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  • 1888
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great merit of being legibly signed and dated.


Hard by under a portico there is a statue of St. Peter, repentant, and over him there is a cock still crowing. The figure of St. Peter, and presumably that of the cock also, are by D’Enrico. I can find nothing about the date in any author.

This cock is said to have been the chief instrument in a miracle not less noteworthy than any recorded in connection with the Sacro Monte. It seems that on the 3rd of July 1653 a certain Lorenzo Togni from Buccioleto, who had been a martyr to intemperance for many years, came to the Sacro Monte in that state in which martyrs to intemperance must be expected generally to be. It was very early in the morning, but nevertheless the man was drunk, though still just able to go the round of the chapels. Nothing noticeable occurred till he got to the Caiaphas chapel, but here all on a sudden, to the amazement of the man himself, and of others who were standing near, a noise was heard to come from up aloft in the St. Peter chapel, and it was seen that the cock had turned round and was flapping his wings with an expression of great severity. Before they had recovered from their surprise, the bird exclaimed in a loud voice, and with the utmost distinctness, “Ciocc’ anch’ anc’uei,” running the first two words somewhat together, and dwelling long on the last syllable, which is sounded like a long French “eu” and a French “i.” These words I am told mean, “Drunk again to-day also?” the “anc’uei” being a Piedmontese patois for “ancora oggi.” The bird repeated these words three or four times over, and then turned round on its perch, to all appearance terra cotta again. The effect produced upon the drunkard was such that he could never again be prevailed upon to touch wine, and ever since this chapel has been the one most resorted to by people who wish to give up drinking to excess.

The foregoing story is not given either in Fassola or Torrotti, but my informant, a most intelligent person, assured me that to this day the cocks about Varallo do not unfrequently say “Ciocc’ anch’ anc’uei”–indeed, I have repeatedly heard them do so with the most admirable distinctness. I am told that cocks sometimes challenge, and wish to fight, well-done cocks on crucifixes, but it is some way from this to the cock on the crucifix beginning to crow too. One does not see where this sort of thing is to end, and once terra-cotta always terra-cotta, is a maxim that a respectable figure would on the whole do well to lay to heart and abide by.


The Pilate is not nearly so good as the Caiaphas in the preceding chapel, but though there is not one single figure of superlative excellence, this is still one of D’Enrico’s best works, and the Pilate is the best of the four Pilates. The nineteen figures are generally ascribed to him; and, I should say there was less Giacomo Ferro in this chapel than in most of D’Enrico’s. Possibly Giacomo Ferro was not yet D’Enrico’s assistant. The frescoes are by Antonio, or Tanzio, D’Enrico, but I cannot see much in them to admire.

The date is given by Bordiga as about 1620, but no date is given either by Fassola or Torrotti. The nude figure to the left, seated and holding a spear near the spectator, is said to be a portrait of Tanzio, but Bordiga thinks that if we are to look for the portrait anywhere in this composition, we should do so in the open gallery above the gate of the Pretorium, where we shall find a figure that has nothing to do with the story, and represents a “jocund-looking” but venerable old man, wearing a hat with a white feather in it, and like the portrait of Melchiorre painted by himself in his Last Judgment–presumably the one outside the church at Riva Valdobbia. Bordiga adds that Melchiorre was still living in 1620, when Tanzio was at work on these frescoes.


Bordiga says that this chapel was begun in 1606, as shown by a letter from Monsignor Bescape, Bishop of Novara, authorising the Fabbricieri to appropriate three hundred scudi from the Mass chest for the purpose of erecting it, but it was not finished until 1638. The statues, thirty-five in number, are by Giovanni D’Enrico, and the frescoes by Tanzio, but we have no means of dating either the one or the other accurately.

The figure of Herod is incomparably finer than any others in the chapel, if we except those of two laughing boys on Herod’s left that are hardly seen till one is inside the chapel itself. Take each of the figures separately and few are good. As usual in D’Enrico’s chapels, there is a deficiency of the ensemble and concert which no one except Tabachetti seems to have been able to give in sculptured groups containing many figures; nevertheless, the Herod and the laughing boys atone almost for any deficiency. Bordiga speaks of the frescoes in the highest terms, but I do not admire them as I should wish to do. They are generally considered as Antonio D’Enrico’s finest work on the Sacro Monte.

The figures behind the two boys’ heads coming very awkwardly in my photograph, my friend Mr. Gogin has kindly painted them out for me, so as to bring the boys’ heads out better.


This is supposed to be the last work of Giovanni D’Enrico, who, according to Durandi, died in 1644. The scene comprises twenty-three terra-cotta figures, few of them individually good, but nevertheless effective as a whole. One man, the nearest but one to the spectator, must be given to D’Enrico, and perhaps one or two more, but the greater number must have been done by Giacomo Ferro. The frescoes were begun both by Morazzone and Antonio D’Enrico, but Fassola and Torrotti say that neither the one nor the other was able to complete the work, which in their time was still unfinished; but Doctor Morosini was going to get a really good man to finish them without further delay. Eventually the brothers Grandi of Milan came and did the Doric architecture, while Pietro Gianoli did some sibyls, and on the facciata “il casto Giuseppe portato da due Angioli.” Gianoli signed his work and dated it 1679. We know, then, that in this case the sculptured figures were placed some years before the background, as probably also with several other chapels; and it may be assumed that generally the terra-cotta figures preceded the background–which was designed for them, and not they for it, except in the case of Gaudenzio Ferrari–who probably conceived both the round and flat work together as part of the same design, and was thus the only artist on the Sacro Monte who carried out the design of uniting painting and sculpture in a single design, under the conditions which strictly it involves.

In connection with this chapel both Fassola and Torrotti say that D’Enrico has intentionally made Christ’s face become smaller and smaller during each of these last scenes, as becoming contracted through increase of suffering. I have been unable to see that this is more than fancy on their parts.

It is also in connection with this chapel that we discover the true date of Fassola’s book. He says that they had been on the lookout “during the whole OF LAST YEAR”–which he gives as 1669–for some one to finish the frescoes. “Now, however,” he continues, “when this book is seeing light,” &c. The book therefore should be seeing light in 1670. It is dated 1671. True, Fassola may have been writing at the very end of 1670, and the book may have been published at the beginning of 1671, but perhaps the more natural conclusion is that the same reasons which make publishers wish to misdate their books by a year now, made them wish to do so then, and that though Fassola’s book appeared at the end of 1670, as would appear from his own words, it was nevertheless dated 1671.


Torrotti and Fassola say that the Christ in this chapel, as well as in all the others, is an actual portrait–and no doubt an admirable one–communicated by Divine inspiration to the many workmen and artists who worked on the Sacro Monte. This, they say, may be known from two documents contemporaneous with Christ Himself, in which His personal appearance is fully set forth, and which seem almost to have been written from the statues now existing at Varallo. The worthy artists who made these statues were by no means given to historical investigations, and were little likely to know anything about the letters in question; besides, these had only just been discovered, so that there can have been no deception or illusion. Both Fassola and Torrotti give the letters in full, and to their pages the reader who wishes to see them may be referred. Fassola writes:-

“Hora vegga ogni diuoto se rassomigliando queste statue al vero Christo essendo lauorate accidentalmente, parendo da Dio sia dato alli Statuarij, e Pittori il lume della sua Diuina Persona non si ha se non per mera sua disposizione e diachiarazione d’hauer quiui quasi come rinouata, e resa piu commoda alla Christianita la sua Redenzione” (p. 103).

The work is mentioned as completed in the 1586 edition of Caccia– this, and the Crowning with Thorns, being the only two that are described as completed of those that now form part of the Palazzo di Pilato block. These two chapels do not in reality, however, belong to the Palazzo di Pilato at all; they existed long before it, and the new work was added on to them. Bordiga says that “an order of Monsignor Bescape relating to this chapel, and dated February 1, 1605, shows that there was as yet no plan of this part of the Palace of Pilate.” I have not seen this order, and can only speak with diffidence, but I do not think the chapel has been much modified since 1586, beyond the fact that Rocca, whom we have already met with as painting in the Caiaphas chapel in 1642, at some time or another painted a new background, which is now much injured by damp.

Not only does the author of the 1586 Caccia mention the chapel, but he does it with more effusion than is usual with him. He rarely says anything in praise of any but the best work. I do not, therefore, think it likely that his words refer to the original wooden figures, two of which were preserved when the work was remodelled; these two mar the chapel now, and when all the work was of the same calibre it cannot have kindled any enthusiasm in a writer who appears to have known very fairly well which were the best chapels. He says:-

“Da manigoldi, in atto acerbo e fiero, Alla colonna Christo flagellato
Da scultor dotto assimigliato al vero Di questo {13} in un de i lati e dimostrato,

E come fusse macerato e nero,
D’aspri flagelli percosso, e vergato, Di Christo il sacro corpo in ogni parte, Vi ha sculto dotto mastro in sottil arte.”

I think the reconstruction of the chapel, then, and its assumption of its present state, except that a fresco background was added, should be assigned to some year about 1580-1585, and am disposed to ascribe, at any rate, the figure of the man who is binding Christ to the column to Tabachetti, who was then working on the Sacro Monte, and whose style the work seems to me to resemble more nearly than it does that of D’Enrico. Whoever the chapel is by, it was evidently in its present place and much admired in 1586; there could hardly, therefore, have been any occasion to reconstruct it, especially when so much other work was crying to be done, and when it had, in all probability, been once reconstructed already.

On the whole, until external evidence shows D’Enrico to have done the figures, I shall continue to think that at least one of them, and very possibly all except the two old wooden ones, are by Tabachetti. The foot of the man binding Christ to the column has crumbled away, either because the clay was bad, or from insufficient baking. This is why the figure is propped up with a piece of wood. The damp has made the rope slack, so that the pulling action of the figure is in great measure destroyed, its effect being cancelled by its ineffectualness; but for this the reader will easily make due allowance. The same man reappears presently in the balcony of the Ecce Homo chapel, but he is there evidently done by another and much less vigorous hand.

The man in the foreground, who is stooping down and binding his rods, is the same as the one who is kicking Christ in Tabachetti’s Journey to Calvary, and is one of those adopted by Tabachetti from Gaudenzio Ferrari’s Crucifixion chapel; this figure may perhaps have been an addition by Giovanni D’Enrico, or have been done by an assistant, for it is hardly up to Tabachetti’s mark. The two nearest scourgers are fine powerful figures, but I should admit that they remind me rather of D’Enrico than of Tabachetti, though they might also be very well by him, and probably are so.

Fassola says that the graces obtainable by the faithful here have relation to every kind of need; they are in a high degree unspecialised, and that this freedom from specialisation is characteristic of all the chapels of the Passion.


Much that was said about the preceding chapel applies also to this. It is mentioned in the 1586 edition of Caccia as done “sottilmente in natural ritratto,” and as being one of the few works that would form part of the Palazzo di Pilato block that were as yet completed.

