New Masterpiece Polyptych for Diocese of Charlotte's Seminary

Love, veneration, and praise for Christ the Son of Man has also implied over the centuries praise for His mother.  Next to her Son, she is the chief actor in the tragedy and triumph of the greatest story ever told, the Incarnation of the Son of God and His work of Redemption.  With her a new vision of beauty dawned on the world.  All generations of Christians have laid their artistic tributes at her feet.  

Magnificent works of visual art such as this new polyptych in the making reflect the thought of Our Lady in art, inseparable from the lofty place she holds in history.  The Blessed Mother has long found expression in theology, philosophy, poetry, architecture, music, and painting.  All the sciences and all the arts have joined in a great chorus, a symphony of praise that from the twelfth to the fifteenth century were blended together into a triumphant crescendo of religious praise and adoration in this genre of the Madonna and child.

The above masterpiece harkens to that epoch, in the style of the Late Middle Ages and early Italian Renaissance.  It is a new work of unquestionable merit, a timeless paneled reredos by Italian-born painter Chiara Perinetti Casoni.  This talented artist from Siena represents a new generation of painters who are bringing back the lost art of the 15th century Sienese school that was perfected by famous artists in Tuscan art center of Siena so many years ago.  It was commissioned for the diocesan minor seminary for the Diocese of Charlotte in North Carolina .  It will be displayed above the main altar in the yet to be built chapel of St. Joseph's College Seminary in Mt. Holly, a suburb of Charlotte.  

To give exact historical context, the paintings seen here are done in the exquisite 15th century style of tempera (paint made of egg yolk mixed with natural pigments) and gold on panel that flourished in Siena between the 13th and 15th centuries.  This style was heavily influenced by Duccio di Buoninsegna, an early Renaissance artist who was born in Siena and influenced other great artists such as Simone Martini, another painter from Siena who helped develop the Gothic style in France.  Duccio's works hold significant value in terms of stylistic innovations of his subject matter that would continue to evolve for centuries.  

The distinct style is celebrated for its decorative and rich colors and golf frame, using ancient techniques and materials -- pigment and egg tempera painting on poplar wood, complete with hand-carved frame with capitals, columns, and Gothic relief ornaments.  For authenticity, the frame is fully gilded in 24-karat gold leaf.  Meanwhile, the background is called "gold ground" covered in gold to resemble heaven.  To achieve the colors, ancient techniques are used, such as using powdered lapis lazuli blue marble from Persia to achieve the various hues of the color blue. 

The Christ child holds a small bird.  In Renaissance icons, the small bird is the European Goldfinch, a symbol of the soul and resurrection.  It took on a deeper meaning in the wake of the epidemic plagues of the fourteenth century where it became associated with healing and redemption.  

Currently the work is in the form of a triptych with three distinct panels.  The last two panels have yet to be completed and will be added to finish the project and make it an official polyptych, a rare sight in North American churches. The fundraising goal is $30,000 for this project.  I would like to personally invite readers to be generous this Christmas season.  Please give and make a donation here.  The project is under the direction of one of my favorite priests,, the great Fr. Matthew Kauth, an old friend from my days in Rome.  He is the founding rector of the seminary for the Diocese of Charlotte.  

Urgent funding is also needed to complete the last essential piece of the work, a predella.  The predella is an important piece of the overall work -- it will be the seat and resting place of the larger finished work, in five panels attached to each other.  This will rest on the gradine behind the altar for all to see and pray before.

The tooled details of the halo of Our Lady is in a punched design and hand inscribed.  It reads fittingly in Latin, Mater Pulchrae Dilectionis.  This is a title of Our Lady, "Mother of Fair Love," taken from the Book of Ecclesiasticus 24:24. The scripture reference reads: "I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope.  In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue.  Come over to me, all ye that desire me, and be filled with my fruits.  For my spirit is sweet above honey, and my inheritance above holy and the honeycomb.  My memory is unto everlasting generations..."

Before this image the sacred drama of seminary liturgy will be performed for generations with plain chant and wafts of incense and the ancient and rich ceremonials of the Roman Rite, with their historical, social, artistic, and musical dimensions where beauty alone surpasses all that any artist could ever dream of.  Gazing upon the image does an actual work in our souls, a work which the grace of perseverance in one's vocation can make immortal.  

I am proud to say I have seen this exquisite painting in person at the seminary, the perfect vision of inspired piety.  And the encounter brought to mind a recollection of a poem by Dante, ringing praise in honor of Our Lady and making mention of the deficiency of attempting to express the perfections of so beautiful a soul:

"I saw the Virgin smile, whose rapture shot

Joy through the eyes of all that blessed throng:

And even did the words that I possess

Equal imagination, I should not

Dare, the attempt her faintest, charms to express."

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