Friday, May 31, 2013

The Eucharist and the Old Testament at the Morgan Library

Last Supper and Manna in the Desert
From Speculum humanae salvationis
Belgium, Bruges, Mid-15th Century
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M385, fol. 18v

(Please note that this essay was originally written in conjunction with a temporary exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, which ran from May to September in 2013.)*

In this section of the exhibition “Illuminating Faith: The Eucharist in Medieval Life and Art” the Morgan Library presents what is known as the typology of the Eucharist. Typology is one of the ways in which the early church and the medieval church meditated on the meaning of the Eucharist. In typology events and people in the Old Testament are related to events and people that they appear to foreshadow in the New Testament.

The use of typology to reflect on Jesus, His life, His resurrection and the Eucharist He left us begins at the very beginning of Christianity, with the New Testament. Several of the New Testament writers were the first to think of relating the events they describe to events from earlier Jewish history. As an example, in the Bread of Life discourse in John 6:30-58,  Jesus and his interlocutors refer several times to the manna which fed the Israelites in the desert, contrasting His Body and Blood, the real Bread from Heaven, with the ephemeral manna from heaven.

It is small wonder, then, that typology became a major tool in people’s thinking about theology and, especially, in presenting Christianity in a visual manner.

One of the most commonly used books in the later middle ages was the Speculum humanae salvationis (the Mirror of Mankind’s Salvation). This book was a manual of typology particularly popular with the laity, but also used by the clergy. Typically, the pages of the book would include an image from the life of Jesus and other images from the Old Testament, usually one from the Book of Genesis and another from the other books, from Exodus on. We have looked at some of these in previous articles. This kind of composition was also used in the sculpture and decoration, for example in the famous Klosterneuburg Altarpiece.

The Morgan’s current exhibition includes a copy of the Speculum which includes not just two Old Testament scenes, but three. The New Testament scene is the Last Supper. It is related to one scene from Genesis (the scene in which Melchisedek, the priest-king of Salem, the early name for Jerusalem, offers bread and wine to Abram in Genesis 14:18-20) and two scenes from the book of Exodus (the Paschal Lamb of Exodus 12 and the collection of manna from Exodus 16). Clearly, the message is that the bread and wine offered by Melchisedek and the manna from heaven prefigure the bread and wine offered at Mass and the Bread from Heaven, which the bread and wine become at the consecration. In addition, the Paschal Lamb is to be seen as a type of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary in which each Mass participates.

The Paschal Lamb and Melchisedek and Abram
From Speculum humanae salvationis
Belgian, Bruges, Mid-15th Century
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M385, fol. 19r
The Manna and the Lamb are also seen in the beautiful Book of Hours prepared for Catherine of Cleves in the mid-15th century.
The Paschal Lamb
From Hours of Catherine of Cleves
Dutch, Utrecht, ca. 1440
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M945, fol. 140v
The Manna in the Desert
From Hours of Catherine of Cleves
Dutch, Utrecht, ca. 1440
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M945, 137v
And the Last Supper is paired with the meeting of Melchisedek and Abram in another Book of Hours from the later part of the 15th century.  Here the Eucharistic typology of the story of Melchisedek is made explict.  He is dressed as a bishop and the bread and wine he offers to Abram are the Host and Chalice.

Last Supper 
From a Book of Hours
Belgian (probably Brussels), ca. 1475
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M485, fol. 40v
Melchisedek and Abram 
From Book of Hours
Belgian (probably Brussels), ca. 1475
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M485, fol. 41r (detail)

Other references to the Old Testament also occur in the show. One symbolically suggests that the New Testament has superseded the Old, the other suggests that both are necessary for salvation.
Master of Jacques de Luxembourg, Last Supper 
From Book of Hours
French (or northeastern France), c. 1465
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1003, fol. 13r

The first image shows the scene of the Last Supper seen as if it is taking place in a house from which the sides have been removed. As Judas (identified by the money bag he is holding) exits, the rest of the Apostles still sit at table with Jesus. As Judas leaves he is confronted with the image of a woman standing in a canopied niche, wearing a crown and holding in her right hand the familiar image of the Host surmounting a Chalice and in her left the shaft of a pennant which identifies her as the image of Ecclesia or Church. She represents the New Testament. In a niche on the other side of the “house” in a similar canopied niche, stands the figure of another woman. This one is blindfolded. In her right hand she holds the tablets of the Law rather limply. In her left hand is a pennant that identifies her as Synagoga. She represents the Old Testament. This pairing had a long history in medieval art.

Another, more unusual, image in the show comes from a Missal probably produced in Tours, France around 1400.

