Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Empty Tomb

Veronese, Resurrection of Christ
Italian, 1570-1575
Dresden, Gemaeldegalerie
Christ is Risen! 
Alleluia! Alleluia!

I wish everyone a Blessed and Joyful Easter.

The iconography of the Resurrection is a topic that I examined extensively in 2011, so I refer you to the essays on the subject listed below.  I intend to update these articles with new materials during the Easter season, so please visit the links occasionally during this time.

The Women at the Tomb

Noli Me Tangere

The Incredulity of St. Thomas (Doubting Thomas)

Emmaus -- The Journey

Emmaus -- The Recognition

Climbing from the Tomb

Hovering over the Tomb

Bursting from the Tomb

The Lake of Galilee -- The Disciples Go Fishing

Commission to Peter -- The Good Shepherd Transfers Responsibility

The Commission to the Apostles

Christ Appears to His Mother

and also An Awkward Resurrection Image

Christ is Risen!  Alleluia, Alleluia!  Below is video of the great triple alleluia sung only at Easter Vigil.  It is followed by the reading of the Gospel from Easter Vigil (filmed at the Brompton Oratory in London, England, 2008).

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Day of Gloom and the Coming of the Light

Paolo Veronese, Dead Christ Supported By Angels
Italian, 1587-1589
Berlin, Staatliche Museen
On 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.

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 were coming to complete the proper burial customs found an empty tomb.

But, underneath it all is the sense of expectation.  And, late in the afternoon, the church will close and the flowers, which have been hidden since their delivery will be brought out, the altar will be dressed and the church made ready for the amazing event recollected in the evening at the Easter Vigil.
Deacon Singing the Exultet from  an Exultet Roll
In this scene he gestures toward the Paschal Candle,
which is being incensed
Italian (Montecassino), ca. 1072

As the massive newly carved and lit Paschal Candle is carried down the aisle of the darkened church, and as people light their own small candles from its flame, we are confronted with a symbolic image that has come down to us from remote centuries, for the light represents the Risen Christ.  As each of us lights his/her smaller hand-held candle from it we begin to see ourselves and those around us as bearers of a bit of that same light.  And, when all have lit their candles the church is ablaze with candle light.  What was obscure and gloomy just moments ago is now 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.

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

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Spy Wednesday -- Thirty Pieces of Silver

Judas Receives the Silver
from the Huntingfield Psalter
English (Oxford), 1210-1220
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M43, fol. 22r
One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said,
“What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”
They paid him thirty pieces of silver,
and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.
Matthew 26:14-16 
(Extract from the Gospel for Wednesday of Holy Week)

Giotto, Judas Accepts the Bribe
Italian, 1300-1305
Padua, Arena Chapel
When I was a child my mother often spoke about the Wednesday of Holy Week as “Spy Wednesday”.  This was the day on which the church remembers the treachery of Judas, who approached the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem for a bribe in exchange for guiding them to a time and place for the capture of Jesus.  The day had already begun to fade from popular notice when I was a child and for the last few decades seems to have gone totally off the radar.  But, two items viewed on the internet today have brought it back to my mind.  One, which gives a nice explanation, is a popular blog by a local NYC (diocese of Brooklyn) deacon.  You can read it here.

This reminded me of the series of posts that I wrote several years ago, called generically, “Holy Week with  Giotto”.  There is a wonderful portrayal of the event in Giotto’s paintings of the Life of Christ from the Arena Chapel in Padua.  In it we see Judas being encouraged, even pushed, into his betrayal by a demon standing behind him.  Giotto calls this action to our attention by the fact that he presents the demon as a coal black creature, whose hand on the yellow cloak of Judas draws our eyes.  In subsequent images in the same series in the Arena Chapel we can see that the blackness of the demon has entered into Judas, shown by the fact that, alone of all the disciples, a circle of what looks like black smoke appears over his head, while the other disciples have golden halos.  This is a feature that is almost entirely unique to Giotto's work in Padua (I believe I have seen the smokey halo only one other time, in a manuscript that may have used Giotto's work as a model).

Duccio, Judas Accepts the Bribe
Italian, 1308-1311
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

There are other examples of this scene as well, though, with one exception, all the illustrations I could find belong to the medieval and early Renaissance period.  

© M. Duffy, 2015

Lippo Memmi, Judas Accepts the Bribe
Italian, ca. 1340
San Gemignano, Collegiata Santa Maria Assunta

Judas Accepting the Bribe
from Book of Hours
French (Paris), 1495-1505
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS H5, fol. 48r

Master of Peter Danielsson, Judas Accepting the Bribe
from Spiegel van den leven ons Heren
Flemish, 1450-1460
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M868, fol. 26r

Simon Bening, Judas Accepting the Bribe
from Book of Hours
Flemish (Brussels), 1533
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 491, fol. 102r
Simon Bening, Judas Accepting the Bribe
from Book of Hours
Flemish (Brussels), 1535-1545
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M696, fol. 96v

Simon Bening, Judas Accepting the Bribe
from the Hours of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenberg
Flemish (Brussels), 1525-1530
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS Ludwig IX, fol. 94
James Tissot, Judas Negotiates with the Priests
French, 1888-1896
New York, Brooklyn Museum

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Joyful Mysteries – The Annunciation, Part VI: The Annunciation Witnessed

Fra Angelico, Annunciation
Italian, 1440-1442
Florence, Convent of San Marco, Cell #3
Here the visionary is a Dominican saint, probably St. Dominic

What is probably the smallest and oddest group of artistic renderings of the Annunciation are those that include the presence of onlookers or witnesses.  These onlookers fall into two categories:  the visionary and the spy. 

