The Chapel of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

The chapel is an outstanding gem of the Milanese Baroque period.

It was originally dedicated to St. Apollonia but rebuilt to celebrate devotion to the Holy Scapular by the School of the Carmelite Habit or Scapular, founded by St. Simon Stock in 1251.

It was members of the School who commissioned and started the work on the chapel in 1673, following the design of the Milanese architect, Gerolamo Quadrio; he was also the architect of the Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano and directed the transformation of the chapel from 1673 to 1676.

Here, he created a new interpretation of the Baroque-more open and animated-compared with the more controlled and geometric traditional Milanese style.

The chapel is actually a very special place; aesthetically, it is quite a contrast to the architectural austerity of the church itself but it also expresses the same devoted veneration of Our Lady in the style of the period.

It comprises two chambers: the square so-called “Chancel” of the Faithful and the central-plan Chapel of the Clergy.

The first register on the walls of both chapels is faced in both coloured and black marble, decorated with white doric capitals, while paintings in stuccowork frames by the Late-Mannerist Aemilian artist, Camillo Procaccini adorn the second register.

Both chambers have decorated domes resting on drums overhead and the altar with the statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is located in the area of the apse, defined by ionic pilasters on the wall.

The marble facing of Quadrio’s reconstruction is further embellished with wonderful Baroque stuccowork.

In the “Chancel”of the Faithful, Camillo Procaccini and his assistants developed a type of preparatory itinerary for the faithful to follow towards Our Lady through the foreshadowing of the figure of Mary in the Old Testament in the four paintings in the second register; the practice of the Virtues in the spandrels of the dome, reflection on the prophecies as shown by the prophets and sibyls portrayed in the dome and prayer, in the lantern, complete this preparation.

The four paintings by Camillo Procaccini, works created by the great artist between 1616 and 1619 illustrate Marian themes from the Old Testament; the lower left features the Dance of David while the Ark of the Covenant is being transported to Jerusalem by priests and, above that, Jacob’s Dream (Jacob’s Ladder) where where the patriarch is portrayed with excellent perspective effect. On the lower right, there is Judith with Holofernes’ Headwith the young Hebrew girl and her serving woman and a glimpse of the lifeless body of Holofernes in the tent in the foreground and the Assyrian encampment in the background. The painting above this shows Esther and Ahasuerus,illustrating the courage of the Hebrew Queen in the attempt to save her people.

The spandrels supporting the dome present four virtues: Innocence, portrayed as a maiden being crowned as she washes her hands, Temperance, as a youth holding a yoke, Fortitude, as a youth with his arms around a broken pillar and Charity, as a youth holding a thurible and with a flame above his head.

Another four paintings of two prophets and two sibyls are set in the dome and the Virgin Mary at Prayer, in the lantern, completes this catechistic pathway.

In the Chapel of the Clergy, Camillo Procaccini created a sublime hymn of praise to Mary:the two paintings of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple, on the left and the Nuptials of Mary, on the right, re-propose well known themes but with a marked emphasis on colour and compositional simplicity. The other two paintings exalt the Assumption of Mary: the two symmetrical works depict the Apostles looking up at the Heavens,with their gaze disappearing into the dome; here, amid the stuccowork, with restraint of composition and lightness of touch reminiscent of Correggio, Camillo Procaccini frescoed Angel Musicians and, higher up, in the lantern, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary,borne up into Heaven by angels.

The frescoes in the spandrels of the dome of the Chapel of the Clergy were painted in the first decades of 1700 by the artist, Stefano Legnani, known as Legnanino, one of the leading Milanese artists of the Late-Baroque Lombard period. These portray the virtues of Mary:Virginity, shown as a maiden with an alicorn, Humility, as a young girl patting a lamb and treading a crown underfoot, Charity, as a maiden embracing a little boy and Wisdom, as a young girl with face and hands outstretched, looking upwards.

The altar, built to Gerolamo Quadrio’s design, is situated between two statues of angels, the one on the right about to take flight and looking towards Our Lady, and the one on the left, slightly inclined and facing the entrance to the chapel.

The altar table rests on two winged putti, draped in loose cloths and below them, the emblem of the Virgin Mary, surmounted by a crown, is situated in the centre. Two winged putti holding a chalice and a cross are above the tabernacle which has a small chased, embossed metal door, decorated with the anagram of Christ.

The ciborium is composed of four spiral corinthian columns with entablature and dome, decorated on the outside with whorls and with the symbol of the Madonna overhead as the pediment.

Inside it is the statue of a Madonna and Child,the so-called Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, on a cloud, while two angels in flight are crowning her. Our Lady, draped in precious cloths, is holding the Child who has an arm outstretched with the scapular.

The statues of Our Lady, the angels and the putti were carved from Carrara marble in approx. 1676 by the Baroque sculptor Giovanni Battista Maestri, known as Volpino who was also active in works for the Cathedral of Milan.

The polychrome marble balustrade made by Milanese craftsmen dates to the period of the restructuring of the chapel while the wrought-iron gate was made locally in the 19th. century.