Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Stations of the Cross: The Fourth Station, Jesus Meets His Mother

Style of Robinet Testard, Jesus Meets His Mother
From Book of Hours
French (Angouleme), c. 1500
London, British Library
MS King's 7, fol. 26
All of the Gospels tell us that there was a devoted group of women who witnessed the death of Jesus, following Him throughout the progress toward Golgotha and watching “from a distance”.1  Only the Gospel of John includes His own mother, the Virgin Mary, among the list of named women.2  But it is surely conceivable that she was there, witnessing what she may have believed was the finale of the drama that had begun for her with the visit of an angel and living out the prediction of old Simeon that “you yourself a sword will pierce” (Luke 2:35). 

Tradition suggests that Mary was indeed following Jesus closely from some point in the slow march out of town and this tradition has been envisioned in the Fourth Station of the Cross.  One of the great things about Catholicism is its ability to mingle the divine and the human without sacrificing the integrity of either and it does so in this moment, in this image, as well.  We see here the suffering Son and the sorrowing mother, two very human beings.  Who among us has not had a moment where we and a doomed love one confront each other in the knowledge of what lies ahead for both?  But one of these two is also divine and knows the deep purpose toward which His suffering is directed.  The emotion is deep, but different for both. And it is also this deep reach into the emotions that is a further strength of the Catholic imagination.  In the end, the Stations of the Cross are ultimately a mode of prayer that involves both human reason and human emotion and raises them to the contemplation of divine Love.

Conveying this deep emotion in a visual expression has been the job of the artists who have imagined this scene throughout history.
Jesus Meets His Mother
From a Psalter
French (St. Omer), 13th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Smith-Lesoueef 20, fol. 74

Jean Le Noir, Jesus Meets His Mother
From Heures de Jeanne de Navarre
French (Paris), c. 1336-1340
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 3145, fol.111

Ugolino de Nerio, Jesus Meets His Mother
Italian, 1325-1328
London, National Gallery 

Jesus Meets His Mother
From Viese la viergr et du Christ
Italian (Naples),  c. 1350
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 9561, fol. 175v
Jesus Meets His Mother
From Altarpiece of Scenes from Life of Christ
German (Westphalian), 1360
Former monastery church of St. Mary,
Now Evangelical Church of St. Mary
and Four Crowned Saints

It begins with a specific turn of the body of Jesus, a spiral that interrupts His forward momentum briefly as He turns back to look at Mary, who follows with gestures of prayerful support.
Jean le Noir, Jesus Meets His Mother
From Petites heures de Jean de Berry
French (Paris), c. 1375
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 18014, fol. 160
Atelier of the Master of the Parement de Narbonne
Jesus Meets His Mother
From Tres belles heures de Notre Dame 
de Jean de Berry
French (Paris), c.1380
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 3093, fol. 203

Giovanni di Benedetto et Collaborators,
Jesus Meets His Mother
From Franciscan Book of Hours
Italy (Milan), c. 1385-1390
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 757, fol. 76

Jesus Meets His Mother
From a Book of Hours
French (Paris), 1400-1425
London, British Library
MS Harley 2952, fol. 24v

Around 1500, however, the drama increases.  Mary begins to act more dramatically.  
Benedetto di Silvestro, Jesus Meets His Mother
From Vita Christi
Italian (Lombardy), 1500-1550
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M508, fol. 30r
Flagellation and Meeting, Scenes from the Passion of Christ
 French (Lorraine), 16th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum, The Cloisters
She kneels, she faints, she throws herself violently toward Jesus.  And Jesus is now shown in a more dramatic posture as well.  No longer is he usually shown plodding on as before.  

Attributed to Cesare da Sesto, Jesus Meets His Mother
Italian , c. 1500
Grenoble,  Musée de Grenoble

Boccaccio Boccaccino, Christ Carrying the Cross and the Virgin Mary Swooning
Italian, c.1501
London, National Gallery
Now He often confronts her from a fallen position, so that the swooning mother and the fallen Son remain facing on the same level.   

Raphael, Christ Meets His Mother
Italian, 1517
Madrid, Museo del Prado

Durante Alberti, Christ Meets His Mother
Italian, c. 1588
Rome, Church of the Madonna dei Monti

Filippo Luzi, Jesus Meets His Mother
Italian, 1680-1700
Rome, Church of the Madonna dei Monti
Juan Rodriguez Juarez, Jesus Meets His Mother
Mexican, c.1700
Castres,  MuséGoya

Francois Verdier, Jesus Meets His Mother
French, c.1704
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts
Giuseppe Bazzani, The Fallen Christ Meets His Swooning Mother
Italian, c.1750
Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland
This emotional stream seems to have reached a crescendo in the late nineteenth century.  

With the coming of the twentieth century and the divorce between the visible world and the mental one in art as well as in other areas of life, this trend toward extreme emotion was curtailed and made largely symbolic once again.
Eric Gill, Jesus Meets His Mother
English, 1913-1918
London, Westminster Cathedral

© M. Duffy, 2016
1.       1.  Matthew 27:55-56, Mark 15:40-41, Luke 23:27.
2.       2.  John 19: 25-27.

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.

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