Saturday, June 20, 2015

Montini on Art 1931

Eliseo Fumagalli 1887 - 1943
Design for The Annunciation for The Church at Maccio
1931 - 1932
Acquarelle on canvas
 77 cm x 56 cm
Museo Valtellinese di Storia ed Arte, Sondrio

Eliseo Fumagalli 1887 - 1943
Design for The Adoration of the Shepherds for the Church at Maccio
1931 - 1932
Charcoal and pastel on canvas
197 x 186 cm
Museo Valtellinese di Storia ed Arte, Sondrio

Eliseo Fumagalli 1887 - 1943
Design for The Crucifixion for the Church at Maccio
1931 - 1932
Charcoal and pastel on canvas
360 cm x 308 cm
Museo Valtellinese di Storia ed Arte, Sondrio

The First World War, the economic dislocation and political disappointment at the Peace Treaties, D`Annunzio, the rise of Fascism , mass emigration all led to political, economic, cultural and religious changes in Italy in the 1920s and 1930s

Destruction of the past. Worship of the future were two themes

In July 1931, a new religious magazine was published: Arte Sacra

The full title of the magazine shows what it was about: «Arte Sacra. Rivista trimestrale dell’arte sacra di oggi e di domani»

A young Monsignor, Giovan Battista Montini was on the editorial Committee. 

The Committe published a "Manifesto"

In the first edition Monsignor Montini wrote and published an article entitled "Su l`arte sacra futura" (“On sacred art of the future”)

He rejected the demons of the Italian art movement called Futurism

Futurism was the first of the right-wing avant-gardes

He made a distinction between "modernity" and "modernism"

He disapproved of Modernism

He was hopeful of modern artists coming up with catechism for artists in the modern age

He wrote:
“[S]acred art faces the supreme problem of expressing the ineffable ... [and through sacred art one should] initiate oneself into mysticism, and to reach with the experience of the senses a reverberation, a flutter of the invisible Light ... 
One can also see how and where true sacred art is born: from the devout and believing, prayerful, wishful artist who watches in silence and goodness, awaiting his Pentecost.... 
I think it is the task of our Christian artists to prepare with their works a state of mind in which our spiritual unity, now torn apart, is pieced together in Christ; unity, I say, that reconciles in due harmony the impression and the expression; the interior and the exterior world; spirit and matter; the soul and the flesh; God and man” 
For Montini, the artist and art had to have as its motivation: L’omnia instaurare in Christo - to be valid and authentic

He rejected the idea of art for the sake of art

After the First World War and the subsequent ecoonomic and political dislocation, the young Montini was following in the steps of the theologians of art who were debating or discussing the theology of art: Jacques Maritain, Jean Guitton, Simone Weil, Pius XII and in the Italian sphere Mario Sturzo 

The Italian priest, publisher and intellectual Don Giuseppe De Luca was sharply critical of the article, illustrating the deep divisions in Italian society and the Italian Church of the time

De Luca and Bargellini were the promoters of a rival magazine Frontespizio which from 1929 to 1940 was the principal Italian magazine for the arts in the Italian Catholic world

It was only later that Montini and De Luca corresponded and perhaps came to an accomodation, an agreement that there should be an insistence that religious values, both in art and in literature , which had been lost should remain autonomous in relation to the political power of the time

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Églises en péril

The Church of Saint-Jacques d’Abbeville in the course of being demolished

One of the great concerns of the French art history web magazine La Tribune de l'Art  is the threat to the destruction of the patrimony of France by the destruction of church buildings in France which recently seems to have stepped up a gear or three

Both local and central government in France seem determined that such vacant buildings should simply be demolished

Slowly (maybe not so slowly) but steadily the environment in France will be devoid of church buildings as well as the sound of bells

It is but a symptom of a much deeper malaise

Here are twenty three of its articles on "Églises en péril"

And 216 articles on French government policy

Old buildings are expensive to renovate and maintain

With dwindling congregations and less or no private revenue, the charge of the upkeep of French ecclesiastical buildings has to fall on the state

The Combes administration in 1905 passed the loi du 9 décembre 1905 concernant la séparation des Églises et de l'État for state secularism: a type of church-state relations, hostile to organised religion and totally unlike the American concept of the First Amendment

Emile Combes boasted of taking office for the sole purpose of destroying the religious orders. He closed thousands of what were not then called 'faith schools

