Monday, December 08, 2014

Vasari and The Immaculate Conception

Giorgio Vasari (1512-1574)
The Immaculate Conception 
Oil on panel
Santi Apostoli, Florence

Giorgio Vasari (1512-1574)
The Immaculate Conception
Brown ink and wash, blank ink and pencil on parchment
51.8 x 35.7 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris (D.A.G)

The artist said of this work:
"In October, then, of the year 1540, I began the altar-picture for Messer Bindo, proposing to paint in it a scene that should represent the Conception of Our Lady, according to the title of the chapel; which subject presenting no little difficulty to me, Messer Bindo and I took the opinions of many common friends, men of learning, and finally I executed it in the following manner.  
Having depicted the Tree of the Primal Sin in the middle of the picture, I painted at its roots Adam and Eve naked and bound, as the first transgressors of the commandment of God, and then one by one, bound to the other branches, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, David, and the other Kings in succession, according to the order of time; all, I say, bound by both arms, excepting Samuel and John the Baptist, who are bound by one arm only, because they were blessed in the womb.  
I painted there, also, with the tail wound about the trunk of the Tree, the Ancient Serpent, who, having a human form from the middle upwards, has the hands bound behind; and upon his head, treading upon his horns, is one foot of the glorious Virgin, who has the other on a Moon, being herself all clothed with the Sun, and crowned with twelve stars.  
The Virgin, I say, is supported in the air, within a Splendour, by many nude little Angels, who are illumined by the rays that come from her; which rays, likewise, passing through the leaves of the Tree, shed light upon those bound to it, and appear to be loosing their bonds by means of the virtue and grace that they bring from her from whom they proceed. 
And in the heaven, at the top of the picture, are two children that are holding certain scrolls, in which are written these words: QUOS EVAE CULPA DAMNAVIT, MARIAE GRATIA SOLVIT. [Those whom the fault of Eve damned, the grace of Mary saved] 
In short, so far as I can remember, I had not executed any work up to that time with more study or with more lovingness and labour; but all the same, while I may perhaps have satisfied others, I did not satisfy myself, although I know the time, study, and labour that I devoted to it, particularly to the nudes and heads, and, indeed, to every part. 
For the labours of that picture Messer Bindo gave me three hundred crowns of gold, besides which, in the following year, he showed me so many courtesies and kindnesses in his house in Rome, where I made him a copy of the same altar-piece in a little picture, almost in miniature, that I shall always feel an obligation to his memory. " 
Giorgio Vasari,  Lives of the most eminent painters, sculptors & architects Trans Gaston de Vere 1912 - 15 (Volume  10, pp 185 - 186)

Bindo Altoviti  was a rich Floretine banker who engaged Vasari for the work in the family chapel in the Church of Santi Apostoli in Florence

It is still there in situ

The work was a great success and many copies and replicas were made

The Church itself was founded about 800 and was popularly called Il  Vecchio Duomo

It is situated in Piazza del Limbo

It was called Piazza del Limbo because it used to house a cemetery for neonates who had not been baptised. In The Divine Comedy, Dante refers to it to as a subterranean part of the material world

The work depicts Mary as the New Eve who remedies the evil unleashed through Eve and by her grace is the sine qua non by which the Gates of Heaven are re-opened and the Old Testament saints released from Limbo

Mary is depicted as being so blessed and powerful she is depicted as descending into Limbo itself

This work was the epitome of a new Florentine iconography of The Immaculate Conception which remained popular 

The Scriptural sources are Genesis 3:15 and Revelation 12:1

However references to Limbo and The Harrowing of Hell  also bring to mind the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus

In that Gospel, Christ is the one who descends into Hades to deliver the Patriarchs, not Mary

However in the Gospel reference is made repeatedly to Christ as the breaker of chains, the same designation given by Vasari to Mary

For example
"Ecce iam iste Iesus suae divinitatis fulgore fugat omnes tenebres mortis, et firma ima carceris confregit, et ejecit captivos et solvit vinctos" (Chapter 23)
In this work Mary is shown as defeating the Serpent alone

This was not acceptable and by 1543 Vasari had changed the inscription on another Immaculate Conception (now in Lucca) to:
"Quod Eva tristis abstulit, tu reddis almo germine"
Christ is firmly the Redeemer

In 1572 St Pope Pius V settled the matter and decreed that in iconography of The Immaculate Conception where Mary is shown crushing the head of the Serpent, she must be shown as accompanied by her son, Jesus, the  Redeemer

See also Donal O’Connor, G. Vasari’s Allegory of the Immaculate Conception and its Theological Tensions  in Irish Theological Quarterly, 2000, 65, p. 169-177

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ecce Homo

Hans Hausser von Ach  (1576-1612) 
Ecce Homo
c 1603
Pen and ink (brown) on paper (light buff)
26.0 cm x 34.0 cm
The Courtauld Gallery, London

Rembrandt van Rijn  (1606 - 1669) 
Christ Presented to the People (Ecce Homo)
c 1655
Drypoint, printed in black ink on cream-colored Asiatic wove paper
38.4 x 45.1 cm
The Frick Collection, New York

Christ is presented to the people who clamour for his crucifixion. 

