Wednesday, April 23, 2014

An Awkward Resurrection Image

A Happy and Blessed Easter season to all!  The Lord is Risen!

This will be an interruption to my series of postings on the issue of the identification of the figure seated to the Jesus' left in the DaVinci Last Supper.  But I just couldn't resist an image I recently found of the Resurrection.  It definitely caused me to smile when I found it and I would like to share it with you.

Several years ago I wrote a series of essays for this blog regarding the iconography of the Resurrection. (See postings for April and May 2011 in the panel at the right of this web page.)  One of the essays was entitled Climbing From the Tomb.  In it I described one of the earliest depictions of the actual event of the  Resurrection.  In  this somewhat awkward and static treatment of the subject artists showed Jesus literally climbing from the grave.  It was superseded as time went on my more dynamic images as Jesus first hovered over, then finally burst from, the tomb.

This year, while trawling the growing body of images available on the internet from institutions around the world, I came across an image in a manuscript preserved here in New York at the Morgan Library.  It is a curious composition, more awkward than any that formed part of my original group of images of climbing.
Resurrection of Jesus from Book of Hours
French (Paris), 1485-1495
New York, Morgan Library
MS H3, fol. 199r

The manuscript is a Book of Hours, a medieval prayer book used mostly by the laity and often illustrated lavishly.  This particular book was painted in Paris in the last few decades of the fifteenth century.

The image in question clearly derives from the image of the Man of Sorrows (about which I also wrote in 2012).  The artist has modified a fairly standard image of the Man of Sorrows, that is Jesus shown in a state, sometimes dead and sometimes half awake, emerging half way from the tomb to display His wounds.  He has modified the gesture of Jesus toward the wound in His side into a gesture of blessing and covered the other hand in drapery.  The amusement enters when we see how he has introduced the "climbing" element.  He has added a curiously disembodied leg to the outside of the tomb.  It has no real relationship to the body of Jesus, except that provided by a swirl of drapery.   Its position is not one that is realistic in any sense of the word.  It's merely a sort of pasted on addition to an already familiar pose.  Seeing it shows that the painters of the other images I wrote about in 2011 were obviously more advanced in their ability to present a believable figure than the illuminator who prepared this book.

The derivation of this particular image in the Morgan Book of Hours is not surprising when you notice that this book (available for viewing on the Morgan website (here) has more images of the Man of Sorrows than I have ever seen.  Obviously, the illuminator was comfortable with this particular image and it colored every image where it could be used.  Indeed, even his many images of Christ in other situations are basically modifications of the same pose.   He appears to have had one basic image that he used over and over and over in this Book of Hours.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Man or Woman 5: St. John the Evangelist or Mary Magdalene? – Witnesses to the Crucifixion

Andrea de Firenze, Crucifixion
Italian, 1470-1377
Vatican City, Pinacoteca
“Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala.  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”  Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:25-27)

Each of the Gospels provides a listing of the witnesses to the Crucifixion, but only John mentions the presence of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, and “the disciple whom he loved”, who is traditionally believed to be John himself.  Mark (Mark 15:40) and Matthew (Matthew 27:56) give us the names of Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Joseph (or Joses) and another woman who is identified as the mother of the sons of Zebedee by Matthew and as Salome by Mark.  Luke mentions only that “all his acquaintances stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee and saw these events” (Luke 23:49).
Yet, it is the description in the Gospel of John that has formed the visual imagery of the Crucifixion, almost from the earliest times.  This may be due to the extra drama introduced by the dialogue between Jesus, Mary and John, in which Jesus, as it were, gives his mother a new son and gives his disciple a second mother.  
Anonymous, Rabula Gospels
Syrian, 586
Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana
MS Plutei 01.56, fol. 13r

It is this trio of Jesus, Mary and John that has formed our core image of the Crucifixion from as early as the sixth century.  In the Rabula Gospels, written in Syria in the late sixth century, we see this already to be true.  Other persons may be included in images of the Crucifixion, but these two figures are always there.  And the figure of John, while unmistakably dressed in male clothing, is always an image of the young, beardless man. 

