The mountains and lakes of Lombardy and Piedmont are both picturesque and rich with little-known cultural heritage. In the Renaissance and Baroque, northern Italy, which bordered Protestant lands, was central to promoting and supporting the Catholic faith. Life-sized painted sculptures made of wood, terracotta, and other materials were arranged to create naturalistic tableaux in chapels on holy mountains, pilgrimage sites which the devout visited at night, whipping themselves before sculptures must have seemed to come to life by the flickering light of lanterns. Sculpted bodies with a range of skin tones, some thin from suffering and illness and others Herculean in their muscular energy, have actual hair and are bound with real ropes or eat from real dishes. Other fleshy sculptures inhabit huge, theatrical altarpieces. Many of these living statues continue to be the focus of cult today and so are adorned with real jewelry and other offerings made by the faithful. These sculptures are site specific, embedded in the landscape, politics, and devotional practices of the region, but also the work of cosmopolitan artists and patrons with international connections.

This database offers high-resolution images of and information about over 185 sculptures and sculptural groups. The information and photographs can be used freely for research, teaching, and publication.

Map

This interactive map, created by Kennis Forte, shows the current locations of all of the sculptures in the database and is colour-coded by material.

Authors

Kennis Forte (ABD, Queen’s University) and Una D’Elia (professor, Queen’s University) created this database. If you have any questions or comments or would like to contribute information or photographs to this database, please contact Una D’Elia (deliau@queensu.ca).

Renaissance Polychrome Sculpture in Other Regions

This database is a part of a larger project to offer information about and high-resolution images of Renaissance polychrome sculpture in different regions of Italy. Two databases are already published:

A database of polychrome sculptures in Sicily is in progress, and other regions will follow.

Virtual Exhibitions

Because this database and those for the other regions of Italy include thousands of high-resolution photographs for research and publication, and because entries for each object synthesize previous scholarship, including conservation reports, making this information available to English-speaking audiences, the database can be used in undergraduate and graduate courses, and the students can publish their research in the form of online virtual exhibitions. For more information on using these databases for teaching, please contact Una D'Elia (deliau@queensu.ca). Students in undergraduate and graduate classes at Queen’s have used these databases to create exhibitions:

Support

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Department of Art History and Art Conservation at Queen’s University, and the Queen’s University Libraries.

Contact

If you have any questions or comments about this larger project or would like to collaborate on producing future databases, please contact Una D’Elia (deliau@queensu.ca).

Using the Images

Photographs of sculptures in this collection are freely available for teaching, research, and publication.

Recent Submissions

  • Crucifixion 

    Dionigi Bussola
    This chapel represents the Crucifixion, the fifth and final sorrowful mystery of the rosary. Construction was completed in 1623, but the interior decorations were not added until the second half of the seventeenth century. ...
  • Ascension of Christ 

    Francesco Silva
    Chapel Twelve illustrates the second of the rosary's glorious mysteries. Bernascone had originally planned to build the chapel elsewhere, along the medieval road that remains visible between the Arch of Saint Ambrose and ...
  • Presentation at the Temple (or The Circumcision) 

    Andrea Prestinari or Cristoforo Prestinari, attr. to
    These carved wooden figures sit on the altar in the left nave of the sanctuary at Santa Maria del Monte. Neither the altar nor its sculptures are mentioned in the record of a pastoral visit ordered by Carlo Borromeo in ...
  • Assumption of the Virgin Mary 

    Francesco Silva and Agostino Silva
    Despite the fact that this is the last freestanding chapel in the series at Varese, it was among the first to be built. (The final mystery is represented inside the Sanctuary.) It represents the fourth glorious mystery of ...
  • Adoration of the Magi 

    Andrea da Saronno, attr. to
    This altar sits at the end of the right transept in the sanctuary of Santa Maria del Monte. The figures are made of wood and smaller than the life-sized figures in the chapels along the Via Sacra. They are usually dated ...
  • Christ among the Doctors (or The Dispute in the Temple) 

