Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Martyrdom of St Lawrence, by Antonio Campi

Today is the commemoration of the martyrdom of St Lawrence, who died in the persecution of Emperor Valerian in AD 258.

This painting was made by the Italian Antonio Campi (1522 ca. - 1587) and completed in 1581. Stylistically it belongs to what is called the Mannerist period, which runs from the period of the Council of Trent until about the end of the 16th century. Artists of that era were searching for a new Christian harmonization of idealism and naturalism, one that was not necessarily so slavishly attached to the classical ideal of ancient Greece and Rome, as typified by the High Renaissance masters such as Michelangelo or Raphael, although some still chose to do so. It produced a variety of individual styles, some of which in my opinion had great merit and beauty, such as those of Pontormo and El Greco, but most did not inspire followers. Hence we did not see the emergence of any coherent tradition that could fulfill the directives of the Council as part of the Counter-reformation, until the end of the century. This tradition became what we now call the Baroque style, the pioneers of which were Titian, Francesco Barocci (1535ca. - 1612), from the new style may have taken its name, and the greatest popularizer of it, Caravaggio.

I chose this painting because it shows the gruesome death of this great martyr on a grid iron. We live in an days of more persecution of Christians than any other in the recent past. In the US, it is still a soft persecution, although it may yet become a more violent one that involves physical danger, which is what Christians in Pakistan, for example, face daily. Nevertheless, I feel the pressure to witness the Faith daily, and I pray for the grace and courage to do so (and am dismayed at how much I hesitate to speak up). Part of the inspiration for me is the courage of these great Saints of the past, who stood up to the greatest of tests so heroically.
Some Mannerist artists stuck more closely to the classical ideal than others. Pontormo is one who continued to draw heavily on the classical ideal; his Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence is now lost, but this is the one by his student Bronzino.

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