Fail or Critique?

Robert de Cotte “Adjusts” the Cappella della Sindone

De Cotte Sindone plan
Sindone plan Dissegni

Pierre Drevet, undated engraving of Robert de Cotte, Source: Yale University Art Gallery

Pierre Drevet, Robert de Cotte, undated engraving
Source: Yale University Art Gallery / public domain

The French architect Robert de Cotte (1656-1735) stopped in Turin in 1690 as part of a six-month study tour to Italy. Four drawings by de Cotte of Turinese buildings survive in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris: plans of three major palaces (Palazzo Graneri, Palazzo Carignano, and Palazzo Reale, discussed here), as well as a typical facade elevation with arcade on Piazza San Carlo.

The plan of the Palazzo Reale (seen in full below) also includes a detailed plan of the Cappella della Sindone – the chapel housing the Shroud of Turin – in its location where the palace abuts the cathedral.

While de Cotte depicts the correct number of openings and niches around the perimeter of the chapel (eight, seen in the uppermost image), he has placed them at regular intervals rather than in the more complex arrangement designed and built by Guarino Guarini beginning in 1667. In Guarini’s plan (second from top), the single wide bay between the two access staircases opening toward the high altar of the cathedral takes up a segment of the perimeter equal to that of two niches on the other side of the chapel. In effect, this single opening is a double bay, and the geometry of the building’s plan is based on a nine-part articulation of the perimeter, rather than the more conventional eight-part scheme indicated by de Cotte.

De Cotte’s pencil underdrawing for the plan literally underscores the difference between the building as built and as recorded by the French architect: the chapel in the study drawing has two major axes oriented toward the cathedral nave, as well as two diagonal axes, defining a regular eight-part division of the circular plan. Guarini’s engraved plan, instead, features an inscribed triangle representing the arches of the vaulting at the level of the false pendentives directly above the cornice ring of the first level, highlighting his articulation of the perimeter in units of three or nine.

On comparing the two plans, an obvious question arises: did de Cotte make a mistake while preparing his sketch of the chapel? Or did he intentionally “correct” Guarini’s unconventional design?

By 1690 major construction at the Cappella della Sindone was completed, although the chapel was not officially inaugurated until 1 June 1694 when the relic was deposited in the shrine atop Antonio Bertola’s central altar. Nonetheless, travelers could enter the chapel, and indeed de Cotte’s description of his visit to the building survives.* Plans of the chapel would have also been available to travelers, since Guarini’s Dissegni d’architettura civile, et ecclesiastica had been published in 1686, three years after the architect’s death. This volume included the plate illustrated here.

With ready access to the chapel, and published plans of it in circulation, any competent architect could have sketched a more or less accurate plan of the building embedded between the royal palace and the east end of the cathedral. One can only conclude that de Cotte’s plan of the Cappella della Sindone is to be understood as a critique, regularizing the plan to bring it in line with the more conventional architecture principles current in late seventeenth-century Paris. But one question remains: how did de Cotte imagine the vaulting of his “classicized” Shroud Chapel? We will probably never know, but it certainly would have been more traditional than Guarini’s marvelous solution.

The chapel is currently scheduled to reopen in 2017, twenty years after the tragic fire of 1997.

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Note and further reading:
*Valentina Assandria, Chiara Gauna, and Giuseppina Tetti, “L’architettura descritta: viaggiatori e guide a Torino tra Sei e Settecento,” in G. Dardanello, editor, Sperimentare l’architettura. Guarini, Juvarra, Alfieri, Borra e Vittone (Turin: Fondazione CRT, 2001): 325-345; here 331 and 337.

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Uppermost image: Robert de Cotte, Palazzo Reale, Turin, detail of Cappella della Sindone from plan of piano nobile, pen and ink with traces of pencil, 1690
Source: / Bibliothèque nationale de France

Second from top: Guarino Guarini, detail of “Pianta della Capella del S. Sudario di Torino,” Dissegni d’architettura civile, et ecclesiastica (Turin: Per gl’Eredi Gianelli,1686), plate 2
Source: Getty Research Institute / Internet Archive

Image below: Robert de Cotte, Palazzo Reale, Turin, plan of piano nobile, pen and ink with traces of pencil, 1690
Source: / Bibliothèque nationale de France

De Cotte Palazzo Reale

Pumpkins for Missionaries

Bartolomeo_Bimbi_-_The_Pumpkin_-_WGA02200Bartolomeo Bimbi, Pumpkins, 1711
Source: Wikimedia Commons / public domain

Travel Provisions for the Journey to India

The Theatine Bartolomeo Ferro (c. 1633- 1706) published his Istoria delle Missioni de’ Chierici Regolari, Teatini in two thick volumes in 1704 and 1705.  After many chapters recounting the adventures and hardships of the order during their mission work in Asia, he concluded the final volume with a suggested list of supplies to pack for the voyage to India. When the priests departed from Lisbon they should make sure to take things like utensils for celebrating mass, and also ample non-perishable foodstuffs such as wine and cheese.  In a special mention he recommends pumpkins because they “last for the whole voyage…and make the best soup there can be.”

