Friday, February 27, 2015

George Herbert.

"Prayer should be the key of the day and the lock of the night."

Today the Church of England remembers GEORGE HERBERT, priest and poet. 1633.

George Herbert was born in 1593, a cousin of the Earl of Pembroke. His mother was a friend of the poet John Donne. George attended Trinity College, Cambridge, and became the Public Orator of the University, responsible for giving speeches of welcome in Latin to famous visitors, and writing letters of thanks, also in Latin, to acknowledge gifts of books for the University Library. This brought him to the attention of King James I, who granted him an annual allowance, and seemed likely to make him an ambassador. However, in 1625 the king died, and George Hebert, who had originally gone to college with the intention of becoming a priest, but had head turned by the prospect of a career at Court, determined anew to seek ordination. In 1626 he was ordained, and became vicar and then rector of the parish of Bemerton and neighboring Fugglestone, not far from Salisbury.

He served faithfully as a parish priest, diligently visiting his parishioners and bringing them the sacraments when they were ill, and food and clothing when they were in want. He read Morning and Evening Prayer daily in the church, encouraging the congregation to join him when possible, and ringing the church bell before each service so that those who could not come might hear it and pause in their work to join their prayers with his. He used to go once a week to Salisbury to hear Evening Prayer sung there in the cathedral. On one occasion he was late because he had met a man whose horse had fallen with a heavy load, and he stopped, took off his coat, and helped the man to unload the cart, get the horse back on its feet, and then reload the cart. His spontaneous generosity and good will won him the affection of his parishioners.

Today, however, he is remembered chiefly for his book of poems, The Temple, which he sent shortly before his death to his friend Nicholas Ferrar, to publish if he thought them suitable. They were published after Herbert's death, and have influenced the style of other poets, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Several of them have been used as hymns, in particular "Teach me, my God and King," and "Let all the world in every corner sing." Another of his poems contains the lines:

"Prayer, the Church's banquet, Angel's age, God's breath in man returning to his birth, The soul in paraphrase, the heart in pilgrimage, The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth."

Two more of his poems follow:

The Flower

How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are Thy returns! Even as the flowers in spring,

to which, besides their own demean,
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.

Grief melts away

Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.
Who would have thought my shrivelled heart
could have recovered greenness? It was gone
quite underground, as flowers depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown;
Where they together
all the hard weather,
dead to the world, keep house unknown.
These are Thy wonders, Lord of power,
Killing and quickening, bringing down to hell
and up to heaven in an hour;
Making a chiming of a passing-bell.
We say amiss
This or that is;
Thy word is all, if we could spell.
Oh, that I once past changing were,
Fast in Thy paradise, where no flower can wither!
Many a spring I shoot up fair,
Offering at heaven, growing and groaning thither;
Nor doth my flower

Want a spring shower,

My sins and I joining together.

But while I grow in a straight line,
Still upwards bent, as if heaven were mine own,

Thy anger comes, and I decline.
What frost to that? What pole is not the zone

Where all things burn,

When Thou dost turn,
And the least frown of Thine is shown?
And now in age I bud again;
After so many deaths I love and write; 
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing. O my only Light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom Thy tempests fell all night.
These are Thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flowers that glide; 
Which when we once can find and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us where to bide.
Who would be more,
Swelling through store,
Forfeit their paradise by their pride.

Love (III)

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin. But quicked-ey'd Love, Observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in, Drew near to me, sweetly questioning,

If I lack'd any thing.

A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, You should be he. I the unkinde, engrateful? ah my deare,
I can not look on thee. Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I hav marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve. And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve. You must sit down, sayes love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
Glory to God on High And on earth Peace good will toward man.

George Herbert

King of glory, king of peace,
who didst call thy servant George Herbert
from the pursuit of worldly honours
to be a priest in the temple of his God and king:
grant us also the grace to offer ourselves
with singleness of heart in humble obedience to thy service;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

An artist in the ghetto. Benozzo Gozzoli.

