Tuesday, June 21, 2022

A Time of Change


Master of Jouvenel des Ursins and Workshop, Saints Hildegarde of Bingen
and Bernard of Clairvaux
From Mare historiarum by John of Cologne
French (Anjou), c. 1447-1455
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 4915, fol. 369v

For some time I have been pondering whether I should say something about the changes that have taken place in the work I am doing on this blog.  It is possible that you may have noticed that new reports are posted less frequently than they used to be.  Some of this is on account of personal reasons, chiefly the collapse of two additional disks in my lumbar spine last summer, plus a broken leg last autumn.  The leg has healed and even the disks seem to be improving with time.  But they still present a barrier to long sessions at the computer desk. In addition, the crash of one computer in mid-January has left me bereft of thousands of images collected over the last five years.  I know I should have had back up, but hindsight is 20/20, foresight is not.

However, these personal problems are not the most serious reason that essays are less frequent than they once were.  The true cause is the tremendous explosion of material that has become available in the last few years and, most especially, in the last two years.  When I began doing this blog, way back in 2008, there was very little available.  Many websites from museums and galleries carried some pictures of the works in their collections, but these were frequently in very low resolution and quite often merely thumbnails.  They were better than absolutely nothing, but they were hardly ideal.  Therefore, I restricted myself mostly to the few sources that carried some pictures that were better quality.  This scarcely amounted to a thorough survey of the multivariant sweep of the iconography of Western Christian art.  Its greatest virtue was probably the fact that I could complete a survey of what was available in just a few hours and work it up into a post.  Since I was still working a full-time job this was a blessing in its own way.

My retirement in 2010 didn't change things much, except that I now had a greater amount of time to spend on work collecting and researching images.  And this continued in pretty much the same way for several years.  But, toward the end of the 2010 decade, the quantity of available images began to increase as more and more museums responded to calls for opening up their image resources to the broader public.  Especially helpful was the work of the Creative Commons, an organization founded in 2001 to open digital resources to all.  American museums were among the first to open their resources of non-copyright images, and these were chiefly where my earlier essays were sourced.  European museums, with a few notable exceptions, such as the Rijksmuseum and London's National Gallery, were very slow to join in this effort and what was available remained difficult to use and of spotty quality for many years.  

The COVID pandemic has made a huge difference.  Suddenly, the entire world found itself in quarantine.  Museums and libraries were shut, exhibitions and programs were cancelled, tourists were gone, staff were working from home.  It was grim.  However, with true human ingenuity, many of the laggard institutions recognized the value of the digital world and began to make up for lost time.  There has been an explosion of available sources, and the quality of the digital material available has also increased dramatically.  Indeed it literally increases and improves daily!  

It is this, even more than my ability to sit at the computer for long periods, that has often caused me to run out of time in researching a topic.  Several projects have been abandoned because I could not complete the survey of sources in time to make the post timely.  One or two have been posted after the event they were intended to accompany had already passed.  Rather than to delay those that were nearly finished yet again, I posted them anyway.  After all, neither the realm of faith nor the representation of events in the history of art will change much in another year.  

Where it is feasible, I have also been updating the images in my older essays with new or  higher quality material as I go.  This also slows down the work on new essays.  But I think that the sacrifice is worth it.  I keep track of page views by the viewers and think that I owe it to people to give them the best material I can find. 

Older posts are often highlighted by being listed in the right hand column of the webpage.  This group of essays listed there changes constantly in keeping with the liturgical cycle for the year, focusing on the Sunday Scripture readings, feast days and seasons.  Every time one of these older items is listed, I review it and try to update any images that can be updated.  I find myself astonished to realize that to date I have completed over 400 of these essays!  

I am thrilled that so much more visual material is now available and also thrilled with the constantly improving quality of both this new material and updates to old material that museums and libraries are constantly providing.  However, research that once could take a week or two now stretches to more than a month, sometimes more than one month.

I hope this will explain why new articles are coming more slowly than they once did. 

© M. Duffy, 2022

Friday, June 10, 2022

Resources for Corpus Christi

Jean Bourdichon, Angels Holding the Host for Adoration
From Heures de Frédéric d'Aragon
French (Tours), c. 1501-1504
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10532, fol. 302

The feast of Corpus Christi or Corpus Domini or The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is a special feast day of the Church.  It occurs on either the Thursday after Trinity Sunday (in many countries) or on the Sunday after Trinity Sunday (in the United States).  It focuses our attention on the mystery of the Eucharist, in which the bread and wine that we offer are transformed into the true Body and Blood of Christ.

