Sunday, September 30, 2007


(b. 1503, Parma, d. 1540, Casal Maggiore)
Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror
c. 1524
Oil on wood, diameter 24,4 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Cardinal Lorenzo Pucci

PARMIGIANINO 1503 - 1540
Cardinal Lorenzo Pucci probably 1529-30
Oil on canvas 95.3 x 81.3 cm.
National Gallery, London

The National Gallery in London contains quite a few portraits of Cardinals and ecclesiastics: some known, others perhaps not so.

This painting was probably painted in Bologna in 1529-30. Cardinal Pucci (1458-1531)(identified by the writing in his hand) wears the dark blue 'stola' of the senior ecclesiastical office of Grand Penitentiary. The portrait, believed to be by Raphael in the last century, has recently been recognised as by Parmigianino.

Of a noble and ancient Florentine family, he was a Professor of Law at the University of Pisa. The family claimed to be descended from Jacopo Saracino, a Florentine nobleman. The family were responsible for the Palazzo Pucci in Florence and the Villa Pucci. They were patrons of Botticelli.

He was elected coadjutor bishop of Pistoia, with right of succession, February 15, 1509; and succeeded on September 17, 1518; but resigned in favor of his nephew Antonio, November 5, 1518.

He was Datary of Pope Julius II and Leo X, 1511 to September 1513. Pope Julius II sent him to Florence to obtain assistance against France; he delivered an eloquent oration before the Florentine senate.

He was Penitentiary major, September 28, 1520; and replaced on October 1, 1529 by his nephew, future Cardinal Antonio Pucci. He participated in the conclave of 1521-1522.

He was an adviser to the Pope on the Divorce of Henry VIII to Katherine of Aragon. He was also present when the City of Rome was sacked.

He was accused of misappropriation and peculation. He was reproached for having given opportunity to Martin Luther to carry on against the avarice of the court of Rome, and in particular against indulgences, of which he made a scandalous trade.

This conduct made the cardinal odious and he had to give an account of his administration during the pontificate of Pope Adrian VI.

Cardinal Giulio de' Medici diverted this blow with his credit and when he ascended the papacy under the name of Clement VIl, he restored Cardinal Pucci to his old position.

He participated in the conclave of 1523.

He died on September 16, 1531, Rome and was buried in the patriarchal Vatican basilica. The body was later transferred to the church of S. Maria sopra Minerva, Rome and buried in its choir next to the mausoleum of Pope Leo X.

His family erected a cenotaph in the chapel of S. Sebastiano in the church of Sanctissimæ Anuntiatæ in Florence.

He was a great mecenate of Raffaello Sanzio and Michelangelo Buonarroti.

When Erasmus' edition of the Works of St. Cyprian appeared in 1520, it bore a dedication to Cardinal Lorenzo Pucci. This influential churchman was closely associated with PopeLeo X. Two years earlier he had procured from the Pope a brief for Erasmus' revised New Testament . In the dedicatory epistle to his edition of Cyprian Erasmus took the opportunity to speak of the close connection between Cardinal and Pope.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Feast of Angels 2

(b. 1450, Citta della Pieve, d. 1523, Perugia)
Polytych of Certosa di Pavia (details)
c. 1499
Oil on panel, 126,5 x 58 cm
National Gallery, London

The three panels (all cut down) shown in this picture represent the Archangel Michael (126 x 58 cm), the Virgin and Child with an Angel (127 x 64 cm), and the Archangel Raphael with Tobias 126 x 58 cm), respectively. These panels form a part of an altarpiece commissioned from Perugino for the Charterhouse of Pavia, a Carthusian monastery patronised by the Duke of Milan.

A Feast of Angels 1

(b. ca. 1480, Murcia, d. after 1521)
Vision of the Blessed Amedeo Menez de Sylva c. 1514
Oil on panel, 277 x 320 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

The painting was originally placed on the high altar of the monastery of Montorio Romano, a church dedicated to St Michael the Archangel in an area of the Sabine hills. This mountainous zone is actually depicted in the landscape in the background of the painting.

The scene shows the vision of the Blessed Amedeo Menez de Sylva, a Franciscan monk of Spanish origin who was the founder of the Amadeite branch of the order. Though suppressed in 1598, the Amadeites were active in Lombardy and Lazio between the end of the fifteenth and first part of the sixteenth centuries.

