Friday, May 27, 2011

Iconography of the Resurrection – The Commission of the Apostles

Central Panel From a Christian Sarcophagus
Roman, mid-4th Century
Vatican City, Musei Vaticani
The Gospel of Matthew jumps from the Resurrection directly to this scene, on a mountain in Galilee.
“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.
When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."  
(Matthew 28:16-20)

The so-called “longer ending” of Mark’s Gospel presents the commission for the future to the Apostles as having come during one of the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus “as the eleven were at table” (Mark 16:14):  He said to them, "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.
(Mark 16:15-16)

Both texts instruct the Apostles to do two things: go out to convert the world and to baptize those who believe. Matthew adds the now familiar formula for baptism: “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.

In the early centuries of Christian iconography, this was known as the “traditio legis”. It is a scene well-known from early Christian times through the Middle Ages, but seems to have disappeared from the iconography of later times.

Traditio legis translates as “the giving of the law”. In the case of Christianity it refers to the instruction of Jesus to the Apostles, which is the subject of the quotation from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark cited above.

Central panel from Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus
Roman, 359
Vatican City, Musei Vaticani
The most famous early Christian appearance of the traditio legis is on the central panel of the upper row of scenes from the life of Christ on the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus, now in the Vatican Museum.
The sarcophagus dates from the mid-fourth century (359), just a few decades from Constantine’s proclamation of the Edict of Milan, which made Christian practice legal. Prior to that time, Christian practice was illegal, sometimes tolerated, sometimes persecuted. With Constantine’s edict, subsequent adoption of Christianity as the religion of the Empire, and his building of the great basilicas in Rome and Jerusalem, we begin to see Christian art emerge from the shadow of the catacombs.

Silver Plate of Theodosius I
Roman, 388
Madrid, Academia real de historia
The initial images clearly derive from Imperial imagery. The specific image is that of the Emperor as lawgiver. Christ appears seated on a stool with lion feet, raised on a small platform, just as the Emperor would have sat on a raised throne stool. On either side are Apostles, who receive a scroll of the law, just as members of the Emperor’s court would have appeared on a non-Christian imperial Roman monument. At Christ’s feet appears a Roman sky god (indicated by his billowing sail/dome, a representation of the sky). This little detail shows that bits of Roman iconography remained even after the adoption of Christianity. Christ appears as a young, beardless man, as was common during the early Christian period. The more mature, bearded Christ that is familiar to us developed much later.
Roman, Fourth Century
Milan, San Lorenzo, S. Aquilino Chapel

Quite a number of sarcophagi with representations of the traditio legis were made during the fourth and fifth centuries. While researching this article I was actually surprised by how many there are. In addition, it appeared in other forms of art as, for example, in the beautiful fourth-century mosaic in the St. Aquilino Chapel at San Lorenzo in Milan.

However, following the barbarian take over of the Western Roman Empire the use of the image tapers off. It persists, however, transformed into the familiar image of the Last Judgment seen from the facades of the great Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals to the wall of the Sistine Chapel.

Gislebertus, Tympanum
French, 1125-1136
Autun, Cathedral of San Lazare
In these images, Christ sits enthroned, surrounded by the court of heaven as He delivers judgment.

There are few images from later eras that can be identified as relating to these texts. One important one is part of the Maestà altarpiece of Duccio, painted between 1308 and 1311 for the Cathedral (Duomo) of Siena. What identifies this scene with the texts, especially with the text of Matthew, is the obvious mountaintop setting of the scene and the location of this panel on the Maestà itself.

Panel from the Maesta
Italian, 1308-1311
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo
Jesus stands to one side and slightly elevated by the slab of rock on which He stands, already somewhat apart from the Apostles. They, the eleven, stand in three rows facing Him, listening to His words. Peter, shown with his traditional white hair, round face and beard, John, the beardless youth are readily identifiable in the first row.

