Andrea Mantegna (Isola di Carturo, Italy 1431 – Mantua, Italy 1506), Holy Family, 1495-1500, egg tempera and linseed oil on canvas, 75 cm x 61.5 cm, Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister. Inv. Gal.-Nr. 51
Month of August.
This work of art by the great Mantuan painter was almost certainly made for private devotion. We know little about the painting's history, but if we stare at it and contemplate it, before this work we can read into the folds of its meaning and listen to the emotions it arouses in us.
© Tours, musée des Beaux-Arts, cliché Dominique Couineau
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, (Leiden, Netherlands 1606 – Amsterdam, Netherlands 1669), The flight into Egypt, 1627, oil on wood, 26 cm x 24 cm, Tours, France, Musée des Beaux-Arts, gift by Mme Benjamin Chaussemiche, 1950. Inv. 1950-13-1
Month of July
This representation of the flight of Jesus’ family into Egypt is truly unique. The first thing that strikes us is the small size of the painting. This suggests that the young painter, still in his early twenties, must have painted it for a client - whether lay or religious - who wanted to keep the work in his home for private devotion.
Bernhard Strigel, (Memmingen, Germany 1460 – 1528), Holy Family, 1505-1506, oil on fir wood, 78 cm x 55 cm, Nuremberg, Germany, Germanisches National Museum
Month of June.
The panel, along with nine others, all of them in Nuremberg, was part of the altarpiece of the chapel dedicated to St. Anne in the parish church of Mindelheim, Germany. The chapel was the burial place of the Rechberg and Frundsberg families, who asked the painter to depict the family of Jesus and his ancestors.
Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece (active in Cologne, Germany from 1470 to 1510 approximately), Holy Family, around 1495-1500, mixed technique on oak wood, 26 cm x 19,9 cm, Frankfurt, Germany, Städel Museum.
Month of May.
We do not know the name of the painter who painted this exquisite scene. He takes his name from a triptych - now in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, Germany - depicting St Bartholomew and 6 other saints, originally placed in the Carthusian monastery in Cologne, as evidenced by the depiction of a Carthusian monk kneeling in the middle, next to St Bartholomew, then moved to the church of St Columba, in Cologne, at the behest of a wealthy city merchant.
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.