Magna Opera Artis

Art essays by Alina Lidia Gorna

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Part 2: The emulators of the genuine artists

The unique representation of the Pantocrator, the Ruler and the Judge of the Universe, painted on the wall of the Byzantine Church Santa Sofia in Constantinople, differs from many stereotyped images of the Creator.  The remarkable realism of God’s nature is being fully manifested in this visionary portrait of the Divinity.  Wisdom and Goodness emanate from the Creator’s meditative facial features.  God’s alert mysterious gaze unveils His infinite divine love.  The golden aurora around His Holy Head and the golden light behind Him illuminates His divinity.  This intimate portrait of the Creator is the most striking representation of His true divine nature.

Attached to the wall behind the main altar, a different representation of the Pantocrator, albeit influenced by the wall painting in Santa Sofia, can be viewed in Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Fresno.  Executed in Byzantine style, it portrays the Ruler and the Judge of the Universe.  The golden halo and golden lines, delineating His silhouette and His garment symbolize His divinity.  However, contrary to the realistic portrayal in Santa Sofia, in Saint Anthony only the Judge’s face and hands have been modeled.  His garments have no depth.  His long arms are out of proportion.  Nevertheless, His dominant stern gaze overrules the lack of realism.  His decision has been made.  He is ready to judge the living and the dead.

A photograph of the painting in Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Fresno is not available.


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Part 1: The emulators of the genuine artists

The Pieta in Holy Spirit Church in Fresno, CA

The well-known “Pietà” is a representation of the Virgin Mary’s devotion to God.  Her pious sad face does not demonstrate any signs of mourning but her acceptance of God’s will.  The Virgin’s delicate features express her serene nature absorbed in meditation on the celestial universe, on the triumph of eternal life, and victory over human mortality.  The original “Pietà,” carved and polished in white marble captures the spiritual quality of the depicted image.

Unfortunately, the emulation of the “Pietà” has been confined in a small chamber in Holy Spirit Church in Fresno.  The niche housing it is inconspicuous, almost impossible to be noticed.  Hidden from the viewer, the statue due to its voluminous dimensions and compact confinement loses its importance.  The imitation of “Pietà” matches the original size of the overall piece.  However, the proportions of the individual figures have been altered.  Mary’s hands and Jesus’ feet are not executed with the same diligence as in the original sculpture.  Mary’s facial features and physiognomy have also been altered.  Her garments have been painted in red and blue.  The strong intensity of the pigments removes the purity of the biblical figure, symbolized by the white marble of the original statue.  Nevertheless, the emulated “Pietà” is worthy to be seen in order to appreciate the original qualities.

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Part 14: What happened to the genuine artists?

Carlo Crivelli’s intricate religious painting titled “The Annunciation, with St. Emidius” could be divided into four sections.  Each section painted meticulously constitutes a separate independent image that can be appreciated for its masterly execution.

Despite the complexity of the composition with the overwhelming architectural setting, the viewer is forced to focus on the Virgin Mary’s figure genuflecting on the kneeler with her arms crossed on her chest.  Even the highly ornamental frame cannot stop one from concentrating on the Virgin, absorbed in meditation on holy words.  The diagonal golden ray coming from the crown of light descending from Heaven, directs the viewer through the open door of Mary’s modest home to witness the act of the Annunciation.  Crivelli situated the Angel and Saint Emidius behind the thick wall of the Virgin’s residence.  The Virgin Mary’s humble garment, in contrast to the more sophisticated garments of the saints, symbolizes her true devotion to God and His service.

Crivelli delineated the richly decorated buildings with mathematical precision, and blended them masterly with the saintly figures, except for the Virgin Mary.  Isolated in her unembellished small room, despite the exuberant display of ornamentation surrounding her, the Virgin Mary is the main source of attention, the quintessence of creation.  The unusual and unconventional representation of the biblical narrative of the Annunciation testifies to the artist’s ingenious and vivid imagination.

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Part 13: What happened to the genuine artists?

In the wall painting “Salita al Calvario” (“Ascending to Calvary”), Giacomo Jaquerio represented the crowd of figures in a chaotic order, and in twisted postures.  The contorted facial expressions of individual figures, full of hate and anger, mirror the hidden vices of their corrupted souls.  Jaquerio separated the figure of Christ from the disorderly mass by placing Him in the foreground.  The figure of Christ, larger than the rest, is the only figure depicted in a natural pose.  Surrounded by an ill-natured crowd, Christ in His unspoken silence is trying to express His astonishment: “What have I done to you that even my crucifixion cannot satisfy your insatiable hatred?”

The diagonal direction of the weapons carried by the malignant mob, the enemy of the innocent Christ, accentuates the abominations of the sinful rabble, and exposes the conspiracy of many against one.  The strong contrast between the white cloak of Christ placed in the light foreground and the carefully delineated multiple spears in the dark background intensify the gravity of the collective sin, and makes Jaquerio’s fresco one of the most powerful representations of this biblical theme.

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Part 12: What happened to the genuine artists?

© Becky Daroff

In the unique design of the east doors of the Baptistery that face the entrance to the Duomo di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Lorenzo Ghiberti demonstrated a true understanding of linear perspective and anatomy.  The ten bronze panels executed in an exquisite manner emanate his genuine love for the arts and undeniable devotion to his profession.

In the first panel, “Genesis,” one can feel the radiating energy of God’s creation.  The golden light coming from above illuminates the creation of Eve.  The masterly modeled figure of the Creator and figure of Eve have been given a significant place in the center of the panel.

In order to portray several scenes from “Genesis” in the same panel, Ghiberti applied two different techniques of relief.  The striking contrast between the low relief of two-dimensional quality and the high relief of three-dimensional quality contributes to the profound realism of the biblical theme, the true equilibrium between the spiritual and physical essence of life.