Baroque wooden altars in Upper Valle Camonica
Magnificent sculptures are the baroque altar sculptures, metaphoric explosions of shapes meant to surprise and deeply move while manifesting the extraordinary nature of the sacred. This voyage of discovery takes us to see the extraordinary wooden altars from the 17th / 18th century preserved in the churches of Upper Valle Camonica: true treasures, often unexpected, of great historical and artistic value, documents of deep and intense religious devotion attesting the skill and artistry of the ancient craftsmen.
The churches in Upper Valle Camonica contain, even in the smallest towns, a wealth of liturgical furnishings outstanding in quantity and quality.
The altars The 17th-18th-century altar is a total art work where the architectural elements, reliefs, statues, decorations and sacred ornaments make up devices of extraordinary material and iconographic richness, set in the spectacular shapes of the baroque. The altar, in finely carved gilded wood, is formed by a frontal (a decorated panel placed before the block of the Lord’s table), a stand with tabernacle (minute but very rich architecture raised on large steps, meant to contain and highlight the Eucharistic custody) and altarpiece (monumental frame placed on the end wall of the presbytery).
The images The altar is a monumental container of images: frontal, tabernacle and altarpiece are sculpted with very many figures: carved stories, big and small statues of God the Father, of Christ, of Mary and the saints, dozens of angels and plants, fruits, flowers, birds, monsters, vases, ribbons, etc. All the figures, included the ones which decorate the architecture, make up the articulated iconographic programs which supported and guided the education and the devoutness of the believers, celebrating at once the divine presence.
The wood artisans in history Most of the liturgical furnishings of the Upper Valley were made by the Ramus family: Giovanni Battista, to whom some big altarpieces are attributed, made in the middle of the 17th century, and his sons Pietro and Giovanni Domenico, who started a famous and efficient workshop in Mu of Edolo, their father’s hometown. After the apprenticeship in their workshop, Giovanni Battista Zotti joined them. Giovanni Giuseppe Piccini instead worked independently, accomplishing the very beautiful frontals of Cedegolo and Sonico.
The wood artisans today The tradition of artistic woodworking has been handed down to the present day. In the Upper Valley indeed some artisans are working employing the ancient procedures, they make new works or they operate, with great adroitness and delicacy, for the restoration of the historical handiwork.
Workmanship and gold The wooden altars of the Upper Valley show an extraordinary executive skill: in the complexity of the setups, in the quality of the minute and dense decoration and in the very rich inventory of reliefs and figures. Such richness is emphasized by the gilding which coats the surfaces making them shine and giving them a particular brightness, expression of the divine presence. All the communities, even the smallest and most secluded ones, got high quality altars, without skimping on work, on size, on gold; the outcome of such material and spiritual investment continues to marvel us.
The side altars have beautiful wooden altarpieces and frontals with a decorated panel in the middle, arranged with sculptured pilasters.
The very rich high altar, with altarpiece and tabernacle attributed to Pietro and/or G. Domenico Ramus, is flanked by side doors surmounted by enclosures for relics.
The church retains three valuable side altars attributed to Pietro Ramus; among them the altar of the Crib, which incorporates a small refined altarpiece from the 16th century and presents a very beautiful concertino of little musician angels.
The church contains, besides the beautiful high altarpiece attributed to G. Domenico Ramus, two little altarpieces-reliquaries and the small and valuable altarpiece of the Black Madonna.
The elegant altarpiece of the main altar is attributed to G. Domenico Ramus; interesting is the altarpiece of the altar of Saints Anthony Abbot and Anthony of Padua.
A precious wooden frontal attributed to G. Battista Zotti, finely carved with scenes from the side, is applied to the altar facing the people.
The very beautiful altarpiece of the high altar, signed G. Battista Zotti and dated 1701, presents a thick and original decoration and it is a true jubilation of angels.
The monumental altarpiece of the main altar, attributed to G. Domenico Ramus and/or G. Battista Zotti, impresses for its size and richness; it includes a little altarpiece with 16th-century statues of great refinement.
The beautiful altarpiece of the high altar, attributed to G. Battista Ramus, incorporates a little 16th-century altarpiece that a theft has unfortunately deprived, like the tabernacle and the frontal, of the sculpted figures.
The imposing high altar, extraordinarily rich both in architecture and in carved figures, includes the very beautiful altarpiece by Giuseppe Bulgarini and apse and frontal by G. Domenico Ramus and Clemente Buccella.
The small church contains a wealth of wooden furniture of exceptional quality, variety and wealth which includes, in addition to the main altar, the altars of the Holy Cross and Saint Anthony and Carlo.
The high altar and the altar of the Rosary have beautiful altarpieces by G. Domenico Ramus; the precious tabernacle of the first and the extraordinary frontal of the second are instead attributed to G. Battista Zotti.
The monumental altarpiece of the high altar is a work by G. Battista Ramus; the stand and the frontal are attributed to G. Domenico Ramus and/or G. Battista Zotti. On the whole there is an extraordinary architectural, decorative and iconographic richness. Among the important wooden works preserved in the church worth mentioning is the very beautiful 16th-century polyptych with statues attributed to the Maffeo Olivieri school.
A guide for you to discover the altars is the volume Magnificent Sculptures, baroque wooden altars of Upper Valle Camonica, by Virtus Zallot, published by the Cultural District of Valle Camonica and the Print Company Massetti Rodella Publishers, ISBN 978-88-8486-575-5. The book can be purchased at newsstands and bookstores of Brescia and Province, or online at: www.lacompagniamassetti.it. This publication illustrates characters and meaning of liturgical furnishings from the 17th / 18th-century presenting the context, architecture, images, craftsmen and techniques. It also includes insets with the analysis dedicated to the altars of the eighteen churches that make up the tourist route.