Thursday, April 30, 2015

Some Sad News

Museum of Biblical Art
Yesterday I received an email from the Museum of Biblical Art.  It was sent to their mailing list and announced that at the end of the current exhibition, Sculpture in the Age of Donatello, the museum will close.  That is a very sad situation and says a lot about the current state of affairs in New York real estate and the dilemma of non-profit institutions.  The museum website has the same announcement.
The museum has been in existence for ten years.  It was founded to provide a venue for the study of what has been one of the major themes of Western art for centuries, biblical stories.  It was able to operate because it had a favorable arrangement with the American Bible Society which contributed space in its building on Broadway near Lincoln Center.  That landlord-tenant relationship proved to be a happy one.  The museum went on to host some very interesting and well-received exhibitions, some of which I have previously written about. 
Giovanni D'Ambrogio, Annunciation
Italian, late 14th Century
Florence, Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore
Now, however, the relationship that allowed the museum to thrive has turned sour.  For various reasons the American Bible Society decided last year that they would be better off selling their building and moving out of New York.  They have relocated to Philadelphia.   Apparently, plans for the move were not shared with the museum until virtually the last minute, leaving the museum administration to scramble at short notice to find a new location and the funding to support it in an overheated real estate climate that is not friendly to an underfunded non-profit institution in search of a new home.  This is a great pity. 
The museum will remain open until the end of the current exhibition on June 14.  I saw the exhibition about a month ago and was overwhelmed by what it contains, in spite of the fact that there are relatively few pieces on display.  But what pieces!  I intend to write about it, but want to make a second visit to absorb more of the details.  However, in the interim, I urge you to go and see it as soon as you can.  It is well worth a visit.  It is unfortunate that no future exhibitions will follow it.

© M. Duffy, 2015

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Spy Wednesday -- Thirty Pieces of Silver

Judas Receives the Silver
From the Huntingfield Psalter
English (Oxford), c. 1210-1220
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 43, fol. 22r
One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said,
“What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”
They paid him thirty pieces of silver,
and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.
Matthew 26:14-16 
(Extract from the Gospel for Wednesday of Holy Week)

When I was a child my mother often spoke about the Wednesday of Holy Week as “Spy Wednesday”.  This was the day on which the church remembers the treachery of Judas, who approached the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem for a bribe in exchange for guiding them to a time and place for the capture of Jesus.  The day had already begun to fade from popular notice when I was a child and for the last few decades seems to have gone totally off the radar.  But, two items viewed on the internet today have brought it back to my mind.  One, which gives a nice explanation, is a popular blog by a local NYC (diocese of Brooklyn) deacon.  You can read it here.

Giotto, Judas Accepts the Bribe
Italian, 1300-1305
Padua, Arena Chapel

This reminded me of the series of posts that I wrote several years ago, called generically, “Holy Week with  Giotto”.  There is a wonderful portrayal of the event in Giotto’s paintings of the Life of Christ from the Arena Chapel in Padua.  In it we see Judas being encouraged, even pushed, into his betrayal by a demon standing behind him.  Giotto calls this action to our attention by the fact that he presents the demon as a coal black creature, whose hand on the yellow cloak of Judas draws our eyes.  In subsequent images in the same series in the Arena Chapel we can see that the blackness of the demon has entered into Judas, shown by the fact that, alone of all the disciples, a circle of what looks like black smoke appears over his head, while the other disciples have golden halos.  This is a feature that is almost entirely unique to Giotto's work in Padua (I believe I have seen the smokey halo only one other time, in a manuscript that may have used Giotto's work as a model).

There are other examples of this scene as well, though, with one exception, all the illustrations I could find belong to the medieval and early Renaissance period.  

Duccio, Judas Accepts the Bribe
Italian, 1308-1311
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Master of the Roman de Fauvel, Judas Negotiates with the Priests
From Speculum historiale by Vincent of Beauvais
French (Paris), c. 1333-1334
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 316, fol. 346r

Lippo Memmi, Judas Accepts the Bribe
Italian, ca. 1340
San Gemignano, Collegiata Santa Maria Assunta

Jean le Noir, Jesus Betrayed
From the Petite heures de Jean de Berry
French (Paris), c. 1375
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 18014, fol. 76r
This page from the Petite heures of the Duke of Berry tells the whole story of the Betrayal of Jesus by Judas.  It reads up from the bottom.  At the bottom Judas negotiates with the priests and receives his bribe.  In the small picture within the capital "D" we see the Agony in the Garden.  The principal picture on the page shows Judas in the act of kissing Jesus at his arrest.  

Master of the Parement de Narbonne, Judas Accepts the Bribe
From the Tres belles heures de Notre-Dame
French (Paris), c. 1380
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 3093, fol. 181r
Like the image above, this manuscript page told the complete story of the betrayal of Jesus.  However, I have only included the bottom of the page, with Judas receiving his bribe from the Temple authorities.

Jacquemart de Hesdin, Judas Accepts the Bribe (and the aftermath)
From the Grandes heures de Jean de Berry
French (Paris), c. 1409
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 919, fol. 67r
This page from another book of hours owned by Jean de Berry shows not only Judas' acceptance of the bribe, but his later, remorseful action for the suffering he had caused.  In the initial "D" below the main picture he is shown throwing the silver coins away.  After this action the Scripture tells us that he hanged himself out of remorse and grief.

Judas Accepts the Bribe
From the Pelerinage de Jesus-Christ by Guillaume de Digulleville
French (Rennes), c. 1425-1450
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 376, fol. 210r

Master of Peter Danielsson, Judas Accepting the Bribe
From Spiegel van den leven ons Heren
Flemish, c. 1450-1460
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 868, fol. 26r

Judas Receiving the Bribe
From a Speculum animae
Spanish (Catalan), End of the 15th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Espagnol 544, fol. 17r

Simon Bening, Judas Accepting the Bribe
From the Hours of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenberg
Flemish (Brussels), c. 1525-1530
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS Ludwig IX, fol. 94r

Simon Bening, Judas Accepting the Bribe
From a Book of Hours
Flemish (Brussels), c. 1535-1545
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 696, fol. 96v

James Tissot, Judas Negotiates with the Priests
French, c. 1888-1896
New York, Brooklyn Museum

© M. Duffy, 2015.  Additional images added 2023.