Pierre Hubert Subleyras: The Mass of Saint Basil (1746)

(Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA)

This painting from the French Pierre Hubert Subleyras (1699-1749) concerns a rare subject about Saint Basil 'the Great' of Caesarea (ca. 339–379). Basilius was the bishop of Caesarea Mazaca (now Kayseri in Turkey) and an important theologian in the early Christian church (he is recognised as a Doctor of the Church in the Roman Catholic Church). During his life he fought against Arianism and in this he had much dealings with the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens (reign 364-375) who was an Arian. At one time Emperor Valens attended the divine liturgy on the Feast of the Theophany (January 6) of Basil. Valens was so impressed by the mass that he donated some land for the building of a church. The painting shows this moment: Basil is surrounded by priests and receives the wine for consecration from a priest. Valens is the figure in the right corner who swoons, moved by the solemnity of the mass. This painting was a proposal for the design for a mosaic altarpiece for Saint Peter's in Rome. Painting from 1746.