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.

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