Flagellation

Abstract
This chapel was likely the first to be completed, thanks to its powerful patrons Francesco and Gerolamo Litta, merchants from Milan. Their family crest and two patron saints are prominently displayed outside the chapel. Construction took place between 1606 and 1607. Martino Retti received the commission for the interior sculptures in 1608. These are the only life-sized figures on the mountain that are made of solid, rather than hollow, terracotta. Large scale terracotta sculpture is generally hollow, to avoid cracking and other firing problems. Some scholars believe that these sculptures replaced an earlier group that did have hollow figures but was deemed too small and is now housed in the convent. The dramatic and dynamic poses of these figures depend on the extraordinary tensile strength of terracotta and showcase the technical skill of their maker. Like Francesco Silva (1568 - 1641), who made the majority of the sculptural groups at Varese, Retti was from nearby Ticino. He also sculpted the stone images of Saints Francis and Jerome on the chapel's exterior. The stone Pietà and two angels on top of the porch's triangular pediment were sculpted by Giovanni Maria Palanchino in 1606. The interior frescoes were painted by Pier Francesco Mazzucchelli (1573-1626), il Morazzone, who is also known for painting the quadroni of San Carlo at the Duomo in Milan and other chapels at the Sacri Monti of Varallo and Orta. The paintings depict additional scenes from Jesus' trial before the high priests and Roman governor. They also include a portrait of one of the Litta brothers at prayer. This is the only chapel on the mountain without an access door. The iron grating in one of the windows was later adapted to allow caretakers to enter when necessary. This chapel and the next share a feature that is very unusual at the Sacri Monti: the floor inside is raised to the level of the windows that pilgrims used to view the scene. Looking up at the sculptures establishes more emotional distance between the visitor and the figures in the Flagellation. The elevated floor recalls the Sacri Monti's relationship to religious theater by arranging the sculptures like actors on a stage. Raising the terracotta figures away from the ground also protects them from water damage, which is particularly common on this part of the mountain. In the past, locals have sometimes called Chapel Seven the "Cappella dei Giudei," an anti-Semitic title that blames Jews for Christ's death. Both this and the following chapel include figures with stereotypical and racialized facial features. The wooden Flagellation at Brissago (c. 1774), which is housed inside the only chapel that was ever completed at that Sacro Monte, is also called "the Chapel of the Jews." This scene represents the second of the rosary's five sorrowful mysteries. / The Sacro Monte sopra Varese is built on Mount Olona, also called Mount Vellate, which is believed to be the site of Saint Ambrose's final victory over an army of Arian heretics in the year 389. A church dedicated to the Madonna del Monte was erected on the site in the 10th century and rebuilt by the duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, in the late 15th century. Two local women established an Augustinian convent there in 1474 and, little more than a century later, another of their number proposed that a Sacro Monte be built leading up to the sanctuary. There are fourteen chapels and three monumental arches illustrating the mysteries of the rosary, preceded by a church dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. The final mystery is represented by the cult statue on the high altar, which is attributed to Saint Luke. The chapels were designed by Giuseppe Bernascone, il Mancino (1565 - 1627), an architect from Varese who trained with Pellegrino Tibaldi (1527 - 1596), or Pellegrino de' Pellegrini, and constructed quickly between 1605 and 1699. They are significantly larger than the chapels at any other Sacro Monte.
External DOI