THE MADONNA OF ST. ROSALIA

On the summit of Monte Pellegrino, in the island of Sicily, stands a colossal statue of St. Rosalia. Like the old Greek statue of Victory on the island of Samothrace,[8] or to use a modern instance, like the statue of Liberty on Bedloe's Island in New York harbor, St. Rosalia serves as a beacon to mariners. The Sicilians hold the saint in great reverence, and celebrate her memory in two annual festivals. From the eleventh to the fifteenth of July are horse-races, regattas, illuminations, and all sorts of gayeties in her honor. In September there is a solemn procession to her chapel.

[8] See Chapter XV. in the volume on Greek Sculpture in the Riverside Art Series.

St. Rosalia was a Sicilian maiden of noble family, the niece of William II., called the Good. Being both rich and beautiful, she had many suitors for her hand, but she rejected them all. At the age of fifteen she renounced the pomps and vanities of the world, and devoted herself to a life of meditation. She retired secretly to a cavern on Mt. Heirkte, and here she passed her solitary life. It was not until five hundred years after her disappearance that her hiding-place was discovered. There they found her lying in her grotto, as if she had just fallen asleep, and on her head was a wreath of roses with which the angels had crowned her. The body was carried in triumph to Palermo, and she became the patron saint of her native city.

This was in the early part of the seventeenth century,[9] and the story of the new saint's life immediately became the subject of art. Van Dyck painted for a church in Antwerp a series of pictures of St. Rosalia, from which our illustration is taken. The maiden saint kneels on the steps of a throne to receive a wreath of roses from the Christ-child. An angel attendant behind her holds a basket of roses. St. Peter and St. Paul add dignity to the scene.

[9] The date of her disappearance is given as 1159.

As we see at once, this is not an actual incident from the life of St. Rosalia. The aim of the picture is devotional. It is as if we were given a glimpse into the court of heaven, where the saints of all ages gather about the Christ-child's throne.

St. Peter is seen at the Madonna's left, gazing at some little cherubs who hover in mid air with sprays of flowers. We know him by the mammoth key he carries in his left hand, a symbol of his authority in spiritual concerns. The reference is to the words of Jesus when Peter declared him to be the Christ: "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven."[10] He seems here a very old man, and one who has suffered many persecutions in the master's cause.

[10] St. Matthew, chapter xvi., verse 19.

THE MADONNA OF ST. ROSALIA Imperial Gallery, Vienna
THE MADONNA OF ST. ROSALIA
Imperial Gallery, Vienna

St. Paul stands at the right of the throne, leaning on his sword in an attitude of meditation. The sword has been chosen as this apostle's emblem because of his allusion in the Epistle to the Ephesians to the "sword of the spirit."[11] The books lying on the pavement at his feet are his various writings.

[11] Ephesians, chapter vi., verse 17.

According to tradition the Apostle Paul was a man of mean stature and insignificant appearance. Regardless of this fact, however, the old artists always tried to make him as grand and noble as possible, that his outward appearance might correspond to the grandeur of his character. There was a certain old Italian painter named Masaccio, who set the fashion, as it were, for the ideal portrait of St. Paul.[12] A hundred years later Raphael imitated this figure, and again a century later, Van Dyck repeated it in the picture before us. If we compare our illustration with a print of Raphael's picture of St. Cecilia we shall see the resemblance.[13] Even the pose is the same in the two cases. The grand head with the full beard reminds us of the Greeks' conception of their god Zeus.[14]

[12] In the fresco of the Carmine Church, Florence.

[13] See Chapter IX. of the volume on Raphael in the Riverside Art Series.

[14] See Chapter I. of the volume on Greek Sculpture in the Riverside Art Series.

St. Rosalia is a beautiful young woman, richly dressed in a brocaded mantle, and with wavy hair falling over her shoulders. Her attitude is very humble, and she lifts her face to the Christ-child's with sweet adoration. The little fellow seems delighted with his task, and leans forward eagerly, to offer the saint the crown of roses. Is it for me? she seems to ask, as she lays one hand upon her breast and timidly holds out the other.