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may be encouraged to make investment of their effort here by remembering that Gaudenzio Ferrari ranks as among the few purest and most accomplished artists of the very culminating period of Italian art, and that what he thought good enough to do may be well worth our while to consider with the best attention we can give to it.

Another point should not be forgotten by those who would form their opinion intelligently. I mean, that they are approaching a class of work with which they are unfamiliar, and must not, therefore, expect to be able to make up their minds about it as they might if the question were one either of painting or sculpture only. Sculpture and painting are here integral parts of a single design, and it is some little time before we grasp this conception so fully to be able to balance duly the merits and demerits of different compositions, even though we eventually get to see that there is an immeasurable distance between the best and worst. I now know, for example, that Tabachetti’s Journey to Calvary is greatly finer than Giovanni d’Enrico’s Nailing to the Cross. I see this so clearly that I find it difficult to conceive how I can have doubted about it. At the same time, I can remember thinking that one was nearly as good as the other, and this long after I should have found little difficulty in making up my mind about less complex works.


The difficulty referred to at the close of the last chapter is the same as that which those who rarely go to a theatre have to get over before they can appreciate an actor. They go to “Macbeth” or “Othello,” expecting to find players speaking and acting on the stage much as they would in actual life; and not finding this, are apt to think the acting coarse and unnatural. They forget that the physical conditions of the stage involve compliance with conventions from which there is no escape, and expect the players to play a game which the players themselves know to be impossible, and are not even trying to play. So important is it to understand the standpoint from which the artists at Varallo worked, that I shall venture some further remarks upon their aim and scope before going on to the works themselves.

Their object, or the object of those who commissioned them, was to bring the scene with which they were engaged home to the spectator in all its fulness, short of actual life and motion; but in this “short of actual life and motion” what a cutting-out of the part of Hamlet is there not involved. We can spare a good deal of Hamlet; but if the part is totally excised,–even though the Hamlet be Mr. Irving himself,–the play must suffer. To try to represent action without the immediate changes of position and expression which are its most essential features, seems like courting defeat, and to a certain extent defeat does invariably follow the attempt to treat very violent rapid action except loosely and sketchily. Violent action carried to high degree of finish is hardly ever successful in painting or sculpture; a crowd done in Michael Angelo’s Medici chapel manner must inevitably fail, and if a crowd is to be treated in sculpture at all, Tabachetti’s broad, large-brushed, and somewhat sketchy treatment is the one most to be preferred. In spite, however, of the incomparable success of Tabachetti’s work, I am tempted to question whether quiet and reposeful sculpture is not always most permanently pleasing, as not involving so peremptory a demand for the change that cannot, of course, ensue. At any rate, as one lie generally leads to others, so with the attempt to render action without action’s most essential characteristic, there is a departure from realism which involves a host of other departures if the error is to be distributed so as to avoid offence. In other words, convention, or a composition between artist and spectator, whereby, in view of admitted bankruptcy and failure of possible payment in full, a less thing shall be taken as a greater, has superseded nature at a very early point in the proceedings.

Nevertheless, within the limits of the composition we expect to be paid in full; whatever the dividend is we are to have all of it, and we sometimes take a different view of the terms of the settlement to that taken by those with whom we are dealing. It being admitted that the object of the Sacro Monte workmen was to bring a scene home to the spectator in all possible fulness, we expect to have a quotum of our own ideas of the scene, whatever they may be, put before us, and are more or less offended when we find a composition which we consider to be unreal even within its own covenanted limitations. The fault, however, rests greatly with ourselves, in forgetting that it must be the ideal of medieval Italians and not our own that we should look for, and that their ideas concerning the chief actors in the sacred dramas were not as ours are. For us, the [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] view of history has been gathered to its fathers, and [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] is reigning in its stead. We believe that we have advanced upon, not degenerated from our ancestors, except here and there as by way of back eddy, but Italians in the Middle Ages may be excused for having been overawed by the remains of the old splendour which met them everywhere; and even if this had not been so, to children and half-educated people that which happened long ago is always grander and larger than any like thing that happened recently. As regards the sacred dramas this grandioseness of conception extended even to the villains of the piece, who must be greater, more muscular, thorough-going, unredeemed villains than any now existing. The realism which would have proved so touching and grateful now–for we should have found it turned into idealism through the impress of that seal which it is time’s glory to set upon aged things–would in the Middle Ages have seemed as unworthy, and as much below the dignity of the subject as modern treatment of the same subjects, with modern costumes, would seem to ourselves.

Ages thwart and play at cross purposes with one another, as parents do with children; and our forefathers have been at infinite trouble and expense to give us what we do not want, and have withheld what they might have given with very little trouble, and we should have held as priceless. We cannot help it; it always has been and always will be so. Omne ignotum pro magnifico is a condition of existence or at any rate of progress, and the unknown of the past takes a splendour reflected from that of the future. The artists and public of the sixteenth century could no more find what they deemed a worthy ideal in their own familiar, and as it seemed to them prosaic age than we in ours, and every age must make its art work to its own liking and not to that of other people. Caimi was thinking mainly of his own generation; he could not wait a couple of hundred years or so till the work should become touching and quaint through age; he wanted it to be effective then and there, which if the Apostles were shown as mere common peasants and fishermen of the then present day, it would not and could not be–not at any rate with the pit, and it was to the pit as well as to the boxes that these pieces were being played. Let the ablest sculptors of the present time be asked to treat sacred subjects as was attempted at Varallo, with the condition that they must keep closely to the costume of to-day, and they would probably one and all of them decline the task. We know very well that, laugh at it as we may, our costume will three hundred years hence be as interesting as that of any other age, but that is not to the point: it has got to be effective now, whereas our familiarity with it has bred contempt.

In the earlier ages both of painting and sculpture these considerations, obvious as they are, were not taken into account. The first artists during the medieval revival of art rose as little to theory as children do. They found the mere doing at all so difficult that they were at the mercy in great measure of what they could get. The real was as much as, and more than, they could manage, and they would have idealised long before they did, if they had not felt the task too much for them. They could, with infinite trouble, they hardly knew how, save themselves yet so as by fire and get a head or figure of some sort that was not quite unlike what it was meant for, but they could only do this by helping their unpractised memories to the facts morsel by morsel, treating nature as though she were a stuffed set piece, getting her to sit as still for as long a time as she could be persuaded to do, and then going all over her touch for touch with a brush like the point of a pin. If the early masters had been able to do all they would have liked to have done, no doubt they would most of them have been as vulgar as we are; fortunately their incompetence stood them in good stead and saved them from becoming the Guidos, Domenichinos, and Guercinos, that so many of their more competent successors took so much trouble to become. Incompetence, if amiable and painstaking, will have with it an unconscious involuntary idealism of its own which is perhaps more charming than any that can be attained by aiming at it deliberately; at any rate it will take the thing portrayed apart from the everyday familiar routine of life which is the great enemy of fancy and the ideal; but the artists of the Sacro Monte had got far beyond the point at which incompetence could be of much use to them, and had to find some other means whereby to steer clear of the everyday life which to the public for whom they had to play, would have appeared so vulgar, and to us so infinitely more delightful than much that they have actually left us. These means they could only find in much the same quarters as dramatic writers and players find them on the stage, and to a certain extent no doubt the Varallo chapels, like all other attempts to place a scene upon a stage, must submit to the charge of being more or less stagey, but–more especially considering that they are seen by daylight,–it is surprising how little stagey they are.

Also, like all other attempts to place a scene upon the stage, they will be found to consist of a few stars, several players of secondary importance, and a certain number of supers. It is a mistake to attempt, as I am told is attempted at the Comedie Francaise, to have all the actors of first-class merit. They kill one another even in a picture, and on the whole in any work of art it is better to concentrate the main interest on a sufficient number of the most important figures, and to let the setting off of these be the chief business of the remainder. Gaudenzio Ferrari hardly understood this at all, and has no figures which can be considered as mere stage accessories. Tabachetti understood it, but could hardly bring himself down to the level of his supers. D’Enrico understood it perhaps a shade too well; he was a man of business as well as of very considerable genius, and turned his supers over to Giacomo Ferro, who might be trusted to keep them sufficiently commonplace to show his own work to advantage. It must be owned, however, that the greater number of D’Enrico’s chapels would be better if there had been a little more D’Enrico in them and less Giacomo Ferro, and if the D’Enrico had been always taking pains.

We, of course, should have preferred the figures in the Varallo chapels to be all of them as realistic as the artist could make them, provided he chose good types, as a good man may be very well trusted to do. Whenever we get a bit of realism as in the Eve, and Sleeping St. Joseph of Tabachetti, in the Herod, laughing boys, and Caiaphas of D’Enrico, and still more in the Vecchietto, or in the three or four of the figures in the St. Eusebius Chapel at Crea, we accept it with avidity, and we may be sure that the masters who gave us the figures above-named could have given us any number equally realistic if they had been inclined to do so. Tabachetti’s instinct was certainly towards realism as far as he dared, but even he is not in most cases realistic–not, I mean, in the sense of making his personages actual life-like portraits. That he was not more so than he is is probably due to some of the considerations on which I have above imperfectly dwelt, and to others that have escaped myself, but were patent enough to him.

One other practical consideration would make against realism in such works as those at Varallo, I mean the fact that if the figures were to be portraits of the Varallo celebrities of the time, the whole place would have been set by the ears in the competition as to who was to be represented and with what precedence. It was only by passing a kind of self-denying ordinance and forbidding portraiture at all that the work could be carried out. Here and there, as in the case of Tabachetti’s portrait of the Countess Solomoni of Serravalle in his Journey to Calvary, or as in that of the Vecchietto (in each case a supposed benefactress and benefactor) an exception was made; in most others it seems to have been understood that whatever else the figures were to be, they must not be portraits.


Before going through the various chapels seriatim, it may be well to give a short account of three out of the four most interesting figures among the numerous artists who worked on the Sacro Monte. By these I mean, of course, Gaudenzio Ferrari, Tabachetti, Giovanni d’Enrico, and the sculptor, whoever he may have been, of the Massacre of the Innocents chapel. I take my account of Gaudenzio chiefly from Colombo’s admirable work, and from the not less excellent notice by Signor Tonetti, that appeared in the “Museo Storico ed Artistico Valsesiano” for July and August 1885.

Gaudenzio Ferrari was born, according to the general belief, in 1484, but Colombo shows reasons for thinking that this date is some four or five years too late. His father was named Antonio Lanfranco or Franchino. {7} He too was a painter, but nothing is known of him or his works beyond the fact that he lived at Valduggia, where his son Gaudenzio was born, married a woman whose surname was Vinzio, and was dead by 1510. Gaudenzio in his early years several times signed his pictures with his mother’s name, calling himself Vincius, De Vincio, or De Vince.