Pontificale Shirborniensis, Crucifixion
English (Canterbury), 875-900
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 943, fol. 4v
Missale S. Dionysii, Crucifixion
French (Arras), ca. 1050
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9436, fol. 16

Ivory, Crucifixion
Byzantine, ca. 950
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Gospel Book, Crucifixion
German (Pruem), ca. 1100-1130
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 17325, fol. 28
Apse Mosaic (detail)
Italian, 1130s
Rome, Basilica of San Clemente

Psalter, Crucifixion
English (possibly London), 1220-1230
New York, Morgan Library
MS G25, fol. 2v
Psalter of St. Louis and Blance of Castille
French, ca. 1225
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 1186, fol. 24

Ivoy Pax, Crucifixion
South German, ca. 1360-1370
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art. the Cloisters

Rogier van der Weyden, Crucifxion
Netherlandish, ca. 1460
El Escorial, Monastery of St. Lorenzo
Pietro Perugino, Calitzin Triptych (center)
Italian, 1481-1485
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art

So ubiquitous were these images that nearly every church, even many of the most humble, included a statuary group of three figures, Jesus, Mary and John.  
Choir Screen, Crucifixion
German, ca. 1245
Naumberg, Cathedral
Hans Bol, Francois-Hercule de France
attending Mass from Prayer Book
Belgian (Antwerp), 1582
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10564, fol. 6v
Here we see a contemporary portrait of the
Duke of Alencon, suitor of Elizabeth II,
attending Mass.  In the background we
can see an example of a choir screen as it
appeared from inside the choir of the church.

This group might stand at the entrance to the church or atop a screen between the altar area and the nave (called in England a rood screen, from the old English word for cross).  Most were demolished in the Reformation and during subsequent centuries, but some survive in situ and parts of others survive in museums and private collections.  
Anonymous, Mourning Virgin
Austrian (Tyrol), 13th Century
New York, Metropolitan Musuem of Art
Anonymous, St. John the Evangelist
Austrian (Tyrol), 13th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Interestingly, the one person about whose presence there is complete agreement in the Gospels is Mary Magdalene.  Clearly, she was a witness.  However, it is not she who is shown at all times and in all places. Her presence appears primarily in later images of the Crucifixion, apparently beginning in the 14th century.
Giotto, Crucifixion
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Arena Chapel

Duccio, Crucifixion
Italian, 1308-1311
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

She is clearly distinguished from John whenever she is shown.  John is always shown in relation to Mary, either as her exact pendant figure (one on each side of the cross) or as her masculine supporter.  Mary is frequently seen only in relation to Jesus.  She is the emotionally reactive figure, kneeling at the foot of the Cross or bewailing the event.  She is usually shown in somewhat more extravagant feminine garb that the usually conservative Mary.  She often, though not always, appears with unveiled hair.  She is very clearly female.  And her femininity reinforces John’s masculinity.  
Jan van Eyck, Crucifixion
Netherlandish, 1420-1425
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Massaccio, Crucifixion
Italian, ca. 1426
Naples, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte

Andrea Mantegna, Crucifixion
Italian, 1457-1459
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Anonymous, Crucifixion from
Book of Hours
Franch (Paris), 1495-1500
New York, Morgan Library
MS H5, fol. 79r

Matthia Gruenwald, Crucifixion (central panel of the Isenheim Altar)
German, ca. 1515
Colmar, Musee d'Unterlinden
Gerard David, Crucifixion
Flemish, ca. 1515
Berlin, Staatliche Museen

Bernardino Luini, Crucifixion
Italian, ca. 1530
St. Petersberg, Hermitage
El Greco, Crucifixion
Greco-Spanish, 198-1600
Madrid, Museo del Prado

Simon Vouet, Crucifixion
French, 1622
Genoa, Chiesa del Gesu
Nicolas Tournier, Crucifixion
French, ca. 1635
Paris, Musee du Louvre

Francesco Conti, Crucifixion
Italian, 1709
Florence, Basilica of San Lorenzo
Here the emotions that were building up
over several centuries have exploded and St. John,
who  unusually sports a light beard, seems to have
been overcome with as much emotion as
Mary Magdalene or the Blessed Virgin.

Constantine Brumidi, Crucifixion
Italian-American, 1870-1880
New York, Church of the Holy Innocents

Salvador Dali, Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus)
Spanish, 1954
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
More a concept than a work of visual storytelling
Dali's picture is unusual in including only
the image of Mary Magdalene

Nothwithstanding a few solitary examples, there is not, nor ever was, any visual confusion that John, a young beardless man, is the primary witness to the Crucifixion, in spite of the fact that the three Synoptic1 Gospels tell a somewhat different story!

