Sunday, April 27, 2014

Papal Iconography

St. Peter and His Successors from Fleur des histoires
by Jean Mansel
France, 1475-1500
Paris, Bibliotheque  nationale de France
MS Francais 56, fol. 159v
On this day we experienced an amazing and historic event, the canonization of two Popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, by the currently reigning Pope Francis, in the presence of Benedict XVI, his own still-living predecessor, a man who was a close collaborator of one of the new saints.   The new saints are men both of whom we of the older baby boomers cohort have known through television and may even have seen with our own eyes.  Nothing exactly like this has ever happened in the nearly 2,000 year history of the Church.   Thinking about this convergence of four Popes, two living and two newly proclaimed saints, I found myself pondering the question of papal iconography.  Is there such a thing? 

Certainly our new saints, Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. John Paul II, will not have anything approaching an iconography.  No modern saint does, with the possible exception of St. Therese of Lisieux.  Following the advent of the photograph in the late 19th century, the actual face of a saint is generally available and it is this that forms what iconography there is for the majority of modern saints.  But has there ever been a distinctive papal iconography?  So, I set out to take a look at what did exist.  What I found was surprising.

Apart from the papal keys, the symbolic “triple tiara” and the distinctive papal apparel of white and red that has prevailed since the middle ages there is almost no specifically “papal” iconography, i.e., an iconography that is applicable to all popes across time.  Most images of popes from the middle ages up to the advent of the photograph fall into a few specific categories, none of which can really be considered to be an iconography.

The Portrait
Popes Innocent and Callixtus with St. Lawrence
from Apse Mosaic
Italian, 1140-1143
Rome, Santa Maria in Trastevere

The portrait is at once both the most ubiquitous and the least interesting image of the popes.  Medieval images are nearly identical whether they attempt to present an idealized image of a long dead pope or an attempt at actual portraiture in the case of a contemporary pope .

No one actually expected a portrait that looked exactly like an actual human being.  All the “portraits” were idealized in large measure.  So we cannot say for certain what any early or medieval pope really looked like. 

Master of the Morgan Infancy Cycle
St. Gregory the Great from Book of Hours
Netherlands (Delft), 1415-1420
New York, Morgan Library
MS M866, fol. 146v
Sandro Botticelli, St. Sixtus II
Italian, 1481
Vatican, Sistine Chapel

The situation changes with the Renaissance.  Actual resemblance to the living person was expected for portraits of living popes, as for any other person.   Consequently, from about the middle of the fifteenth century we have a pretty good idea of what a then living pope looked like.
Melozzo da Forli, Foundation of the Vatican Library
Italian, 1477
Vatican, Pinacoteca
This fresco, commemorating the foundation of the Vatican Library, actually includes the portraits of two popes, one of them current, the other a young man who became pope.  We see Pope Sixtus IV seated as he appoints the humanist Bartolomeo Platina as the first Librarian of the newly founded Library.  Standing between them is the Pope's nephew, Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II, famous as the patron of Michelangelo.

Raphael, Pope Julius II
Italian, 1512
Florence, Uffizi Gallery
Gianlorenzo Bernini, Pope Urban VIII
Italian, 1632
Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica

Diego Velazquez, Pope Innocent X
Spanish, ca. 1650
Rome, Galleria Doria-Pamphili

Carlo Maratti, Pope Clement IX
Italian, 1669
St. Petersburg, Hermitage Museum

Anton Raphael Mengs, Pope Clement XIII
German, 1758
Venice, Museo del Settecento Veneziano
Jacques-Louis David, Pope Pius VII
French, 1805
Paris, Louvre

But, apart from the distinctive papal clothing, there is virtually no difference between these portraits and those of contemporary secular persons.

A subcategory of portraiture is tomb and monument sculpture.  The same general observations apply here as in painting. 
Antonio Pollaiuolo, Tomb of Sixtus IV
Italian, 1384-1493
Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica
Antonio Canova, Tomb of Clement XIII
Italian, 1792
Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica

Ignazio Jacometti, Pope Pius IX in Prayer
Italian, 1880
Rome, Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore

Historical scenes
Probably the largest number of images of popes fall into a category that we might call the historical.  
Giotto, Confirmation of the Franciscan Rule
Italian, 1297-1300
Assisi, San Francesco, Upper Church

Given the importance of the papacy for the Church and, subsequently, for post-Roman Imperial European history, this is not surprising.  
Jean Fouquet, Coronation of Charlemagne
from Grandes Chroniques de France
French, 1344-1460
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de Paris
MS Francais 6465, fol. 89v

Since the first century popes have borne the burden of representing Christ in the world.  Some have been martyred, some have crowned emperors, others have had important roles to play in the approval of new religious orders, some have founded famous monuments, others have been peacemakers in conflicts, and some have preached the need for Crusades.  

