By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Legends of the Madonna
Author: Jameson, Mrs., 1794-1860
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Legends of the Madonna" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.








The Riverside Press, Cambridge.


Some months since Mrs. Jameson kindly consented to prepare for this
Edition of her writings the series of _Sacred and Legendary Art_, but
dying before she had time to fulfil her promise, the arrangement has
been intrusted to other hands. The text of the whole series will be an
exact reprint of the last English Edition.


BOSTON, Oct. 1st, 1860.



  Origin of the Worship of the Madonna.
  Earliest artistic Representations.
  Origin of the Group of the Virgin and Child in the Fifth Century.
  The First Council at Ephesus.
  The Iconoclasts.
  First Appearance of the Effigy of the Virgin on Coins.
  Period of Charlemagne.
  Period of the Crusades.
  Revival of Art in the Thirteenth Century.
  The Fourteenth Century.
  Influence of Dante.
  The Fifteenth Century.
  The Council of Constance and the Hussite Wars.
  The Sixteenth Century.
  The Luxury of Church Pictures.
  The Influence of Classical Literature on the Representations of the
  The Seventeenth Century.
  Theological Art.
  Spanish Art.
  Influence of Jesuitism on Art.
  Authorities followed by Painters in the earliest Times.
  Legend of St. Luke.
  Character of the Virgin Mary as drawn in the Gospels.
  Early Descriptions of her Person; how far attended to by the Painters.
  Poetical Extracts descriptive of the Virgin Mary.

  Proper Costume and Colours.

  The Life of the Virgin Mary as treated in a Series.
  The Seven Joys and Seven Sorrows as a Series.
  Titles of the Virgin, as expressed in Pictures and Effigies.
  Churches dedicated to her.





LA VERGINE GLORIOSA. Earliest Figures. The Mosaics. The Virgin of San
  Venanzio. The Virgin of Spoleto.

The Enthroned Virgin without the Child, as type of heavenly Wisdom.
  Various Examples.

L'INCORONATA, the Type of the Church triumphant. The Virgin crowned by
  her Son. Examples from the old Mosaics. Examples of the Coronation of
  the Virgin from various Painters.

The VIRGIN OF MERCY, as she is represented in the Last Judgment.

The Virgin, as Dispenser of Mercy on Earth. Various Examples.

The MATER DOLOROSA seated and standing, with the Seven Swords.

The _Stabat Mater_, the Ideal Pietà. The Votive Pieta by Guido.

  of the Theological Dispute. The First Papal Decree touching the
  Immaculate Conception. The Bull of Paul V. The Popularity of the
  Subject in Spain. Pictures by Guido, by Roelas, Velasquez, Murillo.

The Predestination of the Virgin. Curious Picture by Cotignola.



THE VIRGIN AND CHILD ENTHRONED. _Virgo Deipara_. The Virgin in her
  Maternal Character. Origin of the Group of the Mother and Child.
  Nestorian Controversy.

The Enthroned Virgin in the old Mosaics. In early Italian Art The
  Virgin standing as _Regina Coeli_.

_La Madre Pia_ enthroned. _Mater Sapientiæ_ with the Book.

The Virgin and Child enthroned with attendant Figures; with Angels;
  with Prophets; with Apostles.

With Saints: John the Baptist; St. Anna; St. Joachim; St. Joseph.

With Martyrs and Patron Saints.

_Various Examples of Arrangement_. With the Fathers of the Church;
  with St. Jerome and St. Catherine; with the Marriage of St. Catherine.
  The Virgin and Child between St. Catherine and St. Barbara; with Mary
  Magdalene; with St. Lucia.

The Virgin and Child between St. George and St. Nicholas; with St.
  Christopher; with St. Leonard. The Virgin of Charity.

The Madonnas of Florence; of Siena; of Venice and Lombardy. How

The Virgin attended by the Monastic Saints. Examples from various

Votive Madonnas. For Mercies accorded; for Victory; for Deliverance
  from Pestilence; against Flood and Fire.

Family Votive Madonnas, Examples. The Madonna of the Bentivoglio
  Family. The Madonna of the Sforza Family. The Madonna of the Moyer
  Family, The Madonna di Foligno. German Votive Madonna at Rouen.
  Madonna of Réné, Duke of Anjou; of the Pesaro Family at Venice.

Half-length Enthroned Madonnas; first introduced by the Venetians.
  Various Examples.

The MATER AMABILIS, Early Greek Examples. The infinite Variety given
  to this Subject.

Virgin and Child with St. John. He takes the Cross

The MADRE PIA; the Virgin adores her Son.

Pastoral Madonnas of the Venetian School.

Conclusion of the Devotional Subjects.





Joachim rejected from the Temple. Joachim herding his Sheep on the
  Mountain. The Altercation between Anna and her Maid Judith. The
  Meeting at the Golden Gate.

THE NATIVITY OF THE VIRGIN. The Importance and Beauty of the Subject.
  How treated.

THE PRESENTATION OF THE VIRGIN. A Subject of great Importance. General
  Arrangement and Treatment. Various Examples from celebrated Painters.

The Virgin in the Temple.

THE MARRIAGE OF THE VIRGIN. The Legend as followed by the Painters.

Various Examples of the Marriage of the Virgin, as treated by
  Perugino, Raphael, and others.



THE ANNUNCIATION, Its Beauty as a Subject. Treated as a Mystery and
  as an Event. As a Mystery; not earlier than the Eleventh Century.
  Its proper Place in architectural Decoration. On Altar-pieces. As
  an Allegory. The Annunciation as expressing the Incarnation. Ideally
  treated with Saints and Votaries. Examples by Simone Memmi, Fra
  Bartolomeo, Angelico, and others.

The Annunciation as an Event. The appropriate Circumstances. The
  Time, the Locality, the Accessories. The Descent of the Angel; proper
  Costume; with the Lily, the Palm, the Olive.

Proper Attitude and Occupation of Mary; Expression and Deportment. The
  Dove. Mistakes. Examples from various Painters.

THE VISITATION. Character of Elizabeth. The Locality and
  Circumstances. Proper Accessories. Examples from various Painters.

THE DREAM OF JOSEPH. He entreats Forgiveness of Mary.

THE NATIVITY. The Prophecy of the Sibyl. _La Madonna del Parto_. The
  Nativity as a Mystery; with poetical Accessories; with Saints and

The Nativity as an Event. The Time; the Places; the proper Accessories
  and Circumstances; the angelic Choristers; Signification of the Ox and
  the Ass.


THE ADORATION OF THE MAGI; they are supposed to have been Kings.
  Prophecy of Balaam. The Appearance of the Star. The Legend of the
  three Kings of Cologne. Proper Accessories. Examples from various
  Painters. The Land Surveyors, by Giorgione.

THE PURIFICATION OF THE VIRGIN. The Prophecy of Simeon. Greek Legend
  of the _Nunc Dimittis_. Various Examples.

THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT. The Massacre of the Innocents. The Preparation
  for the Journey. The Circumstances. The Legend of the Robbers; of the

THE REPOSE OF THE HOLY FAMILY. The Subject often mistaken. Proper
  Treatment of the Group. The Repose at Matarea. The Ministry of Angels.





THE HOLY FAMILY. Proper Treatment of the Domestic Group as
  distinguished from the Devotional. The simplest Form that of the
  Mother and Child. The Child fed from his Mother's Bosom. The Infant

Holy Family of three Figures; with the little St. John; with St.
  Joseph; with St. Anna.

Holy Family of four Figures; with St. Elizabeth and others.

The Holy Family of Five and Six Figures.

The Family of the Virgin grouped together.

Examples of Holy Family as treated by various Artists.

The Carpenter's Shop.

The Infant Christ learning to read.

THE DISPUTE IN THE TEMPLE. The Virgin seeks her Son.


THE MARRIAGE AT CANA. Proper Treatment of the Virgin in this Subject;
  as treated by Luini and by Paul Veronese.

The Virgin attends on the Ministry of Christ. Mystical Treatment by
  Fra Angelico.

LO SPASIMO. Christ takes leave of his Mother. Women who are introduced
  into Scenes of the Passion of our Lord.

The Procession to Calvary, _Lo Spasimo di Sicilia_.

THE CRUCIFIXION. Proper Treatment of the Virgin in this Subject. The
  impropriety of placing her upon the ground. Her Fortitude. Christ
  recommends his Mother to St. John.

THE DESCENT FROM THE CROSS. Proper Place and Action of the Virgin in
  this Subject.

THE DEPOSITION. Proper Treatment of this Form of the _Mater Dolorosa_.
  Persons introduced. Various Examples.

THE ENTOMBMENT. Treated as an historical Scene. As one of the Sorrows
  of the Rosary; attended by Saints.

The _Mater Dolorosa_ attended by St. Peter. Attended by St. John and
  Mary Magdalene.



  old Legend; how represented by the Artists.

THE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD. The proper Place of the Virgin Mary.

THE DESCENT OF THE HOLY GHOST; Mary being one of the principal



The Angel announces to Mary her approaching Death.

The Death of the Virgin, an ancient and important Subject. As treated
  in the Greek School; in early German Art; in Italian Art. Various

The Apostles carry the Body of the Virgin to the Tomb.

The Entombment.

THE ASSUMPTION. Distinction between the Assumption of the Body and the
  Assumption of the Soul of the Virgin. The Assumption as a Mystery; as
  an Event.

LA MADONNA BELLA CINTOLA. The Legend of the Girdle; as painted in the
  Cathedral at Prato.

Examples of the Assumption as represented by various Artists.

THE CORONATION as distinguished from the _Incoronata_; how treated as
  an historical Subject. Conclusion.


The decease of Mrs. Jameson, the accomplished woman and popular
writer, at an advanced period of life, took place in March, 1860,
after a brief illness. But the frame had long been worn out by past
years of anxiety, and the fatigues of laborious literary occupation
conscientiously undertaken and carried out. Having entered certain
fields of research and enterprise, perhaps at first accidentally, Mrs.
Jameson could not satisfy herself by anything less than the utmost
that minute collection and progressive study could do to sustain her
popularity. Distant and exhausting journeys, diligent examination of
far-scattered examples of Art, voluminous and various reading, became
seemingly more and more necessary to her; and at the very time of life
when rest and slackened effort would have been natural,--not merely
because her labours were in aid of others, but to satisfy her own high
sense of what is demanded by Art and Literature,--did her hand and
brain work more and more perseveringly and thoughtfully, till at last
she sank under her weariness; and passed away.

The father of Miss Murphy was a miniature-painter of repute, attached,
we believe, to the household of the Princess Charlotte. His daughter
Anna was naturally taught by him the principles of his own art;
but she had instincts for all,--taste for music,--a feeling for
poetry,--and a delicate appreciation of the drama. These gifts--in
her youth rarer in combination than they are now (when the connection
of the arts is becoming understood, and the love of all increasingly
diffused)--were, during part of Mrs. Jameson's life, turned to the
service of education.--It was not till after her marriage, that a
foreign tour led her into authorship, by the publication of "The Diary
of an Ennuyée," somewhere about the year 1826.--It was impossible to
avoid detecting in that record the presence of taste, thought, and
feeling, brought in an original fashion to bear on Art, Society,
Morals.--The reception of the book was decisive.--It was followed, at
intervals, by "The Loves of the Poets," "Memoirs of Italian Painters,"
"The Lives of Female Sovereigns," "Characteristics of Women" (a series
of Shakspeare studies; possibly its writer's most popular book). After
this, the Germanism so prevalent five-and-twenty years ago, and now
somewhat gone by, possessed itself of the authoress, and she published
her reminiscences of Munich, the imitative art of which was new, and
esteemed as almost a revelation. To the list of Mrs. Jameson's books
may be added her translation of the easy, if not vigorous Dramas
by the Princess Amelia of Saxony, and her "Winter Studies and
Summer Rambles"--recollections of a visit to Canada. This included
the account of her strange and solitary canoe voyage, and her
residence among a tribe of Indians. From this time forward, social
questions--especially those concerning the position of women in life
and action--engrossed a large share of Mrs. Jameson's attention; and
she wrote on them occasionally, always in a large and enlightened
spirit, rarely without touches of delicacy and sentiment.--Even when
we are unable to accept all Mrs. Jameson's conclusions, or to join her
in the hero or heroine worship of this or the other favourite example,
we have seldom a complaint to make of the manner of the authoress. It
was always earnest, eloquent, and poetical.

Besides a volume or two of collected essays, thoughts, notes on books,
and on subjects of Art, we have left to mention the elaborate volumes
on "Sacred and Legendary Art," as the greatest literary labour of a
busy life. Mrs. Jameson was putting the last finish to the concluding
portion of her work, when she was bidden to cease forever.

There is little more to be told,--save that, in the course of her
indefatigable literary career, Mrs. Jameson drew round herself a large
circle of steady friends--these among the highest illustrators of
Literature and Art in France, Germany, and Italy; and that, latterly,
a pension from Government was added to her slender earnings. These, it
may be said without indelicacy, were liberally apportioned to the aid
of others,--Mrs. Jameson being, for herself, simple, self-relying,
and self-denying;--holding that high view of the duties belonging
to pursuits of imagination which rendered meanness, or servility, or
dishonourable dealing, or license glossed over with some convenient
name, impossible to her.--She was a faithful friend, a devoted
relative, a gracefully-cultivated, and honest literary worker, whose
mind was set on "the best and honourablest things."

       *       *       *       *       *

Some months since Mrs. Jameson kindly consented to prepare for this
edition of her writings the "Legends of the Madonna," "Sacred and
Legendary Art," and "Legends of the Monastic Orders;" but, dying
before she had time to fulfil her promise, the arrangement has been
intrusted to other hands. The text of this whole series will be an
exact reprint of the last English Edition.

       *       *       *       *       *

The portrait annexed to this volume is from a photograph taken in
London only a short time before Mrs. Jameson's death.

BOSTON, September, 1860.



In presenting to my friends and to the public this Series of the
Sacred and Legendary Art, few preparatory words will be required.

If in the former volumes I felt diffident of my own powers to do any
justice to my subject, I have yet been encouraged by the sympathy and
approbation of those who nave kindly accepted of what has been done,
and yet more kindly excused deficiencies, errors, and oversights,
which the wide range of subjects rendered almost unavoidable.

With far more of doubt and diffidence, yet not less trust in the
benevolence and candour of my critics, do I present this volume to the
public. I hope it will be distinctly understood, that the general plan
of the work is merely artistic; that it really aims at nothing more
than to render the various subjects intelligible. For this reason
it has been thought advisable to set aside, in a great measure,
individual preferences, and all predilections for particular schools
and particular periods of Art,--to take, in short, the widest possible
range as regards examples,--and then to leave the reader, when thus
guided to the meaning of what he sees, to select, compare, admire,
according to his own discrimination, taste, and requirements. The
great difficulty has been to keep within reasonable limits. Though
the subject has a unity not found in the other volumes, it is
really boundless as regards variety and complexity. I may have been
superficial from mere superabundance of materials; sometimes mistaken
as to facts and dates; the tastes, the feelings, and the faith of my
readers may not always go along with me; but if attention and interest
have been exited--if the sphere of enjoyment in works of Art have been
enlarged and enlightened, I have done all I ever wished--all I ever
hoped, to do.

With regard to a point of infinitely greater importance, I may
be allowed to plead,--that it has been impossible to treat of the
representations of the Blessed Virgin without touching on doctrines
such as constitute the principal differences between the creeds of
Christendom. I have had to ascend most perilous heights, to dive
into terribly obscure depths. Not for worlds would I be guilty of a
scoffing allusion to any belief or any object held sacred by sincere
and earnest hearts; but neither has it been possible for me to write
in a tone of acquiescence, where I altogether differ in feeling
and opinion. On this point I shall need, and feel sure that I shall
obtain, the generous construction of readers of all persuasions.



Through all the most beautiful and precious productions of human
genius and human skill which the middle ages and the _renaissance_
have bequeathed to us, we trace, more or less developed, more or less
apparent, present in shape before us, or suggested through inevitable
associations, one prevailing idea: it is that of an impersonation in
the feminine character of beneficence, purity, and power, standing
between an offended Deity and poor, sinning, suffering humanity, and
clothed in the visible form of Mary, the Mother of our Lord.

To the Roman Catholics this idea remains an indisputable religious
truth of the highest import. Those of a different creed may think fit
to dispose of the whole subject of the Madonna either as a form of
superstition or a form of Art. But merely as a form of Art, we cannot
in these days confine ourselves to empty conventional criticism. We
are obliged to look further and deeper; and in this department of
Legendary Art, as in the others, we must take the higher ground,
perilous though it be. We must seek to comprehend the dominant idea
lying behind and beyond the mere representation. For, after all,
some consideration is due to facts which we must necessarily accept,
whether we deal with antiquarian theology or artistic criticism;
namely, that the worship of the Madonna did prevail through all the
Christian and civilized world for nearly a thousand years; that, in
spite of errors, exaggerations, abuses, this worship did comprehend
certain great elemental truths interwoven with our human nature, and
to be evolved perhaps with our future destinies. Therefore did it work
itself into the life and soul of man; therefore has it been worked
_out_ in the manifestations of his genius; and therefore the multiform
imagery in which it has been clothed, from the rudest imitations of
life, to the most exquisite creations of mind, may be resolved, as a
whole, into one subject, and become one great monument in the history
of progressive thought and faith, as well as in the history of
progressive art.

Of the pictures in our galleries, public or private,--of the
architectural adornments of those majestic edifices which sprung up
in the middle ages (where they have not been despoiled or desecrated
by a zeal as fervent as that which reared them), the largest and most
beautiful portion have reference to the Madonna,--her character,
her person, her history. It was a theme which never tired her
votaries,--whether, as in the hands of great and sincere artists,
it became one of the noblest and loveliest, or, as in the hands
of superficial, unbelieving, time-serving artists, one of the most
degraded. All that human genius, inspired by faith, could achieve of
best, all that fanaticism, sensualism, atheism, could perpetrate of
worst, do we find in the cycle of those representations which have
been dedicated to the glory of the Virgin. And indeed the ethics of
the Madonna worship, as evolved in art, might be not unaptly likened
to the ethics of human love: so long as the object of sense remained
in subjection to the moral idea--so long as the appeal was to the
best of our faculties and affections--so long was the image grand or
refined, and the influences to be ranked with those which have helped
to humanize and civilize our race; but so soon as the object became
a mere idol, then worship and worshippers, art and artists, were
together degraded.

It is not my intention to enter here on that disputed point, the
origin of the worship of the Madonna. Our present theme lies within
prescribed limits,--wide enough, however, to embrace an immense
field of thought: it seeks to trace the progressive influence of
that worship on the fine arts for a thousand years or more, and to
interpret the forms in which it has been clothed. That the veneration
paid to Mary in the early Church was a very natural feeling in those
who advocated the divinity of her Son, would be granted, I suppose,
by all but the most bigoted reformers; that it led to unwise and
wild extremes, confounding the creature with the Creator, would be
admitted, I suppose, by all but the most bigoted Roman Catholics. How
it extended from the East over the nations of the West, how it grew
and spread, may be read in ecclesiastical histories. Everywhere it
seems to have found in the human heart some deep sympathy--deeper far
than mere theological doctrine could reach--ready to accept it; and in
every land the ground prepared for it in some already dominant idea
of a mother-Goddess, chaste, beautiful, and benign. As, in the oldest
Hebrew rites and Pagan superstitions, men traced the promise of a
coming Messiah,--as the deliverers and kings of the Old Testament, and
even the demigods of heathendom, became accepted types of the person
of Christ,--so the Eve of the Mosaic history, the Astarte of the

  "The mooned Ashtaroth, queen and mother both,"--

the Isis nursing Horus of the Egyptians, the Demeter and the
Aphrodite of the Greeks, the Scythian Freya, have been considered
by some writers as types of a divine maternity, foreshadowing the
Virgin-mother of Christ. Others will have it that these scattered,
dim, mistaken--often gross and perverted--ideas which were afterwards
gathered into the pure, dignified, tender image of the Madonna,
were but as the voice of a mighty prophecy, sounded through all the
generations of men, even from the beginning of time, of the coming
moral regeneration, and complete and harmonious development of the
whole human race, by the establishment, on a higher basis, of what
has been called the "feminine element" in society. And let me at least
speak for myself. In the perpetual iteration of that beautiful image
of THE WOMAN highly blessed--_there_, where others saw only pictures
or statues, I have seen this great hope standing like a spirit beside
the visible form; in the fervent worship once universally given to
that gracious presence, I have beheld an acknowledgment of a higher as
well as gentler power than that of the strong hand and the might that
makes the right,--and in every earnest votary one who, as he knelt,
was in this sense pious beyond the reach of his own thought, and
"devout beyond the meaning of his will."

It is curious to observe, as the worship of the Virgin-mother expanded
and gathered to itself the relics of many an ancient faith, how
the new and the old elements, some of them apparently the most
heterogeneous, became amalgamated, and were combined into the early
forms of art;--how the Madonna, when she assumed the characteristics
of the great Diana of Ephesus, at once the type of Fertility, and the
Goddess of Chastity, became, as the impersonation of motherhood, all
beauty, bounty and graciousness; and at the same time, by virtue of
her perpetual virginity, the patroness of single and ascetic life--the
example and the excuse for many of the wildest of the early monkish
theories. With Christianity, new ideas of the moral and religious
responsibility of woman entered the world; and while these ideas were
yet struggling with the Hebrew and classical prejudices concerning the
whole sex, they seem to have produced some curious perplexity in the
minds of the greatest doctors of the faith. Christ, as they assure
us, was born of a woman only, and had no earthly father, that neither
sex might despair; "for had he been born a man (which was necessary),
yet not born of woman, the women might have despaired of themselves,
recollecting the first offence, the first man having been deceived by
a woman. Therefore we are to suppose that, for the exaltation of the
male sex, Christ appeared on earth as a man; and, for the consolation
of womankind, he was born of a woman only; as if it had been said,
'From henceforth no creature shall be base before God, unless
perverted by depravity.'" (Augustine, Opera Supt. 238, Serm. 63.)
Such is the reasoning of St. Augustine, who, I must observe, had an
especial veneration for his mother Monica; and it is perhaps for her
sake that he seems here desirous to prove that through the Virgin Mary
all womankind were henceforth elevated in the scale of being. And
this was the idea entertained of her subsequently: "Ennobler of thy
nature!" says Dante apostrophizing her, as if her perfections had
ennobled not merely her own sex, but the whole human race.[1]

[Footnote 1: "Tu se' colei che l'umana natura Nobilitasti."]

But also with Christianity came the want of a new type of womanly
perfection, combining all the attributes of the ancient female
divinities with others altogether new. Christ, as the model-man,
united the virtues of the two sexes, till the idea that there are
essentially masculine and feminine virtues intruded itself on the
higher Christian conception, and seems to have necessitated the
female type.

The first historical mention of a direct worship paid to the Virgin
Mary, occurs in a passage in the works of St. Epiphanius, who died
in 403. In enumerating the heresies (eighty-four in number) which had
sprung up in the early Church, he mentions a sect of women, who had
emigrated from Thrace into Arabia, with whom it was customary to
offer cakes of meal and honey to the Virgin Mary, as if she had been a
divinity, transferring to her, in fact, the worship paid to Ceres. The
very first instance which occurs in written history of an invocation
to Mary, is in the life of St. Justina, as related by Gregory
Nazianzen. Justina calls on the Virgin-mother to protect her against
the seducer and sorcerer, Cyprian; and does not call in vain. (Sacred
and Legendary Art.) These passages, however, do not prove that
previously to the fourth century there had been no worship or
invocation of the Virgin, but rather the contrary. However this may
be, it is to the same period--the fourth century--we refer the most
ancient representations of the Virgin in art. The earliest figures
extant are those on the Christian sarcophagi; but neither in the early
sculpture nor in the mosaics of St. Maria Maggiore do we find any
figure of the Virgin standing alone; she forms part of a group of
the Nativity or the Adoration of the Magi. There is no attempt at
individuality or portraiture. St. Augustine says expressly, that there
existed in his time no _authentic_ portrait of the Virgin; but it
is inferred from his account that, authentic or not, such pictures
did then exist, since there were already disputes concerning their
authenticity. There were at this period received symbols of the person
and character of Christ, as the lamb, the vine, the fish, &c., but
not, as far as I can learn, any such accepted symbols of the Virgin
Mary. Further, it is the opinion of the learned in ecclesiastical
antiquities that, previous to the first Council of Ephesus, it was the
custom to represent the figure of the Virgin alone without the Child;
but that none of these original effigies remain to us, only supposed
copies of a later date.[1] And this is all I have been able to
discover relative to her in connection with the sacred imagery of the
first four centuries of our era.

[Footnote 1: Vide "_Memorie dell' Immagine di M.V. dell' Imprunela_."
Florence, 1714.]

       *       *       *       *       *

The condemnation of Nestorius by the Council of Ephesus, in the year
431, forms a most important epoch in the history of religious art.
I have given further on a sketch of this celebrated schism, and its
immediate and progressive results. It may be thus summed up here. The
Nestorians maintained, that in Christ the two natures of God and man
remained separate, and that Mary, his human mother, was parent of
the man, but not of the God; consequently the title which, during
the previous century, had been popularly applied to her, "Theotokos"
(Mother of God), was improper and profane. The party opposed to
Nestorius, the Monophysite, maintained that in Christ the divine and
human were blended in one incarnate nature, and that consequently Mary
was indeed the Mother of God. By the decree of the first Council
of Ephesus, Nestorius and his party were condemned as heretics; and
henceforth the representation of that beautiful group, since popularly
known as the "Madonna and Child," became the expression of the
orthodox faith. Every one who wished to prove his hatred of the
arch-heretic exhibited the image of the maternal Virgin holding in
her arms the Infant Godhead, either in his house as a picture, or
embroidered on his garments, or on his furniture, on his personal
ornaments--in short, wherever it could be introduced. It is worth
remarking, that Cyril, who was so influential in fixing the orthodox
group, had passed the greater part of his life in Egypt, and must nave
been familiar with the Egyptian type of Isis nursing Horus. Nor, as I
conceive, is there any irreverence in supposing that a time-honoured
intelligible symbol should be chosen to embody and formalize a creed.
For it must be remembered that the group of the Mother and Child was
not at first a representation, but merely a theological symbol set up
in the orthodox churches, and adopted by the orthodox Christians.

It is just after the Council of Ephesus that history first makes
mention of a supposed authentic portrait of the Virgin Mary. The
Empress Eudocia, when travelling in the Holy Land, sent home such
a picture of the Virgin holding the Child to her sister-in-law
Pulcheria, who placed it in a church at Constantinople. It was at that
time regarded, as of very high antiquity, and supposed to have been
painted from the life. It is certain that a picture, traditionally
said to be the same which Eudocia had sent to Pulcheria, did exist
at Constantinople, and was so much venerated by the people as to be
regarded as a sort of palladium, and borne in a superb litter or car
in the midst of the imperial host, when the emperor led the army in
person. The fate of this relic is not certainly known. It is said to
have been taken by the Turks in 1453, and dragged through the mire;
but others deny this as utterly derogatory to the majesty of the Queen
of Heaven, who never would have suffered such an indignity to have
been put on her sacred image. According to the Venetian legend, it was
this identical effigy which was taken by the blind old Dandolo, when
he besieged and took Constantinople in 1204, and brought in triumph
to Venice, where it has ever since been preserved in the church of St.
Mark, and held in _somma venerazione_. No mention is made of St. Luke
in the earliest account of this picture, though like all the antique
effigies of uncertain origin, it was in after times attributed to him.

The history of the next three hundred years testifies to the triumph
of orthodoxy, the extension and popularity of the worship of the
Virgin, and the consequent multiplication of her image in every form
and material, through the whole of Christendom.

Then followed the schism of the Iconoclasts, which distracted
the Church for more than one hundred years, under Leo III., the
Isaurian, and his immediate successors. Such were the extravagances
of superstition to which the image-worship had led the excitable
Orientals, that, if Leo had been a wise and temperate reformer, he
might have done much good in checking its excesses; but he was himself
an ignorant, merciless barbarian. The persecution by which he sought
to exterminate the sacred pictures of the Madonna, and the cruelties
exercised on her unhappy votaries, produced a general destruction
of the most curious and precious remains of antique art. In other
respects, the immediate result was naturally enough a reaction, which
not only reinstated pictures in the veneration of the people, but
greatly increased their influence over the imagination; for it is at
this time that we first hear of a miraculous picture. Among those
who most strongly defended the use of sacred images in the churches,
was St. John Damascene, one of the great lights of the Oriental
Church. According to the Greek legend, he was condemned to lose his
right hand, which was accordingly cut off; but he, full of faith,
prostrating himself before a picture of the Virgin, stretched out the
bleeding stump, and with it touched her lips, and immediately a new
hand sprung forth "like a branch from a tree." Hence, among the Greek
effigies of the Virgin, there is one peculiarly commemorative of this
miracle, styled "the Virgin with three hands." (Didron, Manuel, p.
462.) In the west of Europe, where the abuses of the image-worship had
never yet reached the wild superstition of the Oriental Christians,
the fury of the Iconoclasts excited horror and consternation. The
temperate and eloquent apology for sacred pictures, addressed by
Gregory II. to the Emperor Leo, had the effect of mitigating the
persecution in Italy, where the work of destruction could not be
carried out to the same extent as in the Byzantine provinces. Hence it
is in Italy only that any important remains of sacred art anterior to
the Iconoclast dynasty have been preserved.[1]

[Footnote 1: It appears, from one of these letters from Gregory II,
that it was the custom at that time (725) to employ religious pictures
as a means of instruction in the schools. He says, that if Lee were
to enter a school in Italy, and to say that he prohibited pictures,
the children would infallibly throw their hornbooks (_Ta volexxe del
alfabeto_) at his head.--v. _Bosio_, p. 567.]

The second Council of Nice, under the Empress Irene in 787, condemned
the Iconoclasts, and restored the use of the sacred pictures in the
churches. Nevertheless, the controversy still raged till after the
death of Theophilus, the last and the most cruel of the Iconoclasts,
in 842. His widow Theodora achieved the final triumph of the orthodox
party, and restored the Virgin to her throne. We must observe,
however, that only pictures were allowed; all sculptured imagery
was still prohibited, and has never since been allowed in the Greek
Church, except in very low relief. The flatter the surface, the more

It is, I think, about 886, that we first find the effigy of the Virgin
on the coins of the Greek empire. On a gold coin of Leo VI., the
Philosopher, she stands veiled, and draped, with a noble head, no
glory, and the arms outspread, just as she appears in the old mosaics.
On a coin of Romanus the Younger, she crowns the emperor, having
herself the nimbus; she is draped and veiled. On a coin of Nicephorus
Phocus (who had great pretensions to piety), the Virgin stands,
presenting a cross to the emperor, with the inscription, "Theotokos,
be propitious." On a gold coin of John Zimisces, 975, we first find
the Virgin and Child,--the symbol merely: she holds against her bosom
a circular glory, within which is the head of the Infant Christ. In
the successive reigns of the next two centuries, she almost constantly
appears as crowning the emperor.

Returning to the West, we find that in the succeeding period, from
Charlemagne to the first crusade, the popular devotion to the Virgin,
and the multiplication of sacred pictures, continued steadily to
increase; yet in the tenth and eleventh centuries art was at its
lowest ebb. At this time, the subjects relative to the Virgin were
principally the Madonna and Child, represented according to the Greek
form; and those scenes from the Gospel in which she is introduced, as
the Annunciation, the Nativity, and the Worship of the Magi.

Towards the end of the tenth century the custom of adding the angelic
salutation, the "_Ave Maria_," to the Lord's prayer, was first
introduced; and by the end of the following century, it had been
adopted in the offices of the Church. This was, at first, intended as
a perpetual reminder of the mystery of the Incarnation, as announced
by the angel. It must have had the effect of keeping the idea of
Mary as united with that of her Son, and as the instrument of the
Incarnation, continually in the minds of the people.

The pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and the crusades in the eleventh and
the twelfth centuries, had a most striking effect on religious art,
though this effect was not fully evolved till a century later. More
particularly did this returning wave of Oriental influences modify the
representations of the Virgin. Fragments of the apocryphal gospels
and legends of Palestine and Egypt were now introduced, worked up
into ballads, stories, and dramas, and gradually incorporated with the
teaching of the Church. A great variety of subjects derived from the
Greek artists, and from particular localities and traditions of the
East, became naturalized in Western Europe, Among these were the
legends of Joachim and Anna; and the death, the assumption, and the
coronation of the Virgin.

Then came the thirteenth century, an era notable in the history
of mind, more especially notable in the history of art. The seed
scattered hither and thither, during the stormy and warlike period of
the crusades, now sprung up and flourished, bearing diverse fruit.
A more contemplative enthusiasm, a superstition tinged with a morbid
melancholy, fermented into life and form. In that general "fit of
_compunction_," which we are told seized all Italy at this time, the
passionate devotion for the benign Madonna mingled the poetry of
pity with that of pain; and assuredly this state of feeling, with its
mental and moral requirements, must have assisted in emancipating art
from the rigid formalism of the degenerate Greek school. Men's hearts,
throbbing with a more feeling, more pensive life, demanded something
more _like_ life,--and produced it. It is curious to trace in the
Madonnas of contemporary, but far distant and unconnected schools of
painting, the simultaneous dawning of a sympathetic sentiment--for the
first time something in the faces of the divine beings responsive to
the feeling of the worshippers. It was this, perhaps, which caused
the enthusiasm excited by Cimabue's great Madonna, and made the people
shout and dance for joy when it was uncovered before them. Compared
with the spectral rigidity, the hard monotony, of the conventional
Byzantines, the more animated eyes, the little touch of sweetness in
the still, mild face, must have been like a smile out of heaven. As
we trace the same softer influence in the earliest Siena and Cologne
pictures of about the same period, we may fairly regard it as an
impress of the spirit of the time, rather than that of an individual

In the succeeding century these elements of poetic art, expanded and
animated by an awakened observation of nature, and a sympathy with
her external manifestations, were most especially directed by the
increasing influence of the worship of the Virgin, a worship at once
religious and chivalrous. The title of "Our Lady"[1] came first into
general use in the days of chivalry, for she was the lady "of all
hearts," whose colours all were proud to wear. Never had her votaries
so abounded. Hundreds upon hundreds had enrolled themselves in
brotherhoods, vowed to her especial service;[2] or devoted to acts of
charity, to be performed in her name.[3] Already the great religious
communities, which at this time comprehended all the enthusiasm,
learning, and influence of the Church, had placed themselves solemnly
and especially under her protection. The Cistercians wore white in
honour of her purity; the Servi wore black in respect to her sorrows;
the Franciscans had enrolled themselves as champions of the Immaculate
Conception; and the Dominicans introduced the rosary. All these richly
endowed communities vied with each other in multiplying churches,
chapels, and pictures, in honour of their patroness, and expressive of
her several attributes. The devout painter, kneeling before his easel,
addressed himself to the task of portraying those heavenly lineaments
which had visited him perhaps in dreams. Many of the professed monks
and friars became themselves accomplished artists.[4]

[Footnote 1: _Fr._ Notre Dame. _Ital._ La Madonna. _Ger._ Unser liebe

[Footnote 2: As the Serviti, who were called in France, _les esclaves
de Marie_.]

[Footnote 3: As the order of "Our Lady of Mercy," for the deliverance
of captives.--_Vide_ Legends of the Monastic Orders.]

[Footnote 4: A very curious and startling example of the theological
character of the Virgin in the thirteenth century is figured in Miss
Twining's work, "_The Symbols of early Christian Art_;" certainly the
most complete and useful book of the kind which I know of. Here the
Madonna and Child are seated side by side with the Trinity; the Holy
Spirit resting on her crowned head.]

At this time, Jacopo di Voragine compiled the "Golden Legend," a
collection of sacred stories, some already current, some new, or
in a new form. This famous book added many themes to those already
admitted, and became the authority and storehouse for the early
painters in their groups and dramatic compositions. The increasing
enthusiasm for the Virgin naturally caused an increasing demand for
the subjects taken from her personal history, and led, consequently,
to a more exact study of those natural objects and effects which were
required as accessories, to greater skill in grouping the figures, and
to a higher development of historic art.

But of all the influences on Italian art in that wonderful fourteenth
century, Dante was the greatest. He was the intimate friend of Giotto.
Through the communion of mind, not less than through his writings,
he infused into religious art that mingled theology, poetry, and
mysticism, which ruled in the Giottesque school during the following
century, and went hand in hand with the development of the power and
practice of imitation. Now, the theology of Dante was the theology of
his age. His ideas respecting the Virgin Mary were precisely those
to which the writings of St. Bernard, St. Bonaventura, and St. Thomas
Aquinas had already lent all the persuasive power of eloquence, and
the Church all the weight of her authority. Dante rendered these
doctrines into poetry, and Giotto and his followers rendered them
into form. In the Paradise of Dante, the glorification of Mary,
as the "Mystic Rose" (_Roxa Mystica_) and Queen of Heaven,--with
the attendant angels, circle within circle, floating round her in
adoration, and singing the Regina Coeli, and saints and patriarchs
stretching forth their hands towards her,--is all a splendid, but
still indefinite vision of dazzling light crossed by shadowy forms.
The painters of the fourteenth century, in translating these glories
into a definite shape, had to deal with imperfect knowledge and
imperfect means; they failed in the power to realize either their own
or the poet's conception; and yet--thanks to the divine poet!--that
early conception of some of the most beautiful of the Madonna
subjects--for instance, the _Coronation_ and the _Sposalizio_--has
never, as a religious and poetical conception, been surpassed by later
artists, in spite of all the appliances of colour, and mastery of
light and shade, and marvellous efficiency of hand since attained.

Every reader of Dante will remember the sublime hymn towards the close
of the Paradiso:--

  "Vergine Madre, figlia del tuo figlio!
  Umile ed alta più che creatura,
  Terrains fisso d'eterno consiglio;

  Tu se' colei che l'umana natura
  Nobilitasti si, che 'l suo fattore
  Non disdegno di farsi sua fattura;

  Nel ventre tuo si raccese l'amore
  Per lo cui caldo nell' eterna pace
  Cosi è germinato questo fiore;

  Qui se' a noi meridiana face
  Di caritade, e giuso intra mortali
  Se' di speranza fontana vivace:

  Donna, se' tanto grande e tanto vali,
  Che qual vuol grazia e a te non ricorre
  Sua disianza vuol volar senz' ali;

  La tua benignita noa pur soccorre
  A chi dimanda, ma molte fiate
  Liberamente al dimandar precorre;

  In te misericordia, in te pietate,
  In te magnificenza, in te s' aduna
  Quantunque in creatura è di bontate!"

To render the splendour, the terseness, the harmony, of this
magnificent hymn seems impossible. Cary's translation has, however,
the merit of fidelity to the sense:--

  "Oh, Virgin-Mother, daughter of thy Son!
  Created beings all in lowliness
  Surpassing, as in height above them all;
  Term by the eternal counsel preordain'd;
  Ennobler of thy nature, so advanc'd
  In thee, that its great Maker did not scorn
  To make himself his own creation;
  For in thy womb, rekindling, shone the love
  Reveal'd, whose genial influence makes now
  This flower to germin in eternal peace:
  Here thou, to us, of charity and love
  Art as the noon-day torch; and art beneath,
  To mortal men, of hope a living spring.
  So mighty art thou, Lady, and so great,
  That he who grace desireth, and comes not
  To thee for aidance, fain would have desire
  Fly without wings. Not only him who asks,
  Thy bounty succours; but doth freely oft
  Forerun the asking. Whatsoe'er may be
  Of excellence in creature, pity mild,
  Relenting mercy, large munificence,
  Are all combin'd in thee!"

It is interesting to turn to the corresponding stanzas in Chaucer.
The invocation to the Virgin with which he commences the story of St.
Cecilia is rendered almost word for word from Dante:--

  "Thou Maid and Mother, daughter of thy Son!
  Thou wel of mercy, sinful soules cure!"

The last stanza of the invocation is his own, and as characteristic of
the practical Chaucer, as it would have been contrary to the genius of

  "And for that faith is dead withouten workis,
  So for to worken give me wit and grace!
  That I be quit from thence that most dark is;
  O thou that art so fair and full of grace,
  Be thou mine advocate in that high place,
  There, as withouten end is sung Hozanne,
  Thou Christes mother, daughter dear of Anne!"

Still more beautiful and more his own is the invocation in the
"Prioress's Tale." I give the stanzas as modernized by Wordsworth:--

  "O Mother Maid! O Maid and Mother free!
  O bush unburnt, burning in Moses' sight!
  That down didst ravish from the Deity,
  Through humbleness, the Spirit that that did alight
  Upon thy heart, whence, through that glory's might
  Conceived was the Father's sapience,
  Help me to tell it in thy reverence!

  "Lady, thy goodness, thy magnificence,
  Thy virtue, and thy great humility,
  Surpass all science and all utterance;
  For sometimes, Lady! ere men pray to thee,
  Thou go'st before in thy benignity,
  The light to us vouchsafing of thy prayer,
  To be our guide unto thy Son so dear.

  "My knowledge is so weak, O blissful Queen,
  To tell abroad thy mighty worthiness,
  That I the weight of it may not sustain;
  But as a child of twelve months old, or less,
  That laboureth his language to express,
  Even so fare I; and therefore, I thee pray,
  Guide thou my song, which I of thee shall say."

And again, we may turn to Petrarch's hymn to the Virgin, wherein
he prays to be delivered from his love and everlasting regrets for

  "Vergine bella, che di sol vestita,
  Coronata di stelle, al sommo Sole
  Piacesti sì, che'n te sua luce ascose.

  "Vergine pura, d'ogni parte intera,
  Del tuo parto gentil figliuola e madre!

  "Vergine sola al mondo senza esempio,
  Che 'l ciel di tue bellezze innamorasti."

The fancy of the theologians of the middle ages played rather
dangerously, as it appears to me, for the uninitiated and
uninstructed, with the perplexity of these divine relationships. It is
impossible not to feel that in their admiration for the divine beauty
of Mary, in borrowing the amatory language and luxuriant allegories
of the Canticles, which represent her as an object of delight to the
Supreme Being, theologians, poets, and artists had wrought themselves
up to a wild pitch of enthusiasm. In such passages as those I have
quoted above, and in the grand old Church hymns, we find the best
commentary and interpretation of the sacred pictures of the fourteenth
and fifteenth centuries. Yet during the thirteenth century there was
a purity in the spirit of the worship which at once inspired and
regulated the forms in which it was manifested. The Annunciations and
Nativities were still distinguished by a chaste and sacred simplicity.
The features of the Madonna herself, even where they were not what we
call beautiful, had yet a touch of that divine and contemplative grace
which the theologians and the poets had associated with the queenly,
maternal, and bridal character of Mary.

Thus the impulses given in the early part of the fourteenth century
continued in progressive development through the fifteenth; the
spiritual for some time in advance of the material influences; the
moral idea emanating as it were _from_ the soul, and the influences
of external nature flowing _into_ it; the comprehensive power of fancy
using more and more the apprehensive power of imitation, and both
working together till their "blended might" achieved its full fruition
in the works of Raphael.

       *       *       *       *       *

Early in the fifteenth century, the Council of Constance (A.D. 1414),
and the condemnation of Huss, gave a new impulse to the worship of the
Virgin. The Hussite wars, and the sacrilegious indignity with which
her sacred images had been treated in the north, filled her orthodox
votaries of the south, of Europe with a consternation and horror
like that excited by the Iconoclasts of the eighth century, and were
followed by a similar reaction. The Church was called upon to assert
more strongly than ever its orthodox veneration for her, and, as a
natural consequence, votive pictures multiplied, the works of the
excelling artists of the fifteenth century testify to the zeal of the
votaries, and the kindred spirit in which the painters worked.

Gerson, a celebrated French priest, and chancellor of the university
of Paris, distinguished himself in the Council of Constance by the
eloquence with which he pleaded for the Immaculate Conception, and the
enthusiasm with which he preached in favour of instituting a festival
in honour of this mystery, as well as another in honour of Joseph,
the husband of the Virgin. In both he was unsuccessful during his
lifetime; but for both eventually his writings prepared the way.
He also composed a Latin poem of three thousand lines in praise of
Joseph, which was among the first works published after the invention
of printing. Together with St. Joseph, the parents of the Virgin, St.
Anna more particularly, became objects, of popular veneration, and
all were at length exalted to the rank of patron saints, by having
festivals instituted in their honour. It is towards the end of the
fifteenth century, or rather a little later, that we first meet with
that charming domestic group, called the "Holy Family," afterwards
so popular, so widely diffused, and treated with such an infinite

       *       *       *       *       *

Towards the end of this century sprung up a new influence,--the
revival of classical learning, a passionate enthusiasm for the poetry
and mythology of the Greeks, and a taste for the remains of antique
art. This influence on the representations of the Virgin, as far as
it was merely external, was good. An added dignity and grace, a more
free and correct drawing, a truer feeling for harmony of proportion
and all that constitutes elegance, were gradually infused into the
forms and attitudes. But dangerous became the craving for mere
beauty,--dangerous the study of the classical and heathen literature.
This was the commencement of that thoroughly pagan taste which in
the following century demoralized Christian art. There was now an
attempt at varying the arrangement of the sacred groups which led to
irreverence, or at best to a sort of superficial mannered grandeur;
and from this period we date the first introduction of the portrait
Virgins. An early, and most scandalous example remains to us in one
of the frescoes in the Vatican, which represents Giulia Farnese in the
character of the Madonna, and Pope Alexander VI. (the infamous Borgia)
kneeling at her feet in the character of a votary. Under the influence
of the Medici the churches of Florence were filled with pictures of
the Virgin, in which the only thing aimed at was an alluring and
even meretricious beauty. Savonarola thundered from his pulpit in the
garden of San Marco against these impieties. He exclaimed against
the profaneness of those who represented the meek mother of Christ in
gorgeous apparel, with head unveiled, and under the features of women
too well and publicly known. He emphatically declared that if the
painters knew as well as he did the influence of such pictures in
perverting simple minds, they would hold their own works in horror and
detestation. Savonarola yielded to none in orthodox reverence for the
Madonna; but he desired that she should be represented in an orthodox
manner. He perished at the stake, but not till after he had made
a bonfire in the Piazza at Florence of the offensive effigies; he
perished--persecuted to death by the Borgia family. But his influence
on the greatest Florentine artists of his time is apparent in the
Virgins of Botticelli, Lorenzo di Credi, and Fra Bartolomeo, all of
whom had been his friends, admirers, and disciples: and all, differing
from each other, were alike in this, that, whether it be the dignified
severity of Botticelli, or the chaste simplicity of Lorenzo di Credi,
or the noble tenderness of Fra Bartolomeo, we feel that each of them
had aimed to portray worthily the sacred character of the Mother of
the Redeemer. And to these, as I think, we might add Raphael himself,
who visited Florence but a short time after the horrible execution
of Savonarola, and must have learned through his friend Bartolomeo to
mourn the fate and revere the memory of that remarkable man, whom he
placed afterwards in the grand fresco of the "Theologia," among the
doctors and teachers of the Church. (Rome, Vatican.) Of the numerous
Virgins painted by Raphael in after times, not one is supposed to have
been a portrait: he says himself, in a letter to Count Castiglione,
that he painted from an idea in his own mind, "mi servo d' una certa
idea che mi viene in mente;" while in the contemporary works of Andrea
del Sarto, we have the features of his handsome but vulgar wife in
every Madonna he painted.[1]

[Footnote 1: The tendency to portraiture, in early Florentine and
German art, is observable from an early period. The historical sacred
subjects of Masaccio, Ghirlandajo, and Van Eyck, are crowded with
portraits of living personages. Their introduction into devotional
subjects, in the character of sacred persons, is far less excusable.]

In the beginning of the sixteenth century, the constellation of living
genius in every department of art, the riches of the Church, the
luxurious habits and classical studies of the churchmen, the decline
of religious conviction, and the ascendency of religious controversy,
had combined to multiply church pictures, particularly those of a
large and decorative character. But, instead of the reign of faith,
we had now the reign of taste. There was an absolute passion for
picturesque grouping; and, as the assembled figures were to be as
varied as possible in action and attitude, the artistic treatment, in
order to prevent the lines of form and the colours of the draperies
from interfering with each other, required great skill and profound
study: some of these scenic groups have become, in the hands of great
painters, such as Titian, Paul Veronese, and Annibale Caracci, so
magnificent, that we are inclined to forgive their splendid errors.
The influence of Sanazzaro, and of his famous Latin poem on the
Nativity ("_De Partu Virginis_"), on the artists of the middle of the
sixteenth century, and on the choice and treatment of the subjects
pertaining to the Madonna, can hardly be calculated; it was like that
of Dante in the fourteenth century, but in its nature and result how
different! The grand materialism of Michael Angelo is supposed to have
been allied to the genius of Dante; but would Dante have acknowledged
the group of the Holy Family in the Florentine Gallery, to my feeling,
one of the most profane and offensive of the so-called _religious_
pictures, in conception and execution, which ever proceeded from
the mind or hand of a great painter? No doubt some of the sculptural
Virgins of Michael Angelo are magnificent and stately in attitude and
expression, but too austere and mannered as religious conceptions: nor
can we wonder if the predilection for the treatment of mere form led
his followers and imitators into every species of exaggeration and
affectation. In the middle of the sixteenth century, the same artist
who painted a Leda, or a Psyche, or a Venus one day, painted for the
same patron a Virgin of Mercy, or a "Mater Purissima" on the morrow.
_Here_, the votary told his beads, and recited his Aves, before
the blessed Mother of the Redeemer; _there_, she was invoked in
the purest Latin by titles which the classical mythology had far
otherwise consecrated. I know nothing more disgusting in art than the
long-limbed, studied, inflated Madonnas, looking grand with all their
might, of this period; luckily they have fallen into such disrepute
that we seldom see them. The "Madonna dell' lungo Collo" of Parmigiano
might be cited as a favourable example of this mistaken and wholly
artificial grace. (Florence, Pitti Pal.)

But in the midst of these paganized and degenerate influences, the
reform in the discipline of the Roman Catholic Church was preparing
a revolution in religious art. The Council of Trent had severely
denounced the impropriety of certain pictures admitted into churches:
at the same time, in the conflict of creed which now divided
Christendom, the agencies of art could not safely be neglected by that
Church which had used them with such signal success. Spiritual art
was indeed no more. It was dead: it could never be revived without
a return to those modes of thought and belief which had at first
inspired it. Instead of religious art, appeared what I must call
_theological_ art. Among the events of this age, which had great
influence on the worship and the representations of the Madonna,
I must place the battle of Lepanto, in 1571, in which the combined
fleets of Christendom, led by Don Juan of Austria, achieved a
memorable victory over the Turks. This victory was attributed by Pope
Pius V. to the especial interposition of the Blessed Virgin. A new
invocation was now added to her Litany, under the title of _Auxilium
Christianorum_; a new festival, that of the Rosary, was now added to
those already held in her honour; and all the artistic genius which
existed in Italy, and all the piety of orthodox Christendom, were now
laid under contribution to incase in marble sculpture, to enrich with
countless offerings, that miraculous house, which the angels had
borne over land and sea, and set down at Loretto; and that miraculous,
bejewelled, and brocaded Madonna, enshrined within it.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Caracci school gave
a new impetus to religious, or rather, as it has been styled in
contradistinction, sacerdotal or theological art. If these great
painters had been remarkable merely for the application of new
artistic methods, for the success with which they combined the aims of
various schools--

  "Di Michel Angiol la terribil via
  E 'l vero natural di Tiziano,"

the study of the antique with the observation of real life,--their
works undoubtedly would never have taken such a hold on the minds of
their contemporaries, nor kept it so long. Everything to live must
have an infusion of truth within it, and this "patchwork ideal," as
it has been well styled, was held together by such a principle. The
founders of the Caracci school, and their immediate followers, felt
the influences of the time, and worked them out. They were devout
believers in their Church, and most sincere worshippers of the
Madonna. Guido, in particular, was so distinguished by his passionate
enthusiasm for her, that he was supposed to have been favoured by a
particular vision, which enabled him more worthily to represent her
divine beauty.

It is curious that, hand in hand with this development of taste and
feeling in the appreciation of natural sentiment and beauty, and
this tendency to realism, we find the associations of a peculiar and
specific sanctity remaining with the old Byzantine type. This arose
from the fact, always to be borne in mind, that the most ancient
artistic figure of the Madonna was a purely theological symbol;
apparently the moral type was too nearly allied to the human and
the real to satisfy faith. It is the ugly, dark-coloured, ancient
Greek Madonnas, such as this, which had all along the credit of
being miraculous; and "to this day," says Kugler, "the Neapolitan
lemonade-seller will allow no other than a formal Greek Madonna, with
olive-green complexion and veiled head, to be set up in his booth." It
is the same in Russia. Such pictures, in which there is no attempt
at representation, real or ideal, and which merely have a sort of
imaginary sanctity and power, are not so much idols as they are mere
_Fetishes_. The most lovely Madonna by Raphael or Titian would not
have the same effect. Guido, who himself painted lovely Virgins,
went every Saturday to pray before the little black _Madonna della
Guardia_, and, as we are assured, held this old Eastern relic in
devout veneration.

In the pictures of the Madonna, produced by the most eminent painters
of the seventeenth century, is embodied the theology of the time.
The Virgin Mary is not, like the Madonna di San Sisto, "a single
projection of the artist's mind," but, as far as he could put his
studies together, she is "a compound of every creature's best,"
sometimes majestic, sometimes graceful, often full of sentiment,
elegance, and refinement, but wanting wholly in the spiritual element.
If the Madonna did really sit to Guido in person, (see Malvasia,
"Felsina Pittrice,") we fancy she must have revealed her loveliness,
but veiled her divinity.

Without doubt the finest Madonnas of the seventeenth century are
those produced by the Spanish school; not because they more realize
our spiritual conception of the Virgin--quite the contrary: for here
the expression of life through sensation and emotion prevails over
abstract mind, grandeur, and grace;--but because the intensely human
and sympathetic character given to the Madonna appeals most strongly
to our human nature. The appeal is to the faith through the feelings,
rather than through the imagination. Morales and Ribera excelled
in the Mater Dolorosa; and who has surpassed Murilio in the tender
exultation of maternity?[1] There is a freshness and a depth of
feeling in the best Madonnas of the late Spanish school, which puts to
shame the mannerism of the Italians, and the naturalism of the Flemish
painters of the same period: and this because the Spaniards were
intense and enthusiastic believers, not mere thinkers, in art as in

[Footnote 1: See in the Handbook to the Private Galleries of Art some
remarks on the tendencies of the Spanish School, p, 172.]

As in the sixth century, the favourite dogma of the time (the union
of the divine and human nature in Christ, and the dignity of Mary
as parent of both) had been embodied in the group of the Virgin
and Child, so now, in the seventeenth, the doctrine of the eternal
sanctification and predestination of Mary was, after a long
controversy, triumphant, and took form in the "Immaculate Conception;"
that beautiful subject in which Guido and Murilio excelled, and which
became the darling theme of the later schools of art. It is worthy
of remark, that while in the sixth century, and for a thousand years
afterwards, the Virgin, in all devotional subjects, was associated in
some visible manner with her divine Son, in this she appears without
the Infant in her arms. The maternal character is set aside, and
she stands alone, absolute in herself, and complete in her own
perfections. This is a very significant characteristic of the
prevalent theology of the time.

I forbear to say much of the productions of a school of art which
sprung up simultaneously with that of the Caracci, and in the end
overpowered its higher aspirations. The _Naturalisti_, as they were
called, imitated nature without selection, and produced some charming
painters. But their religious pictures are almost all intolerable,
and their Madonnas are almost all portraits. Rubens and Albano painted
their wives; Allori and Vandyck their mistresses; Domenichino his
daughter. Salvator Rosa, in his Satires, exclaims against this general
profaneness in terms not less strong than those of Savonarola in his
Sermons; but the corruption was by this time beyond the reach of cure;
the sin could neither be preached nor chided away. Striking effects of
light and shade, peculiar attitudes, scenic groups, the perpetual and
dramatic introduction of legendary scenes and personages, of visions
and miracles of the Madonna vouchsafed to her votaries, characterize
the productions of the seventeenth century. As "they who are whole
need not a physician, but they who are sick," so in proportion to
the decline of faith were the excitements to faith, or rather to
credulity: just in proportion as men were less inclined to believe
were the wonders multiplied which they were called on to believe.

I have not spoken of the influence of Jesuitism on art. This Order
kept alive that devotion for the Madonna which their great founder
Loyola had so ardently professed when he chose for the "Lady" of
his thoughts, "no princess, no duchess, but one far greater, more
peerless." The learning of the Jesuits supplied some themes not
hitherto in use, principally of a fanciful and allegorical kind, and
never had the meek Mary been so decked out with earthly ornament
as in their church pictures. If the sanctification of simplicity,
gentleness, maternal love, and heroic fortitude, were calculated
to elevate the popular mind, the sanctification of mere glitter and
ornament, embroidered robes, and jewelled crowns, must have tended
to degrade it. It is surely an unworthy and a foolish excuse that, in
thus desecrating with the vainest and most vulgar finery the beautiful
ideal of the Virgin, an appeal was made to the awe and admiration
of vulgar and ignorant minds; for this is precisely what, in all
religious imagery, should be avoided. As, however, this sacrilegious
millinery does not come within the province of the fine arts, I may
pass it over here.

Among the Jesuit prints of the seventeenth century, I remember one
which represents the Virgin and Child in the centre, and around are
the most famous heretics of all ages, lying prostrate, or hanging by
the neck. Julian the Apostate; Leo the Isaurian; his son, Constantine
Capronymus; Arius; Nestorius; Manicheus; Luther; Calvin:--very
characteristic of the age of controversy which had succeeded to the
age of faith, when, instead of solemn saints and grateful votaries, we
have dead or dying heretics surrounding the Mother of Mercy!

       *       *       *       *       *

After this rapid sketch of the influences which modified in a general
way the pictures of the Madonna, we may array before us, and learn to
compare, the types which distinguished in a more particular manner the
separate schools, caught from some more local or individual impulses.
Thus we have the stern, awful quietude of the old Mosaics; the hard
lifelessness of the degenerate Greek; the pensive sentiment of
the Siena, and stately elegance of the Florentine Madonnas; the
intellectual Milanese, with their large foreheads and thoughtful eyes;
the tender, refined mysticism of the Umbrian; the sumptuous loveliness
of the Venetian; the quaint, characteristic simplicity of the early
German, so stamped with their nationality, that I never looked round
me in a room full of German girls without thinking of Albert Durer's
Virgins; the intense life-like feeling of the Spanish; the prosaic,
portrait-like nature of the Flemish schools, and so on. But here an
obvious question suggests itself. In the midst of all this diversity,
these ever-changing influences, was there no characteristic type
universally accepted, suggested by common religious associations, if
not defined by ecclesiastical authority, to which the artist was bound
to conform? How is it that the impersonation of the Virgin fluctuated,
not only with the fluctuating tendencies of successive ages, but even
with the caprices of the individual artist?

This leads us back to reconsider the sources from which the artist
drew his inspiration.

The legend which represents St. Luke the Evangelist as a painter
appears to be of Eastern origin, and quite unknown in Western Europe
before the first crusade. It crept in then, and was accepted with many
other oriental superstitions and traditions. It may have originated
in the real existence of a Greek painter named Luca--a saint, too,
he may have been; for the Greeks have a whole calendar of canonized
artists,--painters, poets, and musicians; and this Greek San Luca may
have been a painter of those Madonnas imported from the ateliers of
Mount Athos into the West by merchants and pilgrims; and the West,
which knew but of one St. Luke, may have easily confounded the painter
and the evangelist.

But we must also remember, that St. Luke the Evangelist was early
regarded as the great authority with respect to the few Scripture
particulars relating to the character and life of Mary; so that,
in the figurative sense, he may be said to have _painted_ that
portrait of her which has been since received as the perfect type
of womanhood:--1. Her noble, trustful humility, when she receives
the salutation of the angel (Luke i. 38); the complete and feminine
surrender of her whole being to the higher, holier will--"Be it unto
me according to thy word." 2. Then, the decision and prudence of
character, shown in her visit to Elizabeth, her older relative; her
journey in haste over the hills to consult with her cousin, which
journey it is otherwise difficult to accord with the oriental customs
of the time, unless Mary, young as she was, had possessed unusual
promptitude and energy of disposition. (Luke i. 39, 40.) 3. The proof
of her intellectual power in the beautiful hymn she has left us, "_My
soul doth magnify the Lord._" (Luke i. 46.) The commentators are
not agreed as to whether this effusion was poured forth by immediate
inspiration, or composed and written down, because the same words,
"and Mary said," may be interpreted in either sense; but we can no
more doubt her being the authoress, than we can doubt of any other
particulars recorded in the same Gospel: it proves that she must have
been, for her time and country, most rarely gifted in mind, and deeply
read in the Scriptures. 4. She was of a contemplative, reflecting,
rather silent disposition. "She kept all these sayings, and pondered
them in her heart." (Luke ii. 51.) She made no boast of that wondrous
and most blessed destiny to which she was called; she thought upon it
in silence. It is inferred that as many of these sayings and events
could be known to herself alone, St. Luke the Evangelist could have
learned them only from her own lips. 5. Next her truly maternal
devotion to her divine Son, whom she attended humbly through his whole
ministry;[1] 6. and lastly, the sublime fortitude and faith with which
she followed her Son to the death scene, stood beside the cross till
all was finished, and then went home, and _lived_ (Luke xxiii.); for
she was to be to us an example of all that a woman could endure, as
well as all that a woman could be and act out in her earthly life.
(John xix. 25.) Such was the character of Mary; such the _portrait_
really _painted_ by St. Luke; and, as it seems to me, these scattered,
artless, unintentional notices of conduct and character converge into
the most perfect moral type of the intellectual, tender, simple, and
heroic woman that ever was placed before us for our edification and

[Footnote 1: Milton places in the mouth of our Saviour an allusion to
the influence of his Mother in early life:--

  "These growing thoughts my mother soon perceiving
  By words at times cast forth, duly rejoiced,
  And said to me apart, 'High are thy thoughts,
  O Son; but nourish them, and let them soar
  To what height sacred virtue and true worth
  Can raise them, though above example high.'"]

But in the Church traditions and enactments, another character
was, from the fifth century, assigned to her, out of which grew the
theological type, very beautiful and exalted, but absorbing to a great
degree the scriptural and moral type, and substituting for the merely
human attributes others borrowed from her relation to the great
scheme of redemption; for it was contended that, as the mother of
_the Divine_, she could not be herself less than divine; consequently
above the angels, and first of all created beings. According to the
doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, her tender woman's wisdom
became supernatural gifts; the beautiful humility was changed into a
knowledge of her own predestined glory; and, being raised bodily into
immortality, and placed beside her Son, in all "the sacred splendour
of beneficence," she came to be regarded as our intercessor before
that divine Son, who could refuse nothing to his mother. The relative
position of the Mother and Son being spiritual and indestructible was
continued in heaven; and thus step by step the woman was transmuted
into the divinity.

But, like her Son, Mary had walked in human form upon earth, and in
form must have resembled her Son; for, as it is argued, Christ had no
earthly father, therefore could only have derived his human lineaments
from his mother. All the old legends assume that the resemblance
between the Son and the Mother must have been perfect. Dante alludes
to this belief:

  "Riguarda ormai nella faccia ch' a Christo
  Piu s' assomiglia."

  "Now raise thy view
  Unto the visage most resembling Christ."

The accepted type of the head of Christ was to be taken as a model in
its mild, intellectual majesty, for that of the Virgin-mother, as far
as difference of sex would allow.

In the ecclesiastical history of Nicephorus Gallixtus, he has inserted
a description of the person of Mary, which he declares to have been
given by Epiphanius, who lived in the fourth century, and by him
derived from a more ancient source. It must be confessed, that the
type of person here assigned to the Virgin is more energetic for a
woman than that which has been assigned to our Saviour as a man. "She
was of middle stature; her face oval; her eyes brilliant, and of an
olive tint; her eyebrows arched and black; her hair was of a pale
brown; her complexion fair as wheat. She spoke little, but she spoke
freely and affably; she was not troubled in her speech, but grave,
courteous, tranquil. Her dress was without ornament, and in her
deportment was nothing lax or feeble." To this ancient description
of her person and manners, we are to add the scriptural and popular
portrait of her mind; the gentleness, the purity, the intellect,
power, and fortitude; the gifts of the poetess and prophetess; the
humility in which she exceeded all womankind. Lastly, we are to
engraft on these personal and moral qualities, the theological
attributes which the Church, from early times, had assigned to
her, the supernatural endowments which lifted her above angels
and men:--all these were to be combined into one glorious type of
perfection. Where shall we seek this highest, holiest impersonation!
Where has it been attained, or even approached? Not, certainly, in the
mere woman, nor yet in the mere idol; not in those lovely creations
which awaken a sympathetic throb of tenderness; nor in those stern,
motionless types,--which embody a dogma; not in the classic features
of marble goddesses, borrowed as models; nor in the painted images
which stare upon us from tawdry altars in flaxen wigs and embroidered
petticoats. But where?

Of course we each form to ourselves some notion of what we require;
and these requirements will be as diverse as our natures and our
habits of thought. For myself, I have seen my own ideal once, and only
once, attained: _there_, where Raphael--inspired if ever painter was
inspired--projected on the space before him that wonderful creation
which we style the _Madonna di San Sisto_ (Dresden Gal.); for there
she stands--the transfigured woman, at once completely human and
completely divine, an abstraction of power, purity, and love, poised
on the empurpled air, and requiring no other support; looking out,
with her melancholy, loving mouth, her slightly dilated, sibylline
eyes, quite through the universe, to the end and consummation of all
things;--sad, as if she beheld afar off the visionary sword that
was to reach her heart through HIM, now resting as enthroned on
that heart; yet already exalted through the homage of the redeemed
generations who were to salute her as Blessed. Six times have I
visited the city made glorious by the possession of this treasure, and
as often, when again at a distance, with recollections disturbed by
feeble copies and prints, I have begun to think, "Is it so indeed? is
she indeed so divine? or does not rather the imagination encircle
her with a halo of religion and poetry, and lend a grace which is not
really there?" and as often, when returned, I have stood before it and
confessed that there is more in that form and face than I had ever
yet conceived. I cannot here talk the language of critics, and speak
of this picture merely as a picture, for to me it was a revelation.
In the same gallery is the lovely Madonna of the Meyer family:
inexpressibly touching and perfect in its way, but conveying only one
of the attributes of Mary, her benign pity; while the Madonna di San
Sisto is an abstract of _all_.[1]

[Footnote 1: Expression is the great and characteristic excellence of
Raphael more especially in his Madonnas. It is precisely this which
all copies and engravings render at best most imperfectly; and in
point of expression the most successful engraving of the Madonna di
San Sisto is certainly that of Steinla.]

       *       *       *       *       *

The poets are ever the best commentators on the painters. I have
already given from the great "singers of high poems" in the fourteenth
century _their_ exposition of the theological type of the Madonna.
Now, in some striking passages of our modern poets, we may find a most
beautiful commentary on what I have termed the _moral_ type.

The first is from Wordsworth, and may be recited before the Madonna di
San Sisto:--

  "Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
  With the least shade of thought to sin allied!
  Woman! above all women glorified;
  Out tainted nature's solitary boast;
  Purer than foam on central ocean tost;
  Brighter than eastern skies at daybreak strewn
  With fancied roses, than the unblemish'd moon
  Before her wane begins on heaven's blue coast,
  Thy Image falls to earth. Yet some I ween,
  Not unforgiven, the suppliant knee might bend,
  As to a visible Power, in which did blend
  All that was mix'd and reconcil'd in thee,
  Of mother's love with maiden purity,
  Of high with low, celestial with terrene."

The next, from Shelley, reads like a hymn in honour of the Immaculate

  Seraph of Heaven! too gentle to be human,
  Veiling beneath that radiant form of woman
  All that is insupportable in thee
  Of light, and love, and immortality!
  Sweet Benediction in the eternal curse!
  Veil'd Glory of this lampless Universe!
  Thou Moon beyond the clouds! Thou living Form
  Among the Dead! Thou Star above the storm!
  Thou Wonder, and thou Beauty, and thou Terror!
  Thou Harmony of Nature's art! Thou Mirror
  In whom, as in the splendour of the Sun,
  All shapes look glorious which thou gazest on!"

  "See where she stands! a mortal shape endued
  With love, and life, and light, and deity;
  The motion which may change but cannot die,
  An image of some bright eternity;
  A shadow of some golden dream; a splendour
  Leaving the third sphere pilotless."

I do not know whether intentionally or not, but we have here assembled
some of the favourite symbols of the Virgin--the moon, the star, the
"_terribilis ut castrorum acies_" (Cant. vi. 10), and the mirror.

The third is a passage from Robert Browning, which appears to me to
sum up the moral ideal:--

  "There is a vision in the heart of each,
  Of justice, mercy, wisdom, tenderness
  To wrong and pain, and knowledge of their cure;
  And these embodied in a woman's form
  That best transmits them pure as first received
  From God above her to mankind below!"


That which the genius of the greatest of painters only once expressed,
we must not look to find in his predecessors, who saw only partial
glimpses of the union of the divine and human in the feminine form;
still less in his degenerate successors, who never beheld it at all.

The difficulty of fully expressing this complex ideal, and the
allegorical spirit of the time, first suggested the expedient of
placing round the figure of the glorified Virgin certain accessory
symbols, which should assist the artist to express, and the observer
to comprehend, what seemed beyond the power of art to portray;--a
language of metaphor then understood, and which we also must
understand if we would seize the complete theological idea intended
to be conveyed.

I shall begin with those symbols which are borrowed from the Litanies
of the Virgin, and from certain texts of the Canticles, in all ages
of the Church applied to her; symbols which, in the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries, frequently accompany those representations
which set forth her Glorification or Predestination; and, in the
seventeenth, are introduced into the "Immaculate Conception."

1. The Sun and the Moon.--"Electa ut Sol, pulchra ut Luna," is one
of the texts of the Canticles applied to Mary; and also in a passage
of the Revelation, "_A woman clothed with the sun, having the moon
under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars._" Hence the
radiance of the sun above her head, and the crescent moon beneath her
feet. From inevitable association the crescent moon suggests the
idea of her perpetual chastity; but in this sense it would be a pagan
rather than a Christian attribute.

2. The STAR.--This attribute, often embroidered in front of the veil
of the Virgin or on the right shoulder of her blue mantle, has become
almost as a badge from which several well-known pictures derive
their title, "La Madonna della Stella." It is in the first place
an attribute alluding to the most beautiful and expressive of her
many titles:--"_Stella Maris_" Star of the Sea,[1] which is one
interpretation of her Jewish name, _Miriam_: but she is also "_Stella
Jacobi_," the Star of Jacob; "_Stella Matutina_," the Morning Star;
"_Stella non Erratica_," the Fixed Star. When, instead of the single
star on her veil or mantle, she has the crown of twelve stars, the
allusion is to the text of the Apocalypse already quoted, and the
number of stars is in allusion to the number of the Apostles.[2]

[Footnote 1:
  "Ave Maris Stella
  Dei Mater alma!" &c.]

[Footnote 2: "In capite inquit ejus corona stellarum duodecim; quidni
coronent sidera quam sol vestit?"--_St. Bernard_.]

3. The LILY.--"_I am the rose of Sharon, and lily of the valleys._"
(Cant. ii. 1, 2.) As the general emblem of purity, the lily is
introduced into the Annunciation, where it ought to be without
stamens: and in the enthroned Madonnas it is frequently placed in
the hands of attendant angels, more particularly in the Florentine
Madonnas; the lily, as the emblem of their patroness, being chosen
by the citizens as the _device_ of the city. For the same reason it
became that of the French monarchy. Thorns are sometimes interlaced
with the lily, to express the "_Lilium inter Spinas_." (Cant. ii. 2.)

4. The ROSE.--She is the rose of Sharon, as well as the lily of the
valley; and as an emblem of love and beauty, the rose is especially
dedicated to her. The plantation or garden of roses[1] is often
introduced; sometimes it forms the background of the picture. There
is a most beautiful example in a Madonna by Cesare di Sesto (Milan,
Brera); and another, "the Madonna of the Rose Bush," by Martin Schoen.
(Cathedral, Colmar.)

[Footnote 1: Quasi plantatio rosæ in Jericho.]

5. The ENCLOSED GARDEN (_Hortus conclusus_) is an image borrowed,
like many others, from the Song of Solomon. (Cant. iv. 12.) I have
seen this enclosed garden very significantly placed in the background
of the Annunciation, and in pictures of the Immaculate Conception.
Sometimes the enclosure is formed of a treillage or hedge of roses, as
in a beautiful Virgin by Francia.[1] Sometimes it is merely formed of
stakes or palisades, as In some of the prints by Albert Durer.

[Footnote 1: Munich Gal.; another by Antonio da Negroponte in the
San Francesco della Vigna at Venice, is also an instance of this
significant background.]

The WELL always full; the FOUNTAIN forever sealed; the TOWER of David;
the TEMPLE of Solomon; the CITY of David (_Civitas sancti_), (Cant iv.
4. 12, 15); all these are attributes borrowed from the Canticles, and
are introduced into pictures and stained glass.

6. The PORTA CLAITSA, the Closed Gate, is another metaphor, taken from
the prophecy of Ezekiel (xliv. 4).

7. The CEDAR of Lebanon (_Cedrus exaliata_, "exalted as a cedar in
Lebanon"), because of its height, its incorruptible substance,
its perfume, and the healing virtues attributed to it in the East,
expresses the greatness, the beauty, the goodness of Mary.

The victorious PALM, the Plantain "far spreading," and the Cypress
pointing to heaven, are also emblems of the Virgin.

The OLIVE, as a sign of peace, hope, and abundance, is also a fitting
emblem of the graces of Mary.[1]

[Footnote 1: Quasi oliva speciosa in campis.]

8. The Stem of Jesse (Isa. xi. 1), figured as a green branch entwined
with flowers, is also very significant.

9. The MIRROR (_Specula sine macula_) is a metaphor borrowed from the
Book of Wisdom (vii, 25). We meet with it in some of the late pictures
of the Immaculate Conception.

10. The SEALED BOOK is also a symbol often placed in the hands of the
Virgin in a mystical Annunciation, and sufficiently significant. The
allusion is to the text, "In that book were all my members written;"
and also to the text in Isaiah (xxix. 11, 12), in which he describes
the vision of the book that was sealed, and could be read neither by
the learned nor the unlearned.

11. "The Bush which burned and was not consumed," is introduced, with
a mystical significance, into an Annunciation by Titian.

       *       *       *       *       *

Besides these symbols, which have a mystic and sacred significance,
and are applicable to the Virgin only, certain attributes and
accessories are introduced into pictures of the Madonna and Child,
which are capable of a more general interpretation.

1. The GLOBE, as the emblem of sovereignty, was very early placed in
the hand of the divine Child. When the globe is under the feet of
the Madonna and encircled by a serpent, as in some later pictures,
it figures our Redemption; her triumph over a fallen world--fallen
through sin.

2. The SERPENT is the general emblem of Sin or Satan; but under the
feet of the Virgin it has a peculiar significance. She has generally
her foot on the head of the reptile. "SHE shall bruise thy head," as
it is interpreted in the Roman Catholic Church.[1]

[Footnote 1: _Ipsa_ conteret caput tuum.]

3. The APPLE, which of all the attributes is the most common,
signifies the fall of man, which made Redemption necessary. It is
sometimes placed in the hands of the Child; but when in the hand of
the Mother, she is then designated as the second Eve.[1]

[Footnote 1: Mors per Evam: vita per Mariam.]

