Processional group – S. M. Clemente

Calvary by Stefano Maria Clemente

The sculptural group depicts the Calvary with Christ on the cross, the Madonna, St John and Mary Magdalene. The work is a processional machine made between 1761-1763 (Mallé) by the sculptor Stefano Maria Clemente (1719-1794).

The wooden group was commissioned by the Archconfraternity of the Santo Spirito as a processional group. As long as the group remained in use, for about eighty years, it was housed in the chapel of the Crucifix. It was then definitively transferred to the chapel of the Madonna della Neve in 1842, which was created by first transferring the Franceschini canvas painting to the sacristy and then building a special niche to hold the processional group.

Stefano Maria Clemente was born in Turin on 23 March 1719. Vesme has reconstructed the genealogy of the Clemente family, a family of sculptors, based on the written memoirs of Vernazza, kept at the Accademia delle Scienze in Turin. In addition to information about Stefano Maria, biographical data are given for his brother, Giuseppe Maria, also a sculptor who died in 1763, and his son, Giovanni, who died in 1793.

Clemente joined the Company of Saint Luke in 1756, the year of its foundation, together with his brother Giuseppe Maria and other artists including Beaumont. From the following year, the Clemente family worked for the company together with other craftsmen, a collaboration that demonstrates the institutional nature of the company. Other collaborations can be identified in the creation of the processional machine of the parish church of Carmagnola (1751 – 1752) where, for the commission of the directors of the chapel dedicated to the Madonna of the Conception, we find Bernardo Cermenati and the Clemente working together with other artisan carvers, under the supervision and direction of a goldsmith from Carlo Emanuele III in order to guarantee ‘artisticness’.  In 1759, the two Clemente brothers were councillors associated with names such as V. Cignaroli and C. F. Beaumont of the Royal Studio. F. Beaumont of the Royal Painting Studio.

The Clemente worked for Corpus Domini during 1753 when the church was being embellished.  In addition to the city of Turin, Clemente also worked for the parish church of Pecetto Torinese, Chieri, Collegno, Orbassano and Bra, and for various Confraternities.

In an early period of his production, Clement was inspired by the paintings of  by Beaumont, and later followed a theatrical style typical of the Baroque period, proposed by Molinari and in the sculptural production of Bernero.

The focus of the sculptural group is on Our Lady of Sorrows, abandoned at the foot of the cross. The figure of St. John supports the Madonna mourned by Mary Magdalene. The compositional scheme recalls other works by Clemente, such as those made for the church of S. Francesco in Moncalieri or the Virgin of the Purification in Bra.

Clemente’s success during the 19th century probably made it possible to place the sculptural group in a prominent position in the Archconfraternity’s church as early as 1842.

The restoration, which lasted from February 2014 to September 2017, was an important opportunity to study the sculpture and restore it to its original condition. In fact, the original colours were unreadable due to the thick layers of repainting, which had been carried out during maintenance work over the centuries.

The group is made up of six main large elements sculpted in the round. These include the large base that reproduces the Gòlgota and on which the whole representation stands: the figure of Our Lady of Sorrows, the figure of St John, that of Mary Magdalene, the cross and finally Christ. There are also a series of smaller carved wooden elements to mask and plug inconsistent openings in certain parts of the group.

The figures, which make up the group, were made from several blocks of solid poplar wood of different sizes glued together and pivoted with wooden pins in order to form the useful volumes from which the figures were carved.
Where it was possible to observe the wood without finishing layers, due to the large gaps, it became clear that the various blocks were glued together always respecting the longitudinal direction of the grain. In this way the overall mass obtained maintains a homogeneity in the movements that the wood makes in its cycles of rheological adaptation to the climate of the environment where it is located. Only the heads of the figures and some portions such as the bust and arms are made from whole blocks of logs.

The figures are mostly hollow except for the arms and thinner portions such as the legs of the Christ figure.All the heads and busts are hollow, and this was achieved by creating temporary openings in the back of the figures to empty the centre of the wooden log that still retained the pith (scuorare). These ‘accesses’ were then closed during the execution. With the exception of the Christ, the lower portions of the other figures were carved mainly from the base.

The technique of hollowing out the figures had both the purpose of lightening the processional group for the displacements it was destined to, and that of reducing the tensions in the wood, especially in those cases in which, as for the heads or busts, whole portions of tree trunks were used, for which it was necessary to eliminate the pith (scuorare).

The figures are carved and painted in the round, and after carving, the entire surface was primed with animal glue and then prepared with a thin layer of chalk to receive the colour.

The only element that is not made out of wood is the cartouche: this was made out of painted sheet metal and is most likely a remake.

Prior to the restoration, the original paint layer was completely repainted and also covered by three or four layers of repainting. the original layer showed a widespread lacunar condition and in n several large portions was very thinned or abraded.

It is clear, in fact, that a number of maintenance operations were carried out on the entire surface of the group. Thanks to the different types of data collected during the restoration, the inscription on the back of the cartouche “Cav. G. Taverna | Restaurò | 1919” and the historical information in the archives, it was possible to provide a chronological hypothesis of the various maintenance operations that took place over the centuries, each of which can be linked to a different level of repainting.
As can be seen in the following images (pp. 19-21), at least three levels of repainting were identified and investigated using micro-samples embedded in resin and observed under a stereo microscope to identify the stratigraphy. It should be noted that the level indicated with no. 1 is the oldest one.

La pulitura è stata eseguita con svariati metodi e tecniche, messi a punto dopo molti mesi di test e sperimentazione. Oltre ai metodi tradizionali sono state impiegate altre modalità che consentissero di lavorare con maggiore precisione e con risultati altrimenti insperati. Tra le tecniche utilizzate si annovera il metodo di pulitura laser, ma soprattutto un sistema di micro sabbiatura a pressione controllata chiamato IBIX (visibile nella foto seguente). Questa tecnica ha consentito di assottigliare gli spessi e tenaci strati di sporco e ridipintura per ritrovare le finiture originali mediante un piccolo manipolo, delle dimensioni di una penna. Molte operazioni sono state condotte con l’ausilio del microscopio, fondamentale per calibrare la pulitura e rispettare gli strati originali di colore. 

Durante il riallestimento dell’opera è stato possibile riposizionare correttamente la figura della Maddalena che prima del restauro si trovava in una posizione più avanzata. Lo studio del gruppo e la comprensione del metodo costruttivo hanno permesso, in fase di rimontaggio di riproporre la corretta posizione di tutte le figure. La Maddalena infatti, si appoggia alla croce abbracciandola. 

I colori emersi hanno rivelato accostamenti cromatici pienamente Settecenteschi e di grande effetto. Il contrasto del verde e del rosso, rispettivamente della veste e del manto di San Giovanni, il blu e il colore lacca di garanza della veste della Madonna con il velo inaspettatamente verde, il colore indaco del cappuccio legato sul petto della Maddalena e, infine, il decoro molto ammalorato ma ancora apprezzabile, del perizoma del Cristo, figura della quale è stato possibile anche recuperare la bellezza e finezza cromatica dell’incarnato.

La chiesa dello Spirito Santo è resa fruibile, anche, grazie alla collaborazione con i Volontari del Touring Club per il Patrimonio Culturale impegnati nel progetto Aperti per Voi che a livello nazionale dal 2005 rende godibili palazzi, musei, monumenti, aree archeologiche e chiese; luoghi di cultura “adottati” dal Touring Club Italiano e animati da incontri, concerti, mostre e che ha già superato i tre milioni di visitatori.

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