The narrative of Amedeo's vision is derived from the Apocalypsis Nova, a report that he wrote about his ecstatic trances and his dialogues with the Archangel Gabriel. The painting shows his vision of a celestial court positioned on a disk that hovers in the air and takes the form of Bramantesque architecture.

The commission of the painting is connected to a miracle that led to the construction of Santa Maria delle Grazie: Giustiniana Orsini had given money for the building of the convent in thanks for the intervention of the Blessed Amedeo in the miraculous healing of her son.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Nolde 2

Nolde, Emil (1867-1956)
Legend: Saint Mary of Egypt - Death in the Desert1912
Oil on canvas
86 x 100 cm
Kunsthalle, Hamburg

Nolde 1

Nolde, Emil (1867-1956)
Oil on canvas
220.5 x 193.5 cm
Nolde-Stiftung Seebull

Rubens and St Ignatius

Peter Paul Rubens 1577-1640
St Ignatius Loyola Exorcising c.1619
Oil on panel
73.7 x 50.2cm
Dulwich Gallery, London

The picture refers to the miracles attributed to St Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order.

It was a model for Rubens` altar piece of the Miracles of St Ignatius painted for the Chapel of St Ignatius in the Jesuit church of Sant`Ambrogio in Genova, Italy.

Pope Paul VI

The 110th anniversary of the birth of Pope Paul VI occurred on 26th September.

It is perhaps fashionable in some circles to denigrate Paul VI.

However the event prompted a speech by Pope Benedict XVI. He said that Pope Paul VI was prophetic because he showed the inherent contradiction in "progress" that lacks ethical and spiritual foundations.

He spoke of the "spirit of evangelical wisdom" with which Paul VI guided the Church during and after the Second Vatican Council.

The Pope continued: "With prophetic intuition, he understood the hopes and fears of the men and women of that time, seeking to highlight the positive aspects and illuminate them with the light of truth and of the love of Christ.

"The love he fostered for humanity with its achievements, the marvelous discoveries, the advantages and rewards of technology and science, did not stop him from bringing to light the contradictions, errors and risks of scientific and technological progress detached from a strong reference to ethical and spiritual values."

The Holy Father described his predecessor as "prudent and courageous in guiding the Church with realism and evangelical optimism, fueled by indomitable faith."

He said that Paul VI "hoped for the coming of the 'civilization of love,' convinced that evangelical charity constitutes the indispensable element for building an authentic universal brotherhood."

Monday, September 17, 2007

Work and Prayer

In 1960, while working in Rome on the movie "Francis of Assisi," actress Dolores Hart

In Catholic Online there is a transcript of an interview with Mother Dolores Hart, the prioress of the Abbey of Regina Laudis, Bethlehem, Connecticut.

In the interview, Mother Dolores discusses the history of the monastery, her own personal journey from Hollywood film star to Benedictine nun, and the personality of the abbey's founder, Mother Benedict Duss who founded the Benedictine monastery 60 years ago, after the Second World War. She died in 2005.

Hal Wallis signed MotherDolores to a seven-year contract when she was only 17. In those seven years to follow, she was the leading lady for Elvis Presley, Montgomery Clift and Stephen Boyd, and she says that she learned her trade from Karl Malden, Anthony Quinn and Cyril Richard.

"Q: Many convents, during the turbulent time after the Second Vatican Council, were forced to close for one reason or another. What do you think kept Regina Laudis not only stable, but flourishing during that time?

Mother Dolores: Regina Laudis suffered its own turmoil during those years. What kept Mother Benedict going was her adherence to Benedictine tradition in work and prayer and a dedicated program of renewal, engaged in by the whole community.

For Mother Benedict this did not mean throwing everything out, but taking on perennial values with a new dedication."

Regina Laudis is a monastery of contemplative Benedictine women living in union with the Roman Catholic Church and following the Rule of St. Benedict according to the Primitive Observance.

