Friday, May 26, 2023

Tongues of Fire

From the Rabbula Gospels
Syrian, c.585
Florence, Laurentian Library
Images of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost abound in the history of art. From relatively early times through the Renaissance and into the modern era this is a subject that continues to inspire artists.

There is a reasonable amount of consistency in the iconography of the scene, probably since the description of the event indicates a fairly circumscribed setting:

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”
Acts 2:1-4

Although there is a consistency, there are some differences in iconography. One of them is the inclusion of Mary among the disciples. The previous chapter of Acts says that among the disciples who gathered in the upper room following the ascension of Jesus were “Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14). Therefore, it is reasonable that she would still have been there on the day of Pentecost. Most depictions include her, indeed most center on her.

However, there are some that do not, especially from the earliest images, right through into the high Middle Ages.

From the Sacramentary of Drogo
French (Metz), c. 850
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9428, fol. 78

From the Gospel Book of Poussay
German (Reichenau), c. 980
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10514, fol. 69v

From a Sacramentary
German (Reichenau), c. 1020-1040
Paris, Bibliotheque national de France
MS Latin 18005, fol. 94v

From a Benedictional
German (Regensburg), c. 1030-1040
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS Ludwig VII 1, fol. 47v

From a Lectionary
Austria (Sankt Peter, Salzburg), c. 1045-1055
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G 44, fol.103r

From a Gospel Book
Byzantine (Constantinople), c. 1100-1199
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Supplément grec 27, fol. 38r

From a Gospel Book
German (Prüm), c. 1100-1150
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 17325, fol. 43r

Pentecost , Mosaic, West Dome
Byzantine, c. 1100-1150
Venice, Cathedral of San Marco

Plaque with champleve enamel on copper gilt
French (Meuse Region), c.1150-1175
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cloisters Collection

Nicholas of Verdun, Pentecost
From the Klosterneuburg Altar
French (Meuse Region), c. 1180-1181
Klosterneuburg (Austria), Abbey Church

Pentecost, from the Stavelot Altarpiece
French (Meuse Region), c. 1160-1161
Paris, Musée de Cluny, Musée national du Moyen Age

From a Psalter
French (Paris), c. 1200-1225
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 1392, fol. 13r

Giotto, Pentecost
Italian, c. 1304-1306
Padua, Arena/Scrovegni Chapel

Bartolommeo di Tommaso da Foligno, Pentecost
Italian, c.1440
Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institute of Arts

In the later years of the twelfth century, around the same time that the world began to see numerous churches dedicated to "Notre Dame" Mary's presence among the disciples on Pentecost began to receive visual attention.  Indeed, once introduced, she became the dominant figure in the composition.

From the Ingeborg Psalter

French (Ile de France), c. 1195
Chantilly, Musée Condé
MS 1695, fol. 32v

From the Livre d'images de madame marie
Belgian (Hainaut), c.1285-1290
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition française 16251, fol. 50r

Duccio, Pentecost (panel from the Maestà altarpiece)
Italian, c. 1308-1311
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Taddeo Gaddi, Pentecost
Italian, c. 1335-1340
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Andrea da Firenze, Pentecost
Italian, c. 1366-1367
Florence, Church of Santa Maria Novella, Cappellone degli Spangnoli

Giovanni di Benedetto and Workshop, Pentecost
From a Missal
Italian, c. 1385-1390
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 757, fol. 334v

Master of Jean de Papeleu, Pentecost
From a Bible historiale by Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), c. 1400-1425
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Français 157, fol. 240r

Girolamo da Cremona, Pentecost
Cutting from a Liturgical Book
Italian, c. 1460-1470
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS 55, 94r

German, 1472
Konstanz, Minster of  Our Lady

From the High Altar of the Charterhouse of Saint-Honoré
French (Picardy, Thuison-les-Abbeville), c. 1490-1491
Chicago, Art Institute

Jean Bourdichon, Pentecost
From the Grandes Heures of Anne d Bretagne
French (Tours), c. 1503-1508
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9474, fol. 49v

Michael Wolgemut, Pentecost
From the High Altarpiece
German, c. 1506-1508
Schwabach, Evangelical Parish Church of Saint John and Saint Martin

Albrecht Durer, Pentecost
Woodcut, from the Small Passion
German, 1510
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Master of James IV of Scotland, Pentecost
From the Spinola Hours
Flemish (Ghent), c. 1510-1520
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS Ludwig IX 18, fol. 31v
This lovely illustration shows us not only the event of Pentecost, but also its aftermath.  Surrounding the image of the Pentecost event we are shown the activities which it inspired the Apostles to perform.  They are shown setting forth on their missionary journeys, preaching and baptizing.

Bernabei Tomaso Papacello, Pentecost
Italian, c. 1528-1529
Cortona, Cathedral of Santa Maria

From the Hours of Antoine le Bon
French (Lorraine), 1533
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 302, fol. 45r

Giovanni Battista Ricci, Pentecost
Italian, c.1600
Rome, Church of San Marcello al Corso

Giovanni Battista Brenni, Pentecost
Swiss, c. 1696-1697
Ebrach (Kreis Bamberg, Germany), Parish Church of Saints Mary, John the Evangelist and Nicholas

Jacopo Amigoni, Pentecost
Italian, 1725
Ottobeuren (Germany), Benedictine monastery church

Marc Gabriel Charles Gleyre, Pentecost
French, 1850
Paris, Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris

Around the latter part of the fifteenth century the faces of other women join that of the Virgin Mary in the group of disciples.

