Friday, September 29, 2017

The Three Great Archangels

Master of Pratovecchio, The Three Archangels
Italian, c. 1450
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

September 29th was once known as Michaelmas, the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel.  Then, in 1969 when the revised list of feast days was released it became the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels.  This is a wise reminder that Michael is not the only archangel whose name we know from the Bible.  There are two others whose activity on God's behalf within the mortal world has been worthy of notice and remembrance.

The names of the Archangels suggest the sphere of activity in which they take part.



The name Michael is, as I pointed out in my essay on his iconography (here), both a question and a challenge.  It translates as "Who is like God?"  For this reason, Michael is often shown as a warrior, as the general who leads the angelic hosts in war against the evil angels who fell into rebellion with Lucifer and became the demons who serve Lucifer/Satan in his vendetta against God through the medium of human activity.

Jean Bourdichon, Saint Michael the Archangel
From the Grandes heures d'Anne de Bretagne
French (Tours), c.1503-1508
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9474, fol. 163v

Michael is often depicted wearing armor and holding either a sword or lance, which he wields in defeating Satan, who is often depicted as a serpent or a demon.  Michael also is the just judge who weighs the good and bad deeds of each individual upon their death.

The fate of each soul rests in the balance scales in Michael's hands.  Too few good deeds will doom the soul to torment, while abundant good deeds open the door to heaven.  An ambiguous result leads to temporary punishment in Purgatory.


Gabriel is the most familiar of the three great Archangels.  His name means "God is my strength".  He is the consummate messenger, the great ambassador, conveying God's intentions to human beings, and bringing with the announcement the strength that assists that person to fulfill God's intention.  It is he who announces to Mary that she has been chosen to be the mother of God's Son.  He is also the one who previously announced the birth of John the Baptist to John's father, Zachariah.  He is also believed to be the same as the unidentified angel who announces the birth of Christ to the shepherds of Bethlehem and the one who comes to comfort and strengthen Jesus during His agony in the garden the night before His crucifixion.
Jean Bourdichon, Saint Gabriel the Archangel
From Grandes heures d'Anne de Bretagne
French (Tours), c. 1503-1508
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9474, fol. 167v
He is usually shown in action, especially as one half of an image of the Annunciation (as here, for instance).  If shown on his own he will usually bear some reference to that supreme moment, a lily, perhaps, or a scroll bearing the words of his greeting to Mary "Hail, full of grace!"


Raphael is the least well-known of the three Archangels of today's feast.  His name means "God has healed" and he is associated with works of corporal mercy.  Most importantly he is remembered as the angel who, in the guise of a young man, accompanies young Tobias on his journey to collect money owed to his blind father, Tobit.  It is through Raphael's advice that Tobias successfully makes the journey, gaining a wife (whom he frees from the interference of a demon by following Raphael's advice), and curing his father of his blindness on his return (also by following the angel's advice).

Jean Bourdichon, Saint Raphael the Archangel
From the Grandes heures d'Anne de Bretagne
French (Tours), c. 1503-1508
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9474, fol. 165

His iconography usually includes the figure of Tobias and his dog and, also usually, the fish.  He may carry jars of ointment or even a full medical kit, with a pilgrim staff or a sword used to protect his charge from harm.

Group Portraits

While images of the three Archangels involved in the tasks that they have been assigned are very frequent in the history of art, images of the Archangels as portraits are rarer.  Rarer still are images in which two or more of them are shown together as a group.  I have assembled a group of these images
here to celebrate the feast day of the three great Archangels:  Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.1
Fastolf Master, Three Archangels
From the Hours of William Porter
French (Rouen), c. 1420-1425
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M105, fol. 22va
Archangels Michael and Raphael
From a Book of Hours
Flemish (Ghent), c. 1420-1430
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M439, fol. 19va

Jacobello del Fiore, Justice Between Archangels Michael and Gabriel
Itaian, 1421
Venice, Gallerie dell'Accademia

