La barba di Ambrogio. Iconografia, erudizione agiografica e propaganda nella Milano dei due Borromeo

Translated title of the contribution: [Autom. eng. transl.] Ambrose's beard. Iconography, hagiographic erudition and propaganda in the Milan of the two Borromeo

Annalisa Albuzzi, 27311, DI LETTERE E FILOSOFIA FACOLTA', umanistici e rinascimentali MILANO - Dipartimento di Studi medioevali

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


[Autom. eng. transl.] Preliminarily recalled the theoretical and methodological assumptions that, for the post-Tridentine age in particular, make it peacefully legitimate to unravel a research path through the iconographic results and assign details or eventual differences with respect to a codified canon, a dense flow of reverberations on multiple levels; then recapitulate the specific cultural, pastoral and ecclesiological coordinates to be referred to, if we intend to deal with the relationship between Charles and Ambrose, the A. identifies in a detail, only apparently marginal - the presence or absence of the beard in the portraits of Ambrogio made in the chronological arc that goes from the episcopate of Carlo Borromeo to that of his cousin Federico - a litmus test useful to grasp and interpret a wide spectrum of complex dynamics related to regulation and regulation, to the relationships between spiritual and temporal power, as well as to the construction of models of sanctity, against the background of a wide involvement of multiple actors, not without tensions and dissonances. Within an iconographic catalog now known in its general lines, but clear and safe only in appearance, it was preferred to focus attention on a single, paradigmatic case study that offered the opportunity to grasp the wide range of nuances underlying the theme faced and, at the same time, allowed to touch the difficulties involved in a historical reconstruction marked by frustrating documentary gaps and by an often contradictory scientific literature. The altarpiece that from the altar of Saint Ambrose in the Cathedral of Milan offers the pardon granted to the emperor Theodosius by the holy bishop, adorned with canuta and flowing beard, lent itself to achieving this goal. Once probed the variegated background and the complex background that an unusually rarefied and taciturn documentation suggests, in a polycentric and iridescent fabric difficult to imprison within too simplifying schemes, the nature of a painting emerged in all its contradiction where a theme dear to both the Borromeo (the relationship between ecclesiastical and civil authority) was declined in the favorite forms by Federico - more tender, full of affectivity - but at the same time figuratively implemented according to criteria that the latter could never have approved; criteria exposed precisely by the beard exhibited by Ambrogio, not made cogent by the need to pursue realism or truthfulness, nor by the desire to adhere to the decrees issued by Carlo regarding the tonsure of the clergy (which would have instead foreseen a hairless saint), but understandable only as an echo of the age-old controversy provoked by the Carolini provisions. Controversy that, therefore, still at the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was able to arouse debates and align opposing sides.
Translated title of the contribution[Autom. eng. transl.] Ambrose's beard. Iconography, hagiographic erudition and propaganda in the Milan of the two Borromeo
Original languageItalian
Title of host publicationLa memoria di Ambrogio di Milano. Usi politici di una autorità patristica in Italia (secc. V-XVIII)
Number of pages53
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Federico Borromeo
  • Milano storia istituzionale in età moderna
  • Milano storia religiosa in età moderna
  • San Carlo Borromeo
  • Sant'Ambrogio iconografia
  • Veneranda Fabbrica Duomo Milano


Dive into the research topics of '[Autom. eng. transl.] Ambrose's beard. Iconography, hagiographic erudition and propaganda in the Milan of the two Borromeo'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this