That this chapel had undergone one reconstruction before 1586, we may gather from the fact that the left-hand wall is still covered with a fresco of the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise; this has no connection with the Crowning with Thorns, and doubtless formed the background to the original Adam and Eve. I have already said that I am indebted to Signor Arienta for this suggestion. Bordiga calls this subject Christ being Led to be Crowned, and gives it to Crespi da Cerano, but I cannot understand how he can see in the work anything but an Expulsion from Paradise. The chapel having been reconstructed before 1586 on its present site–as it evidently had been–and being admired, is not likely to have been reconstructed a second time, and I am again, therefore, inclined to give the whole work, or at any rate the greater part of it, to Tabachetti, and to reject the statements of Fassola, Torrotti, Bordiga, and Cusa, who all ascribe the figures to D’Enrico. The two men standing up behind Christ, one taunting Him, and the other laughing, are among the finest on the Sacro Monte, and are much more in Tabachetti’s manner than in D’Enrico’s. The other figures are, as they were doubtless intended to be, of minor interest.

Some of the frescoes other than those above referred to, were added at a later date, and are said by Bordiga, on the authority of a covenant, dated September 27th, 1608, to have been done by Antonio Rantio, who undertook to paint them for a sum of ten ducatoons. They are without interest.

It was here the Flemish dancer was healed.

His name was Bartholomew Jacob, and he came from Graveling in Flanders. It seems there was a ball going on at the house of one of this man’s ancestors, and that the Last Sacraments were being carried through the street under the windows of the ball-room.

The dancing ought by rights to have been stopped, but the host refused to stop it, and presently the priest who was carrying the Sacrament found a paper under the chalice, written in a handwriting of almost superhuman neatness, presumably that of the Madonna herself and bearing the words, “Dancer, thou wouldst not stay thy dance: I curse thee, therefore, that thou dance for nine generations.” And so he did, he and all his descendants all their lives, till it came to Bartholomew Jacob, who was the ninth in descent. He too began life dancing, and was still dancing when he started on a pilgrimage to Rome; when, however, he got to the Sacro Monte at Varallo on the 7th of January 1646, he began to feel tired, tremulous, and languid from so much incessant movement. This strange feeling attacked him first at the Nativity Chapel, but by the time he got to the Crowning with Thorns he could stand it no longer, and fell as one dead, to rise again presently perfectly whole, and relieved of his distressing complaint.

Personally I find this story interesting as giving high support to the theory I have been trying to insist upon for some years past, and according to which in a certain sense a man is personally identical with all the generations in the direct line both of his ancestry and his descendants, as well as with himself. The words “Thou shalt dance for nine generations” involve one of the most important points contended for in my earlier book, “Life and Habit.” Fassola and Torrotti both say that more pilgrims left alms at this chapel than at any other. In fact they both seem to consider that this chapel did very well. “Qui,” says Torrotti, “si colgano elemosine assai,” and, as I have said already, it is here that a few autumn leaves of waxen images still linger.

A few weeks ago I saw the original document in which the story above given was attested. It was dated 1671, and signed, stamped, and sealed as a document of the highest importance. I noticed that in this manuscript, it was a voice that was heard, and not as in Fassola a letter that was found.


This is not mentioned in the 1586 edition of Caccia, perhaps as being a poor and unimportant work. Fassola says that some of the frescoes, as well as of the statues, which, he says, are of wood, were by Gaudenzio. The other statues are given both by Fassola and Torrotti to D’Enrico, and the paintings to Gianoli, a wealthy Valsesian amateur who lived at Campertogno. Bordiga gives the statues to Ferro, already mentioned as a pupil of D’Enrico, but whoever did them, they are about as bad as they can be–too bad, I should say, for Giacomo Ferro, and I am not sure that they are not of wood even now. No traces of Gaudenzio’s frescoes remain. The chapel seems to have been reconstructed in connection with the replica of the Scala Santa up which Christ is going to be conducted. We have seen that the design for these stairs was procured from Rome in 1608 by Francesco Testa, who was then Fabbriciere.


This is one of the finest chapels, the concert between the figures being better than in most of D’Enrico’s other work, notwithstanding the fact that more than one, and probably several, are old figures taken from chapels that were displaced when the Palazzo di Pilato block was made. The figures are thirty-seven in number, and are disposed in a spacious hall not wholly unlike the vestibule of the Reform Club, Christ and His immediate persecutors appearing in a balustraded balcony above a spacious portico that supports it. This must have been one of D’Enrico’s first works on the Sacro Monte, the frescoes having been paid for on Dec. 7, 1612, as shown by Morazzone’s receipt which is still in existence, and which is for the sum of 2400 imperiali. Of these frescoes it is impossible to speak highly; they look clever at first and from a distance, but do not bear closer attention. Morazzone took pains with the Journey to Calvary chapel, which was his first work on the Sacro Monte, but never did anything so good again.

Of the terra-cotta figures, the one to the extreme left is certainly by Gaudenzio Ferrari, being another portrait, in nearly the same attitude, of the extreme figure to the left in the Crucifixion chapel. For reasons into which I will enter more fully when I come to this last-named work, I do not doubt that Stefano Scotto, Gaudenzio’s master, is the person represented. I had to go inside the chapel to hold a sheet behind the figure in order to detach it from the background, so had myself taken along with it to show how it compares with a living figure. It is generally said at Varallo to be a portrait of Giovanno D’Enrico’s brother Tanzio, but this is obviously impossible, for not only does the same person reappear in the Crucifixion chapel, but he is also found in Gaudenzio’s early fresco of the Disputa in the Sta. Margherita chapel already referred to, and elsewhere, as I will presently show. I should be sorry to say that any other figure in the Ecce Homo chapel except this is certainly by Gaudenzio, but am inclined to think that two or three others are also by him, the rest being probably all of them by D’Enrico or some assistant. Some–more especially two children, on the head of one of whom a man has laid his hand–are of extreme beauty. The child that is looking up is among the most beautiful in the whole range of sculpture; the other is not so good, but has suffered in re-painting, the eyelid being made too red; if this were remedied, as it easily might be, the figure would gain greatly. Cav. Prof. Antonini has very successfully substituted plaster hair for the horsehair, which had in great measure fallen off. The motive of this incidental group is repeated, but with less success, in Giovanni D’Enrico’s Nailing to the Cross.

There is another child to the extreme right of the composition so commonly and poorly done that it is hard to believe it can be by the same hand, but it is not likely that Giacomo Ferro had as yet become D’Enrico’s assistant. The man who is pointing out Christ to this last-named child is far more seriously treated, and might even be an importation from an earlier work. Among other very fine figures is a man who is looking up and holding a staff in his hand; he stands against the wall to the spectator’s right among the figures nearest to the grating. There is also an admirable figure of a man on one knee tying his cross garter and at the same time looking up. This figure is in the background rather hidden away, and is not very well seen from the grating. I should add that the floor of the chapel slopes a little up from the spectator like the stage in a theatre.

The dog in the middle foreground is hollow, as are all the figures, or at any rate many of them, and shows a great hole on the side away from the spectator; it is not fixed to the ground, but stands on its own legs; it was as much as I could do to lift it. I am told the figures were baked down below in the town, and though they are most of them in several pieces it must have been no light work carrying them up the mountain. I have been shown the remains of a furnace near the present church on the Sacro Monte, but believe it was only used for the figures made by Luigi Marchesi in 1826. I should, however, have thought that the figures would have been baked upon the Sacro Monte itself and not in the town.

Of this chapel Fassola says:-

“All the pilgrims of every description come here, because it is at the top of the Scala Santa up which they go upon their knees, and there is plenty of room for pilgrims, as the chapel extends the whole width of the staircase. Those who are oppressed with travail, or fevers, or lawsuits, or unjust persecutions of any description, are comforted on being commended to this Christ.” “Vi sono qui,” says Torrotti, “pascoli deliziosi per i curiosi e piu dotti.”

I daresay that on the great festivals of the Church, some pilgrims may still go up the Scala Santa kneeling, but they do not commonly do so. Often as I have been at the Sacro Monte, I never yet saw a pilgrim mount the staircase except on his feet in the usual way. It must be a very painful difficult thing to go up twenty-eight consecutive high steps on one’s knees; I tried it, but gave it up after a very few steps, and do not recommend any of my readers to even do as much as this.


Fassola, Torrotti, and Bordiga all call this one of the best chapels, but neither Jones nor I could see that it was nearly so successful as the preceding. The seventeen modelled figures are by Giovanni D’Enrico, and the frescoes by his brother Antonio or Tanzio. One or two of the figures–especially a man putting his finger to his mouth derisively, are excellent, but the Pilate is a complete failure; and it is hard to think it can have been done, as it probably nevertheless was, by the sculptor of the Caiaphas and Herod figures. Bordiga says that a contract was made with Caccia (not the historian), called Moncalvo, for the frescoes. This was the painter who did the backgrounds for the Crea chapels, but the contract was never carried out, probably because Antonio D’Enrico returned from Rome. It was dated November 1616, so that the terra-cotta figures probably belong to this year or to those that immediately preceded it.


This is better than the preceding chapel, and contains some good individual figures. The statues are twenty-seven in number, and were modelled by D’Enrico prior to the year 1614, in which year Morazzone was paid twelve hundred imperiali for having painted the frescoes, so that it was one of his earlier works, but the Pilate is again a failure. People who have been badly treated, and who have suffered from some injustice, are more especially recommended by Fassola “to try this Christ, who moves the pity of all who look upon Him.”

He continues that it was the intention to add some other chapels at the end of the portico of the Palazzo di Pilato, but this intention was not carried out. Bordiga calls attention to the view on the right, looking over Varallo and the Mastallone, as soon as the portico is passed.


The Palazzo di Pilato is now ended, and we begin with the mysteries of the Passion and Death of the Redeemer, the first of which is set forth in


This, having regard to the terra-cotta figures alone, is by far the finest work on the Sacro Monte, and it is hardly too much to say that no one who has not seen it knows what sculpture can do. I have sufficiently shown that all the authorities, not one of whom has ever so much as seen a page of Caccia, are wrong by at least twenty years, when they say that Tabachetti completed the work in 1606. Bordiga refers, and this time I have no doubt accurately, to a deed drawn up in 1602, in accordance with which the fresco background was begun by Antonio Gandino, a painter of Brescia; this alone should have made Bordiga suspect that the terra-cotta work had been already completed, but he does not appear to have noted the fact, and goes on to say that the agreement with Gandino was cancelled by Bishop Bescape in 1604, and that his work was destroyed, the chapel being handed over to Morazzone, who painted it in 1605, and was paid 1400 lire, besides twenty gold scudi. Morazzone has followed Gaudenzio boldly, repeating several of his fresco figures, as Tabachetti, with admirable good taste, had repeated several of his terra-cotta ones, while completely varying the action. The right-hand frescoes, and part of those on the wall opposite the spectator, have been recently cut away in squares, and relined, as the wall was perishing from damp.

