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Chapter 11

CHAPELS No. 12--No. 22.


We now begin the series of chapels that deal with Christ's Manhood, Ministry, and Passion. The first of these is


CHAPEL No. 12. THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST BY JOHN.


The statues are of no great interest, and of unknown authorship. The frescoes are by Orazio Gallinone di Treviglio, but they are not striking. The date of the chapel is about 1585. It is mentioned in the 1586 edition of Caccia, and it is added that the water of the fountain would be brought there shortly so as to imitate the Jordan. This was done, but the water made the chapel so damp that it was turned off again. The graces, according to Fassola, are chiefly for married ladies.

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CHAPEL No. 13. TEMPTATION.


This chapel is given as completed in the 1586 edition of Caccia, and had probably been by this time reconstructed by Tabachetti, to whom the work is universally and no doubt justly ascribed.

That the figures of Christ and of the devil have both been cut about may be conjectured from their draperies being in part real linen or calico, and not terra-cotta; Christ's red shirt front is real, as also is a great part of the devil's dress. This last personage is a most respectable-looking patriarchal old Jewish Rabbi. I should say he was the leading solicitor in some such town as Samaria, and that he gave an annual tea to the choir. He is offering Christ some stones just as any other respectable person might do, and if it were not for his formidable two clawed feet there would be nothing to betray his real nature. The beasts with their young are excellent. The porcupine has real quills. The fresco background is by Melchior D'Enrico, and here the fall of the devil when the whole is over is treated with a realistic unreserve little likely to be repeated. He is dreadfully unwell. The graces in this chapel are more especially for those tempted by the world, the flesh, and the devil, for people who are bewitched, and for those who are in any wise troubled in mind, body, and estate, "as the varying views of the pilgrims themselves will best determine."

Bordiga says that the chapel was begun about 1580, and completed in 1594, but he refers probably to Tabachetti's reconstruction, for in the portico there is an inscription painted by order of the Bishop, and forbidding visitors to deface the walls, that is dated 1524, and the back of the chapel has many early 16th century scratches.

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CHAPEL No. 14. THE WOMAN OF SAMARIA.


This chapel is given as completed in the 1586 edition of Caccia, so that Bordiga and Cusa are wrong in dating it 1598. In the poetical part of Caccia it is described as recently made and "ben ritratto." The woman of Samaria is a fine buxom figure, but the paint has peeled off so badly both from her and from the Christ that it is hardly fair to judge the work at all. I should think it was very possibly an early work by Tabachetti, but should be sorry to hazard a decided opinion. The frescoes are without interest. The graces at this chapel were chiefly for women who wanted to abandon some evil practice, and for rain when the country was suffering from long drought. This last is because Christ said to the woman of Samaria "Give me to drink."

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CHAPEL No. 15. THE PARALYTIC.


The chapel alone was completed by 1586 and 1590, so that we may be certain Tabachetti had no hand in it. The statues are said to be by D'Enrico, whom we meet here for the first time. Bordiga praises them very highly, but neither Jones nor I liked the composition as much as we should have wished to have done. Some of the individual figures are good, especially a man with his arm in a sling, and two men conversing on the left of the composition, but there is too little concerted and united action, and too much attempt to show off every figure to the best advantage, to the sacrifice of more important considerations. They probably date from 1620-1624, in which last year Bordiga says that the frescoes were completed. These are chiefly, if not entirely, by Cristoforo Martinolo, a Valsesian artist and pupil of Morazzone, who, according to Bordiga, though little known, has here shown himself no common artist. Again neither Jones nor I admired them as much as we should have been glad to do. "All infirmities of fever, and paralysis," says Fassola, "if recommended to the Great Saviour at this place will be dissipated, as may be gathered from the many voti here exhibited."

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CHAPEL No. 16. THE WIDOW'S SON AT NAIN.


