Coronation of the Virgin

Thumbnail Image
Giovanni d'Enrico and Giacomo Ferro
Virgin Mary , Coronation , Queen of Heaven , Trinity , Crown , Angels
This was the first, largest, and most elaborate chapel at Oropa's Sacro Monte. The building was designed by Francesco Conti (dates unknown) and construction began shortly after 1621, following the first ritual Coronation of the Madonna Nera in Oropa's main Sanctuary (1620). The chapel is built in the shape of a Greek cross, which is unusual for the Sacri Monti. Inside, the sculptures occupy a stage-like space that extends across the whole width of the chapel. In 1653 another wall was built around the exterior to provide insulation and protect the works inside from the powerful storms and damp conditions of the local environment. Giovanni d'Enrico (c. 1560 - 1644) and Giacomo Ferro (unknown - c. 1657) made one-hundred and fifty-six sculptures for the chapel between 1633 and 1639. At the center of the scene, pilgrims are met with figures of Adam and Eve at eye-level on either side of a small tree. In the cupola above, Mary is crowned Queen of Heaven by the three persons of the Holy Trinity surrounded by a crowd of angels and cherubim. This composition establishes a visual connection between the two women. The Catholic Church taught that Mary was the new Eve: Eve was blamed for bringing sin into the world in the Garden of Eden, but Mary had brought redemption when she gave birth to Jesus. The Apostle Paul made a similar comparison between Adam and Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15: 21 - 22. Both Adam and Eve wear large metal fig leaves, which seem to have been added sometime after the figures were finished to preserve their modesty. Eve clasps her hands in prayer in front of her chest and her body does not look particularly feminine. Sexual temptation was often perceived to be a particular danger with images of Adam and Eve. The sculptures of Adam and Eve at Varallo were replaced at least three times after the chapel was built in 1566 to counteract that danger. Giovanni d'Enrico had worked extensively at Varallo before he was employed at Oropa, so we can be sure he was familiar with the scene in Chapel One at Varallo. There are strong parallels between the two groups, but at Oropa, Adam and Eve are surrounded by saints and other religious figures rather than animals. Many of the sculptures, including the figure of Eve, are currently in poor condition, with heads or other limbs that have been detached from their bodies. The selective nature of this damage suggests it may have been intentional. Some visitors have been known to throw rocks at the Sacri Monti's sculptures. The majority of the saints, martyrs, and kings that make up the lower registers of the heavenly host are identified by a small label below the figure. It is not clear whether these labels were part of the artist's original design, however, since they do not survive for all of the figures. The chapel has certainly undergone a number of restoration campaigns, but it is the only one that was not affected by the intervention of 1969 - 1970. This group is the only one at Oropa that survives with real hair attached to the statues. This practice was common in the D'Enrico workshop's chapels at Varallo, but the other chapels at Oropa with applied hair (Chapels Five and Ten) use a much coarser plant-based material instead. / The Sacro Monte at Oropa is part of a larger devotional complex dedicated to an image of the Black Madonna that has been venerated on this site since 1295. This sculpture is believed to be one of three dark-skinned and miraculous images of the Virgin Mary that Saint Eusebius brought back from the Holy Land in the Fourth Century. The other two figures are located in the Sanctuary at Crea, another Sacro Monte, and the Cathedral of Cagliari in Sardinia, where Eusebius was born. Black Madonnas were common throughout western Europe during the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period. Modern Art Historians generally agree that the images darkened over time due to the soot released by nearby candles. Many of the sculptures have been repainted with light skin in recent years, including the examples at Crea and Varese. Unlike any of the other Sacri Monti Oropa was cared for by secular clergy throughout its entire history. The plans for a Sacro Monte to accompany the sanctuary date to 1620, the year that the new church building was finished, the statue of the Virgin was ceremonially crowned for the first time, and Duke Charles Emanuel I of Savoy declared himself the official protector of Oropa. The house of Savoy continued to fund and visit the elaborate sanctuary complex until the early twentieth century, even as they served as the Kings of Italy. The Sacro Monte, however, was built by local citizens, initiatives, and parishes. Only twelve of the twenty-eight chapels that were planned to illustrate the life of the Virgin Mary were ever completed. Primary documents detailing the Sacro Monte's construction are somewhat scarce compared to the records available at the other sites.
External DOI