Among other things the law provided that all religious buildings were property of the state and local governments and that the government put such buildings at the disposal of religious organisation at no expense to these, provided that they continue to use the buildings for  purpose of religious worship

Saint Pope Pius X led the resistance in Vehementer Nos (11th February 1906)

This was followed by his Encyclical Gravissimo Officii Munere on 10th August 1906

Now the attack on religion is not direct but indirect and much more subtle

It comes from within and without

Secularisation is most evident in the modern arts and in modern institutions

Religious art is displayed in modern secular art galleries and museums in an environment which strips religious art of its meaning, significance and power

The appropriation of religious imagery, ritual  and language for secular purposes is most evident in the arts, politics and public life in general

But religion has in its turn appropriated wholesale secular imagery and language for religious purposes

Now the church buildings - the husks of a religious life and culture - are being obliterated 

Gradually the collective memory of Christianity is being removed from life in France and other parts of Western Europe

Popular paganism now holds sway

In 1906, liberals and the intelligentsia thought that the French Church should accomodate itself to the new French laws and join "cultural associations". Members of the French Academy thought so and publicly said so. They earned the title of the "cardinaux verts". 

Pius X rejected this approach in Gravissimo Officii Munere  and has earned opprobrium in certain circles ever since

But his approach was successful and was set out in Vehementer Nos

He said:
"You know the aim of the impious sects which are placing your heads under their yoke, for they themselves have proclaimed with cynical boldness that they are determined to "de Catholicise" France.  
They want to root out from your hearts the last vestige of the faith which covered your fathers with glory, which made your country great and prosperous among nations, which sustains you in your trials, which brings tranquillity and peace to your homes, and which opens to you the way to eternal happiness. 
You feel that you must defend this faith with your whole souls. But be not deluded - all labour and effort will be useless if you endeavour to repulse the assaults made on you without being firmly united.  
Remove, therefore, any causes of disunion that may exist among you. 
And do what is necessary to ensure that your unity may be as strong as it should be among men who are fighting for the same cause, especially when this cause is of those for the triumph of which everybody should be willing to sacrifice something of his own opinions.  
If you wish, within the limits of your strength and according to your imperious duty, to save the religion of your ancestors from the dangers to which it is exposed, it is of the first importance that you show a large degree of courage and generosity. ... 
As for the defence of religion, if you wish to undertake it in a worthy manner, and to carry it on perseveringly and efficaciously, two things are first of all necessary: you must model yourselves so faithfully on the precepts of the Christian law that all your actions and your entire lives may do honour to the faith you profess, and then you must be closely united with those whose special office it is to watch over religion, with your priests, your bishops, and above all with this Apostolic See, which is the pivot of the Catholic faith and of all that can be done in its name.  
Thus armed for the fray, go forth fearlessly for the defence of the Church; but take care that your trust is placed entirely in God, for whose cause you are working, and never cease to pray to Him for help."

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Poussin and Religion

Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)
La Vision de sainte Françoise Romaine: The Vision of Saint Francesca Romana
c. 1657
Oil on canvas
120,7 x 101,8 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Over three quarter of Poussin`s paintings have religious subjects

This has come as a surprise to some art historians who see him as a Classicist mainly concerned with pre-Christian Rome and Greece

The Louvre presently has an exhibition on Nicolas Poussin (1594 – 1665) and his religious works: Poussin et Dieu

On the face of it the exhibition is to mark the 350th anniversary of the artist's death in 1665

The exhibition tries to review possible Christian readings of Poussin's painting and one of his signature features: his merging of the antique and Christian notions of the sacred

Poussin’s religious paintings have been studied far less than his secular works, largely due to the image of the artist that some art historians (in particular Anthony Blunt) have created

The result is often to see his works as works of the intellect and only fully appreciated through intellectual lenses

He resided in baroque Rome, in the period that followed the Council of Trent. 

According to Cardinal Gabriele Paleotti's Discorso, the proper purpose of religious art was: 'il dilettare, l'insegnare, e commovere'

Teaching may have been one purpose but as Paleotti pointed out the senses, interest and emotions of the spectator were also to be engaged

In addition to straight forward religious themes, he also used  religious motifs in his mythological works. 

