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Mary's Month in Magazines

By Sarah Cahalan and John Shaffer

The May 1911 issue of Cordelia, an Italian "weekly journal for young ladies," featured a three-page appreciation by Maria Majocchi of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrating her as an exemplar of religious piety. In reference to the art of churches, the piece lists traditional devotions and roles of the Virgin Mary: La Purissima, La Regina dei Cieli, La Stella Mattutina, La Misericordiosa, La Immacolata, La Dolorosa, La Madre del Dolore, La Consolatrice degli Afflitti, La Salute degli Infermi, La Gloriosa Assunta, Maria Sposa, L’Annunziata, and finally La Vergine del Rosario. With reference to these titles, Majocchi invites her young readers to turn to God through the intercession of the Virgin Mary during the month of May:

Fanciulle mie buone, io credo che tutte, in questo mese che la Chiesa dedica a Maria, offrite un omaggio di fiori e di preghiere all’immagine che veglia il vostro sonno e i vostri sogni. [My good maidens, I believe that all of you, in this month that the Church dedicates to Mary, must offer a tribute of flowers and prayers to the figure who watches over your sleep and your dreams.]

The artist Ezio Anichini, whose work is the subject of the Marian Library exhibit A Vision of Art and Faith: The Litany of Loreto and the Work of Ezio Anichini (1886-1948), provided several illustrations for this issue of Cordelia, including the cover image. 

One year later, Anichini published his masterful series of illustrations based on the traditional Litany of Loreto. It is tempting to speculate that Anichini’s 1911 work in Cordelia may have sparked an ambitious project idea. His 1912 illustrations resonate deeply with Majocchi’s thoughts about the Virgin Mary, her vivid observations of the faithful and her particular reference to Mary’s traditional titles.

The first appearance of Anichini’s Le Litanie Lauretane series was in the form of a special 12-page portfolio, bound into the pages of the Florence-based journal of arts and culture Scena Illustrata. On the cover of that issue, Mary stands protectively behind a young girl whom the viewer might readily identify with Proserpina or another mythical figure associated with springtime. (We have seen copies of this Scena Illustrata cover offered for sale under the title “Goddess of Spring,” overlooking the prominent golden halo of the mother figure and Anichini’s overtly Marian portfolio of images delivered with the magazine!)

The figures on this cover are accompanied by roses and lilies, which have long been part of popular devotional practices around the Virgin Mary; perhaps the figure in the foreground is simply a young girl picking flowers as part of a May Queen celebration. When the same cover design was reused by Scena Illustrata several years later, the publisher sought to eliminate the lingering ambiguity by adding a bold title line: “Mese di Maria” [“Month of Mary”]. 

At the time of its publication, readers embraced the series primarily for its religious value. The images were considered “a significant aid to personal devotion,” as shown by a poignant inscription in a surviving copy of the 1915 edition. The penned lines, translated to English by Matthew Frabotta, read:

To the sweet Luisa
that in the beautiful hours of joy
as in the bitter ones of despair
the spirit is restored
in a gentle vision of art and faith

Memory of affection 
Teresa Maiocchi 
Maggio 1915

It was once again the month of Mary — three years after the first printing of Le Litanie Lauretane. Significantly, it was also the month that Italy made its costly entry into World War I. While we have not identified Teresa Maiocchi — a spelling variant of Majocchi — it is possible that the giver of this warmly inscribed copy of Anichini’s book was a relative of Majocchi, whose personal devotion to the Blessed Virgin had been so eloquently expressed to her young readers through the pages of Cordelia several Mays prior.

— Sarah Cahalan is an associate professor in the University Libraries and the director of the Marian Library. John Shaffer is an author and independent researcher of the work of Ezio Anichini. Many of the items in the A Vision of Art and Faith exhibit are from his personal collection.

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