Annibale Carracci (Bologna, 1560 – Rome, 1609), Assumption of the Virgin, around 1600-01, 245 cm x 155 cm, oil on wood, Rome, Church of Santa Maria del Popolo
This panel is located in the first chapel on the left of the high altar of the famous Roman church in Piazza del Popolo. The chapel was purchased in July 1600 by Tiberio Cerasi, who was the Treasurer General of the Apostolic Camera. Cerasi, who wanted to be buried there, had the chapel rearranged and enlarged by the famous architect Carlo Maderno and commissioned the two most famous painters of the time to embellish the three walls: Annibale Carracci was commissioned to paint the large panel of the main wall, whereas Caravaggio was asked to paint two canvases for the side walls with The conversion of St. Paul and The Martyrdom of St. Peter. Today, it is still possible to admire all three paintings and the tomb of Cerasi, who died on 3 May 1601, when only the panel of the Assumption was already in place probably. In fact, we know that the chapel was consecrated on 11 November 1606.
Domenico Theotocopoulos, known as El Greco (Candia, 1540 – Toledo, 1614), Pentecost, 1605-10, 275 x 127 cm, oil on canvas, Madrid, Museo del Prado
The large canvas by El Greco, which develops vertically like its figures, presents two focal points on which the scene is built. In the top, in the place where the Apostles are gathered with Mary and the women, the darkness is torn and the dove, symbol of the Spirit that breaks in and emanates its strength, appears in the form of flames on the characters that crowd the lower part of the painting. Let us count them: Mary is at the centre, five are on her right and four on her left; another three are on the sides of the intermediate ground, and finally two - the closest to us onlookers – are in the foreground with their backs to us. There are fifteen of them, as the book of Acts tells us (cf. 1:14).
Master Bertram (Minden, circa 1345 - Hamburg, 1415), The Ascension, circa 1390, oil on wood, cm 52 x 51, Hannover, Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum
The small wood piece by the German painter is part of a large painting - the Polyptych of the Passion - where we find several episodes describing the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
Matthias Grűnewald (Wűrzburg, around 1475 – Halle, 1528), The Resurrection, 1512/16, oil on panel, 269 cm x 143 cm, Colmar, Unterlinden Museum
This large panel is part of a monumental polyptych, commissioned in 1512 to Matthias Grünewald by the Sicilian prior Guido Guersi, for the altar of the church of the Monastery of Sant'Antonio Abate under the mountain, known as the Grand Ballon d'Alsace, just outside the village of Issenheim.
Fra Angelico (Vicchio, Italy, around 1395 – Rome, 1455), Noli me tangere, around 1440-41, 180 cm x 146 cm, fresco, Florence, Museo di San Marco
It's a garden indeed, the place where they had buried him! There are flowers and plants, slanting their branches to the sky. The place is divided by a fence that marks the boundary and, on the left, the new tomb, open. At the centre are the two characters who are the protagonists of the scene. Let us observe them. Better, let us contemplate them.
Antonello from Messina (Messina 1430 -1479), The Crucifixion, 1475, oil on wood, cm 59,7x42,5, Antwerp, Royal Museum of Fine Arts.
The small painting was certainly to be used for the private devotion of an important person who had commissioned the painting. Antonello put his signature on the lower left cartridge where he wrote: "1475 - Antonellus messaneus me pinxit" (Antonello of Messina painted me in 1475).
Simone Martini (Siena 1284 - Avignon 1344), The Ascent to Calvary, around 1335, tempera on wood, 30x20 cm, Paris, Louvre Museum
The ascent to Calvary was the verse of one of the compartments of a small polyptych for private devotion, painted on both sides. When it was open, four scenes from the Passion of Christ could be seen in succession, the ascent to Calvary (at the Louvre in Paris), the Crucifixion and the Descent from the Cross (at the Royal Museum in Antwerp) and the Deposition in the tomb (at the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin). It was therefore a meditation on the mystery of the last moments of Jesus' life.
