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October 29, 2020 to October 30, 2020
9:00am to 12:00pm
Zoom (details below)

CMRS Conference

Varallo and the Sacri Monti of Northwestern Italy

Thursday-Friday, October 29-30, 2020
9 am–12 pm Pacific Time

This conference, organized by Geoffrey Symcox (History, UCLA), explores the history and extraordinary art of the Sacri Monti and highlights the contributions of young scholars to this new field of research.

The cluster of pilgrimage centers known as the Sacri Monti, or Holy Mountains, in the western Italian Alps, is attracting increasing scholarly attention. In part this is because in 2003 they were named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, in recognition of their unique artistic character. The first Sacro Monte, at Varallo in the alpine foothills north of Turin, was founded in the late fifteenth century by a Franciscan friar, as a substitute version of Jerusalem for pilgrims who could not make the journey in person. He designed it as a topographical replica of the Holy Places, centering on the Holy Sepulcher. Subsequently, the artists working at Varallo in the sixteenth century, who were mainly local men, reconfigured this original topomimetic concept into a sequence of dramatic tableaux recounting the life and Passion of Christ. These were housed in individual chapels, and were composed of large numbers of realistic, life-size painted terracotta figures, backed by frescoes. In this form, Varallo became the prototype for a “second generation” of Sacri Monti founded at different places across the western Italian Alps in the seventeenth century under the impulse of the Counter-Reformation. Together, as UNESCO’s recognition attests, they constitute a cultural artifact unparalleled elsewhere in Italy or in the rest of Europe.

The conference will be held as two meetings on Thursday and Friday, October 29and 30, for about 3 hours each day. Speakers will make the full version of their papers available to all participants online at least a week before the conference, with ancillary materials as necessary. In their session they will give a brief summary of their paper, to be followed by remarks from a commentator, and discussion.

Please click here to register for the conference on Zoom.


9:00 – 9:10 am Pacific Time
Welcoming remarks by UCLA-CMRS Director Zrinka Stahaljuk

9:10 – 9:30        Geoffrey Symcox (History, UCLA)
"Changing Historical Perspectives on Varallo and the Sacri Monti"

9:30 – 9:50        Edoardo Tortarolo (University of Eastern Piedmont, Vercelli)
"Belated Religiosity: the Valsesia as a Terra Separata and the Ambiguity of Padre Giacobini"

9:50 – 10:20      Comment: Geoffrey Symcox (History, UCLA)
General Discussion

10:20 – 10:40   Break

10:40 – 11:00   Matthew Vester (History, West Virginia University)
"The Social and Economic Context of the Western Alps: Some Examples from the Val d’Aosta"

11:00 – 11:20   Marianne Ritsema van Eck (History, Leiden University)
"The Observant Franciscans, the Bedrock of the Sacri Monti"

11:20 – 11:50   Comment: Nicholas Terpstra (History, University of Toronto)
General Discussion


9:00 – 9:10 am Pacific Time
Announcements, etc

9:10 – 9:30        Grace Harpster (Art History, Georgia State University)
"Grates, Graffiti, and Sacred Sculpture: Reforming the Sacro Monte of Varallo under Carlo Borromeo"

9:30 – 9:50        Rebecca Gill (National Gallery, London)
"Mystery and the Multisensory at Galeazzo Alessi’s Sacro Monte di Varallo"

9:50 – 10:20      Comment: George Gorse (Art History, Pomona College)
General Discussion

10:20 – 10:40   Break

10:40 – 11:00   Kennis Forte (Art History PhD Candidate, Queens University, Ontario)
"Symptom and Symbol: Goiters as a Link between Art, Landscape and Local Devotion at the Italian Sacri Monti"

11:00 – 11:20   Carla Benzan (The Open University, London)
"Embodied Vision and the Sculptural Summit: Varallo/Novi Ligure/Milan"

11:20 – 11:50   Comment: Claire Farago (Art  & Art History, University of Colorado, Boulder)
Concluding Discussion led by Nicholas Terpstra (History, University of Toronto) and Geoffrey Symcox (History, UCLA)

Co-sponsored by the UCLA Department of History and the UCLA Division of the Humanities.

Please click here to register for the conference on Zoom.


Organized by Geoffrey Symcox (UCLA)

"Varallo and the Sacri Monti of Northwestern Italy"

Time: October 29th & 30th, 9:00am-12:00pm

Zoom registration links for Day 1 and Day 2