For Blunt, Poussin is the great Stoic. Animated by great passion which is concentrated by serious intelligence, reason and the will

« Le Peintre philosophe  ... le maître du classicisme» who painted  the  « paysage idéal »

That is an element of his work but not the whole story

This painting of Saint Francesca Romana  (1384 – March 9, 1440)  is usually categorised as a commission as indeed it was - for Cardinal Giulio Rospigliosi (the future Pope Clement IX)

The work was commissioned to celebrate the ending of an outbreak of the plague in Rome in 1656 - 7

Poussin’s niece and sister-in-law died in the outbreak in Rome

In 1656, the plague killed about half of Naples' 300,000 inhabitants. It was the worst disaster to strike the kingdom and city of Naples in the 1600s 

Compared to Naples and Southern Italy Rome had had a very narrow escape

St Francesca or St Frances was known by the people of Rome as "the Advocate of Rome"

Her intervention had been sought to end the plague and by 1657 the virulence of the epidemic had substantially decreased and it looked as if it was about to be eradicated

There are two possible interpretations of the work according to the Louvre catalogue

First, the Saint is appearing to a Roman lady or Carmelite (possibly Anna Colonna Barberini, founder of the convent and the Carmelite cchurch of Regina Coeli in Rome at this time) who is beseeching her to intervene and entreat the end of the plague

The alternative but far more likely explanation is that St Frances on behalf of the City of Rome is the one who is kneeling and appealing to Our Lady  to entreat her Son to end the plague

This is probably more likely as the figure of the Virgin is based on the cult of the city of Faenza to the Beata Vergine delle Grazie 

She is the patron saint of Faenza under the title Madonna delle Grazie

Faenza’s Beata Vergine delle Grazie emerged during the plague epidemic of 1410, when a woman named Giovanna de’ Costumi prayed to the Virgin for her city’s liberation

The Virgin Mary appeared to her, opened her arms in the manner of the crucified Christ, and, while breaking the arrows she held in each hand

The cult grew again in Faenza in 1630 and it would seem that the city was spared from the plague

The cult spread to Rome and Cardinal Giulio Rospigliosi was a member of the Confraternity of the Beata Vergine delle Grazie 

This interpretation fits in with the idea of the painting being an ex voto

Arrows ? A classical reference.

Apollo was the pagan God who among other things brought plague through firing arrows

In Homer's Iliad I, 39, Apollo shoots the arrows of plague at the Greeks for nine days: “with a face as dark as night, and his silver bow rang death as he shot his arrow in the midst of them.”

Apollo's many epithets included “Smintheus,” associated with mice and rats, both as their exterminator, but also as the bringer of the plague.

We see the angel chasing Apollo or his minion away like a giant mouse or rat back into the earth or ground whence the mice came

The mouse in ancient times was a symbol of prophetic power because it was thought mice were inspired by the exhaling coming out of the ground.

Here we see Mary surrounded by clouds or fumes like an Ancient Prophetess prophesying the end of the plague to the saint. No tripod. She dispels the fumes coming from the ground which the ancient sibyls relied on to prophesy. She overcomes the ancient pagan dispensation of evil soothsayers who scurry off stage right

The role of Mary as Prophet is seen in the New Testament in Luke 1:26-55- in the Canticle of Mary at the Visitation

We see it also in Lourdes and Fatima

In  the background of the painting we see scenes of the plague and an archangel putting to flight a monster who personifies the Great Affliction

The scene is set in  imposing architecture marked by classical pilasters framing a large arcade. 

The scene is Rome

The figure of the Plague has  the features of the Gladiator carrying a dead child and another, (based on the ancient statues in the Farnese collection now in the  Archaeological Museum in Naples). 

As for the reclining woman, she is based on the Baroque statue of   St. Cecilia of Maderno in the Church of Saint Cecilia in Rome, a greatly popular Roman site and shrine

The cult of Faenza becomes a cult of Rome

Mary is seen in her role as the mediatrix of Grace between human and divine. A Jesuit theme and certainly not Jansenist

Saint John Paul II once said:
"As the liturgy and Christian piety demonstrate, the Church has always held devotion to Mary in high esteem, considering it inseparably linked to belief in Christ. It is in fact based on the Father’s plan, the Saviour’s will and the Paraclete’s inspiration."
(General Audience Wednesday, 5 November 1997)
The importance of "popular piety" has always been emphasised by the Church. Pope Francis  wrote in Evangelii Gaudium:
"Popular piety enables us to see how the faith, once received, becomes embodied in a culture and is constantly passed on. Once looked down upon, popular piety came to be appreciated once more in the decades following the Council. In the Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI gave a decisive impulse in this area. There he stated that popular piety “manifests a thirst for God which only the poor and the simple can know” and that “it makes people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism, when it is a question of bearing witness to belief”. Closer to our own time, Benedict XVI, speaking about Latin America, pointed out that popular piety is “a precious treasure of the Catholic Church”, in which “we see the soul of the Latin American peoples”.

