Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The Stunning Paintings of the Gifted Jesuit-Artist Antonio Moscheni.

Inside the St. Aloysius Chapel. 
During our visit to Mangalore, on the way back from green Sullia, we visited the St. Aloysius chapel. I was so awed and inspired by the paintings inside the Chapel that I think it warrants one post dedicated to the master artist- Antonio Moscheni, the man behind the stunning art.
The Chapel from outside. 
Let me begin by talking a bit about the Chapel. The St. Aloysius Chapel was built in 1882. The southern wing of the building was reserved as a Chapel as a place of prayer for the students. The Chapel has a large prayer hall with 2 aisles on the side. There are paintings on the ceiling of the main hall, the arches and also the ceilings and walls of the aisles. The paintings on the ceilings are done on canvas and the ones on the walls are fresci.
On the ceiling are oil paintings and the walls have fresci. 
The central rows of paintings on the ceiling depicts the life of St. Aloysius to whom the Chapel is dedicated. The paintings depict his childhood, his first communion, seeking admission to the Jesuit order, his service to people during plague in Rome and so on.
The borders that you see on the walls and around the paintings are all painted. 
The sloping part of the ceilings depict the Apostles. Antonio’s love for flowers can be seen in his paintings, as each panel has a different variety of flowers, and very much life like.
The upper arches of the main hall also depict the lives of the Saints of the Church. The life of Jesus is portrayed on the paintings in the aisle. The largest painting in the Chapel is on the rear wall, opposite the main altar. It shows Jesus with a group of children and is considered the best of Moscheni’s work. Due to seepage of rain water the painting was damaged due to fungus and calcium carbonate crystals but has been now restored, excepting the right hand bottom corner to show the difference between the damaged and restored part.
The largest painting in the Chapel, of Jesus with children is considered as Antonio's best work. 
The stones or bricks with which the whole Chapel is paved were brought from Bergamo in Italy. It gives the illusion of steps.
The tiles for the flooring were brought from Bergamo which gives the illusion of steps. 
It was in 1899, that Brother Anotnio Moscheni was called from Italy to infuse colour and life in the walls  of the Chapel. Brother Antonio was born in Stezzano in Italy on January 17, 1854. He attended the famous Academia Carrara in Bergamo and went on to study in detail and contemplate the master pieces in the Vatican as well for a year. He had also earned a great reputation as a master painter decorating the Sanctuary of Madonna Del Campo in Bergamo. His recognition as a world class painter came during the official exhibitions of his paintings in Milan and Turin in 1883 and 1884 respectively. But he chose to enroll himself as a lay brother in the Society of Jesus in 1889. The senior Jesuits recognized his talent and lest it go waste, after his novitiate,  deputed him to paint churches in Albania and Piacenza.

The statue of Brother Antonio Moscheni. 
He was then asked to go to the then little known place in India, called Mangalore, to paint a Chapel. He readily took up the offer.  He came to Mangalore in 1899 and completed the painting of the Chapel in over 2 and a half years, single handedly.
Notice the intricate flowers and every other detailing.

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As a Jesuit, he had his religious and spiritual duties to perform, after which he would spend long hours suspended on the scaffolding, painting the walls of the chapel all alone and in climate hard on a European.   Working with the fumes of the oils and varnishes, in low light conditions (there was no electricity in those days) and in the high humidity and sweltering heat was taking toll on his health. After sunset when it was too dark to paint, he would return to his room to plan the next day’s work. In his spare time he would illustrate scenes from the scriptures and at the time of his death he had drawn 10 volumes of illustrations.
The pillars which look like marble were actually painted that way by Antonio to give that effect. 
The paints he was accustomed to in Italy were not readily available in India and it would have been very expensive to import them, so he made his own paints using vegetable dyes. He achieved an incredible feat of painting the Chapel in 2 and half years, whereas the restoration work by the INTACH team itself took 4 years by 7 specialists. It is worthy of note that Moscheni did not have any models to base his work on. He relied solely on his imagination, honed by meditation to conjure up the pictures which he translated into paintings. Moscheni shared a deep love for Nature which is evident in his paintings which abounds in fruits and flowers. Painting garlands of local flowers seemed to be his specialty. His ancestral house in Italy still has flowers from his earlier work as an artist. Nowhere on his paintings has he used his initials, dedicating his work solely to God. Moscheni single handedly painted every inch of the Chapel, a total of 829 sq. meters within 2 and a half years.
This looks like a statue, doesn't it. It's actually a painting in monochrome. Unbelievable, right? 

Every inch of the chapel was painted by Antonio. 
The paintings are now 115 years old and are restored every 25 years. It takes around 4 years for the restoration, during which time the Chapel is closed to visitors. The last restoration was in 1991-94 by the INTACH-Lucknow team lead by Dr. O.P. Agarwal.
This metallic thing in the centre is a painting too, as are the pillars.

The statues on either side of the altar are paintings in monochrome. 
After completing the painting in the St. Aloysius Chapel, Moscheni was invited to Mumbai, then known as Bombay, to paint the interiors of the Holy Name Cathedral, which, in spite of the challenges of the vaulted ceiling he painted in one and half years. He was to return to Italy after that but was requested to come to Cochin to paint another Church. He took that up although he was ill due to the humid and tropical climate. This along with the difficulty that no one spoke his language and he did not know the local language. Then there was an outbreak of plague in Mangalore in 1902, when the Father in charge of the hospital asked for volunteers and Moscheni signed up as one in spite of his own health issues. Realizing that his days were numbered, he worked harder to finish his assignment in Cochin, which he did in a span of 5 months. His body eventually gave up and he had to be admitted to the Carmelite Hospial in Magnamey, where he breathed his last at the age of 52 on 15th November, 1905. 
You guessed that....it's a painting, not a statue, as are the cherubs. 
The Chapel is open every day from 9 am to 6 pm.  A Guide is available to explain the paintings and the Art from Tuesday to Sunday from 9 am to 1.30 pm and 2.30 pm to 6 pm. The service of the Guide is free although people may make a contribution towards the maintenance of the Chapel. Photography is strictly prohibited inside. I requested the Guide inside to send me these pictures, so that I could use them for this blog post. My gratitude to him. 

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