This image is derived less from the image of the Emperor as lawgiver, than from another type of Imperial image, the Emperor addressing his troops.  Probably the most famous image of this type is that of the "Augustus Prima Porta".  This early first century image of the first emperor, Octavian, known as Augustus, shows the Emperor, dressed in splendid armor, his right hand raised and finger pointing the way to the enemy.  Excavated in 1863 from the ruins of the home of Augustus' widow, Livia, the statue is now in the Vatican Museums.

Augustus of Prima Porta
Roman, 15-20 AD,
Vatican City, Musei Vaticani
The standing posture and the references back to a theme of exhortation of troops gives more urgency to the scene, consistent with the opening words “Go, therefore, and make disciples”. This creates a more dynamic iconography than the “traditio legis”.   As the Emperor once sent forth his troops to conquer the world for Rome, the Risen Jesus sends forth His Apostles, the future bishops, to conquer the world for God. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Iconography of the Resurrection – Commission to Peter – The Good Shepherd Transfers Responsibility

GianLorenzo Bernini, Feed My Sheep
Bronze back panel from Cathedra Petri
Vatican, St.  Peter's Basilica
“After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them, he said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep."
John 21:15-17

Immediately following the mysterious breakfast on the shore of Galilee the Gospel of John presents us with this dialogue between the Risen Jesus and Peter. From the narrative it appears that the two are still in the presence of the other disciples named in the same chapter of John. What is this passage doing?

First, the three times repeated question “Do you love me?” and Peter’s three replies “ Lord, you know that I love you” are intended to erase Peter’s three denials in the early hours of Good Friday “I do not know the man”.

Then, the responses of Jesus: “Feed my lambs”, “Tend my sheep” and “Feed my sheep” represent a handing over to Peter of the role of Good Shepherd spelled out in John 10. Peter is now to be the shepherd of the sheep (John 10:2), the sheepgate (John 10:7) and the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). Like Matthew 16: 15-19 this passage seems to confirm Peter’s leadership of the Apostles and of the early church.

It is, therefore, surprising that very few works of art have focused on this scene, even among those commissioned by the Popes. Instead, most pictures, like the Sistine Chapel fresco by Perugino below) have focused on the text in Matthew
“He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood 12 has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, 13 and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:15-19)
Pietro Perugino, Keys of the Kingdom
Italian, 1481-1482
Vatican, Sistine Chapel
Perhaps the lack of images of the shepherding commission may be due to the fact that the scene seems less dramatic and the images less powerful than that of the rock, the keys, the gates of hell and the binding and loosing. Yet, one could argue that the commission as Shepherd is at least as important and definitive, as that as the Rock and the Keeper of the Keys. It is the role of Guardian and Leader exercised by Peter and his successors.

In 1515 Pope Leo X commissioned Raphael to prepare drawings for a series of tapestries to be displayed in the Sistine Chapel. The tapestries were commissioned to hang below the already existing frescoes in the Chapel, among them the Perugino above. They were planned to cover up what the painted images of hanging draperies that form the lowest register of the Sistine Chapel walls.
Raphael, Tapestries in situ, 2010
Vatican, Sistine Chapel
Part of the process of tapestry design was for the artist to create a full-sized tinted drawing, known as a cartoon, to guide the Belgian weavers who would produce the tapestries. These full scale drawings are now in the British Royal Collection and have been on permanent loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London since 1865. They were recently (September 8 – October 17, 2010) shown, together with the tapestries woven from them, when the tapestries were loaned to the V&A by the Vatican Museums. This was the first time that the drawings had been seen together with the completed tapestries since they were woven in the years between 1516 and 1521. As with all tapestries weaving took place from behind, so that the cartoons and the finished tapestries are mirror images of each other. 
Raphael, "Feed My Sheep" Cartoon
Italian, 1515
London, Victoria and Albert Museum

