Sunday, April 17, 2022

Links for the Easter Season

Anthony van Dyck, The Resurrection
Flemish, c. 1631-1632
Hartford (CT), Wadsworth Athenaeum

The days of Lent and the days of sadness that are the Triduum are past and Easter 2022 has arrived!




I wish you a happy and profoundly inspiring Easter Season.

Who could have imagined two years ago that Christian worship on Easter would be restricted for two whole cycles!  While the picture is certainly better than it was one year ago, when most churches in the world were completely closed, there are still obstacles to the kind of celebration we were used to participating in.  

In many locations churches are either closed or are open under limited circumstances.  Also, many people still feel unsafe being indoors and, therefore, reluctant to attend the liturgies that commemorate the events of the Easter Season.  For these reasons I recommend to you the links below.  They lead to some of the commentary that I have written over the  years regarding the iconography of the Easter Season, which extends from this happy day till Pentecost and Trinity Sunday.

With museums in many countries closed once again as well, please feel free to explore virtually the art created to imagine the Resurrection and the days immediately following, all the way through to the feast of the Holy Trinity.  I hope that considering these events and the pictures that artists have created to illustrate them over the centuries will help you to feel more connected to the long tradition of Christian art offered to the glory of God and to the living Church of our own time.

The Resurrection, the Appearances, the Incredulity of Thomas, Emmaus

Date Published

The Women at the Tomb

April 27, 2011

Noli Me Tangere

April 29, 2011

Jesus, the Gardener
April 18, 2017

The Incredulity of St. Thomas (Doubting Thomas)
May 1, 2011

Emmaus -- The Journey

May 7, 2011

Emmaus -- The Recognition

May 7, 2011

Climbing from the Tomb

May 13, 2011

Hovering over the Tomb

May 13, 2011

Bursting from the Tomb

May 14, 2011

An Awkward
Resurrection Image

April 23, 2014
Good Shepherd Sunday
May 15, 2011

The Lake of Galilee -- The Disciples Go Fishing

May 17, 2011

Commission to Peter -- The Good Shepherd Transfers Responsibility

May 21, 2011

The Commission to the Apostles

May 27, 2011

Christ Appears to His Mother

Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother

June 1, 2011

May 11, 2017

The Ascension

Striding into the Sky
June 3, 2011

Lifted in a Mondorla or on a Cloud

May 5, 2017

The Disappearing Feet

May 5, 2017

The Direct Approach

May 5, 2017


Veni, Sanctae Spiritus

Tongues of Fire

May 27, 2012

May 15, 2016

At This Sound, They Gathered In a Crowd

The Holy Trinity

Worthy Is The Lamb

Father, Son, Spirit

Iconography of the 
Holy Trinity – 
Imagining The Unimaginable

The Holy Trinity -- Love Made Visible

The Holy Trinity -- The Throne of Grace


May 17, 2016

April 10, 2016

May 18, 2008

June 2, 2012

June 13, 2019

June 7, 2020

© M. Duffy, 2020

Saturday, April 16, 2022

The Day of Gloom and the Coming of the Light

Paolo Veronese, Dead Christ Supported By Angels
Italian, 1587-1589
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
This essay, originally  written several years ago, was amended in 2020 due to the reduced circumstances occasioned by the lockdowns that were in effect in many countries as part of the battle against COVID-19.  I wanted to assist people in their  meditation on the meaning of Easter. 

Although the circumstances are far better this year in most places, the sense of disruption remains.  A new variant is stalking many places, including my own city of New York, so attending the Triduum and Easter services may cause some worry.  One may chose to pass on certain services that will be crowded and resort to the now familiar lives tream from your parish or cathedral or from Rome.  Consequently, liturgies will, perhaps, not be as full as usual and may lack some of the usual elements, such as processions.  Or,  some actions, such as venerationg of the cross, may be more controlled.  

