Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Other Marian Feast of May 13th – Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament

Alberto Galli, Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament
Italian, 1913
New  York, Church of St. Jean Baptiste

“It does not follow because it is our special office to honor the Eucharist that we should lessen our devotion to the Blessed Virgin.  Far from it. 

He would be truly displeasing to Jesus, who should say: 
' The Eucharist is enough for me; I do not need Mary.'  Where do we find Jesus upon earth? Is it not in the arms of Mary? Is it not she who has given us the Blessed Eucharist? It was her acquiescence in the Incarnation of the Son of God — the Divine Word — that began the great mystery of reparation to God and of the union with us that Jesus accomplished during His mortal life, and that He continues in the Eucharist. The more we love the Eucharist, the more we shall love Mary. We love what our friend loves, and where is a creature so loved by God, a mother so tenderly loved by a son, as Mary was by Jesus?

If we owe reverence to Jesus, we owe it to Mary also. If we adore Him, we must honor her, and to correspond to, as well as to enter fully into, the graces of our vocation, we owe to Mary a special devotion as to Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament.”1

Saint Peter Julian Eymard to members of his Society 

This May 13th the world watched as Pope Francis canonized the two youngest children of the Fatima apparitions of 1917, Francisco and Jacinta Marto on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13th.  However, May 13th is also another, equally important, but little known feast of Our Lady.  It is the feast of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, instituted on May 13, 1868 by Saint Peter Julian Eymard, the Apostle of the Eucharist.

Saint Peter Julian Eymard was the founder of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, an order of priests and brothers, as well as the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, an order of women, and the Aggregation of the Blessed Sacrament, a “third-order” for lay men and women. 2   In addition to his life-long love for Jesus concealed in the Blessed Sacrament, Saint Peter Julian also had a life-long love for the Virgin Mary.  It should be remembered that, before he founded the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, he had been an early member of the Society of Mary, the Marists, founded in Lyons, France in 1816, even serving as the French Provincial of the order in 1844.

Saint Peter Julian may have advocated for the establishment of a feast dedicated to Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, but the idea of a unique connection between Mary, the source of the physical body of Jesus, and the Eucharist, the continuing physical presence of Jesus in the world did not originate with him.  In one form or another it had existed for hundreds of years, both in the Latin-speaking Church of Western Europe and in the Greek- and Slavic-speaking Churches of Byzantium and Russia. 

In the early thirteenth century a Russian icon painter made an image, based on an icon then in the church of Our Lady of Blachernae in Constantinople.  The icon is of an orante type, in which the figure of Mary stands with her hands upraised in prayer.  This particular orante icon, however, had an additional twist.  On Mary’s chest, between her upraised arms, is an image of the young Jesus, with His arms raised in the sign of blessing.  The icon is known as the Great Panagia and this Russian version is still preserved at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. 
Great Panagia
Russian, 1200-1240
Moscow, The State Tretyakov Gallery

It stands at the head of a great number of other Russian icon types which feature the image of the praying Virgin with the sign of the Christ Child.  In fact, these icons are known collectively as the “Mother of God of the Sign”. 
Icon of the Mother of God of the Sign Kursk-Root
Russian, 13th Century

Icon of the Mother of God The Word Was Made Flesh
The Albazin Icon
Russian, Before 1665

Modern Icon of the Mother of God Chukhloma from Galich
Russian, Original from 1350





















Modern Icon  of the Mother of God of the Sign Kursk-Root
Russian, Original 13th Century

Modern Icon of the Mother of God of the Sign Mirozh
Russian, Original 1198
A slightly different image adds another detail.  In this image, Mary stands behind an altar, on which rests a chalice from which the blessing Christ Child emerges.  This icon became known as the “Mother of God of the Inexhaustible Chalice” (or sometimes the “Inexhaustible Cup”).  Clearly, it is a reference to the Eucharist, in which the Orthodox Churches, like the Catholic Church, believe that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. 
Modern Icon of the Mother of God of the Inexhaustible Chalice
Russian, 20th Century

In the Western Church, the early images were not quite so concrete.  They were more allusive. Among them are paintings which feature the Madonna and Child, with obvious references to the substances which make up the Eucharist, such as ears of wheat and bunches of grapes.  Wheat and grapes have been Eucharist allusions since early Christian times. 

