Thursday, September 16, 2021

Ss Cornelius and Cyprian

Today is the feast of one of the most important of the Latin Fathers of the Church, St Cyprian of Carthage, who was martyred on September 14, 258. With the introduction of the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, his feast was moved forward to the 16th. In the Roman Rite, he has long been celebrated in a single feast with his contemporary Pope St Cornelius, with whom he corresponded, and with whom he was joined in opposition to an heretic sect called the Novatianists, who denied that serious sins committed after baptism could be forgiven. The latter was martyred in June of 253, in the third year of his papacy.

Between 1565 and 1571, the painter Paolo Caliari, usually known as Paolo Veronese (Paul from Verona), painted an altarpiece for the high altar of the abbey of St Anthony the Abbot on the island of Torcello in the Venetian lagoon. This abbey was suppressed and destroyed during the Napoleonic invasion of Italy, and the painting is now in the Brera Gallery in Milan.
At top we see St Anthony, the patron of the church, represented as a mitred abbot, holding a crook decorated with a pannisellus, a piece of cloth that originally served to protect the metal of the shaft. (See this article from 2008: Veronese paints his rough and dull habit, typical of an Eastern hermit, in intense contrast to his bright green and gold cope, a reminder to us from a wiser age that the poverty of religious is not practiced by impoverishing the house or the worship of God.

Standing beneath him are Ss Cornelius on the left, and Cyprian on the right. I was unable to discover why they were chosen for inclusion in this painting, and if anyone knows, I would be glad to hear from them in the combox. UPDATE: thanks to commenter Alberto for noting that relics of Ss Cornelius and Cyprian were kept in the altar over which this painting was displayed.

Artists of the Venetian school like Veronese excelled at painting rich cloth like the colored and brocaded copes of the three Saints, but tended to be weak on their drawing, and as a result, their lines are often rather hazy. (Michelangelo, very much a product of the Florentine school which excelled at drawing, is reported to have said of the Venetian artist Titian that he would be a superb painter if he would just learn how to draw.) This is evident when one looks at the painting in a closer view; it almost gives the impression that one could feel the texture of the brocade if one were to touch it, but the drawing of the designs on the copes is very vague.

Also note that Cornelius is wearing white, although he is a martyr no less than Cyprian, who is wearing red; this was certainly done for the sake of contrast and nothing else, just as St Anthony’s liturgical color would be white rather than green. The artist is clearly not aiming at any particular kind of accuracy, since the server who holds a liturgical book would never be dressed like the page seen here is.

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