Francesco Botticini, The Three Archangels with Tobias
Italian, c. 1470
Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi
Domenico Ghirlandaio, Madonna and Child Enthroned with Archangels Michael and Gabriel, Saints and Angels
Italian, c. 1483
Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi
Marco d'Oggiono, The Three Archangels
Italian, c. 1500
Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera

 © M. Duffy, 2017


  1. Pope, Hugh. "Angels." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 29 Sept. 2017.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Our Lady of Sorrows, The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary

Simon Bening, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
from the Prayer Book of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg
Flemish (Bruges), c.1525-1530
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS Ludwig IX 19, fol. 251v
September 15 is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  To non-Catholics it may look like yet another in a series of Marian feast days that honor Mary under various titles that begin with "Our Lady of........", usually followed by a place name (Fatima, Lourdes, Walsingham, etc.)  This one is a little different.  So, where does this title for the Virgin Mary come from?  Well, some people may be astonished for find that it comes from the Bible, from the Gospel of Luke, in fact.

When Jesus was presented in the Temple, Simeon, the old man who had been awaiting the arrival of the Messiah, recognized the Baby as the One and greeted Him appropriately with the beautiful song of praise which is known as the Nunc Dimittis.*   Then Saint Luke tells us that
“The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” 
 (Luke 2:32-35, one of two Gospel readings which may be used for the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, italics are mine,)
This piercing of the heart of Mary in connection with the life of her Son came true as Simeon stated (or rather as the retropection of the Gospel writer intended) and was magnified in pious tradition to become the Seven Sorrows of Mary, each Sorrow an episode in her life and that of Jesus.  

The Seven Sorrows are: 
  1. The prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:25-35)
  2. The flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15)
  3. Loss of the Child Jesus for three days (Luke 2:41-50) 
  4. Mary meets Jesus on his way to Calvary (Luke 23:27-31; John 19:17)
  5. Crucifixion and Death of Jesus (John 19:25-30)
  6. The body of Jesus being taken from the Cross (Psalm 130; Luke 23:50-54; John 19:31-37)
  7. The burial of Jesus (Isaiah 53:8; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42; Mark 15:40-47)1
Artists have shown different ways of depicting Mary’s sorrows and her response to them.

The predominant manner in which the greatest of Mary’s sorrows has been depicted is as part of the Passion narrative.  Following the hints found in the Gospels Mary has appeared in the crowd following Jesus as He carries the cross, she has been depicted in an agony of grief as she stands at the foot of the cross, supported by St. John the Evangelist and her female companions.  
Simone Martini, Jesus Carrying the Cross
Italian, 1333
Paris, Musé du Louvre

Jean le Noir, Jesus Carrying the Cross
From Petites Heures de Jean de Berry
French (Paris), c. 1375
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
Latin 18014, fol. 86v

The Crucifixion
From the Rabbula Gospels
Syrian (Beth Zagba), c. 586
Florence, Bibliotheca Medicea-Laurenziana
MS. Plut. I.  56, fol. 12v-13r

The Crucifixion
From a Gospel Book
English (Canterbury), c. 1060-1070
New  York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M709, fol. 1v
The Crucifixion
From a Lectionary
German (Saxony), c. 1215-1235
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M299, fol. 6r

Duccio, The Crucifixion
Italian, 1308-1311
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Rogier van der Weyden, The Crucifixion
Flemish, c.1445
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Andrea Mantegna, The Crucifixion
Italian, c. 1465-1470
Paris, Musédu Louvre

Francesco Granacci. The Crucifixion
Italian, c.1510
New  York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Beyond the Gospels narratives, logical conclusion has meant that she also appears, similarly afflicted, in the great Pieta images, and as the chief mourner at scenes of the entombment.  