The statues consist of about forty figures of men, women, and children, and nine horses, all rather larger than life. They too have suffered from the effect of damp upon the paint; nevertheless, a more permanent and satisfactory kind of pigment has been used here than in most of the chapels; the work does not seem to have been much, if at all repainted, since Tabachetti left it. One figure of a child in the foreground has disappeared, the marks of its feet and two little bits of rusty iron alone show where it was; the woman who was holding it also remains without an arm. I am tempted to think that some disturbing cause has affected a girl who is holding a puppy, a little to the right of this last figure, and doubt whether something that accompanied her may not have perished; at any rate, it does not group with the other figures as well as these do with one another; this, however, is a very small blemish. The work is one that will grow upon the reader the more he studies it, and should rank as the most successfully ambitious of medieval compositions in sculpture, no less surely than Gaudenzio’s Crucifixion chapel, having regard to grandeur of scheme as well as execution, should rank as the most daring among Italian works of art in general. I am aware that this must strike many of my readers as in all probability a very exaggerated estimate, but can only repeat that I have studied these works for the last twenty years with every desire not to let a false impression run away with me, and that each successive visit to Varallo, while tending somewhat to lower my estimate of Giovanni D’Enrico–unless when he is at his very best–has increased my admiration for both Gaudenzio Ferrari and Tabachetti, as also, I would add, for the sculptor of the Massacre of the Innocents chapel.

It cannot, indeed, be pretended that Tabachetti’s style is as pure as that of his great predecessor, but what it has lost in purity it has gained in freedom and vigour. It is not possible that an artist working in the years 1580-1585 should present to us traces of the archaism which even the most advanced sculptors of half a century earlier had not wholly lost. The stronger a man is the more certainly will he be modified by his own times as well as modify them, and in an age of barocco we must not look for Donatellos. Still, the more Tabachetti’s work is examined the more will it be observed that he took no harm from the barocco, but kept its freedom while avoiding its coarseness and exaggeration. For reasons explained in an earlier chapter his figures are not generally portraits, but he is eminently realistic, and if he did the Vecchietto, of which I have given a photograph at the beginning of this book, he must be credited with one of the most living figures that have ever been made–a figure which rides on the very highest crest of the wave, and neither admits possibility of further advance towards realism without defeating its own purpose, nor shows even the slightest sign of decadence. Of the figure of the Countess of Serravalle, to which I have already referred, Torrotti said it was so much admired in his day that certain Venetian cavaliers offered to buy it for its weight in gold, but that the mere consideration of such an offer would be high treason (lesa Maesta) to the Sacro Monte. Fassola and Torrotti, as well as Bordiga and Cusa, are evidently alive to the fact that as far as sculpture goes we have here the highest triumph attained on the Sacro Monte of Varallo.

I had better perhaps give the words in which Caccia describes the work. In the 1586 edition, we read, in the preliminary prose part, as follows:-

“Come N. S. e condotto alla morte con la croce alle spalle, qual si vede tutto di rilievo.”

The poetical account runs thus:-

“Si trova poi in una Chiesa nera
Con spettacolo fiero accompagnato
Da soldati, e da gente molto fiera, Con la Croce alle spalle incaminato
Christo Giesu in mezzo a l’empia schiera, Seguendolo Giovanni addolorato,
Che di Giesu sostien la sconsolata
Madre, da Maddalena accompagnata.”

In the 1591 edition, the prose description of the work runs; –

“Come N. S. e condotto alla morte con la Croce sopra delle spalle, quali si vedeno tutto di rilieuo bellissi.”

I have no copy of the poetical part of this edition before me, but believe it to be identical with the version already given. The impression left upon me is that the work in 1586 was only just finished enough to allow it to be called finished, and that its full excellence was not yet displayed to the public, though it was about to be so very shortly.

Signor Arienta tells me that Tabachetti has adhered rather closely to a design for the same subject by Albert Durer, but I have failed to find the design to which he is referring.

Bordiga again calls attention to the extreme beauty of the view of Varallo that is to be had on leaving this chapel.


This and the two following chapels are on the top of the small rise of some fifteen or twenty feet in which Bernardino Caimi is said to have seen a resemblance to Mount Calvary; they are approached by a staircase which leads directly to Giovanni D’Enrico’s largest work.

Bordiga says that the chapel was begun in 1589 at the expense of Marchese Giacomo d’Adda; he probably, however, refers only to the building itself. It is not mentioned as even contemplated in the 1586 edition of Caccia, nor yet, unless my memory fails me, in that of 1590. It is not known when the terra-cotta work was begun, but it was not yet quite finished in 1644, when, as I have said, D’Enrico died.

The frescoes are by Melchiorre Gilardini, and have been sufficiently praised by other writers; they are fairly well preserved, and show, as in the preceding chapel and in Gaudenzio’s Crucifixion, how much more is to be said for the union of painting and sculpture when both are in the hands of capable men, than we are apt to think. If the reader will divest the sculpture of its colour and background, how cold and uninteresting will it not seem in comparison even with its present somewhat impaired splendour. Looking at the really marvellous results that have been achieved, we cannot refrain from a passing regret at the spite that threw Tabachetti half a century off Gaudenzio, instead of letting them come together, but we must take these things as we find them.

On first seeing Giovanni D’Enrico’s Nailing to the Cross we are tempted to think it even finer than the Journey to Calvary. The work is larger, comprising some twenty or so more terra-cotta figures– making about sixty in all–and ten horses, all rather larger than life, but the first impression soon wears off and the arrangement is then felt to be artificial as compared with Tabachetti’s. Tabachetti made a great point when, instead of keeping his floor flat or sloping it evenly up to any one side, he threw his stage up towards one corner, which is much higher than any other. The unevenness, and irregular unevenness, of the ground is of the greatest assistance to him, by giving him variety of plane, and hence a way of escaping monotony without further effort on his part. If D’Enrico had taken his ground down from the corner up to which Tabachetti had led it, he would have secured both continuity with Tabachetti’s scene, and an irregularly uneven surface, without repeating his predecessor’s arrangement. True, the procession was supposed to be at the top of Mount Calvary, but that is a detail. As it is, D’Enrico has copied Tabachetti in making his ground slope, but, unless my memory fails me, has made it slope evenly along the whole width of the chapel, from the foreground to the wall at the back–with the exception of a small mound in the middle background. The horses are arranged all round the walls, and the soldiers are all alongside of the horses, and every figure is so placed as to show itself to the greatest advantage. This perhaps is exaggeration, but there is enough truth in it to help the reader who is unfamiliar with this class of work to apprehend Tabachetti’s superiority more readily than he might otherwise do in the short time that tourists commonly have at their disposal. The general impression left upon myself and Jones was that it contains much more of Giacomo Ferro than of D’Enrico; but in spite of this it is impossible to deny that the work is important and on the whole impressive.


Neither Fassola nor Torrotti date this work, but I have already shown reasons for believing that it should be given to the years 1524-1528. Fassola says that the figure of Christ on the Cross is not the original one, which was stolen, and somehow or other found its way to the Church of S. Andrea at Vercelli, where, according to Colombo (p. 237), a crucifix, traditionally said to be this one, was preserved until the close of the last century. Bordiga says that there is no reason to believe this story. The present crucifix is of wood, and is probably an old one long venerated, and embodied in his work by Gaudenzio himself, partly out of respect to public feeling, and partly, perhaps, as an unexceptionable excuse for avoiding a great difficulty. The thieves also, according to Bordiga and Cusa, are of wood, not terra-cotta, being done from models in clay by Gaudenzio as though the wood were marble. We may be sure there was an excellent reason for this solitary instance of a return to wood, but it is not immediately apparent to a layman.

We have met with the extreme figure to the spectator’s left in the Ecce Homo chapel. He is also, as I have said, found in the Disputa fresco, done some twenty years or so before the work we are now considering, and we might be tempted to think that the person who was so powerfully impressed on Gaudenzio’s mind during so many years was some Varallo notable, or failing this that he was some model whom he was in the habit of employing. This, however, is not so; for in the first place the supposed model was an old man in, say, 1507, and he is not a day older in 1527, so that in 1527 Gaudenzio was working from a strong residuary impression of a figure with which he had been familiar many years previously and not from life; and in the second, we find the head repeated in the works of Milanese artists who in all probability never came near Varallo. We certainly find it in a drawing, of which I give a reduced reproduction, and which the British Museum authorities ascribe, no doubt correctly, to Bernardino de’ Conti. I also recognise it unquestionably in a drawing in the Windsor collection ascribed to Leonardo da Vinci–a drawing, however, which it is not easy to think is actually by him. I have no doubt that a reminiscence of the same head is intended in a drawing ascribed to Leonardo da Vinci in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, only that the artist, whoever he may be, has added hair (which is obviously not drawn from nature), and has not produced so good a likeness as Gaudenzio and Bernardino de’ Conti have done, but about this last I am less certain. At any rate there can be no doubt that the figure represents a Milanese character who in the time of Gaudenzio’s youth was familiar to Milanese artists, and who made a deep impression upon more than one of them. This will be even more apparent to those who are familiar with the terra-cotta figures at Varallo, for these can be seen from several points of view, and a fuller knowledge of the head is thus obtained than a flat impression from a single point can give.

It is not likely that the figure is that of a mere model, for it has no, or very little connection with the action of the piece, and is evidently placed where it is–the extreme figure to the left, which is always a place of honour–for the sake of introducing the portrait into the composition. Gaudenzio would not have been so impressed, say, with old Christie {14} as to give his portrait from memory twenty years after he had seen him last, to put this portrait in the place of honour, and to make the work much more emphatic as a portrait than as the figure of an actor in his drama, inasmuch as he has turned the head towards the spectator and away from the central incident. It is more probable, then, that we must look for some well-known Milanese art-world character as the original for which the figure was intended.

We know that Gaudenzio Ferrari studied under Stefano Scotto, and have every reason to think that Bernardino de’ Conti–who, I see, studied in the school of Foppa, one of Scotto’s predecessors, if not under Scotto himself, must have known him perfectly well. Leonardo da Vinci kept the rival school at Milan, and the two schools were to one another much what those kept by the late Mr. F. S. Cary and Mr. Lee were some thirty years ago in London. Leonardo, therefore, also doubtless knew Scotto by sight if not personally. I incline to think, then, that we have here the original we are looking for, and that Gaudenzio when working at what he probably regarded as the most important work of his life determined to introduce his master, just as I, if I were writing a novel, might be tempted to introduce a reminiscence of my own old schoolmaster, and to make the portrait as faithful as I could.

I am confirmed in this opinion by noting, as I have done for many years past, that the figure next to that of Scotto is not unlike the portraits of Leonardo da Vinci, of which I give the one (whether by himself or no I do not know) that I believe to be the best. I had been reminded of Leonardo da Vinci by this figure long before I knew of Scotto’s existence, and had often wondered why he was not made the outside and most prominent figure; now, then, that I see reason to think the outside figure intended for Gaudenzio’s own master, I understand why the preference has been given him, and have little doubt that next to his own master Gaudenzio has placed the other great contemporary art-teacher at Milan whose pupil he never actually was, but whose influence he must have felt profoundly. I also derive an impression that Gaudenzio liked and respected Scotto though he may have laughed at him, but that he did not like Leonardo, who by the way had been dead about ten years when this figure was placed where it now is.

