Resurrection

William Bouguereau, The Three Marys at the Tomb, 1876. Private Collection

William Bouguereau, The Three Marys at the Tomb, 1876.
Private Collection

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Holy Saturday- The Time Between

 

Portfolio/Series:  The Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ (La Vie de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ)   Artist: James Tissot, French, 1836-1902  Medium: Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper Place Made: France  Dates: 1886-1894 Brooklyn Museum of Art

Portfolio/Series: The Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ (La Vie de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ)
Artist: James Tissot, French, 1836-1902
Medium: Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper
Place Made: France
Dates: 1886-1894
Brooklyn Museum of Art

 

Posted in Holy Week

A Blessed Good Friday

James Tissot (French, 1836–1902). What Our Lord Saw from the Cross, 1886–94. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray-green wove paper, 9 3/4 x 9 1/6 in. (24.8 x 23 cm). Brooklyn Museum

James Tissot (French, 1836–1902). What Our Lord Saw from the Cross, 1886–94. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray-green wove paper, 9 3/4 x 9 1/6 in. (24.8 x 23 cm). Brooklyn Museum

Posted in Holy Week

Journey To Calvary: Jesus’ Cross, Theology and Historical Contexts

The death of Jesus cannot be separated from His Resurrection.  It is in the light of the Resurrection that the Crucifixion becomes a sign of victory.  As we move towards Holy Week  I would like to present images and commentaries in which cruelty and tragedy become God’s victory over evil.  It is only in the light of the Resurrection that early Christians and present Christians are able to see this. Richard Harries in his  Ashgate Studies  in Theology, Imagination and the Arts, entitled The Passion in Art, does a thorough presentation of this unity along with other artists and commentators I will be presenting.

VELÁZQUEZ, Diego Rodriguez de Silva y  Christ on the Cross  1632  Oil on canvas, 248 x 169 cm  Museo del Prado, Madrid

VELÁZQUEZ, Diego Rodriguez de Silva y
Christ on the Cross
1632
Oil on canvas, 248 x 169 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Symbols in the Catacombs

Within the catacombs are paintings and inscriptions which gives us an insight on how the early Christians say their faith, especially on how they approached death.  Many of these scenes are taken from the Hebrew Scriptures, but nearly all of them, including the New Testament express the hope of deliverance or salvation. The Gallery below presents some  images of deliverance.

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In the catacomb of Domatilla there is the epitaph below to Antonia.  The anchor was already a symbol of hope in the Roman world but it took on a deeper meaning with the Christians.  In the Letter to the Hebrews 6:9 we read:  “we have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”  This is no ordinary anchor however, for the crossbar has been transformed into a cross, and attached at either side to the hooks of the anchor, are two fishes.  The fish was an important symbol in the early Church, first of all for Christ Himself.

Epitaph to Antonia Catacomb of Domatilla

Epitaph to Antonia
Catacomb of Domatilla

Another example of the salvific Cross in the Vatican’s Pio Christiano Museum. Here the Cross has a “P” symbolizing “Pax” or Peace with the Alpha and Omega and the Chi-Rho. To be noted is the wreath surrounding the Monogram which is the wreath of victory about which are the baskets of grapes with introduces a Eucaristic theme.

Monogram of Christ Pio Christiano Museum Vatican City

Monogram of Christ
Pio Christiano Museum
Vatican City

Images of Jesus’ crucifixion were not depicted in Christian art until the fourth or fifth century, and in fact, it is believed the early Church avoided this image.  An article in Biblical Archeology Review by Larry Hurtado(March/April 2013) highlights an early crucifixion symbol which sets the date back by 150-200 years. A summary of Mr. Hurtado’s article is found in Bible History Daily.

The Staurogram

The Staurogram

 Alexamenos graffito

This graffiti, carved into plaster, was discovered in 1857 during archeological excavations and was soon dubbed Alexamenos graffito. It is old and faded and the original design is difficult to discern, yet a careful tracing reveals two roughly-drawn figures and a string of Greek characters. To the left is a man raising his hand in adoration, in worship or prayer. To his side, rising above him, is a second man suspended from a cross. Crucifixions were commonplace in ancient Rome and this man looks like we would expect: his arms are outstretched, pinned to a crossbar, his feet are planted upon a platform, he is wearing some kind of a garment that covers his lower body. What distinguishes him from any other crucified criminal is that while he has the body of a man, he has the head of a donkey. The inscription says, “Alexamenos sebetai theon,” “Alexamenos worships his God.

Alexamenos graffito

Alexamenos graffito

 

Alexamenos graffito

Alexamenos graffito

Historians date Alexamenos’ graffiti to approximately 200 A.D., making it the earliest surviving depiction of Jesus upon the cross. Yet this is not a religious icon meant to elicit awe or worship. This graffiti is a mockery of Alexamenos, an ancient Christian, and a mockery of a God who would die the shameful death of a criminal. At the time the graffiti was created there was freedom from systemic persecution, but, Christians were mocked and belittled.  They faced the shame of worshipping a God so many others denied. They faced the shame of worshipping a God who had been put to death as a common criminal. Alexamenos, a Christian,  endured such persecution, a man who proclaimed that Jesus is Lord. He worshipped a God who became man and who endured the most painful and shameful death devised by the minds of that day. And as with so many Christians before and after him, he was mocked for what he believed. 150 years before Alexamenos, the Apostle Paul had written “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Sarcophagi

On early Christian sarcophagi, such as the sarcophagus of Junius Bassus (dated by inscription to AD 359) or the Dogmatic Sarcophagus, scenes from The Passion were represented – just not the episode of the crucifixion. The solution fond by the designer of the mid-4th century Passion Sarcophagus (Vatican, image) was to replace the crucifixion with the Chi-Rho:

Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus, marble, 359 C.E. (Treasury of Saint Peter's Basilica)

Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus, marble, 359 C.E. (Treasury of Saint Peter’s Basilica)

Earliest Narrative

Ivory Casket Plaque 420-450 Roman

Ivory Casket Plaque
420-450
Roman

This plaque is one of four, which though now separated, must originally have been mounted on the four sides of a small square casket. Each is carved with scenes from Christ’s Passion. The other panels depict Christ carrying the Cross, the empty Sepulchre and Doubting Thomas. This is the earliest known narrative portrayal of the Crucifixion. It is combined with another scene of death, the hanging of Judas. The stiff, clothed body of Judas pulls down the branch of a tree and a spilled sack of coins lies at his feet. In contrast the exposed limbs of Christ appear still vigorous, and He gazes at the viewer, triumphant in death. A plaque over Christ’s head is inscribed REX IUD[AEORUM] (‘King of the Jews’). Mary and John stand in similar poses to the left of the cross, while on the right Longinus steps from beneath the arm of the cross across the frame into the viewer’s space. In the branch of the tree which bends towards Christ, a bird feeds her chicks – a symbol of the life-giving power of His death. The depth of the carving – almost three-dimensional – and sense of movement in this particular plaque are typical of the continuation of the classical tradition of ivory carving in Rome.

Santa Sabina

Santa Sabina was built at the top of the Aventine Hill on the site of the Temple of Juno Regina, using many of its materials. The church was an expansion of a Roman house-church (titulus) owned by a woman named Sabina. As was common in ancient Rome, the church preserved the name of the title holder by simply adding “Saint” onto her name. The Church of Santa Sabina was founded around 425 AD by the presbyter Peter of Illyria, who recorded his name and good works in a mosaic inscription (which can still be seen). It was completed by about 432.

Santa Sabina Aventine Hill, Rome

Santa Sabina
Aventine Hill, Rome

Of special interest for the believer are the doors at Santa Sabina for it is here in an upper panel historians believe we have a complete Crucifixion of Jesus. Beautifully carved from dark cypress wood, the ancient door contains 18 panels of narrative carvings, most depicting biblical scenes. Its frame is made of 3rd-century marble spoils.

Door of Santa sabina

Door of Santa sabina

Of particular interest to the believer is a  5c carving believed to be one of the earliest artistic representations of the Crucifixion. Jesus is shown more or less the way we are used to seeing him today, as an athletic young man, bearded and without a halo.

Santa Sabinal Panel

Santa Sabinal Panel

 

At first sight, the crucifixion is also represented in a manner familiar to us. The condemned men are shown wearing loincloths, and — in Jesus’s case, clearly — nailed to the cross thru their palms. (No nails are shown, but notice the angle of his arms, neither tied to the cross with ropes, nor nailed at the wrists.)  Some have argued that the position of all three figures is in the ancient orans position of prayer.

There are several striking differences, however. The crosses seem to be tau-shaped, that is, with no riser, and thus Christ’s has no tabella (the identifying sign recorded in the New Testament, often depicted in later centuries as reading INRI). The men’s feet appear to be resting on the ground: since this completely undoes the mechanics of this type of execution, we have to attribute that to artistic license and the limited space available to the sculptor. On the other hand, their feet are bound, not nailed: and indeed, the nails in the feet are not essential to the method of execution.

Finally, the panel’s background is most unusual. Each of the crucified men is framed by a sort of tempietto, and the pediment on our right even includes some kind of architectural ornament; at the same time, these structures are reduced to mere frameworks, thru which the walls of Jerusalem can be seen.

The Rabulla Gospels

Another invaluable source of how Christians saw their faith are illuminated manuscripts.  The scene below is from the Rabulla Gospels which were completed in 586.  The author Rabulla was probably the head of the scriptorium in the Monastery of St. John in Zagby, in present day Styria.  The text of the Rabulla Gospels is in Syriac.  It may be, however, that the author had access to Byzantine manuscripts with New Testament illustrations.

Rabulla Gospels 6th Century

Rabulla Gospels
6th Century

This depiction of the Passion is important for a number of reasons.  Christ is shown in a colobioum, along sleeveless tunic, as contrasted with the traditional loin cloth.  Christ is shown here with a beard, a tradition which became definitive in the East, whereas before he was shown beardless.  He is also nailed through the ankle rather than the feet.  He is alive on the cross, with no signs of failing. What is most significant is that in the complete image from the Rabulla Gospels is the fact that below the Cross is the empty tomb.