4. The POMEGRANATE, with the seeds displayed, was the ancient emblem
of hope, and more particularly of religious hope. It is often placed
in the hands of the Child, who sometimes presents it to his Mother.

Other fruits and flowers, always beautiful accessories, are frequently
introduced according to the taste of the artist. But fruits in a
general sense signified "the fruits of the Spirit--joy, peace, love;"
and flowers were consecrated to the Virgin: hence we yet see them
placed before her as offerings.

5. EARS OF WHEAT in the hand of the Infant (as in a lovely little
Madonna by Ludovico Caracci)[1] figured the bread in the Eucharist,
and GRAPES the wine.

[Footnote 1: Lansdowne Collection. There was another exactly similar
in the collection of Mr. Rogers.]

6. The BOOK.--In the hand of the Infant Christ, the book is the Gospel
in a general sense, or it is the Book of Wisdom. In the hand of the
Madonna, it may have one of two meanings. When open, or when she has
her finger between the leaves, or when the Child is turning over the
pages, then it is the Book of Wisdom, and is always supposed to be
open at the seventh chapter. When the book is clasped or sealed, it is
a mystical symbol of the Virgin herself, as I have already explained.

7. The DOVE, as the received emblem of the Holy Spirit, is properly
placed above, as hovering over the Virgin. There is an exception to
this rule in a very interesting picture in the Louvre, where the
Holy Dove (with the _nimbus_) is placed at the feet of the Child.[1]
This is so unusual, and so contrary to all the received proprieties
of religious art, that I think the _nimbus_ may have been added

[Footnote 1: The Virgin has the air of a gipsy. (Louvre, 515.)]

The seven doves round the head of the Virgin signify the seven gifts
of the Spirit. These characterize her as personified Wisdom--the Mater

Doves placed near Mary when she is reading, or at work in the temple,
are expressive of her gentleness and tenderness.

8. BIRDS.--The bird in the Egyptian hieroglyphics signified the soul
of man. In the very ancient pictures there can be no doubt, I think,
that the bird in the hand of Christ figured the soul, or the spiritual
as opposed to the material. But, in the later pictures, the original
meaning being lost, birds became mere ornamental accessories, or
playthings. Sometimes it is a parrot from the East, sometimes a
partridge (the partridge is frequent in the Venetian pictures):
sometimes a goldfinch, as in Raphael's Madonna _del Cardellino_. In a
Madonna by Guercino, the Mother holds a bird perched on her hand, and
the Child, with a most _naïve_ infantine expression, shrinks back from
it.[1] In a picture by Baroccio, he holds it up before a cat (Nat.
Gal. 29), so completely were the original symbolism and all the
religious proprieties of art at this time set aside.

[Footnote 1: It was in the collection of Mr. Rogers.]

Other animals are occasionally introduced. Extremely offensive are
the apes when admitted into devotional pictures. We have associations
with the animal as a mockery of the human, which render it a very
disagreeable accessory. It appears that, in the sixteenth century,
it became the fashion to keep apes as pets, and every reader of
Vasari will remember the frequent mention of these animals as pets
and favourites of the artists. Thus only can I account for the
introduction of the ape, particularly in the Ferrarese pictures.
Bassano's dog, Baroccio's cat, are often introduced. In a famous
picture by Titian, "La Vierge au Lapin," we have the rabbit. (Louvre.)
The introduction of these and other animals marks the decline of
religious art.

Certain women of the Old Testament are regarded as especial types of
the Virgin.

EVE. Mary is regarded as the second Eve, because, through her, came
the promised Redemption. She bruised the head of the Serpent. The Tree
of Life, the Fall, or Eve holding the Apple, are constantly introduced
allusively in the Madonna pictures, as ornaments of her throne, or
on the predella of an altar-piece, representing the Annunciation, the
Nativity, or the Coronation.

RACHEL figures as the ideal of contemplative life.

RUTH, as the ancestress of David.

ABISHAG, as "the Virgin who was brought to the King." (I Kings i. 1.)

BATHSHEBA, because she sat upon a throne on the right hand of her Son.

JUDITH and ESTHER, as having redeemed their people, and brought
deliverance to Israel. It is because of their typical character, as
emblems of the Virgin, that these Jewish heroines so often figure in
the religious pictures.[1]

[Footnote 1: The artistic treatment of these characters as types of
the Virgin, will be found in the fourth series of "Legendary Art."]

In his "Paradiso" (c. xxxii.), Dante represents Eve, Rachel, Sara,
Ruth, Judith, as seated at the feet of the Virgin Mary, beneath her
throne in heaven; and next to Rachel, by a refinement of spiritual and
poetical gallantry, he has placed his Beatrice.

In the beautiful frescoes of the church of St. Apollinaris at Remagen,
these Hebrew women stand together in a group below the throne of the

Of the Prophets and the Sibyls who attend on Christ in his character
of the Messiah or Redeemer, I shall have much to say, when describing
the artistic treatment of the history and character of Our Lord.
Those of the prophets who are supposed to refer more particularly to
the Incarnation, properly attend on the Virgin and Child; but in the
ancient altar-pieces, they are not placed within the same frame, nor
are they grouped immediately round her throne, but form the outer
accessories, or are treated separately as symbolical.

First, MOSES, because he beheld the burning bush, "which burned and
was not consumed." He is generally in the act of removing his sandals.

AARON, because his rod blossomed miraculously.

GIDEON, on whose fleece descended the dew of heaven, while all was
dry around.

DANIEL, who beheld the stone which was cut out without hands, and
became a great mountain, filling the earth. (ch. ii. 45.)

DAVID, as prophet and ancestor. "Listen, O daughter, and incline thine

ISAIAH, "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son."

EZEKIEL, "This gate shall be shut." (ch. xliv. 2.)

Certain of these personages, Moses, Aaron, Gideon, Daniel, Ezekiel,
are not merely accessories and attendant figures, but in a manner
attributes, as expressing the character of the Virgin. Thus in many
instances, we find the prophetical personages altogether omitted, and
we have simply the attribute figuring the prophecy itself, the burning
bush, the rod, the dewy fleece, &c.

The Sibyls are sometimes introduced alternately with the Prophets. In
general, if there be only two, they are the Tiburtina, who showed the
vision to Augustus, and the Cumean Sibyl who foretold the birth of our
Saviour. The Sibyls were much the fashion in the classic times of the
sixteenth century; Michael Angelo and Raphael have left us consummate

But I must repeat that the full consideration of the Prophets and
Sibyls as accessories belongs to another department of sacred art, and
they will find their place there.

The Evangelists frequently, and sometimes one or more of the
Twelve Apostles, appear as accessories which assist the theological
conception. When other figures are introduced, they are generally
either the protecting saints of the country or locality, or the saints
of the Religious Order to whom the edifice belongs: or, where the
picture or window is an _ex-voto_, we find the patron saints of the
confraternity, or of the donor or votary who has dedicated it.

Angels seated at the feet of the Madonna and playing on musical
instruments, are most lovely and appropriate accessories, for the
choral angels are always around her in heaven, and on earth she is
the especial patroness of music and minstrelsy.[1] Her delegate
Cecilia patronized _sacred_ music; but _all_ music and musicians,
all minstrels, and all who plied the "gaye science," were under the
protection of Mary. When the angels are singing from their music
books, and others are accompanying them with lutes and viols, the
song is not always supposed to be the same. In a Nativity they sing
the "Gloria in excelsis Deo;" in a Coronation, the "Regina Coeli;"
in an enthroned Madonna with votaries, the "Salve Regina, Mater
Misericordiæ!" in a pastoral Madonna and Child it may be the "Alma
Mater Redemptoris."

[Footnote 1: The picture by Lo Spagna, lately added to our National
Gallery, is a beautiful example.]

       *       *       *       *       *

In all the most ancient devotional effigies (those in the catacombs
and the old mosaics), the Virgin appears as a majestic woman of mature
age. In those subjects taken from her history which precede her return
from Egypt, and in the Holy Families, she should appear as a young
maiden from fifteen to seventeen years old.

In the subjects taken from her history which follow the baptism of our
Lord, she should appear as a matron between forty and fifty, but still
of a sweet and gracious aspect. When Michael Angelo was reproached
with representing his Mater Dolorosa much too young, he replied that
the perfect virtue and serenity of the character of Mary would have
preserved her beauty and youthful appearance long beyond the usual

[Footnote 1: The group in St. Peter's, Rome.]

Because some of the Greek pictures and carved images had become black
through extreme age, it was argued by certain devout writers, that the
Virgin herself must have been of a very dark complexion; and in favour
of this idea they quoted this text from the Canticles, "I am black,
but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem." But others say that her
complexion had become black only during her sojourn in Egypt. At all
events, though the blackness of these antique images was supposed to
enhance their sanctity, it has never been imitated in the fine arts,
and it is quite contrary to the description of Nicephorus, which is
the most ancient authority, and that which is followed in the Greek

The proper dress of the Virgin is a close red tunic, with long
sleeves;[1] and over this a blue robe or mantle. In the early
pictures, the colours are pale and delicate. Her head ought to be
veiled. The fathers of the primeval Church, particularly Tertullian,
attach great importance to the decent veil worn by Christian maidens;
and in all the early pictures the Virgin is veiled. The enthroned
Virgin, unveiled, with long tresses falling down on either side,
was an innovation introduced about the end of the fifteenth century;
commencing, I think, with the Milanese, and thence adopted in the
German schools and those of Northern Italy. The German Madonnas of
Albert Durer's time have often magnificent and luxuriant hair, curling
in ringlets, or descending to the waist in rich waves, and always
fair. Dark-haired Madonnas appear first in the Spanish and later
Italian schools.

[Footnote 1: In a famous Pietà by Raphael, engraved by Marc Antonio,
the Virgin, standing by the dead form of her Son, has the right arm
apparently bare; in the repetition of the subject it is clothed with
a full sleeve, the impropriety being corrected. The first is, however,
the most perfect and most precious as a work of art.--_Bartsch_, xiv.
34, 35.]

In the historical pictures, her dress is very simple; but in those
devotional figures which represent her as queen of heaven, she wears a
splendid crown, sometimes of jewels interwoven with lilies and roses.
The crown is often the sovereign crown of the country in which the
picture is placed: thus, in the Papal States, she often wears the
triple tiara: in Austria, the imperial diadem. Her blue tunic is
richly embroidered with gold and gems, or lined with ermine, or stuff
of various colours, in accordance with a text of Scripture: "The
King's daughter is all glorious within; her clothing is of wrought
gold. She shall be brought unto the King in a vesture of needlework."
(Ps. xlv. 13.) In the Immaculate Conception, and in the Assumption,
her tunic should be plain white, or white spangled with golden stars.
In the subjects relating to the Passion, and after the Crucifixion,
the dress of the Virgin should be violet or gray. These proprieties,
however, are not always attended to.

In the early pictures which represent her as nursing the divine Infant
(the subject called the _Vergine Lattante_), the utmost care is taken
to veil the bust as much as possible. In the Spanish school the most
vigilant censorship was exercised over all sacred pictures, and, with
regard to the figures of the Virgin, the utmost decorum was required.
"What," says Pacheco, "can be more foreign to the respect which we owe
to our Lady the Virgin, than to paint her sitting down with one of her
knees placed over the other, and often with her sacred feet uncovered
and naked? Let thanks be given to the Holy Inquisition, which commands
that this liberty should be corrected." For this reason, perhaps, we
seldom see the feet of the Virgin in Spanish pictures.[1] Carducho
speaks more particularly on the impropriety of painting the Virgin
unshod, "since it is manifest that, our Lady was in the habit of
wearing shoes, as is proved by the much venerated relic of one of them
from her divine feet at Burgos."

[Footnote 1: Or in any of the old pictures till the seventeenth
century "Tandis que Dieu est toujours montré pieds nus, lui qui est
descendu à terre et a pris notre humanité, Marie au contraire est
constamment représentée les pieds perdus dans les plis trainants,
nombreux et légers de sa robe virginale; elle, qui est elevée au
dessus de la terre et rapprochée de Dieu par sa pureté. Dieu montre
par ses pieds nus qu'il a pris le corps de l'homme; Marie fait
comprendre en les cachant qu'elle participe de la spiritualité de

The Child in her arms is always, in the Greek and early pictures,
clothed in a little tunic, generally white. In the fifteenth century
he first appears partly, and then wholly, undraped. Joseph, as the
earthly _sposo_, wears the saffron-coloured mantle over a gray tunic.
In the later schools of art these significant colours are often
varied, and sometimes wholly dispensed with.


In this volume, as in the former ones, I have adhered to the
distinction between the devotional and the historical representations.

I class as devotional, all those which express a dogma merely; all the
enthroned Madonnas, alone or surrounded by significant accessories
or attendant saints; all the Mystical Coronations and Immaculate
Conceptions; all the Holy Families with saints, and those completely
ideal and votive groups, in which the appeal is made to the faith and
piety of the observer. I shall give the characteristic details, in
particular instances, further on.

The altar-pieces in a Roman Catholic church are always either strictly
devotional objects, or it may be, historical subjects (such as the
Nativity) treated in a devotional sense. They are sometimes in several
pieces or compartments. A Diptych is an altar-piece composed of two
divisions or leaves which are united by hinges, and close like a book.
Portable altar-pieces of a small size are generally in this form; and
among the most valuable and curious remains of early religious art are
the Greek and Byzantine Diptychs, sometimes painted, sometimes carved
in ivory[1]. A Triptych is an altar-piece in three parts; the two
outer divisions or wings often closing as shutters over the central

[Footnote 1: Among the "Casts from Ancient Ivory Carvings",
published by the Arundel Society, will be found some interesting and
illustrative examples, particularly Class III. Diptych _b_, Class VII
Diptych _c_ and Triptych _f_, Class IX. Triptych _k_.]

On the outside of the shutters or doors the Annunciation was
generally painted, as the mystery which opened the gates of salvation;
occasionally, also, the portraits of the votaries or donors.

Complete examples of devotional representation occur in the complex
and elaborate altar-pieces and windows of stained glass, which often
comprehend a very significant scheme of theology.[1]. I give here
plans of two of these old altar-pieces, which will assist the reader
in elucidating the meaning of others.

[Footnote 1: Still more important examples occur in the porches and
exterior decoration of the old cathedrals, French and English which
have escaped mutilation. These will be found explained at length in
the Fourth Series of Sacred and Legendary Art.]

The first is the altar-piece in the Rinuccini Chapel in the church
of the Santa Croco of Florence. It is necessary to premise that
the chapel was founded in honour of the Virgin and Mary Magdalene;
while the church is dedicated to the Holy Cross, and belongs to the

[Illustration: Altar-piece]

The compartments are separated by wood-work most richly carved
and gilt in the Gothic style, with twisted columns, pinnacles, and
scrolls. The subjects are thus distributed.

A. The Virgin and Child enthroned. She has the sun on her breast, the
moon under her feet, the twelve stars over her head, and is attended
by angels bearing the attributes of the cardinal virtues. B. St.
John the Baptist. C. St. Francis. D. St. John Evangelist. E. Mary
Magdalene. 1. The Crucifixion, with the Virgin and St. John. 2, 3, 4,
5. The four Evangelists with their books: half length. 6, 7. St. Peter
and St. Paul: half length. 8, 9, 10, 11. St. Thomas, St. Philip, St.
James, and St. Andrew: half length. PP. The Predella. 12. The Nativity
and Adoration of Magi. 13. St. Francis receives the Stigmata. 14.
Baptism of Christ. 15. The Vision of St. John in Patmos. 16. Mary
Magdalene borne up by angels. Between the altar-piece and the predella
runs the inscription in Gothic letters, AVE DELICISSIMIS VIRGO MARIA,

The second example is sketched from an altar-piece painted for the
suppressed convent of Santa Chiara, at Venice. It is six feet high,
and eight feet wide, and the ornamental caning in which the subjects
are enclosed particularly splendid and elaborate.

[Illustration: Altar-piece]

A. The Coronation of the Virgin, treated as a religious mystery, with
choral angels. B. The Nativity of our Lord. C. The Baptism. D. The
Last Supper. E. The Betrayal of Christ. F. The Procession to Calvary,
in which the Virgin is rudely pushed aside by the soldiers. G. The
Crucifixion, as an event: John sustains the Virgin at the foot of the
cross. H. The Resurrection and the _Noli me tangere_. I. Ascension.
1. Half-figure of Christ, with the hand extended in benediction; in
the other hand the Gospel. 2. David. 3. Isaiah. 4, 5, 6, 7. The
four Evangelists standing. 8. 9, 11, 12. Scenes from the Life of St.
Francis and St. Clara. 10. The Descent of the Holy Ghost. 13. The Last

It is to be regretted that so many of these altar-pieces have been
broken up, and the detached parts sold as separate pictures: so that
we may find one compartment of an altar in a church at Rome, and
another hanging in a drawing-room in London; the upper part at Ghent,
the lower half at Paris; one wing at Berlin, another at Florence. But
where they exist as a whole, how solemn, significant, and instructive
the arrangement! It may be read as we read a poem. Compare these with
the groups round the enthroned Virgin in the later altar-pieces,
where the saints elbow each other in attitudes, where mortal men sit
with unseemly familiarity close to personages recognized as divine.
As I have remarked further on, it is one of the most interesting
speculations connected with the study of art, to trace this decline
from reverence to irreverence, from the most rigid formula to the most
fantastic caprice. The gradual disappearance of the personages of the
Old Testament, the increasing importance given to the family of the
Blessed Virgin, the multiplication of legendary subjects, and all the
variety of adventitious, unmeaning, or merely ornamental accessories,
strike us just in proportion as a learned theology replaced the
unreflecting, undoubting piety of an earlier age.

       *       *       *       *       *

The historical subjects comprise the events from the Life of the
Virgin, when treated in a dramatic form; and all those groups which
exhibit her in her merely domestic relations, occupied by cares for
her divine Child, and surrounded by her parents and kindred, subjects
which assume a pastoral and poetical rather than an historical form.

All these may be divided into Scriptural and Legendary
representations. The Scriptural scenes in which the Virgin Mary is a
chief or important personage, are the Annunciation, the Visitation,
the Nativity, the Purification, the Adoration of the Magi, the Flight
into Egypt, the Marriage at Cana, the Procession to Calvary, the
Crucifixion (as related by St. John), and the Descent of the Holy
Ghost. The Traditional and Legendary scenes are those taken from
the apocryphal Scriptures, some of which have existed from the third
century. The Legend of Joachim and Anna, the parents of the Virgin,
with the account of her early life, and her Marriage with Joseph,
down to the Massacre of the Innocents, are taken from the Gospel of
Mary and the Protevangelion. The scenes of the Flight into Egypt,
the Repose on the Journey, and the Sojourn of the Holy Family at
Hieropolis or Matarea, are taken from the Gospel of Infancy. The
various scenes attending the Death and Assumption of the Virgin are
derived from a Greek legendary poem, once attributed to St. John the
Evangelist, but the work, as it is supposed, of a certain Greek, named
Meliton, who lived in the ninth century, and who has merely dressed
up in a more fanciful form ancient traditions of the Church. Many
of these historical scenes have been treated in a devotional style,
expressing not the action, but the event, taken in the light of a
religious mystery; a distinction which I have fully explained in the
following pages, where I have given in detail the legends on which
these scenes are founded, and the religious significance conveyed by
the treatment.

A complete series of the History of the Virgin begins with the
rejection of her father Joachim from the temple, and ends with the
assumption and coronation, including most of the events in the History
of our Lord (as for example, the series painted by Giotto, in the
chapel of the Arena, at Padua); but there are many instances in which
certain important evens relating to the Virgin only, as the principal
person, are treated as a devotional series; and such are generally
found in the chapels and oratories especially dedicated to her. A
beautiful instance is that of the Death of the Virgin, treated in
a succession of scenes, as an event apart, and painted by Taddeo
Barrolo, in the Chapel of the Palazzo Publico, at Siena. This small
chapel was dedicated to the Virgin soon after the terrible plague of
1848 had ceased, as it was believed, by her intercession; so that
this municipal chapel was at once an expression of thanksgiving, and
a memorial of death, of suffering, of bereavement, and of hope in
the resurrection. The frescoes cover one wall of the chapel, and are
arranged in four scenes.

1. Mary is reclining in her last sickness, and around her are the
Apostles, who, according to the beautiful legend, were _miraculously_
assembled to witness her departure. To express this, one of them is
floating in as if borne on the air. St. John kneels at her feet, and
she takes, with an expression exquisitely tender and maternal, his two
hands in hers. This action is peculiar to the Siena school.[1]

[Footnote 1: On each side of the principal door of the Cathedral at
Siena, which is dedicated to "Beata Virgine Assunta," and just within
the entrance, is a magnificent pilaster, of white marble, completely
covered from the base to the capital with the most luxuriant carving,
arabesques, foliage, &c., in an admirable and finished style. On the
bases of these two pilasters are subjects from the Life of the Virgin,
three on each side, and arranged, each subject on one side having its
pendant on the other.

1. The meeting of Joachim and Anna. 2. The Nativity of Mary. 3. Her
sickness and last farewell to the Apostles; bending towards St. John,
she takes his hands in hers with the same tender expression as in
the fresco by Taddeo Bartola. 4. She lies dead on her couch. 5. The
Assumption. 6. The Coronation.

The figures are about a foot in height, delicately carved, full of
that sentiment which is especially Sienese, and treated with a truly
sculptural simplicity.]

2. She lies extended on her couch, surrounded by the weeping
Apostles, and Christ behind receives the parting soul,--the usual
representation, but treated with the utmost sentiment.

3. She is borne to the grave by the Apostles; in the background, the
walls of the city of Jerusalem. Here the Greek legend of St. Michael
protecting her remains from the sacrilegious Jew is omitted, and a
peculiar sentiment of solemnity pervades the whole scene.

4. The resurrection of the Virgin, when she rises from the tomb
sustained by hovering angels, and is received by Christ.

When I first saw these beautiful frescoes, in 1847, they were in a
very ruined state; they have since been restored in a very good style,
and with a reverent attention to the details and expression.

In general, however, the cycle commences either with the legend of
Joachim and Anna, or with the Nativity of the Virgin, and ends with
the assumption and coronation. A most interesting early example is the
series painted in fresco by Taddeo Gaddi, in the Baroncelli Chapel
at Florence. The subjects are arranged on two walls. The first on the
right hand, and the second, opposite to us as we enter.

1. Joachim is rejected from the Temple.

2. He is consoled by the Angel.

3. The meeting of Joachim and Anna.

4. The Birth of the Virgin.

5. The Presentation of the Virgin. She is here a child of about five
years old; and having ascended five steps (of the fifteen) she turns
as if to bid farewell to her parents and companions, who stand below;
while on the summit the High Priest, Anna the prophetess, and the
maidens of the Temple come forward to receive her.

6. The Marriage to Joseph, and the rage and disappointment of the
other suitors.

The second wall is divided by a large window of the richest stained
glass, on each side of which the subjects are arranged.

7. The Annunciation. This is peculiar. Mary, not throned or standing,
but seated on the ground, with her hands clasped, and an expression
beautiful for devotion and humility, looks upwards to the descending

8. The Meeting of Mary and Elizabeth.

9. The Annunciation to the Shepherds.

10. The Nativity.

11. The Wise Men behold the Star in the Form of a Child.

12. They approach to Worship. Under the window is the altar, no longer
used as such; and behind it a small but beautiful triptych of the
Coronation of the Virgin, by Giotto, containing at least a hundred
heads of saints, angels, &c.; and on the wall opposite is the large
fresco of the Assumption, by Mainardi, in which St. Thomas receives
the girdle, the other Apostles being omitted. This is of much later
date, being painted about 1495.

The series of five subjects in the Rinuccini Chapel (in the sacristy
of the same church) has been generally attributed to Taddeo Gaddi,
but I agree with those who gave it to a different painter of the same

The subjects are thus arranged:--1. The Rejection of Joachim, which
fills the whole arch at the top, and is rather peculiarly treated.
On the right of the altar advances a company of grave-looking Elders,
each with his offering. On the left, a procession of the matrons and
widows "who had been fruitful in Israel," each with her lamb. In the
centre, Joachim, with his lamb in his arms and an affrighted look,
is hurrying down the steps. 2. The Lamentation of Joachim on the
Mountain, and the Meeting of Joachim and Anna. 3. The Birth of the
Virgin. 4. The Presentation in the Temple. 5. The Sposalizio of the
Virgin, with which the series concludes; every event referring to her
divine Son, even the Annunciation, being omitted. On comparing these
frescoes with those in the neighbouring chapel of the Baroncelli, the
difference in _feeling_ will be immediately felt; but they are very
_naïve_ and elegant.

About a hundred years later than these two examples we have the
celebrated series painted by Ghirlandajo, in the choir of S. Maria
Novella at Florence. There are three walls. On the principal wall,
facing us as we enter, is the window; and around it the Annunciation
(as a mystery), then the principal saints of the Order to whom the
church belongs,--St. Dominic and St. Peter Martyr, and the protecting
saints of Florence.

On the left hand (i.e. the right as we face the high altar) is the
History of the Virgin; on the opposite side, the History of St. John
the Baptist. The various cycles relating to St. John as patron of
Florence will be fully treated in the last volume of Legendary Art; at
present I shall confine myself to the beautiful set of subjects which
relate the history of the Virgin, and which the engravings of Lasinio
(see the "Ancient Florentine Masters") have rendered well known to
the lovers of art. They cover the whole wall and are thus arranged,
beginning from the lowest on the left hand.

1. Joachim is driven from the Temple.

2. The Birth of the Virgin.

3. The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple.

4. The Marriage of Joseph and Mary.

5. The Adoration of the Magi (this is very much ruined).

6. The Massacre of the Innocents. (This also is much ruined.) Vasari
says it was the finest of all. It is very unusual to make this
terrible and pathetic scene part of the life of the Virgin.

7. In the highest and largest compartment, the Death and Assumption of
the Virgin.

Nearly contemporary with this fine series is that by Pinturicchio in
the Church of S. Maria del Popolo, at Rome (in the third chapel on the
right). It is comprised in five lunettes round the ceiling, beginning
with the Birth of the Virgin, and is remarkable for its elegance.

About forty years after this series was completed the people of Siena,
who had always bees remarkable for their devotion to the Virgin,
dedicated to Her honour the beautiful little chapel called the Oratory
of San Bernardino (v. Legends of the Monastic Orders), near the church
of San Francesco, and belonging to the same Order, the Franciscans.
This chapel is an exact parallelogram and the frescoes which cover
the four walls are thus arranged above the wainscot, which rises about
eight feet from the ground.

1. Opposite the door as we enter, the Birth of the Virgin. The usual
visitor to St. Anna is here a grand female figure, in voluminous
drapery. The delight and exultation of those who minister to the
new-born infant are expressed with the most graceful _naïveté_. This
beautiful composition should be compared with those of Ghirlandajo
and Andrea del Sarto in the Annunziata at Florence;[1] it yields to
neither as a conception and is wholly different. It is the work of a
Sienese painter little known--Girolamo del Pacchio.

[Footnote 1: This series, painted by Andrea and his scholars and
companions, Franciabigio and Pontormo, is very remarkable as a work of
art, but presents nothing new in regard to the choice and treatment of
the subjects.]

2. The Presentation in the Temple, by G.A. Razzi. The principal scene
is placed in the background, and the little Madonna, as she ascends
the steps, is received by the High Priest and Anna the prophetess.
Her father and mother and groups of spectators fill the foreground;
here, too, is a very noble female figure on the right; but the whole
composition is mannered, and wants repose and religious feeling.

3. The Sposalizio, by Beccafumi. The ceremony takes place after the
manner of the Jews, outside the Temple. In a mannered, artificial

4, 5. On one side of the altar, the Angel Gabriel floating in--very
majestic and angelic; on the other side the Virgin Annunziata, with
that attitude and expression so characteristic of the Siena School,
as if shrinking from the apparition. These also are by Girolamo del
Pacchio, and extremely fine.

6. The enthroned Virgin and Child, by Beccafumi. The Virgin is very
fine and majestic; around her throne stand and kneel the guardian
saints of Siena and the Franciscan Order; St. Francis, St. Antony of
Padua, St. Bernardino, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Ansano, St. John
B., St. Louis. (St. Catherine, as patroness of Siena, takes here the
place usually given to St. Clara in the Franciscan pictures.)

7. The Visitation. Very fine and rather peculiar; for here Elizabeth
bends over Mary as welcoming her, while the other inclines her head as
accepting hospitality. By Razzi.

8. The Death of the Virgin. Fourteen figures, among which are four
females lamenting, and St. John bearing the palm. The attitude and
expression of Mary, composed in death, are very fine; and Christ,
instead of standing, as usual, by the couch, with her parting soul in
his arms, comes rushing down from above with arms outspread to receive

9. The Assumption. Mary, attired all in white, rises majestically.
The tomb is seen beneath, out of which grow two tall lilies amid white
roses; the Apostles surround it, and St. Thomas receives the girdle.
This is one of the finest works of Razzi, and one of the purest in
point of sentiment.

10. The Coronation, covering the whole wall which faces the altar, is
by Razzi; it is very peculiar and characteristic. The Virgin, all in
white, and extremely fine, bending gracefully, receives her crown; the
other figures have that vulgarity of expression which belonged to the
artist, and is often so oddly mingled with the sentiment and grandeur
of his school and time. On the right of the principal group stands
St. John B.; on the left, Adam and Eve; and behind the Virgin, her
mother, St. Anna, which is quite peculiar, and the only instance I can

       *       *       *       *       *

It appears therefore that the Life of the Virgin Mary, whether treated
as a devotional or historical series, forms a kind of pictured drama
in successive scenes; sometimes comprising only six or eight of the
principal events of her individual life, as her birth, dedication,
marriage, death, and assumption: sometimes extending to forty or fifty
subjects, and combining her history with that of her divine Son. I
may now direct the attention of the reader to a few other instances
remarkable for their beauty and celebrity.

Giotto, 1320. In the chapel at Padua styled _la Capella dell' Arena_.
One of the finest and most complete examples extant, combining the
Life of the Virgin with that of her Son. This series is of the highest
value, a number of scenes and situations suggested by the Scriptures
being here either expressed for the first time, or in a form unknown
in the Greek school.[1]

[Footnote 1: _Vide_ Kugler's Handbook, p. 129. He observes, that "the
introduction of the maid-servant spinning, in the story of St. Anna,
oversteps the limits of the higher ecclesiastical style." For an
explanation I must refer to the story as I have given it at p 249.
See, for the distribution of the subjects in this chapel, Lord
Lindsay's "Christian Art," vol. ii. A set of the subjects has since
been published by the Arundel Society.]

Angiolo Gaddi, 1380. The series in the cathedral at Prato. These
comprise the history of the Holy Girdle.

Andrea Orcagna, 1373. The beautiful series of bas-reliefs on the
shrine in Or-San-Michele, at Florence.

Nicolò da Modena, 1450. Perhaps the earliest engraved example:
very remarkable for the elegance of the _motifs_ and the imperfect
execution, engraving on copper being then a new art.

Albert Durer. The beautiful and well-known set of twenty-five
wood-cuts, published in 1510. A perfect example of the German

Bernardino Luini, 1515. A series of frescoes of the highest beauty,
painted for the monastery Della Pace. Unhappily we have only the
fragments which are preserved in the Brera.

The series of bas-reliefs on the outer shrine of the Casa di Loretto,
by Sansovino, and others of the greatest sculptors of the beginning of
the sixteenth century.

The series of bas-reliefs round the choir at Milan: seventeen

       *       *       *       *       *

We often find the Seven Joys and the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin
treated as a series.

The Seven Joys are, the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity,
the Adoration of the Magi, the Presentation in the Temple, Christ
found by his Mother, the Assumption and Coronation.

The Seven Sorrows are, the Prophecy of Simeon, the Flight into Egypt,
Christ lost by his Mother, the Betrayal of Christ, the Crucifixion
(with St. John and the Virgin only present), the Deposition from the
Cross, the Ascension when the Virgin is left on earth.

The Seven Joys and Sorrows are frequently found in altar-pieces and
religions prints, arranged in separate compartments, round the Madonna
in the centre. Or they are combined in various groups into one large
composition, as in a famous picture by Hans Hemling, wonderful for the
poetry, expression, and finished execution.[1]

[Footnote 1: Altogether, on a careful consideration of this picture,
I do not consider the title by which it is generally known as
appropriate. It contains man groups which would not enter into the
mystic joys or sorrows; for instance, the Massacre of the Innocents,
Christ at Emmaus, the _Noli me tangere_, and others.]

Another cycle of subjects consists of the fifteen Mysteries of the

The five Joyful Mysteries, are the Annunciation, the Visitation, the
Nativity, the Purification, and Christ found in the Temple.

The five Dolorous or Sorrowful Mysteries are, our Lord in the
Garden of Olives, the Flagellation, Christ crowned with Thorns, the
Procession to Calvary, the Crucifixion.

The five Glorious Mysteries are, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the
Descent of the Holy Ghost, the Assumption, the Coronation.

A series of subjects thus arranged cannot be called strictly
historical, but partakes of the mystical and devotional character.
The purpose being to excite devout meditation, requires a particular
sentiment, frequently distinguished from the merely dramatic and
historical treatment in being accompanied by saints, votaries,
and circumstances purely ideal; as where the Wise Men bring their
offerings, while St. Luke sits in a corner painting the portrait
of the Virgin, and St. Dominick kneels in adoration of the Mystery
(Mabuse, Munich Gal.);--and in a hundred other examples.


Of the various titles given to the Virgin Mary, and thence to certain
effigies and pictures of her, some appear to me very touching, as
expressive of the wants, the aspirations, the infirmities and sorrows,
which are common to poor suffering humanity, or of those divine
attributes from which they hoped to find aid and consolation. Thus we

Santa Maria "del buon Consilio." Our Lady of good Counsel.

S.M. "del Soccorso." Our Lady of Succour. Our Lady of the Forsaken.

S.M. "del buon Core." Our Lady of good Heart.

S.M. "della Grazia." Our Lady of Grace.

S.M. "di Misericordia." Our Lady of Mercy.

S.M. "Auxilium Afflictorum." Help of the Afflicted.

S.M. "Refugium Peccatorum." Refuge of Sinners.

S.M. "del Pianto," "del Dolore." Our Lady of Lamentation, or Sorrow.

S.M. "Consolatrice," "della Consolazione," or "del Conforte." Our Lady
of Consolation.

S.M. "della Speranza." Our Lady of Hope.

Under these and similar titles she is invoked by the afflicted, and
often represented with her ample robe outspread and upheld by angels,
with votaries and suppliants congregated beneath its folds. In Spain,
_Nuestra Señora de la Merced_ is the patroness of the Order of Mercy;
and in this character she often holds in her hand small tablets
bearing the badge of the Order. (Legends of the Monastic Orders, 2d

S.M. "della Liberta," or "Liberatrice," Our Lady of Liberty; and S.M.
"della Catena," Our Lady of Fetters. In this character she is invoked
by prisoners and captives.

S.M. "del Parto," Our Lady of Good Delivery, invoked by women in

[Footnote 1: Dante alludes to her in this character:--

  "E per ventura udi 'Dolce Maria!'
  Dinanzi a noi chiamar cosi nel pianto
  Come fa donna che 'n partorir sia."--_Purg._ c. 20.]

S.M. "del Popolo." Our Lady of the People.

S.M. "della Vittoria." Our Lady of Victory.

S.M. "della Pace." Our Lady of Peace.

S.M. "della Sapienza," Our Lady of Wisdom; and S.M. "della
Perseveranza," Our Lady of Perseverance. (Sometimes placed in
colleges, with a book in her hand, as patroness of students.)

S.M. "della Salute." Our Lady of Health or Salvation. Under this title
pictures and churches have been dedicated after the cessation of a
plague, or any other public calamity.[1]

[Footnote 1: There is also somewhere in France a chapel dedicated to
_Notre Dame de la Haine_.]

Other titles are derived from particular circumstances and
accessories, as--

S.M. "del Presepio," Our Lady of the Cradle; generally a Nativity, or
when she is adoring her Child.

S.M. "della Scodella"--with the cup or porringer, where she is taking
water from a fountain; generally a Riposo.

S.M. "dell' Libro," where she holds the Book of Wisdom.

S.M. "della Cintola," Our Lady of the Girdle, where she is either
giving the Girdle to St. Thomas, or where the Child holds it in his

S.M. "della Lettera." Our Lady of the Letter. This is the title given
to Our Lady as protectress of the city of Messina. According to the
Sicilian legend, she honoured the people of Messina by writing a
letter to them, dated from Jerusalem, "in the year of her Son, 42." In
the effigies of the "Madonna della Lettera," she holds this letter in
her hand.

S.M. "della Rosa." Our Lady of the Rose. A title given to several
pictures, in which the rose, which is consecrated to her, is placed
either in her hand, or in that of the Child.

S.M. "della Stella." Our Lady of the Star. She wears the star as one
of her attributes embroidered on her mantle.

S.M. "del Fiore." Our Lady of the Flower. She has this title
especially as protectress of Florence.

S.M. "della Spina." She holds in her hand the crown of thorns, and
under this title is the protectress of Pisa.

S.M. "del Rosario." Our Lady of the Rosary, with the mystic string of
beads. I do not remember any instance of the Rosary placed in the hand
of the Virgin or the Child till after the battle of Lepanto (1571),
and the institution of the Festival of the Rosary, as an act of
thanksgiving. After this time pictures of the Madonna "del Rosario"
abound, and may generally be found in the Dominican churches. There is
a famous example by Guido in the Bologna Gallery, and a very beautiful
one by Murillo in the Dulwich Gallery.

S.M. "del Carmine." Our Lady of Mount Carmel. She is protectress of
the Order of the Carmelites, and is often represented holding in her
hand small tablets, on which is the effigy of herself with the Child.

S.M. "de Belem." Our Lady of Bethlehem. Under this title she is the
patroness of the Jeronymites, principally in Spain and Portugal.

S.M. "della Neve." Our Lady of the Snow. In Spain, S. Maria la Blanca.
To this legend of the snow the magnificent church of S.M. Maggiore at
Rome is said to owe its origin. A certain Roman patrician, whose name
was John (Giovanni Patricie), being childless, prayed of the Virgin to
direct him how best to bestow his worldly wealth. She appeared to him
in a dream on the night of the fifth of August, 352, and commanded him
to build a church in her honour, on a spot where snow would be found
the next morning. The same vision having appeared to his wife and the
reigning pope, Liberius, they repaired in procession the next morning
to the summit of Mount Esquiline, where, notwithstanding the heat of
the weather, a large patch of ground was miraculously covered with
snow, and on it Liberius traced out with his crosier the plan of the
church. This story has been often represented in art, and is easily
recognized; but it is curious that the two most beautiful pictures
consecrated to the honour of the Madonna della Neve are Spanish and
not Roman, and were painted by Murillo about the time that Philip
IV. of Spain sent rich offerings to the church of S.M. Maggiore, thus
giving a kind of popularity to the legend. The picture represents
the patrician John and his wife asleep, and the Vision of the Virgin
(one of the loveliest ever painted by Murillo) breaking upon them in
splendour through the darkness of the night; while in the dim distance
is seen the Esquiline (or what is meant for it) covered with snow. In
the second picture, John and his wife are kneeling before the pope,
"a grand old ecclesiastic, like one of Titian's pontiffs." These
pictures, after being carried off by the French from the little church
of S.M. la Blanca at Seville, are now in the royal gallery at Madrid.

S. Maria "di Loretto." Our Lady of Loretto. The origin of this title
is the famous legend of the Santa Casa, the house at Nazareth, which
was the birthplace of the Virgin, and the scene of the Annunciation.
During the incursions of the Saracens, the Santa Casa being threatened
with profanation, if not destruction, was taken up by the angels
and conveyed over land and sea till it was set down on the coast of
Dalmatia; but not being safe there, the angels again took it up, and,
bearing it over the Adriatic, set it down in a grove near Loretto. But
certain wicked brigands having disturbed its sacred quietude by strife
and murder, the house again changed its place, and was at length set
down on the spot where it now stands. The date of this miracle is
placed in 1295.

The Madonna di Loretto is usually represented as seated with the
divine Child on the roof of a house, which is sustained at the corners
by four angels, and thus borne over sea and land. From the celebrity
of Loretto as a place of pilgrimage this representation became
popular, and is often found in chapels dedicated to our Lady of
Loretto. Another effigy of our Lady of Loretto is merely a copy of
a very old Greek "Virgin and Child," which is enshrined in the Santa

S.M. "del Pillar," Our Lady of the Pillar, is protectress of
Saragossa. According to the Legend, she descended from heaven standing
on an alabaster pillar, and thus appeared to St. James (Santiago)
when he was preaching the gospel in Spain. The miraculous pillar
is preserved in the cathedral of Saragossa, and the legend appears
frequently in Spanish art. Also in a very interior picture by Nicolo
Poussin, now in the Louvre.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some celebrated pictures are individually distinguished by titles
derived from some particular object in the composition, as Raphael's
_Madonna de Impannata_, so called from the window in the back
ground being partly shaded with a piece of linen (in the Pitti
Pal., Florence); Correggio's _Vierge au Panier_, so called from the
work-basket which stands beside her (in our Nat Gal.); Murillo's
_Virgen de la Servilleta_, the Virgin of the Napkin, in allusion to
the dinner napkin on which it was painted.[1] Others are denominated
from certain localities, as the _Madonna di Foligno_ (now in the
Vatican); others from the names of families to whom they have
belonged, as _La Madonna della Famiglia Staffa_, at Perugia.

[Footnote 1: There is a beautiful engraving in Stirling's "Annals of
the Artists of Spain."]

       *       *       *       *       *

Those visions and miracles with which the Virgin Mary favoured many
of the saints, as St. Luke (who was her secretary and painter), St.
Catherine, St. Francis, St. Herman, and others, have already been
related in the former volumes, and need not be repeated here.

With regard to the churches dedicated to the Virgin, I shall not
attempt to enumerate even the most remarkable, as almost every town
in Christian Europe contains one or more bearing her name. The most
ancient of which tradition speaks, was a chapel beyond the Tiber, at
Rome, which is said to have been founded in 217, on the site where S.
Maria _in Trastevere_ now stands. But there are one or two which carry
their pretensions much higher; for the cathedral at Toledo and the
cathedral at Chartres both claim the honour of having been dedicated
to the Virgin while she was yet alive.[1]

[Footnote 1: In England we have 2,120 churches dedicated in her
honour; and one of the largest and most important of the London
parishes bears her name--"St. Marie-la-bonne"]

       *       *       *       *       *

Brief and inadequate as are these introductory notices, they will, I
hope, facilitate the comprehension of the critical details into which
it has been necessary to enter in the following pages, and lend some
new interest to the subjects described. I have heard the artistic
treatment of the Madonna styled a monotonous theme; and to those who
see only the perpetual iteration of the same groups on the walls of
churches and galleries, varied as they may suppose only by the fancy
of the painter, it may seem so. But beyond the visible forms, there
lies much that is suggestive to a thinking mind--to the lover of Art
a higher significance, a deeper beauty, a more various interest, than
could at first be imagined.

In fact, the greatest mistakes in point of _taste_ arise in general
from not knowing what we ought to demand of the artist, not only in
regard to the subject expressed, but with reference to the times in
which he lived, and his own individuality. An axiom which I have heard
confidently set forth, that a picture is worth nothing unless "he who
runs may read," has inundated the world with frivolous and pedantic
criticism. A picture or any other work of Art, is worth nothing except
in so far as it has emanated from mind, and is addressed to mind. It
should, indeed, be _read_ like a book. Pictures, as it has been well
said, are the books of the unlettered, but then we must at least
understand the language in which they are written. And further,--if,
in the old times, it was a species of idolatry to regard these
beautiful representations as endued with a specific sanctity and
power; so, in these days, it is a sort of atheism to look upon them
reckless of their significance, regardless of the influences through
which they were produced, without acknowledgment of the mind which
called them into being, without reference to the intention of the
artist in his own creation.

       *       *       *       *       *



In the first edition of this work, only a passing allusion was made to
those female effigies, by some styled "_la donna orante_" (the Praying
Woman) and by others supposed to represent Mary the Mother of our
Lord, of which so many examples exist in the Catacombs and in the
sculptured groups on the ancient Christian sarcophagi. I know it has
long been a disputed, or at least an unsettled and doubtful point, as
to whether certain female figures existing on the earliest Christian
monuments were or were not intended to represent the Virgin Mary.
The Protestants, on the one hand, as if still inspired by that
superstition against superstition which led to the violent and vulgar
destruction of so many beautiful works of art, and the Catholics on
the other, jealous to maintain the authenticity of these figures as a
testimony to the ancient worship of the Virgin, both appear to me to
have taken an exaggerated and prejudiced view of a subject which ought
to be considered dispassionately on purely antiquarian and critical
grounds. Having had the opportunity, during a late residence in
Italy, of reconsidering and comparing a great number of these antique
representations, and having heard the opinions of antiquarians,
theologians, and artists, who had given their attention to the
subject, and who occasionally differed from each other as to the
weight of evidence, I have arrived at the conviction, that some of
these effigies represent the Virgin Mary, and others do not. I confess
I do not believe in any authentic representation of the Virgin holding
the Divine Child older than the sixth century, except when introduced
into the groups of the Nativity and the Worship of the Magi. Previous
to the Nestorian controversy, these maternal effigies, as objects of
devotion, were, I still believe, unknown, but I cannot understand
why there should exist among Protestants, so strong a disposition to
discredit every representation of Mary the Mother of our Lord to which
a high antiquity had been assigned by the Roman Catholics. We know
that as early as the second century, not only symbolical figures of
our Lord, but figures of certain personages of holy life, as St. Peter
and St. Paul, Agnes the Roman, and Euphemia the Greek, martyr, did
certainly exist. The critical and historical testimony I have given
elsewhere. (Sacred and Legendary Art.) Why therefore should there not
have existed effigies of the Mother of Christ, of the "Woman highly
blessed," the subject of so many prophecies, and naturally the object
of a tender and just veneration among the early Christians? It seams
to me that nothing could be more likely, and that such representations
ought to have a deep interest for all Christians, no matter of what
denomination--for _all_, in truth, who believe that the Saviour of
the world had a good Mother, His only earthly parent, who brought Him
forth, nurtured and loved Him. That it should be considered a point
of faith with Protestants to treat such memorials with incredulity
and even derision, appears to me most inconsistent and unaccountable,
though I confess that between these simple primitive memorials and the
sumptuous tasteless column and image recently erected at Rome there is
a very wide margin of disputable ground, of which I shall say no more
in this place. But to return to the antique conception of the "Donna
orante" or so-called Virgin Mother, I will mention here only the moat
remarkable examples; for to enter fully into the subject would occupy
a volume in itself.

There is a figure often met with in the Catacombs and on the
sarcophagi of a majestic woman standing with outspread arms (the
ancient attitude of prayer), or holding a book or scroll in her hand.
When this figure stands alone and unaccompanied by any attribute, I
think the signification doubtful: but in the Catacomb of St. Ciriaco
there is a painted figure of a woman, with arms outspread and
sustained on each aide by figures, evidently St. Peter and St. Paul;
on the sarcophagi the same figure frequently occurs; and there are
other examples certainly not later than the third and fourth century.
That these represent Mary the Mother of Christ I have not the least
doubt; I think it has been fully demonstrated that no other Christian
woman could have been so represented, considering the manners and
habits of the Christian community at that period. Then the attitude
and type are precisely similar to those of the ancient Byzantine
Madonnas and the Italian mosaics of Eastern workmanship, proving, as
I think, that there existed a common traditional original for this
figure, the idea of which has been preserved and transmitted in these
early copies.

Further:--there exist in the Roman museums many fragments of ancient
glass found in the Christian tombs, on which are rudely pictured in
colours figures exactly similar, and having the name MARIA inscribed
above them. On one of these fragments I found the same female figure
between two male figures, with the names inscribed over them, MARIA.
PETRVS. PAVLVS., generally in the rudest and most imperfect style, as
if issuing from some coarse manufacture; but showing that they have
had a common origin with those far superior figures in the Catacombs
and on the sarcophagi, while the inscribed names leave no doubt as to
the significance.

On the other hand, there are similar fragments of coarse glass found
in the Catacombs--either lamps or small vases, bearing the same female
in the attitude of prayer, and superscribed in rude letters, DULCIS
ANIMA PIE ZESES VIVAS. (ZESES instead of JESUS.) Such may, possibly,
represent, not the Virgin Mary, but the Christian matron or martyr
buried in the tomb; at least, I consider them as doubtful.

The Cavaliere Rossi, whose celebrity as an antiquarian is not merely
Italian, but European, and whose impartiality can hardly be doubted,
told me that a Christian sarcophagus had lately been discovered at
Saint-Maxime, in the south of France, on which there is the same group
of the female figure praying, and over it the name MARIA.

I ought to add, that on one of these sarcophagi, bearing the oft
repeated subject of the good Shepherd feeding His sheep, I found, as
the companion group, a female figure in the act of feeding birds which
are fluttering to her feet. It is not doubted that the good Shepherd
is the symbol of the beneficent Christ; whether the female figure
represent the Virgin-mother, or is to be regarded merely as a general
symbol of female beneficence, placed on a par with that of Christ
(in His human character), I will not pretend to decide. It is equally
touching and beautiful in either significance.

Three examples of these figures occur to me.

The first is from a Christian sarcophagus of early date, and in a good
style of art, probably of the third century--it is a noble figure,
in the attitude of prayer, and separated from the other groups by a
palm-tree on each side--at her feet is a bird (perhaps a dove, the
ancient symbol of the released soul), and scrolls which represent
the gospel. I regard this figure as doubtful; it may possibly be the
effigy of a Christian matron, who was interred in the sarcophagus.

The second example is also from a sarcophagus. It is a figure holding
a scroll of the gospel, and standing between St. Peter and St.
Paul; on each side (in the original) there are groups expressing the
beneficent miracles of our Lord. This figure, I believe, represents
the Virgin Mary.

In the third example, the conspicuous female figure is combined with
the series of groups on each side. She stands with hands outspread, in
the attitude of prayer, between the two apostles, who seem to sustain
her arms. On one side is the miracle of the water changed into wine;
on the other side, Christ healing the woman who touched His garment;
both of perpetual recurrence in these sculptures. Of these groups of
the miracles and actions of Christ on the early Christian sarcophagi,
I shall give a full account in the "History of our Lord, as
illustrated in the fine arts;" at present I confine myself to the
female figure which takes this conspicuous place, while other female
figures are prostrate, or of a diminutive size, to express their
humility or inferiority; and I have no doubt that thus situated it
is intended to represent the woman who was highly honoured as well as
highly blessed--the Mother of our Saviour.

I have come therefore to the conclusion, that while many of these
figures have a certain significance, others are uncertain. Where
the figure is isolated, or placed within a frame or border, like the
memorial busts and effigies on the Pagan sarcophagi, I think it may
be regarded as probably commemorating the Christian martyr or matron
entombed in the sarcophagus; but when there is no division, where the
figure forms part of a continuous series of groups, expressing the
character and miracles of Christ, I believe that it represents His


The BORGHESE CHAPEL, in the church, of St. Maria Maggiore at Rome, was
dedicated to the honour of the Virgin Mary by Paul V. (Borghese), in
1611--the same Pope who in 1615 promulgated the famous Bull relative
to the Immaculate Conception. The scheme of decoration in this
gorgeous chapel is very remarkable, as testifying to the development
which the theological idea of the Virgin, as the Sposa or personified
Church, had attained at this period, and because it is not, as in
other examples, either historical or devotional, but purely doctrinal.

As we enter, the profusion of ornament, the splendour of colour,
marbles, gilding, from the pavement under our feet to the summit of
the lofty dome, are really dazzling. First, and elevated above all,
we have the "Madonna della Concezione," Our Lady of the Immaculate
Conception, in a glory of light, sustained and surrounded by angels,
having the crescent under her feet, according to the approved
treatment. Beneath, round the dome, we read in conspicuous letters
the text from the Revelations:--SIGNUM. MAGNUM. APPARAVlT. IN COELO.
EJUS, CORONA. STELLARUM. DUODECIM. (Rev. xii. 1.) Lower down is a
second inscription, expressing the dedication. MARIÆ. CHRISTI. MATRI.
SEMPER. VIRGINI. PAULUS. QUINTUS.P.M. The decorations beneath the
cornice consist of eighteen large frescoes, and six statues in marble,
above life size. Beginning with the frescoes, we have the subjects
arranged in the following order:--

1. The four great prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel,
in their usual place in the four pendentives of the dome. (v. The

2. Two large frescoes. In the first, the Vision of St. Gregory
Thaumaturgus,[1] and Heretics bitten by Serpents. In the second, St.
John Damascene and St. Ildefonso miraculously rewarded for defending
the Majesty of the Virgin. (Sacred and Legendary Art.)

[Footnote 1: St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, Bishop of Pontus in the third
century, was favoured by a vision of the Trinity, which enabled him to
confute and utterly subdue the Sabellian heretics--the Unitarians of
his time.]

3. A large fresco, representing the four Doctors of the Church who had
especially written in honour of the Virgin: viz. Ireneus and Cyprian,
Ignatius and Theophilus, grouped two and two.

4. St. Luke, who painted the Virgin, and whose gospel contains the
best account of her.

5. As spiritual conquerors in the name of the Virgin, St. Dominic and
St. Francis, each attended by two companions of his Order.

6. As military conquerors in the name of the Virgin, the Emperor
Heraclius, and Narses, the general against the Arians.

7. A group of three female figures, representing the three famous
saintly princesses who in marriage preserved their virginity,
Pulcheria, Edeltruda (our famous queen Ethelreda), and Cunegunda. (For
the legends of Cunegunda and Ethelreda, see Legends of the Monastic

8. A group of three learned Bishops, who had especially defended the
immaculate purity of the Virgin, St. Cyril, St. Anselm, and St. Denis

9. The miserable ends of those who were opposed to the honour of the
Virgin. 1. The death of Julian the Apostate, very oddly represented;
he lies on an altar, transfixed by an arrow, as a victim; St.
Mercurius in the air. (For this legend see Sacred and Legendary Art.)
2. The death of Leo IV., who destroyed the effigies of the Virgin. 3.
The death of Constantine IV., also a famous iconoclast.

The statues which are placed in niches are--

1, 2. St. Joseph, as the nominal husband, and St. John the Evangelist,
as the nominal son of the Virgin; the latter, also, as prophet and
poet, with reference to the passage in the Revelation, c. xii. 1.

3, 4. Aaron, as priestly ancestor (because his wand blossomed), and
David, as kingly ancestor of the Virgin.

5, 6. St. Dionysius the Areopagite, who was present at the death of
the Virgin, and St. Bernard, who composed the famous "Salve Regina" in
her honour.

Such is this grand systematic scheme of decoration, which, to those
who regard it cursorily, is merely a sumptuous confusion of colours
and forms, or at best, "a fine example of the Guido school and
Bernino." It is altogether a very complete and magnificent specimen
of the prevalent style of art, and a very comprehensive and suggestive
expression of the prevalent tendency of thought, in the Roman
Catholic Church from the beginning of the seventeenth century. In no
description of this chapel have I ever seen the names and subjects
accurately given: the style of art belongs to the _decadence_, and the
taste being worse than, questionable, the pervading _doctrinal_ idea
has been neglected, or never understood.


Those pictures which represent the Virgin Mary kneeling before the
celestial throne, while the PADRE ETERNO or the MESSIAH extends his
hand or his sceptre towards her, are generally misunderstood. They
do not represent, the Assumption, nor yet the reception of Mary in
Heaven, as is usually supposed; but the election or predestination of
Mary as the immaculate vehicle or tabernacle of human redemption--the
earthly parent of the divine Saviour. I have described such a picture
by Dosso Dossi, and another by Cottignola. A third example may be
cited in a yet more beautiful and celebrated picture by Francia, now
in the Church at San Frediano at Lucca. Above, in the glory of Heaven,
the Virgin kneels before the throne of the Creator; she is clad in
regal attire of purple and crimson and gold; and she bends her fair
crowned head, and folds her hands upon her bosom with an expression
of meek yet dignified resignation--"_Behold the handmaid of the
Lord!_"--accepting, as woman, that highest glory, as mother, that
extremest grief, to which the Divine will, as spoken by the prophets
of old, had called her. Below, on the earth and to the right hand,
stand David and Solomon, as prophets and kingly ancestors: on the left
hand, St. Augustine and St. Anselm in their episcopal robes. (I have
mentioned, with regard to the office in honour of the Immaculate
Conception, that the idea is said to have originated in England. I
should also have added, that Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, was
its strenuous advocate.) Each of these personages holds a scroll. On
that of David the reference is to the 4th and 5th verses of Psalm
xxvii.--"_In the secret of his tabernacle he shall hide me_." On
that of Solomon is the text from his Song, ch. iv. 7. On that of St.
Augustine, a quotation, I presume, from his works, but difficult
to make out; it seems to be, "_In coelo qualis est Pater, talis est
Films; qualis est Filius, talis est Mater_." On that of St. Anselm the
same inscription which is on the picture of Cottignola quoted before,
"_non puto vere esse_." &c., which is, I suppose, taken from his
works. In the centre, St. Anthony of Padua kneels beside the sepulchre
full of lilies and roses; showing the picture to have been painted
for, or under the influence of, the Franciscan Order; and, like other
pictures of the same class, "an attempt to express in a visible form
the idea or promise of the redemption of the human race, as existing
in the Sovereign Eternal Mind before the beginning of the world." This
altar-piece has no date, but appears to have been painted about the
same time as the picture in our National Gallery (No. 179.), which
came from the same church. As a work of art it is most wonderfully
beautiful. The editors of the last excellent edition of Vasari speak
of it with just enthusiasm as "_Opera veramente stupenda in ogni
parte_!" The predella beneath, painted in chiaro-oscuro, is also of
exquisite beauty; and let us hope that we shall never see it separated
from the great subject, like a page or a paragraph torn out of a book
by ignorant and childish collectors.


Although the Nativity of the Virgin Mary is one of the great festivals
of the Roman Catholic Church, I have seldom seen it treated as
a separate subject and an altar-piece. There is, however, a very
remarkable example in the Belle Arti at Siena. It is a triptych
enclosed in a framework elaborately carved and gilt, in the
Gothic style. In the centre compartment, St. Anna lies on a rich
couch covered with crimson drapery; a graceful female presents an
embroidered napkin, others enter, bringing refreshments, as usual.
In front, three attendants minister to the Infant: one of them is in
an attitude of admiration; on the right, Joachim seated, with white
hair and beard, receives the congratulations of a young man who seems
to envy his paternity. In the compartment on the right stand St.
James Major and St. Catherine; on the left, St. Bartholomew and St.
Elizabeth of Hungary (?). This picture is in the hard primitive style
of the fourteenth century, by an unknown painter, who must have lived,
before Giovanni di Paolo, but vividly coloured, exquisitely finished,
and full of sentiment and dramatic feeling.






_Lat._ 1. Virgo Gloriosa. 2. Virgo Sponsa Dei. 3. Virgo Potens 4.
Virgo Veneranda. 5. Virgo Prædicanda. 6. Virgo Clemens. 7. Virgo
Sapientissima. 8. Sancta Virgo Virginum. _Ital._ La Vergine Gloriosa.
La Gran Vergine delle Vergini. _Fr._ La Grande Vierge.

There are representations of the Virgin, and among them some of the
earliest in existence, which place her before us as an object of
religious veneration, but in which the predominant idea is not that
of her maternity. No doubt it was as the mother of the Saviour Christ
that she was originally venerated; but in the most ancient monuments
of the Christian faith, the sarcophagi, the rude paintings in the
catacombs, and the mosaics executed before the seventh century,
she appears simply as a veiled female figure, not in any respect
characterized. She stands, in a subordinate position, on one side of
Christ; St. Peter or St. John the Baptist on the other.

When the worship of the Virgin came to us from the East, with it came
the Greek type--and for ages we had no other--the Greek classical
type, with something of the Oriental or Egyptian character. When thus
she stands before us without her Son, and the apostles or saints on
each side taking the subordinate position, then we are to regard her
not only as the mother of Christ, but as the second Eve, the mother of
all suffering humanity; THE WOMAN of the primeval prophecy whose issue
was to bruise the head of the Serpent; the Virgin predestined from
the beginning of the world who was to bring forth the Redeemer of the
world; the mystical Spouse of the Canticles; the glorified Bride of
a celestial Bridegroom; the received Type of the Church of Christ,
afflicted on earth, triumphant and crowned in heaven; the most
glorious, most pure, most pious, most clement, most sacred Queen and
Mother, Virgin of Virgins.

The form under which we find this grand and mysterious idea of
glorified womanhood originally embodied, is wonderfully majestic
and simple. A female figure of colossal dimensions, far exceeding
in proportion all the attendant personages and accessories, stands
immediately beneath some figure or emblem representing almighty power:
either it is the omnipotent hand stretched out above her, holding the
crown of immortality; or it is the mystic dove which hovers over her;
or it is the half-form of Christ, in the act of benediction.

She stands with arms raised and extended wide, the ancient attitude of
prayer; or with hands merely stretched forth, expressing admiration,
humility, and devout love. She is attired in an ample tunic of
blue or white, with a white veil over her head, thrown a little
back, and displaying an oval face with regular features, mild,
dignified--sometimes, in the figures of the ruder ages, rather stern
and melancholy, from the inability of the artist to express beauty;
but when least beautiful, and most formal and motionless, always
retaining something of the original conception, and often expressibly
striking and majestic.

The earliest figure of this character to which I can refer is the
mosaic in the oratory of San Venanzio, in the Lateran, the work of
Greek artists under the popes John IV. and Theodorus, both Greeks by
birth, and who presided over the Church from 640 to 649. In the vault
of the tribune, over the altar, we have first, at the summit, a figure
of Christ half-length, with his hand extended in benediction; on each
side, a worshipping angel; below, in the centre, the figure of the
Virgin according to the ancient type, standing with extended arms, in
a violet or rather dark-blue tunic and white veil, with a small cross
pendant on her bosom. On her right hand stands St. Paul, on her left
St. Peter; beyond St. Peter and St. Paul, St. John the Baptist holding
a cross, and St. John the Evangelist holding a book; and beyond these
again, St. Domino and St. Venantius, two martyred saints, who perished
in Dalmatia, and whose relics were brought out of that country by the
founder of the chapel, John IV., himself a Dalmatian by birth. At the
extremities of this group, or rather line of figures, stand the two
popes, John IV. and Theodorus, under whom the chapel was founded and
dedicated. Although this ancient mosaic has been many times restored,
the original composition remains.

Similar, but of later date, is the effigy of the Virgin over the altar
of the archiepiscopal chapel at Ravenna. This mosaic, with others of
Greek work, was brought from the old tribune of the cathedral, when
it was altered and repaired, and the ancient decorations removed or

Another instance, also, at Ravenna, is the basso-relievo in
Greek marble, and evidently of Greek workmanship, which is said
to have existed from the earliest ages, in the church of S.
Maria-in-Porto-Fuori, and is now preserved in the S. Maria-in-Porto,
where I saw it in 1847. It is probably as old as the sixth or seventh

In St. Mark's at Venice, in the grand old basilica at Torcello, in
San Donate at Murano, at Monreale, near Palermo, and in most of the
old churches in the East of Europe, we find similar figures, either
Byzantine in origin, or in imitation of the Byzantine style.

But about the middle of the thirteenth century, and contemporary with
Cimabue, we find the first indication of a departure, even in the
mosaics, from the lifeless, formal type of Byzantine art. The earliest
example of a more animated treatment is, perhaps, the figure in the
apsis of St. John Lateran. (Rome.) In the centre is an immense cross,
emblem of salvation; the four rivers of Paradise (the four Gospels)
flow from its base; and the faithful, figured by the hart and the
sheep, drink from these streams. Below the cross is represented, of
a small size, the New Jerusalem guarded by an archangel. On the right
stands the Virgin, of colossal dimensions. She places one hand on the
head of a diminutive kneeling figure, Pope Nicholas IV.,[1] by whom
the mosaic was dedicated about 1290; the other hand, stretched forth,
seems to recommend the votary to the mercy of Christ.

[Footnote 1: For a minute reduction of the whole composition, see
Kugler's Handbook, p. 113.]

Full-length effigies of the Virgin seated on a throne, or glorified as
queen of heaven, or queen of angels, without her divine Infant in her
arms, are exceedingly rare in every age; now and then to be met with
in the early pictures and illuminations, but never, that I know of,
in the later schools of art. A signal example is the fine enthroned
Madonna in the Campo Santo, who receives St. Ranieri when presented
by St. Peter and St. Paul.

On the Dalmatica (or Deacon's robe) preserved in the sacristy of
St. Peter's at Rome (which Lord Lindsay well describes as a perfect
example of the highest style of Byzantine art) (Christian Art, i.
136), the embroidery on the front represents Christ in a golden circle
or glory, robed in white, with the youthful and beardless face, his
eyes looking into yours. He sits on the rainbow; his left hand holds
an open book, inscribed, "Come, ye blessed of my Father!" while
the right is raised in benediction. The Virgin stands on the right
entirely _within_ the glory; "she is sweet in feature and graceful
in attitude, in her long white robe." The Baptist stands on the left
_outside_ the glory.

In pictures representing the glory of heaven, Paradise, or the Last
Judgment, we have this idea constantly repeated--of the Virgin on the
right hand of her Son, but not on the same throne with him, unless it
be a "Coronation," which is a subject apart.

In the great altar-piece of the brothers Van Eyck, the upper part
contains three compartments;[1] in the centre is Christ, wearing the
triple tiara, and carrying the globe, as King, as Priest, as Judge--on
each side, as usual, but in separate compartments, the Virgin and St.
John the Baptist. The Virgin, a noble queenly figure, full of serene
dignity and grace, is seated on a throne, and wears a superb crown,
formed of lilies, roses, and gems, over her long fair hair. She
is reading intently in a book--The Book of Wisdom. She is here the
_Sponsa Dei_, and the _Virgo Sapientissima_, the most wise Virgin.
This is the only example I can recollect of the Virgin seated on the
right hand of her Son in glory, and _holding a book_. In every other
instance she is standing or seated with her hands joined or crossed
over her bosom, and her eyes turned towards him.

[Footnote 1: It is well known that the different parts of this great
work have been dispersed. The three compartments mentioned here are at

Among innumerable examples, I will cite only one, perhaps the most
celebrated of all, and familiar, it may be presumed, to most of my
readers, though perhaps they may not have regarded it with reference
to the character and position given to the Virgin. It is one of the
four great frescoes of the Camera della Segnatura, in the Vatican,
exhibiting the four highest objects of mental culture--Theology,
Poetry, Philosophy, and Jurisprudence. In the first of these,
commonly, but erroneously, called _La Disputa dell' Sacramento_,
Raphael has combined into one great scene the whole system of
theology, as set forth by the Catholic Church; it is a sort of
concordance between heaven and earth--between the celestial and
terrestrial witnesses of the truth. The central group above shows us
the Redeemer of the world, seated with extended arms, having on the
right the Virgin in her usual place, and on the left, also in his
accustomed place, St. John the Baptist; both seated, and nearly on
a level with Christ. The Baptist is here in his character of the
Precursor "sent to bear witness to the light, that through him all
men might believe." (John i. 7.) The Virgin is exhibited, not merely
as the Mother, the Sposa, the Church, but as HEAVENLY WISDOM, for in
this character the Catholic Church has applied to her the magnificent
passage in Proverbs: "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His
way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the
beginning, or ever the earth was." "Then I was by Him as one brought
up with Him, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing alway before Him."
(Prov. viii, 12-36, and Eccles. xxiv. 15, 16.)

Nothing can be more beautiful than the serene grace and the mingled
majesty and humility in the figure of the Virgin, and in her
countenance, as she looks up adoring to the Fountain of _all_ light,
_all_ wisdom, and _all_ goodness. Above the principal group, is the
emblematical image of the FATHER; below is the holy Dove, in the act
of descending to the earth.[1]

[Footnote 1: For a detailed description of this fresco, see
Passavant's Raphael, i. 140, and Kugler's Handbook, 2d edit., where a
minute and beautiful reduction of the whole composition will give and
idea of the general design.]

The Virgin alone, separate from her Son, standing or enthroned before
us, simply as the _Virgine Dea_ or _Regina Coeli_, is rarely met with
in modern art, either in sculpture or painting. I will give, however,
one signal example.

In an altar-piece painted by Cosimo Rosselli, for the Serviti at
Florence, she stands alone, and in a majestic attitude, on a raised
pedestal. She holds a book, and looks upward, to the Holy Dove,
hovering over her head; she is here again the _Virgo Sapientiæ_.
(Fl. Gal.) On one side is St. John the Evangelist and St. Antonino of
Florence (see Legends of the Monastic Orders); on the other, St. Peter
and St. Philip Benozzi; in front kneel St. Margaret and St. Catherine:
all appear to contemplate with rapturous devotion the vision of the
Madonna. The heads and attitudes in this picture have that character
of elegance which distinguished the Florentine school at this period,
without any of those extravagances and peculiarities into which Piero
often fell; for the man had evidently a touch of madness, and was as
eccentric in his works as in his life and conversation. The order
of the Serviti, for whom he painted this picture, was instituted
in honour of the Virgin, and for her particular service, which will
account for the unusual treatment.

       *       *       *       *       *

The numerous--often most beautiful--heads and half-length figures
which represent the Virgin alone, looking up with a devout or tender
expression, or with the head declined, and the hands joined in prayer,
or crossed over the bosom with virginal humility and modesty, belong
to this class of representations. In the ancient heads, most of which
are imitations of the old Greek effigies ascribed to St. Luke, there
is often great simplicity and beauty. When she wears the crown over
her veil, or bears a sceptre in her hand, she figures as the queen of
heaven (_Regina Coeli_). When such effigies are attended by adoring
angels, she is the queen of angels (_Regina Angelorum_). When she is
weeping or holding the crown of thorns, she is Our Lady of Sorrow, the
_Mater Dolorosa_. When she is merely veiled, with folded hands, and
in her features all the beauty, maiden purity, and sweetness which the
artist could render, she is simply the Blessed Virgin, the Madonna,
the _Santa Maria Vergine_. Such heads are very rare in the earlier
schools of art, which seldom represented the Virgin without her
Child, but became favourite studies of the later painters, and
were multiplied and varied to infinitude from the beginning of the
seventeenth century. From these every trace of the mystical and solemn
conception of antiquity gradually disappeared; till, for the majestic
ideal of womanhood, we have merely inane prettiness, or rustic, or
even meretricious grace, the borrowed charms of some earthly model.


The Coronation of the Virgin. _Lat._ Coronatio Beatæ Mariæ Virginis.
_Ital._ Maria coronata dal divin suo Figlio. _Fr._ Le Couronnement de
la Sainte Vierge. _Ger._ Die Krönung Mariä.

The usual type of the Church triumphant is the CORONATION OF THE
VIRGIN properly so called, Christ in the act of crowning his Mother;
one of the most popular, significant, and beautiful subjects in the
whole range of mediæval art.

When in a series of subjects from the life of the Virgin, so often
met with in religious prints and in the Roman Catholic churches, we
find her death and her assumption followed by her coronation; when
the bier or sarcophagus and the twelve apostles appear below, while
heaven opens upon us above; then the representation assumes a kind
of dramatic character: it is the last and most glorious event of her
history. The Mother, dying on earth, is received into glory by her Son
who had gone before her, and who thus celebrates the consummation of
his victory and hers.

But when the scene is treated apart as a single subject; when, instead
of the apostles gazing up to heaven, or looking with amazement into
the tomb from which she had risen, we find the lower part of the
composition occupied by votaries, patron saints, or choral angels;
then the subject must be regarded as absolutely devotional and
typical. It is not a scene or an action; it is a great mystery. It
is consecrated to the honour of the Virgin as a type of the spiritual
Church. The Espoused is received into glory and crowned with the crown
of everlasting life, exalted above angels, spirits, and men. In this
sense we must understand the subject when we find it in ecclesiastical
sculpture, over the doors of places of worship, in the decorative
carving of church utensils, in stained glass. In many of the Italian
churches there is a chapel especially dedicated to the Virgin in this
character, called _la Capella dell' Incoronata_; and both in Germany
and Italy it is a frequent subject as an altar-piece.

In all the most ancient examples, it is Christ only who places the
crown on the head of his Mother, seated on the same throne, and placed
at his right hand. Sometimes we have the two figures only; sometimes
the _Padre Eterno_ looks down, and the Holy Spirit in the form of the
dove hovers above or between them. In some later examples the Virgin
is seated between the Father and the Son, both in human form: they
place the crown on her head each holding it with one hand, the Holy
Spirit hovering above. In other representations the Virgin _kneels_ at
the feet of Christ; and he places the crown on her head, while two or
more rejoicing and adoring angels make heavenly music, or all Paradise
opens to the view; and there are examples where not only the choir
of attendant angels, but a vast assembly of patriarchs, saints,
martyrs, fathers of the Church--the whole company of the blessed
spirits--assist at this great ceremony.

I will now give some celebrated examples of the various styles of

There is a group in mosaic, which I believe to be singular in its
kind, where the Virgin is enthroned, with Christ. She is seated at his
right hand, at the same elevation, and altogether as his equal. His
right arm embraces her, and his hand rests on her shoulder. She wears
a gorgeous crown, which her Son has placed on her brow Christ has only
the cruciform nimbus; in his left hand is an open book, on which is
inscribed, "_Veni, Electa mea_" &c. "Come, my chosen one, and I will
place thee upon my throne." The Virgin holds a tablet, on which are
the words "His right hand should be under my head, and his left hand
should embrace me." (Cant. viii. 3.) The omnipotent Hand is stretched
forth in benediction above. Here the Virgin is the type of the Church
triumphant and glorified, having overcome the world; and the solemn
significance of the whole representation is to be found in the Book of
Revelations: "To him that overcometh will I grant _to sit with me in
my throne_, even as I also overcame and am set down with my Father in
his throne." (Rev. iii. 21.)

This mosaic, in which, be it observed, the Virgin is enthroned with
Christ, and _embraced_, not crowned, by him, is, I believe, unique
either as a picture or a church decoration. It is not older than
the twelfth century, is very ill executed, but is curious from the
peculiarity of the treatment. (Rome. S. Maria in Trastevere.)

