Sunday, May 22, 2016

“And People Were Bringing Children to Him”

Anonymous, Christ Blessing Children
 Southern Netherlands, c.1570
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
“And people were bringing children to Him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this He became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”  Then He embraced them and blessed them, placing His hands on them.”
Mark 10:13-16 (Similar also in Matthew 19:13-15 and Luke 18:15-17)

The Gospels record several instances in which Jesus said similar words about children, suggesting that being part of the Kingdom of God requires that we have childlike innocence and childlike trust in order to be part of it.  

Market Cross, Christ Blessing Children
Lowest register
Irish, 10th Century
Kells, County Meath, Ireland

Artists have responded with images that derive from these sayings.  Yet, it seems that these images have not been uniformly spread throughout the Christian era.  
They seem to cluster in groups, perhaps reflecting some of the ways in which the words of Jesus have reverberated through history.  This may not represent the totality of what may have been done and subsequently destroyed or which is otherwise not available to a reasonably thorough internet search, of course, but it is suggestive.

Ottonian ivory, Christ Blessing Children
German, 968
Paris, Musee du Louvre

In the first millennium I found very few visual references to these passages and those only toward the end of the period, in the tenth century.1  One, a panel of the so-called Market Cross from the monastic town of Kells in County Meath, Ireland (eventual hiding place of the famous Book of Kells), shows a badly eroded scene from a series on the life of Christ, which may show Jesus blessing smaller figures, which can be interpreted as the blessing of children.  The other, is a small Ottonian ivory plaque, clearly showing a scene in which Christ is imparting a blessing to a little one. 
Christ Blessing Children, from Gospels of Otto III
German (Reichenau), c.1000
Munich, Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek
MS Clm 4453, fol. 116v

The first five hundred years of the second millennium seem to fare little better, in spite of a few appearances in manuscript paintings.  
T'Oros Roslin, Christ Blessing Children
from Book of the Gospels
Armenian, 1262
Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery
MS W539, 83v

Jean Colombe, Christ Blessing Children
from Ludolphe de Saxe, Vita Jesu Christi
French (Bourges), 1475-1499
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 178, fol. 46

Georg Pencz, Christ Blessing Children
German, 1540
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
However, at the beginning of the second half of the second millennium there is a virtual explosion of images based on these texts.  The images appear most frequently in Germany and the Low Countries and appear in all forms of media from paintings to prints and even to Delftware and, in one charming instance, to dollhouse furniture!  Art historians have speculated that this sudden surge in the appearance of a previously infrequently imagined New Testament subject may be related to the upheavals of the Reformation in a very specific way.2 
Lucas Cranach the Elder and his workshop, Christ Blessing Children
German, 1545-1550
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Cranach's images were particurly potent in forming an iconography
comfortable for Protestants as he was closely allied with Martin Luther.

Following the first appearance of what would become Protestant theology, with Luther’s initial outburst of 1517; other, more radical, reformers also appeared.  Among the most radical were loosely constituted groups that were known as Anabaptists.  The mini-sects that formed as part of the Anabaptist groupings are the ancestors of some of today’s most marginalized Christian groups, such as the Amish and the Mennonites, as well as the several varieties of Baptists and denominations deriving from them.  

Jacob and Albert Maler, Christ Blessing Children
Dutch, 1550-1575
Kampen, Stedelijk Museum Kampen

In the highly political and militarized sixteenth century the Anabaptists were distinguished by their pacifism, by a form of primitive communism and by their refusal of allegiance to the civil authorities.  A messianic Anabaptist city government set up in the city of Munster in Germany during the early 1530s, following shortly on the horrors of the German Peasants’ War (1525-1525), brought both Catholic and Protestant princes into the field against them.  This resulted in their destruction as a religious grouping within the German states and the move of many survivors to the east, into Moravia, where they were able to survive. Other groups headed for England.

