In the Basilica of Sant'Agostino, just a few yards from Piazza Navona are two meditations -- unintentional, separated by a hundred years -- on feet.
Sansovino's Madonna and Child with St. Anne (1512) captures what I have found over and over again in museums in Rome and across Italy -- a portrait (this one in stone) of someone touching the Christ baby's feet. It seems nothing more than -- and nothing less than -- a way to evoke attachment to the image, its sentiment and lessons. Every parent, and anyone who has held a baby, cannot but resist to touch those soft feet and incredibly perfect wiggling toes. It is one of the most powerful memories of being a parent, to see and feel those almost unworldly, perfectly formed feet, beyond imagination soft.
A few yards away in a dark chapel, is a very different notion, but equally compelling image, with feet at the heart of its power. Caravaggio's painting of the Pilgrims visiting the Madonna (Madonna di Loreto, 1606), was controversial for its setting -- a dark, decrepit alley, with paint peeling on the brick wall -- and the presence of dirty feet. The Madonna stands on a step, her naked feet revealed, while the pilgrims with their dirty feet sticking out of the right corner of the painting, kneel before her. The image is stunning in the ordinariness of the setting and individuals. She is beautiful but could be any woman; the house and street could be anywhere, anywhere where normal people live.