Sunday, December 30, 2018

Mary, Mother of God

Raphael, The Sistine Madonna
Italian, 1513-1514
Dresden, Gemaeldegalerie
On January 1 each year, the Church celebrates the feast of Mary, Mother of God.  To some contemporary Christian groups and to some others the use of the term “Mother of God” feels uncomfortable, perhaps even blasphemous, for how could a mortal woman be the mother of God?

However, in reality, the shoe is (as it were) on the other foot.  Denial of this term is the actual blasphemy, the actual heresy.  How is this so?  Because it was so declared by the Council of Ephesus in 431, the third Ecumenical Council and one of the seven held to be definitive by Orthodox, Roman Catholic and most Protestant communities. 

The title “Mother of God” was one result of the long and intense debate that occupied Christians for the first several centuries after Christ.  These debates centered on how to understand the identity of Jesus and His relation to the Godhead.  

Already in the earliest Christian writings, the epistles of St. Paul and the Acts of the Apostles, there was an understanding of God as a Trinity of three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in one Godhead.  However, it took a lot of thought and argument to work out how the Second Person, the Son, was related to the human being who was Jesus.  Was the man Jesus simply some kind of mask for the Second Person of the Trinity, the Divine Logos?  Was Jesus possessed of two different natures (human and divine) each acting independently from the other?  Was He a single Person with two natures combined?  It took most of the first 500 years of the Christian church to resolve these issues to the agreement of most parties. 

The eventual decision was that He combined the two natures in one person and was both human and Divine, without division.  This is called the “hypostatic union”.  Ephesus was one of the councils in which this understanding was worked out. 

Therefore, it followed logically that if Jesus was both human and Divine in equal and undivided measure, then Mary His mother was not just the mother of the human being named Jesus, but also the mother of Jesus in His incarnate divinity and, therefore, entitled to be called “Mother of God”.  This is understood always to mean that she is the mother of Jesus, who was both man and God, and not that she was the mother of the Godhead, which has no beginning and no end and, therefore, cannot have a human mother.    As St. Cyril of Alexandria put it at Ephesus “since the holy Virgin brought forth corporally God made one with flesh according to nature, for this reason we also call her Mother of God, not as if the nature of the Word had the beginning of its existence from the flesh.” 1

Our Lady of Perpetual Help
Cretan, 14th-15th Centry
Rome, Church of Sant'Alfonso Liguori
In art the theme of Mary as Mother of God has many manifestations, each exploring a particular way in which she relates to Jesus and to us.  For Catholics, one of the most familiar pictures of Mary with Jesus, her Child, is a picture known as Our Lady of Perpetual Help.  What the majority of Catholics are not aware of is that this image is actually Greek, probably painted on the island of Crete in the 14th century and brought to Rome in the 15th.  Since 1499 this image has been venerated in a Church on Via Merulana in Rome.  For many centuries it resided in the Church of San Matteo, but that church was demolished by troops of the French Republic when they invaded Rome in 1798.  The picture was rescued and venerated in a nearby church until, in 1865, it was placed in a new church, which was built over the ruins of San Matteo and dedicated to Saint Alphonsus Ligouri.  Since 1865 it has been housed in the church of Saint Alphonsus Ligouri on Via Merulana.  2

This image is one of a group of images which are known as the Theotokos Hodegetria.  These Greek words mean respectively “God-bearer” or “She who bears God” and “She who shows the way”.  In these images, Mary, the Theotokos, the Mother of God, holds the Infant Jesus and, with her free hand gestures toward Him, she literally shows us the Way.  Typically, Mary looks out of the picture at us, as she gestures toward Jesus. She is calling us to contemplation of the mystery of God made flesh through her.  This is one of the oldest types of Byzantine icons dedicated to Mary and one of the most prevalent.
Virgin of Blachernae
Byzantine, 7th Century
Moscow, The State Tretyakov Gallery
This is on of the earliest extant images of the Hodegetria
type of icon.  It was originally in the Blachernae Palace
in Constantinople, built around the time of the Council
of Ephesus for the Empress Pulcheria.