Rabulla Gospel 6th century

Rabulla Gospel
6th century

At this stage of Christianity artists were probably reluctant to probe the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection, but there was an interest in what happened during His three days in the tomb.  At this stage they did not depict the conquest of Hades in art (which will later be addressed) but they did indicate the effect of an explosion of light on the tomb and on the guards. To be noted is the fact that before this date the Resurrection was mainly depicted by showing the women talking to an angel at the empty tomb, or approaching the tomb, as seen in the mosaic image of the empty tom at St. Apolinnare Nuovo in Ravenna.

St. Apolinnare Nuovo 6th Century Ravenna

St. Apolinnare Nuovo
6th Century
Ravenna

In the Rabulla Gospels  the women and the angel have been put to one side, while on the other side the risen Christ is shown greeting them. What Rabulla is demonstrating is is the integral unity of the Cross and Christ risen; a unified vision.  Above we see life is destructible but in the scene below His life is shown as indestructible.

The Jeweled Cross

In the Church of Santa Pudenziana in Rome there is in the apse a mosaic from the fourth century depicting the Crux Gemmata (Jeweled Cross) standing on the hill of Golgotha. The figure of the cross  recalls the True Cross upon which Christ was crucified at Golgotha, but also the Cross in Majesty that will appear alongside Christ on the Day of Judgment, and the Tree of Life that grew at the centre of Paradise. These threefold meanings often reside in combination in early medieval art.

Crux Gemmata St Pudenziana Rome

Crux Gemmata
St Pudenziana
Rome

 

 The Cross In Stone

The influence of the Cross was to be most persistent at the edges of the Roman Empires: to the east in Georgia and Armenia, and outside the Empire to the West, in Ireland.  In these distant parts, it was not in mosaic, ivory or wood, that this mage of the Cross appeared and survived, but in stone. These Crosses appeared, as mentioned in Ireland, but also in Wales and parts of Scotland from the fifth century, particularly from the seventh to ninth centuries.  These crosses show the influence of the pre-Christian standing stones and cary Celtic decorative motifs.

Reask Stone County Kerry 7th Century

Reask Stone
County Kerry
7th Century

On the Muiredach’s  Stone at Monasterboice the most important feature is the continuity with the large Jeweled cross that pilgrims from the fourth century onward saw erected in Jerusalem.

Muiredach's Cross 9-10th century County Louth, Ireland

Muiredach’s Cross
9-10th century
County Louth, Ireland

If may be good to hear what the poet in the ‘Dream of the Rood’ sees in a dream:

The tree itself Borne on the air, light wound about it, -A beam of brightest wood, a beacon clad In overlapping gold, glancing gems Fair at its foot, and five stones, Set in a crux flashed five stones from the Cross tree. Around angels of God All gazed upon it, Since first fashioning  fair. It was not a felon’s gallows, For Holy Ghost beheld it there, And men on mould, and the whole making shone for it -Signum of victory!

Palestrina, O Crux Ave

Christ Dead on the Cross

In the earliest depictions of the Passion that have survived, Christ is shown alive on the Cross.  This occurred in both the East and the West.  The reason for this and the eventual move to show Christ dead on the cross is related to the theological controversies of the time. The Church asserted that Christ was truly human and divine, yet remains one undivided person. How should Christ be depicted on the Cross?  If he was simply shown dead, or in the tomb, people might wonder what happened to His divinity.  from the 4th to the 7th centuries artists chose to avoid these controversies by not showing Him dead on the cross. Change came in the 7th century and the first part of the 8th Century when Christ his shown dead on the Cross.  At this time the Church had resolved its doctrinal issues, leaving the way to find artistic ways to demonstrate all aspects of the truth.

Hosios Loukas  Phocis, Greece

Hosios Loukas
Phocis, Greece

The Harrowing of Hell

A way the Resurrection is depicted in the West is known as the Harrowing of Hell, or the Descent into Hell.  The term is derived from Old English or Middle English We read in the Apostle’s Creed that Jesus “descended into hell.” Some Christians today are unsure about this idea, but it is an ancient and venerable belief of the church. We commemorate this descent on Holy Saturday, the somber Sabbath following Christ’s great labor on the cross. Said Cyril of Alexandria, “When the gatekeepers of hell saw him, they fled; the bronze gates were broken open, and the iron chains were undone” (Ancient Commentary on Scripture 11.107). As fourth-century Spanish poet Prudentius painted the scene, “The door [of hell] is forced and yields before Him; the bolts are torn away; down falls the pivot broken; that gate so ready to receive the inrush, so unyielding in face of those that would return, is unbarred and gives back the dead. . .”

The Harrowing of Hell The Small Hours of Jean, Duke of Berry

The Harrowing of Hell
The Small Hours of Jean, Duke of Berry

The harrowing of hell refers to the events between Jesus’ death and his resurrection. Specifically, the early church believed that after his death Christ descended into hell and rescued all the souls, starting with Adam and Eve, who had died under the Fall. Jesus breaks down the doors of hell and leads the souls of the lost into heaven. This is an obscure teaching in the Western church, but the bible hints at these events:1 P I Peter 3.18-20a For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago… 1 Peter 4.6 For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. Ephesians 4.8-10 This is why it says: “When he ascended on high,he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

Christ's Descent into Limbo by Andrea Mantegna and studio, c. 1470

Christ’s Descent into Limbo by Andrea Mantegna and studio, c. 1470

This belief that Christ descended into hell is also captured in Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:Acts 2.27, 31 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. In the Easter icons of the Orthodox church you see two common motifs. First, if you look at the three icons presented here, you see Christ standing over the broken gates of hell. In the second icon you also see two angels binding Satan in the pit of hell. In the top icon you see Satan crushed under the gates of hell. Next, we see Christ pulling two figures up out of hell. This is Adam and Eve, imprisoned in hell since their deaths. Imprisoned, along with all humanity, due to sin. Eve is generally depicted in a red robe. Beyond iconography, the harrowing of hell is also the dominant symbol of Orthodox Easter liturgies. Again, in Western churches the empty tomb is what you will see depicted on Easter Sunday. But Orthodox services recreate the harrowing of hell. Specifically, the priest exits the church with a cross. The sanctuary is immersed in darkness and the doors are closed. The priest then knocks on the door and proclaims, “Open the doors to the Lord of the powers, the king of glory.” Inside the church the people make a great noise of rattling chains which conveys the resistance of hell to the coming of Christ. Eventually, the doors are opened up, the cross enters, and the church is lit and filled with incense. By focusing on the harrowing of hell the Orthodox shift the focus of Passion Week.  For Protestants the focus of salvation is on the death of Jesus and penal substitutionary atonement. We are saved on Good Friday. For the Orthodox the emphasis is on the resurrection of Jesus and the defeat of death, the Christus Victor themes. We are saved on Easter Sunday. The keys of death and Hades have been taken away from Satan and given over to Jesus:

Revelation 1.12-13, 17-18 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest…When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

The Anastasis

The definitive way the orthodox Church depicts the Resurrection is the scene known in the West, and mentioned above, as the Harrowing of Hell or as the Anastasis, the Greek word for Resurrection.  The image below is from a mosaic in the Church at Daphni near Athens dating from the about 1100.  It shows all the main details as it had evolved over the previous four centuries. Here Christ stabs Satan/Hades with his great cross and the broken gates and bars of hell are seen.  With one hand Christ pulls Adam out of the grave, while next to him Eve pleadingly waits her turn.  Next to her are King David and King Solomon.  On the other side John the Baptist stands with raised arm indicating Christ.

Daphni Monastery (near Athens) Second half of the 11th century

Daphni Monastery (near Athens)
Second half of the 11th century

Another influence behind the iconography of the scene,  in addition to the material already mentioned above in the sections entitled “The Harrowing of Hell,” was probably derived from the way emperors were depicted liberating scenes from their enemies.  Roman coins over a number of centuries show the emperor with right hand out outstretched and pulling a figure towards him. The Anastasis symbolizes  Christ’s conquest over evil and death, holding hope to the whole of humanity, the departed as well as the living.  Besides mosaics and stone reliefs the expression of the Anastasis is most powerfully found in poetry and drama, such as the medieval miracle plays where the Anastasis is re-enacted. In The Wakefield Mystery Play, the Harrowing of Hell, Jesus speaks to Adam:

Peace to thee, Adam, my darling,

And eke to all thine offspring

That righteous were in earth living;

From me you shall not sever.

To bliss now I will you bring;

There you shall be without ending.

Michael, lead these men singing

To joy that lasteth ever.

Verses: 189-196

 

The Cosmic Crucifixion

In the year 800, Charlemagne, the King of the Franks, was crowned Roman Emperor by the Pope.  It marked an attempt to revise and re-establish the Roman Empire in the West. The art of the Carolingian period tolerated scenes of the Passion, as seen in the ivory panel below which depicts the Crucifixion and was meant to be a book cover.  This plaque was made in Metz during the third quarter of the ninth century and is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Ivory Crucifixion Book Cover Metz, 9th C. Victoria and Albert Museum

Ivory Crucifixion Book Cover
Metz, 9th C.
Victoria and Albert Museum

At the top in the center in two circular plaques, set one above another, are the sun and moon.  While they certainly pickup references to the sun and moon in the Bible, but here, the reference is probably a straightforward one, namely the sun and moon look down to Christ in sorrow, wonder and adoration. Two angels on either side of the Cross bend to receive Christ’s soul while on the left side below, the Church receives the blood from the side of Christ, symbolizing the Eucharist, while on the opposite side the Synagogue, with a banner, looks up in awe.  At either side are the familiar figures are Mary and John.  By the Cross stand Longinus, with his lance, and Stephaton, with the sponge, people who appear in the apocryphal accounts of the Crucifixion. At the bottom of the second register, the dead emerge from circular mausolia.  A snake winds around the foot of the cross symbolizing Christ’s conquest of evil, while below the snake in the bottom register, there are symbolic figures of Water, riding a sea monster and Earth, clutching her children to herself and greenery coming from one hand. The image the artist has created and which he wanted to celebrate was the universal and cosmic centrality of Christ’s Crucifixion. (The crucifixion is dotted with hole, which originally contained gold stud.)

A Sense of the Poignant

This crucifix is 6’2” in height and is the earliest monumental sculpture of the crucified Christ still in existence. Made of wood and painted, it was commissioned in 970 by Gero, Archbishop of Cologne, Germany, for his cathedral.

