Friday, August 28, 2009

A Papal Ceremony

Giovanni Maria Morandi 1622-1717
Le Pape Alexandre VII porté à la procession du Corpus Domini/Pope Alexander VII being carried in the procession of Corpus Christi c. 1655
Oil on canvas 200 x 285 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy

In 1746, this picture was hanging in the Church of Sant Mary Major in the Premonstratensian convent in Pont-à-Mousson.

During the French Revolution in 1793 it was seized by the French State and given to the Museum in Nancy where it has been exhibited ever since.

It is a mystery as to how the painting came to Pont-à-Mousson

The picture depicts the procession in Rome of Corpus Christi which took place on 27th May 1655

Cardinal Fabio Chigi (1599-1667) had just been elected Pope on 7th April 1655. The election had taken two months but he was elected unanimously. He came from Siena and was descended from a wealthy family of bankers.

During the procession the Pope knelt on a ceremonial prie-Dieu which was specially designed by Bernini. It was the first occasion on which a Pope was carried kneeling in the procession of Corpus Christi in Rome. Prior to that he had either stood or walked. The prie-Dieu was used by subsequent Popes. Apparently the last Pope to use this particular prie-Dieu was Pope Paul VI.

A contemporary Gigli wrote:
"A dė 27 di Maggio fu la festa del Corpus Domini, et si fece la Processione solennissima, nella quale e solito che il Papa e portato sopra le spalle dalli scudieri in sedia con maestā coronato, tenendo nelle mani il Sacramento. Ma il papa Alessandro si fece portare non in sedia, ma inginocchiato con la testa scoperta tenendo in mano il SS. Sacramento, essendo scalzo e con tanta devotione senza muovere gli occhi, né la persona che pareva pių tosto una figura immobile, che un huomo, la qual cosa mosse tutti a gran devotione et compuntione, che gli pareva di vedere una visione in aria."

It is likely that the work was specially commissioned to mark the occasion

Ten years later the Pope specially commissioned a medal depicting the event. See below

Decennial medal showing Alexander VII kneeling as in the Corpus Domini procession of 1655

The Corpus Christi procession, Pope Alexander at centre, vested in a cope, kneeling on a priedieu under a baldachino, adoring a monstrance which he is carrying; the whole is being carried upon the shoulders of Palafranieri.

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