Anonymous, Roettgen Pieta
German, c. 1300
Bonn, Rheinisches Landesmuseum

Taddeo Gaddi, Entombment of Christ
Italian, c.1335-1340
Florence, Church of Santa Croce, Cappella di Bardi di Vernio

Roberto d'Oderisi. Pieta
Italian, c. 1370
Private Collection

Enguerrand Charonton, Pieta of Villeneuve-les-Avignon
French, c. 1460
Paris, Musé du Louvre

Michelangelo Buonarroti, Pieta
Italian, 1499
Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica

Fra Angelico, Entombment of Christ
Italian, c. 1438-1440
Munich, Bayerische Stratagemädesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek

Master of the Autun Triptych, Entombment of Christ
French, c. 1512-1530
Dolem, Musé des Beaux-Arts

Guercino, Entombment of Christ
Italian, 1656
Chicago, Arts Institute
These are, however, entirely narrative images, and narrative images account for only a small percentage of the images of the woman of sorrow, the Mater Dolorosa.  2

Art can be used to tell a story, as with narrative images.  But, it can also transmit ideas and can do it, frequently, in a more direct and easily grasped form than can be done in words.  As the old adage states, “One picture is worth a thousand words”. Consequently, several other modes of depicting the Sorrows of Mary have been used over time.

A Series of Pictures

One of the earliest modes was as a series of pictures, usually in manuscripts of the popular lay text the Speculum humanae salvationis, which was one of the “best-sellers” of the late medieval world.  Through a combination of pictures and texts, lay people were offered a way to understand the Gospels and to meditate on aspects of the faith.  These were not the carefully planned and painstakingly executed works that were intended for the clergy or the nobility, such as are found in service books, Gospel books or the numerous Books of Hours.  These were quickly, even crudely executed works, that still have a certain ability to tell a story quickly through what amount to sketches.  For the illustrations below I have chosen a few samples from different books of the first three of the Sorrows:  the prophecy of Simeon, the Flight into Egypt and the Finding of Jesus in the Temple.

The Prophecy of Simeon, Joseph Warned to Flee to Egypt and Jesus Found in the Temple
From Speculum humanae salvationis
Italian (Bologna), c. 1350-1400
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 593, fol. 39v

The Flight into Egypt and Jesus Found in the Temple
From Speculum humanae salvationis
French (Alsace), c. 1370-1380
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 511, fol. 46 

The Flight into Egypt
From Speculum humanae salvationis
French, c. 1450
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 188, fol. 50-b

Jesus Found in the Temple
From Speculum humanae salvationis
French, c. 1450
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 188, fol. 50

The Mater Dolorosa

Another early development was to, in effect, extract the image of the sorrowing Virgin Mary from images of the Crucifixion and place her upper body in the center of the picture frame.  This gives us the image known as the Mater Dolorosa, the Sorrowing Mother.  This image became most popular first in the Low Countries in the fifteenth century and eventually spread throughout Europe. 

Workshop of Dirk Bouts, Mater Dolorosa
Dutch, c. 1410-1475
Chicago, Art Institute
Hans Memling, Mater Dolorosa
German, c. 1480-1490
Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi

Simon Marmion, Mater Dolorosa
French, 1480
Strasbourg, Musé des Beaux-Arts
Paolo de San Leocadio, Mater Dolorosa
Italian, c. 1482-1484
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Titian, Mater Dolorosa
Italian, 1555
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Jusepe de Ribera, Mater Dolorosa
Spanish, 1638
Kassel, Staatliche Museen
Philippe de Champaigne, Virgin of Sorrows at the Foot of the Cross
Flemish, c. 1650
Paris, Musé du Louvre

Sassoferrato, Mater Dolorosa
Italian, c. 1650
Oxford (UK), Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology
Francois Girardon, Mater Dolorosa
French, 1657
Paris, Musé du Louvre

Bartolome Esteban Murillo, Mater Dolorosa
Spanish, c. 1670-1675
Private Collection

Rosalba Carriera, Mater Dolorosa
Italian, c. 1720-1750
Dresden, Gemaeldegalerie Alte Meister

Johann Peter Krafft, Mater Dolorosa
Austrian, c. 1840-1850
Vienna, Belvedere Museum

The Man of Sorrows and the Mater Dolorosa

A similar image of Mary as the Mater Dolorosa was occasionally paired with the image of Jesus as the Man of Sorrows.  This was sometimes done within a single picture (a painting or a print) or it may be accomplished by a diptych, a two-panel hinged format.  In seventeenth-century Spain, it frequently took the form of highly realistic, bust or three-quarter figural sculptures.