It was officially recognized by the Church in 1264 by Pope Urban IV, who asked St. Thomas Aquinas to compose the liturgical prayers for the feast.  Thomas responded with some of the most beautiful prayers and hymns in the history of the Church.  Artists also developed a complex and fascinating repertoire of images which celebrate the same mystery.  In past essays I have described many of the ways in which artists have responded.  Here is a series of links which you can use to access this material.

Lists of Posts Related to the Feast of Corpus Christi


Original Date of Publication

"The Miracle of the Mule – A Corpus Christi Reflection"

June 14, 2020

The Living Bread That Came Down From Heaven

June 18, 2017

"Of the Blood, All Price Exceeding, Shed by Our Immortal King"

June 18, 2017

Last Supper vs. Institution of the Eucharist

June 26, 2011

Corpus Christi in the Vatican Stanze

May 25, 2008

Posts Reviewing the 2013 Exhibition Illuminating Faith: The Eucharist in Medieval Life and Art 
at the Morgan Library, New York

Original Date of Publication

May 29, 2013

May 30, 2013

May 31, 2013             

June 4, 2013

June 5, 2013

June 12, 2013

Posts Examining the Related Iconography of the Manna in the Desert, an Old Testament Prefiguration of the Eucharist, and the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish, a New Testament Prefiguration


Original Date of Publication

Prefiguring Salvation –Manna in the Desert and the Bread from Heaven, Part I

August 15, 2018

Prefiguring Salvation -- Manna in the Desert and the Bread from Heaven, Part II

August 15, 2018

Prefiguring Salvation -- Manna in the Desert and the Bread from Heaven, Part III

August 25, 2018

Illustrating Miracles – Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish

August 2, 2020

© M. Duffy, 2021

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Links for the Easter Season

Anthony van Dyck, The Resurrection
Flemish, c. 1631-1632
Hartford (CT), Wadsworth Athenaeum

The days of Lent and the days of sadness that are the Triduum are past and Easter 2022 has arrived!




I wish you a happy and profoundly inspiring Easter Season.

Who could have imagined two years ago that Christian worship on Easter would be restricted for two whole cycles!  While the picture is certainly better than it was one year ago, when most churches in the world were completely closed, there are still obstacles to the kind of celebration we were used to participating in.  

In many locations churches are either closed or are open under limited circumstances.  Also, many people still feel unsafe being indoors and, therefore, reluctant to attend the liturgies that commemorate the events of the Easter Season.  For these reasons I recommend to you the links below.  They lead to some of the commentary that I have written over the  years regarding the iconography of the Easter Season, which extends from this happy day till Pentecost and Trinity Sunday.

With museums in many countries closed once again as well, please feel free to explore virtually the art created to imagine the Resurrection and the days immediately following, all the way through to the feast of the Holy Trinity.  I hope that considering these events and the pictures that artists have created to illustrate them over the centuries will help you to feel more connected to the long tradition of Christian art offered to the glory of God and to the living Church of our own time.

