December is definitely the right month for some nativity scenes-sightseeing. Last year I visited a true mechanical work of art in Porto San Giorgio (keep updated, that soon I’ll talk about the 2022 visit), in Castiglioni near Arcevia the locals annually provide original Christmas scenes and in Jesi we also enjoyed a huge nativity scene! Well, it is because of Saint Francis from Assisi that many Italians still nowadays take extra care of beautiful Christmas cribs at home!
This year Isabelle and Erik chose an exhibition in the Oratorio del Gonfalone; in addition to the probably original creative works, they were also curious about the oratorio itself. It is located in the historic center of Fabriano, not far from the paper museum and proved to be wheelchair accessible. (here the coordinates)
The outside looked rather austere. When entering, on the other hand, the richly decorated ceiling is a marvellous surprise. A very friendly volunteer immediately told Isabelle and Erik all the details about the beautiful building from 1636. Its construction was commissioned by the brotherhood of the Gonfalone. A brotherhood was an association of pious lay people (often very wealthy persons) who were engaged in faith and mercy. An oratory then offered them a place where they could come together. Such oratori, the guide told them, only existed from Genoa to Sicily, as there were no brotherhoods in Northern Italy.
The commission to decorate the ceiling was given to the French woodworker Leonard Chailleau or Leonardo Scaglia as he was called in Italy. (He is also said to have decorated the beautiful baroque Santa Lucia church in Serra San Quirico. ) In 1643, the members of the confraternity sat under a beautiful ceiling and between richly decorated columns. Quite a job to create 15 subjects with scenes from the story of the Assumption of Mary.
10 years later, a painting behind the altar with the Assumption of the Virgin as the main theme once again appeared, painted by one of the best pupils of the painter Barocci: Antonio Viviani. Both from Urbino.
Sponsored by each member, a painting made by local artists with the sponsor’s family crest was placed on the walls.
After this. they walked along the wooden choir stalls where various nativity scenes were exhibited. Isabelle’s preference were the two symbolic cribs of the paper city Fabriano: made with handmade paper by Sandro Tiberi, a paper master.
But especially the works of art created with old books by Anita Venturelli. Each page was given a fold and a notch that eventually made it represent something. Incredibly beautiful!!
But the others were also extraordinary, because in the end everyone made a huge effort and put in all their talents:
In the center of the oratory, there was a Madonna in papier-mache, surrounded by a blue sky, made by Fabriano’s infioratori. The latter take care of the flower carpets at Corpus Domini, among others.
Really worth a visit. But Isabelle and Erik’s tour took an unexpected turn…because of their interest, another volunteer offered to show them other gems in Fabriano, such as the Crypt of San Romualdo and another Oratory. Why not ? They even ended up in an unprecedented museum and got a private concert on a C. Bechstein piano… But we’ll save the report of that for another article!
The Oratory is now open until 6 January on all Saturdays and Sundays from 11-12.30 and from 17-19.30. To be sure, check their Facebook page, as they normally reopen their doors after the holidays from April.