However, the Paschal Candle will be lit and the Exultet will be sung.  Catechumens will be baptized and baptized converts will be received into the church.  The readings will still tell us about creation and the exodus of the Jews from Egypt.  The Eucharist will still be consecrated and received.  The Alleluias will still be sung.  Nevertheless,  since every person in the world has not been vaccinated yet and the virus continues to infect millions, while millions more will stay home to avoid it, the essay seems worth repeating.  But, please remember that it was written in April 2020, not currently.

On a typical Holy Saturday the church is quiet, the tabernacle empty, the altar stripped. People come for services such as Tenebrae, made up of readings, songs and symbolic acts such as the snuffing out of candles or for Confession to ask God for forgiveness.

 Basically, the prevailing mood is quiet, a little gloomy even, but with a hint of excitement nonetheless.

This year of 2020 things are very different.  The churches are very quiet indeed, for they are empty.  There will be no public celebrations of Tenebrae, no Confessions, unless they are drive through or by appointment in carefully distanced surroundings.  There will be an Easter Vigil, however, even if there is no one in the church building except the minimum necessary.  The major portion of the Christian world is in isolation, staying at home in an attempt to reduce the raging pandemic of COVID-19, a virus no one knew existed until four months ago.

But the congregations will be there, virtually, attending the services of the churches that have found a way to live stream the Holy Week liturgies.  In this we are so much more privileged than our ancestors who endured previous plagues and epidemics.  In these last days I have been present virtually at liturgies in several countries and in different states:  Rome, Paris, Turin, New York and California.  In spite of the pandemic, which has caused me to hunker down in my apartment due to my several prior "comorbidities" I feel highly blessed to be able to live in a time when this is possible.

So, today while we remember the hours between the evening of Good Friday, when the body of Jesus was laid hurriedly in the tomb with little ceremony, and the morning of Easter Sunday, when the women who came to complete the proper burial customs found an empty tomb, we find ourselves enduring a kind of burial as well.

But, underneath it all is still the sense of expectation.  And, late in the afternoon, we will turn to the screens of our television or computer or tablet or phone to celebrate the Easter Vigil, the Great Vigil, in which the darkness of the tomb is turned to the light of resurrection.

As the massive newly carved and lit Paschal Candle is carried down the aisle of the darkened church we will be confronted with a symbolic image that has come down to us from remote centuries, for the light represents the Risen Christ.  This year we cannot light our small candles with the rest of the congregation, though perhaps we may light one at home.  But we should try to hold in memory what happens year after year as the individual candles are lit from the great one.  The church gradually fills with light.  What was obscure and gloomy just moments ago can be seen clearly.  It is a magnificent symbol of the Resurrection, of the share we each have in it and of the effect that spreading that light can have on the world.  This year the light may come only from the screen, but it is none the less a manifestation of the Light of Christ.  And if all the tuned-in screens in the world could shine together, we might have a very different world.

Deacon Singing the Exultet 
From  an Exultet Roll
Italian (Montecassino), ca. 1072
In this scene he gestures toward the Paschal Candle, which is being incensed

For more information on the images that relate to both the day of waiting and of the Paschal Candle, please click on the following:

The Harrowing of Hell here

The Dead Christ in the Tomb here

Easter Vigil and the Paschal Candle here

©  M. Duffy, 2015, updated 2020 and 2021 and 2022

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Links for Holy Week

Giotto, Jesus Washes the Feet of Peter
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Scrovegni/Arena Chapel (detail)

I won't be blogging during the next few weeks, which include Holy Week (April 10-April 13) and the Paschal Triduum (April 14,15, 16).  Instead I am providing links to the numerous essays I have written in recent years about the art associated with these days. Please use the links below to access them.

Also watch the Featured Posts section on the right for direct links to associated articles.  You may particularly wish to click on the links to the images associated with the Stations of the Cross and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, both popular devotional prayers recalling the events of Holy Week.

