Sunday, February 22, 2015

New Martyrs

Tony Rezk, 21 Coptic Martyrs of Libya
American, 2015
Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California 
and Hawaii
As the world is now aware, twenty-one men from Egypt were beheaded by ISIS in Libya last week simply for being  Coptic Christians. Many of them are reported to have died confessing their faith verbally.

Their deaths certainly meet the classic definition of martyrdom for the faith.  And, the Coptic church has announced that they will henceforth be commemorated as martyrs, with a feast day on February 15th each year.  A new icon has been drawn by the artist Tony Rezk for the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California and Hawaii.  The icon shows them lined up, kneeling on a beach, with the ocean behind them.  The setting , and the orange shaded robes they wear, reflect the actual scene of their deaths -- kneeling, with their backs to the Mediterranean and wearing orange overalls.  The red sashes crossed over their torsos reflect their blood, shed for Christ, while the halos reflect their new status and angels prepare to shower them with the crown of martyrdom.

With their deaths and with the recent Vatican decision to recognize Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador as a martyr we can see that martyrdom is not something from the past.  It can occur at any time and in any place today.  May the Martyrs of Libya pray for us and for their suffering brothers and sisters.

© M. Duffy, 2015

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Joyful Mysteries – The Annunciation, Part V: Telling The Whole Story

Fra Angelico, Annunciation
Italian, ca. 1426
Madrid, Museo del Prado
This great painting by Fra Angelico surrounds the
Annunciation with two parts of the "whole" story.
Adam and Eve are excluded from Paradise at the left
while, in the pradella at the bottom, are scenes from Mary's life.
Some images of the Annunciation try to place the event in the context of other events which are related to it.  They can be thought of as didactic images, telling us something that will add to our understanding of the miraculous event that is the primary focus of the work of art.

Among the possibilities for storytelling in this way are images that include:

Adam and Eve
As previously noted in other articles (notably here), by the mid-second century (ca. 150 AD) St. Paul’s idea of equating Christ with Adam as a new creation, who through His obedient acceptance of the human condition and human death cancelled the sin of Adam, the first human (1 Corinthians 15:21-22), had taken root and been expanded to identify Mary as the new Eve.  By her obedient acceptance of and acquiescence to God’s word Mary had cancelled out the sin of Eve, the first woman and the first to cooperate with evil. 
Master of the Rouen Echevinage, Annunciation
French (Rouen), 1495-1505
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M129, fol. 21r
Thus, it is not surprising to find the image of Adam and Eve as a secondary focus in scenes of the Annunciation.  We find it in the background or in the decoration of the space in which the Annunciation scene is set.   As we have seen, even the setting of the Annunciation in a garden has this resonance.  But some images make the connection very definite. 


In addition to pictures that include the one scene of temptation and fall is a category that includes other prototypes.  This tradition appears as early as the 12th century in the famous Klosterneuburg altarpiece by the Mosan metalworker, Nicholas of Verdun and was made especially popular in the later Middle Ages through the medium of the Speculum humanae salvationis or the Biblia pauperum which were books directed particularly toward the laity.  The typical form was to combine a scene from the life of Christ (Time Under Grace) with two Old Testament scenes, the first from the books that dealt with the history of the world up to the giving of the Ten Commandments (Time Before the Law), the second from the subsequent history of Israel (Time Under the Law).    In this scheme, the scene of the Annunciation (from Under Grace) appears sandwiched between the Temptation of Eve or the Fall of Man (Before the Law) and another scene, frequently that of Gideon and the Fleece (Under the Law). 
Rambures Master, Annuciation with Prototypes (Temptation of Eve and Gideon and the Fleece)
from Biblia pauperum
Northern France (Hesdin of Amiens), ca, 1470
The Hague, Museum Moormano-Westentrianum
MS MMW 10A 16, fol. 21r

I have described the image of the Temptation and/or Fall (from Genesis) several times (notably here).  The image of Gideon and the Fleece is less well known.  It is taken from the Book of Judges (Judges 6:36-40).  This tells the story of how, Gideon, needing reassurance that God is actually asking him to undertake the defense of Israel, challenges God to give him a sign. 
 “Gideon said to God, “If indeed you are going to save Israel through me, as you have said,
I am putting this woolen fleece on the threshing floor, and if dew is on the fleece alone, while all the ground is dry, I shall know that you will save Israel through me, as you have said.”
That is what happened. Early the next morning when he wrung out the fleece, he squeezed enough dew from it to fill a bowl.
Gideon then said to God, “Do not be angry with me if I speak once more. Let me make just one more test with the fleece. Let the fleece alone be dry, but let there be dew on all the ground.”
That is what God did that night: the fleece alone was dry, but there was dew on all the ground.”