He is generally said to have studied first under Gerolamo Giovenone of Vercelli, but this painter was not born till 1491, and we have the authority of Lomazzo for saying that Gaudenzio’s chief instructor was Stefano Scotto, a painter of Milan, who kept a school that was more or less a rival to that of Leonardo da Vinci. I have myself no doubt that Gaudenzio Ferrari has given Scotto’s portrait in at least three of the works he has left behind him at Varallo, but will return to this subject when I come to deal with the various places in which these portraits appear. His first works of importance, or at least the earliest that remain to us, are probably in or in the immediate vicinity of Varallo; but little is known of his early years and work, beyond what is comprised in the three pages that form the second chapter of Colombo’s book. There is an early ancona at La Rocca, near Varallo, another in the parocchia of Gattinara, and possibly a greatly damaged Pieta in the cloisters of Sta. Maria delle Grazie at Varallo may be, as it is said to be, an early work by Gaudenzio. Besides these, the wreck of the frescoes on the Pieta chapel on the Sacro Monte, and other works on the same site, now lost, belong to his earlier years.

Some believe that about the year 1506 he travelled to Perugia, Florence, and Rome, where he made the acquaintance of Raphael, and perhaps studied under Perugino, but Colombo has shown on what very slender, if any, grounds this belief is based, and evidently inclines to the belief that Gaudenzio never went to Rome, nor indeed, probably, outside Lombardy at all. The only one of Gaudenzio’s works in which I can myself see anything that may perhaps be called a trace of Umbrian influence, is in the fresco of Christ disputing with the Doctors, in the chapel of Sta. Margherita, in the Church of Sta. Maria delle Grazie at Varallo. This fresco, as Signor Arienta has pointed out to me, contains a strong reminiscence of the architectural background in Raphael’s school of Athens; it was painted–so far as an illegible hieroglyphic signature can be taken as read, and so far as internal evidence of style may be relied upon, somewhere about the year. If Gaudenzio was for the moment influenced by Raphael, he soon shook off the influence and formed a style of his own, from which he did not depart, except as enriching and enlarging his manner with advancing experience. Moreover, Colombo (p. 75) points out that the works by Raphael to which Gaudenzio’s Disputa is supposed to present an analogy, were not finished till 1511, and are hence probably later than Gaudenzio’s fresco. Perhaps both painters drew from some common source.

In 1508 he was at Vercelli, and on the 26th of July signed a contract to paint a picture for the church of S. Anna. He is described in the deed as “Gaudentius de Varali.” He had by this time married his first wife, by whom he had two children, Gerolamo and Margherita, born in 1508 and 1512. In 1510 he undertook to paint an altarpiece for the main church at Arona, and completed it in 1511, signing the work “Magister Gaudentius de Vince, filius quondam magistri Lanfranchi habitator vallis Siccidae.” In 1513 he painted the magnificent series of frescoes in the church of Sta. Maria delle Grazie at Varallo, signing the work and dating it, this time more legibly than he had done his earlier work in the chapel of St. Margaret. In July 1514 he signed a contract to paint an altarpiece for the Basilica of S. Gaudenzio at Novara. It was to be completed within eighteen months from the date of the contract and doubtless was so, but Gaudenzio found a good deal of difficulty in getting his money, which was not paid in full till 1521. He is occasionally met with at Novara and Vercelli between the years 1515 and 1524, but his main place of abode was Varallo.

No date can be positively assigned for his great Crucifixion chapel on the Sacro Monte, but it belongs probably to the years 1524-1528. I have already said that I can find no dates scrawled on the walls earlier than 1529. Such dates may be found yet, but if they are not found, it may be assumed that the chapel was not thrown open to the public much before that year. There is still a little relievo employed in the fresco background, but not nearly so much as in the church of Sta. Maria delle Grazie, and the increase of freedom is so evident that it is difficult not to suppose an interval of a good many years between the two works. I gather that by the year 1520 Gaudenzio had abandoned the use of gold and of relievo in painting, but he may have made an exception in the case of a work which was to consist both of sculpture and painting; and there is indeed a good deal to be said in favour of relievo in such a case, as helping to unite the sculptured and painted portions of the work. Even in the Magi chapel, the frescoes of which are several years later than those in the Crucifixion chapel, there are still a few bosses of relievo in the horses’ trappings. The date usually assigned to the Crucifixion chapel is 1524, and, in default of more precise knowledge, we shall do well to adhere to the date 1524-1528 already suggested.

About 1524 Gaudenzio painted a picture for the Sacristy of the Cathedral of Novara, and Signor Tonetti says that the very beautiful picture behind the high altar in the church of S. Gaudenzio at Varallo is generally assigned to about the same period. He goes on to say that in 1526 Gaudenzio was certainly working at his native village of Valduggia, where, in 1524 or 1525, a chapel had been erected in honour of S. Rocco, who it was supposed had kept the Valsesia free from the plague that had devastated other parts of Italy. This chapel Gaudenzio decorated with frescoes that have now disappeared, but whose former existence is recorded in an inscription placed in 1793, when the chapel was restored. The inscription runs: “Quod populus a peste denfensori erigebat an MDXXVI Gaudentius Ferrarius patritius ex voto pictura decorabat,” &c.

In 1528 he transferred his abode to Vercelli, and about the same year married again. His second wife was a widow who had a boy of ten years old by Giovanni Antonio del Olmo, of Bergamo. Her name was Maria Mattia della Foppa; she came from Morbegno in the Valtellina, and was of the same family as Vincenzo Foppa, the reputed founder of the Milanese school of painting. In 1532 he married his daughter Margherita to Domenico Pertegalle, surnamed Festa, of Crevola near Varallo–he and his son Gerolamo undertaking to give her a dowry of 500 lire imperiale, payable in four years, and secured by mortgage on Gaudenzio’s house in Varallo.

In 1536 he painted the cupola of the church of the Madonna dei Miracoli at Saronno; he then returned to Vercelli, but his abode and movements are somewhat obscure till 1539, when it is certain that he left Varallo for ever, settled in Milan, and died there between the years 1546 and 1549. He does not appear to have continued to reside in Vercelli after 1536; we may perhaps, therefore, think that he returned for a time to Varallo, and that the frescoes on the Magi chapel should be given to some date between 1536 and 1539. They are certainly several years later than those in the Crucifixion chapel; but I will return to these frescoes when I come to the Magi chapel itself.

In 1539 he lost his son Gerolamo, and Colombo ascribes his departure from Varallo to grief; but we cannot forget that in the year 1538 there broke out a violent quarrel between the ecclesiastics of the Sacro Monte and the lay governors of Varallo. Fassola says that in 1530 Gio. Ant. Scarrognini, grandson of Milano Scarrognini, and some time afterwards Gio. Angiolo Draghetti, were made Fabbricieri. The election of this last was opposed by the ecclesiastics, who wished to see certain persons elected who were already proctors of the convent, but the Vicini held out, and carried the day. Party feeling ran so high, and the Fathers wished to have such absolute control over the keys of the various money boxes attached to the chapels, and over all other matters, that it may well have been difficult for Gaudenzio to avoid coming into collision with one or both of these contending parties; matters came to a head in the year 1538, and his leaving Varallo for ever about this time may, perhaps, be referred to his finding himself in an intolerable position, as well as to the death of his son; but, however this may be, he sold his house on the 5th of August, 1539, for seven hundred lire imperiali, and for the rest of his life resided in Milan, where he executed several important works, for which I must refer my readers to the pages of Colombo.

The foregoing meagre notice is all that my space allows me to give concerning the life of this great master. I will conclude it with a quotation from Signor Morelli which I take from Sir Henry Layard’s recent edition of Kugler’s Handbook of Painting (vol. ii. p. 424). Signor Morelli is quoted as saying –

“Gaudenzio Ferrari is inferior to very few of his contemporaries, and occasionally, as in some of those groups of men and women in the great Crucifixion at Varallo, he might challenge comparison with Raphael himself.”

It would be a bad business for Raphael if he did. Gaudenzio Ferrari was what Raphael is commonly believed to have been. I do not mean, that he was the prince of painters–such expressions are always hyperbolical; there has been no prince of painters; I mean that Gaudenzio Ferrari’s feeling was profound, whereas Raphael’s was at best only skin deep. Nevertheless Signor Morelli is impressed with Ferrari’s greatness, and places him, “for all in all, as regards inventive genius, dramatic life, and picturesqueness * * far above Luini.” Bernardino Luini must stand so very high that no one can be placed far above him; nevertheless, it is hard not to think that Gaudenzio Ferrari was upon the whole the stronger man.


Great and fascinating as Gaudenzio was, I have already said that I find Tabachetti a still more interesting figure. He had all Gaudenzio’s love of beauty, coupled with a robustness, and freedom from mannerism and self-repetition, that are not always observable in Gaudenzio’s work. If Gaudenzio has never received anything approaching to his due meed of praise, Tabachetti may be almost said never to have been praised at all. In Varallo, indeed, and its neighbourhood he is justly regarded as a giant, but the art world generally knows not so much as his name. Cicognara, Lubke, and Perkins know not of his existence, nor of that of Varallo itself, nor of any Valsesian school of sculpture. I have shown that so admirable a writer as Mr. King never even alludes to him, while the most recent authority of any reputed eminence on Italian art thinks that the Titan of terra-cotta was a painter and a pupil of Gaudenzio Ferrari.

Zani, indeed, in his “Enciclopedia Metodica,” {8} and Nagler in his “Kunstler Lexicon,” {9} to which works my attention was directed by Mr. Donoghue of the British Museum, both mention Tabachetti. The first calls him “bravissimo,” but makes him a Novarese, and calls him “Scultore, plasticalore, Pittore,” and “Incisore di stampe a bulino.” The second says that Bartoli (Opp. mor. I. 2), calls him a Flemish sculptor; that he made forty small chapels and several hermitages at Crea in the Monferrato district; and that he also worked much at Varallo. I have in vain tried to find the passage in Bartoli to which Nagler refers, and should be much obliged to any one who is more fortunate if he will give me a fuller reference. The “Opp. mor.” referred to appears to be a translation of the “Opuscoli morali” of L. B. Alberti, published at Venice in 1568, which is too early for Tabachetti. I have had Bartoli’s translation before me, but could discover nothing. Nagler’s words run:-

“Tabachetti Johann Baptist, nennt Bartoli (Opp. mor. I. 2), einen Niederlaindischen Bildhauer, ohne seine Lebenzeit zu bestimmen. In der Kirche U.L.F. Tu Creo (sic) (Montferrat) stellte er in vierzig kleinen capellen die Geschichte der heil. Jungfrau, des Heilandes und einiger Einsidler dar. Auch in Varallo arbeitete er vieles.”

If little is known about Gaudenzio we know still less about Tabachetti. I do not believe that more is yet ascertained than I can give in the next few pages. His name was Jean Baptiste Tabaquet, and he came from Dinant in Belgium. This fact has only come to my knowledge within the last few weeks, and I have been unable to go to Dinant and see whether anything can be there made out about him. I will thankfully receive any information which any one is good enough to send me upon this subject. It is not known when he came to Varallo, but by the year 1586 his great Calvary chapel was undoubtedly finished, as also, I imagine, the Adam and Eve, and Temptation chapels, all three of which are mentioned in the 1586 edition of Caccia. In the 1590 edition, the abbreviated word “bellissi.” has been added to the description of the Calvary chapel, as though it were an oversight in the earlier edition to take no note of the remarkable excellence of the work: there can be no doubt, therefore, that Bordiga and the other principal authorities are wrong in dating this chapel 1606. How much earlier it may be than 1586 I cannot determine till the missing editions of Caccia are found, but there is not enough other work of Tabachetti’s on the Sacro Monte to let us suppose that he had worked there for very many years.