“Portino molte Zucche di Lisbona, perche durano per tutto il viaggio, e per il viaggio dell’Indie è la miglior minestra, che possa darsi”

– Bartolomeo Ferro, Istoria delle Missioni de’ Chierici Regolari, Teatini, vol. 2 (Rome: Gio. Francesco Buagni, 1705): 672.

Happy Halloween, and remember to pack a few pumpkins wherever you’re going.

“A relick of high esteem”: An English Visitor in Turin and the Cult of the Shroud

The recent two-month ostension of the Shroud of Turin concluded this past week with the visit of Pope Francis. Now that the relic has been safely returned to its climate-controlled case in the cathedral, the Shroud reverts again to its usual state as an invisible presence in the city.

This inter-ostension condition of the Shroud is that experienced by the vast majority of travelers to Turin since the relic’s arrival there in 1578. Prevented from seeing the Shroud itself, written accounts of it by these visitors instead focus on the outer trappings associated with the cloth – the chapel containing it, images of it, and rituals involving it. This was also the case for those celebrating the New Year 1682 in the Savoy capital.

Stopping in Turin for the New Year 1681-2

Fitzroy Northumberland British Museum

Image: Portrait of George Fitzroy, Earl of Northumberland, as a boy in Roman costume, after Henri Gascar, last quarter of the seventeenth century Source: © The Trustees of the British Museum

The Beinecke Library at Yale University preserves a manuscript journal written by an English traveler in Italy during 1681-2.  The anonymous author was a member of the retinue of George Fitzroy, Earl (later Duke) of Northumberland (1665-1716), an illegitimate son of King Charles II of England.  Traveling in Italy from November 1681 to June 1682, the group stopped at Turin, Milan, Florence, Bologna, Naples, and Rome.  In Padua the diarist then separated from the main company, which proceeded to Venice, while the author continued on to Avignon.

Only one page of the manuscript has been digitized so far, but luckily for enthusiasts of Piedmontese Baroque, it is the page describing the party’s arrival in Turin on New Year’s Eve 1681. After a general description of the city, the journal entry immediately focuses on the ducal palace and Guarino Guarini’s chapel of the Holy Shroud, then nearing completion.

Northumberland Turin 1681 BeineckeImage: Relation of my voiage into Italy with my Lord Northumberland, fol. 6r (Osborn b352)
Source: The James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

Wee arrived at Turin on y.e last day of Decembre 1681. This city is well situated where the Doïre [i.e. Dora] a small river joins with the Po, there begins to bee navigable, for you find boats to carry you down to Venice. The buildings of the new city especialy look very stately. The town is furnisht with water by the Doïre they lett into y.e streets every night. Itt is surrounded with strong ramparts sett with young oak trees, that make a pleasant walk. The new pallace in y.e city is well built. You may see in itt a chappel all of black marble, built a purpose for y.e holy Sindon or winding sheet wherein they say our Saviour was wrapt up: a relick of high esteem the Effigie whereof is painted upon most of ye walls in Piemont. Itt is shewn in a publick place upon very extraordnary occasions, and then do resort to Turin a multitude of People, who are all bound to cast themselves upon their knees at y.e sight of itt. In this same pallace is y.e Royal Gallery full of pictures of severall good hands. There are many pieces of Titian as Christ’s whipping out of y.e temple the buyers and sellars. St Peters Denyal of his master &c …”

Here the single digitized page concludes.  Among other things, the journal entry reveals how popular images of the Shroud throughout the Savoy territories helped to prepare visitors for their experience at the reliquary chapel in the capital, heightening their anticipation, and how accounts of previous ostensions played a role in travelers’ experience of the city even when the Shroud was not on display during their stay.

A video (below) prepared by the city of Turin’s cultural portal documents many of these images of the Shroud, “painted upon most of y.e walls in Piemont.” For other examples, see this PDF, “Affreschi Sindone in Piemonte” (source).