Raphael, "Feed My Sheep" Tapestry
Flemish, 1516-1521
Vatican, Pinacoteca

In the composition of the Commission to Peter the two principal figures are seen to the side of the composition, Christ standing and gesturing to both the sheep and the kneeling figure of Peter, who holds the keys, symbolic of the text from Matthew. The other ten Apostles fill the other side of the composition. In the forefront of the group one can clearly see St. John with his traditionally beardless face and flowing hair. This emphasizes his role as eyewitness. The entire scene is set in a tranquil, lakeside landscape.
The tapestry displayed in situ in
the Sistine Chapel
The work is so majestic that one might almost say it was definitive. Very few other interpretations of the scene have been done and none have the scale or breadth of Raphael’s. Two others of note are a painting by Peter Paul Rubens in London’s Wallace Collection and another of the watercolors of James Tissot from the Brooklyn Museum.
Peter Paul Rubens
Flemish, 1613-1615
London, Wallace Collection
In Rubens interpretation the background details have been eliminated and all the elements have been reduced. There are only two sheep and three additional Apostles (once again St. John is prominent). The figures are shown as half lengths and there is no background. All attention is drawn to the brightly lit figure of the Risen Lord, to His gestures and to Peter’s loving response. In addition, the subjects of the care of the flock and the giving of the keys have been conflated into a single image. So, we are seeing a composite of the texts of Matthew (keys) and John (sheep).
James Tissot
French, 1888-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum

The image by Tissot focuses more on Peter’s responses than on the possible significance of the scene. There are no sheep in evidence, merely the other Apostles, who follow at a small distance, and the rocky shore. It is the gestures of Peter and Jesus that set the tone and evoke the words of John’s Gospel. The potential significance of the words and scene are not in evidence.



Thursday, May 19, 2011

Peace, Slowly Dropping – An Historic Visit

As I have mentioned in previous postings, I am the child of Irish parents, parents born, not as citizens of a free Republic of Ireland, but as subjects of British sovereigns. From an early age I have come to know and to love the country of my ancestors. And, with my own intense interest in the past, I have come to know and to understand the often painful history of that country.

In recent decades I have personally lived through a few of the episodes of recent Anglo-Irish history. I was in Ireland on August 9, 1971, the day on which internment was imposed on Northern Ireland and over three hundred individuals were taken into custody. I saw the reactions of my mother and her siblings, who had lived through the war for independence in the period 1919-1922. It was as if they were reliving an old nightmare. I was in London on July 17, 1974 when members of the IRA set off bombs in the Tower of London, killing one person and injuring 41 others. I heard and saw the ambulances racing through the streets and thanked God that my mother and I had chosen to postpone our planned trip to the Tower that day. I was in Ireland many times during the 1980s and 1990s when the news from over the border in Northern Ireland was of daily reprisal killings and the weight of sorrow from the North often threatened to drown the peaceful Republic in despair.

I have no romantic illusions about the often dreadful costs of this old conflict. And, like so many Irish people, I have English relatives. My “English” cousins are as thoroughly English as I am American and yet, we are the children of a brother and sister. The ties are tight and deep.

Oisin Kelly, Children of Lir
So, it is with intense interest and not a little emotion that I have followed via RTE (the Irish TV network) the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to the Republic of Ireland. I have watched in a kind of daze of wonder at a British sovereign laying a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin because that garden honors all those who fought the Crown in the rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867, 1916, 1919-1922. Many of them were executed or exiled by the Crown as a result.  The garden's signature sculpture, “The Children of Lir” by Oisin Kelly, is a visual metaphor for the transformation of Ireland from colony to independent state. (A detailed examination of the history of the monument may be found at

It was also moving to see the Queen and Prince Philip visiting the grounds of Croke Park, where 14 spectators at a Gaelic football match were killed by British troops on November 21, 1920 in reprisal for the assassinations of the so-called “Cairo Gang” of British agents earlier that same day, an event that forms the nucleus of Neil Jordan’s movie “Michael Collins”.

Memorial Gardens, Islandbridge, Co. Dublin
(Photo: Irish Heritage)
And it was good to see both the Queen and President McAleese lay symbolically crafted memorial wreaths at the beautiful gardens, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, at Islandbridge, Co. Dublin.

Photo:  Irish Times

The gardens were planned as a memorial to the Irish soldiers who gave their lives for Britain in World War I, the last war in which Ireland was still a colony of Britain.   The Queen’s wreath was composed of red poppies, a flower symbolic of both the First World War and the color associated with England. President McAleese’s wreath was of green laurels, symbolic of victory and service, and the color traditionally associated with Ireland.

