Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Review of the Opus Anglicanum at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Last week, while in London, the Roman Anglican, finally went to the V&A to see the most expected exhibition of 2016: Opus Anglicanum.

After about half a century since a similar exhibition, the greatest museum in the world of its kind, which already hosts the largest collection of this kind, presents to the public incredible survivals of Opus Anglicanum works, the outstanding embroideries, mostly produced by London masters, that were popular throughout Europe during the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. The English were for vestments what the Italians and Flemish were for tapestry and painting, in fact most of the works uniquely reunited in this occasion travelled from all of Europe: Spain, Italy, France, the Vatican and even the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

It is perhaps the most refined early English art had ever been and it is indeed a joy to admire, revaluate and even get to know these masterpieces.

Many would think that art during this age Europe was rather provincial and locally centred, it is not at all so, Flemish paintings moved to Florence, Florence bankers moved to Bruges, English wool and silk travelled from East Anglia to Florence, through the Flanders and London, artworks were often accompanied by these embroidered masterpieces. It is known that the Vatican ordered several Opus Anglicanum copes until the Reformation, Pope Benedict XI was quite impressed by these works when a delegation of English prelates came to Rome. They even went as far as Iceland. Europe and its art was pretty much connected at this stage, at least on its more refined level.

The spectacular London exhibition, located next to the cafe, hosts over a hundred of these beautiful works, both from the V&A collection and from abroad, with insights on the craftsmanship, production, the tools, materials and the people who made them, often together with related works, such as panel paintings, manuscripts or sculptures that inspired the embroideries.

Several works are on display at this exhibition, from an early seal-bag from the mid-12th century, containing the seal for the foundation of Westminster Abbey to treasures from the V&A's own collection, such as the lavishly decorated Clare Chasuble, the Jesse's Cope, depicting the Tree of Jesse, with all the prophets and ancestors of Christ, there is also an immense cope with saints, angels and stories from the life of the Virgin that comes from the Vatican Museums. The supposed mitre of Thomas Becket.

The Toledo Cope, a ceremonial cloak made for the former Spanish Capital's Cathedral dates to the early 14th century and it is incredibly fine. More fine works are the rich Butler-Bowden cope, or the Bologna cope, in which the beautiful silk and intricate patterns survive in perfect conditions. In the exhibition there are also funeral palls, single orfreys (the embroidered parts of amices, chasubles and copes, often in the shape of a cross), burial clothing from Kings and Archbishops and even secular works, that show how the works of the English masters were not only limited to commissions from the Church.

After the Reformation, in the 19th century a growth in interest for Medieval and early Renaissance art brought to the rediscovery of this treasure of the English artistic patrimony. If you are in London, I do suggest you to visit this exhibition.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Saint Edward the Confessor by Annibale Carracci, a rare work.

Saint Edward the Confessor, whom we are celebrating this week of Edwardtide is certainly not the most popular saint in iconographical terms, surely the Reformation might have something to do with this, as this great saint buried in the Abbey at Westminster was until the 13th century the patron of England. 
Oddly enough, there is one painting that portrays him, it is not the Wilton Diptych, no, it is a bit later and it is Italian! Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), Caravaggio's great rival, and even more than him, the great master that links the Renaissance and the Baroque. Carracci's work (c.1597 or 1598) is a representation of Christ in glory with Saints and the donor.

The painting was commissioned by Odoardo Farnese, a Cardinal of holy mother Church and a member of one of the princely families of Rome (though unlike some others his title was elevated in a rather peculiar way, but I will write another article about that). Cardinal Farnese appears in the artwork as the donor. During the 17th century the painting was moved to the Camaldoli Hermitage in Tuscany, and eventually in the end of the century, the Grand Duke, Ferdinando II, took it to Florence. 
This is quite a unique work for the presence of the English saint, patron of the Cardinal, there is also a hidden symbolism in this work, the Cardinal being presented to Christ by the English saint would underline the claim of the Farnese family to the English throne, based on the fact that they descended from the Lancasters through Maria d'Aviz of Portugal. The presence of Saint Ermenegildo, another saint and king, also venerated by Felipe II of Spain, related to the Farnese, would also confirm his pretence over an European throne. The painting eventually ended up in the Palatine Gallery in Florence once the international aspirations of the Cardinal ended. Cardinal Odoardo was also granted the title of Protector of England and some scholars believe this painting might celebrate that. The original location is disputed nowadays, but there are two thesis regarding its first location in the Camaldoli Hermitage, the first one would be that Farnese had commissioned a chapel in the main church and this work would have been its altarpiece, another is that the Cardinal might have sent the painting away, in order to hide it, once its royal aspirations ended. In favour of the first theory, even considering Cardinal Farnese's character... it is the fact that Saint Mary Magdalene appears in the painting, after whom the Farnese Chapel was dedicated. This work is also sided by a chasuble and an altar frontal which were also in Camaldoli, but are now in Florence, in the Duomo's museum. The two liturgical objects have the family coat of arms and its symbols: the fleur-de-lys and unicorns, they are also attributed to Annibale Carracci, Saint Edward and Saint Ermenegildo are also present in these two works, an important detail that was used to identify the author. This theory, supported by the fact that the Cardinal's character would have never allowed him to forget about the English throne seems to be most plausible.
The altarpiece's upper section represents Christ in glory, sitting on clouds held by Cherubim, he stands triumphantly between Saint Peter and Saint John the Evangelist, both recognisable for the symbols of the keys and the eagle. The two saints are receiving the intercessions from below, and present them to the glorious God the Son, below are Saints Ermenegildo, Magdalene and Edward, the latter is in fact presenting Odoardo, in the act of praying, to the above sphere. This setting is probably inspired by that of Giulio Romano in his Deesis between the Saints Paul and Catherine in the National Gallery of Parma, also inspired by Raphael, Carracci probably saw the work in Parma. The scene is set in a pre-Baroque bucolic setting and in the background in the a game of light and shadows is the shape of the new Basilica of Saint Peter (not completed, as the lantern of the Clementine Chapel is not yet finished). Interestingly, going back to the link with Saint Edward the Confessor, in the centre is someone creeping on his knees, this is a reference to one of the saint's miracles, in which Edward healed him, becoming patron of the sick.
Not only there is a strong influence from Raphael, but also another from the Parma Renaissance, especially by Correggio, this helps a lot to identify the time of execution of the painting, that last bit of 16th century in which the Roman style is still mixed with the new fashions. There is also a Classical reference in the painting, as the Magdalene reminds of the statue of Niobe, part of a group of statues, brought to Rome by the Medici. This was not the first time they were inspired by them. There is an excellent preparatory drawing for this work in Lille, at the Palais des Beaux-Arts. Apparently, Bernini was also inspired by this work.
On this Edwardtide it is good to be remembered of the influence of this saint, not only in England but abroad, the name of this very blogger is Edoardo, and he wishes all of you prayers from the Shrine at Westminster Abbey.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

