Skip to comments.Vatican plea to uncover Virgin Mary and show her breast-feeding baby Jesus
Posted on 06/30/2008 10:43:44 PM PDT by annalex
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Doom, North Cove, Suffolk
Photo:T.Marshall The central portion of the Doom at North Cove, showing Christ in Judgement, with the (bare-breasted) Virgin at the left and John the Baptist to the right, pleading with arms raised in intercession. The spotted mantle, held open to show the wound in Christs side, may be intended for ermine, and the swirling decorative whorls around his legs are probably an attempt to suggest clouds. He sits on a rainbow, and below his feet are four angels with blue wings sounding trumpets - that of the angel at the extreme right is clearest.
Doom, North Cove, Suffolk (St.Edmundsbury & Ipswich) C.14/15
Below the trumpeting angels, the dead, the coffins (they look like stone sarcophagi) of three of them fairly clear, are about to rise. The probable Donor of all the paintings in the church - in other words the patron who paid the artist to make them - is shown quite alone on the opposite wall, resurrected, sitting up in her tomb, and looking at the Judgement taking place across the chancel.
At the right is an enlarged detail of the bare-breasted Virgin, crowned and with a very large halo, reminding her son of her nurturing by her gesture, much like her slightly later counterpart at Ickleton. The stylistic differences between the two are instructive as evidence of the individual personal approaches, treatments, and indeed skills, of different painters.
Opposite the Virgin and below at the left are enlarged details of John the Baptist (possibly John the Evangelist, but this is less likely), and an angel with Instruments of the Passion - the spear at least is here, and possibly the sponge as well. On the right of the photograph, the decorative detail - a grape and vine stem pattern surrounding all the paintings at North Cove - shows well, but it is seen to best effect in the Passion Cycle, particularly the Harrowing of Hell.
Further below and to the right of John, St. Peter, or perhaps an angel, standing at the left, welcomes souls. Two of them at the extreme right (scroll right) seem to be embracing each other.
Below this, further to the right still, and shown below at the right, St. Michael, sword drawn and threateningly raised, drives the damned away. The detail is very faint now, but it is relatively unusual in English wallpainting to see Michael in this role, the job being done usually by devils.
But there is no discernible Mouth of Hell in this Doom, probably because across the aisle on the North Wall is the graphically-painted Harrowing of Hell, part of the Passion Cycle. In a quite narrow space, one Hell was no doubt thought to be enough.
Photo : T.Marshall
The Doom, Ickleton, Cambs. (Ely) C.14 (central area & detail)
Although much of it has been lost and most of the rest is faded, this 14th century Doom (over the chancel arch) has one very unusual feature, namely the Virgin baring her breasts in supplication to her Son (detail, right, below).
This gesture, pagan in origin but found occasionally in Christian art, is extremely rare in the English church, but there is another example of it, probably from around the
same date (but very different in style), in the Doom at North Cove in Suffolk. The gesture might almost have been designed to draw fire from those of an iconoclastic turn of mind, particularly after the Protestant Reformation. In 1570 the Flemish theologian John Molanus had this to say of it:
Many painters show Mary and John the Baptist kneeling beside Our lord at the Last Judgment...But we may not think that at that day the Virgin Mary will kneel for us before the Judge, baring her breast to intercede for sinners. Nor may we think that John the Baptist will fall upon his knees to beg mercy for mankind in the way the painters show. Rather, the blessed Virgin and St. John shall sit beside the supreme Judge as assessors. The mercy which is extended now will have no place then. There will only be strict justice at that day.¹Hard as it is to warm to Molanus, his pronouncement is a telling comment on the magnitude of the Reformation sea-change.
There are other paintings at Ickleton, including the early and high-quality true fresco Passion Cycle already in these pages.
¹J.Molanus, De Historia SS. Imaginum et Picturarum pro vero earum usu contra abusus, Louvain, 1594, Book iv. cap.24. in A. Caiger-Smith, English Medieval Wall Paintings [Bibliography Page], p. 35.
Wall painting was once the national gallery of England. The imprinting of natural colours into moist plaster defied the passage of time. Kempley's colours seem to glow even more vividly when the walls become moist. Churches were entirely coated in these messages, telling stories, recording pilgrimages, terrifying the wicked, saluting St Christopher, the saint of travellers, or just graffiti celebrating life on Earth.The extent of the destruction of English Christian heritage by Protestant vandals boggles the mind. Christians received better treatment from the Turks.
The Reformation whitewashed over most church murals, or over-painted them with "the word" - biblical texts, creeds and commandments. But substantial sets have come to light, the "Sussex school" at Clayton and Hardham, Copford in Essex, Ickleton in Cambridgeshire and the great Doom painting in St Thomas's, Salisbury. While stained glass, sculpture, screens and icons were stolen and smashed, wall paintings slept undisturbed until roused by scholars such as Ernest Tristram and Clive Rouse.
