The Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain, possesses one of Fra Angelico's Annunciation altarpieces. The Museum has done us the great favor of placing three different versions of the work, each in a different size, on its website. First, there is the usual introductory page. Next comes an image significantly enlarged. Finally, and most wonderfully, there is a zoom image that will make you feel as though you are standing in front of this very painting.
My sincere thanks to AM, Bente, Eri and Loren for your empathetic and encouraging comments. I read once that simple communication with another human being changes our brain chemistry. Your words have helped to change mine, and I am grateful to each of you. It still feels as though something dark has entered my life and taken up residence here. Your kindness acts as a light which does not dispel but certainly helps to fend off some of that darkness. I truly thank you.
Easter will arrive in two weeks, and I'm hoping to post links to many works of art relevant to this time of year. While looking for one of those, however, I happened across this Presentation in the Temple, 1342, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. It struck me as so beautiful, so perfect of its kind, that I am unable to resist posting it and sharing it with you.
Let's take a look at the Santa Trinità Altarpiece, by Fra Angelico, 1437-40. Here the artist has managed to transform a sad, even tragic, subject into one that affects us in a completely unexpected way. Instead of feeling the tragedy of the event, we are calmed and reassured. How does he do that?
To be truthful, I don't know. I can only refer you to the painting, to a more detailed study of its components, and to your own understanding of how they work together.
This morning these words have come to me unbidden: "There is no health in me." They come from the General Confession in the Book of Common Prayer --
I have left undone those things which I ought to have done, and I have done those things which I ought not to have done. And there is no health in me.
The General Confession continues, however, as follows:
But you, O Lord, have mercy upon me, miserable offender. Spare me, O God, I who confess my faults. Restore me when I turn to you according to your promises that you have declared to me in Christ Jesus, my Lord.
I continue to wrestle with multiple situations in which I feel attacked in my very essence. I'm not sure how long it will be possible to survive under my current circumstances of extraordinary emotional and other isolation.
One of the things that causes me the most pain is a situation in which I feel deeply that I acted properly but that I was treated very shabbily in return. As yet I have been unable to find a single other human being who is willing to share my outlook in the slightest. I feel that everyone readily sympathizes with those who have hurt me so profoundly, and that everyone is simultaneously ready to disapprove of me. I feel invalidated in my very being.
I feel almost that I am fighting for my very psychic survival. I do not see how I can be wrong on this and still have any right to exist. If I am wrong on it, I certainly have no interest in existing.
I'm reminded of a Hasidic tale that I read many years ago. I just managed to find it once more, and post it here as an emblem of my distress.
A woman once came to Rabbi Hirsh, her eyes streaming with tears, and complained that she had been the victim of a miscarriage of justice in the rabbinical court. The zaddik summoned the judges and said: "Show me the source from which you derived your verdict, for it seems to me that there has been some error." Together they looked up the passage in the Breastplate of Judgment on which the verdict had been based, and discovered that there had indeed been a misinterpretation.
One of the judges asked the rabbi how he had known beforehand that there had been an error. He answered: "It is written: 'The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.' Had the verdict been in accordance with the true law, the woman could never have wept as she did."
Fra Angelico has been on my mind for the last few days. This description seems to explain something of why his works have the effect they do --
He led the devout and ascetic life of a Dominican friar, and never rose above that rank; he followed the dictates of the order in caring for the poor; he was always good-humored. All of his many paintings were of divine subjects, and it seems that he never altered or retouched them, perhaps from a religious conviction that, because his paintings were divinely inspired, they should retain their original form.
His biographer continues --
He was wont to say that he who illustrates the acts of Christ should be with Christ. It is averred that he never handled a brush without fervent prayer and he wept when he painted a Crucifixion. The Last Judgment and the Annunciation were two of the subjects he most frequently treated. — William Michael Rossetti