I see, therefore, the two figures as those of Scotto and of Leonardo da Vinci, and think it likely that in the one portrait we have by far the most characteristic likeness of Leonardo that has come down to us. In his own drawings of himself he made himself out such as he wanted others to think him; here, if I mistake not, he has been rendered as others saw him. The portrait of Scotto is beyond question an admirable likeness; it is not likely that the Leonardo is less successful, and we find in the searching, eager, harassed, and harassing unquiet of the figure here given a more acceptable rendering of Leonardo’s character and appearance than any among the likenesses of himself which are more or less plausibly ascribed to him. The question is one of so much interest that I must defer its fuller treatment for another work, in which I hope to deal with the portraits of Giovanni and Gentile Bellini, and with Holbein’s “Danse des Paysans.” I have, however, given above the greater part of the information of which I am as yet possessed upon the subject. In conclusion, I may say that I mentioned the matter to Signor Boccioloni the Sindaco of Varallo, and to other friends with whom I have discussed the question on the spot, and found that people generally seemed to consider the case as rather a strong one.

As regards the portraits supposed to be found on the frescoes, they are all so doubtful that I will refrain from discussing them, but will refer my readers to Colombo. The only exception is a portrait of one of the Scarrognini family which is seen on the right-hand wall above the door, the fact of the portraiture being attested by a barbarous scrawl upon the fresco itself.

Caccia says of the work with more enthusiasm than even I can command, but in a style of poetry which I find it fairly easy to render, that we may see among the spectators

” . . . a maraviglia,
Vi son piu donne con la sua famiglia;”

which means in English –

“And here you may behold with wondering eyes, Several ladies with their families.”

He continues that

“Gli Angeli star nel ciel tutti dolenti Si veggon per pieta del suo Signore,
E turbati mostrarsi gli elementi,
Privi del sole, e d’ ogni suo splendore, E farsi terremoti, e nascer venti,
Par che si veda, d’ estremo dolore, E il tutto esser non pinto ne in scultura, Ma dell’ istesso parto di Natura.

“E se a pieno volessi ricontare
Di questo tempio la bellezza, e l’ arte, Le statue, le pitture, e l’ opre rare,
Saria (?) un vergar in infinite carte Che non han queste in tutto il mondo pare, Cerchisi pur in qual si voglia parte,
Che di Fidia, Prasitele, e d’ Apelle, Ne di Zeuxi non fur l’ opre si belle.”

“Search the world through in whatsoever part, And scan each best known masterpiece of art, In Phidias or Praxiteles or Apelles,
You will find nothing that done half so well is.”

In this translation I have again attempted to preserve–not to say pickle–the spirit of the original.

Returning to the work as a whole, if the modelled figures fail anywhere it is in respect of action–more especially as regards the figures to the spectator’s right, which want the concert and connection without which a scene ceases to be dramatic, and becomes a mere assemblage of figures placed in juxtaposition. It would be going too far to say that complaint on this score can be justly insisted on in respect even of these figures; nevertheless it will be felt that Gaudenzio Ferrari the painter could harmonise his figures and give them a unity of action which was denied to him as a sculptor. It must not be forgotten that his modelled work derives an adventitious merit from the splendour of the frescoes with which it is surrounded, and from our admiration of the astounding range of power manifested by their author.

As a painter, it must be admitted that Gaudenzio Ferrari was second to very few that had gone before him, but as a sculptor, he did not do enough to attain perfect mastery over his art. If he had done as much in sculpture as in painting he would doubtless have been as great a master of the one as the other; as it was, in sculpture he never got beyond the stage of being an exceedingly able and interesting scholar;–this, however, is just the kind of person whose work in spite of imperfection is most permanently delightful. Among the defects which he might have overcome is one that is visible in his earlier painting as well as in his sculpture, and which in painting he got rid of, though evidently not without difficulty–I mean, a tendency to get some of his figures unduly below life size. I have often seen in his paintings that he has got his figures rather below life size, when apparently intending that they should be full- sized, and worse than this, that some are smaller in proportion than others. Nevertheless, when we bear in mind that the Crucifixion chapel was the first work of its kind, that it consists of four large walls and a ceiling covered with magnificent frescoes, comprising about 150 figures; that it contains twenty-six life-sized statues, two of them on horseback, and much detail by way of accessory, all done with the utmost care, and all coloured up to nature,–when we bear this in mind and realise what it all means, it is not easy to refrain from saying, as I have earlier done, that the Crucifixion chapel is the most daringly ambitious work of art that any one man was ever yet known to undertake; and if we could see it as Gaudenzio left it, we should probably own that in the skill with which the conception was carried out, no less than in its initial daring, it should rank as perhaps the most remarkable work of art that even Italy has produced.


Fassola and Torrotti both say that the terra-cotta figures here are by a pupil of Giovanni D’Enrico. Bordiga says that the three figures forming the group upon the cross were done contemporaneously with the Nailing of Christ to the Cross, which we have already considered, and are in the style of D’Enrico. If so, they are not in his best style, while the others are among the worst on the Sacro Monte, with the exception of one, which I never even observed until last summer, so completely is it overpowered by the worse than mediocrity with which it is surrounded. This figure is perhaps, take it all round, the finest on the Sacro Monte, and is generally known as “Il Vecchietto” or “the little old man.” It is given as the frontispiece of this book.

I was led to observe it by a casual remark made by my old and valued friend Signor Dionigi Negri of Varallo, to whom I am indebted for invaluable assistance in writing this book, and indeed at whose instigation it was undertaken. He told me there was a portrait of the man who gave this part of the ground to the founders of the Sanctuary; he was believed to be a small peasant proprietor–one of the “alcuni particolari poueri” mentioned by Fassola as owning the site–who, having been asked to sell the land, gave it instead. This was the story, but I knew that the land was given not later than 1490-1493, whereas the chapel in question is not earlier than 1630, when no portrait of the peasant benefactor was possible. I therefore went to the chapel, and finding the figure, saw what must be obvious to any one who looks at it with attention, I mean, firstly, how fine it was, and secondly, that it had not been designed for its present place.

This last is clear from the hand, which from outside at first appears to be holding a pair of pincers and a hammer, as though to assist at the Deposition, but which proves to have been originally designed to hold a stick–or something round, the hammer and pincers being at present tied on with a piece of string, to a hand that is not holding them. I asked the opinion of Cav. Prof Antonini of Varallo and his son, both of them admirable sculptors, and found them as decided as myself in their admiration of the figure. Both of them, at different times, were good enough to go inside the chapel with me, and both agreed with me that the figure was no part of the design of the group in which it now is. Cav. Prof. Antonini thought the whole right arm had been restored, but it was getting dusk when he suggested this, and I could not see clearly enough to form an opinion; I have the greatest diffidence in differing from so excellent an authority, but so far as I could see, I did not think there had been any restoration. I thought nothing had been done except to put a piece of string through the hole in the hand where a stick or roll had been, and to hang the hammer and pincers with it. Leaving Varallo early on the following morning, I was unable to see the figure again by day-light, and must allow the question of restoration or non- restoration to remain unsettled.

There is a large well-defined patch of mended ground covering the space occupied by the figure itself. There is no other such patch under any other figure, and the most reasonable inference is that some alteration has been made here. The expression, moreover, of the face is not suitable for a Deposition.

There is a holy tranquil smile of joy, thankfulness, and satisfaction, which perfectly well befits one who is looking up into the heavens, as he might at an Assumption of the Virgin, or an Ascension, but is not the expression which so consummate an artist as the man who made this figure, would give to a bystander at a Deposition from the Cross. Grief and horror, would be still too recent to admit of the sweet serene air of ineffable contentment which is here given.

Lastly, the style of the work is so different from that of all the other figures in the chapel, that no solidarity can be seen between it and them. It would be too much to say that the others are as bad as this is good, but the difference between Rembrandt’s old woman in our National Gallery and an average Royal Academy portrait of fifty years ago, is not more striking than that between the Vecchietto and his immediate neighbours.

I can find no mention of the figure in Fassola, or Torrotti. Bordiga says, “On the left there is a man in peasant’s costume, holding his hat in reverence of Jesus, and said to be a benefactor of the chapel.” He does not say anything about the excellence of the workmanship, nor, indeed, have I heard any one, except the two sculptors, Cav. Prof. Antonini and his son, speak of the work in terms which showed a perception of its merit. If the world knows little of its greatest men it seems to know not much more about its greatest works of art, nor, if it continues to look for guidance in this matter to professional critics and society art-dabblers, is it likely to improve its knowledge. Cusa says of it:-

“E fra essi un vecchietto naturale assai pel rozzo costume che veste, e per la semplicita del atto; egli guarda Gesu in atto di levarsi il cappello, mentre con l’altra mano tiene le tenaglie ed il martello. Lo si dice ritratto di un Rimellese, benefattore della cappella.”

I asked the two sculptors Antonini if they could help me in settling the question to whom the work should be assigned, and they agreed with me that it could not be given to Gaudenzio. It is too masterly, easy, and too like the work of Velasquez in painting, to be by one who is not known to have done more in sculpture than some two score or so of figures on the Sacro Monte now remaining, and a few others that have been lost. The Vecchietto is the work of one to whom modelling in clay was like breathing, walking, or eating and drinking, and Gaudenzio never reached such freedom and proficiency as this.

With few exceptions even the best art-work falls into one of two classes, and offers signs either of immaturity or decline. Take Donatello, and Luca della Robbia, or, in painting, Giovanni Bellini, John Van Eyck, Holbein, Giotto, and even Gaudenzio Ferarri in his earlier work; take again, in music, Purcell and Corelli; no words of affectionate admiration are good enough for any one of these great men, but they none of them say the last word that is to be said in their respective arts. Michael Angelo said the last word; but then he said just a word or two over. So with Titian and Leonardo Da Vinci, and in music with Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. We admire them, and know that each in many respects surpassed everything that has been done either before or since, but in each case (and more especially with the three last named) we feel the presence of an autumnal tint over all the luxuriance of development, which, while hardly detracting from the pleasure we receive, still tells of an art that has taken not an upward but a downward path. I know that I am apt to take fancies to works of art and artists; I hold, for example, that my friend Mr. H. F. Jones’s songs, of which I have given the titles at the end of this volume, are finer than an equal number of any written by any other living composer–and I believe that people will one day agree with me, though they will doubtless take their time in doing so–but with all this tendency towards extravagance I endeavour to preserve a method in my madness, and with most works find that they fall readily into the growing or the decaying. It is only with very few, as with Homer and Shakespeare at their best, the Venus of Milo, the Ilyssus, the finest work of Rembrandt, Giorgione, and Velasquez, and in music with Handel, that I can see no step left unclimbed, yet none taken on the downward path. Assuredly the Vecchietto must be classed with the very few works which, being of the kind of fruit that they are, are dead ripe, without one trace either of immaturity or decay.

