Votive Statues

One of the most fascinating aspects from a historical point of view is the wooden scaffolding on either side of the nave of the Sanctuary. Here the structure is composed of columns framing niches arranged on two levels. Above is a triumph of spires, while the entire surface is sprinkled with yellowish decorations. These are eyes, hands, breasts, angels, babies in swaddling clothes, hearts and other anatomical elements, made of wax and attached to the wooden structure with pitch to form decorative motifs.

These are votive offerings that were printed in the convent, using part of the wax that pilgrims brought as gifts. The niches house, instead, life-size statues. Although considered by many to be made of papier-mâché, they are, instead, multi-material, i.e. almost entirely composed of a wooden structure with elements of chalked and painted canvas, and carved, painted and gilded wood. They depict the illustrious visitors (last bay on the right side) and those miraculously visited by the Madonna, ladies and warriors.

Impressive are the figures of those condemned to death, and in particular the statue with the executioner Giovanni da Volta Mantovana, known as Giuanìn dla Masöla: in this case too, something went wrong during the execution and the condemned man was freed as the failure to behead him was considered a divine sign of his innocence. Also worth mentioning are the niches that are now empty: here were the statues depicting the Gonzaga warriors.

Between the 1920s and 1930s, an English scholar, James Gow Mann, realised that these sculptures were largely made of real armour. They were therefore removed from the scaffolding and disassembled, bringing to light the most important collection of Lombard Gothic armour existing in the world, now preserved in the Museo Diocesano in Mantua. The importance of such armour is enormous: suffice it to say that 'B3' is painted in Mantegna's Madonna della Vittoria, now in the Louvre, worn by Marquis Francesco II Gonzaga.

For further information click here: Sanctuary bibliography and insights

Santuario delle Grazie
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