GAUDENZIO FERRARI AND THE RENAISSANCE
The set-up opens with a group of sculptures showing the evolution of art in Valsesia during the XV Century: the pieces were brought to the Museum from churches and oratories for the sake of collecting the treasures of the Valley, one of the guidelines of the ancient Museum.
A first group of works of Nordic taste proves the exchanges with different cultures from the North such as the Walser community, an ethnic minority of Germanic descent populating upper Valsesia. Examples are the four Busts of Female Saints, which are close to Nikolaus Weckmann the Elder (active in Ulm, 1481-1526), and the panel , probably created for private devotion, this work is ascribed to the Flemish artist Dieric Bouts (c. 1415-1475) and was sent to the Sacro Monte, before entering the collections of the museum.
A second group of sculptures testifies the works of many anonymous artists of Oriental Piedmont: the Saint John the Apostle and the Madonna with the Rose, still showing an archaic taste, and the Crucifix from Alagna.
The Sacro Monte, erected at the end of the XV Century, had a fundamental impact on the artistic history of the Valley, drawing the attention of many foreign artists and thus blending the local culture with the coeval artistic innovations in Lombardy. This new tendency is testified by the Head of a Man by an unknown artist, coming from one of the oldest chapels of the Sacro Monte, and the Stone of the Anointing, by the brothers Giovanni Pietro and Giovanni Ambrogio De Donati (active in Lombardy, 1478-1530 and 1484-1515), whose workshop was active in the territories of the Duchy of Milan.
The frescos representing the Assumption of Mary were also part of the originary cycle of the Sacro Monte: they were located in a chapel near the stop of the cable car, which was excluded from the itinerary in the 1930’s. The frescoes, dated after 1493, are now visible in the Pinacoteca in a set-up which recalls the original chapel, and are related to the work of the Milan painters Scotto and to the youth of Gaudenzio Ferrari (1475/1476-1546).
The panel of the (post 1497) can also be ascribed to Gaudenzio: originally in the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Varallo, it follows strictly the first works of the artist in the Sacro Monte. The Head of a Man Wearing a Red Hat, evoking Leonardo’s “character heads”, and the Head of a Young Man were probably part of the same fresco, maybe representing the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian: dated around the first half of the first decade of the XVI Century, these two works convey the influence of the artistic climate in Sforza’s Milan, dominated by Butinone and Bramantino.
More mature are the Head of Brother Leo (1507-1509) and the Head of Saint Peter Martyr (1515-1520), the last one recently attributed to the Novara artist Sperindio Cagnoli, apprentice and coworker of Gaudenzio, who probably based it on a drawing by his master: this is suggested by the resemblance with Brother Leo in the panel Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata (1515-1517), painted by Ferrari for the chapel bearing the same name in the Sacro Monte. Still later are the small tables representing the Doctors of the Church (1529), from the predella of the polyptych of Gattinara.