Tuesday, July 18, 2017

An unusual Renaissance gem in Florence.

Florence, as mentioned in other articles, is a city that hosts several treasures, among these many treasures there are several convents and monasteries that often have the most outstanding works of art, most of them host the popular Last Supper frescoes we have seen before: the Ghirlandaio, Andrea del Castagno, etc. But there is also an unusual one, at the Convento di Fuligno, which hosts the Perugino Last Supper. Uniquely open to the public this summer, a very rare event. Why is it unique? As we have seen before, with his Crucifixion, it is incredible that an Umbrian artist (remember Umbria was in the Papal States) managed to get art commissions in the centre of the Renaissance: Florence, the city of Ghirlandaio and Botticelli, but this just shows how popular and outstanding his work was, so popular he eventually became Raphael’s master.
The convent took its name from a community of Franciscan nuns coming from Foligno in Umbria which took possession of it in 1419. It eventually became a convent for young aristocratic Florentine ladies and was embellished thanks to donations by Lorenzo de’Medici and the Lapaccini family. Perugino arrived in Florence in 1493, where he stayed for about two years after he married his wife Chiara Fancelli, that same year he worked on in the convent.


The large work is located in a wall in the shape of a horseshoe, the scene is set in a portico, the apostles are sat on a long Renaissance wooden sedilia, decorated with a beautiful green brocade, the iconography is rather common, as usual Judas Iscariot is on the other side of the table, looking towards the viewer, but still giving us his back to us, on the other side are the "holier" apostles and Christ, from the left: James the Less who is inviting us into the scene, then, Philip, James, Andrew, Peter, Jesus, John, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, Simon and Jude, all looking at their Lord, and eating on a table. The floor presents a rather complicated geometric pattern in rose and white marbles, similar to that in the younger works by Perugino. The work is very similar to another Florentine Cenacolo, that by Ghirlandaio at San Marco, especially in the background where behind the sedilia a Renaissance loggia, where decorated pilasters open the scene of a bucolic Italian countryside panorama, with gentle hills and large trees. This was rather common at the time. The point was that these frescoes were made in refectories, in this way it was as if the religious people would eat with Our Lord and the Apostles, as the room architecturally continued into the painting and spaced into that magic countryside. In the background is also a smaller scene, still linked to the Last Supper: Christ preaching in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he and the Apostles slept after the Last Supper and before his Crucifixion, the moments that link his revelation, his sacrifice in the very institution of the Eucharist. An angel appears to be overseeing the whole scene from above. The whole scene is set within a grotesque frame, similar to ancient Roman ones, except there are small portraits of saints, a rather common Florentine detail.
This little Florentine gem is indeed worth seeing, it shows how varied the artistic life in the 15th century was and Florence not only saw local artists, but also Flemish, German but very rarely from other parts of Italy. It's truly worth it!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Short Reflection on the Romanovs' Martyrdom.

Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of the majestic, imperial Viennese funeral of Otto von Habsburg, by pretence Emperor-King of Austria, Hungary, Bohemia and Jerusalem. While admiring the spectacular pageantry, the fascinating historical legacy of the former crown, I could not stop thinking how good it was for European nations to have such strong bonds with their living history, to be able to witness such ceremonial, the fruit of a continuous evolution of power going back to the Roman Empire, through the Church and via the birth of national states in the Middle Ages, through the later evolution of the Holy Roman Empire in central Europe. Upon hearing the beautiful Kayserhymne sung to the beautiful tune "Austria", I realised how these institution are an important treasure to keep, a treasure that made us who we are; monarchies shaped our culture, commissioned our art, peacefully (or less peacefully) supported the role of the Church in our society, in a fashion that dates back to Emperor Constantine. I am not being nostalgic, or perhaps I am, but I certainly don't believe in anachronisms certainly the existence of monarchies today isn't one, if they humbly serve their people. I do believe that monarchies are a gift to our societies, forgive me for my opinion, but so much more than republics which lack this fascinating and emotional side, but also represent impartiality and regality above any earthly matter and because our rulers of ages past shaped this our European culture, how can we not be grateful? A recent Austrian study stated that despite the country is now a republic the Imperial Habsburg heritage is the main reason tourists visit the country - in the form of their legacy, their palaces, churches and so much more and I believe this is very much applicable to anywhere else: in Italy; from the Doges of Venice or the Medici of Florence, to the Popes of Rome; to the Prussian or Austrian Emperors to the monarchs of England, France and Spain. The imperial legacy of the Habsburg was so strong that when the Emperor-to be died in 2011, Hungarian Parliament held a moment of silence, bad legacies don't prove in these results. 


My mind can only go to our own Anglican Defender of the Faith: Queen Elizabeth II, the fruit of a long lasting line of monarchs going back more than a thousand years, keeping the kingdom together by simply being above earthly matters, a neutral guide to a nation, not elected but anointed, not responding to the people, but serving it, only under God. Also, it is a matter of fact that the English Crown, which is entirely self sufficient is in fact a matter of pride but also revenue for the United Kingdom because of the tourism and merchandising it attracts, as well as the place it takes by making English public life much more interesting, from the Abbey services to the Trooping of Colour, it is doubtless that a crown is a perfect link between history and modernity that truly gives a country a strong self-identity and I believe all of Europe should begin to appreciate this its heritage.



But what is the point of this post? Today in 1918, Russian Bolsheviks murdered Tzar Nicholas II and his family, including children. The Tzar of Russia was among the most powerful crowned heads of Europe, the Russian court was among the most refined of its time and the Romanov family had reigned in Russia for about 500 years, it is as if the Stuarts were still reigning today - the Tzars helped to make Russia, despite its distance, a true European nation, because of its art, culture and political scene. Unfortunately, the Romanov were only the last martyrs of a European revolution, this case that of the the Communists. Sadly, the Romanov, whom most Russian still praise will not be back, but one would hope their martyrdom would prove the sadness revolutions can bring. In the European case, one could easily notice that there are several points in common - certainly, sometimes they were about monarchs who might have been out of touch with their people and reigning under absolute power. But is the only way to change that murder?


