July 28, 2005
Catholic official scoffs at whacko theory, says paintings are only about pregnant virgins . . .
by Dennis Johnson
“One of the most intriguing traditions in western art,” that of painting pregnant Madonnas, a tradition that was “almost entirely confined to Tuscany in the 130 years ending around 1467,” is the subject of a 40-page booklet that is already causing a stir within the Roman Catholic Church. As a Guardian story by reports, Italian author Renzo Manetti says the tradition is linked to the fact that the region was a major center for the Knights Templar, a group that was banned and persecuted by the Catholic Church. Manetti notes that the tradition ended abruptly with one painting, by the great Piero della Francesco. Manetti says it may also be related to “a group of former warrior monks and their associates in Florence had founded a new order, of St. Jerome, which was generously endowed by rich Tuscan families who had previously been close to the Templars.” In a response “splashed” across major newspapers, Father Giocanni Alpigiano has replied on behalf of the Catholic Church, which famously tortured and burned at the stake captured Templars. Alpigiano’s response “argues for the traditional view that the expectant virgins represent the theological concept of incarnation.” Says Alpigiano, “Great care needs to be taken in attempting to rewrite the history of art or literature solely with the help of esoteric clues.” Writes the Guardian’s Hooper, “As the dispute gathers momentum, one question remains so far unanswered. What does Mr Manetti believe was the true secret these great artists thought they were alluding to?” Manetti says he’ll explain in a book later this year.
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him at @mobylives