Jan Joest of Kalkar, Annunciation
Dutch, 1508
Kalkar Kleve, Church of St. Nicholas
In the background of the Annunciation
we see Gideon with the fleece on the left
and the Meeting at the Golden Gate
between Mary's parents at the right.
The medieval imagination saw this event (what we might call a double-blind challenge to God) both as a prototype for the miraculous impregnation of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit (the fleece impregnated with dew) and as a reference to her perpetual virginity (the fleece kept dry).  It is also in keeping with other images, drawn from the Old Testament, that the liturgy of the Church uses when referring to the Incarnation, such as the well-known verse from Isaiah, known as the Rorate Caeli from its Latin words, that is used frequently during Advent, the liturgical period of four weeks of preparation for Christmas (“Let justice descend, you heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the clouds drop it down.  Let the earth open and salvation bud forth; let righteousness spring up with them! Isaiah 45:8) 1

Mary’s Background History
A third way in which artists expanded the Annunciation iconography with other references is by including scenes from the apocryphal texts that gave details of the lives of her parents, Joachim and Anne, and of the story of her own conception.  In some pictures, the Annunciation is surrounded with the scenes of her family story from the rejection of Joachim’s sacrifice because he is childless, to the separate annunciations of Mary’s birth to her parents, their meeting at the Golden Gate of Jerusalem, Mary’s birth, her presentation by her parents for service in the Temple, the choice of Joseph as her future husband and her betrothal to him.

Fra Angelico, Predella of Prado Annunciation
Italian, ca. 1426
Madrid, Museo del Prado
The predella of the Prado Annunciation presents scenes from the life of Mary.  From left to right:  Betrothal of Mary
and Joseph, Visitation, Adoration of the Magi, Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Assumption of the Virgin Mary
 All these images have a didactic purpose.  They are trying to offer the viewer a more complete sense of the importance of the central image and its place in the continuing history of Israel.  

Master of Philippe of Guelders, Annunciation
from Book of Hours
French (Paris), 1435-1515
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M117, fol. 28r
The scene of the Annunciation is surrounded by
smaller images from the lives of Mary's parents,
Joachim and Anne
It should be remembered as well, that many of the pictures that we see today as independent panels or canvases may have originally come from situations that are similar to those I have discussed.  But, whereas the images I am showing here included these ancillary scenes within the one piece, it was far more common to include an Annunciation in a location where it was but one of a series of paintings telling the more complete story, for the event of the Annunciation is both an end and a beginning.  
Petrus Christus, Annunciation
Flemish, 1452
Bruges, Groeninge Museum
This image combines the Annunciation with
the past and the future.  Images of the prophets and from the
history of Joachim and Anne are the sculptures
that surround the doorway and the Coronation of Mary
as Queen of Heaven is the image in the roundel at the top
of the stained glass window.

It is the end of the story of God’s dealings with humanity from Creation on that can be grouped under the medieval categories of Before the Law and Under the Law.  

Chief Associate of Maitre Francois
from The Phoenix Hours
French, 1475-1499
New York, Columbia University Library
Rare Books and Manuscripts Division
MS BP 96, fol. 33

At the same time, it is the first event in the recreation of the world in a renewed time, which can be designated as the time Under Grace.   Through her assent to the angel’s message, the Divine Word enters the world and remakes it through His life, death and resurrection.  Time is renewed and sanctified and humanity is given the means of salvation.  

    1.Raw, Barbara C., “As Dew in Aprille”, The Modern Language Review, Vol . 55, No. 3, 1960, p[p. 411-414.