The Resurrection, the Appearances, the Incredulity of Thomas, Emmaus

Date Published

The Women at the Tomb

April 27, 2011

Noli Me Tangere

April 29, 2011

Jesus, the Gardener
April 18, 2017

The Incredulity of St. Thomas (Doubting Thomas)
May 1, 2011

Emmaus -- The Journey

May 7, 2011

Emmaus -- The Recognition

May 7, 2011

Climbing from the Tomb

May 13, 2011

Hovering over the Tomb

May 13, 2011

Bursting from the Tomb

May 14, 2011

An Awkward
Resurrection Image

April 23, 2014
Good Shepherd Sunday
May 15, 2011

The Lake of Galilee -- The Disciples Go Fishing

May 17, 2011

Commission to Peter -- The Good Shepherd Transfers Responsibility

May 21, 2011

The Commission to the Apostles

May 27, 2011

Christ Appears to His Mother

Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother

June 1, 2011

May 11, 2017

The Ascension

Striding into the Sky
June 3, 2011

Lifted in a Mondorla or on a Cloud

May 5, 2017

The Disappearing Feet

May 5, 2017

The Direct Approach

May 5, 2017


Veni, Sanctae Spiritus

Tongues of Fire

May 27, 2012

May 15, 2016



At This Sound, They Gathered In a Crowd

The Holy Trinity

Worthy Is The Lamb

Father, Son, Spirit

Iconography of the 
Holy Trinity – 
Imagining The Unimaginable

The Holy Trinity -- Love Made Visible

The Holy Trinity -- The Throne of Grace


May 17, 2016

April 10, 2016

May 18, 2008

June 2, 2012

June 13, 2019

June 7, 2020

© M. Duffy, 2020

Saturday, April 16, 2022

The Day of Gloom and the Coming of the Light

Paolo Veronese, Dead Christ Supported By Angels
Italian, 1587-1589
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
This essay, originally  written several years ago, was amended in 2020 due to the reduced circumstances occasioned by the lockdowns that were in effect in many countries as part of the battle against COVID-19.  I wanted to assist people in their  meditation on the meaning of Easter. 

Although the circumstances are far better this year in most places, the sense of disruption remains.  A new variant is stalking many places, including my own city of New York, so attending the Triduum and Easter services may cause some worry.  One may chose to pass on certain services that will be crowded and resort to the now familiar lives tream from your parish or cathedral or from Rome.  Consequently, liturgies will, perhaps, not be as full as usual and may lack some of the usual elements, such as processions.  Or,  some actions, such as venerationg of the cross, may be more controlled.  

However, the Paschal Candle will be lit and the Exultet will be sung.  Catechumens will be baptized and baptized converts will be received into the church.  The readings will still tell us about creation and the exodus of the Jews from Egypt.  The Eucharist will still be consecrated and received.  The Alleluias will still be sung.  Nevertheless,  since every person in the world has not been vaccinated yet and the virus continues to infect millions, while millions more will stay home to avoid it, the essay seems worth repeating.  But, please remember that it was written in April 2020, not currently.

On a typical Holy Saturday the church is quiet, the tabernacle empty, the altar stripped. People come for services such as Tenebrae, made up of readings, songs and symbolic acts such as the snuffing out of candles or for Confession to ask God for forgiveness.

 Basically, the prevailing mood is quiet, a little gloomy even, but with a hint of excitement nonetheless.

This year of 2020 things are very different.  The churches are very quiet indeed, for they are empty.  There will be no public celebrations of Tenebrae, no Confessions, unless they are drive through or by appointment in carefully distanced surroundings.  There will be an Easter Vigil, however, even if there is no one in the church building except the minimum necessary.  The major portion of the Christian world is in isolation, staying at home in an attempt to reduce the raging pandemic of COVID-19, a virus no one knew existed until four months ago.

But the congregations will be there, virtually, attending the services of the churches that have found a way to live stream the Holy Week liturgies.  In this we are so much more privileged than our ancestors who endured previous plagues and epidemics.  In these last days I have been present virtually at liturgies in several countries and in different states:  Rome, Paris, Turin, New York and California.  In spite of the pandemic, which has caused me to hunker down in my apartment due to my several prior "comorbidities" I feel highly blessed to be able to live in a time when this is possible.

So, today while we remember the hours between the evening of Good Friday, when the body of Jesus was laid hurriedly in the tomb with little ceremony, and the morning of Easter Sunday, when the women who came to complete the proper burial customs found an empty tomb, we find ourselves enduring a kind of burial as well.

But, underneath it all is still the sense of expectation.  And, late in the afternoon, we will turn to the screens of our television or computer or tablet or phone to celebrate the Easter Vigil, the Great Vigil, in which the darkness of the tomb is turned to the light of resurrection.

As the massive newly carved and lit Paschal Candle is carried down the aisle of the darkened church we will be confronted with a symbolic image that has come down to us from remote centuries, for the light represents the Risen Christ.  This year we cannot light our small candles with the rest of the congregation, though perhaps we may light one at home.  But we should try to hold in memory what happens year after year as the individual candles are lit from the great one.  The church gradually fills with light.  What was obscure and gloomy just moments ago can be seen clearly.  It is a magnificent symbol of the Resurrection, of the share we each have in it and of the effect that spreading that light can have on the world.  This year the light may come only from the screen, but it is none the less a manifestation of the Light of Christ.  And if all the tuned-in screens in the world could shine together, we might have a very different world.

