Thursday, December 23, 2010

A snowfall on the Esquiline Hill

Masolino, The Foundation of Santa Maria Maggiore, c1427-8

The snow has been melting here and the passage of days has left Kline-like compositions on the ground mapping the departure of vehicles, the clearing of paths and the making of snowmen.  Looking out of the window now it is not clear why certain patches of snow remain, as if they have some special significance. Masolino's central panel for the Santa Maria Maggiore Polyptich shows Pope Liberius marking out the site of the future church after a miraculous summer snowfall on August 5th 352.  The snow had been predicted in a dream shared by the Pope and a rich Roman couple who wanted to donate their wealth to a worthy cause.  In Masolino's painting, snow floats through the golden sky beneath a fleet of clouds that resemble UFOs.  From the largest of them Christ and Mary look down and snowflakes fall more thickly on the place where the new building will rise, a permanent legacy of this fleeting phenomenon.  Later depictions of the legend by artists like Grünewald and Murillo treat the subject more naturalistically and less interestingly.  Today the miracle of the snow is recreated in Santa Maria Maggiore and other churches every year with a shower of flower petals.

1 comment:

snarlerson said...

I really enjoyed your Christmas blog and it stirred my memory banks. Next October, my old friend, Graham King, and I will celebrate the 50th anniversary of our starting the Diploma in Town Planning course at University College, London. We had an an inspiring teacher for the History of Town Planning. Dr Bruno Schlaffenburg drew to our attention the work by the Austrian, Camillo Sitte, entitled ‘City Planning according to Aesthetic Principles’ (1899). My notes have long gone but I recall that he advocated the desirability of respecting desire lines. This meant noting how people moved around a town and in which direction they prefered to move in. One of the best ways of doing this is to look at the tracks made by pedestrians across snow covered squares and other open spaces. I have never forgotten the principle and I think of it most times I use a new pedestrian crossing over the nearby main road which has not been sited to meet an existing foot path across a large grassed area. Those who want to use the crossing now walk across the grass. So snow not only gives a wonderful and beautiful homogeneity to roofscapes but is a cheap and useful tool for planners. Mind you, I will be glad when the thaw comes!!!