Thursday, February 25, 2016

Down the Well But Not Out For the Count

Joseph Approaching His Brothers
From Fleur des histoires by Jean Mansel
French, 1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 55, fol. 21
Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age;
and he had made him a long tunic.
When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons,
they hated him so much that they would not even greet him.

One day, when his brothers had gone to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem,
Israel said to Joseph,
“Your brothers, you know, are tending our flocks at Shechem.
Get ready; I will send you to them.”

So Joseph went after his brothers and caught up with them in Dothan.
They noticed him from a distance,
and before he came up to them, they plotted to kill him.
They said to one another: “Here comes that master dreamer!
Come on, let us kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns here;
we could say that a wild beast devoured him.
We shall then see what comes of his dreams.”

When Reuben heard this, 

he tried to save him from their hands, saying,
“We must not take his life.
Instead of shedding blood,” he continued,
Master of Jean de Mandeville, Joseph Cast Into the Well
French (Paris), 1360-1370
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS 1, v1, fol.39
“just throw him into that cistern there in the desert;
but do not kill him outright.”
His purpose was to rescue him from their hands
and return him to his father. 
So when Joseph came up to them,
they stripped him of the long tunic he had on;
then they took him and threw him into the cistern,
which was empty and dry.

They then sat down to their meal.
Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead,
their camels laden with gum, balm and resin to be taken down to Egypt.
Judah said to his brothers:
“What is to be gained by killing our brother and concealing his blood?
Rather, let us sell him to these Ishmaelites,
instead of doing away with him ourselves.
After all, he is our brother, our own flesh.”
His brothers agreed. They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.

Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13A, 17B-28A (Reading 1 for Friday of the Second Week of Lent, February 26, 2016)

One of the most well-known stories in the Old Testament is the story of Joseph.  Beloved by his father, Jacob, the young boy is sent to visit his brothers who are away from the main camp tending their father’s sheep.  

Some families are riven with jealousy and this turns out to be one of them.  His brothers envy the boy on account of the favoritism of their father.  So, they decide to kill him.  But one of them argues against it.  His reasoning is that they should not kill him outright and shed his blood, but that they can do the same deed without personal involvement.  They can simply leave him down an empty cistern or well.  The idea that the cistern is empty of water suggests that there is a drought in the land.  Leaving someone stranded without water in such a harsh climate will have the same effect as killing him outright, but without the blood. 
So, they stick the child down the well and decide to have lunch nearby.  Pretty coldblooded, isn’t it?  

Fortunately for the boy, a caravan headed for Egypt happens to come along while the brothers are eating and they have another bright idea.  They will sell him to the traders as a slave, which will accomplish two things:  they will be rid them of him and make a profit as well
Rambures Master, Joseph Sold to the Traders
From Histoire ancienne
North French or Flemish, 1455-1465
New York,  Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M212, fol. 35r
.   
So, Joseph is sold and goes off toward Egypt.  When he arrives there he is sold again, to a court official.  He has to pass through several troubles in Egypt, but eventually he rises to be a high official himself, one of Pharaoh’s most trusted servants.  Through his amazing ability to interpret dreams he saves Egypt from famine, a famine which afflicts the entire region, including Canaan.  His brothers eventually come to Egypt to buy grain and are recognized.  But they don’t recognize Joseph, now grown up and a great man.  He first tricks them then reveals himself to them, forgives them and ultimately welcomes them and their father to leave their home and to settle in Egypt. 

This story, in all its aspects, is well represented in Western art, most especially through the illuminations found in the books used by lay readers, such as illustrated Bibles, picture Bibles, illustrated histories and Books of Hours.  Indeed, "the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50) was one of the most popular and often retold and represented parables of the Old Testament. The plot is replete with dramatic twists--fraternal jealousy and treachery, attempted seduction, prophecy through dream interpretation, and the rewards of royal favor. Further, since patristic times, the trials of Joseph had been seen as a prefiguration of those of Christ. Both as narrative and typology, the Joseph story had "something for everyone."1

Some years ago I looked at images of the moment in which the grown up Joseph reveals himself and forgives his brothers I am your brother, Joseph.  

Today I will look at the beginning of the story, the point at which Joseph is betrayed and sold. 

Some depictions of this story try to tell the entire story in one picture or in a series of immediately adjacent pictures. Some of these are among the earliest pictures of this story that we have.
Story of Joseph
From Orationes of Gregory Nazianzen
Constantinople, 879-882
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Grec 510, 69v


Story of Joseph
From Book of Hours
German (Francoian), 1104-1119
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M739, fol 13v

Story of Joseph
From Book of Hours
German (Francoian), 1104-1119
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M739, fol 14r




These two pages face 
each other within the
Book of Hours.  















