Ascension of Christ

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 Chapel Eleven. Construction had already begun at this site when it was abandoned in favor of the current location in 1624. The fist building was never finished as a chapel but was used as a residential dwelling for many years and then as headquarters for all the restoration work that took place between 1984 and 1990. It is known as the failed chapel, la cappella fallita or falida, and often appears on maps of the Sacro Monte, although it is not usually labeled. Giovanni Pietro Carcano (1559-1624), a wool merchant and banker from Milan, made a large donation to the chapel in 1624, which may have prompted the chapel's relocation. It is not clear whether Carcano's bequest took place before his death or was gifted from his estate. Bernascone also altered his architectural designs, making the finished chapel more elaborate than he had originally planned. Carcano's family crest is prominently displayed in the pediment above the porch. His patron saint and that of his nephew, Giovanni Antonio Carcano, Saints Peter and Anthony of Padua, also appear in stone sculptures on either side of the archway. The author of these works is unknown. The sculptures inside the chapel were modeled by Francesco Silva (1568 - 1641) in 1632. An inscription bearing this date was discovered on the left shoulder of the Madonna in the restorations of 1989. The terracotta figures are life-sized and mostly hollow, with the exception of the non-corporeal cherubim, which are modeled in solid clay or stucco. The circle of golden rays behind the sculpture of Jesus are made of gilded wood. A man with short hair and no beard stands slightly outside the semi-circle of disciples on the left-hand-side of the group. His features are somewhat reminiscent of Silva's reputed self-portrait in Chapel Five. If this figure were another image of the artist it would help explain why there are twelve men present, since Christ's ascension was believed to take place after Judas' death and before the apostles elected a new member to complete their number. The clear distinction between three registers of figures, the semicircular host of angels, and the apostle in the foreground who reaches up with his back to the viewer recalls the composition of Titian's Assumption of the Virgin (1518) at the Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice. The frescoes were originally painted in 1633 by Giovanni Francesco Lampugnani (1588 - 1651) and Giovanni Battista Lampugnani (1590 - 1640), two brothers from Legnano. This date is recorded in a painted plaque inside the chapel and documented in a nineteenth-century guidebook, although the inscription is no longer legible. It seems that the interior was repainted at least twice, including by Girolamo Poloni (1877 - 1954) in the early twentieth century. The existing frescoes mimic the hilly landscape surrounding the chapel. Before the neighboring trees grew up to their current extent, this continuity between the interior and exterior landscapes would seem to dissolve the separation between the two spaces, effectively transforming this hilltop into the site of Christ's Ascension. The potential to use local geography for theatrical effect in this way likely motivated Bernascone to choose this site for the new chapel, because the views were more dramatic and the building could be built farther away from the mountain's slope than was possible at the original location. Inside, the figures are arranged on an artificial hill that continues the slope of the actual mountain. Recent restorations have removed the rocky outcroppings, tufts of grass, and recreation of the Sacra Orma, Jesus' footprint, that were painted and sculpted into this ground. It is not clear whether these elements were part of the original decorations or added in subsequent interventions. / The Sacro Monte sopra Varese is built on Mount Olona, also called Mount Vellate, which is believed to be the site of Saint Ambrose's final victory over an army of Arian heretics in the year 389. A church dedicated to the Madonna del Monte was erected on the site in the 10th century and rebuilt by the duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, in the late 15th century. Two local women established an Augustinian convent there in 1474 and, little more than a century later, another of their number proposed that a Sacro Monte be built leading up to the sanctuary. There are fourteen chapels and three monumental arches illustrating the mysteries of the rosary, preceded by a church dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. The final mystery is represented by the cult statue on the high altar, which is attributed to Saint Luke. The chapels were designed by Giuseppe Bernascone, il Mancino (1565 - 1627), an architect from Varese who trained with Pellegrino Tibaldi (1527 - 1596), or Pellegrino de' Pellegrini, and constructed quickly between 1605 and 1699. They are significantly larger than the chapels at any other Sacro Monte.
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