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The Chapel of the Shroud, 1st part

The following is an article by Ignacio Huertas on Guarini and Bertola and the Chapel of the Shroud. In this first part he will focus on learning about the authors of the Chapel and the altar and, in a second part, we will learn about the greatest work of art created to honor the Shroud.


On April 11, 1997, flames devoured the Shrine Chapel in Turin. Providentially, the Shroud emerged unscathed from that event. Twenty-five years have passed and the restoration of the Guarini Chapel and the Bertola altar has been completed. It is therefore an excellent opportunity to contemplate and analyze the environment in which the relic was kept: who were Guarino Guarini and Antonio Bertola, how did the Shroud arrive in Turin and why did it remain there, what is the symbolism of the chapel? We will analyze these aspects to better understand one of the spiritual centers of Turin and the entire Church.

1. Man

(a) Guarino Guarini

Guarino Guarini, one of the most important figures of the Italian Baroque, was born on January 17, 1624 from the marriage of Raimundo and Eugenia Marescotti. The family home was located next to the convent of the Theatine regular clerics. It was with them that he began his studies. The Theatines encouraged students to study subjects of scientific application, and many of them became architects [1].

In 1639, in imitation of his older brother, he entered the Theatine order. He studied in Rome for six years. During his novitiate in the monastery of San Silvestro al Quirinale, he studied architecture, theology, philosophy and mathematics. The abundant Roman architectural activity and the work of the great masters of the Baroque will act as a leaven for Guarini, who will develop an impeccable construction technique and an efficient and reliable method of work[2]. If we combine all of this with the rigorous asceticism and deep interiority that the Theatine order conveys to Guarini and his enormous mastery of geometry and mathematics, we have the essential keys to understanding the work of this great architect, which causes him to transcend the fashions of the time and create a very personal language that will greatly influence the Italian Baroque. As Meek says[3], he eludes any attempt at classification. His work will be based on a deep mastery of construction technique, drawn in part from the Gothic tradition[4]. He made personal use of some structural and decorative elements, such as the Solomonic pilasters, trilobed oculi, and asymmetrical cartouches.

In 1641 he took his first vows. During his stay in Rome he was strongly influenced by the architectural work of Pietro Berrettini, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini.

In 1645 he arrived in Venice where he deepened his theological studies and received the subdiaconate. In 1647 he returned to Modena and the following year was ordained a priest on January 17. In 1648 he was appointed auditor of the Theatine house and, the following year, in charge of the construction of the church of St. Vincent, begun in 1617 and about to be completed. However, the unreliability of the project and financial problems led to the suspension of the work. In 1653 he submitted a design for a dome, which was never completed.

In 1655 he was appointed superior of the house of Modena, revoked at the end of the year and expelled from the city over the opposition of the court of justice, being incorporated into the community of Parma. Between 1660 and 1662 he was in Messina, called to build the façade and convent of the Church of the Annunziata. The facade will be defined as a flattened version of a telescopically developed three-dimensional space[5]. Unfortunately, it was damaged by the 1783 and 1894 earthquakes and was destroyed by the 1908 earthquake.

In 1662 he returned to Modena because of his mother's illness. Here he was commissioned to build tombs in the church of S. Vicenzo (which would never be built) and produced a design for the church's facade. He presented a facade in which the absence of the terminal gable would become a recurring motif in his architectural language[6].

In the fall of 1666 he arrived in Paris. During his stay, he combined his work as an architect with teaching theology and writing the work Placita philosofica physicis rationibus experientiis, matemathicisque ostensa[7], a compendium of his research in physics, astronomy, philosophy and mathematics, published in 1665. During this period he directed the construction of the church of Ste Anne-la-Royale, completed with an overlay of truncated domes and lanterns. The church was demolished in 1823. He also drew up plans for a grand palace.

In 1666 he returned to Turin to complete the commission for the church of San Lorenzo, one of his most emblematic works. Here we find the duke of Savoy wanting to keep Guarini in Turin, as is clear from his correspondence with the Superior General of the Theatines. The duke already intended to entrust him with the construction of the ducal chapel of the Holy Shroud, a work he undertook in 1668[8].

In the church of St. Lawrence, the plan is based on a square covered by a dome on spandrels over chapels, which fill the corners of the square and combine the concave and convex. With this interplay of chapels, the square space becomes undulating. The dome is made up of intersecting semicircular arches, forming an octagonal dome[9].

On May 19, 1668, Duke Charles Emmanuel II appointed Guarini master engineer of this Chapel of the Most Holy Shroud with all the honors, authority, pre-eminence and prerogatives and whatever else of his office [....] and with the salary of one thousand silver lire in money, twenty each year, beginning at the beginning of January of the following year[10].

Since the late 16th century there had been plans for a chapel for the custody and display of the Shroud, designed by Pellegrini and Carlo di Castellamonte. The project had been commissioned in 1657 to Bernardino Quadri, assisted by Amadeo di Castellamonte[11].

