Friday, April 29, 2011

Thoughts on a Royal Wedding

OK.  It's a bit off topic for me, but obviously a lot of people are interested in this.   And, being that my parents were born as subjects of the British crown, albeit unwillingly, under Queen Victoria (my father) and King Edward VII (my mother), it is of some passing interest to me too.  There was much to appreciate in the day:
1.  The celebration of family, not so easily come by these days, even if one of the families involved has not had the best of track records in this or any other century.  I greatly appreciated the sermon by the Anglican Bishop of London.  You can read it here.
2. The connections with the past.  After all, a continuous, if sometimes convoluted, descent from Alfred the Great is nothing to be sneezed at.  Most of us are lucky if we can trace their ancestors back a couple of hundred years or so.  I can get to the last decades of the 18th century, but not beyond.

3.  The music.  The entrance piece "I Was Glad" by Parry is one of my all-time favorite anthems.  Indeed, it is the piece I hoped to have for my own entrance, had I been fortunate enough to marry .  I've been lucky enough to get to sing it twice. It is one of the greatest of those grand Anglican church pieces that the English choral tradion has produced.  The rest of the music was nice too.  I've always thought it is a pity that "Jerusalem" is so specifically English, as it has wonderful imagery.  I especially liked the "Ubi Caritas" by Paul Mealor.  The Westminster Abbey and Chapel Royal boys and men sounded great.

4.  The dress.  Actually, I'm more a shoe person myself and was trying very hard to catch a glimpse of the new Duchess of Cambridge's shoes.  But aside from a brief glimpse of the front of one I couldn't really see them.  The dress was OK enough, though a little too austere for my taste.  But then, I never really got over Diana's dress.  THAT was a dress!  A funny thing is that just yesterday I was viewing a retrospective video of Alexander McQueen's work that is online (link) at the Metropolitan Museum website.  A McQueen retrospective is opening at the Met's Costume Institute next week.  He is not a designer I've ever followed, although I've seen some of his work previously at the Met (as part of an earlier show) and in the windows of his shop in the Meatpacking District downtown.  Mostly they have seemed to me to be extreme, even weird, statements.  However, the video revealed that he (or his assistants working under his name) have been capable of producing pretty clothes.  Duchess Katherine's dress was certainly pretty.  So, I'm a bit more interested in seeing the Met's show.
5.  The place.  Westminster Abbey is, of course, a magnificent building.  But it's only partially English.  Although founded as a Benedictine abbey under the last Anglo-Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, the current building was built not only by English but also by French masons brought over by King Henry III.  It was added to over the centuries by subsequent kings, up till the time of the Reformation.  Finally, following a building hiatus caused by the upheavals associated with: the Reformation (1533-ca. 1600), the Civil War (1641-1649), the Commonwealth (1649-1661), the Restoration (1551-1689) and the Glorious Revolution (1689), the finishing touch of the west towers was completed under George II in 1745 by Nicholas Hawksmoor.  Consequently, as for so much of England's ecclesiastical patrimony, it is a Catholic building adapted to Protestant use. 

I do wish their Royal Highnesses every good wish and God's blessings on their marriage.

Iconography of the Resurrection – Noli Me Tangere

Master Henri, Noli Me Tangere
from Livre d'Images de Madame Marie
Flemish (Hainault), 1285-1290
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquistion francaise 16251, fol. 45v

“Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there,
one at the head and one at the feet where the Body of Jesus had been.
And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “They have taken my Lord,
and I don’t know where they laid him.”
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.
Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.’”
Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,”
and then reported what he had told her.”
(John 20:11-18)

This dramatic scene between the Risen Jesus and Mary Magdalene from John’s Gospel has given rise to the Resurrection iconographic type called the “Noli Me Tangere”, the words “Do not touch me” from the Latin Vulgate, the standard translation of the Bible into Latin, made at the end of the fourth century by St. Jerome. More recent translations, held to more accurately translate the original Greek, such as that from The New American Bible quoted above, translate this phrase as “Stop holding on to me...” or "Stop clinging to me...".
Noli Me Tangere
from a Gospel Book
German, c. 1015
Hildesheim, Hildesheim Cathedral Museum
MS DS 18, fol. 75v

As with much of the iconography of the Resurrection the "Noli Me Tangere” seems to have begun to appear in the middle ages in Western Europe.

