Monday, May 23, 2011

Saint Mary Magdalene dei Pazzi

Giovanni Camillo Sagrestani (1660–1731)
Saint Mary Magdalene dei Pazzi in Ecstasy (also known as St Augustine writing on the Heart of Saint Mary Magdalene of Pazzi)
San Frediano in Cestello, Florence

Saint Maria Magdalena de Pazzi (or Mary Magdalene de Pazzi) (April 2, 1566 – May 25, 1607)became a Carmelite of the Ancient Observance at a convent where there is now the Church of San Frediano in Cestello in Florence

She was one of the great Carmelite mystic saints. She was canonised in 1669

This painting by the Florentine baroque artist Sagrestani commissioned for a Chapel in San Frediano in Cestello is rather unique in its iconography

It is obviously an important work: it was commissioned for the Church built on the Convent in which the saint lived.

She is a Florentine saint, having born, lived and died there and from a very old and distinguished Florentine family

Her cult was strong (and still is) in Florence. Only a Florentine artist could be entrusted with such a work.

The saint was prone to raptures and ecstasiesand in the painting her posture and expression remind one of Bernini`s statue of The Ecstasy of St Teresa of Avila. If such events happened nowadays of course, the saint would be in a secure psychiatric unit drugged up to the gills.

But instead of the angel`s firey dart in The Reverberation, here we see St Augustine of Hippo writing with a quill pen on the saint`s heart.

The scene depicts an event which happened when aged eighteen and on the Feast of the Annunciation, the saint was meditating on the Gospel of St John. St Augustine apparently engraved twice on her heart the words of the Gospel: "Verbum caro factum est" (John 1:14) These words are particularly meet for a Feast commemorating the Incarnation.

In the painting, the Word is written into flesh, literally and metaphorically. The spritual sphere merges with the ordinary life. The saint`s name reminds us of Mary, the Mother of God whose free and unconditional consent allowed salvation to commence.

We are also reminded of some of the famous phrases of St Augustine:

“[Y]ou were created through the word, but now through the word you must be recreated”. (St Augustine, In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus, I, 12: PL 35, 1385)

"Our hearts are restless until they rest in you" (St. Augustine, Confessions, I, 1)

“Remember that one [word] alone is the discourse of God which unfolds in all sacred Scripture, and one alone is the word which resounds on the lips of all the holy writers” (St Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos, 103, IV, 1: PL 37, 1378)