Sunday, June 18, 2017

Corpus Christ – "Of the Blood, All Price Exceeding, Shed by Our Immortal King"*

Francois Spierre after Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Sanguis Christi
Italian, c. 1670
London, British Museum
Since childhood one of my favorite prayers has always been the Anima Christi:
“Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from Christ's side, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the wicked enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints
and with Thy angels
Forever and ever”1

When I first came upon it as a child I wasn’t even sure what the word “inebriate” meant.  Later I learned that it means basically to make intoxicated, to make drunk or, as the Merriam-Webster definition has it “to exhilarate or stupefy as if by liquor”.  I like the “to exhilarate” definition best. 

I mention this because one of the most affective images I have ever seen is an engraving after a drawing by Gian Lorenzo Bernini that was published in a 1972 article by Irving Lavin, one of my graduate school professors.2   It shows a dramatic picture of Christ on the cross, raised high in the air, surrounded by angels, with God the Father in the sky above and the Virgin Mary, also raised into the air, kneeling to one side.  From the wounds of Christ blood pours in abundance, dropping from His hands and feet into an ocean of blood already poured out below.  From the wound in His side, blood pours into the hands of His mother.  This is the image that I have carried in my mind for decades whenever I think of the Blood of Christ which can inebriate.  It is the ocean of Divine Mercy that is available to us. 

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Sangue di Cristo
Italian, c. 1669
Haarlem (NL), Teylers Museum
Lavin’s 1972 article brought this image to the attention of the art historical community.  He pointed out that this image was one of the very last works ever made by Bernini, being made when the artist was 80 years old, two years before his death in 1680.  In fact, only the drawing was made by Bernini, although he commissioned an engraver named Francois Spierre to make an engraving of it and also commissioned an unnamed artist to make a painting, which he positioned at the foot of his own bed.  The engraving was actually intended for use by Bernini’s nephew, Father Francesco Marchese, as the centering image in a book which he wrote in 1670 called Unica speranza del peccatore (The Sole Hope of the Sinner) which was intended to serve as a guide for living a holy life and dying a holy death in confidence of salvation through the effects of Christ’s sacrifice. 
Guillaume Courtois, Il Borgonone after Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Blood of Christ
Italian, 17th Century
Private Collection
One of three known versions of paintings after Bernini's drawing.
The visual representation of the saving power of Christ’s Blood has no echo in our current, visually impoverished age.  Such an affecting image could probably not be produced today.  It would probably be dismissed as too gruesome.  But it was not always so.  The saving power of Christ’s Blood has a long visual history in several different, but related groupings, none of them sparing in their representation of the bloodiness of the sacrifice of Calvary.

The Mystic Winepress

Mystic Winepress Tapestry
Flemish, c. 1500
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
The most common specific image of the saving power of the Blood of Christ is the image known as the Mystic Winepress or Christ in the Winepress.  

Simply put, the image is one in which Christ is shown standing, but sometimes lying or sitting, inside a winepress, as though He was a bunch of grapes, while the pressing beam of the press bears down on His body and His blood pours into the trough as if it was the juice of the grape.  It is a powerful image and, to modern eyes, both a bit frightening and a bit bizarre.  This is because the modern age has lost the connections that would have been apparent to those who saw it during the late middle ages and early modern period, when it was most frequently used. 

It is very much a devotional picture, as are, indeed, all these images of the power of Christ’s Blood.  They are to be contemplated and revered as visual expressions of a truth of faith.

The Mystic Winepress was most frequently used in northern Europe.  It occurs only rarely in Italy and scarcely at all in the British Isles.  So, one can say that, with the exception of Italy, it is most frequent in countries where the winepress was actually used in the production of wine. 

Allegory of the Eucharist
German, c. 1470-1490
Washington, National Gallery of Art

The earliest example I could find dates to the end of the 14th century, but it is already a developed image at this point, so it must have appeared somewhat earlier in time.  Rather surprisingly, it is one of the few Catholic devotional images that was retained by the Protestant reformers, who generally loathed and destroyed almost any kind of religious imagery, especially imagery regarding the Eucharist.  However, in both Catholic and Protestant regions it seems to have mostly died out by 1600, although there is one late example from the 18th century. 

There are two types of presses in evidence in the images.  

One is a contraption in which two stationary uprights support a beam which is moved down by a centrally placed screw mechanism, or one in which the two uprights are screws which are used to move the central beam.   