But it was the speeches given by both women at the state dinner on the evening of May 18th that really caused the tears to well up. Both acknowledged the painful presence of the past that have shadowed the visit and given it its depth. Both noted the historic and the human ways in which both islands have intertwined. But both also looked forward to the future when a new relationship can be forged between these two sister islands.

Photo: RTE
The most touching aspect of their speeches is that both spoke of the heartbreak and loss from personal experience, a fact often forgotten. Mrs. McAleese, born in Northern Ireland, was forced out of her home during the “Troubles” of the 1970s. The Queen has suffered personal loss as well. Her cousin, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, who was also Prince Philip’s uncle, was assassinated by the Provisional IRA while on a visit to the Republic in August 1979.

Quotes from both speeches are:

President McAleese (full text here):

“This visit is a culmination of the success of the Peace Process. It is an acknowledgment that while we cannot change the past, we have chosen to change the future….

The two way flow of people between these islands goes back millennia. This very room is dedicated to St Patrick, whose name is synonymous with Ireland. Yet he is reputed to have been born in Britain. Patrick’s life as the man who brought Christianity to Ireland is illustrative of the considerable exchange of ideas and knowledge that there has been between our two nations throughout history....

It is only right that on this historic visit we should reflect on the difficult centuries which have brought us to this point. Inevitably where there are the colonisers and the colonised, the past is a repository of sources of bitter division. The harsh facts cannot be altered nor loss nor grief erased but with time and generosity, interpretations and perspectives can soften and open up space for new accommodations….

W.B. Yeats once wrote in another context that “peace comes dropping slow.”
The journey to peace has been cruelly slow and arduous but it has taken us to a place where hope thrives and the past no longer threatens to overwhelm our present and our future….”

Queen Elizabeth (full text here):

Madam President, speaking here in Dublin Castle it is impossible to ignore the weight of history, as it was yesterday when you and I laid wreaths at the Garden of Remembrance.

Indeed, so much of this visit reminds us of the complexity of our history, its many layers and traditions, but also the importance of forbearance and conciliation. Of being able to bow to the past, but not be bound by it.

Of course, the relationship has not always been straightforward; nor has the record over the centuries been entirely benign. It is a sad and regrettable reality that through history our islands have experienced more than their fair share of heartache, turbulence and loss.

These events have touched us all, many of us personally, and are a painful legacy. We can never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families. To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy. With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all....

There are other stories written daily across these islands which do not find their voice in solemn pages of history books, or newspaper headlines, but which are at the heart of our shared narrative. Many British families have members who live in this country, as many Irish families have close relatives in the United Kingdom.

These families share the two islands; they have visited each other and have come home to each other over the years. They are the ordinary people who yearned for the peace and understanding we now have between our two nations and between the communities within those two nations; a living testament to how much in common we have.

These ties of family, friendship and affection are our most precious resource. They are the lifeblood of the partnership across these islands, a golden thread that runs through all our joint successes so far, and all we will go on to achieve.

They are a reminder that we have much to do together to build a future for all our grandchildren: the kind of future our grandparents could only dream of….”

May God grant that the hopes expressed by these two women, who have both suffered personal loss from the history of which they spoke, may come to fruition in the future. For, if these two islands, so deeply and sorrowfully intertwined these 800+ years, can overcome the conflict, the pain and the resentments of that past, surely there is hope for the conflicts of the present.

© M. Duffy, 2011

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Iconography of the Resurrection – The Lake of Galilee – The Disciples Go Fishing

Jesus Appears in Galilee
from the Drogo Sacramentary
French (Metz), 9th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9428, fol. 65v
After this, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.
He revealed himself in this way.
Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee's sons, and two others of his disciples.
Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We also will come with you."
So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to them, "Children, have you caught anything to eat?" They answered him, "No."
So he said to them, "Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something." So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish.
So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord."
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea.
The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish.
When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread.
Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you just caught."
So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them, "Come, have breakfast." And none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they realized it was the Lord.
Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.
This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead.
John 21:1-14
Of all the apparitions of Jesus in the time between the Resurrection and the Ascension, this is both one of the most mysterious and one of the most real. It takes place in a familiar location, the Sea of Galilee, where so much of Jesus’ ministry had taken place, the area that was home for most of the disciples.