Did Charles I and Louis XVI had to die? Would bad monarchs die for the apostolic faith in England or would bad monarchs wish their blood to bring happiness among the French people? But what are these common points? Revolutions are usually started by few who intoxicate the most unhappy spheres of society and don't lead them into a successful way to improve their condition, but instead use them as a mean to get to their own power and preferential type of government, usually dictatorial: whether it is the Puritanism of Cromwell or the Reign of Terreur of Robespierre up to the Communism that brought down Russia's credibility as a nation, as well as its economy, for little less than a century. The point of this post is not to convince anyone about the grandeur of past monarchies but simply to understand that not everything is at it seems - that most of what we must be thankful for, as nationals of our own countries, derives from our past and these institutions shaped our past. Fortunately the English monarchy was restored, but when we talk about France or Russia, we are talking about millenary institutions and I do believe it is just plain wrong that in such a small time they were erased for ever, never to be back; and for whom arts, literature, music and all that shaped our European culture were composed.


These revolutions also led the path for the end of the Prussian and Austrian empires whose legacies and history were also extremely fascinating, instead we all know what happened after their end - nowadays we have the idea that only republics can be real forms of democracy. It is not so. On a lighter note, we left the world of Tchaikovsky, Sissi, Lully and the great palaces of Vienna, Salzburg or St. Petersburg or the French Chateaux for (allow me to say it) boring republican normality - in Germany and Italy the President of the Republic receives almost regal respects, is that democratic? Why not have a Royal Family! I hope these horrors won't be repeated and I hope we will begin to appreciate our past and the respect for the institution of the crown, the beauty of neutrality and a line that goes back to the origin of Western civilisation. Today we remember the slaughter of an innocent man who was instructed to rule under God in the way he did, and of his family and children, that the greed of some may never again prove in the death of other people of God. 

We remember the martyrdom of the Romanovs, 
may the Holy Family of Russia and Saint Mary the Virgin, pray for us.



Friday, July 14, 2017

10 things to see and to do in Rome this summer. 2017 edition.


As many of you probably might have noticed, I pretty much focus my articles on peculiar artistic or historical subjects, however, I did want to write a lighter post that some of you might find helpful, and indeed a light summer reading, if you find yourself in Rome. Here are 10 things you should do, they also cover the main attractions you would want to visit anyway, Coliseum and St. Peter's excluded. But we are not so banal, are we? One last warning, some of these places will offer shade from the sun, but if you're looking for anywhere cool, then you shouldn't visit Rome in the summer. Always bring a bottle of water with you, never throw it away, you can always refill it with the fresh mountain water coming from the city's nasoni (the little fountains). Now, wear a proper hat and enjoy the tour!

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Want to see what the beating heart of the most powerful empire of antiquity looked like? You must make sure not to miss the Roman Forum. Wander around and discover the marvels of the greatest of ancient civilisations. You will find beautiful, grand ruins of old classical buildings and basilicas but also some peculiar features, such as the church that has a façade that was previously a Roman temple's! Enter a world in which Romans decided how to rule the world and yet simply met their friends. Make sure to visit in the early morning or in the late evening, for better light and when the sun is not too deadly... Why not make it then to the nearby Capitoline Museums? The first museum in the world, with an astonishing collection of ancient, classical masterpieces.
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Rome is a city built on hills, surely you don't have to see them all (but you should), two of them offer great views on the city but also an escape from the heat, the best ones are the Janiculum and Aventine hills. The first one, located above the Trastevere hosts two Renaissance churches: Sant'Onofrio al Gianicolo and San Pietro in Montorio - the first with beautiful cloisters, frescoes by Antoniazzo Romano and Pintoricchio, the second with works by Antoniazzo Romano, Sebastiano del Piombo, Bernini, Vasari and with the famous Bramante's temple, built on the site of Saint Peter's crucifixion. The hill offers a nice walk, under the shade of pine and oak trees, the view is spectacular, on one side it overlooks the whole city, on the other is the dome of St. Peter's. The Aventine is equally great, it hosts ancient basilicas, among the very first ones in Rome in fact, among them are San Saba and Santa Balbina, from whence you could start your walk, the scenery there is amazing, then Santa Sabina, famous for being the best preserved early Christian church in Rome, in its interior and for its 5th century carved door! Nearby there is the famous key-hole with a spectacular view on St. Peter's, you can end your walk at the Giardino degli Aranci, it offers one of the best views on the Eternal City. A little tip: you will need to cross the river to get from one hill to the other, use the ancient Roman bridges of the Tiber Island or the Renaissance Ponte Sisto!

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I highly suggest you to opt for this option on 5th August. You could start your journey by visiting the earliest churches of Rome, renowned for their ancient mosaics. The first one would be Santi Cosma e Damiano, right outside the Forum, the church was built in an ancient Roman temple, divided into two storeys during the 17th century because of the Tiber's floodings, you can visit the early Christian crypt and the 6th century mosaics. You could then proceed to Santa Pudenziana to admire the oldest mosaic in Rome, dating back to the 4th century, in fact it isn't even in the early-Christian style but in the late antique Roman one! After that you could move on to Santa Prassede that hosts both a beautiful 9th century apse mosaic but also a greater treasure, the chapel of San Zeno, with glorious mosaics in the Byzantine style and even the relic of the column on which Jesus was flagellated. Remember to check out, everything in these churches, the mosaics aren't the only things to see! Often the floor, decorated with another form of mosaics called "Cosmati" is equally mind blowing. Now, we will reach the point in which you will realise why you should take this tour on this exact day. 5th August is the feast of the Virgin in Rome, on this special day make sure to visit the oldest standing Papal basilica of Rome: Saint Mary Major, its beautiful early and Medieval mosaics, the Renaissance works by Mino da Fiesole and Piero della Francesca (?), the first crib scene in the world (in the treasury) but first of all say a prayer to Our Lady. According to the legend she appeared in a dream to pope Liberius asking him to build a church dedicated after her, the following morning the miracle happened: it snowed on the exact spot the basilica had to be build, in the middle of the summer! During Vespers, at the Magnificat, a snowfall will pour on the high altar, you will never forget it! You can end journey visit by visiting the Victorian Anglican church of St. Paul's within the Walls, in the Via Nazionale, with lovely Pre-Raphaelite mosaics by Edward Burne-Jones!