Christ in the Winepress
German, c. 1400-1450
Karneid, Castle Chapel

Mystic Winepress
from Tafel van den Dersten Ghelove
Dutch (possibly Utrecht), c. 1405-1410
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 691, fol. 5r

Christ in the Winepress
Polish, c. 1430-1440
Krakow, Church of St. Francis of Assisi

Christ in The Winepress
Tile Mold for Pastries
German, c. 1430-1470
Berlin, Kunstgewerbemuseum der
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Man of Sorrows and the Mystic Winepress
from Hours of Catherine of Cleves
Dutch (Utrecht), c. 1435-1445
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS. M 917-945, fol. 121
Here we see two related images.  In the main picture, Christ 
directs the Blood from his wounded side toward the ground. 
 In the lower margin the Mystic Winepress drains His Blood into
 the chalice used at Mass, underlining the connection between
His death on Calvary and the Eucharistic celebration, the Mass.
Mystic Winepress
French, 1460-1470
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Mystic Winepress
from the Bible moralisee de Philippe le Hardi
French (Provence), End of the 15th Century
Paris, BIbliotheque nationale de France,
MS Francais 166-167, fol.
Mystic Winepress
German, c. 1500
Ediger-Eller, Chapel of the Holy Cross

Mystic Winepress Window
French, 1552
Conches-sur-Ouche, Church of Sainte-Foy

Anonymous after Maarten van Heemskerck,
The Fall and Salvation of Mankind, Christ in the Winepress
Dutch, 1568
London, British Museum
Hieronymous Wierix, Christ in the Winepress
Flemish, c. 1600-1619
London, British Museum

Anonymous High Altar Frontal, Christ in the Winepress
German, c. 1740
Mindelheim, Jesuit Church of the Annunciation

The other is a somewhat simpler form in which there is only one stationary pole on which the beam is looped.  At the other end of the trough is a screw on which the other end of the beam is forced down.  In both kinds of press, the Cross is often substituted for the pressing beam, so that Christ is pressed by the Cross itself, a further layer of meaning. 

Christ in the Winepress
German or Danish, 15th Century
Brøns (DN), Parish Church

Mystic Winepress
from Commentaries on the Gospel of John by Nicholas of Lyra
Austrian (Mondsee), c. 1400-1410
Vienna, Österreichischen Nationalbiliothek
MS cod 3676, fol. 14r
Allegory of the Sacraments
German, 16th Century
Colmar, Bibliotheque municipal
MS 306
This image shows the relationship of the Blood of Christ to the sacraments.  It is the power house that supplies the graces they confer.  Directly below the winepress is the sacrament of the Eucharist, as the priest gives Holy Communion to a keeling lay person.  On the left from top to bottom are Confirmation, Baptism and Penance.  On the right from the top are Extreme Unction (now the Anointing of the Sick), Ordination and Marriage.

Attributed to Bergognone, The Mystic Winepress
Italian, c. 1500
Milan, Santa Maria Incoronata
Ego Sum Pastor Bonus
from a Book of HoursFlemish (Tournai), 16th Century
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 78, fol. 3v
Mystic Winepress
German, c. 1500
Munich, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum

Mystic Winepress
from Hours of Ulrich von Montfort
Swiss, ca.1515-1520
Vienna_Oesterreichische Nationalbibliothek
Hieronymous Wierix, Christ in the Winepress
Flemish, c. 1600-1619
London, British Museum

Marco PIno, Christ in Glory above the Mystic Winepress
Italian, c. 1571
Vatican City, Pinacoteca Vaticana
Shown filling jars with the Precious Blood from the winepress are a Pope (probably either Gregory the Great or Urban IV) and Saint Jerome.  Two other unidentified saints fill theirs in the background.

Mystic Winepress Window
French, c. 1600
Paris, Saint Étienne-du-Mont

The Fons Vitae 

A development from the Mystic Winepress is the Fons Vitae or Fountain of Life.  This image is a little less disturbing than the winepress to modern eyes, while remaining a bit strange.  In these pictures Christ stands in or near a fountain into which His Blood is poured.  In some images it pours directly from His wounds, while in others it pours from some other source.  In several images it is shown as the means by which the sins of humanity are washed clean and forgiven.

Allegory of the Eucharist
German, c. 1470-1490
Washington, National Gallery of Art
The Blood of Christ flows out to liberate souls in Purgatory.
Fons Vitae
from a Diurnal
Dutch, c. 1470-1495
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS W 27, fol. i

Goswijn van der Weyden, Fons Pietatis
Flemish, c. 1500
Götenborg (SV), Götenborg Konstmuseum
This image, by Rogier van der Weyden's nephew, is a twist on the traditional Mercy.  Christ and His Mother kneel on either side of the fountain which is flowing with His Blood and plead for mercy on the souls in Purgatory to the Father who is shown in Heaven.  Christ shows His wounds and the Virgin her breast as a reminder of the actions that warrant their pleas.  Angels fill and empty chalices of Blood on those suffering in Purgatory.

Jean Bellegame, Fount of Life
Flemish, 1500-152
Lille, Musée des Beaux-Arts
In another version of the same idea Bellegame presents us with the image of the way in which the Blood of Christ restores sinners to innocence.  At the left, the weary sick souls of sinners enter and remove their garments, watched over by angels.  In the center they enter the Fountain of Life, where the Crucified Christ pours His Blood into the fountain for them to bathe in.  At the right the rejuvenated souls enter Paradise, welcomed by the saints.

Adriaen Collaert after Ambrosius Francken, Faith Purifying Human Hearts with the Blood of Christ
Flemish, c. 1575-1612
London, British Museum
Another image of purification through the Blood of Christ.
Jan Baptist Barbe, Fons Vitae with Four Jesuit Saints
Dutch, c. 1593-1649
London, British Museum

Matthias Greuter, Allegory of the Fall and Redemption of Mankind
German, 1586-1638
London, British Museum
Here the Blood pours forth from the Lamb of God while Christ beckons the original sinners, Adam and Eve, to be saved.

