Christ in the Wilderness: Lent – the Season of Preparation – Luke 4: 1-2.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days He was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, He was famished. (Gospel of Luke chapter 4: verses 1-2)

In the extraordinary painting  below, we see Jesus after He was led into the desert wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He is surrounded by rocks and sand. He sits on a boulder, hands in front of Him. His eyes are filled with the knowledge of reality, of passions, power, and pain, ego and emptiness, sin and self aggrandizement.

This painting may move us from the awareness that in the desert wilderness Jesus is not only thinking through His ministry, Passion, and death but is also viewing our lives – our ministries, our passions, our death.

What do we see?

Let us examine His face.

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We see the seriousness of the forthcoming temptations; the physical, mental, and the spiritually violent struggle with the devil. It is written plainly upon His emaciated face.

We see the irrefutable fact of Jesus’ humanity.

We see that He is like unto us, except for sin.

This is the face of our Savior; but the victory is not His, yet.

His temptations, public ministry, Passion, and death are still to occur.

What do we see?

We see a man who knows His Mind. He knows His Body, Soul, and Spirit.

He knows His freely accepted duty to accomplish His Father’s will.

This is not the face of a defeated man. It is the face of a determined man who is also Lord and Savior.

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Observe Christ’s clenched hands, gaze deeply into His eyes, and you will see the artist’s portrayal of a Savior that is already, at the beginning of His ministry, aware of the viciousness of the tempter and the burden of our sins. Sins accepted by Him, and through His Passion and death, makes all things new.

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Jesus had to confront in that desert assault whether or not He was going to be faithful to His mission.

The Gospel passage above challenges us with the same questions: are we going to be faithful to the Commandments, to our Baptismal promises, to the mission given us in Confirmation to live and practice the truths that He taught us?

Are we going to be faithful to the spiritual power and grace given to us, not just when we feel like it, but even in the most difficult of circumstances?

As disciples of Christ we are on a daily basis constantly revolving around the axis of temptation and sin – faith and grace. We understand that temptation, in and of itself, is a test – it is not sin. It is only sin when we willfully place ourselves in its shackles, when we give into its fueled power to overwhelm our body and soul. That power  – a deadly power – obtains its animus and energy from the original tempter and liar – Lucifer himself.

Hell is real. It is not a mental construct. To say that it doesn’t exist is to call Jesus a liar, and His Passion, death, and Resurrection meaningless.

Jesus the Christ lived heroically in the face of Hell’s demons and witnessed to the power of God’s grace.

But you say, I am not Jesus Christ, I am a weak man or woman, boy or girl.

I say true, we all are; but by virtue of our faithful reception of the Holy Sacraments (Holy Mysteries) of Reconciliation (Penance/Confession) and the Holy Eucharist we have the power of Christ’s grace within us. A power, freely given by God and unmerited by us, to resist and overcome temptation and sin.

If we do sin – if we do “miss the mark” – we have a remedy.  We follow St. Paul’s advice: pick yourself up, dust yourself off (confess your sins), and confidently continue on your journey. We must do our part in cooperation with God’s love and mercy.

The Season of Lent is a time of joyful repentance, prayer, and fasting.

Let’s remember the  words of Nehemiah, who in the Hebrew Scriptures says: Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength! (Nehemiah 8: 9-10. 5th century BC)

***

The painting above was created and completed in the late 19th century by Ivan Kramskoi. He was a gifted Russian painter, noted portraitist, draughtsman, and teacher. The painting is entitled Christ in the Wilderness.

Copyright © 2011- 2019 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Portions of this essay may be used in accordance with correct notation and bibliographical insertion; contact deaconiacono@icloud.com for more information or questions.

Apologists – Additional Saints Prior to the Council of Nicaea

Today’s post will continue to add to my two previous posts: The Apologists (Defenders of the Faith) – Part 7, and The Apologists – Comparing Icons. 

The men below are also known as the Ante Nicene Fathers. The word Ante (before) refers to the fact that they defended the Faith during the terrible persecutions of the first three centuries of the Church (the Domitian, Decian, Valerian, and Diocletian persecutions). These persecutions occurred prior to the Council of Nicaea (AD 325).