For more about Mother Dolores Hart, see:


The Abbey of Regina Laudis

Mother Delores Hart
From the Glitter of Hollywood to the Quiet of a Convent

Friday, September 14, 2007

Conversion of Saint Paul

Rubens, Peter Paul 1577-1640
Conversion of Saint Paul
Oil on panel
Height: 57.4 cm (panel); Width: 80.2 cm (panel); Height: 57.4 cm (painted surface); Width: 78.1 cm (painted surface)
Courtauld Institute, London

Reliefs Illustrating a poem of George Herbert

Thrupp, Frederick 1812 -1895
Reliefs Illustrating a poem of George Herbert
Torre Abbey, Torquay, Devon, England

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Illustration of a poem of George Herbert

Thrupp, Frederick 1812-1895
Model for a relief, Illustration of a poem of George Herbert
Torre Abbey, Torquay, Devon, England

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

St Cyprian

Today`s remembrance of 9/11 is probably what dominates most people`s thoughts. Quite rightly. It`s almost impossible for a non-American to say anything worthwhile or meaningsul about it.

Today is also the feast day of an important Saint: Saint Cyprian.

Recently on Wednesday, 6 June 2007, Pope Benedict XVI devoted a lengthy passage in his General Audience to the importance of St Cyprian. He said:

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the series of our catecheses on the great figures of the ancient Church, today we come to an excellent African Bishop of the third century, St Cyprian, "the first Bishop in Africa to obtain the crown of martyrdom".

His fame, Pontius the Deacon his first biographer attests, is also linked to his literary corpus and pastoral activity during the 13 years between his conversion and his martyrdom (cf. Life and Passion of St Cyprian, 19, 1; 1, 1).

Cyprian was born in Carthage into a rich pagan family. After a dissipated youth, he converted to Christianity at the age of 35.

He himself often told of his spiritual journey, "When I was still lying in darkness and gloomy night", he wrote a few months after his Baptism, "I used to regard it as extremely difficult and demanding to do what God's mercy was suggesting to me. "I myself was held in bonds by the innumerable errors of my previous life, from which I did not believe I could possibly be delivered, so I was disposed to acquiesce in my clinging vices and to indulge my sins....

"But after that, by the help of the water of new birth, the stain of my former life was washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, was infused into my reconciled heart... a second birth restored me to a new man. Then, in a wondrous manner every doubt began to fade.... I clearly understood that what had first lived within me, enslaved by the vices of the flesh, was earthly and that what, instead, the Holy Spirit had wrought within me was divine and heavenly" (Ad Donatum, 3-4).

Immediately after his conversion, despite envy and resistance, Cyprian was chosen for the priestly office and raised to the dignity of Bishop. In the brief period of his episcopacy he had to face the first two persecutions sanctioned by imperial decree: that of Decius (250) and that of Valerian (257-258).

After the particularly harsh persecution of Decius, the Bishop had to work strenuously to restore order to the Christian community. Indeed, many of the faithful had abjured or at any rate had not behaved correctly when put to the test. They were the so-called lapsi - that is, the "fallen" - who ardently desired to be readmitted to the community.

The debate on their readmission actually divided the Christians of Carthage into laxists and rigorists. These difficulties were compounded by a serious epidemic of the plague which swept through Africa and gave rise to anguished theological questions both within the community and in the confrontation with pagans. Lastly, the controversy between St Cyprian and Stephen, Bishop of Rome, concerning the validity of Baptism administered to pagans by heretical Christians, must not be forgotten.

In these truly difficult circumstances, Cyprian revealed his choice gifts of government: he was severe but not inflexible with the laxists, granting them the possibility of forgiveness after exemplary repentance. Before Rome, he staunchly defended the healthy traditions of the African Church; he was deeply human and steeped with the most authentic Gospel spirit when he urged Christians to offer brotherly assistance to pagans during the plague; he knew how to maintain the proper balance when reminding the faithful - excessively afraid of losing their lives and their earthly possessions - that true life and true goods are not those of this world; he was implacable in combating corrupt morality and the sins that devastated moral life, especially avarice.

"Thus he spent his days", Pontius the Deacon tells at this point, "when at the bidding of the proconsul, the officer with his soldiers all of a sudden came unexpectedly upon him in his grounds" (Life and Passion of St Cyprian, 15, 1).

On that day, the holy Bishop was arrested and after being questioned briefly, courageously faced martyrdom in the midst of his people.

The numerous treatises and letters that Cyprian wrote were always connected with his pastoral ministry. Little inclined to theological speculation, he wrote above all for the edification of the community and to encourage the good conduct of the faithful.

Indeed, the Church was easily his favourite subject. Cyprian distinguished between the visible, hierarchical Church and the invisible mystical Church but forcefully affirmed that the Church is one, founded on Peter.