Early examples come from the hands of the illuminators of medieval manuscripts.

Noli Me Tangere
from Miniatures of the Life of Christ
France (Northeast), 1170-1180
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 44, fol. 12r
Noli Me Tangere
Nine Leaves from a Psalter
German (Augsburg), 1225-1250
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 275, fol. 7v 

Noli Me Tangere (top level)
Italian, c. 1250-1300
Tuscania, Church of San Pietro
Noli Me Tangere
from a Psalter
Flemish (Bruges), 1250-1270
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 106, fol. 71v

Executed in a typical Romanesque and Gothic manuscript styles, the  figures of Jesus and Mary gesture toward each other but do not touch. In the later images the risen Jesus displays his wounded hands and side and feet. Mary kneels before him.

Noli Me Tangere
from the Hours of Yolande de Soissons
France (Amiens), 1275-1299
New  York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 729, fol. 6v
Master of Roman de Fauvel, Noli Me Tangere
from Lives of the Saints
France (Paris), 1300-1350
Paris, Bibliotheqe nationale de France
MS Francais 183, fol. 60v
Noli Me Tangere and Doubting Thomas
Leaf from the Ramsey Psalter
England (Ramsey Abbey), 1295-1315
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 302. fol. 3v
The illuminator who drew this Psalter's illustrations here puts together the two episodes mentioned in the Gospels in which someone reaches out to Jesus.  Mary tries to touch Him, while Thomas satisfies his doubts by putting his hand into Christ's side, with the guidance of the Risen Jesus Himself.

Jean LeNoir and Assistants, Noli Me Tangere
from the Breviary of Charles V
France (Paris), 1364-1370
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 1052, fol. 425

Two early examples of larger scale wall paintings come from the two “fathers” of what would become the Italian Renaissance – Giotto and Duccio.

Giotto, Noli Me Tangere
from Arena Chapel
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Arena./Scrovegni Chapel

Duccio, Noli Me Tangere
from Maesta Altarpiece
Italian, 1308-1311
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Clearly, the overall iconography is being set in these early images. Since all Western languages are read from left to right this is the direction in which the action flows. The kneeling Mary is on the left and the Risen Jesus is shown moving toward the right. This is the layout for the majority of later images. 

Giotto, Noli Me Tangere
Italian, 1320s
Assisi, Basilica of San Francesco, Lower Church, Magdalen Chapel

Noli Me Tangere
from Fleur des histoires by Jean Mansel
French, 1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 56, fol.57
Jean Colombe, Noli Me Tangere
from the Pontifical matutinale and missal of Jean Coeur
France (Bourges), 1460-1470
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G 49, fol. 116v

Tilman Riemenschneider, Noli Me Tangere
German, 1490-1492
Muennerstadt, Parish Church

Bramantino. Noli Me Tangere
Italian, c. 1500
Milan, Civico Museo d'Arte Antica

However, some later artists reversed this arrangement to dramatic effect. By reversing the motion to a right to left movement the artist creates a less static composition. In some cases Jesus' motion of pulling His robe away from Mary’s grasp, is almost dancelike.

Mario Balassi. Noli Me Tangere
Italian, c. 1632
Florence, Ente Cassa di Risparmio
Francesco Albani. Noli Me Tangere
Italian, c. 1644
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museum zu Berlin

Tissot, Noli Me Tangere
French, 1884-1896
New York, Brooklyn Museum,

Closer to our own day the subject was addressed by the Franco-British painter James Tissot, who spent the last twenty years of his life in illustrating Biblical subjects after much research and visits to the Biblical lands. His interpretation, located today in the Brooklyn Museum, shows a different imagining of the subject. Here Mary lies prone before Jesus, who appears to be reaching down to her, and the motion is front to back in the pictorial space.

