Donatello (Florence 1386 –1466), Penitent Magdalene, 1453-55, height 188 cm, poplar wood with traces of polychrome, Florence, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
22nd of July: Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene.
Mary Magdalene appears at the beginning of chapter 8 of Luke's Gospel: “Now it happened that after this he made his way through towns and villages preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. With him went the Twelve, as well as certain women who had been cured of evil spirits and ailments: Mary surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their own resources.” And then, especially, as it is said in chapters 19 and 20 of the Gospel of John, she was at the foot of the cross, she was in the garden where they laid down the body of Jesus, and she was the first to see the risen one and ran to announce it to the apostles.
Giovanni Odazzi (Rome 1663 –1731), Blessed Theresa and Sancha, 1725, oil on canvas, Rome, Church of Sant’Antonio dei Portoghesi
In Rome, a few steps from Piazza Navona and very close to the more famous Church of St. Augustine, there is a small church of the Portuguese nation, dedicated of course to St. Anthony. In it there are several paintings representing Portuguese saints and blessed, including the one we propose here, which depicts two sisters, both nuns, both blessed. Let us dwell on Theresa.
Giovan Battista Galizzi (Bergamo 1882 - 1963), Entrance of Saint Rita to the monastery, oil on canvas, 1947, Cascia, Italy, Chapel of the urn in the Sanctuary of Saint Rita
Saint Rita of Cascia is one of the most invoked and venerated saints. She was born in 1381 in Roccaporena, a hamlet of Cascia, in central Italy. She was given the name of Margherita, but soon everyone started calling her Rita.
A mild-tempered, humble, obedient and well-mannered girl (her parents taught her to read and to write), from a very young age she became passionate about the Augustinian family, so much to want to take her vows and to attend regularly the monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene of Cascia and the church of St. John the Baptist. But when she was 14, her parents promised her married to Paolo di Ferdinando Mancini, a violent man, and after three years she got married with him. Two children were born from the wedding, perhaps twins: Giangiacomo Antonio and Paolo Maria.
Guidoccio Cozzarelli (Siena 1450 – 1517), Saint Catherine of Siena exchanges her heart with Christ, around 1500, Siena, Pinacoteca nazionale
Catherine was born in Siena on 25 March 1347. Her confessor, Raimondo da Capua - who also became Minister General of the Dominicans - left written testimony of the precocious vocation of this great saint. In 1363, when she was just 16, she became a Dominican tertiary. Illiterate, she learned to read and also to write so as to be able to draw directly on the Holy Scriptures. She obtained special gifts and graces from Jesus, which made her one of the most important mystics in the history of the Church.
Matilda of Ringelheim, marble, Milan Cathedral
Matilda was a woman, a wife, a mother, and a queen who distinguished herself for her extraordinary concern for the poor and the sick, as well as for her intense life of prayer.
February 9: Memory of Saint Apollonia. Guido Reni (Calvezzano 1575 – Bologna 1642), The Martyrdom of Saint Apollonia, 1600-03, oil on copperplate, 28 cm x 20 cm, Madrid, Museo del Prado
The life of the virgin Apollonia, who lived in the third century in Alexandria, Egypt, is practically unknown to us, but Eusebius, in his Church History, reported a passage from the letter of the bishop Saint Dionysius of Alexandria, addressed to Fabio of Antioch, in which he recounted some episodes he had witnessed during the persecution that broke out in the last years of the empire of Philip (244-249): a popular uprising, incited by an evil soothsayer, caused the massacre of many Christians, whose homes were devastated and plundered. The pagans took Apollonia, an unmarried woman, already advanced in age, to whom they struck the jaws making her teeth come out, and threatened to burn her at the stake if she had not spoken impious words with them. "She," Dionysius wrote in his letter, "asked that she be freed for a moment: after this she quickly jumped into the fire and was consumed by it." This event is said to be happened in 249.
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (Lyon 1824 – Paris 1898), Saint Genevieve provisioning Paris, 1893-98, oil on canvas, Paris, Panthéon
The life of the Parisian virgin Genevieve is narrated in "Vita Genovefae," written about twenty years after her death. She was born in Nanterre, near Paris, around 422. At the age of 15, Genevieve consecrated herself to God, becoming part of a group of virgins devoted to God who, while wearing a habit that distinguishes them from other women, did not live in the convent, but in their homes, dedicating themselves to works of charity and penance.
Master of the Lyversberg Passion (working in Cologne between 1460 and 1490), Coronation of Mary, around 1464, 101,6 cm x 133 cm, oil on oak wood covered with canvas, Munich, Alte Pinakothek
The representation of Mary's coronation as Queen of Heaven and Earth is truly solemn. The first thing we notice is that the earth - our world - has practically disappeared from this painting. There is a little mention of it in the two edges of the lawn at the bottom right and left corners, where Johann and Margarete Rinck, the couple who offered the painting for the church of Santa Colomba in Cologne, are kneeling. Today, in the museum of Munich, in addition to this panel, which was certainly the central and main part, there are two other small panels representing St. James the Greater and St. Anthony the Hermit, which were part of the same polyptych. There were certainly other parts in it, but they have been lost.
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.