Virgin Hodegetria
Byzantine ivory, mid-10-mid-11th Centuries
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art





























Virgin Hodegetria
Byzantine, 1175-1200
Kastoria (Greece), Byzantine Museum

Enthroned Hodegetria
Byzantine, 13th Century
Washington, National Gallery of Art

























Dionysius, Hodegetria
Greek, 1482
Moscow, The State Tretyakov Gallery
The Hodegetria image also lies at the base of many well-known images of the Western (or Latin) Church.  The early Renaissance artists, especially in Italy, derived their iconography from Byzantine icons, which they modified over time untill many of the recognizably Byzantine elements disappeared and softer, less formal poses in more realistic settings became the norm.  Yet the positions of Mary and Jesus and Mary’s gesture towards her Son largely remained unchanged. 

Mosaic, Madonna and Child
Italian, 13th Century
Rome, Church of San Paolo fuori le Mura

Berlinghiero, Madonna and Child
Italian, c. 1230
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art


























Cimabue, Madonna and Child in Majesty
Italian, 1285-1286
Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi

Duccio, Rucellai Madonna
Italian, 1285
Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi

























Duccio, Madonna and Child
Italian, 1304-1308
Perugia, Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria

Simone Martini, Madonna and Child
Italian, c.1308-1310
Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale


























Simone Martini, Maesta
Italian, 1315
Siena, Palazzo Publico

Pietro Lorenzetti, Madonna and Child with St. Francis and St. John the Baptist
Italian, c.1320
Assisi, Basilica of San Francesco, Lower Church

Simone Martini, Madonna and Child
Italian, c.1326
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Robert Lehman Collection
Lippo Memmi, Madonna and Child with a Donor
Italian, c.1335
Washington, National Gallery of Art


























Masaccio, Madonna and Child
Italian, 1426
London, National Gallery
Fra Filippo Lippi, Madonna and Child
Italian, c.1440
Washington, National Gallery of Art

Jacopo Bellini, Madonna and Child
Italian, 1450
Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi
Benozzo Gozzoli, Madonna and Child
Italian, c.1460
Detroit, Institute of Arts

Giovanni Bellini, Madonna and Child
Italian, c.1470
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Robert Lehman Collection
Workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio, Madonna and Child
Italian, c.1470
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art


Benvenuto di Giovanni, Madonna and Child with
 St. Jerome and St. Bernardino
Italian, c.1480-1485
Washington,  National Gallery of Art
Carlo Crivelli, Madonna and Child
Italian, c.1480
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art



























Giovanni Bellini, Madonna and Child
Italian, 1485-1490
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Albrecht Durer, Madonna and Child
German, c.1496-1499
Washington, National Gallery of Art























On the feast of the Mother of God we recognize how much we owe to Our Lady and to our forefathers in the faith.

© M. Duffy, 2017
___________________________________________________________

  1. Translated by Henry Percival. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 14. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1900.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3810.htm
  2. Information on the history of the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help from the Redemptorist Fathers, now its guardians.  http://www.cssr.com/english/whoarewe/iconstory.shtml


Friday, December 28, 2018

Out of Commission for Awhile

Gabriel Metsu, Visit of the Physician
Dutch, c. 1660-1667
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum


I don't expect to be posting much for the next several months.  The day for my spinal surgery has finally arrived and the work of preparing these notes will be beyond my powers and stamina for a bit.

I will try to continue to call attention to various previously posted ideas and images in the "Featured Posts" section on the right hand column and by occasionally repositioning some especially noteworthy topics as the top article below this notice. Please check frequently to catch things you may have missed or would appreciate seeing once again.

During this busy time, please take a second or two to pray for me in your kindness.  Pray that God will direct the surgeon's mind and hands, the hands of the nurses and aids and physical therapists and keep any infections or other possible harmful side effects away from me right now.  Above all,  pray that I can have a speedy recovery and can walk freely once again, so that my life can remain active and independent for some years yet.

And I would like to thank the several total strangers who have sent me their prayers in response to my earlier postings about this problem.  May God reward you a thousandfold for you kindness.

So, I wish you a Merry and Holy Christmas, if  you are Christian, or a Happy Holiday for whatever other festival you may be celebrating at this time of the year.  And we can all hope for a better 2019!

The Holy Innocents – Nearly Forgotten Baby Martyrs

Master of Death, Scenes from the Infancy of Jesus
Histoire de la Bible et de l'Assomption de Notre-Dame
French (Paris), 1390-1400
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M526, fol. 31r
When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”

Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled,
Out of Egypt I called my son.

