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.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Holy Name of Mary, the Battle for Vienna and the Art of a Mexican Baroque Painter*

Cristobal de Villalpando, The Holy Name of Mary (detail)
Mexican, c. 1685-1690
Mexico City, Museo de la Basilica de Guadalupe
History, and its related discipline the History of Art, are funny things.  You may start off researching one thing and suddenly find yourself looking at something completely different.  I had this sensation a couple of years ago, when I first began research on the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  I discovered that the familiar image had a long pre-history, well before Saint Margaret Mary began to see visions of Jesus displaying His heart .1   Similarly, the coincidence of the subject of a painting in an exhibition of the works of Cristobal de Villalpando at the Metropolitan Museum and the feast day honoring the Holy Name of Mary led me on an exploration with astonishing vibes.  Like the Marian title of Our Lady of Victory the feast of the Holy Name of Mary is related to the long struggle of European nations against the Muslim Turkish Empire. 

For a little more background, we need to realize that Europe fought a long, long struggle against aggressive elements of Islam.  It has been argued, beginning in the early 20th century with the historian, Henri Pirenne, that, although the barbarian invasions of the fifth century did great damage to the western Roman Empire, they are not the event that divided the southern Mediterranean world from the northern half.  Pirenne’s theory was that remnants of Roman Imperial administration and Roman trade survived the fall of Rome and continued to function to a limited degree between northwestern Europe and North Africa and the Levant during the period from the fifth to the seventh centuries. But, in the mid-seventh century, the sudden, rapid conquest of the region south of the Mediterranean by aggressive Islamic armies sweeping out of their home in Arabia.  The armies of Islam  conquered Egypt and then all of North Africa to the shores of the Atlantic and swept on into Spain by the early eighth century (711) dealt the remnants of the old Empire a final blow.  The western Mediterranean became closed to north-south shipping.  Communications and trade virtually stopped.  For example, papyrus, an early form of paper, which had been imported to Europe from Egypt prior to this, ceased to exist in Europe and parchment, made from the hides of cattle, became the norm.2

Modern Europe has largely forgotten that the tide of aggression engulfed all of Spain, save for a tiny enclave in the northwest, and pressed on into France.  It was finally stopped at Tours in 732 by armies led by Charles Martel, whose grandson Charlemagne established the great Carolingian Empire in the ninth century.  From then on western Europe was spared invasions from the south, although still having to deal with invasions from the north, i.e., the Vikings, and from the east, i.e., the Slavs and Magyars. 

After the victory at Tours, with the establishment of the Carolingian Empire and apart from the Viking invasions there was a reasonably peaceful climate in most of Europe, for the next several centuries.  There were small territorial wars between the emerging feudal kingdoms and between rival feudal lords.  With the exception of Spain, where sporadic fighting between the dominant Muslim culture, centered on Cordova, and known as Al Andaluz, and the remnants of the Visigothic Christian kingdoms in the northwest, known as Castille, Leon and Asturias continued for centuries, Europe was generally internally peaceful.
However, there was war in the Levant, centering on the area of Palestine which contained the holy city of Jerusalem.  The region was lost by the Greek Christian Byzantine Empire, which centered on its capital of Constantinople, in a single battle in 636.  The Byzantines continued to hold a line in Anatolia, in present day Turkey, with frequent skirmishing, while the victorious Muslims established a caliphate at Damascus, in present day Syria.

By the late fourteenth century, however, the native dynasties derived from the first wave of Islamic expansion had been swallowed up by a tide of newcomers, the Turks. They burst upon the scene in the mid-eleventh century. Converts to Islam, they took seriously the call to wage holy war which had begun to falter in the Arabs and pressed it so vehemently that by 1453 they had crushed the Byzantines, destroying the Byzantine Empire and turning Constantinople into Istanbul.  In the centuries that followed this victory they invaded and subdued Greece and the Balkans, including Transylvania, conquered eastern Hungary and had extended their armies all the way to the gates of Vienna, twice.  The first siege, led by the great sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, in 1529, failed, although Suleiman retained control of the territory the Ottomans had conquered up to that point. 

