Philadelphia is a magical city, rich in history, architecture, and art. It’s home to some of the best and most interesting museums in the world. The city is also a melting pot of diversity. It’s the city where I found healing through art.
I’ve been researching my family tree and tracing my roots from northeast Philadelphia back to Ireland and Italy. The Irish side of my family have lived in Philadelphia much longer than my Italian side, which immigrated here in the early 20th century.
Sometimes in my research I get tired of looking through decades of scanned microfilm trying to read a foreign language in flowery handwriting. I turn instead to Google and search for my last name “DeRosa” just to see what comes up. I found all kinds of DeRosas but most notably found some beautiful paintings attributed to Baroque painter Francesco De Rosa known as Pacecco De Rosa, who was active in the early to mid-1600s.
In one of his paintings known as Jesus and the Adulteress, there is a woman (Mary Magdalene I presume) who looks exactly like me when I was in my twenties. Now you know when you’re told that you look like someone, especially a celebrity and you think, “hmm, not really.” But I really do think this picture looks like me. I haven’t been able to trace my family tree that far back yet, but perhaps we’re related.
Pacecco had three sisters and sometimes they modeled for his paintings. One in particular was a fine artist in her own right and has a very dramatic story involving murder and intrigue. Perhaps I’ll write about her another time. I don’t want to get off-topic. Anyway…
I discovered that our very own Philadelphia Museum of Art houses Pacecco De Rosa’s most famous painting, The Massacre of the Innocents. It’s a gruesome painting but quite beautiful and full of rich colors.
I was planning a trip to the museum to visit the painting in person. I thought it would be a nice place to take my mother. She had been confined to a wheelchair after suffering from Alzheimer’s for many years. But she enjoyed calm and quiet and looking at pictures.
Unfortunately, my very lovely mother passed away before we got a chance to see it. Her 10-year battle with dementia came to an end. This was over a year ago. A little while later my brothers and sisters and I, looking for something peaceful to do together, went to the Philadelphia museum to visit Pacecco’s famous painting. In true 21st century fashion we took a group selfie in front of it. Walking around a calming place like the Philly museum, looking at centuries of great art helped us heal a little that day.
Art is a great connector. Through the eyes of the artist, you can see the history of human struggles — sickness, revenge, love, faith, violence, nature — all played out in oils, stone and metal. No matter what country the artist was born and lived, the same themes run through their works. We all love, fall ill, heal, get angry, transcend. From the times of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, through the Renaissance, the Impressionists, the moderns, the same stories are told and repeated in different styles and colors. Walking through the Philadelphia museum it’s impossible not to feel connected to humanity.
Have you lost someone dear to you recently? Is there a special place in your city or hometown that reminds you of that person? Visit it. Let yourself feel all the emotions that bubble up with that place. Take it in. Let it out. It will help, I promise.
With the recent violent events that have happened in our country, like bombings, shootings, natural disasters, and nasty elections, turning to art can have a curative effect. You realize that each decade and century has its tragedies. We think we’ve made progress and then it seems each generation forgets the lessons learned. Art can help. Art can heal. Art can bring people together. Find healing through art.
I encourage you to get out and see some great art. Check out the museums in your area. Go to their online calendars and see what’s happening. Maybe you’ll see a Pacecco De Rosa. Tell him I said hello.
If you’re in the Philadelphia area, here are some of my favorite museums:
There are many more that I haven’t been to yet. Here is an article with a list of the best museums in the city.
What are your favorite museums?