FERRARI, Gaudenzio
(b. ca. 1475, Valduggia, d. 1546, Milano)

The Life of Christ

Santa Maria delle Grazie, Varallo

The picture shows the rood screen of the church.

In the Renaissance period the decoration of the church is frequently focused on the apse and the entrance wall. These terminal walls of extended interior spaces are visible from a great distance, catching visitors' attention. The decoration of the apse towers over the events of mass at the high altar; the decoration of the inside wall of the façade serves as an admonition or reinforcement for the visitors as they leave the liturgical ceremony and the church. Large format in both places called for fundamental, weighty themes.

Examples of large-scale painted apse recesses are common in the areas ruled by Venice but also in Emilia. A special form of decoration for end walls is found in Lombardy. Particularly in the monastery buildings of the Franciscan Observants, large rood screens cut across the nave of the church. These walls separate entirely the chancel area of the monks from the area of the lay brothers in front. The front of the wall, facing the space for the laity, would be used as a large surface for frescoes with scenes from the life and Passion of Christ. An early example is found in Santa Maria delle Grazie in Varallo. Gaudenzio Ferrari painted twenty-one episodes from the life of Christ in three registers, with the Crucifix in the centre emphasized by its size.