1. The Synoptic Gospels are the three Gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark and Luke, which share many of the same stories and other material, as opposed to the very different, more theologically oriented, Gospel of John.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Man or Woman 4: St. John the Evangelist or Mary Magdalen? -- Martyrdom, Miracles and Death of St. John the Evangelist

Anonymous, Martyrdom of St. John the Evangelist
in Boiling Oil from Psalter
Netherlands (Ghent), 1250-1275
London, British Library
MS Burney 345, fol. 70r
Previously, we have examined the ways in which St. John the Evangelist is depicted as an evangelist and have demonstrated that the figure often seen holding a chalice is also a depiction of a legendary incident in the life of John.  Now we will look at some other images of John generally based on legendary accounts.
As previously mentioned, John is traditionally known to have died in old age.  His death is generally presumed to have taken place at Ephesus in what is now Turkey.  This death in old age is unique among the apostles, most of whom met violent deaths as martyrs.  There were, however, non-canonical (i.e., not Biblical) stories that said that John had indeed suffered martyrdom, but had survived his ordeals.  The story of his survival from poisoning inspired the account that provided the inspiration for the image of John holding the chalice that we looked at last.  He was also reputed to have been boiled in oil, once again by order of Emperor Domitian, but, like the Hebrews in the fiery furnace, to have emerged unhurt. 
 This tradition was already well established by the year 200 when it was included by Tertullian, the early Christian writer from North Africa, in his Prescription against heretics
Sarum Master, John the Evangelist Before
Domitian and Martyrdom in Boiling Oil
from Bible
English (Salisbury), ca. 1250
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 403, fol. 2
  “Since, moreover, you are close upon Italy, you have Rome, from which there comes even into our own hands the very authority (of apostles themselves). How happy is its church, on which apostles poured forth all their doctrine along with their blood! Where Peter endures a passion like his Lord's! Where Paul wins his crown in a death like John's,1  where the Apostle John was first plunged, unhurt, into boiling oil, and thence remitted to his island-exile!”

In the images of John’s martyrdom in the vat of boiling oil the figure is shown stripped.  Therefore there can be no question that this is a male figure.  However, in virtually all of them he is shown as the young, beardless man seen in the majority of images as evangelist and as the holder of the poisoned chalice.

Anonymous, Martyrdom of St. John the Evangelist
in Boiling Oil, from Psalter
German (Hildesheim), 1230-1240
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle Acquisition Latine 3102, fol. 3v

Anonymous, Martyrdom of St. John the Evangelist
in Boiling Oil, from Breviary
French (Paris), 1345-1355
New York, Morgan Library
MS M75, fol. 424
Richard de Montbaston, Martyrdom of St. John
the Evangelist in Boiling Oil from
Legenda Aurea of Jacobus de Voragine
French (Paris), 1348
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 241, fol. 122r

Bedford Master, Martyrdom of St. John Evangelist
in Boiling Oil, from Book of Hours
French (Paris), 1430-1435
New York, Morgan Library
MS M359, fol. 13v

Anonymous, Martyrdom of St. John Evangelist
from  Book of Hours
French (Tours), 1505-1515
New York, Morgan Library
MS M250, fol. 137v

Charles le Brun
Martyrdom of St. John the Evangelist
at the Porta Latina
French, 1641-1642
Paris, Saint-Nicolas du Chardonnet

Daniele Ricciarelli (known as Daniele da Volterra)
Martyrdom of St. John the Evangelist
Italian, 1550-1566
Douai, Musee de la Chartreuse

There are also images of his preaching and miracles, which come from such apocryphal sources as the Acts of John and the later, popular, compilation of the Golden Legend.  There are tales of conversions and of raisings from the dead, as well as other miracles.  In all of these John is almost always depicted as the young, beardless man.

