Picture Gallery with Views of Rome,
Painting by Giovanni Paolo Pannini (1691-1765),
Painted in 1757,
Oil on canvas
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Provide yourselves with no gold or silver
Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows: ‘As you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils. You received without charge, give without charge. Provide yourselves with no gold or silver, not even with a few coppers for your purses, with no haversack for the journey or spare tunic or footwear or a staff, for the workman deserves his keep.
‘Whatever town or village you go into, ask for someone trustworthy and stay with him until you leave. As you enter his house, salute it, and if the house deserves it, let your peace descend upon it; if it does not, let your peace come back to you. And if anyone does not welcome you or listen to what you have to say, as you walk out of the house or town shake the dust from your feet. I tell you solemnly, on the day of Judgement it will not go as hard with the land of Sodom and Gomorrah as with that town.’
Reflection on the painting
Today’s Gospel reading follows on from yesterday. Jesus continues to give missionary instructions to the first disciples, and therefore to the entire Church as well. One of the practical points of wisdom he shares is for us not to be encumbered with possessions. Of course things are good to have, within measure, but possessions do not define who we are. Having a big library does not necessarily imply that we are learned; a big collection of art (such as in our painting) does not make us art connoisseurs; a big collection of devotional items does not imply that we have a deep faith. All these things are just possessions: they do not define who we truly are in the eyes of God.
Our painting by Giovanni Paolo Pannini displays an extravagant collection of worldly possessions. This painting was one of four similar ones commissioned by the Duc de Choiseul to commemorate his stay in Rome as the French ambassador to the Vatican. Pannini, who became the most celebrated landscape painter in Rome, had been trained in a school of stage designers in Bologna. We can see his theatrical background training in our painting. The Duke is seated in the center of an enormous art gallery, surrounded by sculptures by Michelangelo and Bernini, and hundreds of other worldly possessions. Around him hang Pannini's meticulously detailed views of Roman buildings, fountains, and monuments of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including Saint Peter's Square, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.
None of these paintings or sculptures defined who the Duc de Choiseul was in the eyes of God. Only his heart did...
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