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Sacromonte sculptures

Updated: Apr 30, 2023

Guido Mazzoni( 1450-1518) from Modena, terracotta sculpture

Alphonso II of Aragon was the father of Isabella of Aragon, the duchess of Milan and mother of Krolowa Bona Sforza of Poland

a scene from a Sacromonte chapel above Varallo.

there used to be 45, now there are 9 of the chapels left.

Carlo Borromeo spent the last days of his life on just such a pilgrimage, ascending the mountain in Varallo and praying day and night among its painted figures.

The images at Varallo were begun by the artist Gaudenzio Ferrari in the late fifteenth century, but they were ultimately destined to be created, re-created and continually restored in a centuries-long collaborative process involving generations of sculptors, craftsmen and architects

Sacromonte in the heart of the Alps in Piemonte, Italy, and the terracotta sculptures of the Rinascimento Emiliano as the influence on Caravaggio

The Sacromonte first came into being when a Franciscan friar named Bernardino Caimi decided to recreate the sites of Chris's life and passion in the mountains above the town of Varallo. Even before, Francis himself had helped to find a rabble-rousing form of artistic expression - not only penitential processions of the kind imitated by Borromeo, the pious medieval equivalent of performance art, but also a very particular type of folkish mise-en-scene in which painted statues were arranged to conjure up events from the Bible. The first and the most widely copied was the Nativity crib with painted carvings of Joseph and Mary 'to bring home to people of Greccio what the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem was like' This was the year 1223. Caimi received the papal permission and support for his plan which involved the construction of numerous chapels linked by mountain paths. Each of the 45 chapels was to contain polychrome figures acting out the stories of the Bible. The tradition of high artistic realism going back to late gothic continued to thrive away from the perceived centres of art such as Rome or Florence. In Emilia-Romana and throughout Lombardy unsettlingly realistic groups of figures were created by the school of sculptors working in terracotta. Both traditions were deeply influential on Caravaggio, who was born in Lombardy during the Borromean post- Tridentine contr - reformation. The Crucifixion of St Peter and The Conversion of St. Paul in Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, are blatantly rooted in the traditions of popular pious realism that produced the sculptures of the sacred mountain and the freestanding groups created by Mazzoni and other such masters. The way in which he adapted the conventions of popular sculpture to painting, the way in which he made them thoroughly pictorial, was so original that it gave painters nothing less than the whole new grammar and vocabulary. The very idea of looking back, past the etiolated late Mannerism of his day and past the art of the High Renaissance to vivid and robust traditions of popular religious sculpture - that was a profoundly original move. It went directly counter the prevailing aesthetic orthodoxy of late Renaissance thought, as expressed by Vasari, that art should evolve and progress. The idea that an Italian artist born in the sixteenth century might have thought it worthwhile to look back past the art of Michelangelo and Raphael, not to the classical world but to the popular art of Middle Ages - that would have shocked and bewildered Vasari. Thus Caravaggio could be said was a first self-conscious primitivist.

Reading the life of Caravaggio by incomparable Andrew Graham-Dixon. Found this angle of looking at Caravaggio novel and fascinating - long piece but, share it anyway.

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