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
____________________________________________________________
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.

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