Fra Bartolomeo: God the Father with Saints Catherine of Siena and Mary Magdalene (1509)

(Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi, Lucca, Italy)

A large painting by the Italian artist Fra Bartolomeo (1472 - 1517). The painting was originally commissioned for the Dominican convent of San Pietro Martire in Murano in 1508 but when the painting was finished in 1509 it never went to that convent. The painting was secured in 1513 by Sante Pagnini for the Dominican church of San Romano in Lucca. The entire setting of the painting is to a degree a representation of the believe of the Italian Dominican friar and preacher Girolamo Savonarola (1452 – 1498) that the love of God produces ecstatic transport. At the top is God the father who is surrounded by angels. The angel at his feet holds a banner with a line from Dionysius the Areopagite "DIVINUS AMOR EXTASIM FACIT" (= 'Divine Love causes ecstasy"). God himself holds a book with the Greek letters Alpha and Omega (from Revelation 22:13 - "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End."). The lower portion of the painting shows Mary Magdalene (left) and Saint Catherine of Siena (right). At the right of Mary Magdalene’s head is the text "NOSTRA CONVERSATIO IN COELIS EST" (= "Our conversation is in heaven although we live on earth"). To the left of Saint Catherine’s eyes is the text "AMORE LANGUEO", (= 'I am weak with love', a part of the Song of Solomon 2:5 and 5:8). Both saints are floating above the ground - this floating is caused by the Divine Love: Mary Magdalene was said to have been raised to the heavens seven times a day for seven years, and Saint Catherine was so preoccupied with divine contemplation that her soul often drew her up towards heaven. Saint Catherine represents the active life and Saint Mary Magdalene represents the contemplative life. At the bottom of the painting is a trompe l'oeil detail: a book with lilies (the symbol of Saint Catherine of Siena). Nice detail: the beautiful blue sky was achieved with Venetian blue which Fra Bartolomeo bought during his stay in Venice. Painting from 1509.

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