Friday, June 25, 2010

Miracle of the Snow: Foundation of Santa Maria Maggiore

Title: Miracle of the Snow: Foundation of Santa Maria Maggiore

Artist: Masolino da Panicale

Date: c. 1428-1432

Size: 144 x 76 cm

Location: Museo di Capodimonte, Naples.

This painting, part of the altar depicting the Miracle of the Snow, was painted between 1428 and 1432 by Masolino da Panicale for the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome. It has since been removed and can now be seen in the National Gallery of Capodimonte, Naples. To commemorate the Miracle of the Snow, every August 5th a cascade of white petals descends from the coffered ceiling onto the altar place during the religious festivities.

This painting commemorates the foundation of the Santa Maria Maggiore in the center of Rome. Legend says that between the 4th and the 5th of August of 352, Pope Liberius and Giovanni, a rich Roman gentleman, dreamed of Mother Mary asking them to build a church devoted to her on the Esquilino hill, one of the famous Seven Hills of Rome. The virgin also told them that at the place chosen to build the church it was going to snow. Generally, snow is extremely rare in Rome, even in the coldest seasons, so the following morning when a rectangle of snow was discovered on the Esquilino hill during the hottest month of the Roman Summer, it was regarded as miraculous. People crowded to see the patch of snow, which persisted despite the heat. As soon as the plot for the building had been staked out, the snow melted, and the first major church in Rome in honor of Mary was erected in it’s place.

There has been some speculation among “UFOlogists” that this event was actually a phenomenon of extraterrestrial origin. In fact, this “Miracle of the Snow” is likened to another event that occurred at 2.30 pm, 27 October 1954: several discs were reported flying in the sky over Florence, and left in their strange passage "flakes", white and “cotton-like”. The substance was quick to disintegrate if held in the hand. Nearly sixty years later the case on the Florence phenomenon remains unresolved. Speculation links these two events, and there are those who maintain that this is why Masolino’s clouds are not depicted like normal clouds, lacking any vaporous contours, but are all clearly delineated, almost disc-like in their appearance.

Masolino da Panicale (c. 1383, Panicale in Valdelsa - c.1447, Florence) was a Florentine painter of the early Renaissance, whose real name was Tommaso di Cristoforo Fini. His versatile painting incorporated his feeling for decorative color with strong modeling and spatial organization. He was admitted in 1423 to the apothecaries' guild in Florence, in which painters were enrolled, and was soon commissioned to paint the frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel in Florence. These were continued by his pupil Masaccio upon Masolino's departure in 1427 for Hungary.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

St Joseph and the Infant Jesus

Title: St Joseph and the Infant Jesus

Artist: Jusepe de Ribera

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 126 x 100cm

Date: 1632

Location: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

St. Joseph, also known as Joseph of the House of David, Joseph the Betrothed, or Joseph the Worker is the husband of the Virgin Mary, the foster father of Jesus, and head of the Holy Family. Joseph is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches. The gospels describe Joseph as a "tekton" (τεκτων); traditionally the word has been taken to mean "carpenter", though the Greek term is much less specific. It cannot be translated narrowly; it evokes an artisan with wood in general, or an artisan in iron or stone. Very little other information on Joseph is given in the Gospels, but the little there is describes well enough who he was: "a righteous man" (Matthew 1:18).

In this intimate painting, St. Joseph, bathed in a gentle golden light that falls from above, holds a flowered staff. According to apocryphal sources, suitors for the Virgin Mary’s hand were to present rods to the high priest of the Temple. When Joseph’s rod bloomed, he was identified as her betrothed. Here he is accompanied by the Christ Child, who offers him a basket with carpentry tools, alluding to his step-father’s profession. St. Joseph, as patron Saint of fathers, serves as an example about the importance of commitment to marriage, the family, and the importance of living an unstained moral life.

Jusepe (or José) de Ribera (January 12, 1591 - September 2, 1652), was a Spanish painter, etcher, and draughtsman, active for all his known career in Italy, where he was called 'Lo Spagnoletto' (the Little Spaniard). Little is known of his life before he settled in Naples in 1616, which at the time was a Spanish possession. Naples was then one of the main centres of the Caravaggesque style, and Ribera is often described as one of Caravaggio's followers. Ribera’s work, however, tends to be much more individualistic than that of most Caravaggesque artists, particularly in his vigorous and scratchy handling of paint. Similarly, though he undoubtedly painted some powerful pictures of typically Caravaggesque themes, he was equally capable of great tenderness, and his work is remarkable for his feeling of individual humanity.