Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Coming of Advent

Michelangelo Merisi (Caravaggio) (1571 - 1610)
Madonna di Loreto (Madonna dei Pellegrini)
Oil on canvas
260 x 150 cm
Capella Cavalletti, Chiesa di Sant`Agostino, Rome

Michelangelo Merisi (Caravaggio) (1571 - 1610)
Madonna dei Palafrenieri (Madonna and Child with St. Anne)
Oil on canvas
292 x 211 cm
Galleria Borghese, Rome

The woman modelling Mary appears to be the same in both paintings. It appears to be Una or Lena - short for Maddalena - who was, according to a criminal complaint, 'to be found standing in Piazza Navona', three minutes walk from S. Agostino, and 'who is Caravaggio's woman'.

Apparently she came from a poor but honourable family and demanded a substantial fee for posing for the pictures.

The Madonna dei Palafrenieri was commissioned for the altar of Archconfraternity of the Papal Grooms (Arciconfraternita di Sant'Anna de Parafrenieri) in the Basilica of Saint Peter but then sold to Cardinal Scipione Borghese.

For contemporaries of Caravaggio it would have been at first an astonishing and shocking depiction: the old and shrivelled St Anne, both Madonna and Child are barefoot; the Madonna showing her cleavage; the naked Christ; the sheer ordinariness of Mary; the poverty of the Holy Family in what appears to be an ordinary Rome tenement

The Madonna di Loreto would have only been slightly less of a shock but is still in the place for which it was commissioned.

The setting for the The Madonna di Loreto is in fact just round the corner from where the Chiesa di Sant`Agostino is situated. Indeed Caravaggio lived in the neighbourhood at the time.

Previous images of the Madonna of Loreto showed the house at Loreto itself or showed the cult statue of the Madonna and Child. Caravaggio shows Mary’s house and image first appearing to humble woodcutters or pilgrims but they are situated in the neighbourhood of the Church in Rome contemporaneous to the painting of the work.

“Simple” affective piety and miracle worship of the illiterate is combined with living, breathing, emotionally dramatic, naturalistic human beings and scenes to produce a work of great depth operating on many levels which was attractive and compelling for the widest possible audience

As Pope Benedict XVI said of today, so also of the Counter-Reformation Pentecost in post-Tridentine Rome in the 17th century:

“[I]n the Church there is also a Pentecost today – in other words, the Church speaks in many tongues, and not only outwardly, in the sense that all the great languages of the world are represented in her, but, more profoundly, inasmuch as present within her are various ways of experiencing God and the world, a wealth of cultures, and only in this way do we come to see the vastness of the human experience and, as a result, the vastness of the word of God”. [Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Curia (22 December 2008): AAS 101 (2009), 50]