The scene opens with the disciples, returned from Jerusalem, following Peter’s lead “I am going fishing”. After an unproductive night, as they return to harbor, they see a figure on the shore, probably indistinct in the early morning light. He instructs them to cast their nets again and they make a huge catch. In the catch they recognize a situation they have experienced once before (Luke 5:4-11) and they realize that the figure on the shore is the same person that had been with them then. When they arrive on shore they find that He has prepared breakfast for them and He feeds them.

The setting on the shore of the great lake, the misty morning light, the catch, the recognition of the Risen One, the sharing of bread and fish, recalling both the miraculous feeding of the multitudes and the Last Supper combine to create the mysterious reality of this apparition. Ghosts may appear, but they don’t cook and share meals with their friends.

It is surprising, then, that these verses have not inspired more works of art. However, they have inspired a few outstanding examples.
Konrad Witz, Apparition of Christ in Galilee
Swiss, 1443
Geneva, Musee d'Art et d'Histoire

In two of these, painted 450 years apart, Jesus stands on the shore. In the painting by Konrad Witz (1443), originally in Geneva’s St. Peter’s Cathedral and now in the Geneva Museé d’Art et d’Histoire, we see the moment when Peter swims to shore, as the other disciples maneuver the boat and the catch behind him. In the background, we see the neat landscape imagined by Witz for the shores of Galilee, probably based on medieval Geneva itself. Originally in the cathedral, it was removed when Geneva officially adopted Calvinism in 1535.

James Tissot, Christ Appearing in Galilee
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum
In the late 1880s the French painter, James Tissot, produced a huge number of watercolor paintings of the Bible that are now in the Brooklyn Museum. Among them are two that illustrate the passage from John that begins this article. The first is very similar in composition to the painting by Witz. Jesus stands on the seashore, calling to the disciples who are on the lake. Behind him is a fire, planted amid stones. Again we see the shores of the lake. But, where Witz used his own imagination and the landscape of Switzerland to create his setting, Tissot had actually spent time in the Holy Land and gives us a vision of what the scene might really have looked like.

In both pictures the figure of Jesus stands out boldly against the background as large areas of a single color in a multi-colored composition. Witz’ figure wears a red cloak and Tissot’s wears white. In each composition we see the figure from behind and at an angle.

James Tissot, Christ Sharing Breakfast with the Apostles in Galilee
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum
Tissot’s series also includes an illustration of the scene that follows, the breakfast on the beach. Set in the same cove as the first illustration the disciples sit in a semi-circle in front of Jesus, their backs to the sea and their beached boats.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Good Shepherd Sunday – Fourth Sunday of Easter

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, I Am the Sheepgate
Engraved by Philips Galle
Flemish, 1565
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Each year the Gospel for the fourth Sunday of Easter is text extracted from John Chapter 10, no matter which cycle we are in, hence the name “Good Shepherd Sunday”. This year (Cycle A) the Gospel is John 10:1-10:

"Jesus said:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate
but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.
But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice,
as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he has driven out all his own,
he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him,
because they recognize his voice.
But they will not follow a stranger;
they will run away from him,
because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”
Although Jesus used this figure of speech,
the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.
So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
I am the gate for the sheep.
All who came before me are thieves and robbers,
but the sheep did not listen to them.
I am the gate.
Whoever enters through me will be saved,
and will come in and go out and find pasture.
A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Good Shepherd sculpture,
3rd century
Jerusalem, Rockefeller Acheological Museum

The image of the Good Shepherd is one of the earliest Christian images and one of the most popular.

