Beauty in the Word and the Image
Robert P. Imbelli September 4, 2010 - 8:08am
Monsignor Timothy Verdon, American born, is a priest of the Archdiocese of Florence and directs the diocesan "Office of Catechesis through Art." He is also a world expert on the art of the Italian Renaissance.Verdon has written numerous works including a three volume commentary on the Sunday lectionary, using an art work to illustrate some aspect of the readings. The volumes are splendidly printed and, as far as I know, available only in Italian: La Bellezza nella Parola.A distinguishing feature of his approach to the works of art is his sensitivity to the role they played in the context of the church in which they were placed and in the liturgy celebrated there.Here is the magnificent depiction of the Trinity by the early Renaissance artist, Masaccio, followed by Verdon's commentary from his book, Christian Florence: Meditations on its History and Art. (Click on the image, and then click again, to see a larger version.)
This fresco was painted opposite a large side door (now partly walled over) that gave access to the Basilica from the cemetery. Those who entered by this door, coming from the cemetery, immediately saw: a) the skeleton, reminding them of the inevitability of physical death; b) Christ on the cross, confirming that God's Son himself shared our human condition; c) Mary and John, the "family" of Jesus: his human mother and the disciple who became his "brother" when Jesus entrusted him to Mary; d) a contemporary Florentine family (Domenico Lenzi and his wife), which becomes part of the spiritual family instituted by Christ on the cross.The clear message, for those coming from the cemetery, was: "Take heart! The separation from your loved ones imposed by death is not forever. As the Father did not abandon the Son but gave him the Holy Spirit, so those who are "in the Son" -- members of his spiritual family ... will also be raised from on the last day."The Father's love, that descended into history in Christ and that, through Christ's disciples, continues to descend, saves us from death and gives us the Holy Spirit.
About the Author
Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is an associate professor of theology at Boston College.