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Ex Voto Part 10

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The Pilate is not nearly so good as the Caiaphas in the preceding chapel, but though there is not one single figure of superlative excellence, this is still one of D'Enrico's best works, and the Pilate is the best of the four Pilates. The nineteen figures are generally ascribed to him; and, I should say there was less Giacomo Ferro in this chapel than in most of D'Enrico's. Possibly Giacomo Ferro was not yet D'Enrico's a.s.sistant. The frescoes are by Antonio, or Tanzio, D'Enrico, but I cannot see much in them to admire.

The date is given by Bordiga as about 1620, but no date is given either by Fa.s.sola or Torrotti. The nude figure to the left, seated and holding a spear near the spectator, is said to be a portrait of Tanzio, but Bordiga thinks that if we are to look for the portrait anywhere in this composition, we should do so in the open gallery above the gate of the Pretorium, where we shall find a figure that has nothing to do with the story, and represents a "jocund-looking"

but venerable old man, wearing a hat with a white feather in it, and like the portrait of Melchiorre painted by himself in his Last Judgment--presumably the one outside the church at Riva Valdobbia.

Bordiga adds that Melchiorre was still living in 1620, when Tanzio was at work on these frescoes.

CHAPEL No. 28. CHRIST BEFORE HEROD.

Bordiga says that this chapel was begun in 1606, as shown by a letter from Monsignor Bescape, Bishop of Novara, authorising the Fabbricieri to appropriate three hundred scudi from the Ma.s.s chest for the purpose of erecting it, but it was not finished until 1638. The statues, thirty-five in number, are by Giovanni D'Enrico, and the frescoes by Tanzio, but we have no means of dating either the one or the other accurately.

The figure of Herod is incomparably finer than any others in the chapel, if we except those of two laughing boys on Herod's left that are hardly seen till one is inside the chapel itself. Take each of the figures separately and few are good. As usual in D'Enrico's chapels, there is a deficiency of the ensemble and concert which no one except Tabachetti seems to have been able to give in sculptured groups containing many figures; nevertheless, the Herod and the laughing boys atone almost for any deficiency. Bordiga speaks of the frescoes in the highest terms, but I do not admire them as I should wish to do. They are generally considered as Antonio D'Enrico's finest work on the Sacro Monte.

The figures behind the two boys' heads coming very awkwardly in my photograph, my friend Mr. Gogin has kindly painted them out for me, so as to bring the boys' heads out better.

CHAPEL No. 29. CHRIST TAKEN BACK TO PILATE.

This is supposed to be the last work of Giovanni D'Enrico, who, according to Durandi, died in 1644. The scene comprises twenty-three terra-cotta figures, few of them individually good, but nevertheless effective as a whole. One man, the nearest but one to the spectator, must be given to D'Enrico, and perhaps one or two more, but the greater number must have been done by Giacomo Ferro. The frescoes were begun both by Morazzone and Antonio D'Enrico, but Fa.s.sola and Torrotti say that neither the one nor the other was able to complete the work, which in their time was still unfinished; but Doctor Morosini was going to get a really good man to finish them without further delay. Eventually the brothers Grandi of Milan came and did the Doric architecture, while Pietro Gianoli did some sibyls, and on the facciata "il casto Giuseppe portato da due Angioli." Gianoli signed his work and dated it 1679. We know, then, that in this case the sculptured figures were placed some years before the background, as probably also with several other chapels; and it may be a.s.sumed that generally the terra-cotta figures preceded the background--which was designed for them, and not they for it, except in the case of Gaudenzio Ferrari--who probably conceived both the round and flat work together as part of the same design, and was thus the only artist on the Sacro Monte who carried out the design of uniting painting and sculpture in a single design, under the conditions which strictly it involves.

In connection with this chapel both Fa.s.sola and Torrotti say that D'Enrico has intentionally made Christ's face become smaller and smaller during each of these last scenes, as becoming contracted through increase of suffering. I have been unable to see that this is more than fancy on their parts.

It is also in connection with this chapel that we discover the true date of Fa.s.sola's book. He says that they had been on the lookout "during the whole OF LAST YEAR"--which he gives as 1669--for some one to finish the frescoes. "Now, however," he continues, "when this book is seeing light," &c. The book therefore should be seeing light in 1670. It is dated 1671. True, Fa.s.sola may have been writing at the very end of 1670, and the book may have been published at the beginning of 1671, but perhaps the more natural conclusion is that the same reasons which make publishers wish to misdate their books by a year now, made them wish to do so then, and that though Fa.s.sola's book appeared at the end of 1670, as would appear from his own words, it was nevertheless dated 1671.