Gero Crucifixion c. 975 Cologne Cathedral

Gero Crucifixion
c. 975
Cologne Cathedral

In the Gero Crucifixion there is no concentration on suffering as such.  What is caught and conveyed is the sheer weight of Christ’s body, hanging and yet in repose. This a very human Christ who actually hangs upon the cross, his body sagging from dead weight.  The muscles and skin are stretched from the shoulders across the chest. The stomach bulges out from the weight of the torso pressing down from above. The eyes of Christ are closed in death and blood streams down across His forehead. The lips are contorted and the mouth at the corners hangs down. Between the bottom lip and the chin a deep cup indicates that the head fell down onto the chest at the moment of death. This is not a serene image.

Gero Crucifixion c. 975 Cologne Cathedral

Gero Crucifixion
c. 975
Cologne Cathedral

Here is dignity, serenity and restraint, conveyed in the fine, graceful lines.  This is the kind of restraint that at once hides and conveys powerful emotion.  As Richard Harries comments in his work The Passion in Art:  “..it is poignant without any suggestion of emotional bludgeoning.  The suffering is accepted rather than abject.” The Gero Crucifix is the oldest surviving example of a  free standing Christian sculpture in the West, and it is remarkable for that alone.

Gero Crucifixion c. 975 Cologne Cathedral

Gero Crucifixion
c. 975
Cologne Cathedral

Christ Reigns from the Cross as Priest and King

From the eleventh to the early thirteen century the Romanesque style flourished.  While known for its architecture this period also saw a great birth of monumental sculpture.  This for the most part consisted of relief sculpture in stone, subordinate to the architecture, and placed in an overall framework provided by the building.

Pórtico da Gloria, Santiago Cathedral 1180

Pórtico da Gloria, Santiago Cathedral
1180

Some fine free-standing carvings in wood and metal were also created during this period.  Romanesque sculpture has a somewhat semi-abstract style.  The artists were not so much interested in a natural style.  There is very often a linear or abstract element in the work which can convey calmness, severity or excitement.  The tympanum seen over the main door of Romanesque cathedrals seems to capture  all three qualities just mentioned.

The late Romanesque tympanum of Vézelay Abbey, Burgundy, France, dating from the 1130s

The late Romanesque tympanum of Vézelay Abbey, Burgundy, France, dating from the 1130s

Nevertheless, some fine free-standing carving in metal and wood was also produced. The most striking form of crucifixion in this period is one which shows Christ in triumph, reigning from a tree.  he is depicted in a long-sleeved robe, with a distinctive belt rather than a loin-cloth and half naked.  The most famous image of the Romanesque period, the so-called ‘Volto Santo’, Holy Face, in the Cathedral of St. Martin at Lucca.

Volto Santo Cathedral of St. Martin Lucca, Italy 11th Century

Volto Santo
Cathedral of St. Martin
Lucca, Italy
11th Century

According to medieval legend, Nicodemus did all the carving work but the face, which he hesitated to complete for fear of not doing it justice. He fell asleep, and upon awaking found the face beautifully carved – the miraculous work of an angel. The Crucifix of the Holy Face was buried in a cave for safekeeping, where it remained for centuries. It was rediscovered by Bishop Gualfredo, who was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land when its location was revealed to him in a dream. To allow God to decide where the Crucifix should be kept, the bishop set it adrift on an unmanned boat in the Mediterranean Sea. The Volto Santo arrived on the shores of northern Italy, where the Bishop of Lucca, also prompted by a dream, put it into a wagon with no driver to determine its final location. The two oxen pulling the wagon stopped of their own accord at Lucca in 782. The Volto Santo was placed in the Church of San Frediano, but the next morning, it was found to have been miraculously transferred to San Martino. For this reason, the legend explains, San Martino was designated the cathedral of Lucca (an honor previously held by Santi Giovanni e Reparata).

Legend of the Procession of the Volto Santo

Legend of the Procession of the Volto Santo

At the end of the 11th and 12th centuries the Book of Revelation played an important part in the Spiritual life of the time.  Illuminated manuscripts and wall paintings represent John’s vision in Chapter 1, with its description of the risen Christ as a high priest ‘clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast.’

Volto Santo Cathedral of St. Martin Lucca, Italy 11th Century

Volto Santo
Cathedral of St. Martin
Lucca, Italy
11th Century

There are two feast days for Il Volto Santo, May 3 and September 14.  On those days, he is dressed in the magnificent crown, collar and belt and viewed in the Cathedral. In addition,  in September there is the traditional procession known as the Luminaria where he moves through the streets of Lucca from San Frediano back to San Martino.

The Tree of Suffering

The tenth century saw an emphasis on the suffering of Christ on the Cross.  This was reinforced by the work of some of the great theologians in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.  Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury dealt with the intensity of Christ’s suffering.

Amesbury Psalter, c.1250

Amesbury Psalter, c.1250

Because of its beauty I have included an extract of Anselm’s Prayer to Christ:

Why, O my soul, were you not there to be pierced by a sword of bitter sorrow —when you could not bear the piercing of the side of your Saviour with a lance? Why could you not bear to see the nails violate the hands and feet of your Creator Why did you not see with horror the blood that poured out of the side of your Redeemer ? Why were you not drunk with bitter tears when they gave him bitter gall to drink? Why did you not share the sufferings of the most pure virgin, his worthy mother and your gentle lady what can I say about the fountains that flowed from your most pure eyes when you saw your only Son before you, bound, beaten and hurt? What do I know of the flood that drenched your matchless face, when you beheld your Son, your Lord, and your God, stretched on the cross without guilt, when the flesh of your flesh was cruelly butchered by wicked men? How can I judge what sobs troubled your most pure breast when you heard, ‘Woman, behold your son’ and the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother,’ when you received as a son the disciple in place of the master, the servant for the lord?

This  emphasis on the suffering of Christ increased through the Gothic period.

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The Cologne crosses in the slideshow are the product of the experience and expression of the Black Death which  was ravaging Europe where as much as 50% of the people died. To express Christ’s solidarity with the people, these crosses began to spring up in churches throughout Europe. Another person who emphasized the suffering of Christ was St. Francis of Assisi.  He did so before he experienced the stigmata in 1224; an event which gave further emphasis and impetus to the wounds of Christ.

Giotto 1295–1300  Louvre, Paris

Giotto
1295–1300
Louvre, Paris

An interesting historical event took place in 1239 when king Louis IX of France received what was claimed to be the Crown of Thorns from Constantinople.  In fact depictions of this crown indicate that it was a wreath of rushes.  (Please refer to the Amesbury Psalter image above.) In the early 14th century the Crown of Thorns, as we know it, came to be depicted.

Reliquary Crown of Thorns Notre Dame De Paris

Reliquary
Crown of Thorns
Notre Dame De Paris

 

Procession of the Crown of Thorns from Notre Dame to Sainte Chappelle, Paris March, 2014

Procession of the Crown of Thorns from Notre Dame to Sainte Chappelle, Paris
March,21, 2014

 A Lily Crucifix

In Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries there developed and unusual, haunting and beautiful depiction of the Crucifixion:  Christ is shown crucified, not on a Cross, but on a lily. There are fifteen lily crucifixes in England. Below are a few beautiful examples

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The origin of the idea lies in the biblical writing that Jesus was descended from Jesse. the father of King David.  The text of Isaiah 11:1: ‘A shoot shall grow up from the stem of Jesse’ received pictorial form in the ‘Tree of Jesse’. Sometimes at the apex of this tree a lily and hanging on the lily is Christ crucified. The relevant fact here is that  March 25 , the Feast of the Annunciation, was thought by people in medieval times also to be the day on which Christ was crucified.  Since Mary is symbolized in the lily and she conceived Christ on March 25, so also on that day he is crucified, giving birth to our redemption.

The Man of Sorrows

Israhel van Meckenem Man of Sorrow c. 1490 Engraving

Israhel van Meckenem
Man of Sorrow
c. 1490
Engraving

The image of The Man of Sorrows has often been described as the most precise visual expression of late medieval piety.   Richard Harries explains  that The Man of Sorrows brings image and viewer  together with a religious intensity that has rarely been surpassed. Simpler forms of The Man of Sorrows displayed only Christ’s head and shoulders, with the eyes shut and the head inclined.  These works were from the Byzantine period and usually used for private devotion, usually as part of a triptych.  The image of Christ in the center with Mary and John on either side.

Akra Tapeinosis (Man of Sorrows); wall painting dating from the 16th century in the Prothesis conch of the small Agios Georgios church (photo by Sp. Panagiotopoulos).

Akra Tapeinosis (Man of Sorrows); wall painting dating from the 16th century in the Prothesis conch of the small Agios Georgios church

The more usual form of The Man of Sorrow was like van Meckenem’s.  Here is a half length figure of Christ’s suffering in front of the cross with arms folded over his breast.  A mosaic icon of this type was taken to the Church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme Rome from Constantinople in 1300.

The Akra Tapeinosis (Man of Sorrows). Mosaic icon with a silver frame, ca. 1300. Rome, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

The Akra Tapeinosis (Man of Sorrows). Mosaic icon with a silver frame, ca. 1300. Rome, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

A Franciscan prayer of 1300 was identified as a prayer said before this icon reads: ‘O how intensely thou embraced me, good Jesu, when the blood went forth from thy heart, the water from thy side, the soul from thy body.  Most sweet youth, what hast thou done that thou should’st suffer so?  Surely I, too, am the cause of  they sorrow.’

In the West, this particular image of The Man of Sorrows gained more prestiege when it became associated that the image of the suffering Christ had come in a vision to the great Pope Gregory (540-604) while he was saying Mass.

Christ Rises from the Grave

As mentioned earlier, Christian art was a reluctant to depict the actual mystery of Christ rising from the grave. The portrayal of the Resurrection saw either the women at the empty tomb of as seen in the slide show below, or in the Anastasis already mentioned.