The Council of Nicaea was called by the Emperor Constantine in order for the assembled bishops, and their representatives from throughout the Empire, to discuss, debate, and establish the basic elements of a Creed for the Catholic Church (Eastern and Western Rites).

Prior to calling this Council, Constantine had proclaimed the toleration of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. He accomplished this through the Edict of Milan. This Edict (AD 313) did not mandate that Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire, that was to be done by a later Emperor – Theodosius I – in AD 380. The Edict just allowed for Christianity’s toleration as a religion.

The list below provides the additional Apologists who significantly contributed to the defense of all the aspects of the Early Christian Faith, such as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Seven Sacraments, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, etc.:

St. Justin Martyr, (born circa AD 100), an excellent writer, debater and teacher. He defended the Sacraments of the Church, especially the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the genuineness and inerrancy of the four Gospels, the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, how reason can come to know God, the Sacraments, God’s revelation and inspiration, etc. He also saw some aspects of ancient philosophy as a precursor of the Christian faith, and wrote two powerful defenses of the Faith to the Emperor and the Roman Senate. He was martyred, along with six other Christians, in AD 165.

St. Justin Martyr is a very important witness to the developing beliefs of the Catholic Church (Western and Eastern Rites) because he is discussing and describing many of the primary dogmatic and doctrinal beliefs of the Church which would be established over one hundred and fifty years later in the Nicene Creed (AD 325), and clarified and confirmed in the Council of Constantinople in AD 381.

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A sacred icon of St Justin Martyr, martyred AD 165. He was a powerful teacher, writer, and Defender of the Faith as it was passed down to him from Apostolic Times.

St. Melito of Sardis, (died circa AD 185),  a scholar who saw the immense value and importance of the Hebrew Scriptures and how they contributed to the Christian Scriptures; in AD 175, wrote a defense of the Christian Faith which was published in a letter to Emperor Marcus Aurelius. He was also instrumental in teaching and explaining the two natures of Jesus Christ: one divine and one human. His explanations kept the two natures separate, and teaches that Jesus was truly human and truly divine. He fought the Christological heresies that were developing at this time (especially Marcion’s heresy concerning Jesus’ physical body).

Tertullian, (died circa AD 222) a powerful, yet, at times, tactless writer and lawyer. He wrote on many aspects of early Church theology. He also wrote a spirited defense of the Christian Faith in a letter to the Roman Emperor. Interestingly, he is known for his description of the members of the Christian Faith: “See those Christians, how they love one another,” and “The blood of Christians is [the] seed [of the Church].”

St. Hippolytus of Rome, (died circa AD 236) in his book – The Apostolic Tradition – sets down a manual of liturgical prayers and tradition and it refers to an order of the Holy Mass. The current Eucharistic Prayer 2, in the Sacramentary (liturgical missal) used in the Western Rite, is attributed to the central prayer found in his The Apostolic Tradition.

Origen of Alexandria, (died AD 254), a genius in speculative theology who wrote extensively on subjects such as the belief in One God, the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Sacraments of the Church, etc. He was a voluminous writer and died a martyr.

St. Cyprian of Carthage, (born circa AD 200); he was a student of Tertullian. St. Cyprian was a tireless theologian and worker for unity within the Church, and through his patient and good-hearted efforts solved many controversies and squabbles. As a bishop he proclaimed that he was willing to welcome any pagan or heretic into the Church who confessed their sins, were willing to do penance, and were baptized. His defense and scholarship on the Holy Sacraments is considered important. He died a martyr in AD 258.

In my next post, Part 8, I will briefly discuss the Golden Era of the Apostolic Fathers (AD 325 – 430) whose blossoming occurred after the Council of Nicaea; also in that post, I will discuss and list the Post Nicene Fathers (circa AD 430 – AD 800). In Part 9, I will briefly list some of the important Church Councils of the 5th century and how they affected the Church’s sacred art.

Please review the bibliography page (found at the post of February 8, 2019). It provides the sources that I have been using in this specific sequence of posts on Church history.

