Aleksandr Antonovich Rizzoni 1836-1902
Church of S. Onofrio, Rome: The Interior with a Cardinal 1872
Oil on panel
35 cm (approx.) x 46 cm
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Inscription: "'A Rizzoni 1872 Roma'" Signed and dated by the artist, lower right
The Victorian and Albert Museum in London is always a pleasure to visit.
The website has recently been much improved by a "Search the Collection" facility. It show not only those items which are exhibited but also those "in store".
Many of the entries are accompanied by learned commentary. The Museum is still imbued with the spirit of docere et delectare, which sadly is not as fashionable as it once was.
The above picture presently in "storage" and not exhibited would appear at first sight not to be of much interest. Another nineteenth century painting depicting a historical and beautiful Church in Rome with a depiction of a cardinal. As seen in previous posts for some reason pictures of Cardinals in full canonicals were a popular subject of paintings in the nineteenth century. The magnificence of the costume had a great deal to do with it.
See Egerton Beck , Ecclesiastical Dress in Art. Article I-Colour (Part I) The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 7, No. 28 (Jul., 1905), pp. 281-288 which only mentions the painting in the context of a discussion about Ecclesiastical Dress.
But on closer inspection of the painting and of the website entry, the painting might be much more than that.
The painting was painted in 1872 and bequeathed by the owner John Forster to the Museum in 1876. The painting seems to have been bought by John Forster at the International Exhibition in London in 1873
More intriguingly the website states:
"A note by the artist concerning this picture is preserved in the Forster Collection in the Museum Library (MSS, x, p. 2, no. 23):
'L'interno della chiesa del convento di Sant'Onofrio a Roma ove more il Tasso. La Madonna dipinto al fresco (supra il monumento del Vescovo) è del Pinturicchio, e l'altro fresco a destra è del cavaliere d'Arpino. La scena rappresente il cardinale Barnabo (Prottettore della chiesa) accompagnato del . . . suo segretario e del servitore dopo d'aver assisto allo funzione religiosa. Roma il 27 Ottobre 1873. Alessandro Rizzoni.'
(The interior of the Church of S. Onofrio, Rome where Tasso died. The fresco of the Madonna (above the Monument to the Bishop) is by Pinturicchio and the other fresco on the right is by the cavaliere d`Arpino. The scene depicts Cardinal Barnabo (Protector of the Church) accompanied by ... his secretary and servant after having presided at a religious ceremony. Rome 27 October 1873. Alessandro Rizzoni)"
This cardinal was no ordinary cardinal.
Cardinal Alessandro Barnabò (1801-1874) was Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide) for 18 years from 1856 until his death in 1874. He was one of the right hand men of Pope Pius IX (1792-1878)
Prior to becoming Prefect, he was vice-secretary of the Congregation of Propaganda in 1847-1848, then secretary from 13 August 1848 until June 19, 1856.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, the Congregation of Propaganda was the department of the pontifical administration charged with the spread of Catholicism and with the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs in non-Catholic countries ( i.e. Great Britain, North America, Africa, Asia, Australia).
Its intrinsic importance of its duties and the extraordinary extent of its authority and of the territory under its jurisdiction caused the cardinal prefect of Propaganda to be known as the "Red Pope".
If one "googles" the Cardinal`s name, one can see how important he was and in how many important matters he was involved in during the pontificate of Pope Pius IX especially in the then Mission Lands which included Africa, North America and the territories of the then British Empire.
Opinions seem to be divided about the Cardinal.
In A History of the Popes, 1830-1914, (2000) (Clarendon/Oxford University Press. 614 pp) Professor Owen Chadwick writes:
"The Church was governed with the aid more of monsignors than of cardinals. Cardinal Antonelli dominated the Papal State, Cardinal Barnabò was the secretary of Propaganda and controlled the missions like an empire, Cardinal Reisach directed the policy towards Germany. Cardinal Patrizi had weight as an adviser less because he was a cardinal than because he was a close friend of the Pope [Pius IX]. These cardinals were exceptions." (pages 118-119)
Again, Professor Owen Chadwick in his book Acton and History (2002) (page 122) writes:
"Cardinal Barnabò ran Propaganda like a dictator and Propaganda ran the Roman Catholic Church in England ... Acton heard that Cardinal Barnabò was `especially violent` against Newman."