It was Pilate and the Romans who ironically referred to Christ as "King"

"Pilate tried to release him; but the Jews cried out, “If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” 
13 When Pilate heard these words he brought Jesus out and seated him on the judge’s bench in the place called Stone Pavement, in Hebrew, Gabbatha
14 It was preparation day for Passover, and it was about noon. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your king!” 
15 They cried out, “Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your king?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 
16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified"
(John 19: 12 - 16)
In the New Testament, Christ is referred to as "King of the Jews" by the Magi, Pilate and the Roman soldiers. He is mocked by the Romans. 

On the Cross they affixed the plaque "INRI"  - IESVS·NAZARENVS·REX·IVDÆORVM (Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum)

In Quas Primas (1925), in instituting  the Feast of Christ the King (now called "the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe")  Pope Pius XI wrote:
"[T]his power and dignity of Our Lord [as King] is rightly indicated by Cyril of Alexandria. "Christ," he says, "has dominion over all creatures, a dominion not seized by violence nor usurped, but his by essence and by nature."[In huc. x.] 
 His kingship is founded upon the ineffable hypostatic union. From this it follows not only that Christ is to be adored by angels and men, but that to him as man angels and men are subject, and must recognize his empire; by reason of the hypostatic union Christ has power over all creatures.  
But a thought that must give us even greater joy and consolation is this that Christ is our King by acquired, as well as by natural right, for he is our Redeemer.  
Would that they who forget what they have cost their Savior might recall the words:
"You were not redeemed with corruptible things, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled."[I Pet. i, 18-19
We are no longer our own property, for Christ has purchased us "with a great price"[1 Cor. vi, 20];  our very bodies are the "members of Christ."[I Cor. vi, 15] ... 
This kingdom is spiritual and is concerned with spiritual things.  ...  
On many occasions, when the Jews and even the Apostles wrongly supposed that the Messiah would restore the liberties and the kingdom of Israel, he repelled and denied such a suggestion. When the populace thronged around him in admiration and would have acclaimed him King, he shrank from the honour and sought safety in flight. Before the Roman magistrate he declared that his kingdom was not of this world.  
The gospels present this kingdom as one which men prepare to enter by penance, and cannot actually enter except by faith and by baptism, which, though an external rite, signifies and produces an interior regeneration. This kingdom is opposed to none other than to that of Satan and to the power of darkness.  
It demands of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice, and more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross."

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Guillaume de Digulleville

The Soul of the Pilgrim in the Flames of Purgatory
Miniature from Guillaume de Digulleville Pèlerinage de l'âme
14th century
Bibl. Sainte-Geneviève - ms. 1130, f. 110

Le Pèlerinage de l'Âme is a fourteenth-century poem written in Old French by Guillaume de Deguileville  (1295 - before 1358)

Guillaume de Deguileville  was a French  Cistercian 

He entered the Cistercian abbey of Chaalis in 1316, at the age of twenty-one.

He  was over 60 years old when writing the Âme. The cloistered monk had not left the monastery grounds for 40 years or more

Le Pèlerinage de l'Âme was one of three long poems which he wrote on the theme of man as a traveller, a pilgrim on the road to the Spiritual Jerusalem: Le Pèlerinage de la vie humaine (1330-31); Le Pèlerinage de l'Âme (1355-58); and Le Pèlerinage de Jésus Christ (1358)

All come to the same conclusion: to reach the Celestial Jerusalem, one must experience Death

The setting is a dream but the theme is the same: How does mortal Man save his Immortal Soul

Deguileville was followed by Chemin de vaillance by Jean de Courcy and Chemin de paradis by  Jean Germain, 

In these works the interest lies not not only in the destination itself but the voyage, the means of getting there

The interior journey

Of Purgatory Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Spe Salvi:

"For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God.  
In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul.  
What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge?  
Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter? What else might occur?  
Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, gives us an idea of the differing impact of God's judgement according to each person's particular circumstances. He does this using images which in some way try to express the invisible, without it being possible for us to conceptualize these images—simply because we can neither see into the world beyond death nor do we have any experience of it. 
Paul begins by saying that Christian life is built upon a common foundation: Jesus Christ. This foundation endures. If we have stood firm on this foundation and built our life upon it, we know that it cannot be taken away from us even in death.  
Then Paul continues: 
“Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:12-15). 
In this text, it is in any case evident that our salvation can take different forms, that some of what is built may be burned down, that in order to be saved we personally have to pass through “fire” so as to become fully open to receiving God and able to take our place at the table of the eternal marriage-feast."