38.5 cm x 26 cm, Etched broadside including engraved title and dedication to Bartolomeo Ceriani, with his arms. Cropped and mounted on laid paper, 38.5 cm x 26 cm (total dimension); 2 mm fault on left side just nicking the toes of one cherub, and 12 mm fault on right side with loss, repaired with ‘patch’ of cross-hatching from another engraving. Otherwise, good impression.
Unrecorded broadside giving a ‘true likeness’ of a miraculous medieval fresco re-discovered by builders during the destruction of a wall in Milan in 1651. Of interest for Counter-Reformation Christian archaeology as well as private devotion: this event appears to be little-recorded in contemporary or modern literature, and the present broadside may be one of the only surviving depictions of this medieval artwork. The wall, along with the fresco, was either destroyed or looted during the first quarter of the 19th century. The broadside depicts the fresco alongside vignettes, two of which give indications of how the image was venerated by contemporary viewers and its miraculous curative powers.
The ‘vero ritratto’ is in fact a considerable embellishment of the fresco (the original is pictured in miniature in the two lower vignettes), and not merely an antiquarian depiction – suggesting a devotional aspect to the print itself. The sanctity and efficacy of the original is thus transferred to the copy. In the etching, the edges of the semi-circle have been adorned with floral motifs and even Baroque vases, while cherubs have also been added perching on top of the scene. The work is dedicated, according to an engraved cartouche, to a certain Bartolomeo Ceriani of the Milanese noble family of that name.
The present print has left little trace in the relevant literature, and any specific local motive for its reproduction remains as yet unknown We have, however, located a well-researched pamphlet on the history of the Chiesa San Nicolao in Milan. The pamphlet draws on a 5-page MS composed by a local cleric during the 19th century for the following relevant information: “In the seventeenth century, probably in conjunction with the Baroque extension of the church, was found ‘a fine image of the Virgin, behind a wall of brick’. If this really suggests an ancient painting subsequently concealed, the fresco could possibly have belonged to the interior decoration of the 14th century church… The chapel was heavily remodeled in 1624… and perhaps on that occasion the ancient wall with the image was demolished. Historical research is in progress to attempt to understand if the image was removed from the wall and then lost along with the Church’s other possessions during the Napoleonic occupation [1805-1814].” Interestingly, the modern pamphlet suggests that the Madonna in question was the Madonna della Misericordia – an idea the present image clearly contradicts. We thus doubt that the compiler of the pamphlet – and indeed the 19th century cleric who described the fresco – had ever seen a reproduction of the actual Madonna, who is pictured here in a traditional pose with the infant Jesus.
* Not in ICCU or any other online library database consulted. Pamphlet cited is available online: http://www.milanoneicantieridellarte.it/cms/wpcontent/files_flutter/1301923211SanNicolao_storica.pdf