Monday, January 26, 2015

St. Agnes and El Greco

 St. Agnes' feast day is January 21. A young martyr of the Church of Rome, Agnes lived during the persecution of Diocletian. Born in 291 AD, she died on January 21, 304. As with most of the saints from the early Church, little is known; however, it is believed she came from a wealthy family, was beautiful and sought after by many young men. She had made a promise to Jesus as a young girl to be a bride of Christ, which outraged a young suitor enough to report her as a Christian to the authorities. She was given opportunities to recant her Christian faith, which she did not. Finally, Agnes was sentenced to death. Legend has it that a variety of tortures were attempted, but all failed except the last which was death by a sword. It is not certain whether Agnes' head was cut off or if she was stabbed in the throat. All accounts have people wiping up her blood, for her brave act was viewed by fellow Christians as heroic, worthy of emulation, and her flesh holy, worthy of honor. St. Ambrose, 340 - 397 AD, bishop of Milan, referred to St. Agnes as a model for the young in her virginity and steadfastness in the faith.

The painting above called the Madonna and Child is featured at
the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in the El Greco exhibit,  November 2, 2014 - February 16, 2015. It is one of seven of El Greco's paintings exhibited to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of his death (1541-1614). The painting commissioned for the St. Joseph Chapel in Toledo, Spain includes St. Agnes with the lamb and St. Martina with the palm branch and the lion.The Madonna and Child is part of the permanent Widener collection at the National Gallery of Art. Other El Greco paintings in the exhibit are on loan.

El Greco was born on the island of Crete. He was trained in the Byzantine art of icon painting. In his twenties he moved to Venice to study Renaissance painting and later he went on to Rome hoping to acquire a few large commissions. He was very gifted as a painter, mastering the style of Venetian artists Titian and Tintoretto.  He however preferred to paint in a style that combined elements of icon painting with western styles infused with his own vision of elongated figures and bright colors. Many of his paintings are of religious subjects. It was not until he moved to Toledo, Spain that his work was appreciated by a patron willing and able to pay for his work. You can view more of his paintings online at the National Gallery of Art's website and the Metropolitan Museum of Art's site,   The Met is also featuring sixteen of El Greco's paintings to celebrate his four hundredth anniversary, November 4, 2014 - February 1, 2015.