Lamentation or Burial of Christ

This group was originally housed in Chapel Forty-One at the Sacro Monte di Varallo. These figures are therefore among the oldest works to survive from the first phase of the Sacro Monte's construction, before the death of Varallo's founder Bernardino Caimi. They are dated between 1486, when Caimi received papal approval to begin collecting donations to fund the Sacro Monte at Varallo, and 1493, when the Acts of Donation record that he took possession of the mountain on behalf of the Observant Franciscans. There are three chapels listed in the Acts of Donation: The Sepulcher Chapel (Forty-Three), The Ascension Chapel (destroyed, replaced by Chapel Seventeen), and the Chapel "subtus crucem," which has been identified by Casimiro Debiaggi as the location of this scene. These eight wooden figures were carved and painted by Giovanni and Pietro De Donati, two brothers from Milan. They are about three-quarters of life-sized. By the early-nineteenth century, Elene de Filippis writes that the group was believed to be coarse and out of date. It was removed from the chapel around 1822 - 1823 and replaced with a new group of terracotta figures by Luigi Marchesi (1754 - 1829) in 1826. Six of the wooden figures had arrived at the Pinacoteca by 1882, but in 1888 Samuel Butler wrote that two were still being stored in the basement of the Sacro Monte's Basilica. The De Donatis' group is represented clearly in the first illustration of this scene, which was published in Giovanni Giacomo Ferrari's Brevi considerazioni Sopra i Misteri del Sacro Monte di Varallo (1611). The same image was reprinted in many subsequent guides, including those by Tomasso Nanni da Sogliano (1616) and Girolamo Cattaneo (1826). This woodcut, designed by Joachim Dietrich Coriolanus (1590 - 1628) of Basel, shows that the figures were originally arranged in a different order. The current composition, with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus on the edges of the group, may have been adopted when the figures were moved to the museum. Outside the Chapel of the Holy Sepulcher (Forty-Four) there is a large stone in a niche with a plaque that reads: "Questo pietra e in tutto simile / a quella con la quale fu / coperto il sepolcro del nostro signore / gesu cristo in gerusalemme / trovata nello scavare i primi fondamenti di questo sacro luogo." Varallo's first guidebook, Questi sono li Misteri che sono sopra el Monte de Varalle (1514), had described a stone outside that chapel that was "simile [...] col qual reclause il gran sepulcro sancto," but modern experts Debiaggi, Bober, and Symcox have all emphasized that the extant stone could not have represented the stone that the angel rolled away from Christ's tomb (Matthew 28:2) because it is not round. Debiaggi proposed that the stone currently on display outside the sepulcher chapel represented the Unction Stone during Caimi's lifetime and was originally located in this chapel with the scene of Christ's burial. He believed that the unknown brother who penned the guidebook nearly fifteen years after Caimi's death had made an error and associated the stone with Christ's tomb because the Unction Stone is a relic that is housed in Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulcher. As Debiaggi notes, the description of the Unction Chapel in the 1514 guidebook also records that Jesus' body was placed "su una pietra" in that scene, which supports his theory. There was another square stone inside the tomb at the Holy Sepulcher. Debiaggi writes that this block is believed to have been made from a piece of the Christ's original, round, tombstone and was already in place by the time of Caimi's pilgrimage. Jonathan Bober has shown that there was a similar block inside the atrium of Chapel Forty-Three at Varallo. It is documented in a photograph that was taken sometime before the Bachetta brothers' intervention (1945), but it is not clear when or why the block was removed. / 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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