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The cinema in those paintings

· The restoration of 'A martyr among tigers' by Franz Floris of Anversa ·

The Galleria Chiaramonti – located in the Vatican Museums – was painted between 1816 and 1818 by young artists selected and commissioned by Antonio Canova. The frescoes depict the achievements of Pius VII's pontificate. The first in the series of these works was painted by the Nazarene painter Philipp Veit; it is dedicated to the restoration of the Colosseum. Amphiteatrum Flavium martyrum cruore rigatum ruderibus egestum reads the epigraph of praise. In that time the monument, which witnessed the blood of the martyrs, had already entered modern Catholic imagination. It was this imagination, that more than a century later, led to the colossal films of the 20th century: Ben-Hur and The Robe . However the sacralization of the Colosseum began much before. This took place in the 16th century with Pius V and especially in the 18th century when, at the request of Benedict XIV, the history of the early Church began to be studied, celebrated and safeguarded through her documents by way of the institution of the Christian Museum.

Ad augendam Urbis splendorem et asserendam religionis vanitatem reads the inscription, placed by Benedict XIV, at the entrance to the Museum. It was the Pope himself who, on 4 October 1757, requested the museum be established and regulated. It was the era of scientism of the Enlightenment and of the spread of antiquarian studies, when that very educated pontiff was convinced that the archaeological discovery and the scientific examination of Church history could not have but rationally strengthened the truth of faith and increase the glory and prestige of Rome.

And now, currently being restored in the Vatican laboratory – financed by the Patrons of the Art – is a painting which seems to confirm the pontiff's interest in the sacredness of the Colosseum. It is a medium sized work  (130 x 187 centimetres) which has Pope Lambertini's coat-of-arms on the back. In the notary deed, which certifies the sale and acquisition of this Vatican patrimony, the painting is entitled: “A martyr among tigers” and is attributed to Pordenone.

The author is the Flemish painter Franz Floris of Anversa (1517/9-1570), according to the signature and date (1563) clearly visible on the right. In the painting Floris exhibits his manifold culture of figurative art. His interpretation of Christian martyrdom— the aspect which makes his painting most fascinating —  I would like to call cinematographic. In the foreground a young muscular boy, Rubensian in appearance, is strangling the leopard that attacked him. We cannot think of anything but the film The Robe when Ursus the “good” slave, in cries of the people the arena of the circus,  smashes the neck of the bull who is about to stab his protected?




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 26, 2020