He never wearied of repeating that "if a man deserts the Chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, does he think that he is in the Church?" (cf. De unit. [On the unity of the Catholic Church], 4).

Cyprian knew well that "outside the Church there is no salvation", and said so in strong words (Epistles 4, 4 and 73, 21); and he knew that "no one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as mother" (De unit., 6). An indispensable characteristic of the Church is unity, symbolized by Christ's seamless garment (ibid., 7): Cyprian said, this unity is founded on Peter (ibid., 4), and its perfect fulfilment in the Eucharist (Epistle 63, 13).

"God is one and Christ is one", Cyprian cautioned, "and his Church is one, and the faith is one, and the Christian people is joined into a substantial unity of body by the cement of concord. Unity cannot be severed. And what is one by its nature cannot be separated" (De unit., 23).

We have spoken of his thought on the Church but, lastly, let us not forget Cyprian's teaching on prayer. I am particularly fond of his treatise on the "Our Father", which has been a great help to me in understanding and reciting the Lord's Prayer better.

Cyprian teaches that it is precisely in the Lord's Prayer that the proper way to pray is presented to Christians. And he stresses that this prayer is in the plural in order that "the person who prays it might not pray for himself alone. Our prayer", he wrote, "is public and common; and when we pray, we pray not for one, but for the whole people, because we the whole people, are one (De Dom. orat. [Treatise on the Lord's Prayer], 8).

Thus, personal and liturgical prayer seem to be strongly bound. Their unity stems from the fact that they respond to the same Word of God. The Christian does not say "my Father" but "our Father", even in the secrecy of a closed room, because he knows that in every place, on every occasion, he is a member of one and the same Body.

"Therefore let us pray, beloved Brethren", the Bishop of Carthage wrote, "as God our Teacher has taught us. It is a trusting and intimate prayer to beseech God with his own word, to raise to his ears the prayer of Christ. Let the Father acknowledge the words of his Son when we pray, and let him also who dwells within our breast himself dwell in our voice....

"But let our speech and petition when we pray be under discipline, observing quietness and modesty. Let us consider that we are standing in God's sight. We must please the divine eyes both with the position of the body and with the measure of voice....

"Moreover, when we meet together with the brethren in one place, and celebrate divine sacrifices with God's priest, we ought to be mindful of modesty and discipline - not to throw abroad our prayers indiscriminately, with unsubdued voices, nor to cast to God with tumultuous wordiness a petition that ought to be commended to God by modesty; for God is the hearer, not of the voice, but of the heart (non vocis sed cordis auditor est)" (3-4). Today too, these words still apply and help us to celebrate the Holy Liturgy well.

Ultimately, Cyprian placed himself at the root of that fruitful theological and spiritual tradition which sees the "heart" as the privileged place for prayer.

Indeed, in accordance with the Bible and the Fathers, the heart is the intimate depths of man, the place in which God dwells. In it occurs the encounter in which God speaks to man, and man listens to God; man speaks to God and God listens to man. All this happens through one divine Word. In this very sense - re-echoing Cyprian - Smaragdus, Abbot of St Michael on the Meuse in the early years of the ninth century, attests that prayer "is the work of the heart, not of the lips, because God does not look at the words but at the heart of the person praying" (Diadema monachorum [Diadem of the monks], 1).

Dear friends, let us make our own this receptive heart and "understanding mind" of which the Bible (cf. I Kgs 3: 9) and the Fathers speak. How great is our need for it! Only then will we be able to experience fully that God is our Father and that the Church, the holy Bride of Christ, is truly our Mother. "

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Birth of the Virgin

CARPACCIO, Vittore (b. 1472, Venezia, d. 1526, Capodistria)
Birth of the Virgin 1504-08
Tempera on canvas, 126 x 128 cm
Accademia Carrara, Bergamo

Carpaccio painted the Stories from the Life of the Virgin between 1504 and 1508 in the Scuola degli Albanesi, consecrated to Mary and to St Gall, which belonged to the monastery of the Augustinian friars at San Maurizio in Venice.

The Nativity of Mary

CAVALLINI, Pietro (b. ca. 1250, Roma, d. 1330, Roma)
Nativity of the Virgin 1291
Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome

In the Birth of the Virgin, the background appears like a simple stage set based on ancient Roman domestic architecture and shrines, while its inlaid ornament derives from Roman medieval sources.

