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

Scenes from the Life of Mary

Cappella dell'Assunta, San Cristoforo, Vercelli

The old Humilitati monastery of San Cristoforo in Vercelli was entrusted to the aristocratic family of the Corradi di Lignano in the fifteenth century. In the early sixteenth century Provost Nicolini Corradi had the old church torn down and a replacement built. Andrea Corradi's assumption of office as provost in July 1529 was accompanied by an elaborate campaign of decoration. The new church was decorated with a retable for the high altar and two fresco cycles in the transept, in the Cappella dell'Assunta and the Cappella della Maddalena, all by Gaudenzio Ferrari. The artist had returned to Vercelli in 1528 after a long period of activity in Varallo.

The first frescoes were in the Cappella della Maddalena, to the right of the chancel. Gaudenzio Ferrari painted the enormous Crucifixion of Christ on the end wall of the side aisle above the altar. On the adjacent side wall four additional scenes from the legend of Mary Magdalene are arranged in two rows around the central window.

After the completion of the frescoes in the Cappella della Maddalena in 1532, Andrea Corradi concluded a contract with Ferrari to decorate the chapel of the left transept arm, the Cappella dell'Assunta. The decoration was completed in 1534.

In this chapel, the themes of the painted stories are devoted entirely to the life of Mary: The Assumption is above the altar and four additional scenes are on the side wall. In the scene Birth of Mary, the annunciation to her parents, Anne and Joachim, is integrated into the background. The adjacent field unites the presentation of Mary in the temple, in which the child entered temple service, with her betrothal in the foreground in which the high priest wed the Virgin and Joseph. The Birth of Christ has the earlier scenes of the Annunciation to Mary and the Visitation in the background. The Adoration of the Kings completes the group of four frescoes.

The cycles in the two chapels, completed in succession, are closely related to each other. They correspond in not only in the form of the wall articulations but also in the structure of the content. Each of the paintings of the lower row in both cycles is a variation on the theme of the episode immediately above it and thus they comment on each other.