CHAPEL No. 30. THE FLAGELLATION.

Torrotti and Fa.s.sola say that the Christ in this chapel, as well as in all the others, is an actual portrait--and no doubt an admirable one--communicated by Divine inspiration to the many workmen and artists who worked on the Sacro Monte. This, they say, may be known from two doc.u.ments contemporaneous with Christ Himself, in which His personal appearance is fully set forth, and which seem almost to have been written from the statues now existing at Varallo. The worthy artists who made these statues were by no means given to historical investigations, and were little likely to know anything about the letters in question; besides, these had only just been discovered, so that there can have been no deception or illusion. Both Fa.s.sola and Torrotti give the letters in full, and to their pages the reader who wishes to see them may be referred. Fa.s.sola writes:-

"Hora vegga ogni diuoto se ra.s.somigliando queste statue al vero Christo essendo lauorate accidentalmente, parendo da Dio sia dato alli Statuarij, e Pittori il lume della sua Diuina Persona non si ha se non per mera sua disposizione e diachiarazione d'hauer quiui quasi come rinouata, e resa piu commoda alla Christianita la sua Redenzione" (p. 103).

The work is mentioned as completed in the 1586 edition of Caccia-- this, and the Crowning with Thorns, being the only two that are described as completed of those that now form part of the Palazzo di Pilato block. These two chapels do not in reality, however, belong to the Palazzo di Pilato at all; they existed long before it, and the new work was added on to them. Bordiga says that "an order of Monsignor Bescape relating to this chapel, and dated February 1, 1605, shows that there was as yet no plan of this part of the Palace of Pilate." I have not seen this order, and can only speak with diffidence, but I do not think the chapel has been much modified since 1586, beyond the fact that Rocca, whom we have already met with as painting in the Caiaphas chapel in 1642, at some time or another painted a new background, which is now much injured by damp.

Not only does the author of the 1586 Caccia mention the chapel, but he does it with more effusion than is usual with him. He rarely says anything in praise of any but the best work. I do not, therefore, think it likely that his words refer to the original wooden figures, two of which were preserved when the work was remodelled; these two mar the chapel now, and when all the work was of the same calibre it cannot have kindled any enthusiasm in a writer who appears to have known very fairly well which were the best chapels. He says:-

"Da manigoldi, in atto acerbo e fiero, Alla colonna Christo flagellato Da scultor dotto a.s.simigliato al vero Di questo {13} in un de i lati e dimostrato,

E come fusse macerato e nero, D'aspri flagelli percosso, e vergato, Di Christo il sacro corpo in ogni parte, Vi ha sculto dotto mastro in sottil arte."

I think the reconstruction of the chapel, then, and its a.s.sumption of its present state, except that a fres...o...b..ckground was added, should be a.s.signed to some year about 1580-1585, and am disposed to ascribe, at any rate, the figure of the man who is binding Christ to the column to Tabachetti, who was then working on the Sacro Monte, and whose style the work seems to me to resemble more nearly than it does that of D'Enrico. Whoever the chapel is by, it was evidently in its present place and much admired in 1586; there could hardly, therefore, have been any occasion to reconstruct it, especially when so much other work was crying to be done, and when it had, in all probability, been once reconstructed already.

On the whole, until external evidence shows D'Enrico to have done the figures, I shall continue to think that at least one of them, and very possibly all except the two old wooden ones, are by Tabachetti.

The foot of the man binding Christ to the column has crumbled away, either because the clay was bad, or from insufficient baking. This is why the figure is propped up with a piece of wood. The damp has made the rope slack, so that the pulling action of the figure is in great measure destroyed, its effect being cancelled by its ineffectualness; but for this the reader will easily make due allowance. The same man reappears presently in the balcony of the Ecce h.o.m.o chapel, but he is there evidently done by another and much less vigorous hand.

The man in the foreground, who is stooping down and binding his rods, is the same as the one who is kicking Christ in Tabachetti's Journey to Calvary, and is one of those adopted by Tabachetti from Gaudenzio Ferrari's Crucifixion chapel; this figure may perhaps have been an addition by Giovanni D'Enrico, or have been done by an a.s.sistant, for it is hardly up to Tabachetti's mark. The two nearest scourgers are fine powerful figures, but I should admit that they remind me rather of D'Enrico than of Tabachetti, though they might also be very well by him, and probably are so.