       *       *       *       *       *

In the mosaic in the tribune of S. Maria-Maggiore at Rome, perhaps
the earliest example extant of the Coronation, properly so called, the
subject is treated with a grand and solemn simplicity. Christ and the
Virgin, colossal figures, are seated on the same regal throne within
a circular glory. The background is blue studded with golden stars.
He places the crown on her head with his right hand; in the left he
holds an open book, with the usual text, "_Veni, Electa mea, et ponam
te in thronum meum_," &c. She bends slightly forward, and her hands
are lifted in adoration. Above and around the circular glory the
emblematical vine twines in arabesque form; among the branches and
leaves sit peacocks and other birds; the peacock being the old emblem
of immortality, as birds in general are emblems of spirituality. On
each side of the glory are nine adoring angels, representing the nine
choirs of the heavenly hierarchy; beyond these on the right stand St.
Peter, St. Paul, St. Francis; on the left, St. John the Baptist, St.
John the Evangelist, and St. Antony of Padua; all these figures being
very small in proportion to those of Christ and the Virgin. Smaller
still, and quite diminutive in comparison, are the kneeling figures of
Pope Nicholas IV. and Cardinal Giacomo Colonna, under whose auspices
the mosaic was executed by Jacopo della Turrita, a Franciscan friar,
about 1288. In front flows the river Jordan, symbol of baptism and
regeneration; on its shore stands the hart, the emblem of religions
aspiration. Underneath the central group is the inscription,--


The whole of this vast and poetical composition is admirably executed,
and it is the more curious as being, perhaps, one of the earliest
examples of the glorification of St. Francis and St. Antony of Padua
(Monastic Orders), who were canonized about thirty or forty years

The mosaic, by Gaddo Gaddi (Florence, A.D. 1330), over the great door
in the cathedral at Florence, is somewhat different. Christ, while
placing the crown on the head of his Mother with his _left_ hand,
blesses her with his right hand, and he appears to have laid aside
his own crown, which lies near him. The attitude of the Virgin is also

[Footnote 1: In the same cathedral (which is dedicated to the Virgin
Mary) the circular window of the choir opposite to the mosaic exhibits
the Coronation. The design, by Donatello, is eminently fine and

In a small altar-piece by Giotto (Florence, S. Croce), Christ and the
Virgin are seated together on a throne. He places the jewelled crown
on her head with _both_ hands, while she bends forward with her hands
crossed in her lap, and the softest expression in her beautiful face,
as if she as meekly resigned herself to this honour, as heretofore to
the angelic salutation which pronounced her "Blessed:" angels kneel
before the throne with censers and offerings. In another, by Giotto,
Christ wearing a coronet of gems is seated on a throne: the Virgin
_kneels_ before him with hands joined: twenty angels with musical
instruments attend around. In a "Coronation," by Piero Laurati,
the figures of Christ and the Virgin, seated together, resemble in
sentiment and expression those of Giotto. The angels are arranged in
a glory around, and the treatment is wholly typical.

One of the most beautiful and celebrated of the pictures of Angelico
da Fiesole is the "Coronation" now in the Louvre; formerly it stood
over the high altar of the Church of St. Dominick at Fiesole, where
Angelico had been nurtured, and made his profession as monk. The
composition is conceived as a grand regal ceremony, but the beings who
figure in it are touched with a truly celestial grace. The Redeemer,
crowned himself, and wearing the ermine mantle of an earthly monarch,
is seated on a magnificent throne, under a Gothic canopy, to which
there is an ascent of nine steps. He holds the crown, which he is in
the act of placing, with both hands, on the head of the Virgin, who
kneels before him, with features of the softest and most delicate
beauty, and an expression of divine humility. Her face, seen in
profile, is partly shaded by a long transparent veil, flowing over
her ample robe of a delicate crimson, beneath which is a blue tunic.
On each side a choir of lovely angels, clothed from head to foot in
spangled tunics of azure and rose-colour, with shining wings, make
celestial music, while they gaze with looks of joy and adoration
towards the principal group. Lower down on the right of the throne
are eighteen, and on the left twenty-two, of the principal patriarchs,
apostles, saints, and martyrs, among whom the worthies of Angelico's
own community, St. Dominick and St. Peter Martyr, are of course
conspicuous. At the foot of the throne kneel on one side St.
Augustine, St. Benedict, St. Charlemagne, the royal saint; St.
Nicholas; and St. Thomas Aquinas holding a pen (the great literary
saint of the Dominican order, and author of the Office of the Virgin);
on the left we have a group of virgins, St. Agnes, St. Catherine with
her wheel, St. Catherine of Siena, her habit spangled with stars;
St. Cecilia crowned with her roses, and Mary Magdalene, with her
long golden hair.[1] Beneath this great composition runs a border or
predella, in seven compartments, containing in the centre a Pietà, and
on each side three small subjects from the history of St. Dominick,
to whom the church, whence it was taken, is dedicated. The spiritual
beauty of the heads, the delicate tints of the colouring, an ineffable
charm of mingled brightness and repose shed over the whole, give to
this lovely picture an effect like that of a church hymn, sung at
some high festival by voices tuned in harmony--"blest voices, uttering

[Footnote 1: See "Legends of the Monastic Orders," and "Sacred and
Legendary Art," for an account of all these personages.]

In strong contrast with the graceful Italian conception, is the German
"Coronation," now in the Wallerstein collection. (Kensington Pal.)
It is supposed to have been painted for Philip the Good, Duke of
Burgundy, either by Hans Hemling, or a painter not inferior to him.
Here the Virgin is crowned by the Trinity. She kneels, with an air of
majestic humility, and hands meekly folded on her bosom, attired in
simple blue drapery, before a semicircular throne, on which are seated
the Father and the Son, between them, with outspread wings, touching
their mouths, the Holy Dove. The Father a venerable figure, wears the
triple tiara, and holds the sceptre; Christ, with an expression of
suffering, holds in his left hand a crystal cross; and they sustain
between them a crown which they are about to place on the head of the
Virgin. Their golden throne is adorned with gems, and over it is a
glory of seraphim, with hair, faces, and plumage, all of a glowing
red. The lower part of this picture and the compartments on each side
are filled with a vast assemblage of saints, and martyrs, and holy
confessors: conspicuous among them we find the saints most popular
in Flanders and Burgundy--St. Adrian, St. George, St. Sebastian, St.
Maurice, clad in coats of mail and crowned with laurel, with other
kingly and warlike personages; St. Philip, the patron of Philip the
Good; St. Andrew, in whose honour he instituted the order of the
Golden Fleece: and a figure in a blue mantle with a ducal crown, one
of the three kings of Cologne, is supposed to represent Duke Philip
himself. It is, impossible by any description to do justice to this
wonderful picture, as remarkable for its elaborate workmanship, the
mysticism of the conception, the quaint elegance of the details,
and portrait-like reality of the faces, as that of Angelico for its
spiritual, tender, imaginative grace.

There is a "Coronation" by Vivarini (Acad. Venice), which may be
said to comprise in itself a whole system of theology. It is one
vast composition, not divided by compartments. In the centre is a
magnificent carved throne sustained by six pillars, which stand on
a lofty richly ornamented pedestal. On the throne are seated Christ
and the Virgin; he is crowned, and places with both hands a crown on
her head. Between them hovers the celestial Dove, and above them is
seen the Heavenly Father in likeness of "the Ancient of Days," who
paternally lays a hand on the shoulder of each. Around his head and
over the throne, are the nine choirs of angels, in separate groups.
First and nearest, hover the glowing seraphim and cherubim, winged,
but otherwise formless. Above these, the Thrones, holding the globe
of sovereignty; to the right, the Dominations, Virtues, and Powers; to
the left, the Princedoms, Archangels, and Angels. Below these, on each
side of the throne, the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament,
holding each a scroll. Below these the apostles on twelve thrones, six
on each side, each holding the Gospel. Below these, on each side, the
saints and martyrs. Below these, again, the virgins and holy women.
Under the throne, in the space formed by the pillars, is seen a
group of beautiful children (not angels), representing, I think, the
martyred Innocents. They bear the instruments of Christ's passion--the
cross, nails, spear, crown of thorns, &c. On the step below the
pedestal, and immediately in front, are seated the Evangelists and
doctors of the Church; on the right St. Matthew and St. Luke, and
behind them St. Ambrose and St. Augustine; on the left St. Mark and
St. John, and behind them St. Jerome and St. Gregory. (See "Sacred and
Legendary Art") Every part of this curious picture is painted with the
utmost care and delicacy: the children are exquisite, and the heads,
of which there are at least seventy without counting the angels, are
finished like miniatures.

This simple, and altogether typical representation of the Virgin
crowned by the Trinity in human form, is in a French carving of the
fifteenth century, and though ill drawn, there is considerable naïveté
in the treatment. The Eternal Father wears, as is usual, the triple
tiara, the Son has the cross and the crown of thorns, and the Holy
Ghost is distinguished by the dove on his hand. All three sustain the
crown over the head of the kneeling Virgin, whose train is supported
by two angels.

In a bas-relief over a door of the cathedral at Treves, the subject is
very simply treated; both Christ and the Virgin are standing, which
is unusual, and behind each is an angel, also standing and holding a

Where not more than five or six saints are introduced as attendants
and accessories, they are usually the patron saints of the locality or
community, which may be readily distinguished. Thus,

1. In a "Coronation" by Sandro Botticelli, we find below, St. John the
Evangelist, St. Augustine, St. John Gualberto, St. Bernardo Cardinale.
It was painted for the Vallombrosian monks. (Fl. Gal.)

2. In a very fine example by Ghirlandajo, St. Dominick and St. Peter
Martyr are conspicuous: painted, of course, for the Dominicans.
(Paris, Louvre.)

3. In another, by Pinturicchio, St. Francis is a principal figure,
with St. Bonaventura and St. Louis of Toulouse; painted for the
Franciscans, or at least for a Franciscan pope, Sixtus IV. (Rome,

4. In another, by Guido, the treatment differs from the early style.
The coronation above is small and seen as a vision; the saints below,
St. Bernard and St. Catherine, are life-size. It was painted for a
community of Bernardines, the monks of Monte Oliveto. (Bologna, Gal.)

5. In a beautiful little altar-piece by Lorenzo di Credi[1], the
Virgin is kneeling above, while Christ, seated, places the crown on
her head. A glory of red seraphim surround the two figures. Below are
the famous patron saints of Central Italy, St. Nicholas of Bari and
St. Julian of Rimini, St. Barbara and St. Christina. The St. Francis
and St. Antony, in the predella, show it to have been painted for a
Franciscan church or chapel, probably for the same church at Cestello
for which Lorenzo painted the St. Julian and St. Nicholas now in the

[Footnote 1: Once in the collection of Mr. Rogers; _v_. "Sacred and
Legendary Art."]

The "Coronation of the Virgin" by Annibale Carracci is in a spirit
altogether different, magnificently studied.[1] On high, upon a lofty
throne which extends across the whole picture from side to side, the
Virgin, a noble majestic creature, in the true Carracci style, is
seated in the midst as the principal figure, her hands folded on her
bosom. On the right hand sits the Father, on the left the Son; they
hold a heavenly crown surmounted by stars above her head. The locality
is the Empyreum. The audience consists of angels only, who circle
within circle, filling the whole space, and melting into an abyss of
light, chant hymns of rejoicing and touch celestial instruments of
music. This picture shows how deeply Annibale Carracci had studied
Correggio, in the magical chiaro-oscuro, and the lofty but somewhat
mannered grace of the figures.

[Footnote 1: This was also in the collection of Mr. Rogers.]

One of the latest examples I can point to is also one of the most
simple and grand in conception. (Madrid Gal.) It is that by Velasquez,
the finest perhaps of the very few devotional subjects painted by
him. We have here the three figures only, as large as life, filling
the region of glory, without angels, witnesses, or accessories of any
kind, except the small cherubim beneath; and the symmetrical treatment
gives to the whole a sort of sublime effect. But the heads have the
air of portraits: Christ has a dark, earnest, altogether Spanish
physiognomy; the Virgin has dark hair; and the _Padre Eterno_, with
a long beard, has a bald head,--a gross fault in taste and propriety;
because, though the loose beard and flowing white hair may serve to
typify the "Ancient of Days," baldness expresses not merely age, but
the infirmity of age.

Rubens, also, painted a "Coronation" with all his own lavish
magnificence of style for the Jesuits at Brussels. After the time
of Velasquez and Rubens, the "Immaculate Conception" superseded the

       *       *       *       *       *

To enter further into the endless variations of this charming and
complex subject would lead us through all the schools of art from
Giotto to Guido. I have said enough to render it intelligible
and interesting, and must content myself with one or two closing

1. The dress of the Virgin in a "Coronation" is generally splendid,
too like the coronation robes of an earthly queen,--it is a "raiment
of needlework,"--"a vesture of gold wrought about with divers
colours"--generally blue, crimson, and white, adorned with gold, gems,
and even ermine. In the "Coronation" by Filippo Lippi, at Spoleto, she
wears a white robe embroidered with golden suns. In a beautiful little
"Coronation" in the Wallerstein collection (Kensington Pal.) she wears
a white robe embroidered with suns and moons, the former red with
golden rays, the latter blue with coloured rays,--perhaps in allusion
to the text so often applied in reference to her, "a woman clothed
with the _sun_," &c. (Rev. xii. 1, or Cant. vi. 10.)

2. In the set of cartoons for the tapestries of the Sistine Chapel
(Kugler's Handbook, ii. 394), as originally prepared by Raphael,
we have the foundation, the heaven-bestowed powers, the trials and
sufferings of the early Church, exhibited in the calling of St. Peter,
the conversion of St. Paul, the acts and miracles of the apostles, the
martyrdom of St. Stephen; and the series closed with the Coronation
of the Virgin, placed over the altar, as typical of the final triumph
of the Church, the completion and fulfilment of all the promises made
to man, set forth in the exaltation and union of the mortal with the
immortal, when the human Mother and her divine Son are reunited and
seated on the same throne. Raphael placed on one side of the celestial
group, St. John the Baptist, representing sanctification through the
rite of baptism; and on the other, St. Jerome, the general symbol of
sanctification through faith and repentance. The cartoon of this grand
symbolical composition, in which all the figures were colossal, is
unhappily lost; the tapestry is missing from the Vatican collection;
two old engravings, however, exist, from which some idea may be formed
of the original group. (Passavant's Rafael, ii. 258.)

3. It will be interesting to remember that the earliest existing
impression taken from an engraved metal plate, is a "Coronation of the
Virgin." Maso Finiguerra, a skilful goldsmith and worker in niello,
living at Florence in 1434, was employed to execute a pix (the small
casket in which the consecrated wafer of the sacrament is deposited),
and he decorated it with a representation of the Coronation in
presence of saints and angels, in all about thirty figures, minutely
and exquisitely engraved on the silver face. Whether Finiguerra was
the first worker in niello to whom it occurred to fill up the lines
cut in the silver with a black fluid, and then by laying on it a piece
of damp paper, and forcibly rubbing it, take off the fac-simile of his
design and try its effect before the final process,--this we can not
ascertain; we only know that the impression of his "Coronation" is
the earliest specimen known to exist, and gave rise to the practice
of cutting designs on plates of copper (instead of silver), for the
purpose of multiplying impressions of them. The pix finished by Maso
in 1452 is now in the Florence Gallery in the "Salle des Bronzes." The
invaluable print, first of its species, exists in the National Library
at Paris. There is a very exact fac-simile of it in Otley's "History
of Engraving," Christ and the Virgin are here seated together on
a lofty architectural throne: her hands are crossed on her bosom,
and she bends her meek veiled head to receive the crown, which her
Son, who wears a triple tiara, places on her brow. The saints most
conspicuous are St. John the Baptist, patron of Florence and of the
church for which the pix was executed, and a female saint, I believe
St. Reparata, both standing; kneeling in front are St. Cosmo and St.
Damian, the patrons of the Medici family, then paramount at Florence.
(Sacred and Legendary Art.)

4. In an illuminated "Office of the Virgin," I found a version of
this subject which must be rare, and probably confined to miniatures.
Christ is seated on a throne and the Virgin kneels before him; he
bends forwards, and tenderly takes her clasped hands in both his own.
An empty throne is at the right hand of Christ, over which hovers
an angel bearing a crown. This is the moment which _precedes_
the Coronation, as the group already described in the S.
Maria-in-Trastevere exhibits the moment which _follows_ the

5. Finally, we must bear in mind that those effigies in which the
Madonna is holding her Child, while angels place a crown upon her
head, do not represent THE CORONATION properly so called, but merely
the Virgin honoured as Mother of Christ and Queen of Heaven (_Mater
Christi, Regina Coeli_); and that those representations of the
Coronation which conclude a series of the life of the Virgin, and
surmount her death-bed or her tomb, are historical and dramatic rather
than devotional and typical. Of this historical treatment there are
beautiful examples from Cimabue down to Raphael, which will be noticed
hereafter in their proper place.


Our Lady of Succour. _Ital._ La Madonna di Misericordia. _Fr._ Nôtre
Dame de Miséricorde. _Ger._ Maria Mutter des Erbarmens. _Sp._ Nuestra
Señora de Grazia.

When once the Virgin had been exalted and glorified in the celestial
paradise, the next and the most natural result was, that she should be
regarded as being in heaven the most powerful of intercessors, and on
earth a most benign and ever-present protectress. In the mediæval idea
of Christ, there was often something stern; the Lamb of God who died
for the sins of the world, is also the inexorable Judge of the quick
and the dead. When he shows his wounds, it is as if a vindictive
feeling was supposed to exist; as if he were called upon to remember
in judgment the agonies and the degradation to which he had been
exposed below for the sake of wicked ungrateful men. In a Greek "Day
of Judgment," cited by Didron, Moses holds up a scroll, on which is
written, "Behold Him whom ye crucified," while the Jews are dragged
into everlasting fire. Everywhere is the sentiment of vengeance;
Christ himself is less a judge than an avenger. Not so the Virgin;
she is represented as all mercy, sympathy, and benignity. In some of
the old pictures of the Day of Judgment, she is seated by the side
of Christ, on an equality with him, and often in an attitude of
deprecation, as if adjuring him, to relent: or her eyes are turned on
the redeemed souls, and she looks away from the condemned as if unable
to endure the sight of their doom. In other pictures she is lower than
Christ, but always on his right hand, and generally seated; while St.
John the Baptist, who is usually placed opposite to her on the left
of Christ, invariably stands or kneels. Instead of the Baptist, it is
sometimes, but rarely, John the Evangelist, who is the pendant of the

In the Greek representations of the Last Judgment, a river of fire
flows from under the throne of Christ to devour and burn up the
wicked.[1] In western art the idea is less formidable,--Christ is
not at once judge and executioner; but the sentiment is always
sufficiently terrible; "the angels and all the powers of heaven
tremble before him." In the midst of these terrors, the Virgin,
whether kneeling, or seated, or standing, always appears as a gentle
mediator, a, supplicant for mercy. In the "Day of Judgment," as
represented in the "Hortus Deliciarum," [2] we read inscribed under
her figure the words "_Maria, Filio suo pro Ecclesia supplicat_."
In a very fine picture by Martin Schoen (Schleissheim Gal.), it is
the Father, who, with a sword and three javelins in his hand, sits
as the avenging judge; near him Christ; while the Virgin stands in
the foreground, looking up to her Son with an expression of tender
supplication, and interceding, as it appears, for the sinners kneeling
round her, and whose imploring looks are directed to _her_. In the
well-known fresco by Andrea Ortagna (Pisa, Campo Santo), Christ and
the Virgin sit throned above, each in a separate aureole, but equally
glorified. Christ, pointing with one hand to the wound in his side,
raises the other in a threatening attitude, and his attention is
directed to the wicked, whom he hurls into perdition. The Virgin,
with one hand pressed to her bosom, looks to him with an air of
supplication. Both figures are regally attired, and wear radiant
crowns; and the twelve apostles attend them, seated on each side.

[Footnote 1: Didron, "Iconographie Chrétienne;" and in the mosaic of
the Last Judgment, executed by Byzantine artists, in the cathedral at

[Footnote 2: A celebrated illuminated MS. (date about 1159 to 1175),
preserved in the Library at Strasburg.]

       *       *       *       *       *

In the centre group of Michael Angelo's "Last Judgment," we have the
same leading _motif_, but treated in a very different feeling. Christ
stands before us in figure and mien like a half-naked athlete; his
left hand rejects, his right hand threatens, and his whole attitude
is as utterly devoid of dignity as of grace. I have often wondered
as I have looked at this grand and celebrated work, what could be
Michael Angelo's idea of Christ. He who was so good, so religious,
so pure-minded, and so high-minded, was deficient in humility and
sympathy; if his morals escaped, his imagination was corrupted by the
profane and pagan influences of his time. His conception of Christ is
here most unchristian, and his conception of the Virgin is not much
better. She is grand in form, but the expression is too passive.
She looks down and seems to shrink; but the significance of the
attitude,--the hand pressed to the maternal bosom,--given to her by
the old painters, is lost.

In a "Last Judgment" by Rubens, painted for the Jesuits of Brussels
(Brussels; Musée), the Virgin extends her robe over the world, as if
to shield mankind from the wrath of her Son; pointing, at the same
time, significantly to her bosom, whence He derived his earthly life.
The daring bad taste, and the dramatic power of this representation,
are characteristic alike of the painter, the time, and the community
for which the picture was painted.

       *       *       *       *       *

More beautiful and more acceptable to our feelings are those graceful
representations of the Virgin as dispenser of mercy on earth; as
protectress and patroness either of all Christendom, or of some
particular locality, country, or community. In such pictures she
stands with outstretched arms, crowned with a diadem, or in some
instances simply veiled, her ample robe, extended on each side, is
held up by angels, while under its protecting folds are gathered
worshippers and votaries of all ranks and ages--men, women,
children,--kings, nobles, ecclesiastics,--the poor, the lame, the
sick. Or if the picture be less universal in its significance,
dedicated perhaps by some religious order or charitable brotherhood,
we see beneath her robe an assemblage of monks and nuns, or a troop of
young orphans or redeemed prisoners. Such a representation is styled a

In a picture by Fra Filippo Lippi (Berlin Gal.), the Madonna of Mercy
extends her protecting mantle over thirty-five kneeling figures,
the faces like portraits, none elevated or beautiful, but the whole
picture as an example of the subject most striking.

A very beautiful and singular representation of the Virgin of Mercy
without the Child, I found in the collection of Herr v. Quandt, of
Dresden. She stands with hands folded over her bosom, and wrapped in
ample white drapery, without ornament of any kind; over her head, a
veil of transparent gauze of a brown colour, such as, from various
portraits of the time, appears to have been then a fashion. The
expression of the face is tender and contemplative, almost sad; and
the whole figure, which is life-size, is inexpressibly refined and
dignified. The following inscription is on the dark background to the
right of the Virgin:--


This beautiful picture was brought from Brescia to Vienna by a
picture-dealer, and purchased by Herr v. Quandt. It was painted by
Moretto of Brescia, of whom Lanzi truly says that his sacred subjects
express _la compunzione, la pietà, la carità istessa_; and this
picture is an instance. But by whom dedicated, for what especial
mercy, or in what church, I could not ascertain.[1]

[Footnote 1: I possess a charming drawing of the head by Fraulein
Louise Seidler of Weimar, whose feeling for early religious art is
shown in her own works, as well as in the beautiful copies she has
made of others.]

       *       *       *       *       *

It is seldom that the Madonna di Misericordia appears without the
Child in her arms; her maternity is supposed to be one element in her
sympathy with suffering humanity. I will add, however, to the examples
already given, one very celebrated instance.

The picture entitled the "Misericordia di Lucca" is famous in the
history of art. (Lucca. S. Romano.) It is the most important work
of Fra Bartolomeo, and is dated 1515, two years before his death.
The Virgin, a grand and beautiful figure, stands alone on a raised
platform, with her arms extended, and looking up to heaven. The ample
folds of her robe are held open by two angels. Beneath and round her
feet are various groups in attitudes of supplication, who look up to
her, as she looks up to heaven. On one side the donor of the picture
is presented by St. Dominick. Above, in a glory, is the figure of
Christ surrounded by angels, and seeming to bend towards his mother.
The expression in the heads, the dignified beneficence of the Virgin,
the dramatic feeling in the groups, particularly the women and
children, justify the fame of this picture as one of the greatest of
the productions of mind.[1]

[Footnote 1: According to the account in Murray's "Handbook,"
this picture was dedicated by the noble family of Montecanini, and
represents the Virgin interceding for the Lucchesi during the wars
with Florence. But I confess I am doubtful of this interpretation, and
rather think it refers to the pestilence, which, about 1512, desolated
the whole of the north of Italy. Wilkie, who saw this picture in 1825,
speaks of the workmanship with the enthusiasm of a workman.]

       *       *       *       *       *

There is yet another version of this subject, which deserves notice
from the fantastic grace of the conception. As in early Christian Art,
our Saviour was frequently portrayed as the Good Shepherd, so, among
the later Spanish fancies, we find his Mother represented as the
Divine Shepherdess. In a picture painted by Alonzo Miguel de Tobar
(Madrid Gal. 226), about the beginning of the eighteenth century,
we find the Virgin Mary seated under a tree, in guise of an Arcadian
pastorella, wearing a broad-brimmed hat, encircled by a glory, a crook
in her hand, while she feeds her flock with the mystical roses. The
beauty of expression in the head of the Virgin is such as almost to
redeem the quaintness of the religious conceit; the whole picture is
described as worthy of Murillo. It was painted for a Franciscan church
at Madrid, and the idea became so popular, that we find it multiplied
and varied in French and German prints of the last century; the
original picture remains unequalled for its pensive poetical grace;
but it must be allowed that the idea, which at first view strikes from
its singularity, is worse than questionable in point of taste, and
will hardly bear repetition.

There are some ex-voto pictures of the Madonna of Mercy, which record
individual acts of gratitude. One, for instance, by Nicolò Alunno
(Rome, Pal. Colonna), in which the Virgin, a benign and dignified
creature, stretches forth her sceptre from above, and rebukes the ugly
fiend of Sin, about to seize a boy. The mother kneels on one side,
with eyes uplifted, in faith and trembling supplication. The same idea
I have seen repeated in a picture by Lanfranco.

       *       *       *       *       *

The innumerable votive pictures which represent the Madonna di
Misericordia with the Child in her arms, I shall notice hereafter.
They are in Catholic countries the usual ornaments of charitable
Institutions and convents of the Order of Mercy; and have, as I cannot
but think, a very touching significance.


_Ital._ La Madre di Dolore. L' Addolorata. _Fr._ Nôtre Dame da Pitié.
La Vierge de Douleur. _Sp_. Nuestra Señora de Dolores _Ger._ Die
Schmerzhafte Mutter.

One of the most important of these devotional subjects proper to the
Madonna is the "Mourning Mother," the _Mater Dolorosa_, in which her
character is that of the mother of the crucified Redeemer; the mother
of the atoning Sacrifice; the queen of martyrs; the woman whose bosom
was pierced with a sharp sword; through whose sorrow the world was
saved, whose anguish was our joy, and to whom the Roman Catholic
Christians address their prayers as consoler of the afflicted, because
she had herself tasted of the bitterest of all earthly sorrow, the
pang of the agonized mother for the loss of her child.

In this character we have three distinct representations of the

MATER DOLOROSA. In the first she appears alone, a seated or standing
figure, often the head or half length only; the hands clasped, the
head bowed in sorrow, tears streaming from the heavy eyes, and the
whole expression intensely mournful. The features are properly
those of a woman in middle age; but in later times the sentiment of
beauty predominated over that of the mother's agony; and I have seen
the sublime Mater Dolorosa transformed into a merely beautiful and
youthful maiden, with such an air of sentimental grief as might serve
for the loss of a sparrow.

Not so with the older heads; even those of the Carracci and the
Spanish school have often a wonderful depth of feeling.

It is common in such representations to represent the Virgin with a
sword in her bosom, and even with _seven_ swords in allusion to
the _seven_ sorrows. This very material and palpable version of the
allegorical prophecy (Luke ii, 35) has been found extremely effective
as an appeal to the popular feelings, so that there are few Roman
Catholic churches without such a painful and literal interpretation
of the text. It occurs perpetually in prints, and there is a fine
example after Vandyck; sometimes the swords are placed round her head;
but there is no instance of such a figure from the best period of
religious art, and it must be considered as anything but artistic: in
this case, the more materialized and the more matter of fact, the more

       *       *       *       *       *

STABAT MATER. A second representation of the _Madre di Dolore_ is that
figure of the Virgin which, from the very earliest times, was placed
on the right of the Crucifix, St. John the Evangelist being invariably
on the left. I am speaking here of the _crucifix_ as a wholly ideal
and mystical emblem of our faith in a crucified Saviour; not of
the _crucifixion_ as an event, in which the Virgin is an actor and
spectator, and is usually fainting in the arms of her attendants. In
the ideal subject she is merely an ideal figure, at once the mother
of Christ, and the personified Church. This, I think, is evident from
those very ancient carvings, and examples in stained glass, in which
the Virgin, as the Church, stands on one side of the cross, trampling
on a female figure which personifies Judaism or the synagogue. Even
when the allegory is less palpable, we feel that the treatment is
wholly religious and poetical.

The usual attitude of the _Mater Dolorosa_ by the crucifix is that of
intense but resigned sorrow; the hands clasped, the head declined and
shaded by a veil, the figure closely wrapped in a dark blue or violet
mantle. In some instances a more generally religious and ideal cast is
given to the figure; she stands with outspread arms, and looking up;
not weeping, but in her still beautiful face a mingled expression of
faith and anguish. This is the true conception of the sublime hymn,

  "Stabat Mater Dolorosa
  Juxta crucem lachrymosa
  Dum pendebat filius."

LA PIETÀ. The third, and it is the most important and most beautiful
of all as far as the Virgin is concerned, is the group called the
PIETÀ, which, when strictly devotional, consists only of the Virgin
with her dead Son in her arms, or on her lap, or lying at her feet;
in some instances with lamenting angels, but no other personages.
This group has been varied in a thousand ways; no doubt the two most
perfect conceptions are those of Michael Angelo and Raphael; the first
excelling in sublimity, the latter in pathos. The celebrated marble
group by Michael Angelo stands in the Vatican in a chapel to the
right as we enter. The Virgin is seated; the dead Saviour lies across
the knees of his mother; she looks down on him in mingled sorrow
and resignation, but the majestic resignation predominates. The
composition of Raphael exists only as a print; but the flimsy paper,
consecrated through its unspeakable beauty, is likely to be as lasting
as the marble. It represents the Virgin, standing with outstretched
arms, and looking up with an appealing agonized expression towards
heaven; before her, on the earth, lies extended the form of the
Saviour. In tenderness, dignity, simplicity, and tragic pathos,
nothing can exceed this production; the head of the Virgin in
particular is regarded as a masterpiece, so far exceeding in delicacy
of execution every other work of Marc Antonio, that some have thought
that Raphael himself took the burin from his hand, and touched himself
that face of quiet woe.

Another example of wonderful beauty is the Pietà by Francia, in
our National Gallery. The form of Christ lies extended before his
mother; a lamenting angel sustains the head, another is at the feet:
the Virgin, with eyes red and heavy with weeping, looks out of the
picture. There needs no visible sword in her bosom to tell what
anguish has pierced that maternal heart.

There is another Pietà, by Michael Angelo, quite a different
conception. The Virgin sits at the foot of the cross; before her, and
half-sustained by her knees, lies the form of the dead Saviour, seen
in front; his arms are held up by two angels (unwinged, as is usual
with Michael Angelo). The Virgin looks up to heaven with an appealing
expression; and in one engraving of this composition the cross is
inscribed with the words, "Tu non pensi quanta sangue costa." There is
no painting by Michael Angelo himself, but many copies and engravings
of the drawing. A beautiful small copy, by Marcello Venusti, is in the
Queen's Gallery.

There is yet another version of the Pietà, quite mystical and
devotional in its significance,--but, to my feeling, more painful and
material than poetical. It is variously treated; for example:--1.
The dead Redeemer is seen half-length within the tomb; his hands are
extended to show his wounds; his eyes are closed, his head declined,
his bleeding brow encircled by thorns. On one side is the Virgin, on
the other St. John the Evangelist, in attitudes of profound grief
and commiseration. 2. The dead form, half emerging from the tomb, is
sustained in the arms of the Mater Dolorosa. St. John the Evangelist
on the other side. There are sometimes angels.

The Pietà thus conceived as a purely religious and ideal impersonation
of the atoning Sacrifice, is commonly placed over the altar of
the sacrament, and in many altar-pieces it forms the centre of the
predella, just in front where the mass is celebrated, or on the door
of the tabernacle, where the Host is deposited.

When, with the Mater Dolorosa and St. John, Mary Magdalene is
introduced with her dishevelled hair, the group ceases to be properly
a Pietà, and becomes a representation rather than a symbol.

       *       *       *       *       *

There are also examples of a yet more complex but still perfectly
ideal and devotional treatment, in which the Mourning Mother is
attended by saints.

A most celebrated instance of this treatment is the Pietà by Guido.
(Bologna Gal.) In the upper part of the composition, the figure of the
dead Redeemer lies extended on a white shroud; behind him stands the
Virgin-mother, with her eyes raised to heaven, and sad appealing face,
touched with so divine a sorrow--so much of dignity in the midst of
infinite anguish, that I know nothing finer in its way. Her hands
are resignedly folded in each other, not raised, not clasped, but
languidly drooping. An angel stands at the feet of Christ looking on
with a tender adoring commiseration; another, at his head, turns away
weeping. A kind of curtain divides this group from the lower part
of the picture, where, assembled on a platform, stand or kneel the
guardian saints of Bologna: in the centre, the benevolent St. Charles
Borromeo, who just about that time had been canonized and added to
the list of the patrons of Bologna by a decree of the senate; on the
right, St. Dominick and St. Petronius; on the left, St. Proculus
and St. Francis. These sainted personages look up as if adjuring the
Virgin, even by her own deep anguish, to intercede for the city; she
is here at once our Lady of Pity, of Succour, and of Sorrow. This
wonderful picture was dedicated, as an act of penance and piety, by
the magistrates of Bologna, in 1616, and placed in their chapel in the
church of the "Mendicanti," otherwise S. Maria-della-Pietà. It hung
there for two centuries, for the consolation of the afflicted; it
is now placed in the Academy of Bologna for the admiration of


_Ital._ La Madonna Purissima. _Lat._ Regina sine labe originali
concepta. _Spa._ Nuestra Señora sin peccado concepida. La Concepcion.
_Fr._ La Conception de la Vierge Marie. _Ger._ Das Geheimniss der
unbefleckten Empfängniss Mariä. Dec. 8.

The last and the latest subject in which the Virgin appears alone
without the Child, is that entitled the "Immaculate Conception of the
Blessed Virgin;" and sometimes merely "THE CONCEPTION." There is no
instance of its treatment in the earlier schools of art; but as one of
the most popular subjects of the Italian and Spanish painters of the
seventeenth century, and one very frequently misunderstood, it is
necessary to go into the history of its origin.

In the early ages of Christianity, it was usual to celebrate, as
festivals of the Church, the Conception of Jesus Christ, and the
Conception of his kinsman and precursor John the Baptist; the latter
as miraculous, the former as being at once divine and miraculous. In
the eleventh century it was proposed to celebrate the Conception of
the Virgin Mother of the Redeemer.

From the time that the heresy of Nestorius had been condemned, and
that the dignity of the Virgin as mother of the _Divinity_ had become
a point of doctrine, it was not enough to advocate her excelling
virtue and stainless purity as a mere human being. It was contended,
that having been predestined from the beginning as the Woman, through
whom the divine nature was made manifest on earth, she must be
presumed to be exempt from all sin, even from that original taint
inherited from Adam. Through the first Eve, we had all died; through
the second Eve, we had all been "made alive." It was argued that
God had never suffered his earthly temple to be profaned; had even
promulgated in person severe ordinances to preserve its sanctuary
inviolate. How much more to him was that temple, that _tabernacle_
built by no human hands, in which he had condescended to dwell.
Nothing was impossible to God; it lay, therefore, in his power to
cause his Mother to come absolutely pure and immaculate into the
world: being in his power, could any earnest worshipper of the Virgin
doubt for a moment that for one so favoured it would not be done? Such
was the reasoning of our forefathers; and the premises granted, who
shall call it illogical or irreverent?

For three or four centuries, from the seventh to the eleventh, these
ideas had been gaining ground. St. Ildefonso of Seville distinguished
himself by his writings on this subject; and how the Virgin
recompensed his zeal, Murillo has shown us, and I have related in
the life of that saint. (Legends of the Monastic Orders.) But the
first mention of a festival, or solemn celebration of the Mystery of
the Immaculate Conception, may be traced to an English monk of the
eleventh century, whose name is not recorded, (v. Baillet, vol. xii.)
When, however, it was proposed to give the papal sanction to this
doctrine as an article of belief, and to institute a church office for
the purpose of celebrating the Conception of Mary, there arose strong
opposition. What is singular, St. Bernard, so celebrated for his
enthusiastic devotion to the Virgin, was most strenuous and eloquent
in his disapprobation. He pronounced no judgment against those who
received the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, he rather leaned
towards it; but he opposed the institution of the festival as an
innovation not countenanced by the early fathers of the Church. After
the death of St. Bernard, for about a hundred years, the dispute
slept; but the doctrine gained ground. The thirteenth century, so
remarkable for the manifestation of religious enthusiasm in all its
forms, beheld the revival of this celebrated controversy. A certain
Franciscan friar, Duns Scotus (John Scott of Dunse), entered the lists
as champion for the Virgin. He was opposed by the Dominicans and their
celebrated polemic Thomas Aquinas, who, like St. Bernard, was known
for his enthusiastic reverence for the Virgin; but, like him, and on
the same grounds, objected to the introduction of new forms. Thus the
theological schools were divided.

During the next two hundred years the belief became more and more
general, the doctrine more and more popular; still the Church, while
it tolerated both, refused to ratify either. All this time we find
no particular representation of the favourite dogma in art, for until
ratified by the authority of the Church, it could not properly enter
into ecclesiastical decoration. We find, however, that the growing
belief in the pure Conception and miraculous sanctification of
the Virgin multiplied the representations of her coronation and
glorification, as the only permitted expression of the popular
enthusiasm on this point. For the powerful Order of the Franciscans,
who were at this time and for a century afterwards the most ardent
champions of the Immaculate Conception, were painted most of the
pictures of the Coronation produced during the fourteenth century.

The first papal decree touching the "Immaculate Conception" as an
article of faith, was promulgated in the reign of Sixtus IV., who
had been a Franciscan friar, and he took the earliest opportunity of
giving the solemn sanction of the Church to what had ever been the
favourite dogma of his Order; but the celebration of the festival,
never actually forbidden, had by this time become so usual, that
the papal ordinance merely sanctioned without however rendering it
obligatory. An office was composed for the festival, and in 1496
the Sorbonne declared in favour of it Still it remained a point of
dispute; still there were dissentient voices, principally among the
Dominican theologians; and from 1500 to 1600 we find this controversy
occupying the pens of the ecclesiastics, and exciting the interest and
the imagination of the people. In Spain the "Immaculate Conception
of the Virgin," owing perhaps to the popularity and power of the
Franciscans in that country, had long been "the darling dogma of the
Spanish Church." Villegas, in the "Flos Sanctorum," while admitting
the modern origin of the opinion, and the silence of the Church,
contended that, had this great fact been made manifest earlier and
in less enlightened times, it might possibly have led to the error of
worshipping the Virgin as an actual goddess. (Stirling's Artists of
Spain, p. 905.) To those who are conversant with Spanish theology
and art, it may seem that the distinction drawn in theory is not very
definite or perceptible in practice.

At length, in July, 1615, Paul V. formally instituted the office
commemorating the Immaculate Conception, and in 1617 issued a bull
forbidding any one to teach or preach a contrary opinion. "On the
publication of this bull, Seville flew into a frenzy of religious
joy." The archbishop performed a solemn service in the Cathedral.
Cannon roared, and bull fights, tournaments, and banquets celebrated
this triumph of the votaries of the Virgin. Spain and its dependencies
were solemnly placed under the protection of the "Immaculate
Conception," thus personifying an abstract idea; and to this day, a
Spaniard salutes his neighbour with the angelic "Ave Maria purissima!"
and he responds "Sin peccado concepida!"[1]

[Footnote 1: In our own days we have seen this curious controversy
revived. One of the latest, if not the last, writer on the subject was
Cardinal Lambruschini; and the last papal ordinance was promulgated by
Pio Mono, and dated from Gaeta, 1849.]

       *       *       *       *       *

I cannot find the date of the earliest picture of the Immaculate
Conception; but the first writer on the art who makes allusion to the
subject, and lays down specific rules from ecclesiastical authority
for its proper treatment, is the Spaniard Pacheco, who must have been
about forty years of age when the bull was published at Seville in
1618. It is soon after this time that we first hear of pictures of the
Immaculate Conception. Pacheco subsequently became a familiar of the
Inquisition, and wielded the authority of the holy office as inspector
of sacred pictures; and in his "Arte de la Pintura," published in
1649, he laid down those rules for the representation which had been
generally, though not always, exactly followed.

It is evident that the idea is taken from the woman in the Apocalypse,
"clothed with the sun, having the moon under her feet, and on her head
a crown of twelve stars." The Virgin is to be portrayed in the first
spring and bloom of youth as a maiden of about twelve or thirteen
years of age; with "grave sweet eyes;" her hair golden; her features
"with all the beauty painting can express;" her hands are to be folded
on her bosom or joined in prayer. The sun is to be expressed by a
flood of light around her. The moon under her feet is to have the
horns pointing downwards, because illuminated from above, and the
twelve stars are to form a crown over her head. The robe must be
of spotless white; the mantle or scarf blue. Round her are to hover
cherubim bearing roses, palms, and lilies; the head of the bruised and
vanquished dragon is to be under her feet. She ought to have the cord
of St. Francis as a girdle, because in this guise she appeared to
Beatriz de Silva, a noble Franciscan nun, who was favoured by a
celestial vision of the Madonna in her beatitude. Perhaps the good
services of the Franciscans as champions of the Immaculate Conception
procured them the honour of being thus commemorated.

All these accessories are not absolutely and rigidly required;
and Murillo, who is entitled _par excellence_ the painter of the
Conception, sometimes departed from the letter of the law without
being considered as less orthodox. With him the crescent moon, is
sometimes the full moon, or when a crescent the horns point upwards
instead of downwards. He usually omits the starry crown, and, in spite
of his predilection for the Capuchin Order, the cord of St. Francis
is in most instances dispensed with. He is exact with regard to the
colours of the drapery, but not always in the colour of the hair. On
the other hand, the beauty and expression of the face and attitude,
the mingled loveliness, dignity, and purity, are given with exquisite
feeling; and we are never, as in his other representations of the
Madonna, reminded of commonplace homely, often peasant, portraiture;
here all is spotless grace, ethereal delicacy, benignity, refinement,
repose,--the very apotheosis of womanhood.

I must go back to observe, that previous to the promulgation of
the famous bull of Pope Paul V., the popular ideas concerning the
Immaculate Conception had left their impress on art. Before the
subject had taken an express and authorized form, we find pictures
which, if they do not represent it, relate to it, I remember two which
cannot be otherwise interpreted, and there are probably others.

The first Is a curious picture of the early Florentine School. (Berlin
Gal.) In the centre is original sin, represented by Eve and the
Serpent; on the right stand St. Ambrose, St. Hilarius, St. Anselm,
and St. Bernard; on the left St. Cyril, Origen, St. Augustine, and St.
Cyprian; and below are inscribed passages from the writings of these
fathers relating to the immaculate Conception of the Virgin: all of
them had given to her in their works the title of Immaculate, most
pure; but they differed as to the period of her sanctification, as to
whether it was in the moment of conception or at the moment of birth.

The other picture is in the Dresden Gallery, and one of the finest
productions of that extraordinary Ferrarese painter Dosso Dossi. In
the lower part of the picture are the four Latin Fathers, turning over
their great books, or in deep meditation; behind them, the Franciscan
Bernardino of Siena. Above, in a glory of light, the Virgin, clothed,
not in spotless white, but a richly embroidered regal mantle, "wrought
about with divers colours," kneels at the feet of the Almighty, who
extends his hand in benediction. I find no account in the catalogue
whence this picture was taken, but it was evidently painted for the

       *       *       *       *       *

In 1617, when the Bull of Paul V. was formally expedited, Guido was
attached to the papal court in quality of painter and an especial
favourite with his Holiness. Among the earliest accredited pictures of
the Immaculate Conception, are four of his finest works.

1. The cupola of the private chapel of the Quirinal represents the
Almighty meditating the great miracle of the Immaculate Conception,
and near him, within the same glory of light, is the Virgin in her
white tunic, and in an attitude of adoration. This was painted about
1610 or 1611, when Pope Paul V. was meditating the promulgation of his
famous ordinance.

2. The great picture, also painted for Paul V., represents the
doctors of the Church arguing and consulting their great books for the
authorities on the subject of the Conception.[1] Above, the Virgin is
seated in glory, arrayed in spotless white, her hands crossed over her
bosom, and her eyes turned towards the celestial fountain of light.
Below are six doctors, consulting their books; they are not well
characterized, being merely so many ideal heads in a mannered style;
but I believe they represent the four Latin Fathers, with St. John
Damascene and St. Ildefonso, who were especial defenders of the

[Footnote 1: Petersburg Imp. Gal. There is a fine engraving.]

3. The next in point of date was painted for the Infanta of Spain,
which I believe to be the same now in the possession of Lord
Ellesmere. The figure of the Virgin, crowned with the twelve stars,
and relieved from a background of golden light, is standing on a
crescent sustained by three cherubs beneath; she seems to float
between heaven and earth; on either side is a seraph, with hands
folded and looks upraised in adoration. The whole painted in his
silvery tone, with such an extreme delicacy and transparency
of effect, that it might be styled "a vision of the Immaculate

4. The fourth was painted for the chapel of the Immaculate Conception,
in the church of San Biagio, at Forli, and is there still.

       *       *       *       *       *

Just as the Italian schools of painting were on the decline, the
Spanish school of art arose in all its glory, and the "Conception"
became, from the popularity of the dogma, not merely an
ecclesiastical, but a popular subject. Not only every church, but
almost every private house, contained the effigy either painted or
carved, or both, of our Lady "_sin peccado concepida_;" and when the
academy of painting was founded at Seville, in 1660, every candidate
for admission had to declare his orthodox belief in _the most pure
Conception of our Lady_.

The finest Spanish "Conception" before the time of Murillo, is by
Roelas, who died in 1625; it is in the academy at Seville, and is
mentioned by Mr. Ford as "equal to Guido."[1]

[Footnote 1: Handbook of Spain. A very fine picture of this subject,
by Roelas, was sold out of the Soult Collection.]

One of the most beautiful and characteristic, as well as earliest,
examples of this subject I have seen, is a picture in the Esterhazy
Gallery at Vienna. The Virgin is in the first bloom of girlhood; she
looks not more than nine or ten years old, with dark hair, Spanish
features, and a charming expression of childlike simplicity and
devotion. She stands amid clouds, with her hands joined, and the
proper white and blue drapery: there are no accessories. This picture
is attributed to an obscure painter, Lazaro Tavarone, of whom I can
learn nothing more than that he was employed in the Escurial about

The beautiful small "Conception" by Velasquez, in the possession
of Mr. Frere, is a departure from the rules laid down by Pacheco in
regard to costume; therefore, as I presume, painted before he entered
the studio of the artist-inquisitor, whose son-in-law he became before
he was three and twenty. Here the Virgin is arrayed in a pale violet
robe, with a dark blue mantle. Her hands are joined, and she looks
down. The solemnity and depth of expression in the sweet girlish face
is very striking; the more so, that it is not a beautiful face, and
has the air of a portrait. Her long hair flows over her shoulders. The
figure is relieved against a bright sun, with fleecy clouds around;
and the twelve stars are over her head. She stands on the round moon,
of which the upper half is illumined. Below, on earth, and through
the deep shadow, are seen several of the emblems of the Virgin--the
fountain, the temple, the olive, the cypress, and the garden enclosed
in a treillage of roses.[1] This picture is very remarkable; it is in
the earliest manner of Velasquez, painted in the bold free style of
his first master, Herrara, whose school he quitted when he was about
seventeen or eighteen, just at the period when the Pope's ordinance
was proclaimed at Seville.

[Footnote 1: v. Introduction: "The Symbols and Attributes of the

       *       *       *       *       *

Of twenty-five pictures of this subject, painted by Murillo, there are
not two exactly alike; and they are of all sizes, from the colossal
figure called the "Great Conception of Seville," to the exquisite
miniature representation in the possession of Lord Overston, not more
than fifteen inches in height. Lord Lansdowne has also a beautiful
small "Conception," very simply treated. In those which have dark
hair, Murillo is said to have taken his daughter Francisca as a model.
The number of attendant angels varies from one or two, to thirty. They
bear the palm, the olive, the rose, the lily, the mirror; sometimes
a sceptre and crown. I remember but few instances in which he has
introduced the dragon-fiend, an omission which Pacheco is willing to
forgive; "for," as he observes, "no man ever painted the devil with

In the Louvre picture (No. 1124), the Virgin is adored by three
ecclesiastics. In another example, quoted by Mr. Stirling (Artists
of Spain, p. 839), a friar is seen writing at her feet: this figure
probably represents her champion, the friar Duns Scotus. There is
at Hampton Court a picture, by Spagnoletto, of this same Duns Scotus
writing his defence of the Immaculate Conception. Spagnoletto was
painting at Naples, when, in 1618, "the Viceroy solemnly swore, in
presence of the assembled multitude, to defend with his life the
doctrine of the Immaculate Conception;" and this picture, curious
and striking in its way, was painted about the same time.

       *       *       *       *       *

In Italy, the decline of Art in the seventeenth century is nowhere
more apparent, nor more offensive, than in this subject. A finished
example of the most execrable taste is the mosaic in St. Peter's,
after Pietro Bianchi. There exists, somewhere, a picture of the
Conception, by Le Brun, in which the Virgin has no other drapery
than a thin, transparent gauze, and has the air of a Venus Meretrix.
In some old French prints, the Virgin is surrounded by a number of
angels, defending her with shield and buckler against demons who are
taking aim at her with fiery arrows. Such, and even worse, vagaries
and perversities, are to be found in the innumerable pictures of this
favourite subject, which inundated the churches between 1640 and 1720.
Of these I shall say no more. The pictures of Guido and Murillo, and
the carved figures of Alonzo Cano, Montanez, and Hernandez, may
be regarded as authorized effigies of "Our Lady of the most pure
Conception;" in other words, as embodying, in the most attractive,
decorous, and intelligible form, an abstract theological dogma, which
is in itself one of the most curious, and, in its results, one of the
most important of the religions phenomena connected with the artistic
representations of the Virgin.[1]

[Footnote 1: We often find on pictures and prints of the Immaculate
Conception, certain scriptural texts which the theologians of the
Roman Church have applied to the Blessed Virgin; for instance, from
Ps. xliv. _Omnis gloria ejus filiæ regis ab intus_--"The king's
daughter is all glorious within;" or from the Canticles, iv. 7, _Tota
pulchra es amica mea, et macula non est in te_,--"Thou art all fair,
my love, there is no spot in thee." I have also seen the texts, Ps.
xxii. 10, and Prov. viii. 22, 28, xxxi. 29, thus applied, as well as
other passages from the very poetical office of the Virgin _In Festo
Immaculatæ Conceptionis_.]

We must be careful to discriminate between the Conception, so
styled by ecclesiastical authority, and that singular and mystical
representation which is sometimes called the "Predestination of Mary,"
and sometimes the "Litanies of the Virgin." Collectors and writers
on art must bear in mind, that the former, as a subject, dates only
from the beginning of the seventeenth century, the latter from
the beginning of the sixteenth. Although, as representations, so
very similar, yet the intention and meaning are different. In the
Conception it is the sinless Virgin in her personal character, who
is held up to reverence, as the purest, wisest, holiest, of created
beings. The earlier theme involves a yet more recondite signification.
It is, undoubtedly, to be regarded as an attempt on the part of the
artist to express, in a visible form, the idea or promise of the
redemption of the human race, as existing in the Sovereign Mind before
the beginning of things. They do not personify this idea under the
image of Christ,--for they conceived that, as the second person of the
Trinity, he could not be his own instrument,--but by the image of Mary
surrounded by those attributes which were afterwards introduced into
the pictures of the Conception: or setting her foot, as second Eve, on
the head of the prostrate serpent. Not seldom, in a series of subjects
from the Old Testament, the _pendant_ to Eve holding the apple is Mary
crushing the head of the fiend; and thus the "bane and antidote are
both before us." This is the proper interpretation of those effigies,
so prevalent in every form of art during the sixteenth century, and
which are often, but erroneously, styled the Immaculate Conception.

The numerous heads of the Virgin which proceeded from the later
schools of Italy and Spain, wherein she appears neither veiled nor
crowned, but very young, and with flowing hair and white vesture, are
intended to embody the popular idea of the _Madonna purissima_, of
"the Virgin most pure, conceived without sin," in an abridged form.
There is one by Murillo, in the collection of Mr. Holford; and another
by Guido, which will give an idea of the treatment.

Before quitting the subject of the Immaculate Conception. I must
refer to a very curious picture[1] called an Assumption, but certainly
painted at least one hundred years before the Immaculate Conception
was authorized as a Church subject.

[Footnote 1: Once in the collection of Mr. Solly, and now in the
possession of Mr. Bromley of Wootten.]

From the year 1496, when Sixtus IV. promulgated his Bull, and the
Sorbonne put forth their famous decree,--at a time when there was
less of faith and religious feeling in Italy than ever before,--this
abstract dogma became a sort of watchword with theological disputants;
not ecclesiastics only, the literati and the reigning powers took
an interest in the controversy, and were arrayed on one side or the
other. The Borgias, for instance, were opposed to it. Just at this
period, the singular picture I allude to was painted by Girolamo da
Cotignola. It is mentioned by Lanzi, but his account of it is not
quite correct.

Above, in glory, is seen the _Padre Eterno_, surrounded by cherubim
bearing a scroll, on which is inscribed, "_Non enim pro te sed pro
omnibus hec lex constitutura est._"[1] Lower down the Virgin stands
on clouds, with hands joined, and attired in a white tunic embroidered
with gold, a blue mantle lined with red, and, which is quite singular
and unorthodox, _black shoes_. Below, on the earth, and to the
right, stands a bishop without a glory, holding a scroll, on which
is inscribed, "_Non puto verè esse amatorem Virginis qui respuit
celebrare Festum suæ Conceptionis_;" on the left is St. Jerome. In
the centre are three kneeling figures: on one side St. Catherine (or
perhaps Caterina Sforza in the character of St. Catherine, for the
head looks like a portrait); on the other an elderly woman, Ginevra
Tiepolo, widow of Giovanni Sforza, last prince of Pesaro; [2] between
them the little Costanzo Sforza, looking up with a charming devout
expression. [3] Underneath is Inscribed, "JUNIPERA SFOSTIA PATRIA
dispossessed of his dominions by the Borgias, after his divorce from
Lucrezia, and died in 1501. The Borgias ceased to reign in 1512; and
Ginevra, apparently restored to her country, dedicated this picture,
at once a memorial of her gratitude and of her faith. It remained over
the high-altar of the Church of the Serviti, at Pesaro, till acquired
by Mr. Solly, from whom it was purchased by Mr. Bromley. [4]

[Footnote 1: From the Office of the Blessed Virgin.]

[Footnote 2: This Giovanni was the first husband of Lucrezia Borgia.]

[Footnote 3: Lanzi calls this child Costanzo II., prince of Pesaro.
Very interesting memoirs of all the personages here referred to may be
found in Mr. Dennistoun's "Dukes of Urbino."]

[Footnote 4: Girolamo Marchesi da Cotignola, was a painter of the
Francia school, whose works date from about 1508 to 1550. Those of
his pictures which I have seen are of very unequal merit, and, with
much feeling and expression in the heads, are often mannered and
fantastic as compositions. This agrees with what Vasari says, that his
excellence lay in portraiture, for which reason he was summoned, after
the battle of Ravenna, to paint the portrait of Caston de Foix, as
he lay dead. (See Vasari, _Vita di Bagnacavallo_; and in the English
trans., vol. iii. 331.) The picture above described, which has a sort
of historical interest, is perhaps the same mentioned in Murray's
Handbook (Central Italy, p. 110.) as an _enthroned_ Madonna, dated
1513, and as being in 1843 in its original place over the altar in the
Serviti at Pesaro; if so, it is there no longer.]






_Lat._ Sancta Dei Genitrix. Virgo Deipara. _Ital._ La Santissima
Vergine, Madre di Dio. _Fr._ La Sainte Vierge, Mère de Dieu. _Ger._
Die Heilige Mutter Gottes.

The Virgin in her maternal character opens upon us so wide a field
of illustration, that I scarce know where to begin or how to find my
way, amid the crowd of associations which press upon me. A mother
holding her child in her arms is no very complex subject; but like a
very simple air constructed on a few expressive notes, which, when
harmonized, is susceptible of a thousand modulations, and variations,
and accompaniments, while the original _motif_ never loses its power
to speak to the heart; so it is with the MADONNA AND CHILD;--a
subject so consecrated by its antiquity, so hallowed by its profound
significance, so endeared by its associations with the softest and
deepest of our human sympathies, that the mind has never wearied of
its repetition, nor the eye become satiated with its beauty. Those who
refuse to give it the honour due to a religious representation, yet
regard it with a tender half-unwilling homage; and when the glorified
type of what is purest, loftiest, holiest in womanhood, stands before
us, arrayed in all the majesty and beauty that accomplished Art,
inspired by faith and love, could lend her, and bearing her divine
Son, rather enthroned than sustained on her maternal bosom, "we look,
and the heart is in heaven!" and it is difficult, very difficult, to
refrain from an _Ora pro Nobis_. But before we attempt to classify
these lovely and popular effigies, in all their infinite variety,
from the enthroned grandeur of the Queen of Heaven, the SANCTA
DEI GENITRIX, down to the peasant mother, swaddling or suckling
her infant; or to interpret the innumerable shades of significance
conveyed by the attendant accessories, we must endeavour to trace the
representation itself to its origin.

This is difficult. There exists no proof, I believe, that the effigies
of the Virgin with the infant Christ in her arms, which existed before
the end of the fifth century, were placed before Christian worshippers
as objects of veneration. They appear to have been merely groups
representing a particular incident of the New Testament, namely,
the adoration of the Magi; for I find no other in which the mother
is seated with the infant Christ, and this is an historical subject
of which we shall have to speak hereafter. From the beginning of
the fourth century, that is, from the time of Constantine and the
condemnation of Arius, the popular reverence for the Virgin, the
Mother of Christ, had been gaining ground; and at the same time the
introduction of images and pictures into the places of worship and
into the houses of Christians, as ornaments on glass vessels and even
embroidered on garments and curtains, became more and more diffused,
(v. Neander's Church History.)

The earliest effigies of the Virgin and Child may be traced
to Alexandria, and to Egyptian influences; and it is as easily
conceivable that the time-consecrated Egyptian myth of Isis and
Horus may have suggested the original type, the outward form and the
arrangement of the maternal group, as that the classical Greek types
of the Orpheus and Apollo should have furnished the early symbols of
the Redeemer as the Good Shepherd; a fact which does not rest upon
supposition, but of which the proofs remain to us in the antique
Christian sculptures and the paintings in the catacombs.

The most ancient Greek figures of the Virgin and Child have perished;
but, as far as I can learn, there is no evidence that these effigies
were recognized by the Church as sacred before the beginning of the
sixth century. It was the Nestorian schism which first gave to the
group of the Mother bearing her divine Son that religious importance
and significance which it has ever since retained in Catholic

The divinity of Christ and his miraculous conception, once established
as articles of belief, naturally imparted to Mary, his mother, a
dignity beyond that of other mothers her Son was God; therefore the
title of MOTHER OF GOD was assigned to her. When or by whom first
brought into use, does not appear; but about the year 400 it became
a popular designation.

Nestorias, patriarch of Constantinople in 428, had begun by
persecuting the Arians; but while he insisted that in Jesus were
combined two persons and two natures, he insisted that the Virgin Mary
was the mother of Christ considered as _man_, but not the mother of
Christ considered as _God_; and that, consequently, all those who gave
her the title of _Dei Genitrix_, _Deipara_,[1] were in error. There
were many who adopted these opinions, but by a large portion of the
Church they were repudiated with horror, as utterly subverting the
doctrine of the mystery of the Incarnation. Cyril of Alexandria
opposed Nestorius and his followers, and defended with zealous
enthusiasm the claims of the Virgin to all the reverence and
worship due to her; for, as he argued, the two natures being one and
indivisible from the moment of the miraculous conception, it followed
that Mary did indeed bring forth God,--was, in fact, the mother of
God; and, all who took away from her this dignity and title were in
error, and to be condemned as heretics.

[Footnote 1: The inscription on the Greek and Byzantine pictures is
actually [Greek: MAeR ThU] ([Greek: Mhaetaer Theos]).]

I hope I shall not be considered irreverent in thus plainly and simply
stating the grounds of this celebrated schism, with reference to its
influence on Art; an influence incalculable, not only at the time,
but ever since that time; of which the manifold results, traced
from century to century down to the present hour, would remain quite
unintelligible, unless we clearly understood the origin and the issue
of the controversy.

Cyril, who was as enthusiastic and indomitable as Nestorius, and had
the advantage of taking the positive against the negative side of the
question, anathematized the doctrines of his opponent, in a synod held
at Alexandria in 430, to which Pope Celestine II gave the sanction of
his authority. The emperor Theodosius II then called a general council
at Ephesus in 431, before which Nestorius refused to appear, and was
deposed from his dignity of patriarch by the suffrages of 200 bishops.
But this did not put an end to the controversy; the streets of Ephesus
were disturbed by the brawls and the pavement of the cathedral was
literally stained with the blood of the contending parties Theodosius
arrested both the patriarchs; but after the lapse of only a few days,
Cyril triumphed over his adversary: with him triumphed the cause of
the Virgin. Nestorius was deposed and exiled; his writings condemned
to the flames; but still the opinions he had advocated were adopted by
numbers, who were regarded as heretics by those who called themselves
"the Catholic Church."

The long continuance of this controversy, the obstinacy of the
Nestorians, the passionate zeal of those who held the opposite
doctrines, and their ultimate triumph when the Western Churches of
Rome and Carthage declared in their favour, all tended to multiply and
disseminate far and wide throughout Christendom those images of the
Virgin which exhibited her as Mother of the Godhead. At length the
ecclesiastical authorities, headed by Pope Gregory the Great, stamped
them as orthodox: and as the cross had been the primeval symbol which
distinguished the Christian from the Pagan, so the image of the Virgin
Mother with her Child now became the symbol which distinguished the
Catholic Christian from the Nestorian Dissenter.

Thus it appears that if the first religious representations of the
Virgin and Child were not a consequence of the Nestorian schism, yet
the consecration of such effigies as the visible form of a theological
dogma to the purposes of worship and ecclesiastical decoration
must date from the Council of Ephesus in 431; and their popularity
and general diffusion throughout the western Churches, from the
pontificate of Gregory in the beginning of the seventh century.

In the most ancient of these effigies which remain, we have clearly
only a symbol; a half figure, veiled, with hands outspread, and
the half figure of a child placed against her bosom, without any
sentiment, without even the action of sustaining him. Such was the
formal but quite intelligible sign; but it soon became more, it became
a representation. As it was in the East that the cause of the Virgin
first triumphed, we might naturally expect to find the earliest
examples in the old Greek churches; but these must have perished
in the furious onslaught made by the Iconoclasts on all the sacred
images. The controversy between the image-worshippers and the
image-breakers, which distracted the East for more than a century
(that is, from 726 to 840), did not, however, extend to the west of
Europe. We find the primeval Byzantine type, or at least the exact
reproduction of it, in the most ancient western churches, and
preserved to us in the mosaics of Rome, Ravenna, and Capua. These
remains are nearly all of the same date, much later than the single
figures of Christ as Redeemer, and belonging unfortunately to a lower
period and style of art. The true significance of the representation
is not, however, left doubtful; for all the earliest traditions and
inscriptions are in this agreed, that such effigies were intended as
a confession of faith; an acknowledgment of the dignity of the Virgin
Mary, as the "SANCTA DEI GENITRIX;" as a visible refutation of "the
infamous, iniquitous, and sacrilegious doctrines of Nestorius the

[Footnote 1: _Mostrando quod ipsa Deipara esset contra impiam Nestorii
Heresium quam talem esse iste Heresiareo negabat_ Vide Ciampini, and
Munter's "Sinnbilder."]

       *       *       *       *       *

As these ancient mosaic figures of the Virgin, enthroned with her
infant Son, were the precursors and models of all that was afterwards
conceived and executed in art, we must examine them in detail before
proceeding further.

The mosaic of the cathedral of Capua represents in the highest place
the half figure of Christ in the act of benediction. In one of the
spandrels, to the right, is the prophet Isaiah, bearing a scroll, on
which is inscribed, _Ecce Dominus in fortitudine veniet, et brachium
ejus dominibatur_,--"The Lord God will come with strong hand, and his
arm shall rule for him." (Isaiah, ch. xl. v. 10.) On the left stands
Jeremiah, also with a scroll and the words, _Fortissime, magne, et
patens Dominus exercituum nomen tibi_,--"The great, the mighty God,
the Lord of hosts is his name." (Jeremiah, ch. xxxii. v. 18.) In the
centre of the vault beneath, the Virgin is seated on a rich throne,
a footstool under her feet; she wears a crown over her veil. Christ,
seated on her knee, and clothed, holds a cross in his left hand; the
right is raised is benediction. On one side of the throne stand St.
Peter and St. Stephen; on the other St. Paul and St. Agatha, to whom
the church is dedicated. The Greek monogram of the Virgin is inscribed
below the throne.

The next in date which remains visible, is the group in the apsis of
S. Maria-della-Navicella (Rome), executed about 820, in the time of
Paschal I, a pontiff who was very remarkable for the zeal with which
he rebuilt and adorned the then half-ruined churches of Rome. The
Virgin, of colossal size, is seated on a throne; her robe and veil
are blue; the infant Christ, in a gold-coloured vest, is seated in her
lap, and raises his hand to bless the worshippers. On each side of the
Virgin is a group of adoring angels; at her feet kneels the diminutive
figure of Pope Paschal.

In the Santa Maria-Nova (called also, "Santa Francesca," Rome), the
Virgin is seated on a throne wearing a rich crown, as queen of heaven.
The infant Christ stands upon her knee; she has one hand on her bosom
and sustains him with the other.

On the façade of the portico of the S. Maria-in-Trastevere at Rome,
the Virgin is enthroned, and crowned, and giving her breast to the
Child. This mosaic is of later date than that in the apsis, but is
one of the oldest examples of a representation which was evidently
directed against the heretical doubts of the Nestorians: "How," said
they, pleading before the council of Ephesus, "can we call him God
who is only two or three months old; or suppose the Logos to have
been _suckled_ and to increase in wisdom?" The Virgin in the act
of suckling her Child, is a _motif_ often since repeated when the
original significance was forgotten.

In the chapel of San Zeno (Rome), the Virgin is enthroned; the Child
is seated on her knee. He holds a scroll, on which are the words
_Ego sum lux mundi_, "I am the light of the world;" the right hand is
raised in benediction. Above is the monogram [Greek: M-R ThU], MARIA
MATER DEI. In the mosaics, from the eighth to the eleventh century,
we find Art at a very low ebb. The background is flat gold, not a blue
heaves with its golden stars, as in the early mosaics of the fifth and
sixth centuries. The figures are ill-proportioned; the faces consist
of lines without any attempt at form or expression. The draperies,
however, have a certain amplitude; "and the character of a few
accessories, for example, the crown on the Virgin's heads instead of
the invariable Byzantine veil, betrays," says Kugler, "a northern and
probably a Frankish influence." The attendant saints, generally St.
Peter and St. Paul, stand, stiff and upright on each side.

But with all their faults, these grand, formal, significant groups--or
rather not groups, for there was as yet no attempt either at
grouping or variety of action, for that would have been considered
irreverent--but these rows of figures, were the models of the early
Italian painters and mosaic-workers in their large architectural
mosaics and altar-pieces set up in the churches during the revival
of Art, from the period of Cimabue and Andrea Tafi down to the
latter half of the thirteenth century: all partook of this lifeless,
motionless character, and were, at the same time, touched with
the same solemn religious feeling. And long afterwards, when the
arrangement became less formal and conventional, their influence may
still be traced in those noble enthroned Madonnas, which represent
the Virgin as queen of heaven and of angels, either alone, or with
attendant saints, and martyrs, and venerable confessors waiting round
her state.

The general disposition of the two figures varies but little in the
earliest examples which exist for us in painting, and which are, in
fact, very much alike. The Madonna seated on a throne, wearing a red
tunic and a blue mantle, part of which is drawn as a veil over her
head, holds the infant Christ, clothed in a red or blue tunic. She
looks straight out of the picture with her head a little declined to
one side. Christ has the right hand raised in benediction, and the
other extended. Such were the simple, majestic, and decorous effigies,
the legitimate successors of the old architectural mosaics, and
usually placed over the high altar of a church or chapel. The earliest
examples which have been preserved are for that reason celebrated in
the history of Art.

The first is the enthroned Virgin of Guido da Siena, who preceded
Cimabue by twenty or thirty years. In this picture, the Byzantine
conception and style of execution are adhered to, yet with a softened
sentiment, a touch of more natural, life-like feeling, particularly
in the head of the Child. The expression in the face of the Virgin
struck me as very gentle and attractive; but it has been, I am afraid,
retouched, so that we cannot be quite sure that we have the original
features. Fortunately Guido has placed a date on his work, MCCXXI.,
and also inscribed on it a distich, which shows that he felt, with
some consciousness and self-complacency, his superiority to his
Byzantine models;--

  "Me Guido de Senis diebus depinxit amoenis
  Quem Christus lenis nullis velit angere poenis."[1]

Next we may refer to the two colossal Madonnas by Cimabue, preserved
at Florence. The first, which was painted for the Vallombrosian monks
of the S. Trinità, is now in the gallery of the academy. It has all
the stiffness and coldness of the Byzantine manner. There are three
adoring angels on each side, disposed one above another, and four
prophets are placed below in separate niches, half figures, holding
in their hands their prophetic scrolls, as in the old mosaic at Capua,
already described. The second is preserved in the Ruccellai chapel, in
the S. Maria Novella, in its original place. In spite of its colossal
size, and formal attitude, and severe style, the face of this Madonna
is very striking, and has been well described as "sweet and unearthly,
reminding you of a sibyl." The infant Christ is also very fine. There
are three angels on each side, who seem to sustain the carved chair or
throne on which the Madonna is seated; and the prophets, instead, of
being below, are painted in small circular medallions down each side
of the frame. The throne and the background are covered with gold.
Vasari gives a very graphic and animated account of the estimation
in which this picture was held when first executed. Its colossal
dimensions, though familiar in the great mosaics, were hitherto
unknown in painting; and not less astonishing appeared the deviation,
though slight, from ugliness and lifelessness into grace and nature.
"And thus," he says, "it happened that this work was an object of
so much admiration to the people of that day, they having never seen
anything better, that it was carried in solemn procession, with the
sound of trumpets and other festal demonstrations, from the house of
Cimabue to the church, he himself being highly rewarded and honoured
for it. It is further reported, and may be read in certain records
of old painters, that, whilst Cimabue was painting this picture, in a
garden near the gate of San Pietro, King Charles the Elder, of Anjou,
passed through Florence, and the authorities of the city, among other
marks of respect, conducted him to see the picture of Cimabue. When
this work was thus shown to the King it had not before been seen
by any one; wherefore all the men and women of Florence hastened in
crowds to admire it, making all possible demonstrations of delight.
The inhabitants of the neighbourhood, rejoicing in this occurrence,
ever afterwards called that place _Borgo Allegri_; and this name
it has ever since retained, although in process of time it became
enclosed within the walls of the city."

[Footnote 1: The meaning, for it is not easy to translate literally,
is "_Me, hath painted, in pleasant days, Guido of Siena, Upon whose
soul may Christ deign to have mercy!_"]

       *       *       *       *       *

In the strictly devotional representations of the Virgin and Child,
she is invariably seated, till the end of the thirteenth century: and
for the next hundred years the innovation of a standing figure was
confined to sculpture. An early example is the beautiful statue by
Niccolà Pisano, in the Capella della Spina at Pisa; and others will be
found in Cicognara'a work (Storia della Scultura Moderna). The Gothic
cathedrals, of the thirteenth century, also exhibit some most graceful
examples of the Madonna in sculpture, standing on a pedestal, crowned
or veiled, sustaining on her left arm the divine Child, while in
her right she holds a sceptre or perhaps a flower. Such crowned or
sceptred effigies of the Virgin were placed on the central pillar
which usually divided the great door of a church into two equal parts;
in reference to the text, "I am the DOOR; by me if any man enter in,
he shall be saved." In Roman Catholic countries we find such effigies
set up at the corners of streets, over the doors of houses, and the
gates of gardens, sometimes rude and coarse, sometimes exceedingly
graceful, according to the period of art and skill of the local
artist. Here the Virgin appears in her character of Protectress--our
Lady of Grace, or our Lady of Succour.

       *       *       *       *       *

In pictures, we rarely find the Virgin standing, before the end of
the fourteenth century. An almost singular example is to be found
in an old Greek Madonna, venerated as miraculous, in the Cathedral
of Orvieto, under the title of _La Madonna di San Brizio_, and to
which is attributed a fabulous antiquity. I may be mistaken, but my
impression, on seeing it, was, that it could not be older than the end
of the thirteenth century. The crowns worn by the Virgin and Christ
are even more modern, and out of character with the rest of the
painting. In Italy the pupils of Giotto first began to represent
the Virgin standing on a raised dais. There is an example by Puccio
Capanna, engraved in d'Agincourt's work; but such figures are very
uncommon. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries they occur more
frequently in the northern than in the Italian schools.

In the simple enthroned Madonna, variations of attitude and sentiment
were gradually introduced. The Virgin, instead of supporting her
Son with both hands, embraces him with one hand, and with the other
points to him; or raises her right hand to bless the worshipper. Then
the Child caresses his mother,--a charming and natural idea, but a
deviation from the solemnity of the purely religious significance;
better imagined, however, to convey the relation between the mother
and child, than the Virgin suckling her infant, to which I have
already alluded in its early religious, or rather controversial
meaning. It is not often that the enthroned Virgin is thus occupied.
Mr. Rogers had in his collection an exquisite example where the
Virgin, seated in state on a magnificent throne under a Gothic canopy
and crowned as queen of heaven, offers her breast to the divine Infant
Then the Mother adores her Child. This is properly the _Madre Pia_
afterwards so beautifully varied. He lies extended on her knee, and
she looks down upon him with hands folded in prayer: or she places
her hand under his foot, an attitude which originally implied her
acknowledgment of his sovereignty and superiority, but was continued
as a natural _motif_ when the figurative and religious meaning was no
longer considered. Sometimes the Child looks up in his mother's face
with his finger on his lip, expressing the _Verbum sum_, "I am the
Word." Sometimes the Child, bending forwards from his mother's knee,
looks down benignly on the worshippers, who are _supposed_ to be
kneeling at the foot of the altar. Sometimes, but very rarely he
sleeps; never in the earliest examples; for to exhibit the young
Redeemer asleep, where he is an object of worship, was then a species
of solecism.

When the enthroned Virgin is represented holding a book, or reading,
while the infant Christ, perhaps, lays his hand upon it--a variation
in the first simple treatment not earlier than the end of the
fourteenth century, and very significant--she is then the _Virgo
Sapientissima_, the most Wise Virgin; or the Mother of Wisdom, _Mater
Sapientiæ_; and the book she holds is the Book of Wisdom.[1] This is
the proper interpretation, where the Virgin is seated on her throne.
In a most beautiful picture by Granacci (Berlin Gal.), she is thus
enthroned, and reading intently; while John the Baptist and St.
Michael stand on each side.

[Footnote 1: L'Abbé Crosnier, "Iconographie Chrétienne;" but the book
as an attribute had another meaning, for which, see the Introduction.]

       *       *       *       *       *

With regard to costume, the colours in which the enthroned
Virgin-Mother was arrayed scarcely ever varied from the established
rule: her tunic was to be red, her mantle blue; red, the colour of
love, and religious aspiration; blue, the colour of constancy and
heavenly purity. In the pictures of the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries, and down to the early part of the fifteenth, these colours
are of a soft and delicate tint,--rose and pale azure; but afterwards,
when powerful effects of colour became a study, we have the intense
crimson, and the dark blue verging on purple. Sometimes the blue
mantle is brought over her head, sometimes she wears a white veil, in
other instances the queenly crown. Sometimes (but very rarely when she
is throned as the _Regina Coeli_) she has no covering or ornament on
her head; and her fair hair parted on her brow, flows down on either
side in long luxuriant tresses.