Both Fassola and Torrotti say that he began the Visit of Mary to Elizabeth, but went mad, leaving the work to be completed by another artist. It was generally supposed that this was the end of him, but there can be no doubt that, if ever he went mad at all, it was only for a short time, as a consequence of over-fatigue, and perhaps worry, over his gigantic work, the Journey to Calvary chapel. That he was either absent from Varallo, or at Varallo but unable to work, between the years 1586 and 1590, is certain, for, in the first place, there is no work on the Sacro Monte that can possibly be given to him during these years, and in the second, if he had been available, considering the brilliant success of his Calvary chapel, the Massacre of the Innocents, which dates from 1586-1590, would surely have been entrusted to him, instead of to Rossetti or Bargnola–whichever of these two is the rightful sculptor. Nevertheless it is certain that after the end of 1589, to which date the edition of Caccia appears by its preface to belong, Tabachetti reappeared in full force, did one chapel of extreme beauty–the first Vision of St. Joseph–and nothing more–unless indeed the Vecchietto be assigned to this date. We know this, inasmuch as the First Vision of St. Joseph chapel is not mentioned at all in either the 1586 or 1590 editions of Caccia, and was evidently not yet even contemplated, whereas the Visit of Mary to Elizabeth, over which he is supposed to have gone mad, is given in both as completed.

Tabachetti was summoned to Crea in 1591, and was buying land and other property in 1600, 1602, 1604, 1605, 1606, and 1608, at Serralunga, close to Crea, where deeds which still exist say that he resided. There are many families named Tabachetti still living in the immediate neighbourhood of Serralunga, who are doubtless descended from the sculptor. After 1608 nothing more is known of him. At Varallo, over and above his work on the Sacro Monte, there is an exceedingly beautiful Madonna by him, in the parish church of S. Gaudenzio, and one head of a man with a ruff–a mere fragment– which Cav. Prof. Antonini showed me in the Museum, and assured me was by Tabachetti. I know of no other work by him except what remains at Crea, about which I will presently write more fully. I am not, however, without hope that search about Liege and Dinant may lead to the discovery of some work at present overlooked, and, as I have said, will thankfully receive information.

I will conclude with a note taken from p. 47 of Part I. of Cav. Alessandro Godio’s admirable “Cronaca di Crea.” {10}

The note runs:-

“The present writer found himself involved in a long dispute, through having entered the lists against the Valsesian writers, who reckon Tabachetti among the distinguished sons of the Val Sesia, and for having said that he was born in Flanders. After a more successful search in the above-named [Vercelli?] archive, under the letter B No. 6, over and above the deeds of 1600 and 1606, already referred to in the ‘Vesillo della liberta,’ No. 39, Sept. 5, 1863, I found, under numbers 308, 417, 498, 622, of the unarranged papers of Notary Teodoro Caligaris, four more deeds dated 1602, 1604, 1605, 1608, in which the Sculptor Gio. Battista Tabachetti is not only described as a Fleming, but his birthplace is given as follows: “Vendidit, tradidit nobili Joanni Tabacheta filio quondam nobili Gulielmi de Dinante de Liesa [Liege] nunc incola Serralungae.” Since, then, he was buying considerable property at Serralunga during the above-named year, it is plain that he did not work continuously at Varallo from 1590 to 1606, as contended by the Valsesian writers quoted by An. Cav. Carlo Dionisotti, the distinguished author of the Valle Sesia. Moreover, from the year 1590 and onward the chapels of Crea were begun, and of these, by advice of Monsignor Tullio del Carretto, Bishop of Casale, at the bidding of Michel Angelo da Liverno, who was Vicar of Crea, Tabachetti designed not fifteen but forty, and found himself at the head of the direction of the great work that was then engaging the attention of the foremost Italian artists of the day.”


For my account of Giovanni D’Enrico I turn to Signor Galloni’s “Uomini e fatti celebri di Valle Sesia.” He was second of three brothers, Melchiorre, Giovanni, and Antonio, commonly called Tanzio, who were born at the German-speaking village of Alagna, that stands at the head of the Val Sesia. Signor Galloni says that the elder brother, Melchiorre, painted the frescoes in the Temptation chapel in 1594, and the Last Judgment on the facciata of the parish church at Riva in 1597.

The house occupied by the family of D’Enrico was, as I gather from a note communicated to Signor Galloni by Cav. Don Farinetti of Alagna, in the fraction of Alagna called Giacomolo, where a few years ago a last descendant of the family was still residing. The house is of wood, old and black with smoke; on the wooden gallery or lobby that runs in front of it, and above the low and narrow doorways, there is an inscription or verse of the Bible, “Allein Gott Ehere,” dated 1609. The small oratory hard by is said to have been also the property of the D’Enrico family, and in the ancona of the little altar there is a picture representing the Virgin of not inconsiderable merit, with a beautiful gilded frame in excellent preservation. On the background of this picture there is the stemma of the D’Enrico family, and an inscription in Latin bearing the names of John and Eva D’Enrico.

The exact dates of the births of the three brothers are unknown, but the eldest and youngest were described in a certificate of good character, dated February 11, 1600, as “juvenes bonae vocis, conditionis et famae,” so that if we assume Melchiorre to have been born in 1575, {11} Giovanni in 1580, and Antonio in 1585, we shall, in no case, be more than five years or so in error. I own to being able to see little merit in any of Melchiorre’s work, of which the reader will find a sample in the frescoes behind the old Adam and Eve, which is given to face p. 121, but it is believed that he for the most part painted the terra-cotta figures, rather than backgrounds. Nor do I like the work of Tanzio–which may be seen, perhaps, to the best advantage in the Herod chapel. Tanzio, however, was a stronger man than Melchiorre. Giovanni was incomparably the ablest of the three brothers, and it is to him alone that I will ask the reader to devote attention.

Signor Galloni calls Giovanni D’Enrico a pupil of Tabachetti, probably following Bordiga, but I have not seen the evidence on which this generally received opinion is based; Tabachetti had finally left Varallo by 1591, when Giovanni D’Enrico was little more than a child, and though he may have been sent to work under Tabachetti at Crea, I have not come across anything to show this was so. He was an architect as well as sculptor, and is believed to have made the modification of Pellegrino Tibaldi’s designs that was ultimately adopted for the Palazzo di Pilato, Caiaphas, and Herod chapels. He was also architect of the Chiesa Maggiore on the Sacro Monte, his design having been approved April 1, 1614. He is believed to have done a Madonna and child, a St. Rocco, and a St. Sebastian in the parish church at Alagna; he also sent many figures away, some of which may possibly be found in the disused chapels of Graglia, if indeed these contain anything at all. He died at Montrigone near Borgosesia in 1644, while superintending the work of his pupil and collaborateur Giacomo Ferro, who, it is said, has placed his master’s portrait near the bed of S. Anna in his chapel of the Birth of the Virgin (?) at Montrigone. Others say that the figure in question does not represent D’Enrico, and that his portrait is found in a niche in the chapel itself, but Signor Galloni assures us that there is nothing but tradition in favour of either view. Giacomo Ferro appears to have been his only pupil and his only collaborateur. There can, I think, be little doubt that the greater part of the work generally ascribed to D’Enrico is really by Giacomo Ferro, and the uncertainty as to what figures are actually by D’Enrico himself makes it very difficult to form a just opinion about his genius. Some chapels are given to him, as for example the Flagellation and Crowning with Thorns, which are mentioned as completed in the 1586 edition of Caccia, when D’Enrico was at most a child. True, he may have remodelled these chapels, but I have not yet met with evidence that he actually did so, though I dare say such evidence may exist without my knowing it.

In those in which he was undoubtedly assisted by Giacomo Ferro, as for example the Caiaphas, Herod, four Pilate, and Nailing to the Cross chapels, with possibly the Ecce Homo, perhaps the safest rule will be to give the few really excellent figures that are to be found in each of them to D’Enrico himself and to ascribe all the inferior work, of which unfortunately there is too much, to Giacomo Ferro. That the assistance rendered by him was on a very large scale may be gathered from the fact that there was a deed drawn up between him and his master whereby he was to receive half the money that was paid to D’Enrico,–a quasi partnership indeed seems to have existed between the two sculptors. This deed is referred to by Signor Galloni on page 178 of his “Uomini e Fatti,” and on the same page he gives us an extract from a lawsuit between Giacomo Ferro and the town of Varallo which gives us a curious insight into the manner in which the artists of the Sacro Monte were paid. From a proces-verbal in connection with this suit Signor Galloni quotes the following extract:-

“And further the said deputies allege that in the accounts rendered by the said master Giovanni D’Enrico in respect of the pontifical thrones in the Caiaphas and Nailing to the Cross chapels, these have been valued at the rate of four statues for each several throne and horse, whereas it appears from old accounts rendered by other statuaries that they have been hitherto charged only at the rate of three statues for each throne and horse. Wherefore the said deputies claim to deduct the overcharge of one statue for each horse and throne, which being thirteen at the rate of 10 and a quarter scudi for each figure, would give a total deduction of 132 and a half scudi.”

It appears in another part of the same proces-verbal that Giovanni D’Enrico had been paid in 1640 the sum of 4240 lire and 8 soldi.

Giacomo Ferro and his brother Antonio were Giovanni D’Enrico’s heirs, from which it would appear that he either died unmarried, or left no children.

To say that D’Enrico will compare with Tabachetti would be an obvious exaggeration, and, indeed, there are only very few figures on the Sacro Monte about which we can feel certain that they are by him at all. The Caiaphas, Herod, Laughing Boys in the Herod chapel, and the Man with the Two Children in the Ecce Homo chapel cannot, I think, be given to any one else, but at this moment I do not call to mind more than some fourteen or fifteen figures out of the three hundred or so that are ascribed to him, about which we can be as certain that they are by D’Enrico as we can be that most of those given to Tabachetti and Gaudenzio are actually by them. For not only have we to reckon with Giacomo Ferro, who, if he had half the pay, we may be sure did not less than half the figures, and probably very much more, but we must reckon with the figures taken from older chapels when reconstructed, as in D’Enrico’s time was the case with several. What became of the figures in Gaudenzio Ferrari’s original Journey to Calvary chapel, and in other works by him that were cancelled when the Palazzo di Pilato chapel was built? It is not likely they were destroyed if by any hook or crook they could be made to do duty in some other shape; more probably they are most of them still existing up and down D’Enrico’s various chapels, but so doctored, if the expression may be pardoned, that Gaudenzio himself would not know them. In the Ecce Homo chapel we can say with confidence that the extreme figure to the left is by Gaudenzio, and has been taken from some one of his chapels now lost; we are able to detect this by an accident, but there are other figures in the same chapel and not a few elsewhere, about which we can have no confidence that they have not been taken from some earlier chapel either by Gaudenzio or some one else. What, then, with these figures, and what with Giacomo Ferro, it is not easy to say what D’Enrico did or did not do.