During the outbreak the Pope, Alexander VII stayed in the Quirinal

With the Congregazione della sanità strict health preventive measures were adopted and enforced

In July  1656, most of Romes distinguished artists and architects were invited to take up residence on the barricaded grounds of the Quirinal Palace

However Poussin appears to have stayed with his beloved wife Anne-Marie and his extended family

It would have been a fraught and anxious time to say the least

During the plague the Pope expressly entrusted the city to Our Lady

And during the plague time Poussin executed another work to Mary: The Annunciation (1657) which is in The National Gallery in London

Some have called it his greatest work

Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)
The Annunciation
Oil on canvas
106 x 104 cm
National Gallery, London

It is an austere work as one might expect in a time of plague which theologians of the time attributed to the effects of Original Sin and the Fall of Man

It has been suggested that the picture was intended to hang above the tomb of Poussin's patron, Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588 - 1657), in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome. 

Another possibility is that it was painted for Pope Alexander VII and for his private chapel at the Quirinal

Mary has a yellow shawl. Yellow was the colour which the Jews in Rome were compelled to wear at that time to distinguish them from other Romans

Rather ironically, Poussin used "Naples Yellow" (lead antimony yellow) a pigment of unusual origin with a touch of tin for the colour

In the 17th century, Naples yellow was a native earth associated only with Vesuvius and its environs as part of an attempt by makers to throw off how it was made

This is quite definitely a Mary of the Jewish faith

She is reading The Old Testament - the Word of God

It is soon to be given to her the choice to conceive The Word

She is meditating on it. She is praying

Or as said by Luke, she is pondering

The scene is narrated in Luke:
"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus’ (Luke 1.26-31). 

Anthony Blunt argued that the work borrows from The Ecstasy of St Teresa sculpted by Bernini  for the Coronaro Chapel in Rome 

But the love here bears no trace of the erotic love depicted in Bernini`s work

We see agape

We see a Lady filled with Grace, that concept whose discussion led to a rupture in Christendom and whose debates were filled with hate and bitterness spilling over and developing into devastating conflicts which wracked European Christendom in the beginning of the 17th century

The conflagrations and wars were not about Grace but territory and treasure, The material, interest and power not spirit and certainly not about love and service. 

In the painting we see Mary is seated like the Seat of Wisdom and over her is the Holy Spirit, that person of the Trinity whose acts are " those in which Love excels"   
Perhaps this image brings to mind Scripture:
"That which is born of the Spirit, is spirit" (John iii., 6).  
"Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created, and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth" (Ps. ciii., 30).
Unlike one of Fra Angelico`s Annunciations, this Annunciation is a lean spare and powerful statement of the essential meaning of that most mysterious and most important event when Mary assented to the will of God and the countdown to Man`s redemption began

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Dispute on the Trinity

Andrea del Sarto (1486 - 1530)
Disputa sulla Trinità / Debate on the Trinity
Oil on wood panel
232 x 193 cm
Galleria Palatina e Appartamenti, Palazzo Pitti, Florence

The saints in contemplation are Saints Augustine, Laurence, Peter Martyr, Francis, Sebastian and Mary Magdalene

It was commissioned for the Peri Chapel in the Chiesa di San Gallo in Florence

The Peri family had distinguished itself in republican service. The so called "inventor" of opera Jacopo Peri (1561 - 1633) was (to be) a member of this family

In 1529 when the church was destroyed in the Siege by Charles V,  it was transferred to the Church of San Jacopo de' Fossi in Florence where it stayed for about 100 years before falling into the ownership of the Medici family

The Church of San Gallo was with the Augustinian Order hence the significance of St Augustine and one of St Augustine`s great field of study: The Trinity

The models for the work are two works by Raphael: The Disputa of the Eucharist (1508) in the Stanze Vaticane and his Ecstasy of Saint Cecilia (1514)

Del Sarto produced two other works for this Church: the Annunciation and Noli me tangere (1510)

One sees the Trinity and a variety of saints of different times, situations and backgrounds but all of major importance

In De Trinitate, VIII, 8, 12, Saint Augustine wrote:
“If you see charity, you see the Trinity”
As Pope Leo XIII said (see below),  the worship paid to the saints and angels, to the Mother of God, and to Christ Himself, finally redounds to the honour of the Blessed Trinity.