There was a reluctance to give expression to the bodily expression of Jesus Resurrection in Italy.  The exception is the fresco by Piero della Francesco (1410) found in the town hall in Sansepolcro.  Some critics of the painiting find it too literalistic. Here Christ faces us in majesty, with the traditional banner of the resurrection indicating His triumph over death.  Below the soldiers sleep, with one possibly a self portrait of the artist.  In sleep, it could be they are dreaming the scene.  The wounds remain of Christ’s body, but the flesh is beautiful and the body is classical.  This painting touched the agnostic Aldous Huxley who in his essay entitled “The Best Picture” made the claim that a this fresco painting by was “the greatest picture in the world.”  For your meditation I have presented “the best picture” in a large format.

PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA  Resurrection  1463-65  Mural in fresco and tempera, 225 x 200 cm  Pinacoteca Comunale, Sansepolcro

PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA
Resurrection
1463-65
Mural in fresco and tempera, 225 x 200 cm
Pinacoteca Comunale, Sansepolcro

 

The Agony of the Cross

The art historian Jane Dilenburger called the Isenheim Altarpiece, ‘A work of such tremendous and dismal grandeur of expression that nothing on earth seems to equal it.’ The theologian Paul Tillich said  it was the greatest German picture ever painted.

An even more important factor for understanding the painting is the fact that it was painted for the Order of Saint Anthony, who tended the sick, especially those afflicted with St. Anthony’s fire or ergosim, a disease which caused horrific lesions  and eruptions of the skin.  Tradition claims that each new patient was brought before the altarpiece in the hope of a miracle.  If the miracle did not occur in the painting Christ shared not only their suffering, but their disease.  Here Christ was with them in their agony and in receiving the Eucharist Christ would sustain them.

Grunewald expresses the reality that Christ, like us, experiences the violence of life but it is not without hope because seen in the bottom of the painting the dead Christ prepares for his entombment and rests in the hope of the Resurrection.

GRÜNEWALD, Matthias  Isenheim Altarpiece (first view)  c. 1515  Oil on wood  Musée d'Unterlinden, Colmar

GRÜNEWALD, Matthias
Isenheim Altarpiece (first view)
c. 1515
Oil on wood
Musée d’Unterlinden, Colmar

Jesus Alone

The portray of Jesus alone on the Cross became popular in the 17th century.  before this period, it was popular to include individual, and at time, large anonymous crowds.  In the 17th century a number of artist followed the theme of the solitary Christ.

The White Crucifixion

Pope Francis, is a devoted fan of Chagall, and his favorite is the artist’s “White Crucifixion,” a 1938 painting on display at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Chagall painted “White Crucifixion” in France, in response to Kristallnacht.

Marc Chagall  White Crucifixion, 1938 Oil on canvas  154.6 x 140 cm (60 7/8 x 55 1/16 in.)

Marc Chagall
White Crucifixion, 1938
Oil on canvas
154.6 x 140 cm (60 7/8 x 55 1/16 in.)

Christ crucified is in the center, but Chagall himself said later, it is by no means a ‘Christian’ picture. The scenes that surround the Cross – a shattered village, a pillaged burning synagogue – tell its real meaning. It is a Christ who symbolizes the Jews who suffered at the hands of the Nazis.

If we look more closely at this mirage of scenes, we see on the upper left there is a horrified woman and three rabbis fleeing; a little below them to the left soldiers carrying red banners press forward killing villagers and destroying their houses and obliging others to flee across the water in a boat.

Detail

Detail

On the top right there is a being burned by a Nazi brownshirt with Nazi flags flying above the flames. The synagogue’s furniture and books are thrown out into the street.

Detail

Detail

Below, on both sides of the Cross, we see people running from those persecutions to hide and save the Jewish religious books and symbols from desecration. Among these fleeing people, there is one in blue at left who wears a placard, which said ‘Ich bin Jude’ (‘I am a Jew’).

At right below the Cross a white light comes from a scroll of the Torah and moves up a ladder to the Cross. The light is traversed by a green clad figure carrying a bundle. This figure appears in a number of Chagall’s painting and has been interpreted as the wanderer Jewish of Yiddish tradition.

Detail

Detail

Dominating the picture in the center is the figure of Christ crucified. But this is very much a Jewish Christ who wears a Jewish tallith instead of a loincloth. His head is covered by a bandana. Over his head written in Hebrew and Latin are the words ‘King of the Jews.’ Below, at his feet burns a menorah – strangely, with only six candles, one unlit – which is surrounded by a halo like the one that frames his head.  On Christ’s right is a ladder propped against the Cross.  The ladder has been interpreted as Jacob’s ladder reaching to heaven.

 

Posted in Crucifixions, Early Art, Faith, Symbolism, Uncategorized

Mary’s Child With Symbols

LEONARDO da Vinci  Madonna with a Flower (Madonna Benois)  c. 1478  Oil on canvas transferred from wood, 50 x 32 cm  The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

LEONARDO da Vinci
Madonna with a Flower (Madonna Benois)
c. 1478
Oil on canvas transferred from wood, 50 x 32 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

This painting is one of the few surviving works by the young Leonardo. He presents the traditional subject as a genre scene, in which a young mother, shown with the dress and hairstyle fashionable in Leonardo’s time, is playing with her son. She holds out a four-petalled flower to her child. This traditional symbol of the Cross is taken by the Child as an innocent toy, which he seeks to grasp in his first attempts to know the world.

DAVID, Gerard  Madonna and Child with the Milk Soup  c. 1520  Oil on oak, 35 x 29 cm  Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

DAVID, Gerard
Madonna and Child with the Milk Soup
c. 1520
Oil on oak, 35 x 29 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

Several versions of this picture are known, all attributed to Gerard David, whose style and painting technique they display. The presentation of the Virgin in the foreground, half turned toward the viewer, allows us to enter the intimacy of this domestic interior, with its window opened onto a contemporary townscape. A basket and a prayer-book taken out of its cover are lying on a console against the wall. To the left, a cupboard carries an earthenware jug and a small bunch of flowers. As an attentive mother, the Virgin delicately takes the soup for her Son whom she is holding seated on her knees. He is dressed in a light linen shirt and is also playing at holding a wooden spoon. This highly realistic representation of a spoon-fed meal is a variation of the theme, more common at the time, of the Virgin nursing the Child. The Child fed by the Virgin is a metaphor of the believer nourished by his mother the Church and by Christ himself. The bread at the front of the scene and the jug on the cupboard are the eucharistic symbols of his body and his blood. The very idea of Christ’s incarnation through which humanity has been saved is evoked here.

Botticelli Madonna of the Magnificat (Madonna del Magnificat) 1480-81  Tempera on panel, diameter 118 cm  Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Botticelli
Madonna of the Magnificat (Madonna del Magnificat)
1480-81
Tempera on panel, diameter 118 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

The pomegranate which the mother and child are both holding is a symbol of the Passion and adds to the basic melancholy and meditative mood of the painting.

BOTTICELLI, Sandro  Madonna of the Pomegranate (Madonna della Melagrana)  c. 1487  Tempera on panel, diameter 143,5 cm  Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

BOTTICELLI, Sandro
Madonna of the Pomegranate (Madonna della Melagrana)
c. 1487
Tempera on panel, diameter 143,5 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

The picture’s title is explained by the pomegranate in Mary’s hand: this should be understood as symbolizing Christ’s Passion, the wealth of seeds conveying the fullness of Christ’s suffering. A comparison of this painting with Botticelli’s earlier tondo Madonna del Magnificat reveals that the artist has now arranged the angels symmetrically, thereby avoiding the compositional difficulties of the older depiction.

The Christ Child, whose hand is raised in blessing, is lying securely in the arms of Mary, but the sad, melancholy expression on the faces of mother and child are intended to remind the observer of the torments the Son of God will suffer in the future. The angels are worshipping Mary with lilies and garlands of roses.

Madonna of Humility (Virgin and Child) c. 1442  Tempera on wood, 56 x 43 cm  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Madonna of Humility (Virgin and Child)
c. 1442
Tempera on wood, 56 x 43 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In this Madonna of Humility Mary sits on a cushion in a flowered clearing surrounded by an orange grove.

In the Bible, a passage in the Psalms says that the upright man is like the tree whose leaves never fall.  Many images of ever-green trees, including the orange, which are seen repeatedly in Renaissance representations of Paradise, derive from this reference.

At times the plant is identified with the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which is also an allusion to Original Sin, but also to our redemption by Christ.  In other symbolism the orange is sometimes believed to be the fruit with which Satan tempted Eve at the Fall instead of the usual apple.  In the image below, the orange tree  appears in the picture of Madonna and Child signifying the redeeming purpose of the Incarnation. In this context, I would also say that within CIMA da Conegliano’s  painting you have Mary and the Christ Child as the New Adam and the New Eve being venerated by St. Louis of France and St. Jerome.

CIMA da Conegliano Madonna of the Orange Tree c. 1495  Tempera and oil on panel, 212 x 139 cm  Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

CIMA da Conegliano
Madonna of the Orange Tree
c. 1495
Tempera and oil on panel, 212 x 139 cm
Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice

In Flemish paintings, as in so many works, the orange is a symbol of redemption.  Interesting to note is that the Dutch term for orange is sinaasappel which means “Chinese Apple.”  Joos van Cleve’s Holy Family is such an example

CLEVE, Joos van  The Holy Family  -  Oil on canvas transferred from wood, 43 x 32 cm  The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

CLEVE, Joos van
The Holy Family

Oil on canvas transferred from wood, 43 x 32 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Grain is the preeminent fruit of the earth and appears in many episodes in the Scripture.  It is, as mentioned, closely related to the Eucharist.  As seen in the Portinari Altar Piece. It is can be found in Nativity scenes, where the the Christ Child lies in,  or is placed on piled stalks of gain or wheat in anticipation of the Eucharist.  A similar allusion to Christ’s future sacrifice appears in representations of the Virgin and Child where the baby Jesus is holding a few stalks of wheat or some bread in His hand, sometimes with a cluster of grapes.  Below the symbolism of grain is demonstrated in  Sandro Botticelli’s Madonna of the Eucharist.

Sandro Botticelli Madonna and Child with an Angel c. 1470  Tempera on wood, 84 x 65 cm  Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

Sandro Botticelli
Madonna and Child with an Angel
c. 1470
Tempera on wood, 84 x 65 cm
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

The pear, seen in Mother and Child paintings,  symbolically derives from afrom a passage in the Psalms that invites one to taste and se the how good the Lord is.  For this reason, as well, the pear may allude to the sweetness of virtue. The pear, rarely used except in paintings of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, can also symbolize the fruit of Mary’s womb. For some, however, the pear can be identified with the famous tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden.