Early Christian images were often symbolic and less specifically set in the “here and now” than later Christian images. Partly this was due to the need to be discreet in a world where Christians were often viewed with suspicion at best and persecuted even to death at worst. The image summoned up by the words of Jesus, what the quotation from John above calls “this figure of speech” may have become so popular in the early Christian world because it blended seamlessly into an already existing world of pagan images of shepherd figures, known as kriophoroi. As such, it could easily escape the notice of the Roman authorities during times of persecution.

Usually the image took the form of a young, beardless man carrying a sheep across his shoulders and sometimes accompanied by other sheep. Here are some of the images that resulted.
Catacomb Ceiling Painting
3rd century
Rome, Catacomb of Priscilla
Glass vessel
Egypt (Alexandria), 2nd - 4th century
Zagreb, Muzaj Mimara

3rd-4th centuries
Vatican City, Pio Cristiano Museum

4th century
Vatican City, Pio Cristiano Museum
4th century
Paris, Musee du Louvre

Over time this image eventually changed, especially after the persecutions ended and Christianity became the dominant religion of the Empire.  The need for discretion was gone and the true identity of the Good Shepherd could be made known.  Now the Shepherd was seen as seated, surrounded by His sheep.  That indicator of holiness, the halo, was added around His head.  Even the cross, that most Christian of symbols, could be added.

This is the image that was used for the beautiful mosaic that decorates the interior of the fifth-century tomb of Galla Placidia, a Roman woman who had played a significant role in the history of the western Empire during the barbarian invasions.
Ravenna, Tomb of Galla Placidia

© M. Duffy, 2011

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Iconography of the Resurrection – Bursting From the Tomb

Master of Gerard Acarie, Resurrection
from Poeme sur la Passion
French, 1525-1535
New York, Morgan Library
MS M147, fol. 26r

As the iconography of the Resurrection expanded, we have seen that during the fifteenth century each stage became more animated, less static, as it developed. Toward the end of the century the final level of energy emerged in both northern and southern Europe. In this final level Christ no longer climbs from the tomb or hovers above it, He literally bursts from the tomb in a blast of energy.

These images derive from the earlier “hovering” images. However, they are not serenely triumphant; in them the posture of Christ suggests a great deal of inherent energy.

Among the most famous are the images by:

Paolo Uccello, Resurrection
Italian, 1443-1445
Florence, Cathedral

Paolo Uccello, an important painter of the first half of the fifteenth century in Florence.  Uccello's design for a stained glass window in the Cathedral of Florence brings new energy to the hovering Jesus through the fluttering robes and pennant.  In addition, the way in which the composition forces the figure of Jesus to appear in motion through the curve of His body and the flying draperies, divides the field in half and sends the figures of the guards outward, increasing the sense of movement.

Matthias Gruenewald, Resurrection
Second set of wings from Isenheim Altarpiece
German, ca. 1515
Colmar, Musee d'Unterlinden
Matthias Grünewald from the Isenheim altarpiece, painted in 1515. Sometimes referred to as the “Cosmic Christ”, everything in this picture seems to be in motion; draperies fly, the guards reel backwards or fall on their faces. Although the figure of Christ is actually hovering statically; the amazing, glowing aureole that surrounds Him and into which His face seems to merge produces an effect of great energy. In addition, His gesture and facial expression, plus the flying draperies, create a sensation of intense movement and an energetic bursting forth. Set against the dark background, we are as struck with amazement as are the guards.

Titian, Resurrection
Italian, 1520-1525
Brescia, SS. Nazario e Celso

A different, but no less energetic image, also derived from the hovering Christ, is found in the central panel of Titian’s Triptych of the Resurrection, painted at almost the same time (1520-1525) for the church of SS. Nazario and Celso in Brescia. Here the figure of Christ, although standing on a cloud, projects enormous energy. His position, poised on one leg, is an energetic one and He almost seems to be dancing in the air, as He waves the banner of victory over death, while His draperies fly out behind Him. In the background dawn breaks over a dark landscape, with a city seen in the distance. The astonished guards occupy the foreground. One guard has fallen to the ground, while the second gazes up at the Risen Lord.

