Sunday, July 20, 2014

Visions of St Bernard of Clairvaux

Fra' Filippo Lippi, O.Carm. (c. 1406 – 8 October 1469)
Saint Bernard's Vision of the Virgin
Egg tempera on wood
94.3 x 106 cm
The National Gallery, London

The work depicts the dialogue between the Virgin and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 - 1153) about Christ's Passion. 
 "You offer your Son, Holy Virgin, and you present to the Lord the blessed fruit of your womb. You offer the holy victim, pleasing to God, for the reconciliation of us all" (St Bernard)
Mary is depicted after the Annunciation and prior to the Nativity of Christ

St Bernard wrote much about Mary

Of the Annunciation and Pentecost, St Bernard wrote:
""Coming to her the Holy Spirit filled her with grace for herself; when the same Spirit pervaded her again she became superabundant and redounding in grace for us also." (Second homily Super Missus est, n. 2: PL 183, 64.)
He reminds us that Mary "believes, trusts and accepts" (Homily, IV, 8)

In this image we see Saint Bernard's Vision of the Virgin and the Infant Child Jesus

Simon Marmion (about 1425 -1489)
Saint Bernard's Vision of the Virgin and Child
French, probably Valenciennes, about 1475 - 1480 
Tempera colors and gold on parchment 
4 9/16 x 2 1/2 in. 
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

One day, kneeling before a statue of the Virgin, Saint Bernard (1090-1153) prayed, "Show yourself to be a mother."

These words are written in Latin and in gold on the parchment above the Virgin`s head

The artist depicts the vision of the saint showing the Virgin and Child coming to life

We are reminded, as the Second Vatican Council said, that  the bond between Mary and Jesus is "intimate and indissoluble." 

Christianity is the religion of the 
"Word" of God, a word which is "not a written and mute word, but the Word is incarnate and living" (St. Bernard, Super Missus est Hom. 4,11:PL 183,86.)
In his search for God, the Mystical St Bernard said of the soul who searches for God:
 "it is not for liberty that she asks, nor for an award, not for an inheritance nor even knowledge, but for a kiss [of God]. It is obviously the request of a bride who is chaste, who breathes forth a love that is holy, a love whose ardor she cannot entirely disguise" (Bernard, Super cantica canticorum, 7,2; Song of Songs I, p. 39, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, Michigan 1981). 

Juan Correa de Vivar (1510 - 16 April 1566)
Death of St Bernard
Oil on panel
138 cm x 97 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

On his deathbed, St Bernard is visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary

In attendance are St Lawrence and St Benedict along with two Cistercian monks

The normal rules of time and space are suspended

The work was commissioned for the Cistercian monastery of Santa María la Real de Valdeiglesias in Madrid which contained many of the artist`s works before the confiscation took place in 1836

Two quinces are on a boook on the table. Water and hyssop are on the floor

The scene is simple and perhaps austere

One sees the monastery garden in the near distance

His last year was marred by greatly failing health

When it was clear that the end was near, his monks prayed for his recovery. However he told them  " Why do you thus detain a miserable man? Spare me. Spare me, and let me depart." 

He died August 20, 1153, shortly after his disciple Pope Eugenius III.

The work below is thought to be the first European altarpiece to employ the iconographic style for St Bernard. The style is medieval Majorcan. The lactation scene is the first time  the scene was reproduced in graphic form

It is thought that the work was commissioned by the Commander of the Order of the Temple in Mallorca 

Unknown artist
Retablo de San Bernardo
c. 1285 - 1290
Tempera on wood
153 cm x 225 cm
Museu de Mallorca, Palma, Majorca, Balearic Islands

To finish here is a beautiful miniature portrait of the saint by the Ferrara artist Taddeo Crivelli from The Gualenghi-d'Este Hours

Taddeo Crivelli (Died about 1479, active about 1451 - 1479)
Saint Bernard
About 1469
Tempera colours, gold paint, gold leaf, and ink on parchment
10.8 x 7.9 cm (4 1/4 x 3 1/8 in.)
Ms. Ludwig IX 13, fol. 183v (The Gualenghi-d'Este Hours)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

In one of his homilies he recites the beautiful invocation to Mary which has been repeated over the generations:
"In danger, in distress, in uncertainty ... think of Mary, call upon Mary. She never leaves your lips, she never departs from your heart; and so that you may obtain the help of her prayers, never forget the example of her life. If you follow her, you cannot falter; if you pray to her, you cannot despair; if you think of her, you cannot err. If she sustains you, you will not stumble; if she protects you, you have nothing to fear; if she guides you, you will never flag; if she is favourable to you, you will attain your goal..." (Hom. II Super Missus est, 17: PL 183, 70-71).

In another Homily he recites another beautiful prayer to the Lord extolling constancy and serenity in the darkness of the night and of trial, and in the light of day and of joy:
" I will bless the Lord at all times, namely from morning until evening, as I have learned to do, and not like those who only praise you when you do good to them, nor like those who believe for a certain time, but in the hour of temptation give way; but with the saints I will say:  If we received good things from the hand of God, should we not also accept evil things? ... Thus both these moments of the day will be a time of service to God, because at night there will be weeping, and in the morning, joy. I will submerge myself in suffering at night so that I can then enjoy the happiness of the morning" (Scriptorium Claravallense, Sermo III, n. 6, Milan 2000, pp. 59-60).