The most straightforward, as well as the most common, category is the visionary witness or witnesses.  

Rogier van der Weyden, Annunciation
Flemish, ca. 1440
Center panel - Paris, Musee du Louvre
Side panels - Turin, Galleria Sabauda

In these pictures an obviously pious person or persons, usually shown in a posture of prayer, whether kneeling or standing, and sometimes accompanied or presented by a saint, looks on at the scene of Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin Mary. 

Robert Campin and/or Workshop, Annunciation (known as the Merode Altarpiece)
Flemish, ca. 1427-1432
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cloisters Collection
Here the witnesses in the left wing are the donors of the painting.
Jean Bellegambe, Annunciation
French, 1516-1517
St. Petersburg, Hermitage Museum
Somewhat unusual in this picture is the fact that the donor is brought into the Annunciation scene, being presented to the
Virgin Mary by Gabriel himself.

Sometimes the witness is a saint or an Old Testament prophet who predicted the event beforehand.  
Simone Martini, Annunciation With Two Saints
Italian, 1333
Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi

Master Francois and Collaborators, Annunciation
From Speculum historiale of Vincentius Bellovacensis
French (Paris), 1463
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 50, fol. 197
Here the Old Testament figures surround the throne of
God the Father, holding scrolls with their prophesies
about the birth of the Messiah as they watch the
unfolding scene of the Annunciation.

Quite often there is a difference of scale between the two groups, with the figures of Mary and Gabriel being depicted as larger than those of the visionaries or in a raised position within the picture.   
Master of the Mazarine Hours and Collaborators, Pilgrims at Nazareth
from Book of Marvels of Marco Polo
French (Paris), ca. 1411-1412
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 2810, fol. 270

Filippo Lippi, Annunciation
Italian, ca. 1440
Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica

The tone is uniformly one of great reverence.   These images appear to be visual renderings of the kind of pious meditation technique that asks one to imagine oneself at the scene of an important Biblical event.1
Antoniazzo Romano, Annunciation
Italian, ca. 1485
Rome, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Chapel of the Confraternity of the Annunciation
In this charming scene the recently deceased Dominican Cardinal Juan de Torquemada
appears to interrupt the Annunciation scene as he presents three poor young women,
wards of the Roman Confraternity of the Annunciation, to the Virgin Mary, who
responds by gently bestowing dowries which would enable the girls to marry or to
enter a religious order.  

The tone is different for the small group of pictures that appear to represent the onlooker as a spy or, more probably, an overly curious or nosy person.  

Annunciation, Embroidery with silk, cotton and metallic threads
Italian, ca. 1330-1340
New York, Metropolitan Museum, Cloisters Collection
This panel is one of twelve illustrating the life of Christ that were once part of an
altar frontal (antependium).  Eight of the twelve are currently in the collection
of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.2

Here the onlooker peers around a column or presses an ear to the wall, often with a furtive facial expression.

Lippo Memmi, Annunciation
Italian, ca. 1340
San Gemignano, Collegiata Santa Maria Assunta

In spite of diligent attempts on my part to locate a source for the inclusion of such a figure I have not been able to come up with any information.  I suspect that it may owe its appearance to some kind of medieval dramatic performance, such as a mystery play, but I cannot be sure about this.  

Two of the examples I have found come from mid-fourteenth-century Italy, while the third comes from late fifteenth-century France.  Indeed I am somewhat uncertain about which category this last image belongs to.

This is a double page image of the Annunciation which once formed part of a Book of Hours that was owned by Charles of France, who was the youngest son of King Charles VII of France and Duke of Berry and Normandy, and was illuminated by a painter known as the Master of Charles of France.

Master of Charles of France. Annunciation
Two leaves from the Hours of Charles of France
French (Bourges), 1465
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection
Accession Number 58.71a, b
The scene of the Annunciation takes place in the portico of an elaborate building.  Through the arch behind the Virgin one can see a priest and acolyte going about the celebration of a service.  This helps to identify the setting as the Temple, where Mary was thought to have spent her teenage years in service of God.  In the colonnade that is located to the right of the figure of Mary there are some small figures looking on.  Ones first idea is that these are curious onlookers, but on second glance this may not be the case, for in the left panel we can also identify some onlookers who are, evidently, angelic companions to Gabriel.  Some of these figures are shown outside the wall of the garden compound (the Hortus conclusus?); while others follow Gabriel, playing musical instruments, while still others peer in through the garden gate just to the right of the figure of Gabriel.4  So, it could be that, for this image at least, the small figures in the right panel are also angelic witnesses and not merely curious mortals. 

© M. Duffy, 2015
1.  Geiger, Gail L.  "Filippino Lippi's Carafa "Annunciation": Theology, Artistic Conventions, and Patronage", The Art Bulletin, Vol. 63, No. 1 (March 1981), pp. 62-75.     
2.  Mayer Thurman, Christa C.  European Textiles in the Robert Lehman Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001, pp. 37-43.
3.  For more information on this double page and the book from which it came, see:  Schindler, Robert.  “The Cloisters Annunciation by the Master of Charles of France” Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 47, 2012, pages 85-100.
4.  For a discussion of the Annunciation in relation to the garden see my earlier essay "The Annunciation, Part III – In the Garden" at