live blog: saint’s day

As luck would have it, I arrived in Olympos a week after the name day of Mary. (In the Greek Orthodox church each day of the year is dedicated to a saint. As most children are named for one of their grandparents, who in turn have been named after a saint, name days are cause for a multi-generational celebration in a way that birthdays are not.)  At the highest point of the village the small 16th century church of Panagia –  literally the “All Holy;” meaning Mary, mother of Jesus – was still bedecked with Greek and Byzantine flags from the recent festivities surrounding the Virgin. Doors open, I poked inside and found a small chapel saturated with centuries of rich iconography – along with the village papas, or priest, who more than happily took time out for a photo.

 

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in a new light at the frick

Giovanni Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert is the largest work on panel at the Frick Collection, the intimate public gallery housed in the former residence of industrialist Henry Clay Frick. Portraying the medieval saint who renounced earthly riches to embrace a life of poverty, simplicity and prayer, this particular painting belongs to a long tradition of legends centered on the life of Francesco of Assisi, who was close in time to the Italians of the Renaissance and hence often a central subject. Yet this image is unlike any other representation. For one, Bellini’s desert bears a striking similarity to the Tuscon hills. Moreover, barefoot with arms extended and ready to receive, the saint appears to be in a state of mystical transport, transfigured by a supernatural radiance that emanates from a thick impasto of clouds at the upper left corner of the canvas. All this and not a furry animal to be found. Almost. It’s a masterpiece of spiritual poetry, made even more vivid following a rehabilitative trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s conservation department. Currently occupying pride of place in the museum’s main gallery the painting can also be viewed up close in a way you’d never be able to experience in person: via high-resolution gigapixel photography courtesy of Google’s amazing new Art Project.

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