Samuel Butler.

Ex voto: an account of the Sacro monte or New Jerusalem at Varallo Sesia, with some notice of Tabachetti's remaining work at the Sanctuary of Crea online

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Transcribed from the 1890 Longmans, Green, and Co. edition by David
Price, email [email protected]

[Picture: Book cover]

[Picture: “Il Vecchietto.” By Tabachetti]





EX VOTO:


AN ACCOUNT OF

_The Sacro Monte or New Jerusalem_
_at Varallo-Sesia_

WITH SOME NOTICE OF

TABACHETTI’S REMAINING WORK AT THE
SANCTUARY OF CREA.

BY

SAMUEL BUTLER,
AUTHOR OF “ALPS AND SANCTUARIES,” “EREWHON,” ETC.

“Il n’a a que deux ennemis de la religion—le trop peu, et le trop; et
des deux
le trop est mille fois le plus dangereux.”—L’ABBÉ MABILLON, 1698.

OP. 9.

LONDON
LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.
AND NEW YORK: 15 EAST 16th STREET.
1890.

_All rights reserved_.

* * * * *

AI VARALLESI E VALSESIANI

L’AUTORE

RICONOSCENTE.

* * * * *




PREFACE.


THE illustrations to this book are mainly collotype photographs by
Messrs. Maclure, Macdonald & Co., of Glasgow. Notwithstanding all their
care, it cannot be pretended that the result is equal to what would have
been obtained from photogravure; I found, however, that to give anything
like an adequate number of photogravures would have made the book so
expensive that I was reluctantly compelled to abandon the idea.

As these sheets leave my hands, my attention is called to a pleasant
article by Miss Alice Greene about Varallo, that appeared in _The Queen_
for Saturday, April 21, 1888. The article is very nicely illustrated,
and gives a good idea of the place. Of the Sacro Monte Miss Greene
says:—“On the Sacro Monte the tableaux are produced in perpetuity, only
the figures are not living, they are terra-cotta statues painted and
moulded in so life-like a way that you feel that, were a man of flesh and
blood to get mixed up with the crowd behind the grating, you would have
hard work to distinguish him from the figures that have never had life.”

I should wish to modify in some respects the conclusion arrived at on pp.
148, 149, about Michael Angelo Rossetti’s having been the principal
sculptor of the Massacre of the Innocents chapel. There can be no doubt
that Rossetti did the figure which he has signed, and several others in
the chapel. One of those which are probably by him (the soldier with
outstretched arm to the left of the composition) appears in the view of
the chapel that I have given to face page 144, but on consideration I
incline against the supposition of my text, _i.e._, that the signature
should be taken as governing the whole work, or at any rate the greater
part of it, and lean towards accepting the external authority, which,
_quantum valeat_, is all in favour of Paracca. I have changed my mind
through an increasing inability to resist the opinion of those who hold
that the figures fall into two main groups, one by the man who did the
signed figure, _i.e._, Michael Angelo Rossetti; and another, comprising
all the most vigorous, interesting, and best placed figures, that
certainly appears to be by a much more powerful hand. Probably, then,
Rossetti finished Paracca’s work and signed one figure as he did, without
any idea of claiming the whole, and believing that Paracca’s predominant
share was too well known to make mistake about the authorship of the work
possible. I have therefore in the title to the illustration given the
work to Paracca, but it must be admitted that the question is one of
great difficulty, and I can only hope that some other work of Paracca’s
may be found which will tend to settle it. I will thankfully receive
information about any other such work.

_May_ 1, 1888.




CONTENTS.

