Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Joyful Mysteries – The Annunciation, Part IV: "As If She Were A Dove That Dwelt There"

Jan van Eyck, Annunciation
Netherlandish, ca. 1435
Washington DC, National Gallery of Art
“And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there….. “ Protoevangelium of James:  8 1

The tradition that Mary spent time in the temple as a girl and young woman comes from the Protoevangelium of James, one of the numerous non-canonical or apocryphal books that purported to tell the story of Christ that came into being around the middle of the second century.  The Protoevangelium focused on the story of Mary, from her own birth through Herod’s massacre of the innocents and the flight into Egypt.  Though recognized as not being canonical quite early in the Church’s history, the Protoevangelium contains numerous stories that have worked their way into Christian belief over the centuries and that have provided many of the stories that have been illustrated by artists since the Middle Ages, among them the traditions of Mary’s consecration to the service of God in the Temple as a girl and those surrounding St. Joseph’s choice as her husband-to-be. 

For this reason, many artists have shown the Annunciation as happening in a large, imposing building or even a recognizable church which is the artist’s way of placing Mary in the setting of the Temple. 

The theme seems to have become popular during the late Middle Ages.  Mostly, artists have imagined the Temple as something with which each was familiar -- a church.

The theme appears to have developed most obviously in Northern Europe and the structures which were imagined were the Gothic cathedrals of the north.
Petrus Christus, Annunciation
Netherlandish, 1452
Bruges, Groeninge Museum

Matthias Gruenwald, Annunciation
German, 1515
Colmar, Musee d'Unterlinden

Mary may appear at the entrance of the building or she may be seen inside the body of the church, which is usually indicated by the inclusion of an altar, sometimes with a priest seen standing there.
Jean Fouquet, Annunciation
from Hours of Etienne Chevalier
French, 1452-1460
Chantilly, Musee  Conde
MS 71

Master of Charles of France, Annunciation
from Hours of Charles of France
French, 1465
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cloisters Collection

Although these are to be understood as the Temple, they are, in all practical terms, churches in which the Catholic liturgy can take place and where it may actually be taking place at the same time as the artist is showing us the Annunciation event.  This juxtaposition ties past time with present time, the Annunciation of Christ’s birth in the flesh through the human body of Mary with the transformation of the ordinary materials of bread and wine into His Sacramental Body and Blood on the altar.

Jean Bourdichon, Annunciation
from Hours of Frederic of Aragon
French, 1501-1503
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10532, fol. 16

As time went on the application of the classical values of the Italian Renaissance began to alter the setting.
Jean Bourdichon, Annunciation
from Grandes Heures of Anne d'Bretagne
French, 1503-1510
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9474, fol. 26v
The building began to resemble something that more closely approximates what we might today imagine as the temple.

Martin van Heemskerck, Annunciation
Dutch, 1546
Haarlem, Frans Halsmuseum

It was made explicit in Veronese’s painting at San Sebastiano in Venice by the inclusion of spiraling columns, known as Solomonic columns, because they were believed to duplicate the columns that stood in Solomon’s Temple at Jerusalem.
Paolo Veronese, Annunciation
Italian, 1558
Venice, San Sebastiano
Gianlorenzo Bernini,
Baldacchino of St. Peter's Basilica
Italian, Completed 1633
Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica
These columns from the Temple were believed to be identical with spiral columns that were given by Constantine to St. Peter’s basilica at the time of its construction in the fourth century to surround the still visible tomb of St. Peter.  These columns are still kept there today, though not in their original location.  Their form was the direct inspiration for the four enormous bronze columns, designed by Bernini and completed in 1633, that currently support the baldacchino over the main altar of the “new” St. Peter’s.2

Charles Lorin, Annunciation
French, 1910-1914
New York, Church of St. Jean Baptiste

George Hawley Hallowell, Annunciation
American, Before 1926
Boston, Fogg Museum

Another development in this theme appears in a handful of pictures that show Mary in the Temple, wearing some of the vestments of a Catholic priest or acting in the place of a priest.  3
Boucicaut Master, Annunciation
from Book of Hours
French, 1415-1425
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1000, fol. 33r

Instead of seeing her in remote proximity to the altar, at which the priest stands, she may be seen at the altar or lectern acting as a liturgical minister in her own right.

Master of the Aix Annunciation, Annunciation
French, 1445
Aix-en-Provence, Sainte-Marie-Madeleine

Again, this is a conflation of past and present.  She is seen as uniting the two moments and actions, the Incarnation and the Consecration. 

© M. Duffy, 2015
1. 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.  J.B. Ward-Perkins, “The Shrine of St. Peter and Its Twelve Spiral Columns” in The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 42, Parts 1 and 2, 1952, pp. 21-33.
3.  Anne L. Clark, “The Priesthood of the Virgin Mary:  Gender Trouble in the Twelfth Century”, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Vol. 18, No. 1, Spring 2002, pp. 5-24.  

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