Agnolo Bronzino, Resurrection
Italian, 1552
Florence, Santissima Annuziata

Mannerist painters, such as:

Agnolo Bronzino 

Tintoretto, Resurrection
Italian, 1565
Venice, Church of San Cassiano

El Greco
El Greco, Resurrection
Greco-Spanish, 1496-1500
Madrid, Museo del Prado

                                           Francesco Bassano 
Francesco Bassano, Resurrection
Italian, 1584-1588
Venice, Church of Santissimo Redentore

Il Passignano
Passignano, Resurrection
Italian, 1600-1625
Vatican City, Pinacoteca

                                             Gerard Seghers
Gerard Seghers, Resurrection
Flemish, 1620
Paris, Musee du Louvre

and surrounded the Risen Christ with much activity, even though the central figure is actually very static.

However, it is Paolo Veronese who pointed the way to the future Baroque style, as he so often did.  In his 1570-1575 painting of the Resurrection Christ seems to truly burst forth from the tomb, no longer hovering serenely or standing on a cloud.  His posture, His upraised arms, His face raised to heaven convey the sense of actual flight.  Little wonder that the guards fall back in astonishment or try to hide their faces.  
Paolo Veronese, Resurrection
Italian, ca. 1570
Dresden, Gemaeldegalerie

We have here entered a different realm of vision, culminating in such Baroque visions as that of the seventeenth-century painter Luca Giordano.

Luca Giordano, Resurrection
Italian, After 1665
Salzburg, Residenzgalerie

Friday, May 13, 2011

Iconography of the Resurrection – Hovering Over the Tomb

Fra Angelico, Resurrection
Italian, 1440-1442
Florence, Convent of San Marco
After the image of Jesus climbing out of the tomb artists began to develop the image of Jesus hovering (as it were) above the tomb. This seems to have been an image particularly favored during the fifteenth century in Italy, the period called the Quattrocento. Among them are paintings by:

Fra Angelico –  Here the Risen Jesus appears in a mandorla above the tomb as the women listen to the angel announce the Resurrection. The presence at the far left of the picture of a Dominican friar in prayer suggests that this image should be understood more as vision for meditation than a narrative of the actual Resurrection event.

Giovanni Bellini, Resurrection
Italian, 1475-1479
Berlin, Staatliche Museen
Giovanni Bellini –  In this image the Risen Jesus “stands” on a cloud above the tomb, holding the banner of victory, while the guards are seen in various poses of fear and astonishment. The women can be seen approaching in the landscape background.

Pinturrichio, The Risen Christ Adored by Alexander VII
Italian, 1492-1494
Vatican City, Musei Vaticani, Borgia Apartments
Pinturicchio – Like Fra Angelico’s this image suggests that it is to be read as a meditation on the Resurrection, due to the presence at the far left of a portrait of Pope Alexander VII, the notorious Rodrigo Borgia.

These paintings present a static, devotional image of the moment of Resurrection. This “type” seems to have had a much shorter life than the image of Christ climbing out of the tomb. This life appears to have been confined primarily to the fifteenth century. It would be replaced very quickly with a more energetic, even “explosive” image.

More to come.

New tech in an old situation

Van Cleef and Arpels, Platinum Brooch
set with Diamonds, Emeralds and Black Enamel
Paris, 1919
Some off-topic observations about a new use for new technology in an old setting -- the exhibition gallery. 

Yesterday I attended the current exhibition of jewelry by Van Cleef and Arpels that is now at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum.  Since I design and make jewelry I find the subject endlessly fascinating.   It's amazing how the urge to adorn the human person with some kind of ornamentation has persisted from the first days of Cro-Magnon man right down to the present.

I'm not a great lover of Van Cleef and Arpels jewelry, which has always seemed to me to be very over-the-top, even gaudy, but there is no question about their artistry, their inventiveness and the quality of their workmanship.  So, the flash of diamonds and the clash of colors that sometimes appear in their work notwithstanding, I spent a pleasant two hours poking around this very large exhibition. 

