Monday, April 07, 2014

Jacopo da Sellaio and The Passion

Jacopo da Sellaio (c. 1441–1493), sometimes known as Jacopo di Arcangel
Cristo salvatore con i simboli della passione
Tempera on panel
28.3 cm x 35 cm
Accademia Carrara, Bergamo

Jacopo da Sellaio (c. 1441–1493), sometimes known as Jacopo di Arcangel
Christ with Instruments of the Passion
c. 1485
Tempera on panel
67 cm x 50.8 cm
Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama

Jacopo da Sellaio (c. 1441–1493), sometimes known as Jacopo di Arcangel
Votive Altarpiece: the Trinity, the Virgin, St. John and Donors
c. 1480 - 5
Tempera on panel
127 cm  x 75 cm
The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

The Passion and the Crucifixion are the themes of the above three works by the Florentine artist, Jacopo da Sellaio (c. 1441–1493)

He was so named because his father was a saddler

Said by Vasari to be a pupil of Fra Filippo Lippi, his style is eclectic and his more mature work  shows the influence of  Filippino Lippi, Botticelli, and also of  Domenico Ghirlandaio

From the late 1470s until his death, Sellaio was one of the most productive Florentine painters of his generation. He maintained a professional workshop in Florence with Filippo di Giuliano

The first two works depict Christ with Arma Christi ("Weapons of Christ"), or the Instruments of the Passion

They were an aid to the  contemplation of the suffering of Christ.

As well as the Crown of Thorns we see the  whips by which he was scourged, the nails that pinned him to the Cross, the spear that pierced his side and the sponge full of vinegar he was given to drink

As the Man of Sorrows, we recall  Isaiah (53: 3)
‘He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief’.
In Thurston, H. (1911). Devotion to the Passion of Christ. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved April 7, 2014 from New Advent we learn of the great lay devotion to the Passion of Our Lord in the Middle Ages:
"[I]n the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries we have innumerable illustrations of the adoption by the laity of new practices of piety to honour Our Lord's Passion. 
One of the most fruitful and practical was that type of spiritual pilgrimage to the Holy Places of Jerusalem, which eventually crystalized into what is now known to us as the "Way of the Cross". The "Seven Falls" and the "Seven Bloodsheddings" of Christ may be regarded as variants of this form of devotion. 
How truly genuine was the piety evoked in an actual pilgrimage to the Holy Land is made very clear, among other documents, by the narrative of the journeys of the Dominican Felix Fabri at the close of the fifteenth century, and the immense labour taken to obtain exact measurements shows how deeply men's hearts were stirred by even a counterfeit pilgrimage. 
Equally to this period belong both the popularity of the Little Offices of the Cross and "De Passione", which are found in so many of the Horæ, manuscript and printed, and also the introduction of new Masses in honour of the Passion, such for example as those which are now almost universally celebrated upon the Fridays of Lent. 
Lastly, an inspection of the prayer-books compiled towards the close of the Middle Ages for the use of the laity, such as the "Horæ Beatæ Mariæ Virginis", the "Hortulus Animæ", the "Paradisus Animæ" etc., shows the existence of an immense number of prayers either connected with incidents in the Passion or addressed to Jesus Christ upon the Cross. 
The best known of these perhaps were the fifteen prayers attributed to St. Bridget, and described most commonly in English as "the Fifteen O's", from the exclamation with which each began"

The third painting was  an altarpiece commissioned by a widower in memory of his wife and daughter and was donated to a church in Florence. 

It is an "In Memoriam", a symbol of grief by those left behind

Like the second painting, the composition shows the city of Florence straddling the Arno River in the background

Florence is the scene of grief and Christ is at the centre of those who suffer

But in the third painting we see  the Holy Trinity of God, the Holy Spirit and Christ seen at the top of the composition. At the base of the Cross, the corpses of two women, thought to be mother and daughter, are laid out. 

On either side, the donor of the work and his son are shown accompanied by the Virgin and St John.

They are in mourning and the mourners invoke the Saints who mourned Our Lord while he died and at the moment of his death and beyond. Until His glorious Resurrection

The bereft father and son seek consolation and explanation

In the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Blessed Pope John Paul II made what seemed a digression but which went to the very heart of what was one of the great themes of his Pontificate: "The Gospel of Life".