2011 Series:  Holy Week with Giotto (with some additional essays from later years)

Date Published
Palm Sunday
Holy Week with Giotto, Palm Sunday
April 17, 2011

Entering Jerusalem, the Hinge to the Passion
April 9, 2017

Monday and
Holy Week with Giotto – Jesus and Judas
April 19, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Judas’ Betrayal I
April 20, 2011

Spy Wednesday -- Thirty Pieces of Silver
April 1, 2015

Holy Week with Giotto – Holy Thursday, Washing Feet
April 21, 2011

Holy Thursday
April 5, 2012

Holy Week with Giotto – Judas’ Betrayal II, the Kiss
April 20, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Overnight, Christ Before Caiaphas
April 21, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Early Morning, Mocking of Christ
April 21, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Mid-Morning, Via Crucis
April 22, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Early Afternoon, the Crucifixion
April 22, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Late Afternoon, the Lamentation
April 22, 2011

Holy Saturday
April 23, 2011

O, Key of David! Come, break down the walls of death!
December 20, 2011

Exult! – The Easter Proclamation
March 30, 2013

The Day of Gloom and the Coming of the Light

© M. Duffy, 2022

April 4, 2015

Friday, March 25, 2022

Links to the Iconography of the Annunciation


Attributed to the Egerton Master, Hours of Rene of Anjou
French (Paris), 1410
London, British Library
MS Egerton 1070, fol.15v 

""    "Be pleased, almighty God,
 to accept your Church’s offering,
 so that she, who is aware that her beginnings
 lie in the Incarnation of your Only Begotten Son,
 may rejoice to celebrate his  mysteries on this
 Who lives and reigns for ever and  ever."

     This is the Offertory Prayer of the Mass for the Feast of the Solemnity of the Annunciation, March 25.

     At its very beginning Christianity makes an astounding claim.  This is that one of God's greatest messengers, the Archangel Gabriel, visited a teenage Jewish girl in the Galilean town of Nazareth and announced to her that she had "found favor with God" to become the mother of a special child.  He told her that her child would be a son and would be named Jesus and that "He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  Her quite reasonable answer was that she didn't see how this could be as she was a virgin, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”  (Luke 1:26-35)

      The angel responded with the mysterious words: “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God."  And at these words the girl, whose name was Mary, gave her consent.  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”  And, nine months later, a baby boy was born in a stable in the Judean town of Bethlehem. (Luke 1:35-38)


     This is the Annunciation.  It is a feast day of the church that is celebrated on March 25th each year.  The date of the event that it commemorates is unknown of course.  But there was a belief in the early Church that March 25th was the day on which Jesus was both conceived and crucified.  It is difficult to say whether this thinking influenced the date chosen for the celebration of Christmas, the feast of the birth of Christ, as nine months from March 25 is December 25.  Or it may have been the other way round, with the date chosen to commemorate the birth of Christ dictating the date on which the Church celebrates his conception.

     The Annunciation is a major event in the New Testament, and therefore has a long and complex visual history.  Artists have tried to convey some of the mystery surrounding the event and to convey the ways in which thinking about this event developed over time.  A list of the many ways in which this iconography has been developed through the centuries is listed below.   Please feel free to explore.

© M. Duffy, 2022

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.
The English translation of the Order of Mass, Antiphons, Collects, Prayers over the Offerings, Prayers after Communion, and Prefaces from The Roman Missal © 2010, ICEL. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Picturing the Parables—The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree and the Gardener


Jean Colombe, The Landowner, the Gardener and the Barren Fig Tree
From Vita Jesu Christi by Ludolph of Saxony
French (Bourges), c. 1475-1500
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 177, fol. 338r

“Some people told Jesus about the Galileans
whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!
Or those eighteen people who were killed
when the tower at Siloam fell on them—

do you think they were more guilty
than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!”

And he told them this parable:
“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard,
and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none,
he said to the gardener,
‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree
but have found none.
So cut it down.
Why should it exhaust the soil?’
He said to him in reply,
‘Sir, leave it for this year also,
and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it;
it may bear fruit in the future
If not you can cut it down.’”

