Transfiguration

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Authors
Pietro Francesco Petera di Varallo and Gaudenzio Soldo da Comasco
Keyword
Jesus , Disciples , Miracle , Transfiguration , Moses , Elijah
Abstract
This chapel is based on designs by Galeazzo Alessi that are collected as part of a manuscript called the Libro dei Misteri (1565 - 1569), which is still housed in Varallo's Biblioteca Civile. The existing chapel departs from Alessi's plan in a number of significant ways. His design placed the sculpted figures within a glass enclosure at the center of the chapel. As with most of the designs Alessi proposed, when the chapel was actually built the sculptures were placed against the back of the building instead and a wooden partition was installed in place of the glass. These adjustments reduced building costs and created a more distinct separation between the viewer's space and that of the figures. The current grate was installed in the nineteen-sixties and its tightly woven latticework is a considerable hindrance to modern viewers. The chapel is built on the highest point of the Sacro Monte, which had previously hosted the Chapel of the Ascension that was built under Caimi's leadership. Construction began sometime before 1572 and was funded by Giacomo D'Adda, a patrician from Milan. Antonio Vasina of Rimella also made a significant contribution towards the chapel's completion, in 1670. Stefani Perrone writes that until 1641 the chapel had no roof at all, but the ceiling was finished in 1647 by Giovanni Giacomo d'Enrico, and the lantern was added in 1664. A print of the scene by Joachim Dietrich Coriolanus (1590 - 1628) is the earliest record of the chapel's interior. This image was first published in Giovanni Giacomo Ferrari's Brevi considerazioni Sopra i Misteri del Sacro Monte di Varallo (1611) and, like Alessi's initial plan, only includes six figures. In the nineteenth century, Samuel Butler expressed his incredulity that both Fassola (1671) and Torrotti (1686) gave the sculptures on top of the mountain to Giovanni d'Enrico (c. 1559 - 1644), since he died nearly three decades before the chapel was finished. Today, most experts attribute the figures of Jesus, Moses and Elijah (c. 1670) to Pietro Francesco Petera, a local sculptor from Varallo. The artist who made the figures of Peter, James, and John remains unknown, but Gaudenzio Soldo modeled the remaining figures at the bottom of the mountain (c. 1671). Soldo was originally from the Valsesian town of Comasco and had studied under Dionigi Bussola, who is known for his work in Milan and at the Sacri Monti of Orta, Varese, and Domodossola. The three-tiered composition and the theatrical gestures of the figures in the foreground recall Raphael's Transfiguration (c. 1518 - 1520), which was well known throughout the Italian Peninsula at this time through numerous prints and painted copies. All of the figures were repainted by Giulio Arienta in 1889. The frescoes in this chapel were painted (c. 1665 - 1675) by Giovanni Stefano Danedi and Giuseppe Danedi, two brothers from Caravaggio who were called I Montalti. They studied under Pier Francesco Mazzucchelli, Il Morazzone, and also painted the cupola inside the Basilica at the end of the devotional path. The roof of this chapel was repaired in 1812, 1884, and 2003. Another exterior wall was also built around the existing one in 2003, to insulate the chapel and protect it from the humidity. / 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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