Albrecht Durer Madonna and Child With A Pear 1526  Oil on wood, 43 x 32 cm  Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Albrecht Durer
Madonna and Child With A Pear
1526
Oil on wood, 43 x 32 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

The Rose, Coral and Carination will conclude, at this time, the symbols of Mary and her Child.

For me, no one has presented a more beautiful symbolic Rose the Stefan Lochner

LOCHNER, Stefan  Madonna of the Rose Garden  c. 1440  Oil on panel, 51 x 40 cm  Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne

LOCHNER, Stefan
Madonna of the Rose Garden
c. 1440
Oil on panel, 51 x 40 cm
Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne

The Christian tradition sees the rose with its thorns as an image of the torments of martyrs, but they are associated with the Virgin Mary who is called a “rose without thorns.”  This may refer to St. Ambrose’s legend that the rose grew,  without thorns, in the

garden of Eden.  After the Fall, it became an earthly plant,  and a reminder of the Fall from Grace.  The scent and beauty remained as a poignant reminder of the lost perfection of Paradise.

Its five petals of the wild rose are equated with the five joys of Mary.

Coral in ancient Rome and during the Middle Ages as believed to have curative powers.  It was also thought to ward off evil spells.  Pliny recounts that people would put coral around babies’ necks as a charm against danger.  As can be seen in the della Francesca work talismanic qualities were carried over into Christian iconography where the Christ Child has a twig of coral or necklace of coral around his neck as a sign of protection.

PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA  Madonna of Senigallia  c. 1470  Panel, 61 x 53 cm  Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino

PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA
Madonna of Senigallia
c. 1470
Panel, 61 x 53 cm
Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino

The carnation is a symbol of pure love, and according to legend, is to said to have sprung originally from the tears shed by Mary on her way to Calvary.  It became the symbol of motherly love, and in modern times is sold on Mother’s day.  The pink also became a symbol of fidelity.  During the fifteenth century the carnation was also a popular of Christ or he Virgin Mary.  It also represented the nails driven into the hands and feet of Jesus during the Crucifixion, from its fragrance, like that of the nail-shaped clove.

DÜRER, Albrecht  The Madonna of the Carnation  1516  Parchment on pine, 36 x 25 cm  Alte Pinakothek, Munich

DÜRER, Albrecht
The Madonna of the Carnation
1516
Parchment on pine, 36 x 25 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Image | Posted on by

Say It With Mary’s Flowers

Ancient people articulated and made sense of their lives through the powerful use of symbols.  We sometimes forget that Christianity, while creating its unique symbols,  absorbed such symbols always adding the dimension of faith.

In Christian symbolism the essence of the flower-its growing characteristics, its shape, color, its scent-coordinate to make a unified whole.  Often flowers and fruits may be purely decorative.  When they figure prominently in a work,  embellish the borders of a painting,  book of hours, pulpits or statuary they usually make a symbolic reference.

MEMLING, Hans  Flower Still-life  c. 1490  Oil on oak panel, 29,2 x 22,5 cm  Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

MEMLING, Hans
Flower Still-life
c. 1490
Oil on oak panel, 29,2 x 22,5 cm
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

 

Here is Memling’s exquisite still life.  A small Italian majolica vase stands on an Oriental carpet in a niche. It holds a bouquet of lilies, irises and columbines, symbolizing Mary’s virginity, her suffering and Christ’s birth and death. The vase also bears Christ’s monogram. This flower piece not only argues in favor of a central panel depicting a Virgin and Child, it must also be viewed as a kind of emblem of the donor’s personal Christian vocation.

Mary’s Flowers

BOTTICELLI, Sandro  Bardi Altarpiece (detail)  1484  Tempera on panel  Staatliche Museen, Berlin

BOTTICELLI, Sandro
Bardi Altarpiece (detail)
1484
Tempera on panel
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

In this detail of the Bardi Altarpiece Mary is depicted enthroned in an arbour niche . The detailed fashioning of the meadow flowers and the plants in the arbor niche call to mind Primavera, which Botticelli painted at almost the same time, clearly indicating the temporal proximity of the two works. The flowers represent a eulogy in symbolic form of the Mother of God, the significance allotted each of them being explained by means of thin banderoles attached to the individual plants. With reference to the roses which fill the bowls on the back-rest of the throne bench, for example, we may read, “Like a rose-tree in Jericho”; the olive branches in the copper vases behind them bear the comparison, “Like a beautiful olive tree in an open field”.

GOES, Hugo van der  Portinari Triptych  1476-79  Oil on wood, 253 x 586 cm  Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

GOES, Hugo van der
Portinari Triptych
1476-79
Oil on wood, 253 x 586 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

 This large triptych is the most important work of the Flemish artist Hugo van der Goes.  The triptych had an enormous impact, noticeably influencing the art of manuscript illustration in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.

In contrast to the grey Flemish December seen in the background, two vases in the center of the composition are full of summer flowers, out of the seasonal rhythm because of their symbolic power.

detail

detail

Various meaning have been given to this scene.   The sheaf of wheat in the foreground(which recalls Bethlehem, “the house of bread”), probably alludes to the Eucharist and the Passion. The wheat refers to the Last Supper, where Christ broke the bread. The vine leaves and grapes on  the vase relate to the wine.

The orange lilies refer to the Passion (the red carnations symbolize  the bloodied nails of Christ’s cross.) The columbine, because of its association with the Latin word for dove, columba is seen, at times, to represent the gifts of the Holy Spirit  because there are seven flowers on each stalk.   White irises can symbolize purity but  they are also  called a ‘sword lily’ after the shape of its leaf, so it may symbolize the Seven Sorrows of Mary especially when joined with the purple irises and the number of its flowers being seven.Thus, taken as  a whole, this scene of Christ’s Nativity prefigures the later Salvation  which he achieves through his death.

Picture3

Further Imagery and Legend

The three types of flora and fauna, the lilies, the columbine stalks and the
sheaf of wheat in addition to the three panels of the altarpiece relates to the
holy trinity and four was the number which was the number of man (that is man
had four limbs, elements, seasons and stages of life). Further symbolism of the
number seven relating to the columbine stalks are the seven sacraments, seven
sins, seven virtues and also seven symbolised an eternal joining of man and God.

Hortus Conclusus

Hortus conclusus is the archetype of an enclosed garden.  A walled garden, one with a fenced enclosure, became synonymous with the term “garden” in medieval times. In Roman Catholic Mariology the source of inspiration for Marian garden iconography is based on the quotation from the Song of Songs which reads,”Soror mea sponsa; hortus conclusus, fons signatus,” or “my sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up.”Aadditionally  in Verse 4:11 it is written: ”  “Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.” These short verses have  inspired visual symbols of Mary as vehicle of the Incarnation. She is the perpetual virgin, garden of everlasting life and source of nourishment for that life, and exemplar of the feminine ideal in medieval Christian imaginations.  Hortus conclusus imagery was the beautiful windfall of preaching and literature in northern Western Europe, including the cities along the Rhine River in the German Empire and in the Low Countries, and its contribution as a symbol of the Virgin Mary has prevailed throughout the ages.

 

LOCHNER, Stefan  Triptych with the Virgin and Child in an Enclosed garden  1445-50  Oil on oak panel, 31,3 x 227,5 cm (central), 30,6 x 10,3 cm (each wing)  Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne

LOCHNER, Stefan
Triptych with the Virgin and Child in an Enclosed garden
1445-50
Oil on oak panel, 31,3 x 227,5 cm (central), 30,6 x 10,3 cm (each wing)
Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne

The Virgin Mary sits on the flowery Mass of the Hortus Conclusus, the enclosed garden of Paradise.  The wall is fortified turning Mary into a fortress of virginity.  The flowers on the lawn, the white and red roses around the Virgin’s head and the red rose she is giving to the Christ-child are common symbols of her virginity as already  mentioned.  In the Cologne tradition small blue angels crown her as the Queen of Heaven.  Mary is flanked on either side by St. John the Evangelist and Saint Paul.

One of my favorite, and I might add most crowded images, of the Hortus Conclusus, is done by a called Rhenish Master of the Garden of Paradise.   Twenty-four plants and twelve species of birds are accurately represented here.

Master of the Upper Rhine The Garden of Eden c. 1410  Tempera on wood, 26,3 x 33,4 cm  Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt

Master of the Upper Rhine
The Garden of Eden
c. 1410
Tempera on wood, 26,3 x 33,4 cm
Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt

Here again is the Virgin Mary and her child in the company of male and female saints.  This is a secluded corner of a castle garden. A peaceful place protected by a wall from the violent outer world.but now within a bordered garden symbolizing again Mary’s virginity and purity.

The Saints comport themselves to the left. Some identify St. Dorothy to the left picking cherries from a trees with a twisted trunk.  Cherries are sometimes called “the fruit of paradise’, and it is often seen with the Virgin and Child as a hint to viewers of eternal reward .

The trees flanking the scene represent the Tree of Life—with a twisted trunk to suggest the serpent—to the left, and the Tree of Knowledge—held by St. Sebastian—to the right. St. Michael has tamed the Satan monkey; St. George’s dragon lies belly up to suggest it has been slain. This may suggest the quotation from Matthew 3:9-10: “Already the ax is laid to the roots  of the trees; and every tree that fails to produce good fruit is thrown down and thrown onto the fire.” Michael muses over the symbol of the monkey chained to the tree reflecting man’s lust In summary, the world of evil has been conquered.
This is a world surround by flowers. The garden resembles the popular millefleurs which  literally means “thousand flowers” and refers to a background made of many small flowers and plants.  Note the foreground of the Garden of Paradise.
Detail

Detail

Cherries

Cherries

While associated with St. Dorothy, they are also an allusion to the blood Christ will set on the cross.

Lilies of the Valley

Lilies of the Valley

A symbol of the Virgin Mary as expressed in the Song of Songs, 2:1, “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valley.’

Irises

Irises

It is also called the “sword lily’ after the shape of its pointed leaves, so it symbolizes the ‘Sorrows of the Virgin Mary.’

