I have been looking at the newly restored image of the Madonna della Strada and am now working on a painted copy of it. The restoration is jarring at first because a once familiar image has suddenly metamorphosed to something unfamiliar. But as I look, and look intently, at the restored image, it reveals its charm and beauty. Mary and the Christ-child are now rosy cheeked no longer veiled by a brownish-yellow skin, really oil varnish that has blackened with age and imposed on the image many years after the original was completed. The background is a light blue, though greatly deteriorated. But it is the uncovering of the damaged right hand of the Virgin that appeals to me. Her open hand is an invitation to come to Jesus the Way.
Restoration has revealed other secrets: the image is a fresco not an oil painting mounted on canvas. The image may be older than it was originally proposed. The new date places the provenance of the painting between the mid-13th and the first half of the 14th century, not 15th century as previously believed. The image might be even older as the article that follows indicates. The original article is in Italian and I have rendered a rough translation of it. This is revised an updated write-up on the Chapel of the Madonna della Strada from the website www.chiesadelgesu.org (the official site of the Gesu in Rome).
Chapel of the Madonna della Strada
The name comes from the fresco of the Madonna della Strada, venerated as miraculous and dear to St. Ignatius
The image of the Madonna della Strada is a fresco, painted in all probability between the second half of the 13th century and the first half of the 14th. At present it is mounted on a slate-gray ground measuring 68 x 75 cm. But the attribution [or provenance] is not definite, because there are notable compositional elements that suggest it comes from a school of painting of medieval Rome.
The Virgin is represented as a bust with the Christ-child in her left arm, whom she holds firmly with her left hand while her right open right hand faces the faithful. Her head is crowned and surrounded by a halo. She is depicted frontally and her whole figure is covered with a golden veil. The Christ-child has a halo inscribed with a cross and seated in the manner of the Pantocrator. His frontal pose has an air about it of serene simplicity; with his left hand he hold the book [of life/ the Gospel] and with his right he blesses.
The total composition evokes the image type of the Mother mediatrix of grace, who from time immemorial has been inviting faith in the Son and intercedes before him.
The image was originally found in the small church called of the Astalli, and then afterwards of the Altieri (from the name of the pizza which it faced), finally the image was called Madonna of the Way. According to Fr. Pietro Tacchi Venturi, the area in which it was built was the present piazza del Gesù, bounded by via dell’Aracoeli.
The image of the Madonna della Strada was cleaned and restored this year.
The return of the devotion to the restored image of the Madonna della Strada happened on Sunday, 8 October during a solemn concelebration presided by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Vicar of Pope Benedict XVI for the city and diocese of Rome.
The interior of the chapel was designed and decorated by the Aquiline, Fr. Giuseppe Valeriano (1542-1596), who also had painted on wood images of scenes in the life of the Virgin. Below these, inscribed in black marble, are passages taken from the Old and New Testaments referring to the subject painted.
The frescos of the cupola, with angels playing the trumpet, are the works of G.P. Pozzi (1561-1589), active during the pontificate of Sixtus V.