36 Anglican and Catholic bishops to gather in Rome to share 50 years of dialogue and friendship.

On Monday thirty-six bishops of the Catholic and Anglican churches met in Canterbury to start three days of celebration for the 50 years anniversary of official dialogue between the two churches, today the party will arrive in Rome. The dialogue officially began in 1966 with the join declaration signed by Paul VI and Michael Ramsey.
This pilgrimage is promoted by the Iarcuum, the commission for unity and mission instituted in 2000, and the Anglican Centre in Rome, the two leaders are now the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Regina, Donald Bolen, and the Anglican Suffragan Bishop of Europe, David Hamid. The bishops come from 18 different countries and their pilgrimage will have its end in a beautiful celebration of Choral Vespers to be held in San Gregorio al Celio, the church of Pope Gregory the Great in Rome (the Pope who sent Saint Augustine to Canterbury). The service will be celebrated jointly by Archbishop Justin Welby and Pope Francis.
Iarcuum met in Canterbury to analyse the work that the two churches have accomplished in the past 50 years, to rejoice in the common cores and to continue the fruitful dialogue concerning holy orders, the role of Mary, ecclesiology, of the Eucharist, etc. Then, the prelates met in the Cathedral, on the tomb of Thomas Becket, where in 1982, John Paul II met with Archbishop Robert Runcie. The dialogue informally began in 1960, when John XIII had a private meeting with Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher. On 24 March 1966 Paul VI and Archbishop Ramsey met in Rome to sign a joint declaration, it was the birth of Arcic and of the Anglican Centre in Rome, Canterbury's embassy to the Holy See. On that occasion the Pope made the inspiring move of passing his ring to the Archbishop. 
This Roman pilgrimage wants to be an occasion to celebrate this dialogue on a pastoral level. The several bishops have just arrived in Rome and will pray at the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul.
Tomorrow, on the 5th of October, there will be a series of lectures and conferences about our relationship at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Finally, the day will culminate in a service of Choral Vespers, sung by the choirs of the Sistine Chapel and Canterbury Cathedral, at San Gregorio al Celio, where Saint Augustine of Canterbury started his journey to England in 595. Here Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin will pray and lead the service together. For the bishops and others the day will end in a great Gala dinner at the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj on the Corso, home of the Anglican Centre, kindly hosted by this old princely family since its birth. The Centre, the Anglican Communion's embassy to Rome, has been since its creation a great instrument of unity and ecumenism and it has served both on a high level and on a more pastoral level in which pilgrims of all faiths can come and learn more about Anglicanism both from the use of its chapel and that of its immense library, therefore it will be a great occasion to celebrate this 50th anniversary. To learn more about the Anglican Centre and its mission, Click here!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Eternal City is under attack, our freedom and values are in danger.

Since it seems that no considerable press coverage has been given to the recent attacks occurred in Rome, either in Italy or elsewhere in the world, I decided to write mine own article in the hope not to incite hatred or intolerance, but rather to make people aware.

Last night a non-Italian individual entered the 9th century Basilica of Santa Prassede, just around the corner from the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major, the rather robust man started to smash everything he found, especially statues and candlesticks, right before a group of parishioners who were quite scared. The two devotional statues of Saint Anthony of Padua and Saint Prassede were heavily damaged, the attacker did not have time to finish his job as he was heading towards the sanctuary and the crucifix when the police arrived. Later, according to video-recording proof he also entered the church of San Martino ai Monti, where he smashed a devotional statue of the Madonna and Child.

This morning two further attacks occurred in the Basilicas of San Giovanni de' Fiorentini, on the Via Giulia, and San Vitale, on the Via Nazionale. Here statues, candlesticks, crucifixes were smashed, the perpetrator at this time had time to admit that it was not right that we worshipped in this way. 

Most artworks in San Giovanni de' Fiorentini were over 300 years old, but even if other statues and religious furniture weren't that old or precious we must realise that not only our art, culture and identity are in danger (and to us Italians they are the dearest thing we have, what makes us what we are), but our very freedom of worship, our own religion, here in Rome, here in the heart of Western Christianity.

Jesu mercy, Mary pray.

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