Francisco de Zurbarán, (Fuente de Cantos, Spain 1598 – Madrid, Spain 1664), The Flight into Egypt, 1630-35, oil on canvas, 150 cm x 159 cm, Seattle, Art Museum
Month of April.
The episode of the flight into Egypt is reported only in the Gospel of Matthew: “After they [the Magi] had left, suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.' So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until Herod was dead” (Mt 2:13-15a).
Domenikos Theotokopulos, known as El Greco (Candia, Greece 1541 – Toledo, Spain 1614), St. Joseph and the Christ Child, 1597-99, oil on canvas, 289 cm x 147 cm, Toledo, Spain, Chapel of Saint Joseph
19 March, Solemnity of Saint Joseph
I am sure some of you are wondering why I have not chosen a picture of the Holy Family for this month. The simple answer is that I wanted to make a special dedication to St Joseph in this month of March. In fact, this painting - which I personally find wonderful - made me think that the whole Family of Jesus is actually present. As a matter of fact, Mary is on this side of the painting, in our same position, smiling and contemplating her little Jesus who has run to embrace his father, to cling to him trustingly, to receive his affectionate caress. If a camera had existed in those days, this painting would be a picture taken by Our Lady!
Martin Schongauer (Colmar, France 1440/5 – Breisach, Germany 1491), The Holy Family, 1480-90, oil on panel of red beech wood, 26.3 cm x 17.2 cm, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Martin Schongauer is most famous for his work as a copperplate engraver. He produced around 130 engravings, and the fame of his works, while he was still alive, was such that a famous painter and engraver like Albrecht Durer decided to travel from his native Nuremberg to Colmar just to meet the artist who had inspired him so much. Nevertheless, as there was no WhatsApp or TV at the time, it was only when he arrived in Colmar that he learned that Schongauer had been dead for several months.
Michelangelo Buonarroti (Caprese, Italy 1475 – Rome, Italy 1564), Holy Family, known as “Doni Tondo”, 1506-07, oil and tempera on panel, 120 cm (diameter), Florence, Uffizi Gallery.
Let us begin this year's theme with a great work. It is the Holy Family as depicted by Michelangelo in his only painting on panel that is certainly autograph. We are at the beginning of the 16th century and Florence is home to the three greatest geniuses of the Italian Renaissance: Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo. The panel was painted for Agnolo Doni, a wealthy cloth merchant, a leading member of the Florentine upper middle class who married the noblewoman Maddalena Strozzi on 31 January 1504 (on that occasion Raphael painted the portraits of the couple, also on display in the Uffizi Gallery). The panel was probably commissioned on the occasion of the birth of the daughter Maria, and the choice of theme seems to be a tribute to that important family, gladdened by the arrival of their first-born.
Raffaello Sanzio, known as Raphael (Urbino, Italy 1483 – Rome, Italy 1520), Canigiani Holy Family, 1505-06, oil on poplar wood, 131 cm x 107 cm, Munich, Germany, Alte Pinakothek
27 December, Feast of the Holy Family.
As for many other works by Raphael, we know the history of this painting too. Painted for Domenico, a prominent member of the noble and rich Canigiani family, perhaps in view of his marriage to Lucrezia Frescobaldi in 1507, the work was noticed by Vasari in the Canigiani heirs' house.
Raffaello Sanzio, known as Raphael (Urbino, Italy 1483 – Rome, Italy 1520), Madonna of Foligno, 1511-12, oil on wood transferred to canvas, 308 cm x 198 cm, Vatican City, Pinacoteca
This beautiful work of art was commissioned to Raphael by Sigismondo de' Conti, a distinguished humanist from Foligno, Italy and secretary of Pope Julius II. The painting was meant to be a thanksgiving to the Virgin for having saved his house in Foligno, struck by lightning or a fireball. We can see a reference to this story both in the beautiful landscape in the background - we can see a small town and a solid house about to be struck by a flaming trail coming down from the sky - and in the little angel in the centre of the painting holding an empty plaque, probably destined to commemorate the vow fulfilled by the Virgin.
Raffaello Sanzio, known as Raphael (Urbino, Italy 1483 – Rome, Italy 1520), The Marriage of the Virgin, 1504, oil on wood, 170 cm x 117 cm, Milan, Italy, Pinacoteca di Brera.
The first thing that strikes us in this masterful work by a young Raphael is the building in the background. It is quite elegant, with a central plan, and has a portico all around it and a dome. The two opposite doors are open and therefore allow our eye to follow the landscape and the sky beyond the building. Its shape seems circular, even though it is actually built with 16 sides. We can also see a polygonal staircase all around the building, and a foreshortened squared floor.
Raffaello Sanzio, known as Raphael (Urbino, Italy 1483 – Rome, Italy 1520), St. Michael, 1505, oil on wood, 30 cm x 26 cm, Paris, Louvre Museum.
29 September, Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.
The work was mentioned in 1587 in a sonnet by Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo, a Milanese painter and man of letters, who blamed a rich but ignorant fellow citizen who sold to Ascanio Sforza, Count of Piacenza, this small painting together with another, of equal size, representing St. George and the dragon. Both paintings went from Piacenza into the collection of Cardinal Mazzarino and finally into the royal collection of Louis XIV, which today constitutes the most important, notable part of the Louvre Museum.
Raphael Sanzio (Urbino, 1483 - Rome, 1520), The transfiguration, 1518-20, rich tempera on panel, 405 x 278 cm, Vatican, Vatican Pinacoteca.
6th of August, feast of the Transfiguration.
We have already written about this magnificent board (cf. month of October 2017) presenting the mysteries of the Rosary. Its beauty is such, its fame is so great, that we wish to add other and different considerations on the same.
First of all, let us remember the great importance of the painting. It was commissioned to Raphael by Cardinal Giulio De' Medici, cousin of Pope Leo X (Giovanni De' Medici, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, while Giulio was the son of Giuliano, Lorenzo's youngest brother murdered in the Pazzi conspiracy).
Raffaello Sanzio, known as Raphael (Urbino, Italy 1483 – Rome, Italy 1520), Deliverance of Saint Peter, 1513-14, fresco, 660 cm wide, Vatican, Vatican Museums.
Month of July.
This fresco, like the one seen last month, is also located in one of the four rooms of Pope Julius II's apartments. Today, it is called “Heliodorus' room,” and it was once destined for the Pope's private audiences; all four walls had as many episodes in which God's miraculous protection of the Church and its Popes was manifested.
Raffaello Sanzio, known as Raphael (Urbino, Italy 1483 – Rome, Italy 1520), Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, 1509, fresco, 500 cm x 770 cm, Vatican, Vatican Museums.
14 June, Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi).
The large fresco is part of the decoration of one of the 4 Raphael Rooms, painted with his students for Pope Julius II of the Della Rovere family, who entrusted the young genius from Urbino with the task of painting the rooms of his private apartment.