It was Propaganda which issued the "secret instruction" not to allow Newman to set up an Oratory in Oxford.
However there are many other points in the Cardinal`s favour.
The website of The Church of Santa Susanna in Rome says that Cardinal Barnabò became friend and protector to Father Isaac Thomas Hecker, the founder of the Paulist Fathers, after Hecker's dismissal from the Redemptorist Order in 1857. It was Cardinal Barnabò who arranged for Hecker to meet Pius IX and explain his ideas about evangelizing America. It was this event that led to the creation of the Paulist Fathers in July 1858
He met many of the great Catholic religious of the period and greaty encouraged them in their efforts.
For example, in 1873, Mary McKillop, Mother Mary of the Cross, went to Rome and later wrote:
" “I had not a friend here when I left Adelaide . . . I knew that our dear Lord would not let his work want a friend to advance His interests here, but Monsignor Kirby (Rector of the Irish College) is more than I dared expect. Cardinal Barnabò enquired minutely into many things connected with my voyage, spoke of my title ‘of the Cross’ and of its signification, and altogether, warmly encouraged me. He said that he was much pleased with our struggles, that we had struggled for things of which he highly approved . . . On Sunday, the Feast of Pentecost, I had the happiness of seeing the Holy Father (Pius IX) and of obtaining a warm blessing from him for myself and my dear Sisters . . . He let me see that the Pope had a father’s heart, and when he laid his loved hand upon my head, I felt more than I will attempt to say.”
Saint Daniele Comboni (1831-1881) was a great friend of the Cardinal. In 1864, the Saint came up with the "Comboni Plan" and recommended a regeneration of Africa by Africans. Missionaries would establish training centres for various trades. From these centres would come the leaders of regenerated black society, and leaders for evangelization. At the same time, major associations would be formed to finance the charity.
Cardinal Barnabò, prefect of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, to whom this plan was submitted, obtained an audience for Father Comboni with Pope Pius IX, who gave him his blessing. It was the Cardinal who helped the saint overcome obstacles such as those placed in his way by the Bishop of Verona.
Another friend and confidant whom the Cardinal encouraged was Eugene of Mazenod (1782-1861), the founder of the Oblates.
In a letter dated August 12, 1860 the Founder wrote to the Cardinal :
“When I take the liberty of writing confidentially to Your Eminence, it is in order to open my heart to you in the freedom of the most complete trust. I leave aside all the customary precautions of formal language to state frankly and without circumspection everything I think about people and matters in general. In this disposition of my soul which places itself open before you, without fear and in all simplicity, you should not take offence over any of my thoughts, any of my judgments. I may be mistaken, undoubtedly, but I should not be blamed since the more harsh my appraisals the more will I have shown you my affectionate trust and my total friendship.” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 5, no. 70, p. 142)
After Bishop de Mazenod’s death, Cardinal Barnabò continued to take an interest in the Oblate missions. Several times he received Father Fabre on the occasion of his visit to Rome in December 1862 as well as Father Augustin Gaudet in 1865 and Bishop Grandin in 1874
As regards the artist, Alexander Rizzoni was born in Riga, on the territory of Tsarist Russia in 1836. He was a son of Antonio Rizzoni from Bologna, who serving in the Napoleon I army in the course of the campaign of 1812, had married in Riga a city-dweller of German origin. All the three sons of Antonio Rizzoni – Paul (1823-1913), Edward (1833-1903) and Alexander (1836-1902) — had become professional artists. It seems that Alexander Rizzoni was the most talented representative of this family. He studied at the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. In 1866, he was elected an academician of this Academy, and in 1868 – professor on the staff.
As well as many of the bursar-graduates of the Academy in Petersburg, Alexander Rizzoni lived and worked mostly in Italy. The last period of life he lived in Rome where in 1902 had died
The artist and subject would seem not to have much in common. However there is a French connection. The Cardinal was educated at the École militaire de La Flèche, 1812-14 as many of the sons of Italian nobility were forced by Napoleon to attend military schools in France between 1800 and 1814. The artist was the son of Antonio Rizzoni from Bologna, who served in the Napoleon I army in the course of the campaign of 1812