Difficult, however, as the problem who made this statue is, it is simplified by the reflection that it can only be given either to Gaudenzio or Tabachetti. I suggested D’Enrico’s name to Cav. Prof. Antonini to see how he received it, but–thinking doubtless more of Giacomo Ferro than of D’Enrico–he said “E-whew,” and tossed his thumb over his shoulder, as only an Italian can, as much as to say that D’Enrico set about his figures with too light a heart to get a Vecchietto out of them; Gaudenzio, then, being impossible and D’Enrico ordered out of court, it only remains to give the work to Tabachetti, with whose sleeping St. Joseph and with not a little else of whose work it presents much analogy; for the notion that a stranger of name unknown came to Varallo, did this single figure, and then went away without doing any more either there or anywhere else in the least like it, is as incredible as that it is the work of D’Enrico.

As for the question of the source from which the figure came we should remember that the Chiesa Vecchia dell’ Assunta was pulled down at the end of the last century; and this, considering the excellent preservation in which the Vecchietto is still found, and the comparatively recent appearance of the disturbance of the ground under his feet, seems the most likely place for him to have come from. There were two opportunities in this church, one of which certainly was, while the other very well might have been, made the occasion for a group of figures with upturned heads. The first of these, of course, is the Assumption of the Madonna, of which Caccia says there was a representation of her “Come ascese in Cielo, con le statue delli dodeci Apostoli intorno di rilievo,” and there may very well have been a benefactor or so in addition. The second was the impress of our Saviour’s last footprint on the Mount of Olives before He ascended into heaven. This is mentioned by Fassola as a feature of special importance, and as having had an indulgence conceded to it by the Pope in 1488 while it was on its road from Jerusalem. This relic was held in great veneration, and it is easy to imagine that its effect may have been enhanced by surrounding it with figures looking upwards into the heavens towards the clouds that had already received the body of the Redeemer. All this, however, is mere conjecture, for there is not a tittle of evidence in support of it, and we are left practically with nothing more than we can still see within the limits of the figure itself to give a clue either to its maker, or the source from which it came, but we may incline to think that it is the portrait of a benefactor, for no one but a benefactor would have been treated with so much realism. The man is not a mere peasant; his clothes are homely, but they are good, and there is that about him which harmonises well enough with his having been in a position of comfort. Common peasants may be seen in the Shepherd’s chapel, and the Vecchietto is clearly of higher social status than these. He looks like a Valsesian yeoman or peasant proprietor, of some substance; and he was doubtless a benefactor, not of this, but some other chapel.

I have said there are analogies between this figure and others by Tabachetti which after all make it not very difficult to decide the question to whom it should be given. We do not, indeed, find another Vecchietto, but we shall find more than one figure that exhibits equal truth to nature, and equal freedom from exaggeration. It is not possible, for example, to have greater truth to nature than we find in the figures of Adam and Eve in the first chapel. There is not one trace either of too much or too little, of exaggeration or of shortcoming; the nude figure of a man and of a woman were wanted, and the nude figure of a man and of a woman are given, with neither more or less modelling than what would be most naturally seen in a young and comely couple. So again with the charming figure of the Virgin sewing in the First Vision of St. Joseph chapel. The Virgin and the Vecchietto are as unlike each other as two figures can be, but they are both stamped with the same freedom from affectation, and the same absolute and easy mastery over the means employed. The same applies to the sleeping St. Joseph, in which case there is a closer analogy between the two figures themselves. It applies also to a not inconsiderable extent to the man with a goitre who is leading Christ in the Calvary chapel. This figure is not done from life, being a repetition of one by Gaudenzio, but it is so living that we feel sure it would have been more living still if Tabachetti had had the model before him from which Gaudenzio in all probability actually worked. At Crea, there are other figures by Tabachetti to which I will call attention presently, and which present not inconsiderable analogies to the Vecchietto. I explain the fact that the analogies are not closer, by reflecting that this is the one of the few cases in which Tabachetti has left us a piece of portrait work, pure and simple, and that his treatment of the head and figure in pure portraiture, would naturally differ from that adopted in an ideal and imaginative work.


The remaining chapels are few in number, and, whatever they may once have been, unimportant in character. The first is


The three preceding chapels are supposed to be on Mount Calvary, and from them we descend by a flight of stone steps to the level of the piazza. Immediately on reaching this we come upon the Pieta. We have seen that this chapel originally contained Gaudenzio’s Journey to Calvary, and that the fresco background still, in so far as it is not destroyed, treats this subject, while the modelled figures represent the Pieta. Of Gaudenzio’s original work Caccia says:-

“Come fu Christo de’ panni spogliato, Montando il Monte poi Calvario detto,
Nel mezzo a manigoldi mal trattato, Contemplar possi con pietoso affetto,

Seguito da Maria e da l’amato
Discepolo di lui, et e l’effetto
Sculto si bene e doitamente fatto
Che sembra vero e non del ver ritratto.”

“Per una scala asceso al Sacro Monte
Si entra nel piu d’ogn’ altro sacro tempio,” &c.

The words “montando il monte poi,” &c., must refer to a supposed ascent on the part of Christ Himself, for Gaudenzio’s work was on a level with Tabachetti’s present Journey to Calvary which Caccia has just described, and Caccia goes on to say that from Gaudenzio’s chapel (the present Pieta) one “ascends by a staircase to” the most sacred chapel of all–the Crucifixion–as one does at present. That the present Pieta and the adjacent Entombment chapels were once one chapel, may be seen by any one who examines the vaulting inside the first-named chapel. Signor Arienta pointed this out to me, and at the same time called my attention to the fact that Gaudenzio’s fresco on the wall facing the spectator does not turn the corner and join on with the subject that fills the left-hand wall. A flag and a horse are cut off, and the rest of them is not seen. I sometimes question whether the original wooden-figured entombment was in the chapel in which the present modern figures are seen, but it probably was so.

There was also a fainting Madonna mentioned in the prose part of Caccia as a work by itself and described as follows:-

“Come la Madonna e tramortita vedendo N.S. condotto a morte.”

This is not referred to in the poetical part, and must have been a mere cell occupied by a single figure. No doubt it was seen through the window that is still approached by two steps on the south side of the present Pieta, and the space it occupied has been thrown into the present work.

I do not know when Gaudenzio’s Journey to Calvary was dispersed, but it was some time, doubtless, between 1600 and 1644. It is puzzling to note that the Pieta appears in the plan of 1671 as situated rather in the part of the building now occupied by the Entombment than by the Pieta, while the 39 that should mark the site of the Entombment does not appear; but this is perhaps only an error in the plan itself. I find, however, the attempt to understand the changes that have taken place here so difficult that I shall abandon it and will return to the present aspect of the work.

Torrotti says that some of the statues in the present chapel are by Gaudenzio, which they are not. Fassola gives them all to Giovanni D’Enrico; Bordiga speaks of the work in the highest terms, but for my own part I do not admire it, nor, I am afraid, can I accept the more fresh-looking parts of the fresco background as by Gaudenzio. I do not doubt that his work has been in these parts repainted, and that the outlines alone are really his. It is not likely we have lost much by the repainting, for where the work has not been touched it has so perished as to be hardly worth preserving, and we may think that what has been repainted was in much the same state. This is the only chapel in which Gaudenzio’s frescoes at Varallo have been much repainted. If those in the Crucifixion and Magi chapels have been retouched they have taken little harm; the frescoes in the church of Sta. Maria delle Grazie have certainly not been touched, and are in such good preservation that it may be questioned whether they ever looked much better than they do now. The fine oil picture in the church of S. Gaudenzio has gone a little yellow through the darkening of the oil, but is in a good state, and generally, though no painter of the highest rank has been so much neglected, or suffered more from the actual destruction of his works, yet for the most part Gaudenzio has been spared the reckless restoration which is the most cruel ill that can befall an artist.


We have already seen that this was the first chapel with figures in it on the Sacro Monte. Of the old eight wooden figures that it contained, two are still on the mountain in a sort of vault adjacent to, or under, the main church, and near the furnace in which those that superseded them were baked. Six are in the Museum at Varallo. I saw them a few weeks ago, not yet arranged, leaning up against the wall with very battered and dilapidated glories; the recumbent Christ was standing more or less on end, and the whole group was in a pathetic state of dismemberment that will doubtless soon make way for a return to their earlier arrangement. The figures are interesting, but it cannot be pretended that they are of great value. They look very much as if they had been out somewhere the night before.

Of the figures in the present chapel the less said the better.


The chapel of St. Francis is open to the air, and contains nothing but an altar, and a modern fresco of the death of the saint.

Near it is the Holy Sepulchre, which is entered from a small cell in which there is a figure of the Magdalene, and from which the visitor must creep on hands and knees into the Sepulchre itself. The figure of Christ is not actually in the Sepulchre, but can be seen through a window opening into the contiguous chapel, where it is over the altar. The early writers say that there were also two angels by Gaudenzio (statue di Gaudenzio divoissime), but Bordiga says nothing of this. The upper part of this building was the abode of Bernardino Caimi and his successors until the year 1577.

As for the Holy Sepulchre itself it is low and dark, which I have no doubt is the reason why I have neglected it on the occasions of each of my two latest visits to Varallo, and thus failed to reach the adjacent Oratory, which Bordiga says was erected about the year 1702. Fassola and Torrotti wrote before this date, so that the angels mentioned by them as by Gaudenzio may have been removed when the present fabric was erected. At any rate Bordiga speaks as though they were paintings by one Tarquinio Grassi and not sculptured figures at all. Torrotti says that visitors to the Holy Sepulchre used to burn candles, tapers, and torches, each one according to his purse or piety, and that they did this not so much to see with as to pray. “Here,” he continues, “the great S. Carlo spent his evenings agreeably” (spendeva gradevolmente le notti). “Few,” he concludes drily, and perhaps with a shade of the same quiet irony that led the Psalmist to say what he did about “one” day in certain courts, “can leave it without feeling devoutly thankful.” About the candles Fassola says that there was a kind of automatic arrangement for getting them like that whereby we can now buy butter-scotch or matches at the railway stations, by dropping a penny into a slot. He says:-

“And as the figure of Christ can only be seen by the help of candles (for which reason all pilgrims whose means permit are accustomed to burn them, being naturally prompted thereto each one according to his faith)–by throwing money into a hole wherein the same candles lie, each pilgrim can be made quite comfortable, and contented.”

[“Gettando il denaro per un buco dove stanno le medesime candelette, commodamente puo restar ogni divoto contento.”]

“The mercies vouchsafed here,” continues the same writer; “are innumerable–in all parts may be seen votive pictures both old and recent.”

