Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Long Lost Diptych

Lorenzo Monaco
Diptych: Madonna of Humility
c. 1420
Panel, 22,8 x 17,8 cm
Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen

Lorenzo Monaco
Diptych: St Jerome
c. 1420
Panel, 32 x 18 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Diptych as perhaps once seen

Both panels (now hundreds of miles apart) originally formed a diptych: the Madonna of Humility in Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen; the St Jerome in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. They are meant for private devotion.

It is believed that the diptych of St Jerome and the Virgin was used as a visual aid by a learned monk in the monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence, where Lorenzo also lived and for which he made many works of art.

The devotional theme of the Madonna of Humility ("Madonna dell'Umiltà") arose in the late 13th century, spreading across Italy during the next century and becoming particularly popular in cities such as Siena. From Italy it spread to other countries including Spain, where it was widely accepted, particularly in Catalunya. It was particularly popular in Sienese painting during the fourteenth century and in particular in the work of Simone Martini at Avignon.

However some have persuasively argued that the image does have a longer history suggesting a longer process of development, with a key role for manuscript illumination in Metz.

The Virgin is seated humbly on the ground, in a pose that emphasises her humanity and her submission to divine will.

It emphasises her humanity and motherhood, as opposed to the Madonna Enthroned, which presents her as the Queen of Heaven.

The two iconographic types of Marian images which were particularly influential in the history of art were the Virgin of Humility and the Virgin and Child enthroned.

Mary's humility was considered a necessary precondition for her role as Mother of Christ by Bernard of Clairvaux who wrote:

"Who is this virgin noble enough to be greeted by an angel and yet humble enough to be the fiancée of a workman? How gracious is this union of virginity and humility... Had Mary not been humble, then, the Holy Spirit would not have rested upon her, she would not have become pregnant." (Bernard of Clairvaux, Homily 1, in Magnifcat, pp.9- 10.)

St Jerome "earned" his "sainthood" by amongst other things, translating the Bible into Latin from Greek and Hebrew. Rather than a cardinal, Lorenzo preferred to show the saint as a monk although Jerome's red cardinal's hat can be glimpsed.

Saint Jerome defended Mary’s Perpetual Virginity. He had a particular devotion to Mary. He lived in Bethlehem. It is reputed that he started the tradition of saying that the word "Mary" meant "Star of the Sea". The tradition of Jerome as a scholar and the rise of the Hieronymites led to the popularity of St Jerome in the thirteenth cetury and beyond. His depiction became popular and more evident in the art of the thirteenth century and beyond,