Giovanni Battista Paggi († 1627) was trained in Genoa by Luca Cambiaso. Wanted for homicide, at the age of twenty-five he was forced to flee the city in haste. He eventually found refuge in Florence where he entered the court of Grand Duke Ferdinand I de’ Medici. It was there that in 1596 he received the commission for this Transfiguration to adorn the city’s Basilica of Saint Mark. Shortly afterward, he returned to Genoa under the protection of the Doria family. There he became the undisputed master of an innovative school of art whose students would be the glory of the golden age of Genoese painting.
The Man of Light, acknowledged by Moses and Elijah upon the summit of Tabor, contemplated here below by Peter, James, and John—this Man of Light is the Only Begotten Son shining with the glory of the Father and the light of the Holy Spirit: he is the living and true God. Yet he nonetheless remains true man, like you, like me, like us. A true man in whom human nature is resplendent. As witnesses to Jesus’ divine radiance, Peter, James, and John were thus given to contemplate the genesis and the ultimate end of human life. They contemplated luminous man, at the beginning of the world, in the image and likeness of God. And they contemplated, at the end of time, the righteous [who] shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Mt 13:43).
Of course, in the meantime, sin has overshadowed in man the image and likeness of God. But that is just what is offered to us again on the day of our Baptism: You have clothed yourselves with Christ! You are the light of the world! (Gal 3:27; Mt 5:14). Such is our Christian faith: we are promised to be transfigured; we are promised to be “christified”; we are promised to be clothed for ever in uncreated Light. Such is our destiny. Such is the invincible Hope of our human life.
Transfiguration (1596), Giovanni Battista Paggi (1554–1627), Basilica San Marco, Florence, Italy. © Photo Scala, Florence / Fondo Edifici di Culto – Min. dell’Interno.