Friday, May 5, 2017

Iconography of the Ascension, Part III of IV -- The Disappearing Feet

Hans Suess von Kulmbach, Ascension
German, 1513
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

"When they had gathered together they asked him,
"Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"
He answered them, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons
that the Father has established by his own authority.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
throughout Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth."
When he had said this, as they were looking on,
he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.
While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going,
suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.
They said, "Men of Galilee,
why are you standing there looking at the sky?
This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven
will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven."

Acts 1:6-11  Excerpt from the First Reading of the Mass for the feast of the Ascension of the Lord

We have already examined the Ascension motifs in which Jesus strides into heaven (here) and is lifted there in a mandorla or on a cloud (here).  Now we will look at what is my favorite image of the Ascension. There is something a bit whimsical about seeing only the feet of Jesus protruding from clouds.

The image appears to develop during the middle ages.  One of the earliest images I have found comes from the Psalter known alternately as the St. Alban's Psalter or the Psalter of Christina of Marykate, painted in England in the first quarter of the twelfth century.

from the Psalter of Christina of Markyate
English (St. Alban's), 1124-1145
Hildesheim, Dombibliothek

It became quite a popular alternative to the images of striding or being lifted for the remainder of the middle ages.

From an Illustrated Vita Christi
English (Poss York), c. 119-1200
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS Ms. 101, fol. 90v

from a Picture Bible
French (St. Omer, Abbey of St. Bertin), c.1190-1200
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 F 5, fol. 23v

Incredulity of Saint Thomas and the Ascension
From the Golden Munich Psalter
English (Oxford), c. 1200-1225
Munich, Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek
MS Clm 835, fol. 28r

from the Psalter of St. Louis and Blanche of Castille
French (Paris), c. 1225
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 1186, fol. 27v

from a Psalter
German (Augsburg), 1230-1255
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 280, fol. 11r

from a Psalter
German (Franconia), 1245-1255
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G 73, fol. 61v

From a Psalter
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1250
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS 14, fol. 123v

from a Psalter
German (Worms), 1250-1299
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 284, fol. 9v

From Bible Pictures by William de Brailes
English (Oxford), c. 1250
Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum
MS W. 106, fol. 21v

The Hospitaller Master, Ascension
from a French Bible
French (Paris), 1250-1275
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 494, fol. 610v

from the Livre d'images de Madame Marie
Belgian (Hainaut), c. 1285-1290
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition francaise 16251, fol. 49v

From a Book of Homilies
German (Lower Rhine), c. 1320-1350
Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum
MS W. 148, fol. 242v

Maubeuge Master, Ascension
from a Bible historiale
French (Paris), 1320-1330
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 323, fol. 260v

Richard de Montbaston, Ascension
from the Legenda aurea by Jacobus da Voragine
French (Paris), 1348
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 241, fol 124v

Ivory Diptych with the Ascension and Pentecost
French, 1370-1380
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Jean Bandol, Ascension
from a Bible historiale
French, 1371-1372
The Hague, Meermano Museum
MS MMW 10B 23, fol. 555r

Anonymous Alabaster Carver, Ascension
English (Nottingham), 15th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ivory Panel from a Box, Ascension
French, 15th Century
Paris, Musée de Cluny, Musée national du Moyen Age

The Imprinted Footsteps

From about the beginning of the fifteenth century some artists began to include footprints on the mountain shape (representing the Mount of Olives).  Looking carefully, one can sometimes see two tiny footprints side by side.  Not every image has them, but many do.  Look carefully at the following examples to see which have footprints.  Some are very subtle.

