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Beauty in the Word and the Image

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.)

Massaccio, Trinity

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 Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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How interesting -- when I visited Florence's cathedral and its museum, I had the impression that "catechesis through art" is something the diocese did particularly well. (I said something to that effect in the comments here.) If you take the time to read the brochures at the duomo, the baptistry, and the museum, you'll learn a lot about how the art functioned and what beliefs it represents as well as how old it is and who created it. I don't know whether preparing information for tourists is part of Msgr. Verdon's job, but it doesn't surprise me that the diocese would have such an office.Update: I just pulled out a brochure I'd saved from my last trip to Firenze -- too informative to throw away -- and sure enough, it says "text by Rev. Timothy Verdon." (That explains why it reads so well in English!)

Thanks to Mollie for making it possible to enlarge the image through a double-click.Those who might still strain to decipher the words over the skeleton, they read, with unsentimental realism:Io fui gi quel che voi siete, e quel che io son voi anco sarete.

I confess, my main reaction to this painting is "A painted barrel vault!" The spacious feel of the "interior" is brilliantly done, and done so early. Some paintings seem like miracles. This is one of them.

Kathy,and dead at only 27. Some say poisoned. That Salieri guy again? :-)

Now, Fr. Imbelli, this is exactly how rumors (and art history dissertations) get started...

If we believe in one God, The Father, The Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen, AND we believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of The Father, God fom God, Light fom Light, True God from True God, begotten, no made, ONE IN BEING WITH THE FATHER...THEN it can be known through reasoning that The Blessed Trinity exists within an ordered, complementary relationship of Perfect Love between The Father and The Son through the Unity of The Holy Spirit, and thus The Love Between The Father and The Son, must proceed fom both The Father and The Son, to begin with.It is Christ, lifted up on The Cross, Who draws us to Himself and thus to His Father's House as we become part of the ONE Body of Christ through The Love of The Holy Spirit that pours down upon us.

At the end of the Day, it is still a Great Mystery.

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