In Divinum Illus Munus, (1897) Pope Leo XIII with reference to St Augustine tried to explain some aspects of the Catholic Doctrine of the Trinity:

"The Catholic Doctrine of the Blessed Trinity 
3. Before We enter upon this subject, it will be both desirable and useful to say a few words about the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity. 
This dogma is called by the doctors of the Church "the substance of the New Testament," that is to say, the greatest of all mysteries, since it is the fountain and origin of them all. In order to know and contemplate this mystery, the angels were created in Heaven and men upon earth. In order to teach more fully this mystery, which was but foreshadowed in the Old Testament, God Himself came down from the angels unto men:
"No man bath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him" (John i., 18). 
Whosoever then writes or speaks of the Trinity must keep before His eyes the prudent warning of the Angelic Doctor: 
"When we speak of the Trinity, we must do so with caution and modesty, for, as St. Augustine saith, nowhere else are more dangerous errors made, or is research more difficult, or discovery more fruitful" (Summ. Th. la., q. xxxi. De Trin. 1 L, c. 3). 
The danger that arises is lest the Divine Persons be confounded one with the other in faith or worship, or lest the one Nature in them be separated: for 
"This is the Catholic Faith, that we should adore one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity." 
Therefore Our predecessor Innocent XII, absolutely refused the petition of those who desired a special festival in honour of God the Father. For, although the separate mysteries connected with the Incarnate Word are celebrated on certain fixed days, yet there is no special feast on which the Word is honoured according to His Divine Nature alone. 
And even the Feast of Pentecost was instituted in the earliest times, not simply to honour the Holy Ghost in Himself, but to commemorate His coming, or His external mission. 
And all this has been wisely ordained, lest from distinguishing the Persons men should be led to distinguish the Divine Essence. Moreover the Church, in order to preserve in her children the purity of faith, instituted the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, which John XXII. afterwards extended to the Universal Church. 
He also permitted altars and churches to be dedicated to the Blessed Trinity,and, with the divine approval, sanctioned the Order for the Ransom of Captives,which is specially devoted to the Blessed Trinity and bears Its name. 
Many facts confirm its truths. 
The worship paid to the saints and angels, to the Mother of God, and to Christ Himself, finally redounds to the honour of the Blessed Trinity. In prayers addressed to one Person, there is also mention of the others; in the litanies after the individual Persons have been separately invoked, a common invocation of all is added: all psalms and hymns conclude with the doxology to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; blessings, sacred rites, and sacraments are either accompanied or concluded by the invocation of the Blessed Trinity. 
This was already foreshadowed by the Apostle in those words: 
"For of Him, and by Him, and in Him, are all things: to Him be glory for ever"(Rom. xi., 36)
thereby signifying both the Trinity of Persons and the Unity of Nature: for as this is one and the same in each of the Persons, so to each is equally owing supreme glory, as to one and the same God. 
St. Augustine commenting upon this testimony writes: 
"The words of the Apostle, of Him, and by Him, and in Him are not to be taken indiscriminately; of Him refers to the Father, by Him to the Son, in Him to the Holy Ghost" (De Trin. 1. vi., c. 10; 1. i., c. 6). 
The Church is accustomed most fittingly to attribute to the Father those works of the Divinity in which power excels, to the Son those in which wisdom excels, and those in which love excels to the Holy Ghost. Not that all perfections and external operations are not common to the Divine Persons; for "the operations of the Trinity are indivisible, even as the essence of the Trinity is indivisible" (St. Aug., De Trin., I. 1, cc. 4-5); because as the three Divine Persons "are inseparable, so do they act inseparably" (St. Aug., i6.). 
But by a certain comparison, and a kind of affinity between the operations and the properties of the Persons, these operations are attributed or, as it is said, "appropriated" to One Person rather than to the others. 
"Just as we make use of the traces of similarity or likeness which we find in creatures for the manifestation of the Divine Persons, so do we use Their essential attributes; and this manifestation of the Persons by Their essential attributes is called appropriation" (St. Th. la., q. 39, xxxix., a. 7). 
In this manner the Father, who is "the principle of the whole God-head" (St. Aug. De Trin. 1 iv., c. 20) is also the efficient cause of all things, of the Incarnation of the Word, and the sanctification of souls; "of Him are all things": of Him, referring to the Father. 
But the Son, the Word, the Image of God is also the exemplar cause, whence all creatures borrow their form and beauty, their order and harmony. He is for us the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the Reconciles of man with God. "By Him are all things": by Him, referring to the Son. 
The Holy Ghost is the ultimate cause of all things, since, as the will and all other things finally rest in their end, so He, who is the Divine Goodness and the Mutual Love of the Father and Son, completes and perfects, by His strong yet gentle power, the secret work of man's eternal salvation. "In Him are all things": in Him, referring to the Holy Ghost."