In the open cloister hard by is shown the wooden bed on which S. Carlo lay when he came to visit the Sacro Monte, and the stone which is said to be a facsimile of the one rolled in front of the Holy Sepulchre itself. Many years ago I spent several weeks at Varallo sketching and painting on the Sacro Monte. A most excellent and lovable old priest, now doubtless long since dead, took rather a fancy to me, and used to implore me to become a Catholic. One day he took me up to this stone and spoke long and earnestly about it. What a marvellous miracle it was. There was the stone; I could see it for myself. What a dumb but eloquent testimony was it not offering; how could I account for such things? and more to the same effect, all said obviously in good faith, and with no idea save that of guiding me to the truth. I was powerless. I could not go into facts or arguments–I could not be obstinate without getting something like his consent–and he was instant in season and out of season in endeavouring to get mine. At last I could stand it no longer, and said, “My dearest sir, I am the son of an English clergyman who is himself the son of another English clergyman; my father and mother are living. If you will tell me that I am to hold my father born in more than common sin, to have committed a crime in marrying my mother, and that I am to hold myself as one who ought never to have been born, then I will accept what you have said about that stone. Till then let me go my way, and you yours.” He said not a word more, and never again approached the subject; the nearest he ever went to it was to say that he liked to see me sketching about the Sacro Monte, for it could do me nothing but good. I trust that I have done it no harm.

The chapel representing the Magdalene at the feet of the risen Christ has disappeared. It contained two statues only, and two prophets by Gaudenzio were painted outside on the wall. It stood “Sotto un auanzo dei Portici antichi seguentemente al Sepolcro.” It was probably a very early work.

Through an arch under the raised portico or arcaded gallery are three small ruined cells called now “Il Paradiso,” and numbered 43, 44, and 45; of one of these Fassola tells us that it contained “many modern statues” by Gaudenzio Sceti, and frescoes by Gianoli; they are all now mere wrecks. There is no important work by Gaudenzio Sceti remaining on the Sacro Monte, but there is a terra-cotta crucifix with a Virgin and a St. John by him, of no great value, in the church of S. Gaudenzio. What remains of his work on the Sacro Monte itself consists of statues of Sta. Anna and the Virgin as a child upon her lap in the chapel or cell numbered 43.

Chapel 44 need not detain us. What few remains of figures it contains are uninteresting and ruined.

I have already spoken of chapel No. 45, which once represented an entombment of the Madonna, as in all probability the oldest building, and as certainly containing the oldest, and by no means least interesting frescoes on the Sacro Monte. There is nothing inside the chapel except these frescoes, but outside it there are many scrawls, of which the earliest I have noticed is 1520–the supposed 1437 being certainly 1537. The writer of one of these scrawls has added the words “fuit hic” to his signature as John Van Eyck has done to the signature of his portrait of John Arnolfini and his wife. I have found this addition of “fuit hic” in a signature of a certain “Cardinalis de al . . . ” who scratched his name “1389 die 19 Mag” on a fresco to the left of the statue of S. Zenone in the church S. Zenone at Verona. On a fresco in the very interesting castle of Fenis in the valley of Aosta, to which I hope to return in another work, there is scratched “Hic sponsus cum sponsa fuit 1790 25 May,” the “May” being an English May; Jones and I thought the writer had begun to add “London” but had stopped. The “fuit hic,” therefore, of John Van Eyck’s signature should not be translated as we might be tempted to wish to translate it, “This was John Van Eyck.”

Returning to the Sacro Monte, there remains only the Chiesa Vecchia, removed at the end of the last century to make room for the building that was till lately the “casa degli esercizi,” or house in which the priests on the mountain performed their spiritual exercises. This is now let out in apartments during the summer, and is called the Casino. The old sacristy, now used as the archivio of the Sacro Monte, still remains, and contains a fresco by Lanini, that bears strong traces of the influence of his master Gaudenzio. Besides the impress of Christ’s foot and the Assumption of the Virgin, the church contained an Annunciation by Gaudenzio and frescoes of St. Catherine and St. Cecilia; the Cupola was also decorated by him. This work was undertaken in 1530, the greater angels being by Gaudenzio and the smaller by Lanini and Fermo Stella. These frescoes all perished when the church was pulled down.

The present Chiesa Maggiore was begun on the 9th of June 1614– D’Enrico’s design having, so Bordiga says, been approved on the 1st of April in that year. Fassola says that in 1671 the only parts completed were the Choir and Cupola, the whole body of the church being left unfinished. Bordiga speaks of the church as having been finished in 1649, in which year, on the feast of the Birth of the Virgin, her image was taken from the old church and placed in the new, so when Fassola says “unfinished” he must refer to decoration only. The steps leading up to the church and the unfinished columns were erected in 1825 from designs by Marchese Don Luigi Cagnola, the architect of the Arco della Pace at Milan. It was ere long found that the stone selected was unreliable, so that all must be done over again; the work has, therefore, been suspended.

The Cupola is covered with about 140 modelled figures of angels, by Dionigi Bussola and Giambattista Volpino, Milanese sculptors, who worked from designs made by Antonio Tempesta, a Florentine. They did this work about the year 1660. The brothers Montalti painted the frescoes, some more highly coloured groups being added by Antonio Cucchi of Milan in 1750.

In the crypt there is a sumptuous shrine containing the statue of the Madonna, said to have been made by St. Luke. This was erected in 1854, but on the night between the 4th and 5th of October in the same year the crown was stolen from the Virgin’s head, and in the following year there was a solemn expiatory function, with festivities extending over three days, in order to celebrate the replacing of the stolen crown by a new one.

It cannot be said that any of the works of art now in the church are of considerable interest, but an important work of art was nevertheless produced in it at the celebration of the fourth centenary of the birth of Gaudenzio Ferrari, which was held in 1885. I refer to the Mass by Cagnoni, which was here performed for the first time, and which showed that the best traditions of old Italian ecclesiastical music are still occasionally adhered to. I was present at the production of the work, and have heard no modern Italian music that has pleased me nearly as much. I ventured to ask the Maestro for the baton he had used in conducting it, and am proud to keep it as a memorial of a fine performance of a very fine work. The baton is several old newspapers neatly folded up and covered with silk.


I have now to add a short account of what remains of Tabachetti’s work at Crea, to the very inadequate description of his work at Varallo that has been given in some earlier chapters.

Crea is most easily approached from Casale, a large opulent commercial town upon the Po, that has already received the waters of the Dora Baltea, and though not yet swelled by the influx of the Ticino and Adda, has become a noble river. The town is built entirely on the plain, but the rich colline of the Monferrato district begin to rise immediately outside it, and continue in an endless series of vineclad slopes and village-capped hill-tops as far as the eye can reach. These colline are of exquisite beauty in themselves, and from their sides the most magnificent views of Piedmont and the Alps extend themselves in every direction. The people are a well-grown comely race, kind and easy to get on with. Nothing could exceed the civility and comfort of the Hotel Rosa Rossa, the principal inn of the city. The town contains many picturesque bits, but in our short stay we did not see any very remarkable architectural features, and it does not form an exception to the rule that the eastern cities of Northern Italy are far more beautiful than the western. The churches, never one would imagine very striking, have been modernised and restored; nor were we told that there is any collection of pictures in the town which is likely to prove of interest.

The visitor should leave Casale by the 7.58 A.M. train on the line for Asti, and get out at Serralunga, the third station on the road. Here the sanctuary of Crea can be seen crowning a neighbouring collina with a chapel that has an arcaded gallery running round it, like some of those at Varese. Many other chapels testify to the former importance of the place; on the whole, however, the effect of the buildings cannot compare with that of the sanctuaries of Varallo and Varese. Taking a small carriage, which can always be had at the station (fare, to the sanctuary and back, eight francs), my friend, Mr. H. F. Jones, and myself ascended to Serralunga, finding the views continually become more and more bewitching as we did so; soon after passing through Serralunga we reached the first chapel, and after another zigzag or two of road found ourselves in the large open court in front of the church. Here there is an inn, where any one who is inclined to do so could very well sleep. The piazza of the sanctuary is some two thousand feet above the sea, and the views are in some respects finer even than those from the Sacro Monte of Varese itself, inasmuch as we are looking towards the chain of the Alps, instead of away from them.

We have already seen that the sanctuary at Crea was begun about 1590, a hundred years or so later than the Sacro Monte of Varallo, and a dozen years earlier than that of Varese. The church attached to the convent, in which a few monks still remain, contains a chapel with good frescoes by Macrino D’Alba; they are somewhat damaged, and the light is so bad that if the guardiano of the sanctuary had not kindly lent us a candle we could not have seen them. It is not easy to understand how they can have been painted in such darkness; they are, however, the most important work of this painter that I have yet seen, and give a more favourable impression of him than is likely to be formed elsewhere. Behind the high altar there is an oil picture also by Macrino d’Alba, signed as by the following couplet, which they may scan who can:

“Hoc tibi, diva parens, posuit faciente Macrino Bladratensis opus Johes ille Jacobus.1503.”

The “Macrino,” and “1503,” are in red paint, the rest in black. The picture is so dark, and the view of it so much obstructed by the high altar, that it is impossible to see it well, but it seemed good. There is nothing else in the church, nor need the frescoes in the chapels containing the terra-cotta figures be considered; we were told they were painted by Caccia, better known as Moncalvo, but we could see nothing in them to admire. The sole interest of the sanctuary–except, of course, the surpassing beauty of its position– is vested in what few remains of Tabachetti’s work may be found there, and in the light that these may throw upon what he has left at Varallo.

All the work by Tabachetti now remaining at Crea consists of the Martyrdom of St. Eusebius chapel, almost all of which is by him, perhaps a figure or two in the Sposalizio chapel, but certainly not the figures of St. Joseph and the Virgin, which are not even ascribed to him, the Virgin in the Annunciation chapel, some parts of the Judith and Holofernes, with which this subject is strangely backed; some few of the figures in the Marriage Feast at Cana chapel, and lastly, the wreck, which is all that remains, of the Assumption of the Virgin–commonly called “Il Paradiso.” All the other chapels are either in a ruined state or have been renewed with modern figures during the last thirty years, and more especially during the last ten, at the instance, and, as we understood, at the expense, of the present Archbishop of Milan, who does his campagna here every summer.

The most important chapel is the Martyrdom of St. Eusebius, below the sanctuary itself. The saint is supposed to have been martyred in front of the church of St. Andrea at Vercelli. Some four or so of the figures to the spectator’s right are modern restorations; among them, however, there is a child of extreme sweetness and beauty, which must certainly be by Tabachetti, looking up and clinging to the dress of its mother, who has been restored, and is as commonplace as the child is the reverse. There are two restored or rather entirely new priests close by the mother and child, and near these is another new figure–a girl immediately to the child’s right; this is so absurdly bad and out of proportion that it is not easy to understand how even the restorer can have allowed himself to make it. All the rest of the figures are by Tabachetti. A little behind the mother and child, but more to the spectator’s right, and near to the wall of the chapel, there stands a boy one of whose lower eyelids is paralysed, and whose expression is one of fear and pain. This figure is so free alike from exaggeration or shortcoming, that it is hard to praise it too highly. Another figure in the background to the spectator’s left–that of a goitred cretin who is handing stones to one of the stoners, has some of the same remarkably living look as is observable in the two already referred to; so also has another man in a green skull-cap, who is holding a small battle-axe and looking over the stoner’s shoulders. Two of the stoners are very powerful figures. The man on horseback, in the background, appears to be a portrait probably of a benefactor. In spite of restoration, the work is still exceedingly impressive. The figures behind the saint act well together, the crowd is a crowd–a one in many, and a many in one–not, as with every one except Tabachetti who has tried to do a crowd in sculpture, a mere collection of units, that, whatever else they may be, are certainly not crowding one another. The main drawback of the work is that the chapel is too small for the subject- -a matter over which Tabachetti probably had no control.