Thanks for visiting with me. On this Ash Wednesday allow me to offer you my best wishes for a productive and prayerful Lenten Season.

Copyright © 2011- 2019, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you.

 

Christian Witness and Sacred Art – The Early Church Fathers – Part 7

A Challenge: Are you as a Christian artist willing to internalize the message of the saint, scene, or Scripture passage you are artistically representing, and then, correctly portray it according to Church tradition?

Sacred artists must have more than just an awarenesses of Jesus, His Mother, angels and  saints because their witness provides us with the foundation stones of our Faith. Sacred artists must be more than artists who propose “Art for art’s sake”.

If we do this what do we become? We become evangelists to the truth, goodness, and beauty of God, through the witness of Jesus Christ and the holy men and women who called Him the Son of God.

In the years immediately following St. Polycarp’s martyrdom (died, circa AD 155, and remembered yesterday, February 22nd, in the Roman Breviary and Missal) a group of eight Western and Eastern Rite scholars and clerics arose known as the Apologists (Defenders of the Faith).

The Apologists defended the beliefs and traditions of the Church that passed down to them, in an uninterrupted line, directly from the Apostles and Apostolic Fathers.  This occurred during the years of continued persecution – AD 155 through AD 313.

The works and ministerial witness of the Apologists provide evidence for the continuity of beliefs and dogmas in the Early Christian Church. It is through this historic development, and the literary and physical witness of their efforts, that we have  religious and cultural traditions which dramatically affected the growth of sacred art. These clerics and scholars desired to unify and establish the beliefs of the Western and Eastern Rites of the Church.

Church artists, and the later group of clerics and scholars known as the Nicene Fathers (who I will cover in later posts), were heavily influenced by their efforts. These two groups, the Ante Nicene and Nicene Fathers all desired to make concrete and visible the correct teaching – the orthodoxy – of the Church. These efforts ultimately produced artistic representations of these early spiritual heroes – a visible sign of the truths of the Gospels being preached – and in some cases, their witness in blood.

The Apologists have also been termed The Ante (Before) Nicene Fathers because they lived and died prior to the establishment of the  Creed of the Catholic Faith, ultimately to be known as the Nicene Creed.

Let us briefly review two of the Apologists: St. Irenaeus of Lyons, and St. Clement of Alexandria. In a subsequent post you will have the opportunity to read three or four sentence descriptions of the contributions of the other six  Apologists.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons was born in AD 130 and died circa AD 202. He speaks of the four Gospels as being the “Four Pillars of the Church,” and was in a position to know that since he heard St. Polycarp (a friend and disciple of the Apostle John) preach. He was steadfast in supporting the belief in Apostolic Tradition. He taught that the true Faith is the one imparted by the bishops of the Church who, in turn, received it directly in an uninterrupted set of teachings from the Apostles. St. Irenaeus was tenacious in his fight against heterodoxy, specifically the Gnostic heresy.

St. Irenaeus understood the value of St. Polycarp’s New Testament scholarship and his emphasis on the Church’s sacred Tradition. He spoke with authority on Mary as the New Eve, and the Holy Eucharist. St. Irenaeus barely escaped death during the persecution of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, however during the round-up approximately 50 other Christians had the joy of earning the holy crown of martyrdom. He may have eventually died a martyr, yet, there is not sufficient evidence to support it.

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St. Irenaeus of Lyons (died circa 202). Famous for his manuscripts Against Heresies. He used 21 out of the 27 books of the New Testament in his writings and sermons.

Another critical Apologist is St. Clement of Alexandria (born circa AD 150, died circa 215). He led a major catechetical school in Alexandria, Egypt and agreed with St. Irenaeus that the truth and knowledge of the holy Gospels proceed through the bishops and are for the population as a whole and not for any secret society (thus, he fought against the Gnostic heresy).

He taught that in order to understand the truths of the Gospels you must have faith in unison with reason. He is also known for three major catechetical works which are still in existence. These works were meant to accompany catechumens and those baptized into the Christian faith as an aid to their spiritual development. He was not martyred.

