Lianne Bernardo

Renaissance reveals faith

By  Lianne Milan Bernardo, Youth Speak News
  • April 26, 2013

I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario in April to see the exhibit “Revealing the early Renaissance: Stories and Secrets in Florentine Art” that has been running since mid-March. The exhibit showcases a collection of religious panels, pages, books, stained-glass windows and altar decorations made by artisans in and around Florence, Italy, during the 14th century. Although these pieces were created centuries ago, we can still find a connection to God and the Catholic community through these works.

The collection is educational in that it captures the early years of Renaissance art. They’re not quite like the works of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, the familiar names that come to mind when one thinks of the Renaissance, but the similarities are there: the facial features are more realistic and the scenes appear more three-dimensional.

The exhibit is a way for Catholics to get in touch with the history of the Church. Aside from illustrations of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and of the Virgin Mary, there are also depictions of stories from the Bible and the lives of the saints. Some of the images focusing on the saints feature their martyrdom, like St. John the Greater’s beheading and St. Lawrence’s death on a gridiron. These graphic scenes seem unusual to be included with pieces like the Laudario of St. Agnes, a manuscript containing hymns sung by a confraternity in Florence, but they highlight an important part of Catholic history: the courage and steadfast faith that the saints professed throughout their lives.

Other images contain references to religious orders, another major feature of the Catholic Church. One shows Christ and the Virgin Mary sitting on their thrones and accompanied by 17 Dominican saints with their names embedded in the gold halos that glimmer around their heads. Religious orders like the Dominicans and Franciscans were thriving during this period and the images mark their presence within the Church. Today they stand as reminders of their service in the history and development of the Church and to whom we still refer to through prayers and feast days.

The exhibit also raises the presence of faith in everyday life. Contemplating on the hymn books and the triptychs, foldable panels that often decorated the altars, I wondered whether the panels had worn down not only from age but also from use. These items were not hidden away in the 14th century but were seen and used regularly by their owners, whether it was during Mass or during prayer sessions. The objects are luxurious, the halos and image borders gilded in gold, but they also serve the practical purpose of providing further reflection and celebration of Jesus’ life, ministry and teachings.

The world may have changed since the 14th century, but the essentials of our faith — Jesus’ ministry, the presence of the Virgin Mary and the roles of the saints and the religious orders in the Church — remain ever present today. The Renaissance exhibit will remain on display until June 16 at the AGO.

(Bernardo, 26, is a practical nursing student at Seneca College in Toronto, Ont.)

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