Of this chapel the walls are alone mentioned as completed in 1590. So that Bordiga and Cusa are again wrong in saying that the frescoes were painted about 1580. It is not good. The walls were probably raised soon after 1580. Donna Mathilde di Savoia, Marchesa di Pianezza, a natural daughter of Carlo Emmanuele I., was among the principal contributors. The graces were "for those who had had bad falls or any accidents whereby they had been rendered speechless, stupid, senseless, and apparently dead."

It will be observed on referring to the plan facing p. 68, that this chapel is given as on the ground now occupied by Christ taken before Annas, and faces the Herod chapel on the Piazza dei Tribunali. This may be a mere error in the plan, but the plan is generally accurate, and it is very likely that a change was made in the middle of the last century when the Annas chapel was built.

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CHAPEL No. 17. THE TRANSFIGURATION.


This is on the highest ground of the Sacro Monte, the Transfiguration being supposed to have happened on Mount Sinai. Inside the chapel they have made Mount Sinai, but Fassola says that it was originally quite too high, and the Fabbricieri had ordered it to be made lower, "so as to render it more enjoyable by the eye." It was begun at the end of the sixteenth century, but is mentioned as being only "founded" in the 1586 and 1590 editions of Caccia, and the work seems to have got little further than the foundations, until in 1660 it was resumed; Fassola, writing in 1671, says that the chapel was "levata in alto da terra l'anno del mille, sei cento e sessanta," or about ten years before his book appeared; it was still in great part unpainted, and he makes an appeal to his readers to contribute towards its completion. From both Fassola and Torrotti it would appear that only the group of figures on the mountain was in existence when they wrote. They both of them make the extraordinary statement that these figures are by Giovanni D'Enrico, whom they must have perfectly well known to have been dead more than a quarter of a century before Fassola wrote, and many years before the figures could possibly have been placed where they now are. It is much as though I, writing now, were to ascribe Boehm's statue of Mr. Darwin, in the Natural History Museum at South Kensington, to Chantrey. The figures on the mountain are among the worst on the Sacro Monte. I see that Cusa ascribes the figures of Peter, James, and John only to D'Enrico, but the ascription is very difficult to understand.

Bordiga does not say who did the figures of Peter, James, and John, but he gives the Christ, Moses, and Elias to Pietro Francesco Petera of Varallo. The fourteen figures at the foot of the mountain he assigns to Gaudenzio Soldo of Camasco, a pupil of the sculptor Dionigi Bussola. In 1665 Giuseppe and Stefano Danedi, called Montalti, and pupils of Morazzone, "painted the cupola of the chapel with innumerable angels great and small exhibiting the most varied movements." Giuseppe had the greater share in this work, in which may be seen, according to Bordiga, signs of the influence of Guido, under whom Giuseppe had studied.

Among the figures below the mountain there is a blind man, and a boy with a bad foot leading him--both good--and a contemptuous father telling the Apostles that they cannot cure his son, and that he had told them so from the first, but the paint is peeling off the figures so much that the work can hardly be judged fairly. When photographed they look much better, and Signor Pizetta tells me he was last year commissioned to photograph the boy, who is in a fit of hystero- epilepsy, for a medical work that was being published in France, so it is probably very true to nature.

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CHAPEL No. 18. RAISING OF LAZARUS.


Fassola says that this chapel was erected at the expense of Pomponio Bosso, a noble Milanese, between the years 1560 and 1580. It is mentioned as finished in the 1586 edition of Caccia, and was probably completed before Tabachetti came. Bordiga only says that it was finished in 1582. The statues are of little or no merit, nor yet the frescoes. I observe that in Caccia the "tempio" is praised but not apparently the work that it contained. The terra-cotta figures are ascribed by Bordiga to Ravello, and the frescoes to Testa, whose brother, Lorenzo Testa, was Fabbriciere at the time the chapel was erected. There is one rather nice little man in the left-hand corner, but there is nothing else.

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CHAPEL No. 19. ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM.