The women setting a table by the mother's couch and the two midwives about to bathe the newborn Mary carry their bread, wine, and water with the solemnity of a ritual.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Memorial column

The Immaculate Conception was solemnly defined as a dogma by Pope Pius IX in his constitution Ineffabilis Deus, on December 8, 1854

"The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin."

In 1857, a memorial column commemorating the event was erected by Pope Pius IX in the Piazza di Spagna in Rome. On the top of the (old) cipolline column stands the bronze statue of Mary; beneath are Moses, David, Isaiah and Ezechiel.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Richter at Cologne Cathedral

Richter and the Window

Cologne Cathedral finally has a new stained-glass window, designed by Gerhard Richter, one of Germany's most important living artists. It replaces the plain glass window installed after the original was destroyed during World War II.

Visitors to Cologne Cathedral can now look forward to a kaleidoscope of glowing multi-colored light after a brand new abstract window was unveiled on Saturday.

The 11,500 squares of glass in 72 colours fill the 20-metre-high window, which was designed by Gerhard Richter, one of Germany's most important living artists. The 75-year-old painter and photographer declared that he was happy the project had been a success, particularly as, unlike his other work, it isn't intended to hang for a short time but is to be a "window for eternity."

Andrew Smith Rest in Peace

For some, the decision to disappear is gradual. It begins with an impulse, a desire to disconnect. It could mean turning the phone off and retreating under the duvet. For most people, it’s a fleeting escape. Family and friends are what keep them tethered. But what happens to those who become untethered? Or let go on purpose? Days, months, even years can pass. They have slipped through the cracks. Despite the presence of CCTV cameras and telecoms technology, which make most of us feel we are constantly monitored, it has become easier for those who live alone to avoid human contact altogether.

Some people don’t want to be reached or saved or found. Andrew Smith was one of them.

See Broken pieces of a lost life in The Sunday Times at

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Ecstasy of St Gregory the Great

RUBENS, Pieter Pauwel
(b. 1577, Siegen, d. 1640, Antwerpen)
The Ecstasy of St Gregory the Great
Oil on canvas, 477 x 288 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Grenoble

The Ecstasy of St Gregory the Great was commissioned for the high-altar painting of the Oratorians' main church, Santa Maria Vallicella in Rome.

It is a manifest expression of Counter-Reformation triumphalism.

Rubens considered this commission as the confirmation of his reputation as a painter in Rome. Yet the picture was not hung in the place for which it was intended, because it reflected the light entering the church too strongly. For this reason the canvas was replaced by a new version on slate.

This was quite different from the first painting; its composition was divided over three separate panels. This work, still in its original place in Santa Maria Vallicella, was ready in autumn 1608.

Immediately afterwards Rubens returned to Antwerp. He took the rejected canvas with him and placed it above the tomb of his mother, Maria Pijpelinckx, who had died while he was on his way home.

The Tomb of Saint Pope Gregory the Great

The Tomb of Saint Pope Gregory the Great, St Peter`s Basilica, Vatican City

The Throne of Gregory

San Gregorio Magno, Rome
Marble throne of St Gregory the Great

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A Book of Hours

Book of Hours
Horæ Beatæ Mariæ Virginis
Vellum leaf from an illuminated Medieval Manuscript
France; Middle 15th Century
Latin Text; Angular Gothic Script
18.5 by 13 cm

In the second half of the 15th century, the devout and wealthy laymen had a wide selection of Books of Hours from which to choose, both manuscript volumes and printed texts. These were often sold, in large cities, in book stalls erected directly in front of the main entrance to the cathedral.

John Donne

John Donne, (1572 - 1631), Elizabethan and Jacobean Poet
By an unknown English artist, c.1595
National Portrait Gallery

This portrait shows Donne as a young man dressed in a black floppy hat and open collar, playing the role of a melancholic lover. The poet is shown emerging from the shadows and an original Latin inscription translates as 'O Lady Lighten our darkness.' It seems the picture was probably painted for a lover or conceived of as part of a campaign to conquer a reluctant heart. For Donne, the mid 1590s was a period of intense creativity when he wrote many of his most celebrated love poems.

Expensive lace collars are left open and untied at the neck, perhaps in a pun on the author's name (that is, 'unDonne') and as an affectation of the fashionable literary disposition of melancholy.Donne was closely involved in commissioning the composition and it has been argued that the painting 'is as much a product of Donne's creative imagination as the Satires and the early Elegies`.