CHAP. PAGE
I. INTRODUCTION 1
II. THE REV. S. W. KING—LANZI AND LOMAZZO 10
III. VARALLO, PAST AND PRESENT 24
IV. BERNARDINO CAIMI, AND FASSOLA 38
V. EARLY HISTORY OF THE SACRO MONTE 49
VI. PRELIMINARY CONSIDERATIONS 69
VII. AIM AND SCOPE OF THE SACRO MONTE 80
VIII. GAUDENZIO FERRARI, TABACHETTI, AND GIOVANNI 90
D’ENRICO
IX. THE ASCENT OF THE SACRO MONTRE, AND CHAPEL NO. 114
1, ADAM AND EVE; NO. 2, THE ANNUNCIATION; NO. 3,
THE SALUTATION OF MARY BY ELIZABETH; NO. 4,
FIRST VISION OF ST. JOSEPH
X. CHAPEL NO. 5, VISIT OF THE MAGI; NO. 6, IL 132
PRESEPIO; NO. 7, VISIT OF THE SHEPHERDS; NO. 8,
CIRCUMCISION; NO. 9, JOSEPH WARNED TO FLY; NO.
10, FLIGHT INTO EGYPT; NO. 11, MASSACRE OF THE
INNOCENTS
XI. CHAPEL NO. 12, BAPTISM; NO. 13, TEMPTATION; NO. 153
14, WOMAN OF SAMARIA; NO. 15, THE PARALYTIC; NO.
16, WIDOW’S SON AT NAIN; NO. 17,
TRANSFIGURATION; NO. 18, RAISING OF LAZARUS; NO.
19, ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM; NO. 20, LAST SUPPER;
NO. 21, AGONY IN THE GARDEN; NO. 22, SLEEPING
APOSTLES
XII. THE PALACE OF PILATE; CHAPEL NO. 23, THE CAPTURE 166
OF CHRIST; NO. 24, CHRIST TAKEN TO ANNAS; NO.
25, CHRIST BEFORE CAIAPHAS; NO. 26, REPENTANCE
OF ST. PETER; NO. 27, CHRIST BEFORE PILATE; NO.
28, CHRIST BEFORE HEROD; NO. 29, CHRIST TAKEN
BACK TO PILATE; NO. 30, FLAGELLATION; NO. 31,
CROWNING WITH THORNS; NO. 32, CHRIST AT THE
STEPS OF THE PRETORIUM; NO. 33, ECCE HOMO; NO.
34, PILATE WASHING HIS HANDS; NO. 35, CHRIST
CONDEMNED TO DEATH
XIII. MYSTERIES OF THE PASSION AND DEATH; CHAPEL NO. 195
36, THE JOURNEY TO CALVARY; NO. 37, NAILING OF
CHRIST TO THE CROSS; NO. 38, THE CRUCIFIXION
XIV. CHAPEL NO. 39, THE DESCENT FROM THE CROSS 214
XV. THE PIETÀ AND REMAINING CHAPELS. CHAPEL NO. 40, 225
THE PIETÀ; NO. 41, THE ENTOMBMENT; REMAINING
CHAPELS AND CHIESA MAGGIORE
XVI. TABACHETTI’S WORK AT CREA 239
XVII. CONCLUSION 259




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


_For explanation of the Asterisk see Advertisement of Photographs at the
end of the book_.

“II VECCHIETTO,” FROM THE DESCENT FROM THE CROSS _Frontispiece_
(CHAPEL NO. 39)
PLATE
I. PLAN OF THE SACRO MONTE IN 1671 68
II. THE OLD ADAM AND EVE 121
III. TABACHETTI’S ADAM AND EVE 122
IV. FIRST VISION OF ST. JOSEPH 130
V. THE MASSACRE OF THE INNOCENTS 144
VI. THE TEMPTATION IN THE WILDERNESS 154
VII. CAIAPHAS 170
VIII. HEROD 176
IX. TWO LAUGHING BOYS 177
X. MAN IN BACKGROUND OF THE FLAGELLATION 182
CHAPEL
XI. STEFANO SCOTTO, AND MR. S. BUTLER 189
XII. TABACHETTI’S JOURNEY TO CALVARY 195

GENERAL VIEW TO THE RIGHT.
XIII. TABACHETTI’S JOURNEY TO CALVARY 196

ST. JOHN AND THE MADONNA WITH THE OTHER
MARIES.
XIV. TABACHETTI’S JOURNEY TO CALVARY 198

STA. VERONICA AND MAN WITH GOITRE.
XV. TABACHETTI’S JOURNEY TO CALVARY 200

THE TWO THIEVES AND THEIR DRIVER.
XVI. GAUDENZIO FERRARI’S CRUCIFIXION 203

GENERAL VIEW LOOKING TOWARDS THE BAD
THIEF.
XVII. GAUDENZIO FERRARI’S CRUCIFIXION 204

GENERAL VIEW LOOKING TOWARDS THE GOOD
THIEF.
XVIII. GAUDENZIO FERRARI’S PORTRAITS OF 206
STEFANO SCOTTO AND LEONARDO DA VINCI
XIX. BERNARDINO DE CONTI’S DRAWING OF 207
STEFANO SCOTTO, AND PROFILE OF LEONARDO
DA VINCI BY HIMSELF (REVERSED)
XX. GAUDENZIO FERRARI’S CRUCIFIXION 210
THE BAD THIEF.




ADDITIONS AND CORRECTIONS.


UNABLE to go to Dinant before I published “Ex Voto,” I have since been
there, and have found out a good deal about Tabachetti’s family. His
real name was de Wespin, and he tame of a family who had been
Copper-beaters, and hence sculptors—for the Flemish copper-beaters made
their own models—for many generations. The family seems to have been the
most numerous and important in Dinant.

