Ex Voto Part 14

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In the circle of busts and half-length figures, the first new work to the left of the door on entering is a figure that holds a lamb, the two half-length figures that come next in sequence are also new--the second of these is a nun holding a little temple. The second upper choir of angels and saints is still in its original [?] colour and seems to have been little touched, as also the pendant.

The chapel containing the Marriage Feast at Cana has been much restored and badly repainted. Most of the figures are very poor, but some, and especially a waiter with his hair parted down the middle, who is offering a hare (not cut up) to a guest who seems to have had too much already, are very good indeed. I find it difficult to think that this waiter can be by any one but Tabachetti. The guitar-player is good, or rather was good before he was repainted--so is a lady near him, so are some of the waiters at the other end, and so are the bride and bridegroom; at any rate they are life-like and effective as seen from outside, but the chapel has suffered much from restoration.

There is one other chapel at Crea which may be by Tabachetti though I do not know that it is ascribed to him, I mean the one containing figures of the founder and his wife, a little below the main piazza.

The shepherds and sheep to the left are probably not by Tabachetti, but the lady is a well-modelled figure. Both she, however, and her husband have been so cruelly clogged with new paint that it is hard to form an opinion about them.

On the piazza itself is a chapel representing the Birth of the Virgin which is also pleasing. It is not always easy for us English to tell the Birth of the Virgin from the Nativity, and it may help the reader to distinguish these subjects readily if he will bear in mind, that at the Birth of the Virgin the baby is always going to be washed-- which never happens at the Nativity; this, and that the Virgin's mother is almost invariably to have an egg, and generally a good deal more, whereas the Virgin never has anything to eat or drink. The Virgin's mother always wants keeping up. Gaudenzio Ferrari has a Birth of the Virgin in the Church of S. Cristoforo at Vercelli. The Virgin's mother is eating one egg with a spoon, and there is another coming in on a tray, which I think is to be beaten up in wine.

Something more substantial to follow is coming in on a hot plate with a cover over it and a napkin. The baby is to be washed of course, and the kind old head nurse is putting her hand in the bath, while the under nurse pours in the hot water, to make sure that the temperature is exactly right. It is to be just nicely loo-warm. The bath itself is certainly a very little one; it will hold about a pint and a half, but medieval washing apparatus did run rather small, and Gaudenzio was not going to waste more of his precious s.p.a.ce than he could help upon so uninteresting an object as a bath; in actual life the bath was doubtless larger. The under-under nurse is warming a towel, which will be nicely ready when the bath is over. Joachim appears to have been in very easy circ.u.mstances, and the arrangements could hardly be more commodious even though the event had taken place at a certain well-known establishment in the Marylebone Road.

At Milan, in a work that I only know by Pianazzi's engraving, there are two eggs coming in on a tray, and they too, I should say, are to be beaten up in wine. The under nurse is again filling a very little bath with warm water, and the head nurse is trying the temperature with her hand. There is no room for the warming of the towel, but there is no question that the towel is being warmed just out of the picture on the left hand. Here, at Crea, the attendant is giving the Virgin's mother a plain boiled egg, and has a spoon in her hand with which she is going to crack it. The Virgin's mother is frowning and motioning it away; she is quite as well as can be expected; still she does not feel equal to taking solid food, and the nurse is saying, "Do try, ma'am, just one little spoonful, the doctor said you was to have it, ma'am." In the smaller picture by Carpaccio at Bergamo she is again to have an egg; in the larger she is to have some broth now, but a servant can be seen in the kitchen plucking a fowl for dear life, so probably the larger picture refers to a day or two later than the earlier.

The only other thing that struck us at Crea was the Virgin in the Presentation chapel. She is so much too small that one feels as though there must be some explanation that is not obvious. She is not more than 2 ft. 6 in. high, while the High Priest, and Joachim and St. Anne are all life-sized. The Chief Priest is holding up his hands, and seems a good deal surprised, as though he were saying-- "Well, St. Anne my dear, I must say you are the very smallest Virgin that I ever had presented to me during the whole course of my inc.u.mbency." Joachim and St. Anne seem very much distressed, and Joachim appears to be saying, "It is not our fault; I a.s.sure you, sir, we have done everything in our power. She has had plenty of nourishment." There must be some explanation of the diminutive size of the figure that is not apparent.