 One of the Anabaptists' primary doctrinal differences with both Catholic and Lutheran Christians, still recognizable in their descendants today, was over the practice of infant baptism.  For the Anabaptists only an adult can be baptized, after making a confession of belief. This set them against both the Catholic practice, which had developed over the centuries since the last Roman persecutions, and against Luther and his followers, who followed the Catholic tradition.3

Master H.B. a la tete de Griffon, Christ Blessing Children
German, c.1550
Paris, Museee du Louvre
Leonard Gaultier, Christ Blessing the Children
French, c.1576-1580
Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art

Gerard Groenning, Christ Blessing Children
 from Thesaurus Novi Testamenti elegantissimis iconibus expressus continens historias atque miracula do[mi] ni nostri Iesu Christi (hand colored engraving)
Dutch, 1585
London, British Museum
Art historians have seen the sudden upswing in images of Christ blessing the children as a support for the idea of infant baptism, as practiced both by the Catholic church and the Lutherans and other groups derived from them (such as the Anglicans).  For, if even the smallest child was worthy of being blessed by Jesus and held up as a model for the adult Christian, then even the smallest child can have faith and deserves to be included in the Church.  It is also notable that nearly every image of this subject from this period does include very small children, babes in arms, among the recipients of Christ's blessing and frequently interacting with Him.  This is very different from the earlier images, which included only older children.

This reasoning may indeed be part of the intention behind these images, since the upsurge is so sudden and appears to correlate well with the developments of the Reformation/Counter-Reformation period. For example, it does appear to begin in Germany, spread to Holland and Flanders and from there to enter the Catholic world through Flanders and France.  It does not appear to have been particularly popular in Italy or in Spain, the two greatest centers of Catholic culture in Europe during this period.  
Artus Wolfaerts and Workshop, Christ Blessing Children
Flemish, c.1600
Private Collection

Jacob Jordaens, Christ Blessing Children
Flemish, 1615-1616
St. Louis, MO, Saint Louis Art Museum
Anthony Van Dyck, Christ Blessing Children
Flemish, 1618-1620
Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada
In this beautiful painting, Van Dyck appears to have painted a real
family, which brings the interesting (and highly sympathetic) presence of the
father as presenter of the children, in addition to the more usual image of the mother.  

Interestingly, a cursory study of the compositions of the works coming from this period indicates that a shift occurred around the turn into the seventeenth century.  All the sixteenth-century works that I uncovered focus on the person of Jesus.  He sits or stands near the center of every composition.  After the year 1600, however, His position has been moved to one side, with the important exception of Rembrandt's most famous etching.  This allows the artist to put the focus of the painting on the children and their mothers (and in two instances on the fathers as well).

Jesus is seen in profile or in shadow (the early Jacob Jordaens even shows Him from behind) and the individual faces and expressions of the children and their parents is what strikes our eyes first.  In the case of the Ottawa Van Dyck and the de Bray from the Frans Halsmuseum these figures may well be actual portraits.

Jacob de Wet I, Christ Blessing Children
Dutch, 1640-1672
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
Willem Jansz Verstraeten and Willem Isaacsz van Swanenburg
Christ Blessing the Children on Delftware
Dutch, c.1645-1660
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Rembrandt, Christ Blessing the Chldren
Called "The 100 Guilder Print"
Dutch, c.1649
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Sebastien Bourdon, Christ Blessing Children,
French, 1650-1670
Paris, Musee du Louvre

Nicolaes Maes, Christ Blessing Children
Dutch, 1652
London, National Gallery

Jacob Jordaens, Christ Blessing Children
Flemish, 1660-1669
Copenhagen, National Gallery of Denmark
Jan de Braij (Bray), Christ Blessing Children
Dutch, 1663
Haarlem, Frans Halsmuseum
Jan de Bray had obviously seen the painting by Van Dyck
or perhaps drawings and/or prints made from it.

Engraving after Jan de Bray
Dutch, 1663-1800
Amsterdam, Rijkmuseum
This engraving after the de Bray painting,
(shown on the left) which
itself derives from the composition of Van Dyck
(shown above) demonstrates how an image
 can be widely disseminated
to both the public and to other artists. 

Johannes Voorhout I
Christ Blessing the Children
Dollhouse Chimney
Dutch, c. 1690-1710
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

It is also interesting that, by the end of the seventeenth century, this image had even found its way into the decoration of a luxury dollhouse, no doubt echoing the way in which it was also used in full sized ones.