The sculptor’s grandfather, Perpète de Wespin, was the first to take the
sobriquet of Tabaguet, and though in the deeds which I have seen at Namur
the name is always given as “de Wespin,” yet the addition of “dit
Tabaguet” shows that this last was the name in current use. His father
and mother, and a sister Jacquelinne, under age, appear to have all died
in 1587. Jean de Wespin, the sculptor, is mentioned in a deed of that
date as “expatrié,” and he has a “gardien” or “tuteur,” who is to take
charge of his inheritance, appointed by the Court, as though he were for
some reason unable to appoint one for himself. This lends colour to
Fassola’s and Torrotti’s statement that he lost his reason about 1586 or
1587. I think it more likely, however, considering that he was alive and
doing admirable work some fifty years after 1590, that he was the victim
of some intrigue than that he was ever really mad. At any rate, about
1587 he appears to have been unable to act for himself.

If his sister Jacquelinne died under age in 1587, Jean is not likely to
have been then much more than thirty, so we may conclude that he was born
about 1560. There is some six or eight years’ work by him remaining at
Varallo, and described as finished in the 1586 edition of Caccia.
Tabachetti, therefore, must have left home very young, and probably went
straight to Varallo. In 1586 or 1587 we lose sight of him till 1590 or
1591, when he went to Crea, where he did about forty chapels—almost all
of which have perished.

On again visiting Milan I found in the Biblioteca Nazionale a guide-book
to the Sacro Monte, which was not in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, and of
whose existence I had never heard. This guide-book was published in 1606
and reissued in 1610; it mentions all changes since 1590, and even
describes chapels not yet in existence, but it says nothing about
Tabachetti’s First Vision of St. Joseph chapel—the only one of his
chapels not given as completed in the 1590 edition of Caccia. I had
assumed too hastily that this chapel was done just after the 1590 edition
of Caccia had been published, and just before Tabachetti left for Crea in
1590 or 1591, whereas it now appears that it was done about 1610, during
a short visit paid by the sculptor to Varallo some twenty years after he
had left it.

Finding that Tabachetti returned to Varallo about 1610, I was able to
understand two or three figures in the Ecce Homo chapel which I had long
thought must be by Tabachetti, but had not ventured to ascribe to him,
inasmuch as I believed him to have finally left Varallo some twenty years
before the Ecce Homo chapel was made. I have now no doubt that he lent a
hand to Giovanni D’Enrico with this chapel, in which he has happily left
us his portrait signed with a V (doubtless standing for W, a letter which
the Italians have not got), cut on the hat before baking, and invisible
from outside the chapel.

[Picture: Seal] Signor Arienta had told me there was a seal on the back
of a figure in the Journey to Calvary chapel; on examining this I found
it to show a W, with some kind of armorial bearings underneath. I have
not been able to find anything like these arms, of which I give a sketch
herewith: they have no affinity with those of the de Wespin family,
unless the cups with crosses under them are taken as modifications of the
three-footed caldrons which were never absent from the arms of Dinant
copper-beaters. Tabachetti (for I shall assume that the seal was placed
by him) perhaps sealed this figure as an afterthought in 1610, being
unable to cut easily into the hard-baked clay, and if he could have
Italianised the W he would probably have done so. I should say that I
arrived at the Ecce Homo figure as a portrait of Tabachetti before I
found the V cut upon the hat; I found the V on examining the portrait to
see if I could find any signature. It stands next to a second portrait
of Leonardo da Vinci by Gaudenzio Ferrari, taken into the Ecce Homo
chapel, doubtless, on the demolition of some earlier work by Gaudenzio on
or near the same site. I knew of this second portrait of Leonardo da
Vinci when I published my first edition, but did not venture to say
anything about it, as thinking that one life-sized portrait of a Leonardo
da Vinci by a Gaudenzio Ferrari was as much of a find at one time as my
readers would put up with. I had also known of the V on Tabachetti’s
hat, but, having no idea that his name was de Wespin, had not seen why
this should help it to be a portrait of Tabachetti, and had allowed the
fact to escape me.