Dali, Noli Me Tangere
from Biblia Sacra, Vol. 5 No. 20,

Salvador Dali also imagined the scene in his Biblia Sacra of 1969. Here the image is at first difficult to read, but as one looks it becomes clearer. The figures of Mary and Jesus are brought together into a great curve, only their respective heads appearing as clearly defined. She really is clinging to him and appears to be trying to touch his face, while he appears to have grasped her gently around the wrist.

Clearly, through the centuries, this dramatic and personal encounter between the Risen Christ and the faithful Mary Magdalene has given artists plenty of food for their imaginations.

© M. Duffy, 2011

For a look at an additional aspect of the Noli me tangere type of image, please see Iconography of the Resurrection -- Jesus the Gardener

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Iconography of the Resurrection – The Women at the Tomb

The Three Women at the Tomb
from Livres d'Images de Madame Marie
Flemish (Hainaut), 1285-1290
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition française 16251, fol. 43v
To quote from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, iconography is “1: pictorial material relating to or illustrating a subject; 2: the traditional or conventional images or symbols associated with a subject and especially a religious or legendary subject; 3: the imagery or symbolism of a work of art, an artist, or a body of art”.

The iconography of any subject develops and changes over time. Christian iconography develops and changes too, as reflection on the Gospels and Tradition develops over time.

The iconography of the Resurrection was very slow to evolve. Unlike the Crucifixion which, because it deals with a fact of human life, the death of an individual, can be readily grasped by the human imagination and converted into images, the Resurrection is outside of human experience and, therefore, more difficult to imagine. What ought the Resurrection of Jesus to look like? How can it be graphically represented? Can it be represented at all? These are some of the questions that must have been in the minds of artists and their patrons from the time of the first Christian images.

Chi Rho from Early Christian Roman Sarcophagus
Roman, ca. 350 AD
Vatican City, Museo Pio-Christiano

For the most part, the early Church and its artists chose not to try to represent the Resurrection. It was alluded to symbolically, but not pictured, as for example by the wreathed Chi Ro, shown here on a sarcophagus from ca. 350 AD, now in the Vatican Museo Pio-Christiano, where the presence of the sleeping guards is a clear reference to the Resurrection.

The earliest images that directly reference the Resurrection are those that represent the Three Marys at the Tomb. This iconography visualizes the account, found in the three synoptic Gospels, of women (two in Matthew (Matthew 28:1-7), three in Mark (Mark 16:1-8) and Luke (Luke 14:1-11), who go to the tomb early on the morning after the Passover Sabbath to complete the anointing of Jesus’ body. There they find an empty tomb and an angel messenger (or messengers in Luke) who tells them that Jesus is not there, that He has risen.

Crucifixion, Women at the Tomb and Risen Christ Appearing to the Women
from the Rabbula Gospels
Syrian, c. 586
Florence, Biblioteca Mediceo Laurenziana
MS Cod. Plut. I, 56, fol.13r
These images first appear in the Rabbula Gospels, produced in Syria in the sixth century. Shown below the scene of the Crucifixion are two scenes from the Resurrection. On the left two women receive the message of the angel, while on the right the Risen Lord appears to them. In between is the empty tomb, represented as a small, temple-like classical building.

Similar images seem to begin appearing in western Europe around the year 1000 AD. Two beautiful examples come from the Ottonian imperial scriptoria at Reichenau and a third from Fulda or Mainz.

Women at the Tomb
from the Bamberg Apocalypse
German (Reichenau), 1000-1020
Bamberg, Bamberg State Library,
MS Msc.B 140, 42

The Three Women
from Book of Pericopes of Heinrich II
German (Reichenau), c. 1007-1012
Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek
MS Clm 4452, fol. 116v
The Angel Seated on the Tomb
from Book of Pericopes of Heinrich II
German (Reichenau), c. 1007-1012
Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek
MS Clm 4452, fol. 117

Women at the Tomb
from a Sacramentary
German (Mainz or Fulda), ca. 1025-1050
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS Ludwig V 2, fol. 19v

All were painted during the first half of the eleventh century. Here two (LA) or three (Bamberg and Munich) women, holding pots of ointments and incense, are shown listening to the message of the angel, who is seated on the door slab. In the background is the tomb, shown as a small domed building. Inside the tomb, silhouetted against the background in the Bamberg Apocalypse and the Sacramentary is the burial cloth. In the same two manuscripts the tomb guards are shown as sleeping figures.

