Way to Calvary (Carrying of the Cross)
Agnolo di Polo, attributed to
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This painted terracotta sculpture is in one of the chapels of the Sacro Monte at San Vivaldo. The Sacro Monte (literally sacred mountain) is a pilgrimage site built by the Franciscans. Small chapels each contain painted terracotta sculptures with events from the Passion of Christ. These chapels are arranged on the hilly terrain so that they evoke the actual geography in the Holy Land of the places in which the events occurred. In a time in which pilgrimage to the Holy Land was for the most part impossible (because the territory was under Muslim control), the Sacro Monte offered a substitute or a simulacrum that was thought to be efficacious. In 1516, at the request of the Franciscans of San Vivaldo, Pope Leo X promulgated a brief granting indulgences (time off purgatory) to all who visited the site, which made it a major pilgrimage destination. At this and other Sacri Monti (of which there are several in Lombardy and Piedmont), devotees were to come in penitence, perhaps at night with a lantern, and move from chapel to chapel saying prayers. The relief evokes ancient Roman reliefs of processions (such as the one on the Arch of Titus), but here in higher relief, especially for the central figures. The space is long and narrow, with two doors, and the visitor walks along with Christ, a part of the crowd, unable to see the whole scene at once. The two thieves lead the procession, with Jesus holding the cross (that overlaps the architectural frame above) in the centre, turning out towards the viewers as a kind of icon for devotion in the middle of the bustle, assisted by Simon of Cyrene. The hostile looking face of a black man staring out from behind the cross is a racist depiction of evil. The sculptures in this chapel have been attributed on the basis of style to Agnolo di Polo, a follower of Verrocchio who specialized in terracotta. Photograph(s) licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.