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As they say in Rome "if you need some air", I highly suggest you to visit the city's beautiful parks: get lost in the vast Villa Doria Pamphilj, walk endlessly in this charming estate, it couldn't just be better: the large trees, the hills, the little ponds and fountains but especially the Versailles-like huge Baroque water games, ending in a large lake populated by swans and beavers. It's only a short walk from the Janiculum hill. Another beautiful park is the Villa Borghese, somehow "smaller" but with plenty of eclectic Neo-Classical works and even Egyptian-like architecture. The beautiful fountains, the trees, the majestic promenades offer a charming escape from the city life. There is also a lovely lake with a temple where you can go on a boat ride, it is a must at sunset! Make sure to end your visit on the Pincio, overlooking the Spanish Steps and the whole city. If you have children, there is an ecologic and animal friendly Zoo, if you have teens take them to the park's world-renowned art gallery! If you don't have any children, visit it anyway.

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If you want to escape the city, in favour of a "wilder" option, there is the walk along the Via Appia Antica, you will be able to stroll on the ancient Roman "motorway", along it you will find tombs, ancient houses and will be brought back in time. You can relax and have a picnic in the wild field facing the Cecilia Metella's Mausoleum. It will be like approaching the city in the old days of the Grand-Tour. Talking about Grand-Tour, if you want to experience the life of the great tourists that visited Rome during the 18th and 19th century, visit the Protestant Cemetery in Testaccio, the Keats-Shelley House near the Spanish Steps or the Goethe House on the Via del Corso! But careful about the ghosts...

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I have been quite kind to you until now, Rome is also a city of art, of course our museums are churches and ruins, but we have our fair share of great art galleries too. Surely, you should visit the Borghese Gallery, booking in advance, you will be able to admire ancient sculptures, works by Bernini or Canova and paintings by the great masters, such as Titian or Raphael, all of them in the original location in which the family placed them, some of the ancient ones are unfortunately in the Louvre now. Napoleon and all that... The Corsini Gallery is never really crowded and offers a great collection of art works, Caravaggio, Fra Angelico, Annibale Carracci are all there. As for any respectable noble Roman family collection the Barberini Gallery hosts a great deal of works too: Caravaggios, Raphael, Filippo Lippi and even one of the most famous portraits of Henry VIII. In the setting of a family palazzo designed by Bernini and Borromini. The great salone has a spectacular fresco celebrating the family by Pietro da Cortona. For a more "familiar" atmosphere there is also the Doria-Pamphilj Gallery, still family owned! This beautiful palazzo hosts some threats, you will be able to see the original Renaissance cloisters, the family chapel, the great Versailles-like corridor with Venetian mirrors, and Memling, Filippo Lippi, Caravaggio and the most famous Velazquez painting in the world. You can end your visit with the Villa Farnesina and its Raphael frescoes, located in a charming and calm area of the Trastevere.

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Explore Baroque Rome: whether it'd be the excesses of the Gesù, the optical illusions in the ceiling frescoes at Sant'Ignazio or the Pietro da Cortona and Rubens works at the Chiesa Nuova - covering also the post-Trent Jesuit and Oratorian churches of Rome and the charming tomb of St. Philip Neri. Or the crazy works by Bernini and Borromini in Santa Maria della Vittoria, Sant'Ivo, Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, San Carlino or Sant'Agnese in Agone or their "secular" commissions such as the stair-cases of the Barberini Palace, the Ponte Sant'Angelo (leading to the castle, and a visit to it would also be de rigeur) or the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. Explore any church on your way, you will probably see a Baroque masterpiece in every one! It is here that the Counter-Reformation started after all. It might not be Baroque, but make sure to see the Caravaggios scattered through the city: Sant'Agostino, San Luigi dei Francesi, Santa Maria del Popolo. They are a must-see and it may sound banal, but it is a transcendental experience to see the works of a great master.

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If you want to escape ancient ruins or Baroque works there is also the dreamy Renaissance option, the greatest art mankind ever produced, visiting the churches of the Medieval mendicant orders of Augustinians, Franciscans and Dominicans, take a relaxed stroll through the most central area of Rome, starting with the Franciscan Santa Maria in Aracoeli, near the Capitoline Hill, built on the site of Augustus' house, where he received the famous vision. The church hosts the Bufalini Chapel, with the famous Pinturicchio frescoes representing the life of Saint Bernardino. Another chapel on the opposite aisle hosts a fresco of Saint Anthony of Padua by Benozzo Gozzoli, follower of Fra Angelico who decorated the Magi Chapel in Florence. In the counter-façade is also one of the greatest tombs by Andrea Bregno, with fine sculptures of Saints Peter, Paul, Michael and Francis. The ideal Renaissance tomb. Nearby is a tombstone by Donatello. Not too far from that stands the Dominican church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, the only remaining church in Rome with Gothic architecture, here is the splendid Carafa Chapel with frescoes by Florentine Filippino Lippi representing the Annunciation and the Assumption of Our Lady and the life of Saint Thomas Aquinas. In another chapel is the tomb of Fra Angelico himself, the altarpiece is a Madonna and Child by Benozzo Gozzoli. Tombs by Andrea Bregno and Mino da Fiesole, some with the original painted decorations, and Bregno's very tomb, are scattered through the church, find them all! The Annunciation chapel hosts the last works by the only Roman Renaissance artist Antoniazzo Romano, representing the Annunciation and with the good cardinal Torquemada (not the other one) donating alms to poor women that would have had to be prostitutes instead. Another chapel hosts the tomb of another Spanish cardinal with a fresco by a follower of Antoniazzo, Christ with angels. You can continue this tour by visiting the Augustinian Santa Maria del Popolo, famous for the Pintoricchio Della Rovere and Cybo chapels and choir frescoes, representing the life of the Virgin and saints, the Bregno sculptures and finally the Chigi Chapel designed and decorated by Raphael and Sebastiano del Piombo. The tour could end with Santa Maria della Pace and Sant'Agostino, that host the only frescoes in a church outside the Vatican City by Raphael: the Sibyls and the prophet Isaiah. Sorry, I could not make this any shorter, but you know how much I love the Renaissance! Santa Maria della Pace and Santa Trinità dei Monti also offer a great "Mannerist alternative" to the previous places.

