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.

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