The Jewish ghetto in Rome is home of many churches without facades, S. Angelo in Pescheria is one of them and it is located in the small namesake narrow street behind the Portico d'Ottavia. It houses a fresco by Benozzo Gozzoli, the great artist who decorated the magnificent Medici - Chapel of the Magi in Florence - this Roman work is quite damaged but still splendid: the theme, very popular at the time is a Madonna with child, sorrounded by angels. I think it is a beautiful depiction of this, the two angels holding Mary's veil still have beautiful colored wings, representing their rank, this is a Medieval practice that some early Renaissance artists retained, especially in Rome - among others Antoniazzo Romano (Antoniazzo Romano's Annunciation by the Roman Anglican.) and Melozzo da Forlì (Melozzo da Forlì by the Roman Anglican.).

Two Roman "ladies"...

These are among my favorite Madonnas in Rome. Both Renaissance "ladies" have interesting stories, deeply linked to the history of the Eternal City. I have chosen these two: because the first, a Madonna with Child by Antoniazzo Romano was recovered in the 1950s when the Cappella Bessarione in the Basilica de' Santissimi Apostoli was discovered - this work is now placed in the first chapel of the right-hand aisle, while the chapel with the artist's frescoes only hosts a copy of it (The Roman Anglican visits the Cappella Bessarione). I think it is rather important because Antoniazzo Romano was the only Renaissance artist to be a real Roman and to operate only in Rome throughout his entire life. His nickname "Romano" was also a fruit of his deep Roman roots, his real surname was "Aquili".

The second has even a deeper affection among Romans, it is the venerated image of the Madonna Salus Infirmorum, of the XVIth century. It is located in the Chiesa della Maddalena near the Pantheon, it had been donated to the church by Settimia de' Nobili, a Roman noblewoman in 1614 and it is now located in a side chapel. This is a Renaissance re-visitation by an unknown XVIth century artist of an earlier and similar work. But the affection to this work is given to the fact that this was a Madonna for the infirm people, a healing Madonna! The devotion to this Madonna was particularly relevant during the late Middle Ages and until the 1700s, its main sanctuary was in Scaldaferro, in the north-east of Italy.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Antoniazzo Romano frescoes in Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Not many people know that behind the vestry of Santa Maria sopra Minerva there is "St. Catharine's chamber" here rebuilt in the 1630s. This very intimate space, now a chapel hosts also some frescoes by Antoniazzo Romano, the leading artist of the Roman Renaissance. 

The Crucifixion.

The Annunciation.

Antoniazzo Romano frescoes in St. John Lateran.

The XIV century ciborium in San Giovanni in Laterano, the first cathedral church in the world, has frescoes by Antoniazzo Romano, the only Roman artist of the Renaissance, on all sides. It is an interesting testimony of the extensive work carried out by this lesser known master. These particular ones were made in the late XV century and represent: 

-Side facing the nave: Crucifixion with St. Jacobus, St. Paul, St. Peter and St. Andrew.

-Side facing the presbytery: Madonna with child adored by a cardinal between St. Laurence, St. John the Baptist, St. Stephen and St. John the Evangelist.

-Sides facing the transepts: Annunciation, Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Catherine, St. Anthony, Christ as the Good Shepherd and St. Gregory the Great, St. Augustine, St. Jerome and St. Ambrose.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The choir of Santa Maria del Popolo.

Today I was granted permission to visit the beautiful coro of this Basilica, it is not only one of the main areas within the basilica but it is also decorated by some of the greatest artists present in Rome during the early 1500s. 
Pope Julius II after his election in 1503 dedicated himself to the enlargment and embellishment of the choir of the Basilica - it had already been restored by Bramante at the turn of the century who made it monumental by commission of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza. Bramante worked on the choir in two different phases - the first (1500) modelling the apse, the second (1505-1509) modifying the vaulting. Afterwards, two funerary monuments were added, the one of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza and the one of Cardinal Girolamo Basso-Della Rovere, both by Andrea Sansovino.