The figure next to Scotto in the Ecce Homo chapel is, I do not doubt, a
portrait of Giovanni D’Enrico. This may explain the tradition at Varallo
that Scotto is Antonio D’Enrico, which cannot be. Next to Giovanni
D’Enrico stands the second Leonardo da Vinci, and next to Leonardo, as I
have said, Tabachetti. In the chapel by Gaudenzio, from which they were
taken, the figures of Leonardo and Scotto probably stood side by side as
they still do in the Crucifixion chapel. I supposed that Tabachetti and
D’Enrico, who must have perfectly well known who they were, separated
them in order to get Giovanni D’Enrico nearer the grating. It was the
presumption that we had D’Enrico’s portrait between Scotto and Leonardo,
and the conviction that Tabachetti also had worked in the chapel, that
led me to examine the very beautiful figure on the father side of
Leonardo to see if I could find anything to confirm my suspicion that it
was a portrait of Tabachetti himself.

I do not think there can be much doubt that the Vecchietto is also a
portrait of Tabachetti done some thirty years later than 1610, nor yet do
I doubt, now I know that he returned to Varallo in 1610, that the figures
of Herod and of Caiaphas are by him. I believe he also at this time paid
a short visit to Orta, and did three or four figures in the left hand
part of the foreground of the Canonisation of St. Francis chapel. At
Montrigone, a mile or so below Borgo-Sesia station, I believe him to have
done at least two or three figures, which are very much in his manner,
and not at all like either Giacomo Ferro or Giovanni D’Enrico, to whom
they are usually assigned. These figures are some twenty-five years
later than 1610, and tend to show that Tabachetti, as an old man of over
seventy, paid a third visit to the Val-Sesia.

The substance of the foregoing paragraphs is published at greater length,
and with illustrations, in the number of the _Universal Review_ for
November 1888, and to which I must refer my readers. I have, however,
here given the pith of all that I have yet been able to find out about
Tabachetti since “Ex Voto” was published. I should like to add the
following in regard to other chapels.

[Picture: Monogram] Signor Arienta has found a 1523 scrawled on the
frescoes of the Crucifixion chapel. I do not think this shows
necessarily that the work was more than begun at that date. He has also
found a monogram, which we believe to be Gaudenzio Ferrari’s, on the
central shield with a lion on it, given in the illustration facing p.
210. On further consideration, I feel more and more inclined to think
that the frescoes in this chapel have been a good deal retouched.

I hardly question that the Second Vision of St. Joseph chapel is by
Tabachetti, as also the Woman of Samaria. The Christ in this last chapel
is a restoration. In a woodcut of 1640 the position of the figures is
reversed, but nothing more than the positions.

Lastly, the Virgin’s mother does not have eggs east of Milan. It is a
Valsesian custom to give eggs beaten up with wine and sugar to women
immediately on their confinement, and I am told that the eggs do no harm
though not according to the rules. I am told that Valsesian influence
must always be suspected when the Virgin’s mother is having eggs.

_November_ 30, 1888.

* * * * *

_Note_.—A copy of this postscript can be easily inserted into a bound
copy, and will be forwarded by Messrs. TRÜBNER & CO. on receipt of
stamped and addressed envelope.




CHAPTER I.
_INTRODUCTION_.


IN the preface to “Alps and Sanctuaries” I apologised for passing over
Varallo-Sesia, the most important of North Italian sanctuaries, on the
ground that it required a book to itself. This book I will now endeavour
to supply, though well aware that I can only imperfectly and unworthily
do so. To treat the subject in the detail it merits would be a task
beyond my opportunities; for, in spite of every endeavour, I have not
been able to see several works and documents, without which it is useless
to try and unravel the earlier history of the sanctuary. The book by
Caccia, for example, published by Sessali at Novara in 1565, and
reprinted at Brescia in 1576, is sure to turn up some day, but I have
failed to find it at Varallo, Novara (where it appears in the catalogue,
but not on the shelves), Milan, the Louvre, the British Museum, and the
Bodleian Library. Through the kindness of Sac. Ant. Ceriani, I was able
to learn that the Biblioteca Ambrosiana possessed what there can be
little doubt is a later edition of this book, dated 1587, but really
published at the end of 1586, and another dated 1591, to which Signor
Galloni in his “Uomini e fatti celebri di Valle-Sesia” (p. 110) has
called attention as the first work ever printed at Varallo. But the last
eight of the twenty-one years between 1565 and 1586 were eventful, and
much could be at once seen by a comparison of the 1565, 1576, and 1586
[1587] editions, about which speculation is a waste of time while the
earlier works are wanting. I have been able to gather two or three
interesting facts by a comparison of the 1586 and 1591 editions, and do
not doubt that the date, for example, of Tabachetti’s advent to Varallo
and of his great Calvary Chapel would be settled within a very few years
if the missing books were available.