In the Venetian and German pictures, she is often most gorgeously
arrayed; her crown studded with jewels, her robe covered with
embroidery, or bordered with gold and pearls. The ornamental parts of
her dress and throne were sometimes, to increase the magnificence of
the effect, raised in relief and gilt. To the early German painters,
we might too often apply the sarcasm of Apelles, who said of his
rival, that, "not being able to make Venus _beautiful_ he had made
her _fine_;" but some of the Venetian Madonnas are lovely as well as
splendid. Gold was often used, and in great profusion, in some of the
Lombard pictures even of a late date; for instance, by Carlo Crivelli:
before the middle of the sixteenth century, this was considered
barbaric. The best Italian painters gave the Virgin ample, well
disposed drapery, but dispensed with ornament. The star embroidered on
her shoulder, so often retained when all other ornament was banished,
expresses her title "Stella Maris." I have seen some old pictures, in
which she wears a ring on the third finger. This expresses her dignity
as the _Sposa_ as well as the Mother.

With regard to the divine Infant, he is, in the early pictures,
invariably draped, and it is not till the beginning of the fifteenth
century that we find him first partially and then wholly undraped.
In the old representations, he wears a long tunic with full sleeves,
fastened with a girdle. It is sometimes of gold stuff embroidered,
sometimes white, crimson, or blue. This almost regal robe was
afterwards exchanged for a little semi-transparent shirt without
sleeves. In pictures of the throned Madonna painted expressly for
nunneries, the Child is, I believe, always clothed, or the Mother
partly infolds him in her own drapery. In the Umbrian pictures of the
fifteenth century, the Infant often wears a coral necklace, then and
now worn by children in that district, as a charm against the evil
eye. In the Venetian pictures he has sometimes a coronal of pearls. In
the carved and painted images set up in churches, he wears, like his
mother, a rich crown over a curled wig, and is hung round with jewels;
but such images must be considered as out of the pale of legitimate

       *       *       *       *       *

Of the various objects placed in the hand of the Child as emblems I
have already spoken, and of their sacred significance as such,--the
globe, the book, the bird, the flower, &c. In the works of the
ignorant secular artists of later times, these symbols of power, or
divinity, or wisdom, became mere playthings; and when they had become
familiar, and required by custom, and the old sacred associations
utterly forgotten, we find them most profanely applied and misused.
To give one example:--the bird was originally placed in the hand of
Christ as the emblem of the soul, or of the spiritual as opposed to
the earthly nature; in a picture by Baroccio, he holds it up before
a cat, to be frightened and tormented.[1] But to proceed.

[Footnote 1: In the "History of Our Lord, as illustrated in the
Fine Arts," the devotional and characteristic effigies of the infant
Christ, and the accompanying attributes, will be treated at length.]

The throne on which the Virgin is seated, is, in very early pictures,
merely an embroidered cushion on a sort of stool, or a carved Gothic
chair, such as we see in the thrones and stalls of cathedrals. It
is afterwards converted into a rich architectural throne, most
elaborately adorned, according to the taste and skill of the artist.
Sometimes, as in the early Venetian pictures, it is hung with garlands
of fruits and flowers, most fancifully disposed. Sometimes the
arabesque ornaments are raised in relief and gilt. Sometimes the
throne is curiously painted to imitate various marbles, and adorned
with medallions and bas-reliefs from those subjects of the Old
Testament which have a reference to the character of the Virgin and
the mission of her divine Child; the commonest of all being the Fall,
which rendered a Redeemer necessary. Moses striking the rock (the
waters of life)--the elevation of the brazen serpent--the gathering
of the manna--or Moses holding the broken tablets of the old law,--all
types of redemption, are often thus introduced as ornaments. In the
sixteenth century, when the purely religious sentiment had declined,
and a classical and profane taste had infected every department of
art and literature, we find the throne of the Virgin adorned with
classical ornaments and bas-reliefs from the antique remains; as, for
instance, the hunt of Theseus and Hippolyta. We must then suppose
her throned on the ruins of paganism, an idea suggested by the old
legends, which represent the temples and statues of the heathen gods
as falling into ruin on the approach of the Virgin and her Child; and
a more picturesque application of this idea afterwards became common
in other subjects. In Garofalo's picture the throne is adorned with
Sphinxes--_à l'antique_. Andrea del Sarto has placed harpies at the
corner of the pedestal of the throne, in his famous Madonna di San
Francesco (Florence Gal.),--a gross fault in that otherwise grand
and faultless picture; one of those desecrations of a religious
theme which Andrea, as devoid of religious feeling as he was weak and
dishonest, was in the habit of committing.

But whatever the material or style of the throne, whether simple or
gorgeous, it is supposed to be a heavenly throne. It is not of the
earth, nor on the earth; and at first it was alone and unapproachable.
The Virgin-mother, thus seated in her majesty, apart from all human
beings, and in communion only with the Infant Godhead on her knee, or
the living worshippers who come to lay down their cares and sorrows
at the foot of her throne and breathe a devout "Salve Regina!"--is,
through its very simplicity and concentrated interest, a sublime
conception. The effect of these figures, in their divine quietude and
loveliness, can never be appreciated when hung in a gallery or room
with other pictures, for admiration, or criticism, or comparison. I
remember well suddenly discovering such a Madonna, in a retired chapel
in S. Francesco della Vigna at Venice,--a picture I had never heard
of, by a painter then quite unknown to me, Fra Antonio da Negroponte,
a Franciscan friar who lived in the fifteenth century. The calm
dignity of the attitude, the sweetness, the adoring love in the face
of the queenly mother as with folded hands she looked down on the
divine Infant reclining on her knee, so struck upon my heart, that I
remained for minutes quite motionless. In this picture, nothing can
exceed the gorgeous splendor of the Virgin's throne and apparel:
she wears a jewelled crown; the Child a coronal of pearls; while the
background is composed entirely of the mystical roses twined in a sort
of _treillage_.

I remember, too, a picture by Carlo Crivelli, in which the Virgin is
seated on a throne, adorned, in the artist's usual style, with rich
festoons of fruit and flowers. She is most sumptuously crowned and
apparelled; and the beautiful Child on her knee, grasping her hand as
if to support himself, with the most _naïve_ and graceful action bends
forward and looks dawn benignly on the worshippers _supposed_ to be
kneeling below.

When human personages were admitted within the same compartment, the
throne was generally raised by several steps, or placed on a lofty
pedestal, and till the middle of the fifteenth century it was always
in the centre of the composition fronting the spectator. It was a
Venetian innovation to place the throne at one side of the picture,
and show the Virgin in profile or in the act of turning round.
This more scenic disposition became afterwards, in the passion for
variety and effect, too palpably artificial, and at length forced and

The Italians distinguish between the _Madonna in Trono_ and the
_Madonna in Gloria_. When human beings, however sainted and exalted
were admitted within the margin of the picture, the divine dignity
of the Virgin as _Madre di Dio_, was often expressed by elevating her
wholly above the earth, and placing her "in regions mild of calm and
serene air," with the crescent or the rainbow under her feet. This is
styled a "Madonna in Gloria." It is, in fact, a return to the antique
conception of the enthroned Redeemer, seated on a rainbow, sustained
by the "curled clouds," and encircled by a glory of cherubim. The
aureole of light, within which the glorified Madonna and her Child
when in a standing position are often placed, is of an oblong form,
called from its shape the _mandorla_, "the almond;"[1] but in general
she is seated above in a sort of ethereal exaltation, while the
attendant saints stand on the earth below. This beautiful arrangement,
though often very sublimely treated, has not the simple austere
dignity of the throne of state, and when the Virgin and Child, as in
the works of the late Spanish and Flemish painters, are formed out of
earth's most coarse and commonplace materials, the aërial throne of
floating fantastic clouds suggests a disagreeable discord, a fear lest
the occupants of heaven should fall on the heads of their worshippers
below. Not so the Virgins of the old Italians; for they look so
divinely ethereal that they seem uplifted by their own spirituality:
not even the air-borne clouds are needed to sustain them. They have no
touch of earth or earth's material beyond the human form; their proper
place is the seventh heaven; and there they repose, a presence and a
power--a personification of infinite mercy sublimated by innocence and
purity; and thence they look down on their worshippers and attendants,
while these gaze upwards "with looks commercing with the skies."

[Footnote 1: Or the "Vescica Pisces," by Lord Lindsay and others.]

       *       *       *       *       *

And now of these angelic and sainted accessories, however placed, we
must speak at length; for much of the sentiment and majesty of the
Madonna effigies depend on the proper treatment of the attendant
figures, and on the meaning they convey to the observer.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Virgin is entitled, by authority of the Church, queen of angels,
of prophets, of apostles, of martyrs, of virgins, and of confessors;
and from among these her attendants are selected.

ANGELS were first admitted, waiting Immediately round her chair
of state. A signal instance is the group of the enthroned Madonna,
attended by the four archangels, as we find it in the very ancient
mosaic in Sant-Apollinare-Novo, at Ravenna. As the belief in the
superior power and sanctity of the Blessed Virgin grew and spread,
the angels no longer attended her as princes of the heavenly host,
guardians, or councillors; they became, in the early pictures,
adoring angels, sustaining her throne on each side, or holding up
the embroidered curtain which forms the background. In the Madonna by
Cimabue, which, if it be not the earliest after the revival of art,
was one of the first in which the Byzantine manner was softened and
Italianized, we have six grand, solemn-looking angels, three on each
side of the throne, arranged perpendicularly one above another.
The Virgin herself is of colossal proportions, far exceeding them
in size, and looking out of her frame, "large as a goddess of the
antique world." In the other Madonna in the gallery of the academy,
we have the same arrangement of the angels. Giotto diversified this
arrangement. He placed the angels kneeling at the foot of the throne,
making music, and waiting on their divine Mistress as her celestial
choristers,--a service the more fitting because she was not only queen
of angels, but patroness of music and minstrelsy, in which character
she has St. Cecilia as her deputy and delegate. This accompaniment
of the choral angels was one of the earliest of the accessories, and
continued down to the latest times. They are most particularly lovely
in the pictures of the fifteenth century. They kneel and strike their
golden lutes, or stand and sound their silver clarions, or sit like
beautiful winged children on the steps of the throne, and pipe and
sing as if their spirits were overflowing with harmony as well as love
and adoration.[1] In a curious picture of the enthroned Madonna and
Child (Berlin Gal.), by Gentil Fabriano, a tree rises on each side
of the throne, on which little red seraphim are perched like birds,
singing and playing on musical instruments. In later times, they play
and sing for the solace of the divine Infant, not merely adoring, but
ministering: but these angels ministrant belong to another class of
pictures. Adoration, not service, was required by the divine Child
and his mother, when they were represented simply in their
divine character, and placed far beyond earthly wants and earthly

[Footnote 1: As in the picture by Lo Spagna in our National Gallery,
No. 282.]

There are examples where the angels in attendance bear, not harps
or lutes, but the attributes of the Cardinal Virtues, as in an
altar-piece by Taddeo Gaddi at Florence. (Santa Croce, Rinuccini

The patriarchs, prophets, and sibyls, all the personages, in fact, who
lived under the old law, when forming, in a picture or altar-piece,
part, of the _cortège_ of the throned Virgin, as types, or prophets,
or harbingers of the Incarnation, are on the _outside_ of that sacred
compartment wherein she is seated with her Child. This was the case
with _all_ the human personages down to the end of the thirteenth
century; and after that time, I find the characters of the Old
Testament still excluded from the groups immediately round her throne.
Their place was elsewhere allotted, at a more respectful distance. The
only exceptions I can remember, are King David and the patriarch
Job; and these only in late pictures, where David does not appear as
prophet, but as the ancestor of the Redeemer; and Job, only at Venice,
where he is a patron saint.

The four evangelists and the twelve apostles are, in their collective
character in relation to the Virgin, treated like the prophets,
and placed around the altar-piece. Where we find one or more of the
evangelists introduced into the group of attendant "Sanctities" on
each side of her throne, it is not in their character of evangelists,
but rather as patron saints. Thus St. Mark appears constantly in the
Venetian pictures; but it is as the patron and protector of Venice.
St. John the Evangelist, a favourite attendant on the Virgin, is near
her in virtue of his peculiar relation to her and to Christ; and he is
also a popular patron saint. St. Luke and St. Matthew, unless they be
patrons of the particular locality, or of the votary who presents
the picture, never appear. It is the same with the apostles in their
collective character as such; we find them constantly, as statues,
ranged on each side of the Virgin, or as separate figures. Thus they
stand over the screen of St. Mark's, at Venice, and also on the carved
frames of the altar-pieces; but either from their number, or some
other cause, they are seldom grouped round the enthroned Virgin.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST who, next to the angels, seems to have
been the first admitted to a propinquity with the divine persons. In
Greek art, he is himself an angel, a messenger, and often represented
with wings. He was especially venerated in the Greek Church in
his character of precursor of the Redeemer, and, as such, almost
indispensable in every sacred group; and it is, perhaps, to the
early influence of Greek art on the selection and arrangement of the
accessory personages, that we owe the preëminence of John the Baptist.
One of the most graceful, and appropriate, and familiar of all the
accessory figures grouped with the Virgin and Child, is that of the
young St. John (called in Italian _San Giovannino_, and in Spanish
_San Juanito_.) When first introduced, we find him taking the place
of the singing or piping angels in front of the throne. He generally
stands, "clad in his raiment of camel's hair, having a girdle round
his loins," and in his hand a reed cross, round which is bound a
scroll with the words "_Ecce Agnus Dei_" ("Behold the Lamb of God"),
while with his finger he points up to the enthroned group above him,
expressing the text from St. Luke (c. ii.), "And thou, CHILD shalt
be called the Prophet of the Highest," as in Francia's picture in our
National Gallery. Sometimes he bears a lamb in his arms, the _Ecce
Agnus Dei_ in form instead of words.

The introduction of the young St. John becomes more and more usual
from the beginning of the sixteenth century. In later pictures, a
touch of the dramatic is thrown into the arrangement: instead of being
at the foot of the throne, he is placed beside it; as where the Virgin
is throned on a lofty pedestal, and she lays one hand on the head of
the little St. John, while with the other she strains her Child to her
bosom; or where the infant Christ and St. John, standing at her knee,
embrace each other--a graceful incident in a Holy Family, but in the
enthroned Madonna it impairs the religious conception; it places St.
John too much on a level with the Saviour, who is here in that divine
character to which St. John bore witness, but which he did not share.
It is very unusual to see John the Baptist in his childish character
glorified in heaven among the celestial beings: I remember but one
instance, in a beautiful picture by Bonifazio. (Acad. Venice.) The
Virgin is seated in glory, with her Infant on her knee, and encircled
by cherubim; on one side an angel approaches with a basket of flowers
on his head, and she is in act to take these flowers and scatter
them on the saints below,--a new and graceful _motif_: on the other
side sits John the Baptist as a boy about twelve years of age. The
attendant saints below are St. Peter, St. Andrew, St. Thomas holding
the girdle,[1] St. Francis, and St. Clara, all looking up with
ecstatic devotion, except St. Clara, who looks down with a charming

[Footnote 1: St. Thomas is called in the catalogue, James, king of

       *       *       *       *       *

In early pictures, ST. ANNA, the mother of the Virgin, is very seldom
introduced, because in such sublime and mystical representations of
the _Vergine Dea_, whatever connected her with realities, or with her
earthly genealogy, is suppressed. But from the middle of the fifteenth
century, St. Anna became, from the current legends of the history
of the Virgin, an important saint, and when introduced into the
devotional groups, which, however, is seldom, it seems to have
embarrassed the painters how to dispose of her. She could not well be
placed below her daughter; she could not be placed above her. It is a
curious proof of the predominance of the feminine element throughout
these representations, that while ST. JOACHIM the father and ST.
JOSEPH the husband of the Virgin, are either omitted altogether, or
are admitted only in a subordinate and inferior position, St. Anna,
when she does appear, is on an equality with her daughter. There is
a beautiful example, and apt for illustration, in the picture by
Francia, in our National Gallery, where St. Anna and the Virgin are
seated together on the same throne, and the former presents the apple
to her divine Grandson. I remember, too, a most graceful instance
where St. Anna stands behind and a little above the throne, with her
hands placed affectionately on the shoulders of the Virgin, and raises
her eyes to heaven as if in thanksgiving to God, who through her had
brought salvation into the world. Where the Virgin is seated on the
knees of St. Anna, it is a still later innovation. There is such a
group in a picture in the Louvre, after a famous cartoon by Leonardo
da Vinci, which, in spite of its celebrity, has always appeared to me
very fantastic and irreverent in treatment. There is also a fine print
by Carraglio, in which the Virgin and Child are sustained on the
knees of St. Anna: under her feet lies the dragon. St. Roch and St.
Sebastian on each side, and the dead dragon, show that this is a
votive subject, an expression of thanksgiving after the cessation of
a plague. The Germans, who were fond of this group, imparted, even to
the most religious treatment, a domestic sentiment.

The earliest instance I can point to of the enthroned Virgin attended
by both her parents, is by Vivarini (Acad. Venice): St. Anna is on the
right of the throne; St. Joachim, in the act of reverently removing
his cap, stands on the left; more in front is a group of Franciscan

The introduction of St. Anna into a Holy Family, as part of the
domestic group, is very appropriate and graceful; but this of course
admits, and indeed requires, a wholly different sentiment. The same
remark applies to St. Joseph, who, in the earlier representations
of the enthroned Virgin, is carefully excluded; he appears, I think,
first in the Venetian pictures. There is an example in a splendid
composition by Paul Veronese. (Acad. Venice.) The Virgin, on a lofty
throne, holds the Child; both look down on the worshippers; St.
Joseph is partly seen behind leaning on his crutch. Round the throne
stand St. John the Baptist, St. Justina, as patroness of Venice, and
St. George; St. Jerome is on the other side in deep meditation. A
magnificent picture, quite sumptuous in colour and arrangement, and
yet so solemn and so calm![1]

[Footnote 1: There is another example by Paul Veronese, similar in
character and treatment, in which St. John and St. Joseph are on the
throne with the Virgin and child, and St. Catherine and St. Antony

The composition by Michael Angelo, styled a "Holy Family," is,
though singular in treatment, certainly devotional in character,
and an enthroned Virgin. She is seated in the centre, on a raised
architectural seat, holding a book; the infant Christ slumbers,--books
can teach him nothing, and to make him reading is unorthodox. In the
background on one side, St. Joseph leans over a balustrade, as if in
devout contemplation; a young St. John the Baptist leans on the other
side. The grand, mannered, symmetrical treatment is very remarkable
and characteristic. There are many engravings of this celebrated
composition. In one of them, the book held by the Virgin bears on one
side the text in Latin, "_Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is
the fruit of thy womb._" On the opposite page, "_Blessed be God, who
has regarded the low estate of his hand-maiden. For, behold, from
henceforth all generations shall call me blessed._"

While the young St. John is admitted into' such close companionship
with the enthroned Madonna, his mother Elizabeth, so commonly and
beautifully introduced into the Holy Families, is almost uniformly

Next in order, as accessory figures, appear some one or two or more of
the martyrs, confessors, and virgin patronesses, with their respective
attributes, either placed in separate niches and compartments on each
side, or, when admitted within the sacred precincts where sits the
Queenly Virgin Mother and her divine Son, standing, in the manner
of councillors and officers of state on solemn occasions, round an
earthly sovereign, all reverently calm and still; till gradually this
solemn formality, this isolation of the principal characters, gave way
to some sentiment which placed them in nearer relation to each other,
and to the divine personages. Occasional variations of attitude and
action were introduced--at first, a rare innovation; ere long, a
custom, a fashion. For instance;--the doctors turn over the leaves
of their great books as if seeking for the written testimonies to the
truth of the mysterious Incarnation made visible in the persons of the
Mother and Child; the confessors contemplate the radiant group with
rapture, and seem ready to burst forth in hymns of praise; the martyrs
kneel in adoration; the virgins gracefully offer their victorious
palms: and thus the painters of the best periods of art contrived to
animate their sacred groups without rendering them too dramatic and
too secular.

Such, then, was the general arrangement of that religious subject
which is technically styled "The Madonna enthroned and attended by
Saints." The selection and the relative position of these angelic and
saintly accessories were not, as I have already observed, matters of
mere taste or caprice; and an attentive observation of the choice and
disposition of the attendant figures will often throw light on the
original significance of such pictures, and the circumstances under
which they wore painted.

Shall I attempt a rapid classification and interpretation of these
infinitely varied groups? It is a theme which might well occupy
volumes rather than pages, and which requires far more antiquarian
learning and historical research than I can pretend to; still by
giving the result of my own observations in some few instances, it may
be possible so to excite the attention and fancy of the reader, as
to lead him further on the same path than I have myself been able to

       *       *       *       *       *

We can trace, in a large class of these pictures, a general
religious significance, common to all periods, all localities, all
circumstances; while in another class, the interest is not only
particular and local, but sometimes even personal.

To the first class belongs the antique and beautiful group of the
Virgin and Child, enthroned between the two great archangels, St.
Michael and St. Gabriel. It is probably the most ancient of these
combinations: we find it in the earliest Greek art, in the carved
ivory diptychs of the eighth and ninth centuries, in the old
Greco-Italian pictures, in the ecclesiastical sculpture and stained
glass of from the twelfth to the fifteenth century. In the most
ancient examples, the two angels are seen standing on each side of
the Madonna, not worshipping, but with their sceptres and attributes,
as princes of the heavenly host, attending on her who is queen of
angels; St. Gabriel as the angel of birth and life, St. Michael as
the angel of Death, that is, in the Christian sense, of deliverance
and immortality. There is an instance of this antique treatment in a
small Greek picture in the Wallerstein collection. (Now at Kensington

In later pictures, St. Gabriel seldom appears except as the _Angela
Annunziatore_; but St. Michael very frequently. Sometimes, as
conqueror over sin and representative of the Church militant,
he stands with his foot on the dragon with a triumphant air; or,
kneeling, he presents to the infant Christ the scales of eternal
justice, as in a famous picture by Leonardo da Vinci. It is not only
because of his popularity as a patron saint, and of the number of
churches dedicated to him, that he is so frequently introduced into
the Madonna pictures; according to the legend, he was by Divine
appointment the guardian of the Virgin and her Son while they
sojourned on earth. The angel Raphael leading Tobias always expresses
protection, and especially protection to the young. Tobias with his
fish was an early type of baptism. There are many beautiful examples.
In Raphael's "Madonna dell' Pesce" (Madrid Gal.) he is introduced as
the patron saint of the painter, but not without a reference to more
sacred meaning, that of the guardian spirit of all humanity. The
warlike figure of St. Michael, and the benign St. Raphael, are
thus represented as celestial guardians in the beautiful picture by
Perugino now in our National Gallery. (No. 288.)

There are instances of the three archangels all standing together
below the glorified Virgin: St. Michael in the centre with his foot
on the prostrate fiend; St. Gabriel on the right presents his lily;
and, on the left, the protecting angel presents his human charge, and
points up to the source of salvation. (In an engraving after Giulio

       *       *       *       *       *

The Virgin between St. Peter and St. Paul is also an extremely ancient
and significant group. It appears in the old mosaics. As chiefs of the
apostles and joint founders of the Church, St. Peter and St. Paul are
prominent figures in many groups and combinations, particularly in
the altar-pieces of the Roman churches, and those painted for the
Benedictine communities.

The Virgin, when supported on each side by St. Peter and St. Paul,
must be understood to represent the personified Church between her
two great founders and defenders; and this relation is expressed,
in a very poetical manner, when St. Peter, kneeling, receives the
allegorical keys from the hand of the infant Saviour. There are some
curious and beautiful instances of this combination of a significant
action with the utmost solemnity of treatment; for example, in
that very extraordinary Franciscan altar-piece, by Carlo Crivelli,
lately purchased by Lord Ward, where St. Peter, having deposited his
papal tiara at the foot of the throne, kneeling receives the great
symbolical keys. And again, in a fine picture by Andrea Meldula, where
the Virgin and Child are enthroned, and the infant Christ delivers
the keys to Peter, who stands, but with a most reverential air; on the
other side of the throne is St. Paul with his book and the sword held
upright. There are also two attendant angels. On the border of the
mantle of the Virgin is inscribed "_Ave Maria gratia plena_."[1]

[Footnote 1: In the collection of Mr. Bromley, of Wootton. This
picture is otherwise remarkable as the only authenticated work of a
very rare painter. It bears his signature, and the style indicates the
end of the fifteenth century as the probable date.]

I do not recollect any instance in which the four evangelists as such,
or the twelve apostles in their collective character, wait round the
throne of the Virgin and Child, though one or more of the evangelists
and one or more of the apostles perpetually occur.

The Virgin between St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist,
is also a very significant and beautiful combination, and one very
frequently met with. Though both these saints were as children
contemporary with the child Christ, and so represented in the Holy
Families, in these solemn ideal groups they are always men. The first
St. John expresses regeneration by the rite of baptism the second St.
John, distinguished as _Theologus_, "the Divine," stands with his
sacramental cup, expressing regeneration by faith. The former was the
precursor of the Saviour, the first who proclaimed him to the world as
such; the latter beheld the vision in Patmos, of the Woman in travail
pursued by the dragon, which is interpreted in reference to the
Virgin and her Child. The group thus brought into relation is full
of meaning, and, from the variety and contrast of character, full of
poetical and artistic capabilities. St. John the Baptist is usually
a man about thirty, with wild shaggy hair and meagre form, so draped
that his vest of camel's hair is always visible; he holds his reed
cross. St. John the Evangelist is generally the young and graceful
disciple; but in some instances he is the venerable seer of Patmos,

  "Whose beard descending sweeps his aged breast."

There is an example in one of the finest pictures by Perugino. The
Virgin is throned above, and surrounded by a glory of seraphim, with
many-coloured wings. The Child stands on her knee. In the landscape
below are St. Michael, St. Catherine, St. Apollonia, and. St. John
the Evangelist as the aged prophet with white flowing beard. (Bologna

       *       *       *       *       *

The Fathers of the Church, as interpreters and defenders of the
mystery of the Incarnation, are very significantly placed near the
throne of the Virgin and Child. In Western art, the Latin doctors, St.
Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Gregory, have of course
the preëminence. (v Sacred and Legend. Art.)

The effect produced by these aged, venerable, bearded dignitaries,
with their gorgeous robes and mitres and flowing beards, in contrast
with the soft simplicity of the divine Mother and her Infant, is,
in the hands of really great artists, wonderfully fine. There is a
splendid example, by Vivarini (Venice Acad.); the old doctors stand
two on each side of the throne, where, under a canopy upborne by
angels, sits the Virgin, sumptuously crowned and attired, and looking
most serene and goddess-like; while the divine Child, standing on
her knee, extends his little hand in the act of benediction. Of this
picture I have already given a very detailed description. (Sacred and
Legend. Art.) Another example, a grand picture by Moretto, now in the
Museum at Frankfort, I have also described. There is here a touch of
the dramatic sentiment;--the Virgin is tenderly caressing her Child,
while two of the old doctors, St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, stand
reverently on each side of her lofty throne; St. Gregory sits on the
step below, reading, and St. Jerome bends over and points to a page in
his book. The Virgin is not sufficiently dignified; she has too much
the air of a portrait; and the action of the Child is, also, though
tender, rather unsuited to the significance of the rest of the group;
but the picture is, on the whole, magnificent. There is another fine
example of the four doctors attending on the Virgin, in the Milan

[Footnote 1: In a native picture of the Milanese School, dedicated by
Ludovico Sforza _Il Moro_.]

Sometimes not four, but two only of these Fathers, appear in
combination with other figures, and the choice would depend on the
locality and other circumstances. But, on the whole, we rarely find
a group of personages assembled round the throne of the Virgin which
does not include one or more of these venerable pillars of the Church.
St. Ambrose appears most frequently in the Milanese pictures: St.
Augustine and St. Jerome, as patriarchs of monastic orders, are
very popular: St. Gregory, I think, is more seldom met with than the

       *       *       *       *       *

The Virgin, with St. Jerome and St. Catherine, the patron saints
of theological learning, is a frequent group in all monasteries,
but particularly in the churches and houses of the Jeronimites. A
beautiful example is the Madonna, by Francia. (Borghese Palace.
Rome.) St. Jerome, with Mary Magdalene, also a frequent combination,
expresses theological learning in union with religious penitence and
humility. Correggio's famous picture is an example, where St. Jerome
on one side presents his works in defence of the Church, and his
translation of the Scriptures; while, on the other, Mary Magdalene,
bending down devoutly, kisses the feet of the infant Christ. (Parma.)

Of all the attendants on the Virgin and Child, the most popular is,
perhaps, St. Catherine; and the "Marriage of St. Catherine," as a
religious mystery, is made to combine with the most solemn and formal
arrangement of the other attendant figures. The enthroned Virgin
presides over the mystical rite. This was, for intelligible reasons,
a favourite subject in nunneries.[1]

[Footnote 1: For a detailed account of the legendary marriage of St.
Catherine and examples of treatment, see Sacred and Legendary Art.]

In a picture by Garofalo, the Child, bending from his mother's knee,
places a golden crown on the head of St. Catherine as _Sposa_; on each
side stand St. Agnes and St. Jerome.

In a picture by Carlo Maratti, the nuptials take place in heaven, the
Virgin and Child being throned in clouds.

If the kneeling _Sposa_ be St. Catherine of Siena, the nun, and not
St. Catherine of Alexandria, or if the two are introduced, then we may
be sure that the picture was painted for a nunnery of the Dominican

[Footnote 1: See Legends of the Monastic Orders. A fine example of
this group "the Spozulizio of St. Catherine of Siena," has lately been
added to our National Gallery; (Lorenzo di San Severino, No. 249.)]

The great Madonna _in Trono_ by the Dominican Fra Bartolomeo, wherein
the queenly St. Catherine of Alexandria witnesses the mystical
marriage of her sister saint, the nun of Siena, will occur to every
one who has been at Florence; and there is a smaller picture by the
same painter in the Louvre;--a different version of the same subject.
I must content myself with merely referring to these well-known
pictures which have been often engraved, and dwell more in detail
on another, not so well known, and, to my feeling, as preëminently
beautiful and poetical, but in the early Flemish, not the Italian
style--a poem in a language less smooth and sonorous, but still a

This is the altar-piece painted by Hemmelinck for the charitable
sisterhood of St. John's Hospital at Bruges. The Virgin is seated
under a porch, and her throne decorated with rich tapestry; two
graceful angels hold a crown over her head. On the right, St.
Catherine, superbly arrayed as a princess, kneels at her side, and
the beautiful infant Christ bends forward and places the bridal ring
on her finger. Behind her a charming angel, playing on the organ,
celebrates the espousals with hymns of joy; beyond him stands St.
John the Baptist with his lamb. On the left of the Virgin kneels St.
Barbara, reading intently; behind her an angel with a book; beyond him
stands St. John the Evangelist, youthful, mild, and pensive. Through
the arcades of the porch is seen a landscape background, with
incidents picturesquely treated from the lives of the Baptist and
the Evangelist. Such is the central composition. The two wings
represent--on one side, the beheading of St. John the Baptist; on
the other, St. John the Evangelist, in Patmos, and the vision of the
Apocalypse. In this great work there is a unity and harmony of design
which blends the whole into an impressive poem. The object was to do
honour to the patrons of the hospital, the two St. Johns, and, at
the same time, to express the piety of the Charitable Sisters, who,
like St. Catherine (the type of contemplative studious piety), were
consecrated and espoused to Christ, and, like St. Barbara (the type of
active piety), were dedicated to good works. It is a tradition, that
Hemmelinck painted this altar-piece as a votive offering in gratitude
to the good Sisters, who had taken him in and nursed him when
dangerously wounded: and surely if this tradition be true, never was
charity more magnificently recompensed.

In a very beautiful picture by Ambrogio Borgognone (Dresden,
collection of M. Grahl) the Virgin is seated on a splendid throne;
on the right kneels St. Catherine of Alexandria, on the left St.
Catherine of Siena: the Virgin holds a hand of each, which she
presents to the divine Child seated on her knee, and to each he
presents a ring.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Virgin and Child between St. Catherine and St. Barbara is one of
the most popular, as well as one of the most beautiful and expressive,
of these combinations; signifying active and contemplative life,
or the two powers between which the social state was divided in the
middle ages, namely, the ecclesiastical and the military, learning and
arms (Sacred and Legend. Art); St. Catherine being the patron of the
first, and St. Barbara of the last. When the original significance had
ceased to be understood or appreciated, the group continued to be a
favourite one, particularly in Germany; and examples are infinite.

The Virgin between St. Mary Magdalene and St. Barbara, the former as
the type of penance, humility, and meditative piety, the latter as the
type of fortitude and courage, is also very common. When between St.
Mary Magdalene and St. Catherine, the idea suggested is learning, with
penitence and humility; this is a most popular group. So is St. Lucia
with one of these or both: St. Lucia with her _lamp_ or her _eyes_, is
always expressive of _light_, the light of divine wisdom.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Virgin between St. Nicholas and St. George is a very expressive
group; the former as the patron saint of merchants, tradesmen, and
seamen, the popular saint of the bourgeoisie; the latter as the patron
of soldiers, the chosen saint of the aristocracy. These two saints
with St. Catherine are pre-eminent in the Venetian pictures; for all
three, in addition to their poetical significance, were venerated as
especial protectors of Venice.

       *       *       *       *       *

St. George and St. Christopher both stand by the throne of the Virgin
of Succour as protectors and deliverers in danger. The attribute of
St. Christopher is the little Christ on his shoulder; and there are
instances in which Christ appears on the lap of his mother, and also
on the shoulder of the attendant St. Christopher. This blunder, if it
may be so called, has been avoided, very cleverly I should think in
his own opinion, by a painter who makes St. Christopher kneel, while
the Virgin places the little Christ on his shoulders; a _concetto_
quite inadmissible in a really religious group.

       *       *       *       *       *

In pictures dedicated by charitable communities, we often find
St. Nicholas and St. Leonard as the patron saints of prisoners and
captives. Wherever St. Leonard appears he expresses deliverance
from captivity. St. Omobuono, St. Martin, St. Elizabeth of Hungary,
St. Roch, or other beneficent saints, waiting round the Virgin with
kneeling beggars, or the blind, the lame, the sick, at their feet,
always expressed the Virgin as the mother of mercy, the _Consolatrix
afflictorum_. Such pictures were commonly found in hospitals, and
the chapels and churches of the Order of Mercy, and other charitable
institutions. The examples are numerous. I remember one, a striking
picture, by Bartolomeo Montagna, where the Virgin and Child are
enthroned in the centre as usual. On her right the good St. Omobuono,
dressed as a burgher, in a red gown and fur cap, gives alms to a poor
beggar; on the left, St. Francis presents a celebrated friar of his
Order, Bernardino da Feltri, the first founder of a _mont-de-piété_,
who kneels, holding the emblem of his institution, a little green
mountain with a cross at the top.

       *       *       *       *       *

Besides these saints, who have a _general_ religious character and
significance, we have the national and local saints, whose presence
very often marks the country or school of art which produced the

A genuine Florentine Madonna is distinguished by a certain elegance
and stateliness, and well becomes her throne. As patroness of
Florence, in her own right, the Virgin bears the title of Santa Maria
del Fiore, and in this character she holds a flower, generally a rose,
or is in the act of presenting it to the Child. She is often attended
by St. John the Baptist, as patron of Florence; but he is everywhere
a saint of such power and importance as an attendant on the divine
personages, that his appearance in a picture does not stamp it as
Florentine. St. Cosmo and St. Damian are Florentine, as the protectors
of the Medici family; but as patrons of the healing art, they have
a significance which renders them common in the Venetian and other
pictures. It may, however, be determined, that if St. John the
Baptist, St. Cosmo and St. Damian, with St. Laurence (the patron of
Lorenzo the Magnificent), appear together in attendance on the Virgin,
that picture is of the Florentine school. The presence of St. Zenobio,
or of St. Antonino, the patron archbishops of Florence, will set the
matter at rest, for these are exclusively Florentine. In a picture by
Giotto, angels attend on the Virgin bearing vases of lilies in their
hands. (Lilies are at once the emblem of the Virgin and the _device_
of Florence.) On each side kneel St. John the Baptist and St.

[Footnote 1: We now possess in our National Gallery a very interesting
example of a Florentine enthroned Madonna, attended by St. John the
Baptist and St. Zenobio as patrons of Florence.]

A Siena Madonna would naturally be attended by St. Bernardino and St.
Catherine of Siena; if they seldom appear together, it is because they
belong to different religious orders.

In the Venetian pictures we find a crowd of guardian saints; first
among them, St. Mark, then St. Catherine, St. George, St. Nicholas,
and St. Justina: wherever these appear together, that picture is
surely from the Venetian school.

All through Lombardy and Piedmont, St. Ambrose of Milan and St.
Maurice of Savoy are favourite attendants on the Virgin.

       *       *       *       *       *

In Spanish and Flemish art, the usual attendants on the queenly
Madonna are monks and nuns, which brings us to the consideration of
a large and interesting class of pictures, those dedicated by the
various religious orders. When we remember that the institution of
some of the most influential of these communities was coeval with the
revival of art; that for three or four centuries, art in all its forms
had no more powerful or more munificent patrons; that they counted
among their various brotherhoods some of the greatest artists the
world has seen; we can easily imagine how the beatified members of
these orders have become so conspicuous as attendants on the celestial
personages. To those who are accustomed to read the significance of
a work of art, a single glance is often sufficient to decide for what
order it has been executed.

St. Paul is a favourite saint of the Benedictine communities; and
there are few great pictures painted for them in which he does
not appear. When in companionship with St. Benedict, either in the
original black habit or the white habit of the reformed orders, with
St. Scholastica bearing her dove, with St. Bernard, St. Romualdo,
or other worthies of this venerable community, the interpretation is

Here are some examples by Domenico Puligo. The Virgin not seated, but
standing on a lofty pedestal, looks down on her worshippers; the Child
in her arms extends the right hand in benediction; with his left he
points to himself, "I am the Resurrection and the Life." Around are
six saints, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John the Baptist as protector of
Florence, St. Matthew, St. Catherine; and St. Bernard, in his ample
white habit, with his keen intellectual face, is about to write in a
great book, and looking up to the Virgin for inspiration. The picture
was originally painted for the Cistercians.[1]

[Footnote 1: It is now in the S. Maria-Maddalena de' Pazzi at
Florence. Engraved in the "Etruria Pittrice," xxxv.]

The Virgin and Child enthroned between St. Augustine and his mother
St. Monica, as in a fine picture by Florigerio (Venice Acad.), would
show the picture to be painted for one of the numerous branches of the
Augustine Order. St. Antony the abbot is a favourite saint in pictures
painted for the Augustine hermits.

In the "Madonna del Baldachino" of Raphael, the beardless saint
who stands in a white habit on one side of the throne is usually
styled St. Bruno; an evident mistake. It is not a Carthusian, but
a Cistercian monk, and I think St. Bernard, the general patron of
monastic learning. The other attendant saints are St. Peter, St.
James, and St. Augustine. The picture was originally painted for the
church of San Spirito at Florence, belonging to the Augustines.

But St. Augustine is also the patriarch of the Franciscans and
Dominicans, and frequently takes an influential place in their
pictures, as the companion either of St. Francis or of St. Dominick,
as in a picture by Fra Angelico. (Florence Gal.)

Among the votive Madonnas of the mendicant orders, I will mention a
few conspicuous for beauty and interest, which will serve as a key to

1. The Virgin and Child enthroned between Antony of Padua and St.
Clara of Assisi, as in a small elegant picture by Pellegrino, must
have been dedicated in a church of the Franciscans. (Sutherland Gal.)

2. The Virgin blesses St. Francis, who looks up adoring: behind him
St. Antony of Padua; on the other side, John the Baptist as a man, and
St. Catherine. A celebrated but not an agreeable picture, painted by
Correggio for the Franciscan church at Parma. (Dresden Gal.)

3. The Virgin is seated in glory; on one side St. Francis, on the
other St. Antony of Padua, both placed in heaven, and almost on
an equality with the celestial personages. Around are seven female
figures, representing the seven cardinal virtues, bearing their
respective attributes. Below are seen the worthies of the Franciscan
Order; to the right of the Virgin, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Louis
of France, St. Bonaventura; to the left, St. Ives of Bretagne, St.
Eleazar, and St. Louis of Toulouse.[1] Painted for the Franciscans by
Morone and Paolo Cavazzolo of Verona. This is a picture of wonderful
beauty, and quite poetical in the sentiment and arrangement, and the
mingling of the celestial, the allegorical, and the real personages,
with a certain solemnity and gracefulness quite indescribable.
The virtues, for instance, are not so much allegorical persons as
spiritual appearances, and the whole of the ripper part of the picture
is like a vision.

[Footnote 1: For these Franciscan saints, v. Legends of the Monastic

4. The Virgin, standing on the tree of Site, holds the Infant: rays
of glory proceed from them on every side. St. Francis, kneeling at the
foot of the tree, looks up in an ecstasy of devotion, while a snake
with a wounded and bleeding head is crawling away. This strange
picture, painted for the Franciscans, by Carducho, about 1625, is a
representation of an abstract dogma (redemption from original sin),
in the most real, most animated form--all over life, earthly breathing
life--and made me start back: in the mingling of mysticism and
materialism, it is quite Spanish.[1]

[Footnote 1: Esterhazy Gal., Vienna. Mr. Stirling tells us that the
Franciscan friars of Valladolid possessed two pictures of the Virgin
by Mateo de Cerezo "in one of which she was represented sitting in a
cherry-tree and adored by St. Francis. This unusual throne may perhaps
have been introduced by Cerezo as a symbol of his own devout feelings,
his patronymic being the Castilian word for cherry-tree."--_Stirling's
Artists of Spain_, p. 1033. There are, however, many prints and
pictures of the Virgin and Child seated in a tree. It was one of the
fantastic conceptions of an unhealthy period of religion and art.]

5. The Virgin and Child enthroned. On the right of the Virgin, St.
John the Baptist and St. Zenobio, the two protectors of Florence. The
latter wears his episcopal cope richly embroidered with figures. On
the left stand St. Peter and St. Dominick, protectors of the company
for whom the picture was painted. In front kneel St. Jerome and St.
Francis. This picture was originally placed in San Marco, a church
belonging to the Dominicans.[1]

[Footnote 1: I saw and admired this fine and valuable picture in
the Rinuccini Palace at Florence in 1847; it was purchased for our
National Gallery in 1855.]

6. When the Virgin or the Child holds the Rosary, it is then a
_Madonna del Rosario_, and painted for the Dominicans. The Madonna by
Murillo, in the Dulwich Gallery, is an example. There is an instance
in which the Madonna and Child enthroned are distributing rosaries to
the worshippers, and attended by St. Dominick and St. Peter Martyr,
the two great saints of the Order. (Caravaggio, Belvedere Gal.,

       *       *       *       *       *

7. Very important in pictures is the Madonna as more particularly the
patroness of the Carmelites, under her well-known title of "Our Lady
of Mount Carmel," or _La Madonna del Carmine_. The members of this
Order received from Pope Honorius III. the privilege of styling
themselves the "Family of the Blessed Virgin," and their churches are
all dedicated to her under the title of _S. Maria del Carmine_. She
is generally represented holding the infant Christ, with her robe
outspread, and beneath its folds the Carmelite brethren and their
chief saints.[1] There is an example in a picture by Pordenone which
once belonged to Canova. (Acad. Venice.) The Madonna del Carmine is
also portrayed as distributing to her votaries small tablets on which
is a picture of herself.

[Footnote 1: v. Legends of the Monastic Orders, "The Carmelites".]

8. The Virgin, as patroness of the Order of Mercy, also distributes
tablets, but they bear the badge of the Order, and this distinguishes
"Our Lady of Mercy," so popular in Spanish, art, from "Our Lady of
Mount Carmel." (v. Monastic Orders.)

A large class of these Madonna pictures are votive offerings for
public or private mercies. They present some most interesting
varieties of character and arrangement.

A votive Mater Misericordiæ, with the Child, in her arms, is often
standing with her wide ample robe extended, and held up on each side
by angels. Kneeling at her feet are the votaries who have consecrated
the picture, generally some community or brotherhood instituted for
charitable purposes, who, as they kneel, present the objects of
their charity--widows, orphans, prisoners, or the sick and infirm.
The Child, in her arms, bends forward, with the hand raised in
benediction. I have already spoken of the Mater Misericordiæ _without_
the Child. The sentiment is yet more beautiful and complete where
the Mother of Mercy holds the infant Redeemer, the representative and
pledge of God's infinite mercy, in her arms.

There is a "Virgin of Mercy," by Salvator Rosa, which is singular and
rather poetical in the conception. She is seated in heavenly glory;
the infant Christ, on her knee, bends benignly forward. Tutelary
angels are represented as pleading for mercy, with eager outstretched
arms; other angels, lower down, are liberating the souls of repentant
sinners from torment. The expression in some of the heads, the
contrast between the angelic pitying spirits and the anxious haggard
features of the "_Anime del Purgatorio_" are very fine and animated.
Here the Virgin is the "Refuge of Sinners," _Refugium Peccatorum_.
Such pictures are commonly met with in chapels dedicated to services
for the dead.

       *       *       *       *       *

Another class of votive pictures are especial acts of
thanksgiving:--1st. For victory, as _La Madonna della Vittoria, Notre
Dame des Victoires._ The Virgin, on her throne, is then attended
by one or more of the warrior saints, together with the patron or
patroness of the victors. She is then our Lady of Victory. A very
perfect example of these victorious Madonnas exists in a celebrated
picture by Andrea Mantegna. The Virgin is seated on a lofty throne,
embowered by garlands of fruit, leaves, and flowers, and branches
of coral, fancifully disposed as a sort of canopy over her head.
The Child stands on her knee, and raises his hand in the act of
benediction. On the right of the Virgin appear the warlike saints, St.
Michael and St. Maurice; they recommend to her protection the Marquis
of Mantua, Giovan Francesco Gonzaga, who kneels in complete armour.[1]
On the left stand St. Andrew and St. Longinus, the guardian saints
of Mantua; on the step of the throne, the young St. John the Baptist,
patron of the Marquis; and more in front, a female figure, seen
half-length, which some have supposed to be St. Elizabeth, the mother
of the Baptist, and others, with more reason, the wife of the Marquis,
the accomplished Isabella d'Este.[2] This picture was dedicated in
celebration of the victory gained by Gonzaga over the French, near
Fornone, in 1495.[3] There is something exceedingly grand, and, at
the same time, exceedingly fantastic and poetical, in the whole
arrangement; and besides its beauty and historical importance, it is
the most important work of Andrea Mantegna. Gonzaga, who is the hero
of the picture, was a poet as well as a soldier. Isabella d'Este
shines conspicuously, both for virtue and talent, in the history of
the revival of art during the fifteenth century. She was one of the
first who collected gems, antiques, pictures, and made them available
for the study and improvement of the learned. Altogether, the picture
is most interesting in every point of view. It was carried off by the
French from Milan in 1797; and considering the occasion on which it
was painted, they must have had a special pleasure in placing it in
their Louvre, where it still remains.

[Footnote 1: "Qui rend grâces du _prétendu_ succès obtenu sur Charles
VIII. à la bataille de Fornone," as the French catalogue expresses

[Footnote 2: Both, however, may be right; for St. Elizabeth was
the patron saint of the Marchesana: the head has quite the air of a
portrait, and may be Isabella in likeness of a saint.]

[Footnote 3: "Si les soldats avaient mieux secondé la bravoure de
leur chef, l'armie de Charles VIII. était perdue sans ressource--Ils
se disperserent pour piller et laissèrent aux Français le temps de
continuer leur route."]

There is a very curious and much more ancient Madonna of this class
preserved at Siena, and styled the "Madonna del Voto." The Sienese
being at war with Florence, placed their city under the protection of
the Virgin, and made a solemn vow that, if victorious, they would make
over their whole territory to her as a perpetual possession, and hold
it from her as her loyal vassals. After the victory of Arbia, which
placed Florence itself for a time in such imminent danger, a picture
was dedicated by Siena to the Virgin _della Vittoria_. She is
enthroned and crowned, and the infant Christ, standing on her knee,
holds in his hand the deed of gift.

       *       *       *       *       *

2dly. For deliverance from plague and pestilence, those scourges of
the middle ages. In such pictures the Virgin is generally attended by
St. Sebastian, with St. Roch or St. George; sometimes, also, by St.
Cosmo and St. Damian, all of them protectors and healers in time of
sickness and calamity. These intercessors are often accompanied by the
patrons of the church or locality.

There is a remarkable picture of this class by Matteo di Giovanni
(Siena Acad.), in which the Virgin and Child are throned between St.
Sebastian and St. George, while St. Cosmo and St. Damian, dressed as
physicians, and holding their palms, kneel before the throne.

In a very famous picture by Titian. (Rome, Vatican), the Virgin and
Child are seated in heavenly glory. She has a smiling and gracious
expression, and the Child holds a garland, while angels scatter
flowers. Below stand St. Sebastian, St. _Nicholas_, St. Catherine, St.
Peter, and St. _Francis_. The picture was an offering to the Virgin,
after the cessation of a pestilence at Venice, and consecrated in a
church of the _Franciscans_ dedicated to St. _Nicholas_.[1]

[Footnote 1: San Nicolo de' Frari, since destroyed, and the picture
has been transferred to the Vatican.]

Another celebrated votive picture against pestilence is Correggio's
"Madonna di San Sebastiano." (Dresden Gal.) She is seated in heavenly
glory, with little angels, not so much adoring as sporting and
hovering round her; below are St. Sebastian and St. Roch, the latter
asleep. (There would be an impropriety in exhibiting St. Roch sleeping
but for the reference to the legend, that, while he slept, an angel
healed him, which lends the circumstance a kind of poetical beauty.)
St. Sebastian, bound, looks up on the other side. The introduction of
St. Geminiano, the patron of Modena, shows the picture to have been
painted for that city, which had been desolated by pestilence in 1512.
The date of the picture is 1515.

We may then take it for granted, that wherever the Virgin and Child
appear attended by St. Sebastian and St. Roch, the picture has been a
votive offering against the plague; and there is something touching in
the number of such memorials which exist in the Italian churches. (v.
Sacred and Legendary Art.) The brotherhoods instituted in most of the
towns of Italy and Germany, for attending the sick and plague-stricken
in times of public calamity, were placed under the protection of
the Virgin of Mercy, St. Sebastian, and St. Roch; and many of these
pictures were dedicated by such communities, or by the municipal
authorities of the city or locality. There is a memorable example in a
picture by Guido, painted, by command of the Senate of Bologna, after
the cessation of the plague, which desolated the city in 1830. (Acad.
Bologna.) The benign Virgin, with her Child, is seated in the skies:
the rainbow, symbol of peace and reconciliation, is under her feet.
The infant Christ, lovely and gracious, raises his right hand in
the act of blessing; in the other he holds a branch of olive: angels
scatter flowers around. Below stand the guardian saints, the "_Santi
Protettori_" of Bologna;--St. Petronius, St. Francis, St. Dominick;
the warrior-martyrs, St. Proculus and St. Florian, in complete armour;
with St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier. Below these is seen, as
if through a dark cloud and diminished, the city of Bologna, where
the dead are borne away in carts and on biers. The upper part of
this famous picture is most charming for the gracious beauty of the
expression, the freshness and delicacy of the colour. The lower part
is less happy, though the head of St. Francis, which is the portrait
of Guido's intimate friend and executor, Saulo Guidotti, can hardly
be exceeded for intense and life-like truth. The other figures are
deficient in expression and the execution hurried, so that on the
whole it is inferior to the votive Pietà already described. Guido, it
is said, had no time to prepare a canvas or cartoons, and painted the
whole on a piece of white silk. It was carried in grand procession,
and solemnly dedicated by the Senate, whence it obtained the title by
which it is celebrated in the history of art, "Il Pallione del Voto."

3dly. Against inundations, flood, and fire, St. George is the great
protector. This saint and St. Barbara, who is patroness against
thunder and tempest, express deliverance from such calamities, when in

The "Madonna di San Giorgio" of Correggio (Dresden Gal.) is a votive
altar-piece dedicated on the occasion of a great inundation of the
river Secchia. She is seated on her throne, and the Child looks
down on the worshippers and votaries. St. George stands in front
victorious, his foot on the head of the dragon. The introduction of
St. Geminiano tells us that the picture was painted for the city of
Modena; the presence of St. John the Baptist and St. Peter Martyr show
that it was dedicated by the Dominicans, in their church of St. John.
(See Legends of the Monastic Orders.)

       *       *       *       *       *

Not less interesting are those votive Madonnas dedicated by the piety
of families and individuals. In the family altar-pieces, the votary is
often presented on one side by his patron saint, and his wife by her
patron on the other. Not seldom a troop of hopeful sons attend the
father, and a train of gentle, demure-looking daughters kneel behind
the mother. Such memorials of domestic affection and grateful piety
are often very charming; they are pieces of family biography:[1] we
have celebrated examples both in German and Italian art.

[Footnote 1: Several are engraved, as illustrations, in Litta's great
History of the Italian Families.]

1. The "Madonna della Famiglia Bentivoglio" was painted by Lorenzo
Costa, for Giovanni II., lord or tyrant of Bologna from 1462 to 1506,
The history of this Giovanni is mixed up in an interesting manner with
the revival of art and letters; he was a great patron of both, and
among the painters in his service were Francesco Francia and Lorenzo
Costa. The latter painted for him his family chapel in the church of
San Giacomo at Bologna; and, while the Bentivogli have long since been
chased from their native territory, their family altar still remains
untouched, unviolated. The Virgin, as usual, is seated on a lofty
throne bearing her divine Child; she is veiled, no hair seen, and
simply draped; she bends forward with mild benignity. To the right of
the throne kneels Giovanni with his four sons; on the left his wife,
attended by six daughters: all are portraits, admirable studies for
character and costume. Behind the daughters, the head of an old woman
is just visible,--according to tradition the old nurse of the family.

2. Another most interesting family Madonna is that of Ludovico Sforza
il Moro, painted for the church of Sant' Ambrogio at Milan.[1] The
Virgin sits enthroned, richly dressed, with long fair hair hanging
down, and no veil or ornament; two angels hold a crown over her head.
The Child lies extended on her knee. Round her throne are the four
fathers, St. Ambrose, St. Gregory, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine. In
front of the throne kneels Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan, in a rich
dress and unarmed; Ambrose, as protector of Milan, lays his hand upon
his shoulder. At his side kneels a boy about five years old. Opposite
to him is the duchess, Beatrice d'Este, also kneeling; and near her
a little baby in swaddling clothes, holding up its tiny hands in
supplication, kneels on a cushion. The age of the children shows the
picture to have been painted about 1496. The fate of Ludovico il
Moro is well known: perhaps the blessed Virgin deemed a traitor and
an assassin unworthy of her protection. He died in the frightful
prison of Loches after twelve years of captivity; and both his sons,
Maximilian and Francesco, were unfortunate. With them the family of
Sforza and the independence of Milan were extinguished together in

[Footnote 1: By an unknown painter of the school of Lionardo, and now
in the gallery, of the Brera.]

3. Another celebrated and most precious picture of this class is the
Virgin of the Meyer family, painted by Holbein for the burgomaster
Jacob Meyer of Basle.[1] According to a family tradition, the youngest
son of the burgomaster was sick even to death, and, through the
merciful intercession of the Virgin, was restored to his parents, who,
in gratitude, dedicated this offering. She stands on a pedestal in a
richly ornamented niche; over her long fair hair, which falls down
her shoulders to her waist, she wears a superb crown; and her robe
of a dark greenish blue is confined by a crimson girdle. In purity,
dignity, humility, and intellectual grace, this exquisite Madonna has
never been surpassed; not even by Raphael; the face, once seen, haunts
the memory. The Child in her arms is generally supposed to be the
infant Christ. I have fancied, as I look on the picture, that it may
be the poor sick child recommended to her mercy, for the face is very
pathetic, the limbs not merely delicate but attenuated, while, on
comparing it with the robust child who stands below, the resemblance
and the contrast are both striking. To the right of the Virgin
kneels the burgomaster Meyer with two of his sons, one of whom holds
the little brother who is restored to health, and seems to present
him to the people. On the left kneel four females--the mother, the
grandmother, and two daughters. All these are portraits, touched
with that homely, vigorous truth, and finished with that consummate
delicacy, which characterized Holbein in his happiest efforts; and,
with their earnest but rather ugly and earthly faces, contrasting with
the divinely compassionate and refined being who looks down on them
with an air so human, so maternal, and yet so unearthly.

[Footnote 1: Dresden Gal. The engraving by Steinle is justly

       *       *       *       *       *

Sometimes it is a single votary who kneels before the Madonna. In the
old times he expressed his humility by placing himself in a corner and
making himself so diminutive as to be scarce visible afterwards, the
head of the votary or donor is seen life-size, with hands joined in
prayer, just above the margin at the foot of the throne; care being
taken to remove him from all juxtaposition with the attendant saints.
But, as the religious feeling in art declined, the living votaries
are mingled with the spiritual patrons--the "human mortals" with the
"human immortals,"--with a disregard to time and place, which, if
it be not so lowly in spirit, can be rendered by a great artist
strikingly poetical and significant.

1. The renowned "Madonna di Foligno," one of Raphael's masterpieces,
is a votive picture of this class. It was dedicated by Sigismund Conti
of Foligno; private secretary to Pope Julius II., and a distinguished
man in other respects, a writer and a patron of learning. It
appears that Sigismund having been in great danger from a meteor
or thunderbolt, vowed an offering to the blessed Virgin, to whom he
attributed his safety, and in fulfilment of his vow consecrated this
precious picture. In the upper part of the composition sits the Virgin
in heavenly glory; by her side the infant Christ, partly sustained
by his mother's veil, which is drawn round his body: both look down
benignly on the votary Sigismund Conti, who, kneeling below, gazes up
with an expression of the most intense gratitude and devotion. It is
a portrait from the life, and certainly one of the finest and most
life-like that exists in painting. Behind him stands St. Jerome, who,
placing his hand upon the head of the votary, seems to present him
to his celestial protectress. On the opposite side John the Baptist,
the meagre wild-looking prophet of the desert, points upward to the
Redeemer. More in front kneels St. Francis, who, while he looks up
to heaven with trusting and imploring love, extends his right hand
towards the worshippers, supposed to be assembled in the church,
recommending them also to the protecting grace of the Virgin. In the
centre of the picture, dividing these two groups, stands a lovely
angel-boy holding in his hand a tablet, one of the most charming
figures of this kind Raphael ever painted; the head, looking up, has
that sublime, yet perfectly childish grace, which strikes us in those
awful angel-boys in the "Madonna di San Sisto." The background is a
landscape, in which appears the city of Foligno at a distance; it is
overshadowed by a storm-cloud, and a meteor is seen falling; but above
these bends a rainbow, pledge of peace and safety. The whole picture
glows throughout with life and beauty, hallowed by that profound
religious sentiment which suggested the offering, and which the
sympathetic artist seems to have caught from the grateful donor. It
was dedicated in the church of the Ara-Coeli at Rome, which belongs
to the Franciscans; hence St. Francis is one of the principal figures.
When I was asked, at Rome, why St. Jerome had been introduced into the
picture, I thought it might be thus accounted for:--The patron saint
of the donor, St. Sigismund, was a king and a warrior, and Conti
might possibly think that it did not accord with his profession, as
an humble ecclesiastic, to introduce him here. The most celebrated
convent of the Jeronimites in Italy is that of St. Sigismund near
Cremona, placed under the special protection of St. Jerome, who
is also in a general sense the patron of all ecclesiastics; hence,
perhaps, he figures here as the protector of Sigismund Conti. The
picture was painted, and placed over the high altar of the Ara-Coeli
in 1511, when Raphael was in his twenty-eighth year. Conti died
in 1512, and in 1565 his grandniece, Suora Anna Conti, obtained
permission to remove it to her convent at Foligno, whence it was
carried off by the French in 1792. Since the restoration of the works
of art in Italy, in 1815, it has been placed among the treasures of
the Vatican.

       *       *       *       *       *

2. Another perfect specimen of a votive picture of this kind, in a
very different style, I saw in the museum at Rouen, attributed there
to Van Eyck. It is, probably, a fine work by a later master of the
school, perhaps Hemmelinck. In the centre, the Virgin is enthroned;
the Child, seated on her knee, holds a bunch of grapes, symbol of
the eucharist. On the right of the Virgin is St. Apollonia; then two
lovely angels in white raiment, with lutes in their hands; and then
a female head, seen looking from behind, evidently a family portrait.
More in front, St. Agnes, splendidly dressed in green and sable, her
lamb at her feet, turns with a questioning air to St. Catherine,
who, in queenly garb of crimson and ermine seems to consult her book.
Behind her another member of the family, a man with a very fine face;
and more in front St. Dorothea, with a charming expression of modesty,
looks down on her basket of roses. On the left of the Virgin is St.
Agatha; then two angels in white with viols; then St. Cecilia; and
near her a female head, another family portrait; next St. Barbara
wearing a beautiful head-dress, in front of which is worked her tower,
framed like an ornamental jewel in gold and pearls; she has a missal
in her lap. St. Lucia next appears; then another female portrait.
All the heads are about one fourth of the size of life. I stood in
admiration before this picture--such miraculous finish in all the
details, such life, such spirit, such delicacy in the heads and hands,
such brilliant colour in the draperies! Of its history I could learn
nothing, nor what family had thus introduced themselves into celestial
companionship. The portraits seemed to me to represent a father, a
mother, and two daughters.

       *       *       *       *       *

I must mention some other instances of votive Madonnas, interesting
either from their beauty or their singularity.

3. Réné, Duke of Anjou, and King of Sicily and Jerusalem, the father
of our Amazonian queen, Margaret of Anjou, dedicated, in the church
of the Carmelites, at Aix, the capital of his dominions, a votive
picture, which is still to be seen there. It is not only a monument
of his piety, but of his skill; for, according to the tradition of the
country, he painted it himself. The good King Réné was no contemptible
artist; but though he may have suggested the subject, the hand of a
practised and accomplished painter is too apparent for us to suppose
it his own work.

This altar-piece in a triptychon, and when the doors are closed
it measures twelve feet in height, and seven feet in width. On the
outside of the doors is the Annunciation: to the left, the angel
standing on a pedestal, under a Gothic canopy; to the right, the
Virgin standing with her book, under a similar canopy: both graceful
figures. On opening the doors, the central compartment exhibits the
Virgin and her Child enthroned in a burning bush; the bush which
burned with fire, and was not consumed, being a favourite type of the
immaculate purity of the Virgin. Lower down, in front, Moses appears
surrounded by his flocks, and at the command of an angel is about to
take off his sandals. The angel is most richly dressed, and on the
clasp of his mantle is painted in miniature Adam and Eve tempted
by the serpent. Underneath this compartment, is the inscription,
"_Rubum quem viderat Moyses, incombustum, conservatam agnovimus tuam
laudabilem Virginitatem, Sancta Dei Genitrix[1]_." On the door to
the right of the Virgin kneels King Réné himself before an altar, on
which lies an open book and his kingly crown. He is dressed in a robe
trimmed with ermine, and wears a black velvet cap. Behind him, Mary
Magdalene (the patroness of Provence), St. Antony, and St. Maurice.
On the other door, Jeanne de Laval, the second wife of Réné, kneels
before an open book; she is young and beautiful, and richly attired;
and behind her stand St. John (her patron saint), St. Catherine
(very noble and elegant), and St. Nicholas. I saw this curious and
interesting picture in 1846. It is very well preserved, and painted
with great finish and delicacy in the manner of the early Flemish

[Footnote 1: For the relation of Moses to the Virgin (as attribute) v.
the Introduction.]

4. In a beautiful little picture by Van Eyck (Louvre, No. 162. Ecole
Allemande), the Virgin is seated on a throne, holding in her arms the
infant Christ, who has a globe in his left hand, and extends the right
in the act of benediction. The Virgin is attired as a queen, in a
magnificent robe falling in ample folds around her, and trimmed with
jewels; an angel, hovering with outspread wings, holds a crown over
her head. On the left of the picture, a votary, in the dress of a
Flemish burgomaster, kneels before a Prie-Dieu, on which is an open
book, and with clasped hands adores the Mother and her Child. The
locality represents a gallery or portico paved with marble, and
sustained by pillars in a fantastic Moorish style. The whole picture
is quite exquisite for the delicacy of colour and execution. In the
catalogue of the Louvre, this picture, is entitled "St. Joseph adoring
the Infant Christ,"--an obvious mistake, if we consider the style of
the treatment and the customs of the time.

5. All who have visited the church of the Frari at Venice will
remember--for once seen, they never can forget--the ex-voto
altar-piece which adorns the chapel of the Pesaro family. The
beautiful Virgin is seated on a lofty throne to the right of the
picture, and presses to her bosom the _Dio Bambinetto_, who turns from
her to bless the votary presented by St. Peter. The saint stands on
the steps of the throne, one hand on a book; and behind him kneels one
of the Pesaro family, who was at once bishop of Paphos and commander
of the Pope's galleys: he approaches to consecrate to the Madonna
the standards taken from the Turks, which are borne by St. George, as
patron of Venice. On the other side appear St. Francis and St. Antony
of Padua, as patrons of the church in which the picture is dedicated.
Lower down, kneeling on one side of the throne, is a group of various
members of the Pesaro family, three of whom are habited in crimson
robes, as _Cavalieri di San Marco_; the other, a youth about fifteen,
looks out of the picture, astonishingly _alive_, and yet sufficiently
idealized to harmonize with the rest. This picture is very remarkable
for several reasons. It is a piece of family history, curiously
illustrative of the manners of the time. The Pesaro here commemorated
was an ecclesiastic, but appointed by Alexander VI. to command the
galleys with which he joined the Venetian forces against the Turks in
1503. It is for this reason that St. Peter--as representative here of
the Roman pontiff--introduces him to the Madonna, while St. George,
as patron of Venice, attends him. The picture is a monument of the
victory gained by Pesaro, and the gratitude and pride of his family.
It is also one of the finest works of Titian; one of the earliest
instances in which a really grand religious composition assumes almost
a dramatic and scenic form, yet retains a certain dignity and symmetry
worthy of its solemn destination.[1]

[Footnote 1: We find in the catalogue of pictures which belonged to
our Charles I. one which represented "a pope preferring a general of
his navy to St. Peter." It is Pope Alexander VI. presenting this very
Pesaro to St. Peter; that is, in plain unpictorial prose, giving him
the appointment of admiral of the galleys of the Roman states. This
interesting picture, after many vicissitudes, is now in the Museum at
Antwerp. (See the _Handbook to the Royal Galleries_, p. 201.)]

6. I will give one more instance. There is in our National Gallery
a Venetian picture which is striking from its peculiar and
characteristic treatment. On one side, the Virgin with her Infant is
seated on a throne; a cavalier, wearing armour and a turban, who looks
as if he had just returned from the eastern wars, prostrates himself
before her: in the background, a page (said to be the portrait of the
painter) holds the horse of the votary. The figures are life-size,
or nearly so, as well as I can remember, and the sentimental dramatic
treatment is quite Venetian. It is supposed to represent a certain
Duccio Constanzo of Treviso, and was once attributed to Giorgione: it
is certainly of the school of Bellini. (Nat. Gal. Catalogue, 234.)

       *       *       *       *       *

As these enthroned and votive Virgins multiplied, as it became more
and more a fashion to dedicate them as offerings in churches, want
of space, and perhaps, also, regard to expense, suggested the idea of
representing the figures half-length. The Venetians, from early time
the best face painters in the world, appear to have been the first
to cut off the lower part of the figure, leaving the arrangement
otherwise much the same. The Virgin is still a queenly and majestic
creature, sitting there to be adored. A curtain or part of a carved
chair represents her throne. The attendant saints are placed to the
right and to the left; or sometimes the throne occupies one side of
the picture, and the saints are ranged on the other. From the shape
and diminished size of these votive pictures the personages, seen
half-length, are necessarily placed very near to each other, and the
heads nearly on a level with that of the Virgin, who is generally
seen to the knees, while the Child is always full-length. In such
compositions we miss the grandeur of the entire forms, and the
consequent diversity of character and attitude; but sometimes
the beauty and individuality of the heads atone for all other

       *       *       *       *       *

In the earlier Venetian examples, those of Gian Bellini particularly,
there is a solemn quiet elevation which renders them little inferior,
in religious sentiment, to the most majestic of the enthroned and
enskied Madonnas.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is a sacred group by Bellini, in the possession of Sir Charles
Eastlake, which has always appeared to me a very perfect specimen of
this class of pictures. It is also the earliest I know of. The Virgin,
pensive, sedate, and sweet, like all Bellini's Virgins, is seated in
the centre, and seen in front. The Child, on her knee, blesses with
his right hand, and the Virgin places hers on the head of a votary,
who just appears above the edge of the picture, with hands joined in
prayer; he is a fine young man with an elevated and elegant profile.
On the right are St. John the Baptist pointing to the Saviour, and
St. Catherine; on the left, St. George with his banner, and St. Peter
holding his book. A similar picture, with Mary Magdalene and St.
Jerome on the right, St. Peter and St. Martha on the left, is in the
Leuchtenberg Gallery at Munich. Another of exquisite beauty is in the
Venice Academy, in which the lovely St. Catherine wears a crown of

Once introduced, these half-length enthroned Madonnas became very
common, spreading from the Venetian states through the north of Italy;
and we find innumerable examples from the best schools of art in
Italy and Germany, from the middle of the fifteenth to the middle of
the sixteenth century. I shall particularize a few of these, which
will be sufficient to guide the attention of the observer; and we
must carefully discriminate between the sentiment proper to these
half-length enthroned Madonnas, and the pastoral or domestic sacred
groups and Holy Families, of which I shall have to treat hereafter.

Raphael's well-known Madonna _della Seggiola_ and Madonna _della
Candelabra_, are both enthroned Virgins in the grand style, though
seen half-length. In fact, the air of the head ought, in the higher
schools of art, at once to distinguish a Madonna, _in trono_, even
where only the head is visible.

       *       *       *       *       *

In a Milanese picture, the Virgin and Child appear between St.
Laurence and St. John. The mannered and somewhat affected treatment
is contrasted with the quiet, solemn simplicity of a group by Francia,
where the Virgin and Child appear as objects of worship between St.
Dominick and St. Barbara.

The Child, standing or seated on a table or balustrade in front,
enabled the painter to vary the attitude, to take the infant
Christ out of the arms of the Mother, and to render his figure more
prominent. It was a favourite arrangement with the Venetians; and
there is an instance in a pretty picture in our National Gallery,
attributed to Perugino.

Sometimes, even where the throne and the attendant saints and angels
show the group to be wholly devotional and exalted, we find the
sentiment varied by a touch of the dramatic,--by the introduction
of an action; but it must be one of a wholly religious significance,
suggestive of a religious feeling, or the subject ceases to be
properly _devotional_ in character.

There is a picture by Botticelli, before which, in walking up the
corridor of the Florence Gallery, I used, day after day, to make an
involuntary pause of admiration. The Virgin, seated in a chair of
state, but seen only to the knees, sustains her divine Son with one
arm; four angels are in attendance, one of whom presents an inkhorn,
another holds before her an open book, and she is in the act of
writing the Magnificat, "My soul doth magnify the Lord!" The head of
the figure behind the Virgin is the portrait of Lorenzo de' Medici
when a boy. There is absolutely no beauty of feature, either in
the Madonna, or the Child, or the angels, yet every face is full of
dignity and character.

In a beautiful picture by Titian (Bel. Gal., Vienna. Louvre, No.
458), the Virgin is enthroned on the left, and on the right appear St.
George and St. Laurence as listening, while St. Jerome reads from his
great book. A small copy of this picture is at Windsor.

       *       *       *       *       *

The old German and Flemish painters, in treating the enthroned
Madonna, sometimes introduced accessories which no painter of the
early Italian school would have descended to; and which tinge with a
homely sentiment their most exalted conceptions. Thus, I have seen
a German Madonna seated on a superb throne, and most elaborately
and gorgeously arrayed, pressing her Child to her bosom with a truly
maternal air; while beside her, on a table, is a honeycomb, some
butter, a dish of fruit, and a glass of water. (Bel. Gal., Vienna.)
It is possible that in this case, as in the Virgin suckling her Child,
there may be a religious allusion:--"_Butter and honey shall he eat_,"


_Ital._ La Madonna col Bambino. La Madonna col celeste suo figlio.
_Fr._ La Vierge et l'enfant Jesus. _Ger._ Maria mit dem Kind.

There is yet another treatment of the Madonna and Child, in which the
Virgin no longer retains the lofty goddess-like exaltation given to
her in the old time. She is brought nearer to our sympathies. She
is not seated in a chair of state with the accompaniments of earthly
power; she is not enthroned on clouds, nor glorified and star-crowned
in heaven; she is no longer so exclusively the VERGINE DEA, nor the
young, and lovely, and most pure mother of a divine Christ. She is
not sustained in mid-air by angels; she dwells lowly on earth; but
the angels leave their celestial home to wait upon her. Such effigies,
when conceived in a strictly ideal and devotional sense, I shall
designate as the MATER AMABILIS.

The first and simplest form of this beautiful and familiar subject, we
find in those innumerable half-length figures of the Madonna, holding
her Child in her arms, painted chiefly for oratories, private or
way-side chapels, and for the studies, libraries, and retired chambers
of the devout, as an excitement to religious feeling, and a memorial
of the mystery of the Incarnation, where large or grander subjects,
or more expensive pictures, would be misplaced. Though unimportant in
comparison with the comprehensive and magnificent church altar-pieces
already described, there is no class of pictures so popular and so
attractive, none on which the character of the time and the painter
is stamped more clearly and intelligibly, than on these simple

The Virgin is not here the dispenser of mercy; she is simply the
mother of the Redeemer. She is occupied only by her divine Son. She
caresses him, or she gazes on him fondly. She presents him to the
worshipper. She holds him forth with a pensive joy as the predestined
offering. If the profound religious sentiment of the early masters was
afterwards obliterated by the unbelief and conventionalism of later
art, still this favourite subject could not be so wholly profaned by
degrading sentiments and associations, as the mere portrait heads of
the Virgin alone. No matter what the model for the Madonna, might
have been,--a wife, a mistress, a _contadina_ of Frascati, a Venetian
_Zitella_, a _Madchen_ of Nuremberg, a buxom Flemish _Frau_,--for the
Child was there; the baby innocence in her arms consecrated her into
that "holiest thing alive," a mother. The theme, however inadequately
treated as regarded its religious significance, was sanctified in
itself beyond the reach of a profane thought. Miserable beyond the
reach of hope, dark below despair, that moral atmosphere which the
presence of sinless unconscious infancy cannot for a moment purify
or hallow!

Among the most ancient and most venerable of the effigies of the
Madonna, we find the old Greek pictures of the _Mater Amabilis_, if
that epithet can be properly applied to the dark-coloured, sad-visaged
Madonnas generally attributed to St. Luke, or transcripts of those
said to be painted by him, which exist in so many churches, and are,
or were, supposed by the people to possess a peculiar sanctity. These
are almost all of oriental origin, or painted to imitate the pictures
brought from the East in the tenth or twelfth century. There are a few
striking and genuine examples of these ancient Greek Madonnas in the
Florentine Gallery, and, nearer at hand, in the Wallerstein collection
at Kensington Palace. They much resemble each other in the general

The infinite variety which painters have given to this most simple
_motif_, the Mother and the Child only, without accessories or
accompaniments of any kind, exceeds all possibility of classification,
either as to attitude or sentiment. Here Raphael shone supreme:
the simplicity, the tenderness, the halo of purity and virginal
dignity, which he threw round the _Mater Amabilis_ have, never been
surpassed--in his best pictures, never equalled. The "Madonna del
Gran-Duca," where the Virgin holds the Child seated on her arm; the
"Madonna Tempi," where she so fondly presses her check to his,--are
perhaps the most remarkable for simplicity. The Madonna of the
Bridgewater Gallery, where the Infant lies on her knees, and the
Mother and Son look into each other's eyes; the little "Madonna
Conestabile," where she holds the book, and the infant Christ, with
a serious yet perfectly childish grace, bends to turn over the
leaf,--are the most remarkable for sentiment.

