Isaac's birth foretold to Abraham and Sarah

Abstract
Although it is the first chapel in the narrative at Ghiffa, this chapel was the last to be constructed on the site. It was built between 1701 and 1703, which suggests that the stucco sculptures inside also date to this period. Stucco became the preferred medium of the Sacri Monti's artists during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries because it was easier to work and did not need to be fired in a kiln like terracotta. None of the artists, architects, or patrons that contributed to this chapel are known. The central scene depicts the Hebrew patriarch Abraham kneeling before three angels while his wife Sarah and another woman, likely her servant Hagar, watch from a window in the house behind him. Although it was common for artists at the time to depict Abraham's three visitors as angels, early Christian scholars including Saints Jerome and Augustine argued that the men described in Genesis 18:2 were embodiments of the three persons of the Holy Trinità. The authorities at Ghiffa seem to have shared this belief, as a cartouche above the patriarch's head reads: "Ne vide tre e ne adorò un solo" (He saw three and worshipped only one). Sculptures of Moses and Noah frame the main tableau from elevated niches in the curved walls of the apses on either side of the building. In the open space at the center of the chapel there are two circular enclosures filled with soil and a young tree. It is unclear when these planter-like structures were added. No other chapel or Sacro Monte houses living plants, but these trees may prompt comparisons to Chapel 1 at Varallo (c. 1595 - 1599) and Chapel 12 at Oropa (1633), both of which include a tree between figures of Adam and Eve at the center of their tableaux. / The Sacro Monte at Ghiffa is the smallest and most irregular of the nine pilgrimage sites belonging to the UNESCO group. The Sanctuary (1605 - 1617) had existed on the hilltop as a pilgrimage site since at least the twelfth or thirteenth century and houses a miraculous image of the Holy Trinità. As at the Sacro Monte of Orta, the fabbricieri who oversaw the construction efforts at Ghiffa during the seventeenth century were laypeople from the nearby town of Ronco. Unlike the other Sacri Monti, however, there never seems to have been any permanent settlement of a religious community at Ghiffa. Furthermore, there were never any plans to build a unified series of narrative chapels on the site. The three existing chapels were added one-by-one between 1647 and 1703.
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