March 25th is the Feast of the Annunciation, the celebration of the moment the Archangel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God.
The Dominican church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva is home to a fascinating painting of the Annunciation (c. 1482), the work of Antonio di Benedetto Aquilo degli Aquili (c.1430 – c.1510), better known as Antoniazzo Romano.
The painting was commissioned by the Arciconfraternita della Ss. Annunziata in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, a charitable body founded in 1460 by Cardinal Juan de Torquemada (1388-1468), the uncle of Spain's infamous first Grand Inquisitor, Tomãs de Torquemada (1420-98).
The arch-confraternity was set up to provide dowries for poor girls. Each year, on the Feast of the Annunciation, the dowries would be distributed to a select group of girls by no less a figure than the Holy Father.
The painting depicts Cardinal Juan de Torquemada presenting three girls to the Virgin Mary, who hands each of them a small bag of money.
The practise continued for centuries, only coming to an end when Rome was no longer ruled by the papacy.
The event was witnessed by the English travel writer Augustus J. C. Hare, who wrote in his book Walks in Rome (1871): 'On this occasion, the girls who are to receive the dowries are drawn up in two lines in front of the church. Some are distinguished by white wreaths. They are those who are going to 'enter into religion', and who consequently receive double the dowry of the others, on the plea that 'money placed in the hands of religion bears interest for the poor.'
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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