Story of Joseph
From Picture Bible
French (St. Omer, Abbey of St. Bertin), 1190-1200
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliothek
MS KB 76 F5, fol. 3v
Story of Joseph
From Picture BibleFrench (Paris), 1244-1254
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M638, fol. 5r



























In the Psaltar of St. Louis (Louis IX) the images are found on a sequence of pages, with two scenes shown on each page.
Joseph Meets His Brothers and Joseph Cast
Into the Well
From Psalter of St. Louis
French (Paris), c.1270
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10525, fol. 16

Joseph Taken From the Well and Sold to Traders
From Psalter of St. Louis
French (Paris), c.1270
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10525, fol. 17





















Joseph's Brothers Present His Bloodstained Coat to Jacob
and Joseph is Sold by the Traders to Potiphar
From Psalter of St. Louis
French (Paris), c.1270
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10525, fol. 18
Joseph Cast Into the Well
From Queen Mary Psalter
English (London), 1310-1320
London, British Library
MS Royal 2 B VII, fol.  14v




In the so-called Queen Mary Psalter the images are located on facing pages.


Joseph Sold to the Traders
From Queen Mary Psalter
English (London), 1310-1320
London, British Library
MS Royal 2 B VII, fol.  15








This illustration from a Passover Haggadah reads from right to left in the same manner as the Hebrew text.
The Golden Haggadah, Haggadah for Passover
Spanish (Catalonia), 1325-1350
London, British Library
MS Additional 27210, fol. 6v






Scenes from story of Joseph
French, 1301-1400
Auxerre, Cathedral of Saint-Etienne







Master Francois and Collaborators, Story of Joseph
From Speculum historiale by Vincentius Bellovacensis
French (Paris), 1463
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 50, fol. 48














These scenes from the West Portal of Auxerre Cathedral also read from right to left, as they approach the cathedral door.









Here the sequence of images runs from the background toward the foreground, where Joseph is being sold to the traders.









Biagio d'Antonio, Story of Joseph
Italian, c.1485
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
Here the action takes place primarily on the left side of the painting, in a sort of zig zag motion, beginning with Joseph being sent by Jacob to his brothers. We see him walking toward them, then arriving, then being cast into the well and finally, being sold to the traders, who are shown embarking in the right background. In the right foreground his brothers present his bloodstained cloak to their sorrowing father, as the youngest brother, Benjamin, looks on.



Others images focus on certain moments in the story.

Joseph being thrust or pushed down the well.


Joseph Cast into the Well
From Sacra parallela by John Damascene
Byzantine (Constantinople), 850-900
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Grec 923, fol. 391

Master of the Roman de Fauvel, Joseph Cast Into the Well
From Bible historiale of Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), 1300-1325
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 156, fol. 36v





















Joseph Cast Into the Well
From Weltchronik
German (Bavarian), 1355-1365
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M769, fol. 61r

Joseph Cast Into the Well
From Bible historiale of Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), c.1400
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 3, fol. 33
















Joseph Cast Into the Well
From Bible historiale of Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), 15th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 159, 31

Joseph being removed from the well.  


These images are more rare than the scenes of his being cast into the well, possibly because it is not as dramatic.
Joseph Removed from the Well
From Bible historiale of Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), 1300-1325
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 160, fol. 35
















Joseph Removed from the Well
From Bible historiale of Guiard des Moulins
French (Breton), 1417
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 163, fol. 21


















The exchange with the traders of Joseph for cash and Joseph resold in Egypt.


Joseph Sold to the Traders
From Bible historialeof Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), c.1300
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 155, fol. 16v
Master of the Coronation Book of Charles V, Joseph Sold to the Traders
From Bible historiale of John the Good by Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), c1350-1356
London, British Library
MS Royal 19 D II, fol. 33v





















Joseph Sold to the Traders
From Bible historiale of Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), c.1400
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 9, fol. 36v

Master of Jouvenel and Collaborators, Joseph Sold to the Traders
From Mare historiarum by Johannes de Columna
French (Anjou), 1447-1455
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 4915, fol. 33v





























Joseph Sold to the Traders
From Fleur des histoires by Jean Mansel
French, 1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 55, fol. 21

Joseph Sold to the Traders
From Bible historiale of Edward IV
by Guiard des Moulins
Belgian (Bruges), 1479
London, British Library
MS Royal 18 D IX, fol. 84





















