Angels (semi-dome of the apse of the main chapel)

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Pompeo Bianchi, Giuseppe Bianchi, and Domenico Fontana di Muggiò (stucco) and Alessandro Armanino (gilding)
Angels , Grotesques
The Sanctuary of the Madonna di Tirano, built in response to a miraculous vision, was and is the greatest centre of devotion in the Valtellina (a zone in the mountains of northern Lombardy, very close to the Swiss border), and many come here seeking miracles, as attested by the numerous votive offerings displayed in the basilica. The richly sculpted stucco ornaments that cover the interior attest to this continuing devotion and desire to honour such an important site. The stucco ornaments of the semi-dome of the apse of the main chapel (1594) include classically-inspired grotesque ornaments, some purely decorative (masks, swags, monstrous faces, curlicues, etc.), but others with religious signifcance (a bishop's mitre, a tabernacle with the cross, etc.), and so it takes an attentive viewer to distinguish the playfully trivial from the devoutly serious. In high relief, almost in-the-round, are large seated rather solid-looking angels, shown here not as chubby babies, as was common in the late sixteenth century, but as young adults. The angels have large books open before them and many have parted lips, and so they are reading, or, more likely, singing, though rather unusually they do not hold musical instruments. The sculptures are done in stucco (a type of plaster), an ancient Roman medium for sculpture and architectural ornament that was revived in the Renaissance. Fourteenth and fifteenth-century stucco sculptures are generally fully polychromed, but these are mostly white, with partial gilding and paint to enliven the figures and make them more legible from the floor far below. Photograph(s) licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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