Wolf Traut, The Man of Sorrows and the Mater Dolorosa
German, 1512
Washington, National Gallery of Art
The inscription at the bottom of the image reads "Aspice qui transis quia tu mihi causa doloris", which translates to an admonition to the viewer "Behold, you are the cause of my pain", thus reminding the viewer that Christ suffered for our sins.

Hans Holbein the Younger, Diptych with Christ as the Man of Sorrows and the Mater Dolorosa
German, c. 1520
Basel, Kunstmuseum

Adriaen Isenbrant, Ecce Homo with the Mourning Virgin
Flemish, c. 1530-1540
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pedro de Mena, Ecce Homo
Spanish, c. 1674-1685 
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pedro de Mena, Mater Dolorosa
Spanish, c. 1674-1685
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pierced by a Sword

Another group of images takes the subject of Our Lady of Sorrow in a different, more symbolic direction.  This is the group that I call The Sword-Pierced Virgin.  In these images, which seem to be predominantly prints, the Virgin Mary is pierced, or about to be pierced, with swords, numbering anywhere from one to seven.  They offer a literal interpretation of the words of Simeon from Saint Luke's Gospel, including at least two instances in which the sword approaches her directly from the body of Christ on the Cross.  For these, she can be either sitting or standing.  Some are clearly print records of statues, some of which are still extant.

Ivory Pax with the Crucifixion
South German, c. 1360-1370
New York, Metropolitan Museum, The Cloisters

Mary Pierced by the Sword at the Foot of the Cross
From a Prayer Book
Flemish (Antwerp), c. 1525
The Hague, Museum Meermano
MS MMW 10 E 4-078r

Jacob Conneliszoon, Mary Pierced by a Sword
From  Die Kleine Passion (Page 45)
Dutch, c. 1520-1521
Dresden, Kupferstich-Kabinett

Johann Sadeler after Christoph Schwarz, Mary Pierced by the Sword
German, c. 1588 -1595
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Follower of Frencesco Trevisani, Mary Pierced by the Sword
Italian, c. 1700
Private Collection

Nicolas Enriquez de Vargas, Mary Pierced by the Sword
Mexican, c. 1750
Philadelphia, Museum of Art
Miguel Cabrera, Mary Pierced by One Sword, Surrounded by the Trinity, Various Saints and the Souls in Purgatory
Mexican, c. 1760
Location Unknown

Master of the Goslar Sibyls, Mary Pierced with Multiple Swords
German, 1501-1515
Goslar, Rathaus, Reception Hall
Bronze Morse (clasp for a cope), Mary Pierced by Seven Swords with Two Saints
Spanish, 17th Century
Ecouen, Musé national de la Renaissance

Schelte Adamszoon Bolswert, After Abraham Bloemaert, Mary Pierced by Seven Swords
Dutch, c. 1612-1615
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Paolo Naldini. Mary Piereced by Seven Swords
Italian, c. 1639
Rome, San Marcello al Corso,
Capella della Madonna dei Sette Dolori

Giovanni Battista Gaulli (Il Baciccio), Our Lady of Sorrows with Saints Augustine and Nicholas
Italian, Second half of the 17th Century
Paris, Musé du Louvre, Departement des Arts graphiques

Vicente Aznar, Our Lady of Sorrows
Spanish, 19th Century
Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de Espana
Processional Figure of Our Lady of Sorrows

The Seven Sorrows

The final category consists of paintings that attempt to show the image of Mary, either the Sorrowing Mother or the Sword-Pierced Woman, surrounded by depictions of the Seven Sorrows themselves. This image seems to have been popular from about the middle of the fifteenth century to about the middle of the sixteenth century, with some late appearing outriders.  It exists in all media, miniature painting, panel painting, enamels, drawings and prints, nearly all of them hailing from northern Europe.  No doubt there are (or were) images in the medium of sculpture as well.  We must bear in mind that there was a great deal of destruction wrought on images in northern Europe during the Reformation and its aftermath.  The media mentioned above are easier to transport and to hide than all but the smallest items of sculpture.  So, there has likely been disproportionate damage to sculpture in those countries where this particular image has been most prevalent.

