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Art for Meditation - November 2018

Annibale Carracci

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.

Carracci's painting is very crowded; the bottom three quarters of the painting are occupied by the apostles and the tomb where Mary was laid. The eyes and gestures lead us upwards, where Mary - in her splendid red dress and with her head surrounded by the golden light that reminds us of the divinity - is lifted by angels and cherubs. The Virgin is looking upwards, because upwards she is being transported and upwards is her place. The painter is actually presenting Mary as if she were still among us, almost as if to signify that her destiny is the same as ours. Moreover, she, who gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God, could not know the corruption of death and the tomb.

In the Christian East, also on August 15, the feast of the "Dormitio Virginis" is celebrated: Our Lady has not died but has fallen asleep, because when she wakes up she will be carried in her body and soul before God. How could she have known death, the all-holy Mother of God who did not know sin?

“It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a Child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting that the spouse, whom the Father had taken to Himself, should live in the divine mansions” (St. John Damascene).


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