The cover of the month

He Saw and Believed by Pierre-Marie Dumont

Giovanni Francesco Romanelli (1610–1662), a pupil of Pietro da Cortona in Rome, quickly became one of his chief collaborators in the service of Pope Urban VIII. From 1635 on, he declared his independence, both professionally and stylistically. While rediscovering the work of Raphael († 1520), he followed the progress of Guido Reni († 1642) towards a harmonious synthesis of the Renaissance, Baroque, and classical styles, above all seeking simplicity and favouring the sumptuous yet fresh colours that made his reputation. The work that adorns the cover of this April issue of Magnificat, painted in 1640, is a perfect illustration of this. 

Clothed in a biblical blue tunic

On Easter morning, Peter and the disciple Jesus loved, informed by Mary Magdalene that the Lord’s body has been removed from the tomb, run to the tomb; they have just entered it (Jn 20:1-10). Peter, who arrived second but was the first to enter, is depicted with the fine head of a mature man. He is clothed in a luminous deep blue, the biblical blue (Tekhelet) that captures the hue of the sky; here it expresses consecration to the service of the revelation of the divine. However, his cloak, earth-toned in the shade and golden in the light, suggests simultaneously his human weakness, which led him to his denial, and his openness to grace that would establish him as the rock of the Church and lead him to martyrdom. 

In keeping with tradition, the disciple Jesus loved is identified here as the Apostle John, son of Zebedee, brother of James the Great. A very young man, he wears a green tunic, the colour of spring and renewal, signifying that of all the disciples he was the first to believe in the Resurrection. His cloak is of a bright purple hue, which declares his dignity as an apostle, one of the twelve chosen by the Lord. 

To be touched by the grace of faith

Peter points to the empty shroud and turns towards John; the painter succeeded in imprinting on his face a remarkable expression that is both astonished and inquisitive. But John does not see him: with his eyes wide open, he sees that there is nothing to see. And he believes. Here again the painter ingeniously expresses what it is to be touched by the grace of faith. With his right hand, John respectfully waves aside Peter’s questions. With his left hand, over his heart, he receives the gift from God. And the painter gives us a hint that the impassiveness of his face does not entirely mask the supernatural joy that secretly fills his inmost being. 

And so, although there was nothing to see, the disciple Jesus loved sees that the emptiness of the tomb opens up an infinitely large space, inaugurating a life that has been restored and renewed, even beyond death. And he believes. His faith is not based solely on historical proofs. Of course, he was the privileged witness of Jesus’ life, teaching, and Passion, but he did not see Jesus rise from the dead. And yet, he saw and he believed. The Resurrection is par excellence a truth to be believed. The truth to be believed. There would be no faith if we had to prove thoroughly that what it says is correct. The disciple Jesus loved, the disciples whom Jesus loves, you and me, we have seen and we believe by the eyes of faith, for although our faith has nothing to prove, it does have eyes to see and to see truly.

Saint Peter and Saint John at Christ’s Tomb (c. 1640), Giovanni Francesco Romanelli (c. 1610–1662), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California. Image public domain.