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St. Clement of Alexandria – an Apologist of the Early Church – as represented by an early iconographer of the Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church.

 

Thanks for stopping by the Institute. I hope you have a relaxing weekend.

Copyright © 2011- 2019 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you. Permission to copy these posts must be obtained from Deacon Paul Iacono at deaconiacono@icloud.com.

Roman Catholic Sacred Art – Part Five: The First Theological Theme

In the past four posts I briefly reviewed the following topics: Part 1: What is Art, Part 2: Roman Catholic Sacred Art – Categories, Part 3: Roman Catholic Sacred Art – Painting Schematic, and Part 4: Roman Catholic Sacred Art – Three Major and Minor Stages.

Today in Part 5, I would like to provide you with a brief review of a major, historically based, theological theme that directly impacts the creation of Roman Catholic and Orthodox Greek/Russian sacred art.

It is an historical fact that in the year AD 30, the Roman historian Tacitus writes in his Annals that “The Christ is condemned to death by Pontius Pilate, under the emperor Tiberius.”

It is a belief of all devout Christians that Jesus, the Son of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit, was born of the Virgin Mary. His ministry to the Israeli people was the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy. At the end of His ministry He was unjustly tried by the Romans, condemned to death, tortured, crucified, and died in reparation for our sins. Three days after His death, through the power of the Father and the Holy Spirit, He rose from the dead and was seen and interacted with the twelve Apostles and hundreds of His disciples. Before His ascent to Heaven the Apostles are told by Jesus to “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28: vs. 19-20).

St. Paul explains to us in his letter to the Colossians (1:15) that Jesus Christ is the image, the icon (eikon) of the invisible, all powerful, God. Our foundation from the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures explains that God communicates with us through historic events, His prophets, and His Son Jesus (“God is With Us” – Emmanuel).

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6th century painting of Jesus as Pantocrator (all knowing, all powerful)

The Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, communicate among themselves, too. The Father communicates with His creation through His incarnated Son. The Father discussed His plan for our eternal salvation, with His Son, and the Son  – Jesus, the Christ, agreed to both the Father’s plan for our Redemption and His Incarnation into human history. He also agreed to humbly obey His Father’s will.

Thus, through His Incarnation, Jesus expresses his two natures: human and divine. He does this while “hiding” the full majesty of His divinity (except for His Transfiguration and Resurrection). The full ramifications of the Incarnation of Jesus is one of the great mysteries of our Faith. It demands of us humility, faith, and loving obedience to God’s revealed teachings.

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15th century painting by St. Andrei Rublev of the Holy Trinity (Jesus is in the center)

The Incarnation of Jesus Christ changed the Universe. God became flesh, thus, all matter is good. Nature’s matter – its water, mineral, plant, and animal life – and its living beings – must be enjoyed and respected in obedience to God’s Laws.

Thus, we have our first theological theme: God the Father has communicated His love and laws to us. He has achieved this through His revealed word in the Scriptures, and the ministry, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, the Christ. Our Redemption by Jesus has made it possible for the Holy Spirit – the Sanctifier – to  express the love of the Holy Trinity to us through the Sanctifying Grace of the Seven Holy Sacraments.

Through theologically based sacred art these truths come alive. We are able to experience the life of our Redeemer  and the historic life of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith. This is all made visible to us through the painting, sculpture, music, drama, literature, poetry, and architecture of two thousand years of gifted artists.

Thanks for visiting with me. My best wishes for a great weekend!

Copyright © 2011- 2019 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

 

 

Roman Catholic Sacred Art – Categories

Tonight we will use yesterday’s post as a starting point to examine Roman Catholic painting. I mentioned that there are seven disciplines within the definition of Art. One of those disciplines is painting.

As it applies to this discussion when we consider the discipline of painting we can say that there are two major categoriesRoman Catholic Sacred Painting and Secular Painting.

We can then subdivide these two major categories.

Within the category of Roman Catholic Sacred Painting we have two major subcategories: Sacred Icons and Sacred Images.

I propose that there is a subcategory below Sacred Images, it is called Religious Images. I will explain in later posts the difference between Sacred Images and Religious Images.