It is with very great regret that I have been unable to photograph the work, but I was flatly refused permission to do so, though I applied through influential people to the Archbishop himself. No one need be at the trouble of going to see it who is not already impressed with a sense of Tabachetti’s in some respects unrivalled genius, and who does not know how to take into consideration the evil influences of all sorts with which he was surrounded; those, however, who realise the magnitude of the task attempted, who will be at the pains of putting themselves, as far as may be, in the artist’s place and judging of the work from the stand-point intended by him, and who will also in their imagination restore the damage which three centuries of exposure and restoration must assuredly have involved, will find themselves rewarded by a fuller comprehension of the work of a sculptor of the foremost rank than they can attain elsewhere except at Varallo itself.

I have said that some of the figures in the Sposalizio chapel, except Joseph and Mary, are ascribed to Tabachetti. I do not know on what grounds the ascription rests; they have been restored,–clogged with shiny paint, and suffered every ill that could well befall them short of being broken up and carted away. Any one who sampled Tabachetti by these figures might well be disappointed; two or three may be by him, but hardly more. In spite, however, of all that may be justly urged against them, they are marked by the same attempt at concert and unity of purpose which goes so far to redeem individual comparative want of interest. In the background is a coloured bas- relief of Rachel and Jacob at the well and five camels.

In the Annunciation chapel the Virgin may well be, as she is said to be, by Tabachetti; she is a very beautiful figure, though not so fine as his Madonna and Child in the church of St. Gaudenzio at Varallo; she has been badly painted, and it is hard to say how much she has not suffered in consequence. Some parts of the story of Judith and Holofernes in the background are also good, but I do not think I should have seen Tabachetti in them unless I had been told that he was there.

The wreck of the chapel commonly called “Il Paradiso” crowns the hill, conspicuous for many a mile in every direction, but on reaching the grating we found no trace of the figures that doubtless once covered the floor of the chapel. All that remained was a huge pendant of angels, cherubs, and saints, swarming as it were to the ceiling in an inextricable knot of arms, legs, wings, faces, and flowing drapery; two circles of saints, bishops, and others, who might be fitly placed in Paradise, rising one above the other high up the walls of the chapel–the lower circle full-length figures, and the other half-length; and above this a higher and richly coloured crown of musical saints and angels in good preservation. In passing I may say that this is the place where the Vecchietto ought to have come from, though it is not likely that he did so.

The pendant retains much of its original colour, and must once have been a gorgeous and fitting climax. Still, no one can do much with such a subject. To attempt it is to fly in the face of every canon by the observance of which art can alone give lasting pleasure. It is to crib, cabin, and confine, within the limits of well-defined sensation and perception, ideas that are only tolerable when left in the utmost indefiniteness consistent with thought at all. It is depressing to think that he who could have left us portrait after portrait of all that was noblest and loveliest in the men and women of his age–who could give a life such as no one but himself, at any rate at that time, could give–should have had to spend months if not years upon a work that even when new can have been nothing better than a magnificent piece of stage decoration.

But of such miscarriages the kingdom of art is full. In the kingdom of art not only are many called and few chosen, but the few that do get chosen are for the most part chosen amiss, or are lavished in the infinite prodigality of nature. We flatter ourselves that among the kings and queens of art, music, and literature, or at any rate in the kingdom of the great dead, all wrongs shall be redressed, and patient merit shall take no more quips and scorns from the unworthy: there, if an able artist, as, we will say, F. H. Potter just dead, dies poor, neglected, and unable to fight his way through the ranks of men with not a tenth part of his genius, there, at any rate, shall right be done; there the mighty shall be put down from his seat, and the lowly and meek, if clever as well as good, shall meet his just reward. It is not so. There is no circle so exalted but the devil has got the run of it. As for the reputations of the great dead, they are governed in the main by the chicane that obtains among the living; it is only after generations of flourishing imposture, that even approximate right gets done. Look at Raphael, see how he still reigns supreme over those who have the people’s ears and purses at command. True, Guido, Guercino, and Domenichino have at last tumbled into the abyss, and we know very well that Raphael will ere long fall too, but Guido, Guercino, and Domenichino had a triumph of some two hundred years, during which none dared lift hand against them. Look again at that grossest of impostors–Bacon. Look at by far the greater number of the standard classical authors, painters, and musicians. All that can be said is that there is a nisus in the right direction which is not wholly in vain, and that though tens of thousands of men and women of genius are as dandelion seeds borne upon the air and perishing without visible result, yet there is here and there a seed that really does take root and spring upwards to be a plant on the whole more vigorous than that from which it sprung. Right and truth and justice, in their relation to human affairs, are as asymptotes which, though continually drawing nearer and nearer to the curve, can never reach it but by a violation of all on which their own existence is founded.

As for the Assumption chapel, those who would see it even as a wreck should lose no time; it is in full process of restoration; it is swept and garnished for immediate possession by a gentleman whom we met on the road down, and whose facility of execution in making crucified Christs out of plaster of Paris is something almost incredible. His type of face was Jewish, and it struck both Jones and me that his proficiency must be in some degree due to hereditary practice. He showed us one crucifix which he had only begun at eight o’clock that morning, and by eleven was as good as finished. He told us he had done the brand new Disputa chapel and the Agony in the Garden with the beautiful blue light thrown all over Christ through deep French ultramarine glass, and he was now going on with the other chapels as fast as he could. He said they had no oven for baking terra-cotta figures; besides, terra-cotta was such a much slower material to work in; he could make a gross of apostles in plaster more quickly than a single set of twelve in terra-cotta, and the effect was just as good when painted; so plaster of Paris and unrivalled facility of execution are to have everything their own way. Already what I can only call a shoddy bishop or pope or two, I forget which, have got in among the circle of Tabachetti’s saints and angels that still remains. These are many of them portraits full of serious dignity and unspotted by the world of barocco with which Tabachetti was surrounded. At the present moment they have been partly scraped and show as terra-cotta; no doubt they have suffered not a little in the scraping and will do so still further when they are repainted, but there is no help for it. Great works of art have got to die like everything else.

And, after all, it is as well they should, lest they come to weigh us down too heavily. Why should a man live too long after he is dead? For a while, yes, if he has done good service in his generation, give him a new lease of life in the hearts and memories of his successors, but do not let even the most eminent be too exacting; do not let them linger on as nonagenarians when their strength is now become but labour and sorrow. We have statutes of mortmain to restrain the dead hand from entering in among the living–why not a statute of limitations or “a fixed period” as against reputations and works of art–say a thousand years or so–behind which time we will resolutely refuse to go, except in rare cases by acclamation of the civilised world? How is it to end if we go on at our present rate, with huge geological formations of art and book middens accreting in every city of Europe? Who is to see them, who even to catalogue them? Remember the Malthusian doctrine, and that the mind breeds in even more rapid geometrical ratio than the body. With such a surfeit of art and science the mind pails and longs to be relieved from both. As the true life which a man lives is not in that consciousness in the midst of which the thing he calls “himself” sits and the din and roar of which confuse and deafen him, but in the life he lives in others, so the true life a man’s work should live after his death is not in the mouths but in the lives of those that follow him; in these it may live while the world lasts, as his lives who invented the wheel or arch, but let it live in the use which passeth all praise or thanks or even understanding, and let the story die after a certain time as all things else must do.

Perhaps; but at any rate let us give them decent burial. Crush the wounded beetle if you will, but do not try to mend it. I am glad to have seen the remains of the Assumption chapel while they are in their present state, but am not sure whether I would not rather see them destroyed at once, than meet the fate of restoration that is in store for them. At the same time I am confident that no more competent restorer than the able and eminent sculptor who has the work in hand is at all likely to be found. My complaint is not against him, but against the utter hopelessness of the task. I would again urge those who may be induced to take an interest in Tabachetti’s work to lose no time in going to see what still remains of it at Crea.

Last January I paid a second visit to Crea; and finding a scaffolding up, was able to get on a level with the circle of full-length figures. They were still unpainted, the terra-cotta figures showing as terra-cotta and the plaster of Paris white. When they are all repainted the visitor will find it less easy to say which are new figures and which old. I will therefore say that of the lower circle of twenty full-length figures the only two entirely new figures are the sixth to the left of the door on entering, which represents a man holding an open book by his left hand and resting it on his thigh, and the sixth figure to the right of the door on entering. There are several unimportant restorations of details of dress, feet, and clouds; the rest of the work in this circle is all by Tabachetti.

In the circle of busts and half-length figures, the first new work to the left of the door on entering is a figure that holds a lamb, the two half-length figures that come next in sequence are also new–the second of these is a nun holding a little temple. The second upper choir of angels and saints is still in its original [?] colour and seems to have been little touched, as also the pendant.

The chapel containing the Marriage Feast at Cana has been much restored and badly repainted. Most of the figures are very poor, but some, and especially a waiter with his hair parted down the middle, who is offering a hare (not cut up) to a guest who seems to have had too much already, are very good indeed. I find it difficult to think that this waiter can be by any one but Tabachetti. The guitar-player is good, or rather was good before he was repainted–so is a lady near him, so are some of the waiters at the other end, and so are the bride and bridegroom; at any rate they are life-like and effective as seen from outside, but the chapel has suffered much from restoration.

There is one other chapel at Crea which may be by Tabachetti though I do not know that it is ascribed to him, I mean the one containing figures of the founder and his wife, a little below the main piazza. The shepherds and sheep to the left are probably not by Tabachetti, but the lady is a well-modelled figure. Both she, however, and her husband have been so cruelly clogged with new paint that it is hard to form an opinion about them.

On the piazza itself is a chapel representing the Birth of the Virgin which is also pleasing. It is not always easy for us English to tell the Birth of the Virgin from the Nativity, and it may help the reader to distinguish these subjects readily if he will bear in mind, that at the Birth of the Virgin the baby is always going to be washed– which never happens at the Nativity; this, and that the Virgin’s mother is almost invariably to have an egg, and generally a good deal more, whereas the Virgin never has anything to eat or drink. The Virgin’s mother always wants keeping up. Gaudenzio Ferrari has a Birth of the Virgin in the Church of S. Cristoforo at Vercelli. The Virgin’s mother is eating one egg with a spoon, and there is another coming in on a tray, which I think is to be beaten up in wine. Something more substantial to follow is coming in on a hot plate with a cover over it and a napkin. The baby is to be washed of course, and the kind old head nurse is putting her hand in the bath, while the under nurse pours in the hot water, to make sure that the temperature is exactly right. It is to be just nicely loo-warm. The bath itself is certainly a very little one; it will hold about a pint and a half, but medieval washing apparatus did run rather small, and Gaudenzio was not going to waste more of his precious space than he could help upon so uninteresting an object as a bath; in actual life the bath was doubtless larger. The under-under nurse is warming a towel, which will be nicely ready when the bath is over. Joachim appears to have been in very easy circumstances, and the arrangements could hardly be more commodious even though the event had taken place at a certain well-known establishment in the Marylebone Road.

