Oration in the Garden

This chapel was funded by Antonio and Domenico Brentano-Moretto, two brothers from Azzano, a village about two miles north of Ossuccio overlooking Lake Como. The Bretano family crest hangs above the window into the chapel commemorating their contribution. The building and the frescoes inside by Francesco Innocenzo Torriani (1649 - 1712) were completed in 1680. Torriani's father was also a painter named Francesco (1612 - 1681). They were both from Mendrisio, in Ticino, and worked primarily in the churches of their native province and Como. These frescoes are the first at Ossuccio in which part of the scene's main narrative is painted rather than sculpted, although the Nativity (Chapel Three) also includes a small vignette of angels appearing to the shepherds before they visit the Holy Family. It is unusual that the frescoes in this chapel were finished before the sculptures, since artists at the Sacri Monti typically installed the sculptures before beginning work on the painted decorations. The receipt documenting Torriani's work in this chapel specifies that he was paid "per le pitture già eseguite dove andrà il mistero dell'orto" (the pictures [that are] already executed where the mystery of the garden will go). The five sculptures have been attributed to Agostino Silva, who may have been aided by his son Gianfrancesco (b. 1660). These statues were probably installed shortly after 1680 and would have been made of terracotta, although the existing figures date to a later period. Chemical tests performed by conservators in 1979 show that the extant sculptures are made of gesso and cement over an iron skeleton. Christ's short, bifurcated beard is more typical of images made in the nineteenth or twentieth century and unlike is the beards at any other chapel of this scene from the seventeenth century. Papavassilou and Pescamora do not comment on the date or authenticity of these figures. This kind of beard appears in Chapel One at the Sacro Monte of Domodossola. That building was destroyed in an explosion in 1830 and the scene was replaced by Pietro Mosca in the early twentieth century. The flip-flop style sandals the disciples in this chapel wear also stand out as particularly modern looking. The delicate straps of the discarded sandal are in excellent condition, which suggests that the sculptures have been treated recently by conservators (Image 4). The angel holds a gilded cup and a cross, which are both made of wood. The arrangement of the figures here recalls the composition of this scene in the corresponding chapels at Varallo (Chapels Twenty-One and Twenty-Two). Giovanni d'Enrico (c. 1559 - 1644) modeled the terracotta figures in those chapels in 1604 and 1605 - 1606, respectively. Ossuccio's sculptures seem to have been repainted and the frescoes have incurred additional losses along the lower portion of the wall since Papavassilou's guidebook was published in 2013. / The Sacro Monte of Ossuccio is dedicated to the fifteen mysteries of the rosary, and many of its chapels closely resemble those at the Sacro Monte of Varese (built 1605 - 1699), which is dedicated to the same subject. Agostino Silva (1628 - 1706), an artist from nearby Ticino, designed most of the scenes at Ossuccio. He was also active at the Sacro Monte sopra Varese, where the majority of chapels had been decorated by his father, Francesco Silva (1568 - 1641). The early history of this Sacro Monte remains unclear: some sources suggest that work began as early as 1623, but it is clear from the records of pastoral visits discovered by Daniele Pescamora that none of the chapels were built before July of 1644. Traditionally, many modern scholars have followed Santino Langé, who believed that Francesco had modeled the sculptures in the first three chapels at Ossuccio and Agostino had only taken charge of the project after his father's death in 1641. However, the pastoral records cited above preclude Francesco's involvement entirely and suggest that most of the scenes were decorated from the sixteen-sixties onward, when Agostino was active on the mountain (he was first documented at Ossuccio in 1663). The end of the devotional path is marked by the sanctuary of the Madonna del Soccorso, which was built in the first quarter of the sixteenth century and houses the final scene in the rosary sequence. Modern scholars date the miraculous image of the Madonna and Child for which the Sanctuary is named to the 14th century. Most of the statues of the Virgin that are venerated in the sanctuaries at the Italian Sacri Monti are made of wood, but Ossuccio's titular image is carved in white marble and embellished with gold accents. The existing sanctuary is believed to occupy the site of a pre-Christian temple to the Roman goddess Ceres. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the religious complex was overseen by Third Order Franciscans. Just as Bernardino Caimi had directed the construction of the Sacro Monte at Varallo, the project at Ossuccio was led by Brother Timothy Snider from c. 1643 until his death in 1682. Unlike Caimi, however, Snider seems to have designed the chapels and arranged the devotional path himself. All the chapels have likely been cleaned and restored multiple times since they were finished. Silvestro Marmori's conservation efforts in 1935 were particularly extensive and are well-documented by Pescamora (2004).
External DOI