The Assumption of the Virgin and the Saints Julian and Miniato (1449-50, reproduction reverses original direction) by Andrea del Castagno ca.1421-1457)
Although the scriptures do not relate the details surrounding Mary’s final days, the tradition that Christ’s mother was assumed bodily into heaven dates to the early Christian era. The miraculous event known as The Assumption of the Virgin features in Italian art from at least the fourteenth-century. Often, as we see here the scene includes saints, in this case St Miniato at the viewer’s left and Julian at right, as timeless witnesses. Painted for a church since destroyed, Castagno portrays this miraculous event employing pictorial conventions familiar to the artist’s contemporaries. Mary appears enclosed in an almond-shaped frame. Symbolically this shape was first associated with Christ, however the mandorla, as it is called gradually extended to include the Virgin at the Assumption. The flame-coloured clouds within this giant halo-like shape suggest the Virgin’s departure from her earthly-life. The space denying gold background we glimpse behind the Virgin and the two saints accompanying her remind the devout viewer of the belief in the mystery of Mary’s assumption into heaven. The Virgin leads the viewer’s gaze heaven-ward. While her expansive figure, emphasized by the pyramidal blue cloak extends expansively in space around her, with a fluid, movement the Virgin lifts her face to where we imagine Christ waits to welcome her. The painter invites the viewer to feel swept up in the mystery of human flesh being absorbed into God’s radically transforming divine love.
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