Sarum Master, St. John Evangelist Preaching
and Overturning Idols at the Temple of Diana
from Bible
English (Salisbury), ca. 1250
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 403, fol. 44r


Sarum Master, St. John Evangelist Preaching
and Baptism of Drusiana
from Bible
English (Salisbury), ca. 1250
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 403, fol. 41v

Sarum Master, St. John Evangelist Returning to Ephesus
Raising of Drusiana and Miracle of the Two Poor Young Men
from Bible
English (Salisbury), ca. 1250
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais, 403, fol. 43v

Mahiet and Assistants, Miracle of the Two Poor Young Men
from Speculum historiale of Vincentius Bellovacensis
French (Paris), ca. 1335
Paris, Bibliotheque national de France
MS Arsenal 5080, fol. 119

It is only in the rare images of the death of John, as related in the Acts of John, that we see him as an older bearded man.  
Sarum Master, Death of St. John Evangelist
from Bible
English (Salisbury), ca. 1250
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 403, fol. 44v (detail)
Note that John is shown here as bearded and with a tonsure, but
his soul, being carried to heaven by angels, is shown as
a beardless youth.

Jean Poyer, Death of St. John Evangelist
from Hours of Henry VIII
French (Tours), ca. 1500
New York, Morgan Library
MS H8, fol. 174r
Note that the bottom half of the page includes
an image from Revelations in which a
youthful John also holds the poisoned chalice.
Jean Jouvenet, Apotheosis of St. John the Evangelist
French, ca. 1702
Rouen, Musee des Beaux-Arts
Yet, even here, where the soul of John is shown being received in heaven, that soul is the young, beardless man with whom the viewers were most familiar that is shown.

1.       Reference is to the death by beheading of both St. Paul and St. John the Baptist.

2.       Tertullian, Prescription against heretics, Chapter 36.  Translated by Peter Holmes. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Man or Woman 3: John the Evangelist or Mary Magdalene? – The Figure With The Chalice

Statue of St. John the Evangelist in alabaster
Southern Netherlands or Northern France,
ca. 1450-1470
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

One of the images of St. John the Evangelist that seems to have caused the most confusion in the contemporary mind is that in which the long-haired, beardless saint holds a chalice in his hand.  Some people say this is an image of Mary Magdalene holding the cup in which she caught the blood of Jesus as it dripped from His body on the cross (an incident not found in the Gospels).  Not so, for frequently, if one looks carefully, the cup held by the figure can be seen to contain something besides liquid.  Frequently, it includes the image of a tiny dragon or snake.  What does this mean and whom can it represent?  The answer is St. John the Evangelist.

The image of the saint holding the chalice from which issues a small dragon comes from a legend about St. John that appears to make its first recorded appearance in the late second century apocryphal (i.e., non-canonical) document known as the Acts of John.   This kind of document was fairly common in the centuries immediately following the apostolic age.  During this time many versions of the Christian story were in circulation, some with greater authority than others.  

Eventually, the Church, through a process of discussion and definition, settled by the end of the fourth century on the canonical New Testament that we know today.  Such documents as the Acts of John were largely forgotten until rediscovered in modern times.  They are frequently a mix of legend and fantasy, mixed with some actual historical content. 

Sarum Master, St. John Drinking the Poisoned Chalice
and Death of St. John the Evangelist
England (Salisbury), ca. 1250
Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale de France
MS Francais 403, fol. 44v
Although the books themselves were often forgotten, some of the incidents that they recounted entered into the popular culture of Christianity and were carried forward through the centuries.  One of these is the story of St. John and the poisoned chalice.  The account in the Acts of John provides the initial details of the story of what happened, when St. John, brought to Rome to stand trial for his teachings, faced the Roman Emperor Domitian (son of Vespasian and brother of Titus, who reigned from 81-96 AD).