The four evangelists.

The frescoes, by Pinturicchio, were initially commissioned by Cardinal Sforza, but after his death Pope Julius II continued to promote the project. Pinturicchio was by this time a mature artist and his work was defined as "bellissimo" in what we would now call a sort of art magazine of the time, by Francesco Albertini.

The four sybils. 

The Pinturicchio frescoes represent the "Coronation of the Virgin" sorrounded by the four evangelists, four sibyls and four doctors of the Church. It is a geometrical composition based on the one of the Domus Area - the background is filled with refined grotesques. It has a strong theological meaning based on the centrality of Mary's figure, her being sorrounded in fact, by both the doctors of the church and more closely by the evangelists in her heavenly throne.

The four doctors of the Church.


Detail of the Grotesques.

The gilded background is made of mosaics which we can find also in Pinturicchio's work in Sant'Onofrio al Gianicolo or similarly in the golden leaf background of the leading artist of the early Roman Renaissance: Antoniazzo Romano - this was clearly Rome's touch to it!

The apse by Bramante.

The tombs by Francesco Albertini.

Another interesting detail are the stained glasses, representing the lives of Christ and Mary - both are by Guillaume de Marcillat (1509) and are his first work in Rome.

The stained glass windows by Guillaume de Marcillat.


The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The whole ceiling. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Renaissance Frescoes in Saint Frances' Monastery, a truly unique experience!

The "Monastero Tor de Specchi" founded by Saint Frances of Rome in the 1440s hosts a cycle of frescoes by Antoniazzo Romano, the leading artist of the early Roman Renaissance with the help of Benozzo Gozzoli, another great master. The Monastery opens only on the 9th of March and I highly suggest you to make a visit to this splendid hidden gem of the Eternal City if you don't want to wait for another year!

Opening hours: 

Monday, March 09, 2015

9:00am - 11:30am
14:30pm - 18:00pm


The Facebook link: Renaissance Frescoes in Saint Frances' Monastery, a truly unique experience!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Curiosità Romane!

Not many people know that the Basilica of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, the then national church of the Florentines, known for Il Confetto (its confetti-shaped dome) hosts a splendid organ built by Filippo Testa in 1680 and restored in 1995 by the firm Bathèlèmy-Formentelli. This very organ was famous in its time for being very much appreciated by organists, and especially by Henry Purcell himself who considered it to be the best organ in Rome.

This is a recording from the 1680 organ made by Andrea Coen, with music by Alessandro Scarlatti:

Pinturicchio in Santa Cecilia, Trastevere.

The beautiful Basilica of Saint Cecilia in Trastevere is renowned for its mosaics and Medieval art work, but not many know that it is also home of one of the hidden gems of the Roman Renaissance: the Cappella Ponziani - with frescoes by Pinturicchio, the rather dark Medieval chapel is rendered open towards heaven by these works, representing God the Father sorrounded by the four evangelists,  a rather popular theme during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, this work was executed between 1485 and 1490, he probably worked on them while working on the side chapels in Santa Maria del Popolo (Pinturicchio Chapels in Santa Maria del Popolo). The decorations surrounding them are especially good and remember the ones in the Cappella Bufalini at Santa Maria in Aracoeli. Remember that Pinturicchio arrived in Rome to work on the Sistine Chapel together with artists like Ghirlandaio and Botticelli, but unlike them - who moved back to Florence - he stayed and opened a bottega in Rome, hence the incredible number of his works in this our Eternal City. This beautiful work is just another Renaissance gem which can be found out of the beaten path, on the other side of the Tiber! It is also a new pin on the Roman Anglican's map of Renaissance Churches! (A map of Renaissance Churches in Rome). The chapel walls are decorated by a local artist, Il Pastura, whose style has the influence of both the Roman Antoniazzo and the Umbrian Pinturicchio, here is an article about this other cycle of frescoes: Pastura's frescoes in Santa Cecilia.

A Clerical Alphabet.