Ceiling Mosaic, Mausoleum of Constantine's Daughters
Roman, c. 350
Rome, Santa Costanza
The Good Shepherd Amid Vines, Sarcophagus Frontal
Roman, late 4th
Vatican City State, Museo Pio Christiano
The Antioch Chalice
Byzantine, 500-550
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection
And the symbolism of these references to the Eucharistic elements continued through the centuries of Western European art.

Sandro Botticelli, Madonna of the Eucharist
Italian, early 1470s
Boston, Isabella Steward Gardner Museum

Madonna and Child with Grapes
Dutch, c. 1450
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art


























Pierre Mignard, Madonna of the Grapes
French, 1640s
Paris, Musee du Louvre
In the nineteenth century, following the harrowing experience of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire and its wars, France saw a revival of Catholic practice and thought.  Eucharistic fraternities were established in Paris and other cities in reparation for the events of the recent past.  And, at virtually the same time and place in which St. Peter Julian was founding the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, one of the greatest of nineteenth-century French painters embarked on a project that would last for over 20 years.

In 1841, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, the leading classical painter of the first half of the nineteenth century, was commissioned by the future Czar Alexander II, then Czarevich, to paint an image of the Madonna.  Alexander may possibly have requested a western version of the Mother of God of the Inexhaustible Chalice.  It shares with that picture the altar and the central position of the chalice on it.  It also shares the centered, frontal image of the Madonna.  It differs, however, in that the figure of Mary, while remaining centered and facing front, it twisted toward the right as Mary makes a West European gesture of prayer, bringing her hands together, as opposed to the Eastern Orante position.  And, most striking of all, it is not the Christ Child who appears as seated in the chalice, but the Host, poised as if hovering over the paten which has been placed on top of the chalice.  Ingres has also added two lit candle sticks (or possibly oil lamps) to each side of the altar, as required for the celebration of Mass.  Mary is presented as if in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, present as Host and consecrated wine.  Behind her stand two figures.  They are Saint Nicholas at left and Saint Alexander Nevsky on the right. 
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, The Virgin Adoring the Eucharist with Saints Nicholas and Alexandre Nevsky
French, 1841
Moscow, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts

The painting was something of a sensation when it was shown in Ingres’ Paris studio before being sent to Russia.  However, comment focused mostly on the technique and form of the picture, which was deemed to be very much an homage to Raphael’s Madonna paintings.  Little attention was paid to the religious content.  3

The subject seems to have struck a chord with Ingres, however, for he painted another five versions of it over the years between 1852 and 1866.  All adopt the same central figure of Mary praying before the Host and chalice, but each one differs in the other details. 

In 1852 Ingres painted the version now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  It is virtually identical to the picture now in Moscow.  However, the background saints have been replaced by two saints heavily identified with France:  on the left Saint Helena (mother of Constantine, who was thought to hail from either France or Britain) and on the right Saint Louis (King Louis IX of France). 
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, The Virgin Adoring the Eucharist with Saints Helena and Louis
French, 1852
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

In 1854 he painted another version, in tondo form, now at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.  Again the central image is unchanged, except for a slight change in the position of the Host which now is slightly reflected in the paten, but the sides are now occupied by two angels (they have thin haloes above their heads) who act as acolytes. The one on the left holds an thurible, from which the smoke of incense can be seen rising; while on the right the angel tends the flame of the candle or lamp.
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Virgin Adoring the Eucharist
French, 1854
Paris, Musee d'Orsay

In 1859 Ingres painted another version whose current whereabouts is unknown. 4

In 1860 he returned to the subject again, in a painting currently in a private collection, but which has recently been promised as a future gift to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.5    In this version he made several changes.  The figure of Mary shows little change, save that her halo, which had been indicated by thin golden circles, is now shown as a solid golden form.  But, behind her green curtains have been added on each side, shown as being pulled back by two adolescent angels.  The chalice and suspended Host still rest upon the altar, although they are now tilted so that more of the Host is reflected in the paten.  However, a note of slight chaos, or perhaps better mischief, has been introduced.  Instead of serious angelic acolytes we are now presented by small “angels” of the cherub or putti type.  True to form for putti, they are curious and not totally focused on the awesomeness of the Eucharist.  Only one, at the far left, shows true adoration.  One plays with the thurible, while another more serenely holds out the incense boat.  One snuggles up to Mary, while gazing somewhat wistfully at the Host and the last performs the same action as the adult angel in the 1854 painting, tending to the candle or lamp.
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, The Virgin Adoring the Eucharist
French, 1860
Private Collection (Promised future gift to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

