Friday, May 5, 2017

Iconography of the Ascension, Part III of IV -- The Disappearing Feet

Hans Suess von Kulmbach, Ascension
German, 1513
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
"When they had gathered together they asked him,
"Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"
He answered them, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons
that the Father has established by his own authority.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
throughout Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth."
When he had said this, as they were looking on,
he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.
While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going,
suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.
They said, "Men of Galilee,
why are you standing there looking at the sky?
This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven
will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven."

Acts 1:6-11  Excerpt from the First Reading of the Mass for the feast of the Ascension of the Lord

We have already examined the Ascension motifs in which Jesus strides into heaven (here) and is lifted there in a mandorla or on a cloud (here).  Now we will look at what is my favorite image of the Ascension. There is something a bit whimsical about seeing only the feet of Jesus protruding from clouds.


The image appears to develop during the middle ages.  One of the earliest images I have found comes from the Psalter known alternately as the St. Alban's Psalter or the Psalter of Christina of Marykate, painted in England in the first quarter of the twelfth century.

Ascension
from the Psalter of Christina of Markyate
English (St. Alban's), 1124-1145
Hildesheim, Dombibliothek
It became quite a popular alternative to the images of striding or being lifted for the remainder of the middle ages.

Ascension
from a Picture Bible
French (St. Omer, Abbey of St. Bertin), c.1190-1200
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 F 5, fol. 23v
Ascension
from the Psalter of St. Louis and Blanche of CastilleFrench (Paris), c. 1225
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 1186, fol. 27v



























Ascension
from a Psalter
German (Augsburg), 1230-1255
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M280, fol. 11r

Ascension
from a Psalter
German (Franconia), 1245-1255
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G73, fol. 61v



























Ascension
from a Psalter
German (Worms), 1250-1299
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M284, fol. 9v

The Hospitaller Master, Ascension
from a French Bible
French (Paris), 1250-1275
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M494, fol. 610v






















Ascension
from the Livre d'images de Madame MarieBelgian (Hainaut), c. 1285-1290
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition francaise 16251, fol. 49v

Maubeuge Master, Ascension
from a Bible historiale
French (Paris), 1320-1330
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M323, fol. 260v

Richard de Montbaston, Ascension
from the Legenda aurea by Jacobus da Voragine
French (Paris), 1348
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 241, fol 124v
Ivory Diptych with the Ascension and Pentecost
French, 1370-1380
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Jean Bandol, Ascension
from a Bible historialeFrench, 1371-1372
The Hague, Meermano Museum
MS MMW_10B 23 555r






































It app
Anonymous Alabaster Carver, Ascension
English (Nottingham), 15th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ivory Panel from a Box,Ascension
French, 15th Century
Paris, Musee de Cluny, Musee national du Moyen Age


























The Imprinted Footsteps

From about the beginning of the fifteenth century the mountain some artists began to include footprints on the mountain shape (representing the Mount of Olives).  Looking carefully, one can sometimes see two tiny footprints side by side.  Not every image has them, but many do.  Look carefully at the following examples to see which have footprints.  Some are very subtle.

Fastolf Master, Ascension
from the Hours of William PorterFrench (Rouen), 1415-1430
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M105, fol. 20v
Ascension
from the Egmont BreviaryDutch (Utrecht), 1435-1445
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M87, fol. 231r



























Master of the Heisterbacher Altar with Stefan Lochner, Ascension
German, c. 1440
Bamberg, Staatsgalerie
Ascension
from Fleur des histoires by Jean Mansel
French, 1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 56, fol. 62v
Ascension
from a Bible moraliseeFlemish (Bruges), c. 1455-1460
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB76 E 7, fol. 219r


Jean Colombe and Workshop, Ascension
from a Book of HoursFrench (Bourges), 1475-1485
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M330, fol. 36r

Jacques de Besancon, Ascension
from the Legenda aurea by Jacobus de Voragine
French (Paris), c. 1480-1490
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 244, fol. 153



























Hans Memling, Ascension
Right wing of the Resurrection Triptych
German, c. 1490
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Master of the Older Prayer Book of Maximilian I
Ascension
from the Breviary of Eleanor of Portugal
Flemish (Bruges), 1495-1515
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M52, fol. 170v
Ascension
German, c. 1500
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Musseum





























Ascension
from a BreviaryFrench (Southern), 1506-1516
New  York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M8, fol. 126r

Jean Pichore. Ascemsopm
from a Prayer BookFrench (Paris), 1511-1513
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M292, fol. 21v



























Juan de Flandres. Ascemsopm
Flemish, 1514-1519
Madrid, Museo del Prado

During the seventeenth century the view from below changed.  Instead of observing Christ's feet disappearing into a cloud bank side by side, as if He were standing in the air, the view becomes one in which His entire body can be seen as He flies upward.  What we see most clearly, however, are His foreshortened, pierced feet.

Peter Paul Rubens, Ascension
Flemish, 1620
Vienna, Akademie der bildenden Kuenste

Eustache Le Sueur, Ascension
French, c. 1650
Private Collection

Jacob de Wit, Ascension
Dutch. c. 1751
London, Courtauld Gallery
This de Wit is clearly copied from the Rubens above.

But, perhaps the most unusual image of the Ascension ever created dates from the last half of the 20th century. It gives us a truly “Apostles’ eye view” of the event. Created by Salvador Dali in 1958, it is now in a private collection.
Salvador Dali
Spanish, 1958
San Diego, Museum of Art

As he did with other Biblical subjects, Dali once again gives us a unique, imaginative and, indeed, astonishing view. Obviously derived from the “disappearing feet” iconographic type, we are placed in the position of one of the Apostles, standing on the mountain, looking up and watching the feet of Jesus from below as He rises up into a golden circle among the clouds, as an angel watches.

For the other iconographic motifs of the Ascension see:

  • Jesus Striding into Heaven (here)
  • Jesus Lifted to Heaven in a Mandorla or on a Cloud (here)
  • The Direct Ascension (here)



© M. Duffy, 2011, revised 2017     


Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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