Tiziano Vecellio, also known as Titian (Pieve di Cadore, c. 1490 – Venice 1576), The Crowning with Thorns, c. 1570, oil on canvas, 280 cm x 182 cm, Munich, Alte Pinakothek
What is impressing about Titian’s great painting is the excitement of the scene. After all, the Gospel story is already dramatic, as we can see from Mark’s passage: "And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band. And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head. And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him" (Mk 15:16-19, but also cf. Mt 27:27-30 and Jn 19:2-3). Jesus is abandoned in the centre of the scene, completely at the mercy of the four soldiers who surround him. The movement of the scene seems to be directed by the skilfully handled reeds. We can only imagine the pain that Jesus felt after each reed blow, because with the blow came the sticking of a thorn in his head.
Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio (Milan 1571 – Porto Ercole 1610), The flagellation, 1607-1608, oil on canvas, 286 cm x 213 cm, Naples, Museo nazionale di Capodimonte
After the dramatic killing of Ranuccio Tomassoni on 28 May 1606, Caravaggio was forced to flee Rome. Chased by the guards of the Papal State, at the end of that year he stopped in the nearby city of Naples, where he found protection and enough calm to resume painting.
Duccio di Buoninsegna (Siena, c. 1255 – 1318 or 1319), The arrest of Jesus, 1308-1311, tempera on wood, 50 cm x 76 cm, Siena, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
What we present is one of the twenty-six scenes of the Passion of Jesus that are represented in fourteen panels and adorn the back of the larger panel, whose main façade is dedicated to the Madonna on the throne with Child venerated by angels and saints.
Hieronymus Bosch (‘s-Hertogenbosch, 1453 –1516), Adoration of the Magi, c. 1495, oil on panel, 138 cm x 144 cm, Madrid, Museo del Prado
The scene represented by the great Dutch painter shows some traditional elements and some innovative and very particular elements, starting with the choice of the triptych shape. In the side panels, he painted the two sponsors of the work with their respective patron saints: Peter Bronckhorst with St. Peter and his wife Agnes Bosshuysse with St. Agnes. The beautiful landscape on the background of the three panels, in addition to showing the beauty of nature and the abundance of water, shows, to a careful observer, details that allow us to glimpse their symbolic interpretation: in the central panel, in the background there are two armies facing each other, whereas in the right side we see two passers-by who are assaulted by two wolves.
Francisco de Zurbaran (Fuentes de Cantos, 1598 - Madrid, 1664), Immaculate Conception, about 1635 - oil on canvas, - Sequence, Diocesan Museum.
The great Spanish painter, who carried out his activity mainly in Seville, interprets the subject of the Immaculate Conception according to classical canons: Mary, very young represented, is praying, with her hands joined, wearing a long white tunic and the cloak, of an intense blue, which is spread out to form a perfectly balanced pyramidal volume. Beautiful and precious is the jewel placed on the neckline of the dress, which reproduces the monogram (an A intersected to an M) of the angelic greeting: “Ave, Maria” ("Hail, Mary").
Pietro Lorenzetti (Siena, c. 1280/85 – c. 1348), Last Supper, 1310-20, fresco, Lower Church of San Francesco in Assisi
The scene, built around a table, takes place inside a magnificent hexagonal loggia (which is very much reminiscent of the structure of the pulpit of the Cathedral of Siena by Nicola Pisano). There, we can see the elements of tradition: the table is fitted out and the bread and the glass of wine are placed on it; the twelve are around Jesus – who is at the centre of the composition, dominating it – placed in a perfect arch, six on the left half and the other six on the right half; John has placed his head on the chest of the Master, whereas Judas is the only one without an aureole, thus testifying that the devil has already put in his heart the idea of treason (cf. Jn 13:2). Among the apostles there seems to be a slight movement, perhaps because they are caught at the moment when they are wondering who and how it will be possible for one of them to betray Jesus.
Raphael, Raffaello Sanzio (Urbino, 1483 - Rome, 1520), The Transfiguration, 1518-20, oily tempera on wood, cm 405 x 278, Vatican City, Vatican Museums
This impressive work - perhaps the last of the great painter from Marche region – presents, for the first time together, two distinct episodes of the Gospel of Matthew, which are narrated in succession in the first part of chapter 17. They are the transfiguration (17:1-8) and the healing of the possessed child (17:14-18).