The intercalated figures have been fitted into the work with admirable skill, nevertheless they do not form part of design, and make it want the unity observable in the work of Tabachetti and Gaudenzio. They have been lugged into the composition, and no matter how skilful their introduction, are soon felt, as in the case of the Vecchietto, to have no business where they are. Moreover, D’Enrico shows his figures off, which Tabachetti never does: the result is that in his chapels each figure has its attention a good deal drawn to the desirableness of neither being itself lost sight of, nor impeding the view of its neighbours. This is fatal, and though Giacomo Ferro is doubtless more practically guilty in the matter than D’Enrico, yet D’Enrico is the responsible author of the work, and must bear the blame accordingly. Standing once with Signor Pizetta of Varallo, before D’Enrico’s great Nailing of Christ to the Cross chapel, I asked him casually how he thought it compared with Tabachetti’s Journey to Calvary. He replied “Questo non sacrifica niente,” meaning that Tabachetti thought of the action much and but little of whether or no the actors got in each other’s way, whereas D’Enrico was mainly bent on making his figures steer clear of one another. Thus his chapels want the concert and unity of action that give such life to Tabachetti’s. Nevertheless, in spite of the defect above referred to, it is impossible to deny that the sculptor of the Herod and Caiaphas figures was a man of very rare ability, nor can the general verdict which assigns him the third place among the workers on the Sacro Monte be reasonably disputed. But this third place must be given rather in respect of quantity than quality, for in dramatic power and highly-wrought tragic action he is inferior to the sculptor, whoever he may be, of the Massacre of the Innocents chapel, to which I will return when I come to the chapel in question.

I may say in passing that Cicognara, Lubke, and Perkins have all omitted to mention Giovanni D’Enrico as a sculptor, though Nagler mentions his two brothers as painters. Nagler gives the two brothers D’Enrico as all bearing the patronymic Tanzio, which I am told is in reality only a corruption of the Christian name of the third brother. Zani mentions Giovanni D’Enrico as well as his two brothers, and calls him “celebre,” but he calls all the three brothers “Tanzii, Tanzi, Tanzio, or Tanzo.”


The ascent to the Sacro Monte begins immediately after the church of Sta. Maria delle Grazie has been passed, and is made by a large broad road paved with rounded stones, and beautifully shaded by the chestnuts that grow on the steep side of the mountain. The old road up the mountain was below the present, and remains of it may yet be seen. Ere long a steeper narrower road branches off to the right hand, which makes rather a shorter cut, and is commonly called the “Strada della Madonna.” From this name it has become generally believed that the Madonna once actually came to Varallo to see the Sacro Monte, and took this shorter road. There is no genuine tradition, however, to this effect, and the belief may be traced to misapprehension of a passage in Fassola and Torrotti, who say that the main road represents the path taken by Christ himself on his journey to Calvary, while the other symbolises the short cut taken by the Virgin when she went to rejoin him after his resurrection. When he was Assistente, which I gather to have been much what the Director of the Sacro Monte is now, Torrotti had some poetry put up to say this.

At the point where the two roads again meet there is a large wooden cross, from which the faithful may help themselves to a chip. That they do get chips is evident by the state of the cross, but the wood is hard, and none but the very faithful will get so much but that plenty will be left for those who may come after them. I saw a stout elderly lady trying to get a chip last summer; she was baffled, puzzled, frowned a good deal, and was perspiring freely. She tried here, and she tried there, but could get no chip; and presently began to cry. Jones and I had been watching her perplexity, as we came up the Strada della Madonna, and having a stouter knife than hers offered to help her. She was most grateful, when, not without difficulty, Jones succeeded in whittling for her a piece about an inch long, and as thick as the wood of a match box. “Per Bacco,” she exclaimed, still agitated, and not without asperity, “I never saw such a cross in my life.” The old cross, considered to be now past further whittling, was lying by the roadside ready to be taken away. I had wanted to get the lady a chip from this, thinking it looked as if it would lend itself more easily to the design, but she said it would not do. They have a new cross every year, and they always select a hard knotty uncompromising piece of wood for the purpose. The old is then taken away and burnt for firewood.

Of this cross Fassola says it was here (“e qui fu dove”) the Virgin met her son, and that for this reason a small chapel was placed rather higher up, which represents the place where she took a little rest, and was hence called the Capella del Riposo. It was decorated with frescoes by Gaudenzio, which have long since disappeared; these were early works, and among the first undertaken by him on the Sacro Monte; the chapel remains, but may, and probably will, be passed without notice. A little higher still, there is another very small and unimportant chapel containing a decayed St. Jerome by Giovanni D’Enrico, and above this, facing the visitor at the last turn of the road, is the chapel erected in memory of Cesare Maio, or Maggi, a Neapolitan, Marquis of Moncrivelli, and one of Charles the Fifth’s generals. He died in 1568. Many years before his death he had commanded an armed force against the Valsesians, but when his horse, on approaching Varallo, caught sight of the Sacro Monte, it genuflected three times and pawed a great cross on the road with its feet. This had such an effect upon the rider that he had thenceforward to become a munificent benefactor of the Sacro Monte, and expressly desired to be buried there. I do not know where the horse was buried. His chapel contains nothing of importance, nor yet does the small oratory with a crucifix in memory of a benefactor, one Giovanni Pschel Alemanno; this is at the top of the ascent and close to the smaller entrance to the Sacro Monte.

At this smaller entrance the visitor will be inclined to enter, but he should not do so if he wishes to take the chapels in the order in which they are numbered. He should continue the broad road until he reaches the excellent inn kept by Signor Topini, and the shops where “corone” and pilgrims’ beads are sold. The inn and shops are mentioned by Fassola and by Torrotti. Fassola in 1671 says of the inn that it will afford accommodation for people of all ranks, and that though any one with other curiosity may stay in the town, those who would enjoy their devotion quietly and diffusively can do so more at their ease here. Of the shops he says that they sell “corone, Storie della Fabrica,” “and other like instruments of devotion” (“ed altri instromenti simili di divozione” p. 80). Torrotti says they sell his book there, with images, and various devout curiosities (e varie cose curiose di divozione, p. 66). The shutters are strong and probably the original ones.

At Varese there is a very beautiful lady, one among many others hardly if at all less beautiful on the same mountain, of whom I once asked what people did with these Corone. She said, “Le adoperano per pregare,” “They make use of them to pray with.” She then asked whether the English ever prayed. I said of course they did; that all nations, even the Turks, prayed. “E Turco lei?” she said, with a singularly sweet, kind, and beneficent expression. I said I was not, but I do not think she believed me.

Passing now under the handsome arch which forms the main entrance to the sacred precincts we come to


This chapel is perhaps the only one in the case of which Pellegrino Tibaldi’s design was carried out; and even here it has been in many respects modified. The figures are by Tabachetti; and the original internal frescoes were by Domenico Alfani Perugino, but they have perished and have lately been replaced by some pieces from the life of Adam and Eve by Professor Burlazzi of Varallo. The outer frescoes are said by Bordiga to be by Giovanni Miel of Antwerp, but they are probably in reality by one of the brothers Battista and Gio. Mauro Rovere. I will, however, reserve remarks on this subject until I come to the Massacre of the Innocents chapel. The original frescoes do not appear to have been executed till 1594-1600, but the terra- cotta work is described as complete in the 1586 edition of Caccia in terms that leave no doubt but that the present group is intended; it is probably among the first works executed by Tabachetti on the Sacro Monte, but how much earlier it is than 1586 cannot be known till the missing editions of Caccia are found. That he did the Adam and Eve is not doubted. If he also did the animals, he had made great progress by the time he came to the Temptation chapel, for the animals in this last chapel are far finer than those in the Adam and Eve chapel.

The present chapel superseded an earlier one with the same subject, which was probably on the site now occupied by the Crowning with Thorns, inasmuch as in this chapel the fresco on one wall still represents Adam and Eve being dismissed from Paradise. Signor Arienta pointed this out to me, and I think it sufficiently determines the position of the original Adam and Eve chapel. The evidence for the existence of the earlier chapel throws so much light upon the way in which figures have been shifted about and whole chapels have disappeared, leaving only an incidental trace or two behind them in some other of those now existing, that I shall not hesitate to reproduce it here.

We were told in the town that there had been an old Adam and an old Eve, and that these two figures were now doing duty as Roman soldiers in chapel No. 23, which represents the Capture of Christ. On investigation, we found, against the wall, two figures dressed as Roman soldiers that evidently had something wrong with them. The draperies of all the other figures are painted, either terra-cotta or wood, but with these two they are real, being painted linen or calico, dipped in thin mortar or plaster of Paris, and real drapery always means that the figure has had something done to it. The armour, where armour shows, is not quite of the same pattern as that painted on the other figures, nor is it of the same make; in the case of the remoter figure it does not go down far enough, and leaves a lucid interval of what was evidently once bare stomach, but has now been painted the brightest blue that could be found, so that it does not catch the eye as flesh; a little further examination was enough to make us strongly suspect that the figures had both been originally nude, and in this case the story current in Varallo was probably true.

Then the question arose, which was Adam, and which Eve? The farther figure was the larger and therefore ought to have been Adam, but it had long hair, and looked a good deal more like a woman than the other did. The nearer figure had a beard and moustaches, and was quite unlike a woman; true, we could see no sign of bosom with the farther figure, but neither could we with the nearer. On the whole, therefore, we settled it that the nearer and moustached soldier was Adam, and the more distant long-haired beardless one, Eve. In the evening, however, Cav. Prof. Antonini and several of the other best Varallo authorities were on the Sacro Monte, and had the grating removed so that we could get inside the chapel, which we were not slow to do. The state of the drapery showed that curiosity had been already rife upon the subject, and, observing this, Jones and I gently lifted as much of it as was necessary, and put the matter for ever beyond future power of question that the farther, long-haired, beardless figure was Adam, and the nearer, moustached one, Eve. They are now looking in the same direction, as joining in the hue and cry against Christ, but were originally turned towards one another; the one offering, and the other taking, the apple.

Tabachetti’s Eve, in the Creation or Adam and Eve chapel, is a figure of remarkable beauty, and a very great improvement on her predecessor. The left arm is a restoration by Cav. Prof. Antonini, but no one who was not told of the fact would suspect it. The heads both of the Adam and the Eve have been less successfully repainted than the rest of the figures, and have suffered somewhat in consequence, but the reader will note the freedom from any approach to barocco maintained throughout the work. The serpent is exceedingly fine, and the animals are by no means unpleasing. Speaking for myself, I have found the work continually grow upon me during the many years I have known it.

The walls of this, and, indeed, of all the chapels, were once covered with votive pictures recording the Grazie with which each several chapel should be credited, but these generally pleasing, though perhaps sometimes superstitious, minor satellites of the larger artistic luminaries have long since disappeared. It is plain that either the chapels are losing their powers of bringing the Grazie about, or that we moderns care less about saying “thank you” when we have been helped out of a scrape than our forefathers did. Fassola says:-

“Molti oltre questa non mancano di lasciar qualche insigne memoria, cioe o li dinari per incominciar, o finire qualche Capella, o per qualche pittura o Statua, o altro non essendouene pur’ vno di questi Benefattori, che non habbino ottenute le grazie desiderate di Dio, e dalla Beata Vergine, del che piene ne sono le carte, le mura delle Capelle, e Chiese con voti d’argento, ed altre infinite Tauolette, antichissime, e moderne, voti di cera ed altro, oltre tanto da esprimersi grazie, che o per pouerta, o per mancanza, o per altri pensieri de’ graziati restano celate.”

