Adoration of the Shepherds

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Gaudenzio Ferrari (attr. to) and Giovanni d'Enrico
Nativity , Virgin Mary , St. Joseph , Jesus , Shepherds , Angels
This scene is part of the Bethlehem Complex, which is comprised of Chapels Five to Nine and is among the oldest group of chapels on the mountain. Varallo's first guidebook, Questi sono li Misteri che sono sopra el Monte de Varalle (1514), describes this chapel as "un luoco concavato." As in the case of the Annunciation (Chapel Two) modern scholars have long interpreted this phrase as an indication that chapel and the scene inside were still unfinished when the guide was published. Historically, most writers have attributed the statues of Mary and Joseph to Gaudenzio Ferrari based on a new verse inserted in the 1570 edition of Francesco Sesalli's Descrittione del Sacro Monte di Varallo di Valsesia: "E son questi rilievi di fattura Tal, che l'arte contende con Natura." Stefania Stefani Perrone, for example, suggests that Gaudenzio replaced the original wooden figures with new works in terracotta sometime after 1514. The wooden ox is the only sculpture that is believed to survive from the original group and the most recent examination of these works (2018) attributes only the terracotta figures of Mary, Joseph, and the Donkey to Gaudenzio (1515 - c. 1517). The first image of this scene was published in Giovanni Giacomo Ferrari's guidebook of (1611), showing the Holy Family with an ox, donkey, and two shepherds. Bishop Francesco Taverna instructed the fabbricieri to add two additional shepherds and some angels in 1617. Giovanni d'Enrico molded these figures in terracotta and installed them in 1628. Another group of wooden angels with a carved gloria were added sometime later by an unknown artist. This room, which currently houses Chapels Six and Seven, was modeled on the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The altars that mark the location of Christ's birth and the manger where he was laid are arranged in precisely the same manner in Bethlehem and Varallo. The pair of columns, one unfluted and one with spiraling flutes, also mirrors Bethlehem's Chapel of the Manger. The space between the columns was originally open so that visitors could descend the steps to view the group from the perspective of the shepherds. There were no frescoes inside the chapel until the end of the nineteenth century. Between 1894 and 1896, the walls were painted according to designs by Francesco Burlazzi (1846 - 1908) and the statues were restored by Giuseppe Antonini (1833 - 1889), who were professors of painting and sculpture, respectively, at Varallo's Scuola Barolo. The figures' hair was originally made of natural fibers and attached with wax. More recently, horsehair, human hair, and synthetic fibers attached with resin have all been used at various times to replace or augment the old hair as necessary. According to Fassola (1671) and Torotti (1686), the statue of Mary had initially looked directly at the baby in the manger, but when she heard the bells ringing to mark the ascension of Pope Innocent X in 1644, she turned to look at the pilgrims on her right. Other sources suggest that Mary is turning towards the Magi as she hears them arrive. / Varallo was the first Sacro Monte in Northern Italy. The collection of chapels on the hilltop overlooking Varallo was established by Bernardino Caimi (before 1450 - 1499 or 1500) as a way of recreating the sights and experiences of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He organized the chapels according to their Holy Land geography and incorporated architectural details from the pilgrimage churches corresponding to each scene. Caimi chose Varallo to be the site of his New Jerusalem in 1481, he received papal permission to begin collecting donations in 1486, and he is believed to have overseen the project from 1491, when the first chapel was finished, until his death. Different writers have counted each of these dates as the year of the Sacro Monte founding. Many of the early chapels were decorated by Gaudenzio Ferrari (c. 1480 - 1546), who was born nearby and gained a reputation during his lifetime as one of the leading painters in Lombardy. Saint Carlo Borromeo (1538 - 1584) visited the Sacro Monte multiple times while he was Archbishop of Milan (1564 - 1584). Carlo and his contemporaries implemented new policies to clarify Catholic doctrine and structure spiritual practices in Milan after the Council of Trent (1545 - 1563). Carlo Bascapè (1550 - 1615), Saint Carlo's close friend and the Bishop of Novara, personally oversaw a building campaign to reorganize the chapels at Varallo and restructure the pilgrimage experience according to the ideals of the Counter-Reformation. These changes were largely based on designs by Galeazzo Alessi (1512 - 1572), which are collected and preserved in a manuscript called the Libro dei Misteri (1565 - 1569) in Varallo's Biblioteca Civica. Construction continued throughout the first half of the seventeenth-century, led primarily by Giovanni d'Enrico the Younger (c. 1559 - 1644) and his family workshop. Beginning in 1609, d'Enrico also supervised the construction of the new Basilica, which is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin. The Basilica was consecrated in 1649 and the old church, or Chiesa Vecchia, was demolished in 1773, but the Chiesa Nuova was not finished until the façade was added in 1891 - 1896.
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