Carved walnut confessionals by Brothers Taurino (end of 16th century)
Nine in all, these confessionals are true masterpieces of woodcarving and engraving skills. They are the work of the brothers Giovanni, Giacomo e Gian Paolo Taurino, sons of Rizzardo Taurino, of French origins, who was also a well-established wood carving artist and who worked on the Duomo in Milan.
Born in Milan between 1568 and 1580, the brothers learnt their skills from their father – the eldest two worked with him on the Duomo’s Choir.
Giovanni set up his own workshop and was active mainly in the Lombardy region, while Giacomo and Gian Paolo joined the Jesuits in 1597 as temporal coadjutors.
After completing the confessionals in 1603, the brothers worked on San Fedele’s sacristy, and also in Rome, Genoa and Palermo, working on homes and churches belonging to the Jesuits, embracing the new baroque style that they had first seen in Milan.
Of the nine confessionals, eight are currently in the church, and one is housed in the vestibule to the sacristy, being used as a filing cupboard since the 1800s.
The confessionals in the church stand in purposely-built alcoves along the walls, one of the earliest examples of ad-hoc planning for such places. “They sport the majestic appearance of classic constructions together with the levity of a work of art” (Dossi).
The seat for the confessor in the middle is flanked by the kneeling recesses for the sinners, while at the top a small statue of a saint sits in the gap in the arch of the attic.
The most valuable elements are the carved panels on the front and on the inside of the sinners’ recesses. Two scenes from the Passion of the Christ sit in the lower part next to the sinner, while other two from the Old and the New Testament sit in the arch above - separated by a shield carrying the name of Jesus. The panels are influenced by the Liber Imaginum (Evangelicae historiae imagines), a book of engravings of Bible stories by the Jesuit Jeronimo Nadal, published in Antwerp in 1593 and very popular in Europe at the time.
Clearly the panels are aimed at the conversion of the sinner: a well-planned work of art, full of theological meaning. They truly are a Biblia pauperum or a Bible for the poor, another testimony to the effort put into this church down to its smallest details to convey a message for the spiritual renewal of the faithful.
St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises had a big influence on the perception of religious images in his time. They promoted a new type of meditation and prayer, that encouraged the faithful to visualise scenes from the Gospels and imagine to be part of them, using all their senses to contemplate the characters, listen to their words, sense their feelings. Such scenes, the Gospels’ mysteries, are the core of Ignatius’ meditation techniques. A sort of visual Gospel, with the Passion of the Christ at its centre.