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Don't feel like having a plan? Just take a walk in central Rome and chances are you will find something amazing, why don't you take a tour of the city's fountains? You could start with the famous ones such as the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Bernini, the Fontana del Tritone also by Bernini, the Barcaccia by Bernini, they're all located in the main piazzas. But after you have seen them there are plenty of other ones to see, from the smallest ones, such as the one in Piazza Lancellotti or the one in the Piazza of Sant'Andrea della Valle, that were located in the Piazza Montanara and Piazza Scossacavalli, demolished by Mussolini... A must-see is the Fontana delle Tartarughe, near the Jewish Ghetto, good photos are guaranteed and you will have a refreshing fun!

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This is the most important point, you must remember you are in Rome, you have to relax, wherever you are, stop and admire what's around you. Preferably, with a good gelato in your hand, always add panna, don't be a tourist! You might also have a great dish of pasta and don't say it will make you fat! It annoys us, if you will follow a strict Mediterranean diet it won't (supposedly) make you fat! Did I mention the wine? Yes the wine...

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Mary: why is she so important?

As many of you might have noticed I have a strong devotion to Our Lady, I already wrote down posts documenting her position in Anglican theology or about England as Mary’s dowry. This time I would like to go far back and write an article about the very basis of why Our Lady holds such a place of honour among all the saints.
We know that the figure of Mary held a place of high importance from the very beginning of the Church; the Apostles commemorated Mary with the highest praises as the first Fathers of the Church stated. During the first centuries, testimonies of Marian cult are rather common, especially in the forms of art found in the Roman catacombs: from scenes of Jesus’ life, like the Epiphany or the Annunciation, to devotional representations such as the famous Virgin and Child in the catacombs of Saint Priscilla or a Virgin between the Apostles Peter and Paul in the catacombs of Saint Marcellinus.

Early representation of the Virgin Mary in the Catacombs of St. Priscilla.

Commonly, it is thought that the early Christians overly praised the Virgin in rather heterodox ways, in fact this is not at all true, an early Father of the Church, Saint Ambrose, famously stated that Mary is the Temple of God and not the God of the Temple but still the Mother of all the virgins. The very first Father of the Church who wrote of the Virgin Mary was Saint Ignatius of Antioch who explained the humanity and divinity of Jesus as he was the fruit of the Virgin, descended by the line of David, but her conception was virginal and therefore a mystery of the silence of God. Like Saint Ignatius, Saint Justin holds a very similar point in his book “Dialogue with Trypho”, but he bases his reflections on the parallelism between Eve and Mary, a point that will inspire later theologians. St. Irenaeus, based on this point, puts the divine motherhood at the centre of his Christology, in which the human nature assumed by Christ in the womb, gives a redemptive value to his death, applicable to all men. Later during the 3rd century, the word “Theotókos” (Mother of God) comes into use, first applied by Origen, it becomes the title used for Mary in so many prayers of supplication, such as the Sub tuum presidium which is in fact the oldest known one. Among later theologians such as St. Ambrose or St. Augustine, the title “Mother of God” became widespread. The Divine Maternity of Mary became a dogma in 431 A.D. during the Council of Ephesus.
Marian devotion had already been shaped by then; as texts from theologians of the time show:

You are the vessel and tabernacle containing all mysteries. You know what the Patriarchs never knew; you have experienced what was never revealed to the Angels; you have heard what the Prophets never heard. In a word, all that was hidden from preceding generations was made known to you; even more, most of these wonders depended on you. (270 A.D., St. Gregory Thaumaturgus),

Blessed Virgin, immaculate and pure you are the sinless Mother of your Son, the mighty Lord of the universe. You are holy and inviolate, the hope of the hopeless and sinful; we sing your praises. We praise you as full of every grace, for you bore the God-Man. We all venerate you; we invoke you and implore your aid...Holy and immaculate Virgin...be our intercessor and advocate at the hour of death and judgment...you are holy in the sight of God, to Whom be honor and glory, majesty, and power forever. (373 AD, St. Ephem of Edessa).

It becomes you to be mindful of us, as you stand near Him Who granted you all graces, for you are the Mother of God and our Queen. Help us for the sake of the King, the Lord God Master Who was born of you. For this reason you are called 'full of Grace'... (373 St. Athanasius).

Blessed Virgin Mary, who can worthily repay you with praise and thanksgiving for having rescued a fallen world by your generous consent? ...accept then such poor thanks as we have to offer, unequal though they be to your merits. Receive our gratitude and obtain by your prayers the pardon of our sins. Take our prayers into the sanctuary of heaven and enable them to bring about our peace with God...Holy Mary, help the miserable, strengthen the discouraged, comfort the sorrowful, pray for your people, plead for the clergy, intercede for all women consecrated to God. May all who venerate you, feel now your help and protection. ...Make it your continual care to pray for the people of God, for you were blessed by God and were made worthy to bear the Redeemer of the world, who lives and reigns for ever. (St Augustine in 430 A.D. ).

The Three Holy Mothers in Santa Maria Antiqua.
During the time of Pope Sylvester, a Temple dedicated to Vesta, in the Roman Forum, was reconstructed and dedicated to Santa Maria Antiqua, also Bishop Alexander of Alexandria consecrated another early church dedicated to the Mother of God. It is also known, that Our Lady was being honoured with her Son, in the Church of the Nativity in Palestine since the era of the Emperor Constantine. The early liturgies, since the 3rd century, had special celebrations of the Eucharist that mentioned the name of Mary, especially at the Nativity, Epiphany, etc. and the Feast of the Most holy Virgin/Mother was soon instituted in 380 A.D. 

Renaissance Birth of the Virgin Mary by Ghirlandaio in Santa Maria Novella.

The main commemorations of the Virgin for Anglicans, most of which, except the Dormition/Assumption, are found in the Book of Common Prayer, are: the Purification (February 2), the Annunciation (March 25), the Visitation (July 2), the Falling Asleep/Assumption (August 15), the Nativity (September 8) and the Conception (December 8), the first two are primarily commemorations of our Lord. The Presentation of Christ to the Temple, also known as the Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin represents the human nature of Christ being presented to His Eternal Father. The Festival, also called Candlemass, representing the light of Christ among the Gentile world as in the Nunc Dimittis. This commemoration is first found in the “Pilgrimage of Sylvia” at Jerusalem during the fourth century. The Annunciation commemorates the beginning of Christ’s incarnate life on earth and we remember that he took our nature in the Virgin’s womb as in the Creeds. This is well resumed in the second Article of Religion of the Church of England:

THE Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.