Returning to Varallo, in the town itself the most important work is the fres...o...b.. Gaudenzio Ferrari in the church of Sta. Maria delle Grazie, already several times referred to. The reader will find it fully described in the pages of Colombo; moreover, in January last Signor Pizetta took excellent negatives of all the compartments into which the work is divided, and I learn that he has sent impressions-- put together so as to give a very good idea of the work--to the Italian Exhibition that will open as these pages leave my hands. I have myself also sent to the same Exhibition a few unreduced impressions from the negatives used in the ill.u.s.trations that face earlier pages: these will give the reader a more correct impression of the works from which they are taken than he can get from the reduction. I do not yet know whether they will be hung.

The fresco of Sta. Petronilla painted by Gaudenzio by moonlight on a chapel just outside the town, is now little more than a wreck.

There are a few works by Gaudenzio of no great importance in the Pinacoteca of the Museum; a few frescoes by Lanini, one or two drawings by Tanzio D'Enrico, which show that he was a well-trained draughtsman; two pictures by him, barocco in character, but not without power, and other works of more or less interest, are also in the Pinacoteca.

In the parish church of S. Gaudenzio, behind the altar, there is an exceedingly fine Ancona by Gaudenzio, to which I have already referred. Over an altar in the north transept, but for the most part hidden behind a painted tela, is Tabachetti's very beautiful Madonna del Rosario, which the visitor should ask the Sacristan to show him; and last, but hardly least, there is a Madonna by Dedomenici of Rossa--a village higher up the Valsesia--painted on linen, in the chapel dedicated to St. Joseph.

I referred to this last-named work in my book "Alps and Sanctuaries"

(pp. 177, &c.), and have seen no reason to modify the opinion I then expressed. I may repeat that about twenty years ago I was much struck with the painting and could not make out its strong and evidently unaffected medieval feeling, yet modernness at the same time. On consulting the Sacristan I learned that Dedomenici had died about 1840. He added that the extraordinary thing was that Dedomenici had never studied painting, and had never travelled out of the Valsesia; that he had, in fact, acquired his art by doing rather than by learning how to do.

This, as it appeared to me, explained his excellence. As a general rule the more people study how to do things the more hopelessly academic they become. Learning how to say ends soon in having nothing to say. Learning how to paint, in having nothing that one so longs to paint as to be unable to keep one's hands off it. It gratifies the l.u.s.t of doing sufficiently to appease it, and then kills it. Learning how to write music, ends in the dreary symphonies, operas, cantatas, and oratorios which it seems are all that modern composers can give us. The only way to study an art is to begin at once with doing something that one wants very badly to do, and doing it--even though it be only very badly. Study, of course, but synchronously--letting the work be its own exercises.

If a man defers doing till he knows how to do, when is the hunting the ignis fatuus of a perfect manner to end, and the actual work that he is to leave behind him to begin? I know nothing so deadening, as a long course of preliminary study in any art, and nothing so living as work plunged into at once by one who is studying hard--over it, rather than in preparation for it. Jones talking with me once on this subject, and about agape as against gnosis in art, said, "Oh that men should put an enemy into their brains to steal away their hearts." At any rate he and I have written "Narcissus" on these principles, and are not without hope that what it has lost in erudition it may have gained in freshness. I have, however, dealt with the question of how to study painting more at length in the chapter on the Decline of Italian art in "Alps and Sanctuaries."

I said I would return to the chapel of Loreto a little way out of Varallo on the road to Novara. This work has a lunette which is generally, and I suppose correctly, ascribed to Gaudenzio. It is covered with frescoes not of extraordinary merit, but still interesting, and the chapel itself is extremely beautiful. I had intended dwelling upon it at greater length, but find that my s.p.a.ce will not allow me to do so, though I shall hope to describe it more fully in another work on Italy, for which I have many notes that I have been unable to use here.

And now to conclude. A friend once said to me on the Sacro Monte, "How is it that they have no chapel of the Descent of the Holy Spirit?" I answered that the work of Gaudenzio Ferrari, Tabachetti, D'Enrico, and Paracca was a more potent witness to, and fitter temple for, the Holy Spirit, than any that the hands even of these men could have made for it expressly. For that there is a Holy Spirit, and that it does descend on those that diligently seek it, who can for a moment question? A man may speak lightly of the Father and it shall be forgiven him; he may speak lightly of the Son and it shall be forgiven him; but woe to him if he speak lightly of that Divine Spirit, inspiration of which alone it is that makes a work of art either true or permanently desirable.