Master of the Flemish Boethius, Joseph Sold to the Traders
From Jewish Antiquities by Flavius Josephus
Belgiian (Bruges), 1483
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 11, fol. 32v



Jacopo Pontormo, Joseph Sold to Potiphar
Italian, 1515-1518
London, National Gallery


















Bacchiacca, Joseph Sold
Italian, 1515-1516
Rome, Galleria Borghese



















Typological Images

There is also a group of images, running through the entire medieval period, which show something else, a connection between the story of Joseph and the story of Jesus. Just reading the biblical text above brings up several parallels between them, among which is the similarity to the death, burial and resurection of Jesus for Joseph is betrayed by those closest to him, he is thrown into a well (in effect buried) but raised from it and he is sold for silver.

These images use what is known as typology to connect the stories.  Among the most famous, as well as one of the earliest of these is found on the Klosterneuburg Altarpiece, commissioned by Abbot Wernher of Klosterneuburg from the goldsmith and enamel worker, Nicholas of Verdun and dedicated in 1181.2

It is one of the greatest works of the early part of the high middle ages.  It is famously divided into three registers of enamel images.  On the top register are scenes from the Book of Genesis, called the Time Before the Law.  On the bottom register are scenes from the other books of the Old Testament, from Exodus on, called the Time Under the Law.  The middle section shows scenes from the New Testament, called the Time Of Grace.   The images above and below the New Testament scene are to be read as types (i.e., prototypes) for the New Testament scene.

In the case of Joseph (Before the Law), his brothers’ action of throwing him into a well is echoed by the sailors throwing Jonah overboard into the great fish (Under the Law).  And both of them find their New Testament echo in the Entombment of Jesus, which appears in the middle register.
Nicholas of Verdun
Joseph Cast into the Well

Klosterneuburg Altar top level
Mosan, 1181
Klosterneuburg (Austria)
Klosterneuburg Abbey
Nicholas of Verdun
Entombment of Jesus
Klosterneuburg Altar middle level
Mosan, 1181
Klosterneuburg (Austria)
Klosterneuburg Abbey
Nicholas of Verdun
Jonah Throw
Klosterneuburg Altar bottom level
Mosan, 1181
Klosterneuburg (Austria)
Klosterneuburg Abbey
Nicholas of Verdun
Klosterneuburg Altar
Mosan, 1181
Klosterneuburg (Austria)
Klosterneuburg Abbey
This photo shows the three-layered composition
of the scenes in question, but not the 
entire altarpiece,














This idea of types continued throughout the middle ages and was one of the principal ways in which people thought when reading the Bible.3




It was not an invention of the medieval mind, however, for it was also in the minds of the New Testament writers when they wrote what became the Gospels and Epistles.
Some examples are:

  • Romans 5:12-14 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 where Adam is seen as a type of Christ; 
  • Matthew 12:38-42 and Luke 11:29-32 where Jonah is called a sign for what Jesus predicts will happen when he is entombed (see Sign of Jonah); 
  • Matthew 2:15-18, referring to the Flight into Egypt and the Massacre of the Innocents by Herod the Great; 
  • John 3:14-15, in which Jesus compares his coming death on the cross to the brazen serpents set up by Moses, not as a cure for snake bites but as a cure for death itself;
  • John 6:25-66, in which Jesus describes himself to the manna that fed the Isrealites on their wanderings and is rejected for this by many of his followers.

The idea of types was not confined to scholarly discussion or to monastic patronage.  It appears very widely in such books as the Biblia pauperum, which translates as the Bible of the Poor or the Speculum humanae salvationis (the Mirror of Human Salvation).  
Rambures Master, Joseph Cast into the Well, Entombment of
Jesus, Jonah Cast into the Sea
From Biblia pauperum
French (Hesdin or Amiens), c.1470
The Hague, Museum Meermano-Westreenianum
MS MMW 10 a 15, fol. 33r
Rambures Master, Joseph Sold to the Traders,
Jesus Betrayed by Judas, Joseph Resold to Potiphar
From Biblia pauperum
French (Hesdin or Amiens), c.1470
The Hague, Museum Meermano-Westreenianum
MS MMW 10 a 15, fol. 28r


Joseph Cast into the Well and Jonah Cast into the Sea
From Speculum humanae salvationis
English, 1350-1400
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 400, fol. 15
Joseph Cast into the Well and Jonah Cast into the Sea
From Speculum humanae salvationis
Italy (Bologna), 1350-1375
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 593, fol. 21v



















































These were books, often produced and illustrated very cheaply, that were widely available all over medieval Europe for the use of the laity, many of whom may not have been able to read Latin or to read at all.  There are many examples of the use of types in these works, sometimes including all three layers of meaning, sometimes only two.