Master Francois, Eleanor of Aquitaine,
Queen of England, Before Clement III
French (Paris), ca. 1475
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS MMW 10A11, fol. 181v
Pope Benedict XII Preaching the Crusade
from Chronicles of Froissart
French (Paris), 1425-50
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 2675, fol. 37v

Jacopo Zucchi, Founding of St. Mary Major
Italian, 1580
Vatican, Pinacoteca
Raphael and assistants, Meeting Between Leo the Great and Attila
Italian, 1514
Vatican, Apostolic Palace, Stanza di Eliodoro
Since the fourth century all the popes have been important statesmen.    The interaction of various popes with the world, both the secular and religious spheres, has offered artists plenty of opportunities to present many stories.

Spinello Aretino, Pope Alexander III Receiving an Ambassador
Italian, 1407
Siena, Palazzo Publico

Master of the Mazarine and assistants
Benedict XII Receiving Messangers from China
French (Paris), 1410-1412
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 2810, 134v

Giovanni di Paolo, St. Catherine of Siena Before the
Pope at Avignon
Italian, ca. 1460
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

Legendary Events

In addition to real, historical, events in which the popes have participated, there are legendary ones that also offered opportunities for an iconography to develop.

Carpaccio, St. Ursula and Pilgrims Meet the Pope
Italian, ca. 1482
Venice, Galleria dell'Accademia

Such are images from the legend of St. Ursula (which never happened), 

Simon Marmion, Mass of St. Gregory
from Book of Hours
New York, Morgan Library
MS M6, fol. 154r

the Mass of St. Gregory (which may have happened)

and the apparition of the Archangel Michael on top of the tomb of Hadrian (thereafter known as the Castel Sant’Angelo).
Jacopo Zucchi, Procession of St. Gregory
Italian, 1580
Vatican, Pinacoteca


Allegorical images form yet another category.  
Anonymous, Pope Nicholas III Presented
to Christ by Saints Peter and Paul
Italian, 1278-1279
Rome, San Giovanni in Laterano
Sancta Sanctorum
Raphael and Assistants, Pope Urban I
Between Justice and Charity
Italian, 1520-1524
Vatican, Sala di Constantino

Giorgio Vasari, Tribute of Nations to Paul III
Italian, 1546
Rome, Palazzo della Cancellaria
These allegorical images may be either positive or negative.  The negative ones remind us that everyone, even popes, can be either saints or sinners.  

Jan van Eyck, Adoration of the Mystic Lamb
Ghent Altarpiece (detail)
Flemish, 1425-1429
Ghent, Cathedral of St. Bavo
In this image three popes are counted among the saints in adoration of the Lamb of God in the heavenly Jerusalem.

Triumph of Death from Danse macabre
French (Paris), 1500-1510
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 95, fol. 23
This image, dating from the period in which the
plague was a frequent event, reminds the viewer
that death comes for popes, kings and cardinals
as well as for others.
Master of Coetivy, Scene from Inferno
from Divine Comedy of Dante
French (Paris), 1450-1466
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Italien 72, fol. 1
This pope is in Hell, paying the penalty for a bad life.

And some negative images, dating from the time of the Reformation, are actual attacks on the Catholic Church.
Albrecht Duerer, Passional Christ and Antichrist
German, 1521
London, British Library
Duerer's picture echoes one of the original complaints of the early "Reformers".  In the image Jesus chasing the money-
changers from the Temple is contrasted with a pope overseeing the counting of money while signing what are probably to be understood as indulgences.
The Bridge

A final category is one that I call the Bridge.  After all, one of the titles of the popes is “Pontifex Maximus” (Greatest Bridgebuilder), a title borrowed directly from ancient Roman religion when it was borne primarily by the Roman Emperor in his role as a high priest of the pagan cult.

Guercino, Pope St. Gregory the Great with
Saint Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier
Italian, ca. 1626
London, National Gallery
Master of the Duke of Bedford
St. Gregory the Great Inspired by the Holy Spirit
from Grandes Heures of Jean de Berri
French (Paris), 1409
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
Latin 919, fol. 100


The popes as a bridge connect the earth and heaven.  These are the images of popes shown among other saints, or as an adorer of the Lord, as an inspired writer or as a supporter for a presentation of a donor figure to a divine one. 
Titian, Alexander VI Presenting Jacopo Pesare to St. Peter
Italian, 1506-1511
Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten
Albrecht Duerer, Adoration of the Holy Trinity
German, 1511
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
Pope St. Clement Adoring the Trinity
Italian, 1737-1738
Munich, Alte Pinakotek

Raphael, Disputa
Italian, 1510-1511
Vatican, Apostolic Palace, Stanza della Segnatura
We do not expect to see one of our new papal saints presented as part of a legend or in an allegory, but perhaps we may see them in their papal role in historical events and most definitely as bridges between our own earthly reality and their current heavenly reality.