© M. Duffy, 2015

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Mary's Birthday

Virgin of Notre Dame de Paris
French, 14th Century
Paris, Cathedral de Notre Dame de Paris
With floral decorations in honor of
her birthday, taken by me September 8, 2006
The host site for this blog collects lots of statistics, for example, how many visitors for each day, week, month; where in the world they are coming from; what sites are referring them to this blog; what search engines they are using; what operating systems their computers have and, among some other things, what questions they are inputting to the search engines they are using.  

In recent weeks I have noted that one question keeps recurring.  It is "Mary's birthday is ..... March?"  Well, the question is a good one, but the presumption on which it is based is a bit of a problem because Mary's birthday is not in March at all.

There is probably a conflation going on here in the mind or minds of the questioners.  The two things being conflated are both events in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary and both are feasts of the Church.  One is in March, but the other one is in September.
Philippe de Champaigne, Annunciation
French, ca. 1645
London, Wallace Collection

The Annunciation, about which I have recently been blogging quite a lot (with a few more to go) is celebrated on March 25th.  No brain surgery needed to see why that date was selected to celebrate the important event, the Incarnation of the Lord through the assent of Mary to the message of the Angel Gabriel.  It was placed on March 25th because it had been decided to celebrate the Birth of the Lord (the Nativity) on December 25th.  By counting back nine months from the birthdate, we arrive at March 25th.  

Boccacio Boccaccino, Birth of the Virgin
Italian, 1514-1515
Cremona, Cathedral
The other date is the birthday of the Virgin Mary.  This was set on September 8th, with the date of her conception set nine months earlier, on December 8th.  This is known as the Immaculate Conception, not because there was no sex involved in it but because, to prepare her spiritually for her future role as the Mother of Jesus (Mother of God), she was granted the grace to be formed without any participation in the root sin of humanity, Original Sin.

So, let's get this straight. Mary's birthday is NOT in March.  It is in September.  But both days (in March and in September) celebrate the same event in different ways, which is the Incarnation of the Divine Word as a human being through a remarkable  young woman who was specially prepared by God for her important role in it.  

© M. Duffy, 2015

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Snow Time -- S'No Time To Be Outside

The Limbourg Brothers, February
from Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
Dutch, 1412-1416
Chantilly, Musee Conde

Last night, with the entire East Coast hunkered down for a strong nor’easter and heavy snow, I couldn’t  resist stepping a bit outside my normal iconographic concerns to prepare some observations on the art of the snow scene.

From my windows today I can see the roofs of Manhattan covered in the white stuff, the pine trees planted on some penthouses as picturesque as in any Alpine scene. I am grateful that, for us at least, it wasn’t heavier and sorry for those to our northeast who took the full brunt of the storm.

With nowhere to go, since transportation is still limited, and with the power off in some locations, we find our twenty-first century selves thrown back – almost – to an earlier world, sharing with our ancestors the beauty and the disruption.

The first snow scene we are aware of is the amazingly detailed and very charming one produced by the Limbourg Brothers (Jean,Herman and Paul) for the February calendar page of the Tres Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry, produced around 1415. 

February from a Breviary
French (Paris), ca. 1345-`355
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M75, fol. 1v
Traditionally, the February calendar page in Books of Hours showed the activity of the month to consist either of keeping warm in front of a fire, eating beside it (same as January) or of chopping twigs in a snowless landscape, often combined with the fishes that are the astrological sign of Pisces.  

The Limbourgs do present the warming scene and the astrological reference, but then devote the largest portion of the page to what is happening beyond the house.

Limbourg Brothers, February (detail)
from Tres Riches Heures du Duc de BerryDutch, 1412-1416
Chantilly, Musee Conde

They show the sheep penned up in their fold to keep them warm and safe, the snow covered bee hives, the pigeons and other birds feeding on some scattered grain.  On the far right a woman worker, her skirts hiked up above her knees, showing the very practical boots she is wearing, hurries to get indoors as she breathes on her cold hands which are covered by the shawl she is wearing over her head and upper body.  She is the very picture of shivering cold. 

Beyond the woven wall that surrounds the farmyard a man with an ax is chopping at a tree, presumably for more firewood. Another man drives a donkey, with panniers laden with what looks like logs, past snow covered hay stacks toward a distantly seen town.  For a first image it is a very strikingly successful rendering of the visual and emotional effects of winter snows and cold. 