This profusion of images appears to taper off somewhat at the end of the seventeenth century and, when it begins to pick up steam again, at the end of the eighteenth century, its spread is wider, embracing France and England as well as Germany and the Netherlands.  It also begins to focus once more on a more central figure of Jesus.
Anicet Charles Gabriel Lemonnier
 Christ Blessing Chldren
French, 1783
Rouen, Musee des Beaux-Arts

William Blake, Christ Blessing Children
English, 1799
London, Tate Gallery

Antoine Jean Joseph Ansiaux, Christ Blessing Children
French, 1820
Versailles, Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon

During the nineteenth century the image becomes more sentimentalized than formerly, with just a few notable exceptions. Movements such as the Nazarenes among German artists and the Pre-Raphaelites in England contributed to a turning away from grand scenes, in favor of a simpler, "barebones" retelling.  This in turn often led to sentimentalization.  The process can be observed in the comparison of a drawing by the Nazarene artist, Johann Friedrich Overbeck and a mezzotint engraving made after it (or after a painting by Overbeck which is not available on the internet).  The mezzotint could be printed in multiple copies, making it available to a wider public than those who could have seen either the drawing or a finished painting.  It could, thus, serve as a easy aid to future compositions as well as a guide to the public as to what such a picture should look like.  Since it shows a placid, vaguely classical scene this could lead quite easily to a growing sentimentality.

Johann Friedrich Overbeck
Christ Blessing Children, Drawing
German, 1824-1835
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Mezzotint after Johan Friedrich Overbeck
After 1830
London, British Museum

Hippolyte Flandrin, Christ Blessing Children
French, 1836-1838
Lisieux, Musee d'At et d'Histoire
Benjamin Haydon, Christ Blessing Chldren
English, 1837
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery

Charles Locke Eastlake, Christ Blessing Children
English, 1839
Manchester, Manchester City Galleries

Cornelis Kruseman, Christ Blessing Children
Dutch, 1840
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Richard Cockle Lucas, Christ Blessing Children
English, 1840-1863
London, Victoria and Albert Museum
Some painters, late in the nineteenth century, did try to reimagine the scene.  The German, Fritz von Uhde, and the Frenchman, James Tissot, both attempted to inject a greater sense of reality.  Both were artists heavily influenced by the Realism with which they had grown up and the Impressionism which their slightly younger contemporaries were exploring.  Von Uhde's image of the scene sets Christ into a contemporary modern setting, a sparsely furnished room, imparting his blessing to the barefoot children of the poor, while their parents line up respectfully to approach Him.  Tissot's image comes from his late series of Biblical illustrations for The Life of Christ, published in Paris, London and New York in the 1890s.  He painstakingly recreates the world of first century Palestine to make us witnesses of the actual event described in the Scriptures.
Fritz von Uhde, Christ Blessing Chldren
German, 1885
Greifswald, Pomerania State Museum
James Tissot, Christ Blessing Children
French, 1886-1896
New York, Brooklyn Museum

With these few exceptions, the image had become totally sentimental by the turn of the twentieth century and continues to be so to this day (just Google images for the words “suffer the little children” or “let the children come to me”).  There is one notable exception and this is the 1945 expressionist painting by Georges Roualt.
Georges Roualt, Christ Blessing Children
French, 1945
Paris, Centre national d'art et de culture Georges-Pompidou
It appears, therefore, that at certain times and places the image of Jesus proposing the child as the model for the believer has more resonance than at others.   It would appear that the rise of this image, though it existed before and after, largely coincided with the religious turmoil of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and had a brief revival in the mid-to late-nineteenth century, also a period of unease as the Industrial Revolution wrought many changes in society.  It may be that these words of Jesus have most resonance in periods during which rapid change is happening, which makes their absence from most of the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries all the more puzzling.

© M. Duffy, 2016
1.  See Kibish, Christine Ozarowska.  “Lucas Cranach's Christ Blessing the Children: A Problem of Lutheran Iconography”, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 37, No. 3 (Sep., 1955), pp. 196-203.  She lists the traces of other works from the first and early second millennia, but none survive in clear form. 
2.  See also, Kuhn, Charles L.  “The Mairhauser Epitaph: An Example of Late Sixteenth-Century Lutheran Iconography”, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 58, No. 4 (Dec., 1976), pp. 542-546.
3. Anabaptist. 2016. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 22 May, 2016, from

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

At This Sound, They Gathered In a Crowd

Giotto, Pentecost
Italian, c.1320
London, National Gallery

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem.  
At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd” 
Acts 2:5-6 

While researching illustrations for the essay on Pentecost “Tonguesof Fire” I came across a series of images that seem to beg for an essay of their own.  These are a series of images, dating primarily from the fourteenth century, showing both the inside and the outside of the building in which the disciples are experiencing the Pentecost.  