Giovanni di Benedetto and Assistants,
St. John the Evangelist Drinking Poison
from Book of Hours (for use of Friars Minor)
Italian (Milan), ca. 1385-1390
Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale de France
MS Latin 757, fol. 289v
…Domitian said to him: What is the proof of these things? I am not persuaded by words only; words are a sight of the unseen. What can you show in earth or heaven by the power of him who is destined to reign, as you say. For he will do it, if he is the Son of God. And immediately John asked for a deadly poison. And the king having ordered poison to be given to him, they brought it on the instant. John therefore, having taken it, put it into a large cup, and filled it with water, and mixed it, and cried out with a loud voice, and said: In Your name, Jesus Christ, Son of God, I drink the cup which You will sweeten; and the poison in it do Thou mingle with Your Holy Spirit, and make it become a draught of life and salvation, for the healing of soul and body, for digestion and harmless assimilation, for faith not to be repented of, for an undeniable testimony of death as the cup of thanksgiving. And when he had drunk the cup, those standing beside Domitian expected that he was going to fall to the ground in convulsions. And when John stood, cheerful, and talked with them safe, Domitian was enraged against those who had given the poison, as having spared John.
But they swore by the fortune and health of the king, and said that there could not be a stronger poison than this. And John, understanding what they were whispering to one another, said to the king: Do not take it ill,
Francois and Assistants, St. John the Evangelist Drinks
The Poisoned Chalice from Speculum historiale by
Vincent of Beauvais
French (Paris), 1463
Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale de France
MS Francais 50, fol. 368
O king, but let a trial be made, and you shall learn the power of the poison. Make some condemned criminal be brought from the prison. And when he had come, John put water into the cup, and swirled it round, and gave it with all the dregs to the condemned criminal. And he, having taken it and drunk, immediately fell down and died.1
Images of this event were, in the Middle Ages, replete with the details of the story, including the addition of a tiny dragon or snake protruding from the chalice to signify the presence of the poison..  The story became one of the incidents that constituted the "martyrdom" of St. John the Evangelist.  John was known to have died a natural death in old age, differing from the deaths of his fellow Apostles.  Pious thought desired to include him among the "white robed army of martyrs"2 and found justification in apocryphal incidents such as this, which could be counted as a form of martyrdom.  We will see additional incidents later.

By the beginning of the Renaissance and into the centuries beyond, the image of St. John holding the chalice became sufficient to remind people of the story.  It became, in effect, as much a symbol of St. John the Evangelist as the eagle or the book.
Jan van Eyck, St. John the Evangelist
Detail from Ghent Altarpiece
Netherlandish, ca. 1432
Ghent, Cathedral of St. Bavo
St.  John the Evangelist from Book of Hours
French (Anjou or Brittany), 1440
New York, Morgan Library
MS M157, fol. 176r

Juan de Juanes, St. John the Evangelist
Spanish, 1445-1450
Private Collection
Hans Memling, St. John the Evangelist
Right wing of the Donne Triptych
Netherlandish, ca. 1475
London, National Gallery

El Greco, St. John the Evangelist
Spanish, 1610-1614
Toledo, Museo de El Greco
Peter Paul Rubens, St. John the Evangelist
Flemish, 1610-1612
Madrid, Museo del Prado

Alonso Cano, St. John the Evangelist
Spanish, 1636
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Jean Jouvenet, St. John the Evangelist
French, ca. 1740
Rouen, Musee des Beaux-Arts

Sometimes, all three symbols are included in the same image.
St. John the Evangelist
Stained Glass
French, 15th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Jean Bourdichon, St. John the Evangelist
from Hours of Frederic of Aragon
French (Tours), 1501-1504
Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale deFrance
MS Latin 10532, fol. 340

Often the image serves to identify the saint among other saints.
Masters of the Gold Scrolls
Sts. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist
from Book of Hours (use of Rome)
Netherlandish (Bruges), ca. 1420-1440
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliothek
MS 133D14, fol. 7v
Hans Memling, St. John Altarpiece (central panel)
Netherlandish, 1474-1479
Bruges, Sint-Janshospital, Memlingmuseum
Stained Glass Heraldic Roundel with
Sts. John the Evangelist and Christina
South Netherlands, 1500-1510
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection

Dosso Dossi, Madonna and Child Appearing to
Sts. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist
Italian, 1520s
Florence, Uffizi Museum
Jacob Jordaens, Sts. Andrew, John the Evangelist
and Paul
Flemish, 1650-1675
Lille, Musee des Beaux-Arts

Sometimes, the chalice alone is sufficient to remind the viewer of the saint.
Hans Memling, The Poisoned Chalice
detail from the outer panel of Sts. John and Veronica Diptych
Netherlandish, ca. 1483
Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art

This was still true during the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century, but growing ignorance of Christian symbolism has now opened these images to gross misunderstanding. 
John Flaxman, St. John the Evangelist
Drawing, Brown Wash Over Graphite
English, ca. 1811
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
These are NOT images of Mary Magdalene!

1.       Apocryphal Acts of John Translated by Alexander Walker. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.
2.  Quotation from the Te Deum, a hymn of praise to God.  See