Master of Isabella di Chiaromonte, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
from a Book of Hours
Dutch (Delft), 1460-1520
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 71, fol.12v

Master of Cornelis Croesinck, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
from the Croesinck Hours
Dutch, 1489-1499
New York, Pierpont Morgan Museum
MS M1078, fol.104v

Albrecht Durer, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
German, c.1496
Munich, Alte Pinakothek

Simon Bening, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
from the Da Costa Hours
Belgian (Bruges), 1510-1520
New York, Pierpont Morgan  Library
MS M399, fol. 92v

Monogrammist S, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
Dutch, c. 1516-1545
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
Adriaen_Isenbrandt, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
Flemish, 1518-1535
Bruges, Church of Our Lady

Master of the Magdalen Legend, The Ashwellthorpe Triptych
Flemish, c. 1515-1525
Norfolk (UK), Norfolk Castle Museum and Art Gallery

Barend van Orley, Triptych of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows
Flemish, 1520-35
Besancon_Musé des Beaux-Arts et d'Archeologie

Adriaen Isenbrandt, Virgin of the Seven Sorrows
Flemish, 1521
Brussels, Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium

Bernard van Orley. Seven Sorrows of Mary
Flemish, 1526
Leuven, Museum M
_Giorgio Ghisi, Mater Dolorosa Surrounded by the Seven Sorrows
Italian, c. 1575
Philadelphia, Museum of Art

Master of the Half Lengths, Virgin of the Seven Sorrows
Flemish, Late 16th Cemtury
Barcelona, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya

Devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows

Our Lady of Sorrows
German, c. 1750-1800
Motten. Parish Church of St. Matthew
Devotion to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows was initially associated with the religious Order of the Servants of Mary, called the Servites.  They were founded in 1233 by a group of seven pious laymen who were Florentine wool merchants.  They had belonged to a lay confraternity with a devotion to Mary.  However, like their contemporary Saint Francis, they gave up their prosperous careers and retreated to a village outside Florence where they established a religious community.  Eventually they made their way to a nearby mountain and laid the foundations for a religious order of men.  It was given approval by the bishop of Florence at some point in the mid-1240s as the Order of Friars Servants of Mary. 

One of their primary factors in the spirituality of the Servites over the centuries has been devotion to Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows, as the Mater Dolorosa.  Their black habit was established as a reminder or Mary’s dress as a widow.  In 1692 Our Lady of Sorrows was officially declared to be the patroness of the order.3  

© M. Duffy, 2017
“Now, Master, you may let your servant goin peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”  (Luke 2:29-32)
  1.  This neat listing of the sorrows with their accompanying text references come from 
  2. Mary, as the Mater Dolorosa, has also been described in poetry, specifically the poem called the Stabat Mater, usually attributed to the Franciscan Jacopone da Todi toward the end of the thirteenth century, which imagines the scene at the foot of the Cross, imagines Mary’s reaction to what is happening and prays to be united with her in her sufferings.  It has been set to music by many composers, including Palestrina, Vivaldi, Pergolesi, Haydn, Rossini, Poulenc and Arvo Part, to name just the ones I’m personally familiar with.  A chant version (with an English translation) is probably familiar to many since it is often used during communal celebration of the Stations of the Cross.  It is also one of the few surviving sequences (hymns that precede the reading of the Gospel on feast days), being an optional sequence for the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  See   A sampling of various settings of the words can be found at
  3. For information about the Order of Servites see 

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.