Madonna of the rosary, Oratorio del Rosario, Palermo

   Painted by Anthony van Dyck, the Madonna of the Rosary is part of a series he rendered on the life of St. Rosalie, patron saint of Palermo, Sicily. It is the largest work the artist created during his stay in Italy and one of his finest altarpieces. Commissioned in 1624 to celebrate the recovery of the saint's remains, the work also was meant as appeal on behalf of the people of Palermo for deliverance from the plague that was devastating their city. The Madonna of the Rosary shows the Virgin Mary and Christ Child appearing to Rosalie and her companions in a heavenly burst of clouds and angels. Below, a nude child holds his nose, a traditional reference to death and decay, and points to those who are stricken. The overall composition borrows heavily from Peter Paul Rubens' St. Gregory Surrounded by Saints (c. 1608; Grenoble, Musée), a work he placed on his mother's tomb in the Abbey of St. Michael in Antwerp where van Dyck would have seen it. The lush brushwork and vivid colorism come not only from Rubens but also from van Dyck's direct study of the works of the Venetians, and particularly Titian. When van Dyck painted this work, no precedents on the depiction of St. Rosalie existed. Therefore, it shows his inventiveness in formulating a new standard of visual representation.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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