Hieronymous Wierix, Christ as the Fount of Life, Fons Vitae
Flemish, c. 1600
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

The Sea of Blood

 Bernini’s image is the culmination of a long series of images, going back to Crucifixion scenes from at least the early 14th century, such as the Crucifixion by Giotto in the Arena Chapel in Padua, in which angels collect the Blood pouring from Christ’s wounds into vessels. 
Giotto, Crucifixion
Italian, c. 1300-1304
Padua, Scrovegni/Arena Chapel

ttributed to Nicolo da Bologna, Crucifixion
Single leaf from a Missal
Italian, c. 1390
Cleveland, Museum of Art
German (Rhenish), c. 1450-1500
Frankfurt-am-Main, Staedelsches Kunstinstitut und Staedtische Galerie

Fiorenzo di Lorenzo, Crucifixion
from a Missal (opening of the Canon, the Te Igitur)
Italian (Perugia), c. 1472-1499
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 472, fol.131v
Raphael, The Citta di Castello Altar
Italian, 1502-1503
London, National Gallery

Albrecht Dürer, Crucifixion
from the Large Passion
German, 1510
Braunschweig, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum
Dominicus Custos, Crucifixion
Flemish, c. 1580-1612
Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek

By the 15th century more allegorical images appeared, alongside the traditional Crucifixion image.  In these images Christ Himself now purposefully directs a stream of His Blood, usually from the wound in His side, into a vessel held by an angel or by the personification of Faith.

Giovanni Bellini, The Blood of the Redeemer
Italian, c. 1460-1465
London, National Gallery
Christ and Charity
German, c. 1470
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum & Foundation Corboud

Francesco Granacci, Christ the Redeemer
Italian, Early 16th Century (1500-1543)
Cardiff (UK), National Museum of Wales

Beham (Hans) Sebald,  The Man of Sorrows
at the Foot of the Cross
German, 1520
Braunschweig, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum

Christ with Instruments of the Passion
from the Hours of Charles V
Flemish (Brussels), c. 1535-1545
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 696, fol. 37v

By the end of the 15th century some images dispensed with specific references to the event of the Crucifixion and placed Christ’s self-given Blood into a more timeless realm, a reminder that the effects of the Crucifixion did not stop with the event, but continue to have impact in the present.
Jesu Salvator Mundi
Hand Colored Woodcut
Dutch, Late 15th Century
London, British Museum

The Savior Adored by Saint Catherine of Alexandria
and a Female Donor
From a Book of Hours
Flemish (Tournai), 1535
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 74 G 9, fol. 93v

Johann Sadeler after Maarten de Vos, The Church as Bride Receiving the Holy Spirit and Precious Blood
Flemish, c. 1576-1590
Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek

Hieronymous Wierix, The Blood of Christ Venerated by
Saints Ignatius of Loyola and Stanislaus Kostka
Flemish, c. 1600-1619
London, British Museum

Hieronymous Wierix, The Blood of the Redeemer
Flemish, c. 1600-1619
London, British Museum

Jacob Neefs after David Herregouts, Victory of the Kingdom of Christ
Flemish, 1649
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Some decades before Bernini created his image, Anthony van Dyck created one which is close to it in some aspects.  Christ hangs, crucified, in a timeless location, while angels collect His blood in golden chalices.  The image was widespread through Europe thanks to the engraving made after it by Wenceslaus Hollar.

Anthony van Dyck, Crucifixion with Angels
Flemish, c. 1632-1641
Toulouse, Musée des Augustins
Wenceslaus Hollar, after Anthony Van Dyck
Crucifixion with Angels
Czech, 1652
Amserdam, Rijksmuseum

It is into this strain of images that Bernini’s image fits.  The Cross is raised on high and the Blood of Christ pours into the sea below, a sea of endless mercy for sinners. 

After Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Sanguis Christi
Italian, c. 1670
Ariccia, Museo del Barroco Romano
One of three known versions of paintings after Bernini's drawing.

©M. Duffy, 2017

* The title comes from the first verse of the hymn Pange lingua, written by St. Thomas Aquinas in 1264 for the Feast of Corpus Christi at the request of Pope Urban IV.

  1. The Anima Christi prayer dates from the early fourteenth century and was not, as was popularly believed, composed by St. Ignatius Loyola, although he did much to spread its use.  See:  Frisbee, Samuel. "Anima Christi" The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 1. New York, Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <>.
  2. Lavin, Irving.  “Bernini’s Death”, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 54, No. 2 (June, 1972), pp. 158-186.  See also, Lavin, Irving.  “Bernini’s Sangue di Cristo Rediscovered”, Institute for Advanced Study Princeton, NJ, unpublished paper available at: <>    Also:  Petrucci, Francesco.  “Il Sanguis Christi di Bernini”, Palazzo Chigi, Ariccia, Lazio, Italy.  Available at <>


Mike said...

Love these. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Excellent. There are other like the 1616 by Johan Wierix,and there are those of Christ standing on the alter before the priest.