This chapel, which was once accessible directly from the outside, treasures many testimonies of the city’s past: the fights between the richest families of Milan during the Middle Ages; the spiritual support to those sentenced to death; and the most recent tradition (until the 1980s) of the ballerinas of La Scala theatre laying flowers under the image of the Virgin Mary breastfeeding her son, also called “Madonna dei Torriani”, before a premiere. The name of the street found behind the church, “via Case Rotte” (broken houses), refers to an event in the year 1311, when the Visconti family led the Torriani family into an ambush whereby they were attacked by the Emperor Henry VII’s troops, while the locals destroyed the family’s houses that were situated in this very location. In 1395, Giangaleazzo Visconti dedicated a little local church to Saint John the Baptist, and assigned it to a confraternity, devoted to assisting those sentenced to death, a punishment abolished in 1784 (as the black plaque recalls). This church, deconsecrated in the 19th century and then demolished, housed in a small chapel the antique “Madonna dei Torriani” fresco, which was moved to its current location in 1875. The Virgin in the fresco, painted in the late 14th century, has oriental eyes and a calm and thoughtful expression,while breastfeeding her baby. This theme was commonly used in central and northern Italy during the 14th to 16th centuries. It is a reference to an ancient iconography, commonly found since ancient Egyptian times and even present in the apocryphal Gospels, placed in the index of the prohibited books. This is why after the Council of Trent, this particular theme disappeared completely.
In the chapel there are art works by Irish artist Sean Shanahan, created in 2013: at the sides of the fresco are two monochrome panels on MDF painted in the colors of the Virgin Mary, light blue and light pink, symbols of the infinity clothing her humanity.
Beheading of Saint John the Baptist
1662 - 1664
oil on canvans
Fragments Towards the New Jerusalem
Founding member of art group Zero, Christian Megert sets his installation in a narrow, small and unused corridor, linking the Chapel of the Ballerinas to the main church’s apse. The apse is a highly symbolic space representing the final goal in the journey of salvation that mankind is called to take, as represented in the images of the New Jerusalem on the panels of the dossals of the choir.
And yet this narrow and nondescript place is radically transformed by the artist’s work. Entirely clad with mirrors accompanying the undulation of the walls, the space is amplified and becomes infinite, with the lights bouncing off the surfaces heightening the fragmentation.
The church’s apse, particularly the section behind the main altar, as well as the Chapel, are reflected in the mirrors, so that upon entering the narrow passage we feel lost, we don’t know where we are. Everything gains a new dimension.
The space appears elusive, there are no reference points. It is as if our identities were lost in the never-ending attempt to find sense and unity. All seems precarious.
The mirror sheds its usual symbolic function linked to vanity and mortality and takes us to a different context where it is a symbol of the multiplication and the fragmentation of our identities.
We look at our reflections not for vanity, but to reinterpret our being in the world, often confused and without convictions. Passing through that small space becomes a contemplation of our own lives, in their infinite facets.
The fragmentation of the place becomes the world’s fragmentation and our own fragmentation. Without this ‘transit’ we could not have the awareness of our lives, of who we are and of where we are going, of our destiny. Only by acquiring this self-awareness, we can rise to the New Jerusalem, the God-given city where we will live in communion and peace.