Transport of the Madonna Nera

This is one of a group of chapels at Oropa that are not counted among the sequence of the Sacro Monte. The chapels of the Sacro Monte depict the life of the Virgin Mary, but this chapel and two others at the site focus on the history of the Madonna Nera that is venerated in Oropa's Sanctuary. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the statue was often carried down the mountain to Biella to protect the city in times of plague. After a particularly deadly outbreak in 1402, the Canons of Biella decided to move the sculpture permanently to the newly rebuilt church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Candelo. As they were transporting the Madonna to her new home the statue became too heavy to carry. The Bishop interpreted this as a sign that the Virgin wanted to stay at Oropa and ordered that the image be returned to the Sanctuary. This chapel was built on the site of the miracle, shortly after the first ritual crowning of the Madonna Nera in 1620. It is contemporary with the earliest chapels in the Sacro Monte sequence. The sculptures inside are attributed to Giovanni d'Enrico (c. 1560 - 1644), although no documents survive to prove his involvement. If he did model these figures they must have been finished sometime before the artist's death in 1644. The sculptures in the previous chapel are also attributed to Giovanni d'Enrico (c. 1639), although some scholars believe they were made later by Bartolomeo Termine (dates unknown). Pietro Giuseppe Auregio (1667 - 1740) may also have altered or added to the scene, which shows Saint Luke carving the Madonna Nera. It is very rare for the chapels at the Sacri Monti to depict their own history in this way. These particular chapels were built during the Counter-Reformation and depict subjects that affirm and celebrate the miracles associated with the site. These subjects seem to be a direct response to Protestant criticisms about miracle-working images and their devotional use. / 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.
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