Nativity

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Date
Authors
Pietro Giuseppe Auregio
Keyword
Nativity , Virgin Mary , St. Joseph , Jesus , Shepherds , Angels
Abstract
It took nearly a century to build this chapel: construction began around 1620, when the idea to build a Sacro Monte at Oropa was first proposed, and concluded in 1715. The final version was likely designed by Giovanni Siletto (1683 - 1756), director of the Fabbrica del Santuario (1714 - 1756). The project was funded by the villages of Cossila and Favaro, which both lie along the road between Biella and Oropa. Patronizing the Nativity Chapel was especially meaningful to these communities because many of the villagers were shepherds themselves, but their relative poverty also made a commission of this scale difficult to support. Eventually, it became clear that the chapel needed another patron, and either the townspeople themselves or a representative from the sanctuary asked Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy to fund the outstanding work, which he did in 1675, the year of his death. Thanks to his contribution, the chapel was finished and fully decorated in time for the second Coronation of the Virgin in 1720. This is the only chapel at Oropa's Sacro Monte that relied on contributions from the House of Savoy, although the dukes contributed significant sums to building a chapel at Varallo. The sculptures were made by Pietro Giuseppe Auregio (1667 - 1740), and the interior frescoes were painted by Giovanni Galliari the Elder (1672 -1722) around the same time (c. 1716). Both the paintings and sculptures were heavily retouched during restoration efforts of 1969 - 1970. This nativity scene is one of the oldest and largest that survives in the region of Biella. The barn-like structure sheltering the holy family reflects local building traditions and materials. One scholar even suggests that it was built by masons from Favaro specifically. / 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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