Other Madonnas by Raphael, containing three or more figures, do not
belong to this class of pictures. They are not strictly devotional,
but are properly Holy Families, groups and scenes from the domestic
life of the Virgin.

With regard, to other painters before or since his time, the examples
of the _Mater Amabilis_ so abound la public and private galleries, and
have been so multiplied in prints, that comparison is within the reach
of every observer. I will content myself with noticing a few of the
most remarkable for beauty or characteristic treatment. Two painters,
who eminently excelled in simplicity and purity of sentiment, are Gian
Bellini of Venice, and Bernardino Luini of Milan. Squarcione, though
often fantastic, has painted one or two of these Madonnas, remarkable
for simplicity and dignity, as also his pupil Mantegna; though in
both the style of execution is somewhat hard and cold. In the one by
Fra Bartolomeo, there is such a depth of maternal tenderness in the
expression and attitude, we wonder where the good monk found his
model. In his own heart? in his dreams? A _Mater Amabilis_ by one of
the Caracci or by Vandyck is generally more elegant and dignified than
tender. The Madonna, for instance, by Annibal, has something of the
majestic sentiment of an enthroned Madonna. Murillo excelled in this
subject; although most of his Virgins have a portrait air of common
life, they are redeemed by the expression. In one of these, the
Child, looking out of the picture with extended arms and eyes full
of divinity, seems about to spring forth to fulfil his mission. In
another he folds his little hands, and looks up to Heaven, as if
devoting himself to his appointed suffering, while the Mother looks
down upon him with a tender resignation. (Leuchtenberg Gal.) In a
noble Madonna by Vandyck (Bridgewater Gal.), it is she herself who
devotes him to do his Father's will; and I still remember a picture
of this class, by Carlo Cignani (Belvedere Gal., Vienna), which made
me start, with the intense expression: the Mother presses to her the
Child, who holds a cross in his baby hand; she looks up to heaven with
an appealing look of love and anguish,--almost of reproach. Guido
did not excel so much in children, as in the Virgin alone. Poussin,
Carlo Dolce, Sasso Ferrato, and, in general, all the painters of the
seventeenth century, give us pretty women and pretty children. We may
pass them over.

A second version of the Mater Amabilis, representing the Virgin
and Child full-length, but without accessories, has been also very
beautifully treated. She is usually seated in a landscape, and
frequently within the mystical enclosure (_Hortus clausus_), which is
sometimes in the German pictures a mere palisade of stakes or boughs.

Andrea Mantegna, though a fantastic painter, had generally some
meaning in his fancies. There is a fine picture of his in which the
Virgin and Child are seated in a landscape, and in the background is
a stone-quarry, where a number of figures are seen busily at work;
perhaps hewing the stone to build the new temple of which our Saviour
was the corner-stone. (Florence Gal.) In a group by Cristofano Allori,
the Child places a wreath of flowers on the brow of his Mother,
holding in his other hand his own crown of thorns: one of the
_fancies_ of the later schools of art.

The introduction of the little St. John into the group of the Virgin
and Child lends it a charming significance and variety, and is very
popular; we must, however, discriminate between the familiarity of
the domestic subject and the purely religious treatment. When the
Giovannino adores with folded hands, as acknowledging in Christ a
superior power, or kisses his feet humbly, or points to him exulting,
then it is evident that we have the two Children in their spiritual
character, the Child, Priest and King, and the Child, Prophet.

In a picture by Lionardo da Vinci (Coll. of the Earl of Suffolk),
the Madonna, serious and beautiful, without either crown or veil, and
adorned only by her long fair hair, is seated on a rock. On one side,
the little Christ, supported in the arms of an angel, raises his hand
in benediction; on the other side, the young St. John, presented by
the Virgin, kneels in adoration.

Where the Children are merely embracing each other, or sporting at
the feet of the Virgin, or playing with the cross, or with a bird, or
with the lamb, or with flowers, we might call the treatment domestic
or poetical; but where St. John is taking the cross from the hand of
Christ, it is clear, from the perpetual repetition of the theme, that
it is intended to express a religious allegory. It is the mission of
St. John as Baptist and Prophet. He receives the symbol of faith ere
he goes forth to preach and to convert, or as it has been interpreted,
he, in the sense used by our Lord, "takes up the cross of our Lord."
The first is, I think, the meaning when the cross is enwreathed with
the _Ecce Agnus Dei_; the latter, when it is a simple cross.

In Raphael's "Madonna della Famiglia Alva," (now in the Imp. Gal., St.
Petersburg), and in his Madonna of the Vienna Gallery, Christ gives
the cross to St. John. In a picture of the Lionardo school in the
Louvre we have the same action; and again in a graceful group by
Guido, which, in the engraving, bears this inscription, "_Qui non
accipit crucem suam non est me dignus_." (Matt. x. 38.) This, of
course, fixes the signification.

Another, and, as I think, a wholly fanciful interpretation, has been
given to this favourite group by Treck and by Monckton Milnes. The
Children contend for the cross. The little St. John begs to have it.

  "Give me the cross, I pray you, dearest Jesus.
  O if you knew how much I wish to have it,
  You would not hold it in your hand so tightly.
  Something has told me, something in my breast here,
  Which I am sure is true, that if you keep it,
  If you will let no other take it from you,
  Terrible things I cannot bear to think of
  Must fall upon you. Show me that you love me:
  Am I not here to be your little servant,
  Follow your steps, and wait upon your wishes?"

But Christ refuses to yield the terrible plaything, and claims his
privilege to be the elder "in the heritage of pain."

In a picture by Carlo Maratti, I think this action is evident--Christ
takes the cross, and St. John yields it with reluctance.

A beautiful version of the Mater Amabilis is the MADRE PIA, where the
Virgin in her divine Infant acknowledges and adores the Godhead. We
must be careful to distinguish this subject from the Nativity, for
it is common, in the scene of the birth of the Saviour at Bethlehem,
to represent the Virgin adoring her new-born Child. The presence of
Joseph--the ruined shed or manger--the ox and ass,--these express the
_event_. But in the MADRE PIA properly so called, the locality, and
the accessories, if any, are purely ideal and poetical, and have
no reference to time or place. The early Florentines, particularly
Lorenzo di Credi, excelled in this charming subject.

There is a picture by Filippino Lippi, which appears to me eminently
beautiful and poetical. Here the mystical garden is formed of a
balustrade, beyond which is seen a hedge all in a blush with roses.
The Virgin kneels in the midst, and adores her Infant, who has his
finger on his lip (_Verbum sum!_); an angel scatters rose-leaves
over him, while the little St. John also kneels, and four angels,
in attitudes of adoration, complete the group.

But a more perfect example is the Madonna by Francia in the Munich
Gallery, where the divine Infant lies on the flowery turf; and the
mother, standing before him and looking down on him, seems on the
point of sinking on her knees in a transport of tenderness and
devotion. This, to my feeling, is one of the most perfect pictures in
the world; it leaves nothing to be desired. With all the simplicity of
the treatment it is strictly devotional. The Mother and her Child are
placed within the mystical garden enclosed in a treillage of roses,
alone with each other, and apart from all earthly associations, all
earthly communion.

The beautiful altar-piece by Perugino in our National Gallery is
properly a Madre Pia; the child seated on a cushion is sustained by an
angel, the mother kneels before him.

The famous Correggio in the Florentine Gallery is also a Madre Pia.
It is very tender, sweet, and maternal. The Child lying on part of
his mother's blue mantle, so arranged that while she kneels and bends
over him, she cannot change her attitude without disturbing him, is
a _concetto_ admired by critics in sentiment and Art; but it appears
to me very inferior and commonplace in comparison to the Francia at

In a group by Botticelli, angels sustain the Infant, while the mother,
seated, with folded hands, adores him: and in a favourite composition
by Guido he sleeps.

And, lastly, we have the Mater Amabilis in a more complex, and
picturesque, though still devotional, form. The Virgin, seen at full
length, reclines on a verdant bank, or is seated under a tree. She
is not alone with her Child. Holy personages, admitted to a communion
with her, attend around her, rather sympathizing than adoring. The
love of varied nature, the love of life under all its aspects, became
mingled with the religious conception. Instead of carefully avoiding
whatever may remind us of her earthly relationship, the members of her
family always form a part of her _cortège_. This pastoral and dramatic
treatment began with the Venetian and Paduan schools, and extended to
the early German schools, which were allied to them in feeling, though
contrasted with them in form and execution.

The perpetual introduction of St. Joseph, St. Elizabeth, and other
relatives of the Virgin (always avoided in a Madonna dell Trono),
would compose what is called a Holy Family, but that the presence
of sainted personages whose existence and history belong to a
wholly different era--St. Catherine, St. George, St. Francis, or
St. Dominick--takes the composition out of the merely domestic and
historical, and lifts it at once into the ideal and devotional line
of art. Such a group cannot well be styled a _Sacra Famiglia_; it is a
_Sacra Conversazione_ treated in the pastoral and lyrical rather than
the lofty epic style.

In this subject the Venetians, who first introduced it, excel all
other painters. There is no example by Raphael. The German and Flemish
painters who adopted this treatment were often coarse and familiar;
the later Italians became flippant and fantastic. The Venetians alone
knew how to combine the truest feeling for nature with a sort of
Elysian grace.

I shall give a few examples.

1. In a picture by Titian (Dresden Gal.), the Virgin is seated on
a green bank enamelled with flowers. She is simply dressed like a
_contadina_, in a crimson tunic, and a white veil half shading her
fair hair. She holds in her arms her lovely Infant, who raises his
little hand in benediction. St. Catherine kneels before him on one
side; on the other, St. Barbara. St. John the Baptist, not as a child,
and the contemporary of our Saviour, but in likeness of an Arcadian
shepherd, kneels with his cross and his lamb--the _Ecce Agnus Dei_,
expressed, not in words, but in form. St. George stands by as a
guardian warrior. And St. Joseph, leaning on his stick behind,
contemplates the group with an air of dignified complacency.

2. There is another instance also from Titian. In a most luxuriant
landscape thick with embowering trees, and the mountains of Cadore in
the background, the Virgin is seated on a verdant bank; St. Catherine
has thrown herself on her knees, and stretches out her arms to the
divine Child in an ecstasy of adoration, in which there is nothing
unseemly or familiar. At a distance St. John the Baptist approaches
with his Lamb.

3. In another very similar group, the action of St. Catherine is
rather too familiar,--it is that of an eider sister or a nurse: the
young St. John kneels in worship.

4. Wonderfully fine is a picture of this class by Palma, now in the
Dresden Gallery. The noble, serious, sumptuous loveliness of the
Virgin; the exquisite Child, so thoughtful, yet so infantine; the
manly beauty of the St. John; the charming humility of the St.
Catherine as she presents her palm, form one of the most perfect
groups in the world. Childhood, motherhood, maidenhood, manhood,
were never, I think, combined in so sweet a spirit of humanity.[1]

[Footnote 1: When I was at Dresden, in 1860, I found Steinle, so
celebrated for his engravings of the Madonna di San Sisto and the
Holbein Madonna, employed on this picture; and, as far as his
art could go, transferring to his copper all the fervour and the
_morbidezza_ of the original.]

5. In another picture by Palma, in the same gallery, we have the same
picturesque arrangement of the Virgin and Child, while the _little_
St. John adores with folded hands, and St. Catherine sits by in tender

This Arcadian sentiment is carried as far as could well be allowed in
a picture by Titian (Louvre, 459), known as the _Vierge au Lapin_. The
Virgin holds a white rabbit, towards which the infant Christ, in the
arms of St. Catherine, eagerly stretches his hand. In a picture by
Paris Bordone it is carried, I think, too far. The Virgin reclines
under a tree with a book in her hand; opposite to her sits St. Joseph
holding an apple; between them, St. John the Baptist, as a bearded
man, holds in his arms the infant Christ, who caressingly puts one arm
round his neck, and with the other clings to the rough hairy raiment
of his friend.

       *       *       *       *       *

It will be observed, that in these Venetian examples St. Catherine,
the beloved protectress of Venice, is seldom omitted. She is not
here the learned princess who confounded tyrants and converted
philosophers, but a bright-haired, full-formed Venetian maiden,
glowing with love and life, yet touched with a serious grace,
inexpressibly charming.

St. Dorothea is also a favourite saint in these sacred pastorals.
There is an instance in which she is seated by the Virgin with her
basket of fruits and flowers; and St. Jerome, no longer beating
his breast in penance, but in likeness of a fond old grandfather,
stretches out his arms to the Child. Much finer is a picture now in
the possession of Sir Charles Eastlake. The lovely Virgin is seated
under a tree: on one side appears the angel Raphael, presenting Tobit;
on the other, St. Dorothea, kneeling, holds up her basket of celestial
fruit, gathered for her in paradise.[1]

[Footnote 1: See Sacred and legendary Art, for the beautiful Legend of
St. Dorothea]

When St. Ursula, with her standard, appears in these Venetian
pastorals, we may suppose the picture to have been painted for the
famous brotherhood (_Scuola di Sant' Orsola_) which bears her name.
Thus, in a charming picture by Palma, she appears before the Virgin,
accompanied by St. Mark a protector of Venice. (Vienna, Belvedere

Ex-voto pictures in this style are very interesting, and the votary,
without any striking impropriety, makes one of the Arcadian group.
Very appropriate, too, is the marriage of St. Catherine, often treated
in this poetical style. In a picture by Titian, the family of the
Virgin attend the mystical rite, and St. Anna places the hand of St.
Catherine in that of the Child.

In a group by Signorelli, Christ appears as if teaching St. Catherine;
he dictates, and she, the patroness of "divine philosophy," writes
down his words.

When the later painters in their great altar-pieces imitated this
idyllic treatment, the graceful Venetian conception became in their
hands heavy, mannered, tasteless,--and sometimes worse. The monastic
saints or mitred dignitaries, introduced into familiar and irreverent
communion with the sacred and ideal personages, in spite of the
grand scenery, strike us as at once prosaic and fantastic "we marvel
how they got there." Parmigiano, when he fled from the sack of Rome
in 1527, painted at Bologna, for the nuns of Santa Margherita, an
altar-piece which has been greatly celebrated. The Madonna, holding
her Child, is seated in a landscape under a tree, and turns her head
to the Bishop St. Petronius, protector of Bologna. St. Margaret,
kneeling and attended by her great dragon, places one hand, with a
free and easy air, on the knee of the Virgin, and with the other seems
to be about to chuck the infant Christ under the chin. In a large
picture by Giacomo Francia, the Virgin, walking in a flowery meadow
with the infant Christ and St. John, and attended by St. Agnes and
Mary Magdalene, meets St. Francis and St. Dominick, also, apparently,
taking a walk. (Berlin Gal. No. 281.) And again;--the Madonna and St.
Elizabeth meet with their children in a landscape, while St. Peter,
St. Paul, and St. Benedict stand behind in attitudes of attention
and admiration. Now, such pictures may be excellently well painted,
greatly praised by connoisseurs, and held in "_somma venerazione_,"
but they are offensive as regards the religious feeling, and, are, in
point of taste, mannered, fantastic, and secular.

       *       *       *       *       *

Here we must end our discourse concerning the Virgin and Child as
a devotional subject. Very easily and delightfully to the writer,
perhaps not painfully to the reader, we might have gone on to the end
of the volume; but my object was not to exhaust the subject, to point
out every interesting variety of treatment, but to lead the lover
of art, wandering through a church or gallery, to new sources of
pleasure; to show him what infinite shades of feeling and character
may still be traced in a subject which, with all its beauty and
attractiveness, might seem to have lost its significant interest,
and become trite from endless repetition; to lead the mind to some
perception of the intention of the artist in his work,--under what
aspect he had himself contemplated and placed before the worshipper
the image of the mother of Christ,--whether crowned and enthroned as
the sovereign lady of Christendom; or exalted as the glorious empress
of heaven and all the spiritual world; or bending benignly over us,
the impersonation of sympathizing womanhood, the emblem of relenting
love, the solace of suffering humanity, the maid and mother, dear and

  "Created beings all in lowliness
  Surpassing, as in height above them all."

It is time to change the scene,--to contemplate the Virgin, as she
has been exhibited to us in the relations of earthly life, as the mere
woman, acting and suffering, loving, living, dying, fulfilling the
highest destinies in the humblest state, in the meekest spirit. So
we begin her history as the ancient artists have placed it before us,
with that mingled _naïveté_ and reverence, that vivid dramatic power,
which only faith, and love, and genius united, could impart.






_Ital._ La Leggenda di Sant' Anna Madre della Gloriosa Vergine Maria,
e di San Gioacchino.

Of the sources whence are derived the popular legends of the life of
the Virgin Mary, which, mixed up with the few notices in Scripture,
formed one continuous narrative, authorized by the priesthood, and
accepted and believed in by the people, I have spoken at length in the
Introduction. We have now to consider more particularly the scenes and
characters associated with her history; to show how the artists of the
Middle Ages, under the guidance and by the authority of the Church,
treated in detail these favourite themes in ecclesiastical decoration.

In early art, that is, up to the end of the fifteenth century, Joachim
and Anna, the parents of the Virgin, never appear except in the series
of subjects from her life. In the devotional groups and altar-pieces,
they are omitted. St. Bernard, the great theological authority of
those times, objects to the invocation of any saints who had lived
before the birth of Christ, consequently to their introduction
into ecclesiastical edifices in any other light than as historical
personages. Hence, perhaps, there were scruples relative to the
representations of St. Anna, which, from the thirteenth to the
fifteenth century, placed the artists under certain restrictions.

Under the name of Anna, the Church has honoured, from remote times,
the memory of the mother of the Virgin. The Hebrew name, signifying
_Grace_, or _the Gracious_, and all the traditions concerning her,
came to us from the East, where she was so early venerated as a
saint, that a church was dedicated to her by the Emperor Justinian,
in 550. Several other churches were subsequently dedicated to her in
Constantinople during the sixth and seventh centuries, and her remains
are said to have been deposited there in 710. In the West, she first
became known in the reign of Charlemagne; and the Greek apocryphal
gospels, or at least stories and extracts from them, began to be
circulated about the same period. From these are derived the historic
scenes and legendary subjects relating to Joachim and Anna which
appear in early art. It was about 1500, in the beginning of the
sixteenth century, that the increasing veneration for the Virgin Mary
gave to her parents, more especially to St. Anna, increased celebrity
as patron saints; and they became, thenceforward, more frequent
characters in the sacred groups. The feast of St. Anna was already
general and popular throughout Europe long before it was rendered
obligatory in 1584.[1] The growing enthusiasm for the doctrine of
the Immaculate Conception gave, of course, additional splendour and
importance to her character. Still, it is only in later times that we
find the effigy of St. Anna separated from that of the Virgin. There
is a curious picture by Cesi (Bologna Gal.), in which St. Anna kneels
before a vision of her daughter before she is born--the Virgin of the
Immaculate Conception. A fine model of a bearded man was now sometimes
converted into a St. Joachim reading or meditating, instead of a
St. Peter or a St. Jerome, as heretofore. In the Munich Gallery are
two fine ancient-looking figures of St. Joachim the father, and St.
Joseph the husband, of the Virgin, standing together; but all these
as separate representations, are very uncommon; and, of those which
exhibit St. Anna devotionally, as enthroned with the Virgin and Child,
I have already spoken. Like St. Elizabeth, she should be an elderly,
but not a _very_ old woman. Joachim, in such pictures, never appears
but as an attendant saint, and then very rarely; always very old, and
sometimes in the dress of a priest, which however, is a mistake on the
part of the artist.

[Footnote 1: In England we have twenty-eight churches dedicated in the
name of St. Anna.]

       *       *       *       *       *

A complete series of the history of the Blessed Virgin, as imaged
forth by the early artists, always begins with the legend of Joachim
and Anna, which is thus related.

"There was a man of Nazareth, whose name was Joachim, and he had for
his wife a woman of Bethlehem, whose name was Anna, and both were of
the royal race of David. Their lives were pure and righteous, and they
served the Lord with singleness of heart. And being rich, they divided
their substance into three portions, one for the service of the
temple, one for the poor and the strangers, and the third for their
household. On a certain feast day, Joachim brought double offerings to
the Lord according to his custom, for he said, 'Out of my superfluity
will I give for the whole people, that I may find favour in the sight
of the Lord, and forgiveness for my sins.' And when the children of
Israel brought their gifts, Joachim also brought his; but the high
priest Issachar stood over against him and opposed him, saying, 'It is
not lawful for thee to bring thine offering, seeing that thou hast not
begot issue in Israel.' And Joachim was exceeding sorrowful, and went
down to his house; and he searched through all the registers of the
twelve tribes to discover if he alone had been childless in Israel.
And he found that all the righteous men, and the patriarchs who had
lived before him, had been the fathers of sons and daughters. And he
called to mind his father Abraham, to whom in his old age had been
granted a son, even Isaac.

"And Joachim was more and more sorrowful; and he would not be seen by
his wife, but avoided her, and went away into the pastures where were
the shepherds and the sheep-cotes. And he built himself a hut, and
fasted forty days and forty nights; for he said 'Until the Lord God
look upon me mercifully, prayer shall be my meat and my drink.'

"But his wife Anna remained lonely in her house, and mourned with a
twofold sorrow, for her widowhood and for her barrenness.

"Then drew near the last day of the feast of the Lord; and Judith
her handmaid said to Anna, 'How long wilt thou thus afflict thy soul?
Behold the feast of the Lord is come, and it is not lawful for thee
thus to mourn. Take this silken fillet, which was bestowed on me by
one of high degree whom I formerly served, and bind it round thy head,
for it is not fit that I who am thy handmaid should wear it, but it is
fitting for thee, whose brow is as the brow of a crowned queen.' And
Anna replied, 'Begone! such things are not for me, for the Lord hath
humbled me. As for this fillet, some wicked person hath given it to
thee; and art thou come to make me a partaker in thy sin?' And Judith
her maid answered, 'What evil shall I wish thee since thou wilt not
hearken to my voice? for worse I cannot wish thee than that with which
the Lord hath afflicted thee, seeing that he hath shut up thy womb,
that thou shouldst not be a mother in Israel.'

"And Anna hearing these words was sorely troubled. And she laid aside
her mourning garments, and she adorned her head, and put on her bridal
attire; and at the ninth hour she went forth into her garden, and
sat down under a laurel tree and prayed earnestly. And looking up to
heaven, she saw within the laurel bush a sparrow's nest; and mourning
within herself she said, 'Alas! and woe is me! who hath begotten me?
who hath brought me forth? that I should be accursed in the sight of
Israel, and scorned and shamed before my people, and cast out of the
temple of the Lord! Woe is me! to what shall I be likened? I cannot be
likened to the fowls of heaven, for the fowls of heaven are fruitful
in thy sight, O Lord! Woe is me! to what shall I be likened? Not to
the unreasoning beasts of the earth, for they are fruitful in thy
sight, O Lord! Woe is me! to what shall I be likened? Not to these
waters, for they are fruitful in thy sight, O Lord! Woe is me! to what
shall I be likened? Not unto the earth, for the earth bringeth forth
her fruit in due season, and praiseth thee, O Lord!'

"And behold an angel of the Lord stood by her and said, 'Anna, thy
prayer is heard, thou shalt bring forth, and thy child shall be
blessed throughout the whole world.' And Anna said, 'As the Lord
liveth, whatever I shall bring forth, be it a man-child or a maid,
I will present it an offering to the Lord.' And behold another angel
came and said to her, 'See, thy husband Joachim is coming with his
shepherds;' for an angel had spoken to him also, and had comforted him
with promises. And Anna went forth to meet her husband, and Joachim
came from the pasture with his herds, and they met at the golden gate;
and Anna ran and embraced her husband, and hung upon his neck, saying,
'Now know I that the Lord hath blessed me. I who was a widow am no
longer a widow; I who was barren shall become a joyful mother.'

"And they returned home together.

"And when her time was come, Anna brought forth a daughter; and she
said, 'This day my soul magnifieth the Lord.' And she laid herself
down in her bed; and she called, the name of her child Mary, which
in the Hebrew is Miriam."

       *       *       *       *       *

With the scenes of this beautiful pastoral begins the life of the

1. We have first Joachim rejected from the temple. He stands on the
steps before the altar holding a lamb; and the high priest opposite
to him, with arm upraised, appears to refuse his offering. Such is
the usual _motif_; but the incident has been variously treated--in
the earlier and ruder examples, with a ludicrous want of dignity; for
Joachim is almost tumbling down the steps of the temple to avoid the
box on the ear which Issachar the priest is in the act of bestowing in
a most energetic fashion. On the other hand, the group by Taddeo Gaddi
(Florence, Baroncelli Chapel, S. Croce), though so early in date,
has not since been excelled either in the grace or the dramatic
significance of the treatment. Joachim turns away, with his lamb
in his arms, repulsed, but gently, by the priest. To the right are
three personages who bring offerings, one of whom, prostrate on his
knees, yet looks up at Joachim with a sneering expression--a fine
representation of the pharisaical piety of one of the elect, rejoicing
in the humiliation of a brother. On the other side are three persons
who appear to be commenting on the scene. In the more elaborate
composition by Ghirlandajo (Florence, S. Maria Novella), there is
a grand view into the interior of the temple, with arches richly
sculptured. Joachim is thrust forth by one of the attendants, while in
the background the high priest accepts the offering of a more favoured
votary. On each side are groups looking on, who express the contempt
and hatred they feel for one, who, not having children, presumes to
approach the altar. All these, according to the custom of Ghirlandajo,
are portraits of distinguished persons. The first figure on the right
represents the painter Baldovinetti; next to him, with his hand on
his side, Ghirlandajo himself; the third, with long black hair,
is Bastiano Mainardi, who painted the Assumption in the Baroncelli
Chapel, in the Santa Croce; and the fourth, turning his back, is David
Ghirlandajo. These real personages are so managed, that, while they
are not themselves actors, they do not interfere with the main action,
but rather embellish and illustrate it, like the chorus in a Greek
tragedy. Every single figure in this fine fresco is a study for manly
character, dignified attitude, and easy grand drapery.

In the same scene by Albert Durer,[1] the high priest, standing behind
a table, rejects the offering of the lamb, and his attendant pushes
away the doves. Joachim makes a gesture of despair, and several
persons who bring offerings look at him with disdain or with sympathy.

[Footnote 1: In the set of wood-cuts of the Life of the Virgin.]

The same scene by Luini (Milan, Brera) is conceived with much pathetic
as well as dramatic effect. But as I have said enough to reader the
subject easily recognized, we proceed.

       *       *       *       *       *

2. "Joachim herding his sheep on the mountain, and surrounded by his
shepherds, receives the message of the angel." This subject may so
nearly resemble the Annunciation to the Shepherds in St. Luke's Gospel,
that we must be careful to distinguish them, as, indeed, the best of
the old painters have done with great taste and feeling.

Is the fresco by Taddeo Gaddi (in the Baroncelli Chapel), Joachim
is seated on a rocky mountain, at the base of which his sheep are
feeding, and turns round to listen to the voice of the angel. In the
fresco by Giotto in the Arena at Padua, the treatment is nearly the
same.[1] In the series by Luini, a stream runs down the centre of
the picture: on one side is Joachim listening to the angel, on the
other, Anna is walking in her garden. This incident is omitted by
Ghirlandajo. In Albert Durer's composition, Joachim is seen in the
foreground kneeling, and looking up at an angel, who holds out in
both hands a sort of parchment roll looking like a diploma with seals
appended, and which we may suppose to contain the message from on
high (if it be not rather the emblem of the _sealed book_, so often
introduced, particularly by the German masters). A companion of
Joachim also looks up with amazement, and farther in the distance are
sheep and shepherds.

[Footnote 1: The subject will be found in the set of wood-cuts
published by the Arundel Society.]

The Annunciation to St. Anna may be easily mistaken for the
Annunciation to the Virgin Mary;--we must therefore be careful to
discriminate, by an attention to the accessories. Didron observes that
in Western art the annunciation to St. Anna usually takes place in a
chamber. In the East it takes place in a garden, because there "_on
vit feu dans les maisons et beaucoup en plein air_;" but, according
to the legend, the locality ought to be a garden, and under a laurel
tree, which is not always attended to.

3. The altercation between St. Anna and her maid Judith I have never
met with but once, in the series by Luini, where the disconsolate
figure and expression of St. Anna are given with infinite grace and
sentiment. (Milan, Brera.)

       *       *       *       *       *

4. "The meeting of Joachim and Anna before the golden gate." This is
one of the most important subjects. It has been treated by the very
early artists with much _naïveté_, and in the later examples with
infinite beauty and sentiment; and, which is curious, it has been
idealized into a devotional subject, and treated apart. The action is
in itself extremely simple. The husband and wife affectionately and
joyfully embrace each other. In the background is seen a gate, richly
ornamented. Groups of spectators and attendants are sometimes, not
always, introduced.

In the composition of Albert Durer nothing can be more homely, hearty,
and conjugal. A burly fat man, who looks on with a sort of wondering
amusement in his face, appears to be a true and animated transcript
from nature, as true as Ghirlandajo's attendant figures--but how
different! what a contrast between the Florentine citizen and the
German burgher! In the simpler composition by Taddeo Gaddi, St. Anna
is attended by three women, among whom the maid Judith is conspicuous,
and behind Joachim is one of his shepherds[1].

[Footnote 1: In two compartments of a small altar-piece (which
probably represented in the centre the Nativity of the Virgin), I
found on one side the story of St. Joachim, on the other the story of
St. Anna.--_Collection of Lord Northwick, No. 513, in his Catalogue_.]

The Franciscans, those enthusiastic defenders of the Immaculate
Conception, were the authors of a fantastic idea, that the birth of
the Virgin was not only _immaculate_, but altogether _miraculous_, and
that she owed her being to the joyful kiss which Joachim gave his wife
when they met at the gate. Of course the Church gave no countenance to
this strange poetical fiction, but it certainly modified some of the
representations; for example, there is a picture by Vittore Carpaccio,
wherein St. Joachim and Anna tenderly embrace. On one side stands
St. Louis of Toulouse as bishop; on the other St. Ursula with her
standard, whose presence turns the incident into a religious mystery.
In another picture, painted by Ridolfo Ghirlandajo, we have a still
more singular and altogether mystical treatment. In the centre St.
Joachim and St. Anna embrace; behind St. Joachim stands St. Joseph
with his lily wand and a book; behind St. Anna, the Virgin Mary (thus
represented as existing before she was born[1]), and beyond her St.
Laurence; in the corner is seen the head of the votary, a Servite
monk; above all, the Padre Eterno holds an open book with the _Alpha_
and _Omega_. This singular picture was dedicated and placed over the
high altar of the Conception in the church of the Servi, who, under
the title of _Serviti di Maria_, were dedicated to the especial
service of the Virgin Mary. (v. Legends of the Monastic Orders.)

[Footnote 1: Prov. viii 22, 23. These texts are applied to the


_Ital._ La Nascità della B. Vergine. _Fr._ La Naissance de la S.
Vierge. _Ger._ Die Geburt Maria.

This is, of course, a very important subject. It is sometimes treated
apart as a separate scene; and a series of pictures dedicated to the
honour of the Virgin, and comprising only a few of the most eventful
scenes in her history, generally begins with her Nativity. The
primitive treatment is Greek, and, though varied in the details and
the sentiment, it has never deviated much from the original _motif_.

St. Anna reclines on a couch covered with drapery, and a pillow under
her head; two handmaids sustain her; a third fans her, or presents
refreshments; more in front a group of women are busied about the
new-born child. It has been the custom, I know not on what authority,
to introduce neighbours and friends, who come to congratulate the
parents. The whole scene thus treated is sure to come home to the
bosom of the observer. The most important event in the life of a
woman, her most common and yet most awful experience, is here so
treated as to be at once ennobled by its significance and endeared
by its thoroughly domestic character.

I will give some examples. 1. The first is by an unknown master of the
Greco-Italian school, and referred by d'Agincourt to the thirteenth
century, but it is evidently later, and quite in the style of the

2. There is both dignity and simplicity in the fresco by Taddeo
Gaddi. (Florence, Baroncelli Chapel.) St. Anna is sitting up in bed;
an attendant pours water over her hands. In front, two women are
affectionately occupied with the child a lovely infant with a glory
round its head. Three other attendants are at the foot of the bed.

3. We have next in date, the elegant composition by Ghirlandajo. As
Joachim and Anna were "exceedingly rich," he has surrounded them with
all the luxuries of life. The scene is a chamber richly decorated; a
frieze of angelic boys ornaments the alcove; St. Anna lies on a couch.
Vasari says "certain women are ministering to her." but in Lasinio's
engraving they are not to be found. In front a female attendant pours
water into a vase; two others seated hold the infant. A noble lady,
habited in the elegant Florentine costume of the fifteenth century,
enters with four others--all portraits, and, as is usual with
Ghirlandajo, looking on without taking any part in the action. The
lady in front is traditionally said to be Ginevra Benci, celebrated
for her beauty.

4. The composition by Albert Durer[1] gives us an exact transcript
of antique German life, quite wonderful for the homely truth of the
delineation, but equally without the simplicity of a scriptural or
the dignity of an historical scene. In an old-fashioned German chamber
lies St. Anna in an old-fashioned canopied bedstead. Two women bring
her a soup and something to drink, while the midwife, tired with her
exertions, leans her head on the bedside and has sank to sleep. A
crowd of women fill up the foreground, one of whom attends to the
new-born child: others, who appear to have watched through the night,
as we may suppose from the nearly extinguished candles, are intent on
good cheer; they congratulate each other; they eat, drink, and repose
themselves. It would be merely a scene of German _commérage_, full
of nature and reality, if an angel hovering above, and swinging a
censer, did not remind us of the sacred importance of the incident

[Footnote 1: In the set of wood-cuts of the "Life of the Virgin

5. In the strongest possible contrast to the homely but animated
conception of Albert Durer, is the grand fresco by Andrea del Sarto,
in the church of the Nunziata at Florence. The incidents are nearly
the same: we have St. Anna reclining in her bed and attended by her
women; the nurses waiting on the lovely new-born child; the visitors
who enter to congratulate; but all, down to the handmaidens who bring
refreshments, are noble and dignified, and draped in that magnificent
taste which distinguished Andrea, Angels scatter flowers from above
and, which is very uncommon, Joachim is seen, after the anxious night
reposing on a couch. Nothing in fresco can exceed the harmony and
brilliancy of the colouring, and the softness of the execution. It
appeared to me a masterpiece as a picture. Like Ghirlandajo, Andrea
has introduced portraits; and in the Florentine lady who stands in the
foreground we recognize the features of his worthless wife Lucrezia,
the original model of so many of his female figures that the ignoble
beauty of her face has become quite familiar.


_Ital._ La Presentazione, ove nostra Signora piccioletta sale i gradi
del Tempio. _Ger._ Joachim und Anna weihen ihre Tochter Maria im
Tempel. Die Vorstellung der Jungfrau im Tempel. Nov. 21.

In the interval between the birth of Mary and her consecration in the
temple, there is no incident which I can remember as being important
or popular as a subject of art.

It is recorded with what tenderness her mother Anna watched over
her, "how she made of her bedchamber a holy place, allowing nothing
that was common or unclean to enter in;" and called to her "certain
daughters of Israel, pure and gentle," whom she appointed to attend
on her. In some of the early miniature illustrations of the Offices of
the Virgin, St. Anna thus ministers to her child; for instance, in a
beautiful Greek MS. in the Vatican, she is tenderly putting her into
a little bed or cradle and covering her up. (It is engraved in

It is not said anywhere that St. Anna instructed her daughter. It has
even been regarded as unorthodox to suppose that the Virgin, enriched
from her birth, and before her birth, with all the gifts of the Holy
Spirit, required instruction from any one. Nevertheless, the subject
of the "Education of the Virgin" has been often represented in later
times. There is a beautiful example by Murillo; while Anna teaches her
child to read, angels hover over them with wreaths of roses. (Madrid
Gal.) Another by Rubens, in which, as it is said, he represented his
young wife, Helena Forman. (Musée, Antwerp.) There is also a picture
in which St. Anna ministers to her daughter, and is intent on braiding
and adorning her long golden hair, while the angels look on with
devout admiration. (Vienna, Lichtenstein Gal.) In all these examples
Mary is represented as a girl of ten or twelve years old. Now, as the
legend expressly relates that she was three years old when she became
an inmate of the temple, such representations must be considered as

       *       *       *       *       *

The narrative thus proceeds:--

"And when the child was _three years old_, Joachim said, 'Let us
invite the daughters of Israel, and they shall take each a taper or
a lamp, and attend on her, that the child may not turn back from the
temple of the Lord.' And being come to the temple, they placed her on
the first step, and she ascended alone all the steps to the altar:
and the high priest received her there, kissed her, and blessed her,
saying, 'Mary, the Lord hath magnified thy name to all generations,
and in thee shall be made known the redemption of the children of
Israel.' And being placed before the altar, she danced with her feet,
so that all the house of Israel rejoiced with her, and loved her. Then
her parents returned home, blessing God because the maiden had not
turned back from the temple."

       *       *       *       *       *

Such is the incident, which, in artistic representation, is sometimes
styled the "Dedication," but more generally "THE PRESENTATION OF THE

It is a subject of great importance, not only as a principal incident
in a series of the Life of the Virgin, but because this consecration
of Mary to the service of the temple being taken in a general sense,
it has often been given in a separate form, particularly for the
nunneries. Hence it has happened that we find "The Presentation of the
Virgin" among some of the most precious examples of ancient and modern

The _motif_ does not vary. The child Mary, sometimes in a blue, but
oftener in a white vesture, with long golden hair, ascends the steps
which lead to the porch of the temple, which steps are always fifteen
in number. She ought to be an infant of three years of age; but in
many pictures she is represented older, veiled, and with a taper in
her hand instead of a lamp, like a young nun; but this is a fault. The
"fifteen steps" rest on a passage in Josephus, who says, "between the
wall which separated the men from the women, and the great porch of
the temple, were fifteen steps;" and these are the steps which Mary
is supposed to ascend.

1. It is sometimes treated with great simplicity; for instance, in
the bas-relief by Andrea Orcagna, there are only three principal
figures--the Virgin in the centre (too old, however), and Joachim and
Anna stand on each side. (Florence, Or San Michele.)

2. In the fresco by Taddeo Gaddi we have the same artless grace, the
same dramatic grouping, and the same faults of drawing and perspective
as in the other compartments of the series. (Florence, Baroncelli

3. The scene is represented by Ghirlandajo with his usual luxury of
accessories and accompaniments. (Florence, S. Maria Novella.) The
locality is the court of the temple; on the right a magnificent porch;
the Virgin, a young girl of about nine or ten years old, is seen
ascending the steps with a book in her hand; the priest stretches out
his arms to receive her; behind him is another priest; and "the young
virgins who were to be her companions" are advancing joyously to
receive her. (Adducentur Regi Virgines post eam. Ps. xlv.) At the
foot of the steps are St. Anna and St. Joachim, and farther off a
group of women and spectators, who watch the event in attitudes of
thanksgiving and joyful sympathy. Two venerable, grand-looking Jews,
and two beautiful boys fill the foreground; and the figure of the
pilgrim resting on the steps is memorable in art as one of the
earliest examples of an undraped figure, accurately and gracefully
drawn. The whole composition is full of life and character, and that
sort of _elegance_ peculiar to Ghirlandajo.

4. In the composition of Albert Durer we see the entrance of the
temple on the left, and the child Mary with flowing hair ascending the
steps; behind her stand her parents and other personages, and in front
are venders of provisions, doves, &c., which are brought as offerings.

5. The scene, as given by Carpaccio, appears to me exceedingly
graceful. The perfectly childish figure of Mary with her light
flowing tresses, the grace with which she kneels on the steps, and the
disposition of the attendant figures, are all beautifully conceived.
Conspicuous in front is a page holding a unicorn, the ancient emblem
of chastity, and often introduced significantly into pictures of the
Virgin. (Venice Academy.)

6. But the most celebrated example is the Presentation by Titian,
in the academy at Venice, originally painted for the church of the
brotherhood of charity (_Scuola della Carità_), and still to be seen
there--the Carità being now the academy of art.

In the general arrangement, Titian seems to have been indebted to
Carpaccio; but all that is simple and poetical in the latter becomes
in Titian's version sumptuous and dramatic. Here Mary does not
kneel, but, holding up her light-blue drapery, ascends the steps with
childish grace and alacrity. The number of portrait-heads adds to the
value and interest of the picture. Titian himself is looking up, and
near him stands his friend, Andrea de' Franceschi, grand-chancellor
of Venice,[1] robed as a _Cavaliero di San Marco_. In the fine
bearded head of the priest, who stands behind the high-priest, we may
recognize, I think, the likeness of Cardinal Bembo. In the foreground,
instead of the poetical symbol of the unicorn, we have an old woman
selling eggs and fowls, as in Albert Durer's print, which must have
been well known to Titian. Albert Durer published his Life of the
Virgin in 1520, and Titian painted his picture about 1550. (Venice

[Footnote 1: "_Amorevolissime del Pittare_," says Ridolfi. It is the
same person whom Titian introduced, with himself, in the picture at
Windsor; there, by a truly unpardonable mistake, called "Titian and

       *       *       *       *       *

From the life of the Virgin in the temple, we have several beautiful
pictures. As she was to be placed before women as an example of every
virtue, so she was skilled in all feminine accomplishments; she was
as studious, as learned, as wise, as she was industrious, chaste, and

She is seen surrounded by her young companions, the maidens who were
brought up in the temple with her, in a picture by Agnolo Gaddi.
(Florence, Carmine.) She is instructing her companions, in a charming
picture by Luini: here she appears as a girl of seven or eight years
old, seated on a sort of throne, dressed in a simple light-blue tunic,
with long golden hair; while the children around her look up and
listen with devout faces. (Milan, Brera.)

       *       *       *       *       *

Some other scenes of her early life, which, in the Protevangelion, are
placed after her marriage with Joseph, in pictures usually precede it.
Thus, she is chosen by lot to spin the fine purple for the temple,
to weave and embroider it. Didron mentions a fine antique tapestry at
Rheims, in which Mary is seated at her embroidery, while two unicorns
crouching on each side look up in her face.

       *       *       *       *       *

I remember a fine drawing, in which the Virgin is seated at a large
tapestry frame. Behind her are two maidens, one of whom is reading;
the other, holding a distaff, lays her hand on the shoulder of the
Virgin, as if about to speak. The scene represents the interior of the
temple with rich architecture. (Vienna, Col. of Archduke Charles.)

In a small but very pretty picture by Guido, the Virgin, as a young
girl, sits embroidering a _yellow_ robe. (Lord Ellesmere's Gal.) She
is attended by four angels, one of whom draws aside a curtain It is
also related that among the companions of Mary in the temple was
Anna the prophetess; and that this aged and holy woman, knowing by
inspiration of the Holy Spirit the peculiar grace vouchsafed to Mary,
and her high destiny, beheld her with equal love and veneration;
and, notwithstanding the disparity of age, they become true and dear

In an old illumination, the Virgin is seated spinning, with an angel
by her side. (Office of the Virgin, 1408. Oxford, Bodleian.)

       *       *       *       *       *

It is recorded that the angels daily ministered to her, and fed her
with celestial food. Hence in some early specimens of art an angel
brings her a loaf of bread and a pitcher of water,--the _bread of
life_ and the _water of life_ from Paradise. In this subject, as we
find it carved on the stalls of the cathedral of Amiens, Mary holds a
book, and several books are ranged on a shelf in the background: there
is, besides, a clock, such as was in use in the fifteenth century, to
indicate the studious and regular life led by Mary in the temple.

       *       *       *       *       *

St. Evode, patriarch of Antioch, and St. Germanus, assert as
an indubitable tradition of the Greek Church, that Mary had the
privilege--never granted to one of her sex before or since--of
entering the Holy of Holies, and praying before the ark of the
covenant. Hence, in some of the scenes from her early life, the ark is
placed in the background. We must also bear in mind that the ark was
one of the received types of her who bore the Logos within her bosom.

       *       *       *       *       *

In her fourteenth year, Mary was informed by the high priest that it
was proper that she should be married; but she modestly replied that
her parents had dedicated her to the service of the Lord, and that,
therefore, she could not comply. But the high-priest, who had received
a revelation from an angel concerning the destiny of Mary, informed
her thereof, and she with all humility submitted herself to the divine
will. This scene between Mary and the high-priest has been painted by
Luini, and it is the only example with which I am acquainted.

Pictures of the Virgin in her girlhood, reading intently the Book of
Wisdom, while angels watch over her, are often of great beauty.


_Ital._ Il Sposalizio. _Fr._ Le Mariage de la Vierge. _Ger._ Die
Trauung Mariä. Jan. 23.

This, as an artistic subject, is of great consequence, from the beauty
and celebrity of some of the representations, which, however, are
unintelligible without the accompanying legends. And it is worth
remarking, that while the incident is avoided in early Greek art,
it became very popular with the Italian and German painters from the
fourteenth century.

In the East, the prevalence of the monastic spirit, from the fourth
century, had brought marriage into disrepute; by many of the ascetic
writers of the West it was considered almost in the light of a
necessary evil. This idea, that the primal and most sacred ordinance
of God and nature was incompatible with the sanctity and purity
acceptable to God, was the origin of the singular legends of the
Marriage of the Virgin. One sees very clearly that, if possible, it
would have been denied that Mary had ever been married at all; but,
as the testimony of the Gospel was too direct and absolute to be
set aside, it became necessary, in the narrative, to give to this
distasteful marriage the most recondite motives, and in art, to
surround it with the most poetical and even miraculous accessories.

But before we enter on the treatment of the subject, it is necessary
to say a few words on the character of Joseph, wonderfully selected to
be the husband and guardian of the consecrated mother of Christ, and
foster-father of the Redeemer; and so often introduced into all the
pictures which refer to the childhood of our Lord.

From the Gospels we learn nothing of him but that he was of the tribe
of Judah and the lineage of David; that he was a _just_ man; that he
followed the trade of a carpenter, and dwelt in the little city of
Nazareth. We infer from his conduct towards Mary, that he was a mild,
and tender, and pure-hearted, as well as an upright man. Of his age
and personal appearance nothing is said. These are the points on which
the Church has not decided, and on which artists, left to their own
devices, and led by various opinions, have differed considerably.

The very early painters deemed it right to represent Joseph as very
old, almost decrepit with age, and supported by a crutch. According
to some of the monkish authorities, he was a widower, and eighty-four
years old when he was espoused to Mary. On the other hand, it was
argued, that such a marriage would have been quite contrary to the
custom of the Jews; and that to defend Mary, and to provide for her
celestial Offspring, it was necessary that her husband should be a
man of mature age, but still strong and robust, and able to work
at his trade; and thus, with more propriety and better taste, the
later painters have represented him. In the best Italian and Spanish
pictures of the Holy Family, he is a man of about forty or fifty,
with a mild, benevolent countenance, brown hair, and a short, curled
beard: the crutch, or stick, however, is seldom omitted; it became a
conventional attribute.

In the German pictures, Joseph is not only old, but appears almost in
a state of dotage, like a lean, wrinkled mendicant, with a bald head,
a white beard, a feeble frame, and a sleepy or stupid countenance.
Then, again, the later Italian painters have erred as much on the
other side; for I have seen pictures in which St. Joseph is not only a
young man not more than thirty, but bears a strong resemblance to the
received heads of our Saviour.

It is in the sixteenth century that we first find Joseph advanced to
the dignity of a saint in his own right; and in the seventeenth he
became very popular, especially in Spain, where St. Theresa had chosen
him for her patron saint, and had placed her powerful order of the
reformed Carmelites under his protection. Hence the number of pictures
of that time, which represent Joseph, as the foster-father of Christ,
carrying the Infant on his arm and caressing him, while in the other
hand he bears a lily, to express the sanctity and purity of his
relations with the Virgin.

       *       *       *       *       *

The legend of "the Marriage of Joseph and Mary" is thus given in the
Protevangelion and the History of Joseph the Carpenter:--

    "When Mary was fourteen years old, the priest Zacharias (or
    Abiathar, as he is elsewhere called) inquired of the Lord
    concerning her, what was right to be done; and an angel came
    to him and said, 'Go forth, and call together all the widowers
    among the people, and let each bring his rod (or wand) in his
    hand, and he to whom the Lord shall show a sign, let him be
    the husband of Mary. And Zacharias did as the angel commanded,
    and made proclamation accordingly. And Joseph the carpenter, a
    righteous man, throwing down his axe, and taking his staff in
    his hand, ran out with the rest. When he appeared before the
    priest, and presented his rod, lo! a dove issued out of it--a
    dove dazzling white as the snow,--and after settling on his
    head, flew towards heaven. Then the high priest said to him,
    'Thou art the person chosen to take the Virgin of the Lord,
    and to keep her for him.' And Joseph was at first afraid, and
    drew back, but afterwards he took her home to his house, and
    said to her, 'Behold, I have taken thee from the temple of
    the Lord, and now I will leave thee in my house, for I must
    go and follow my trade of building. I will return to thee,
    and meanwhile the Lord be with thee and watch over thee.' So
    Joseph left her, and Mary remained in her house."

There is nothing said of any marriage ceremony, some have even
affirmed that Mary was only betrothed to Joseph, but for conclusive
reasons it remains an article of faith that she was married to him.

I must mention here an old tradition cited by St. Jerome, and which
has been used as a text by the painters. The various suitors who
aspired to the honour of marrying the consecrated "Virgin of the
Lord," among whom was the son of the high-priest, deposited their
wands in the temple over night,[1] and next morning the rod of Joseph
was found, like the rod of Aaron, to have budded forth into leaves
and flowers. The other suitors thereupon broke their wands in rage and
despair; and one among them, a youth of noble lineage, whose name was
Agabus, fled to Mount Carmel, and became an anchorite, that is to say,
a Carmelite friar.

[Footnote 1: The suitors kneeling with their wands before the altar in
the Temple, is one of the series by Giotto in the Arena at Padua.]

According to the Abbé Orsini, who gives a long description of the
espousals of Mary and Joseph, they returned after the marriage
ceremony to Nazareth, and dwelt in the house of St. Anna.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, with regard to the representations, we find that many of the
early painters, and particularly the Italians, have carefully attended
to the fact, that, among the Jews, marriage was a civil contract,
not a religious rite. The ceremony takes place in the open air, in a
garden, or in a landscape, or in front of the temple. Mary, as a meek
and beautiful maiden of about fifteen, attended by a train of virgins,
stands on the right; Joseph, behind whom are seen the disappointed
suitors, is on the left. The priest joins their hands, or Joseph is
in the act of placing the ring on the finger of the bride. This is the
traditional arrangement from Giotto down to Raphael. In the series by
Giotto, in the Arena at Padua, we have three scenes from the marriage
legend. 1. St. Joseph and the other suitors present their wands to the
high-priest. 2. They kneel before the altar, on which their wands are
deposited, waiting for the promised miracle. 3. The marriage ceremony.
It takes place before an altar, in the _interior_ of the temple. The
Virgin, a most graceful figure, but rather too old, stands attended
by her maidens; St. Joseph holds his wand with the flower and the holy
Dove resting on it: one of the disappointed suitors is about to strike
him; another breaks his wand against his knee. Taddeo Gaddi, Angelico,
Ghirlandajo, Perugino, all followed this traditional conception of the
subject, except that they omit the altar, and place the locality in
the open air, or under a portico. Among the relics venerated in the
Cathedral of Perugia, is the nuptial ring of the blessed Virgin; and
for the altar of the sacrament there, Perugino painted the appropriate
subject of the Marriage of the Virgin.[1] Here the ceremony takes
place under the portico of the temple, and Joseph of course puts the
ring on her finger. It is a beautiful composition, which has been
imitated more or less by the painters of the Perugino school, and
often repeated in the general arrangement.

[Footnote 1: It was carried off from the church by the French, sold in
France, and is now to be seen in the Musée at Caen.]

But in this subject, Raphael, while yet a youth, excelled his
master and all who had gone before him. Every one knows the famous
"SPOSALIZIO of the Brera."[1] It was painted by Raphael in his
twenty-first year, for the church of S. Francesco, in Città di
Castello; and though he has closely followed the conception of
his master, it is modified by that ethereal grace which even then
distinguished him. Here Mary and Joseph stand in front of the temple,
the high-priest joins their hands, and Joseph places the ring on the
finger of the bride; he is a man of about thirty, and holds his wand,
which has blossomed into a lily, but there is no Dove upon it. Behind
Mary is a group of the virgins of the temple; behind Joseph the group
of disappointed suitors; one of whom, in the act of breaking his wand
against his knee, a singularly graceful figure, seen more in front
and richly dressed, is perhaps the despairing youth mentioned in the
legend.[2] With something of the formality of the elder schools, the
figures are noble and dignified; the countenances of the principal
personages have a characteristic refinement and beauty, and a
soft, tender, enthusiastic melancholy, which lends a peculiar and
appropriate charm to the subject. In fact, the whole scene is here
idealized; It is like a lyric poem, (Kugler's Handbook, 2d edit.)

[Footnote 1: At Milan. The fine engraving by Longhi is well known.]

[Footnote 2: In the series by Giotto at Padua, we have the youth
breaking his wand across his knee.]

In Ghirlandajo's composition (Florence, S. Maria Novella), Joseph
is an old man with a bald head; the architecture is splendid; the
accessory figures, as is usual with Ghirlandajo, are numerous and
full of grace. In the background are musicians playing on the pipe
and tabor, an incident which I do not recollect to have seen in other

The Sposalizio by Girolamo da Cotignola (Bologna Gal.), painted for
the church of St. Joseph, is treated quite in a mystical style. Mary
and Joseph stand before an altar, on the steps of which are seated, on
one side a prophet, on the other a sibyl.

       *       *       *       *       *

By the German painters the scene is represented with a characteristic
homely neglect of all historic propriety. The temple is a Gothic
church; the altar has a Gothic altar-piece; Joseph looks like an old
burgher arrayed in furs and an embroidered gown; and the Virgin is
richly dressed in the costume of the fifteenth century. The suitors
are often knights and cavaliers with spurs and tight hose.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is not said anywhere that St. Anna and St. Joachim were present at
the marriage of their daughter; hence they are supposed to have been
dead before it took place. This has not prevented some of the old
German artists from introducing them, because, according to their
ideas of domestic propriety, they _ought_ to have been present.

       *       *       *       *       *

I observe that the later painters who treated the subject, Rubens and
Poussin for instance, omit the disappointed suitors.

       *       *       *       *       *

After the marriage, or betrothal, Joseph conducts his wife to his
house. The group of the returning procession has been beautifully
treated in Giotto's series at Padua;[1] still more beautifully by
Luigi in the fragment of fresco now in the Brera at Milan. Here Joseph
and Mary walk together hand in hand. He looks at her, just touching
her fingers with an air of tender veneration; she looks down, serenely
modest. Thus they return together to their humble home; and with this
scene closes the first part of the life of the Virgin Mary.

[Footnote 1: Cappella dell' Arena, engraved for the Arundel Society.]






_Ital._ L' Annunciazione. La B. Vergine Annunziata. _Fr._
L'Annonciation. La Salutation Angélique. _Ger._ Die Verkündi gung. Der
Englische Gruss. March 25.

The second part of the life of the Virgin Mary begins with the
Annunciation and ends with the Crucifixion, comprising all those
scriptural incidents which connect her history with that of her divine

But to the scenes narrated in the Gospels the painters did not confine
themselves. Not only were the simple scripture histories coloured
throughout by the predominant and enthusiastic veneration paid to the
Virgin--till the life of Christ was absolutely merged in that of His
mother, and its various incidents became "the seven joys and the seven
sorrows of Mary,"--but we find the artistic representations of her
life curiously embroidered and variegated by the introduction of
traditional and apocryphal circumstances, in most cases sanctioned
by the Church authorities of the time. However doubtful or repulsive
some of these scenes and incidents, we cannot call them absolutely
unmeaning or absurd; on the contrary, what was _supposed_ grew up very
naturally, in the vivid and excited imaginations of the people, out of
what was _recorded_; nor did they distinguish accurately between what
they were allowed and what they were commanded to believe. Neither can
it be denied that the traditional incidents--those at least which we
find artistically treated--are often singularly beautiful, poetical,
and instructive. In the hands of the great religions artists, who
worked in their vocation with faith and simplicity, objects and scenes
the most familiar and commonplace became sanctified and glorified by
association with what we deem most holy and most venerable. In the
hands of the later painters the result was just the reverse--what
was most spiritual, most hallowed, most elevated, became secularized,
materialized, and shockingly degraded.

No subject has been more profoundly felt and more beautifully handled
by the old painters, nor more vilely mishandled by the moderns, than
the ANNUNCIATION, of all the scenes in the life of Mary the most
important and the most commonly met with. Considered merely as an
artistic subject, it is surely eminently beautiful: it places before
us the two most graceful forms which the hand of man was ever called
on to delineate;--the winged spirit fresh from paradise; the woman
not less pure, and even more highly blessed--the chosen vessel of
redemption, and the personification of all female loveliness, all
female excellence, all wisdom, and all purity.

       *       *       *       *       *

We find the Annunciation, like many other scriptural incidents,
treated in two ways--as a mystery, and as an event. Taken in the
former sense, it became the expressive symbol of a momentous article
of faith, _The Incarnation of the Deity_. Taken in the latter sense,
it represented the announcement of salvation to mankind, through the
direct interposition of miraculous power. In one sense or the other,
it enters into every scheme of ecclesiastical decoration; but
chiefly it is set before us as a great and awful mystery, of which
the two figures of Gabriel, the angel-messenger, and Mary the
"highly-favoured," placed in relation to each other, became the
universally accepted symbol, rather than the representation.


Considering the importance given to the Annunciation in its mystical
sense, it is strange that we do not find it among the very ancient
symbolical subjects adopted in the first ages of Christian art. It
does not appear on the sarcophagi, nor in the early Greek carvings and
diptychs, nor in the early mosaics--except once, and then as a part of
the history of Christ, not as a symbol; nor can we trace the mystical
treatment of this subject higher than the eleventh century, when
it first appears in the Gothic sculpture and stained glass. In the
thirteenth, and thenceforward, the Annunciation appears before
us, as the expression in form of a theological dogma, everywhere
conspicuous. It became a primal element in every combination of sacred
representations; the corner-stone, as it were, of every architectural
system of religious decoration. It formed a part of every altar-piece,
either in sculpture or painting. Sometimes the Virgin stands on
one side of the altar, the angel on the other, carved in marble or
alabaster, or of wood richly painted and gilt; or even, as I have
seen in some instances, of solid silver. Not seldom, we find the two
figures placed in niches against the pillars, or on pedestals at the
entrance of the choir. It was not necessary, when thus symbolically
treated, to place the two figures in proximity to signify their
relation to each other; they are often divided by the whole breadth
of the chancel.

Whatever the subject of the altar-piece--whether the Nativity, or the
Enthroned Madonna, or the Coronation, or the Crucifixion, or the
Last Supper,--the Annunciation almost invariably formed part of the
decoration, inserted either into the spandrels of the arches above, or
in the predella below; or, which is very common, painted or carved on
the doors of a tabernacle or triptychon.

If the figures are full-length, a certain symmetry being required,
they are either both standing or both kneeling; it is only in later
times that the Virgin sits, and the angel kneels. When disposed in
circles or semicircles, they are often merely busts, or half-length
figures, separated perhaps by a framework of tracery, or set on each
side of the principal subject, whatever that may be. Hence it is
that we so often find in galleries and collections, pictures of the
Annunciation in two separate parts, the angel in one frame, the
Virgin in another; and perhaps the two pictures, thus disunited,
may have found their way into different countries and different
collections,--the Virgin being in Italy and the angel in England.

Sometimes the Annunciation--still as a mystical subject--forms an
altar-piece of itself. In many Roman Catholic churches there is
a chapel or an altar dedicated expressly to the mystery of the
Annunciation, the subject forming of course the principal decoration.
At Florence there is a church--one of the most splendid and
interesting of its many beautiful edifices--dedicated to the
Annunciation, or rather to the Virgin in her especial character and
dignity, as the Instrument of the Incarnation, and thence styled
the church _della Santissima Nunziata_. The fine mosaic of the
Annunciation by Ghirlandajo is placed over the principal entrance. Of
this church, and of the order of the Servi, to whom it belongs, I have
already spoken at length. Here, in the first chapel on the left, as
we enter, is to be found the miraculous picture of the Annunciation,
formerly held in such veneration, not merely by all Florence, but
all Christendom:--found, but not seen--for it is still concealed from
profane eyes, and exhibited to the devout only on great occasions. The
name of the painter is disputed; but, according to tradition, it is
the work of a certain Bartolomeo; who, while he sat meditating on the
various excellences and perfections of our Lady, and most especially
on her divine beauty, and thinking, with humility, how inadequate were
his own powers to represent her worthily, fell asleep; and on awaking,
found the head of the Virgin had been wondrously completed, either by
the hand of an angel, or by that of St. Luke, who had descended from
heaven on purpose. Though this curious relic has been frequently
restored, no one has presumed to touch the features of the Virgin,
which are, I am told--for I have never been blessed with a sight
of the original picture--marvellously sweet and beautiful. It is
concealed by a veil, on which is painted a fine head of the Redeemer,
by Andrea del Sarto; and forty-two lamps of silver burn continually
round it. There is a copy in the Pitti Palace, by Carlo Dolce.

It is evident that the Annunciation, as a mystery, admits of a style
of treatment which would not be allowable in the representation of
an event. In the former case, the artist is emancipated from all
considerations of locality or circumstance. Whether the background
be of gold, or of blue, or star-bespangled sky,--a mere curtain, or a
temple of gorgeous architecture; whether the accessories be the most
simple or the most elaborate, the most real or the most ideal; all
this is of little moment, and might be left to the imagination of the
artist, or might be modified according to the conditions imposed by
the purpose of the representation and the material employed, so long
as the chief object is fulfilled--the significant expression of an
abstract dogma, appealing to the faith, not to the senses or the
understanding, of the observer.

To this class, then, belong all those church images and pictures of
the Annunciation, either confined to the two personages, with just
sufficient of attitude and expression to place them in relation to
each other, or with such accompaniments as served to carry out the
mystical idea, still keeping it as far as possible removed from the
region of earthly possibilities. In the fifteenth century--that age of
mysticism--we find the Annunciation, not merely treated as an abstract
religious emblem, but as a sort of divine allegory or poem, which
in old French and Flemish art is clothed in the quaintest, the most
curious forms. I recollect going into a church at Breslau, and
finding over one of the altars a most elaborate carving in wood of
the Annunciation. Mary is seated within a Gothic porch of open tracery
work; a unicorn takes refuge in her bosom: outside, a kneeling angel
winds a hunting horn; three or four dogs are crouching near him. I
looked and wondered. At first I could make nothing of this singular
allegory; but afterwards found the explanation, in a learned French
work on the "Stalles d'Amiens." I give the original passage, for it
will assist the reader to the comprehension of many curious works of
art; but I do not venture to translate it.

"On sait qu'an XVI siècle, le mystère de l'Incarnation étoit souvent
représenté par une allegorie ainsi conçue: Une licorne se réfugiant
au sein d'une vierge pure, quatre lévriers la pressant d'une course
rapide, un veneur ailé sonnant de la trompette. La science de la
zoologie mystique du temps aide à en trouver l'explication; le
fabuleux animal dont l'unique corne ne blessait que pour purger de
tout venin l'endroit du corps qu'elle avoit touché, figuroit Jésus
Christ, médecin et sauveur des âmes; on donnait aux lévriers agiles
les noms de Misericordia, Veritas, Justitia, Pax, les quatre raisons
qui ont pressé le Verbe éternel de sortir de son repos mais comme
c'étoit par la Vierge Marie qu'il avoit voulu descendre parmi les
hommes et se mettre en leur puissance, on croyoit ne pouvoir mieux
faire que de choisir dans la fable, le fait d'une pucelle pouvant
seule servir de piége à la licorne, en l'attirant par le charme
et le parfum de son sein virginal qu'elle lui présentoit; enfin
l'ange Gabriel concourant au mystère étoit bien reconnoissable sous
les traits du venenr ailé lançant les lévriers et embouchant la

       *       *       *       *       *

It appears that this was an accepted religious allegory, as familiar
in the sixteenth century as those of Spenser's "Fairy Queen" or the
"Pilgrim's Progress" are to us. I have since found it frequently
reproduced in the old French and German prints: there is a specimen
in the British Museum; and there is a picture similarly treated in the
Musée at Amiens. I have never seen it in an Italian picture or print;
unless a print after Guido, wherein a beautiful maiden is seated under
a tree, and a unicorn has sought refuge in her lap, be intended to
convey the same far-fetched allegory.

Very common, however, in Italian art, is a less fantastic, but still
wholly poetical version of the Annunciation, representing, in fact,
not the Annunciation, but the Incarnation. Thus, in a picture by
Giovanni Sanzio (the father of Raphael) (Brera, Milan), Mary stands
under a splendid portico; she appears as if just risen from her seat
her hands are meekly folded over her bosom; her head declined. The
angel kneels outside the portico, holding forth his lily; while above,
in the heavens, the Padre Eterno sends forth the Redeemer, who, in
form of the infant Christ bearing his cross, floats downwards towards
the earth, preceded by the mystic Dove. This manner of representing
the Incarnation is strongly disapproved of by the Abbé Méry (v.
Théologie des Peintres), as not only an error, but a heresy: yet it
was frequently repeated in the sixteenth century.

The Annunciation is also a mystery when certain emblems are introduced
conveying a certain signification; as when Mary is seated on a throne,
wearing a radiant crown of mingled gems and flowers, and receives the
message of the angel with all the majesty that could be expressed by
the painter; or is seated, in a garden enclosed by a hedge of roses
(the _Hortus clausus_ or _conclusus_ of the Canticles); or where the
angel holds in his hands the sealed book, as in the famous altar-piece
at Cologne.

In a picture by Simone Memmi, the Virgin seated on a Gothic throne
receives, as the higher and superior being, yet with a shrinking
timidity, the salutation of the angel, who comes as the messenger
of peace, olive-crowned, and bearing a branch of olive in his hand.
(Florence Gal.) This poetical version is very characteristic of the
early Siena school, in which we often find a certain fanciful and
original way of treating well known subjects. Taddeo Bartoli, another
Sienese, and Martin Schoen, the most poetical of the early Germans,
also adopted the olive-symbol; and we find it also in the tabernacle
of King Réné, already described.

The treatment is clearly devotional and ideal where attendant
saints and votaries stand or kneel around, contemplating with devout
gratitude or ecstatic wonder the divine mystery. Thus, in a remarkable
and most beautiful picture by Fra Bartolomeo, the Virgin is seated on
her throne; the angel descends from on high bearing his lily: around
the throne attend St. John the Baptist and St. Francis, St. Jerome,
St. Paul, and St. Margaret. (Bologna Gal.) Again, in a very beautiful
picture by Francia, Mary stands in the midst of an open landscape; her
hands, folded over each other, press to her bosom a book closed and
clasped: St. Jerome stands on the right, John the Baptist on the left;
both look up with a devout expression to the angel descending from
above. In both these examples Mary is very nobly and expressively
represented as the chosen and predestined vehicle of human redemption.
It is not here the Annunciation, but the "_Sacratissima Annunziata_"
we see before us. In a curious picture by Francesco da Cotignola,
Mary stands on a sculptured pedestal, in the midst of an architectural
decoration of many-coloured marbles, most elaborately painted: through
an opening is seen a distant landscape, and the blue sky; on her
right stands St. John the Baptist, pointing upwards; on her left St.
Francis, adoring; the votary kneels in front. (Berlin Gal.) Votive
pictures of the Annunciation were frequently expressive offerings from
those who desired, or those who had received, the blessing of an heir;
and this I take to be an instance.

In the following example, the picture is votive in another sense,
and altogether poetical. The Virgin Mary receives the message of the
angel, as usual; but before her, at a little distance, kneels the
Cardinal Torrecremata, who presents three young girls, also kneeling,
to one of whom the Virgin gives a purse of money. This curious and
beautiful picture becomes intelligible, when we find that it was
painted for a charitable community, instituted by Torrecremata,
for educating and endowing poor orphan girls, and styled the
"_Confraternità dell' Annunziatà_."[1]

[Footnote 1: Benozzo Gozzoli, in S. Maria sopra Minerva, Rome.]

In the charming Annunciation by Angelico, the scene is in the cloister
of his own convent of St. Mark. A Dominican (St. Peter Martyr)
stands in the background with hands folded in prayer. I might add
many beautiful examples from Fra Bartolomeo, and in sculpture from
Benedetto Maiano, Luca della Robbia, and others, but have said enough
to enable the observer to judge of the intention of the artist. The
Annunciation by Sansovino among the bas-reliefs, which cover the
chapel at Loretto is of great elegance.

I must, however, notice one more picture. Of six Annunciations
painted by Rubens, five represent the event; the sixth is one of his
magnificent and most palpable allegories, all glowing with life and
reality. Here Mary kneels on the summit of a flight of steps; a dove,
encompassed by cherubim, hovers over her head. Before her kneels
the celestial messenger; behind him Moses and Aaron, with David and
other patriarchal ancestors of Christ. In the clouds above is seen
the heavenly Father; on his right are two female figures, Peace and
Reconciliation; on his left, angels bear the ark of the covenant. In
the lower part of the picture, stand Isaiah and Jeremiah, with four
sibyls:--thus connecting the prophecies of the Old Testament, and
the promises made to the Gentile nations through the sibyls, with the
fulfilment of both in the message from on high.


Had the Annunciation to Mary been merely mentioned as an awful and
incomprehensible vision, it would have been better to have adhered to
the mystical style of treatment, or left it alone altogether; but the
Scripture history, by giving the whole narration as a simple fact, a
real event, left it free for representation as such; and, as such, the
fancy of the artist was to be controlled and limited only by the words
of Scripture as commonly understood and interpreted, and by those
proprieties of time, place, and circumstance, which would be required
in the representation of any other historical incident or action.

When all the accompaniments show that nothing more was in the mind
of the artist than the aim to exhibit an incident in the life of the
Virgin, or an introduction to that of our Lord, the representation is
no longer mystical and devotional, but historical. The story was to be
told with all the fidelity, or at least all the likelihood, that was
possible; and it is clear that, in this case, the subject admitted,
and even required, a more dramatic treatment, with such accessories
and accompaniments as might bring the scene within the sphere of the
actual. In this sense it is not to be mistaken. Although the action is
of itself so very simple, and the actors confined to two persons, it
is astonishing to note the infinite variations of which this favourite
theme has been found susceptible. Whether all these be equally
appropriate and laudable, is quite another question; and in how far
the painters have truly interpreted the Scriptural narration, is now
to be considered.

And first, with regard to the time, which is not especially mentioned.
It was presumed by the Fathers and early commentators on Scripture,
that the Annunciation must have taken place in early spring-time, at
eventide, soon after sunset, the hour since consecrated as the "Ave
Maria," as the bell which announces it is called the "Angelus;"[1]
but other authorities say that it was rather at midnight, because
the nativity of our Lord took place at the corresponding hour in the
following December. This we find exactly attended to by many of the
old painters, and indicated either by the moon and stars in the sky,
or by a taper or a lamp burning near.

[Footnote 1: So Lord Byron:--

  "Ave Maria! blessed be the hour!
    The time, the clime, the spot, where I so oft
  Have felt that moment in its fullest power
    Sink o'er the earth so beautiful and soft,
  While swung the deep bell in the distant tower,
    Or the faint dying day-hymn stole aloft,
  And not a breath crept through the rosy air,
  And yet the forest leaves seem'd stirr'd with prayer"]

       *       *       *       *       *

With regard to the locality, we are told by St. Luke that the angel
Gabriel was sent from God, and that "he came _in_ to Mary" (Luke i.
28), which seems to express that she was _within_ her house.

In describing the actual scene of the interview between the angel and
Mary, the legendary story of the Virgin adheres very closely to the
scriptural text. But it also relates, that Mary went forth at evening
to draw water from the fountain; that she heard a voice which said,
"Hail thou that art full of grace!" and thereupon being troubled, she
looked to the right and to the left, and seeing no one, returned to
her _house_, and sat down to her work, (Protevangelion, ix. 7.) Had
any exact attention been paid to oriental customs, Mary might have
been working or reading or meditating on the roof of her house; but
this has not suggested itself in any instance that I can remember. We
have, as the scene of the interview, an interior which is sometimes
like an oratory, sometimes a portico with open arcades; but more
generally a bedroom. The poverty of Joseph and Mary, and their humble
condition in life, are sometimes attended to, but not always; for,
according to one tradition, the house at Nazareth was that which Mary
had inherited from her parents, Joachim and Anna, who were people of
substance. Hence, the painters had an excuse for making the chamber
richly furnished, the portico sustained by marble pillars, or
decorated with sculpture. In the German and Flemish pictures, the
artist, true to the national characteristic of _naïve_ and literal
illustration, gives us a German or a Gothic chamber, with a lattice
window of small panes of glass, and a couch with pillows, or a
comfortable four-post bedstead, furnished with draperies, thus
imparting to the whole scene an air of the most vivid homely reality.

As for the accessories, the most usual, almost indispensable, is the
pot of lilies, the symbolical _Fleur de Marie_, which I have already
explained at length. There is also a basket containing needle work and
implements of female industry, as scissors, &c.; not merely to express
Mary's habitual industry, but because it is related that when she
returned to her house, "she took the purple linen, and sat down to
work it." The work-basket is therefore seldom omitted. Sometimes a
distaff lies at her feet, as in Raphael's Annunciation. In old German
pictures we have often a spinning-wheel. To these emblems of industry
is often added a basket, or a dish, containing fruit; and near it a
pitcher of water to express the temperance of the blessed Virgin.

There is grace and meaning in the introduction of birds, always
emblems of the spiritual. Titian places a tame partridge at the feet
of Mary, which expresses her tenderness; but the introduction of a
cat, as in Barroccio's picture, is insufferable.

       *       *       *       *       *

The archangel Gabriel, "one of those who stand continually in the
presence of God," having received his mission, descends to earth.
In the very earliest representation of the Annunciation, as an event
(Mosaic, S. Maria Maggiore), we have this descent of the winged spirit
from on high; and I have seen other instances. There is a small and
beautiful sketch by Garofalo (Alton Towers), in which, from amidst
a flood of light, and a choir of celestial spirits, such as Milton
describes as adoring the "divine sacrifice" proclaimed for sinful man
(Par. Lost, b. iii.), the archangel spreads his lucid wings, and seems
just about to take his flight to Nazareth. He was accompanied, says
the Italian legend, by a train of lower angels, anxious to behold
and reverence their Queen; these remained, however, at the door, or
"before the gate," while Gabriel entered.

The old German masters are fond of representing him as entering by
a door in the background, while the serene Virgin, seated in front,
seems aware of his presence without seeing him.

In some of the old pictures, he comes in flying from above, or he is
upborne by an effulgent cloud, and surrounded by a glory which lights
the whole picture,--a really _celestial_ messenger, as in a fresco
by Spinello Aretino. In others, he comes gliding in, "smooth sliding
without step;" sometimes he enters like a heavenly ambassador, and
little angels hold up his train. In a picture by Tintoretto, he comes
rushing in as upon a whirlwind, followed by a legion of lesser angels;
while on the outside of the building, Joseph the carpenter is seen
quietly at his work. (Venice, School of S. Rocco.)