Fa.s.sola says that the graces obtainable by the faithful here have relation to every kind of need; they are in a high degree unspecialised, and that this freedom from specialisation is characteristic of all the chapels of the Pa.s.sion.

CHAPEL No. 31. THE CROWNING WITH THORNS.

Much that was said about the preceding chapel applies also to this.

It is mentioned in the 1586 edition of Caccia as done "sottilmente in natural ritratto," and as being one of the few works that would form part of the Palazzo di Pilato block that were as yet completed.

That this chapel had undergone one reconstruction before 1586, we may gather from the fact that the left-hand wall is still covered with a fresco of the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise; this has no connection with the Crowning with Thorns, and doubtless formed the background to the original Adam and Eve. I have already said that I am indebted to Signor Arienta for this suggestion. Bordiga calls this subject Christ being Led to be Crowned, and gives it to Crespi da Cerano, but I cannot understand how he can see in the work anything but an Expulsion from Paradise. The chapel having been reconstructed before 1586 on its present site--as it evidently had been--and being admired, is not likely to have been reconstructed a second time, and I am again, therefore, inclined to give the whole work, or at any rate the greater part of it, to Tabachetti, and to reject the statements of Fa.s.sola, Torrotti, Bordiga, and Cusa, who all ascribe the figures to D'Enrico. The two men standing up behind Christ, one taunting Him, and the other laughing, are among the finest on the Sacro Monte, and are much more in Tabachetti's manner than in D'Enrico's. The other figures are, as they were doubtless intended to be, of minor interest.

Some of the frescoes other than those above referred to, were added at a later date, and are said by Bordiga, on the authority of a covenant, dated September 27th, 1608, to have been done by Antonio Rantio, who undertook to paint them for a sum of ten ducatoons. They are without interest.

It was here the Flemish dancer was healed.

His name was Bartholomew Jacob, and he came from Graveling in Flanders. It seems there was a ball going on at the house of one of this man's ancestors, and that the Last Sacraments were being carried through the street under the windows of the ball-room.

The dancing ought by rights to have been stopped, but the host refused to stop it, and presently the priest who was carrying the Sacrament found a paper under the chalice, written in a handwriting of almost superhuman neatness, presumably that of the Madonna herself and bearing the words, "Dancer, thou wouldst not stay thy dance: I curse thee, therefore, that thou dance for nine generations." And so he did, he and all his descendants all their lives, till it came to Bartholomew Jacob, who was the ninth in descent. He too began life dancing, and was still dancing when he started on a pilgrimage to Rome; when, however, he got to the Sacro Monte at Varallo on the 7th of January 1646, he began to feel tired, tremulous, and languid from so much incessant movement. This strange feeling attacked him first at the Nativity Chapel, but by the time he got to the Crowning with Thorns he could stand it no longer, and fell as one dead, to rise again presently perfectly whole, and relieved of his distressing complaint.

Personally I find this story interesting as giving high support to the theory I have been trying to insist upon for some years past, and according to which in a certain sense a man is personally identical with all the generations in the direct line both of his ancestry and his descendants, as well as with himself. The words "Thou shalt dance for nine generations" involve one of the most important points contended for in my earlier book, "Life and Habit." Fa.s.sola and Torrotti both say that more pilgrims left alms at this chapel than at any other. In fact they both seem to consider that this chapel did very well. "Qui," says Torrotti, "si colgano elemosine a.s.sai," and, as I have said already, it is here that a few autumn leaves of waxen images still linger.

A few weeks ago I saw the original doc.u.ment in which the story above given was attested. It was dated 1671, and signed, stamped, and sealed as a doc.u.ment of the highest importance. I noticed that in this ma.n.u.script, it was a voice that was heard, and not as in Fa.s.sola a letter that was found.

CHAPEL No 32. CHRIST AT THE STEPS OF THE PRETORIUM.

This is not mentioned in the 1586 edition of Caccia, perhaps as being a poor and unimportant work. Fa.s.sola says that some of the frescoes, as well as of the statues, which, he says, are of wood, were by Gaudenzio. The other statues are given both by Fa.s.sola and Torrotti to D'Enrico, and the paintings to Gianoli, a wealthy Valsesian amateur who lived at Campertogno. Bordiga gives the statues to Ferro, already mentioned as a pupil of D'Enrico, but whoever did them, they are about as bad as they can be--too bad, I should say, for Giacomo Ferro, and I am not sure that they are not of wood even now. No traces of Gaudenzio's frescoes remain. The chapel seems to have been reconstructed in connection with the replica of the Scala Santa up which Christ is going to be conducted. We have seen that the design for these stairs was procured from Rome in 1608 by Francesco Testa, who was then Fabbriciere.

