12 April 2024

Callimachus, Caravaggio ... (2)

In 1605, what is arguably Caravaggio's finest picture appeared upn the scene in S Augustine's Church in Rome. It was a painting of the Mother of God with her Divine Child. Two pilgrims are approaching them, on their knees, and neither is very smartly dressed. The man has piedi fangosi, dirty feet; the woman is wearing a cuffia sdrucita e sudicia, a torn and dirty headdress. I do not know what precedents there may be for such a display; but the facts recorded are that the popolani raised a schiamazzo, an enormous din. 

They were not accustomed to this sort of thing. Indeed, I rather wonder whether they were accustomed to the concepts of "Art", of "Art History", or the prospect of special young ladies commuting up and down Bond Street to discuss their common profession over yet another cup of coffee. Today, in a compartmentalised world, "Art" is a "subject". Specialists make a "career" out of it. Attributions are advanced and then withdrawn; international exhibitions are organised in the hope that, seeing certain pictures together, it will or will not  become clear whether the same hand produced them. Odium philologicum is an important ... and lucrative ... part of the game. 

To us, it does not matter that those piedi fangosi might teach us a lesson, or draw us more closely into the lesson that Mary's Son was Incarnate and Crucified for your and my redemption. 

We shall be none the wiser because we have looked upon the long, pure lines of the neck of the Immaculate as she leans forward, compassionately down upon those who kneel before her and her Son.

Whether or not Caravaggio lived a good life, in Loretto and Walsingham the devotion to the Truth of the Incarnation is strengthened  by our knowledge that this Mystery was worked out in an ordinary Home like that in which we each of us have lived.

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