The Madonna of Clemency
The icon painted ca. 700, now in the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome.
Cardinal Marco Sittico Altemps was cardinal of this church in the later sixteenth century,
and commissioned this Mannerist chapel as his family tomb and as a place to house
the precious ancient painting. This became his own personal icon after his son Roberto, buried outside the chapel, was executed by Pope Sixtus V, who failed to exhibit the clemency of the Madonna.
|Interior of the church|
|Santa Maria in Trastevere|
Roman Catholic tradition has
it "that the title takes its name from the ancient basilica church and monastery
located in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome, whence the name. It is
believed that Pope Callixtus (217-222) founded the first Christian church on
this site as early as the third century. Legend says that the image of the
Madonna and the infant Jesus in the Byzantine style enshrined in the church and
attributed to St. Luke was placed there by St. Helena, who brought the icon to
Rome in 352, around the time the forerunner of the present church was
constructed. Santa Maria in Trastevere is venerated for the deliverance of the
people from epidemics. The image is also referred to as a “BV in SS Domenico e
Sisto”. In the year 591 AD, a plague descended upon Italy, and Pope St. Gregory
the Great led a solemn procession through the streets of Rome carrying an icon
from the church in Trastevere and ending at Hadrian’s Tomb, now called Castle
San Angelo. An angelic choir was heard to be sing the Resurrection hymn: Regina
coeli, laetare, alleluia; Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia; Resurrexit
sicut dixit, alleluia, to which the Pontiff added
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia . (Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia; for He whom
you did merit to bear, alleluia; has risen as He said, alleluia; pray for us to
God, alleluia.) At those words the plague ended. The event, celebrated each year
on February 24, is known as the feast of the Procession of Pope St. Gregory with
a Painting of Our Ladyby St. Luke. Another legend says that the icon carried by
the St. Gregory was the Salus Populi Romani Icon , but that image cannot be
dated earlier than the eighth century. Three centuries later, Pope Sergius III
(904-911) had the painting moved from the convent of nuns at the monastery of
St. Mary in the Temple and placed in the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Legend
has it that the picture miraculously found its way back to the monastery of its
own accord. Pope Honorius had wished to assemble nuns scattered in monasteries
through Rome at St. Sixtus and make profession to blessed Dominic.The
Gilbertines at St. Mary in the Temple resisted. After considerable wrangling,
they agreed on condition that their miraculous icon accompanied them and
remained at St. Sistus, and there no repeat of the affair involving the Lateran
Basilica. In 1218 or 1219, St. Dominic, with the approval of the Vatican,
personally transferred the painting from the monastery to the old church
dedicated to St. Sixtus II,who was martyred in 258. Pope Honorius III had
granted the church, San Sisto Vecchio, located on Via Appia in the old patrician
quarter of the city, to St. Dominic and the Order of Friar Preachers.
The transfer of the painting and the imposition of vows constituted the last steps in the establishment of the second house of religious women living under the rule of St. Dominic. The origins of the present basilica are believed to have the popes Calixtus I, Julius I, and Cornelius that had been exhumed from the catacombs. Renovations continued until the church was totally rebuilt in the 12th century by Pope Innocent II (1130-1143), using materials from the ancient Baths of Caracalla. Most of the present building dates from this period. The portico was added in the 19th century."
Wikipedia has a more secular take:
"The Madonna della Clemenza is an Icon painting on canvas and
wood, dated back to late 7th or early 8th century/ The Madonna della Clemenza,
or Icon of the Virgin and Child as it is also known. The origins of the painting
among scholars, but it is most often attributed to a commission by Pope John
VII. The Madonna della Clemenza is one of the five oldest existing Marian Icons
from the medieval period. Its proximity to the rise of Christianity is one ofthe reasons it was believed to be a divine image.
In the painting, Mary is depicted in the "Regina Coeli," style unique to Rome in late antiquity. In this and many other early icons, Mary is formulated in the Maesta style. Maesta is a popular style for Marian iconography in which Mary is depicted as the Queen of heaven, in regal style seated on a throne and complete with a crown covered in pearls. The Christ Child is dressed in purple robes similar to Mary's which were once covered in gold. Both Mary andChrist have golden halos. Mary is seated cradling the Christ child in one arm, and holding a cross staff in the other. This style of Mary holding Christ is unique, as the usual style is Mary holding Christ in the crook of her arm, but with this Icon, Christ is placed on Mary's lap with her arm placed just in front of him.
It one of the first known donor portraits. Although the painting is badly worn, kneeling at the feet of the Virgin Mother is an image of what is believed to be Pope John VII. In 1593, during the Counter-Reformation, the Icon was reframed and placed on the central Capella Altemps inside the Basilica Santa Maria di Trastevere as a means to display the power of this Marian cult image. The idea behind the re-framing, was that if you framed an Icon, it would betransformed from a divine object into a piece of art, thereby removing the stigma of it being considered a false idol.
In 1988, there was an exhibition held at the Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. All five of the oldest Marian Icons were represented, however, the representation of the Madonna della Clemenza was not the original but a photographic copy due to the delicate state of the original painting. The Icon can still be seen over the Capella Altemps in the Basilica Santa Maria di Trastevere in Rome."