Il trionfo di S. Gaudenzo primo vescovo, e protettore dell'inclita città di Novara nel solennissimo glorioso trasporto del sacro adorabile suo corpo seguito alli 14. giugno dell'anno 1711.
Milan: nella Regia Ducal Corte, per Marc'Antonio Pandolfo Malatesta stampatore regio camerale, 1711.
Quarto: 23 x 18.8 cm. , 154, (blank) p. π4, A-S4, T6 (with T6 blank and present.) With added engraved frontispiece and 7 engraved plates.
Bound in contemporary limp parchment (lightly soiled and a bit warped). A broad-margined copy, complete with all of the plates. There are small splits at the folds of the large plate showing the church interior and another in the blank margin (all easily mended); smaller tears to folds of several other plates, with no loss (again, easily mended). The plate of the church façade has dimensions of the church written in pencil, on the outer blank margin. Light soiling to engraved title, scattered finger-soiling to the occasional leaf, marginal foxing to a handful of leaves (E1, G2, K4, L4), ink spots on leaf C4r. Adhesion scar and light discoloration at fold of the portrait plate. The plates are engraved by Paolo Bianchi, Simone Durello, Federico Agnelli, and others after designs by Pier Francesco Prina. The plate of the scurulo (the chapel in which the saint's tomb resides), by Durello, is signed 1712.
An illustrated account of an important Lombard Baroque festival. The book commemorates one of the signal artistic-religious-cultural events in the history of Novara: the translation, on 14 September 1711, of the relics of the city's patron saint, San Gaudenzio, to the crypt of the basilica that bears his name. The frontispiece shows the solemn procession overseen by the saint, who observes from the sky the sumptuous spectacle that takes place during the transport of his earthly body.
The elaborate festivities lasted for eight days and included a procession, music provided by two choirs, two orchestras, and a host of soloists; and a spectacular fireworks display. The festival called for sumptuous decorations for the basilica as well as for the houses that lined the processional route. Elaborate temporary architectural structures were erected, including a towering "machine" constructed for the fireworks spectacle.
The large plates illustrate the procession, views of the façade and interior of the Basilica (including the chapel prepared for the relics), an architectural plan of the church, the ark bearing the relics (with the saint's body visible through the crystal enclosure), and the fireworks. The Novarese artist Pier Francesco Prina, who made the drawings upon which the engravings were based, also designed the festival apparatus.
The procession involved the entire city as it wound its way through the streets and piazzas on its way to the Basilica of San Gaudenzio, and all the houses and churches were adorned for the occasion. The most elaborate and beautiful décor was reserved for the basilica, described here in all its architectural detail. The church itself was transformed into something of a theatrical space where the crowd could marvel at the music, installations, the magnificent architecture augmented by rich fabrics and paintings, sculptures, and the beautifully adorned altars.
The author of the account, Girolamo Antonio Prina tries to impart the impact that these elaborate ceremonies and spectacles had on the audience, vividly describing every aspect of the scenes in rich details, such as the houses decorated with tapestries and drapes of silk and damask. To this end, the engravings, produced by the Fabbrica of the basilica, were crucial, Prina tells us "so that we can see in them what I wanted to represent with my pen." The result is a successful synthesis of the three different aspects of the Baroque idea of a "triumph", 1. In its social dimension as a public celebration of an exceptional person, 2. In the celebration of "glory", in this instance the spiritual victory of the saint rather than a military victory or apotheosis, and the theatrical dimension, here in the form of a public spectacle.
Notes on some of the plates:
The engraving of the façade of the church, engraved by Paolo Bianchi, shows monumental sculptures, created for the occasion, flanking the main portal. To either side are important painted canvases (by the Fiammenghini), with placards, the texts of which are indistinct but are transcribed in the text. The ark with the remains of the saint can just be seen inside of the church.
Another engraving shows the ornate silver ark of the saint's relics with the saint's body, in its full episcopal regalia, visible within the crystal enclosure.
The view of the scurolo, dated 1712, gives a minute representation of every aspect of the interior, including the altar, ark, paintings, and the floor. Interestingly, the artist has filled in the niches (which at that date were still empty) with figures. This is particularly interesting, considering that in the same description of the sacello in the text, it is mentioned that the empty niches were destined to accommodate "bronze statues representing (personified) virtues of the Saint". The two prelates depicted are not precisely identifiable beyond their episcopal attributes, but they might portray San Adalgiso and Sant'Agabio, statues of whom did end up occupying those spaces 30 years later.
Perhaps the most valuable of the prints, from an art-historical perspective, is the magnificent view is the of the interior of the basilica, which captures not only the scene within the church at the end of the procession, with the crush of people gathered in the nave, and the lavish ephemeral adornments created for the occasion, but also the original cupola before its destruction. This print is, according to Dell'Omo, the only visual witness to the original cupola.
Vying with the image of the interior is the image of the towering "Macchina del Fuoco", shown during the fireworks display that marked the close of the festival, a momentary and ephemeral "Trophy of the Saint's Glory." For a detailed description and analysis of this apparatus, see Pier Giorgio Longo, " La macchina del fuoco per Il Trionfo di san Gaudenzio, 1711."
Further reading: Parts of this description are freely translated from Marina Dell' Omo's "La basilica di San Gaudenzio dalle pagine del Trionfo di Gerolamo Antonio Prina: un percorso di parole e immagini."
Berlin Katalog 3241