In 1866 Ingres returned to the subject one last time in a painting now at the Musée Bonnat at Bayonne, France.  It differs from the others in being more close up (although it is just possible that the image may have been cut down).  The altar is gone and the focus is entirely on the chalice and Host and the praying Mary.  Her body is no longer twisted to make the gesture of putting her hands together.  She is, instead, shown with her hands crossed over her right breast.  The whole tone of the piece is quieter and more somber.  She is shown once again with a halo of thin gold lines.  Her companions are two angels whose only actions are to press close to her as they look at her in attitudes of intense prayer. 
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, The Virgin Adoring the Eucharist
French, 1866
Bayonne (FR), Musee Bonnat
It is interesting to me that this sequence of paintings by Ingres occupy the same years in which Saint Peter Julian was receiving his inspiration for mission and was founding his religious orders.  It perhaps indicates that there was in France at the time a hunger for examination of the doctrine and meaning of the Eucharist for the new industrial world that was coming into being. 
Alberto Galli, Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament
Italian, 1913
New York, Church of Saint Jean Baptiste

The spiritual sons and daughters of Saint Peter Julian have continued to emphasize the importance of the Eucharist for a world that is hungry for God as well as for physical sustenance.  And, their New York church, St. Jean Baptiste, houses two examples of early twentieth-century interpretations of the motif.  Both show the image of the standing Madonna, holding in her arms the Christ Child, while He holds out the Host and Chalice (in one) or the monstrance with the Host (in the other).  

Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament
20th Century
New York, Church of Saint Jean Baptiste














These images bring together the Eastern and Western interpretations of the same idea, that the Virgin Mary not only bore the Incarnate Word of God, but points the way to the continuing presence of that Word in the Eucharist today.





© M. Duffy, 2017

  1. Saint Peter Julian Eymard, “The Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin”, The Sentinel of the Blessed Sacrament (Montreal), #6, April, 1903, pp. 131-132.
  2. For more on the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament see:  http://blessedsacrament.com
  3. Andrew Carrington Shelton, Ingres and His Critics, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2005, pp. 103-111.
  4. See the description, and especially the “Notes” section, of the entry for the New York painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art website:  http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/438434?sortBy=Relevance&ft=Ingres&offset=0&rpp=20&pos=8
  5. See: “50 for 50: Gifts on the Occasion of LACMA's Anniversary” at http://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/50-for-50

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Iconography of the Resurrection – Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother

Thedor van Thulden, Christ Presents the Redeemed
to His Mother
Flemish, 1660
Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland
In the late fifteenth century and into the early part of the sixteenth century, a new iconography of the Resurrection was introduced by artists. 

Instead of the simple encounter between Mother and Son, joyously reuniting after the terrible experience of the Crucifixion and Entombment, which we have looked at previously, artists began to imagine an encounter that would take into account the time between Good Friday afternoon and Easter Sunday morning.  This is the time of Christ’s descent into Limbo and His liberation of the souls of the righteous that had been imprisoned there, awaiting His salvific act.  In this new iconographic subject, Christ presents the liberated souls to His mother. 

The earliest of these images show Christ, appearing to the Virgin Mary, His Mother, very much in the same manner we have already looked at (here).  

Follower of Jean Pichore
Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother
Book of Hours
French (Paris), c. 1490-1500
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M7, fol. 20r

However, this time He is not alone and His companions are not angels.  The first person with Him is an older, white-bearded man, whose head is encircled with a golden halo.  Some have identified this as the patriarch, Abraham, but I am not so sure.  Would it not be logical that the first person among the righteous dead should be the other person who had the most impact on the life of Jesus, His stepfather, Joseph.  Tradition suggests that Joseph was already dead before Jesus began His public ministry and Joseph’s proximity in time, space and affection suggest that the halo is not inappropriate.  I think that these present us with a reconstituted Holy Family image.
Christ Presents the Redeemed (Saint Joseph?)
to His Mother
from a Book of Hours
French (Tours), c. 1495-1505
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 12, fol. 25v











In the background of one of these images we can also see that Adam and Eve kneel behind the older man.  They are easily recognized by their nakedness.  They are prominent not simply because they are the mother and father of all humanity, but because it is their sin that was the reason for the Incarnation, the enfleshment of the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, through Mary.  In these images the first Adam and the first Eve meet the new Adam (Christ) and the new Eve (Mary). 