August_Querfurt, The Turkish Army Besieging Vienna
Austrian, c. 1750-1760
Private Collection

The second siege, in 1683, was very nearly an Ottoman victory.  After two months of siege by the Ottomans, under the command of Kara Mustafa Pasha, and several allied armies from areas where there was great antipathy to the Austrian Habsburgs, the city was in an extremely desperate condition. The besiegers, encamped before the walls of Vienna, vastly outnumbered the defenders,  Emperor Leopold I and many of the citizens of Vienna had already evacuated.

Then, in early September a relief force from Poland, led by King Jan Sobieski, joined forces with armies coming from some of the German states.  However, this assembled relief army was still only half the size of the attacking Ottomans.  

Artur Grottger, Meeting of King Jan III Sobieski and Emperor Leopold I near Schwert
Polish, 1859
Lviv, National Museum

Nonetheless, an attack by the relief forces, plus the confusion caused among the Ottomans by having begun the battle fighting on two fronts (on the one hand with the relief armies, while on the other continuing their attack on the city) began to break the enormous Ottoman army.  

Anonymous, Siege and Relief of Vienna in September 1683
Austrian, After 1683
Vienna, Heeresgeschichtlichen Museum

Towards evening of the day of battle the largest cavalry charge ever recorded, spearheaded by the famous Polish winged hussars led by their king, finally broke the Ottomans for good and permanently lifted the threat coming from Istanbul.

Martino Altomonte, Relief of Vienna
Italian, c. 1685
Herzogenburg, Herzongenburg Monastery

Modern depiction of King Jan Sobieski and the Winged Hussars
From the 2012 film "Day of the Siege"

The Polish king had placed his forces under the protection of the Polish Madonna of Czestochowa, the famous “Black Madonna”.  Mass was celebrated before the Polish army went into battle, blessed by their king. 

Juliusz Kossak, Jan III Sobieski Blessing His Troops Before the Battle for Vienna
Polish, 1871
Color Lithograph

As had happened after the decisive defeat of the Turkish navy at the battle of Lepanto, a little over 100 years earlier (October 7, 1571), Pope Innocent XI established a feast in honor of the Virgin Mary on the date of the battle. 3  The siege of Vienna was raised by the battle outside Vienna on September 12, 1683. 

Jan Matejko, Jan Sobieski Sending a Message to the Pope Following the Victory at the Siege of Vienna
Polish, c. 1882-1883
Vatican, Vatican Museums, Sobieski Room

Although the feast day was established there was not an immediate outpouring of images related to it. There had, in fact, already been some iconographic images of the Holy Name of Mary in preceding centuries, as there was already an established devotion to the Our Lady under that title in the territories of Europe and the New World that were under Spanish rule. 

Previous images that included the name of Mary had focused on the words of Luke 1:28 for the Angel Gabriel “Hail Mary, full of grace” (“Ave Maria, gratia plena”). 

Simon Marmion, Annunciation
From a Book of Hours
Flemish, c. 1475-1485
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 6, fol. 21r

Neroccio de' Landi, Madonna and Child with Saints Jerome and Mary Magdalene
Italian, c. 1490
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Simon Bening, Madonna and Child
From a Book of Hours
Flemish (Bruges), 1531
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 451, fol. 97v

Apparently, it was only around the year 1600 that artists began to focus literally on the name of Mary, usually depicted as the monogram “MRA” and sometimes shown with the monogram for Jesus “IHS”.  Occasionally, the two monograms are superimposed on each other to create a compound image.  

Michael Snijders, Monogram of Maria MRA, made up of Marian symbols
Flemish, c. 1608-1630
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Martin Baes, Names of Jesus and Mary in Latin and Chinese
Dutch, c. 1614-1631
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Paolo Naldini, Angels with the Names of Jesus and Mary
Italian,  1633
Rome, Church of the Santi Nomi di Gesu e Maria, Cappella Maggiore

Attributed to Guglielmo Borremens, Adoration of the Name of Mary
Italian, 1721
Palermo, Church de Immacolata Concepzione al Capo

Johann Christoph Handke, Adoration of the Names of Jesus and Mary
Czech, 1744
Gross-Ullersdorf, Castle, Small Chapel

Jan Punt after Jan de Wit after Peter Paul Rubens, Four Angels Celebrating the Name of Mary
Dutch, 1759
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

It is clear from some of the contexts that the monogram is an actual substitute for an image of the virgin, as in the print in which the annunciation of her birth to her father, Joachim, is imagined as an instance in which an angel shows him the monogram of Maria instead of a figure of his soon-to-be daughter. 

