Master of the Chronique scandaleuse (French, active about 1493 - 1510)
Virgin in Cloud of Angels, with Saints Barbara and Catherine
From The Poncher Hours
Tempera colors, ink, and gold on parchment
5 1/4 x 3 7/16 in.
MS. 109, Fol. 64
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
The manuscript book of hours ("The Ponchet Hours") is known to have been made for the French noblewoman Denise Poncher in Paris around 1500.
Her father served as treasurer of wars for the French crown and her uncle was bishop of Paris. Stephen Ponchet was Bishop from 1502 to 1519, and Minister of Justice under Louis XII
The cycle of illuminations begins with a miniature of the Virgin in a mandorla flanked by saints Barbara and Catherine. It is a firm recommendation to the reader of how she should keep these figures at the forefront of her devotions
Saints Barbara and Catherine of Alexandria were popular in the early 16th century and considered the most important of the venerated Fourteen Holy Helpers.
In a 15th-century French biography of St Barbara it was stated that those who venerated her would not die without making confession and receiving extreme unction
She is often depicted in art as standing by a tower with three windows, carrying a palm branch and a chalice
Devotion to St. Catherine increased tremendously in Europe after the Crusades, and received additional veneration in France in the beginning of the fifteenth century, when it was said that she had appeared to Joan of Arc and, together with St. Margaret, had been divinely appointed Joan's adviser.
St. Catherine was the patroness of young maidens and female students. She was regarded as the holiest and most illustrious of the virgins of Christ.
The mandorla is a vesica piscis shaped aureola which surrounds the figures of Christ and the Virgin Mary in traditional Christian art.
In icons of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the mandorla is used to depict sacred moments which transcend time and space, such as the Resurrection, Transfiguration, and the Dormition of the Theotokos.
Here we see the Virgin surrounded by angels after her Assumption and coronation as Queen of Heaven
In Dante`s Paradiso Cantos 31 and 32, St Bernard of Clairvaux takes over the role of Beatrice in showing Dante the upper reaches of Heaven
In Canto 31, St Bernard directs Dante`s attention to the Virgin, Queen of Heaven. To gaze upon the face of Christ, one should first fix one`s gaze on His mother:
"And he, the holy elder, said: “That youmay consummate your journey perfectly—for this, both prayer and holy love have sent meto help you—let your sight fly round this garden;by gazing so, your vision will be mademore ready to ascend through God’s own ray.
The Queen of Heaven, for whom I am allaflame with love, will grant us every grace:I am her faithful Bernard.” Just as onewho, from Croatia perhaps, has cometo visit our Veronica—one whoseold hunger is not sated, who, as longas it is shown, repeats these words in thought:“O my Lord Jesus Christ, true God, was thenYour image like the image I see now?”—
Such was I as I watched the living loveof him who, in this world, in contemplation,tasted that peace. And he said: “Son of grace,you will not come to know this joyous stateif your eyes only look down at the base;but look upon the circles, look at thosethat sit in a position more remote,until you see upon her seat the Queento whom this realm is subject and devoted.”
I lifted up my eyes; and as, at morning,the eastern side of the horizon showsmore splendour than the side where the sun sets,so, as if climbing with my eyes from valleyto summit, I saw one part of the farthestrank of the Rose more bright than all the rest.
And as, on earth, the point where we awaitthe shaft that Phaethon had misguided glowsbrightest, while, to each side, the light shades off,so did the peaceful oriflamme appearbrightest at its midpoint, so did its flame,on each side, taper off at equal pace.
I saw, around that midpoint, festive angels—more than a thousand—with their wings outspread;each was distinct in splendour and in skill.
And there I saw a loveliness that whenit smiled at the angelic songs and gamesmade glad the eyes of all the other saints.And even if my speech were rich as myimagination is, I should not tryto tell the very least of her delights.
Bernard—when he had seen my eyes intent,fixed on the object of his burning fervour—turned his own eyes to her with such affectionthat he made mine gaze still more ardently."