This festival is said to have been introduced in the West by Emperor Maurice in the 7th century, together with the Nativity and the Falling Asleep of the B.V. Mary. The Visitation of the B.V. Mary to her cousin, Saint Elizabeth, the Mother of the Baptist, is of extremely great importance, as this is when she spoke the words of the Magnificat, words of joy and exaltation given by her Lord. This feast was instituted by Pope Urban IV in A.D.1389 (and adopted in England in 1480). The commemoration of the departing of Mary from this life first appeared in the West at the same time of the introduction of the feasts of the Annunciation and Nativity of the B.V. Mary, it originates in the East about the year 600 A.D. The original title was the “Rest of the Theotókos”. The Falling Asleep of the Virgin or the Assumption are commemorated on this day, in both theologies which I explored in another article, the Virgin’s body is finally assumed into heaven. The Conception (Dec.8), together with the Nativity of our Lady (Sep.8), is of great importance. Both festivals appear to have originated in Syria during the 6th century, the first commemoration was centred on St.Anne, the ancestress of God, in the 7th century the festival became more defined and during the late Middle Ages it gained popular favour in most of the West, the modern feast appears to have originated in England, amongst the monks of Winchester, before the 11th century. The feast of the Birth of the B.V. Mary also originated in Syria and it was linked to the dedication of the Basilica of the Virgin’s Birth (now St. Anne’s Church) in Jerusalem. Later, the feast was widespread throughout the Byzantine Empire. This was a popular time for Marian devotion - specially after the Council of Ephesus. These two festivals place great importance and draw attention to the immediate preparation for the Incarnation of Christ - the Virgin’s close association as a saint with her Divine Son give her an undoubted right to special commemoration and to her virginal conception and indeed holy birth. Her birth was the coming of one through whose agency the Eternal Son would take our nature and reveal Himself to mankind.

Renaissance Falling Asleep of the Virgin by Filippo Lippi in Spoleto Cathedral.

During the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, the basis of Marian devotion, later shaped in the 17th century as we know it today, were laid. But why did Mary inspired our religion, the hearts of the faithful and even so much of our Christian art and music?
Why do we give Mary this important place though? Why do so many question us about Mary? Often degrading her as if Jesus would gain something from this. “Mary is dead and can’t help you”, etc. We do not worship Mary and we do not worship her as a goddess. We really just follow Scripture with the historical and divinely inspired interpretation of the wider Church. 
Often, the God of the Scripture chooses to work through a human, let us think of Moses, Jacob or Joseph, Isaiah or Elisha. The same happened with Our Lady, God sent Jesus Christ for our Salvation into the world through Mary, even though he could have come on his own! It shows great humility to appear through the form of the most humble and lowly creature of the time: Mary. If Jesus was obedient for her for about 30 years as a Son, shouldn’t we be too? Mary was indeed good enough for our Lord and he said to us: no servant is greater than His Master. Mary and God shared the same body for nine months and his Sacred blood and body which we receive every Sunday has been flowing in Mary’s veins as well. We do not worship Mary, we simply respect her Grace, as announced in the Scriptures, by the Archangel Gabriel: “Hail Mary”! The Queen of Heaven, the daughter of the Father, the bride of the Spirit and the Mother of Jesus is indeed worthy of our praise, but why so? What does Scripture say?
The Old Testament tells us of the virginal birth of Christ; in the Book of Genesis (3:15), God says I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. This is clearly a reference to the Messiah who will be born of a Virgin, in Isaiah (7:14) it is said that the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Annunciation by Simone Martini.

But why do we sometimes ask Mary’s intercessions during prayer? Where is that written! If we move on to the New Testament, in particular to the Gospel of St. Luke (1:26-28 we read that in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you! The Grace of God that filled her - in a special, transmissible way. Be it unto me, according to Thy Word - she received and accepted the mission of Salvation, brought by the Angel. In Luke 1:15 Mary sanctifies the greatest man, John the Baptist, while he is still in the womb: and when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Luke 1:42 tells us that Mary’s fruit is blessed and so is she Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! A lowly maiden blessed by the blessed fruit (God) she is carrying, also in Luke 6:43-44: for no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The Gospels are never vague when they need not to be and Luke 1:43 affirms and confirms us that Mary is God’s Mother: and why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? and in the Magnificat (Luke 1:47), her joyful song of praise, Mary rejoices in the mission giver to her, a mission of Salvation, the mission of God’s testimony unto humanity: and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. The Magnificat continues with Mary’s understanding of her holy mission, of how God chose a lowly maiden to be the Blessed Mother of God, Luke 1:48 goes: for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed - a lowly maiden thankful for what God has done unto her (Luke 1:49): for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
Mary, the Mother of Jesus, also shared the suffering of her beloved child, yet God. In Luke 2:34-35: Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed. And Mary was aware of the sacrifice of the Lamb, with great courage she begins this great path of love - a love for her Son the God, greater than her own maternal feelings (Luke 11:27-28): he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked! But he said, Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it! The greatest of saints was always subdued to God. These verses are at the foundation of the Hail Mary, the most famous of our devotional prayers to Mary, the Magnificat instead, which we always sing at Evensong, is a testimony of the joy of the announced God in the womb and Mary's mission here on earth and beyond.

Madonna of the Magnificat, Sandro Botticelli.

Since the early Middle Ages, Mary was seen as the intercessor to the mighty God, as we can see from so many frescoes and mosaics, she was seen as an understanding and more approaching way to the God of the Final Judgement. In the Scriptures Mary’s intercession with Jesus can be found in the Gospel of St. John (2:3-5): when the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you”. A rather moving testimony.
In the Gospel of St. John (19:26-27), in a rather dramatic passage, Jesus also instructs humanity to behold its Mother, Mary that will follow Christ into heaven, subdued to the same: when Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. An analogue passage can be found in the Revelation (12:17): then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.