Within the category of Secular Painting we can say that there are two subcategories. Let us call the first subcategory A Variety of Images. It consists of all the different types of paintings, made for the purpose of being “artifact, entertainment, political or social commentary, therapy, or a combination of two or more.” (Sporre, 1996; see previous post). It begins with the many generational wall and ceiling cave paintings painted by Paleolithic Man in the Vezere Valley, France approximately 17,000 years ago and continues with contemporary painters. Mankind loves to paint pictures.

The second subcategory within Secular Painting, as it applies to this discussion, is what I call Absurd Religious Images. Even though it has religious subject matter it is, in my opinion, secular art. I will provide a definition of that subcategory in an upcoming post and images which will make it recognizable.

Thanks for stopping by and spending some time here.

Copyright © 2011- 2018 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

St. Joseph’s Art Workshop: Lesson 4 – Applying Color and Modeling the Face

Just wanted to notify the people who are following the art lessons in my St. Joseph Art Workshop tab that I just published Lesson 4: Applying Color and Modeling the Face. You need to go to the Menu tab above and click on Lesson 4 to see it.

My next post in the St. Joseph’s Art Workshop tab will be Lesson 5. It will be the last post in my Art Exercise of Painting Sacred Images using Acrylic Paint. 

Thanks.

 

Fra Angelico’s Four Reliquaries for the Church of Santa Maria Novella – Part 4 of the “Heaven on Earth” Exhibition

Today’s post is Part 4 in my series that began on May 16, 2018 concerning the recently concluded exhibition of extraordinary egg tempera paintings by the Dominican friar Beato Fra Angelico. The exhibition was held at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts during the Spring of 2018 and was entitled Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth.

Nathaniel Silver, Associate Curator of the Collection for this exhibition, includes in his book, Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth, articles by eleven scholars. Each paper is a quality contribution to scholarship. There is one article authored by Chiara Pidatella, entitled “The Provenance of the Four Reliquaries for the Church of Santa Maria Novella.” It clarifies and answers the confusion surrounding the provenance of the four reliquaries. Ms. Pidatella has written an important paper in that it compiles the documentary evidence that proves that the four sacred images within the reliquaries in the sacristy of the Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, were painted by Fra Angelico. These reliquaries and other Angelico masterpieces were on display in the Gardner Museum.

A reliquary is an ornate elaborately constructed box, frame, etc. that is made of wood or precious metals and contains the remains of an individual or multiple saints. These remains may be small or large particles of bone, hair, etc of the deceased saint.  Depending on the design of the frame the openings for the relics are contained in the top or bottom, and in the center if it is a box with lid. You can see the potential opening for the relics at the top of the frame in The Dormition and Assumption of Mary.  It would be within the top circle that is vertically sliced in the center, the relics would be put in that small opening behind “the doors.” It should be noted that Colnaghi & Co. built a new frame for that painting in 1899. I presume they were loyal to the original design of a gabled early Renaissance reliquary, and that the vertical slice is actually an opening for the relic(s).

The reliquaries in the exhibition are embellished with four extraordinary paintings of events in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Ms Pidatella says that “The fact that the saints whose relics they [the reliquaries] contained are not explicitly named suggests that the relics were of minor importance, especially in comparison to others mentioned in the same documents and described with great precision (particularly those decorated with gemstones and precious metals). The third inventory also confirms that all four reliquaries stayed together in the sacristy until at least 1772″ [Pidatella, p. 25]. 

The history of the movements of the four reliquaries is interesting. I won’t go into the historic details yet one incident deserves mentioning  (I recommend that you purchase the book, Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth, 2018, Gardner Museum, and Paul Holberton, London). The incident concerns the events of the early 19th century when the French government was required (under orders from Napoleon) to make an inventory of Italian artworks. The result being the French government took a very hard stand in relation to Italian art. Ms. Pidatella mentions their belief “that only France deserved to exhibit works from the most important moments in the history of art” (emphasis mine) [Pidatella, p. 27].   Pretty cheeky.