 It is, therefore, not correct to say that medieval people were uninformed about the Bible or its stories or their meaning.  This information was widely available whether in stone, or glass, painted on walls or as miniatures in prayer books or in picture books such as the Biblia pauperum, Bible moralisée and Speculum humanae salvationis (Mirror of Human Salvation) and various historical books, all of which were written in the vernacular languages. 4
Mazarine Master and Collaborators, Sacrifice of Isaac and Joseph Cast into the Well
From Voyages, Livre des merveilles by Jean de Mandeville
French (Paris), 1410-1412
Paris, Bibliotheque national de France
MS Francais 2810, fol. 167





The story of Joseph, his mistreatment by his brothers, his remarkable rise from slave to great man, his loving act of forgiveness and reconciliation were well known to all.
 
© M. Duffy, 2016
________________________________________________________________
  1. Smith, Kathryn A.. “History, Typology and Homily: The Joseph Cycle in the Queen Mary Psalter”.Gesta Vol. 32.2 (1993): p. 152. 
  2. For a description of the program and for translations of the texts used in the altarpiece, see http://v1.elfieraymond.com/altar/
  3. Maas, Anthony. "Biblical Exegesis." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909.21 Feb. 2016 .http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05692b.htm
  4. Morey, James H.. "Peter Comestor, Biblical Paraphrase, and the Medieval Popular Bible." Speculum, Vol. 68, 1, (January 1993), pp. 6-35.

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.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Of Sheep and Goats and Mercy

Gerard de Jode after Maarten de Vos
Last Judgment with Separation of the Sheep and Goats
Illustration of Matthew 25:31-33
Flemish, ca. 1580
“Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.


For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left,
‘Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.”

Matthew 25:31-46
Gospel for February 15, 2016, Monday of the First Week of Lent


The passage from Matthew’s Gospel quoted above is generally interpreted to refer to the coming of Jesus at the end of time, the Last Judgment.  On that day the dead will rise and receive the final judgment on the lives they led.  They will be separated into those who are saved and who will spend eternity in God’s presence and those who have damned themselves by their actions to spend eternity separated from God in an empty self-imposed state of sorrow.  

Each person will be saved or damned according to their actions in life.  The saved will be saved because of their good actions toward the poor and suffering.  The damned will learn that their neglect of the poor and suffering have cost them dearly. 

Hans Memling, Last Judgment Triptych
Flemish, 1467-1471
Gdansk, Muzeum Narodowe
But the metaphor that is used to describe the two groups is an interesting one, the saved are sheep and the damned are goats.  We may think this an odd division.  Are sheep and goats so different?

Well, if you consult farmers or the websites aimed at farmers you will learn that the two species, while superficially similar to the eyes of a city dweller because they are both short, hairy animals with cloven hoofs, who are vegetarian and who give milk, are actually quite distinct, especially when it comes to behavior.

Sheep are timid, grazing animals with a strong flocking instinct.  Any visitor to sheep country can tell you that they are usually seen as white dots scattered on green fields, almost always with their heads down, eating grass. When approached, they will raise their heads, stand still and watch.  Should you come too close, they will run away.  They trust few humans, but they do trust those who shepherd and care for them.  Having once helped to raise an orphaned lamb I know that once they trust they can be very loyal and are quite sweet.

Goats on the other hand are foraging animals that prefer eating rougher fare, such as twigs and leaves that grow up from the soil.  Goats are able to stand on their hind legs to reach the tenderest branches and they have a much wider food preference.  One interesting difference from their sheep cousins is that, while the tails of sheep hang down, the tails of goats point up.  They are also less flock oriented and are naturally curious, so they tend to wander about and get into much more trouble with humans than sheep.  And then there are those beards!

Indeed goats have a relatively bad reputation.  In ancient Israel the two could not have been more different.  Sheep, especially lambs, were sacrificial animals (although kid goats could sometimes substitute).  But on Yom Kippur a goat was driven out of the towns into the wilderness after being symbolically loaded with the sins of the community.  It was the scapegoat.  Goats were seen as more inclined to do bad things than sheep.  Therefore, they are a natural metaphor for the damned in the division of souls at the end of time by the One who referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd.
Good Shepherd Painting
Early Christian, 3rd Century
Rome, Catacomb of Priscilla
(Don't be misled by the horns on the animals.  Many breeds
of sheep have horns in both sexes, although the horns of
the rams are usually larger and more elaborate than those
of the ewes.  Lambs may have tiny horn buds as well.)



