Lamentation (or Pietà)

This chapel dates to the earliest period of the Sacro Monte's development. It was probably built during the fourteen-nineties, but it was certainly in place by the time the first guidebook to Varallo was published in 1514. The chapel originally showed Jesus being stripped of his garments before the Crucifixion, which was later officially recognized as the Tenth Station of the Cross. At least two of the wooden figures from this first group have survived. Like most of the early, wooden, figures at Varallo they are slightly smaller than life-sized. Sometime in or shortly after 1628 or 1638, the sculptures of Christ and his captor were moved to Chapel Thirty-Two, which shows Jesus being led into the Court of Pontius Pilate during his trial. Since the original group was moved, this chapel has housed eleven terracotta figures illustrating the Lamentation over Christ's body. This scene is often described as a Pietà to distinguish it from the group in the next chapel (Forty-One). The figures were modeled by Giovanni d'Enrico between 1635 and 1640. Varallo's earliest chapels tend to be much smaller than the ones that were built later in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Placing these life-sized figures in such a small space allows pilgrims to get much closer to them than in other scenes and strengthens the viewer's emotional connection to the scene. The frescoes in this chapel (c. 1504?) have traditionally been attributed to Gaudenzio Ferrari, although Cattaneo suggested his student Bernardino Lanino (1509/13 - 1582) may have painted them, and, since 1964, a number of scholars have followed Andreina Griseri's attribution to Giovanni Antonio Bazzi (1477 - 1549), who was called Il Sodoma. Many of the helmets and weapons in the fresco are built up with additional plaster, a technique that Gaudenzio employed extensively in the tramezzo (1513) he painted in Santa Maria delle Grazie at the foot of the mountain. The paintings have often fallen into poor condition, so it is likely that they have were retouched at least once - Francesco Torrotti wrote in 1686 that Giovanni d'Enrico had repainted some parts of the walls. Samuel Butler remarked that this was the only one of Gaudenzio's frescoes at Varallo to be significantly retouched. He also suggested that this and the subsequent chapel were built as a single structure for the wooden Compianto group that was moved to the Pinacoteca di Varallo in 1822. This seems plausible, although it further complicates our present understanding of the date and authorship of the frescoes. The sculptures were restored in 1993, and the frescoes were treated in 2007 - 2008. When the figures were restored again in 2010 their hair was replenished with donations from local hairdressers and devotees. / 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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