But, whether walking or flying, Gabriel bears, of course, the
conventional angelic form, that of the human creature, winged,
beautiful, and radiant with eternal youth, yet with a grave and
serious mien, in the later pictures, the drapery given to the angel is
offensively scanty; his sandals, and bare arms, and fluttering robe,
too much _à l'antique_; he comes in the attitude of a flying Mercury,
or a dancer in a ballet. But in the early Italian pictures his dress
is arranged with a kind of solemn propriety: it is that of an acolyte,
white and full, and falling in large folds over his arms, and in
general concealing his feet. In the German pictures, he often wears
the priestly robe, richly embroidered, and clasped in front by a
jewel. His ambrosial curls fall over this cope in "hyacinthine
flow." The wings are essential, and never omitted. They are white, or
many-coloured, eyed like the peacock's train, or bedropped with gold.
He usually bears the lily in his hand, but not always. Sometimes it is
the sceptre, the ancient attribute of a herald; and this has a scroll
around it, with the words, "Ave Maria gratia plena!" The sceptre or
wand is, occasionally surmounted by a cross.

In general, the palm is given to the angel who announces the death of
Mary. In one or two instances only I have seen the palm given to the
angel Gabriel, as in a predella by Angelico; for which, however, the
painter had the authority of Dante, or Dante some authority earlier
still. He says of Gabriel,

              "That he bore the _palm_
  Down unto Mary when the Son of God
  Vouchsafed to clothe him in terrestrial weeds."

The olive-bough has a mystical sense wherever adopted: it is the
symbol of _peace_ on earth. Often the angel bears neither lily, nor
sceptre, nor palm, nor olive. His hands are folded on his bosom; or,
with one hand stretched forth, and the other pointing upwards, he
declares his mission from on high.

In the old Greek pictures, and in the most ancient Italian examples,
the angel stands; as in the picture by Cimabue, wherein the Greek
model is very exactly followed. According to the Roman Catholic
belief, Mary is Queen of heaven, and of angels--the superior being;
consequently, there is propriety in making the angel deliver his
message kneeling: but even according to the Protestant belief the
attitude would not be unbecoming, for the angel, having uttered
his salutation, might well prostrate himself as witness of the
transcending miracle, and beneath the overshadowing presence of
the Holy Spirit.

Now, as to the attitude and occupation of Mary at the moment the
angel entered, authorities are not agreed. It is usual to exhibit her
as kneeling in prayer, or reading with a large book open on a desk
before her. St. Bernard says that she was studying the book of the
prophet Isaiah, and as she recited the verse, "Behold, a Virgin shall
conceive, and bear a son," she thought within her heart, in her great
humility, "How blessed the woman of whom these words are written!
Would I might be but her handmaid to serve her, and allowed, to kiss
her feet!"--when, in the same instant, the wondrous vision burst
upon her, and the holy prophecy was realized in herself. (Il perfetto

I think it is a manifest fault to disturb the sublime tenor of the
scene by representing Mary as starting up in alarm; for, in the first
place, she was accustomed, as we have seen, to the perpetual ministry
of angels, who daily and hourly attended on her. It is, indeed, said
that Mary was troubled; but it was not the presence, but the "saying"
of the angel which troubled her--it was the question "how this should
be?" (Luke i. 29.) The attitude, therefore, which some painters have
given to her, as if she had started from her seat, not only in terror,
but in indignation, is altogether misplaced. A signal instance is
the statue of the Virgin by Mocchi in the choir of the cathedral at
Orvieto, so grand in itself, and yet so offensive as a devotional
figure. Misplaced is also, I think, the sort of timid shrinking
surprise which is the expression in some pictures. The moment is
much too awful, the expectance much too sublime, for any such human,
girlish emotions. If the painter intend to express the moment in which
the angel appears and utters the salutation, "Hail!" then Mary may be
standing, and her looks directed towards him, as in a fine majestic
Annunciation of Andrea del Sarto. Standing was the antique attitude
of prayer; so that if we suppose her to have been interrupted in her
devotions, the attitude is still appropriate. But if that moment
be chosen in which she expressed her submission to the divine will,
"Behold the handmaid of the Lord! let it be unto me according to thy
word!" then she might surely kneel with bowed bead, and folded hands,
and "downcast eyes beneath th' almighty Dove." No attitude could be
too humble to express that response; and Dante has given us, as the
most perfect illustration of the virtue of humility, the sentiment and
attitude of Mary when submitting herself to the divine will. (Purg.
x., Cary's Trans.)

      "The angel (who came down to earth
  With tidings of the peace to many years
  Wept for in vain, that op'd the heavenly gates
  From their long interdict) before us seem'd
  In a sweet act so sculptur'd to the life,
  He look'd no silent image. One had sworn
  He had said 'Hail!' for SHE was imag'd there,
  By whom the key did open to God's love;
  And in her act as sensibly imprest
  That word, 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord,'
  As figure seal'd on wax."

And very beautifully has Flaxman transferred the sculpture "divinely
wrought upon the rock of marble white" to earthly form.

       *       *       *       *       *

The presence of the Holy Spirit in the historical Annunciations is to
be accounted for by the words of St. Luke, and the visible form of the
Dove is conventional and authorized. In many pictures, the celestial
Dove enters by the open casement. Sometimes it seems to brood
immediately over the head of the Virgin; sometimes it hovers towards
her bosom. As for the perpetual introduction of the emblem of the
Padre Eterno, seen above the sky, under the usual half-figure of a
kingly ancient man, surrounded by a glory of cherubim, and sending
forth upon a beam of light the immaculate Dove, there is nothing to
be said but the usual excuse for the mediæval artists, that certainly
there was no _conscious_ irreverence. The old painters, great as they
were in art, lived in ignorant but zealous times--in times when
faith was so fixed, so much a part of the life and soul, that it was
not easily shocked or shaken; as it was not founded in knowledge or
reason, so nothing that startled the reason could impair it. Religion,
which now speaks to us through words, then spoke to the people through
visible forms universally accepted; and, in the fine arts, we accept
such forms according to the feeling which _then_ existed in men's
minds, and which, in its sincerity, demands our respect, though now we
might not, could not, tolerate the repetition. We must also remember
that it was not in the ages of ignorance and faith that we find
the grossest materialism in art. It was in the learned, half-pagan
sixteenth and the polished seventeenth century, that this materialized
theology became most offensive. Of all the artists who have sinned
in the Annunciation--and they are many--Nicolò Poussin is perhaps
the worst. Yet he was a good, a pious man, as well as a learned and
accomplished painter. All through the history of the art, the French
show themselves as the most signal violators of good taste, and what
they have invented a word for--_bienséance_. They are worse than the
old Germans; worse than the modern Spaniards--and that is saying much.

In Raphael's Annunciation, Mary is seated in a reclining attitude,
leaning against the side of her couch, and holding a book. The angel,
whose attitude expresses a graceful _empressement_, kneels at some
distance, holding the lily.

       *       *       *       *       *

Michael Angelo gives us a most majestic Virgin standing on the steps
of a prie-Dieu, and turning with hands upraised towards the angel, who
appears to have entered by the open door; his figure is most clumsy
and material, and his attitude unmeaning and ungraceful. It is, I
think, the only instance in which Michael Angelo has given wings to
an angelic being: for here they could not be dispensed with.

In a beautiful Annunciation by Johan Van Eyck (Munich Gal., Cabinet
iii. 35), the Virgin kneels at a desk with a book before her. She has
long fair hair, and a noble intellectual brow. Gabriel, holding his
sceptre, stands in the door-way. The Dove enters by the lattice. A
bed is in the background, and in front a pot of lilies. In another
Annunciation by Van Eyck, painted on the Ghent altar-piece, we have
the mystic, not the historical, representation, and a very beautiful
effect is produced by clothing both the angel and Mary in robes of
pure white. (Berlin Gal., 520, 521.)

In an engraving after Rembrandt, the Virgin kneels by a fountain,
and the angel kneels on the opposite side. This seems to express the
legendary scene.

These few observations on the general arrangement of the theme,
whether mystical or historical, will, I hope, assist the observer in
discriminating for himself. I must not venture further, for we have a
wide range of subjects before us.


_Ital._ La Visitazione di Maria. _Fr._ La Visitation de la Vierge
_Ger._ Die Heimsuchung Mariä. July 2.

After the Annunciation of the angel, the Scripture goes on to relate
how "Mary arose and went up into the hill country with haste, to
the house of her cousin Elizabeth, and saluted her." This meeting
of the two kinswomen is the subject styled in art the "Visitation,"
and sometimes the "Salutation of Elizabeth." It is of considerable
importance, in a series of the life of the Virgin, as an event; and
also, when taken separately in its religious significance, as being
the first recognition of the character of the Messiah. "Whence is this
to me," exclaims Elizabeth, "that the mother of my Lord should come to
me?" (Luke i. 43); and as she spoke this through the influence of the
Holy Spirit, and not through knowledge, she is considered in the light
of a prophetess.

Of Elizabeth I must premise a few words, because in many
representations relating to the life of the Virgin, and particularly
in those domestic groups, the Holy Families properly so called, she
is a personage of great importance, and we ought to be able, by some
preconceived idea of her bearing and character, to test the propriety
of that impersonation usually adopted by the artists. We must remember
that she was much older than her cousin, a woman "well stricken
in years;" but it is a, great mistake to represent her as old, as
wrinkled and decrepit, as some painters have done. We are told that
she was righteous before the Lord, "walking in all his commandments
blameless:" the manner in which she received the visit of Mary,
acknowledging with a glad humility the higher destinies of her young
relative, show her to have been free from all envy and jealousy.
Therefore all pictures of Elizabeth should exhibit her as an elderly,
but not an aged matron; a dignified, mild, and gracious creature; one
selected to high honour by the Searcher of hearts, who, looking down
on hers, had beheld it pure from any secret taint of selfishness, even
as her conduct had been blameless before man.[1]

[Footnote 1: For a full account of the legends relating to Elizabeth,
the mother of the Baptist, see the fourth series of Sacred and
Legendary Art.]

       *       *       *       *       *

Such a woman as we believe Mary to have been must have loved and
honoured such a woman as Elizabeth. Wherefore, having heard that
Elizabeth had been exalted to a miraculous motherhood, she made haste
to visit her, not to ask her advice,--for being graced with all good
gifts of the Holy Spirit, and herself the mother of Wisdom, she could
not need advice,--but to sympathize with her cousin and reveal what
had happened to herself.

Thus then they met, "these two mothers of two great princes, of whom
one was pronounced the greatest born of woman, and the other was his
Lord:" happiest and most exalted of all womankind before or since,
"needs must they have discoursed like seraphim and the most ecstasied
order of Intelligences!" Such was the blessed encounter represented in
the Visitation.

       *       *       *       *       *

The number of the figures, the locality and circumstances, vary
greatly. Sometimes we have only the two women, without accessories
of any kind, and nothing interferes with the high solemnity of that
moment in which Elizabeth confesses the mother of her Lord. The better
to express this willing homage, this momentous prophecy, she is often
kneeling. Other figures are frequently introduced, because it could
not be supposed that Mary made the journey from Nazareth to the
dwelling of Zacharias near Jerusalem, a distance of fifty miles,
alone. Whether her husband Joseph accompanied her, is doubtful;
and while many artists have introduced him, others have omitted him
altogether. According to the ancient Greek formula laid down for the
religious painters, Mary is accompanied by a servant or a boy, who
carries a stick across his shoulder, and a basket slung to it. The old
Italians who followed the Byzantine models seldom omit this attendant,
but in some instances (as in the magnificent composition of Michael
Angelo, in the possession of Mr. Bromley, of Wootten) a handmaid
bearing a basket on her head is substituted for the boy. In many
instances Joseph, attired as a traveller, appears behind the Virgin,
and Zacharias, in his priestly turban and costume, behind Elizabeth.

The locality is often an open porch or a garden in front of a house;
and this garden of Zacharias is celebrated in Eastern tradition. It is
related that the blessed Virgin, during her residence with her cousin
Elizabeth, frequently recreated herself by walking in the garden
of Zacharias, while she meditated on the strange and lofty destiny
to which she was appointed; and farther, that happening one day to
touch a certain flower, which grew there, with her most blessed hand,
from being inodorous before, it became from that moment deliciously
fragrant. The garden therefore was a fit place for the meeting.

       *       *       *       *       *

1. The earliest representation of the Visitation to which I can refer
is a rude but not ungraceful drawing, in the Catacombs at Rome, of two
women embracing. It is not of very high antiquity, perhaps the seventh
or eighth century, but there can be so doubt about the subject.
(Cemetery of Julius, v. Bosio, Roma sotterana.)

2. Cimabue has followed the Greek formula, and his simple group
appears to me to have great feeling and simplicity.

3. More modern instances, from the date of the revival of art, abound
in every form. Almost every painter who has treated subjects from the
life of the Virgin has treated the Visitation. In the composition by
Raphael (Madrid Gal.) there are the two figures only; and I should
object to this otherwise perfect picture, the bashful conscious look
of the Virgin Mary. The heads are, however, eminently beautiful and
dignified. In the far background is seen the Baptism of Christ--very
happily and significantly introduced, not merely as expressing the
name of the votary who dedicated the picture, _Giovan-Battista_
Branconio, but also as expressing the relation between the two unborn
Children--the Christ and his Prophet.

4. The group by Sebastian del Piombo is singularly grand, showing in
every part the influence of Michael Angelo, but richly coloured in
Sebastian's best manner. The figures are seen only to the knees. In
the background, Zacharias is seen hurrying down some steps to receive
the Virgin.[1]

[Footnote 1: Louvre, 1224. There is, in the Louvre, another Visitation
of singular and characteristic beauty by D. Ghirlandajo.]

5. The group by Pinturicchio, with the attendant angels, is remarkable
for its poetic grace; and that by Lucas v. Leyden is equally
remarkable for affectionate sentiment.

6. Still more beautiful, and more dramatic and varied, is another
composition by Pinturicchio in the Sala Borgia. (Vatican, Rome.) The
Virgin and St. Elizabeth, in the centre, take each other's hands.
Behind the Virgin is St. Joseph, a maiden with a basket on her head,
and other attendants. Behind St. Elizabeth, we have a view into the
interior of her house, through arcades richly sculptured; and within,
Zacharias is reading, and the handmaids of Elizabeth, are spinning and
sewing. This elegant fresco was painted for Alexander VI.

7. There is a fine picture of this subject, by Andrea Sabattini of
Salerno, the history of which is rather curious. "It was painted at
the request of the Sanseverini, princes of Salerno, to be presented to
a nunnery, in which one of that noble family had taken the veil. Under
the form of the blessed Virgin, Andrea represented the last princess
of Salerno, who was of the family of Villa Marina; under that of St.
Joseph, the prince her husband; an old servant of the family figures
as St. Elizabeth; and in the features of Zacharias we recognize those
of Bernardo Tasso, the father of Torquato Tasso, and then secretary
to the prince of Salerno. After remaining for many years over the high
altar of the church, it was removed through the scruples of one of
the Neapolitan archbishops, who was scandalized by the impropriety of
placing the portraits of well-known personages in such a situation."
The picture, once removed from its place, disappeared, and by some
means found its way to the Louvre. Andrea, who was one of the most
distinguished of the scholars of Raphael, died in 1545.[1]

[Footnote 1: This picture is thus described in the old catalogues of
the Louvre (No. 1207); but is not to be found in that of Villot.]

8. The composition by Rubens has all that scenic effect and dramatic
movement which was characteristic of the painter. The meeting takes
place on a flight of steps leading to the house of Zacharias. The
Virgin wears a hat, as one just arrived from a journey; Joseph
and Zacharias greet each other; a maiden with a basket on her head
follows; and in the foreground a man unloads the ass.

I will mention two other example, each perfect in its way, in two most
opposite styles of treatment.

9. The first is the simple majestic composition of Albertinelli.
(Florence Gal.) The two women, standing alone under a richly
sculptured arch, and relieved against the bright azure sky, embrace
each other. There are no accessories. Mary is attired in dark-blue
drapery, and Elizabeth wears an ample robe of a saffron or rather
amber colour. The mingled grandeur, power, and grace, and depth of
expression in these two figures, are quite extraordinary; they look
like what they are, and worthy to be mothers of the greatest of kings
and the greatest of prophets. Albertinelli has here emulated his
friend Bartolomeo--his friend, whom he so loved, that when, after the
horrible execution of Savonarola, Bartolomeo, broken-hearted, threw
himself into the convent of St. Mark, Albertinelli became almost
distracted and desperate. He would certainly, says Vasari, have gone
into the same convent, but for the hatred be bore the monks, "of whom
he was always saying the most injurious things."

Through some hidden influence of intense sympathy, Albertinelli,
though in point of character the very antipodes of his friend, often
painted so like him, that his pictures--and this noble picture more
particularly--might be mistaken for the work of the Frate.

       *       *       *       *       *

10. We will now turn to a conception altogether different, and equally
a masterpiece; it is the small but exquisitely finished composition
by Rembrandt. (Grosvenor Gal.) The scene is the garden in front of
the house of Zacharias; Elizabeth is descending the steps in haste
to receive and embrace with outstretched arms the Virgin Mary, who
appears to have just alighted from her journey. The aged Zacharias,
supported by a youth, is seen following Elizabeth to welcome their
guest. Behind Mary stands a black female attendant, in the act of
removing a mantle from her shoulders; in the background a servant,
or (as I think) Joseph, holds the ass on which Mary has journeyed; a
peacock with a gem-like train, and a hen with a brood of chickens (the
latter the emblem of maternity), are in the foreground. Though the
representation thus conceived appears like a scene of every-day life,
nothing can be more poetical than the treatment, more intensely true
and noble than the expression of the diminutive figures, more masterly
and finished than the execution, more magical and lustrous than the
effect of the whole. The work of Albertinelli, in its large and solemn
beauty and religious significance, is worthy of being placed over an
altar, on which we might offer up the work of Rembrandt as men offer
incense, gems, and gold.

As the Visitation is not easily mistaken, I have said enough of it
here; and we pass to the next subject,--The Dream of Joseph.

       *       *       *       *       *

Although the feast of the Visitation is fixed for the 2d of July, it
was, and is, a received opinion, that Mary began her journey to the
hill country but a short time, even a few days, after the Annunciation
of the angel. It was the sixth month with Elizabeth, and Mary
sojourned with her three months. Hence it is supposed, by many
commentators, that Mary must have been present at the birth of John
the Baptist. It may seem surprising that the early painters should not
have made use of this supposition. I am not aware that there exists
among the numerous representations of the birth of St. John, any
instance of the Virgin being introduced; it should seem that the lofty
ideas entertained of the Mater Dei rendered it impossible to place her
in a scene where she would necessarily take a subordinate position:
this I think sufficiently accounts for her absence.[1] Mary then
returned to her own dwelling at Nazareth; and when Joseph (who in
these legendary stories is constantly represented as a house-carpenter
and builder, and travelling about to exercise his trade in various
places) also came back to his home, and beheld his wife, the
suspicion entered his mind that she was about to become a mother,
and very naturally his mind was troubled "with sorrow and insecure
apprehensions; but being a just man, that is, according to the
Scriptures and other wise writers, a good, a charitable man, he would
not openly disgrace her, for he found it more agreeable to justice to
treat an offending person with the easiest sentence, than to render
her desperate, and without remedy, and provoked by the suffering of
the worst of what she could fear. No obligation to justice can force
a man to be cruel; pity, and forbearance, and long-suffering, and
fair interpretation, and excusing our brother" (and our sister), "and
taking things in the best sense, and passing the gentlest sentence,
are as certainly our duty, and owing to every person who _does_ offend
and _can_ repent, as calling men to account can be owing to the law."
(v. Bishop Taylor's Life of Christ.) Thus says the good Bishop Taylor,
praising Joseph, that he was too truly just to call furiously for
justice, and that, waiving the killing letter of the law, he was
"minded to dismiss his wife privily;" and in this he emulated the
mercy of his divine foster-Son, who did not cruelly condemn the woman
whom he knew to be guilty, but dismissed her "to repent and sin no
more." But while Joseph was pondering thus in his heart, the angel
of the Lord, the prince of angels, even Gabriel, appeared to him in a
dream, saying, "Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee
Mary thy wife!" and he awoke and obeyed that divine voice.

[Footnote 1: There is, however, in the Liverpool Museum, a very
exquisite miniature of the birth of St. John the Baptist, in which the
female figure standing near represents, I think, the Virgin Mary. It
was cut out of a choral book of the Siena school.]

This first vision of the angel is not in works of art easily
distinguished from the second vision but there is a charming fresco by
Luini, which can bear no other interpretation. Joseph is seated by the
carpenter's bench, and leans his head on his hand slumbering. (Milan,
Brera.) An angel stands by him pointing to Mary who is seen at a
window above, busied with needlework.

On waking from this vision, Joseph, says the legend, "entreated
forgiveness of Mary for having wronged her even in thought." This is
a subject quite unknown, I believe, before the fifteenth century, and
not commonly met with since, but there are some instances. On one of
the carved stalls of the Cathedral of Amiens it is very poetically
treated. (Stalles d'Amiens, p. 205.) Mary is seated on a throne under
a magnificent canopy; Joseph, kneeling before her and presented by two
angels, pleads for pardon. She extends one hand to him; in the other
is the volume of the Holy Scriptures. There is a similar version of
the text in sculpture over one of the doors of Notre-Dame at Paris.
There is also a picture by Alessandro Tiarini (Le repentir de Saint
Joseph, Louvre, 416), and reckoned by Malvasia, his finest work,
wherein Joseph kneels before the Virgin, who stands with a dignified
air, and, while she raises him with one hand, points with the other
up to heaven. Behind is seen the angel Gabriel with his finger on
his lip, as commanding silence, and two other angels. The figures are
life-size, the execution and colour very fine; the whole conception in
the grand but mannered style of the Guido school.


_Ital._ Il Presepio. Il Nascimento del Nostro Signore. _Fr._ La
Nativité. _Ger._ Die Geburt Christi. Dec. 25.

The birth of our Saviour is related with characteristic simplicity
and brevity in the Gospels; but in the early Christian traditions this
great event is preceded and accompanied by several circumstances
which have assumed a certain importance and interest in the artistic

According to an ancient legend, the Emperor Augustus Cæsar repaired
to the sibyl Tiburtina, to inquire whether he should consent to allow
himself to be worshipped with divine honours, which the Senate had
decreed to him. The sibyl, after some days of meditation, took the
Emperor apart, and showed him an altar; and above the altar, in the
opening heavens, and in a glory of light, he beheld a beautiful Virgin
holding an Infant in her arms, and at the same time a voice was heard
saying, "This is the altar of the Son of the living God;" whereupon
Augustus caused an altar to be erected on the Capitoline Hill, with
this inscription, _Ara primogeniti Dei_; and on the same spot, in
later times, was built the church called the _Ara-Coeli_, well known,
with its flight of one hundred and twenty-four marble steps, to all
who have visited Rome.

Of the sibyls, generally, in their relation to sacred art, I have
already spoken.[1] This particular prophecy of the Tiburtine sibyl
to Augustus rests on some very antique traditions, pagan as well as
Christian. It is supposed to have suggested the "Pollio" of Virgil,
which suggested the "Messiah" of Pope. It is mentioned by writers of
the third and fourth centuries, and our own divines have not wholly
rejected it, for Bishop Taylor mentions the sibyl's prophecy among
"the great and glorious accidents happening about the birth of Jesus."
(Life of Jesus Christ, sec. 4.)

[Footnote 1: Introduction. The personal character and history of the
Sibyls will be treated in detail in the fourth series of Sacred and
Legendary Art.]

A very rude but curious bas-relief preserved in the church of the
Ara-Coeli is perhaps the oldest representation extant. The Church
legend assigns to it a fabulous antiquity; but it must be older than
the twelfth century, as it is alluded to by writers of that period.
Here the Emperor Augustus kneels before the Madonna and Child and at
his side is the sibyl, Tiburtina, pointing upwards.

Since the revival of art, the incident has been frequently treated. It
was painted by Cavallini, about 1340, on the vault of the choir of
the Ara-Coeli. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it became
a favourite subject. It admitted of those classical forms, and that
mingling of the heathen and the Christian in style and costume, which
were calculated to please the churchmen and artists of the time, and
the examples are innumerable.

The most celebrated, I believe, is the fresco by Baldassare Peruzzi,
in which the figure of the sibyl is certainly very majestic, but
the rest of the group utterly vulgar and commonplace. (Siena, Fonte
Giusta.) Less famous, but on the whole preferable in point of taste,
is the group by Garofalo, in the palace of the Quirinal; and there
is another by Titian, in which the scene is laid in a fine landscape
after his manner. Vasari mentions a cartoon of this subject, painted
by Rosso for Francis I., "among the best things Rosso ever produced,"
and introducing the King and Queen of France, their guards, and a
concourse of people, as spectators of the scene. In some instances the
locality is a temple, with an altar, before which kneels the Emperor,
having laid upon it his sceptre and laurel crown: the sibyl points to
the vision seen through a window above. I think it is so represented
in a large picture at Hampton Court, by Pietro da Cortona.

       *       *       *       *       *

The sibylline prophecy is supposed to have occurred a short tune
before the Nativity, about the same period when the decree went forth
"that all the world should be taxed." Joseph, therefore, arose and
saddled his ass, and set his wife upon it, and went up from Nazareth
to Bethlehem. The way was long, and steep, and weary; "and when Joseph
looked back, he saw the face of Mary that it was sorrowful, as of one
in pain; but when he looked back again, she smiled. And when they,
were come to Bethlehem, there was no room for them in the inn, because
of the great concourse of people. And Mary said to Joseph, "Take me
down for I suffer." (Protevangelion.)

The journey to Bethlehem, and the grief and perplexity of Joseph, have
been often represented. 1. There exists a very ancient Greek carving
in ivory, wherein Mary is seated on the ass, with an expression of
suffering, and Joseph tenderly sustains her; she has one arm round his
neck, leaning on him: an angel leads the ass, lighting the way with
a torch. It is supposed that this curious relic formed part of the
ornaments of the ivory throne of the Exarch of Ravenna, and that it is
at least as old as the sixth century.[1] 2. There is an instance more
dramatic in an engraving after a master of the seventeenth century.
Mary, seated on the ass, and holding the bridle, raises her eyes to
heaven with an expression of resignation; Joseph, cap in hand, humbly
expostulates with the master of the inn, who points towards the
stable; the innkeeper's wife looks up at the Virgin with a strong
expression of pity and sympathy. 3. I remember another print of the
same subject, where, in the background, angels are seen preparing the
cradle in a cave.

[Footnote 1: It is engraved in Gori's "Thesaurus," and described in
Münter's "Sinnbilder."]

I may as well add that the Virgin, in this character of mysterious,
and religious, and most pure maternity, is venerated under the title
of _La Madonna del Parto_.[1]

[Footnote 1: Every one who has visited Naples will remember the
church on the Mergellina, dedicated to the _Madonna del Parto_, where
lies, beneath his pagan tomb, the poet Sannazzaro. Mr. Hallam, in
a beautiful passage of his "History of the Literature of Europe,"
has pointed out the influence of the genius of Tasso on the whole
school of Bolognese painters of that time. Not less striking was the
influence of Sannazzaro and his famous poem on the Nativity (_De Partû
Virginis_), on the contemporary productions of Italian art, and more
particularly as regards the subject under consideration: I can trace
it through all the schools of art, from Milan to Naples, during the
latter half of the sixteenth century. Of Sannazzaro's poem, Mr.
Hallam says, that "it would be difficult to find its equal for purity,
elegance, and harmony of versification." It is not the less true, that
even its greatest merits as a Latin poem exercised the most perverse
influence on the religious art of that period. It was, indeed, only
_one_ of the many influences which may be said to have demoralized the
artists of the sixteenth century, but it was one of the greatest.]

The Nativity of our Saviour, like the Annunciation, has been treated
in two ways, as a mystery and as an event, and we must be careful to
discriminate between them.


In the first sense the artist has intended simply to express the
advent of the Divinity on earth in the form of an Infant, and the
_motif_ is clearly taken from a text in the Office of the Virgin,
_Virgo quem genuit, adoravit._ In the beautiful words of Jeremy
Taylor, "She blessed him, she worshipped him, and she thanked him that
he would be born of her;" as, indeed, many a young mother has done
before and since, when she has hung in adoration over the cradle of
her first-born child;--but _here_ the child was to be a descended
God; and nothing, as it seems to me, can be more graceful and more
profoundly suggestive than the manner in which some of the early
Italian artists have expressed this idea. When, in such pictures, the
locality is marked by the poor stable, or the rough rocky cave, it
becomes "a temple full of religion, full of glory, where angels are
the ministers, the holy Virgin the worshipper, and Christ the Deity."
Very few accessories are admitted, merely such as serve to denote that
the subject is "a Nativity," properly so called, and not the "Madre
Pia," as already described. The divine Infant lies in the centre of
the picture, sometimes on a white napkin, sometimes with no other
bed than the flowery turf; sometimes his head rests on a wheat-sheaf,
always here interpreted as "the bread of life." He places his finger
on his lip, which expresses the _Verbum sum_ (or, _Vere Verbum hoc
est abbreviatum_), "I am the word," or "I am the bread of life" (_Ego
sum panis ille vitæ._ John vi. 48), and fixes his eyes on the heavens
above, where the angels are singing the _Gloria in excelsis._ In
one instance, I remember, an angel holds up the cross before him; in
another, he grasps it in his hand; or it is a nail, or the crown of
thorns, anticipative of his earthly destiny. The Virgin kneels on one
side; St. Joseph, when introduced, kneels on the other; and frequently
angels unite with them in the act of adoration, or sustain the
new-born Child. In this poetical version of the subject, Lorenzo
di Credi, Perugino, Francia, and Bellini, excelled all others[1].
Lorenzo, in particular, became quite renowned for the manner in which
he treated it, and a number of beautiful compositions from his hand
exist in the Florentine and other galleries.

[Footnote 1: There are also most charming examples in sculpture by
Luca della Robbia, Donatello, and other masters of the Florentine

There are instances in which attendant saints and votaries are
introduced as beholding and adoring this great mystery. 1. For
instance, in a picture by Cima, Tobit and the angel are introduced
on one side, and St. Helena and St. Catherine on the other. 2. In a
picture by Francia (Bologna Gal.), the Infant, reclining upon a white
napkin, is adored by the kneeling Virgin, by St. Augustine, and by two
angels also kneeling. The votary, Antonio Galeazzo Bentivoglio, for
whom the picture was painted, kneels in the habit of a pilgrim.[1] He
had lately returned from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, thus
poetically expressed in the scene of the Nativity, and the picture was
dedicated as an act of thanksgiving as well as of faith. St. Joseph
and St. Francis stand on one side; on the other is a shepherd crowned
with laurel. Francia, according to tradition, painted his own portrait
as St. Francis; and his friend the poet, Girolamo Casio de' Medici,
as the shepherd. 3. In a large and famous Nativity by Giulio Romano
(Louvre, 293), which once belonged to our Charles I., St. John the
Evangelist, and St. Longinus (who pierced our Saviour's side with his
lance), are standing on each side as two witnesses to the divinity of
Christ;--here strangely enough placed on a par: but we are reminded
that Longinus had lately been inaugurated as patron of Mantua, (v.
Sacred and Legendary Art.)

[Footnote 1: "An excellent likeness," says Vasari. It is engraved as
such in Litta's Memorials of the Bentivogli. Girolamo Casio received
the laurel crown from the hand of Clement VII. in 1523. A beautiful
votive Madonna, dedicated by Girolamo Casio and his son Giacomo, and
painted by Beltraffio, is in the Louvre.]

In a triptych by Hans Hemling (Berlin Gal.) we have in the centre the
Child, adored, as usual, by the Virgin mother and attending angels,
the votary also kneeling: in the compartment on the right, we find the
manifestation of the Redeemer to the _west_ exhibited in the prophecy
of the sibyl to Augustus; on the left, the manifestation of the
Redeemer to the _east_ is expressed by the journey of the Magi, and
the miraculous star--"we have seen his star _in the east_."

But of all these ideal Nativities, the most striking is one by Sandro
Botticelli, which is indeed a comprehensive poem, a kind of hymn on
the Nativity, and might be set to music. In the centre is a shed,
beneath which the Virgin, kneeling, adores the Child, who has
his finger on his lip. Joseph is seen a little behind, as if in
meditation. On the right hand, the angel presents three figures
(probably the shepherds) crowned with olive; on the left is a similar
group. On the roof of the shed, three angels, with olive-branches in
their hands, sing the _Gloria in excelsis_. Above these are twelve
angels dancing or floating round in a circle, holding olive-branches
between them. In the foreground, in the margin of the picture,
three figures rising out of the flames of purgatory are received and
embraced by angels. With all its quaint fantastic grace and dryness of
execution, the whole conception is full of meaning, religious as well
as poetical. The introduction of the olive, and the redeemed, souls,
may express "peace on earth, good will towards men;" or the olive may
likewise refer to that period of universal peace in which the _Prince
of Peace_ was born into the world.[1]

[Footnote 1: This singular picture, formerly in the Ottley collection,
was, when I saw it, in the possession of Mr. Fuller Maitland, of
Stensted Park.]

I must mention one more instance for its extreme beauty. In a picture
by Lorenzo di Credi (Florence, Pal. Pitti) the Infant Christ lies on
the ground on a part of the veil of the Virgin, and holds in his hand
a bird. In the background, the miraculous star sheds on the earth a
perpendicular blaze of light, and farther off are the shepherds. On
the other side, St. Jerome, introduced, perhaps, because he made his
abode at Bethlehem, is seated beside his lion.


We now come to the Nativity historically treated, in which time,
place, and circumstance, have to be considered as in any other actual

The time was the depth of winter, at midnight; the place a poor
stable. According to some authorities, this stable was the interior
of a cavern, still shown at Bethlehem as the scene of the Nativity, in
front of which was a ruined house, once inhabited by Jesse, the father
of David, and near the spot where David pastured his sheep: but the
house was now a shed partly thatched, and open at that bitter mason to
all the winds of heaven. Here it was that the Blessed Virgin "brought
forth her first-born Son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid
him in a manger."

We find in the early Greek representations, and in the early Italian
painters who imitated the Byzantine models, that in the arrangement
a certain pattern was followed: the locality is a sort of
cave--literally a hole in a rock; the Virgin Mother reclines on a
couch; near her lies the new-born Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes.
In one very ancient example (a miniature of the ninth century in a
Greek Menologium), an attendant is washing the Child.

But from the fourteenth century we find this treatment discontinued.
It gave just offence. The greatest theologians insisted that the birth
of the Infant Christ was as pure and miraculous as his conception; and
it was considered little less than heretical to portray Mary reclining
on a couch as one exhausted by the pangs of childbirth (Isaiah lxvi.
7), or to exhibit assistants as washing the heavenly Infant. "To her
alone," says St. Bernard, "did not the punishment of Eve extend." "Not
in sorrow," says Bishop Taylor, "not in pain, but in the posture and
guise of worshippers (that is, kneeling), and in the midst of glorious
thoughts and speculations, did Mary bring her Son into the world."

We must seek for the accessories and circumstances usually introduced
by the painters in the old legendary traditions then accepted and
believed. (Protevangelion, xiv.) Thus one legend relates that
Joseph went to seek a midwife, and met a woman coming down from the
mountains, with whom he returned to the stable. But when they entered
it was filled with light greater than the sun at noonday; and as the
light decreased and they were able to open their eyes, they beheld
Mary sitting there with her Infant at her bosom. And the Hebrew woman
being amazed said, "Can this be true?" and Mary answered, "It is true;
as there is no child like unto my son, so there is no woman like unto
his mother."

       *       *       *       *       *

These circumstances we find in some of the early representations,
more or less modified by the taste of the artist. I have seen, for
instance, an old German print, in which the Virgin "in the posture
and guise of worshippers," kneels before her Child as usual; while the
background exhibits a hilly country, and Joseph with a lantern in his
hand is helping a woman over a stile. Sometimes there are two women,
and then the second is always Mary Salome, who, according to a passage
in the same popular authority, visited the mother in her hour of

The angelic choristers in the sky, or upon the roof of the stable,
sing the _Gloria in excelsis Deo_; they are never, I believe, omitted,
and in early pictures are always three in number; but in later
pictures, the mystic _three_ become a chorus of musicians Joseph is
generally sitting by, leaning on his staff in profound meditation, or
asleep as one overcome by fatigue; or with a taper or a lantern in his
hand, to express the night-time.

Among the accessories, the ox and the ass are indispensable. The
introduction of these animals rests on an antique tradition mentioned
by St. Jerome, and also on two texts of prophecy: "The ox knoweth his
owner, and the ass his master's crib" (Isaiah i. 3); and Habakkuk iii.
4, is rendered, in the Vulgate, "He shall lie down between the ox and
the ass." From the sixth century, which is the supposed date of
the earliest extant, to the sixteenth century, there was never any
representation of the Nativity without these two animals; thus in the
old carol so often quoted--

  "Agnovit bos et asinus
  Quod Puer erat Dominus!"

In some of the earliest pictures the animals kneel, "confessing the
Lord." (Isaiah xliii. 20.) In some instances they stare into the
manger with a most _naïve_ expression of amazement at what they find
there. One of the old Latin hymns, _De Nativitate Domini_, describes
them, in that wintry night, as warming the new-born Infant with their
breath; and they have always been interpreted as symbols, the ox as
emblem of the Jews, the ass of the Gentiles.

I wonder if it has ever occurred to those who have studied the
inner life and meaning of these old representations,--owed to them,
perhaps, homilies of wisdom, as well as visions of poetry,--that the
introduction of the ox and the ass, those symbols of animal servitude
and inferiority, might be otherwise translated;--that their pathetic
dumb recognition of the Saviour of the world might be interpreted
as extending to them also a participation in his mission of love and
mercy;--that since to the lower creatures it was not denied to be
present at that great manifestation, they are thus brought nearer to
the sympathies of our humanity, as we are, thereby, lifted to a nearer
communion with the universal spirit of love;--but this is "considering
too deeply," perhaps, for the occasion. Return we to our pictures.
Certainly we are not in danger of being led into any profound or
fanciful speculations by the ignorant painters of the later schools of
art. In their "Nativities," the ox and ass are not, indeed, omitted;
they must be present by religious and prescriptive usage; but they
are to be made picturesque, as if they were in the stable by right,
and as if it were only a stable, not a temple hallowed to a diviner
significance. The ass, instead of looking devoutly into the cradle,
stretches out his lazy length in the foreground; the ox winks his eyes
with a more than bovine stupidity. In some of the old German pictures,
while the Hebrew ox is quietly chewing the cud, the Gentile ass "lifts
up his voice" and brays with open mouth, as if in triumph.

One version of this subject, by Agnolo Gaddi, is conceived with much
simplicity and originality. The Virgin and Joseph are seen together
within a rude and otherwise solitary building. She points expressively
to the manger where lies the divine Infant, while Joseph leans on his
staff and appears lost in thought.

Correggio has been much admired for representing in his famous
Nativity the whole picture as lighted by the glory which proceeds from
the divine Infant, as if the idea had been new and original. ("_La
Notte_," Dresden Gal.) It occurs frequently before and since his time,
and is founded on the legendary story quoted above, which describes
the cave or stable filled with a dazzling and supernatural light.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is not often we find the Nativity represented as an historical
event without the presence of the shepherds; nor is the supernatural
announcement to the shepherds often treated as a separate subject: it
generally forms part of the background of the Nativity; but there are
some striking examples.

In a print by Rembrandt, he has emulated, in picturesque and poetical
treatment, his famous Vision of Jacob, in the Dulwich Gallery. The
angel (always supposed to be Gabriel) appears in a burst of radiance
through the black wintry midnight, surrounded by a multitude of the
heavenly host. The shepherds fall prostrate, as men amazed and "sore
afraid;" the cattle flee different ways in terror (Luke ii. 9.) I do
not say that this is the most elevated way of expressing the scene;
but, as an example of characteristic style, it is perfect.


_Ital._ L' Adorazione del Pastori. _Fr._ L'Adoration des Bergers.
_Ger._ Die Anbetung der Hirten.

The story thus proceeds:--When the angels were gone away into heaven,
the shepherds came with haste, "and found Mary, and Joseph, and the
young Child lying in a manger."

Being come, they present their pastoral offerings--a lamb, or doves,
or fruits (but these, considering the season, are misplaced); they
take off their hats with reverence, and worship in rustic fashion.
In Raphael's composition, the shepherds, as we might expect from him,
look as if they had lived in Arcadia. In some of the later Italian
pictures, they pipe and sing. It is the well-known custom in Italy
for the shepherds of the Campagna, and of Calabria, to pipe before the
Madonna and Child at Christmas time; and these _Piffereri_, with their
sheepskin jackets, ragged hats, bagpipes, and tabors, were evidently
the models reproduced in some of the finest pictures of the Bolognese
school; for instance, in the famous Nativity by Annibale Caracci,
where a picturesque figure in the corner is blowing into the bagpipes
with might and main. In the Venetian pictures of the Nativity, the
shepherds are accompanied by their women, their sheep, and even their
dogs. According to an old legend, Simon and Jude, afterwards apostles,
were among these shepherds.

When the angels scatter flowers, as in compositions by Raphael and
Ludovico Caracci, we must suppose that they were not gathered on
earth, but in heaven.

The Infant is sometimes asleep:--so Milton sings--

  "But see the Virgin blest
  Hath laid her Babe to rest!"

In a drawing by Raphael, the Child slumbers, and Joseph raises the
coverlid, to show him to a shepherd. We have the same idea in several
other instances. In a graceful composition by Titian, it is the Virgin
Mother who raises the veil from the face of the sleeping Child.

       *       *       *       *       *

From the number of figures and accessories, the Nativity thus treated
as an historical subject becomes capable of almost endless variety;
but as it is one not to be mistaken, and has a universal meaning and
interest, I may now leave it to the fancy and discrimination of the


_Ital._ L' Adorazione de' Magi. L' Epifania. _Fr._ L'Adoration des
Rois Mages. _Ger._ Die Anbetung der Weisen aus dem Morgenland. Die
heiligen drei Könige. Jan. 6.

This, the most extraordinary incident in the early life of our
Saviour, rests on the authority of one evangelist only. It is
related by St. Matthew so briefly, as to present many historical and
philosophical difficulties. I must give some idea of the manner in
which these difficulties were elucidated by the early commentators,
and of the notions which prevailed in the middle ages relative to the
country of the Three Kings, before it will be possible to understand
or to appreciate the subject as it has been set before us in every
style of art, in every form, in every material, from the third century
to the present time.

In the first place, who were these Magi, or these kings, as they are
sometimes styled? "To suppose," says the antique legend, "that they
were called Magi because they were addicted to magic, or exercised
unholy or forbidden arts, would be, heaven save us! a rank heresy."
No! Magi, in the Persian tongue, signifies "wise men." They were,
in their own country, kings or princes, as it is averred by all the
ancient fathers; and we are not to be offended at the assertion,
that they were at once princes and _wise_ men,--"Car à l'usage de ce
temps-là les princes et les rois etoient très sages!"[1]

[Footnote 1: Quoted literally from the legend in the old French
version of the _Flos Sanctorum_.]

They came from the eastern country, but from what country is not
said; whether from the land of the Arabians, or the Chaldeans, or the
Persians, or the Parthians.

It is written in the Book of Numbers, that when Balaam, the son of
Beor, was called upon to curse the children of Israel, he, by divine
inspiration, uttered a blessing instead of a curse. And he took up
this parable, and said, "I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold
him, but not nigh: there shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre
shall rise out of Israel." And the people of that country, though
they were Gentiles, kept this prophecy as a tradition among them, and
waited with faith and hope for its fulfilment. When, therefore, their
princes and wise men beheld a star different in its appearance and
movement from those which they had been accustomed to study (for they
were great astronomers), they at once knew its import, and hastened
to follow its guidance. According to an ancient commentary on St.
Matthew, this star, on its first appearance, had the form of a radiant
child bearing a sceptre or cross. In a fresco by Taddeo Gaddi, it is
thus figured; and this is the only instance I can remember. But to
proceed with our story.

When the eastern sages beheld this wondrous and long-expected star,
they rejoiced greatly; and they arose, and taking leave of their lands
and their vassals, their relations and their friends, set forth on
their long and perilous journey across vast deserts and mountains,
and broad rivers, the star going before them, and arrived at length at
Jerusalem, with a great and splendid train of attendants. Being come
there, they asked at once, "Where is he who is born king of the Jews?"
On hearing this question, King Herod was troubled, and all the city
with him; and he inquired of the chief priests where Christ should
be born. And they said to him, "in Bethlehem of Judea." Then Herod
privately called the wise men, and desired they would go to Bethlehem,
and search for the young child (he was careful not to call him
_King_), saying, "When ye have found him, bring me word, that I may
come and worship him also." So the Magi departed, and the star which
they had seen in the east went before them, until it stood over the
place where the young child was--he who was born King of kings. They
had travelled many a long and weary mile; "and what had they come for
to see?" Instead of a sumptuous palace, a mean and lowly dwelling; in
place of a monarch surrounded by his guards and ministers and all the
terrors of his state, an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid
upon his mother's knee, between the ox and the ass. They had come,
perhaps, from some far-distant savage land, or from some nation
calling itself civilized, where innocence had never been accounted
sacred, where society had as yet taken no heed of the defenceless
woman, no care for the helpless child; where the one was enslaved,
and the other perverted: and here, under the form of womanhood
and childhood, they were called upon to worship the promise of
that brighter future, when peace should inherit the earth, and
righteousness prevail over deceit, and gentleness with wisdom reign
for ever and ever! How must they have been amazed! How must they have
wondered in their souls at such a revelation!--yet such was the faith
of these wise men and excellent kings, that they at once prostrated
themselves, confessing in the glorious Innocent who smiled upon them
from his mother's knee, a greater than themselves--the image of a
truer divinity than they had ever yet acknowledged. And having bowed
themselves down--first, as was most fit, offering _themselves_,--they
made offering of their treasure, as it had been written in ancient
times, "The kings of Tarshish and the isles shall bring presents,
and the kings of Sheba shall offer gifts." And what were these gifts?
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh; by which symbolical oblation they
protested a threefold faith;--by gold, that he was king; by incense,
that he was God; by myrrh, that he was man, and doomed to death. In
return for their gifts, the Saviour bestowed upon them others of more
matchless price. For their gold he gave them charity and spiritual
riches; for their incense, perfect faith; and for their myrrh, perfect
truth and meekness: and the Virgin, his mother, also bestowed on them
a precious gift and memorial, namely, one of those linen bands in
which she had wrapped the Saviour, for which they thanked her with
great humility, and laid it up amongst their treasures. When they had
performed their devotions and made their offerings, being warned in a
dream to avoid Herod, they turned back again to their own dominions;
and the star which had formerly guided them to the west, now went
before them towards the east, and led them safely home. When they were
arrived there, they laid down their earthly state; and in emulation of
the poverty and humility in which they had found the Lord of all power
and might, they distributed their goods and possessions to the poor,
and went about in mean attire, preaching to their people the new king
of heaven and earth, the CHILD-KING, the Prince of Peace. We are not
told what was the success of their mission; neither is it anywhere
recorded, that from that time forth, every child, as it sat on
its mother's knee, was, even for the sake of that Prince of Peace,
regarded as sacred--as the heir of a divine nature--as one whose tiny
limbs enfolded a spirit which was to expand into the man, the king,
the God. Such a result was, perhaps, reserved for other times, when
the whole mission of that divine Child should be better understood
than it was then, or is _now_. But there is an ancient oriental
tradition, that about forty years later, when St. Thomas the apostle
travelled into the Indies, he found these Wise Men there, and did
administer to them the rite of baptism; and that afterwards, in
carrying the light of truth into the far East, they fell among
barbarous Gentiles, and were put to death; thus each of them receiving
in return for the earthly crowns they had cast at the feet of the
Saviour, the heavenly crown of martyrdom and of everlasting life.

Their remains, long afterwards discovered, were brought to
Constantinople by the Empress Helena; thence in the time of the first
Crusade they were transported to Milan, whence they were carried off
by the Emperor Barbarossa, and deposited in the cathedral at Cologne,
where they remain to this day, laid in a shrine of gold and gems; and
have performed divers great and glorious miracles.

       *       *       *       *       *

Such, in few words, is the church legend of the Magi of the East,
the "three Kings of Cologne," as founded on the mysterious Gospel
incident. Statesmen and philosophers, not less than ecclesiastics,
have, as yet, missed the whole sense and large interpretation of the
mythic as well as the scriptural story; but well have the artists
availed themselves of its picturesque capabilities! In their hands
it has gradually expanded from a mere symbol into a scene of the
most dramatic and varied effect and the most gorgeous splendour. As a
subject it is one of the most ancient in the whole range of Christian
art. Taken in the early religions sense, it signified the calling
of the Gentiles; and as such we find it carved in bas-relief on
the Christian sarcophagi of the third and fourth centuries, and
represented with extreme simplicity. The Virgin mother is seated on a
chair, and holds the Infant upright on her knee. The Wise Men, always
three in number, and all alike, approach in attitudes of adoration.
In some instances they wear Phrygian caps, and their camels' heads
are seen behind them, serving to express the land whence they came,
the land of the East, as well as their long journey; as on one of the
sarcophagi in the Christian Museum of the Vatican. The star in these
antique sculptures is generally omitted; but in one or two instances
it stands immediately over the chair of the Virgin. On a sarcophagus
near the entrance of the tomb of Galla Placidia, at Ravenna, they are
thus represented.

The mosaic in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore at Rome, is somewhat
later in date than these sarcophagi (A.D. 440), and the representation
is very peculiar and interesting. Here the Child is seated alone on a
kind of square pedestal, with his hand raised in benediction; behind
the throne stand two figures, supposed to be the Virgin and Joseph; on
each side, two angels. The kings approach, dressed as Roman warriors,
with helmets on their heads.

In the mosaic in the church of Sant' Appollinare-Novo, at Ravenna
(A.D. 534), the Virgin receives them seated on a throne, attended
by the archangels; they approach, wearing crowns on their heads,
and bending in attitudes of reverence: all three figures are exactly
alike, and rather less in proportion than the divine group.

       *       *       *       *       *

Immediately on the revival of art we find the Adoration of the Kings
treated in the Byzantine style, with few accessories. Very soon,
however, in the early Florentine school, the artists began to avail
themselves of that picturesque variety of groups of which the story

In the legends of the fourteenth century, the kings had become
distinct personages, under the names of Caspar (or Jasper), Melchior,
and Balthasar: the first being always a very aged man, with a long
white beard; the second, a middle-aged man; the third is young, and
frequently he is a Moor or Negro, to express the King of Ethiopia
or Nubia, and also to indicate that when the Gentiles were called
to salvation, all the continents and races of the earth, of whatever
complexion, were included. The difference of ages is indicated in
the Greek formula; but the difference of complexion is a modern
innovation, and more frequently found in the German than in the
Italian schools. In the old legend of the Three Kings, as inserted in
Wright's "Chester Mysteries," Jasper, or Caspar, is King of Tarsus,
the land of merchants; he makes the offering of gold. Melchior, the
King of Arabia and Nubia, offers frankincense; and Balthasar, King of
Saba,--"the land of spices and all manner of precious gums,"--offers

[Footnote 1: The names of the Three Kings appear for the first time in
a piece of rude sculpture over the door of Sant' Andrea at Pistoia, to
which is assigned the date 1166. (_Vide_ D'Agincourt, _Scultura_, pl.

It is very usual to find, in the Adoration of the Magi, the angelic
announcement to the shepherds introduced into the background; or, more
poetically, the Magi approaching on one side, and the shepherds on the
other. The intention is then to express a double signification; it is
at once the manifestation to the Jews, and the manifestation to the

The attitude of the Child varies. In the best pictures he raises his
little hand in benediction. The objection that he was then only an
infant of a few days old is futile: for he was from his birth the
CHRIST. It is also in accordance with the beautiful and significant
legend which describes him as dispensing to the old wise men the
spiritual blessings of love, meekness, and perfect faith, in return
for their gifts and their homage. It appears to me bad taste,
verging on profanity, to represent him plunging his little hand into
the coffer of gold, or eagerly grasping one of the gold pieces.
Neither should he be wrapped up in swaddling clothes, nor in any
way a subordinate figure in the group; for it is the Epiphany, the
Manifestation of a divine humanity to Jews and Gentiles, which is
to be expressed; and there is meaning as well as beauty in those
compositions which represent the Virgin at lifting a veil and showing
him to the Wise Man.

The kingly character of the adorers, which became in the thirteenth
century a point of faith, is expressed by giving them all the
paraphernalia and pomp of royalty according to the customs of the
time in which the artist lived. They are followed by a vast train
of attendants, guards, pages, grooms, falconers with hawks; and, in
a picture by Gaudenzio Ferrari, we have the court-dwarf, and, in a
picture by Titian, the court-fool, both indispensable appendages of
royal state in those times. The Kings themselves wear embroidered
robes, crowns, and glittering weapons, and are booted and spurred as
if just alighted from a long journey; even on one of the sarcophagi
they are seen in spurs.

The early Florentine and Venetian painters profited by the commercial
relations of their countries with the Levant, and introduced all kinds
of outlandish and oriental accessories to express the far country
from which the strangers had arrived; thus we have among the presents,
apes, peacocks, pheasants, and parrots. The traditions of the crusades
also came in aid, and hence we have, the plumed and jewelled turbans,
the armlets and the scymitars, and, in the later pictures, even
umbrellas and elephants. I remember, in an old Italian print of this
subject, a pair of hunting leopards or _chetas_.

It is a question whether Joseph was present--whether he _ought_ to
have been present: in one of the early legends, it is asserted that
he hid himself and would not appear, out of his great humility, and
because it should not be supposed that he arrogated any relationship
to the divine Child. But this version of the scene is quite
inconsistent with the extreme veneration afterwards paid to Joseph;
and in later times, that is, from the fifteenth century, he is seldom
omitted. Sometimes he is seen behind the chair of the Virgin, leaning
on his stick, and contemplating the scene with a quiet admiration.
Sometimes he receives the gifts offered to the Child, acting the part
of a treasurer or chamberlain. In a picture by Angelico one of the
Magi grasps his hand as if in congratulation. In a composition by
Parmigiano one of the Magi embraces him.

It was not uncommon for pious votaries to have themselves painted
in likeness of one of the adoring Kings. In a picture by Sandro
Botticelli, Cosmo de' Medici is thus introduced; and in a large and
beautifully arranged composition by Leonardo da Vinci, which unhappily
remains as a sketch only, the three Medici of that time, Cosmo,
Lorenzo, and Giuliano, are figured as the three Kings. (Both these
pictures are in the Florence Gal.)

A very remarkable altar-piece, by Jean Van Eyck, represents the
worship of the Magi. In the centre, Mary and her Child are seated
within a ruined temple; the eldest of the three Kings kneeling, does
homage by kissing the hand of the Child: it is the portrait of Philip
the Good, Duke of Burgundy. The second, prostrate behind him with a
golden beaker in his hand, is supposed to be one of the great officers
of his household. The third King exhibits the characteristic portrait
of Charles the Bold; there is no expression of humility or devotion
either in his countenance or attitude; he stands upright, with a lofty
disdainful air, as if he were yet unresolved whether he would kneel
or not. On the right of the Virgin, a little in the foreground, stands
Joseph in a plain red dress, holding his hat in his hand, and looking
with as air of simple astonishment at his magnificent guests. All the
accessories in this picture, the gold and silver vessels, the dresses
of the three Kings sparking with jewels and pearls, the velvets,
silks, and costly furs, are painted with the most exquisite finish and
delicacy, and exhibit to us the riches of the court of Burgundy, in
which Van Eyck then resided. (Munich Gal, 45.)

In Raphael's composition, the worshippers wear the classical, not the
oriental costume; but an elephant with a monkey on his back is seen
in the distance, which at once reminds us of the far East. (Rome,

Ghirlandajo frequently painted the Adoration of the Magi, and shows
in his management of the accessories much taste and symmetry. In one
of his compositions, the shed forms a canopy in the centre; two of
the Kings kneel in front. The country of the Ethiopian King is not
expressed by making him of a black complexion, but by giving him
a Negro page, who is in the act of removing his master's crown.
(Florence, Pitti Pal.)

A very complete example of artificial and elaborate composition may be
found in the drawing by Baldassare Peruzzi in our National Gallery.
It contains at least fifty figures; in the centre, a magnificent
architectural design; and wonderful studies of perspective to the
right and left, in the long lines of receding groups. On the whole,
it is a most skilful piece of work; but to my taste much like a
theatrical decoration,--pompous without being animated.

A beautiful composition by Francia I must not pass over.[1] Here, to
the left of the picture, the Virgin is seated on the steps of a ruined
temple, against which grows a fig-tree, which, though it be December,
is in full leaf. Joseph kneels at her side, and behind her are two
Arcadian shepherds, with the ox and the ass. The Virgin, who has
a charming air of modesty and sweetness, presents her Child to the
adoration of the Wise Men: the first of these kneels with joined
hands; the second, also kneeling, is about to present a golden vase;
the Negro King, standing, has taken off his cap, and holds a censer
in his hand; and the divine infant raises his hand in benediction.
Behind the Kings are three figures on foot, one a beautiful youth in
an attitude of adoration. Beyond these are five or six figures on
horseback, and a long train upon horses and camels is seen approaching
in the background. The landscape is very beautiful and cheerful: the
whole picture much in the style of Francia's master, Lorenzo Costa. I
should at the first glance have supposed it to be his, but the head of
the Virgin is unmistakably Francia.

[Footnote 1: Dresden Gal. Arnold, the well-known print-seller at
Dresden, has lately published a very beautiful and finished engraving
of this fine picture; the more valuable, because engravings after
Francia are very rare.]

There are instances of this subject idealized into a mystery; for
example, in a picture by Palma Vecchio (Milan, Brera), St. Helena
stands behind the Virgin, in allusion to the legend which connects
her with the history of the Kings. In a picture by Garofalo, the star
shining above is attended by angels bearing the instruments of the
Passion, while St. Bartholomew, holding his skin, stands near the
Virgin and Child: it was painted for the abbey of St. Bartholomew, at

Among the German examples, the picture by Albert Durer, in the tribune
of the Florence Gallery; and that of Mabuse, in the collection of Lord
Carlisle, are perhaps the most perfect of their kind.

In the last-named picture the Virgin, seated, in a plain dark-blue
mantle, with the German physiognomy, but large browed, and with a very
serious, sweet expression, holds the Child. The eldest of the Kings,
as usual, offers a vase of gold, out of which Christ has taken a
piece, which be holds in his hand. The name of the King, JASPER, is
inscribed on the vase; a younger King behind holds a cup. The black
Ethiopian king, Balthasar, is conspicuous on the left; he stands,
crowned and arrayed in gorgeous drapery, and, as if more fully to mark
the equality of the races--at least in spiritual privileges--his train
is borne by a white page. An exquisite landscape is seen through the
arch behind, and the shepherds are approaching in the middle distance.
On the whole, this is one of the most splendid pictures of the early
Flemish school I have ever seen; for variety of character, glow of
colour, and finished execution, quite unsurpassed.

In a very rich composition by Lucas van Leyden, Herod is seen in the
background, standing in the balcony of his palace, and pointing out
the scene to his attendants.

As we might easily imagine, the ornamental painters of the Venetian
and Flemish schools delighted in this subject, which allowed them full
scope for their gorgeous colouring, and all their scenic and dramatic
power. Here Paul Veronese revelled unreproved in Asiatic magnificence:
here his brocaded robes and jewelled diadems harmonized with his
subject; and his grand, old, bearded, Venetian senators figured,
not unsuitably, as Eastern Kings. Here Rubens lavished his ermine
and crimson draperies, his vases, and ewers, and censers of flaming
gold;--here poured over his canvas the wealth "of Ormuz and of Ind."
Of fifteen pictures of this subject, which he painted at different
times, the finest undoubtedly is that in the Madrid Gallery. Another,
also very fine, is in the collection of the Marquis of Westminster.
In both these, the Virgin, contrary to all former precedent, is
not seated, but _standing_, as she holds up her Child for worship.
Afterwards we find the same position of the Virgin in pictures by
Vandyck, Poussin, and other painters of the seventeenth century. It is
quite an innovation on the old religious arrangement; but in the utter
absence of all religious feeling, the mere arrangement of the figures,
except in an artistic point of view, is of little consequence.

As a scene of oriental pomp, heightened by mysterious shadows and
flashing lights, I know nothing equal to the Rembrandt in the
Queen's Gallery; the procession of attendants seen emerging from the
background through the transparent gloom is quite awful; but in this
miraculous picture, the lovely Virgin Mother is metamorphosed into a
coarse Dutch _vrow_, and the divine Child looks like a changeling imp.

In chapels dedicated to the Nativity or the Epiphany, we frequently
find the journey of the Wise Men painted round the walls. They
are seen mounted on horseback, or on camels, with a long train of
attendants, here ascending a mountain, there crossing a river; here
winding through a defile, there emerging from a forest; while the
miraculous star shines above, pointing out the way. Sometimes we have
the approach of the Wise Men on one side of the chapel, and their
return to their own country on the other. On their homeward journey
they are, in some few instances, embarking in a ship: this occurs in
a fresco by Lorenzo Costa, and in a bas-relief in the cathedral of
Amiens. The allusion is to a curious legend mentioned by Arnobius the
Younger, in his commentary on the Psalms (fifth century). He says,
in reference to the 48th Psalm, that when Herod found that the three
Kings had escaped from him "in ships of Tarsus," in his wrath he
burned all the vessels in the port.

There is a beautiful fresco of the journey of the Magi in the Riccardi
Chapel at Florence, painted by Benozzo Gozzoli for the old Cosmo de'

"The Baptism of the Magi by St. Thomas," is one of the compartments
of the Life of the Virgin, painted by Taddeo Gaddi, in the Baroncelli
Chapel at Florence, and this is the only instance I can refer to.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before I quit this subject--one of the most interesting in the whole
range of art--I must mention a picture by Giorgione in the Belvedere
Gallery, well known as one of the few undoubted productions of that
rare and fascinating painter, and often referred to because of its
beauty. Its signification has hitherto escaped all writers on art, as
far as I am acquainted with them, and has been dismissed as one of his
enigmatical allegories. It is called in German, _Die Feldmässer_ (the
Land Surveyors), and sometimes styled in English the _Geometricians_,
or the _Philosophers_, or the _Astrologers_. It represents a wild,
rocky landscape, in which are three men. The first, very aged, in as
oriental costume, with a long gray beard, stands holding in his hand
an astronomical table; the next, a man in the prime of life, seems
listening to him; the third, a youth, seated and looking upwards,
holds a compass. I have myself no doubt that this beautiful picture
represents the "three wise men of the East," watching on the Chaldean
hills the appearance of the miraculous star, and that the light
breaking in the far horizon, called in the German description the
rising sun, is intended to express the rising of the star of Jacob.[1]
In the sumptuous landscape, and colour, and the picturesque rather
than religious treatment, this picture is quite Venetian. The
interpretation here suggested I leave to the consideration of the
observer; and without allowing myself to be tempted on to further
illustration, will only add, in conclusion, that I do not remember
any Spanish picture of this subject remarkable either for beauty or

[Footnote 1: There is also a print by Giulio Bonasoni, which appears
to represent the wise men watching for the star. (_Bartsch_, xv.

[Footnote 2: In the last edition of the Vienna Catalogue, this picture
has received its proper title.]


_Ital._ La Purificazione della B. Vergine. _Ger._ Die Darbringung im
Tempel. Die Beschneidung Christi.

After the birth of her Son, Mary was careful to fulfil all the
ceremonies of the Mosaic law. As a first-born son, he was to be
redeemed by the offering of five shekels, or a pair of young pigeons
(in memory of the first-born of Egypt). But previously, being born
of the children of Abraham, the infant Christ was submitted to the
sanguinary rite which sealed the covenant of Abraham, and received
the name of JESUS--"that name before which every knee was to bow,
which was to be set above the powers of magic, the mighty rites
of sorcerers, the secrets of Memphis, the drugs of Thessaly, the
silent and mysterious murmurs of the wise Chaldees, and the spells
of Zoroaster; that name which we should engrave on our hearts, and
pronounce with our most harmonious accents, and rest our faith on, and
place our hopes in, and love with the overflowing of charity, joy, and
adoration." (v. Bishop Taylor's Life of Christ.)

The circumcision and the naming of Christ have many times been painted
to express the first of the sorrows of the Virgin, being the first of
the pangs which her Son was to suffer on earth. But the Presentation
in the Temple has been selected with better taste for the same
purpose; and the prophecy of Simeon, "Yea, a sword shall pierce
through thy own soul also," becomes the first of the Seven Sorrows.
It is an undecided point whether the Adoration of the Magi took
place thirteen days, or one year and thirteen days after the birth of
Christ. In a series of subjects artistically arranged, the Epiphany
always precedes, in order of time, that scene in the temple which
is sometimes styled the Purification, sometimes the Presentation and
sometimes the _Nunc Dimitis_. They are three distinct incidents; but,
as far as I can judge, neither the painters themselves, nor those who
have named pictures, have been careful to discriminate between them.
On a careful examination of various compositions, some of special
celebrity, which are styled, in a general way, the Presentation in
the Temple, it will appear, I think, that the idea uppermost in the
painter's mind has been to represent the prophecy of Simeon.

No doubt, in later times, the whole scene, as a subject of art, was
considered in reference chiefly to the Virgin, and the intention was
to express the first of her Seven Sorrows. But in ancient art, and
especially in Greek art, the character of Simeon assumed a singular
significance and importance, which so long as modern art was
influenced by the traditional Byzantine types, modified, in some
degree, the arrangement and sentiment of this favourite subject.

It is related that when Ptolemy Philadelphus about 260 years before
Christ, resolved to have the Hebrew Scriptures translated into
Greek, for the purpose of placing them in his far-famed library,
he despatched messengers to Eleazar, the High Priest of the Jews,
requiring him to send scribes and interpreters learned in the Jewish
law to his court at Alexandria. Thereupon Eleazar selected six of
the most learned Rabbis from each of the twelve tribes of Israel,
seventy-two persons in all, and sent them to Egypt, in obedience to
the commands of King Ptolemy, and among these was Simeon, a priest,
and a man full of learning. And it fell to the lot of Simeon to
translate the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when he came to that
verse where it is written, "Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear
a son," he began to misdoubt, in his own mind, how this could be
possible; and, after long meditation, fearing to give scandal and
offence to the Greeks, he rendered the Hebrew word _Virgin_ by a Greek
word which signifies merely a _young woman_; but when he had written
it down, behold an angel effaced it, and substituted the right word.
Thereupon he wrote it again and again; and the same thing happened
three times; and he remained astonished and confounded. And while he
wondered what this should mean, a ray of divine light penetrated his
soul; it was revealed to him that the miracle which, in his human
wisdom he had presumed to doubt, was not only possible, but that he,
Simeon, "should not see death till he had seen the Lord's Christ."
Therefore he tarried on earth, by the divine will, for nearly three
centuries, till that which he had disbelieved had come to pass. He was
led by the Spirit to the temple on the very day when Mary came there
to present her Son, and to make her offering, and immediately, taking
the Child in his arms, he exclaimed, "Lord, _now_ lettest thou thy
servant depart in peace, according to thy word." And of the Virgin
Mother, also, he prophesied sad and glorious things.

Anna the Prophetess, who was standing by, also testified to the
presence of the theocratic King: but she did not take him in her arms,
as did Simeon. (Luke ii. 82.) Hence, she was early regarded as a
type of the synagogue, which prophesied great things of the Messiah,
but, nevertheless, did not embrace him when he appeared, as did the

That these curious legends relative to Simeon and Anna, and their
symbolical interpretation, were well known to the old painters, there
can be no doubt; and both were perhaps in the mind of Bishop Taylor
when he wrote his eloquent chapter on the Presentation. "There be
some," he says, "who wear the name of Christ on their heads, to make
a show to the world; and there be some who have it always in their
mouths; and there be some who carry Christ on their shoulders, as
if he were a burthen too heavy to bear; and there be some--who is
me!--who trample him under their feet, but _he_ is the true Christian
who, _like Simeon_, embraces Christ, and takes him to his heart."

Now, it seems to me that it is distinctly the acknowledgment of
Christ by Simeon,--that is, Christ received by the Gentiles,--which
is intended to be placed before us in the very early pictures of the
Presentation, or the _Nunc dimittis_, as it is always styled in Greek
art. The appearance of an attendant, bearing the two turtle-doves,
shows it to be also the so-called Purification of the Virgin. In
an antique formal Greek version we have the Presentation exactly
according to the pattern described by Didron. The great gold censer is
there; the cupola, at top; Joseph carrying the two young pigeons, and
Anna behind Simeon.

       *       *       *       *       *

In a celebrated composition by Fra Bartolomeo, there is the same
disposition of the personages, but an additional female figure. This
is not Anna, the mother of the Virgin (as I have heard it said), but
probably Mary Salome, who had always attended on the Virgin ever since
the Nativity at Bethlehem.

The subject is treated with exquisite simplicity by Francia; we have
just the same personages as in the rude Greek model, but disposed with
consummate grace. Still, to represent the Child as completely undraped
has been considered as a solecism. He ought to stretch out his hands
to his mother and to look as if he understood the portentous words
which foretold his destiny. Sometimes the imagination is assisted by
the choice of the accessories; thus Fra Bartolomeo has given us, in
the background of his group, Moses holding the _broken_ table of the
old law; and Francia represents in the same manner the sacrifice
of Abraham; for thus did Mary bring her Son as an offering. In many
pictures Simeon raises his eyes to heaven in gratitude; but those
painters who wished to express the presence of the Divinity in the
person of Christ, made Simeon looking at the Child, and addressing
_him_ as "Lord."


_Ital._ La Fuga in Egitto. _Fr._ La Fuite de la Sainte Famille en
Egypte. _Ger._ Die Flucht nach Ægypten.

The wrath of Herod against the Magi of the East who had escaped from
his power, enhanced by his fears of the divine and kingly Infant,
occasioned the massacre of the Innocents, which led to the flight
of the Holy Family into Egypt. Of the martyred children, in their
character of martyrs, I have already spoken, and of their proper place
in a scheme of ecclesiastical decoration. There is surely something
very pathetic in that feeling which exalted these infant victims into
objects of religious veneration, making them the cherished companions
in heavenly glory of the Saviour for whose sake they were sacrificed
on earth. He had said, "Suffer little children to come unto me;"
and to these were granted the prerogatives of pain, as well as the
privileges of innocence. If, in the day of retribution, they sit at
the feet of the Redeemer, surely they will appeal against us, then and
there;--against us who, in these days, through our reckless neglect,
slay, body and soul, legions of innocents,--poor little unblest
creatures, "martyrs by the pang without the palm,"--yet dare to call
ourselves Christians.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Massacre of the Innocents, as an event, belongs properly to the
life of Christ: it is not included in a series of the life of the
Virgin, perhaps from a feeling that the contrast between the most
blessed of women and mothers, and those who wept distracted for their
children, was too painful, and did not harmonize with the general
subject. In pictures of the Flight into Egypt, I have seen it
introduced allusively into the background; and in the architectural
decoration of churches dedicated to the Virgin Mother, as Notre Dame
de Chartres, it finds a place, but not often a conspicuous place;[1]
it is rather indicated than represented. I should pass over the
subject altogether, best pleased to be spared the theme, but
that there are some circumstances connected with it which require
elucidation, because we find them introduced incidentally into
pictures of the Flight and the _Riposo_.

[Footnote 1: It is conspicuous and elegantly treated over the door of
the Lorenz Kirche at Nuremberg.]

Thus, it is related that among the children whom Herod was bent on
destroying, was St. John the Baptist; but his mother Elizabeth fled
with him to a desert place, and being pursued by the murderers, "the
rock opened by a miracle, and close upon Elizabeth and her child;"
which means, as we may presume, that they took refuge in a cavern,
and were concealed within it until the danger was over. Zacharias,
refusing to betray his son, was slain "between the temple and the
altar," (Matt, xxiii. 35.) Both these legends are to be met with
in the Greek pictures, and in the miniatures of the thirteenth and
fourteenth centuries.[1]

[Footnote 1: They will be found treated at length in the artistic
subjects connected with St. John the Baptist.]

From the butchery which made so many mothers childless, the divine
Infant and his mother were miraculously saved; for an angel spoke to
Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise, and take the young child and his
mother, and flee into Egypt." This is the second of the four angelic
visions which are recorded of Joseph. It is not a frequent subject
in early art, but is often met with in pictures of the later schools.
Joseph is asleep in his chair, the angel stands before him, and, with
a significant gesture, points forward--"arise and flee!"

There is an exquisite little composition by Titian, called a _Riposo_,
which may possibly represent the preparation for the Flight. Here Mary
is seated under a tree nursing her Infant, while in the background is
a sort of rude stable, in which Joseph is seen saddling the ass, while
the ox is on the outside.

In a composition by Tiarini, we see Joseph holding the Infant, while
Mary, leaning one hand on his shoulder, is about to mount the ass.

In a composition by Poussin, Mary, who has just seated herself on the
ass, takes the Child from the arms of Joseph. Two angels lead the ass,
a third kneels in homage, and two others are seen above with a curtain
to pitch a tent.

       *       *       *       *       *

I must notice here a tradition that both the ox and the ass who stood
over the manger at Bethlehem, accompanied the Holy Family into Egypt.
In Albert Durer's print, the ox and the ass walk side by side. It is
also related that the Virgin was accompanied by Salome, and Joseph by
three of his sons. This version of the story is generally rejected
by the painters; but in the series by Giotto in the Arena at Padua,
Salome and the three youths attend on Mary and Joseph; and I remember
another instance, a little picture by Lorenzo Monaco, in which Salome,
who had vowed to attend on Christ and his mother as long as she lived,
is seen following the ass, veiled, and supporting her steps with a

But this is a rare exception. The general treatment confines the group
to Joseph, the mother, and the Child. To Joseph was granted, in those
hours of distress and danger, the high privilege of providing for
the safety of the Holy Infant--a circumstance much enlarged upon in
the old legends, and to express this more vividly, he is sometimes
represented in early Greek art as carrying the Child in his arms, or
on his shoulder, while Mary follows on the ass. He is so figured
on the sculptured doors of the cathedral of Beneventum, and in the
cathedral of Monreale, both executed by Greek artists.[1] But we are
not to suppose that the Holy Family was left defenceless on the long
journey. The angels who had charge concerning them were sent to guide
them by day, to watch over them by night, to pitch their tent before
them, and to refresh them with celestial fruit and flowers. By the
introduction of these heavenly ministers the group is beautifully

[Footnote 1: 11th century. Also at Città di Castello; same date.]

Joseph, says the Gospel story, "arose by night;" hence there is both
meaning and propriety in those pictures which represent the Flight
as a night-scene, illuminated by the moon and stars, though I believe
this has been done more to exhibit the painter's mastery over effects
of dubious light, than as a matter of biblical accuracy. Sometimes an
angel goes before, carrying a torch or lantern, to light them on the
way; sometimes it is Joseph who carries the lantern.

In a picture by Nicolo Poussin, Mary walks before, carrying the
Infant; Joseph follows, leading the ass; and an angel guides them.

