Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Precious Blood

f. 7r, Christ crucified between the two thieves, with the Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist, and Joseph of Arimathea collecting Christ's blood in a dish
From Estoire del Saint Graal
History of the Holy Grail
c 1315-1325
French gold leaf miniature
Royal MS 14 E III
The British Library, London

The 14th century manuscript consists of three stories: Estoire del Saint Graal, La Queste del Saint Graal, and Morte Artu

It was made in Northern France, possibly Saint-Omer or Tournai

It was in the ownership of King Charles V, (1338 - 1380), King of France 

Somehow it made  its way to England and was included in the inventory of the Library at Richmond Palace in 1535

The three texts were from  the Lancelot-Grail Prose Cycle

The Legend of the Holy Grail is the centrepiece of the Arthurian legend

The container for the royal blood of Christ whether from being the cup used at The Last Supper or as here otherwise was a treasure beyond price and beyond all other treasures lusted after by mankind throughout the ages

A more  modern version is seen here in a painting by Rossetti, now in the Tate

Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828–1882
How Sir Galahad, Sir Bors and Sir Percival Were Fed with the Sanct Grael; but Sir Percival’s Sister Died by the Way 
Watercolour and gouache on paper
292 x 419 mm
Tate Britain, London

In this painting Rossetti shows Percival, who achieves the Grail quest with his fellow knights, Galahad and Bors. 

We also see his sister who heals a woman who could only be saved by the blood of a virgin. Rossetti shows the knights receiving the Grail before an altar. 

Beside them Percival's sister lies on the ground awaiting burial. 

The lily symbolises her purity.

In Malory`s work, the values of the Grail are purity, chastity, Christian asceticism, sacrifice and repentance

Against this we see depicted the sexual mores of the Morte D`arthur, its Court and the aristocratic elite

Christian purity and virtue  is to be valued above martial prowess and force

In the course of the grail quest, Gawain has a vision of three white bulls, one of which has a single black spot. cien explains the vision, allegorizing the bulls as the three knights who attain the Grail:
And the three bulls whych were whyght sauff only one had bene spotted? The too whyght betokenythe sir Galahad and sir Percivale, for they be maydyns and clene withoute spotte, and the thirde, that had a spotte, signifieth sir Bors de Gaynes, which trespassed but onys in hys virginité. But sithyn he kepyth hymselff so wel in chastité that all ys forgyffyn hym and hys myssededys. 

The chalice as the vessel of the most precious blood of Christ is a recurrent theme in medieval and early renaissance art

Here is a small example from The Hours of Bonaparte Ghislieri, or formerly known as The Albani Hours

Attributed to Matteo da Milano (documented 1504-1512)
f. 1r: St John the Evangelist holding a chalice with a serpent (January).
From The Hours of Bonaparte Ghislieri, or formerly known as The Albani Hours
c. 1500
Illustrated manuscript
Yates Thompson MS 29
The British Library, London

St John the Evangelist is holding the Chalice in which the precious blood of Christ is contained

There are two passages in St John`s Gospel which are relevant

In the discourse with Nicodemus in John Chapter 3, Christ says:
"14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life"
In John 6 we read:
53 Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.
54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.
55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him."

Jesus, exalted to glory at his cross and resurrection, represents healing and eternal life for all

And in the depictions of the Apocalypse especially Chapter 14 of Revelation (The Worship of the Lamb) we see the same theme on vivid display

Here is Albrecht Durer`s depiction

Albrecht Durer 1471 - 1528
Revelation 14: The Adoration of the Lamb
27.8 x 28.2 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The Evangelist, in  a vision, sees appear "on Mount Zion Lamb surrounded by hundred forty-four thousand people," elected, "inscribed on the front bearing their name and the name of His Father "

The apostle is also invited by one of the twenty-four elders to come and worship the Lamb.

To the left,  facing the Lamb, a bishop uses a  chalice to collect the blood that flows from the side of the animal, and this gesture evokes the Eucharistic aspect of the scene.