Juan de Flandes, Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother
Flemish (Active Spain), c. 1500
London, National Gallery






Quite rapidly they are joined by a host of other predecessors.  They crowd behind Jesus as He approaches Mary to present them to her.  Different painters included different people, but often the group obviously includes:  Abraham, Moses and David.  Also discernible in some are Saints Anne and Joachim, the grandparents of Jesus, and Saint John the Baptist, as well as Saint Joseph.

There is a more formal tone in these pictures than in those that simply show the reunion of Mother and Son.  Although Mary’s setting remains humble, she is approached by the souls of the redeemed as if already the Queen of Heaven, which she will become on her death and assumption into heaven. 




Fernando Yanez de la Almedinam Christ Presents the Redeemed to the His Mother
Spanish, 1510-1518
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Jan Mostaert, Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother
Dutch, c. 1515-1525
Enschede, Rijksmuseum Twenthe
Left wing of a diptych.  The right wing is in the 
Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Madrid (shown
at right)
Jan Mostaert, The Redeemed, with a Portrait of
the Donor, presumed to be Mary of Burgundy
Dutch, c. 1515-1525
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza




























Simon Bening, Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother
from The Stein Quariptych
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1525-1530
Baltimore (MD), Walters Art Gallery
MS W442, D 58r
Bernaert (Barend) van Orley, Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother
Flemish, c. 1525-1540
Private Collection
Over time, the simple setting of Mary’s room becomes transformed with the addition of clouds of glory, singing angels and other Baroque touches. 

Alessandro Allori, Christ Presents the Redeemed
to His Mother
Italian, c. 1580-1590
Florence, Museo di San Marco
Ludovico_Carracci, Christ Presents the
Redeemed to His Mother
Italian, 1601
Bologna, Church of Corpus Domini



























Theodor van Thulden, Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother
Flemish, c. 1650
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Cosmas Damian Asam, Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother
German, 1718-1720
Aldersbach, Former Convent Church of the Assumption

Engraving by Giuseppe Camerata After a Painting of Andrea Vaccaro, Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother
Italian, c. 1750-1760
London, British Museum
During the eighteenth century this motif also ceased to be used by artists or requested by patrons.



© M. Duffy, 2017

  1. Breckenridge, James D., "Et Prima Vidit:  The Iconography of the Appearance of Christ to His Mother". Art Bulletin, Vol. 39, Number 1, March 1957, pp. 28-32.  As far as I can tell, no one has written on this particular motif since this 1957 article.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Iconography of the Ascension, Part IV of IV – The Direct Approach

Jean Colombe, Ascension
from the Hours of Anne of FranceFrench (Bourges), 1470-1480
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M677, fol. 202v
We have looked previously at four different motifs for the depiction of the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven described at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles:

“When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
 He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.
But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.

While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.
They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”

Acts 1:6-11, Excerpt from the First Reading for the feast of the Ascension of the Lord

So far we have looked at the following motifs which artists have used to depict this event:
  • ·        Jesus Striding into Heaven (here)
  • ·        Jesus Lifted in a Mandorla or on a Cloud (here)
  • ·        The Disappearing Feet of Jesus (here)

Ivory Plaque with the Ascension
German (Rhineland), c. 1050
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection
However, alongside these popular motifs there has also existed another one, that of the Direct Ascension, in which Jesus ascends without any kind of visual aid, though occasionally surrounded by an aura.  This alternate expression has its roots in the middle ages, seems to had its greatest popularity during the fifteenth century and then disappeared until later in the nineteenth century.

The earliest image of this form that I have so far seen is an ivory plaque from the Metropolitan Museum of Arts’ medieval branch, the Cloisters.  It dates from the mid-eleventh century in Germany and has its roots in the classical image of Jesus Striding into Heaven.  It has strong affinities with the fourth-century Roman ivory image that seems to be the first recorded Ascension image.  However, while it has such classical references as the two small figures of Ocean and Earth that sit at the bottom of the plaque, it is not as finely carved.  Nonetheless, its classical descent is clear.