Descend from the Cross, Rogier van der Weyden.

In late Medieval and Renaissance art, the Coronation of the Virgin, became a rather common subject for religious commissions - where does it originate from though? Again in the Scripture we can find references to Mary, the Mother in Heaven, in 1 Corinthians 6:17 but he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. It suggests of Mary being at the mighty presence of God in heaven. In the Book of Revelation (11:19-21), Mary is also seen as the New Ark of the Covenant, because as we know Jesus is the new Temple, the only messianic mission fulfilled in a different, yet real way than as expected in the Old Testament: then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. Revelation (12:1) also confirms Mary’s assumption into heaven as Queen of Heaven: a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars - translated into art; it is a very common iconography if you think about it!
Mary also takes an incredible mission in Revelation (12:17), together with the army of angels and archangels she is the greatest warrior against Satan: then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.

Coronation of the Virgin by Gentile da Fabriano.

In Rome, several churches were dedicated to Our Lady, the most notable example being the majestic St. Mary Major built in the 5th century, under Pope Sixtus III. Later, Marian veneration was particularly widespread among Benedictine monasteries, chants dedicated to the Virgin such as Ave Maris Stella and the Salve Regina started to emerge. In the 8th century the "Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary" became part of the Canonical hours. In France, the Carolingians were quite devoted to Mary; they celebrated various liturgical feasts throughout the year and dedicated churches in her honour. During the Romanesque period, great Marian churches such as Speyer Cathedral or Tournai Cathedral were built. Later, as Gothic architecture developed, even grander shrines were dedicated to her, a famous example being Our Lady of Chartres or Santa Maria Assunta in Siena. During the 12th and 13th centuries the growth of the cult of the Virgin was partly inspired by a large number of theological writings, such as those of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux who wrote of her virginity and humility or John Duns Scotus who defended the Immaculate Conception. By then, also large sanctuaries, such as Loreto or Walsingham, became part of the pilgrimage movement and attracted hundreds of people.

Our Lady appearing to St. Philip Neri - Sebastiano Conca - c.1740 - Oil on Canvas - Indianapolis Museum of Art.

By the 14th century the figure of Mary had become almost a compassionate intercessor, great art was being commissioned regarding Mary’s life, especially in Italy, a splendid example is the Annunciation by Simone Martini, an incredibly popular iconography at the time, during the Renaissance a dramatic growth in Marian art took places and depictions of the Virgin and Child, of whom Filippo Lippi’s ones are great examples or the many Coronations, Stories of the Life of the Virgin, etc. became extremely popular among the great patrons of the time. Another form of art during the Renaissance, music, also became a form of art to immortalise Mary’s testimony of fatih, notably through works by Palestrina or Victoria: the Salve Regina, Alma Redemptoris or the Missa de Beata Virgine. After the Counter-Reformation, popular Marian teachings such as the Conception or the Falling Asleep/Assumption became even more so. Also, a fruit of Baroque spirituality was Saint Ignatius of Loyola who instructed the Jesuits to preserve the shrine of the Madonna della Strada at their mother church of the Gesù in Rome, whereas Saint Philip Neri is credited with devoting the month of May to the Mother of God. In the 17th century, the Church of England saw a new beginning - Mary's feasts increased in the Book of Common Prayer and Anglican Divines such as Lancelot Andrewes, Thomas Ken and George Herbert wrote beautiful verses on the Virgin Mary.
Marian devotion evolved through the centuries, according to how the Holy Spirit inspired the Tradition of the Church - but the foundation are steady and strong; Hail Mary, Full of Grace!
I hope that this brief article summed Mary’s role, both passive and active in the history of God’s revelation unto humanity and why we should give her the honours as Mother of Jesus that she so deserves, the mission of Mother of God and Mother of all, given from the Most High.

Madonna and Child by Filippo Lippi.

The great Cappadocian Father of the Church, Gregory of Nyssa wrote: What came about in bodily form in Mary, the fullness of the godhead shining through Christ in the Blessed Virgin, takes place in a similar way in every soul that has been made pure. The Lord does not come in bodily form, for 'we no longer know Christ according to the flesh,' but He dwells in us spiritually and the Father takes up His abode with Him, the Gospel tells us. In this way the child Jesus is born in each of us.
May God bless us all, with the prayers of Mary the Virgin.

Monday, July 10, 2017

O Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness: the "Ditching of Vestments", the Church and its Priorities in Today's World.