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Francesco Hayez (1791-1882)

Francesco Hayez (1791-1882)
S Michele Arcangelo Traffige Il Drago/ St Michael Archangel Slays The Dragon
Oil on canvas
Parrocchia Sant'Andrea Apostolo, Iseo, Brescia

Hayez was the most important figure in the transition from Neoclassicism to Romanticism in Italian painting

His Romantic leanings come out mainly in subject-matter rather than in technique, 

He trained in Rome in the circle of Canova and Ingres. 

He painted religious, historical, and mythological works in a vein owing something to Delacroix and Delaroche, and Ingres

Ferrari wrote of the picture of St Michael:
".. Ecco uno Spirto / Velocissimo scendere dall’etere / Col dardo in mano fiaccator possente / Dell'altero Satanno: oh son divine / Quelle angeliche forme!"

Below is the depiction of the Gospel of John (8: 3-11) in what might appear to be somewhat in the style of the German Nazarenes:

Francesco Hayez (1791-1882)
Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery
Oil on canvas
43.2 x 53.9 cm
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

In the next year we find another work depicting Samson`s defeat of the Lion now in Florence

Francesco Hayez (1791-1882)
Sansone e il leone atterrato
Samson and the Lion thrown to the Ground
Oil on canvas
210 x 162 cm
Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Florence

The full title of the work is:
Sansone, atterrato un giovane leone, medita di farlo in brani, provando così il dono della prodigiosa sua forza 
The work was commissioned by Ambrogio Maria Martiniano Uboldo (1785 - 1865) and then exhibited at the Brera

Uboldo was a patron of Hayez. He was a soldier under Napoleon and then under the Austrians

A great part of the income in terms of his Will was left for a Hospital for the poor

The work has a martial feel

The last religious masterpiece by Hayez was one of Christ in the Passion:

Francesco Hayez (1791-1882)
Ecce Homo
c.1870 - 4
Oil on canvas
128 cm x 210 cm
Galleria dell’Accademia Tadini di Lovere,  Brescia 

It was done while not in good health

However it was point of honour to complete it

He had promised his grandson

It was, he wrote a "puntiglio di mantenere la promessa che ho dato a mia nipote di fare avere il dipinto l'Ecce Homo pei primi del venturo Agosto". 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Saints Flora and Lucilla

Master of Saints Flora and Lucilla, active ca. 1300 - 1340
Saint Flora
ca. 1310
Tempera on panel
90.4 x 55.4 cm
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Ct

Master of Saints Flora and Lucilla, active ca. 1300 - 1340
Saint Lucilla
ca. 1310
Tempera on panel
90.3 x 54.4 cm
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Ct

The cult of Saints Flora and Lucilla was strong in Tuscany especially around Arezzo

They appeared to have died martyrs` deaths circa AD 260-265 during the reign of Gallienus

They were two sisters who were virgins who were martyred along with Eugenius, Theodore, Antonius  and another 18 companions

Their feast day was 29th July until their names were expunged from the Roman calendar in 2001 on the basis that their stories were probably a medieval legend

About AD 851 their relics were taken from Ostia to Arezzo by John, Bishop of Arezzo where he placed them in a Benedictine abbey

He later built a church on the Titano (Torrita) hill overlooking the town and an  abbey to house the remains

The church (La Badia delle Sante Flora e Lucilla)was rebuilt in the 1560s by Vasari 

The presbytery is dominated by the monumental altar built by Vasari (a native of Arezzo) for the chapel of his family in the parish church of Santa Maria in 1563 and moved here in 1865. 