Ascension
from a PsalterEnglish (Salisbury), 1350-1375
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 765, fol. 19




Not so clear is the impulse behind the mid-fourteenth-century English illumination that shows the event taking place indoors, or at least within or behind some elaborate Gothic architectural framework.  At first glance the image resembles a scene of Pentecost, with the Apostles gathered around Mary and gazing upward.  However, on closer examination, one sees that the figure of Jesus is poised above them, glimpsed through the structure, which reveals only His feet, torso and hands.  His head is shown as popping out of the top of the structure, which is revealed to be octagonal at the top.  There may be here a remote reflection of the insular style of such early manuscripts as the Book of Kells where body parts are similarly entwined with decorative elements. 









Once we arrive at the Renaissance period the scene becomes increasingly more naturalistic and clear.  Christ rises straight up from the ground in most cases, usually in a what looks like a standing position.  One might say that this motif is related to the "Disappearing Feet" type, but that instead of seeing just the feet of Jesus disappearing into heaven, we are seeing the full figure of Jesus in the moments just before His entry there.  
 
Jacopo di Cione and Workshop, Ascension
Italian, 1370-1371
London, National Gallery
Limbourg Brothers, Ascension
fromt he Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
Dutch, 1412-1416
Chantilly, Musee Conde
MS 65, fol. 184r






















In some images, however, He may “fly” with the force of the flight indicated by the flutter of draperies, or by His posture.  However,  in all cases He does this without a mandorla frame or clouds to assist or contain Him. 

Michelino de' Molinari da Bosozzo, Ascension
from a Prayer Book
Italian (Milan), 1425-1435
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M944, fol. 35v
Luca della Robbia, Ascension
Italian, 1446
Florence, Cathedral
Master of the Life of the Virgin, Ascension
German, 1473
Philadelphia, Museum of Art

Ascension
Altarpiece from Thuison-les-Abbeville
French, c. 1490-1500
Chicago, Art Institute
Il Garofalo, Ascension
Italian, 1510-1520
Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Art Antica


































By the late nineteenth century this must have seemed to artists to be the best possible form for the subject, as a cluster of works by painters and stained glass designers shows. 

James Tissot, Ascension
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum
John La Farge, Ascension
Design for a Stained Glass Window
American, c. 1886
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts
























Louis Comfort Tiffany, Ascension
Stained Glass Window
American, ca. 1900
Montclair (NJ), Union Congregational Chruch


© M. Duffy, 2017




Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Iconography of the Ascension, Part III of IV -- The Disappearing Feet

Hans Suess von Kulmbach, Ascension
German, 1513
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
"When they had gathered together they asked him,
"Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"
He answered them, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons
that the Father has established by his own authority.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
throughout Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth."
When he had said this, as they were looking on,
he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.
While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going,
suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.
They said, "Men of Galilee,
why are you standing there looking at the sky?
This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven
will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven."

Acts 1:6-11  Excerpt from the First Reading of the Mass for the feast of the Ascension of the Lord

We have already examined the Ascension motifs in which Jesus strides into heaven (here) and is lifted there in a mandorla or on a cloud (here).  Now we will look at what is my favorite image of the Ascension. There is something a bit whimsical about seeing only the feet of Jesus protruding from clouds.


The image appears to develop during the middle ages.  One of the earliest images I have found comes from the Psalter known alternately as the St. Alban's Psalter or the Psalter of Christina of Marykate, painted in England in the first quarter of the twelfth century.

Ascension
from the Psalter of Christina of Markyate
English (St. Alban's), 1124-1145
Hildesheim, Dombibliothek
It became quite a popular alternative to the images of striding or being lifted for the remainder of the middle ages.