When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,
he became furious.
He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity
two years old and under,
in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.

Matthew 2:13-18 (Gospel for the feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs, December 28)


In our time the secular celebration of Christmas, which begins to wind down immediately after Christmas Day and is definitely over by January 1, is a week of vacation, of partying and shopping for bargains.  Instead, the Church turns our attention in the days after Christmas to teaching us something else, that Christmas is not a happy fairy tale, although there is a happy ending in the Resurrection.  During the octave of Christmas (the time between Christmas Day and the feast of Mary, Mother of God on January 1) the Church reminds us that faith in the Child born in Bethlehem has consequences.   She invites us to consider some of those martyrs who have surrendered their lives in devotion to Christ.  On December 26th the Church celebrates the feast of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, killed shortly after the Pentecost, while the Church was still a small group of disciples in Jerusalem.   On the 27th we celebrate the feast day of the Evangelist John, who survived martyrdom to die of old age.  On December 29th we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas Becket, murdered in his own cathedral because of a dispute with King Henry II over the proper roles of Church and State.  And on December 28th the Church celebrates the feast of the very first martyrs, the baby boys of Bethlehem, killed at the order of Herod the Great in his attempt to kill a potential rival.

Masssacre of the Innocents
Italian, 14th Century
Subiaco, Church of San Benedetto, Scala Santa

The story of the killing of the baby boys from Bethlehem, which is found in the Gospel of Matthew, is a dark reversal of the joy of the birth of Jesus.  Probably for this reason, our contemporary celebrations for Christmas ignore it.  We do not want to think about the dark side of anything and certainly NOT at Christmas, which we are told from every side, is about Joy, Love, Peace!  This view, that Darkness has no place during the “holidays” has become so prevalent in our time that the majority of people no longer even remember this event.   But it was not always so. 

From sometime in the fifth century the Church has celebrated a special feast in honor of these boys.  The feast of the Holy Innocents was once an important day within the octave of Christmas, with its own special prayers, and with some special events.  And it was a frequent subject in art from the early middle ages till the dawn of the 20th century. 1
Massacre of the Innocents
from  Purpur Evangeliary
German, 800-825
Munich, Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek
MS Clm 23631, fol. 49

Nearly all the medieval images of the Massacre of the Innocents include the figure of Herod, giving the command to his soldiers, or watching from his throne as they go about their ghastly work.  The soldiers stab and hack at the little bodies, and frequently there are severed limbs and heads in a pile at their feet.  In one instance, a soldier is shown biting into the dying child in his hands.
Massacre of the Innocents
Evangeliary Cover (detail)
French (Metz), mid-9th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9393, Cover





















Flight into Egypt and Massacre of the Innocents
from the Winchester Psalter
English (Anglo-Norman), mid-12th-2nd half of 13th Century
London, British Library
MS Cotton Nero C IV, fol. 14r
At the bottom right a soldier may be seen biting
into a child as he cuts into its flesh and as the mother
attempts to save it.  














Massacre of the Innocents
from the Huntingfield Psalter
English (Oxford), 1212-1220
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M43, fol. 20r






















Soissons Workshop, Massacre of the Innocents
from a Psalter
French (Paris). 1229-1246
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M283, fol. 11r

Massacre of the Innocents
from Queen Mary Psalter
English (London), 1310-1320
London, British Librry
MS Royal 2 B VII, fol.132























Massacre of the Innocents
Byzantine, 1315-1321
Istanbul, Saint Savior in Chora

Master of the Roman de Fauvel, Massacre of the Innocents
from Speculum historiale by Vincentius Bellovacensis
French (Paris), 1333-1334
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 316, fol. 306













Richard de Montbaston, Massacre of the Innocents
from  Legenda Aurea by Jacobus de Voragine
French (Paris), 1348
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 241, fol. 25v




















Jean le Noir and Collaborators, Massacre of the Innocents
from Breviary of Charles V
French (Paris), 1364-1370
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 1052, fol. 308


Massacre of the Innocents
from a Book of HoursFrench (Paris), 1375-1400
New  York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M229, fol. 62v



































Master of the Beaufort Saints, Massacre of the Innocents
from a Book of Hours
Dutch, 1405-1425
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1073, fol. 70v