Luke 13:1-9, Gospel for the Third Sunday in Lent, Year C


In the Gospel chosen for the Third Sunday of Lent in the yearly cycle for Year C, we are presented with two instances in which Jesus sets out examples of how God deals with our sins.  First, he relates two recent disasters that may have made people wonder, even as we ourselves often wonder following the disasters of our own time, both natural and manmade.  In the first event, Pilate, the Roman governor, had ordered that his troops mingle the blood of many Galileans with the blood of their sacrificed animals. Presumably, this resulted in their deaths, as the passage clearly implies.  This is a manufactured tragedy, an atrocity caused by tyranny.  In the second event, a tower fell on people in the Siloam area of Jerusalem.  One supposes that this is a natural disaster, due to unsteady foundations or perhaps to an earthquake.  In both cases Jesus reprimands his listeners for making a judgment on the people affected by assuming that their unpleasant deaths marked them as great sinners.  He reminds them, however, that because death can be sudden and violent, the need for repentance is absolute and immediate at every moment of life.  Our sense of wounded justice and our self-deception are not what God sees.  God does not use the disasters of life to punish us. 

Sycamore Fig Tree
From De Materia Medica by Dioscorides Pedanius of Anazarbos
Byzantine (Constantinople), c. 940-960
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 652, fol. 266r

He also adds a parable to drive home the point that repentance is important, and that God is merciful.  He tells us of a landowner (God), who comes to a fig tree in his garden and finds that it is barren for the third year.  He requests that his gardener cut it down, since it is producing nothing and eating up the nutrients in the soil.  However, the gardener (also a personification of God) urges him to be merciful and to give the tree another chance.  If it is carefully nurtured for another year, it may become fruitful once again.  If not, it can be destroyed.

Parable of the Barrem Fig Tree in the Vineyard
Austrian, c. 1349-1351
Lilienfeld, Stiftsbibliothek
Institut für Realienkunde, Austria

Both the stories from the recent European news and the parable emphasize how God deals with us and our world.  He will give us time to repent in the hope that, if our souls are lovingly tended and ready to accept the care, we will be able to produce good fruit, no matter how barren our previous years may have been.  Further, God does not use disasters, whether earthquakes, plagues, or wars, to exact punishment on the guilty.  But it is up to us to receive his grace and to act on it. 

This hopeful story has much in common with some of the other Lenten gospels we have looked at over the years.  It resonates, for example, with the story of the Prodigal Son and the Woman at the Well.  However, unlike them it has not had much iconographic life.  I was surprised with how few images I was able to find, although it is possible that more exist.   The number of sites that carry iconographic materials have expanded enormously since I began writing this blog, which makes it even more surprising that so few images seem to be available. 

Parable of the Fig Tree in the Vineyard
Austrian, c. 1425-1435
Vienna, Österreichische Nationalsbibliothek
Institut für Realienkunde, Austria

Ludovico Mazzolino, Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
Italian, c. 1525-1530
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

One particular print image is widely held, however (I located seven in a brief survey of museum collections on the internet).  This is a late sixteenth-century printed image made by Adriaen Collaert, following a design by Hans Bol.  It comes from a series of the twelve months produced by the same team.  This format seems to have been quite a popular item in the late sixteenth- and seventeenth centuries in the Low Countries (today's Holland and Belgium).  It harkens back to the labors of the months from the calendar pages found in medieval prayer books.  But in these examples, the labors of the months relate to biblical passages.  

Adriaen Collaert after Hans Bol, Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
From Emblemata Evangelica ad XII Signa Coelestia Sive
Flemish, 1585
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

So, for instance, the harvest and preparation for the coming year are associated with the story of the landowner and his gardener, who stand at the left of the image.  Meanwhile, all around them the other farm workers are collecting the abundant harvest of the other trees, filling bags with the crop and carrying them off.  Sheep are seen grazing peacefully and all seems at peace in the background.  That is until one notices that in the deep background, straight above the figures of the owner and the gardener as they confer over the barren tree, is a scene of warfare in which riders on horseback are shown with lances directed at figures who flee from them, while other figures, presumably dead or wounded lie around the base of a tower which is shown at the instant of collapse.  

Adriaen Collaert after Hans Bol, Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
Detail - Upper Left 
From Emblemata Evangelica ad XII Signa Coelestia Sive
Flemish, 1585
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

  Jesus stands at the far-left side of the page discussing with the Pharisees as he tells them these two stories. 