A masterpiece of baroque artifice is the false dome, painted on canvas by the celebrated Jesuit brother Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709)  in 1702 and placed above the main altar

In the 9th century their stories were memorialised in The Passio. however it simply copies verbatim the stories of other saints and martyrs with some insignificant changes

The relics are still in the Badia but housed in the altar dedicated to  Saint Rita. 

The cult did spread throughout Tuscany and also into France and Spain

Here is a Mannerist version of the Baptism of St Lucilla by St Valentine by da Ponte:

Jacopo Bassano (Jacopo da Ponte) (1510-1592)
St Valentine Baptizing St Lucilla
Oil on canvas
183.5 x 129.5 cm
Museo Civico, Bassano del Grappa

Bassano has conflated a number of stories and produced a parable on Light

Lucilla as painted is the daughter of a Roman noble who seeks Baptism from the hands of St Valentine

She is blind

On being baptised her sight is restored

Valentine and Lucilla are subsequently martyred

As might be expected from an artistic master of the Veneto and pupil of Titian the light effects in the painting dazzle the viewer reinforcing the theme of the painting

By the early 1560s Bassano freed himself from Mannerist preoccupations, returning to a new objectivity and classicism with compositions based upon the unifying power of light. 

In Baptism we become Children of God, the brothers and sisters of Christ, the Light of the World

Out of the darkness Lucilla will step into the Light and will never be the same again

A religious man and a painter of many religious works, da Ponte is said to have stated:
"Sono di fede et religione cristiana, e chi si ingana, suo dano” ("I am of the Christian faith and religion, and if somebody believes the contrary, he is wrong and it is his problem")

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Whitsun Cassone

Italian School
The Whitsun Cassone
Oil on panel
81 x 198 cm
Campion Hall, University of Oxford

Campion Hall in Oxford was established by the Society of Jesus in 1896 as a private Hall of the University

This cassone is but one

A cassone (or forziere) was a type of decorated wooden dowry chest  from central Italy, used extensively from the end of the fourteenth, through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. 

The construction and decoration of cassoni closely parallel methods used for contemporary altarpieces

It took about a month to paint a cassone front

According to Vasari, the Florentine Apollonio di Giovanni di Tomaso (1414 – 1465) specialised in the painting of such cassoni

Their decoration changed from painted design in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries to carving (sometimes partially gilt) in the second half of the sixteenth century.

This cassone  depicts the descent of the Holy Spirit at the First Pentecost or Whitsunday as described in the Acts of the Apostles, 2: 1–4.

Mary is at the centre of the gathering of the Apostles and disciples in Jerusalem

"1 When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. 
2 And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. 
3 Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. 
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim"
However there are some differences

The setting is in the open air and not in a house

The tongues of fire are not yet on the people assembled

The scene is the one before the first proclamation (or kerygma) by St Peter of the messianic significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus:
"Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you (both) see and hear ... 
Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified."

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Pius XI Art Historian

Fra Antonio da Monza (active 1492/1503 ) 
1492 - 1503
Miniature on Parchment
33,5 x 27,7 cm
Albertina Museum, Vienna, Austria

Pope Pius XI (Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti) (31 May 1857 – 10 February 1939), was Pope from 6 February 1922 to his death in 1939.

Before he became a diplomat, he was a scholar of no mean repute

He was at the Ambrosian Library (the Biblioteca Ambrosiana) in Milan, from 1888 to 1911. He was made Prefect in 1907

In 1911, at Pope Pius X's invitation, he moved to the Vatican to become Vice-Prefect of the Vatican Library, and in 1914 was promoted to Prefect.