Similar images appeared in the sculpture of the Ottonian period.  Among these are ivory carvings and the famous bronze column commissioned by Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim at the beginning of the 11th Century.

Ivory Relief, The Women at the Tomb
German, c. 1000-1050
Dole,Musée des Beaux-Arts
Bronze Relief, The Women at the Tomb
from the Column of Bishop Bernward
German, 1015_Hildesheim, Church of St. Mary

This image has continued to be popular in Western art ever since. Some notable examples from the history of Western art are:

During the Middle Ages

The Three Women at the Tomb
from Psalter of Christina of Markyate
English (St. Alban's), 1124-1145
Hildesheim, Dombibliothek, Page 50

Ivory Relief, The Women at the Tomb
German, c. 1150-1170
Cologne, Schnütgen Museum

The Angel at the Tomb
German, c. 1240
Soest, Evangelical Parish Church of St. Mary on High
The Three Women at the Tomb
German, c. 1240
Soest, Evangelical Parish Church of St. Mary on High

The Women at the Tomb
from Vies de la Vierge et du Christ
Italian (Naples), c. 1350
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 9561, fol. 184v
Jacopo di Cione and Workshop
The Women at the Tomb
Italian, 1370-1371
London, National Gallery

The Renaissance

Fra Angelico, The Women at the Tomb
Italian, 1440-1442
Florence, Museo di San Marco
Wood Carving, The Women at the Tomb
Flemish, c. 1460
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
Imitator of Andrea Mantegna, The Women at the Tomb
Italian, c. 1460-1555
London, National Gallery

Reliquary, Women at the Tomb
Flemish, 16th Century
Douai, Musée de la Chartreuse

Gerhard Remisch, The Women at the Tomb
German, c. 1540-1542
London, Victoria and Albert Museum

The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

Annibale Carraci, Three Women at the Tomb
Italian, 1590s
St. Petersburg, Hermitage Museum

Benjamin West, The Women at the Tomb
American, 1805
New  York, Brooklyn Museum

The Nineteenth Century

Oscar Gue_French, c. 1842
Rennes, Musée des Beaux-Arts

William Adolphe Bougereau,
Three Women at the Tomb
French, 1860-1890
Private Collection

James Tissot, Mary Magdalene and the Holy Women at the Tomb
French, c. 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum

However, it has been joined by a number of other images of what the Resurrection might look like, which we will explore in subsequent posts.

© M. Duffy, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Saturday

Fra Angelico and assistants, Meditation on the Passion
Italian, 1441-1442
Florence, Convent of San Marco
The atmosphere of the church on this day is one of contemplative silence. No Mass is celebrated today, until the evening when we begin the Vigil of Easter. We enter into the mood of the disciples. We are slightly stunned, quiet, reflective. But, we know the end of the story, as they did not. So we are also filled with hope and a suppressed excitement. We visit the Confessional, prepare the altar, practice our music, clean our houses, and dye our eggs. We know that the morning to come will change our lives. For those preparing for Baptism at Easter Vigil a completely new life, in Christ, will begin this evening.

So, I will leave you with two things today.

First is an image, not by Giotto, our companion this Holy Week, but by the mid-fifteenth century Dominican painter, Fra Angelico. It is a visual meditation on all the events of the Week just passed, a “Meditation on the Passion”. It comes from the Convent (now the Museum) of St. Mark in Florence. Fra Angelico and his assistants painted it for their Dominican brethren in the early 1440s.

