Fra Angelico – “Heaven on Earth” Exhibition – Part 2 – Ascension, Pentecost, the Last Judgement

I hope you had a blessed Feast of Pentecost!

Please read Part 1 of “Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth” (posted here on May 16, 2018) in order to receive a proper introduction to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s extraordinary exhibition that, unfortunately, closed this weekend..

As you moved into the gallery that exhibited this once in a lifetime collection of Fra Angelico paintings you first saw the beautiful painting entitled The Ascension of Christ, The Last Judgement, and Pentecost (the Corsini Triptych). It is painted in egg tempera with gold leaf on a wood panel. Fra Angelico painted it during the years 1447-1448, seven years before his death in 1455. It was loaned to the Gardner Museum from the Galleria Nazionali d’Arte Antica di Roma – Galerie Barberini Corsini, Palazzo Corsini.

My photographic images of that painting are found below:

The Ascension, Last Judgement, and PentecostIMG_1686

The following quotation is taken from the Exhibition’s commentary found on the right side of the painting. Mesmerizing in its detail, Fra Angelico’s painting pictures three biblical events. At left, Christ ascends into heaven over the heads of the Virgin Mary and the  Apostles. At right, a masterfully foreshortened dove – the Holy Spirit – descends to earth. The story culminates in the center. Christ passes judgment over the living and the dead, saving the worthy (left) and condemning the wicked (right). While the damned cower from fearsome devils who attack the poor souls with claws, angels embrace the blessed.

“This small devotional triptych – a painting with three parts – served a cultivated individual, probably a cleric (deacon, priest, or bishop) in Rome.” Please compare its three episodes to others in my upcoming posts. In the above painting Fra Angelico adopts a vertical presentation. This energizes the connection and communication between heaven and earth. The Gardner Museum’s curator remarked that this technique “enlarges the central scene, and emphasizes” the Catholic Church’s spiritual power.

Fra Angelico, as a Dominican priest, desired to present that Jesus’ act of Redemption (passion, death, and resurrection), and His Ascension back to the Father, made possible the moment of Pentecost. Christ’s actions enabled the eventual opportunity for our free will to choose to accept His Truth and be fed by the Spirit’s power. It is the Father and the Son’s will to have the Holy Spirit nourish us through His grace. This grace is available to us through the proper administration and worthy reception of the Holy Sacraments. Thus, we come to the central panel –  the Last Judgement. Did we freely accept His Sacramental grace or did we ignore, and thereby, reject it? At that moment will we be on the right or the left of Christ?

Allow me to make some personal points on the three close-up photos below. In the first panel of this painting, notice the gold work around the body of Christ. I was allowed to closely examine it. I have never seen a painting’s gold work done with such precision and delicacy. It is not just gold leaf that is applied in a flat manner to the panel. It appears to be actual raised strands, or threads of gold, all applied with great precision. As you slowly move left or right around that part of the painting you notice the light catching the gold and literally radiating and shimmering around the image of Christ. IMG_1745

The Ascension, with Pentecost below.

Second, the image of Pentecost, with the Blessed Mother in the center of the Apostles as the dove hovers and the fire of the Holy Spirit descends upon them and gives them the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:23; 1st Corinthians 12: 4 ff; Galatians 5: 22 ff).

Notice St. Peter, filled with conviction, speaking to the assembly of men below (“Peter’s Discourse” found in the Acts of the Apostles chapter 2, verses 14 ff.). Also, notice the clothing on one of the men who gather outside of the upper room listening to Peter: the detail of the lace work on the bottom of one of his garments, and the shadows on the man’s red leotard/shoe. If you stand away from the painting at approximately eight to ten feet to take it all in (as you see in the panoramic top photo) you don’t notice all the detail; but the blessed Fra with his extraordinary perception, noticed the need for it, and he painted it in. A master of detail, and as a true maestro, he knew how to successfully accomplish it. Wonderful!     The last two close-up pictures are below.

IMG_1748

IMG_1749

My photos (through the kindness of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum), and            my text © Deacon Paul O. Iacono 2011-2018. Photos taken with an iPhone 6, no flash.

 

Pentecost 2013

As we celebrate the birth of the Church at Pentecost (confer the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2 ff), we should be filled with an urgent need to obtain and, most importantly, use the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit that are available to us.

Our Scriptures tells us that the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit are: fear of the Lord (which means that we desire not to offend God in any way), understanding, counsel (which is supernatural prudence), fortitude, knowledge, piety, and wisdom. These Seven Gifts are received as a grace of God at the moment of our Baptism; and they are strengthened and completed at the moment of our Confirmation.

pentecost 2 detail

In our Gospels, Jesus explains these Gifts by using the two analogies of breath and water. Jesus tells His disci- ples: “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will flow from within him who believes in me”  – and – “the water that I shall give will become in him a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life.”

Jesus explains that this new water, “the living water” of the Holy Spirit, is a new kind of water because it is given to those who are worthy to receive it.

Christ uses the analogy of living water to express the grace of the Spirit, because all things are fundamentally dependent on water, and all plants and animals have their origins in water.

One of the early Fathers of the Church, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, tells us: “When water comes down from the heavens as rain, it is always the same in itself, yet, it produces different effects – one in a flower, another in a tree, and yet a third and fourth in an animal or person. So the grace of the Holy Spirit,  like water, adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it. In the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple, and indivisible, gives grace to each man [or woman] as  He, [the Holy Spirit] wills.” (St Cyril of Jerusalem)

We have all received the saving grace, and the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit at Baptism, but there comes a moment, usually around the age of our Confirmation, in which we are asked to recognize, develop, and use those seven Gifts.

But there is a condition, my brothers and sisters for this to happen: like a dry plant in your garden, the soul is able to produce the many flowers of holiness only when the soil of the soul has been raked and fertilized through repentance, and Sacramental reconciliation. This act of repentance is both an intellectual and spiritual action. Repentance has made your soul ready to effectively use the water, the grace, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

St. Paul and St. Cyril remind us that “the Holy Spirit makes one person a teacher, another a healer, a third a prophet, and a fourth a pastor. Scripture tells us that in each person [who is free from serious sin] the Spirit reveals His presence in a particular way for the common good.” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem)

Ultimately, if we actively apply these truths we are able to impact the spiritual life of those around us. How does this happen? It happens by virtue of our own dedication to holiness as we live out the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost Sunday reminds us that we were Sacramen- tally Baptized and Confirmed to be apostles – to go forth and use these Seven Gifts that God has given us – to work on behalf of the family of God.

Let us be joyous on this Pentecost Sunday; let us rejoice in the truth that the Holy Spirit will always remain with our Church and sanctify us with His many graces; and let us recommit ourselves to allowing the Holy Spirit, through the graces of all the Sacraments, to energize us, and if necessary, change our natures for the better – so that we, too, may be fruitful apostles for Christ.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved This essay was delivered as a homily by Deacon Iacono at St. Francis of Assisi Church, Wakefield, RI USA on Pentecost Sunday May 19, 2013.  Notes on painting: Jan Joest van Kalkar (c. 1450 – 1519). Pentecost (Pfingsten) 1505 – 1508, Oil on wood, 41 x 28 1/4 inches, location: St. Nicholai’s Church (Katholische Pfarrkirche Sankt Nikolai), Kalkar Kreis Kleve. Link to the source of this information: http://idlespeculations-terryprest.blogspot.com/2011/06/pentecost.html Thanks to Terry Prest for providing the image and its source.