Deacon Singing the Exultet 
From  an Exultet Roll
Italian (Montecassino), ca. 1072
In this scene he gestures toward the Paschal Candle, which is being incensed

For more information on the images that relate to both the day of waiting and of the Paschal Candle, please click on the following:

The Harrowing of Hell here

The Dead Christ in the Tomb here

Easter Vigil and the Paschal Candle here

©  M. Duffy, 2015, updated 2020 and 2021 and 2022

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Links for Holy Week

Giotto, Jesus Washes the Feet of Peter
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Scrovegni/Arena Chapel (detail)

I won't be blogging during the next few weeks, which include Holy Week (April 10-April 13) and the Paschal Triduum (April 14,15, 16).  Instead I am providing links to the numerous essays I have written in recent years about the art associated with these days. Please use the links below to access them.

Also watch the Featured Posts section on the right for direct links to associated articles.  You may particularly wish to click on the links to the images associated with the Stations of the Cross and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, both popular devotional prayers recalling the events of Holy Week.

2011 Series:  Holy Week with Giotto (with some additional essays from later years)

Date Published
Palm Sunday
Holy Week with Giotto, Palm Sunday
April 17, 2011

Entering Jerusalem, the Hinge to the Passion
April 9, 2017

Monday and
Holy Week with Giotto – Jesus and Judas
April 19, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Judas’ Betrayal I
April 20, 2011

Spy Wednesday -- Thirty Pieces of Silver
April 1, 2015

Holy Week with Giotto – Holy Thursday, Washing Feet
April 21, 2011

Holy Thursday
April 5, 2012

Holy Week with Giotto – Judas’ Betrayal II, the Kiss
April 20, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Overnight, Christ Before Caiaphas
April 21, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Early Morning, Mocking of Christ
April 21, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Mid-Morning, Via Crucis
April 22, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Early Afternoon, the Crucifixion
April 22, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Late Afternoon, the Lamentation
April 22, 2011

Holy Saturday
April 23, 2011

O, Key of David! Come, break down the walls of death!
December 20, 2011

Exult! – The Easter Proclamation
March 30, 2013

The Day of Gloom and the Coming of the Light

© M. Duffy, 2022

April 4, 2015

Friday, March 25, 2022

Links to the Iconography of the Annunciation


Attributed to the Egerton Master, Hours of Rene of Anjou
French (Paris), 1410
London, British Library
MS Egerton 1070, fol.15v 

""    "Be pleased, almighty God,
 to accept your Church’s offering,
 so that she, who is aware that her beginnings
 lie in the Incarnation of your Only Begotten Son,
 may rejoice to celebrate his  mysteries on this
 Who lives and reigns for ever and  ever."

     This is the Offertory Prayer of the Mass for the Feast of the Solemnity of the Annunciation, March 25.

     At its very beginning Christianity makes an astounding claim.  This is that one of God's greatest messengers, the Archangel Gabriel, visited a teenage Jewish girl in the Galilean town of Nazareth and announced to her that she had "found favor with God" to become the mother of a special child.  He told her that her child would be a son and would be named Jesus and that "He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  Her quite reasonable answer was that she didn't see how this could be as she was a virgin, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”  (Luke 1:26-35)

      The angel responded with the mysterious words: “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God."  And at these words the girl, whose name was Mary, gave her consent.  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”  And, nine months later, a baby boy was born in a stable in the Judean town of Bethlehem. (Luke 1:35-38)


     This is the Annunciation.  It is a feast day of the church that is celebrated on March 25th each year.  The date of the event that it commemorates is unknown of course.  But there was a belief in the early Church that March 25th was the day on which Jesus was both conceived and crucified.  It is difficult to say whether this thinking influenced the date chosen for the celebration of Christmas, the feast of the birth of Christ, as nine months from March 25 is December 25.  Or it may have been the other way round, with the date chosen to commemorate the birth of Christ dictating the date on which the Church celebrates his conception.

     The Annunciation is a major event in the New Testament, and therefore has a long and complex visual history.  Artists have tried to convey some of the mystery surrounding the event and to convey the ways in which thinking about this event developed over time.  A list of the many ways in which this iconography has been developed through the centuries is listed below.   Please feel free to explore.

© M. Duffy, 2022

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
The English translation of the Order of Mass, Antiphons, Collects, Prayers over the Offerings, Prayers after Communion, and Prefaces from The Roman Missal © 2010, ICEL. All rights reserved.