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.
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.