Gentile da Fabriano, Massacre of the Innocents
Italian, c.1425
Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi



















Herod Orders the Massacre
from a Book of Hours
French (Burgundy), 1480-1495
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M26, fol.124r

Herod Orders the Massacre, with the
Flight into Egypt
from a Book of Hours
French (Paris), 1495-1505
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS H5, fol. 69r























Massacre of the Innocents
from a Prayer Book
French (Paris), 1485-1495
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS H3, fol. 182v





Jean Bourdichon, Massacre of the Innocents
from Hours of Frederic of Aragon
French (Tours), 1501-1504
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10532, fol. 168




























Also present in most, though not all cases are the mothers.  Some of them try to defend their children:  pleading with the soldiers, pushing at them, attempting to pull their babies out of the grasp of the soldiers, trying to intercept their blows, endeavoring to shield their infants from the cruel blades.

Master Kerald, Massacre of the Innocents
from Codex Egberti
German, mid-10th Century
Trier, Stadtbibliothek, fol. 15v


Massacre of the Innocents
from the Troparium Aeduense
French (Autun), 996-1024
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 1169, fol. 11

























Massacre of the Innocents
from Gospel Book of Otto III
German (Reichenau), c.1000
Munich, Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek
MS Clm 4453, fol 28





Massacre of the Innocents
St. Alban's Psalter (Psalter of Christina of Markyate)
English, Abbey of St. Alban's, First half 12th Century
Hildesheim Dombibliothek
MS St. God. 1, fol. 30
























Massacre of the Innocents
from the Vita Christi
English (York), 1190
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS Ms. 101, fol. 46v

Massacre of the Innocents
from Psalter-Hours of Guiluys de Boisleux
French (Arras), 1246-1260
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M730, fol.12v






















Massacre of the Innocents
from Psalter-Hours of Yolande of Soissons
French, 1280-1299
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M729, fol. 296v

Massacre of the Innocents
from a Psalter
Belgian (Liege), 1285-1310
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M155, fol.50r























Massacre of the Innocents
from Psalter-Hours
French (Therouanne), 1260-1270
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M97, fol. 14v
Massacre of the Innocents
from a Bible moralisee
Italian (Naples), ca. 1350
Paris, bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 9561, fol. 138
























Massacre of the Innocents
German, 15th Century
Paris, Musee du Louvre

Massacre of the Innocents
from a Book of Hours
French, 1440-1445
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M157, fol. 180r

















Follower of Willem Vrelant, Massacre of the Innocents
from a Book of Hours
Belgian (Tournai), 1465-1475
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M251, fol. 117v









Master of Edward IV, Massacre of the Innocents
from a Book of Hours
Flemish (Bruges), 1465-1480
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS Ww31, fol. 80v






















Jacques de Besancon, Massacre of the Innocents
from Legenda Aurea by Jacobus de Voragine
French (Paris), 1480-1490
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 244, fol. 27v


Master of Edward IV, Massacre of the Innocents
from a Book of Hours
Belgian (Ghent), 1480-1490
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M278, fol. 87v











Jean Poyer, Massacre of the Innocents
from Hours of Henry VIII
French (Tours), 1495-1505
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS H8, fol. 69v

Master Henri
from Livre d'images de Madame Marie
Belgian (Hainaut), 1285-1290
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition francaise 16251, fol. 24





In one memorable image a mother actually grasps the blade of the sword that is raised to strike at her child, while Herod looks on and another mother cradles the head of her dead baby, whose body lies on the ground beneath the struggling soldier and mother.













Massacre of the Innocents and Flight into Egypt
French, c. 1145
Chartres, Cathedral, West Portal


And the mothers mourn over their dead children:  pulling at their hair, raising their hands to heaven, shrieking with open mouths.  In a memorable image from the west portal of Chartres cathedral, a distraught mother lifts the corpse of her baby from the ground to kiss his face as the struggle continues around her.  The emotions are very real, even in what may look to our eyes as primitive or abstract figures. 2




Inside Chartres too, the subject of the Massacre of the Innocents has a privileged place, taking up the entire central width of one of the famed stained glass window with three panels.  In one of these a mother does the same as on the portal, kneeling down to be near her dead baby.