While in Milan, he  transcribed and published codices and rare archival documents. He reordered the Library of the Certosa di Pavia, the Library and the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana,as well as  the Museo Settala

He recovered and restored the codices and manuscripts of the Chapter of Milan Cathedral which had been damaged by fire

As Pope he founded the new Vatican Pinacoteca, in a special building near the new entrance to the Museums. He also founded the Missionary-Ethnological Museum in 1926, arranged on the upper floors of the Lateran Palace before it was moved elsewhere

Occasionally one comes across articles and works from his early period in Milan

There was an interesting debate in which he took part concerning the Lombard miniaturist and Franciscan Fra Antonio da Monza (active about 1480 - 1505)

His Pentecost (above)  is now in the Albertina

It was for a  Festmissale for the then  Pope Alexander VI, the Borgia Pope whose features also adorn the work. The choir books were a gift by the Pope for Santa Maria in Aracoeli and  the Observant Franciscans within the Church

Fra Antonio appears to have been a member of the Observant Franciscans

Antonio's artistic style was influenced by the art of Leonardo da Vinci. Scholars have attributed several liturgical books, as well as some miniatures in the Sforza Hours and in Antonio Minuti's Life of Muzio Attendolo Sforza, to him. Minuti was a notary and chancellor to the Sforza family

Here are some works where positive attributions to him have been made

Antonio da Monza (active about 1480 - 1505)
Initial R: The Resurrection
From Introit for Easter, Gradual:  Ms. Ludwig VI 3 (the Ludwig Aracoeli Manuscript,)
late 15th or early 16th century
Tempera colours, gold leaf, and ink on parchment bound between original wood boards covered with brown leather
64.1 x 43.5 cm (25 1/4 x 17 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Antonio da Monza (active about 1480 - 1505)
The Crucifixion
c. 1492 - 4
From The Christmas Missal of Pope Alexander VI Ms. Borg. Lat. 425, folio 38v
Missa in Nativitate Domini Nostri Iesu Christi, hora tertiarum Pontifice Maximo celebrante
 Gouache, ink, and gold on vellum,
46.5 x 32.4 cm
Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. Vatican

The work and identity of Fra Antonio da Monza was only revived by researchers in the late nineteenth century, but little is known about his life or career

He is a mysterious figure

Art historians have attempted to piece together the oeuvre of Fra Antonio da Monza or cited individual works as successful examples of hybrid compositions 

One of these historians was the great German art historian Paul Kristeller (1863 - 1931) not to be confused with the great Columbia University scholar of the Italian renaissance, Paul Oskar Kristeller (1905-1999). {But of course they often are and the works of the earlier are often shown as works of the latter)

Kristeller as one of the leading art historians of the Italian Renaissance became interested in Fra Antonio

In 1901 he published a monograph Fra Antonio da Monza, incisore  in  Rassegna d'arte I (1901), pp 161-164 and wondered whether on the basis of two hitherto unattributed prints he discovered in Milan whether Fra Antonio had also been an engraver and printer

The evidence he adduced was slight and unconvincing but his view was taken up by some art establishment figures such as S. Arthur Strong, Librarian to the House of Lords and at Chatsworth, Sir Sidney Colvin (Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum) and Arthur Mayger Hind (later Keeper of the Department of Prints, British Museum) 

They also prayed in aid the views of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana and Monsignor Ratti

This seems to have been the final straw

He poured cold water on the idea, demolished the reasons given for the attribution and clinically advanced reasons why on the basis of the existing evidence Fra Antonio could not have been the engraver

Why the bother ?

Possibly a number of reasons can be envisaged

He wanted the truth to come out and be established according to the hard facts and evidence and be established in a positive rational way and not on the basis of pure subjective opinion and reverie

The thesis which he attacked ignored the possibility or even probability that around 1500 there was in his beloved Milan, his beloved Lombardy a mature and thriving market for art filled with mature and sophisticated artists and their customers

For Kristeller was firmly of the view that the peak of Italian woodcut was to be found in Venice and Florence and that outwith Rome and Naples there were no local schools of woodcut in Italy

Of course he also wished to guard the academic reputation of the highly regarded Biblioteca Ambrosiana

Here is his article with the illustrations:

A work of great erudition and scholarship but both are lightly worn by the very learned author

This was written before the time when academics had research assistants and students who did first or second drafts

One notes the pointed ending with the Classical allusion

The reply came from Kristeller in his Die Lombardische Graphik der Renaissance. Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1913.  - in a large passage and a footnote:

The First World War put an end to the debate

However in the 1940s and beyond Father Ratti`s view held sway and Kristeller`s was overruled