Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Coronation of the Virgin

Nardo di Cione (active 1343; d. 1365/66)
The Coronation of the Virgin 1340s-1360s
Tempera on poplar with pointed arched top
46 ½ x 30 ½ (118 x 77.5), thickness of panel 1 ½ (3.8)
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Nardo was the brother - reputedly the eldest - of Andrea (Orcagna) and Jacopo di Cione. He seems to have shared a workshop with Orcagna. The brothers produced works such as the frescoes in the Strozzi Chapel of Santa Maria Novella of the Last Judgement, Paradise and Hell.

Nardo di Cione was one of the most outstanding of the second generation of Giotto followers in Florence

It is worthwhile comparng the above treatment with that of his brother Jacopo di Cione (b Florence, 1320–30; d Florence, after 2 May 1398, before 1400). Jacopo`s work is in the Accademia in Florence. It may also give an idea of what the full work in the Victoria and Albert Museum may have been like. See below.

Jacopo di Cione (ca.1330-1398)
The Coronation of the Virgin with Angels and Saints
Tempera on panel 350 x 190 cm
Galleria dell`Accademia, Florence

It is said that the theme of the Coronation of the Virgin showing Christ actually crowning the Virgin appears to have originated in England in the first half of the 12th century.

It became an immensely popular theme in 14th century Italian painting. The subject of The Coronation of the Virgin achieved great popularity in 14th-century Italy, in line with the growth of the cult of the Virgin Mary.

The panel of 'The Coronation of the Virgin' would in all probability once have formed the central panel of a large polyptych for a Florentine chapel.

The basic template in Florence for the subject was Giotto's Baroncelli Polyptych of the second quarter of the 14th century . See below.

Giotto di Bondone
(b. 1267,- d. 1337)
Baroncelli Polyptych: Coronation of the Virgin
c. 1334
Tempera on wood
Baroncelli Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence

Mary and Christ sit on a broad throne. Mary bows her head reverently in order to receive the celestial crown from the hands of her Son. Mother and Son form a whole through their gestures. The elegance of their clothing, in particular the trumpet-shaped sleeves on Christ's robe, indicates a great affinity with the style of courtly Gothic.

It is this iconography of The Coronation which at the time of Giotto, di Cione and for some time thereafter which was the one which carried official sanction. See the mosaic of The Coronation of the Virgin in Santa Maria Maggiore below.

Jacopo Torriti (active c. 1270-1300)
Coronation of the Virgin
Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome

Pope Nicholas IV, the first Franciscan pope, commissioned the mosaic decoration of the apse of Santa Maria Maggiore, replacing the fifth-century mosaic but without entirely changing the original subject matter and retaining the bust of the Saviour, believed to have appeared miraculously at the time of the basilica's consecration. The artist was also a Franciscan. The work was paid for by Cardinals Giacomo and Pietro Colonna.

But these are not just beautiful images. They illustrate and highlight a powerful truth.

In 1998 the Albanian Jesuit, Father P Luli SJ gave a talk on the contemplation of Mary, crowned Queen of Heaven. It is on the Vatican website.

It is a particularly eloquent testimony of a brave priest to the last glorious mystery whose life was led under the terrible communist regime in Albania. Here it is in full:

"We are invited in this last glorious mystery to lift our gaze toward heaven and to contemplate the glory of Mary, crowned Queen of Heaven and earth, Queen of the angels and saints.

The coronation of Mary, her participation in the glory of her Risen Son is the fulfillment of a life lived in fidelity to the plan of God for her, a fidelity which has made the journey through the terrible mystery of suffering and of the cross.

Truthfully, the final images which the Gospel gives us of Mary are those of her standing under the cross of her Son, and the other, no less significant, which shows her in prayer in the Upper Room with the nascent Church. Mary is the example of faithfulness alongside her Son Jesus which brings to fulfillment his salvific mission with the gift of his own life. She is an example of fidelity for the Church which from Christ continues the work of salvation

And so Mary, my dear brother priests, becomes the "mirror" of our priestly mission, a model of how to live our lives, even when the shadow of the cross, of temptation, of loneliness, casts itself over our life.

I praise the Lord who has given to me, his poor and weak minister, the grace to remain faithful in a life practically lived in darkness. Only his grace was able to do this.