The chapel is located on the main floor of the ducal palace and is accessed from the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist via two staircases on either side of the chancel. In 1666 the project was suspended due to technical difficulties with the dome[12]. Before long, Guarini drew up a design that he had to modify to fit what had already been built, which was somewhat puzzling: the drum was raised on three arches bent inward, reducing the span by a quarter[13]. The drum, hollowed out by six large arched windows and supported by a ring-shaped gallery, supports the dome, the weight of which rests on the outer walls. The lower part of the dome simulates immense development and depth, thanks to the grid of twelve masonry ribs, pressed together in the keystone by a twelve-pointed star that inscribes the impost of the lantern with a vaulted termination like Borromini's St. Ivo. The curved ribs, framing the slender window openings, are fastened by a double circle of metal weaves to form a lattice structure of stone and iron masonry, relieved by a myriad of windows and almost devoid of horizontal thrusts[14].

In 1671 he returned to Modena with an obligation to return to Turin. The Duke of Modena, Francesco II d'Este, pressured Guarini to return to his hometown. Guarini, immersed in the construction of the Chapel of the Shroud and San Lorenzo, refused and a long dispute began between the Duke of Modena and the Savoy family to allow Guarini to continue his work. On this date he published a compendium of mathematical and geometrical studies, Euclides adauctus et methodicus mathematique universalis. In 1674 he published a handbook for draughtsmen, builders and measurers to facilitate the calculation of surfaces and volumes already made, Mode of measuring fabrications[15].

Between 1673 and 1674, Charles Emmanuel II commissioned him to design the Church of the Immaculate Conception, beginning in 1675[16]. In 1676, renovation of the Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy-Carignano castle in Racconigi began. The goal was to transform the medieval castle into a French-style palace and garden[17]. This is the first time Guarini designed a building and demonstrated total control over large-scale residential typology. In the field of theoretical research, he also dedicated himself to fortifications[18].

1679 was a very fruitful year. He was appointed superior of the convent of the Theatines in Turin and worked on plans for Palazzo Carignano and Palazzo Madama, the church of San Filippo Neri in Turin, and the Jesuit college for nobles in Piazza San Carlo[19]. Between 1679 and 1680 he developed the theme of the private residence with designs for Palazzo Graneri, the castle of Count Francesco Ottavio Solaro in Govone, and the country villa in Grugliasco for the butler of Manuel Filiberto de Carignano. .

However, the church of St. Philip Neri is the focal point of the research on sacred space with a longitudinal plan that combines the circular modules of the design of the church of the confraternity of St. Catherine in Ceva and of the Theatine church of St. Mary Ettinga in Prague (drafted in Turin and sent to Bohemia). Catherine in Ceva and of the Theatine church of St. Mary Ettinga in Prague (drafted in Turin and sent to Bohemia)[20].

On June 9, 1680, Emanuele Filiberto appointed Guarini as his house theologian, a prestigious position with a substantial salary of 400 liras per year. To this period date his designs for several European churches, including Santa Maria della Divina Provvidenza in Lisbon[21].

In 1681 the dispute between Modena and Turin over Guarini's services continued[22]. In February 1683 he went to Milan to continue production of his work Coelestis mathematicae pars prima et secunda. His great work, Dissegni d'architettura civile et ecclesiastica", remained unpublished and a first collection of plates was published in 1686 in Turin[23]. Guarini's civil architecture is imbued with the dryness, character and training of Guarini, who conceives of it as a branch of mathematics. He divides it into five treatises: general architecture, iconography, high orthography, fused orthography and geodesy. For him, architecture must take into account the rationalist assumptions of philosophical thought and new experimental research. The renewal he proposes concerns proportions and symmetry, syntactic foundations of architectural vocabulary, which it is permissible to derogate in favor of a measured optical illusion, partly borrowed from the Gothic language[24].

Guarini considers architecture as a living organism[25], whose supporting structures, exposed in all their vital force, are like the constituent elements of a petrified organic system, where the forms, as he himself writes, are an expression of the "spontaneous movement of expansion and contraction [....] extended to the whole living being."[26].

In this work he also extensively documents unrealized projects and buildings that have disappeared. On a theoretical level, Guarini's treatise is one of the first manifestations of interest in Gothic architecture after a long period of neglect. Publication of the treatise was prepared by a follower and admirer of his work, architect Bernardo Antonio Vittone[27].

Guarino Guarini died on March 6, 1683, in Milan.

b) Antonio Bertola[28]

He was born in Muzzano on November 8, 1647. He studied law but did not practice, devoting himself to the study of mathematics and engineering. He was master of arithmetic for pages (1679), royal emblazoner, secretary of state (1695) and master of fortifications and arithmetic (1699).

