The first 'vele'
The restoration process
The only three or four items produced at the time the “transparents” first appeared are notes and drafts of letters from the Prevost of Mendrisio complaining about the audacious initiative of the Servants of Mary within the traditional procession of Good Friday. Among other things it specifies that the “doors,” despite being undoubtedly managed by Brother (apostrofo) Antonio Maria Baroffio, had been paid for by the owners of the houses on which they were hung, thus touching the delicate topic of their actual "ownership.” On the other hand, in 1794 the Municipality reimbursed the friar for the expenses incurred by him to make “new lamps.” Failing other documents, which must have existed, we can only suppose that the issue was not raised again until the convent was closed down, when at least all the large “doors" became the property of the Municipality. But generally, the subjects and dimensions had, anyhow, been chosen by the convent. And yet, while the friars were still in the town, the Municipality had already ordered without doubt some new “transparents” in 1838, namely a series of “large lamps” to be placed in Corso Bello, with a few holy scenes on both sides of the coat of arms of the Municipality, two lamps for the procession and one to be hung on the arch of one of the large doors of the town. Even the inventory of Casa Torriani in 1848 records 12 “large lamps” owned by them. Since two balconies have survived to date, there is a general opinion that they were not lamps but works to be displayed under the windows of the palazzo. These two documented cases and various existing paintings provide evidence of multiple purchasers, precisely the friars for the first “major” works, the Municipality for many others, and the individual owners for all (da aggiungere) the rest. The presence of the courts of arms of the Servants of Mary and of the Municipality, respectively, on some lamps confirms the intention to visually indicate the ownership of the item but, as in many other works of art, some less obvious devices can also be found. For instance, the small series of balconies hanging under the windows of Casa Soldati at the beginning of Corso Bello has Spanish words written on the sides, perhaps recalling the fortune their purchaser made in South America. Even the choice of the subjects must, in some cases, be determined by the intention of the owners, as proven by two quite recent paintings by Silvano Gilardi, namely the Nativity at the beginning of Via Stella, specifically requested by the purchasers in 1986 in memory of their son, or Noah's ark in Piazza del Ponte, ordered by Ada Binaghi in 2000 to express the extent of her spontaneous generosity even towards animals.