While three of the reliquaries remained in Florence, the Dormition/Assumption of Mary reliquary (one of four seen below) made its way into a collection of an English family headed by Rev. John Sanford (1777 – 1855; he was the chaplain to the Duke of Cambridge, brother of the British King George IV). This acquisition occurred  in the early 19th century; however economic difficulties led to Sanford’s daughter, Anna Horatia Caroline Methuen, to put this Angelico painting on the market. When this occurred Bernard Berenson recommended Isabella Stewart Gardner of Boston to purchase the piece, which she ultimately did in 1899, for £4000 [Howard, p. 18, Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth]. The Dormition and Assumption of Mary painting then became the first Fra Angelico to be displayed in the United States. Its current frame (that you will see below) was commissioned by Colnaghi & Co.(art dealers) in 1899. Their focus was to frame it in its original gable design {Howard, p. 18-19, ibid].

It is my privilege to present to you my quickly snapped photos of these masterpieces of the four reliquaries (through the courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) . I will also provide my photograph of the back of one of the reliquaries to show you the wooden panel on which the egg tempera paint was applied. You will see that the panel was covered with a decorated piece of paper-like parchment. The reliquaries are approximately 24 inches tall by 15 inches wide.

The Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi (painted 1426-27) egg tempera and gold on wood panel. This frame is not slightly tipped to the right in reality. It was my attempt to snap a photo before someone stepped in front of me; I didn’t realize the photo was tipped at the time!

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The above two are closeups of the Annunciation and Adoration. Slight tipping resulting from a quick snap occurred here, too. The green squares to the left of Mary’s head are not part of the painting. I did not use a flash. I don’t know what they are, possibly security lights. Notice the extraordinary grill work in back of the Virgin Mary, the angel Gabriel, and the Magi.

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The Dormition and Assumption of Mary (1433-34, egg tempera and gold on wood panel). Purchased by Isabella Stewart Gardner in 1899, making it the first Fra Angelico painting in America. The painting shows in the lower section the Dormition (falling asleep, death, and above it the resurrection of Mary, the Mother of God ( that is, Mother of Jesus’ human nature) and her simultaneous Assumption into Heaven. The angel, dressed in a blue garment to the left of the frame, is one of a number of larger than life size posters that graced the black walls surrounding the exhibit. These poster angels were copied from Fra Angelico’s paintings. They provided a dramatic effect to the entire exhibit.

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The above is a closeup of Mary which has also been expanded into a larger than life size poster image found in the above Assumption painting. This image was the first you saw as you rounded the second floor stairs into the exhibit at the Gardner Museum. It was taken from the above reliquary on the Dormition and Assumption of Mary and introduced visitors to the beauty of the exhibit.

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The Coronation of the Virgin (1429). The lower image within this reliquary is contained in a small rectangular panel called a predella. It shows the Adoration of the Christ Child by Mary, St. Joseph, and six angels. It also is completed in egg tempera, gold, on a wooden panel. You see more poster angels taken from the Dormition and Assumption of Mary painting in pink and blue garments to the right of this reliquary on the black walls of the exhibit.

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This is a closeup of the Coronation of the Virgin found within the above reliquary. Below are gathered a group of saints. The saint looking over his shoulder at the viewer near the extraordinary translucent stairs is Saint Peter holding the keys of Heaven. St. John the Baptist is on his left. Dominican saints, St. Peter Martyr and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas are also present, St. Francis of Assisi showing the stigmata in his hands, two deacons (St. Stephen, the first martyr (protomartyr), and possibly the deacon St. Benjamin, and some Old Testament prophets. St. Thomas Aquinas (above within the  bigger photo) is looking at the viewer. He is situated next to a pope (the Benedictine Gregory the Great?), possibly placed in that position because both Aquinas and the pope were not martyrs.