For my own part I am sorry that these humble chronicles of three centuries or so of hairbreadth escapes are gone. Votive pictures have always fascinated me. Everything does go so dreadfully wrong in them, and yet we know it will all be set so perfectly right again directly, and that nobody will be really hurt. Besides, they are so naive, and free from “high-falutin;” they give themselves no airs, are not review-puffed, and the people who paint them do not call one another geniuses. They are business-like, direct, and sensible; not unfrequently they acquire considerable historical interest, and every now and then there is one by an old master born out of due time–who probably wist not so much as even that there were old masters. Here, if anywhere, may be found smouldering, but still living, embers of the old art-fire of Italy, and from these, more readily than from the hot-bed atmosphere of the academies, may the flame be yet rekindled. Lastly, if allowed to come as they like, and put themselves where they will, they grow into a pretty, quilt-like, artlessly-arranged decoration, that will beat any mere pattern contrived of set purpose. Some half-dozen or so of the old votive pictures are still preserved in the Museum at Varallo, and are worthy of notice, one or two of them dating from the fifteenth century, and a few late autumn leaves, as it were, of images in wax still hang outside the Crowning with Thorns chapel, but the chapels are, for the most part, now without them. Each chapel was supposed to be beneficial in the case of some particular bodily or mental affliction, and Fassola often winds up his notice with a list of the Graces which are most especially to be hoped for from devotion at the chapel he is describing; he does not, however, ascribe any especial and particular Grace to the first few chapels. A few centesimi and perhaps a soldo or two still lie on the floor, thrown through the grating by pilgrims, and the number of these which any chapel can attract may be supposed to be a fair test of its popularity. These centesimi are a source of temptation to the small boys of Varallo, who are continually getting into trouble for extracting them by the help of willow wands and birdlime. I understand that when the centesimi are picked up by the authorities, some few are always left, on the same principle as that on which we leave a nest egg in a hen’s nest for the hen to lay a new one to; a very little will do, but even the boys know that there must be a germ of increment left, and when they stole the coppers from the Ecce Homo chapel not long since, they still left one centesimo and a waistcoat button on the floor.


This was one of the earliest chapels, and is dated by Fassola as from 1490 to 1500. There is no record of any contemporary fresco background. Bordiga says that these figures were originally in the chapel now occupied by the Salutation of Mary by Elizabeth, but that having been long objects of popular veneration they were preserved at the time when Tabachetti took this block of buildings in hand. It does not appear from any source what figures were in this chapel before the Annunciation figures were brought here; possibly, as it is supposed to be a reproduction of the Santa Casa di Loreto, this was considered enough and it was untenanted. Bordiga says, “The faces and extremities have a divine expression and are ancient,” but both Fassola and Torrotti say that Tabachetti gave the figures new heads. These last are probably right; the Virgin has real drapery, which, as I have said, always means that the figure has been cut about.

Whatever the change was, it had been effected before the publication of the 1586 edition of Caccia, where the chapel is described, in immediate sequence to the Adam and Eve chapel, and in the following terms:-

“Si vede poi un poco discosto, un altro Tempio, fatto ad imitatione della Cappella di Loreto, ben adornato, dove e l’Angelo che annontia l’ incarnatione . . . . di relievo.”

In the poetical part of the same book the figures are very warmly praised, as, indeed, they deserve to be. Fassola and Torrotti both say that the Virgin was a very favourite figure–so much so that pilgrims had loaded her with jewels. One night, a thief tried to draw a valuable ring from her finger, when she dealt him a stunning box on the ear that stretched him senseless until he was apprehended and punished. Fassola says of the affair:-

“Fra gl’ altri e degna di racconto la mortificazione hauuta da vn peruerso, che fatto ardito, non so da quale spirito diabolico, volendo rubbare alcune di dette gioie, e forsi tutte, dalle mani della Beata Vergine fu reso immobile da vna guanciata della Vergine fin’ a tanto, che la giustizia l’ hebbe nella sua braccia; contempli ogn’ vno questa Statua, che ne riportera mosso il cuore.”

Under the circumstances I should say he had better contemplate her at a respectful distance. I can believe that the thief was very much mortified, but the Virgin seems to have been a good deal mortified too, for I suspect her new head was after this occurrence and not before it.

Such miracles are still of occasional if not frequent occurrence in connection with the Sacro Monte. I have a broadside printed at Milan in 1882 in which a full account is given of a recent miracle worked by the Blessed Virgin of the Sacro Monte of Varallo. It is about a young man who had been miraculously cured of a lingering illness that had baffled the skill of all the most eminent professors; so his father sent him with a lamp of gold and a large sum of money which he was to offer to the Madonna. As he was on his way he felt tired [it must be remembered that the railway was not opened till 1886], so he sat down under a tree and began to amuse himself by counting the treasure. Hardly had he begun to count when he was attacked by four desperate assassins, who with pistols and poignards did their very utmost to despoil him, but it was not the smallest use. One of the assassins was killed, and the others were so cowed that they promised, if he would only fetch them some “devotions” from the Sacro Monte, to abandon their evil courses and thenceforth lead virtuous lives.

We do not pitch our tracts quite so strongly, but need give ourselves no airs in this matter.


The walls of this chapel according to Fassola are old, but the figures all new. Both Fassola and Torrotti say that Tabachetti had just begun to work on this chapel when he lost his reason, but as the work is described as complete in the 1586 edition of Caccia, it is evident, as I have already shown, that his insanity was only temporary, inasmuch as he did another chapel after 1590. Both writers are very brief in their statement of the fact, Fassola only saying “quando era diuenuto pazzo,” and Torrotti “impazzitosi.” The fresco background is meagre and forms no integral part of the design; this does not go for much, but suggests that in the original state of the chapel, which we know was an early one, there may have been but little background, the fresco background not having yet attained its full development. The figures would doubtless look better than they do if they had not been loaded with many coats of shiny paint, which has clogged some of the modelling; they are not very remarkable, but improve upon examination, and it must be remembered that the subject is one of exceeding difficulty.


Fassola and Torrotti say that this chapel was originally a servant’s lodge (“ospizio delli serui della Fabrica”), and part of the building is still used as a store-room. The servants were subsequently shifted to what was then the chapel of the Capture of Christ, the figures in that chapel being moved to the one in which they are now. The original Capture chapel was on the ground floor of the large house that stands on the right hand as one enters the small entrance to the Sacro Monte which a visitor will be tempted to take, opposite Giovanni Pschel’s chapel, and a little below the Temptation chapel.

The First Vision of St. Joseph is not mentioned in either the 1586 or 1590 editions of Caccia; we may therefore be certain that it did not exist, and may also be sure that it was Tabachetti’s last work upon the Sacro Monte–for that it is by him has never been disputed. It should probably be dated early in 1591, by which time Tabachetti must have recovered his reason and was on the point of leaving Varallo for ever. I give a photograph of the very beautiful figure of St. Joseph, which must rank among the finest on the Sacro Monte. I grant that a sleeping figure is the easiest of all subjects, except a dead one, inasmuch as Nature does not here play against the artist with loaded dice, by being able to give the immediate change of position which the artist cannot. With sleep and death there is no change required, so that the hardest sleeping figure is easier than the easiest waking one; moreover, sleep is so touching and beautiful that it is one of the most taking of all subjects; nevertheless there are sleeping figures and sleeping figures, and the St. Joseph in the chapel we are considering is greatly better than the second sleeping St. Joseph in chapel No. 9, by whomsoever this figure may be–or than the sleeping Apostles by D’Enrico in chapel No. 22.

Cusa says that the Madonna is taken from a small figure modelled by Gaudenzio still existing at Valduggia in the possession of the Rivaroli family. She is a very pretty and graceful figure, and is sewing on a pillow in the middle of the composition–of course unmoved by the presence of the angel, who is only visible to her husband. The angel is also a remarkably fine figure.



Fassola says that this chapel was begun about the year 1500, and completed about 1520, at the expense of certain wealthy Milanese; Torrotti repeats this. Bordiga gives it a later date, making Gaudenzio begin to work in it in 1531; he supposes that Gaudenzio left Varallo suddenly in that year to undertake work for the church of St. Cristoforo at Vercelli without quite completing the Magi frescoes; and it is indeed true that the frescoes appear to be unfinished, some parts at first sight seeming only sketched in outline, as though the work had been interrupted; but Colombo, whose industry is only equalled by his fine instinct and good sense, refers both the frescoes and their interruption to a later date. Still, Fassola may have only intended, and indeed probably did intend, that the shell of the building was completed by 1520, the figures and frescoes being deferred for want of funds, though the building was ready for occupation.

Colombo, on page 115 of his “Life and Work of Gaudenzio Ferrari,” says that Bordiga remarked the obvious difference in style between the frescoes in the Magi and the Crucifixion chapels, which he held to have been completed in 1524, but nevertheless thought seven years the utmost that passed between the two works. Colombo shows that by 1528 Gaudenzio was already established at Vercelli, and ascribes the frescoes in the Magi chapel to a date some time between 1536 and 1539, during which time he believes that Gaudenzio returned to Varallo, finding no trace of him elsewhere. The internal evidence in support of this opinion is strong, for the Crucifixion chapel is not a greater advance upon the frescoes in the church of St. Maria delle Grazie, painted in 1513, magnificent as these last are, than the Magi frescoes are upon the Crucifixion, and an interval of ten years or so is not too much to allow between the two. Gaudenzio Ferrari was like Giovanni Bellini, a slow but steady grower from first to last; with no two painters can we be more sure that as long as they lived they were taking pains, and going on from good to better; nevertheless, it takes many years before so wide a difference can be brought about, as that between the frescoes in the Magi and Crucifixion chapels. The Magi frescoes have, however, unfortunately suffered from damp much more than the Crucifixion ones, and I should say they had been a good deal retouched, but by a very capable artist.

Colombo thinks that in these frescoes Gaudenzio was assisted by his son Gerolamo, who died in 1539, and, as I have said, holds that it was the death of this son which made him leave Varallo, without even finishing the frescoes on which he was engaged.

But Signor Arienta assures me that the frescoes were not in reality left incomplete: he holds that the wall on the parts where the outline shows was too dry when the colour was laid on, and that it has gradually gone, leaving the outline only. This, he tells me, not unfrequently happens, and has occurred in one or two places even in the Crucifixion chapel, where an arm here and there appears unfinished. The parts in the Magi chapel that show the outline only are not likely to have been left to the last; they come in a very random haphazard way, and I have little hesitation in accepting Signor Arienta’s opinion. If, however, this is wrong and the work was really unfinished, I should ascribe this fact to the violent dissensions that broke out in 1538, and should incline towards using it as an argument for assigning this date to the frescoes themselves, more especially as it fits in with whatever other meagre evidence we have.

Something went wrong with the funds destined for the erection of this chapel, and this may account for the length of time taken to erect the chapel itself, as well as for subsequent delay in painting it and filling it with statues. In the earlier half of his work Fassola says that certain Milanese gentlemen, “Signori della Castellanza,” subscribed two hundred gold scudi with which to found the chapel, but that the money was in part diverted to other uses–“a matter,” he says, “about which I am compelled to silence by a passage in my preface;” this passage is the expression of a desire to avoid giving offence; but Fassola says the interception of the funds involved the chapel’s “remaining incomplete for some time.” There seems, in fact, to have been some serious scandal in connection with the money, about which, even after 150 years, Fassola was unwilling to speak.