The journey did not, however, comprise one night only. There is,
indeed, an antique tradition, that space and time were, on this
occasion, miraculously shortened to secure a life of so much
importance; still, we are allowed to believe that the journey extended
over many days and nights; consequently it lay within the choice of
the artist to exhibit the scene of the Flight either by night or by

In many representations of the Flight into Egypt, we find in the
background men sowing or cutting corn. This is in allusion to the
following legend:--

When it was discovered that the Holy Family had fled from Bethlehem,
Herod sent his officers in pursuit of them. And it happened that when
the Holy Family had travelled some distance, they came to a field
where a man was sowing wheat. And the Virgin said to the husbandman,
"If any shall ask you whether we have passed this way, ye shall
answer, 'Such persons passed this way when I was sowing this corn.'"
For the holy Virgin was too wise and too good to save her Son by
instructing the man to tell a falsehood. But behold, a miracle! For
by the power of the Infant Saviour, in the space of a single night,
the seed sprung up into stalk, blade, and ear, fit for the sickle.
And next morning the officers of Herod came up, and inquired of the
husbandman, saying, "Have you seen an old man with a woman and a Child
travelling this way?" And the man, who was reaping his wheat, in great
wonder and admiration, replied "Yes." And they asked again, "How long
is it since?" And he answered. "When I was sowing this wheat." Then
the officers of Herod turned back, and left off pursuing the Holy

A very remarkable example of the introduction of this legend occurs
in a celebrated picture by Hans Hemling (Munich Gal., Cabinet iv. 69),
known as "Die Sieben Freuden Mariä." In the background, on the left,
is the Flight into Egypt; the men cutting and reaping corn, and the
officers of Herod in pursuit of the Holy Family. By those unacquainted
with the old legend, the introduction of the cornfield and reapers
is supposed to be merely a decorative landscape, without any peculiar

       *       *       *       *       *

In a very beautiful fresco by Pinturicchio, (Rome, St. Onofrio), the
Holy Family are taking their departure from Bethlehem. The city,
with the massacre of the Innocents, is seen in the background. In the
middle distance, the husbandman cutting corn; and nearer, the palm
tree bending down.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is supposed by commentators that Joseph travelled from Bethlehem
across the hilly country of Judea, taking the road to Joppa, and then
pursuing the way along the coast. Nothing is said in the Gospel of the
events of this long and perilous journey of at least 400 miles, which,
in the natural order of things, must have occupied five or six weeks;
and the legendary traditions are very few. Such as they are, however,
the painters have not failed to take advantage of them.

We are told that on descending from the mountains, they came down
upon a beautiful plain enamelled with flowers, watered by murmuring
streams, and shaded by fruit trees. In such a lovely landscape have
the painters delighted to place some of the scenes of the Flight into
Egypt. On another occasion, they entered a thick forest, a wilderness
of trees, in which they must have lost their way, had they not been
guided by an angel. Here we encounter a legend which has hitherto
escaped, because, indeed, it defied, the art of the painter. As the
Holy Family entered this forest, all the trees bowed themselves down
in reverence to the Infant God; only the aspen, in her exceeding pride
and arrogance, refused to acknowledge him, and stood upright. Then the
Infant Christ pronounced a curse against her, as he afterwards cursed
the barren fig tree; and at the sound of his words the aspen began to
tremble through all her leaves, and has not ceased to tremble even to
this day.

We know from Josephus the historian, that about this time Palestine
was infested by bands of robbers. There is an ancient tradition, that
when the Holy Family travelling through hidden paths and solitary
defiles, had passed Jerusalem, and were descending into the plains of
Syria, they encountered certain thieves who fell upon them; and one
of them would have maltreated and plundered them, but his comrade
interfered, and said, "Suffer them, I beseech thee, to go in peace,
and I will give thee forty groats, and likewise my girdle;" which
offer being accepted, the merciful robber led the Holy Travellers
to his stronghold on the rock, and gave them lodging for the night.
(Gospel of Infancy, ch. viii.) And Mary said to him, "The Lord God
will receive thee to his right hand, and grant thee pardon of thy
sins!" And it was so: for in after times these two thieves were
crucified with Christ, one on the right hand, and one on the left;
and the merciful thief went with the Saviour into Paradise.

The scene of this encounter with the robbers, near Ramla, is still
pointed out to travellers, and still in evil repute as the haunt of
banditti. The crusaders visited the spot as a place of pilgrimage;
and the Abbé Orsini considers the first part of the story as
authenticated; but the legend concerning the good thief he admits
to be doubtful. (Vie de la Ste. Vierge.)

As an artistic subject this scene has been seldom treated. I have seen
two pictures which represent it. One is a fresco by Giovanni di San
Giovanni, which, having been cut from the wail of some suppressed
convent, is now in the academy at Florence. The other is a composition
by Zuccaro.

One of the most popular legends concerning the Flight into Egypt is
that of the palm or date tree, which at the command of Jesus bowed
down its branches to shade and refresh his mother; hence, in the scene
of the Flight, a palm tree became a usual accessory. In a picture by
Antonello Mellone, the Child stretches out his little hand and lays
hold of the branch: sometimes the branch is bent down by angel hands.
Sozomenes relates, that when the Holy Family reached the term of
their journey, and approached the city of Heliopolis in Egypt, a tree
which grew before the gates of the city, and was regarded with great
veneration as the seat of a god, bowed down its branches at the
approach of the Infant Christ. Likewise it is related (not in legends
merely, but by grave religious authorities) that all the idols of the
Egyptians fell with their faces to the earth. I have seen pictures of
the Flight into Egypt, in which broken idols lie by the wayside.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the course of the journey the Holy Travellers had to cross rivers
and lakes; hence the later painters, to vary the subject, represented
them as embarking in a boat, sometimes steered by an angel. The first,
as I have reason to believe, who ventured on this innovation, was
Annibale Caracci. In a picture by Poussin, the Holy Family are about
to embark. In a picture by Giordano, an angel with one knee bent,
assists Mary to enter the boat. In a pretty little picture by Teniers,
the Holy Family and the ass are seen in a boat crossing a ferry by
moonlight; sometimes they are crossing a bridge.

I must notice here a little picture by Adrian Vander Werff, in which
the Virgin, carrying her Child, holds by the hand the old decrepit
Joseph, who is helping her, or rather is helped by her, to pass a
torrent on some stepping-stones. This is quite contrary to the feeling
of the old authorities, which represent Joseph as the vigilant and
capable guardian of the Mother and her Child: but it appears to have
here a rather particular and touching significance; it was painted by
Vander Werff for his daughter in his old age, and intended to express
her filial duty and his paternal care.

The most beautiful Flight into Egypt I have ever seen, is a
composition by Gaudenzio Ferrari. The Virgin is seated and sustained
on the ass with a quite peculiar elegance. The Infant, standing on her
knee, seems to point out the way; an angel leads the ass, and Joseph
follows with the staff and wallet. In the background the palm tree
inclines its branches. (At Varallo, in the church of the Minorites.)

Claude has introduced the Flight of the Holy Family as a landscape
group into nine different pictures.


_Ital._ Il Riposo. _Fr._ Le Repos de la Sainte Famille. _Ger._ Die
Ruhe in Ægypten.

The subject generally styled a "Riposo" is one of the most graceful
and most attractive in the whole range of Christian art. It is not,
however, an ancient subject, for I cannot recall an instance earlier
than the sixteenth century; it had in its accessories that romantic
and pastoral character which recommended it to the Venetians and to
the landscape-painters of the seventeenth century, and among these we
must look for the most successful and beautiful examples.

I must begin by observing that it is a subject not only easily
mistaken by those who have studied pictures; but perpetually
misconceived and misrepresented by the painters themselves. Some
pictures which erroneously bear this title, were never intended to
do so. Others, intended to represent the scene, are disfigured
and perplexed by mistakes arising either from the ignorance or the
carelessness of the artist.

We must bear in mind that the Riposo, properly so called, is not
merely the Holy Family seated in a landscape; it is an episode of
the Flight into Egypt, and is either the rest on the journey, or at
the close of the journey; quite different scenes, though all go by
the same name. It is not an ideal religious group, but a reality, a
possible and actual scene; and it is clear that the painter, if he
thought at all, and did not merely set himself to fabricate a pretty
composition, was restricted within the limits of the actual and
possible, at least according to the histories and traditions of the
time. Some of the accessories introduced would stamp the intention at
once; as the date tree, and Joseph gathering dates; the ass feeding in
the distance; the wallet and pilgrim's staff laid beside Joseph; the
fallen idols; the Virgin scooping water from a fountain; for all these
are incidents which properly belong to the Riposo.

It is nowhere recorded; either in Scripture or in the legendary
stories, that Mary and Joseph in their flight were accompanied by
Elizabeth and the little St. John; therefore, where either of these
are introduced, the subject is not properly a _Riposo_, whatever the
intention of the painter may have been: the personages ought to be
restricted to the Virgin, her Infant, and St. Joseph, with attendant
angels. An old woman is sometimes introduced, the same who is
traditionally supposed to have accompanied them in their flight. If
this old woman be manifestly St. Anna or St. Elizabeth, then it is not
a _Riposo_, but merely a _Holy Family_.

It is related that the Holy Family finally rested, after their long
journey, in the village of Matarea, beyond the city of Hermopolis (or
Heliopolis), and took up their residence in a grove of sycamores, a
circumstance which gave the sycamore tree a sort of religions interest
in early Christian times. The crusaders imported it into Europe; and
poor Mary Stuart may have had this idea, or this feeling when she
brought from France, and planted in her garden, the first sycamores
which grew in Scotland.

Near to this village of Matarea, a fountain miraculously sprung up
for the refreshment of the Holy Family. It still exists, as we
are informed by travellers, and is still styled by the Arabs, "The
Fountain of Mary."[1] This fountain is frequently represented, as in
the well-known Riposo by Correggio, where the Virgin is dipping a bowl
into the gushing stream, hence called the "Madonna _della Scodella_"
(Parma): in another by Baroccio (Grosvenor Gal.), and another by
Domenichino (Louvre, 491).

[Footnote 1: The site of this fountain is about four miles N.E. of

In this fountain, says another legend, Mary washed the linen of the
Child. There are several pictures which represent the Virgin washing
linen in a fountain; for example, one by Lucio Massari, where, in a
charming landscape, the little Christ takes the linen out of a basket,
and Joseph hangs it on a line to dry. (Florence Gal.)

The ministry of the angels is here not only allowable, but beautifully
appropriate; and never has it been more felicitously and more
gracefully expressed than in a little composition by Lucas Cranach,
where the Virgin and her Child repose under a tree, while the angels
dance in a circle round them. The cause of the Flight--the Massacre
of the Innocents--is figuratively expressed by two winged boys, who,
seated on a bough of the tree, are seen robbing a nest, and wringing
the necks of the nestlings, while the parent-birds scream and flutter
over their heads: in point of taste, this significant allegory had
been better omitted; it spoils the harmony of composition. There
is another similar group, quite as graceful, by David Hopfer.
Vandyck seems to have had both in his memory when he designed the
very beautiful Riposo so often copied and engraved (Coll. of Lord
Ashburton); here the Virgin is seated under a tree, in an open
landscape, and holds her divine Child; Joseph, behind, seems asleep;
in front of the Virgin, eight lovely angels dance in a round, while
others, seated in the sky, make heavenly music.

In another singular and charming Riposo by Lucas Cranach, the Virgin
and Child are seated under a tree; to the left of the group is a
fountain, where a number of little angels appear to be washing linen;
to the right, Joseph approaches leading the ass, and in the act of
reverently removing his cap.

There is a Riposo by Albert Durer which I cannot pass over. It is
touched with all that homely domestic feeling, and at the same time
all that fertility of fancy, which are so characteristic of that
extraordinary man. We are told that when Joseph took up his residence
at Matarea in Egypt, he provided for his wife and Child by exercising
his trade as a carpenter. In this composition he appears in the
foreground dressed as an artisan with an apron on, and with an axe in
his hand is shaping a plank of wood. Mary sits on one side spinning
with her distaff, and watching her Infant slumbering in its cradle.
Around this domestic group we have a crowd of ministering angels; some
of these little winged spirits are assisting Joseph, sweeping up the
chips and gathering them into baskets; others are merely "sporting at
their own sweet will." Several more dignified-looking angels, having
the air of guardian spirits, stand or kneel round the cradle, bending
over it with folded hands.[1]

[Footnote 1: In the famous set of wood cuts of the Life of the Virgin

In a Riposo by Titian, the Infant lies on a pillow on the ground, and
the Virgin is kneeling before him, while Joseph leans on his pilgrim's
staff, to which is suspended a wallet. In another, two angels,
kneeling, offer fruits in a basket; in the distance, a little angel
waters the ass at a stream. (All these are engraved.)

The angels, according to the legend, not only ministered to the Holy
Family, but pitched a tent nightly, in which they were sheltered.
Poussin, in an exquisite picture, has represented the Virgin and Child
reposing under a curtain suspended from the branches of a tree and
partly sustained by angels, while others, kneeling, offer fruit.
(Grosvenor Gal.)

Poussin is the only painter who has attempted to express the locality.
In one of his pictures the Holy Family reposes on the steps of an
Egyptian temple; a sphinx and a pyramid are visible in the background.
In another Riposo by the same master, an Ethiopian boy presents fruits
to the Infant Christ. Joseph is frequently asleep, which is hardly
consonant with the spirit of the older legends. It is, however, a
beautiful idea to make the Child and Joseph both reposing, while the
Virgin Mother, with eyes upraised to heaven, wakes and watches, as
in a picture by Mola (Louvre, 269); but a yet more beautiful idea to
represent the Virgin and Joseph sunk in sleep, while the divine Infant
lying in his mother's arms wakes and watches for both, with his little
hands joined in prayer, and his eyes fixed on the hovering angels or
the opening skies above.

In a Riposo by Rembrandt, the Holy Family rest by night, and are
illuminated only by a lantern suspended on the bough of a tree, the
whole group having much the air of a gypsy encampment. But one of
Rembrandt's imitators has in his own way improved on this fancy; the
Virgin sleeps on a bank with the Child on her bosom; Joseph, who looks
extremely like an old tinker, is doubling his fist at the ass, which
has opened its mouth to bray.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before quitting the subject of the Riposo, I must mention a very
pretty and poetical legend, which I have met with in one picture only;
a description of it may, however, lead to the recognition of others.

There is, in the collection of Lord Shrewsbury, at Alton Towers, a
Riposo attributed to Giorgione, remarkable equally for the beauty and
the singularity of the treatment. The Holy Family are seated in the
midst of a wild but rich landscape, quite in the Venetian style;
Joseph is asleep; the two children are playing with a lamb. The
Virgin, seated holds a book, and turns round, with an expression of
surprise and alarm, to a female figure who stands on the right. This
woman has a dark physiognomy, ample flowing drapery of red and white,
a white turban twisted round her head, and stretches out her hand with
the air of a sibyl. The explanation of this striking group I found
in an old ballad-legend. Every one who has studied the moral as well
as the technical character of the various schools of art, must have
remarked how often the Venetians (and Giorgione more especially)
painted groups from the popular fictions and ballads of the time; and
it has often been regretted that many of these pictures are becoming
unintelligible to us from our having lost the key to them, in losing
all trace of the fugitive poems or tales which suggested them.

The religious ballad I allude to must have been popular in the
sixteenth century; it exists in the Provençal dialect, in German,
and in Italian; and, like the wild ballad of St. John Chrysostom, it
probably came in some form or other from the East. The theme is, in
all these versions, substantially the same. The Virgin, on her arrival
in Egypt, is encountered by a gypsy (Zingara or Zingarella), who
crosses the Child's palm after the gypsy manner, and foretells all the
wonderful and terrible things which, as the Redeemer of mankind, he
was destined to perform and endure on earth.

An Italian version which lies before me is entitled, _Canzonetta
nuova, sopra la Madonna, quando si partò in Egitto col Bambino Gesù
e San Giuseppe_, "A new Ballad of our Lady, when she fled into Egypt
with the Child Jesus and St. Joseph."

It begins with a conversation between the Virgin, who has just arrived
from her long journey, and the gypsy-woman, who thus salutes her:--

  Dio ti salvi, bella Signora,
  E ti dia buona ventura.
  Ben venuto, vecchiarello,
  Con questo bambino bello!

  Ben trovata, sorella mia,
  La sua grazia Dio ti dia.
  Ti perdoni i tuoi peccati
  L' infinità sua bontade.

  Siete stanchi e meschini,
  Credo, poveri pellegrini
  Che cercate d' alloggiare.
  Vuoi, Signora, scavalcare?

  Voi che siete, sorella mia,
  Tutta piena di cortesia,
  Dio vi renda la carità
  Per l'infinità sua bontà.
  Noi veniam da Nazaretta,
  Siamo senza alcun ricetto,
  Arrivati all' strania
  Stanchi e lassi dalla via!

  God save thee, fair Lady, and give thee good luck
  Welcome, good old man, with this thy fair Child!

  Well met, sister mine! God give thee grace, and of
  his infinite mercy forgive thee thy sins!

  Ye are tired and drooping, poor pilgrims, as I think,
  seeking a night's lodging. Lady, wilt thou choose to alight?


  O sister mine! full of courtesy, God of his infinite goodness
  reward thee for thy charity.  We are come from
  Nazareth, and we are without a place to lay our heads,
  arrived in a strange land, all tired and weary with the way!

The Zingarella then offers them a resting-place, and straw and fodder
for the ass, which being accepted, she asks leave to tell their
fortune, but begins by recounting, in about thirty stanzas, all the
past history of the Virgin pilgrim; she then asks to see the Child--

  Ora tu, Signora mia.
  Che sei piena di cortesia,
  Mostramelo per favore
  Lo tuo Figlio Redentore!

  And now, O Lady mine, that art full of courtesy, grant
  me to look upon thy Son, the Redeemer!

The Virgin takes him from the arms of Joseph--

  Datemi, o caro sposo,
  Lo mio Figlio grazioso!
  Quando il vide sta meschina
  Zingarella, che indovina!

  Give me, dear husband, my lovely boy, that this poor
  gypsy, who is a prophetess, may look upon him.

The gypsy responds with becoming admiration and humility, praises
the beauty of the Child, and then proceeds to examine his palm: which
having done, she breaks forth into a prophecy of all the awful future,
tells how he would be baptized, and tempted, scourged, and finally
hung upon a cross--

  Questo Figlio accarezzato
  Tu lo vedrai ammazzato
  Sopra d'una dura croce,
  Figlio bello! Figlio dolce!

but consoles the disconsolate Mother, doomed to honour for the sake of
us sinners--

  Sei arrivata a tanti onori
  Per noi altri Peccatori!

and ends by begging an alms--

  Non ti vo' più infastidire,
  Bella Signora; so chi hai a fare.
  Dona la limosinella
  A sta povera Zingarella
true repentance and eternal life.

  Vo' una vera contrizione
  Per la tua intercezione,
  Accio st' alma dopo morte
  Tragga alle celesti porte!

And so the story ends.

There can be no doubt, I think, that we have here the original theme
of Giorgione's picture, and perhaps of others.

In the Provençal ballad, there are three gypsies, men, not women,
introduced, who tell the fortune of the Virgin and Joseph, as well
as that of the Child, and end by begging alms "to wet their thirsty
throats." Of this version there is a very spirited and characteristic
translation by Mr. Kenyon, under the title of "a Gypsy Carol."[1]

[Footnote 1: A Day at Tivoli, with other Verses, by John Kenyon, p.


According to some authorities, the Holy Family sojourned in Egypt
during a period of seven years, but others assert that they returned
to Judea at the end of two years.

In general the painters have expressed the Return from Egypt by
exhibiting Jesus as no longer an infant sustained in his mother's
arms, but as a boy walking at her side. In a picture by Francesco
Vanni, he is a boy about two or three years old, and carries a little
basket full of carpenter's tools. The occasion of the Flight and
Return is indicated by three or four of the martyred Innocents, who
are lying on the ground. In a picture by Domenico Feti two of the
Innocents are lying dead on the roadside. In a very graceful, animated
picture by Rubens, Mary and Joseph lead the young Christ between them,
and the Virgin wears a large straw hat.






When the Holy Family under divine protection, had returned safely from
their sojourn in Egypt, they were about to repair to Bethlehem; but
Joseph hearing that Archelaus "did reign in Judea in the room of his
father Herod, he was afraid to go thither; and being warned of God
in a dream, he turned aside into Galilee," and came to the city of
Nazareth, which was the native place and home of the Virgin Mary.
Here Joseph dwelt, following in peace his trade of a carpenter, and
bringing up his reputed Son to the same craft: and here Mary nurtured
her divine Child; "and he grew and waxed strong in spirit, and the
grace of God was upon him." No other event is recorded until Jesus had
reached his twelfth, year.

       *       *       *       *       *

This, then, is the proper place to introduce some notice of those
representations of the domestic life of the Virgin and the infancy
of the Saviour, which, in all their endless variety, pass under the
general title of THE HOLY FAMILY--the beautiful title of a beautiful
subject, addressed in the loveliest and most familiar form at once to
the piety and the affections of the beholder.

These groups, so numerous, and of such perpetual recurrence, that they
alone form a large proportion of the contents of picture galleries
and the ornaments of churches, are, after all, a modern innovation in
sacred art. What may be called the _domestic_ treatment of the history
of the Virgin cannot be traced farther back than the middle of the
fifteenth century. It is, indeed, common to class all those pictures
as Holy Families which include any of the relatives of Christ grouped
with the Mother and her Child; but I must here recapitulate and
insist upon the distinction to be drawn between the _domestic_ and
the _devotional_ treatment of the subject; a distinction I have been
careful to keep in view throughout the whole range of sacred art,
and which, in this particular subject, depends on a difference in
sentiment and intention, more easily felt than set down in words. It
is, I must repeat, a _devotional_ group where the sacred personages
are placed in direct relation to the worshippers, and where their
supernatural character is paramount to every other. It is a _domestic_
or an _historical_ group, a Holy Family properly so called, when the
personages are placed in direct relation to each other by some link
of action or sentiment, which expresses the family connection between
them, or by some action which has a dramatic rather than a religious
significance. The Italians draw this distinction in the title "_Sacra
Conversazione_" given to the first-named subject, and that of "_Sacra
Famiglia_" given to the last. For instance, if the Virgin, watching
her sleeping Child, puts her finger on her lip to silence the little
St. John; there is here no relation between the spectator and the
persons represented, except that of unbidden sympathy: it is a
family group; a domestic scene. But if St. John, looking out of the
picture, points to the Infant, "Behold the Lamb of God!" then the
whole representation changes its significance; St. John assumes the
character of precursor, and we, the spectators, are directly addressed
and called upon to acknowledge the "Son of God, the Saviour of

If St. Joseph, kneeling, presents flowers to the Infant Christ, while
Mary looks on tenderly (as in a group by Raphael), it is an act of
homage which expresses the mutual relation of the three personages; it
is a Holy Family: whereas, in the picture by Murillo, in our National
Gallery, where Joseph and Mary present the young Redeemer to the
homage of the spectator, while the form of the PADRE ETERNO, and
the Holy Spirit, with attendant angels, are floating above, we have
a devotional group, a "_Sacra Conversazione_:"--it is, in fact a
material representation of the Trinity; and the introduction of Joseph
into such immediate propinquity with the personages acknowledged
as divine is one of the characteristics of the later schools of
theological art. It could not possibly have occurred before the end
of the sixteenth or the beginning of the seventeenth century.

The introduction of persons who could not have been contemporary, as
St. Francis or St. Catherine, renders the group ideal and devotional.
On the other hand, as I have already observed, the introduction of
attendant angels does not place the subject out of the domain of the
actual; for the painters literally rendered what in the Scripture text
is distinctly set down and literally interpreted, "He shall give his
angels charge concerning thee." Wherever lived and moved the Infant
Godhead, angels were always _supposed_ to be present; therefore it lay
within the province of an art addressed especially to our senses, to
place them bodily before us, and to give to these heavenly attendants
a visible shape and bearing worthy of their blessed ministry.

The devotional groups, of which I have already treated most fully,
even while placed by the accessories quite beyond the range of actual
life, have been too often vulgarized and formalized by a trivial or
merely conventional treatment.[1] In these really domestic scenes,
where the painter sought unreproved his models in simple nature, and
trusted for his effect to what was holiest and most immutable in our
common humanity, he must have been a bungler indeed if he did not
succeed in touching some responsive chord of sympathy in the bosom of
the observer. This is, perhaps, the secret of the universal, and, in
general, deserved popularity of these Holy Families.

[Footnote 1: See the "Mater Amabilis" and the "Pastoral Madonnas," p.
229, 239.]


The simplest form of the family group is confined to two figures,
and expresses merely the relation between the Mother and the Child.
The _motif_ is precisely the same as in the formal, goddess-like,
enthroned Madonnas of the antique time; but here quite otherwise
worked out, and appealing to other sympathies. In the first instance,
the intention was to assert the contested pretensions of the human
mother to divine honours; here it was rather to assert the humanity of
her divine Son; and we have before us, in the simplest form, the first
and holiest of all the social relations.

The primal instinct, as the first duty, of the mother, is the
nourishment of the life she has given. A very common subject,
therefore, is Mary in the act of feeding her Child from her bosom. I
have already observed that, when first adopted, this was a theological
theme; an answer, _in form_, to the challenge of the Nestorians,
"Shall we call him _God_, who hath sucked his mother's breast?" Then,
and for at least 500 years afterwards, the simple maternal action
involved a religious dogma, and was the visible exponent of a
controverted article of faith. All such controversy had long ceased,
and certainly there was no thought of insisting on a point of
theology in the minds of those secular painters of the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, who have set forth the representation with such
an affectionate and delicate grace; nor yet in the minds of those who
converted the lovely group into a moral lesson. For example, we find
in the works of Jeremy Taylor (one of the lights of our Protestant
Church) a long homily "Of nursing children, in imitation of the
blessed Virgin Mother;" and prints and pictures of the Virgin thus
occupied often bear significant titles and inscriptions of the same
import; such as "Le prémier devoir d'une mère," &c.

I do not find this _motif_ in any known picture by Raphael: but in
one of his designs, engraved by Marc Antonio, it is represented with
characteristic grace and delicacy.

Goethe describes with delight a picture by Correggio, in which the
attention of the Child seems divided between the bosom of his mother,
and some fruit offered by an angel. He calls this subject "The Weaning
of the Infant Christ." Correggio, if not the very first, is certainly
among the first of the Italians who treated this _motif_ in the simple
domestic style. Others of the Lombard school followed him; and I know
not a more exquisite example than the maternal group by Solario, now
in the Louvre, styled _La Vierge à l'Oreiller verd_, from the colour
of the pillow on which the Child is lying. The subject is frequent in
the contemporary German and Flemish schools of the sixteenth century.
In the next century, there are charming examples by the Bologna
painters and the _Naturalisti_, Spanish, Italian, and Flemish. I would
particularly point to one by Agostino Caracci (Parma), and to another
by Vandyck (that engraved by Bartolozzi), as examples of elegance;
while in the numerous specimens by Rubens we have merely his own
wife and son, painted with all that coarse vigorous life, and homely
affectionate expression, which his own strong domestic feelings could
lend them.

We have in other pictures the relation between the Mother and Child
expressed and varied in a thousand ways; as where she contemplates him
fondly--kisses him, pressing his cheeks to hers; or they sport with a
rose, or an apple, or a bird; or he presents it to his mother; these
originally mystical emblems being converted into playthings. In
another sketch she is amusing him by tinkling a bell:--the bell,
which has a religious significance, is here a plaything. One or more
attendant angels may vary the group, without taking it out of the
sphere of reality. In a quaint but charming picture in the Wallerstein
Collection, an angel is sporting with the Child at his mother's
feet--is literally his playfellow; and in a picture by Cambiaso, Mary,
assisted by an angel, is teaching her Child to walk.

       *       *       *       *       *

To represent in the great enthroned Madonnas, the Infant Saviour of
the world asleep, has always appeared to me a solecism: whereas in
the domestic subject the Infant slumbering on his mother's knee, or
cradled in her arms, or on her bosom, or rocked by angels, is a most
charming subject. Sometimes angels are seen preparing his bed, or
looking on while he sleeps, with folded hands and overshadowing wings.
Sometimes Marry hangs over his pillow; "pondering in her heart"
the wondrous destinies of her Child. A poetess of our own time has
given us an interpretation worthy of the most beautiful of these
representations, in the address of the Virgin Mary to the Child
Jesus,--"Sleep, sleep, mine Holy One!"

  "And are thou come for saving, baby-browed
  And speechless Being? art thou come for saving?
  The palm that grows beside our door is bowed
  By treadings of the low wind from the south,
  A restless shadow through the chamber waving,
  Upon its bough a bird sings in the sun.
  But thou, with that close slumber on thy mouth,
  Dost seem of wind and sun already weary,
  Art come for saving, O my weary One?

  "Perchance this sleep that shutteth out the dreary
  Earth-sounds and motions, opens on thy soul
    High dreams on fire with God;
  High songs that make the pathways where they roll
  More bright than stars do theirs; and visions new
  Of thine eternal nature's old abode.
    Suffer this mother's kiss,
    Best thing that earthly is,
  To glide the music and the glory through,
  Nor narrow in thy dream the broad upliftings
    Of any seraph wing.
  Thus, noiseless, thus!--Sleep, sleep, my dreaming One."[1]

[Footnote 1: Poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, vol. ii. p. 174.]

Such high imaginings might be suggested by the group of Michael
Angelo,--his famous "Silenzio:" but very different certainly are the
thoughts and associations conveyed by some of the very lovely, but at
the same time familiar and commonplace, groups of peasant-mothers and
sleeping babies--the countless productions of the later schools--even
while the simplicity and truth of the natural sentiment go straight to
the heart.

I remember reading a little Italian hymn composed for a choir of nuns,
and addressed to the sleeping Christ, in which he is prayed to awake
or if he will not, they threaten to pull him by his golden curls until
they rouse him to listen!

       *       *       *       *       *

I have seen a graceful print which represents Jesus as a child
standing at his mother's knee, while she feeds him from a plate or cap
held by an angel; underneath is the text, "_Butter and honey shall he
eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good_" And
in a print of the same period, the mother suspends her needlework
to contemplate the Child, who, standing at her side, looks down
compassionately on two little birds, which flutter their wings and
open their beaks expectingly; underneath is the test, "Are not two
sparrows sold for a farthing?"

Mary employed in needlework, while her cradled Infant slumbers at her
side, is a beautiful subject. Rossini, in his _Storia della Pittura_,
publishes a group, representing the Virgin mending or making a little
coat, while Jesus, seated at her feet, without his coat, is playing
with a bird; two angels are hovering above. It appears to me that
there is here some uncertainty as regards both the subject and the
master. In the time of Giottino, to whom Rossini attributes the
picture, the domestic treatment of the Madonna and Child was unknown.
If it be really by him, I should suppose it to represent Hannah and
her son Samuel.

       *       *       *       *       *

All these, and other varieties of action and sentiment connecting the
Mother and her Child, are frequently accompanied by accessory figures,
forming, in their combination, what is properly a Holy Family. The
personages introduced, singly or together, are the young St. John,
Joseph, Anna, Joachim, Elizabeth, and Zacharias.


The group of three figures most commonly met with, is that of the
Mother and Child, with St. John. One of the earliest examples of the
domestic treatment of this group is a quaint picture by Botticelli,
in which Mary, bending down, holds forth the Child to be caressed by
St. John,--very dry in colour and faulty in drawing, but beautiful
for the sentiment. (Florence, Pitti Pal.) Perhaps the most perfect
example which could be cited from the whole range of art, is
Raphael's "Madonna del Cardellino" (Florence Gal.); another is his
"Belle Jardinière" (Louvre, 375); another, in which the figures are
half-length, is his "Madonna del Giglio" (Lord Garvagh's Coll.). As
I have already observed, where the Infant Christ takes the cross from
St. John, or presents it to him, or where St. John points to him as
the Redeemer, or is represented, not as a child, but as a youth or a
man, the composition assumes a devotional significance.

The subject of the Sleeping Christ is beautifully varied by the
introduction of St. John; as where Mary lifts the veil and shows her
Child to the little St. John, kneeling with folded hands: Raphael's
well-known "Vierge à la Diademe" is an instance replete with grace and
expression.[1] Sometimes Mary, putting her finger to her lip, exhorts
St. John to silence, as in a famous and oft-repeated subject by
Annibale Caracci, of which there is a lovely example at Windsor. Such
a group is called in Italian, _Il Silenzio_, and in French _le Sommeil
de Jésus_.

[Footnote 1: Louvre, 376. It is also styled _la Vierge au Linge_]

       *       *       *       *       *

Another group of three figures consists of the Mother, the Child, and
St. Joseph as foster-father. This group, so commonly met with in the
later schools of art, dates from the end of the fifteenth century.
Gerson, an ecclesiastic distinguished at the Council of Constance for
his learning and eloquence, had written a poem of three thousand lines
in praise of St. Joseph, setting him up as the Christian, example
of every virtue; and this poem, after the invention of printing, was
published and widely disseminated. Sixtus IV. instituted a festival
in honour of the "Husband of the Virgin," which, as a novelty
and harmonizing with the tone of popular feeling, was everywhere
acceptable. As a natural consequence, the churches and chapels were
filled with pictures, which represented the Mother and her Child,
with Joseph standing or seated by, in an attitude of religious
contemplation or affectionate sympathy; sometimes leaning on his
stick, or with his tools lying beside him; and always in the old
pictures habited in his appropriate colours, the saffron-coloured robe
over the gray or green tunic.

In the Madonna and Child, as a strictly devotional subject, the
introduction of Joseph rather complicates the idea; but in the
domestic Holy Family his presence is natural and necessary. It is
seldom that he is associated with the action, where there is one;
but of this also there are some beautiful examples.

       *       *       *       *       *

1. In a well-known composition by Raphael (Grosvenor Gal.), the mother
withdraws the covering from the Child, who seems to have that moment
awaked, and, stretching out his little arms, smiles in her face:
Joseph looks on tenderly and thoughtfully.

2. In another group by Raphael (Bridgewater Gal.), the Infant is
seated on the mother's knee, and sustained by part of her veil;
Joseph, kneeling, offers flowers to his divine foster-Son, who eagerly
stretches out his little hand to take them.

In many pictures, Joseph is seen presenting cherries; as in the
celebrated _Vierge aux Cerises_ of Annibale Caracci. (Louvre.) The
allusion is to a quaint old legend, often introduced in the religious
ballads and dramatic mysteries of the time. It is related, that before
the birth of our Saviour, the Virgin Mary wished to taste of certain
cherries which hung upon a tree high above her head; she requested
Joseph to procure them for her, and he reaching to pluck them, the
branch bowed down to his hand.

3. There is a lovely pastoral composition by Titian, in which Mary
is seated under some trees, with Joseph leaning on his staff, and the
Infant Christ standing between them: the little St. John approaches
with his lap full of cherries; and in the background a woman is seen
gathering cherries. This picture is called a Ripose; but the presence
of St. John, and the cherry tree instead of the date tree, point out a
different signification. Angels presenting cherries on a plate is also
a frequent circumstance, derived from the same legend.

4. In a charming picture by Garofalo, Joseph is caressing the Child,
while Mary--a rather full figure, calm, matronly, and dignified, as is
usual with Garofalo--sits by, holding a book in her hand, from which
she has just raised her eyes. (Windsor Gal.)

5. In a family group by Murillo, Joseph, standing, holds the Infant
pressed to his bosom; while Mary, seated near a cradle, holds out her
arms to take it from him: a carpenter's bench is seen behind.

6. A celebrated picture by Rembrandt, known as _le Ménage du
Menuisier_, exhibits a rustic interior; the Virgin is seated with the
volume of the Scriptures open on her knees--she turns, and lifting
the coverlid of the cradle, contemplates the Infant asleep: in the
background Joseph is seen at his work; while angels hover above,
keeping watch over the Holy Family. Exquisite for the homely
natural sentiment, and the depth of the colour and chiaro-oscuro.

7. Many who read these pages will remember the pretty little picture
by Annibale Caracci, known as "le Raboteur."[1] It represents Joseph
planing a board, while Jesus, a lovely boy about six or seven years
old, stands by, watching the progress of his work. Mary is seated on
one side plying her needle. The great fault of this picture is the
subordinate and utterly commonplace character given to the Virgin
Mother: otherwise it is a very suggestive and dramatic subject, and
one which might be usefully engraved in a cheap form for distribution.

[Footnote 1: In the Coll. of the Earl of Suffolk, at Charlton.]

       *       *       *       *       *

Sometimes, in a Holy Family of three figures, the third figure is
neither St. John nor St. Joseph, but St. Anna. Now, according to
some early authorities, both Joachim and Anna died either before the
marriage of Mary and Joseph, or at least before the return from Egypt.
Such, however, was the popularity of these family groups, and the
desire to give them all possible variety, that the ancient version of
the story was overruled by the prevailing taste, and St. Anna became
an important personage. One of the earliest groups in which the mother
of the Virgin is introduced as a third personage, is a celebrated,
but to my taste not a pleasing, composition, by Lionardo da Vinci,
in which St. Anna is seated on a sort of chair, and the Virgin on her
knees bends down towards the Infant Christ, who is sporting with a
lamb. (Louvre, 481.)


In a Holy Family of four figures, we have frequently the Virgin, the
Child, and the infant St. John, with St. Joseph standing by. Raphael's
Madonna del Passeggio is an example. In a picture by Palma Vecchio,
St. John presents a lamb, while St. Joseph kneels before the Infant
Christ, who, seated on his mother's knee, extends his arms to his
foster-father. Nicole Poussin was fond of this group, and has repeated
it at least ten times with variations.

But the most frequent group of four figures consists of the Virgin and
Child, with St. John and his mother, St. Elizabeth--the two mothers
and the two sons. Sometimes the children are sporting together,
or embracing each other, while Mary and Elizabeth look on with a
contemplative tenderness, or seem to converse on the future destinies
of their sons. A very favourite and appropriate action is that of St.
Elizabeth presenting St. John, and teaching him to kneel and fold his
hands, as acknowledging in his little cousin the Infant Saviour. We
have then, in beautiful contrast, the aged coifed head of Elizabeth,
with its matronly and earnest expression; the youthful bloom and soft
virginal dignity of Mary; and the different character of the boys, the
fair complexion and delicate proportions of the Infant Christ, and
the more robust and brown-complexioned John. A great painter will be
careful to express these distinctions, not by the exterior character
only, but will so combine the personages, that the action represented
shall display the superior dignity of Christ and his mother.


The addition of Joseph as a fifth figure, completes the domestic
group. The introduction of the aged Zacharias renders, however, yet
more full and complete, the circle of human life and human affection.
We have then, infancy, youth, maturity, and age,--difference of sex
and various degrees of relationship, combined into one harmonious
whole; and in the midst, the divinity of innocence, the Child-God,
the brightness of a spiritual power, connecting our softest earthly
affections with our highest heavenward aspirations.[1]

[Footnote 1: The inscription under a Holy Family in which the children
are caressing each other is sometimes _Delicæ meæ esse cum filiis
hominum_ (Prov. viii. 31, "My delights were with the sons of men").]

       *       *       *       *       *

A Holy Family of more than six figures (the angels not included) is
very unusual. But there are examples of groups combining all those
personages mentioned in the Gospels as being related to Christ,
though the nature and the degree of this supposed relationship has
embarrassed critics and commentators, and is not yet settled.

According to an ancient tradition, Anna, the mother of the Virgin
Mary, was three times married, Joachim being her third husband: the
two others were Cleophas and Salomé. By Cleophas she had a daughter,
also called Mary, who was the wife of Alpheus, and the mother
of Thaddeus, James Minor, and Joseph Justus. By Salomé she had a
daughter, also Mary, married to Zebedee, and the mother of James Major
and John the Evangelist. This idea that St. Anna was successively the
wife of three husbands, and the mother of three daughters, all of
the name of Mary, has been rejected by later authorities; but in the
beginning of the sixteenth century it was accepted, and to that period
may be referred the pictures, Italian and German, representing a
peculiar version of the Holy Family more properly styled "the Family
of the Virgin Mary."

A picture by Lorenzo di Pavia, painted about 1513, exhibits a very
complete example of this family group. Mary is seated in the centre,
holding in her lap the Infant Christ; near her is St. Joseph. Behind
the Virgin stand St. Anna, and three men, with their names inscribed,
Joachim, Cleophas, and Salomé. On the right of the Virgin is Mary the
daughter of Cleophas, Alpheus her husband, and her children Thaddeus,
James Minor, and Joseph Justus. On the left of the Virgin is Mary the
daughter of Salome, her husband Zebedee, and her children James Major
and John the Evangelist.[1]

[Footnote 1: This picture I saw in the Louvre some years ago, but it
is not in the New Catalogue by M. Villot.]

A yet more beautiful example is a picture by Perugino in the Musée
at Marseilles, which I have already cited and described (Sacred and
Legendary Art): here also the relatives of Christ, destined to be
afterwards his apostles and the ministers of his word, are grouped
around him in his infancy. In the centre Mary is seated and holding
the child; St. Anna stands behind, resting her hands affectionately on
the shoulders of the Virgin. In front, at the feet of the Virgin, are
two boys, Joseph and Thaddeus; and near them Mary, the daughter of
Cleophas, holds the hand of her third son James Minor. To the right is
Mary Salomé, holding in her arms her son John the Evangelist, and at
her feet is her other son, James Major. Joseph, Zebedee, and other
members of the family, stand around. The same subject I have seen in
illuminated MSS., and in German prints. It is worth remarking that all
these appeared about the same time, between 1505 and 1520, and that
the subject afterwards disappeared; from which I infer that it was
not authorized by the Church; perhaps because the exact degree of
relationship between these young apostles and the Holy Family was
not clearly made out, either by Scripture or tradition.

In a composition by Parmigiano, Christ is standing at his mother's
knee; Elizabeth presents St. John the Baptist; the other little St.
John kneels on a cushion. Behind the Virgin are St. Joachim and St.
Anna; and behind Elizabeth, Zebedee and Mary Salomé, the parents of
St. John the Evangelist. In the centre, Joseph looks on with folded

       *       *       *       *       *

A catalogue _raisonnée_ of the Holy Families painted by distinguished
artists including from two to six figures would fill volumes: I
shall content myself with directing attention to some few examples
remarkable either for their celebrity, their especial beauty, or for
some peculiarity, whether commendable or not, in the significance or
the treatment.

The strictly domestic conception may be said to have begun with
Raphael and Correggio; and they afford the most perfect examples
of the tender and the graceful in sentiment and action, the softest
parental feeling, the loveliest forms of childhood. Of the purely
natural and familiar treatment, which came into fashion in the
seventeenth century, the pictures of Guido, Rubens, and Murillo
afford the most perfect specimens.

1. Raphael. (Louvre, 377.) Mary, a noble queenly creature, is seated,
and bends towards her Child, who is springing from his cradle to meet
her embrace; Elizabeth presents St. John; and Joseph, leaning on his
hand, contemplates the group: two beautiful angels scatter flowers
from above. This is the celebrated picture once supposed to have been
executed expressly for Francis I.; but later researches prove it to
have been painted for Lorenzo de' Medici, Duke of Urbino.[1]

[Footnote 1: It appears from the correspondence relative to this
picture and the "St. Michael," that both pictures were painted by
order of this Lorenzo de' Medici, the same who is figured in Michael
Angelo's _Pensiero_, and that they were intended as presents to
Francis I. (See Dr. Gaye's _Carteggio_, ii. 146, and also the new
Catalogue of the Louvre by F. Villot.) I have mentioned this Holy
Family not as the finest of Raphael's Madonnas, but because there is
something peculiarly animated and dramatic in the _motif_, considering
the time at which it was painted. It was my intention to have given
here a complete list of Raphael's Holy Families; but this has been
so well done in the last English edition of Kugler's Handbook, that
it has become superfluous as a repetition. The series of minute
and exquisite drawings by Mr. George Scharf, appended to Kugler's
Catalogue, renders it easy to recognize all the groups described in
this and the preceding pages.]

2. Correggio. Mary holds the Child upon her knee, looking down upon
him fondly. Styled, from the introduction of the work-basket, _La
Vierge au Panier_. A finished example of that soft, yet joyful,
maternal feeling for which Correggio was remarkable. (National Gal.

3. Pinturicchio. In a landscape, Mary and Joseph are seated together;
near them are some loaves and a small cask of wine. More in front the
two children, Jesus and St. John, are walking arm in arm; Jesus holds
a book and John a pitcher, as if they were going to a well. (Siena

4. Andrea del Sarto. The Virgin is seated on the ground, and holds the
Child; the young St. John is in the arms of St. Elizabeth, and Joseph
is seen behind. (Louvre, 439.) This picture, another by the same
painter in the National Gallery, a third in the collection of Lord
Lansdowne, and in general all the Holy Families of Andrea, may
be cited as examples of fine execution and mistaken or defective
character. No sentiment, no action, connects the personages either
with each other, or with the spectator.

5. Michael Angelo. The composition, in the Florence Gallery, styled
a Holy Family, appears to me a signal example of all that should be
avoided. It is, as a conception, neither religious nor domestic; in
execution and character exaggerated and offensive, and in colour hard
and dry.

Another, a bas-relief, in which the Child is shrinking from a
bird held up by St. John, is very grand in the forms: the mistake
in sentiment, as regards the bird, I have pointed out in the
Introduction. (Royal Academy.) A third, in which the Child leans
pensively on a book lying open on his mother's knee, while she looks
out on the spectator, is more properly a _Mater Amabilis_.

There is an extraordinary fresco still preserved in the Casa
Buonarotti at Florence, where it was painted on the wall by Michael
Angelo, and styled a Holy Family, though the exact meaning of the
subject has been often disputed. It appears to me, however, very
clear, and one never before or since attempted by any other artist.
(This fresco is engraved in the _Etruria Pittrice_.) Mary is seated
in the centre; her Child is reclining on the ground between her knees;
and the little St. John holding his cross looks on him steadfastly.
A man coming forward seems to ask of Mary, "Whose son is this?" She
most expressively puts aside Joseph with her hand, and looks up, as
if answering, "Not the son of an earthly, but of a heavenly Father!"
There are five other figures standing behind, and the whole group is
most significant.

6. Albert Durer. The Holy Family seated under a tree; the Infant is
about to spring from the knee of his mother into the outstretched arms
of St. Anna; Joseph is seen behind with his hat in his hand; and to
the left sits the aged Joachim contemplating the group.

7. Mary appears to have just risen from her chair, the Child bends
from her arms, and a young and very little angel, standing on tiptoe,
holds up to him a flower--other flowers in his lap:--a beautiful old
German print.

8. Giulio Romano. (_La Madonna del Bacino_.) (Dresden Gal.) The Child
stands in a basin, and the young St. John pours water upon him from
a vase, while Mary washes him. St. Elizabeth stands by, holding
a napkin; St. Joseph, behind, is looking on. Notwithstanding the
homeliness of the action, there is here a religious and mysterious
significance, prefiguring the Baptism.

9. N. Poussin. Mary, assisted by angels, washes and dresses her Child.
(Gal. of Mr. Hope.)

10. V. Salimbeni.--An Interior. Mary and Joseph are occupied by the
Child. Elizabeth is spinning. More in front St. John is carrying two
puppies in the lappet of his coat, and the dog is leaping up to him.
(Florence, Pitti Pal.) This is one out of many instances in which
the painter, anxious to vary the oft-repeated subject, and no longer
restrained by refined taste or religious veneration, has fallen into
a most offensive impropriety.

11. Ippolito Andreasi. Mary, seated, holds the Infant Christ between
her knees; Elizabeth leans over the back of her chair; Joseph leans on
his staff behind the Virgin; the little St. John and an angel present
grapes, while four other angels are gathering and bringing them.
A branch of vine, loaded with grapes, is lying in the foreground.
Christ looks like a young Bacchus; and there is something mannered and
fantastic in the execution. (Louvre, 38.) With this domestic scene is
blended a strictly religious symbol, "_I am the vine_."

12. Murilio. Mary is in the act of swaddling her Child (Luke ii, 7),
while two angels, standing near him, solace the divine Infant with
heavenly music. (Madrid Gal.)

13. Rubens. Mary, seated on the ground, holds the Child with a
charming maternal expression, a little from her, gazing on him with
rapturous earnestness, while he looks up with responsive tenderness in
her face. His right hand rests on a cross presented by St. John, who
is presented by St. Elizabeth. Wonderful for the intensely natural and
domestic expression, and the beauty of the execution. (Florence, Pitti

14. D. Hopfer. Within the porch of a building, Mary is seated on one
side, reading intently. St. Anna, on the other side, holds out her
arms to the Child, who is sitting on the ground between them; an angel
looks in at the open door behind. (Bartsch., viii. 483.)

15. Rembrandt. (_Le Ménage du Menuisier_.) A rustic interior. Mary,
seated in the centre, is suckling her Child. St. Anna, a fat Flemish
grandame, has been reading the volume of the Scriptures, and bends
forward in order to remove the covering and look in the Infant's face.
A cradle is near. Joseph is seen at work in the background. (Louvre.)

16. Le Brun. (_The Benedicite_.) Mary, the Child, and Joseph, are
seated at a frugal repast. Joseph is in the act of reverently saying
grace, which gives to the picture the title by which it is known.[1]

[Footnote 1: Louvre, Ecole Française 57. There is a celebrated
engraving by Edelinck.]

       *       *       *       *       *

It is distinctly related that Joseph brought up his foster-Son as a
carpenter, and that Jesus exercised the craft of his reputed father.
In the Church pictures, we do not often meet with this touching
and familiar aspect of the life of our Saviour. But in the small
decorative pictures painted for the rich ecclesiastics, and for
private oratories, and in the cheap prints which were prepared for
distribution among the people, and became especially popular during
the religious reaction of the seventeenth century, we find this
homely version of the subject perpetually, and often most pleasingly,
exhibited. The greatest and wisest Being who ever trod the earth was
thus represented, in the eyes of the poor artificer, as ennobling
and sanctifying labour and toil; and the quiet domestic duties
and affections were here elevated, and hallowed, by religious
associations, and adorned by all the graces of Art. Even where
the artistic treatment was not first-rate, was not such as the
painters--priests and poets as well as painters--of the fourteenth
and fifteenth centuries would have lent to such themes,--still if the
sentiment and significance were but intelligible to those especially
addressed, the purpose was accomplished, and the effect must have been

I have before me an example in a set of twelve prints, executed in the
Netherlands, exhibiting a sort of history of the childhood of Christ,
and his training under the eye of his mother. It is entitled _Jesu
Christi Del Domini Salvatoris nostri Infantia_, "The Infancy of our
Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ;" and the title-page is surrounded
by a border composed of musical instruments, spinning-wheels,
distaffs, and other implements, of female industry, intermixed with
all kinds of mason's and carpenter's tools. To each print is appended
a descriptive Latin verse; Latin being chosen, I suppose, because the
publication was intended for distribution in different countries, and
especially foreign missions, and to be explained by the priests to the

1. The figure of Christ is seen in a glory surrounded by cherubim, &c.

2. The Virgin is seated on the hill of Sion. The Infant in her lap,
with outspread arms, looks up to a choir of angels, and is singing
with them.

3. Jesus, slumbering in his cradle, is rocked by two angels, while
Mary sits by, engaged in needlework.[1]

[Footnote 1: The Latin stanza beneath, is remarkable for its elegance,
and because it has been translated by Coleridge, who mentions that he
found the print and the verse under it in a little inn in Germany.

  Dormi, Jesu, mater ridet,
  Quæ tam dulcem somnum videt,
    Dormi, Jesu, blandule!
  Si non dormis mater plorat,
  Inter fila cantans orat,
    Blande, veni, somnule!

  Sleep, sweet babe! my cares beguiling,
  Mother sits beside thee smiling,
    Sleep, my darling, tenderly!
  If thou sleep not, mother mourneth,
  Singing as her wheel she turneth"
    Come, soft slumber, balmily!"]

4. The interior of a carpenter's shop. Joseph is plying his work,
while Joachim stands near him. The Virgin is measuring linen, and St.
Anna looks on. Two angels are at play with the Infant Christ, who is
blowing soap-bubbles.

5. While Mary is preparing the family meal, and watching a pot which
is boiling on the fire, Joseph is seen behind chopping wood: more
in front, Jesus is sweeping together the chips, and two angels are
gathering them up.

6. Mary is reeling off a skein of thread; Joseph is squaring a plank;
Jesus is picking up the chips, assisted by two angels.

7. Mary is seated at her spinning-wheel; Joseph, assisted by Jesus, is
sawing through a large beam; two angels looking on.

8. Mary is spinning with a distaff; behind, Joseph is sawing a beam,
on which Jesus is standing above; and two angels are lifting a plank.

9. Joseph is seen building up the framework of a house, assisted by an
angel; Jesus is boring a hole with a large gimlet: an angel helps him;
Mary is winding thread.

10. Joseph is busy roofing in the house; Jesus, assisted by the
angels, is carrying a beam of wood up a ladder; below, in front, Mary
is carding wool or flax.

11. Joseph is building a boat, assisted by Jesus, who has a hammer
and chisel in his hand: two angels help him. The Virgin is knitting
a stocking; and the new-built house is seen in the background.

12. Joseph is erecting a fence round a garden; Jesus, assisted by
the angels, is fastening the palings together; while Mary is weaving
garlands of roses.

Justin Martyr mentions, as a tradition of his time, that Jesus
assisted his foster-father in making yokes and ploughs. In
Holland, where these prints were published, the substitution of
the boat-building seems very natural. St. Bonaventura, the great
Franciscan theologian, and a high authority in all that relates to
the life and character of Mary, not only described her as a pattern
of female industry, but alludes particularly to the legend of the
distaff, and mentions a tradition, that, when in Egypt, the Holy
Family was so reduced by poverty, that Mary begged from door to door
the fine flax which she afterwards spun into a garment for her Child.

       *       *       *       *       *

As if to render the circle of maternal duties, and thereby the
maternal example, more complete, there are prints of Mary leading her
Son to school. I have seen one in which he carries his hornbook in
his hand. Such representations, though popular, were condemned by the
highest church authorities as nothing less than heretical. The Abbé
Méry counts among the artistic errors "which endanger the faith
of good Christians," those pictures which represent Mary or Joseph
instructing the Infant Christ; as if all learning, all science,
divine and human, were not his by intuition, and without any earthly
teaching, (v. Théologie des Peintres.) A beautiful Holy Family,
by Schidone, is entitled, "The Infant Christ learning to read"
(Bridgewater Gal.); and we frequently meet with pictures in which the
mother holds a book, while the divine Child, with a serious intent
expression, turns over the leaves, or points to the letters: but I
imagine that these, and similar groups, represent Jesus instructing
Mary and Joseph, as he is recorded to have done. There is also a
very pretty legend, in which he is represented as exciting the
astonishment, of the schoolmaster Zaccheus by his premature wisdom.
On these, and other details respecting the infancy of our Saviour, I
shall have to say much more when treating of the History of Christ.


_Ital._ La Disputa nel Tempio. _Fr._ Jésus au milieu des Docteurs.

The subject which we call the Dispute in the Temple, or "Christ
among the Doctors," is a scene of great importance in the life of
the Redeemer (Luke ii. 41, 52). His appearance in the midst of the
doctors, at twelve years old, when he sat "hearing them and asking
them questions, and all who heard him were astonished at his
understanding and his answers," has been interpreted as the first
manifestation of his high character as teacher of men, as one come
to throw a new light on the prophecies,--

  "For trailing clouds of glory had he come
  From heaven, which was his home;"

and also as instructing as that those who are to become teachers of
men ought, when young, to listen to the voice of age and experience;
and that those who have grown old may learn lessons of wisdom
from childish innocence. Such is the historical and scriptural
representation. But in the life of the Virgin, the whole scene changes
its signification. It is no longer the wisdom of the Son, it is the
sorrow of the Mother which is the principal theme. In their journey
home from Jerusalem, Jesus has disappeared; he who was the light of
her eyes, whose precious existence had been so often threatened, has
left her care, and gone, she knows not whither. "No fancy can imagine
the doubts, the apprehensions, the possibilities of mischief, the
tremblings of heart, which the holy Virgin-mother feels thronging in
her bosom. For three days she seeks him in doubt and anguish." (Jeremy
Taylor's "Life of Christ.") At length he is found seated in the temple
in the midst of the learned doctors, "hearing them, and asking them
questions." And she said unto him, "Son, why hast thou thus dealt with
us? behold, I and thy father have sought thee sorrowing." And he said
unto them, "How is it that ye sought me? Wise ye not that I must be
about my Father's business?"

Now there are two ways of representing this scene. In all the earlier
pictures it is chiefly with reference to the Virgin Mother: it is one
of the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary. The Child Jesus sits in the
temple, teaching with hand uplifted; the doctors round him turn over
the leaves of their great books, searching the law and the prophets.
Some look up at the young inspired Teacher--he who was above the law,
yet came to obey the law and fulfil the prophecies--with amazement.
Conspicuous in front, stand Mary and Joseph, and she is in act to
address to him the tender reproach, "I and thy father have sought
thee sorrowing." In the early examples she is a principal figure, but
in later pictures she is seen entering in the background; and where
the scene relates only to the life of Christ, the figures of Joseph
and Mary are omitted altogether, and the Child teacher becomes the
central, or at least the chief, personage in the group.

In a picture by Giovanni da Udine, the subject is taken out of the
region of the actual, and treated altogether as a mystery. In the
centre sits the young Redeemer, his hand raised, and surrounded by
several of the Jewish doctors; while in front stand the four fathers
of the Church, who flourished in the interval between the fourth and
sixth centuries after Christ; and these, holding their books, point to
Jesus, or look to him, as to the source of their wisdom;--a beautiful
and poetical version of the true significance of the story, which
the critics of the last century would call a chronological mistake.
(Venice, Academy.)

But those representations which come under our especial consideration
at present, are such as represent the moment in which Mary appears
before her Son. The earliest instance of this treatment is a group by
Giotto. Dante cites the deportment of the Virgin on this occasion, and
her mild reproach, "_con atto dolce di madre_," as a signal lesson of
gentleness and forbearance. (Purgatorio, c. xv.) It is as if he had
transferred the picture of Giotto into his Vision; for it is as a
picture, not an action, that it is introduced. Another, by Simon
Memmi, in the Roscoe Collection at Liverpool, is conceived in a
similar spirit. In a picture by Garofalo, Mary does not reproach her
Son, but stands listening to him with her hands folded on her bosom.
In a large and fine composition by Pinturicchio, the doctors throw
down their books before him, while the Virgin and Joseph are entering
on one side. The subject is conspicuous in Albert Durer's Life of
the Virgin, where Jesus is seated on high, as one having authority,
teaching from a chair like that of a professor in a university, and
surrounded by the old bearded doctors; and Mary stands before her Son
in an attitude of expostulation.

After the restoration of Jesus to his parents, they conducted him
home; "but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart." The return
to Nazareth, Jesus walking humbly between Joseph and Mary, was painted
by Rubens for the Jesuit College at Antwerp, as a lesson to youth.
Underneath is the text, "And he was subject unto them."[1]

[Footnote 1: It has been called by mistake "The Return from Egypt"]


_Ital._ La Morte di San Giuseppe. _Fr._ La Mort de St. Joseph _Ger._
Josef's Tod.

Between the journey to Jerusalem and the public appearance of Jesus,
chronologers place the death of Joseph, but the exact date is not
ascertained: some place it in the eighteenth year of the life of our
Saviour, and others in his twenty-seventh year, when, as they assert,
Joseph was one hundred and eleven years old.

I have already observed, that the enthusiasm for the character of
Joseph, and his popularity as a saint and patron of power, date from
the fifteenth century; and late in the sixteenth century I find, for
the first time, the death of Joseph treated as a separate subject. It
appears that the supposed anniversary of his death (July 20) had long
been regarded in the East as a solemn festival, and that it was the
custom to read publicly, on this occasion, some homily relating to his
life and death. The very curious Arabian work, entitled "The History
of Joseph the Carpenter," is supposed to be one of these ancient
homilies, and, in its original form, as old as the fourth century.[1]
Here the death of Joseph is described with great detail, and with many
solemn and pathetic circumstances; and the whole history is put into
the mouth of Jesus, who is supposed to recite it to his disciples:
he describes the pious end of Joseph; he speaks of himself as being
present, and acknowledged by the dying man as "Redeemer and Messiah,"
and he proceeds to record the grief of Mary:--

"And my mother, the Virgin, arose, and she came nigh to me and said,
'O my beloved Son now must the good old man die!' and I answered and
said unto her, 'O my most dear mother, needs must all created beings
die; and death will have his rights, even over thee, beloved mother;
but death to him and to thee is no death, only the passage to eternal
life; and this body I have derived from thee shall also undergo

[Footnote 1: The Arabic MS. in the library at Paris is of the year
1299, and the Coptic version as old as 1367. Extracts from these
were become current in the legends of the West, about the fifteenth
century.--See the "Neu Testamentlichen Apokryphen," edited in German
by Dr. K.F. Borberg.]

And they sat, the Son and the mother, beside Joseph; and Jesus held
his hand, and watched the last breath of life trembling on his lips;
and Mary touched his feet, and they were cold; and the daughters and
the sons of Joseph wept and sobbed around in their grief; and then
Jesus adds tenderly, "I, and my mother Mary, we wept with them."

Then follows a truly Oriental scene, of the evil angels rising up with
Death, and rejoicing in his power over the saint, while Jesus rebukes
them; and at his prayer God sends down Michael, prince of the angelic
host, and Gabriel, the herald of light, to take possession of the
departing spirit, enfold it in a robe of brightness thereby to
preserve it from the "dark angels," and carry it up into heaven.

This legend of the death of Joseph was, in many forms, popular in
the sixteenth century; hence arose the custom of invoking him as
Intercessor to obtain a blessed and peaceful end, so that he became,
in some sort, the patron saint of death-beds; and it is at this time
we find the first representations of the death of Joseph, afterwards
a popular subject in the churches and convents of the Augustine canons
and Carmelite friars, who had chosen him for their patron saint; and
also in family chapels consecrated to the memory or the repose of the

The finest example I have seen, is by Carlo Maratti, in the Vienna
Gallery. St. Joseph is on a couch; Christ is seated near him; and the
Virgin stands by with folded hands, in a sad, contemplative attitude.

       *       *       *       *       *

I am not aware that the Virgin has ever been introduced into any
representation of the temptation or the baptism of our Saviour. These
subjects, so important and so picturesque, are reserved till we enter
upon the History of Christ.


_Ital._ Le Nozze di Cana. _Fr._ Les Noces de Cana. _Ger._ Die Hochzeit
zu Cana.

After his temptation and baptism, the first manifestation of the
divine mission and miraculous power of Jesus was at the wedding
feast at Cana in Galilee; and those who had devoted themselves to the
especial glorification of the Virgin Mother did not forget that it was
at her request this first miracle was accomplished:--that out of her
tender and sympathetic commiseration for the apparent want, arose
her appeal to him,--not, indeed, as requiring anything from him, but,
looking to him with habitual dependence on his goodness and power. She
simply said, "They have no wine!" He replied, "Woman, what have I to
do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come." The term _woman_, thus used,
sounds harsh to us; but in the original is a term of respect. Nor did
Jesus intend any denial to the mother, whom he regarded with dutiful
and pious reverence:--it was merely an intimation that he was not
yet entered into the period of miraculous power. He anticipated
it, however, for her sake, and because of her request. Such is the
view taken of this beautiful and dramatic incident by the early
theologians; and in the same spirit it has been interpreted by the

The Marriage at Cana appears very seldom in the ancient
representations taken from the Gospel. All the monkish institutions
then prevalent discredited marriage; and it is clear that this
distinct consecration of the rite by the presence of the Saviour and
his mother did not find favour with the early patrons of art.

There is an old Greek tradition, that the Marriage at Cana was that
of John the Evangelist. In the thirteenth century, when the passionate
enthusiasm for Mary Magdalene was at its height, it was a popular
article of belief, that the Marriage which Jesus graced with his
presence was that of John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene; and
that immediately after the wedding feast, St. John and Mary, devoting
themselves to an austere and chaste religious life, followed Christ,
and ministered to him.

As a scene in the life of Christ, the Marriage at Cana, is of course
introduced incidentally; but even here, such were the monastic
principles and prejudices, that I find it difficult to point out any
very early example. In the "Manual of Greek Art," published by Didron,
the rules for the representation are thus laid down:--"A table;
around it Scribes and Pharisees; one holds up a cup of wine, and
seems astonished. In the midst, the bride and bridegroom are seated
together. The bridegroom is to have 'grey hair and a round beard
(_cheveux gris et barbe arrondie_); both are to be crowned with
flowers; behind them, a servitor. Christ, the Virgin, and Joseph are
to be on one side, and on the other are six jars: the attendants are
in the act of filling them with water from leathern buckets."

The introduction of Joseph is quite peculiar to Greek art; and the
more curious, that in the list of Greek subjects there is not one from
his life, nor in which he is a conspicuous figure. On the other hand,
the astonished "ruler of the feast" (the _Architriclino_), so dramatic
and so necessary to the comprehension of the scene, is scarcely ever
omitted. The apostles whom we may imagine to be present, are Peter,
Andrew, James, and John.

       *       *       *       *       *

As a separate subject, the Marriage at Cana first became popular in
the Venetian school, and thence extended to the Lombard and German
schools of the same period--that is, about the beginning of the
sixteenth century.

The most beautiful representation I have ever seen is a fresco,
by Luini, in the church of San Maurizio, at Milan. It belongs to a
convent of nuns; and I imagine, from its introduction there, that it
had a mystic signification, and referred to a divine _Sposalizio_.
In this sense, the treatment is perfect. There are just the number
of figures necessary to tell the story, and no more. It is the bride
who is here the conspicuous figure, seated in the centre, arrayed in
spotless white, and represented as a nun about to make her profession;
for this is evidently the intended signification. The bridegroom is at
her side, and near to the spectator. Christ, and the Virgin are seated
together, and appear to be conversing. A man presents a cup of wine.
Including guests and attendants, there are only twelve figures.
The only fault of this exquisite and graceful composition, is the
introduction of a cat and dog in front: we feel that they ought to
have been omitted, as giving occasion for irreverent witticisms.[1]

[Footnote 1: This beautiful fresco, which is seldom seen, being behind
the altar, was in a very ruined condition when I saw it last in 1855.]

In contrast with this picture, and as a gorgeous specimen of the
Venetian style of treatment, we may turn to the "Marriage at Cana" in
the Louvre, originally painted to cover one side of the refectory of
the convent of _San Giorgio Maggiore_ at Venice, whence it was carried
off by the French in 1796. This immense picture is about thirty-six
feet in length, and about twenty feet in height, and contains more
than a hundred figures above life-size. In the centre Christ is
seated, and beside him the Virgin Mother. Both heads are merely
commonplace, and probably portraits, like those of the other
personages at the extremity of the table. On the left are seated the
bride and bridegroom. In the foreground a company of musicians are
performing a concert; behind the table is a balustrade, where are
seen numerous servants occupied in cutting up the viands and serving
dishes, with attendants and spectators. The chief action to be
represented, the astonishing miracle performed by him at whose command
"the fountain blushed into wine," is here quite a secondary matter;
and the value of the picture lies in its magnitude and variety as
a composition, and the portraits of the historical characters and
remarkable personages introduced,--Francis I., his queen Eleanora of
Austria, Charles V. and others. In the group of musicians in front we
recognize Titian and Tintoretto, old Bassano, and Paolo himself.

The Marriage at Cana, as a refectory subject, had been unknown till
this time: it became popular, and Paolo afterwards repeated it several
times. The most beautiful of all, to my feeling, is that in the
Dresden Gallery, where the "ruler of the feast," holding up the glass
of wine with admiration, seems to exclaim, "Thou hast kept the good
wine until now." In another, which is at Milan, the Virgin turns round
to the attendant, and desires him to obey her Son;--"Whatsoever he
saith unto you, do it!"

As the Marriage at Cana belongs, as a subject, rather to the history
of Christ, than to that of the Virgin his mother, I shall not enter
into it further here, but proceed.

       *       *       *       *       *

After the marriage at Cana in Galilee, which may be regarded as the
commencement of the miraculous mission of our Lord, we do not hear
anything of his mother, the Virgin, till the time approached when he
was to close his ministry by his death. She is not once referred to
by name in the Gospels until the scene of the Crucifixion. We are
indeed given to understand, that in the journeys of our Saviour, and
particularly when he went up from Nazareth to Jerusalem, the women
followed and ministered to him (Matt. xxvii. 55, Luke, viii. 2): and
those who have written the life of the Virgin for the edification of
the people, and those who have translated it into the various forms
of art, have taken it for granted that SHE, his mother, could not have
been absent or indifferent where others attended with affection and
zeal: but I do not remember any scene in which she is an actor, or
even a conspicuous figure.

Among the carvings on the stalls at Amiens, there is one which
represents the passage (Matt. xii. 46.) wherein our Saviour, preaching
in Judea, is told that his mother and his brethren stand without.
"But he answering, said to him that told him, 'Who is my mother?
and who are my brethren?' And he stretched forth his hand toward
his disciples, and said, 'Behold my mother and my brethren!'" The
composition exhibits on one side Jesus standing and teaching his
disciples; while on the other, through an open door, we perceive the
Virgin and two or three others. This representation is very rare. The
date of these stalls is the sixteenth century; and such a group in a
series of the life of the Virgin could not, I think, have occurred
in the fifteenth. It would have been quite inconsistent with all the
religious tendencies of that time, to exhibit Christ as preaching
_within_, while his "divine and most glorious" Mother was standing

The theologians of the middle ages insist on the close and mystical
relation which they assure us existed between Christ and his mother:
however far separated, there was constant communion between them; and
wherever he might be--in whatever acts of love, or mercy, or benign
wisdom occupied for the good of man--_there_ was also his mother,
present with him in the spirit. I think we can trace the impress
of this mysticism in some of the productions of the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries. For example, among the frescoes by Angelico da
Fiesole in the cloisters of St. Mark, at Florence, there is one of
the Transfiguration, where the Saviour stands glorified with arms
outspread--a simple and sublime conception,--and on each side, half
figures of Moses and Elias: lower down appear the Virgin and St.
Dominick. There is also in the same series a fresco of the Last Supper
as the Eucharist, in which the Virgin is kneeling, glorified, on one
side of the picture, and appears as a partaker of the rite. Such a
version of either subject must be regarded as wholly mystical and
exceptional, and I am not acquainted with any other instance.


  "O what avails me now that honour high,
  To have conceived of God, and that salute,
  'Hail highly favoured among woman blest!
  While I to sorrows am no less advanced,
  And fears as eminent, above the lot
  Of other women by the birth I bore."
      --"This is my favoured lot,
  My exaltation to afflictions high."


In the Passion of our Lord, taken in connection with the life of the
Virgin Mother, there are three scenes in which she is associated with
the action as an important, if not a principal, personage.

We are told in the Gospel of St. John (chap. xvii), that Christ took a
solemn farewell of his disciples: it is therefore supposed that he did
not go up to his death without taking leave of his Mother,--without
preparing her for that grievous agony by all the comfort that his
tender and celestial pity and superior nature could bestow. This
parting of Christ and his Mother before the Crucifixion is a modern
subject. I am not acquainted with any example previous to the
beginning of the sixteenth century. The earliest I have met with is by
Albert Durer, in the series of the life of the Virgin, but there are
probably examples more ancient, or at least contemporary. In Albert
Durer's composition, Mary is sinking to the earth, as if overcome with
affliction, and is sustained in the arms of two women; she looks up
with folded hands and streaming eyes to her Son who stands before her;
he, with one hand extended, looks down upon her compassionately, and
seems to give her his last benediction. I remember another instance,
by Paul Veronese, full of that natural affectionate sentiment which
belonged to the Venetian school. (Florence Gal.) In a very beautiful
picture by Carotto of Verona, Jesus _kneels_ before his Mother, and
receives her benediction before he departs: this must be regarded
as an impropriety, a mistake in point of sentiment, considering the
peculiar relation between the two personages; but it is a striking
instance of the popular notions of the time respecting the high
dignity of the Virgin Mother. I have not seen it repeated.[1]

[Footnote 1: Verona, San Bernardino. It is worth remarking, with
regard to this picture, that the Intendant of the Convent rebuked
the artist, declaring that he had made the Saviour show _too little_
reverence for his Mother, seeing that he knelt to her on one knee
only.--See the anecdote in _Vasari_, vol. i. p. 651. Fl. Edit. 1838.]

       *       *       *       *       *

It appears from the Gospel histories, that the women who had attended
upon Christ during his ministry failed not in their truth and their
love to the last. In the various circumstances of the Passion of
our Lord, where the Virgin Mother figures as an important personage,
certain of these women are represented as always near her, and
sustaining her with a tender and respectful sympathy. Three are
mentioned by name,--Mary Magdalene; Mary the wife of Cleophas;
and Mary, the mother of James and John. Martha, the sister of Mary
Magdalene, is also included, as I infer from her name, which in
several instances is inscribed in the nimbus encircling her head. I
have in another place given the story of Martha, and the legends
which in the fourteenth century converted her into a very important
character in sacred art, (First Series of Sacred and Legendary Art.)
These women, therefore, form, with the Virgin, the group of _five_
female figures which are generally included in the scriptural scenes
from the Life of Christ.

Of course, these incidents, and more especially the "Procession to
Calvary," and the "Crucifixion," belong to another series of subjects,
which I shall have to treat hereafter in the History of our Lord;
but they are also included in a series of the Rosary, as two of the
mystical SORROWS; and under this point of view I must draw attention
to the peculiar treatment of the Virgin in some remarkable examples,
which will serve as a guide to others.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Procession to Calvary (_Il Portamento della Croce_) followed a
path leading from the gate of Jerusalem to Mount Calvary, which has
been kept in remembrance and sanctified as the _Via Dolorosa_, and
there is a certain spot near the summit of the hill, where, according
to a very ancient tradition, the Virgin Mother, and the women her
companions, placed themselves to witness the sorrowful procession;
where the Mother, beholding her divine Son dragged along, all bleeding
from the scourge, and sinking under his cross, in her extreme agony
sank, fainting, to the earth. This incident gave rise to one of the
mournful festivals of the Passion Week, under the title, in French,
of _Notre Dame du Spasme_ or _de la Pamoison_; in Italian _La Madonna
dello Spasimo_, or _Il Pianto di Maria_; and this is the title given
to some of those representations in which the affliction of Mary is a
prominent part of the tragic interest of the scene. She is sometimes
sinking to the earth, sustained by the women or by St. John; sometimes
she stands with clasped hands, mute and motionless with excess of
anguish; sometimes she stretches out her arms to her Son, as Jesus,
sinking under the weight of his cross, turns his benign eyes upon her,
and the others who follow him: "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for

This is the moment chosen by Raphael in that sublime composition
celebrated under the title "_Lo Spasimo di Sicilia_" (Madrid Gal.);
so called because it was originally painted for the high altar of the
church of the Sicilian Olivetans at Palermo, dedicated to the _Madonna
dello Spasimo_. It was thence removed, by order of Philip IV. of
Spain, early in the seventeenth century, and is now placed in the
gallery at Madrid. Here the group of the five women forms an important
part of the picture, occupying the foreground on the right. The
expression in the face of the Mother, stretching forth her arms to
her Son with a look of appealing agony, has always been cited as one
of the great examples of Raphael's tragic power. It is well known
that in this composition the attitude of Christ was suggested by the
contemporary engraving of Martin Schoen; but the prominence given to
the group of women, the dramatic propriety and pathetic grace in the
action of each, and the consummate skill shown in the arrangement
of the whole, belong only to Raphael.[1] In Martin Schoen's vivid
composition, the Virgin, and the women her companions, are seen far
off in the background, crouching in the "hollow way" between two
cliffs, from which spot, according to the old tradition, they beheld
the sad procession. We have quite a contrary arrangement in an early
composition by Lucas van Leyden. The procession to Calvary is seen
moving along in the far distance, while the foreground is occupied by
two figures only, Mary in a trance of anguish sustained by the weeping
St. John.