El Greco, Dominikos Theotokopoulos (Candia, 1541 – Toledo, 1614), Healing of the blind man, around 1570, oil on poplar wood, cm 65.5 x 84, Dresden, Gemäldegalerie
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Matthew 4:23).
Gerard David (Ouwater, 1450-60 – Bruges, 1523), The wedding at Cana 1523, oleum on wood, cm 100 x 128, Paris, Musée du Louvre
The work of the Flemish painter is very rich from the iconographic point of view. Full of figures, beyond the accurate reproduction of the Gospel (cf. John 2, 1-11), the scene shows different levels.
Piero della Francesca (Borgo San Sepolcro, c. 1420 – 1492), The Baptism of Christ, c. 1445, tempera on panel, 167 cm x 116 cm, National Gallery, London
The representation of this evangelical scene is very peculiar: it doesn’t intend to tell the event in its actual reality, but rather through its multiple meanings.
Doménikos Theotokópoulos, known as El Greco, (Heraklion, around 1541 – Toledo, 1614), The Holy trinity, 1577-79, oil on canvas, 300 x 170 cm, Madrid, Museo del Prado
The great painting by the Spanish painter is almost entirely occupied by the figures represented. There is no landscape, only the golden light on top, where the dove of the Holy Spirit is hovering around, and the low clouds on which the characters stand. In fact, the scene is entirely divine, it represents the Trinity.
Albrecht Dürer (Nuremberg 1471 –1528), Christ among the Doctors, 1506, oil on poplar panel, 65 cm x 80 cm, Madrid, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
This intense and peculiar representation of the well-known evangelical episode was made by Dürer in just 5 days during his second stay in Venice (in addition to the artist’s monogram, we can read Opus Quinque Dierum, meaning “made in five days”, on the slip of paper sticking out of the tome in the lower left corner).
Giovanni Bellini (Venice, c. 1433 – 1513), Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, c. 1460, tempera on panel, 82 cm x 106 cm, Venice, Fondazione Querini Stampalia
The panel presents a crowd of people in a small space behind a marble balustrade. The picture is probably rich in meaning for the artist if, as it seems, the young man portrayed on the right is Giovanni Bellini himself, while the woman on the opposite side should be his wife Ginevra.
Antonio Allegri, known as Correggio (Correggio, Italy 1489 – 1534), Nativity, 1522-1530, oil on poplar wood, cm 256.5 x 188, Dresden, Gemäldegalerie
This large table that Correggio painted for the chapel of the Pratoneri family in the church of San Prospero in Reggio Emilia, Italy, represents an unusual scene. It is night, the special night in which Mary gave birth to Jesus. We know that something special happened that night for there is a warm, very intense light emanating from the child. It is a light that illuminates directly Mary, and then hits the other protagonists of the painting: the woman, the shepherds, the angels and even Joseph, who’s on the background.
Jacopo Carucci, known as Pontormo (Pontorme, 1494 – Florence, 1557), Visitation, around 1528-30, oil on board, cm 202 x 156, Carmignano, Italy, Prepositure of Saints Michael and Francis
Pontormo has set the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth in a dark city street, where some bare, off-scale buildings are visible. The darkness of the scene is pierced by the light that is reflected on the figures in the foreground, on the faces and especially on the drapery.
Lorenzo Lotto (Venice, c. 1480 – Loreto, 1556), Recanati Annunciation, 1527, oil on canvas, 166 cm x 114 cm, Recanati, Civic Museum
The environment in which the scene described by Luke (1: 26-38) takes place is a small room, with a few everyday objects used by Mary, the young woman living in it. On the right side of the painting there’s the mighty and real (we can actually see his shadow on the floor) figure of the angel Gabriel, who almost seems to have glided through the beautiful arched entrance. Above, in the clouds, the figure of God, the one who chose Mary to make her become the Mother of the Lord, His Son Jesus, and the one who sent the angel.