What genius disclosed all these wonders to thee? All the fair images in the world seem to have sprung forward to meet thee, and to throw themselves lovingly into thy arms. How joyous was the gathering when smiling angels held thy palette, and sublime spirits stood before thy inward vision in all their splendor as models! Let no one think he has seen Italy, let no one think he has learnt the lofty secrets of art, until he has seen thee and thy Cathedral at Parma, O Correggio!
There is no moment that comes to mortals so charged with peace and precious joy as the moment of reconciliation. If the angels ever attend us, they are surely present then. The ineffable joy of forgiving and being forgiven forms an ecstacy that well might arouse the envy of the gods. How well the theologians have understood this! Very often, no doubt, their psychology has been more experimental than scientific–but it is effective. They plunge the candidate into a gloom of horror, guilt and despair; and then when he is thoroughly prostrated–submerged–they lift him out and up into the light, and the thought of reconciliation possesses him.
He has made peace with his Maker!
That is to say, he has made peace with himself–peace with his fellowmen. He is intent on reparation; he wishes to forgive every one. He sings, he dances, he leaps into the air, clasps his hands in joy, embraces those nearest him, and calls aloud, “Glory to God! Glory to God!” It is the moment of reconciliation. Yet there is a finer temperament than that of the “new convert,” and his moment of joy is one of silence–sacred silence.
In the Parma Gallery is the painting entitled, “The Day,” the masterpiece of Correggio. The picture shows the Madonna, Saint Jerome, Saint John and the Christ-child. A second woman is shown in the picture. This woman is usually referred to as Magdalene, and to me she is the most important figure in it. She may lack a little of the ethereal beauty of the Madonna, but the humanness of the pose, the tenderness and subtle joy of it, shows you that she is a woman indeed, a woman the artist loved–he wanted to paint her picture, and Saint Jerome, the Madonna and the Christ-child are only excuses.
John Ruskin, good and great, but with prejudices that matched his genius, declared this picture “immoral in its suggestiveness.” It is so splendidly, superbly human that he could not appreciate it. Yet this figure of which he complains is draped from neck to ankle–the bare feet are shown–but the attitude is sweetly, tenderly modest. The woman, half-reclining, leans her face over and allows her cheek, very gently, to press against that of the Christ-child. Absolute relaxation is shown, perfect trust–no tension, no anxiety, no passion–only a stillness and rest, a gratitude and subdued peace that are beyond speech. The woman is so happy that she can not speak, so full of joy that she dare not express it, and a barely perceptible tear-stain upon her cheek suggests that this peace has not always been. She has found her Savior–she is His and He is hers.
It is the moment of reconciliation.
The Renaissance came as a great burst of divine light, after a thousand years of lurid night. The iron heel of Imperial Rome had ground individuality into the mire. Unceasing war, endless bloodshed, slavery without limit, and rampant bestiality had stalked back and forth across Europe. Insanity, uncertainty, drudgery and crouching want were the portion of the many. In such a soil neither art, literature nor religion can prosper.
But now the Church had turned her face against disorder, and was offering her rewards for excellence and beauty. Gradually there came a feeling of safety–something approaching security. Throughout Italy, beautiful, stately churches were being built; in all the little principalities, palaces were erected; architecture became a science. The churches and palaces were decorated with pictures, statues filled the niches, memorials to great ones gone were erected in the public squares. It was a time of reconciliation–peace was more popular than war–and where men did go to war, they always apologized for it by explaining that they fought simply to obtain peace.