Johan Esaias Nilson after Johann Evangelist Holzer, Annunciation of Mary's Birth to Joachim
Dutch, c. 1765-1770
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

In my several week search of image resources the one truly dramatic image of the title that I have found is the one by seventeenth-century Mexican painter, Cristobal de Villalpando, that I mentioned in the beginning of this essay image which was displayed in the Villalpando exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  In this really beautiful picture Mary kneels before a golden object, which may be the Ark of the Covenant (to which she is frequently compared).3  She is surrounded by angels and archangels, who play musical instruments, while in the background a further countless throng of other angels, vaguely seen, surround her into the depths of the picture plane.  Her face is lifted adoringly toward the heavens, where her monogram appears in glory.  And around her head, instead of the traditional halo is a band, lettered in light, which reads “El Dulcissimo Nombre de Maria Santissima” (“the sweetest name of the Most Holy Mary”).  Thus, the name of Mary is doubly honored, in the presence of Mary herself. 

Cristobal de Villalpando, The Holy Name of Mary
Mexican, c. 1685-1690
Mexico City, Museo de la Basilica de Guadalupe

What is particularly intriguing in this picture is the date, between 1685 and 1690, which is to say, just a few years after the Battle for Vienna and the establishment of the feast of the Holy Name of Mary for the entire church.   Can its somewhat startling iconography be a reflection of these events?

© M. Duffy, 2017

*Please note that this essay refers to a past exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art which took place between July 25, 2017 and October 15, 2017.
  1. See: "The Sacred Heart of Jesus—An Iconographic Introduction" at
  2. Pirenne, Henri.  Mohammed and Charlemagne, Translated by Bernard Miall, London, George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1939.  Available on the internet at
  3. For this see: "Our Lady of the Rosary, a Forgotten Battle and an Almost Forgotten Pope" at
  4. Brown, Jonathan; Gomar, Rogelio Ruiz; Kasl Ronda, et al., Cristobal de Villalpando, Mexican Painter of the Baroque;  Mexico City, Palacio de Cultura Citibanamex-Palacio de Iturbide and New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2017, p. 62.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Calming the Storm

Jesus Calming the Storm, Book of Hours,
French, Paris, 1430-1435,
New York, Morgan Library,
MS M359, fol. 62r

"He got into a boat and his disciples followed him.
Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves; but he was asleep.
They came and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!"
He said to them, "Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?"  Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm.
The men were amazed and said, "What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?"
(Matthew 8:23-27)
To all of you who may be either enduring or awaiting the arrival of Hurricane Irma, I thought I would post some images that illustrate the story of Jesus' calming of the waves.  No great thoughts or iconographic analysis, this post will just be images, arranged chronologically.

  • From the Middle Ages
    Jesus Calming the Storm
    from Gospel Book of Otto III 
    German (Reichenau), late 10th Century
    Munich, Staatsbibliothek
    MS Clm 4453 (detail)

Jesus Calming the Storm
from Pictorial Bible of Abbey of St. Bertin
French (St. Omer), 1190-1200
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS 76F5, fol. 14 (detail)
Jesus on Sea of Galilee
from Sermons of Maurice de Sully
Italian (Milan or Genoa), 1320-1330
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 187, fol. 7 (detail)

  • To the Renaissance 

Jan Brueghel the Elder, Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Flemish, ca. 1596
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

  •  To the Baroque
Rembrandt, Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,
Dutch, 1633,
Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
  • To the Romantic Era
Eugene Delacroix, Christ in the Tempest,
French, 1853,
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • To the Impressionist Era
  • James Tissot, Jesus Calming the Storm, from Life of Jesus,
    French, 1888-1896
    New York, Brooklyn Museum
  • To the Twentieth Century
Girogio Di Chirico, Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,
Italian, 1914
Vatican City State, Collection of Modern Religious Art

So, stay safe and remember that the storm is bigger than all of us, but not bigger than God.