Fastolf Master, Ascension
from the Hours of William Porter
French (Rouen), 1415-1430
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 105, fol. 20v

Master of Catherine of Cleves and/or Masters of Zweder van Culemborg, Ascension
From the Missal of Eberhard von Greiffenklau
Dutch (possibly Utrecht), c. 1450-1500
Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum
MS W. 174, fol.  111v

from the Egmont Breviary
Dutch (Utrecht), 1435-1445
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 87, fol. 231r

Master of the Heisterbacher Altar with Stefan Lochner, Ascension
German, c. 1440
Bamberg, Staatsgalerie

from Fleur des histoires by Jean Mansel
French, 1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 56, fol. 62v

from a Bible moralisee
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1455-1460
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 E 7, fol. 219r

Rambures Master, Enoch Taken by God, The Ascension of Jesus, Elijah Taken in a Chariot of Fire
From a Biblia pauperum
French (Hesdin or Amiens), c. 1470
The Hague, Meermano Museum
MS RMMW 10 A 15, fol.  36v
Here the Biblia pauperum compares three events from the Scriptures.  In the left panel, representing the period Before the Law, Enoch is taken the heaven by God.  In the right panel, representing the period Under the Law, Elijah is taken to heaven in a fiery chariot, witnessed by Elisah.  In the central panel, the period of Grace and Fulfillment, Jesus ascends to heaven through his own power as God.

Jean Colombe and Workshop, Ascension
from a Book of Hours
French (Bourges), 1475-1485
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 330, fol. 36r

Jacques de Besancon, Ascension
from the Legenda aurea by Jacobus de Voragine
French (Paris), c. 1480-1490
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 244, fol. 153

Simon Marmion, Ascension
From Hours of the Blessed Virgin (La Flora)
Flemish, c. 1483-1498
Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli
MS I. B. 51, fol. 255

Hans Memling, Ascension
 (Right Wing of the Resurrection Triptych)
Flemish, c. 1490
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Master of the Older Prayer Book of Maximilian I, Ascension
from the Breviary of Eleanor of Portugal
Flemish (Bruges), 1495-1515
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 52, fol. 170v

German, c. 1500
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum

from a Breviary
French (Southern), 1506-1516
New  York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 8, fol. 126r

Jean Pichore. Ascemsopm
from a Prayer Book
French (Paris), 1511-1513
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 292, fol. 21v

Juan de Flandres. Ascension
Flemish, 1514-1519
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

The View from Below

During the seventeenth century the view from below changed.  Instead of observing Christ's feet disappearing into a cloud bank side by side, as if He were standing in the air, the view becomes one in which His entire body can be seen as He flies upward.  What we see most clearly, however, are His foreshortened, pierced feet.  The latter is a reminder that His glorified body includes the wounds He suffered in the act of Redemption.

Peter Paul Rubens, Ascension
Flemish, 1620
Vienna, Akademie der bildenden Künste

Eustache Le Sueur, Ascension
French, c. 1650
Private Collection

Jacob de Wit, Ascension
Dutch. c. 1751
London, Courtauld Gallery
This de Wit is clearly copied from the Rubens above.

But, perhaps the most unusual image of the Ascension ever created dates from the last half of the 20th century. It gives us a truly “Apostles’ eye view” of the event. Created by Salvador Dali in 1958.
Salvador Dali
Spanish, 1958
San Diego, Museum of Art

As he did with other Biblical subjects, Dali once again gives us a unique, imaginative and, indeed, astonishing view. Obviously derived from the “disappearing feet” iconographic type, we are placed in the position of one of the Apostles, standing on the mountain, looking up and watching the feet of Jesus from below (but without nail marks) as He rises up to join the Father and the Holy Spirit in a golden circle among the clouds, as an angel watches.

For the other iconographic motifs of the Ascension see:

  • Jesus Striding into Heaven (here)
  • Jesus Lifted to Heaven in a Mandorla or on a Cloud (here)
  • The Direct Ascension (here)

© M. Duffy, 2011, revised 2017     

Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

1 comment:

Cecília said...

Thank you for this great post! Yesterday at Tomar, Portugal, I saw for the first time a panel with such representation of the Ascension:ão-de-cristo/GQHcqaaceIthPw?hl=pt-PT&avm=4
I was delighted and searched for more information on the topic. You gave a great contribution to the subject!