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The Madonna della Stella (The Madonna of the Star, 1433/34). Within the predella are the major saints of the Dominican Order (Order of Preachers). Saint Dominic (middle) flanked on the right by St. Thomas Aquinas and on the left by Saint Peter Martyr. The small circular photo of the Church of Santa Maria Novella on the back wall of the exhibit accidentally was included in my quick snap of this picture.  It is interesting that it appeared, I did not plan it. It is the church that the four reliquary paintings were originally housed before they were split up during the last two and one-half centuries.  Presently the Gardner Museum has the Dormition/Assumption of Mary reliquary staying in its collection and the other three will be returned to the Museo San Marco in Florence, Italy.

 

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Closeup of the Madonna della Stella, showing the symbolic colors of the garments worn by the figures. The color blue represents divine attributes, which in the Blessed Mother’s case, represents the belief that she was always immaculate – without sin – and that the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” her resulting in the Incarnation taking place within her physical body. The presence of her immaculate nature was within Mary from the moment of her conception. The Latin Rite, the Eastern Rites in union with Rome, the Coptic Church, and the Orthodox Rites believe that Mary is not God, or a goddess. All of these Rites and Churches do not worship Mary; she is venerated by them. Worship and veneration are two very different concepts; they should never be equated.

The color red of Mary’s inner cloak (as well as Jesus’ outer cloak) represents their human nature. The orange trim of her cloak represents the specific spiritual illumination, and self knowledge, of her status as the Mother of Jesus’ human nature, not His divine nature.

With the two lower angels you notice that the blue/red colors are reversed. The inner cloak is blue representing their spiritual illumination and unique qualities/functions, yet, their outer cloak is red. This is done because Fra Angelico represents them all with human features, but, in the case of the two lower angels he represented their outer cloaks as red. I can place no other interpretation on it other than to say that because Jesus and Mary were resurrected from the dead, and have new physical bodies (with unique and specific qualities) the angels dressed in red outer cloaks may be serving Mary’s physical needs (whatever they may be) in Heaven. Heaven is viewed as both a physical (while different from ours) and a spiritual dimension.

As you know, angels are spiritual beings living within the divine atmosphere of Heaven. According to the Latin Rite (Roman Catholic) and other Rites, there are nine “choirs” of angels; each choir possesses specific attributes and functions. Fra Angelico may be distinguishing one “choir” from another through the different colors of the angels’ garments. Angels are pure spiritual beings; they do not have human features or bodies. They are represented that way in Latin and Greek Rite paintings, and some of them in the Holy Scriptures, in order to give the observer/reader a way to relate and understand their functions.

The Dominican Order was keen on expressing the theology of illumination as expressed in the Blessed Mother, their founder – St. Dominic (who illuminated Europe with his sermons against heretics) – and the illumination of the doctrines and dogmas of the Catholic faith provided through the writings of 13th century theologian St. Thomas Aquinas.

For Mary, Fra Angelico expressed that illumination through the orange pigment of Mary’s inner garment and the extraordinary gilding of the rays of light emanating from Mary and Jesus’ bodies. Notice that Fra Angelico shows the love between the two by having the child Jesus place His head close to His Blessed Mother as if He is about to give her a kiss with the Madonna lovingly holds Him.

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Closeup of the Madonna della Stella; also showing a lovely lavender angel on her left.

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The back of one of the reliquaries showing the structure of the wooden panel, and its decorated paper covering. On the front Fra Angelico applied a base coat of gesso, and then his egg tempera paints and gilding.

I hope you enjoyed viewing my four part series on this extraordinary work by Beato Fra Angelico – Fra (Friar) Giovanni di Fiesole. My deep gratitude to Peggy Fogelman  (Director), Nathaniel Silver (Associate Curator) and the very talented staff  of Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for bringing these masterpieces to America. For my wife and I it was a once in a lifetime experience. Congratulations to them and my sincere thanks, too.

I will be featuring some of the remaining single paintings within this exhibition at appropriate times during 2018-19. Some of the remaining Fra Angelico images from this exhibit are the marriage of St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother, the Deposition (taking down) of Jesus from the Cross, another painting of the Dormition of Mary, and events in the life of of Saints Cosmas and Damian.

June 12, 2018

© Deacon Paul O. Iacono 2011-2018 – text and photos. Photos were taken through the courtesy and generosity of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. I took the photos with an iPhone 6, no flash.