I would like to conclude with three very unique images of the Hortus Conclusus garden, and a most familiar one.

ANGELICO, Fra  The Annunciation  1430-32  Tempera on wood, 194 x 194 cm  Museo del Prado, Madrid

ANGELICO, Fra
The Annunciation
1430-32
Tempera on wood, 194 x 194 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Here are two gardens with two meanings.

Posted in Uncategorized

Presentation of the Lord

Today we celebrate the Presentation of the Lord.  It is a feast that cannot be celebrated in isolation, but only in the light of the other earlier events in Christ’s life.  In his book, The Mill and the Cross, a commentary on Brueghel’s  Christ Carrying His Cross  Michael Gibson encourages the viewer to break up the narrative by “going over the painting from left to right as though it were a printed page.  And since this is the usual direction of reading in our part of the world, whatever stands to the left of the picture must already be drifting into the past.”

Rogier Van der Weyden St Columba Altarpiece c. 1455  Oil on oak panel, 138 x 153 cm (central), 138 x 70 cm (each wing)  Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Rogier Van der Weyden
St Columba Altarpiece
c. 1455
Oil on oak panel, 138 x 153 cm (central), 138 x 70 cm (each wing)
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Rogier Van der Weyden does this in his Columba Altar piece, made for the Church of St. Columba in Cologne.  In the middle panel is the Adoration of the Magi and on the side panels Mary’s Annunciation and the Presentation of Jesus in the temple. Here there is brilliant coloration and a detail which brings a solemnity to all the figures presented.

Before examining the right panel of the Presentation notice the hidden symbols in the entire work such as the crucified figure above the new born, and the fall of man on the prie dieu in the Annunciation, and the “New Eve” motif.  Symbolically these narratives bring us to the right panel.

Detail St Columba Altarpiece c. 1455  Oil on oak panel, 138 x 153 cm (central), 138 x 70 cm (each wing)  Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Detail
St Columba Altarpiece
c. 1455
Oil on oak panel, 138 x 153 cm (central), 138 x 70 cm (each wing)
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

The Right Panel

St Columba Altarpiece c. 1455  Oil on oak panel, 138 x 153 cm (central), 138 x 70 cm (each wing)  Alte Pinakothek, Munich

St Columba Altarpiece
c. 1455
Oil on oak panel, 138 x 153 cm (right), 138 x 70 cm (each wing)
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Here is the Gospel of the day.

In a building which resembles a baptistery, Mary, Jospeh, Simeon and Anna gather along with three other participants.    The two on the far right are customary witnesses.  The elegant, worldly woman on the right with the contraposta stance in the left foreground is Mary’s servant who carries the doves.  I would like to point out that  the fact that she is dressed the same way as the Magdalene in the Braque Triptych.  The presence of the dog may be purely anecdotal or a symbol of loyalty.

WEYDEN, Rogier van der  Braque Family Triptych (right wing)  c. 1450  Oil on oak panel, 41 x 34 cm  Musée du Louvre, Paris

WEYDEN, Rogier van der
Braque Family Triptych (right wing)
c. 1450
Oil on oak panel, 41 x 34 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Simeon Prays:

Simeon’s song of praise.  Date circa 1700-1710  Medium oil on canvas  Dimensions Height: 94.5 cm (37.2 in). Width: 107.5 cm (42.3  Royal Picture Gallery  Mauritshuis

Aert de Gelder  Simeon’s Song of praise.
Date circa 1700-1710
Medium oil on canvas
Dimensions Height: 94.5 cm (37.2 in). Width: 107.5 cm (42.3
Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis

For your meditation I have included the Nunc Dimmittis in G by Charles Villiers Stanford

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PE1qHKz08K4

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed  (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Here is Simeon’s prophecy fulfilled.

ISENBRANT, Adriaen  Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows  1518-35  Panel  O.L. Vrouwekerk, Bruges

ISENBRANT, Adriaen
Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows
1518-35
Panel
O.L. Vrouwekerk, Bruges

Now There Was One, Anna, A Prophetess

REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn  The Prophetess Anna (known as 'Rembrandt's Mother')  1631  Oil on panel, 60 x 48 cm  Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn
The Prophetess Anna (known as ‘Rembrandt’s Mother’)
1631
Oil on panel, 60 x 48 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Not dissimilar to Joseph in the nativity narratives,  Anna has gotten short shrift.   The Scriptures tell us something different and it is worth noting. In light of the New Evangelization Anna evangelizes immediately and to paraphrase Romans 12:11: she never lacks in zeal but keeps her spiritual fervor serving the Lord.

Other Names, Other Meanings

The Gospel records three  presentations in the Temple.  Today’s feast marks the first.  The second will be when, as a boy of twelve, he sits among the temple authorities and impresses them with his knowledge.  The third sees Jesus demanding that His Father’s House will be a” house of prayer and not a den of thieves.”

Drawing on  Gibson’s directive, there is more narrative connected to today’s feast.  In addition to the  the Presentation of the Child Jesus there are two other actions celebrated traditionally with today’s feast, namely the Purification  of the Virgin and Candlemas.

Purification of the Virgin Mary

According to Jewish customs, women were considered “unclean” after the birth of a child. The unclean period lasted 40 days after the birth of a son, and 60 days after the birth of a daughter. During this period, they were not allowed into the temple to worship. At the end of this time, the woman was  brought to the temple and “purified” in a ceremony.  After the birth  of Christ, Mary subjects herself to the Jewish law and is  purified.

One of the few images which distinctly separates the action of the Presentation with that of Mary’s Purification is found in one of the world’s most brilliant illuminated manuscripts: Les Tres Riche Heures du Jean Duc de Berry.

The Purification of the Virgin Les Tres Riches Heures Limbourg Brothers

The Purification of the Virgin
Les Tres Riches Heures
Limbourg Brothers c.1416  Musee Conde, Chantilly

Candlemas

In pre-Christian days, this day was known as the ‘Feast of Lights’ and celebrated the increasing strength of the sun as winter gave way to spring.

According to some sources, Christians began Candlemas in Jerusalem as early as the fourth century and the lighting of candles began in the fifth century. Other sources say that Candlemas was observed by blessing candles since the 11th century. An early writing dating back to around 380 CE mentioned that a feast of the Presentation occurred in a church in Jerusalem. It was observed on February 14. The feast was observed on February 2 in regions where Christ’s birth was celebrated on December 25.

Presentation of Christ at the Temple by Hans Holbein the Elder, 1500–01 (Kunsthalle, Hamburg)

Presentation of Christ at the Temple by Hans Holbein the Elder, 1500–01 (Kunsthalle, Hamburg)

It has been an ancient custom in the Church to bless candles on this feast—hence, the name. I mentioned that we are at the halfway point between the shortest day of the year, in December, and the Spring equinox in mid-March. The blessing of candles gives us encouragement for the remaining days of winter. It offers us the profound hope that we will be sustained by holy light—and uplifted and guided by the Greatest Light, the light that is Christ. Our candles symbolize the faith we declare that Christ is a “light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:32).

The Holy Sepulcher @mrl

The Holy Sepulcher
@mrl

This Feast cries out to us: Christmas was just the beginning. There is more.

 

 

Posted in Faith, Jesus, Mary in Art, Saints, Symbolism

Three Roads to Calvary – Bosch

I am a fortunate man having been able to see great works of art.  One of the strangest experiences was viewing  Bosch’s Christ Carrying the Cross in Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent.  The adjectives which came to mind were chaotic, dark, cramped and malicious.  Serenity is seen in the faces of Christ and St. Veronica.  What was Bosch trying to say behind the familiar via dolorosa?

I am aware that Bosch had painted two other paintings of Christ Carrying the Cross, one in Vienna at the Kunsthistorices Museum and the other at the Palacio Real, Madrid.  How are all three similar?  How do they differ?

Vienna

This panel was once the left panel of a triptych. The rest probably showed scenes from the Passion.  There are two action scenes in this painting.  In the upper registry Christ moves toward Calvary.  In the lower registry the Good and Bad Thieves have arrived.

On the left, soldiers torment the Bad Thief who is being counseled by an exotic man in a red cloak with a strange cap and carrying a shield.  On the right side, the Good Thief kneels before a priest. There is a  frantic intensity of his confession, well-expressed by the open-mouthed profile, which contrasts vividly with the passive response of the priest who seems to suppress a yawn. The very presence of the priest is probably inspired by what Bosch had witnessed at contemporary executions; the same motif appears in the great multi-figure Christ Carrying the Cross which Pieter Bruegel the Elder was to paint almost a century later.

Detail

Christ is the center of the painting surrounded by a densely packed crowd.  As will be seen in the Ghent painting, here there are no supportive images of St. Veronica or Simon of Cyrene.  Here there is only evil intent,  as seen in the shield with the giant toad held by the man who leads the procession.  Christ bears his torturous journey alone.

It is not only the Cross which weakens Christ.  Christ’s agony is heightened by the  spike-studded wooden blocks which dangle fore and aft from his waist, lacerating his feet and ankles with every step. This was a device of torture used in Bosch’s day to increase the pain of criminals on the road to execution.  It  was frequently represented by Dutch artists well into the sixteenth century.

Some art historians have commented that this is what St. Joseph is making in the right panel of the Merode Altarpiece by Robert Campin which would be in keeping with the instruments of the Passion which litter his table and floor.

3mero_r3

While viewing Cathedrals one often forgets the treasure that can be found in their sacristies.  While viewing paintings one forgets the import of the reverse side of diptychs, triptychs or panels.

In 1923 while removing paint from the reverse side of Christ Carrying the Cross, an enigmatic Bosch figure was discovered.  The image is often entitle “Boy With a Whirligig.” The interpretation of the image has been contested.

Reverse panel Christ Carrying the Cross  Dimensions 28 cm diameter (11 in)  Kunsthistorisches Museum

Reverse panel
Christ Carrying the Cross
Dimensions
28 cm diameter (11 in)
Kunsthistorisches Museum

One interpretation has been to see the child as a symbol of folly for those who fail to recognize the meaning of Christ’s suffering and live life as His followers.  Some see the figure as the Christ Child taking his first halting steps toward His destiny on Calvary.    Other  see the whirligig as a “walking mill” and therefore associated with the Eucharist. The blades of the mill are seen to reflect the Cross.  With the eyes of faith the exterior anticipates the interior and challenges the viewer.