I would ask the reader to note in passing that in this work, high up on the spectator’s right, Gaudenzio has painted some rocks with a truth which was in his time rare. In the earliest painting, rocks seem to have been considered hopeless, and were represented by a something like a mould for a jelly or blanc-mange; yet rocks on a grey day are steady sitters, and one would have thought the early masters would have found them among the first things that they could do, whereas on the contrary they were about the last to be rendered with truth and freedom by the greatest painters. This was probably because rocks bored them; they thought they could do them at any time, and were more interested with the figures, draperies, and action. Leonardo da Vinci’s rocks, for example, are of no use to any one, nor yet for the matter of that is any part of his landscape– what little there is of it. Holbein’s strong hand falls nerveless before a rock or mountain side, and even Marco Basaiti, whose landscape has hardly been surpassed by Giovanni Bellini himself, could not treat a rock as he treated other natural objects. As for Giovanni Bellini, I do not at this moment remember to have seen him ever attempt a bit of slate, or hard grey gritty sandstone rock. This is not so with Gaudenzio, his rocks in the Magi chapel, and again in the Pieta compartment of his fresco in the church of St. Maria delle Grazie, at the foot of the mountain, are as good as rocks need ever be. The earliest really good rocks I know are in the small entombment by Roger Van der Weyden in our own National Gallery.

Returning to the terra-cotta figures in the Magi chapel, there is nothing about them to find fault with, but they do not arouse the same enthusiasm as the frescoes. They too are sufferers by damp and lapse of time, and a painted terra-cotta figure does not lend itself to a dignified decay. The disjecti membra poetae are hard to recognise if painted terra-cotta is the medium through which inspiration has been communicated to the outer world. Outside the Magi chapel, invisible by the Magi, and under a small glazed lantern which lights the St. Joseph with the Virgin adoring the Infant Saviour, and the Presepio, hangs the star. It is very pretty where it is, but its absence from the chapel itself is, I think, on the whole, regrettable. I have been sometimes tempted to think that it originally hung on the wall by a hook which still remains near the door through which the figures must pass, but think it more probable that this hook was used to fasten the string of a curtain that was hung over the window.

In conclusion, I should say that Colombo says that the figures being short of the prescribed number were completed by Fermo Stella. Bordiga gives the horses only to this artist.


This is more a grotto than a chapel, and is declared in an inscription set up by Bernardino Caimi in letters of gold to be “the exact counterpart of the one at Bethlehem in which the Virgin gave birth to her Divine Son.” Bordiga writes of this inscription as still visible, but I have repeatedly looked for it without success.

If Caimi, as Fassola distinctly says, had the above inscription set up, it is plain that this, and perhaps the Shepherd’s chapel hard by, were among the very earliest chapels undertaken. This is rendered probable by the statement of Fassola that the shell of the Circumcision chapel which adjoins the ones we are now considering was built “dalli principij del Sacro Monte.” He says that this fact is known by the testimony of certain contemporaneous painters (“il che s’ argumenta dalli Pittori che furono di que’ tempi”). Clearly, then, the Presepio, Shepherds, and Circumcision chapels were in existence some years before the Magi chapel was begun. Gaudenzio was too young to have done the figures before Bernardino died. Originally, doubtless, the grotto was shown without figures, which were added by Gaudenzio, later on; they were probably among his first works. The place is so dark that they cannot be well seen, but about noon the sun comes down a narrow staircase and they can be made out very well for a quarter of an hour or so; they are then seen to be very good. They have no fresco background, nor yet is there any to the Shepherd’s chapel, which confirms me in thinking these to have been among the earliest works undertaken. Colombo says that the infant Christ in the Presepio is not by Gaudenzio, the original figure having been stolen by some foreigner not many years ago, and Battista, the excellent Custode of the Sacro Monte, assures me that this was the second time the infant had been stolen.


Some of the figures–the Virgin, one shepherd, and four little angels–in this chapel are believed to be by Gaudenzio, and if they are, they are probably among his first essays, but they are lighted from above, and the spectator looks down on them, so that the dust shows, and they can hardly be fairly judged. The hindmost shepherd– the one with his hand to his heart and looking up, is the finest figure; the Virgin herself is also very good, but she wants washing.

If Fassola and Torrotti are to be believed, {12} and I am afraid I must own that, much as I like them, I find them a little credulous, the Virgin in this chapel is more remarkable than she appears at first sight; she used originally to have her face turned in admiration towards the infant Christ, but at the very first moment that she heard the bells begin to ring for the elevation of Pope Innocent the Tenth to the popedom, she turned round to the pilgrims visiting the place, in token of approbation; the authorities, not knowing what to make of such behaviour, had her set right, but she turned round a second time with a most gracious smile and assumed the position which the elevation of no later Pope has been ever able to disturb. Pope Innocent X. was not exactly the kind of Pope whom one would have expected the Virgin to greet with such extraordinary condescension. If it had been the present amiable and venerable Pontiff there would have been less to wonder at.


The chapel itself is, as I have already said, one of the very oldest on the Sacro Monte; it is doubtless much older than either the frescoes or the terra-cotta figures which it contains, both of which are given by Fassola, Torrotti, and Bordiga to Fermo Stella, but I cannot think they are right in either case. The frescoes remind me more of Lanini, and are much too modern for Fermo Stella; they are, however, in but poor preservation, and no very definite opinion can be formed concerning them. The terra-cotta work is, I think, also too free for Fermo Stella. The infant Jesus is very pretty, and the Virgin would also be a fine figure if she was not spoiled by the wig and over-much paint which restorers have doubtless got to answer for. The work is mentioned in the 1586 edition of Caccia as completed, but there is nothing to show whether or no it was a restoration. I have long thought I detected a certain sub-Flemish feeling in both the Virgin and Child, and though aware that I have very little grounds for doing so, am half inclined to think that Tabachetti must have had something to do with them. Bordiga is clearly wrong in calling the chapel a Purification. There are no doves, and there must always be doves for a Purification. Besides, there was till lately a knife ready for use lying on the table, as shown in Guidetti’s illustration of the chapel.


This chapel is described as completed in both the 1586 and 1590 editions of Caccia. The figures are again given to Fermo Stella by Bordiga, but not by either Fassola or Torrotti. I am again unable to think that Bordiga is right. There is again, also, a sub-Flemish feeling which is difficult to account for. The angel is a fine figure, and the heads of the Virgin and Child are also excellent, but the folds of the drapery are not so good. If there were any evidence, which there is not, to show that these figures were early works of Tabachetti, and that the sleeping St. Joseph is a first attempt at the figure which he succeeded later so admirably in rendering, I should be inclined to accept it; as it is, I can form no opinion about the authorship of the terra-cotta work. The fresco background is worthless.


This chapel is of no great interest. The authors and the date are uncertain. It is mentioned in the 1586 and 1590 editions of Caccia, but we may be tolerably sure that Tabachetti had nothing to do with it. Bordiga says “the figures seem to be by Stella,” which may be right or may be wrong. Though the figures are not very good, yet this chapel has, or had in Fassola’s time, other merits perhaps even of greater than artistic value, for he says it is particularly useful to those who have lost anything. “Perditori di qualche cosa” are more especial recipients of grace in consequence of devotion at this particular chapel. The flight is conducted as leisurely as flights into Egypt invariably are, but has with it a something, I know not what–perhaps it is the donkey–which always reminds me of Hampstead Heath on a bank holiday.


This is one of the most remarkable chapels on the Sacro Monte, and also one of the most abounding in difficult problems. It was built with funds provided by Carlo Emanuele I., Duke of Savoy, about the year 1586, and took four years to complete. In the 1586-7 edition of Caccia the chapel itself is alone given as completed. In the 1590-1 edition, it is said that both the sculptures and the frescoes were now finished, and that they are all “bellissime e ben fatti (sic).” This is confirmed by an inscription on the collar of a soldier who stands near Herod’s right hand, and which, I do not doubt, is intended to govern the whole of the terra-cotta work. The inscription runs –

“Michel Ang. RSTI” (Rossetti) “Scul: Da Claino MDXC Etate an. VIIL”

This exactly tallies with the dates given in the two editions of Caccia.

The date is thus satisfactorily established, but the authorship of the work is less easily settled. All the authorities without exception say that the sculptor was a certain Giacomo Bargnola of Valsolda, who was also called Bologna. Fassola describes him as a “statuario virtuosissimo e glorioso per tutta l’ Europa,” and Torrotti calls him “il famoso Giacomo Bargnola di Valsoldo [sic] sopranominato Bologna.” All subsequent writers have repeated this.

At Varallo itself I found nothing known about either Bargnola or Valsolda, but turning to Zani find Bargnola under the name Paracca. Zani says, “Paracca, non Peracca, ne Perracca, ne Perrazza, Giannantonio, o Giacomo, detto il Valsoldo, Valsolino, e il Valsoldino, non Valfondino, ed anche il Bargnola, e malamente Antonio Valsado Parravalda.” He says that he was a “plastico” and restorer of statues, came from the neighbourhood of Como, was “bravissimo,” and lived about from 1557-1587. There was a Luigi Paracca from the same place who was also called “Il Valsoldino” and a Giacomo, and an Andrea, but of these last three he does not say that they were noteworthy.

Nagler mentions only a Giovanni Antonio Parracca, who he says was called Valsolda. He says that he was a sculptor of Milan, who made a reputation at Rome about 1580 as a restorer of antique statues; that he only worked in order to get money to spend on debauchery, and died, according to Baglione, young, and in a hospital. His words are –

“Paracca, Gio. Antonio gennant Valsoldo, Bildhauer von Mailand, machte sich um 1580 in Rom als Restaurator antiker Werke einen Namen, arbeitete aber nur, um Geld zur Schwelgerei zu bekommen. Starb jung im Hospital wie Baglione versichert.”

I have had Baglione before me, but can find no life of Paracca either under that name or under that of Bargnola, and suppose the reference to him must be incidental in the life of some other artist. I will again gratefully accept a fuller reference. I do not believe a word about Paracca’s alleged debauchery. Who ever yet worked as Nagler says?

We have, then, to face on the one hand the authority of all writers about the Sacro Monte, and on the other, the exceedingly explicit claim made by Rossetti himself in the inscription given above. Probably Bargnola began the work and Rossetti finished it. It is not likely that the extremely circumstantial statement of Fassola should be without any foundation, but again it is not likely that Rossetti would have claimed the work if he had not done at any rate the greater part of it. If Bargnola died about 1587, he could not have done much, for in the 1586-1587 edition of Caccia it is expressly stated that the chapel alone was done “Di questa e fatta solamente la chiesa.” And if he had lived to finish the work, he, and not Rossetti, would have signed it. We may conclude, then, with some certainty, that he died before the chapel was finished, but may think it nevertheless probable that he was originally commissioned to do it.