In the earliest images, from the first half of the fourteenth century, we see a scene similar to all other images of Pentecost with the disciples (and Mary) receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire.  However, the full image shows the building in which they are seated as if it were tilted and the roof removed.  For we see, in addition to the interior, the exterior doors and, standing before the doors, people showing curiosity about what is happening inside.
from Lives of the Virgin and of Christ
Italian (Naples(, c. 1350
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Français 9561, fol. 189v

As the use of perspective became better understood, this image developed.  In those images made after 1360 we can see that the action has now been divided into two levels.  The Pentecost is occurring in the upper level, as if it were happening in a portico on the second floor of the house, while below, on the street, stand the curious.

Andrea da Firenze, Pentecost
Italian, 1366-1367
Florence, Church of Santa Maria Novella, Cappellone degli Spangnoli

Jacopo di Cione and Workshop, Pentecost
from The San Pier Maggiore Altarpiece
Italian, 1370-1371
London, National Gallery

Eventually, perspective developed to the point where both the interior of the building, with the scene of the Pentecost, and the outside, street scene, with its curious passersby, could be depicted with what appears to be nearly realistic.

Georges Trubert, Pentecost
from Prayer Book of Rene II of Lorraine
French (Nancy), 1492-1493
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10491, fol. 221

© M. Duffy, 2016

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.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Tongues of Fire

From Rabbula Gospels
Syrian, c.585
Florence, Laurentian Library
Images of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost abound in the history of art. From relatively early times through the Renaissance and into the modern era this is a subject that continues to inspire artists.

There is a reasonable amount of consistency in the iconography of the scene, probably since the description of the event indicates a fairly circumscribed setting:

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”
Acts 2:1-4

Although there is a consistency, there are some differences in iconography. One of them is the inclusion of Mary among the disciples. The previous chapter of Acts says that among the disciples who gathered in the upper room following the ascension of Jesus were “Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14). Therefore, it is reasonable that she would still have been there on the day of Pentecost. Most depictions include her, indeed most center on her.

However, there are some that do not, especially from the earliest images, right through into the high Middle Ages.

From Sacramentary of Drogo
French (Metz), c. 850
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9428, fol. 78

From Gospel Book of Poussay
German (Reichenau), c. 980
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10514, fol. 69v

From Lectionary
Austria (Sankt Peter, Salzburg), 1045-1055
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G 44, fol.103r

From Gospel Book
Byzantine (Constantinople), 1100-1199
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
 MS Supplément Grec 27, fol. 38

From Gospel Book
German (Prüm), 1100-1150
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 17325, fol. 43

Pentecost , Mosaic, West Dome
Byzantine, 1100-1150
Venice, Cathedral of San Marco

Pentecost, Champleve enamel on copper gilt
Meuse Region,  c.1150-1175
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cloisters Collection

Nicholas of Verdun, Pentecost
From Klosterneuburg Altar
Meuse Region, 1180
Klosterneuburg (Austria), Abbey Church

Pentecost, from Stavelot Altarpiece
Meuse Region, 1160-1161
Paris, Musée de Cluny, Musée national du Moyen Age

Giotto, Pentecost
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Arena/Scrovegni Chapel

Bartolommeo di Tommaso da Foligno, Pentecost
Italian, c.1440
Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institute of Arts

In the later years of the twelfth century, around the same time that the world began to see numerous churches dedicated to "Notre Dame" Mary's presence among the disciples on Pentecost began to receive visual attention.  Indeed, once introduced, she became the dominant figure in the composition.
Pentecost, from the Ingeborg Psalter
French (Ile de France), c. 1195
Chantilly, Musée Condé
MS 1695, fol. 32v

 Pentecost, from Livre d'images de madame marie
Belgian (Hainaut), c.1285-1290
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition française 16251, fol. 50

Duccio, Pentecost (panel from the Maesta altarpiece)
Italian, 1308-1311
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo
Taddeo Gaddi, Pentecost
Italian, 1335-1340
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Limburg Brothers (Jean, Pol and Hubert), Pentecost
from Tres Riches Heures of Jean, Duc de Berry
Netherlandish, ca. 1400
Chantilly, Musée Condé
MS 65, fol. 79r