First of all, I have to start by saying that I did reflect a while before writing this article as I might have been rather irrational at first when hearing that a senior member of the Archbishop's Council, the Rev'd Ian Paul stated that mitres belonged to the past, because "they look silly"
His argument was based on how mitres, the traditional liturgical hats worn by bishops, belonged to the past and made them appear above the rest of us: the mitre has become a sign that this person is a bishop, it makes them distant and it makes them look silly, he added that these hats were Roman Catholicism by the back door, he concluded that it confirms for many the impression of a church irrelevant to modern questions, contained in its own bubble of self reference. And in its hierarchical understanding of authority, it is a culture of which contemporary society is becoming less and less tolerant, possibly for good reason. 
Now, I would like to comment this statement and the followings according to my own personal view, let us start by the first point. 
In the first place, I would like to begin with a little historical background, the mitre is of Roman and Pontifical origin, it derives from a non-liturgical papal tiara knowns as the camelaucum - it was worn as early as the eight century, as shown in the Liber Pontificalis, the biography of the Popes. Around the 10th century it started to be worn at important processions and services by Bishops and during the later Middle Ages its use became more or less defined as we know it today with the mitre being used for dramatic moments during the Mass, during the Te Deum or originally even at particular times during Advent and Lent, Good Friday or Candlemass liturgies, etc. The use of mitres was adopted quite soon in the English Church as well, by the 12th century it was widespread throughout the country, we do know of very fine examples of embroidered English mitres from the 12th to 16th centuries. By the time of the Reformation, especially under Edward VI mitres fell out of use and it was not until the 19th century, in the wake of the ritualist revival it was once again adopted, notably thanks to Bishop Edward King of Lincoln. Although the history of the Church in England goes back to Saint Augustine of Canterbury in the 6th century, its Reformation only goes back 500 years and the mitre was only unpopular for about 300 years and its use has again been part of the Anglican tradition for about 200 years.
As Anglicans we affirm the importance and centrality of Scripture, Reason and Tradition as understood by Richard Hooker, one of our greatest theologians. Indeed to ridicule a liturgical garment, symbolising the tongues of fire upon the Apostles and our historical priesthood, a sign of our place in the world as a catholic and apostolic Church, it would be quite uncharitable and I would add, naive, to deride a part of our patrimony, however small. Personally, I believe that the mitre does have to symbolise the person of the bishop, and yes a bishop needs to be recognised - as we belong to a Church of catholic ethos with an episcopal polity, our faithful need to recognise who is a bishop, just like priests and deacons can be recognised by their own stoles. Instead, I do not believe it makes bishops distant but simply more recognisable, which is partly the reason behind so much Christian symbolism... It is not as Rev. Ian Paul states "Catholicism at the back door" but simply our patrimony, I shall not comment this further as this is simply rude and prejudicing. Is "his" Puritanism at the back door anyway? Do mitres look silly as he also states? I shall respond with another joke: only if the design is ghastly! Behind the joke there is also some truth, mitres are usually white and with no motifs, or at least embroideries should be of the same colours or shade, some modern ones indeed do look silly but it has nothing to do with the mitre itself! Last but not least, Rev. Ian attacks the "hierarchical authority" of the Church through the mitre's symbolism, how can we respond to this if not by saying that this is simply the polity chosen by the early English reformers who wanted to maintain the episcopal structure of the early Church? Who wanted to maintain continuity with the early Church, the Medieval Church, and maintain this patrimony of faith. An attack to this is an attack to our sense of continuity and what makes Anglicanism so unique and which was preserved with extremely brave efforts, for the sake of Tradition, this is why the separatists couldn't stand the Church in England in the 16th and 17th centuries, because it retained its catholic heritage, a heritage of faith and this is still the power that moves these accusations. Tradition teaches us that the first Church, the Church of Christ, was an episcopal Church, Tradition teaches us that what is part of our patrimony is inspired by the Holy Spirit through the ages and that is why the reformers kept the sacramental church and the holy orders of old and that is why we we will keep the mitre that was and has become again part of our patrimony.
There is nothing authoritative about it but the love and the gospel and the sacraments passed on from Christ unto our very clergy, it is the oldest type of ecclesiastical structure and it has stood the test of time, but this needs no justification. I can't see but beauty in this preservation of God's priesthood of old. Also, as I know quite well, you have to swear allegiance to bishops in order to be ordained, did he skip that part? Did he lie..? Finally, I believe the Church is not made irrelevant to modern questions by mitres, which by the way are not worn by bishops all the time... I believe people, the young, the sick, the aged, seek deeper answers, for more profound questions: they want to know why their sick child is dying, why they can't find a place for God in their successful or unsuccessful lives, why their marriage blessed by the Church and by God is falling apart... these are the questions people want answered, and as we churchy people have friends of all kinds, I believe we can all comfortably say, that people's issues are not about the odd hat worn by that overly decorated priest visiting our church once a year. 
Interestingly enough, this would have passed unnoticed if it weren't for something slightly more official coming from the recent synod of the Church of England, recently held in York.
A historical decision was taken over vestments, clergy in England has been given permission to ditch liturgical vestments during services for the first time in the history of our Church.
Again, first let's check some historical background first, originally the Elizabethan Book of Common Prayer of 1552 (rectified in the 1662 version) states that vestments, (possibly surplice and stole), had to be worn for Holy Communion, and this has been the law until chasubles were introduced during the 19th century Oxford Movement, today Canon Law states that at the Holy Communion the presiding minister shall wear either a surplice or alb with scarf or stole. When a stole is worn other customary vestments may be added. The epistoler and gospeller (if any) may wear surplice or alb to which other customary vestments may be added (§36.B8.3). The use of vestments is entirely based on Scripture, both in the Old and New Testament, but this would need an article on its own.
Again in this case, the question is very complicated. It has to be said that in some churches vestments are usually not worn anyway, since Holy Communion, does not take place often. In the end this outcome may only result as unnecessary as the Catholics will keep wearing vestments and as the Evangelicals will keep wearing a stole for Communion and everyday clothes for other services. It might be the case though that some will indeed celebrate Communion and consecrate what we believe to be Jesus' body and blood in everyday clothes, and this, in my humble opinion, is complicated, because of the way the apostolic priesthood is understood, as vestments symbolise the sacrificial nature of the sacrament and distinguish clergy from lay people, without making them any different, in Anglican theology.
I believe, vestments have always been part of this heritage, our Tradition, that the Church accumulated throughout history in a form or another, and they do help the faithful to focus on the altar as well as to give respect to the sacrament of Jesus' sacrifice. It might be the view of the catholic wing of the Church, but news is that exists too! We are a liturgical Church and vestments are part of our identity, although they might have been simpler after the Reformation, this is part of what the Church deemed important to retain and what constitutes Anglicanism.
I do believe this won't affect many, but there will be occasions in which people will be surprised to see people in everyday clothes saying Holy Communion, diminishing the catholic understanding of such sacrament, but hopefully it won't happen often, as I said the Catholics will keep wearing vestments and the Evangelicals won't.
What I truly ask myself is: are these the questions that we, the Church, really need to ask ourselves to make us relevant? Do people come to us and judge us for what we have always worn since the Priesthood of Melchizedek or for what we say, preach and do? Why should we come across as insecure and change our very Christian heritage? Have we asked ourselves whether people want to enter another world while in church and adopt a different visual and bodily language? Perhaps, to escape normality and normal life problems? Have we asked ourselves whether relevance is about helping people to understand how can God bless marriages and destroy them or whether they want priests with or without a stole? And a long list of other, more profound questions. Are mitres and vestments the issue? Or something way more profound? Let's start and ask clergy to train themselves in understanding people more, let's leave our Tradition alone and let's focus on people. That is our mission as followers of Jesus Christ with the prayers of the Saint Mary the Virgin.
On my behalf, I will still worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Rucellai Sepulchre in Florence, the precursor of Renaissance mausoleums.