The question resolves itself, therefore, into how much he did, and how soon Rossetti took the work over. It must be remembered that Michael Angelo Rossetti is a name absolutely unknown to us. Zani, Nagler, Cicognara, Lubke, Perkins, and all the authorities I have consulted omit to mention him. I find abundant reference to three, and indeed five, painters who were called Rossetti, two of whom– doubtless nephews of Michael Angelo Rossetti,–did the frescoes in this very chapel we are considering, but no one says one syllable about any Michael Angelo Rossetti, and it is a bold thing to suppose that an unknown man should have succeeded so admirably with such a very important work as the Massacre of the Innocents chapel, and have lived as the inscription shows to the age at least of fifty-seven without leaving a single trace in any other quarter whatever.

The work, at any rate in many parts, is that of one who has been working in clay all his life, and was a thorough master of his craft, and this makes it all the more difficult to suppose it to be a single tour de force. On the other hand, such tours de force were not uncommon among medieval Italian workmen. Gaudenzio Ferrari’s work in sculpture is little else than a succession of tours de force, and in other parts of the work we are now considering, there is a certain archaism which suggests growing rather than matured power.

We should not forget, however, that an inscription in terra-cotta cannot be surreptitiously scrawled on like a false signature on a fresco or painting. Here the signature was made with pomp and circumstance while the clay was still wet, and was baked with the figure on which it appears. Too many people in this case would have to know about it for a false inscription to be probable. As for the evidence of Fassola, we must bear in mind that he is a notoriously inaccurate writer; that he did not write till nearly a hundred years after the work was completed; that Torrotti is only an echo of Fassola, and all subsequent writers little more than echoes of Fassola and Torrotti. On the whole, therefore, the more I have considered the matter the more I incline towards accepting the signature, and giving the greater part of the terra-cotta work to the man who claims it–that is to say, to Michael Angelo Rossetti, sculptor, of Claino. Signor Arienta tells me he has found a Castel Claino mentioned in an old document, as formerly existing near Milan. He is himself inclined (though knowing nothing of Paracca when I last saw him), to see two hands in the work–and here he is probably right, but I hardly think Rossetti would have signed as he did if Bargnola or Paracca had done the greater part or even half of it.

Proceeding to a consideration of the frescoes, we find that two of Herod’s body-guard, standing on his left hand, and corresponding to the one on his right, on whose collar the sculptor signed his name, have also signatures on their collars, obviously done in concert with the sculptor. The signatures are as follows:-

“Battista Roveri Pictor Milane AEta XXXV” and
“Io Mauro Rover Pictor.”

Fassola says that the painter of the chapel was “il Fiamenghino.” If he had said the painters were “i Fiamenghini” he would have been right, for Signor Arienta called my attention to a passage in Lanzi, in which he has dealt with three painters bearing the name of Rovere, two of whom, if not all three, were called “i Fiamenghini.” The three were Giovanni Mauro, Giambattista, and Marco, which last painter does not seem to have had anything to do with the Massacre of the Innocents. Lanzi calls Gio. Mauro a follower, first of Camillo, and then of Giulio Cesare Procaccini. He describes them as painters of great facility and invention, but as seldom taking pains to do what they very well might have done, if they had chosen, and his verdict is, I should say, about right. He adds:-

“I find them also called Rossetti, and they are still more often described as ‘i Fiamenghini,’ their father, Richard, having come from Flanders, and settled in Milan.”

Signor Arienta explained to me that it was through this surname of Fiamenghini, by which the brothers Rovere were known, that Giovanni Miel D’Anvers was supposed to have had any hand in the frescoes on the Sacro Monte. This last-named painter was court painter to Carlo Emanuelle I. Bordiga knew this, and seeing he came from Antwerp, concluded that he must be “il Fiamenghino” mentioned, and all subsequent writers have followed him.

Signor Arienta also tells me that some twenty years or so later these same two painters signed some frescoes at Orta as follows:-

“Io Battista, et Io Maurus Aruberius, dicti Fiamenghini, pinxerunt anno 1608 die 9 Octobris.”

Doubtless their mother’s name was Rossetti, and the Michael Angelo RSTI who claims the sculptured work, and was some twenty years their senior, was their uncle.

He also told me that one of the figures in the frescoes of the Massacre of the Innocents chapel is wearing a collar with a clasp on which there is an oak-tree, for which “Rovere” is the Italian, and that he holds this to have been a portrait of the painter.

Fassola says that under the glazed aperture which is in front of the piece there is placed a small terra-cotta car drawn by a child and loaded with a head, or ear, of maize, a goose, and a clown; he explains that the maize means 1000, the car 400, the clown 90, and the goose “per il suo verso”–whatever this may mean–4, which numbers taken together make the number of infants that were killed. He adds that there is another like hieroglyphic, which, as it is not very important, he will pass over. I find no mention of this in Torrotti, nor yet in Bordiga, but when people call attention to a thing and then say nothing about it, I generally find they have a reason. On a recent visit to Varallo I examined the two hieroglyphs; the second is also a small terra-cotta car or cart drawn by a child, and containing the bust of a monk, a die, and two or three other things that I could not make out. The treatment of these two hieroglyphics alone is enough to show that they were done by a thorough master of his craft. No doubt the import of the whole was known by Fassola to be sinister, but I must leave its interpretation to others. He adds that the graces vouchsafed at this chapel are chiefly on behalf of sick children.

I may conclude by saying that though nothing has been taken directly from Tabachetti’s Journey to Calvary chapel, the sculptor, whoever he was, has nevertheless plainly felt the influence, and been animated by the spirit of that great work, then just completed.


We now begin the series of chapels that deal with Christ’s Manhood, Ministry, and Passion. The first of these is


The statues are of no great interest, and of unknown authorship. The frescoes are by Orazio Gallinone di Treviglio, but they are not striking. The date of the chapel is about 1585. It is mentioned in the 1586 edition of Caccia, and it is added that the water of the fountain would be brought there shortly so as to imitate the Jordan. This was done, but the water made the chapel so damp that it was turned off again. The graces, according to Fassola, are chiefly for married ladies.


This chapel is given as completed in the 1586 edition of Caccia, and had probably been by this time reconstructed by Tabachetti, to whom the work is universally and no doubt justly ascribed.

That the figures of Christ and of the devil have both been cut about may be conjectured from their draperies being in part real linen or calico, and not terra-cotta; Christ’s red shirt front is real, as also is a great part of the devil’s dress. This last personage is a most respectable-looking patriarchal old Jewish Rabbi. I should say he was the leading solicitor in some such town as Samaria, and that he gave an annual tea to the choir. He is offering Christ some stones just as any other respectable person might do, and if it were not for his formidable two clawed feet there would be nothing to betray his real nature. The beasts with their young are excellent. The porcupine has real quills. The fresco background is by Melchior D’Enrico, and here the fall of the devil when the whole is over is treated with a realistic unreserve little likely to be repeated. He is dreadfully unwell. The graces in this chapel are more especially for those tempted by the world, the flesh, and the devil, for people who are bewitched, and for those who are in any wise troubled in mind, body, and estate, “as the varying views of the pilgrims themselves will best determine.”

Bordiga says that the chapel was begun about 1580, and completed in 1594, but he refers probably to Tabachetti’s reconstruction, for in the portico there is an inscription painted by order of the Bishop, and forbidding visitors to deface the walls, that is dated 1524, and the back of the chapel has many early 16th century scratches.


This chapel is given as completed in the 1586 edition of Caccia, so that Bordiga and Cusa are wrong in dating it 1598. In the poetical part of Caccia it is described as recently made and “ben ritratto.” The woman of Samaria is a fine buxom figure, but the paint has peeled off so badly both from her and from the Christ that it is hardly fair to judge the work at all. I should think it was very possibly an early work by Tabachetti, but should be sorry to hazard a decided opinion. The frescoes are without interest. The graces at this chapel were chiefly for women who wanted to abandon some evil practice, and for rain when the country was suffering from long drought. This last is because Christ said to the woman of Samaria “Give me to drink.”


The chapel alone was completed by 1586 and 1590, so that we may be certain Tabachetti had no hand in it. The statues are said to be by D’Enrico, whom we meet here for the first time. Bordiga praises them very highly, but neither Jones nor I liked the composition as much as we should have wished to have done. Some of the individual figures are good, especially a man with his arm in a sling, and two men conversing on the left of the composition, but there is too little concerted and united action, and too much attempt to show off every figure to the best advantage, to the sacrifice of more important considerations. They probably date from 1620-1624, in which last year Bordiga says that the frescoes were completed. These are chiefly, if not entirely, by Cristoforo Martinolo, a Valsesian artist and pupil of Morazzone, who, according to Bordiga, though little known, has here shown himself no common artist. Again neither Jones nor I admired them as much as we should have been glad to do. “All infirmities of fever, and paralysis,” says Fassola, “if recommended to the Great Saviour at this place will be dissipated, as may be gathered from the many voti here exhibited.”


Of this chapel the walls are alone mentioned as completed in 1590. So that Bordiga and Cusa are again wrong in saying that the frescoes were painted about 1580. It is not good. The walls were probably raised soon after 1580. Donna Mathilde di Savoia, Marchesa di Pianezza, a natural daughter of Carlo Emmanuele I., was among the principal contributors. The graces were “for those who had had bad falls or any accidents whereby they had been rendered speechless, stupid, senseless, and apparently dead.”

It will be observed on referring to the plan facing p. 68, that this chapel is given as on the ground now occupied by Christ taken before Annas, and faces the Herod chapel on the Piazza dei Tribunali. This may be a mere error in the plan, but the plan is generally accurate, and it is very likely that a change was made in the middle of the last century when the Annas chapel was built.


This is on the highest ground of the Sacro Monte, the Transfiguration being supposed to have happened on Mount Sinai. Inside the chapel they have made Mount Sinai, but Fassola says that it was originally quite too high, and the Fabbricieri had ordered it to be made lower, “so as to render it more enjoyable by the eye.” It was begun at the end of the sixteenth century, but is mentioned as being only “founded” in the 1586 and 1590 editions of Caccia, and the work seems to have got little further than the foundations, until in 1660 it was resumed; Fassola, writing in 1671, says that the chapel was “levata in alto da terra l’anno del mille, sei cento e sessanta,” or about ten years before his book appeared; it was still in great part unpainted, and he makes an appeal to his readers to contribute towards its completion. From both Fassola and Torrotti it would appear that only the group of figures on the mountain was in existence when they wrote. They both of them make the extraordinary statement that these figures are by Giovanni D’Enrico, whom they must have perfectly well known to have been dead more than a quarter of a century before Fassola wrote, and many years before the figures could possibly have been placed where they now are. It is much as though I, writing now, were to ascribe Boehm’s statue of Mr. Darwin, in the Natural History Museum at South Kensington, to Chantrey. The figures on the mountain are among the worst on the Sacro Monte. I see that Cusa ascribes the figures of Peter, James, and John only to D’Enrico, but the ascription is very difficult to understand.

Bordiga does not say who did the figures of Peter, James, and John, but he gives the Christ, Moses, and Elias to Pietro Francesco Petera of Varallo. The fourteen figures at the foot of the mountain he assigns to Gaudenzio Soldo of Camasco, a pupil of the sculptor Dionigi Bussola. In 1665 Giuseppe and Stefano Danedi, called Montalti, and pupils of Morazzone, “painted the cupola of the chapel with innumerable angels great and small exhibiting the most varied movements.” Giuseppe had the greater share in this work, in which may be seen, according to Bordiga, signs of the influence of Guido, under whom Giuseppe had studied.