The figures in this chapel are ascribed to Giovanni D'Enrico by both Fassola and Torrotti, an ascription very properly set aside by Bordiga, without assigned reason, but probably because 1590 is considerably too early for Giovanni D'Enrico, and there is a document dated May 23, 1590, showing that the fresco background was then contracted for. The sculptured figures are mentioned as finished in the 1586 edition of Caccia, so that D'Enrico could not have done them. They are better than those in the preceding chapels, but they do not arouse enthusiasm, and have suffered so much from decay, and from repainting, that it is hardly fair to form any opinion about them. They probably looked much better when new. The landscape part of the background is by one of the brothers Rovere, named, as I have said, Fiamenghini, and he has introduced a house with a stepped gable like those at Antwerp. Some of the figures in the background appear to be by the painter Testa, who is named in the document above referred to.

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CHAPEL No 20. THE LAST SUPPER.


This was one of the earliest chapels, and is mentioned as completed in the 1586 edition of Caccia. The figures are of wood, stiff, and lifeless, the supper is profuse and of much later date than the figures, but the whole scene is among the least successful on the Sacro Monte. Originally, but not till many years after the figures had been made and placed, Lanini painted a fresco background for this chapel. Perhaps Gaudenzio brought him from Vercelli on the occasion of the temporary return to Varallo supposed by Colombo to have taken place between 1536 and 1539. If we could know when Lanini was on the Sacro Monte doing this background, we might suspect that Gaudenzio was not far off. Lanini's work has unfortunately perished in a second reconstruction of the chapel. Torrotti in 1686 says that a reconstruction of the Cena chapel was then contemplated, but that Lanini's frescoes were not to be touched. The original Cena chapel may or may not have been on its present site, but the first restoration certainly was so, as appears from the plan dated 1671 already given. The apostles have real napkins round their shoulders. The graces are for people who feel themselves deficient in faith, and intercession may be made here for obstinate sinners.

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CHAPEL No. 21. THE AGONY IN THE GARDEN.


This chapel, again, has been reconstructed, but the old figures have not been preserved as in the case of the Cena, nor yet has the original site. The original site, according to Bordiga, was apart from the other chapels at the foot of the neighbouring monticello, meaning, presumably, the height on which the Transfiguration chapel now stands. It was at this old chapel that S. Carlo used to spend hours in prayer. It was one of the earliest, and the figures were of wood. Fassola says that it was the angel who was offering the cup to Christ in the old chapel who announced his approaching end to S. Carlo, but the figures had been removed in his time as they were perishing, and the terra-cotta ones by Giovanni D'Enrico had been substituted, with a fresco background by his brother Melchiorre. These in their turn perished during a reconstruction some twenty years or so ago. The graces at this chapel are thus described by Fassola.

"Il moderno e Christo ed Angiolo nel medemo stato rinouati non sono meno miraculosi, perche tutti li concorrenti, bisognosi di pazienza di soffrire trauagli, malattie, ed ogni sorte d' infermita tanto dell' anima, quanto del corpo caldamente racomandandosi al piacere di questo sudante Christo riportano cio che meglio per lo stato di questo, ed altro Mondo fa di necessita alle loro persone."

I find no mention of any original fresco background, though I do of the one added afterwards by Melchiorre D'Enrico, now no longer in existence. As this was one of the earliest chapels, I incline to think that there was no fresco background in the first instance.

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CHAPEL No. 22. THE SLEEPING APOSTLES.


Fassola says that this chapel was decorated about fifty years (really fifty-nine) before the date at which he was writing, by Melchiorre D'Enrico. It was then on its present site, but the end of the Cena block was rebuilt some twenty years ago. The present Custode, Battista, tells me he worked at the rebuilding, and taking me upstairs showed me a trace or two of Melchiorre's background. The sleeping Apostles are said to be by Giovanni D'Enrico; they will not bear comparison with Tabachetti's St. Joseph. The benefactor was Count Pio Giacomo Fassola di Rassa, a collateral ancestor of the historian. People who have become lethargic in their self- indulgence, or who are blinded through some bad habit, will find relief at this chapel. I have met with nothing to show that there was any earlier chapel with the same subject, and in the 1586 edition of Caccia it is expressly mentioned as one of those that as yet were merely contemplated, though the Agony in the Garden itself is described as completed.


Samuel Butler

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