One thing that amused me was the realization that modern technology has popped up in the museum world in a new way.  The exhibition is very well documented for the visitor.  Each person receives a small catalog with their admission pass which describes the objects on display, thus reducing the need for individual labels.  This makes for a less cluttered feeling as one looks at the objects.  There are some wall cards and labels, but they are very limited in number.  There are several videos explaining some of the firm's most famous innovations, such as the mystery setting and the zip necklace.  There are full printed catalogs available for perusal.  But what really caught my attention were the iPads.  The iPad has replaced the audioguide.  I did not see the rental stand, but I did see several individuals walking around holding iPads and listening to the commentary with earphones plugged into them.  The beauty of this in comparison to the old acoustiguide is that on the iPad one can not only listen but can also look.  Several iPads were also available in a stationary location so that the casual visitor might use them.  I investigated and found that they included much more detailed descriptions of each piece than was included in the printed handout, plus all of the videos and detailed photographs of each piece. 

Van Cleef and Arpels, Sautoir Necklace
Turquoise, Lapis Lazuli and Diamonds
France, 1929
This is clearly going to be the wave of the future for this kind of usage.  Of course, good as the technology is it cannot replace the effect of seeing the real thing.  An example is given here.  It is one of the pieces in the exhibition, a beautiful turquoise, lapis and diamond sautoir necklace that was sold last year at Sotheby's Geneva for $104,257.  Beautiful as it looks in this picture, it is nothing to how gorgeous it is in its serenely beautiful reality.

Iconography of the Resurrection – Climbing from the Tomb

Nicholas of Verdun, Resurrection panel
from the Klosterneuburg Altarpiece
Mosan, 1181
Klosterneuburg (Austria), Monastery Church
Some of you may be wondering, “Why has she said nothing about the scene of the actual Resurrection?” My answer is that Scripture really tells us nothing much about what happened until the moment when the women arrive at the tomb. We are told that there is an earthquake, that the stone is rolled away, that an angel or angels appear (Matthew 28:1-3, Mark 16: 1-7, Luke 24:1-7, John 20:1). But of what happens to the body of Jesus at the moment of resurrection, there is no description.

Consequently, artists had no Biblical text to guide them in their imagining of the moment. Without the specific guidance they were mostly free to consult their own imaginations and the images of other artists. We may distinguish the results in different “types”. Note that in this case I’m using the word “type” to mean something akin to “class” or “kind” of image.

First among the types is the image of the resurrected Christ climbing out of the tomb. It seems to have been established fairly early in the history of western art, since it appears in one of Nicolas of Verdun’s most famous masterpieces, the 1181 Klosterneuburg Altarpiece. The altarpiece is made up of multiple enameled images, arranged into three horizontal tiers, showing Biblical scenes from the periods Before the Law (Genesis), Under the Law (Old Testament) and Under Grace (New Testament).

In this scene Christ is shown, climbing from the tomb, with His arms upraised in prayer to the Father. Blood spurts from the wound in His side. In front of the tomb are the figures of three guards. Two of them are shown huddled in terror, while the third shields his face with his left hand. Around the scene is a border with an inscription. Under the scene the inscription reads: Agnus Paschalis (Pascal Lamb), while around the scene are the words: Vitam dat tento triduo Pater in monumento (Given life by the Father after three days in the tomb). (The translations are mine.) Words are separated by black enameled dots (not to be confused with the small screws that hold the plates in the armature of the altarpiece.

The iconography of this Resurrection type did not change much over time. Later examples come from:

Fifteenth-century Flanders
Dieric Bouts, Resurrection
Flemish, 1450-1460
Pasadena,  Norton Simon Museum,

Piero della Francesca, Resurrection
Italian, 1463-1465
Sansepulcro, Pinacoteca Comunale

Fifteenth-century Central Italy

Sixteenth-century Central Italy 
Michelangelo drawing, Resurrection
Italian, 1520-1525
Windsor, Royal Collection

Rubens, Resurrection
Flemish, 1511-1512
Antwerp, Vrouwekathedral
Seventeenth-century Flanders

Over time the level of energy represented in the scene increased. And this rising energy level points the way to the next two “types”.

More to come.