I an Albanian and all of you know that my country is only now coming out of the darkness of a communist dictatorship which was among the most cruel and insensitive and which poured out its hatred toward all who were in any way able to speak about God. Many of my companions died as martyrs; it has been left to me to live. I entered prison in 1947, after a false and unjust trial; I had nearly finished my formation. I endured 17 years actually confined in prison and many others at forced labor. Practically I knew what freedom was at 80 years of age when, in 1989, I was able to say my first Mass with people. Humanly speaking, I had been deprived of the right to live.

But today, examining my life, I consider that it has been a miracle of the grace of God and I am amazed to have under gone so much suffering, with a force that was not my own, maintaining a peacefulness which cannot have any other source but the heart of God.

They oppressed me with every type of torture: when they arrested me the first time they kept me for nine months in a closet; I had to crouch down on the ground on dried excrement without being able to stretch out completely, the enclosure was also narrow. Christmas Eve night of that first month, still in the same enclosure, they made me strip and hung me by a rope from a rafter in such a way that I could touch the ground only on tiptoe. It turned cold. I felt the ice which accumulated along my body; it was like a slow death; when the ice was close to my chest I let out a desperate scream. My jailers rushed in, they covered me with lime and then took me down. They tortured me often with electric current; they attached the two contacts to my ears; it was a horrible thing, horrible. For some time they left me, bound hand and foot with wire, laying on the ground in complete darkness where there were large sewer rats. The rats scampered around on me while I was not able to catch them. The wire on my wrists cut into my flesh. I have lived a nightmare of continual interrogations which were always accompanied by physical torture; I remembered the violence done to Jesus when he was questioned before the High Priest.

One time they placed sheets of paper and a pen before me and told me: "Write a full confession of your crimes and if you are sincere we can let you go home. "To avoid their blows and clubs, I began to fill some pages with names of the dead or of those killed whom I had not seen. At the end I added: "Nothing that I have written is true, but I wrote it because I was forced to do so. The official began to read it with a smile of satisfaction, sure that he has succeeded in breaking me, but when he got to the last lines, he struck me and, cursing me, handed me over to the police to drag me away while he shouted: "We know how to make this filth talk."

When I left the prison, I had to work as a farm laborer for a State agency; I was sent to work in the recovery of swamp land. It was tiresome work and there was little food and we were reduced to human skeletons; when one of us fell, he would be left to die in the mud. But at that time I also began secretly to say Mass by myself from the Offertory to the Communion. I had obtained for myself a little wine and some hosts; but I could not trust anyone because if I had been discovered I would have been shot. I continued in this work for eleven years.

On April 30, 1979, I was arrested for the second time and they took me to Scutari and searched me. I had nothing but my rosary, a penknife and a watch. After the search they opened a door and threw me into a cell. I knew that I was coming to a new Calvary. However, it was at that time that I had an extraordinary inner experience which reminded me in some way of the "transfiguration" of Jesus, by which He drew strength while going forth to suffer. He went up on the mountain, I seemed at the beginning to be buried in the ground. Gradually, discouragement was replaced by an extraordinary presence of the Lord. It was as though He was standing in front of me and I was able to speak with Him. It was determined for me at that moment that I would again be tortured and under go a new trial. On November 6, 1979, they condemned me to death by firing squad. The accusation: sabotage, anti- government propaganda . . . . However, two days later, the death penalty was commuted to 25 years in prison.

And so my life has continued. But I do not have in my heart any feelings of hatred. One day, after my amnesty, encountering one of my torturers, I felt the inner urge to greet him and embrace him. The formation of the Society had accustomed me to the idea that fidelity to Jesus is that which is most valuable in the life of a Jesuit and that at times this had to be paid for at a great cost. Even the price of one’s life.

Today, contemplating the glory of Mary in heaven and thinking that this experience of future happiness with God is possible even for us, I cannot help but report to you, my dear brother priests, the words of Saint Paul: "In my estimation, all that we suffer in the present time is nothing in comparison with the glory which is destined to be disclosed for us. " (Rm 8:18)

Contemplating the glory of Mary in heaven, we remain faithful, standing upright, with strength and dignity under the cross of Jesus, in whatever way the cross might be present in our life. We are the people chosen by the Love of Christ. What can ever separate us from this Love? This is the message of my life experience: in all my suffering and temptations "we come through all these things triumphantly victorious by the power of Him who loved us." (Rm 8: 37)

Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Angels and Saints, Queen of martyrs, known and unknown, pray for us, sustain us and grant that we be together with you, in the fullness of life and happiness which Jesus has promised. Amen. "