Another document which I have in vain tried to see is the plan of the
Sacro Monte as it stood towards the close of the sixteenth century, made
by Pellegrino Tibaldi with a view to his own proposed alterations. He
who is fortunate enough to gain access to this plan—which I saw for a few
minutes in 1884, but which is now no longer at Varallo—will find a great
deal made clear to him which he will otherwise be hardly able to find
out. Over and above the foregoing, there is the inventory drawn up by
order of Giambattista Albertino in 1614, and a number of other documents,
to which reference will be found in the pages of Bordiga, Galloni,
Tonetti, and of the many others who have written upon the Val Sesia and
its history. A twelve months’ stay in the Val Sesia would not suffice to
do justice to all the interesting and important questions which arise
wholesale as soon as the chapels on the Sacro Monte are examined with any
care. I shall confine myself, therefore, to a consideration of the most
remarkable features of the Sacro Monte as it exists at present, and to
doing what I can to stimulate further study on the part of others.

I cannot understand how a field so interesting, and containing treasures
in so many respects unrivalled, can have remained almost wholly untilled
by the numerous English lovers of art who yearly flock to Italy; but the
fact is one on which I may perhaps be congratulated, inasmuch as more
shortcomings and errors of judgment may be forgiven in my own book, in
virtue of its being the first to bring Varallo with any prominence before
English readers. That little is known about the Sacro Monte, even by the
latest and best reputed authorities on art, may be seen by turning to Sir
Henry Layard’s recent edition of Kugler’s “Handbook of Painting,”—a work
which our leading journals of culture have received with acclamation.
Sir Henry Layard has evidently either never been at Varallo, or has so
completely forgotten what he saw there that his visit no longer counts.
He thinks, for example, that the chapels, or, as he also calls them,
“stations” (which in itself should show that he has not seen them), are
on the way up to the Sacro Monte, whereas all that need be considered are
on the top. He thinks that the statues generally in these supposed
chapels “on the ascent of the Sacro Monte” are attributed to Gaudenzio
Ferrari, whereas it is only in two or three out of some five-and-forty
that any statues are believed to be by Gaudenzio. He thinks the famous
sculptor Tabachetti—for famous he is in North Italy, where he is
known—was a painter, and speaks of him as “a local imitator” of
Gaudenzio, who “decorated” other chapels, and “whose works only show how
rapidly Gaudenzio’s influence declined and his school deteriorated.” As
a matter of fact, Tabachetti was a Fleming and his name was Tabaquet; but
this is a detail. Sir Henry Layard thinks that “Miel” was also “a local
imitator” of Gaudenzio. It is not likely that this painter ever worked
on the Sacro Monte at all; but if he did, Sir Henry Layard should surely
know that he came from Antwerp. Sir Henry Layard does not appear to know
that there are any figures in the Crucifixion Chapel of Gaudenzio, or
indeed in any of the chapels for which Gaudenzio painted frescoes, and
falls into a trap which seems almost laid on purpose for those who would
write about Varallo without having been there, in supposing that
Gaudenzio painted a Pietà on the Sacro Monte. Having thus displayed the
ripeness of his knowledge as regards facts, he says that though the
chapels “on the ascent of the Sacro Monte” are “objects of wonder and
admiration to the innumerable pilgrims who frequent this sacred spot,”
yet “the bad taste of the colour and clothing make them highly repugnant
to a cultivated eye.”

I begin to understand now how we came to buy the Blenheim Raffaelle.

Finally, Sir Henry Layard says it is “very doubtful” whether any of the
statues were modelled or executed by Gaudenzio Ferrari at all. It is a
pity he has not thought it necessary give a single reason or authority in
support of a statement so surprising.

Some of these blunders appear in the edition of 1874 edited by Lady
Eastlake. In that edition the writer evidently knows nothing of any
figures in the Crucifixion Chapel, and Sir Henry Layard was unable to
supply the omission. The writer in the 1874 edition says that “Gaudenzio
is seen as a modeller of painted terra-cotta in the stations ascending to
the chapel (_sic_) on the Sacro Monte.” It is from this source that Sir
Henry Layard got his idea that the chapels are on the way up to the Sacro
Monte, and that they are distinct from those for which Gaudenzio painted
frescoes on the top of the mountain. Having perhaps seen photographs of
the Sacro Monte at Varese, where the chapels climb the hill along with
the road, or having perhaps actually seen the Madonna del Sasso at
Locarno, where small oratories with frescoes of the Stations of the Cross


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Online LibrarySamuel ButlerEx voto: an account of the Sacro monte or New Jerusalem at Varallo Sesia, with some notice of Tabachetti's remaining work at the Sanctuary of Crea → online text (page 1 of 15)