Snow scenes remained a special field for northern painters, from the Low Countries, Germany and France, through the centuries, spreading later to America.  Mostly the scenes are simple landscapes, showing the effect of snow on the natural world, or scenes of daily human activities in the snow. 

Jean Bourdichon, January
from Grandes Heures d'Anne de Bretagne
French, 1503-1508
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9474, fol. 4

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Hunters in the Snow
Flemish, 1565
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Denis van Alsloot, Winter Landscape
Flemish, 1610
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Joos de Momper, Winter Landscape with Wagon
Flemish, ca. 1620
Private Collection

Jacob van Ruysdael, Winter
Dutch, 1670
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Barend Cornelis Koekkoek, Winter
Dutch, 1838
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
Johannes Cornelis Hoppenbrouwers, Winter Landscape
Dutch, 1854
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Caspar David Friedrich, Winter
German, 1811
London, National Gallery

Thomas Hiram Hotchkiss, Catskill Winter
American, 1858
New York, New York Historical Society
George Henry Boughton, Winter Twilight Near Albany
American, 1859-1869
New York, New York Historical Society

Henry Farrer, Moonlight in Winter
American, 1869
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Claude Monet, Cart on the Snowy Road at Honfleur
French, 1865
Paris, Musee d'Orsay

Claude Monet, Snow at Argenteuil
French, 1874
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts

Claude Monet, Haystacks (Effect of Snow and Sun)
French, 1891
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Alfred Sisley, Rue Moussoir at Moret: Winter
English, 1891
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Paul Gauguin, Garden in Winter, Rue Carcel
French, 1883
Private Collection
Childe Hassam, Winter, Union Square
American, 1889-1890
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

George Bellows, Blue Snow, the Battery
American, 1910
Columbus, Museum of Art

Many feature the effect of snow and ice on the human sense of fun, showing people enjoying the frozen rivers and ponds in the same way we do today:  by strapping on a pair of ice skates, sledding, playing games or flirting.  

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Winter Landscape with Skaters and a Bird Trap
Belgian, 1565
Brussels, Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts

Hendrick Avercamp, A Scene on the Ice
Dutch, 1625
Washington, National Gallery of Art
Aert van der Neer, Sports on a Frozen River
Dutch, ca. 1660
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Vincent van der Vinne, Winter Landscape with Skaters on a Frozen Canal
Dutch, Undated (lived 1736-1811)
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Francois Boucher, Winter
French, 1735
New York, Frick Collection
Currier and Ives, Central Park in Winter
American, 1877-1894
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

George Bellows, Love of Winter
American, 1914
Chicago, Art Institute

A handful of paintings make the snow a backdrop for religious storytelling,    
Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Census at Bethlehem
Belgian, 1566
Brussels, Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts
Almost unnoticed amid the busy scene is the donkey carrying Mary led by Joseph.

Joos de Momper, Winter Landscape with Flight into Egypt
Flemish, Undated (lived 1564-1634)
Private Collection
As with the Brueghel painting, the flight of the Holy Family goes virtually
unnoticed at the bottom left.

George Henry Boughton, Pilgrims Going to Church
American, 1867
New York, New York Historical Society

history painting

Emanuel Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware
American, 1851
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

or for allegory.
Antoine Caron, The Triumph of Winter
French, ca. 1568
Private Collection
In this interesting painting the French Mannerist Antoine Caron presents an allegorical fantasy, a pageant of
the Triumph of Winter taking place along the banks of the Seine in Paris, opposite the Tuileries.  Winter sits on the triumphal car drawn by cranes at the right.  Preceding him is a procession of the pagan gods led by Janus and including Apollo, Mercury, Diana, Mars and Vulcan.  They are heading for a small, round temple which appears to be floating in the Seine and are watched by citizens on both sides of the river as well as from boats on it.  The finely observed footprints in the snow suggest careful study of the reality of snow's physical effects.  One hopes, however,  that this is a work of  Caron's imagination or, if not, that the participants didn't die of frostbite!
Jacques de la Joue the Younger, Allegory of Winter
French, ca. 1740
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Much as we do with our own snow photographs the pictures tend to focus on the after effects of the storm, not on its fury.  Snow times s’no time to be out in it, but after the snow has passed it is the time to observe, admire and have some fun.

©M. Duffy, 2015