In this book, the left hand page depicts the Crucifixion.

From Missal
French (possibly Troyes), ca. 1400
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M331, fol. 186v
Christ in Majesty 
From Missal
French (possibly Troyes), c. 1400
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M331, fol. 187r

But, instead of an image of the Mass or of an Old Testament scene, such as the Paschal Lamb, the right hand page presents an image of Christ in Majesty. He sits in a central diamond-shaped space in the traditional pose for this image. The corners of the overall rectangle of the picture field are occupied by the four Evangelists and their associated beasts of Revelation 4:6-9 (themselves echoing four beasts from the Old Testament (Ezekiel 1:5-10). Thus far this image is a typical image of Christ in Majesty, seen in countless medieval images. What makes this one somewhat unusual are the two altars seen to the right and left of Christ in the central diamond. To His right, below the hand which is raised in blessing is a Christian altar, identifiable from the Chalice and the Host, which lies on top of a corporal (a small square of folded linen used to cover the chalice during Mass). To his left, the hand holding the orb, which represents the world, stands an Old Testament altar. On it is placed the tablets of the Law. Here the Old and New Testament altars appear on an equal basis, as the two foundation stones of salvation. The Law is completed by the sacrificial offering of Christ and its continuation in the Mass.

© Margaret Duffy, 2013

* Some images are available at

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Sacrifice of the Mass at the Morgan

Elevation of the Host 
From the Tiptoft Missal
English (possibly Cambridge), ca. 1320
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M107, fol. 142r

(Please note that this essay was originally written in conjunction with a temporary exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, which ran from May to September in 2013.)*

The second segment of the current exhibition “Illuminating Faith: The Eucharist in Medieval Life and Art” deals with the Mass as a re-enactment of Christ’s sacrificial death on the Cross and with the liturgical developments that took place during the medieval period.

Introduced by a wall card that offers an orthodox explanation of the Mass as the re-enactment of Calvary through transubstantiation, in which the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, the same as were offered on Calvary. It also emphasizes how, because of the importance of the action, precisely as re-enactment, it was recognized that it was extremely important for the priest to “get it right” and for the objects involved in the Mass to be of as high a quality and as beautiful as possible.

Further, the card explains that the intense respect which people of the time held for the sacrament resulted in their infrequent reception of Communion. This, in turn, led to the introduction of the elevation of first the Host and then the Chalice following the consecrations. The moment of the elevation became a moment of extreme emotion and devotion for the lay faithful. While reading this one certainly feels the historic gap that lies between the people of the high Middle Ages and ourselves, even though the faith remains the same.

Many of the manuscript images included in this portion of the exhibition focus on the preparation of priests for Mass and their actual activities during it. 

The first image comes from a manual of preparation for Mass that was commissioned by Pope Leo X for the Sistine Chapel in 1520. It shows the seated Pope being presented with a pair of liturgical shoes, meant to replace those in which he had walked into the chapel, emphasizing the sacred nature of the space surrounding the altar.
Attavante degli Attavanti, Pope Leo X Prepares for Mass
From Preparatio ad missam pontificialem
Rome, 1520
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS H6, fol. 1v
My favorite images from this section involve missals that I would call visual aids on “how to say Mass”. They offer us a very human view of our ancestors.

Italian, Teramo or Bologna, ca. 1375-1390
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G16, fol. 125v

Italian (Teramo or Bologna), c.1375-1399
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G16, fol. 126r
Master of the St. George Codex
From the Stefaneschi MissalItalian (Florence) or French (Avignon), Late 1320s
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 713, fol. 58r

One can see that the texts in these images are written in different color inks, blacks and reds. The texts in black are the words of the liturgy; the texts in reds are the instructions regarding the actions that should accompany the words. These red texts are known as “rubrics” from the Latin word for the red ocher pigment.  From this comes the saying "Say the black and do the red".

Another image that speaks to us over the centuries is an image showing the reaction of the congregation to the consecration. People strain forward eagerly to witness the moment of transubstantiation. This is echoed today by the total silence that commonly occurs during the very same moments in today’s liturgies. Perhaps today’s congregations do not strain forward to see, but they are certainly just as focused on what is happening as those in the 14th century.