In it we see the Virgin Mary pondering the image of her crucified Son.  He stands (as the Man of Sorrows) in the tomb, surrounded by the instruments of the Passion (the sponge on a reed, the spear, the nails, the Cross) and by vignettes of he events (the kiss of Judas, Peter's denial, the Mocking of Christ, the exchange of the silver bribe).  At the front right we see St. Thomas Aquinas kneeling in adoration, his pen in one hand, his closed book in the other.  Thomas, in addition to his theological work (Summa Theologica) was also a poet and authored many great hymns, many still in use. 

Fra Angelico and assistants, Christ in Limbo
Italian, 1441-1442
Florence, Convent of San Marco
Second is a beautiful piece of Christian literature, which speaks of this quiet day, and another work from San Marco by Fra Angelico and his assistants, which illustrates it. The author of the “Ancient Homily on Holy Saturday” is not known, but the beauty of his words is as effective today as they were when they were first written centuries ago.  I have read it several times at a Holy Saturday morning Tenebrae service and it never fails to move me deeply.

“Something strange is happening -- there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: 'My Lord be with you all.' Christ answered him: 'And with your spirit.' He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: 'Awake, o sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.'

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in Hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in Me and I in you; together we form one person and cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, Whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on My Face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On My back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See My hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced My side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in Hell. The sword that pierced Me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise. Let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity. “

You may also want to read my essay "Meditation on the Passion -- Waiting" (here).

Friday, April 22, 2011

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

Giotto, Lamentation
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Scrovegni/Arena Chapel
“When it was evening,
there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph,
who was himself a disciple of Jesus.
He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus;
then Pilate ordered it to be handed over.
Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in clean linen
and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock.”

(Matthew 27:57-60)

Like the “Kiss of Judas”, this fresco of the “Lamentation” is among the most reproduced paintings in the world. It is also clearly one of Giotto’s greatest masterpieces, with a sureness of composition and execution that command attention.

The dead body of Jesus lies across Mary’s legs. Her right knee supports His torso; as she bends down to kiss Him. His head is supported by a woman seen only from behind. The rest of his body is also supported by women. Mary Magdalen supports his legs and feet, while another woman seen from behind supports the rest of his body and a woman seen in profile supports his hands. A larger group of women appear at the far left, expressing their grief in various ways. St. John stands above the woman seen in profile and he expresses his grief with hands widely spread. To the right stand two male onlookers, probably identifiable as Joseph of Arimathea, who donated the tomb and who is mentioned in all four Gospels, and Nicodemus, who is mentioned in the Gospel of John.

The composition of the painting is very sophisticated, while the overall effect is one of quiet contemplation. There are three interlocking triangles that create the composition. A great diagonal stone parapet or ridge creates the first, descending from right to left, reversing the normal “read” from left to right. The positions of Joseph and Nicodemus reinforce the wide edge of this triangle, while John, with his outspread arms, repeats the triangular motif. The second triangle descends from the group of women at the left down to the seated figure of Mary Magdalen. The final triangle is formed by the group around the prone figure of Jesus. It reaches its peak in the head of the woman seen in profile.

Detail.  Mourning group;
Against this complex composition the drama is played out by gesture and gaze. Although we are aware of the three triangles, it is the faces that capture our attention, especially the faces of the dead Christ and of His Mother. All the other characters gaze intently at them, with the exception of Mary Magdalen, who gazes down at the feet of Christ. Their gaze guides us and through them we become part of the story too. We are here moving into the image stream that will lead to multiple great works of art and ultimately to that most famous of all, Michelangelo’s “Pietà”.

Above the quietly grieving humans, the angels show their grief in a multitude of ways: with tears, exclamations, perhaps even screams.

Detail.  Angels at left. 

Detail.  Angels at right.

While the mood of the lower part of the painting is calm and quiet, the upper portion is very restless, with the angels posed in diverse attitudes of grief.

Detail.  Tree at upper right.

Even the bare tree branches appear agitated. The natural world too reacts to the Crucifixion. 

© M. Duffy, 2011