[Footnote 1: The veneration at all times entertained for this picture
was probably enhanced by a remarkable fact in its history. Raphael
painted it towards the close of the year 1517, and when finished, it
was embarked at the port of Ostia, to be consigned to Palermo. A storm
came on, the vessel foundered at sea, and all was lost except the case
containing this picture, which was floated by the currents into the
Bay of Genoa; and, on being landed, the wondrous masterpiece of art
was taken out unhurt. The Genoese at first refused to give it up,
insisting that it had been preserved and floated to their shores by
the miraculous interposition of the blessed Virgin herself; and it
required a positive mandate from the Pope before they would restore
it to the Olivetan fathers.--See _Passavant's Rafael_, i. 292.]

In a very fine "Portamento del Croce," by Gaudenzio Ferrari, one of
the soldiers or executioners, in repulsing the sorrowful mother,
lifts up a stick as if to strike her;--a gratuitous act of ferocity,
which shocks at once the taste and the feelings, and, without adding
anything to the pathos of the situation, detracts from the religious
dignity of the theme. It is like the soldier kicking our Saviour,
which I remember to have seen in a version of the subject by a much
later painter, Daniele Crespi.

Murillo represents Christ as fainting under the weight of the cross,
while the Virgin sits on the ground by the way-side, gazing on
him with fixed eyes and folded hands, and a look of unutterable

[Footnote 1: This picture, remarkable for the intense expression, was
in the collection of Lord Orford, and sold in June, 1856.]

       *       *       *       *       *

The Ecce Homo, by Correggio, in our National Gallery, is treated in
a very peculiar manner with reference to the Virgin, and is, in fact,
another version of _Lo Spasimo_, the fourth of her ineffable sorrows.
Here Christ, as exhibited to the people by Pilate, is placed in the
distance, and is in all respects the least important part of the
picture, of which we have the real subject in the far more prominent
figure of the Virgin in the foreground. At sight of the agony and
degradation of her Son, she closes her eyes, and is on the point
of swooning. The pathos of expression in the half-unconscious face
and helpless, almost lifeless hands, which seem to seek support, is
particularly fine.


    "Verum stabas, optima Mater, juxta crucem Filli tui, non solum
    corpore, sed mentis constatia."

This great subject belongs more particularly to the Life of Christ. It
is, I observe, always omitted in a series of the Life of the Virgin,
unless it be the Rosary, in which the "Vigil of the Virgin by the
Cross" is the fifth and greatest of the Seven Sorrows.

We cannot fail to remark, that whether the Crucifixion be treated as a
mystery or as an event, Mary is always an important figure.

In the former case she stands alone on the right of the cross, and St.
John on the left.[1] She looks up with an expression of mingled grief
and faith, or bows her head upon her clasped hands in resignation. In
such a position she is the idealized Mater Dolorosa, the Daughter of
Jerusalem, the personified Church mourning for the great Sacrifice;
and this view of the subject I have already discussed at length.

[Footnote 1: It has been a question with the learned whether the
Virgin Mary, with St. John, ought not to stand on the left of the
cross, in allusion to Psalm cxlii. (always interpreted as prophetic
of the Passion of Christ) ver. 4: "_I looked on my right hand, and be
held, but there was none who would know me._"]

On the other hand, when the Crucifixion is treated as a great
historical event, as a living scene acted before our eyes, then the
position and sentiment given to the Virgin are altogether different,
but equally fixed by the traditions of art. That she was present, and
near at hand, we must presume from the Gospel of St. John, who was an
eye-witness; and most of the theological writers infer that on this
occasion her constancy and sublime faith were even greater than her
grief, and that her heroic fortitude elevated her equally above the
weeping women and the timorous disciples. This is not, however, the
view which the modern painters have taken, and even the most ancient
examples exhibit the maternal grief for a while overcoming the
constancy. She is standing indeed, but in a fainting attitude, as if
about to sink to the earth, and is sustained in the arms of the two
Marys, assisted, sometimes, but not generally, by St. John; Mary
Magdalene is usually embracing the foot of the cross. With very little
variation this is the visual treatment down to the beginning of the
sixteenth century. I do not know who was the first artist who placed
the Mother prostrate on the ground; but it must be regarded as a
fault, and as detracting from the high religious dignity of the
scene. In all the greatest examples, from Cimabue, Giotto, and Pietro
Cavallini, down to Angelico, Masaccio, and Andrea Mantegna, and their
contemporaries, Mary is uniformly standing.

In a Crucifixion by Martin Schoen, the Virgin, partly held up in the
arms of St. John, embraces with fervour the foot of the cross: a very
rare and exceptional treatment, for this is the proper place of Mary
Magdalene. In Albert Durer's composition, she is just in the act of
sinking to the ground in a very natural attitude, as if her limbs had
given way under her. In Tintoretto's celebrated Crucifixion, we have
an example of the Virgin placed on the ground, which if not one of the
earliest, is one of the most striking of the more modern conceptions.
Here the group at the foot of the cross is wonderfully dramatic and
expressive, but certainly the reverse of dignified. Mary lies fainting
on the earth; one arm is sustained by St. John, the other is round the
neck of a woman who leans against the bosom of the Virgin, with eyes
closed, as if lost in grief. Mary Magdalene and another look up to the
crucified Saviour, and more in front a woman kneels wrapped up in a
cloak, and hides her face. (Venice, S. Rocco.)

Zani has noticed the impropriety here, and in other instances, of
exhibiting the "_Grandissima Donna_" as prostrate, and in a state
of insensibility; a style of treatment which, in more ancient times,
would have been inadmissible. The idea embodied by the artist should
be that which Bishop Taylor has _painted_ in words:--"By the cross
stood the holy Virgin Mother, upon whom old Simeon's prophecy was now
verified; for now she felt a sword passing through her very soul.
She stood without clamour and womanish noises sad, silent, and with
a modest grief, deep as the waters of the abyss, but smooth as the
face of a pool; full of love, and patience, and sorrow, and hope!"
To suppose that this noble creature lost all power over her emotions,
lost her consciousness of the "high affliction" she was called to
suffer, is quite unworthy of the grand ideal of womanly perfection
here placed before us. It is clear, however, that in the later
representations, the intense expression of maternal anguish in the
hymn of the Stabat Mater gave the key to the prevailing sentiment.
And as it is sometimes easier to faint than to endure; so it was
easier for certain artists to express the pallor and prostration of
insensibility, than the sublime faith and fortitude which in that
extremest hour of trial conquered even a mother's unutterable woe.

That most affecting moment, in which the dying Saviour recommends his
Mother to the care of the best beloved of his disciples, I have never
seen worthily treated. There are, however, some few Crucifixions in
which I presume the idea to have been indicated; as where the Virgin
stands leaning on St. John, with his sustaining arm reverently round
her, and both looking up to the Saviour, whose dying face is turned
towards them. There is an instance by Albert Durer (the wood-cut
in the "Large Passion"); but the examples are so few as to be

       *       *       *       *       *

THE DESCENT FROM THE CROSS, and the DEPOSITION, are two separate
themes. In the first, according to the antique formula, the Virgin
should stand; for here, as in the Crucifixion, she must be associated
with the principal action, and not, by the excess of her grief,
disabled from taking her part in it. In the old legend it is said,
that when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrenched out the nails
which fastened the hands of our Lord to the cross, St. John took them
away secretly, that his mother might not see them--"_affin que la
Vierge Marie ne les veit pas, crainte que le coeur ne lui amolist_."
And then, while Nicodemus drew forth the nails which fastened his
feet, Joseph of Arimathea sustained the body, so that the head and
arms of the dead Saviour hung over his shoulder. And the afflicted
Mother, seeing this, arose on her feet and she took the bleeding hands
of her Son, as they hung down, and clasped them in her own, and kissed
him tenderly. And then, indeed, she sank to the earth, because of the
great anguish she suffered, lamenting her Son, whom the cruel Jews had

[Footnote 1: "---- tant qu'il n'y a coeur si dur, ni entendement
d'homme qui n'y deust penser. 'Lasse, mon confort! m'amour et ma joye,
que les Juifz ont faict mourir à grand tort et sans cause pour ce
qu'il leur monstrait leurs faltes et enseignoit leur saulvement! O
felons et mauvais Juifz, ne m'epargnez pas! puisque vous crucifiez
mon enfant crucifiez moy--moy qui suis sa dolente mere, et me tuez
d'aucune mort affin que je meure avec luy!'" v. _The old French
Legend_, "_Vie de Notre-Dame la glorieuse Vierge Marie._"]

The first action described in this legend (the afflicted Mother
embracing the arm of her Son) is precisely that which was adopted by
the Greek masters, and by the early Italians who followed them, Nicolo
Pisano, Cimabue, Giotto, Puccio Capanna, Duccio di Siena, and others
from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century. But in later pictures,
the Virgin in the extremity of her grief has sunk to the ground. In an
altar-piece by Cigoli, she is seated on the earth, looking out of the
picture, as if appealing, "Was ever sorrow like unto my sorrow?" while
the crown of thorns lies before her. This is very beautiful; but even
more touching is the group in the famous "Descent from the Cross," the
masterpiece of Daniel di Volterra (Rome, Trinità di Monte): here the
fainting form of the Virgin, extended on the earth, and the dying
anguish in her face, have never been exceeded, and are, in fact, the
chief merit of the picture. In the famous Descent at Antwerp, the
masterpiece of Rubens, Mary stands, and supports the arm of her Son as
he is let down from the cross. This is in accordance with the ancient
version; but her face and figure are the least effective part of this
fine picture.

In a beautiful small composition, a print, attributed to Albert Durer,
there are only three figures. Joseph of Arimathea stands on a ladder,
and detaches from the cross the dead form of the Saviour, who is
received into the arms of his Mother. This is a form of the _Mater
Dolorosa_ which is very uncommon, and must be regarded as exceptional,
and ideal, unless we are to consider it as a study and an incomplete

       *       *       *       *       *

The DEPOSITION is properly that moment which succeeds the DESCENT from
the Cross; when the dead form of Christ is deposed or laid upon the
ground, resting on the lap of his Mother, and lamented by St. John,
the Magdalene, and others. The ideal and devotional form of this
subject, styled a Pietà, may be intended to represent one of those
festivals of the Passion Week which commemorate the participation of
the holy Virgin Mother in the sufferings of her Son.[1] I have already
spoken at length of this form of the Mater Dolorosa; the historical
version of the same subject is what we have now to consider, but only
so far as regards the figure of the Virgin.

[Footnote 1: "C'est ce que l'on a jugé à propos d'appeler _La
Compassion_ de la Vierge, autrement _Notre Dame de Pitié_."--Vide
_Baillet_, "Les Fêtes Mobiles."]

In a Deposition thus dramatically treated, there are always from four
to six or eight figures. The principal group consists of the dead
Saviour and his Mother. She generally holds him embraced, or bends
over him contemplating his dead face, or lays her cheek to his with
an expression of unutterable grief and love: in the antique conception
she is generally fainting; the insensibility, the sinking of the whole
frame through grief, which in the Crucifixion is misplaced, both in
regard to the religious feeling and the old tradition, is here quite
proper.[1] Thus she appears in the genuine Greek and Greco-Italian
productions of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, as well as in
the two finest examples that could be cited in more modern times.

[Footnote 1: The reason given is curious:--"_Perchè quando Gesù pareva
tormentato essendo vivo, il dolore si partiva frà la santissima madre
e lui; ma quando poi egli era morto, tutto il dolore rimaneva per la
sconsolata madre._"]

1. In an exquisite composition by Raphael, usually styled a Pietà,
but properly a Deposition, there are six figures: the extended form
of Christ; the Virgin swooning in the arms of Mary Salome and Mary
Cleophas; Mary Magdalene sustains the feet of Christ, while her sister
Martha raises the veil of the Virgin, as if to give her air; St. John
stands by with clasped hands; and Joseph of Arimathea looks on the
sorrowing group with mingled grief and pity.[1]

[Footnote 1: This wonderful drawing (there is no _finished_ picture)
was in the collection of Count Fries, and then belonged to Sir T.
Lawrence. There is a good engraving by Agricola.]

2. Another, an admirable and celebrated composition by Annibale
Caracci, known as the Four Marys, omits Martha and St. John. The
attention of Mary Magdalene is fixed on the dead Saviour; the other
two Marys are occupied by the fainting Mother. (Castle Howard.) On
comparing this with Raphael's conception, we find more of common
nature, quite as much pathos, but in the forms less of that pure
poetic grace, which softens at once, and heightens the tragic effect.

Besides Joseph of Arimathea, we have sometimes Nicodemus; as in the
very fine Deposition by Perugino, and in one, not loss fine, by Albert
Durer. In a Deposition by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Lazarus, whom Jesus
raised from the dead, stands near his sister Martha.

In a picture by Vandyke, the Mother closes the eyes of the dead
Redeemer: in a picture by Rubens, she removes a thorn from his wounded
brow:--both natural and dramatic incidents very characteristic of
these dramatic painters.

There are some fine examples of this subject in the old German school.
In spite of ungraceful forms, quaint modern costumes, and worse
absurdities, we often find _motifs_, unknown in the Italian school,
most profoundly felt, though not always happily expressed, I remember
several instances in which the Madonna does not sustain her Son; but
kneeling on one side, and, with clasped hands, she gazes on him with
a look, partly of devotion, partly of resignation; both the devotion
and the resignation predominating over the maternal grief. I have
been asked, "why no painter has ever yet represented the Great Mother
as raising her hands in thankfulness that her Son _had_ drank the
cup--_had_ finished the work appointed for him on earth?" This would
have been worthy of the religions significance of the moment; and I
recommend the theme to the consideration of artists.[1]

[Footnote 1: In the most modern Deposition I have seen (one of
infinite beauty, and new in arrangement, by Paul Delaroche), the
Virgin, kneeling at some distance, and a little above, contemplates
her dead Son. The expression and attitude are those of intense
anguish, and _only_ anguish. It is the bereaved Mother; it is a
craving desolation, which is in the highest degree human and tragic;
but it is not the truly religious conception.]

       *       *       *       *       *

The entombment follows, and when treated as a strictly historical
scene, the Virgin Mother is always introduced, though here as a less
conspicuous figure, and one less important to the action. Either
she swoons, which is the ancient Greek conception; or she follows,
with streaming eyes and clasped hands, the pious disciples who bear
the dead form of her Son, as in Raphael's wonderful picture in the
Borghese Palace, and Titian's, hardly less beautiful, in the Louvre,
where the compassionate Magdalene sustains her veiled and weeping
figure;--or she stands by, looking on disconsolate, while the beloved
Son is laid in the tomb.

       *       *       *       *       *

All these fine and important themes belong properly to a series of
the History of Christ. In a series of the Life of the Virgin, the
incidents of the Passion of our Lord are generally omitted; whereas,
in the cycle of subjects styled the ROSARY, the Bearing of the Cross,
the Crucifixion, and the Deposition, are included in the fourth and
fifth of the "Sorrowful Mysteries." I shall have much more to say on
these subjects when treating of the artistic representations from
the History of Christ. I will only add here, that their frequency as
_separate_ subjects, and the preëminence given to the figure of the
Virgin as the mother of Pity, are very suggestive and affecting when
we come to consider their _intention_ as well as their significance.
For, in the first place, they were in most instances the votive
offerings of those who had lost the being most dear to them, and
thus appealed so the divine compassion of her who had felt that sword
"pierce through her own heart also." In this sense they were often
suspended as memorials in the chapels dedicated to the dead, of which
I will cite one very beautiful and touching example. There is a votive
Deposition by Giottino, in which the general conception is that which
belonged to the school, and very like Giotto's Deposition in the Arena
at Padua. The dead Christ is extended on a white shroud, and embraced
by the Virgin; at his feet kneels the Magdalene, with clasped hands
and flowing hair; Mary Salome kisses one of his hands, and Martha
(as I suppose) the other; the third Mary, with long hair, and
head dropping with grief, is seated in front to the right. In the
background, in the centre, stands St. John, bending over the group in
profound sorrow; on his left hand Joseph of Arimathea stands with the
vase of "spices and ointments," and the nails; near him Nicodemus.
On the right of St. John kneels a beautiful young girl, in the rich
Florentine costume, who, with a sorrowful earnestness and with her
hands crossed over her bosom, contemplates the dead Saviour. St.
Romeo (or San Remigio) patron of the church in which the picture was
dedicated, lays his hand paternally on her head; beside her kneels a
Benedictine nun, who in the game manner is presented by St. Benedict.
These two females, sisters perhaps, are the bereaved mourners who
dedicated the picture, certainly one of the finest of the Giottesque

[Footnote 1: It is now in the gallery of the Uffizii, at Florence. In
the Florentine edition of Vasari the name of the church in which this
picture was originally placed is called San _Romeo_, who is St. Remi
(or Remigio), Bishop of Reims. The painter, Giottino, the greatest and
the most interesting, personally, of the Giottesque artists, was, as
Vasari says, "of a melancholy temperament, and a lover of solitude;"
"more desirous of glory than of gain;" "contented with little, and
thinking more of serving and gratifying others than of himself;"
"taking small care for himself, and perpetually engrossed by the works
he had undertaken." He died of consumption, in 1356, at the age of
thirty two.]

Secondly, we find that the associations left in the minds of the
people by the expeditions of the Crusaders and the pilgrimages to
the Holy Sepulchre, rendered the Deposition and the Entombment
particularly popular and impressive as subjects of art, even down to
a late period. "Ce que la vaillante épée des ayeux avait glorieusement
defendu, le ciscaux des enfans aimait à le réproduire, leur piété à
l'honorer." I think we may trace these associations in many examples,
particularly in a Deposition by Raphael, of which there is a fine old
engraving. Here, in the centre, stands a circular building, such as
the church at Jerusalem was always described; in front of which are
seen the fainting Virgin and the mournful women: a grand and solemn
group, but poetically rather than historically treated.

       *       *       *       *       *

In conclusion, I must notice one more form of the Mater Dolorosa, one
of the dramatic conceptions of the later schools of art; as far as I
knew, there exist no early examples.

In a picture by Guercino (Louvre), the Virgin and St. Peter lament the
death of the Saviour. The Mother, with her clasped hands resting on
her knees, appears lost in resigned sorrow: she mourns her Son. Peter,
weeping, as with a troubled grief, seems to mourn at once his Lord
and Master, and his own weak denial. This picture has the energetic
feeling and utter want of poetic elevation which generally
characterized Guercino.

There is a similar group by Ludovico Caracci in the Duonio at Bologna.

In a picture by Tiarini, the _Madre Addolorata_ is seated, holding
in her hand the crown of thorns; Mary Magdalene kneels before her,
and St. John stands by--both expressing the utmost veneration and
sympathy. These and similar groups are especially to be found in the
later Bologna school. In all the instances known to me, they have been
painted for the Dominicans, and evidently intended to illustrate the
sorrows of the Rosary.

In one of the services of the Passion Week, and in particular
reference to the maternal anguish of the Virgin, it was usual to read,
as the Epistle, a selection from the first chapter of the Lamentations
of Jeremiah, eloquent in the language of desolation and grief. The
painters seemed to have filled their imagination with the images
there presented; and frequently in the ideal _Pietà_ the daughter
of Jerusalem "sits solitary, with none to comfort her." It is the
contrary in the dramatic version: the devotion of the women, the
solicitude of the affectionate Magdalene, and the filial reverence of
St. John, whom the scriptural history associates with the Virgin in a
manner so affecting, are never forgotten.

In obedience to the last command of his dying Master, John the

  "He, into whose keeping, from the cross,
  The mighty charge was given--"


conducted to his own dwelling the Mother to whom he was henceforth to
be as a Son. This beautiful subject, "John conducting the Virgin to
his home," was quite unknown, as far as I am aware, in the earlier
schools of art, and appears first in the seventeenth century. An
eminent instance is a fine solemn group by Zurbaran. (Munich.) Christ
was laid in the sepulchre by night, and here, in the gray dawn, John
and the veiled Virgin are seen as returning from the entombment, and
walking mournfully side by side.

       *       *       *       *       *

We find the peculiar relation between the Mother of Christ and St.
John, as her adopted son, expressed in a very tender and ideal manner,
on one of the wings of an altar-piece, attributed to Taddeo Gaddi.
(Berlin Gal., No. 1081.) Mary and St. John stand in front; he holds
one of her hands clasped in both his own, with a most reverent and
affectionate expression. Christ, standing between them, lays one hand
on the shoulder of each; the sentiment of this group is altogether
very unusual; and very remarkable.






The enthusiastic and increasing veneration for the Madonna, the large
place she filled in the religious teaching of the ecclesiastics and
the religious sentiments of the people, are nowhere more apparent,
nor more strikingly exhibited, than in the manner in which she was
associated with the scenes which followed the Passion;--the manner
in which some incidents were suggested, and treated with a peculiar
reference to her, and to her maternal feelings. It is nowhere said
that the Virgin Mother was one of the Marys who visited the tomb on
the morning of the resurrection, and nowhere is she so represented.
But out of the human sympathy with that bereaved and longing heart,
arose the beautiful legend of the interview between Christ and his
Mother after he had risen from the dead.

There existed a very ancient tradition (it is mentioned by St.
Ambrose in the fourth century, as being then generally accepted by
Christians), that Christ, after his return from Hades, visited his
Mother even before he appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden.
It is not indeed so written in the Gospel; but what of that? The
reasoning which led to the conclusion was very simple. He whose last
earthly thought was for his Mother would not leave her without that
consolation it was in his power to give; and what, as a son, it was
his duty to do (for the _humanity_ of Christ is never forgotten by
those who most intensely believed in his _divinity_,) that, of course,
he did do.

The story is thus related:--Mary, when all was "finished," retired
to her chamber, and remained alone with her grief--not wailing, not
repining, not hopeless, but waiting for the fulfilment of the promise.
Open before her lay the volume of the prophecies; and she prayed
earnestly, and she said, "Thou, didst promise, O my most dear Son!
that thou wouldst rise again on the third day. Before yesterday was
the day of darkness and bitterness, and, behold, this is the third
day. Return then to me thy Mother; O my Son, tarry not, but come!"
And while thus she prayed, lo! a bright company of angels, who entered
waving their palms and radiant with joy; and they surrounded her,
kneeling and singing the triumphant Easter hymn, _Regina Coeli lætare,
Alleluia!_[1] And then came Christ partly clothed in a white garment,
having in his left hand the standard of the cross, as one just
returned from the nether world, and victorious over the powers of
sin and death. And with him came the patriarchs and prophets, whose
long-imprisoned spirits he had released from Hades.[2] All these knelt
before the Virgin, and saluted her, and blessed her, and thanked her,
because through her had come their deliverance. But, for all this, the
Mother was not comforted till she had heard the voice of her Son. Then
he, raising his hand in benediction, spoke and said, "I salute thee,
O my Mother!" and she, weeping tears of joy, responded, "Is it thou
indeed, my most dear Son?" and she fell upon his neck, and he embraced
her tenderly, and showed her the wounds he had received for sinful
man. Then he bid her be comforted and weep no more, for the pain
of death had passed away, and the gates of hell had not prevailed
against him. And she thanked him meekly on her knees, for that he had
been pleased to bring redemption to man, and to make her the humble
instrument of his great mercy. And they sat and talked together, until
he took leave of her to return to the garden, and to show himself to
Mary Magdalene, who, next to his glorious Mother, had most need of

[Footnote 1:

  "Regina Coeli lætare Alleluia!
  Quia quem meruisti portare, Alleluia!
  Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia!
  Ora pro nobis Deum, Alleluia!"]

[Footnote 2: The legend of the "Descent into Hades" (or limbo), often
treated of in art, will be given at length in the History of our

[Footnote 3: I have given the legend from various sources; but there
is something quite untranslatable and perfectly beautiful in the
naïveté of the old Italian version. After describing the celestial
music of the angels, the rejoicing of the liberated patriarchs, and
the appearance of Christ, _allegro, e bello e tutto lucido_, it thus
proceeds: "_Quando ella lo vidde, gli andò incontro ella ancora con
le braccia aperte, e quasi tramortita per l'allegrazza. Il benedetto
Gesù l'abbraccio teneressimamente, ed ella glidesse; 'Ahi, figliuolo
mio cordialissimo, sei tu veramente il mio Gesù, ò pur m'inganna
l'affetto!' 'Io sono il tuo figliuolo, madre mia, dolcissima,' disse
il Signore: 'cessino hormai le tue lagrime, non fare ch'io ti veda
più di mala voglia, Già son finiti li tuoi e li miei travagli e dolori
insieme!' Erano rimase alcune lagrime negli occhi della Vergine....
e per la grande allegrezza non poteva proferire parola alcuna ...
ma quando al fine potè parlare, lo ringrazio per parte di tutto
il genere humano, per la redenzione, operata e fatta, per tutto
generalmente."--v. Il Perfetto Legendario_]

The pathetic sentiment, and all the supernatural and mystical
accompaniments of this beautiful myth of the early ages, have been
very inadequately rendered by the artists. It is always treated as a
plain matter-of-fact scene. The Virgin kneels; the Saviour, bearing
his standard, stands before her; and where the delivered patriarchs
are introduced, they are generally either Adam and Eve, the authors
of the fall or Abraham and David, the progenitors of Christ and the
Virgin. The patriarchs are omitted in the earliest instance I can
refer to, one of the carved panels of the stalls in the Cathedral of
Amiens: also in the composition by Albert Durer, not included in his
life of the Virgin, but forming one of the series of the Passion.
Guido has represented the scene in a very fine picture, wherein an
angel bears the standard of victory, and behind our Saviour are Adam
and Eve. (Dresden Gal.)

Another example, by Guercino (Cathedral, Cento), is cited by Goethe
as an instance of that excellence in the expression of the natural
and domestic affections which characterized the painter. Mary kneels
before her Son, looking up in his face with unutterable affection;
he regards her with a calm, sad look, "as if within his noble soul
there still remained the recollection of his sufferings and hers,
outliving the pang of death, the descent into the grave, and which
the resurrection had not yet dispelled." This, however, is not the
sentiment, at once affectionate and joyously triumphant, of the
old legend. I was pleased with a little picture in the Lichtenstein
Gallery at Vienna, where the risen Saviour, standing before his
Mother, points to the page of the book before her, as if he said, "See
you not that thus it is written?" (Luke xxiv. 46.) Behind Jesus is
St. John the Evangelist bearing the cup and the cross, as the cup of
sorrow and the cross of pain, not the mere emblems. There is another
example, by one of the Caracci, in the Fitzwilliam Collection at

A picture by Albano of this subject, in which Christ comes flying or
floating on the air, like an incorporeal being, surrounded by little
fluttering cherubim, very much like Cupids, is an example of all that
is most false and objectionable in feeling and treatment. (Florence,
Pitti Pal.)

The popularity of this scene in the Bologna school of art arose, I
think, from its being adopted as one of the subjects from the Rosary,
the first of "the five Glorious Mysteries;" therefore especially
affected by the Dominicans, the great patrons of the Caracci at that

       *       *       *       *       *

The ASCENSION, though one of the "Glorious Mysteries," was also
accounted as the seventh and last of the sorrows of the Virgin, for
she was then left alone on earth. All the old legends represent her
as present on this occasion, and saying, as she followed with uplifted
eyes the soaring figure of Christ, "My Son, remember me when thou
comest to thy kingdom! Leave me not long after thee, my Son!" In
Giotto's composition in the chapel of the Arena, at Padua, she is by
far the most prominent figure. In almost all the late pictures of the
Ascension, she is introduced with the other Marys, kneeling on one
side, or placed in the centre among the apostles.

       *       *       *       *       *

The DESCENT OF THE HOLY GHOST is a strictly scriptural subject. I
have heard it said that the introduction of Mary is not authorized by
the scripture narrative. I must observe, however that, without any
wringing of the text for an especial purpose, the passage might be
so interpreted. In the first chapter of the Acts (ver. 14), after
enumerating the apostles by name, it is added, "These all continued
with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary
the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren." And in the commencement
of the second chapter the narrative thus proceeds: "And when the day
of Pentecost was fully come, they were _all_ with one accord in
one place." The word _all_ is, in the Concordance, referred to the
previous text (ver. 14), as including Mary and the women: thus they
who were constant in their love were not refused a participation in
the gifts of the Spirit. Mary, in her character of the divine Mother
of Wisdom, or even Wisdom herself,[1] did not, perhaps, need any
accession of intellectual light; but we must remember that the Holy
Spirit was the Comforter, as well as the Giver of wisdom; therefore,
equally needed by those, whether men or women, who were all equally
called upon to carry out the ministry of Christ in love and service,
in doing and in suffering.

[Footnote 1: The sublime eulogium of Wisdom (Prov. viii. 22), is, in
the Roman Catholic Church, applied to the Virgin Mary.]

In the account of the apostles I have already described at length the
various treatment and most celebrated examples of this subject, and
shall only make one or two observations with especial reference to
the figure of the Virgin. It was in accordance with the feelings and
convictions prevalent in the fifteenth century, that if Mary were
admitted to be present, she would take the principal place, as Queen
and Mother of the Apostles (_Regina et Mater Apostolorum_). She
is, therefore, usually placed either in front, or in the centre
on a raised seat or dais; and often holding a book (as the _Mater
Sapientiæ_); and she receives the divine affusion either with veiled
lids and meek rejoicing; or with uplifted eyes, as one inspired, she
pours forth the hymn, _Veni, Sancte Spiritus_.

I agree with the critics that, as the Spirit descended in form
of cloven tongues of fire, the emblem of the Dove, almost always
introduced, is here superfluous, and, indeed, out of place.

       *       *       *       *       *

I must mention here another subject altogether apocryphal, and
confined to the late Spanish and Italian schools: The Virgin receives
the sacramental wafer from the hand of St. John the Evangelist.
This is frequently misunderstood, and styled the Communion of Mary
Magdalene. But the long hair and uncovered head of the Magdalene, and
the episcopal robe of St. Maximin, are in general distinguishable from
the veiled matronly head of the Virgin Mother, and the deacon's vest
of St. John. There is also a legend that Mary received baptism from
St. Peter; but this is a subject I have never met with in art, ancient
or modern. It may possibly exist.

I am not acquainted with any representations taken from the sojourn on
earth of the Blessed Virgin from this time to the period of her death,
the date of which is uncertain. It is, however, generally supposed to
have taken place in the forty-eighth year of our era, and about eleven
years after the Crucifixion, therefore in her sixtieth year. There
is no distinct record, either historical or legendary, as to the
manner in which she passed these years. There are, indeed, floating
traditions alluded to by the early theological writers, that when the
first persecution broke out at Jerusalem, Mary accompanied St. John
the Evangelist to Ephesus, and was attended thither by the faithful
and affectionate Mary Magdalene. Also that she dwelt for some time on
Mount Carmel, in an oratory erected there by the prophet Elijah, and
hence became the patroness of the Carmelites, under the title of Our
Lady of Mount Carmel (_La Madonna del Carmine_, or _del Carmelo_).
If there exist any creations of the artists founded on these obscure
traditions, which is indeed most probable, particularly in the
edifices of the Carmelites in Spain, I have not met with them.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is related that before the apostles separated to obey the command
of their divine Master, and preach the gospel to all the nations of
the earth, they took a solemn leave of the Virgin Mary, and received
her blessing. This subject has been represented, though not by any
distinguished artist. I remember such a picture, apparently of the
sixteenth century, in the Church of S. Maria-in-Capitolio at Cologne,
and another, by Bissoni, in the San Giustina at Padua. (Sacred and
Legendary Art.)


_Lat._ Dormitio, Pausatio, Transitus, Assumptio, B. Virginis. _Ital._
Il Transito di Maria. Il Sonno della Beata Vergine. L' Assunzione.
_Fr._ La Mort de la Vierge. L'Assomption. _Ger._ Das Absterben der
Maria. Maria Himmelfahrt. August, 13, 15.

We approach the closing scenes.

Of all the representations consecrated to the glory of the Virgin,
none have been more popular, more multiplied through every form of
art, and more admirably treated, than her death and apotheosis.
The latter in particular, under the title of "the Assumption,"
became the visible expression of a dogma of faith then universally
received--namely, the exaltation and deification of the Virgin in
the body as well as in the spirit. As such it meets us at every turn
in the edifices dedicated to her; in painting over the altar, in
sculpture over the portal, or gleaming upon us in light from the
shining many-coloured windows. Sometimes the two subjects are
combined, and the death-scene (_Il transito di Maria_) figured below,
is, in fact, only the _transition_ to the blessedness and exaltation
figured above. But whether separate or combined, the two scenes, in
themselves most beautiful and touching,--the extremes of the mournful
and the majestic, the dramatic and the ideal,--offered to the medieval
artists such a breadth of space for the exhibition of feeling and
fancy as no other subject afforded. Consequently, among the examples
handed down to us, are to be found some of the most curious and
important relics of the early schools, while others rank among the
grandest productions of the best ages of art.

For the proper understanding of these, it is necessary to give the old
apocryphal legend at some length; for, although the very curious and
extravagant details of this legend were not authorized by the Church
as matters of fact or faith, it is clear that the artists were
permitted thence to derive their materials and their imagery. In
what manner they availed themselves of this permission, and how far
the wildly poetical circumstances with which the old tradition was
gradually invested, were allowed to enter into the forms of art, we
shall afterwards consider.


    Mary dwelt in the house of John upon Mount Sion looking for
    the fulfilment of the promise of deliverance, and she spent
    her days in visiting those places which had been hallowed by
    the baptism, the sufferings, the burial and resurrection of
    her divine Son, but more particularly the tomb wherein he was
    laid. And she did not this as seeking the living among the
    dead, but for consolation and for remembrance.

    And on a certain day; the heart of the Virgin, being filled
    with an inexpressible longing to behold her Son, melted away
    within her, and she wept abundantly. And lo! an angel appeared
    before her clothed in light as with a garment. And he saluted
    her, and said, "Hail, O Mary! blessed by him who hath given
    salvation to Israel I bring thee here a branch of palm
    gathered in Paradise; command that it be carried before thy
    bier in the day of thy death; for in three days they soul
    shall leave thy body, and though shalt enter into Paradise,
    where thy Son awaits thy coming." Mary, answering, said, "If I
    have found grace in thy eyes, tell me first what is thy name;
    and grant that the apostles my brethren may be reunited to me
    before I die, that in their presence I may give up my soul to
    God. Also, I pray thee, that my soul, when delivered from my
    body, may not be affrighted by any spirit of darkness, nor
    any evil angel be allowed to have any power over me." And the
    angel said, "Why dost thou ask my name? My name is the Great
    and the Wonderful. And now doubt not that all the apostles
    shall be reunited, to thee this day; for he who in former
    times transported the prophet Habakkuk from Judea to Jerusalem
    by the hair of his head, can as easily bring hither the
    apostles. And fear thou not the evil spirit, for hast thou not
    bruised his head and destroyed his kingdom?" And having said
    these words, the angel departed into heaven; and the palm
    branch which he had left behind him shed light from every
    leaf, and sparkled as the stars of the morning. Then Mary
    lighted, the lamps and prepared her bed, and waited until the
    hour was come. And in the same instant John, who was preaching
    at Ephesus, and Peter, who was preaching at Antioch, and all
    the other apostles who were dispersed in different parts of
    the world, were suddenly caught up as by a miraculous power,
    and found themselves before the door of the habitation of
    Mary. When Mary saw them all assembled round her, she blessed
    and thanked the Lord, and she placed in the hands of St. John
    the shining palm, and desired that he should bear it before
    her at the time of her burial. Then Mary, kneeling down, made
    her prayer to the Lord her Son, and the others prayed with
    her; then she laid herself down in her bed and composed
    herself for death. And John wept bitterly. And about the third
    hour of the night, as Peter stood at the head of the bed and
    John at the foot, and the other apostles around, a mighty
    sound filled the house, and a delicious perfume filled
    the chamber. And Jesus himself appeared accompanied by an
    innumerable company of angels, patriarchs, and prophets; all
    these surrounded the bed of the Virgin, singing hymns of joy.
    And Jesus said to his Mother, "Arise, my beloved, mine elect!
    come with me from Lebanon, my espoused! receive the crown that
    is destined for thee!" And Mary, answering, said, "My heart
    is ready; for it was written of me that I should do thy will!"
    Then all the angels and blessed spirits who accompanied Jesus
    began to sing and rejoice. And the soul of Mary left her body,
    and was received into the arms of her Son; and together they
    ascended into heaven.[1] And the apostles looked up, saying,
    "Oh most prudent Virgin, remember us when thou comest to
    glory!" and the angels, who received her into heaven, sung
    these words, "Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness
    leaning upon her Beloved? she is fairer than all the daughters
    of Jerusalem."

[Footnote 1: In the later French legend, it is the angel
Michael who takes charge of the departing soul. "_Ecce Dominus
venit cum multitudine angelorum_; et Jésus Christ vint en grande
compaignie d'anges; entre lesquels estoit Sainct Michel, et quand
la Vierge Marie le veit elle dit, 'Benoist soit Jésus Christ car il
ne m'a pas oubliée.' Quand elle eut ce dit elle rendit l'esprit,
lequel Sainct Michel print."]

    But the body of Mary remained upon the earth; and three among
    the virgins prepared to wash and clothe it in a shroud; but
    such a glory of light surrounded her form, that though they
    touched it they could not see it, and no human eye beheld
    those chaste and sacred limbs unclothed. Then the apostles
    took her up reverently and placed her upon a bier, and John,
    carrying the celestial palm, went before. Peter sung the 114th
    Psalm, "_In exitu Israel de Egypto, domus Jacob de populo
    barbaro_," and the angels followed after, also singing. The
    wicked Jews, hearing these melodious voices, ran together; and
    the high-priest, being seized with fury, laid his hands upon
    the bier intending to overturn it on the earth; but both his
    arms were suddenly dried up, so that he could not move them,
    and he was overcome with fear; and he prayed to St. Peter
    for help, and Peter said, "Have faith in Jesus Christ, and
    his Mother, and thon shalt be healed;" and it was so. Then
    they went on and laid the Virgin in a tomb in the Valley of

[Footnote 1: Or Gethsemane. I must observe here, that in the
genuine oriental legend, it is Michael the Archangel who hews off
the hands of the audacious Jew, which were afterwards, at the
intercession of St. Peter, reunited to his body.]

    And on the third day, Jesus said to the angels, "What honour
    shall I confer on her who was my mother on earth, and brought
    me forth?" And they answered, "Lord, suffer not that body
    which was thy temple and thy dwelling to see corruption; but
    place her beside thee on thy throne in heaven." And Jesus
    consented; and the Archangel Michael brought unto the Lord,
    the glorious soul of our Lady. And the Lord said, "Rise up, my
    dove, my undefiled, for thou shalt not remain in the darkness
    of the grave, nor shall thou see corruption;" and immediately
    the soul of Mary rejoined her body, and she arose up glorious
    from the tomb, and ascended into heaven surrounded and
    welcomed by troops of angels, blowing their silver trumpets,
    touching their golden lutes, singing, and rejoicing as they
    sung, "Who is she that riseth as the morning, fair as the
    moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?"
    (Cant. vi. 10.)

    But one among the apostles was absent; and when he arrived
    soon after, he would not believe in the resurrection of the
    Virgin; and this apostle was the same Thomas, who had formerly
    been slow to believe in the resurrection of the Lord; and he
    desired that the tomb should be opened before him; and when it
    was opened it was found to be full of lilies and roses. Then
    Thomas, looking up to heaven, beheld the Virgin bodily, in a
    glory of light, slowly mounting towards the heaven; and she,
    for the assurance of his faith, flung down to him her girdle,
    the same which is to this day preserved in the cathedral of
    Prato. And there were present at the death of the Virgin
    Mary, besides the twelve apostles, Dionysius the Areopagite,
    Timotheus, and Hierotheus; and of the women, Mary Salome, Mary
    Cleophas,[1] and a faithful handmaid whose name was Savia.

[Footnote 1: According to the French legend, Mary Magdalene and her
sister Martha were also present.]

       *       *       *       *       *

This legend of the Death and Assumption of the Virgin has afforded to
the artists seven distinct scenes.

1. The Angel, bearing the palm, announces to Mary her approaching
death. The announcing angel is usually supposed to be Gabriel, but
it is properly Michael, the "angel of death." 2. She takes leave of
the Apostles. 3. Her Death. 4. She is borne to the Sepulchre. 5.
Her Entombment. 6. Her Assumption, where she rises triumphant and
glorious, "like unto the morning" ("_quasi aurora consurgens_"). 7.
Her Coronation in heaven, where she takes her place beside her Son.

In early art, particularly in the Gothic sculpture, two or more of
these subjects are generally grouped together. Sometimes we have the
death-scene and the entombment on a line below, and, above these,
the coronation or the assumption, as over the portal of Notre Dame at
Paris, and in many other instances; or we have first her death, above
this, her assumption, and, above all, her coronation; as over the
portal at Amiens and elsewhere.

       *       *       *       *       *

I shall now take these subjects in their order.

The angel announcing to Mary her approaching death has been rarely
treated. In general, Mary is seated or standing, and the angel kneels
before her, bearing the starry palm brought from Paradise. In the
frescoes at Orvieto, and in the bas-relief of Oreagna,[1] the angel
comes flying downwards with the palm. In a predella by Fra Filippo
Lippi, the angel kneels, reverently presenting a taper, which the
Virgin receives with majestic grace; St. Peter stands behind. It was
the custom to place a taper in the hand of a dying person; and as the
palm is also given sometimes to the angel of the incarnation, while
the taper can have but one meaning, the significance of the scene
is here fixed beyond the possibility of mistake, though there is a
departure from the literal details of the old legend. There is in
the Munich Gallery a curious German example of this subject by Hans

[Footnote 1: On the beautiful shrine in Or-San-Michele, at Florence.]

       *       *       *       *       *

The death of the Virgin is styled in Byzantine and old Italian art
the Sleep of the Virgin, _Il Sonno della Madonna_; for it was an
old superstition, subsequently rejected as heretical, that she did
not really die after the manner of common mortals, only fell asleep
till her resurrection. Therefore, perhaps, it is, that in the early
pictures we have before us, not so much a scene or action, as a sort
of mysterious rite; it is not the Virgin dead or dying in her bed; she
only slumbers in preparation for her entombment; while in the later
pictures, we have a death-bed scene with all the usual dramatic and
pathetic accessories.

In one sense or the other, the theme has been constantly treated,
from the earliest ages of the revival of art down to the seventeenth

In the most ancient examples which are derived from the Greek school,
it is always represented with a mystical and solemn simplicity,
adhering closely to the old legend, and to the formula laid down in
the Greek Manual.

There is such a picture in the Wallerstein Collection at Kensington
Palace. The couch or bier is in the centre of the picture, and Mary
lies upon it wrapped in a veil and mantle with closed eyes and hands
crossed over her bosom. The twelve apostles stand round in attitudes
of grief angels attend bearing tapers. Behind the extended form of the
Virgin is the figure of Christ; a glorious red seraph with expanded
wings hovers above his head. He holds in his arms the soul of the
Virgin in likeness of a new-born child. On each side stand St.
Dionysius the Areopagite, and St. Timothy, Bishop of Ephesas, in
episcopal robes. In front, the archangel Michael bends forward to
strike off the hands of the high-priest Adonijah, who had attempted to
profane the bier. (This last circumstance is rarely expressed, except
in the Byzantine pictures; for in the Italian legend, the hands of the
intruder wither and adhere to the bed or shrine.) In the picture
just described; all is at once simple, and formal, and solemn, and
supernatural; it is a very perfect example in its way of the genuine
Byzantine treatment. There is a similar picture in the Christian
museum of the Vatican.

Another (the date about the first half of the fourteenth century,
as I think) is curious from the introduction of the women.[1] The
Virgin lies on an embroidered sheet held reverently by angels; at the
feet and at the head other angels bear tapers; Christ receives the
departing soul, which stretches out its arms; St. John kneels in
front, and St. Peter reads the service; the other apostles are behind
him, and there are three women. The execution of this curious picture
is extremely rude, but the heads very fine. Cimabue painted the Death
of the Virgin at Assisi. There is a beautiful example by Giotto, where
two lovely angels stand at the head and two at the feet, sustaining
the pall on which she lies; another most exquisite by Angelico in
the Florence Gallery; another most beautiful and pathetic by Taddeo
Bartoli in the Palazzo Publico at Siena.

[Footnote 1: At present in the collection of Mr. Bromley, of Wootten.]

The custom of representing Christ as standing by the couch or tomb of
his mother, in the act of receiving her soul, continued down to the
fifteenth century, at least with slight deviations from the original
conception. The later treatment is quite different. The solemn
mysterious sleep, the transition from one life to another, became a
familiar death-bed scene with the usual moving accompaniments. But
even while avoiding the supernatural incidents, the Italians gave to
the representation much ideal elegance; for instance, in the beautiful
fresco by Ghirlandajo. (Florence, S. Maria-Novella.)

       *       *       *       *       *

In the old German school we have that homely matter-of-fact feeling,
and dramatic expression, and defiance of all chronological propriety,
which belonged to the time and school. The composition by Albert
Durer, in his series of the Life of the Virgin, has great beauty and
simplicity of expression, and in the arrangement a degree of grandeur
and repose which has caused it to be often copied and reproduced as a
picture, though the original form is merely that of a wood-cut.[1] In
the centre is a bedstead with a canopy, on which Mary lies fronting
the spectator, her eyes half closed. On the left of the bed stands
St. Peter, habited as a bishop: he places a taper in her dying hand;
another apostle holds the asperge with which to sprinkle her with
holy water: another reads the service. In the foreground is a priest
bearing a cross, and another with incense; and on the right, the other
apostles in attitudes of devotion and grief.

[Footnote 1: There is one such copy in the Sutherland Gallery; and
another in the Munich Gallery, Cabinet viii. 161.]

Another picture by Albert Durer, once in the Fries Gallery, at
Vienna, unites, in a most remarkable manner, all the legendary and
supernatural incidents with the most intense and homely reality. It
appears to have been painted for the Emperor Maximilian, as a tribute
to the memory of his first wife, the interesting Maria of Burgundy.
The disposition of the bed is the same as in the wood-cut, the foot
towards the spectator. The face of the dying Virgin is that of the
young duchess. On the right, her son, afterwards Philip of Spain,
and father of Charles V., stands as the young St. John, and presents
the taper; the other apostles are seen around, most of them praying;
St. Peter, habited as bishop, reads from an open book (this is the
portrait of George à Zlatkonia, bishop of Vienna, the friend and
counsellor of Maximilian); behind him, as one of the apostles,
Maximilian himself, with head bowed down, as in sorrow. Three
ecclesiastics are seen entering by an open door, bearing the cross,
the censer, and the holy water. Over the bed is seen the figure of
Christ; in his arms, the soul of the Virgin, in likeness of an infant
with clasped hands; and above all, in an open glory and like a vision,
her reception and coronation in heaven. Upon a scroll over her head,
are the words, "_Surge propera, amica mea; veni de Libano, veni
coronaberis._" (Cant. iv. 8.) Three among the hovering angels bear
scrolls, on one of which is inscribed the text from the Canticles,
"_Quæ est ista quæ progreditur quasi aurora consurgens, pulchra ut
luna, electa ut sol, terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata?_" (Cant.
vi. 10;) on another, "_Quæ est ista quæ ascendit de deserto deliciis
affluens super dilectum suum?_" (Cant. viii. 5;) and on the third,
"_Quæ est ista quæ ascendit super dilectum suum ut virgula fumi?_"
(Cant. iii. 6.) This picture bears the date 1518. If it be true, as
is, indeed, most apparent, that it was painted by order of Maximilian
nearly forty years after the loss of the young wife he so tenderly
loved, and only one year before his own death, there is something
very touching in it as a memorial. The ingenious and tender compliment
implied by making Mary of Burgundy the real object of those mystic
texts consecrated to the glory of the MATER DEI, verges, perhaps,
on the profane; but it was not so intended; it was merely that
combination of the pious, and the poetical, and the sentimental, which
was one of the characteristics of the time, in literature, as well as
in art. (Heller's Albrecht Dürer p. 261.)

The picture by Jan Schoreel, one of the great ornaments of the
Boisserée Gallery,[1] is remarkable for its intense reality and
splendour of colour. The heads are full of character; that of the
Virgin in particular, who seems, with half-closed eyes, in act to
breathe away her soul in rapture. The altar near the bed, having on
it figures of Moses and Aaron, is, however, a serious fault and
incongruity in this fine painting.

[Footnote 1: Munich (70). The admirable lithograph by Strixner is well

I must observe that Mary is not always dead or dying: she is sometimes
preparing for death, in the act of prayer at the foot of her couch,
with the apostles standing round, as in a very fine picture by Martin
Schaffner, where she kneels with a lovely expression, sustained in the
arms of St. John, while St. Peter holds the gospel open before her.
(Munich Gal.) Sometimes she is sitting up in her bed, and reading from
the Book of the Scripture, which is always held by St. Peter.

In a picture by Cola della Matrice, the Death of the Virgin is treated
at once in a mystical and dramatic style. Enveloped in a dark blue
mantle spangled with golden stars, she lies extended on a couch;
St. Peter, in a splendid scarlet cope as bishop, reads the service;
St. John, holding the palm, weeps bitterly. In front, and kneeling
before the coach or bier, appear the three great Dominican saints
as witnesses of the religious mystery; in the centre, St. Dominick;
on the left, St. Catherine of Siena; and on the right, St. Thomas
Aquinas. In a compartment above is the Assumption. (Rome, Capitol.)

       *       *       *       *       *

Among the later Italian examples, where the old legendary accessories
are generally omitted, there are some of peculiar elegance. One
by Ludovico Caracci, another by Domenichino, and a third by Carlo
Maratti, are treated, if not with much of poetry or religious
sentiment, yet with great dignity and pathos.

I must mention one more, because of its history and celebrity:
Caravaggio, of whom it was said that he always painted like a ruffian,
because he _was_ a ruffian, was also a genius in his way, and for a
few months he became the fashion at Rome, and was even patronized by
some of the higher ecclesiastics. He painted for the church of _la
Scala in Trastevere_ a picture of the Death of the Virgin, wonderful
for the intense natural expression, and in the same degree grotesque
from its impropriety. Mary, instead of being decently veiled, lies
extended with long scattered hair; the strongly marked features
and large proportions of the figure are those of a woman of the
Trastevere.[1] The apostles stand around; one or two of them--I must
use the word--blubber aloud: Peter thrusts his fists into his eyes to
keep back the tears; a woman seated in front cries and sobs; nothing
can be more real, nor more utterly vulgar. The ecclesiastics for whom
the picture was executed were so scandalized, that they refused to
hang it up in their church. It was purchased by the Duke of Mantua,
and, with the rest of the Mantuan Gallery, came afterwards into the
possession of our unfortunate Charles I. On the dispersion of his
pictures, it found its way into the Louvre, where it now is. It has
been often engraved.

[Footnote 1: The face has a swollen look, and it was said that
his model had been a common woman whose features were swelled by
intoxication. (Louvre, 32.)]

       *       *       *       *       *

uncommon subject. There is a most beautiful example by Taddeo Bartoli
(Siena, Pal. Publico), full of profound religious feeling. There is
a small engraving by Bonasoni, in a series of the Life of the Virgin,
apparently after Parmigiano, in which the apostles bear her on their
shoulders over rocky ground, and appear to be descending into the
Valley of Jehoshaphat: underneath are these lines:--

  "Portan gli uomini santi in su le spalle
  Al Sepolcro il corpo di Maria
  Di Josaphat nella famosa valle."

There is another picture of this subject by Ludovico Caracci, at

       *       *       *       *       *

THE ENTOMBMENT. In the early pictures, there is little distinction
between this subject and the Death of the Virgin. If the figure
of Christ stand over the recumbent form, holding in his arms the
emancipated soul, then it is the _Transito_--the death or sleep; but
when a sarcophagus is in the centre of the picture, and the body
lies extended above it on a sort of sheet or pall held by angels or
apostles, it may be determined that it is the Entombment of the Virgin
after her death. In a small and very beautiful picture by Angelico, we
have distinctly this representation.[1] She lies, like one asleep, on
a white pall, held reverently by the mourners. They prepare to lay her
in a marble sarcophagus. St. John, bearing the starry palm, appears
to address a man in a doctor's cap and gown, evidently intended for
Dionysius the Areopagite. Above, in the sky, the soul of the Virgin,
surrounded by most graceful angels, is received into heaven. This
group is distinguished from the group below, by being painted in a
dreamy bluish tint, like solidified light, or like a vision.

[Footnote 1: This picture, now in the possession of W. Fuller
Maitland, Esq., was exhibited in the British Institution in the summer
of 1852. It is engraved in the Etruria Pittrice.]

       *       *       *       *       *

THE ASSUMPTION. The old painters distinguish between the Assumption
of the soul and the Assumption of the body of the Virgin. In the first
instance, at the moment the soul is separated from the body, Christ
receives it into his keeping, standing in person either beside her
death-bed or above it. But in the Assumption properly so called, we
have the moment wherein the soul of the Virgin is reunited to her
body, which, at the command of Christ, rises up from the tomb. Of all
the themes of sacred art there is not one more complete and beautiful
than this, in what it represents, and in what it suggests. Earth and
its sorrows, death and the grave, are left below; and the pure spirit
of the Mother again clothed in its unspotted tabernacle, surrounded
by angelic harmonies, and sustained by wings of cherubim and seraphim,
soars upwards to meet her Son, and to be reunited to him forever.

       *       *       *       *       *

We must consider this fine subject under two aspects.

The first is purely ideal and devotional; it is simply the expression
of a dogma of faith, "_Assumpta est Maria Virgo in Coelum_." The
figure of the Virgin is seen within an almond-shaped aureole (the
mandorla), not unfrequently crowned as well as veiled, her hands
joined, her white robe falling round her feet (for in all the early
pictures the dress of the Virgin is white, often spangled with stars),
and thus she seems to cleave the air upwards, while adoring angels
surround the glory of light within which she is enshrined. Such are
the figures which are placed in sculpture over the portals of the
churches dedicated to her, as at Florence.[1] She is not always
standing and upright, but seated on a throne, placed within an aureole
of light, and borne by angels, as over the door of the Campo Santo
at Pisa. I am not sure that such figures are properly styled the
Assumption; they rather exhibit in an ideal form the glorification
of the Virgin, another version of the same idea expressed in the
_Incoronata_. She is here _Varia Virgo Assumpta_, or, in Italian,
_L'Assunta_; she has taken upon her the glory of immortality, though
not yet crowned.

[Footnote 1: The "Santa Maria del Fiore,"--the Duomo.]

But when the Assumption is presented to us as the final scene of her
life, and expresses, as it were, a progressive action--when she has
left the empty tomb, and the wondering, weeping apostles on the earth
below, and rises "like the morning" ("_quasi aurora surgens_") from
the night of the grave,--then we have the Assumption of the Virgin in
its dramatic and historical form, the final act and consummation of
her visible and earthly life. As the Church had never settled in what
manner she was translated into heaven, only pronouncing it heresy to
doubt the fact itself, the field was in great measure left open to the
artists. The tomb below, the figure of the Virgin floating in mid-air,
and the opening heavens above, such is the general conception fixed
by the traditions of art; but to give some idea of the manner in which
this has been varied, I shall describe a few examples.

1. Giunta Pisano, 1230. (Assisi, S. Franceso.) Christ and the Virgin
ascend together in a seated attitude upborne by clouds and surrounded
by angels; his arm is round her. The empty tomb, with the apostles and
others, below. The idea is here taken from the Canticles (ch. viii.),
"Who is this that ariseth from the wilderness leaning upon her

2. Andrea Orcagna, 1359. (Bas-relief, Or-San-Michele, Florence.) The
Virgin Mary is seated on a rich throne within the _Mandorla_, which
is borne upwards by four angels, while two are playing on musical
instruments. Immediately below the Virgin, on the right, is the
figure of St. Thomas, with hands outstretched, receiving the mystic
girdle: below is the entombment; Mary lies extended on a pall above
a sarcophagus. In the centre stands Christ, holding in his arms the
emancipated soul; he is attended by eight angels. St. John is at the
head of the Virgin, and near him an angel swings a censer; St. James
bends and kisses her hand; St. Peter reads as usual; and the other
apostles stand round, with Dionysius, Timothy, and Hierotheus,
distinguished from the apostles by wearing turbans and caps. The whole
most beautifully treated.

I have been minutely exact in describing the details of this
composition, because it will be useful as a key to many others of the
early Tuscan school, both in sculpture and painting; for example, the
fine bas-relief by Nanni over the south door of the Duomo at Florence,
represents St. Thomas in the same manner kneeling outside the aureole
and receiving the girdle; but the entombment below is omitted. These
sculptures were executed at the time when the enthusiasm for the
_Sacratissima Cintola della Madonna_ prevailed throughout the length
and breadth of Tuscany, and Prato had become a place of pilgrimage.

This story of the Girdle was one of the legends imported from the
East. It had certainly a Greek origin;[1] and, according to the Greek
formula, St. Thomas is to be figured apart in the clouds, on the
right of the Virgin, and in the act of receiving the girdle. Such is
the approved arrangement till the end of the fourteenth century;
afterwards we find St. Thomas placed below among the other apostles.

[Footnote 1: It may be found in the Greek Menologium, iii. p. 225]


An account of the Assumption would be imperfect without some notice
of the western legend, which relates the subsequent history of the
Girdle, and its arrival in Italy, as represented in the frescoes of
Agnolo Gaddi at Prato.[1]

[Footnote 1: _Notizie istoriche intorno alla Sacratissima Cintola
di Maria Vergine, che si conserva, nella Città di Prato, dal Dottore
Giuseppe Bianchini di Prato_, 1795.]

The chapel _della Sacratissima Cintola_ was erected from the designs
of Giovanni Pisano about 1320. This "most sacred" relic had long been
deposited under the high altar of the principal chapel, and held in
great veneration; but in the year 1312, a native of Prato, whose name
was Musciatino, conceived the idea of carrying it off, and selling it
in Florence. The attempt was discovered; the unhappy thief suffered
a cruel death; and the people of Prato resolved to provide for the
future custody of the precious relic a new and inviolable shrine.

The chapel is in the form of a parallelogram, three sides of which are
painted, the other being separated from the choir by a bronze gate of
most exquisite workmanship, designed by Ghiberti, or, as others say,
by Brunelleschi, and executed partly by Simone Donatello.

On the wall, to the left as we enter, is a series of subjects from the
Life of the Virgin, beginning, as usual, with the Rejection of Joachim
from the temple, and ending with the Nativity of our Saviour.

The end of the chapel is filled up by the Assumption of the Virgin,
the tomb being seen below, surrounded by the apostles; and above it
the Virgin, as she floats into heaven, is in the act of loosening her
girdle, which St. Thomas, devoutly kneeling, stretches out his arms to
receive. Above this, a circular window exhibits, in stained glass, the
Coronation of the Virgin, surrounded by a glory of angels.

On the third wall to the right we have the subsequent History of the
Girdle, in six compartments.

St. Thomas, on the eve of his departure to fulfil his mission as
apostle in the far East, intrusts the precious girdle to the care of
one of his disciples, who receives it from his hands in an ecstasy of
amazement and devotion.

The deposit remains, for a thousand years, shrouded from the eyes
of the profane; and the next scene shows us the manner in which it
reached the city of Prato. A certain Michael of the Dogomari family
in Prato, joined, with a party of his young townsmen, the crusade
in 1096. But, instead of returning to his native country after the
war was over, this same Michael took up the trade of a merchant,
travelling from land to land in pursuit of gain, until he came to the
city of Jerusalem, and lodged in the house of a Greek priest, to whom
the custody of the sacred relic had descended from a long line of
ancestry; and this priest, according to the custom of the oriental
church, was married, and had "one fair daughter, and no more, the
which he loved passing well," so well, that he had intrusted to her
care the venerable girdle. Now it chanced that Michael, lodging in
the same house, became enamoured of the maiden, and not being able to
obtain the consent of her father to their marriage, he had recourse
to the mother, who, moved by the tears and entreaties of the daughter,
not only permitted their union, but bestowed on her the girdle as a
dowry, and assisted the young lovers in their flight.

In accordance with this story, we have, in the third compartment, the
Marriage of Michael with the Eastern Maiden, and then the Voyage from
the Holy Land to the Shores of Tuscany. On the deck of the vessel, and
at the foot of the mast, is placed the casket containing the relic, to
which the mariners attribute their prosperous voyage to the shores of
Italy. Then Michael is seen disembarking at Pisa, and, with his casket
reverently carried in his hands, he reenters the paternal mansion in
the city of Prato.

Then we have a scene of wonder. Michael is extended on his bed in
profound sleep. An angel at his head, and another at his feet, are
about to lift him up; for, says the story, Michael was so jealous
of his treasure, that not only he kindled a lamp every night in its
honour, but, fearing he should be robbed of it, he placed it under
his bed, which action, though suggested by his profound sense of its
value, offended his guardian angels, who every night lifted him from
his bed and placed him on the bare earth, which nightly infliction
this pious man endured rather than risk the loss of his invaluable
relic. But after some years Michael fell sick and died.

In the last compartment we have the scene of his death. The bishop
Uberto kneels at his side, and receives from him the sacred girdle,
with a solemn injunction to preserve it in the cathedral church of the
city, and to present it from time to time for the veneration of the
people, which injunction Uberto most piously fulfilled; and we see him
carrying it, attended by priests bearing torches, in solemn procession
to the chapel, in which it has ever since remained.

Agnolo Gaddi was but a second-rate artist, even for his time, yet
these frescoes, in spite of the feebleness and general inaccuracy
of the drawing, are attractive from a certain _naïve_ grace; and the
romantic and curious details of the legend have lent them so much of
interest, that, as Lord Lindsay says, "when standing on the spot one
really feels indisposed for criticism."[1]

[Footnote 1: M. Rio is more poetical. "Comme j'entendais raconter
cette légende pour la première fois, il me semblait que le tableau
réfléchissait une partie de la poésie qu'elle renferme. Cet amour
d'outre mer mêlé aux aventures chevaleresques d'une croisade, cette
relique précieuse donnée pour dot à une pauvre fille, la dévotion
des deux époux pour ce gage révéré de leur bonheur, leur départ
clandestin, leur navigation prospère avec des dauphins qui leur font
cortège à la surface des eaux, leur arrivée à Prato et les miracles
répétés qui, joints à une maladie mortelle, arracèhrent enfin de la
bouche du moribond une déclaration publique à la suite de laquelle
la ceinture sacrée fut déposée dans la cathédrale, tout ce mélange
de passion romanesque et de piété naïve, avait effacé pour moi les
imperfections techniques qui au raient pu frapper une observateur de

The exact date of the frescoes executed by Agnolo Gaddi is not known,
but, according to Vasari, he was called to Prato _after_ 1348. An
inscription in the chapel refers them to the year 1390, a date too
late to be relied on. The story of Michele di Prato I have never seen
elsewhere; but just as the vicinity of Cologne, the shrine of the
"Three Kings," had rendered the Adoration of the Magi one of the
popular themes in early German and Flemish art; so the vicinity of
Prato rendered the legend of St. Thomas a favourite theme of the
Florentine school, and introduced it wherever the influence of that
school had extended. The fine fresco by Mainardi, in the Baroncelli
Chapel, is an instance; and I must cite one yet finer, that by
Ghirlandajo in the choir of S. Maria-Novella: in this last-mentioned
example, the Virgin stands erect in star-bespangled drapery and
closely veiled.

We now proceed to other examples of the treatment of the Assumption.

3. Taddeo Bartoli, 1413. He has represented the moment in which the
soul is reunited to the body. Clothed in a starry robe she appears in
the very act and attitude of one rising up from a reclining position,
which is most beautifully expressed, as if she were partly lifted
up upon the expanded many-coloured wings of a cluster of angels, and
partly drawn up, as it were, by the attractive power of Christ, who,
floating above her, takes her clasped hands in both his. The intense,
yet tender ecstasy in _her_ face, the mild spiritual benignity in
_his_, are quite indescribable, and fix the picture in the heart and
the memory as one of the finest religious conceptions extant. (Siena,
Palazzo Publico.)

I imagine this action of Christ taking her hands in both his, must be
founded on some ancient Greek model, for I have seen the same _motif_
in other pictures, German and Italian; but in none so tenderly or so
happily expressed.

4. Domenico di Bartolo, 1430. A large altar-piece. Mary seated on a
throne, within a glory of encircling cherubim of a glowing red, and
about thirty more angels, some adoring, others playing on musical
instruments, is borne upwards. Her hands are joined in prayer, her
head veiled and crowned, and she wears a white robe, embroidered
with golden flowers. Above, in the opening heaven, is the figure of
Christ, young and beardless (_à l'antique_), with outstretched arms,
surrounded by the spirits of the blessed. Below, of a diminutive
size, as if seen from a distant height, is the tomb surrounded by
the apostles, St. Thomas holding the girdle. This is one of the most
remarkable and important pictures of the Siena school, out of Siena,
with which I am acquainted. (Berlin Gal., 1122.)

5. Ghirlandajo, 1475. The Virgin stands in star-spangled drapery, with
a long white veil, and hands joined, as she floats upwards. She is
sustained by four seraphim. (Florence, S. Maria-Novella.)

6. Raphael, 1516. The Virgin is seated within the horns of a crescent
moon, her hands joined. On each side an angel stands bearing a flaming
torch; the empty tomb and the eleven apostles below. This composition
is engraved after Raphael by an anonymous master (_Le Maitre au
dé_). It is majestic and graceful, but peculiar for the time. The two
angels, or rather genii, bearing torches on each side, impart to the
whole something of the air of a heathen apotheosis.

7. Albert Durer. The apostles kneel or stand round the empty tomb;
while Mary, soaring upwards, is received into heaven by her Son; an
angel on each side.

8. Gaudenzio Ferrari, 1525. Mary, in a white robe spangled with stars,
rises upward as if cleaving the air in an erect position, with her
hands extended, but not raised, and a beautiful expression of mild
rapture, as if uttering the words attributed to her, "My heart is
ready;" many angels, some of whom bear tapers, around her. One angel
presents the end of the girdle to St. Thomas; the other apostles and
the empty tomb lower down. (Vercelli, S. Cristofore.)

9. Correggio. Cupola of the Duomo at Parma, 1530. This is, perhaps,
one of the earliest instances of the Assumption applied as a grand
piece of scenic decoration; at all events we have nothing in
this luxuriant composition of the solemn simplicity of the older
conception. In the highest part of the Cupola, where the strongest
light falls, Christ, a violently foreshortened figure, precipitates
himself downwards to meet the ascending Madonna, who, reclining amid
clouds, and surrounded by an innumerable company of angels, extends
her arms towards him. One glow of heavenly rapture is diffused over
all; but the scene is vast, confused, almost tumultuous. Below, all
round the dome, as if standing on a balcony, appear the apostles.

10. Titian, 1540 (about). In the Assumption at Venice, a picture of
world-wide celebrity, and, in its way, of unequalled beauty, we have
another signal departure from all the old traditions. The noble figure
of the Virgin in a flood of golden light is borne, or rather impelled,
upwards with such rapidity, that her veil and drapery are disturbed
by the motion. Her feet are uncovered, a circumstance inadmissible in
ancient art; and her drapery, instead of being white, is of the usual
blue and crimson, her appropriate colours in life. Her attitude,
with outspread arms--her face, not indeed a young or lovely face,
but something far better, sublime and powerful in the expression of
rapture--the divinely beautiful and childish, yet devout, unearthly
little angels around her--the grand apostles below--and the splendour
of colour over all--render this picture an enchantment at once to the
senses and the imagination; to me the effect was like music.

11. Palma Vecchio, 1535. (Venice Acad.) The Virgin looks down, not
upwards, as is usual, and is in the act of taking off her girdle to
bestow it on St. Thomas, who, with ten other apostles, stands below.

12. Annibale Caracci, 1600. (Bologna Gal.) The Virgin amid a crowd
of youthful angels, and sustained by clouds, is placed _across_ the
picture with extended arms. Below is the tomb (of sculptured marble)
and eleven apostles, one of whom, with an astonished air, lifts from
the sepulchre a handful of roses. There is another picture wonderfully
fine in the same style by Agostino Caracci. This fashion of varying
the attitude of the Virgin was carried in the later schools to every
excess of affectation. In a picture by Lanfranco. she cleaves the air
like a swimmer, which is detestable.

13. Rubens painted at least twelve Assumptions with characteristic
_verve_ and movement. Some of these, if not very solemn or poetical,
convey very happily the idea of a renovated life. The largest and most
splendid as a scenic composition is in the Musée at Brussels. More
beautiful, and, indeed, quite unusually poetical for Rubens, is
the small Assumption in the Queen's Gallery, a finished sketch for
the larger picture. The majestic Virgin, arrayed in white and blue
drapery, rises with outstretched arms, surrounded by a choir of
angels; below, the apostles and the women either follow with upward
gaze the soaring ecstatic figure, or look with surprise at the flowers
which spring within the empty tomb.

In another Assumption by Rubens, one of the women exhibits the
miraculous flowers in her apron, or in a cloth, I forget which; but
the whole conception, like too many of his religious subjects, borders
on the vulgar and familiar.

14. Guido, as it is well known, excelled in this fine subject,--I
mean, according to the taste and manner of his time and school. His
ascending Madonnas have a sort of aërial elegance, which is very
attractive; but they are too nymph-like. We must be careful to
distinguish in his pictures (and all similar pictures painted after
1615) between the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception; it is a
difference in sentiment which I have already pointed out. The small
finished sketch by Guido in our National Gallery is an Assumption and
Coronation together: the Madonna is received into heaven as _Regina
Angelorum_. The fine large Assumption in the Munich Gallery may be
regarded as the best example of Guido's manner of treating this theme.
His picture in the Bridgewater Gallery, often styled an Assumption, is
an Immaculate Conception.

The same observations would apply to Poussin, with, however, more of
majesty. His Virgins are usually seated or reclining, and in general
we have a fine landscape beneath.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Assumption, like the Annunciation, the Nativity, and other
historical themes, may, through ideal accessories, assume a purely
devotional form. It ceases then to be a fact or an event, and becomes
a vision or a mystery, adored by votaries, to which attendant saints
bear witness. Of this style of treatment there are many beautiful

1. Early Florentine, about 1450. (Coll. of Fuller Maitland, Esq.)
The Virgin, seated, elegantly draped in white, and with pale-blue
ornaments in her hair, rises within a glory sustained by six angels;
below is the tomb full of flowers and in front, kneeling, St. Francis
and St. Jerome.

2. Ambrogio Borgognone--1506. (Milan, Brera.) She stands, floating
upwards In a fine attitude: two angels crown her; others sustain her;
others sound their trumpets. Below are the apostles and empty tomb; at
each side, St. Ambrose and St. Augustine; behind them, St. Cosimo and
St. Damian; the introduction of these saintly apothecaries stamps the
picture as an ex-voto--perhaps against the plague. It is very fine,
expressive, and curious.

3. F. Granacci. 1530.[1] The Virgin, ascending in glory, presents
her girdle to St. Thomas, who kneels: on each, side, standing as
witnesses. St. John the Baptist, as patron of Florence, St. Laurence,
as patron of Lorenzo de' Medici, and the two apostles, St. Bartholomew
and St. James.

[Footnote 1: In the Casa Ruccellai (?) Engraved in the _Etruria

4. Andrea del Sarto, 1520. (Florence, Pitti Pal.) She is seated
amid vapoury clouds, arrayed in white: on each side adoring angels:
below, the tomb with the apostles, a fine solemn group: and hi front,
St. Nicholas, and that interesting penitent saint, St. Margaret of
Cortona. (Legends of the Monastic Orders.) The head of the Virgin
is the likeness of Andrea's infamous wife; otherwise this is a
magnificent picture.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Coronation of the Virgin follows the Assumption. In some
instances, this final consummation of her glorious destiny supersedes,
or rather includes, her ascension into heaven. As I have already
observed, it is necessary to distinguish this scenic Coronation from
the mystical INCORONATA, properly so called, which is the triumph of
the allegorical church, and altogether an allegorical and devotional
theme; whereas, the scenic Coronation is the last event in a series of
the Life of the Virgin. Here we have before us, not merely the court
of heaven, its argent fields peopled with celestial spirits, and the
sublime personification of the glorified Church exhibited as a vision,
and quite apart from all real, all human associations; but we have
rather the triumph of the human mother;--the lowly woman lifted
into immortality. The earth and its sepulchre, the bearded apostles
beneath, show us that, like her Son, she has ascended into glory by
the dim portal of the grave, and entered into felicity by the path of
pain. Her Son, next to whom she has taken her seat, has himself wiped
the tears from her eyes, and set the resplendent crown upon her head;
the Father blesses her; the Holy Spirit bears witness; cherubim and
seraphim welcome her, and salute her as their queen. So Dante,--

    "At their joy
  And carol smiles the Lovely One of heaven,
  That joy is in the eyes of all the blest."

Thus, then, we must distinguish:--

1. The Coronation of the Virgin is a strictly devotional subject where
she is attended, not merely by angels and patriarchs, but by canonized
saints and martyrs, by fathers and doctors of the Church, heads of
religious orders in monkish dresses, patrons and votaries.

2. It is a dramatic and historical subject when it is the last scene
in a series of the Life of the Virgin; when the death-bed, or the
tomb, or the wondering apostles, and weeping women, are figured on
the earth below.

Of the former treatment, I have spoken at length. It is that most
commonly met with in early pictures and altar-pieces.

With regard to the historical treatment, it is more rare as a separate
subject, but there are some celebrated examples both in church
decoration and in pictures.

1. In the apsis of the Duomo at Spoleto, we have, below, the death
of the Virgin in the usual manner, that is, the Byzantine conception
treated in the Italian style, with Christ receiving her soul, and over
it the Coronation. The Virgin kneels in a white robe, spangled with
golden flowers; and Christ, who is here represented rather as the
Father than the Son, crowns her as queen of heaven.

2. The composition by Albert Durer, which concludes his fine series
of wood-cuts, the "Life, of the Virgin" is very grand and singular. On
the earth is the empty tomb; near it the bier; around stand the twelve
apostles, all looking up amazed. There is no allusion to the girdle,
which, indeed, is seldom found in northern art. Above, the Virgin
floating in the air, with the rainbow under her feet, is crowned by
the Father and the Son, while over her head hovers the holy Dove.

3. In the Vatican is the Coronation attributed to Raphael. That he
designed the cartoon, and began the altar-piece, for the nuns of
Monte-Luce near Perugia, seems beyond all doubt; but it is equally
certain that the picture as we see it was painted almost entirely by
his pupils Giulo Romano and Gian Francesco Penni. Here we have the
tomb below, filled with flowers; and around it the twelve apostles;
John and his brother James, in front, looking up; behind John, St.
Peter; more in the background, St. Thomas holds the girdle. Above is
the throne set in heaven, whereon the Virgin, mild and beautiful, sits
beside her divine Son, and with joined hands, and veiled head, and
eyes meekly cast down, bends to receive the golden coronet he is about
to place on her brow. The Dove is omitted, but eight seraphim, with
rainbow-tinted wings, hover above her head. On the right, a most
graceful angel strikes the tambourine; on the left, another, equally
graceful, sounds the viol; and, amidst a flood of light, hosts of
celestial and rejoicing spirits fill up the background.

Thus, in highest heaven, yet not out of sight of earth, in beatitude
past utterance, in blessed fruition of all that faith creates and love
desires, amid angel hymns and starry glories, ends the pictured life


*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Legends of the Madonna" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.