Florence is the home of perhaps the most refined architecture in Europe. Before Bramante’s Temple at San Pietro in Montorio in Rome, there was one previous funerary monument to define the Renaissance style and it was the Tempietto di San Sepolcro in the (now former) church of San Pancrazio. The rather small, but architecturally perfect temple is the tomb of Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai, whose family still thrives in Florence today and the architect is Leon Battista Alberti.


Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai was a wealthy Florentine merchant, linked to the great architect Leon Battista Alberti through a friendship and similar tastes, and to whom Giovanni had already commissioned the construction of his Palazzo, the completion of the façade of Santa Maria Novella, and the Loggia Rucellai. 
The little temple was supposed to eventually become Giovanni’s tomb, in fact it was located in the church nearest to the family Palazzo. The Tempietto is thought to have been built between 1457 and 1467, Giovanni died in 1481.


It is a scale reproduction of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, except obviously for the exterior decoration which is an interpretation on earlier Florentine Medieval and Classical styles, especially the Florentine Romanesque tradition, the main examples being San Giovanni’s Baptistry, San Miniato or the Badia Fiesolana. Alberti modernised and revalued these themes. The square-shaped mausoleum’s walls sections are divided by Corinthian pilasters and decorated with marble panels, in the centre of the different panels of green and white marbles, divided into geometrical shapes, are roundels with imaginary shapes, except the central ones which feature the Rucellai family’s most notable members and friends, coat of arms: loose sails, Giovanni de’Medici, the three-feathered chaperon, Cosimo, the diamond ring with two feathers, Piero de’Medici and the three intertwined rings, Lorenzo de’Medici. On the entablature is an inscription in a Classical font that reads a quote from the Gospel of Saint Mark, the size of the letters is the same of the inscription in the Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella in Rome, which inspired the structure. The upper part is decorated with fleur-de-lys shaped merlons, the theme is in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Annunciation to whom the Chapel was originally dedicated. The structure has a sort of apse on the wall opposite the entrance. Inside the mausoleum there are two frescoes by Giovanni da Piamonte, a follower of Piero della Francesca, the iconography is quite powerful: the dead Christ being held by two angels, and the Resurrection. 


This is quite a spectacular work: the precursor of all perfect Renaissance structures and a glorious gate from death to heaven, a mystical way in which to leave the grief behind and have an anticipation of the glorious Resurrection.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Baroque master between Rome and London: Peter Paul Rubens.

Today is the 440 anniversary of the birth of one of my favourite masters of the past: the great Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, he was one of the most admired and successful artists of the 17th century, his patrons varied from churches to royalty, his art expanded from history to sacredness and from mythology to politics - his legacy, art and works, we will explore in this article. 

The Feast of Venus, c.1635, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna.
Born on this day in 1577, in Siegen in Westphalia, he was the son of a wealthy lawyer and a well educated wife as well as a brother of six - when he was only 10 years old his father died and the family moved to the larger city of Antwerp in the Spanish Netherlands, where the young artist-to be received training his what what will become his vocation, he served as an apprentice for the local artists' guild in 1598.
His story dramatically changes in 1600, when Rubens travels to Italy and discovers the beauty of late Renaissance masters, especially the Venetian Titian and the refinement of Raphael in Rome. As his genius was starting to appear, he was employed by Vincenzo I Gonzaga, the Duke of Mantua, one of the cultural centres of the time for whom he painted portraits - he was shortly sent by the Duke to Spain, Genoa and Rome, where, under ducal recommendation he started to receive orders from important churches and clients. During his time in Rome, he received the most important commissions, a cycle of frescoes in Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, now sadly lost and that of the high altar of Rome's most renowned Baroque church: the Chiesa Nuova, the altarpiece centred on an older icon of the Virgin and Child surrounded by cheering angels and two side panels with Saint Gregory the Great, Sts. Mauro and Papia and Saint Domitilla with Sts. Nereo and Achilleo - a fascinating triumph of refined, yet unusual for its location, Baroque art in its capital city.

Rubens' tryptich in the Chiesa Nuova in Rome, c.1607.

During these years Rubens worked on historical and mythological scenes, a stunning example is the "Wolf and Fox Hunt" (c.1615-21). It is no surprise that he soon became known as the "prince of painters and the painter of princes", after his commissions from Louis XIII of France for a series of 21 canvas representing the triumph of his life and reign with the great Marie de Medici at his side. 

The Birth of Louis XIII, c.1623, Louvre Museum.
And of course the magnificent "Peace and War" (c.1636) with the famous "Apotheosis of James I" and the "Peaceful Reign of James I" at its centre" in the Banqueting House in London for Charles I of England, the epitome of "Baroqueness", a triumph of the divine role of the English monarchy and probably the greatest work of art commissioned in England after the Reformation and part of the process that triggered the Civil War.

The Ceiling canvases in the Banqueting House, c.1636.
In 1626, Rubens loses his adored wife Isabella and again he travelled, combining diplomatic visits to Spain and England on behalf of the Netherlands (an interesting detail given this was long before the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713) with his artistic career. On his return to the Low Countries, he married his second wife, Helena Fourment, his family "Self-Portrait with Helena and Peter Paul" will be a testament to his life and his newly found happiness with his wife and son. 

Self Portrait with Helena and their Child.

During these later years the master will produce some of the most celebrated works of this age, such as the idyllic and mythological scenes of the "Judgement of Paris", a representation of the event that led to the Trojan War and the "Garden of Love" a landscape with seminude couples courting each other.

The Judgement of Paris, c.1637, National Gallery, London.

At the time of his death, on May 30, 1640, in Antwerp, Rubens was among the most celebrated artists in the whole continent, he left eight children, several assistants, among them Anthony van Dyck, another master to be, he will become another legend of his age. Ruben's skill in complex groupings and composition, the ability to work in grand scales and his great charm as well as his majestic subjects, the way in which he embraced post-Renaissance classicism with Baroque dynamism and lively realism, especially in the curvaceous famous world gave a new meaning to the art of his time. His legacy lived for the ages to come, inspiring artists of the caliber of Rembrandt, Gainsborough and Delacroix.

The Garden of Love, c.1633, Prado Museum, Madrid.