Altarpiece of the Immaculate Virgin

Abstract
This painted wood altarpiece is still in its original location in San Maurizio in Ponte in Valtellina, surrounded by frescoes (also late 15th C), which repeat architectural motifs from the altarpiece and complete the imagery, which focuses on Mary as Immaculate. The altarpiece, which was commissioned by a confraternity dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, originally had wings, now lost, which could be closed and then opened to reveal the splendid interior on feast days. The work has been attributed to Giacomo Del Maino (a wood specialist based in Milan) and his workshop -- the work itself is not documented, but he is documented to have been in Ponte in Valtellina in 1491, hiring a local assistant, and so on that basis and the style of the work, it has been dated to 1490-5, just after Giacomo completed an altarpiece of the Immaculate Mary in Milan, which is now lost but must have looked similar to this one. The refined classicizing up-to-date architecture of the frame reflects contemporary taste in Milan and the surrounding region. On the predella, some of the busts of prophets have been stolen. On the next level, reliefs of the life of Anna and Joachim (Mary's parents) flank a sculpture of Mary, which in the photographs in Casciaro (2000) is adoring the baby Jesus lying at her feet and has her head covered with a veil and crown, but in these photographs (taken in 2018), there is no baby, and the Virgin's head is uncovered and bald. It is not clear whether the baby was original and has been since stolen (which has happened in other churches in the region) or removed from view to prevent theft. Alternatively, the work could have not had a baby originally -- not all images of Mary Immaculate do -- and so this has been taken back to that state. Mary's head must have been originally further dressed, possibly with actual hair and definitely with a fabric veil and likely a fabric cloak. (Here, she wears only an under-dress, unlike in other images from the time.) Dressing the Virgin in fine cloths would have been a form of devotion and would have made the sculpture seem more like a living body. Above, St. John the Baptist, St. Bernardino, St. Dominic, and St. Sebastian stand in niches, and on the upper level, praying angels (framed by rearing dolphins) flank a relief of the Man of Sorrows. A few decades later, Giacomo's son Giovan Angelo del Maino would return to this region to make even larger and more splendid altarpieces that are inspired by and outdo his father's example, such as that at Morbegno. Photograph(s) licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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