(b. 1438, Forli, d. 1494, Forli)

View of the Sacristy of St Mark

Basilica of Santa Casa, Loreto

The Santuario della Santa Casa (Sanctuary of the Holy House) at Loreto was constructed in the fifteenth century to enshrine the Holy House (Santa Casa) of the Virgin Mary, which tradition held had been brought from the Holy Land to Loreto by angels in the fourteenth century. The heart of the sanctuary is an unprepossessing brick chapel, said to be the structure in which the Virgin Mary was born, received the Annunciation, lived with Joseph and her child after returning from Egypt, and finally died in the presence of the twelve apostles.

In its layout, the shrine consists of three-aisle arms ending in apses to the north, east, and south, and a six-bay nave extending to the west. The chapels off the nave were added only after 1507, by Bramante. Around the crossing, with the Santa Casa in the centre, are four octagonal rooms, closed off by doors, that are referred to simply as sacristies. Two of the four were painted in the fifteenth century, the Sacristy of St John by Luca Signorelli, and the Sacristy of St Mark by Melozzo da Forli.

There is a close connection between the gospel texts and the pictorial programs of the two painted sacristies. The paintings in the Sacristy of St Mark focus on the Passion, appropriately, since it is Mark who describes it in the greatest detail. The Gospel of St John, by contrast, places particular emphasis on the gathering of Christ's disciples and the mission of the apostles, and this is reflected in the paintings of the Sacristy of St John.

In Luca Signorelli's Sacristy of St John in Loreto, one is struck by the monumental figures in the wall compartments. In the Sacristy of St Mark, by contrast, it is the vaulting, with its deep, vivid colours, that immediately captures the viewer's attention. This eight-part Gothic vaulting is one of the most astonishing examples of monumental illusionistic wall painting from the fifteenth century. The wall area below it is conceived as an open arcade, the deep, coffered faces of its arches rendered in dramatic perspective. Through these wide arches, seen from below, one could at one time look out at seven scenes from the Passion, only one of which, Christ's entry into Jerusalem, survives.