Adriaen Collaert after Hans Bol, Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
Detail - Lower Right
From Emblemata Evangelica ad XII Signa Coelestia Sive
Flemish, 1585
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Below the engraving is a Latin commentary on this Gospel passage from Luke (Luke 13, above) which reads in translation:

“The super-fruitful tree which in season yields fruit pleasing to the farmer is praised; the barren tree is deservedly cut down with an ax to be sold; but often the punishment of evil men may be deferred by prayers.” (My translation)

Other visualizations of this Gospel passage do exist, though none is as complete and defined as this one.  Some, like the Collaert engraving include parts of the Gospel of Luke that are described in the same chapter 13, such as the falling tower or the healing of the bent woman.  

Jean Bondol and Others, The Blood of the Galileeans is Mingled with that of Their Sacrifices and the Owner Discusses the Fig Tree with the Gardener
From Grande Bible Historiale Completé
French (Paris), c. 1371-1372
The Hague, Meermano Museum
MS MMW 10 B 23, fol. 502v
Claes Brouwer and Others, Miracle of the Woman Bent Over and Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
From a History Bible
Dutch (Utrecht), c. 1430
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 78 D 38,II, fol. 170r

Master of Edward IV, Jesus Describing the Parable of the Fig Tree to the Pharisees and the Disciples
From Vita Christi by Ludolf of Saxony
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1487-1490
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 894, fol. 219v
Here the parable itself is relegated to a small vignette just above the outstretched arm of Jesus.  The foreground and sides are filled with the Pharisees and the Disciples to whom Jesus is telling the story.

Some, like the two paintings by Abel Grimmer shown below, are modeled on the widely circulated Adriaen Collaert print already discussed.  Grimmer apparently copied in paint the series of twelve months and did it several times over.

Abel Grimmer, September, The Parable of the Sterile Fig Tree
Flemish, c. 1600
Private Collection

Abel Grimmer, September with the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
Flemish, 1611
Private Collection

The seventeenth century Flemish engraver Nicolas Cochin also borrowed the composition of the Collaert/Bols print for his own, simplified, version.  His debt to the Collaert/Bols print is obvious, although he did not include the details of the falling tower and slaughtered people.  

Nicolas Cochin, Parable of the Fig Tree
From a Set of Twelve Parables
Flemish, 1672
Nancy, Museum of Fine Arts
In addition, the text on his print is a direct quotation of the words of the landowner from the Vulgate Gospel of Luke.  It reads:  "Ecce anni tres sunt ex quo venio quarens fructum in ficoluca hac, et non invenio, succide ergo illam, ut quid exiam terram occupat." Or in English "Behold, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and I find none. Cut it down therefore. Why should it encumber the ground?" (Luke 13:7) (Slightly modernized quotation from the Douai-Reims Bible.) 1

Others, especially those dating from the eighteenth century and later, reduce the field of vision only to the parable of the landowner and the gardener.   See especially the early eighteenth century prints of the Dutch engraver, Jan Luyken, all done within a handful of years and, although obviously related, subtly different from each other. 

Jan Luyken, Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
From Historiae Celebriores Veteris Testamenti by Christoph Weigel
Dutch, 1708
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Jan Luyken, Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
From a Bible
Dutch, 1712
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
This print includes a highly colloquial verse.  The meaning  can be translated very roughly as "You wait patiently for us to improve.  O, that we remembered you!" "You" being, of course, God.

Jan Luyken, Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
From The Scriptural Histories and Parables of the Old and New Covenants
Dutch, 1712
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

These appear in increasingly naturalistic surroundings until, by the end of the nineteenth century, they are totally realistic. 

Carl Rahl, The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
Austrian, c. 1850
Vienna, Belvedere Museum

James Tissot, The Vine Dresser and the Fig Tree
French, c. 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum

Until at the beginning of the twentieth century abstraction again entered the world of narrative art.  

The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
Irish, 20th century
Dungarvan, Waterford, Ireland

© M. Duffy, 2022

1. Translation from the Douay-Rheims Latin Vulgate Bible found at

Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. All rights reserved.