    Francesco Silva
    The Fabbrica del Rosario broke ground on this chapel in May of 1607, but construction was not finished until 1654, an unusually long process for the chapels at Varese. It illustrates the fifth and final glorious mystery ...
  • Saint Francis worships at the altar of Porziuncola 

    Cristoforo Prestinari
    After his temptation, which is the subject of the precious chapel, Francis collected twelve white and twelve red roses from the miraculous rosebush and brought them to the altar of a nearby chapel in Assisi, called the ...
  • Temptation of Saint Francis 

    Antonio Pino, attr. to
    There is a considerable amount of debate about which artists contributed to this chapel and when they completed their work. According to the records of a pastoral visit of 1661, the chapel and its decorations were finished ...
  • Visitation 

    Francesco Silva
    The Virgin Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth, after both women had miraculously become pregnant, is the subject of this chapel. This Visitation is the second of five joyful mysteries in the rosary. The chapel was built ...
  • Christ crowned with the Crown of Thorns 

    Francesco Silva
    This chapel represents the third sorrowful mystery of the rosary, in which Jesus is mocked and crowned with thorns. Construction was finished in 1623, and the sculptures were added a few years later, probably in 1625 or ...
  • Oration in the Garden 

    Francesco Silva
    Chapel Six illustrates the first of the five sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. Construction began around 1606 and continued until sometime after 1656, when the porch was added. The nine life-sized figures inside were ...
  • Climb to Calvary 

    Francesco Silva
    The construction of this chapel was completed in 1623. Therefore, the figures, which were modeled by Francesco Silva (1568 - 1641), were probably made and installed in the mid-sixteen-twenties. Silva, who also sculpted the ...
  • Saint Francis Renounces his Worldly Goods 

    Cristoforo Prestinari
    Construction of this chapel began in 1596 and was entirely funded by Carlo Bascapè, the Bishop of Novara. Inside, the tableau shows Saint Francis renouncing his claim to inherit his father's wealth and worldly goods before ...
  • Nativity 

    Cristoforo Prestinari and Francesco Silva
    This chapel was built between 1605 and 1611 and represents the Nativity, the third joyful mystery of the rosary. Part of the mountain had to be carved away to create enough space for the foundation, which has made the air ...
  • Christ at the Column (or The Flagellation) 

    Giovanni Battista da Corbetta
    This wooden sculpture of Christ at the Column was made for the scene of the Flagellation at the Sacro Monte di Varallo, which is currently housed in Chapel Thirty. The chapel that originally housed this scene was built ...
  • Holy Sepulcher 

    Unknown and Gaudenzio Ferrari
    This is the oldest chapel on the Sacro Monte. Its construction was funded and overseen by Milano Scarognini, a banker and magistrate from Varallo. Work on the chapel began on October 7, 1491. That date and Scarognini's ...
  • Birth of Saint Francis 

    Cristoforo Prestinari
    This chapel was built between 1594 and 1604 based on designs by Cleto da Castelletto Ticino. The frescoes were painted in 1615 by Giacomo Filippo Monti (dates unknown), a local artist, perhaps with the help of his brother ...
  • Last Supper 

    Francesco Silva, attr. to
    In 1625, Don Giacomo Stoffio mentioned a chapel of this subject in his Descrittione della devotissima chiesa di S. Maria del Sasso, which is the oldest surviving account of this Sacro Monte and its history. He said that ...
  • Descent of the Holy Spirit (or Pentecost) 

    Francesco Silva, attr. to
    This chapel illustrates the moment that Christ's followers received the Holy Spirit after Jesus' death and resurrection. Acts 2 recounts that the disciples were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks when they heard ...
  • Annunciation 

    Cristoforo Prestinari
    This chapel illustrates the Annunciation, the first of five joyful mysteries of the rosary. Construction was finished by 1609, and the terracotta sculptures were installed the following year. There is a signature on the ...

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