Among the figures below the mountain there is a blind man, and a boy with a bad foot leading him–both good–and a contemptuous father telling the Apostles that they cannot cure his son, and that he had told them so from the first, but the paint is peeling off the figures so much that the work can hardly be judged fairly. When photographed they look much better, and Signor Pizetta tells me he was last year commissioned to photograph the boy, who is in a fit of hystero- epilepsy, for a medical work that was being published in France, so it is probably very true to nature.


Fassola says that this chapel was erected at the expense of Pomponio Bosso, a noble Milanese, between the years 1560 and 1580. It is mentioned as finished in the 1586 edition of Caccia, and was probably completed before Tabachetti came. Bordiga only says that it was finished in 1582. The statues are of little or no merit, nor yet the frescoes. I observe that in Caccia the “tempio” is praised but not apparently the work that it contained. The terra-cotta figures are ascribed by Bordiga to Ravello, and the frescoes to Testa, whose brother, Lorenzo Testa, was Fabbriciere at the time the chapel was erected. There is one rather nice little man in the left-hand corner, but there is nothing else.


The figures in this chapel are ascribed to Giovanni D’Enrico by both Fassola and Torrotti, an ascription very properly set aside by Bordiga, without assigned reason, but probably because 1590 is considerably too early for Giovanni D’Enrico, and there is a document dated May 23, 1590, showing that the fresco background was then contracted for. The sculptured figures are mentioned as finished in the 1586 edition of Caccia, so that D’Enrico could not have done them. They are better than those in the preceding chapels, but they do not arouse enthusiasm, and have suffered so much from decay, and from repainting, that it is hardly fair to form any opinion about them. They probably looked much better when new. The landscape part of the background is by one of the brothers Rovere, named, as I have said, Fiamenghini, and he has introduced a house with a stepped gable like those at Antwerp. Some of the figures in the background appear to be by the painter Testa, who is named in the document above referred to.


This was one of the earliest chapels, and is mentioned as completed in the 1586 edition of Caccia. The figures are of wood, stiff, and lifeless, the supper is profuse and of much later date than the figures, but the whole scene is among the least successful on the Sacro Monte. Originally, but not till many years after the figures had been made and placed, Lanini painted a fresco background for this chapel. Perhaps Gaudenzio brought him from Vercelli on the occasion of the temporary return to Varallo supposed by Colombo to have taken place between 1536 and 1539. If we could know when Lanini was on the Sacro Monte doing this background, we might suspect that Gaudenzio was not far off. Lanini’s work has unfortunately perished in a second reconstruction of the chapel. Torrotti in 1686 says that a reconstruction of the Cena chapel was then contemplated, but that Lanini’s frescoes were not to be touched. The original Cena chapel may or may not have been on its present site, but the first restoration certainly was so, as appears from the plan dated 1671 already given. The apostles have real napkins round their shoulders. The graces are for people who feel themselves deficient in faith, and intercession may be made here for obstinate sinners.


This chapel, again, has been reconstructed, but the old figures have not been preserved as in the case of the Cena, nor yet has the original site. The original site, according to Bordiga, was apart from the other chapels at the foot of the neighbouring monticello, meaning, presumably, the height on which the Transfiguration chapel now stands. It was at this old chapel that S. Carlo used to spend hours in prayer. It was one of the earliest, and the figures were of wood. Fassola says that it was the angel who was offering the cup to Christ in the old chapel who announced his approaching end to S. Carlo, but the figures had been removed in his time as they were perishing, and the terra-cotta ones by Giovanni D’Enrico had been substituted, with a fresco background by his brother Melchiorre. These in their turn perished during a reconstruction some twenty years or so ago. The graces at this chapel are thus described by Fassola.

“Il moderno e Christo ed Angiolo nel medemo stato rinouati non sono meno miraculosi, perche tutti li concorrenti, bisognosi di pazienza di soffrire trauagli, malattie, ed ogni sorte d’ infermita tanto dell’ anima, quanto del corpo caldamente racomandandosi al piacere di questo sudante Christo riportano cio che meglio per lo stato di questo, ed altro Mondo fa di necessita alle loro persone.”

I find no mention of any original fresco background, though I do of the one added afterwards by Melchiorre D’Enrico, now no longer in existence. As this was one of the earliest chapels, I incline to think that there was no fresco background in the first instance.


Fassola says that this chapel was decorated about fifty years (really fifty-nine) before the date at which he was writing, by Melchiorre D’Enrico. It was then on its present site, but the end of the Cena block was rebuilt some twenty years ago. The present Custode, Battista, tells me he worked at the rebuilding, and taking me upstairs showed me a trace or two of Melchiorre’s background. The sleeping Apostles are said to be by Giovanni D’Enrico; they will not bear comparison with Tabachetti’s St. Joseph. The benefactor was Count Pio Giacomo Fassola di Rassa, a collateral ancestor of the historian. People who have become lethargic in their self- indulgence, or who are blinded through some bad habit, will find relief at this chapel. I have met with nothing to show that there was any earlier chapel with the same subject, and in the 1586 edition of Caccia it is expressly mentioned as one of those that as yet were merely contemplated, though the Agony in the Garden itself is described as completed.


We now come to the block of several chapels comprised in a building originally designed by Pellegrini at the instance of S. Carlo Borromeo, but not carried out according to his design, and called “The Palace of Pilate.” This work was begun about 1590, and according to Fassola was not completed till 1660. The figures, however, must have been most of them placed by 1644, for they are mainly by Giovanni D’Enrico, who is believed to have died in that year. The first of these chapels–the Capture of Christ–and probably several others, comprise some figures taken from earlier chapels. Fassola says that before this building was erected, the old portico built by Milano Scarrognini stood in the Piazza in front of the Holy Sepulchre, that “in its circuit of three hundred paces it comprised several mysteries of the passion.” Among these were probably the present Flagellation, Crowning with Thorns, and final Taking of Christ before Pilate chapels. Each of these, however, has undergone some modification.


This chapel is in the Palazzo di Pilato block, though not strictly a suffering under Pontius Pilate. The greater number of the sixteen figures that it contains are old, and of wood, and among these are the figures of Christ, Judas, and Malchus, who is lying on the ground. To show how dust and dirt accumulate in the course of centuries, I may say that Cav. Prof. Antonini told me he had himself unburied the figure of Malchus, which he found more than half covered with earth. We have seen that there are also two figures introduced here which had no connection with the original chapel, I mean of course the old Adam and Eve, who are now doing duty as Roman soldiers. The few remaining figures that are not of wood are given to D’Enrico, and the frescoes are by his brother Melchiorre. Neither figures nor frescoes can be highly praised. The present chapel is not on the site of the old, which I have already explained was on the ground floor of the large house on the visitor’s left as he enters the smaller entrance to the Sacro Monte.

The servants were put to lodge above this old and now derelict Capture chapel when the present one was made. The date of the removal is given by Cusa as 1570, who says that the Marchese del Guasto contributed largely to the expense. If the figures were then completed and arranged as we now see them, Giovanni D’Enrico can have had no hand in them, but it is quite possible that somewhere about 1615-1619, they were again rearranged and perhaps added to. Melchiorre D’Enrico has signed the frescoes in a quasi-cipher and dated them 1619. The old chapel, though, I think, originally larger than it now is, could not have contained all or nearly all the present figures. Any second rearrangement of the chapel may have been due to its incorporation in the Palazzo di Pilato block, which we know was not begun till after 1590. That the removal from the original chapel had been effected before 1586 is shown by the fact that the chapel is given in its present geographical sequence in the edition of Caccia published at the end of that year. The work contains no trace of Tabachetti’s hand, and this should make us incline towards thinking that. Tabachetti had not yet come to Varallo by 1570.

Of the former chapel Fassola says:-

“On again descending where formerly was the Capture of Christ, and near the exit [from the Sacro Monte] we came to the porter’s lodge. It should be noted that under the porter’s room, in the place where the Capture used to be, there are most admirable frescoes by Gaudenzio” (p. 22).

With his accustomed reticence where he fears to give offence, he does not say that the frescoes are going to rack and ruin, but this is what he means; Torrotti expresses himself more freely, saying that a chapel, although derelict, containing paintings by Gaudenzio and his pupils, should not be left to the neglect of servants. These frescoes were removed a year or so ago to the Pinacoteca in the Museum. They are not by Gaudenzio, and are now rightly given to Lanini. They are mere fragments, and of no great importance.


This is the one chapel that belongs to the 18th century, having been finished about 1765 at the expense of certain Valsesians residing in Turin. It does not belong to the Palazzo di Pilato block, but I deal with it here to avoid departure from the prescribed order. The design of the chapel is by Morondi, and the figures by Carlantonio Tandarini, except that of Annas, which is by Giambattista Bernesi of Turin. The frescoes are of the usual drop scene, barocco, academic kind, but where the damp has spared them they form an effective background. The figures want concert, and are too much spotted about so as each one to be seen to the best advantage. This, as Tabachetti very well knew, is not in the manner of living action, and the attempt to render it on these principles is doomed to failure; nevertheless many of Tandarini’s individual figures are very clever, and have a good deal of a certain somewhat exaggerated force and character. I have already said that from the plan of 1671 “The Widow’s Son” would seem to have been formerly on the site of the present Annas chapel.


Cusa says that this chapel, which again is not in the Palazzo di Pilato block, adheres very closely to the design of Pellegrino Tibaldi. The figures, thirty-three in number, are by Giovanni D’Enrico and Giacomo Ferro, and the frescoes being dated 1642, we may think the terra-cotta work to be among the last done by D’Enrico on the Sacro Monte. The figure of Caiaphas must be given to him, and it is hard to see how it could have been more dramatically treated. Caiaphas has stepped down from his throne, which is left vacant behind him, and is adjuring Jesus to say whether he is the Christ the Son of God. If it were not for the cobweb between the arm and the body, the photograph which is here given might almost pass as having been taken from life, and the character is so priest-like that it is hard to understand how priests could have tolerated it as they did. Indeed, the figure is so far finer than the general run of Giovanni D’Enrico’s work, and so infinitely superior to the four figures of Pilate in the four Pilate chapels, that we should be tempted to give it to some other sculptor if, happily, the Herod did not also show how great D’Enrico could be when he was doing his best, and if the evidence for its having been by him were not so strong.

To the left of Caiaphas’s empty throne are two standing figures, which look as if they had been begun for figures of Christ, but were condemned as not good enough. They may perhaps be intended for Joseph and Nicodemus. Some few of the other figures, which in all number thirty-three, are also full of character, but the greater part of them do not rise above the level of Giacomo Ferro’s supers, and suffer from having lost much paint; nevertheless the chapel is effective, chiefly, doubtless, through the excellence of the Caiaphas himself, and if we could see the work as it was when D’Enrico left it we should doubtless find it more effective still.

The frescoes are by Cristoforo Martinolo, also named Rocca. They are not of remarkable excellence, but form an efficient background, and are among the best preserved on the Sacro Monte. They have also the