Jacopo Torriti, The Coronation of the Virgin Mary

Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore

In a starry tondo rising above choirs of angels, Christ places a crown on the head of his mother, who is enthroned on his right. These details and the inscriptions below the tondo refer to passages in the Office for Assumption Day, August 15:

The Office may also explain the scene along the bottom of the panel. The second nocturn says, "this day the Eden of the New Adam welcomes its living Paradise, in whom our sentence has been repealed, in whom the Tree of Life was planted."2 That is, Mary is the new Eden. In the mosaic the four rivers of Genesis 2:10 flow from Eden, which is represented as a walled city guarded by the cherubim of Genesis 3:24. They merge to form a scene of abundant river life just like the one prophesied in Ezekiel 47:1-12. In that passage the life-giving water flows from the right side of the Temple. It is explained in the Glossa Ordinaria as salvation flowing from Christ in the temple of "David's flesh, from the womb of the Virgin."3

The mosaic was commissioned by Nicholas IV, the first Franciscan pope, to replace the one installed in the fifth century when the church was built by Sixtus III. Nicholas is pictured at the lower left in his papal tiara. Behind him are Saints Francis, Paul, and Peter. The stigmata are visible in Francis's hand and side. But instead of their customary attributes Peter and Paul carry scrolls quoting verses from scripture. Peter's says, TU EST CHRISTUS FILIUS DEI VIVENTIS, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). Paul's has the words michi, vivere, and christus: This appears to reference Philippians 1:21, Mihi enim vivere christus est et mori lucrum, "For to me, to live is Christ; and to die is gain."

Torriti's signature is in the bottom left corner of the panel. Beneath this part of the apse is an image of the Dormition.

This image in full resolution

Detail of Christ
Detail of the Virgin Mary
More of the Coronation of the Virgin

Photographed at the basilica by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

1 Breviarium Romanum, 991-93. The first translation is from the Douai text of Psalm 44; the second and third are my own. The secondary meaning of thalamus is noted in Lewis. (Return to text)

2 Ibid., 992-93, translation by Toal, IV, 426. (Return to text)

3 Glossa Ordinaria, IV, 1464 (my translation). (Return to text)