Anticipation of the Faithful at the Consecration
Single Leaf from the Decretals of Pope Gregory IX
Italian, 1330-1335
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M716, fol. 4r
Also included in this section is a display case that is set up to suggest an altar. It is covered by a linen altar cloth and includes several medieval liturgical vessels, as well as a very rare French late medieval-early Renaissance altar card and a gorgeous luxury missal. Unfortunately, images of the liturgical vessels (all of which come from the Morgan’s own collection) are not available online. I have included very similar vessels from other collections.
Spanish, 14th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Among the vessels are samples of both a Gothic ciborium and chalice and a very rare medieval pax.
Chalice of Peter of Sassoferrato
Italy (Siena), ca. 1341-1342
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 
Cloisters Collection

The first two vessels are still used in today’s liturgies, but the pax has been out of use for centuries. This was an object, usually of metal or ivory, with an image of Christ or of the Blessed Virgin Mary or of a saint. It was placed on the altar during Mass, up to the point at which the kiss of peace occurred. At that point it was kissed by the priest and then passed to the other clergy members and finally to the congregation, who passed it among themselves, each person kissing it before passing it on. Since few people received Communion frequently this was, in some ways, a substitute means of participation in the mystery of the Eucharist.

French (Limoges), 14th Century
London, Victoria and Albert Museum
The altar card is an unusual survivor. Altar cards were used up until the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. They presented the non-changing prayers of the Mass and were placed in prominent locations on the altar as memory aids for the priest, again emphasizing the importance attached to “getting it right”.
Altar Card
French (Paris), 1515-1525
New York, Morgan Library
MS M1147

The missal is the book that includes the prayers used for Mass, both those that do not change and those that change every day. Similar volumes are still in use today, although none are likely to be as gorgeous as this beautiful book, painted by the artist Jean Poyer around 1500.
Jesus Awaits the Crucifixion
From the Lallemont Missal
French (Tours), ca. 1500
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M495, fol. 85v

from the Lallemont Missal
French (Tours), ca. 1500
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M495, fol. 86r

What I find most interesting about this section of the exhibition is the window it opens for us into the world of the clergy and laity of the middle ages as they prepared for and participated in the sacrifice of the Mass. This insight reveals that, in spite of a number of differences (most obviously the orientation of the altar); there is actually a great deal of harmony between our own contemporary liturgical world and that of a world that has now vanished.

© M. Duffy, 2013 

For information on liturgical developments see:  
Jungmann, Rev. Joseph, S.J., The Mass of the Roman Rite, New York, Benziger Brothers, 1959.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Illuminating Eucharistic Faith at the Morgan Library

View of the exhibition at the Morgan Library
New York

(Please note that this essay was originally written in conjunction with a temporary exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, which ran from May to September in 2013.)*

One of the summer exhibitions that recently opened at the Morgan Library in mid-town Manhattan is focused on a subject that is surprisingly relevant to the upcoming feast of Corpus Christi (Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ). This feast is celebrated in some countries on its traditonal day, which is this coming Thursday, May 30th.  In the United States it will be celebrated next Sunday, June 2nd. The title of the exhibition is “Illuminating Faith: The Eucharist in Medieval Life and Art” and the results are impressive in several ways.

The exhibition is presented in a respectful and serious way, with wall cards and labeling providing orthodox explanations of the meaning of the Eucharist, including some words, such as transubstantiation, that are seldom heard in today’s culture. The more than sixty-five items in the show, drawn almost entirely from the Morgan’s own collections, offer views of many aspects of the iconography of the Eucharist, and go well beyond images of the Last Supper. It is organized around six themes: The Institution of the Eucharist; The Introduction of the Elevation; The Eucharist and the Old Testament; Domestic Devotion to the Eucharist; The Feast of Corpus Christi and Eucharistic Miracles. I will be discussing several of these themes in the next few days.

Last Supper
From Hours of Don Alfonso of Castile
Spanish (perhaps Burgos or Segovia)
New York, Morgan Library
MS M.854, fol. 202v
The first section, The Institution of the Eucharist, presents samples of what is probably the most immediately recognizable image of the Eucharist for the majority of people, the Last Supper. The exhibition points out that even in supposedly simple medieval images of the Last Supper there are references to the primary experience of Eucharist for most of us, which is the Mass. For example, in the very first image chosen for the show, from a 15th-century Spanish manuscript, we see the Apostles seated around a circular table, draped in white. Christ holds the familiar circular white host in one hand as he blesses it with the other. The round white host is clearly different from the other breads on the table, which are a light brown color, and the cup of wine is clearly modeled on the chalice used at Mass.