Of the letter in which the Sacro Monte is written, I have at times in the preceding pages spoken lightly enough. Who in these days but the advocates whose paid profession it is to maintain the existing order, and those whom custom and vested interests hold enthralled, accepts the letter of Christianity more than he accepts the letter of Oriental exaggerated phraseology? If three days and three nights means in reality only thirty-six hours, so should full fifty per cent. be deducted wherever else seems necessary, and "dead" be read as "very nearly dead," and "the Son of G.o.d" as "rarely perfect man."

Who, on the other hand, that need be reckoned with, denies the eternal underlying verity that there is an omnipresent unknown something for which Mind, Spirit, or G.o.d, is, as Professor Mivart has well said, "the least misleading" expression? Who doubts that this Mind or G.o.d is immanent throughout the whole universe, sustaining it, guiding it, living in it, he in it and it in him? I heard of one not long since who said he had been an atheist this ten years--and added, "thank G.o.d." Who, again, doubts that the spirit of self-sacrifice for a n.o.ble end is lovelier and brings more peace at the last than one of self-seeking and self-indulgence? And who doubts that of the two great enemies both to religion and science referred to in the pa.s.sage I have taken for my motto, "the too much" is even more dangerous than "the too little"?

I, and those who think as I do, would see the letter whether of science or of Christianity made less of, and the spirit more.

Slowly, but very slowly--far, as it seems to our impatience, too slowly--things move in this direction. See how even the Church of Rome, and indeed all churches, are dropping miracles that they once held proper objects of faith and adoration. The Sacro Monte is now singularly free from all that we Protestants are apt to call superst.i.tion.

The miracles and graces so freely dealt in by Fa.s.sola and Torrotti find no place in the more recent handbooks. The Ex Votos and images in wax and silver with which each chapel formerly abounded have long disappeared, and the sacred drama is told with almost as close an adherence to the facts recorded in the Gospels, as though the whole had been done by Protestant workmen. Where is the impress of Christ's footprint now? carted away or thrown into a lumber room as a child's toy that has been outgrown--so surely as has been often said do the famous words "E pur si muove" apply to the Church herself, as well as to that world whose movement she so strenuously denied.

The same thing is happening here among ourselves. As the good churchmen at Varallo have thrown away their Flemish dancer, their footprint of the Saviour, and their Virgins that box thieves' ears and persist in turning round and smiling even after they have been asked not to do so, so we, by the mouths of our Bishops, are flinging away our Genesis, our Exodus, and I know not how much more. In the Nineteenth Century for last December the Bishop of Carlisle says that the account of Creation given in the Book of Genesis "does not pretend to be historical in any ordinary sense"--or, in other words, that it does not pretend to be historical, or true, at all. Surely this is rather a startling jettison. The Bishop goes on to say that "the account of the flood is a very precious tradition full of valuable teaching," and is, he doubts not, a record of some great event that actually occurred; "but," he continues, "I confess that until Bishop Colenso brought his arithmetic to bear upon it and some other portions of Old Testament history, I was quite [why "quite?"]

under the impression that the common sense of Christians abstained from criticising this ancient record by the canons applicable to ordinary history." This was not my own impression, but the Bishop's is doubtless more accurate. If things, however, go on at this rate, a hundred years hence we shall have a Bishop writing to the Twentieth Century that till X, Y or Z brought their canons of historical criticism to bear on the Resurrection itself, he was "quite" under the impression that the common sense of Christians abstained from criticising this ancient record by the canons applicable to ordinary history. The Bishop appeals, and rightly, to common sense. This is of all courts the safest and rightest to abide by, but it must not be forgotten that the common sense of one generation is not that of the next, and that the modification with which common sense descends cannot be effected, however gently we may try to do so, without some disturbance of the pre-existing common sense, and some reversal of its decrees.

That the letter of the coming faith will be greatly truer than that of the many that have preceded it I for one do not believe. Let us have no more "Lo heres" and "Lo theres" in this respect. I would as soon have a winking Madonna or a forged decretal, as the doubtful experiments or garbled articles which the high priests of modern science are applauded with one voice for trying to palm off upon their devotees; and I should look as hopefully for good result from a new monastery, as from a new school of art, college of music, or scientific inst.i.tution. Whatever faith or science the world at large bows down to will in its letter be tainted with the world that worships it. Whoever clings to the spirit that underlies all the science obtaining among civilised peoples will a.s.suredly find that he cannot serve G.o.d and Mammon. The true Christ ever brings a sword on earth as well as peace, and if he maketh men to be of one mind in an house, he divideth a house no less surely. The way will be straight in the future as in the past. All that can be hoped for is that it may perhaps become a trifle more easy through the work of the just men made perfect through suffering that have gone before, and that he who in bygone ages would have been burnt will now be only scouted.