Jean Colombe, Pentecost
From the Tres Riches Heures of the Duc de Berry
French (Bourges), c. 1485-1489
Chantilly, Musée Condé
MS 65, fol. 79r

Titian and Workshop, Pentecost
Italian, c.1545
Venice, Church of Santa Maria della Sallute

Guido Reni, Pentecost
from series of Mysteries of the Faith
Italian, 1608
Vatican City, Apostolic Palace

Fray Juan Bautista Maino, Pentecost
Italian, c. 1615-1620
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Salomon de Bray, Pentecost
Dutch, Early-mid 17th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Hans Georg Asam, Pentecost
German, 1683
Benedicktbeuern, Abbey Church of St. Benedict

Caspar Damian Asam, Pentecost
German, after 1720
Aldersbach, Abbey Church

Ernst Deger, Pentecost
German, 1849-1859
Stolzenfels, Schloss Stolzenfels

Individual Tongues or Lines of Fire?

Another variation is in how the event is pictured, how the “tongues as of fire” are shown. There are two predominant images. One of them shows separate “tongues of fire” appearing over the heads of each of the persons gathered.

Giotto, Pentecost
Italian, c.1320
London, National Gallery

Andrea di Cione, Pentecost Triptych
Italian, c. 1362-1365
Florence, Galleria del Accademia

Venturino Mercati, Pentecost
From the Short Hours of the Holy Spirit
Italian (Milan), c. 1470-1480
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G 14, fol.100v

Hans Multscher, Pentecost
German, 1437
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Jacques de Besançon, Pentecost
From the Legenda aurea by Jacobus de Voragine
French (Paris), c. 1480-1490
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 244, fol. 158r 

Martial Vaillant, Pentecost
From the Hours of Francois II
French (Paris), c. 1555-1557
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 104, fol. 72r

El Greco, Pentecost
Greco-Spanish, 1600
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Fray Juan Bautista Maino, Pentecost
Spanish, c. 1615-1620
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Charles Le Brun, Pentecost
French c. 1656-1657
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Jean Restout, Pentecost
French, 1732
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Joseph Ignaz Mildorfer, Pentecost 
Austrian, c. 1750s
Budapest, Magyar Nemzeti Galeria

Vincenzo Meucci, Pentecost
Italian, 1753
Pistoia, Church of San Leone

Constantin Prevost, Pentecost
French, 1842
Lavaur, Musée du pays vaurais

Gustave Dore, Pentecost
from La Sainte Bible
French, 1866

The other image can best be described as bursts of energy, usually shown as lines, coming from one central point, often the dove of the Holy Spirit. The lines reach to the head of each person, and occasionally end in a tongue of fire.

From an Illustrated Vita Christi with Devotional Supplements
English (York), c. 1190-1200
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS 101, fol. 91r

Pentecost Window
Italian, c. 1255
Assisi, Basilica di San Francesco, Upper Church

Jean Fouquet, Pentecost
from Hours of Etienne Chevalier
French (Tours), 1420
Chantilly, Musée Condé  
MS 71, fol.21

From a Book of Hours
French (Rouen), c. 1475-1499
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G 4, fol. 98r

Jean Poyer, Pentecost
from Hours of Henry VIII
France (Tours), 1500
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS H 8, fol.101v

Jan Joest of Kalkar, Pentecost
Dutch, 1508
Kleve, Parish Church St. Nicholas

Juan de Flandes, Pentecost
Flemish, c. 1514-1519
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

From an Altarpiece
German, 1515
Bad Segeberg, Evangelical Church of Saint Mary (Former Augustinian Cloister Church)

Some images from the late Renaissance period on eschew either tongues of fire or distinctive rays of light for a more generalized vision of a bright glow, usually emanating from the symbolic Dove of the Holy Spirit.

Master of 1518, Pentecost
Flemish, c.1520
Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland

Workshop of Bernard van Orley, Pentecost
Flemish, 1520-1525
Chicago, Art Institute

Frencesco Salviati, Pentecost
Italian, c. 1549-1550
Rome, Church of Santa Maria dell'Anima, Chapel of Margrave Johann Albrecht of Brandenburg

Jean Jouvenet, Pentecost
French, 1709
Versailles, Royal Chapel

Johann Jakob Zeiller, Pentecost
German, c. 1757-1764
Ottobeuren, Monastery Church of Saints Theodore and Alexander

Representations of the Pentecost event have not ceased to be produced.  A relatively recent work takes us back to some of the earliest images.
Peter Minchell, Pentecost
American, c.1972-1976
Philadelphia, Museum of Art

© M. Duffy, 2008, revised 2016, majority of pictures renewed 2022, further updated and revised 2023.

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.