At the centre of his meditation was the Passion and Crucifixion of Our Lord which puts into proper context and relief all of the medieval Church`s  devotion to the Passion

""They shall look on him whom they have pierced" (Jn 19:37): the Gospel of life is brought to fulfilment on the tree of the Cross
50. At the end of this chapter, in which we have reflected on the Christian message about life, I would like to pause with each one of you to contemplate the One who was pierced and who draws all people to himself (cf. Jn 19:37; 12:32). Looking at "the spectacle" of the Cross (cf. Lk 23:48) we shall discover in this glorious tree the fulfilment and the complete revelation of the whole Gospel of life. 
In the early afternoon of Good Friday, "there was darkness over the whole land ... while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two" (Lk 23:44, 45). This is the symbol of a great cosmic disturbance and a massive conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil, between life and death. 
Today we too find ourselves in the midst of a dramatic conflict between the "culture of death" and the "culture of life". 
But the glory of the Cross is not overcome by this darkness; rather, it shines forth ever more radiantly and brightly, and is revealed as the centre, meaning and goal of all history and of every human life. 
Jesus is nailed to the Cross and is lifted up from the earth. He experiences the moment of his greatest "powerlessness", and his life seems completely delivered to the derision of his adversaries and into the hands of his executioners: he is mocked, jeered at, insulted (cf. Mk 15:24-36). 
And yet, precisely amid all this, having seen him breathe his last, the Roman centurion exclaims: "Truly this man was the Son of God!" (Mk 15:39). It is thus, at the moment of his greatest weakness, that the the Son of God is revealed for who he is: on the Cross his glory is made manifest. 
By his death, Jesus sheds light on the meaning of the life and death of every human being. 
Before he dies, Jesus prays to the Father, asking forgiveness for his persecutors (cf. Lk 23:34), and to the criminal who asks him to remember him in his kingdom he replies: "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk 23:43). After his death "the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised" (Mt 27:52). 
The salvation wrought by Jesus is the bestowal of life and resurrection. Throughout his earthly life, Jesus had indeed bestowed salvation by healing and doing good to all (cf. Acts 10:38). But his miracles, healings and even his raising of the dead were signs of another salvation, a salvation which consists in the forgiveness of sins, that is, in setting man free from his greatest sickness and in raising him to the very life of God. 
On the Cross, the miracle of the serpent lifted up by Moses in the desert (Jn 3:14-15; cf. Num 21:8-9) is renewed and brought to full and definitive perfection. Today too, by looking upon the one who was pierced, every person whose life is threatened encounters the sure hope of finding freedom and redemption.  
51. But there is yet another particular event which moves me deeply when I consider it. "When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, `It is finished'; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit" (Jn 19:30). Afterwards, the Roman soldier "pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water" (Jn 19:34). 
Everything has now reached its complete fulfilment. 
The "giving up" of the spirit describes Jesus' death, a death like that of every other human being, but it also seems to allude to the "gift of the Spirit", by which Jesus ransoms us from death and opens before us a new life. 
It is the very life of God which is now shared with man. It is the life which through the Sacraments of the Church-symbolized by the blood and water flowing from Christ's side-is continually given to God's children, making them the people of the New Covenant. From the Cross, the source of life, the "people of life" is born and increases. 
The contemplation of the Cross thus brings us to the very heart of all that has taken place. Jesus, who upon entering into the world said: "I have come, O God, to do your will" (cf. Heb 10:9), made himself obedient to the Father in everything and, "having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (Jn 13:1), giving himself completely for them. 
He who had come "not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45), attains on the Cross the heights of love: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13). And he died for us while we were yet sinners (cf. Rom 5:8). 
In this way Jesus proclaims that life finds its centre, its meaning and its fulfilment when it is given up. 
At this point our meditation becomes praise and thanksgiving, and at the same time urges us to imitate Christ and follow in his footsteps (cf. 1 Pt 2:21). 
We too are called to give our lives for our brothers and sisters, and thus to realize in the fullness of truth the meaning and destiny of our existence. 
We shall be able to do this because you, O Lord, have given us the example and have bestowed on us the power of your Spirit. We shall be able to do this if every day, with you and like you, we are obedient to the Father and do his will. 
Grant, therefore, that we may listen with open and generous hearts to every word which proceeds from the mouth of God. Thus we shall learn not only to obey the commandment not to kill human life, but also to revere life, to love it and to foster it."
In the days of when mass industrial warfare, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are legitimised and practised on a scale hitherto undreamed of, it is no wonder that we moderns can only gaze with incomprehension, incredulity and lack of empathy and emotion  at such medieval art of the Passion and Crucifixion