I have in the last few foregoing pages been trenching on somewhat dangerous ground, but who can leave such a work as the Sacro Monte without being led to trench on this ground, and who that trenches upon it can fail to better understand the lesson of the Sacro Monte itself? I am aware, however, that I have said enough if not too much, and will return to the note struck at the beginning of my work- -namely, that I have endeavoured to stimulate study of the great works on the Sacro Monte rather than to write the full account of them which their importance merits. At the same time I must admit that I have had great advantages. Not one single previous writer had ever seen an earlier work than that of Fa.s.sola, published in 1670 [1], whereas I have had before me one that appeared in 1586 [7]. I had written the greater part of my book before last Christmas, and going out to Varallo at the end of December to verify and reconsider it on the spot, found myself forced over and over again to alter what I had written, in consequence of the new light given me by the 1586 [7] and 1590 [1] editions of Caccia. It is with profound regret that though I have continued to search for the 1565 and 1576 editions up to the very last moment that these sheets leave my hands, my search has been fruitless.

Over and above the advantage of having had even the later Caccia before me, I have seen Cav. Aless. G.o.dio's "Cronaca di Crea," which no previous writer had done, inasmuch as this work has been only very lately published. Moreover, when I was at Varallo, it being known that I was writing on the Sacro Monte, every one helped me, and so many gave me such important and interesting information that I found my labour a very light and pleasant one. Especially must I acknowledge my profound obligations to Signor Dionigi Negri, town clerk of Varallo, to Signor Galloni the present director of the Sacro Monte, to Cav. Prof. Antonini and his son, Signori Arienta and Tonetti, and to many other kind friends whom if I were to begin to name I must name half the town of Varallo. With such advantages I am well aware that the work should be greatly better than it is; if, however, it shall prove that I have succeeded in calling the attention of abler writers to Varallo, and if these find the present work of any, however small, a.s.sistance to them, I shall hold that I have been justified in publishing it. In the full hope that this may turn out to be the case, I now leave the book to the generous consideration and forbearance of the reader.


{1} "Uomini e Fatti," &c., p. 65, &c.

{2} "Uomini e fatti," p. 83.

{3} Fa.s.sola, p. 112.

{4} These chapels are grouped together in the 1586 edition as "la nativita di N.S. nel Presepio," but they are separated, as they doubtless should have been earlier, in the edition of 1590 [1591].

{5} English translation of the "Life of St. Charles Borromeo," with preface by Cardinal Manning. Burns & Oates, London and New York, 1884, vol. ii. p. 47.

{6} "Storia a Guida," ed. 1857, Varallo, p. 68.

{7} In the register of the houses in Varallo, taken in 1536, his house is thus described--"Magister Gaudentius pictor fqm Magistri Franchini Vallis Ugiae habitator Varalli, tabet sedimen unum c.u.m domo una magna plodata et alia contigua peleis, et curte ante, et curteto ad plateam putei, cui coh.o.e.ret Franciscus Draghettus sive de Boglia et strata, et soror Catarina de Pioldo." (See Signor Tonetti's Memoir.)

{8} Parma, 1823.

{9} Munich, 1841.

{10} Torino-Tipografia S. Giuseppe--Collegio degli Artigianelli Corso Palestro, No. 14. 1887.

{11} See Signor Galloni's first and tenth notes, pp. 175 and 180.

{12} Their words run thus;--"Il volto di quella Vergine Maria mirava altre volte al Bambino Giesu, ma dall' anno, il giorno, ed hora, che fu creato Pontefice Innocenzo X. al suono di Campane miracolosamente si volto alli Visitanti. Dicono alcuni, che prima ancora staua riuoltata al Popolo, e che accommodata, non accorgendosi del miracolo in detto giorno, poi lo diede a conoscere." Fa.s.sola, p. 86.

"Si dice che la Vergine mirava il Bambino, e quando si sonarono le campane per l'esaltazione d'Innocenzio X. torno il volto ai Visitanti, che racconciata nuovamente voltollo al popolo come invitante." Torrotti, p. 70.

{13} The projected Palazzo di Pilato blocks.

{14} A famous model of some five-and-twenty years ago.

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Ex Voto Part 14 summary

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