At Milan, in a work that I only know by Pianazzi’s engraving, there are two eggs coming in on a tray, and they too, I should say, are to be beaten up in wine. The under nurse is again filling a very little bath with warm water, and the head nurse is trying the temperature with her hand. There is no room for the warming of the towel, but there is no question that the towel is being warmed just out of the picture on the left hand. Here, at Crea, the attendant is giving the Virgin’s mother a plain boiled egg, and has a spoon in her hand with which she is going to crack it. The Virgin’s mother is frowning and motioning it away; she is quite as well as can be expected; still she does not feel equal to taking solid food, and the nurse is saying, “Do try, ma’am, just one little spoonful, the doctor said you was to have it, ma’am.” In the smaller picture by Carpaccio at Bergamo she is again to have an egg; in the larger she is to have some broth now, but a servant can be seen in the kitchen plucking a fowl for dear life, so probably the larger picture refers to a day or two later than the earlier.

The only other thing that struck us at Crea was the Virgin in the Presentation chapel. She is so much too small that one feels as though there must be some explanation that is not obvious. She is not more than 2 ft. 6 in. high, while the High Priest, and Joachim and St. Anne are all life-sized. The Chief Priest is holding up his hands, and seems a good deal surprised, as though he were saying– “Well, St. Anne my dear, I must say you are the very smallest Virgin that I ever had presented to me during the whole course of my incumbency.” Joachim and St. Anne seem very much distressed, and Joachim appears to be saying, “It is not our fault; I assure you, sir, we have done everything in our power. She has had plenty of nourishment.” There must be some explanation of the diminutive size of the figure that is not apparent.


Returning to Varallo, in the town itself the most important work is the fresco by Gaudenzio Ferrari in the church of Sta. Maria delle Grazie, already several times referred to. The reader will find it fully described in the pages of Colombo; moreover, in January last Signor Pizetta took excellent negatives of all the compartments into which the work is divided, and I learn that he has sent impressions– put together so as to give a very good idea of the work–to the Italian Exhibition that will open as these pages leave my hands. I have myself also sent to the same Exhibition a few unreduced impressions from the negatives used in the illustrations that face earlier pages: these will give the reader a more correct impression of the works from which they are taken than he can get from the reduction. I do not yet know whether they will be hung.

The fresco of Sta. Petronilla painted by Gaudenzio by moonlight on a chapel just outside the town, is now little more than a wreck.

There are a few works by Gaudenzio of no great importance in the Pinacoteca of the Museum; a few frescoes by Lanini, one or two drawings by Tanzio D’Enrico, which show that he was a well-trained draughtsman; two pictures by him, barocco in character, but not without power, and other works of more or less interest, are also in the Pinacoteca.

In the parish church of S. Gaudenzio, behind the altar, there is an exceedingly fine Ancona by Gaudenzio, to which I have already referred. Over an altar in the north transept, but for the most part hidden behind a painted tela, is Tabachetti’s very beautiful Madonna del Rosario, which the visitor should ask the Sacristan to show him; and last, but hardly least, there is a Madonna by Dedomenici of Rossa–a village higher up the Valsesia–painted on linen, in the chapel dedicated to St. Joseph.

I referred to this last-named work in my book “Alps and Sanctuaries” (pp. 177, &c.), and have seen no reason to modify the opinion I then expressed. I may repeat that about twenty years ago I was much struck with the painting and could not make out its strong and evidently unaffected medieval feeling, yet modernness at the same time. On consulting the Sacristan I learned that Dedomenici had died about 1840. He added that the extraordinary thing was that Dedomenici had never studied painting, and had never travelled out of the Valsesia; that he had, in fact, acquired his art by doing rather than by learning how to do.

This, as it appeared to me, explained his excellence. As a general rule the more people study how to do things the more hopelessly academic they become. Learning how to say ends soon in having nothing to say. Learning how to paint, in having nothing that one so longs to paint as to be unable to keep one’s hands off it. It gratifies the lust of doing sufficiently to appease it, and then kills it. Learning how to write music, ends in the dreary symphonies, operas, cantatas, and oratorios which it seems are all that modern composers can give us. The only way to study an art is to begin at once with doing something that one wants very badly to do, and doing it–even though it be only very badly. Study, of course, but synchronously–letting the work be its own exercises.

If a man defers doing till he knows how to do, when is the hunting the ignis fatuus of a perfect manner to end, and the actual work that he is to leave behind him to begin? I know nothing so deadening, as a long course of preliminary study in any art, and nothing so living as work plunged into at once by one who is studying hard–over it, rather than in preparation for it. Jones talking with me once on this subject, and about agape as against gnosis in art, said, “Oh that men should put an enemy into their brains to steal away their hearts.” At any rate he and I have written “Narcissus” on these principles, and are not without hope that what it has lost in erudition it may have gained in freshness. I have, however, dealt with the question of how to study painting more at length in the chapter on the Decline of Italian art in “Alps and Sanctuaries.”

I said I would return to the chapel of Loreto a little way out of Varallo on the road to Novara. This work has a lunette which is generally, and I suppose correctly, ascribed to Gaudenzio. It is covered with frescoes not of extraordinary merit, but still interesting, and the chapel itself is extremely beautiful. I had intended dwelling upon it at greater length, but find that my space will not allow me to do so, though I shall hope to describe it more fully in another work on Italy, for which I have many notes that I have been unable to use here.

And now to conclude. A friend once said to me on the Sacro Monte, “How is it that they have no chapel of the Descent of the Holy Spirit?” I answered that the work of Gaudenzio Ferrari, Tabachetti, D’Enrico, and Paracca was a more potent witness to, and fitter temple for, the Holy Spirit, than any that the hands even of these men could have made for it expressly. For that there is a Holy Spirit, and that it does descend on those that diligently seek it, who can for a moment question? A man may speak lightly of the Father and it shall be forgiven him; he may speak lightly of the Son and it shall be forgiven him; but woe to him if he speak lightly of that Divine Spirit, inspiration of which alone it is that makes a work of art either true or permanently desirable.

Of the letter in which the Sacro Monte is written, I have at times in the preceding pages spoken lightly enough. Who in these days but the advocates whose paid profession it is to maintain the existing order, and those whom custom and vested interests hold enthralled, accepts the letter of Christianity more than he accepts the letter of Oriental exaggerated phraseology? If three days and three nights means in reality only thirty-six hours, so should full fifty per cent. be deducted wherever else seems necessary, and “dead” be read as “very nearly dead,” and “the Son of God” as “rarely perfect man.” Who, on the other hand, that need be reckoned with, denies the eternal underlying verity that there is an omnipresent unknown something for which Mind, Spirit, or God, is, as Professor Mivart has well said, “the least misleading” expression? Who doubts that this Mind or God is immanent throughout the whole universe, sustaining it, guiding it, living in it, he in it and it in him? I heard of one not long since who said he had been an atheist this ten years–and added, “thank God.” Who, again, doubts that the spirit of self-sacrifice for a noble end is lovelier and brings more peace at the last than one of self-seeking and self-indulgence? And who doubts that of the two great enemies both to religion and science referred to in the passage I have taken for my motto, “the too much” is even more dangerous than “the too little”?

I, and those who think as I do, would see the letter whether of science or of Christianity made less of, and the spirit more. Slowly, but very slowly–far, as it seems to our impatience, too slowly–things move in this direction. See how even the Church of Rome, and indeed all churches, are dropping miracles that they once held proper objects of faith and adoration. The Sacro Monte is now singularly free from all that we Protestants are apt to call superstition.

The miracles and graces so freely dealt in by Fassola and Torrotti find no place in the more recent handbooks. The Ex Votos and images in wax and silver with which each chapel formerly abounded have long disappeared, and the sacred drama is told with almost as close an adherence to the facts recorded in the Gospels, as though the whole had been done by Protestant workmen. Where is the impress of Christ’s footprint now? carted away or thrown into a lumber room as a child’s toy that has been outgrown–so surely as has been often said do the famous words “E pur si muove” apply to the Church herself, as well as to that world whose movement she so strenuously denied.

The same thing is happening here among ourselves. As the good churchmen at Varallo have thrown away their Flemish dancer, their footprint of the Saviour, and their Virgins that box thieves’ ears and persist in turning round and smiling even after they have been asked not to do so, so we, by the mouths of our Bishops, are flinging away our Genesis, our Exodus, and I know not how much more. In the Nineteenth Century for last December the Bishop of Carlisle says that the account of Creation given in the Book of Genesis “does not pretend to be historical in any ordinary sense”–or, in other words, that it does not pretend to be historical, or true, at all. Surely this is rather a startling jettison. The Bishop goes on to say that “the account of the flood is a very precious tradition full of valuable teaching,” and is, he doubts not, a record of some great event that actually occurred; “but,” he continues, “I confess that until Bishop Colenso brought his arithmetic to bear upon it and some other portions of Old Testament history, I was quite [why “quite?”] under the impression that the common sense of Christians abstained from criticising this ancient record by the canons applicable to ordinary history.” This was not my own impression, but the Bishop’s is doubtless more accurate. If things, however, go on at this rate, a hundred years hence we shall have a Bishop writing to the Twentieth Century that till X, Y or Z brought their canons of historical criticism to bear on the Resurrection itself, he was “quite” under the impression that the common sense of Christians abstained from criticising this ancient record by the canons applicable to ordinary history. The Bishop appeals, and rightly, to common sense. This is of all courts the safest and rightest to abide by, but it must not be forgotten that the common sense of one generation is not that of the next, and that the modification with which common sense descends cannot be effected, however gently we may try to do so, without some disturbance of the pre-existing common sense, and some reversal of its decrees.

That the letter of the coming faith will be greatly truer than that of the many that have preceded it I for one do not believe. Let us have no more “Lo heres” and “Lo theres” in this respect. I would as soon have a winking Madonna or a forged decretal, as the doubtful experiments or garbled articles which the high priests of modern science are applauded with one voice for trying to palm off upon their devotees; and I should look as hopefully for good result from a new monastery, as from a new school of art, college of music, or scientific institution. Whatever faith or science the world at large bows down to will in its letter be tainted with the world that worships it. Whoever clings to the spirit that underlies all the science obtaining among civilised peoples will assuredly find that he cannot serve God and Mammon. The true Christ ever brings a sword on earth as well as peace, and if he maketh men to be of one mind in an house, he divideth a house no less surely. The way will be straight