So, what about art?  How did artists see this?  Well, for one thing, we know that very early in Christianity sheep were recognized as symbolic of the souls of believers, the Christian “flock”.  They already appear in Christian art in the third century and begin to appear in the works commissioned by Constantine and his family shortly after his conversion.


Traditio Legis Mosaic
Early Christian, c. 350-360
Rome, S. Costanza
This mausoleum/church was erected for Constantine's daughter.1

Constantine’s successors, the Byzantine emperors, continued to commission works of art that fairly swarmed with sheep, and a small number of goats.

Apse and Triumphal Arch
Byzantine, 6th Century
Ravenna, Sant'Apollinare in Classe

Sarcophagus
Byzantine, 6th Century
Ravenna, Sant'Apollinare in Classe

Christ Separating the Sheep and the Goats
Byzantine Mosaic, 6th Century
Ravenna, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo
However, by the medieval period in the West of Europe, outside the Byzantine realm the image of sheep representing souls does not seem to have continued.  Instead, the Western image of the Christian soul seems to have taken human form fairly soon after the recovery from the barbarian invasions and the Viking raids. 

Romanesque Sculptor, Last Judgment
French, 1125-1135
Conques, Cathedral of Sainte Foy
Therefore, we already find Romanesque images of the Last Judgment in which the forms involved are only human.  And only human figures are seen throughout the following centuries when the Last Judgment is imagined.
Gislebertus, Last Judgment
French, 1130-1145
Autun,  Cathedral of Saint Lazare
But there is another element in this Gospel passage.  This is the list of actions that, because they have done them, have saved the blessed and, because they did not do them, has condemned the damned.  They are:  feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the ill and visiting those in prison.  These actions, with the addition of burying the dead, the church calls the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy and has encouraged and provided opportunities for the faithful to perform them as individuals and in a corporate way through its many charities since the middle ages.

Attributed to the Madonna Master, Wheel of Sevens
From Psalter, known as The De Lisle Psalter
English (London), c.1310
London, British Library
MS Arundel 83, fol. 129v
This graphic representation of various 7s from the
Bible includes the Seven Works of Mercy
The Seven Works of Mercy (sometimes also called the Seven Acts of Mercy) began to appear in art during the twelfth century.  
Romanesque Sculptor
Works of Mercy
Italian, 1196-1216
Parma, Baptistry






































They were sometimes encountered in the illustrations of the lives of the saints, especially in the lives of lay people who had a particular reputation for their charitable works, such as St. Elizabeth of Hungary (also called St. Elizabeth of Thuringia) and St. Louis of France.

Anonymous Master,
St. Elizabeth Clothes the Poor
and Tends the Sick
German , 1390s
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum
Master Mahiet, Louis XI and the Poor
From Guillaum de Saint-Pathus, Vie de St. Louis
French (Paris), 1330-1340
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 5716, fol. 137
















However, by the fifteenth century the tradition of showing the Works of Mercy was well enough established that the reference to the royal saints was no longer needed and ordinary citizens became the performers of the works.
Atelier of the Catalan Master of St. Mark
from Breviari d'Amor of Master Ermengau of Beziers
Spanish (Catalonia), 1375-1380
London, British Library
MS Yates Thompson 31, fol. 110v
Master of Catherine of Cleves, Feeding the Hungry
From the Hours of Catherine of Cleves
Dutch (Utrecht), 1435-1445
New  York,  Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M945, fol.131r

Anonymous, Feeding the Hungry
From a Book of Hours
Franch, 1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 1175, fol. 51
Anonymous, Clothing the Naked
From a Book of Hours
French, 1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 1175, fol. 50



Anonymous, Giving Drink to the Thirsty
From a Book of Hours
French, 1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 1175, fol. 52
Anonymous, Visiting Prisoners
From a Book of Hours
French, 1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 1175, fol. 54

Anonymous, Caring for the Sick
From a Book of Hours
French, 1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 1175, fol. 53














Anonymous, Almsgiving
From a Book of Hours
French, 1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 1175, fol. 55
Anonymous, Burying the Dead
From a Book of Hours
French. 1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 1175, fol. 56