German, 1472
Konstanz, Minster of  Our Lady

from High Altar of Charterhouse of Saint-Honore
French (Picardy, Thuison-les-Abbeville), 1490-1491
Chicago, Art Institute

Jean Bourdichon, Pentecost
from Grandes Heures of Anne d Bretagne
French (Tours), 1503-1508
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9474, fol. 49v

Albrecht Durer, Pentecost
Woodcut, from the Small Passion
German, 1510
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
From Hours of Antoine le Bon
French (Lorraine), 1533
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 302, fol. 45

Giovanni Battista Ricci, Pentecost
Italian, c.1600
Rome, Church of San Marcello al Corso
Giovanni Battista Brenni, Pentecost
Swiss, 1696-97
Ebrach (Kreis Bamberg, Germany), Parish Church of Saints Mary, John the Evangelist and Nicholas

Jacopo Amigoni, Pentecost
Italian, 1725
Ottobeuren (Germany), Benedictine monastery church

Marc Gabriel Charles Gleyre
French, 1850
Paris, Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris
Around the latter part of the sixteenth century the faces of other women join that of the Virgin Mary in the group of disciples.

Titian and workshop, Pentecost
Italian, c.1545
Venice, Church of Santa Maria della Sallute
Guido Reni, Pentecost
from series of Mysteries of the Faith
Italian, 1608
Vatican City, Apostolic Palace

Fray Juan Bautista Maino, Pentecost
Italian, 1615-1620
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Hans Georg Asam, Pentecost
German, 1683
Benedicktbeuern, Abbey Church of St. Benedict

Caspar Damian Asam, Pentecost
German, after 1720
Aldersbach, Abbey Church

Ernst Deger, Pentecost
German, 1849-1859
Stolzenfels, Schloss Stolzenfels

Another variation is in how the event is pictured, how the “tongues as of fire” are shown. There are two predominant images. One of them shows separate “tongues of fire” appearing over the heads of each of the persons gathered.

Giotto, Pentecost
Italian, c.1320
London, National Gallery
Venturino Mercati, Pentecost
from Short Hours of the Holy Spirit
Italian (Milan), 1470-1480
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G 14, fol.100v

El Greco, Pentecost
Greco-Spanish, 1600
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Charles Le Brun, Pentecost
French 1656-1657
Paris, Musédu Louvre

Jean Restout, Pentecost
French, 1732
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Constantin Prevost, Pentecost
French, 1842
Lavaur, Musée du pays vaurais

Gustave Dore, Pentecost
from La Sainte Bible
French, 1866

The other image can best be described as bursts of energy, usually shown as lines, coming from one central point, often the dove of the Holy Spirit. The lines reach to the head of each person, and occasionally end in a tongue of fire.

Jean Fouquet, Pentecost
from Hours of Etienne Chevalier
French (Tours), 1420
Chantilly, Musée Condé  
MS 71, fol.21

from Book of Hours
French, 1475-1499
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G 4, fol. 98r

Jean Poyer, Pentecost
from Hours of Henry VIII
France (Tours), 1500
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS H 8, fol.101v
Jan Joest of Kalkar, Pentecost
Dutch, 1508
Kleve, Parish Church St. Nicholas

Juan de Flandes, Pentecost
Flemish, 1514-1519
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Johann Jakob Zeiller, Pentecost
German, 1757-1764
Ottobeuren, Monastery Church of Saints Theodore and Alexander

Some images from the late Renaissance period on eschew either tongues of fire or disctinctive rays of light for a more generalized vision of a bright glow, usually eminating from the symbolic Dove of the Holy Spirit.

Master of 1518, Pentecost
Flemish, c.1520
Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland

Workshop of Bernard van Orley, Pentecost
Flemish, 1520-1525
Chicago, Art Institute

Frencesco Salviati, Pentecost
Italian, 1549-1550
Rome, Church of Santa Maria dell'Anima
Jean Jouvenet, Pentecost
French, 1709
Versailles, Royal Chapel

Representations of the Pentecost event have not ceased to be produced.  A relatively recent work takes us back to some of the earliest images.
Peter Minchell, Pentecost
American, c.1972-1976
Philadelphia, Museum of Art

© M. Duffy, 2008, revised 2016

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.

© M. Duffy, 2008-2016