Ghent

Here Christ is not alone.  While surrounded by the mob in caricature Christ is accompanied by Simon of Cyrene, St. Veronica and the Good and Bad Thieves.  Veronica holds the imprinted face of Christ on her veil.  The two faces of Jesus contrast sharply with the horrible faces around them.

BOSCH, Hieronymus  Christ Carrying the Cross  1515-16  Oil on panel, 74 x 81 cm  Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent

BOSCH, Hieronymus
Christ Carrying the Cross
1515-16
Oil on panel, 74 x 81 cm
Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent

Bosch imbues the mob with faces of sin.  Here humanity is ugly and full of evil. They externally bear the marks of their inner torment, as contrasted with the serene faces of Jesus and Veronica.   José de Sigüenza, a 16th-century Spanish author, wrote: “The difference between the work of Bosch and that of other painters lies in the fact that the others depict man as he appears on the outside. Only Bosch dared to paint him the way he is on the inside.”

BOSCH, Hieronymus  Christ Carrying the Cross ,Detail,   1515-16  Oil on panel, 74 x 81 cm  Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent

BOSCH, Hieronymus
Christ Carrying the Cross ,Detail,
1515-16
Oil on panel, 74 x 81 cm
Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent

This dramatic panel is “one of the most hallucinatory creations of the history of Western art”, in the words of Bosch expert Paul van den Broeck.

A reminder,  most of the paintings by Bosch are religious, but at the same time, they are a critical analysis of the world and its human inhabitants. Bosch often does that in a highly ingenious way. This Christ Carrying the Cross demonstrates how deeply Bosch felt and identified with the suffering of Christ. This empathy fits in with the teachings of the late-medieval devotional movements from Bosch’s time, which saw Jesus as a lonely and resigned man who conquered the sins of the ugly and even bestial world all on his own. For Bosch Christ is the one to follow because He alone can forgive our ugliness (sin) and call us to a new beauty (grace.) . This is the message Bosch wanted to convey here.

Detail

Detail

Bosch places the head of Christ at the crossing of two diagonal composition lines. One diagonal follows the beam of the Cross, from the head of Simon of Cyrene, the man who helped to carry Christ’s Cross, to the “bad thief” at the bottom right, who was crucified beside Christ. The second diagonal runs from the bottom left, with Veronica’s sudarium, to the pallid face of the “good thief” in the upper-right corner. He has the dubious pleasure of the company of a physician – or is it a Pharisee? – and a monk.

Dtaill

Detail

Drawing on our walk with Christ in the Ghent Christ Carrying the Cross, it may be good to paraphrase the ancient prayer to Santiago de Compostela:

Be for us our companion on our daily walks,
Our guide at the crossroads,
Our breath in our weariness,
Our protection in danger,
Our shelter on the way,
Our shade in the heat,
Our light in the darkness,
Our consolation in our discouragements,
And our strength in our intentions.

Madrid

Christ Carrying the Cross -  Oil on panel, 150 x 94 cm  Palacio Real, Madrid

Christ Carrying the Cross

Oil on panel, 150 x 94 cm
Palacio Real, Madrid

The iconography of the Passion scenes which Bosch painted during his middle and later years are simpler than that of his earlier paintings, their imagery more easily grasped by the viewer. One such work is the Christ Carrying the Cross in the Palacio Real, Madrid. Christ dominates the foreground, almost crushed beneath the heavy Cross which the elderly Simon of Cyrene struggles to lift from his back. The ugly heads of his executioners rise steeply in a mass towards the left; in the distance, the sorrowing Virgin collapses into the arms of John the Evangelist. Whereas Bosch’s earlier composition of this subject in Vienna had been diffuse and primarily narrative, the Madrid version is concentrated, and the way that Christ ignores his captors to look directly at the spectator gives it the quality of a timeless devotional image.

Walter S. Gibson in his work on Bosch states that some critics claim that Bosch equated the historical tormenters of Christ with humankind at large whose daily wickedness continues to torture Christ after his Resurrection.  This concept of ‘Perpetual Passion’ was not uncommon in Bosch’s day.  But is this what the face of Jesus is saying?  Could it not be less an accusation and more an appeal to the viewer found within Matthew 16:24: ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me”?

I would like to conclude the three Bosch works on Christ Carrying the Cross with a prayer attached to a fifteenth century woodcut with the same theme.

O dear Lord, Jesus Christ,

as thou has carried thy cross,

so grant me, dear Lord.

that I also patiently bear all adversity and sorrows which may befall me,

that I therewith lay low all villainy and temptation of the body

and of the battle over evil spirits.

Posted in Faith, Heronymous Bosch

Bosch’s Three Peddlers, Pilgrims or Wayfarers

The symbol of the pilgrim on the precarious and threatening road of life was common in medieval painting and literature.

Lincolnn Cathedral Pilgrim

Lincoln Cathedral Pilgrim

Before we begin the journey of Bosch’s Wayfarers or Pilgrims we can begin with an appropriate prayer written by Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618):

Give me my scallop-shell of quiet,

My staff of faith to walk upon,

My script of joy, immortal diet,

My bottle of salvation,

My gown of glory, hope’s true gauge,

All thus I’ll take my pilgrimage.

The Land

The two outer wings of the Haywain, both at the Escorial and the Prado depict a poor, emaciated middle aged peasant with his possessions strapped to his back, glancing behind him at the scene of a robbery, while fending off a vicious dog. Note the red color of the dog (the color of evil) and perhaps this can be associated with the hellhounds on the interior central panel. here too is Bosch’s symbolic blackbird indicating death.  The peasant is about to step on a bridge that is too thin to carry his weight (perhaps indicating that the next step in his life may mean disaster or death.)  Ahead of the peasant lies temptation. On the right, peasants dance to a bagpiper while their sheep wander.  This self-indulgence contrasts markedly with the role of Christ as the Good Shepherd.  On the hill in the background people gather for a hanging and close by is a pole surmounted by a wheel on which the bodies of the executed were displayed. In summary, the path of life is perilous.

There are two versions of the Haywain one at the Escorial and the other at the Prado.  I have placed them both here and a third known as the Rotterdam Wayfarer which I will discuss below.

In researching this piece I was reminded that in the time of Bosch there were two types of paupers: those of low social position and those who elected to live a life of voluntary poverty, such as St. Francis of Assisi.  To be noted is the fact thar Franciscans and Poor Clares were prominent in s’Hertogenbosch, and were also key members of the Brotherhood of Our Lady.

The latter practiced the discipline of self-denial in imitation of Christ.  Called “Christ’s poor’ and marked by ‘maimed limbs, bleeding sores, torn coats, putrid badges, vile rags,’  they were to be seen in villages and on the roads. Such persons carried their walking stick as “glorious trophies of their Christian patience.”  Is the peasant lay person who has embraced a Kempis admonition to ‘keep yourself a stranger and pilgrim upon the earth, to whom the affairs of the world are of no concern?’

It is worth quoting a part of a sermon of St. Bernard of Clairvaux:

Blessed are those who live as pilgrims in this wicked world and remain untainted by it…For the pilgrim travels the king’s highway neither on the right or the left.  If he should come upon a place where there is fighting and quarreling, he will not become involved. And if he should come to a place where there is dancing and leaping or where there is a celebration…these will not entice him, for he knows he is a stranger, and as such has no interest in these things

What Bosch did with oils St. Bernard and Thomas a Kempis painted with words.

The Reworking of the Wayfarer

The Wayfarer -  Oil on panel, diameter 71,5 cm  Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

The Wayfarer

Oil on panel, diameter 71,5 cm
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

In this circular painting Bosch reworked the figure of the wayfarer on the outer wings of the Haywain a decade or so later, this time placing him against one of his most delicately conceived landscapes. The rolling sand dunes at the right and the subdued tonalities of grey und yellow are sensitive transcriptions into paint of the rain-drenched Dutch countryside. The large foreground figure closely recalls the Haywain pilgrim, except that he appears even more haggard and poorly dressed. There are, however, some subtle differences. Except for the snarling dog, with its possible allusion to slander, the dangers of the world are here chiefly spiritual. They are embodied first of all in the tavern at the left, whose ruinous condition echoes the ragged clothes of the wayfarer. The tavern symbolizes the World and the Devil in general, its dubious nature revealed by the man urinating at the right, and by the couple embracing in the doorway. Another inmate of the house peers curiously through one of the dilapidated windows.

BOSCH, Hieronymus  The Wayfarer (detail)  -  Oil on panel  Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

BOSCH, Hieronymus
The Wayfarer (detail)

Oil on panel
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

The customer for whom the second woman waits may very well be the traveller himself. He has not just emerged from the tavern, but has passed it in his journey and his path leads towards a gate and the tranquil Dutch countryside beyond. Now he halts on the road, as if allured by its promise of pleasure. Whether the pilgrim will turn away from the tavern to pass through the gate is as doubtful.

Some scholars assume that the picture represents an episode from the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Posted in Heronymous Bosch, Poverty | Tagged

HERONYMOUS’ HAY RIDE TO HELL

I will be giving a lecture at St. Olaf’s Catholic Church in Norge, Virginia on February 4, 2014.  Entering the world of symbolism again I intend to add some new pieces to the presentation including Ecce Anncili Domini by Rossetti, Roger Wagner’s Menorah and Chagall’s White Crucifixion and Green Crucifixion.  These will be accompanied by 19th Century American artists and the French School of Social Realism as seen in two works by Millett and Courbet.

Bosch will also be included.  He has always been a favorite artist, and was included in my work at the Osher Institute at the University of Richmond.  What I discovered was that he is not everybody’s favorite and there is a reason.

Attributed to Jacques Le Boucq, Portrait of Hieronymus Bosch. c. 1550

Attributed to Jacques Le Boucq, Portrait of Hieronymus Bosch. c. 1550

His works have been described as extraordinary, creative and unconventional.  At first sight we shudder at the sight of fiendish monsters who torment helpless victims within a sulfurous hellish landscape.  His works contain scenes of some of the most vivid inventive torture ever depicted in painting.   His art makes us pause,  as when in  viewing his Garden of Earthly Delights, to see such rampant sexuality, seductions and the sensual use of strawberries and flowers and yet  Philipp II kept this work in his private quarters in the Escorial and employed it, and the other 20 Bosch works, as instructional pieces for the royal children.

