Art Stories

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An Italian from Palermo

Anthony van Dyck, Virgin Mary with Child and Saints Rosalia, Peter and Paul, 1629, KHM, Inv. no. GG 482

My stage is monumental: you can sense the dimensions of an imaginary building beyond the picture’s frame.

High bases for columns, carved stone steps, neither carpets on the floor nor embellishments on the walls, neither joints nor grain, simply abstract form composed of surfaces, lines, and shadow.

Indoors or outdoors, altar niche or temple façade, ancient or modern?

It remains unclear, but I can live with this for it underscores my universal significance. The blue cloak that is my attribute I have handed to Peter. He seems to me today older than usual; the cloak protects him and amplifies the pale blue of my sky.

In his hands Peter holds the keys that relate to the Papal power to bind and loose. We are in the midst of the Counterreformation, and so any means to bolster the Catholic cause is justified.

I have appeared today clad in white, for I am unblemished.

To my right stands Paul attired in heavy, dark cloth; in his relaxed hands is a huge sword. It alludes to his decapitation, and also to the strength of his faith. I myself am here in my heavenly castle at the centre of the sacred conversation.

Before us kneels Rosalia, an Italian from Palermo. My child bends forward holding a wreath of roses with both hands, absorbed in balancing the floral gift.

She came to the aid of her native town during the plague and therby earned her place among us.

Our preciously attired guest waits longingly; reverently does she gaze at my face. Rosalia recognises the scent of roses.

The skull, her symbol, though staged dramatically, does not attract our attention.

The lily of virginity, which is my attribute, and Paul’s books symbolise our meeting. Above all however, they are meant to guide you, dear onlookers, in identifying the holy cast.

written by written by written by written by Cäcilia Bischoff, translated by Joshua Stein on 19.9.2017 in #I am Mary
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