Ascension
from a Picture Bible
French (St. Omer, Abbey of St. Bertin), c.1190-1200
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 F 5, fol. 23v
Ascension
from the Psalter of St. Louis and Blanche of CastilleFrench (Paris), c. 1225
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 1186, fol. 27v



























Ascension
from a Psalter
German (Augsburg), 1230-1255
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M280, fol. 11r

Ascension
from a Psalter
German (Franconia), 1245-1255
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G73, fol. 61v



























Ascension
from a Psalter
German (Worms), 1250-1299
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M284, fol. 9v

The Hospitaller Master, Ascension
from a French Bible
French (Paris), 1250-1275
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M494, fol. 610v






















Ascension
from the Livre d'images de Madame MarieBelgian (Hainaut), c. 1285-1290
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition francaise 16251, fol. 49v

Maubeuge Master, Ascension
from a Bible historiale
French (Paris), 1320-1330
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M323, fol. 260v

Richard de Montbaston, Ascension
from the Legenda aurea by Jacobus da Voragine
French (Paris), 1348
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 241, fol 124v
Ivory Diptych with the Ascension and Pentecost
French, 1370-1380
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Jean Bandol, Ascension
from a Bible historialeFrench, 1371-1372
The Hague, Meermano Museum
MS MMW_10B 23 555r






































It app
Anonymous Alabaster Carver, Ascension
English (Nottingham), 15th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ivory Panel from a Box,Ascension
French, 15th Century
Paris, Musee de Cluny, Musee national du Moyen Age


























The Imprinted Footsteps

From about the beginning of the fifteenth century the mountain some artists began to include footprints on the mountain shape (representing the Mount of Olives).  Looking carefully, one can sometimes see two tiny footprints side by side.  Not every image has them, but many do.  Look carefully at the following examples to see which have footprints.  Some are very subtle.

Fastolf Master, Ascension
from the Hours of William PorterFrench (Rouen), 1415-1430
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M105, fol. 20v
Ascension
from the Egmont BreviaryDutch (Utrecht), 1435-1445
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M87, fol. 231r



























Master of the Heisterbacher Altar with Stefan Lochner, Ascension
German, c. 1440
Bamberg, Staatsgalerie
Ascension
from Fleur des histoires by Jean Mansel
French, 1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 56, fol. 62v
Ascension
from a Bible moraliseeFlemish (Bruges), c. 1455-1460
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB76 E 7, fol. 219r


Jean Colombe and Workshop, Ascension
from a Book of HoursFrench (Bourges), 1475-1485
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M330, fol. 36r

Jacques de Besancon, Ascension
from the Legenda aurea by Jacobus de Voragine
French (Paris), c. 1480-1490
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 244, fol. 153



























Hans Memling, Ascension
Right wing of the Resurrection Triptych
German, c. 1490
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Master of the Older Prayer Book of Maximilian I
Ascension
from the Breviary of Eleanor of Portugal
Flemish (Bruges), 1495-1515
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M52, fol. 170v
Ascension
German, c. 1500
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Musseum





























Ascension
from a BreviaryFrench (Southern), 1506-1516
New  York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M8, fol. 126r

Jean Pichore. Ascemsopm
from a Prayer BookFrench (Paris), 1511-1513
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M292, fol. 21v



























Juan de Flandres. Ascemsopm
Flemish, 1514-1519
Madrid, Museo del Prado

During the seventeenth century the view from below changed.  Instead of observing Christ's feet disappearing into a cloud bank side by side, as if He were standing in the air, the view becomes one in which His entire body can be seen as He flies upward.  What we see most clearly, however, are His foreshortened, pierced feet.

Peter Paul Rubens, Ascension
Flemish, 1620
Vienna, Akademie der bildenden Kuenste

Eustache Le Sueur, Ascension
French, c. 1650
Private Collection

Jacob de Wit, Ascension
Dutch. c. 1751
London, Courtauld Gallery
This de Wit is clearly copied from the Rubens above.

But, perhaps the most unusual image of the Ascension ever created dates from the last half of the 20th century. It gives us a truly “Apostles’ eye view” of the event. Created by Salvador Dali in 1958, it is now in a private collection.
Salvador Dali
Spanish, 1958
San Diego, Museum of Art

As he did with other Biblical subjects, Dali once again gives us a unique, imaginative and, indeed, astonishing view. Obviously derived from the “disappearing feet” iconographic type, we are placed in the position of one of the Apostles, standing on the mountain, looking up and watching the feet of Jesus from below as He rises up into a golden circle among the clouds, as an angel watches.

For the other iconographic motifs of the Ascension see:

  • Jesus Striding into Heaven (here)
  • Jesus Lifted to Heaven in a Mandorla or on a Cloud (here)
  • The Direct Ascension (here)



© M. Duffy, 2011, revised 2017     


Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.