The first 'vele'
The restoration process
The first documented production of "transparents” dates back to the controversial political period that ranges from the removal of the last landvogt in 1798 to the establishment of the new Canton in 1803. Even the Italian events had their impact on life in Mendrisio. In any case the religious life of the canton remained anchored to the Diocese of Milan and Como until 1885. The key event that affected the processions in Mendrisio was the moment convents were closed down, including the one of the Servants of Mary in 1852. As long as the friars lived in the town, it is ascertained that at least the paintings of the 10 large “doors,” along with those for the church and the convent, were taken care of by them. But already in 1838 the Municipality requested artist Augusto Catenazzi to produce 12 “large lamps” to be placed in Corsobello, and the subjects were chosen by Fr. Giuseppe Franchini, as recorded by him in his “Diary.” We can imagine that many citizens wanted to decorate their houses with additional “transparents” that were easier to handle and preserve privately; hence, the number of these works multiplied. Perhaps the “Viscardi series” in Piazza del Ponte belongs to this period. It presents, side by side, the scenes of the Old and New Testament, and works in Piazzetta Borella, especially those on the house of artist Antonio Baroffio. They present some similarities with his Neoclassical painting, though the technique used does not make them actually “transparent.” Control over all the events partly diminished after the departure of the Servants of Mary, and they gradually died out. Some prevosts complained about the lack of respect shown by participants in the processions, new constructions induced the organisers to find other positions for the “doors,” and some were even reinstalled without any consideration for consistency between the central subject and the lateral ones. Even fires and poor conservation contributed to create deficiencies in the original series. Finally, the superficial approach to the event, which had become a popular theatrical show, determined the production of “transparents” with subjects that were inconsistent with the theme of the passion of Christ and of the Sorrows of Mary. The quality was often poor and dimensions were small. The large, expertly produced works by Giuseppe Monti who had studied in Brera stand out, including the spectacular Sacrifice of Isaac in the large entrance door in Via San Damiano.