He was a civil architect and in 1677 erected the Church of the Crucifix, now destroyed. He continued Guarini's work in the Chapel of the Shroud, where he erected the central altar in 1694. Through this work he came into contact with the Guarini school. In 1696 he designed the church of Madonna delle Vigne near Trino Vercellese.

He was engineer to the prince of Carignano, for whom he worked on the high altar of the church of S. Fillipo in 1699. As a military architect he became famous during the siege of Turin in 1706, after which he was appointed civil and military architect to the Duke of Savoy in 1708. Between 1703 and 1710 he built the hospital of SS. Anunziata in Savigliano. In 1711 he designed a new hospital for Fossano.

In the period of his activity in Garove and the arrival of Fillipo Juvarra (1714)[29] exercised undisputed supremacy over Turin architecture. His architecture is more seventeenth-century than eighteenth-century, which is why he is considered more of a seventeenth-century author than an initiator of eighteenth-century architectural research.

He died in Muzzano in 1719.


[1] H. A. MEEK, Guarino Guarini and His Architecture, Yale University Press, London 1988, p. 5-8.

[2] N. MARCONI, "Guarini, Guarino," in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, vol. 60, Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana, Rome 2003.

[3] H. A. MEEK, Guarini, Electa, Milan 1991, p.9.

[4] Cfr. P. MARCONI, "Guarino Guarini and the Gothic," in Guarino Guarini and the Internationality of the Baroque, Academy of Sciences, Turin 1970, pp. 613-631.

[5] H. A. MEEK, Guarini, o.c. p.27.

[6] A. ROCA DE AMICIS, "Notizie su Guarino Guarini nell'Archivio Generale dei Teatini," in Regnum Dei, CXX(1994), pp. 69-103.

[7] G GUARINI, Placita Philosophica ... physicis rationibus, experientiis, mathematicisque figuris ostensa, Dionysium Thierry, Paris 1665.

[8] G. DARDANELLO - S. KLAIBER - H. A. MILLON - Guarini, Ed. Umberto Allemandi, Turin 2007, p.43-44.

[10] G. TIRABOSCHI, Biblioteca modenense, Modena 1783, III, s. V, p.37

[11] H. A. MEEK, Guarini, o.c. p.27.

[12] N. MARCONI, "Guarini, Guarino" o.c.

[13] H. A. MEEK, Guarini, o.c. p.88.

[14] G. DARDANELLO - S. KLAIBER - H. A. MILLON - Guarini...p.48.

[15] G. GUARINI, Modo di misurare le fabriche, Eredi Gianelli, Turin 1674. As a curiosity, the scanned edition, downloadable from Google, has an error in the date, indicating MDLCXXIV, instead of MDCLXXIV, which makes the date of edition illegible, unless one goes to p.6 where it appears in Arabic numerals.

[16] L. TAMBURINI, "The Church of the Immaculate Conception in Turin," in Guarino Guarini.

and the internationality of the baroque, Academy of Sciences, Turin 1970, pp. 385-397.

[17] H. A. MEEK, Guarini, o.c. p.101.

[18] Cf. G. C. SCIOLLA, "Notes on Guarini's "Treatise on Fortification," in Guarino Guarini.

and the internationality of the baroque, Academy of Sciences, Turin 1970, pp. 513-529.

[19] See. G. DARDANELLO - S. KLAIBER - H. A. MILLON - Guarini...p.175-252.

[20] Cfr. D. DE BARNARDI FERRERO, "Guarini's Longitudinal Churches," in Guarino Guarini and the Internationality of the Baroque, Academy of Sciences, Turin 1970, pp. 415-424. H. A. MEEK, Guarini, o.c. p.149.

[21] Cf. F. CHUECA GOITIA, "Guarini y el influjo del barroco italiano en España y Portugal," in Guarino Guarini e l'internazionzionalità del barocco, Accademia delle scienze, Turin 1970, pp. 528-529.

[22] G. GUARINI, Civil Architecture 1683, introduction by N. CARBONERI, notes and appendix by B. TAVASSI LA GRECA, ed. Il Polifilo, Milan 1968, p. XVII-XVIII..

[23] G GUARINI, Dissegni d'architettura civile et ecclesiastica, ed. by the heirs of Gianelli, Turin 1686..

[24] N. CARBONERI in G. GUARINI, Architecture..., p. XXIII.

[25] Cf. G. GRITELLA, "Baroque Architecture and the New Challenges of Building," in The Italian Contribution to the History of Thought, Technique 2013, in

[26] G.  GUARINI, Placita philosophica, 1665, p. 755.

[27] E. VÁZQUEZ LÓPEZ, Teoría e historia de la arquitectura, in

[28] Cf. N. CARBONERI, "Bertola, Antonio," in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, vol 9, Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana, Rome 1967..

[29] The greatest architect of his time. For more on his figure, see J. L. SANCHO GASPAR, Fillipo Juvarra, Real Academia de la Historia, in

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