Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Pier of Goritz

The Goritz pier in Sant'Agostino, Rome

Raffaello Sanzio 1483-1520
The Prophet Isaiah
Fresco, 250 x 155 cm
Sant'Agostino, Rome

Andrea Sansovino 1467-1529
Madonna and Child with St Anne
S. Agostino, Rome

Johannes Goritz was born in Luxembourg. He came to Rome in 1497 during the reign of Alexander VI. He became a very successful and wealthy member of the Curia, first as a registrar of supplications and later as a papal protonotary

The Church of San Agostino was one of the main meeting places for Florentines, the Academy and the Humanist literati in Rome at the time. In the Church of San Agostino in Rome, in 1512 Goritz bought and commissioned an altar in honour of St Anne (whose feast day was 26th July). Anne was a popular saint in Germany at the time. The altar was attached to one of the piers in the nave of the Church.

On the altar itself was Andreas Sansovino's sculpture of Saint Anne, the Virgin, and the infant Christ. Immediately above it was the fresco by Raphael depicting the prophet Isaiah holding a scroll. Below, in the pavement of the church, was Goritz's tomb, ready to receive him

The putti in the fresco hold an inscription in Greek capitals above Isaiah's head:
“To Anne, Mother of the Virgin, to the Virgin, Mother of God, and to Christ the Redeemer. Johann Goritz."
There is implied a reference to the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 - `Behold, a virgin shall give birth',

Below the statue is a Latin inscription:
"Jesu Deo Deique Filio, Matri Virgini, Armae Aviae Maternae; Io. Corycius ex Germanis Lucumburg. Prot. Apost. DDD Perpetuo Sacrificio Dotem, Vasa, Vestes Tribuit MDXII."
("To Jesus God and Son of God, to His Virgin Mother, to Anna His Maternal Grandmother, Johann Goritz, a Luxemburgher from Germany, Apostolic Protonotary, gave and dedicated this. He donated an endowment, vessels, and vestments for a continual sacrifice. 1512.")

There is a second Latin inscription at eye level:
"Vestra locum ut pietas aliquem post reddat in astris has dedit in terris Corycius statuas."
( "That your pietas may reward him with a place in the stars Goritz has given these statues on earth.")

He founded a sodality frequented by Humanists. The sodality was religious and literary.

He established a celebration and a kind of literary contest every year on the feast of Saint Anne and celebrated it for many years. Members of the sodality included Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio (legate to the courts of Henry VIII and Charles), Pietro Bembo, Alessandro Farnese, Giles of Viterbo, Castiglione and Sadoleto

On Saint Anne's day, the feast started with Mass at Goritz`s chapel. Goritz's friends wrote Latin poems musing on the statues, on the piety of Goritz, and (less often) on the powerful fresco that is so much better known today than Sansovino's sculpture - as well as on their own commemoration of the occasion. They attached their poems to boards or frames fastened to the pier, expanding and sometimes interpreting the artistic ensemble. Subsequent celebrations were in his gardens between Trajan's Forum and the Capitol,

On the Sack of Rome, Goritz had to flee the City and he died in Verona in 1527

That is the context of the fresco by Raphael.

Goritz was put out by what he considered to be an exorbitant price for the painting by Raphael and solicited Michelangelo for his opinion of its worth. Michelangelo looked at the painting of his chief rival, Raphael, and simply commented, "For that knee alone, it is worth the price.”

As regards the fresco itself, the prophet Isaiah holds in his hands a scroll with a quotation in Hebrew from Isaiah 26, verses 2-3: "Open the gates that the righteous nation which keeps faith may enter in. The mind is fixed on thee, thou dost keep him."

The verses on the fresco are a prophecy on the birth of the Messiah, Christ. The words augur a purified Jerusalem, which will open its gates to the righteous

Isaiah is one of the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. The author of Eccelsiasticus (Eccliasticus 48:23-25) described Isaiah as “the holy prophet . . . the great prophet, and faithful in the sight of God"

Shortly after his conversion, Saint Augustine sought guidance from Saint Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, and asked what he should read in order to be made “readier and fitter to receive so great a grace” (Conf. 9.5). Augustine wrote that Ambrose encouraged him to read the book of Isaiah, “because more clearly than others he foretold the Gospel” (Conf. 9.5).

St Jerome compared Isaiah to Demosthenes as an orator and as a poet. He also went on to describe him as “the Evangelist of the Old Testament" and an apostle and not only a prophet.

Vasari tells the story that Bramante had shown Raphael the prophets of the Sistine ceiling during Michelangelo's absence from Rome, adding that Raphael immediately went back to the fresco, already finished, in the Sant' Agostino, and reworked the prophet in a more majestic style.

Whatever the truth of this assertion, majestic Raphael's Isaiah certainly is. A comparison with Michelangelo's prophets in the Sistine Chapel is instructive.

There is unity between fresco and sculpture.

The scroll Isaiah holds, with the Word which subsequently would become incarnate, connects him graphically with the scene below,

The arm holding the scroll is the reverse of the Child's arm, and, where Anne's left foot rests on a book (her traditional prop, most probably the Gospel with the genealogy of Christ), Isaiah's left foot rests on a prop, characteristic for prophets.

One of the poems regarding the column and its altar composed by Blosio Palladio, one of the friends of Goritz still survives:

“Why would these stones lack divine inspiration, that give us three gods,
that inspire the will of these gods in the poets, and that elicit such devout
prayers of men.

Believe me, they do not lack divine inspiration, stones
that force poets to speak so well, make the sculptor sculpt so well, teach the
painter paint so well. Hail, august column, haven of Gods, subject-matter
for poets, labour for artists, most certain hope of bliss for mortals!

You, column, by the Christian ritual, by the poetry, by the right gods, are to be
preferred to the best works of the ancients; for they celebrated false gods,
but you just ones: there material shone, here piety. These, o Ancients, are
the right monuments: peaceful and learned, not gory with barbarian ritual!

You, Goritz, to whom we owe all this, will live forever by this poetry,
and thus have the better of Nestor, of whom you are wiser also!”