Saints John XXIII and John Paul II pray for us.

© M. Duffy, 2014

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

An Awkward Resurrection Image

A Happy and Blessed Easter season to all!  The Lord is Risen!

This will be an interruption to my series of postings on the issue of the identification of the figure seated to the Jesus' left in the DaVinci Last Supper.  But I just couldn't resist an image I recently found of the Resurrection.  It definitely caused me to smile when I found it and I would like to share it with you.

Several years ago I wrote a series of essays for this blog regarding the iconography of the Resurrection. (See postings for April and May 2011 in the panel at the right of this web page.)  One of the essays was entitled Climbing From the Tomb.  In it I described one of the earliest depictions of the actual event of the  Resurrection.  In  this somewhat awkward and static treatment of the subject artists showed Jesus literally climbing from the grave.  It was superseded as time went on my more dynamic images as Jesus first hovered over, then finally burst from, the tomb.

This year, while trawling the growing body of images available on the internet from institutions around the world, I came across an image in a manuscript preserved here in New York at the Morgan Library.  It is a curious composition, more awkward than any that formed part of my original group of images of climbing.
Resurrection of Jesus from Book of Hours
French (Paris), 1485-1495
New York, Morgan Library
MS H3, fol. 199r

The manuscript is a Book of Hours, a medieval prayer book used mostly by the laity and often illustrated lavishly.  This particular book was painted in Paris in the last few decades of the fifteenth century.

The image in question clearly derives from the image of the Man of Sorrows (about which I also wrote in 2012).  The artist has modified a fairly standard image of the Man of Sorrows, that is Jesus shown in a state, sometimes dead and sometimes half awake, emerging half way from the tomb to display His wounds.  He has modified the gesture of Jesus toward the wound in His side into a gesture of blessing and covered the other hand in drapery.  The amusement enters when we see how he has introduced the "climbing" element.  He has added a curiously disembodied leg to the outside of the tomb.  It has no real relationship to the body of Jesus, except that provided by a swirl of drapery.   Its position is not one that is realistic in any sense of the word.  It's merely a sort of pasted on addition to an already familiar pose.  Seeing it shows that the painters of the other images I wrote about in 2011 were obviously more advanced in their ability to present a believable figure than the illuminator who prepared this book.

The derivation of this particular image in the Morgan Book of Hours is not surprising when you notice that this book (available for viewing on the Morgan website (here) has more images of the Man of Sorrows than I have ever seen.  Obviously, the illuminator was comfortable with this particular image and it colored every image where it could be used.  Indeed, even his many images of Christ in other situations are basically modifications of the same pose.   He appears to have had one basic image that he used over and over and over in this Book of Hours.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Man or Woman 5: St. John the Evangelist or Mary Magdalene? – Witnesses to the Crucifixion

Andrea de Firenze, Crucifixion
Italian, 1470-1377
Vatican City, Pinacoteca
“Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala.  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”  Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:25-27)

Each of the Gospels provides a listing of the witnesses to the Crucifixion, but only John mentions the presence of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, and “the disciple whom he loved”, who is traditionally believed to be John himself.  Mark (Mark 15:40) and Matthew (Matthew 27:56) give us the names of Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Joseph (or Joses) and another woman who is identified as the mother of the sons of Zebedee by Matthew and as Salome by Mark.  Luke mentions only that “all his acquaintances stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee and saw these events” (Luke 23:49).
Yet, it is the description in the Gospel of John that has formed the visual imagery of the Crucifixion, almost from the earliest times.  This may be due to the extra drama introduced by the dialogue between Jesus, Mary and John, in which Jesus, as it were, gives his mother a new son and gives his disciple a second mother.  
Anonymous, Rabula Gospels
Syrian, 586
Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana
MS Plutei 01.56, fol. 13r

It is this trio of Jesus, Mary and John that has formed our core image of the Crucifixion from as early as the sixth century.  In the Rabula Gospels, written in Syria in the late sixth century, we see this already to be true.  Other persons may be included in images of the Crucifixion, but these two figures are always there.  And the figure of John, while unmistakably dressed in male clothing, is always an image of the young, beardless man. 

