Climb to Calvary

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 figures in at least ten other chapels at Varese, made twenty terracotta statues for this group, including two life-sized horses. Elements of real tack are affixed to the horses, including period bits and stirrups, which are believed to have been made in Piedmont, because they are French in style. The floor of the chapel slopes slightly upward to mimic the actual trajectory of the devotional path, and the composition of the figures suggest that the procession is moving towards the Crucifixion Chapel nearby. These rhetorical devices intensify the viewer's impression of being part of the scene, rather than just a witness, as they approach the Sacro Monte's narrative climax. Like the two previous chapels, this building often suffers from humidity and water damage, despite the fact that it was built on a platform raised above the Via Sacra. Sometime between 1927 and 1929 the frescoes were repainted by Girolamo Poloni (1877 - 1954) from Bergamo. Scholars believe that in this case the artist faithfully transcribed the composition of the original frescoes by Giovanni Paolo Recchi of Como (1605 - 1685) in 1654, although that was not true of Poloni's work in Chapel Six. In 1682 the southern staircase, used to approach the chapel, was widened to make room for an exterior fresco by Stefano Maria Legnani (1661 - 1713) (il Legnanino), of Milan. This Ecce Homo was painted in 1686 and is still visible, despite its poor condition. The scene on the opposite wall, which was painted around the same time by Carlo Zavattone, did not fare so well. It depicted a scene of Christ's arrival at Golgotha, where he would be crucified, and is now is faded beyond legibility due to water and storm damage. This chapel illustrating The Climb to Calvary represents the fourth of the rosary's five sorrowful mysteries. / 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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