A stunning altar piece created in Medieval Italian Sienese style—the first of its kind produced in 400 years—has been installed and blessed at the Australian Catholic University’s chapel in North Sydney.
The artist who produced the magnificent triptych, depicting the Virgin Mary with Christ Child, St Joseph and St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, was present for its blessing by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and said it was “the most beautiful day” of her life.
Chiara Perinetti Casoni, an expert in crafting recreations of Sienese art from the 14th and 15th centuries, produced the full-sized altar piece in Siena, Italy, where she lives. She was deeply moved as it was blessed in its new home—ACU’s Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel at the North Sydney campus.
“My mission has been to create a wonderful and surprising work like the furnishing of a flame that shines fluctuating. I imagined that this work placed in the Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel could arouse a spontaneous desire to pray,” she said.
“I had the vision of the Mother of Divine Wisdom with the Son who brings this Divine gift from Heaven to earth. So, I was looking for an atmosphere of solemnity.”
ACU commissioned the triptych which is unique and is not a copy of any existing work.
Archbishop Fisher said the work of sacred art would draw the university’s leaders, staff, students and friends to “contemplation, collaboration and communion”.
“It is for them to prepare that ‘place of safety’ for the Mother of Wisdom in our country, in our university and in our hearts,” Archbishop Fisher said.
“May this Alma Mater or ‘nourishing mother’ keep us safe from the serpent who is the Great Liar, and make our minds, like hers, seats for Holy Wisdom.”
ACU Vice-Chacellor and President, Professor Greg Craven, said “fostering culture through supporting the arts” was “central” to the university’s mission.
“This extraordinary acquisition will make an important addition to the ACU art collection while contributing to the significant role the Catholic Church has played in supporting the arts,” Professor Craven said.
“The Church sponsored the work of many of the great renaissance artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael and Bernini, who went on to create some of their masterpieces within the walls of the Vatican.”
Ms Casoni created the triptych, titled The Mother of Divine Wisdom with St Joseph and St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, in the style of an early 15th century painting by Italian artist Taddeo de Bartolo.
“It was natural to be inspired by the work of Bartolo, it is very congenial to me and his works represent the highest school between the Gothic and the Renaissance,” Ms Casoni said.
She said she understood the historical significance of her commission to produce the triptych, especially as it would depict Australia’s first saint.
“I understood straight away that this was an historical subject and could eventually become part of the history of the University because images of Saint Mary MacKillop don’t exist.”
“This personage really appealed to me, I was given some photographs of Saint Mary MacKillop, taken obviously in the early 1900s because one was black and white, and the other had been coloured.”
“My commission was incredibly important, as I needed to give an iconic face to this woman and i had to place her next to the Virgin and Child.”
Following the blessing of the triptych, ACU conferred an honorary Master of Arts degree on Ms Casoni in recognition of her masterful rendering of the unique piece of religious art.