BOSCH, Hieronymus  Triptych of Garden of Earthly Delights (detail)  c. 1500  Oil on panel  Museo del Prado, Madrid

BOSCH, Hieronymus
Triptych of Garden of Earthly Delights (detail)
c. 1500
Oil on panel
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Larry Silver in his work on Bosch states that some have theorized that it contains hidden astrological, alchemical or heretical meaning.

Bosch has been presented as a heretic and a mad man.

BOSCH, Hieronymus  Triptych of Garden of Earthly Delights (detail)  c. 1500  Oil on panel  Museo del Prado, Madrid

BOSCH, Hieronymus
Triptych of Garden of Earthly Delights (detail)
c. 1500
Oil on panel
Museo del Prado, Madrid

In this post and those which follow I will present Bosch, the Roman Catholic, the member of the Onser Vrouwen Broederscap, the confraternity of The  Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Lady. As a sworn member of the Brotherhood of Our Lady, Bosch was part of a group who ministered regularly to the poor.  The brotherhood also sponsored hospices in which the poor were fed and nourished and members volunteered their time, anonymously serving and bathing the itinerant poor.  On 26 November 1442 a guesthouse for the mentally ill is founded with money from the estate of Reinier van Arkel. Located on the Hinthamerstraat, it still serves its original function and is now the oldest psychiatric hospital in the Netherlands.

An image which marks the importance of charity as a basis for Christian faith is found on the Baptismal font in the Cathedral of St. Jan in ‘s-Hertogenbosch by Aert van Tricht, 1493.

 

Hayride To Hell

Bosch is an artist preoccupied with sin and folly and  punishment.  His art is conceived in a violent and vicious era when the Church is being attacked both from within and without.

Unlike our own day, there is no division at the time of Bosch between the spiritual and the material.  Both looked to salvation in Christ as seen in the second Paradise Panel.

BOSCH, Hieronymus  Paradise: Ascent of the Blessed  1500-04  Oil on panel, 86,5 x 39,5 cm  Palazzo Ducale, Venice

BOSCH, Hieronymus
Paradise: Ascent of the Blessed
1500-04
Oil on panel, 86,5 x 39,5 cm
Palazzo Ducale, Venice

 

Bosch’s view of human nature is there in all his works.  One work I will be discussing is the Haywain. It is a triptych which exists in two versions, one in the Escorial and the other in the Prado. We will be looking at the Prado painting.

BOSCH, Hieronymus  Triptych of Haywain  1500-02  Oil on panel, 135 x 190 cm  Museo del Prado, Madrid

BOSCH, Hieronymus
Triptych of Haywain
1500-02
Oil on panel, 135 x 190 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

The left wing represents the Creation and the Fall but Bosch reverses the sequence of episodes from foreground to background.  He also includes the expulsion of the rebel angels, who could be viewed as demonic mosquitoes, descending to earth with sin and death. The temptation scene takes place under an apple tree presided over by a serpent with a female head, in keeping with medieval imagery.   With the deed accomplished Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden.

Triptych of Haywain (left wing) 1500-02  Oil on panel, 135 x 45 cm  Museo del Prado, Madrid

Triptych of Haywain (left wing)
1500-02
Oil on panel, 135 x 45 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Please take note of the archangel on the left, dressed in liturgical vestments of a cope and alb as he lifts his sword to Adam.  Eucharistic allusions will be part of the repertoire of the next generation of Flemish painters.

Triptych of Haywain (left wing) 1500-02  Oil on panel, 135 x 45 cm  Museo del Prado, Madrid

Triptych of Haywain (left wing)
1500-02
Oil on panel, 135 x 45 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

 

The central panel of The Hay Wain appears to be a picture of a good, autumnal harvest.  It is image of bounty, but a bounty limited to a few.

A Flemish song and proverb tells humanity that God had heaped up good things on the earth like a stack of hay for the benefits of all, but, the world is a stack of hay, and everyone snatches from it as much as he can. ‘ In the end it is al hoy (all hay.)’  Take this as the theme of the central panel.

BOSCH, Hieronymus  Triptych of Haywain (central panel)  1500-02  Oil on panel, 140 x 100 cm  Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

BOSCH, Hieronymus
Triptych of Haywain (central panel)
1500-02
Oil on panel, 140 x 100 cm
Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

Here Bosch catalogues folly and sin.  His mob is not only guilty of avarice but of vanity.  It might be a good meditation to reflect on the words Bosch’s contemporary Thomas a Kempis in his Imitatio Christi:

“Vanity is everything outside of loving and serving God (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Vanity is to seek perishable riches and to rely on them; it is vanity to pursue honors and raise yourself to a high dignity; it is vanity to follow the lusts of the flesh and to desire that which hereafter will bring grievous punishment; it is vanity to wish for a long life and care little about a good life; it is vanity to attend only to the present life, and not look a head to the future; it is vanity to love what quickly passes away, and not to be hastening thither where abides everlasting joy.”

 Lumbering across a vast landscape the cart is followed by the world’s privileged on horseback.   They are led by Pope (possibly Alexander VI) and Emperor, Maximillian I,  the heads of the spiritual and temporal realms of Christendom.  They are followed by Burgundian nobility. At the edge of the painting the Hapsburg double eagle and and the fleur-de-lys of France are seen.

BOSCH, Hieronymus  Triptych of Haywain (central panel)  1500-02  Oil on panel, 140 x 100 cm  Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

BOSCH, Hieronymus
Triptych of Haywain (central panel)
1500-02
Oil on panel, 140 x 100 cm
Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

Bosch populates the lower register of the central panel with some of the thieves, charlatans, clergy and nuns who will be seen in  his other works.  This is a motley crew which includes foreigners, as well as a pilgrim, quack dentist, and greedy and licentious religious.  Many frantically attempt to snatch tufts of hay even to the point of loosing their lives.  here is humanity given over to sin.

BOSCH, Hieronymus  Triptych of Haywain (central panel)  1500-02  Oil on panel, 140 x 100 cm  Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

BOSCH, Hieronymus
Triptych of Haywain (central panel)
1500-02
Oil on panel, 140 x 100 cm
Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

Atop the hay wagon Bosch places a group that indulges in the sin of luxuria. This is an indulgence in “wine women and song” that was a part of the upper class in their pleasure gardens. It is at the very summit that the leisure class sits flanked on either side by pleading angel and a prancing musical demon.  The sin of lust is taking place in the bush behind with a voyeur looking on, while in the foreground the music-making couple symbolized spiritual love.

All this frantic activity is witnessed by Christ, as the Man of Sorrow.  Except for the praying angel atop the hay wagon, and the viewer,  no one notices the Divine Presence amidst the distractions of sin.  Christ is positioned frontally and is meant to be seen by the viewer.  To attend to worldly sin is to ignore Christ,  but to be aware of Christ’s sacrifice, humility and grace is to transcend the worldly deceitfulness.

BOSCH, Hieronymus  Triptych of Haywain (central panel)  1500-02  Oil on panel, 140 x 100 cm  Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

BOSCH, Hieronymus
Triptych of Haywain (central panel)
1500-02
Oil on panel, 140 x 100 cm
Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

Within all the frantic journey of the hay wagon  no one notices that the wagon is being pulled by a familiar group of demons led by a fish with human legs and other hybrids of mismatched animal and body parts to hell.

BOSCH, Hieronymus  Triptych of Haywain (central panel)  1500-02  Oil on panel, 140 x 100 cm  Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

BOSCH, Hieronymus
Triptych of Haywain (central panel)
1500-02
Oil on panel, 140 x 100 cm
Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

 

Merrily We Go To Hell

It is sometimes said of Bosch that the general theme of many of his works is “merrily we go to hell.” This evidenced in the central panel of the Hay Wain where all sections of the social strata progress in sin, from Eden to hell, across its panels.

BOSCH, Hieronymus  Triptych of Haywain (right wing)  1500-02  Oil on panel, 140 x 66 cm  Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

BOSCH, Hieronymus
Triptych of Haywain (right wing)
1500-02
Oil on panel, 140 x 66 cm
Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

In hell demons snare naked human beings and the hunter becomes the hunted put upon by hell-hounds.  The scene is  full of symbol and suggestion. Look, for example, at the man lying on the ground with a toad devouring his genitals, suffering the fate of all lechers. Since the toad looks at first sight like a fig leaf, it carries, perhaps, echoes of the Fall of Man. One man is being devoured by a fish.  At what could be described as the front of the procession a man with a helmet rides and ox and carries a chalice pierced by a spear.  The ox and the chalice are familiar Christian symbols, but now they are the goods of hell.  Another symbolic interpretation of this figure may be taken from the 12th century Vision of Tyndale, who, during his tour of hell, was forced to lead a cow across a narrow bridge as punishment for stealing his neighbor’s cow.  On the bridge he encountered those who had robbed churches and committed other acts of sacrilege.  This could also be seen in the Eucharistic chalice held by Bosch’s figure.  The Visio Tnugdali was the most influential vision of heaven and hell before Dante’s Divina Commedia.

Hell appears under construction as one demon climbs a ladder with fresh mortar for the devils above, and another raises a floor beam with a hoist.  The motif of the circular tower may be indicating that there is need for hellish expansion as the demons anticipate the souls currently enslaved by the hay wagon and the many souls who, if Christ remains distant in their lives, will suffer the same fate.

While towers abound in medieval descriptions, Bosch’s tower is unique because of the building activity.  However, St. Gregory the Great reports a vision of heaven in which houses were constructed of golden bricks.  Each brick represents an ‘almsdeed’ done by someone on earth, and were intended to receive the souls of the good.  Bosch represents the counterpart to the heavenly towers.  Reflecting on the central panel the stones supplied here are avarice, vanity, lust and power.

The basic meaning of the Haywain in summary is simple.  It is a moral parable that gathers together symbolism to tell the viewer that the actions seen, and the resultant punishment meted out, occurs in Christian lives over and over again.  The modes of behavior Bosch presents can be our behaviors, if we choose to keep Christ distant from our daily life. I view his paintings as sermons, if we are willing to see and hear.

Posted in Faith, Heronymous Bosch, Poverty