Assumption of the Virgin Mary

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Francesco Silva and Agostino Silva
Assumption , Ascension , Virgin Mary , Disciples , Tomb , Angels
Despite the fact that this is the last freestanding chapel in the series at Varese, it was among the first to be built. (The final mystery is represented inside the Sanctuary.) It represents the fourth glorious mystery of the rosary: the raising of Mary's physical body into heaven after her death. Belief in the Immaculate Conception, which made the Virgin worthy of bodily assumption, was still being debated during the Counter Reformation. The Franciscans were among the strongest supporters of this dogma and because the Sacri Monti developed out of Franciscan spiritual practices a number of the sites include scenes of Mary's conception or assumption, including Varallo, Varese, Oropa, Crea, and Ossuccio. The chapel was built between 1606 and 1610. It is set on top of a manmade terrace, above the natural slope of the via sacra, with retaining walls on either side to secure the chapel's foundations along the crest of the mountain. There were few trees nearby when it was built, and the chapel had clear views in all directions, which are now somewhat obscured. Its prominent position and metal roof caused the chapel to be hit by lightning so frequently that major structural interventions were necessary only seventy years later. Most of the chapels at Varese were originally roofed in bronze or lead panels. Apart from Chapel Four, these metal roofs have all been replaced by terracotta tiles. Work to repair the building was led by Giulio Buzzi between 1681 and 1687, although further reconstruction was already necessary by 1698. Buzzi (born 1649) belonged to a family of Milanese architects, his father Carlo had a leading role in the ongoing work at the Duomo from 1638 until his death in 1659. The sculptures inside are usually attributed to Francesco Silva (1568 - 1641), although some scholars suggest they were modeled by Martino Retti. The figure of Mary was certainly in place by 1623. In 1990 conservators discovered a fragmentary inscription on one of the figures that included Silva's name and a date from the eighteenth century in which the last two numbers are illegible. This may suggest that Agostino Silva (1628 - 1706) restored or finished this group around the same time as he treated his father's works in Chapel Eight, 1701. The frescoes were started by Stefano Maria Legnani, but left unfinished at his death, which occurred sometime between 1710 and 1715. Pietro Gilardi, or Girardi, finished the paintings sometime later, perhaps based on a cartoon left by the original artist. It is unclear when the wooden sarcophagus at the center of the scene was carved, but it may date to the early seventeenth century, like the wooden furniture in Chapel One. The shape of the sarcophagus and bold gestures of the apostles that peer into it recall figures from The Coronation of the Virgin or Madonna di Monteluce by Giulio Romano (c. 1499 - 1546) and Giovan Francesco Penni (c. 1488 - 1528), who was called il Fattore. This altarpiece was painted around 1505 - 1525 and was widely known through printed reproductions. The crowd of childish angels pushing up the clouds beneath Mary's feet may be related to Titian's famous Assumption (1518) at Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice. / 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.
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