Birth of the Virgin

Abstract
Construction was already underway on this chapel by 1659, but the final elements of the façade were not completed until much later, in the nineteenth century. It was funded by five communities outside Biella: Bioglio, Pettinengo, Piatto, Vallanzengo, Valle San Nicolao, and Camandona. Giovanni Battista Negro (birth unknown, death 1714) is believed to have designed the chapel. He led the building project at Oropa in the second half of the seventeenth century, from 1643 until his death in 1714. It seems that the original decorations, which had been sculpted by Francesco Sala (dates unknown) and painted by Carlo Antonio Serra (c. 1632 - c. 1681), were replaced by the existing group around the turn of the eighteenth century due to their poor condition. Pietro Giuseppe Auregio (1667 - 1740), a sculptor from nearby Biella, began working to replace the old figures in 1711, perhaps alongside his brother Carlo Francesco Auregio (1670 - 1755). It is likely that both artists trained with Bartolomeo Termine (dates unknown), who was either their maternal uncle or grandfather and had also worked on a number of chapels at Oropa between 1665 and 1669. Auregio's intervention is also believed to have replaced some sculptures by Father Olivier (dates unknown) around 1702, a local priest whose first name remains unknown. The frescoes were painted by Giovanni Galliari the Elder (1672 -1722) around 1718. Galliari was from Andorno Micca, a village in the valley east of Oropa. These frescoes and the surviving sculptures were altered during the restoration campaign in 1970. The scene shows the Virgin Mary as an infant being presented to her father Joachim. Her mother, Saint Anne, is still resting in bed as she looks up towards heaven where God the Father looks on accompanied by a host of angels. A group of female attendants cluster together near a fireplace on the right side of the chapel, carrying on with the laundry as if unaware of the scene taking place around them. The figures are in very poor condition, many have heads and limbs missing. It is likely that they were damaged intentionally by visitors that threw stones through the gaps in the metal grating. / The Sacro Monte at Oropa is part of a larger devotional complex dedicated to an image of the Black Madonna that has been venerated on this site since 1295. This sculpture is believed to be one of three dark-skinned and miraculous images of the Virgin Mary that Saint Eusebius brought back from the Holy Land in the Fourth Century. The other two figures are located in the Sanctuary at Crea, another Sacro Monte, and the Cathedral of Cagliari in Sardinia, where Eusebius was born. Black Madonnas were common throughout western Europe during the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period. Modern Art Historians generally agree that the images darkened over time due to the soot released by nearby candles. Many of the sculptures have been repainted with light skin in recent years, including the examples at Crea and Varese. Unlike any of the other Sacri Monti Oropa was cared for by secular clergy throughout its entire history. The plans for a Sacro Monte to accompany the sanctuary date to 1620, the year that the new church building was finished, the statue of the Virgin was ceremonially crowned for the first time, and Duke Charles Emanuel I of Savoy declared himself the official protector of Oropa. The house of Savoy continued to fund and visit the elaborate sanctuary complex until the early twentieth century, even as they served as the Kings of Italy. The Sacro Monte, however, was built by local citizens, initiatives, and parishes. Only twelve of the twenty-eight chapels that were planned to illustrate the life of the Virgin Mary were ever completed. Primary documents detailing the Sacro Monte's construction are somewhat scarce compared to the records available at the other sites.
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