Healing of the Cripple and Raising of Tabatha | Art for Easter 4C

Healing of the Cripple and Raising of Tabatha
Healing of the Cripple and Raising of Tabatha (right view)
1426-27
Fresco, 255 x 162 cm (full fresco)
Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence
MASOLINO da Panicale
(b. 1383, Panicale, d. 1447, Firenze)
Click image for more information.

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Click here for the left view and for other works from the Cappella Brancacci.
Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Healing of the Cripple and Raising of Tabitha (right side), fresco, 1426-27, Masolino da Panicale, c.1383-1447

Painter Tommaso di Christoforo Fini was born in Panicale, Italy and called Masolino (Little Tommaso) – hence the name by which he is known: Masolino da Panicale.

Some aspects of Masolino’s life are unclear because another artist with a similar name was active during his lifetime. Even the artist and biographer Giorgio Vasari was inaccurate in details about him. According to Vasari, as a young man Masolino worked for Ghiberti. Yet, known facts indicate this information is likely to be incorrect. Also, because Masolino worked closely with Masaccio in the Brancacci Chapel, there are questions regarding correct attribution of some of his paintings. The fresco, “Healing of the Cripple and Raising of Tabitha,” however, is regarded to be the work of Masolino alone.

In the Acts of the Apostles an account is given of a time when Peter was in Lydda. He encountered a man who had been paralyzed for eight years and he said to him “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Rise up and make your bed.” (Acts 9:33-35). Aeneas was healed. Another account took place in Joppa where a woman named Tabitha had died; she had been a person “…full of good works and acts of charity.” Peter, being in nearby Lydda, was asked to go to her. He went, prayed, and said, “Tabitha rise!” She opened her eyes, saw Peter and then sat up (Acts 9:38-42). These events did not happen on the same day, not in the same town, and definitely not across the street from each other. Yet, Masolino combined the two stories in a single painting. He placed both miracles in an early fifteenth century Italian architectural setting in a pictorial space that was created by recently discovered linear perspective. On the left side of the painting, Peter is healing Aeneas and then on the right side (the portion shown above) Peter is across the street raising Tabitha from the dead. In the biblical account, Tabitha’s body was placed in an upper room. Masolino used artistic license and placed her conveniently at street level in a covered porch.

In Acts, both the Jewish name, Tabitha, and the Greek name, Dorcas, are given as the name of the woman who was raised from the dead. They both mean “gazelle.” The use of the two names for the same person suggests this Gospel was intended for Gentiles as well as Jews.

Note

Placing separate events in a single painting (as we see in the work by Masolino) is a compositional device used regularly by contemporary artists. If an artist today were to make an image using a photograph of Julia Child chopping onions and then were to combine the photo digitally with photographs taken at a later date while she was stirring beef stew or baking a cake, we would accept it as “composite information” about Julia. The terms “correct” or “incorrect” do not apply to this form of composition.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Pope Gregory the Great and St Matthias | Art for B Easter 7

Acts 1:26
And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Pope Gregory the Great and St Matthias
MASOLINO da Panicale
(b. 1383, Panicale, d. 1447, Firenze)
Pope Gregory the Great and St Matthias
1428-29
Tempera and oil on poplar transferred to fibreboard, 126 x 59 cm
National Gallery, London

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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

(Post from May 20,2012)

In the Book of Acts (1:23-26) we have an account of the disciples selecting Mathias by lot to replace Judas but no further information is provided in the New Testament. As often occurs, when facts are not available, the imagination and stories fill the void. Like the popular movie genre of the 1950s in which story lines were built around hypothetical events in the lives of Biblical figures, the accounts of Mathias’ life are not based on direct knowledge. Little is actually known about him.

According to tradition, the Apostle Mathias travelled extensively throughout the Near East, Africa, and Asia Minor. Sometimes he travelled with other apostles. He preached at various times in Judea, Jerusalem, Colchis, Syria, Ethiopia, and Macedonia. He was martyred by several means and buried in several places. He was speared to death in Southern Asia. He was stoned and then beheaded in Jerusalem – also, in Jerusalem, he died of old age and was buried there; He was crucified and buried in Colchis (modern day Georgia); In Syria he was burned to death. He died in Sebastoplis (modern day Sudan) and was buried there as well. There is yet another burial place. Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, took what she believed were the remains of Mathias to Germany and they are now interred at the abbey of St. Mathias, Trier.

In music, a leitmotif – a recurring theme – is associated with a particular person or idea. Sometimes an instrument is used to identify a character, such as an oboe to represent the duck in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. In similar manner, identifying themes are used in art. A figure of a bearded man in a painting could represent almost any apostle but with an appropriate prop it could be interpreted as a specific person. Just as we associate a man in a white coat and stethoscope as a doctor or a man with a collar worn backwards as a priest, apostles in paintings were identified by objects associated with their lives. Sometimes Mathias is shown with a spear because one tradition has it he was killed with a lance in Asia Minor. He also is represented with a book or scroll to indicate he was an interpreter of judgments and prophecies. The object most often pictured with Mathias, however, is an axe or some version of it such as a battle axe, halberd or hatchet. The axe is associated with the tradition that he was martyred by being beheaded.

In art, a painter is not required to adhere to time. Just as people and events of different places and time periods, even hundreds of years apart, can exist simultaneously in our minds; in a painting they may exist also in a time realm that is separate from reality. Thus you will see a triptych with the donors standing in the wings looking across the ages and observing a scene of the nativity. Or, as we see in Masolino’s painting, a first century man, Mathias, conversing with a sixth century pope (believed to be Gregory the Great). It may be assumed they are meeting in heaven. It is not clear why Masolino brought these two men together. Perhaps it was because Mathias carried the gospel to non-believers, and Pope Gregory re-energized the missionary work of the Church. The pope made it a priority to evangelize the non-Christians among the Anglo-Saxons in England.

In its original form, the painting of Pope Gregory and St. Mathias (now at the National Gallery in London) was part of a polyptych, a multi-paneled painting. The painter, Masaccio, was called to Rome to work on this altarpiece for the church of Santa Maria Maggiore but completed only one panel before he died. The remaining panels, including The Pope and St. Mathias, were painted by Masolino. This polyptych is no longer in its original form. It has been disassembled and the panels are exhibited separately.
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Commentary © 2012 Hovak Najarian

B Easter 7, Art for May 20,2012

MASOLINO da Panicale
(b. 1383, Panicale, d. 1447, Firenze)
Click to open Web Gallery of Art Artist Biography and to explore other works by this artist.

Pope Gregory the Great (?) and St Matthias
1428-29
Tempera and oil on poplar transferred to fibreboard, 126 x 59 cm
National Gallery, London
Click to open Web Gallery of Art commentary page. Click image for large view.

Click to open Wikipedia article of St. Matthias.

Related art commentary by Hovak Najarian.