Ex Voto
by Samuel Butler
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"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 in the future as in the past. All that can be hoped for is that it may perhaps become a trifle more easy through the work of the just men made perfect through suffering that have gone before, and that he who in bygone ages would have been burnt will now be only scouted.

I have in the last few foregoing pages been trenching on somewhat dangerous ground, but who can leave such a work as the Sacro Monte without being led to trench on this ground, and who that trenches upon it can fail to better understand the lesson of the Sacro Monte itself? I am aware, however, that I have said enough if not too much, and will return to the note struck at the beginning of my work- -namely, that I have endeavoured to stimulate study of the great works on the Sacro Monte rather than to write the full account of them which their importance merits. At the same time I must admit that I have had great advantages. Not one single previous writer had ever seen an earlier work than that of Fassola, published in 1670 [1], whereas I have had before me one that appeared in 1586 [7]. I had written the greater part of my book before last Christmas, and going out to Varallo at the end of December to verify and reconsider it on the spot, found myself forced over and over again to alter what I had written, in consequence of the new light given me by the 1586 [7] and 1590 [1] editions of Caccia. It is with profound regret that though I have continued to search for the 1565 and 1576 editions up to the very last moment that these sheets leave my hands, my search has been fruitless.

Over and above the advantage of having had even the later Caccia before me, I have seen Cav. Aless. Godio's "Cronaca di Crea," which no previous writer had done, inasmuch as this work has been only very lately published. Moreover, when I was at Varallo, it being known that I was writing on the Sacro Monte, every one helped me, and so many gave me such important and interesting information that I found my labour a very light and pleasant one. Especially must I acknowledge my profound obligations to Signor Dionigi Negri, town clerk of Varallo, to Signor Galloni the present director of the Sacro Monte, to Cav. Prof. Antonini and his son, Signori Arienta and Tonetti, and to many other kind friends whom if I were to begin to name I must name half the town of Varallo. With such advantages I am well aware that the work should be greatly better than it is; if, however, it shall prove that I have succeeded in calling the attention of abler writers to Varallo, and if these find the present work of any, however small, assistance to them, I shall hold that I have been justified in publishing it. In the full hope that this may turn out to be the case, I now leave the book to the generous consideration and forbearance of the reader.


{1} "Uomini e Fatti," &c., p. 65, &c.

{2} "Uomini e fatti," p. 83.

{3} Fassola, p. 112.

{4} These chapels are grouped together in the 1586 edition as "la nativita di N.S. nel Presepio," but they are separated, as they doubtless should have been earlier, in the edition of 1590 [1591].

{5} English translation of the "Life of St. Charles Borromeo," with preface by Cardinal Manning. Burns & Oates, London and New York, 1884, vol. ii. p. 47.

{6} "Storia a Guida," ed. 1857, Varallo, p. 68.

{7} In the register of the houses in Varallo, taken in 1536, his house is thus described—"Magister Gaudentius pictor fqm Magistri Franchini Vallis Ugiae habitator Varalli, tabet sedimen unum cum domo una magna plodata et alia contigua peleis, et curte ante, et curteto ad plateam putei, cui cohoeret Franciscus Draghettus sive de Boglia et strata, et soror Catarina de Pioldo." (See Signor Tonetti's Memoir.)

{8} Parma, 1823.

{9} Munich, 1841.

{10} Torino-Tipografia S. Giuseppe—Collegio degli Artigianelli Corso Palestro, No. 14. 1887.

{11} See Signor Galloni's first and tenth notes, pp. 175 and 180.

{12} Their words run thus;—"Il volto di quella Vergine Maria mirava altre volte al Bambino Giesu, ma dall' anno, il giorno, ed hora, che fu creato Pontefice Innocenzo X. al suono di Campane miracolosamente si volto alli Visitanti. Dicono alcuni, che prima ancora staua riuoltata al Popolo, e che accommodata, non accorgendosi del miracolo in detto giorno, poi lo diede a conoscere." Fassola, p. 86.

"Si dice che la Vergine mirava il Bambino, e quando si sonarono le campane per l'esaltazione d'Innocenzio X. torno il volto ai Visitanti, che racconciata nuovamente voltollo al popolo come invitante." Torrotti, p. 70.

{13} The projected Palazzo di Pilato blocks.

{14} A famous model of some five-and-twenty years ago.


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