Pontificale Shirborniensis, Crucifixion
English (Canterbury), 875-900
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 943, fol. 4v
Missale S. Dionysii, Crucifixion
French (Arras), ca. 1050
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9436, fol. 16

Ivory, Crucifixion
Byzantine, ca. 950
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Gospel Book, Crucifixion
German (Pruem), ca. 1100-1130
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 17325, fol. 28
Apse Mosaic (detail)
Italian, 1130s
Rome, Basilica of San Clemente

Psalter, Crucifixion
English (possibly London), 1220-1230
New York, Morgan Library
MS G25, fol. 2v
Psalter of St. Louis and Blance of Castille
French, ca. 1225
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 1186, fol. 24

Ivoy Pax, Crucifixion
South German, ca. 1360-1370
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art. the Cloisters

Rogier van der Weyden, Crucifxion
Netherlandish, ca. 1460
El Escorial, Monastery of St. Lorenzo
Pietro Perugino, Calitzin Triptych (center)
Italian, 1481-1485
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art

So ubiquitous were these images that nearly every church, even many of the most humble, included a statuary group of three figures, Jesus, Mary and John.  
Choir Screen, Crucifixion
German, ca. 1245
Naumberg, Cathedral
Hans Bol, Francois-Hercule de France
attending Mass from Prayer Book
Belgian (Antwerp), 1582
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10564, fol. 6v
Here we see a contemporary portrait of the
Duke of Alencon, suitor of Elizabeth II,
attending Mass.  In the background we
can see an example of a choir screen as it
appeared from inside the choir of the church.

This group might stand at the entrance to the church or atop a screen between the altar area and the nave (called in England a rood screen, from the old English word for cross).  Most were demolished in the Reformation and during subsequent centuries, but some survive in situ and parts of others survive in museums and private collections.  
Anonymous, Mourning Virgin
Austrian (Tyrol), 13th Century
New York, Metropolitan Musuem of Art
Anonymous, St. John the Evangelist
Austrian (Tyrol), 13th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Interestingly, the one person about whose presence there is complete agreement in the Gospels is Mary Magdalene.  Clearly, she was a witness.  However, it is not she who is shown at all times and in all places. Her presence appears primarily in later images of the Crucifixion, apparently beginning in the 14th century.
Giotto, Crucifixion
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Arena Chapel

Duccio, Crucifixion
Italian, 1308-1311
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

She is clearly distinguished from John whenever she is shown.  John is always shown in relation to the Virgin Mary, either as her exact pendant figure (one on each side of the cross) or as her masculine supporter.  Mary Magdalene is frequently seen only in relation to Jesus.  She is the emotionally reactive figure, kneeling at the foot of the Cross or bewailing the event.  She is usually shown in somewhat more extravagant feminine garb that the usually conservative Virgin.  Also she often, though not always, appears with unveiled hair.  She is very clearly female.  And her femininity reinforces John’s masculinity.  
Jan van Eyck, Crucifixion
Netherlandish, 1420-1425
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Massaccio, Crucifixion
Italian, ca. 1426
Naples, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte

Andrea Mantegna, Crucifixion
Italian, 1457-1459
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Anonymous, Crucifixion from
Book of Hours
Franch (Paris), 1495-1500
New York, Morgan Library
MS H5, fol. 79r

Matthia Gruenwald, Crucifixion (central panel of the Isenheim Altar)
German, ca. 1515
Colmar, Musee d'Unterlinden
Gerard David, Crucifixion
Flemish, ca. 1515
Berlin, Staatliche Museen

Bernardino Luini, Crucifixion
Italian, ca. 1530
St. Petersberg, Hermitage
El Greco, Crucifixion
Greco-Spanish, 198-1600
Madrid, Museo del Prado

Simon Vouet, Crucifixion
French, 1622
Genoa, Chiesa del Gesu
Nicolas Tournier, Crucifixion
French, ca. 1635
Paris, Musee du Louvre

Francesco Conti, Crucifixion
Italian, 1709
Florence, Basilica of San Lorenzo
Here the emotions that were building up
over several centuries have exploded and St. John,
who  unusually sports a light beard, seems to have
been overcome with as much emotion as
Mary Magdalene or the Blessed Virgin.

Constantine Brumidi, Crucifixion
Italian-American, 1870-1880
New York, Church of the Holy Innocents

Salvador Dali, Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus)
Spanish, 1954
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
More a concept than a work of visual storytelling
Dali's picture is unusual in including only
the image of Mary Magdalene

Nothwithstanding a few solitary examples, there is not, nor ever was, any visual confusion that John, a young beardless man, is the primary witness to the Crucifixion, in spite of the fact that the three Synoptic1 Gospels tell a somewhat different story!

1. The Synoptic Gospels are the three Gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark and Luke, which share many of the same stories and other material, as opposed to the very different, more theologically oriented, Gospel of John.