the illustration facing p. 210. On further consideration, I feel more and more inclined to think that the frescoes in this chapel have been a good deal retouched.

I hardly question that the Second Vision of St. Joseph chapel is by Tabachetti, as also the Woman of Samaria. The Christ in this last chapel is a restoration. In a woodcut of 1640 the position of the figures is reversed, but nothing more than the positions.

Lastly, the Virgin's mother does not have eggs east of Milan. It is a Valsesian custom to give eggs beaten up with wine and sugar to women immediately on their confinement, and I am told that the eggs do no harm though not according to the rules. I am told that Valsesian influence must always be suspected when the Virgin's mother is having eggs.

November 30, 1888.

Samuel Butler

Sorry, no summary available yet.