Herod Orders the Massacre
French, 12th Century
Chartres, Cathedral

Massacre of the Innocents
French, 12th Century
Chartres, Cathedral


















Massacre of the Innocents
French, 12th Century
Chartres, Cathedral


Master of the Dresden Prayerbook
Massacre of the Innocents
from a Book of HoursFlemish (Bruges), 1470-1490
New  York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1077, fol. 94v 

Master of the Dresden Hours, Massacre of the Innocents
from the Crohin-La Fontaine Hours
Flemish (Bruges), 1480-1485
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS Ms. 23, fol. 106v























Sano di Pietro, Massacre of the Innocents
Italian, ca.1470
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Flight into Egypt and Massacre of the Innocents
from Psalter of S. Louis and Blanche of Castille
French (Paris), ca. 1225
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 1186, fol. 19v

There are so many medieval images of this subject, often coupled with other images from the Nativity story in the Gospels, that it may reflect the sufferings of ordinary people in an era when wars, even if small scale, could devastate the children of the area in which they were fought, and in which disease accounted for the vast majority of childhood deaths.  The death of children was a frequent fact of life and we may assume that the loss of any child caused as much grief to parents in the twelfth century as it does in the twenty-first.


Flight into Egypt and Massacre of the Innocents
from a Psalter
French (Paris), 1228-1234
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M153, fol. 17r

















Adoration of the Magi and Massacre of the Innocents
from a Psalter
French (Paris), mid-13th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10434, fol. 14















Scenes from the Infancy of Christ
Top: Presentation in the Temple and Flight into Egypt
Bottom:  The Angel Warning the Magi and
Massacre of the Innocents
from a Psalter
French (Paris), ca.1270
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M101, fol. 16v














Adoration of the Magi and Massacre of the Innocents
from a Book of Hours
French (Rouen), Second half of the 15th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 3134, fol. 57v


















Robinet Testard, Flight into Egypt 
and Massacre of the Innocents
from a Book of Hours
French (Poitiers), 1470-1480
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1001, fol. 57r
























As artistic skills developed, Herod became a less frequent participant in these scenes, although the subject remained as popular as ever.  Artists of the Renaissance and Baroque periods focused more frequently on the extreme violence of the scene, and on the confrontations between the soldiers and the mothers.  The living children also become more active, trying to flee, to hide or to ward off the blows that are aimed at them.  The development of scientific perspective added a new element of realism to these images.

Giovanni Pisano, Massacre of the Innocents (detail)
Italian, 1301
Pistoia, Church of Sant'Andrea

Giotto, Massacre of the Innocents
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Arena/Scrovegni Chapel






































Duccio, Massacre of the Innocents
Italian, 1308-1311
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo



Giotto, Massacre of the Innocents
Italian, 1315-1320
Assisi. Basilica of San Francesco. Lower Church, North Transept






































Andrea di Bartolo, Massacre of the Innocents
Italian, 1380s
Baltimore, Walters Museum of Art





























Master of the Ashmolean Predella, Massacre of the Innocents
Italian, 1380-1385
Fiesole, Museo Bandini


Hans Strigel the Elder, Massacre of the Innocents
German, c.1450
Zell, Catholic Church of Saint Bartholemew






















Fra Angelico, Massacre of the Innocents
Italian, 1451-1452
Florence, Museo di San Marco
Hans Memling, Massacre of the Innocents (detail)
German, c.1480
Munich, Alte Pinakotek


Matteo di Giovanni, Massacre of the Innocents
Ittalian, 1482
Siena, Church of Sant'Agostino


















Benvenuto di Giovanni di Meo del Guasta
Massacre of the Innocents
Italian, 1483
Avignon, Musee du Petit Palais




















Domenico Ghirlandaio, Massacre of the Innocents
Italian, 1485-1490
Florence, Church of Santa Maria Novella, Cappella Tornabuoni

Massacre of the Innocents
French enamel work, 16th Century
Ecouen, Musee national de la Renaissance

Massacre of the Innocents
Netherlandish School, 16th Century
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery
























Ludovico Mazzolino, Massacre of the Innocents
Italian, 1510-1530
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum


Altobello Melone, Massacre of the Innocents
Italian, 1517
Cremona, Cathedral































Giovanni Angelo del Maino
Itallian, c.1520
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts




Everhard Rensig and Gerhard Remisch
Massacre of the Innocents
German (Lower Rhine), c.1522-1526
London, Victoria and Albert Museum




































