Saturday, August 16, 2014

Mary, Angels and Saints

Master of the Chronique scandaleuse (French, active about 1493 - 1510)
Virgin in Cloud of Angels, with Saints Barbara and Catherine
From The Poncher Hours
about 1500 
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 you
may consummate your journey perfectly—
for this, both prayer and holy love have sent me
 to help you—let your sight fly round this garden;
by gazing so, your vision will be made
more ready to ascend through God’s own ray.
The Queen of Heaven, for whom I am all
aflame with love, will grant us every grace:
I am her faithful Bernard.” Just as one
 who, from Croatia perhaps, has come
to visit our Veronica—one whose
old hunger is not sated, who, as long
as it is shown, repeats these words in thought:
“O my Lord Jesus Christ, true God, was then
Your image like the image I see now?”—
Such was I as I watched the living love
of him who, in this world, in contemplation,
tasted that peace. And he said: “Son of grace,
you will not come to know this joyous state
if your eyes only look down at the base;
but look upon the circles, look at those
that sit in a position more remote,
until you see upon her seat the Queen
to whom this realm is subject and devoted.”
I lifted up my eyes; and as, at morning,
the eastern side of the horizon shows
more splendour than the side where the sun sets,
so, as if climbing with my eyes from valley
to summit, I saw one part of the farthest
rank of the Rose more bright than all the rest.  
And as, on earth, the point where we await
the shaft that Phaethon had misguided glows
brightest, while, to each side, the light shades off,
so did the peaceful oriflamme appear
brightest 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 when
it smiled at the angelic songs and games
made glad the eyes of all the other saints.
And even if my speech were rich as my
imagination is, I should not try
to 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 affection
that he made mine gaze still more ardently."

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