The Master of Alkmaar, The Seven Works of Mercy Polyptych
Dutch, 1504
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
The Master of Alkmaar, First Three Works of Mercy
(Feeding the Hungry, Giving Drink to the Thirsty, Clothing the Naked)
Dutch, 1504
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

The Master of Alkmaar, Three Works of Mercy
(Welcoming Strangers, Visiting the Sick, Visiting Prisoners)
Dutch, 1504
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum



















Master of Alkmaar, Burying the Dead
From the "Seven Works of Mercy Polyptych"
Dutch, 1504
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
The Rijksmuseum's notes on the polyptych indicate that this last panel was "seriously damaged with a knife, with parts of the paint layer being hacked off, mainly in the faces" during an outbreak of Protestant iconoclasm in either 1566 or 1575.
During the Reformation some questioned the efficacy of “works” of all kinds, opposing them to simple faith which, the Reformers claimed, was all that was needed for salvation.  The Catholic Church maintained, however, that one needed both faith and works for salvation, as clearly indicated by passages such as this Gospel, for the performance of Works of Mercy is the act of making our faith and love visible and active.

During the Catholic Counter-Reformation period following the Council of Trent a large number of representations of the Works of Mercy appeared in the Catholic countries.  In particular a series of drawings by the Flemish artist Maarten de Vos was turned into engravings by a group of engravers in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  I am including some of them, but you can also refer to the British Museum website for many more.2

Dirk Volketsz Coornhert (After Maarten van Heemskerck)
 Clothing the Naked
Dutch, 1552
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
Dirk Volketsz Coornhert (After Maarten van Heemskerck)
 Visiting Prisoners
Dutch, 1552
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum



























Gerard de Jode (after Maarten de Vos)
Welcoming  StrangersFlemish, c.1580
Privae Collection

Gerard de Jode (after Maarten de Vos)
Burying the DeadFlemish, c.1580
Private Collection

Crispijn de  Passe I (after Maarten de Vos), Feeding the Hungry
Dutch, c.1590
Philadelphia, Museum of Art

Crispijn de  Passe I (after Maarten de Vos), Giving Drink to the Thirsty
Dutch, c.1590
Philadelphia, Museum of Art

In addition, many of the artists of the Catholic countries and even a few from the Calvinist Dutch Republic represented the Seven Works of Mercy in paintings, sometimes focusing on one work, but frequently jamming all seven into one painting.

Caravaggio, The Seven Acts of Mercy
Italian, c.1607
Naples, Pio Monte della Misericordia

Frans Francken II, The Seven Acts of Mercy
Flemish, 1613-1617
St. Petersberg, The Hermitage Museum
















David Teniers the Younger, The Seven Works of Mercy
Dutch, 1640s
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Simon de Vos, The Seven Works of Mercy
Flemish, 1630-1640
Paris, Musee du Louvre

Michiel Sweerts, Clothing the Naked
Flemish, c.1661
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Luis Tristan, St. Louis Distributing Alms
Spanish, c.1620
Paris, Musee du Louvre
The older hagiographic "exemplar" iconography
continued to survive.





















With the end of religious controversy and general settling down of the Catholic/Protestant demarcation in Europe, images of the seven works seem to have diminished.  By the eighteenth century they seem to have disappeared altogether.

One late group of paintings, called the Acts of Mercy but not actually connected to the Gospel passage, was done in England between 1915-1920 by the artist, Frederic Cayley Robinson. Commissioned by the Middlesex Hospital these paintings represent only four acts:  feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the homeless and caring for the sick.  And, indeed, they are more illustrations of a faceless corporate response to the social issues of their day than the paintings and prints in the tradition of individual Christian action we have been looking at.

Frederic Cayley Robinson, Orphan Girls Going to Table
English, 1915-16
London, Wellcome Library Collection
Frederic Cayley Robinson, Orphan Girls Refectory of a Hospital
English, 1915
London, Wellcome Library Collection


Frederic Cayley Robinson, People Outside a Hospital
English, 1916
London, Wellcome Library Collection

Frederic Cayley Robinson, Soldiers Outside the Hospital
English, 1920
London, Wellcome Library Collection
This beginning of Lent in the Holy Year of Mercy seems like a good time for us to ponder the images of the Works of Mercy produced by our ancestors.

© M. Duffy, 2016
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1.  For more on the church of Santa Costanza see http://imaginemdei.blogspot.com/2012/01/eve-of-st-agnes-poet-some-painters-and.html
2.  For the British Museum holdings of the adapation of the drawings of Maarten de Vos by multiple engravers, visit http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx?people=103939&subject=17087


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.