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


Santa Maria delle Grazie, Varallo

This is the central scene from the large dividing wall of the convent church, located at the start of the road leading to the Sacro Monte at Varallo.The overall structure of the monumental composition (which comprises a sequence of pictures showing episodes from the life and passion of Christ) is very much in the Lombard-Piedmontese tradition of frescoed dividing walls. Nevertheless, in every scene Gaudenzio tried out emotionally charged compositional ideas or new methods of painting perspective and light. It was here that he did the groundwork for the Sacro Monte chapels where The Scenes from the Passion of Christ achieved both overwhelming popular appeal and artistic nobility.

The Crucifixion is an excellent example of how Gaudenzio was able to mix traditional features (the helmets, coats of armor, and bridles which are shown in relief) with novel figurative allusions from Perugino to Leonardo. The whole thing is underpinned by Gaudenzio's narrative and dramatic power which pulls all the characters into a single, engulfing wave of feeling. Following the church's advice in the Devotio Moderna, Gaudenzio sets all the gospel episodes in his own day. At the foot of the Cross, to the right, we can see two people from Varallo accompanied by a boisterous dog and sweet women with babies in their arms. These sunny, everyday images contrast sharply with the ugly, caricatured faces of the soldiers who are playing dice for Christ's clothes.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 22 minutes):
Heinrich Schütz: Die sieben Worte am Kreuz SWV 478