For today’s Feast of the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary here is the Virgin at Prayer by the Italian artist Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato who is generally known simply as Sassoferrato. He lived from 1609 to 1685.
Records of the commemoration of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8th go back to the 6th century. The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary was later fixed at December 8, nine months prior.
There is a commentary on the Feast from the following information is drawn, here, by Fr Matthew Mauriello: ‘The primary theme portrayed in the liturgical celebration of this feast day is that the world had been in the darkness of sin and with the arrival of Mary begins a glimmer of light. That light which appears at Mary’s holy birth preannounces the arrival of Christ, the Light of the World. Her birth is the beginning of a better world: “Origo mundi melioris.” The antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah at Morning Prayer expressed these sentiments in the following way: “Your birth, O Virgin Mother of God, proclaims joy to the whole world, for from you arose the glorious Sun of Justice, Christ our God; He freed us from the age-old curse and filled us with holiness; he destroyed death and gave us eternal life.
‘The second reading of the Office of Readings is taken from one of the four sermons written by St. Andrew of Crete ( 660-740 ) on Mary’s Nativity. He too used the image of light: “…This radiant and manifest coming of God to men needed a joyful prelude to introduce the great gift of salvation to us…Darkness yields before the coming of light.”
This painting, like the painting of Gregory the Great by Vignali, described last week, is in the baroque style of the 17th century. Again, we see the sharp contrast between light and dark symbolizing the Light overcoming the darkness, and again like the Vignali, the face is in partial shadow ensuring that this is distinct in style from a portrait (I described the reasons behind this in more detail in the earlier posting). There is an additional element here in the portrayal of the face that was not so strongly present in Vignali’s painting. The facial features are highly idealized and bear the likeness of the ancient Greek classical ideal.
Sassoferrato’s training and influences were all in the (Read More)