The first 'vele'
The restoration process
It might be correct to say that the subjects of the “transparents” of Mendrisio belong to the sacred history but it is certainly limiting and, on the other hand, without knowing their history and without distinguishing their different origins, it is impossible to identify a consistent drawing.
We know 18 subjects of the first series of “doors” perhaps ordered by BrotherAntonio Maria Baroffio between 1789 and 1794 (and probably until his death in 1798). They interweave the Way of the cross (Via Crucis) and the Way of the Mother (Via Matris), the canonical Gospels and other sources. The parallelism between the two figures is confirmed by the words on one of the two “arches” attributed to Bagutti (perhaps the shelves of one of the “doors” that has disappeared), and exhibited in Via Nobili Rusca today, «Passio filii erat passio Matris.» Considering the remaining works, we also notice that the figure of Mary is often placed in such as way as to be at least on the same level as that of her son. We can thus conclude that one of the purposes of this production was to promote the purchasers, the Servants of Mary, as this was deemed necessary in difficult times for the friars. But more noble intentions are revealed by studying other scenes. For instance, in the scene of the Flagellation, Christ is tied to a half conical pillar, perhaps derived from the one preserved in the Roman Church of Saint Praxedes, which is considered original, endowing the scene with a certain “historical value.” Even the decision to dedicate two works to the theme of Jesus praying in Gethsemane, one has survived and the other has disappeared, in which Christ awakens the apostles, was perhaps designed to underscore the intention of the entire series, namely to encourage the faithful to participate in religious events.
Another series, the so-called “Viscardi series” probably of the early 1800s, underscores iconographic choices resulting from excellent knowledge of the sources, since they are made up of nine pairs of scenes with on the left a scene of the New Testament and on the right one of the Old Testament; for instance, Christ in the sepulchre and Jonah in the whale, Christ being mocked and Samson at the grinding wheel; Jude selling Jesus and Joseph sold by his brothers.
As ecclesiastical supervision diminished over the choice of subjects, we observe, on the one hand, a repetition of the same scenes, or an expansion to include others presenting logical Jewish “antecedents” (Cain and Abel, the sacrifice of Isaac, the stories of Moses), or the in troduction of others that are less evidently related to the theme of the Passion, while being centred on the life of Christ (the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus handing the keys to Peter), and on the other hand we notice “harmless” and trite choices, such as The face of Christ or of Mary, or of Magdalene, or of a prophet or angel, not to mention objects related to the Passion (nails, spears, etc.), or cartouches. A couple of transparents ― which are, unfortunately, not displayed anymore ― stand out, dedicated almost entirely to geometrical decorations with a few sacred symbols, partly determined by the difficulty their authors had in representing figures, achieving decidedly better results than the poor workmanship of amateur copies of famous works. One could be defined as "lay" with decorations surrounding the Swiss flag. It is said that the purchaser, clearly generous and perhaps also an atheist, wanted to participate in the town's event without renouncing to courteously state his ideals. I find this the best evidence of the strength and vitality of this hundred year tradition, beyond every creed and ideology related to brief historical periods.