Last Supper
From Miniatures of the Life of Christ
French (perhaps Corbie), ca. 1175
New York, Morgan Library
MS M44, fol. 60v

References to the actions of the priest at Mass are also evident in an older manuscript, painted in France, probably at the abbey of Corbie in the late 12th century. Here Christ stands, holding up the host and the chalice, just as the priest does during the elevations of the Body and Blood of Christ during Mass.
n another image, one from a large choir book, a Gradual, painted by Silvestro dei Gherarducci in late 14th-century Florence we also see the effects of an unworthy reception of Christ’s Body and Blood. Judas, still with the other Apostles, sits opposite Jesus at the circular table as Christ makes a sign of blessing. However, unlike the other Apostles the halo around Judas’ head reveals him to be the betrayer. It has turned black and is covered with scorpions. This relates to the images of Judas composed by Giotto at the beginning of the century. There Judas wears a halo that is made of dark smoke. Both darkened haloes depict the darkness of the soul that resists the grace of God.

Silvestro dei Gherarducci, Last Supper
Single leaf cutting from Gradual Choir Book
Italian (Florence) 1392-1399
New York, Morgan Library
MS M653.4

Christ in Gethsemene 
From Book of Hours
Belgian, 1400-1415
New York, Morgan Library
MS M259, fol. 12v
This section of the exhibition also includes images that are the direct ancestors of our most commonly recognized “shorthand” image for the Eucharist. That is the Host elevated above the Chalice. This image appears first in images of the Agony in the Garden, where Jesus prays that He will be spared the bitter cup of the Passion. In these images the “cup” has been interpreted in the light of the Eucharistic celebration, as the Chalice of the Precious Blood and the consecrated Host.

Christ in Gethsemene 
From Beauchamp Hours
English (perhaps London), 1420-1445
New York, Morgan Library
MS M893, fol. 17r

The preciousness of the Precious Blood is emphasized in other images from the show. In one image the blood of Christ, shed on the cross, flows down to the skull of Adam, whom legend said was buried on Calvary (see my article about the Legend of the True Cross by Piero della Francesca at Arezzo for this). This image symbolizes the redemption from Original Sin that was the effect of Christ’s Passion.

The Blood of Christ Cleanses the Skull of Adam
From a Missal
Italian (Ferrara), 1463
New York, Morgan Library
MS M518, fol. 128v
Similarly, in several images angels hold up vessels in which to catch the Blood flowing from Christ’s wounded hands and side, just as angels did this in Giotto’s frescoes in the Arena Chapel in Padua at the beginning of the 14th century.
Fiorenzo di Lorenzo, Crucifixion
From a Missal
Italian (Perugia), 1472-1499
New York, Morgan Library
MS M472, fol. 131v
The connection between Calvary and the Mass is made explicit in a luxury manuscript commissioned by Cardinal Domenico Della Revere, a member of the clan that included Popes Sixtus IV, for whom the Sistine Chapel is named, and Julius II, the patron of Michelangelo in that same chapel. In this beautiful book (now seriously damaged in parts), illuminated by an artist known as the Master of the Della Rovere Missals (i.e., the actual identity of the artist is currently uncertain) an image of the Crucifixion appears on the left hand page, juxtaposed by an image of the elevation of the Host at Mass in a contemporary chapel setting on the right hand page. Kneeling devoutly as the priest elevates the Host is the Pope and his entourage.
Master of the Della Rovere Missals, Crucifixion 
From a Missal (left hand page)
Italian (Rome), ca. 1483
New York, Morgan Library
MS M306, fol. 118v

Master of the Della Rovere Missals, Elevation at a Mass with the Pope in attendance
From a Missal (right hand page)
Italian (Rome), ca. 1483
New York, Morgan Library
MS M306, fol. 118r
Two other images, both favorites of mine, are introduced at the end of this section. One is the image of the Man of Sorrows.  This subject, which presents the viewer with the image of Christ bearing the wounds of His sacrifice, has a long association with the Eucharist.  In nothern Italy in particular, it was a frequent subject used in the decoration of tabernacles, structures which hose the reserved consecrated Hosts for use outside of Mass.

Another image is that of Christ in the Winepress, also called the Mystic Winepress. In this image, the cross becomes the cross beam of the winepress in which the suffering Christ is pressed as if He were a bunch of grapes. His blood flows out like grape juice from the press. And, as the grape juice is transformed into wine, so the wine becomes the Blood of Christ through the Mass.
Man of Sorrows
From a Missal
Spanish (Valencia), ca, 1468
New York, Morgan Library
MS M450, fol. 93v

Christ in the Winepress
From Tafel van den Dersten Ghelove
Dutch (perhaps Utrecht), ca. 1405-1410
New York, Morgan Library
MS691, fol. 5r

I will continue looking at the images from the exhibition in future articles. The show will run until September 2, 2013 at the Morgan Library, which can be entered on Madison Avenue between 36th and 37th streets. Please see the Morgan Library website for information on hours and fees (

© M. Duffy, 2013 

* Some images are available at