CHAPEL No 33. ECCE h.o.m.o.

This is one of the finest chapels, the concert between the figures being better than in most of D'Enrico's other work, notwithstanding the fact that more than one, and probably several, are old figures taken from chapels that were displaced when the Palazzo di Pilato block was made. The figures are thirty-seven in number, and are disposed in a s.p.a.cious hall not wholly unlike the vestibule of the Reform Club, Christ and His immediate persecutors appearing in a bal.u.s.traded balcony above a s.p.a.cious portico that supports it. This must have been one of D'Enrico's first works on the Sacro Monte, the frescoes having been paid for on Dec. 7, 1612, as shown by Morazzone's receipt which is still in existence, and which is for the sum of 2400 imperiali. Of these frescoes it is impossible to speak highly; they look clever at first and from a distance, but do not bear closer attention. Morazzone took pains with the Journey to Calvary chapel, which was his first work on the Sacro Monte, but never did anything so good again.

Of the terra-cotta figures, the one to the extreme left is certainly by Gaudenzio Ferrari, being another portrait, in nearly the same att.i.tude, of the extreme figure to the left in the Crucifixion chapel. For reasons into which I will enter more fully when I come to this last-named work, I do not doubt that Stefano Scotto, Gaudenzio's master, is the person represented. I had to go inside the chapel to hold a sheet behind the figure in order to detach it from the background, so had myself taken along with it to show how it compares with a living figure. It is generally said at Varallo to be a portrait of Giovanno D'Enrico's brother Tanzio, but this is obviously impossible, for not only does the same person reappear in the Crucifixion chapel, but he is also found in Gaudenzio's early fresco of the Disputa in the Sta. Margherita chapel already referred to, and elsewhere, as I will presently show. I should be sorry to say that any other figure in the Ecce h.o.m.o chapel except this is certainly by Gaudenzio, but am inclined to think that two or three others are also by him, the rest being probably all of them by D'Enrico or some a.s.sistant. Some--more especially two children, on the head of one of whom a man has laid his hand--are of extreme beauty. The child that is looking up is among the most beautiful in the whole range of sculpture; the other is not so good, but has suffered in re-painting, the eyelid being made too red; if this were remedied, as it easily might be, the figure would gain greatly. Cav.

Prof. Antonini has very successfully subst.i.tuted plaster hair for the horsehair, which had in great measure fallen off. The motive of this incidental group is repeated, but with less success, in Giovanni D'Enrico's Nailing to the Cross.

There is another child to the extreme right of the composition so commonly and poorly done that it is hard to believe it can be by the same hand, but it is not likely that Giacomo Ferro had as yet become D'Enrico's a.s.sistant. The man who is pointing out Christ to this last-named child is far more seriously treated, and might even be an importation from an earlier work. Among other very fine figures is a man who is looking up and holding a staff in his hand; he stands against the wall to the spectator's right among the figures nearest to the grating. There is also an admirable figure of a man on one knee tying his cross garter and at the same time looking up. This figure is in the background rather hidden away, and is not very well seen from the grating. I should add that the floor of the chapel slopes a little up from the spectator like the stage in a theatre.

The dog in the middle foreground is hollow, as are all the figures, or at any rate many of them, and shows a great hole on the side away from the spectator; it is not fixed to the ground, but stands on its own legs; it was as much as I could do to lift it. I am told the figures were baked down below in the town, and though they are most of them in several pieces it must have been no light work carrying them up the mountain. I have been shown the remains of a furnace near the present church on the Sacro Monte, but believe it was only used for the figures made by Luigi Marchesi in 1826. I should, however, have thought that the figures would have been baked upon the Sacro Monte itself and not in the town.

Of this chapel Fa.s.sola says:-

"All the pilgrims of every description come here, because it is at the top of the Scala Santa up which they go upon their knees, and there is plenty of room for pilgrims, as the chapel extends the whole width of the staircase. Those who are oppressed with travail, or fevers, or lawsuits, or unjust persecutions of any description, are comforted on being commended to this Christ." "Vi sono qui," says Torrotti, "pascoli deliziosi per i curiosi e piu dotti."

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Ex Voto Part 10 summary

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