Majolica Bowl with Massacre of the Innocents
Italian (Castel Durante), 1525
St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum






Simon Bening, Massacre of the Innocents
from the Beatty Rosary
Flemish, c. 1530
Dublin, Chester Beatty Library
MS W99




















Daniele da Volterra, Massacre of the Innocents
Italian, c. 1555
Rome, Church of Santissima Trinita dei Monti

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Massacre of the Innocents
Flemish, 1575-1600
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum




































Tintoretto, Massacre of the Innocents
Italian, 1582-1587
Venice, Scuola Grande di San Rocco



Cornelis Van Haarlem, Massacre of the Innocents
Dutch, 1590
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum




























Guido Reni, Massacre of the Innocents
Italian, 1611
Bologna, Pinocoteca Nazionale






Nicolas Poussin, Massacre of the Innocents
French, 1631-1632
Chantilly, Musee Conde


















Peter Paul Rubens, Massacre of the Innocents
Flemish, c.1637
Munich, Alte Pinakothek
Sebastien Bourdon, Massacre of the Innocents
French, 1640s
St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum

Charles Le Brun, Massacre of the Innocents
French, c.1647
London, Dulwich Picture Gallery


























Valerio Castello, Massacre of the Innocents
Italian, c. 1650-1655
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Luca Giordano, Massacre of the Innocents
Italian, 1670s
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum





























Alessandro Magnasco, Massacre of the Innocents
Italian, 1715-1740
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum


Gaspare Diziani, Massacre of the Innocents
Italian, 1733

Venice, Church of  Santo Stafano

In the nineteenth century the focus shifted slightly to record the reactions of individual mothers to events. These women try to hide, or to fight with the aggressors or they mourn over their dead child.

Francois-Joseph Navez, Massacre of the Innocents
French, 1824
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Leon Cogniet, Massacre of the Innocents
French, 1824
Rennes, Musee des Beaux-Arts
Joseph Noel Paton. Massacre pf the Innocents
English, c.1880
Paisley, Paisley Museum and Art Galleries
James Tissot, Massacre of the Innocents
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum

























Only towards the end of the century do we get a hint of a different interpretation of the story.  This is William Holman Hunt’s rather odd take on the story.  In his picture “The Triumph of the Innocents” the souls of the recently dead babies accompany the Holy Family as it flees to Egypt.
William Holman Hunt, The Triumph of the Innocents
English, c.1883-1884
London, Tate Britain
Some have already sprouted haloes, others wear crowns of roses and some carry flowers as well.  One boy at the right of the picture holds an olive branch.  Meanwhile, the Child for whom they died blesses them with a sheaf of wheat in His hand, reminder of the Eucharist.

In the twentieth century one artist, the Franco-American known as Arman (born Armand Fernandez in France) created a series of images called “Massacre des Innocents”.  These works, which he called “accumulations” and in which he crammed doll body parts into specially constructed boxes, are uncomfortably realistic.
Arman (Armand Fernandez)
Massacre des Innocents II
from Accumulations series
French-American, 1961
Copyright Estate of the Artist


Arman_(Armand Fernandez), Massacre des Innocents
French-American, 1961
Paris, Galerie Natalie Seroussi

























Shorn of the context provided by the mothers and the soldiers these “accumulations” suggest the grisly products of late term abortions or the results of bombings and are all too real reminders of the reality of the kind of “kindermorder”3 in which modern times perpetuates the Massacre of the Innocents.

So, in a period in which we have just recently seen the effects of bombing on the littlest citizens of Aleppo, this feast offers us a reminder that the same cruelty that would order the death of all the children under two in one village out of fear of one child only is still alive and active today.

© M. Duffy, 2016
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  1.       Holweck, Frederick. "Holy Innocents." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 27 Dec. 2016 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07419a.htm
  2.       I am indebted to the following article for pointing out the figures on the capitals at Chartres. Kathleen Nolan, "Ploratus Et Ululatus": The Mothers in The Massacre of the Innocents at Chartres Cathedral”, Studies in Iconography, Vol. 17 (1996), pp. 95-141.
  3.       Meaning “child murder”. This is the partial title in German of the Massacre of the Innocents, which is called Die Bethlehmische kindermord.