Many of these paintings would be on London pedestals, had some avaricious director been able to prise them from the walls, as they did so much of the stained glass and statuary now in the V&A and elsewhere. The lovely swaying figures of the Brent Eleigh crucifixion in Suffolk might have stepped from a work by Italian painter Cimabue. Norwich St Gregory's George and Dragon would pass muster in an Italian sanctuary. The terrifying Ladder of Salvation in Chaldon, Surrey, is pure Hieronymus Bosch. The Lily Crucifix in Godshill on the Isle of Wight is delicate beyond compare.
Overwhelming these delights is despair at the sheer ragged incompleteness of it all. To study this elusive art is to gaze on mostly a ruin. It is as if every painting in every gallery were a tattered piece of canvas in a broken frame; as if the parish church as the aesthetic climax of English life, offering a narrative of its past, were just a mausoleum.
funny, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so depicted.
Monty Python would call it, Our Lady of the Naughty Bits. ;-)
In addition to being free of Original Sin, she appears to be free from Gravity.
Hence the Vatican's suggestion.
Thank you for the great gallery of Christian art. I am by education an Art Historian and am continually embarrassed by how little most Christians know about the 2000 years of strong Christian art that exists in the world.
That’s what God made them for.
naturally, but I would have expected to see it in a museum
Of course. We got that.
You are welcome. FR used to have great art threads; I see less of it now. We should do something about that.
here, here! or hear, hear! :)
I posted a quote to that thread that was:
1. From a famous book written in the 1790's
2. Exactly on topic
3. At least plausibly not a fictional description
So hopefully that didn't have anything to do with the pulling of the thread.
I appreciate your art historical research and the chance to view these varied works. A lot of my childhood was spent visiting thousands of museums and some of it sank in.
I saw your post. No, I don’t think your hilarious post had anything to do with the pulling of the thread.
SatinDoll; why are you so distressed? Christians are a self flagellating group of people; they always have been and probability always will be. We will never appreciate the full scope of art that weve inherited from generations past; nor will we ever appreciate the sacrifices of those whose names we inherit today. I wish it were not true but its simply a sad fact of life, my lady.
Medieval Wall Painting : A Short Introduction
Probably as soon as internal church walls began to be covered with smooth plaster the habit of painting on them began; even in Saxon times there were a few stone churches and some of these must have had paintings. For all practical purposes though, wall painting in the English church dates from after the Norman Conquest, and a few 11th century paintings still survive.¹ In later centuries there was much stylistic development, and this continued down to the English Reformation, where the story effectively ends in successive waves of iconoclastic destruction. From the start the materials were of the simplest - the universal use of the earth pigments red and yellow ochre reflects the fact that they were widely available. Together with black and white these, variously mixed to provide a surprisingly wide range of shades, form the basic palette. Blues are rare - the stable pigment ultramarine made from lapis lazuli cost more than gold leaf, and even cheaper blues were costly. Green, usually a copper salt, is sometimes found, and occasionally the brighter but thoroughly unstable red, vermilion.
Some underdrawing seems to have gone on, but after that the paint went straight onto the prepared wall - preparation in this case being limited to a coat of sizing material, usually based on casein or a thin skim of lime plaster. True fresco, where a fresh area of wet plaster is worked on immediately after application, is extremely rare in the English parish church, although there are two examples (Ickleton and Copford) in these pages.
The subjects painted come mainly from Christian history, although some secular scenes appear and there is much decorative painting - scrollwork, flower and leaf patterns, and so on. Christian history in the Middle Ages, though, involved a great deal more than the Christian story as narrated in the New Testament. There are examples on these pages of the accretions which clustered around the Gospel accounts and were firmly believed in as historical fact, such as the story of Longinus. Although specific parallels between what was preached in the church and the stories that appeared on the walls are hard to track down, the painted wall clearly had much the same didactic intention as the sermon - in other words to teach Christian truth as it was understood, and to improve peoples behaviour through moral instruction and example. Some very specific examples of the latter - the Moralities have survived, and there are several on this site. By contrast, in fact, paintings of Christs earthly ministry, including the Miracles, are now very rare indeed, and seem always to have been so.
The old idea that early church wall painting in England (or indeed elsewhere) is best described as primitive, or naive needs to be resisted. These descriptions no doubt owe something to the post-Enlightenment aesthetic that saw such paintings as evidence not merely of Popery, but of crude vulgarity as well. Later on, Victorian sensibilities, more kindly but still reductively, added quaint to the list of epithets, and this is still found in older books on the subject. What matters here is what was missed as a result - namely an understanding of what the anonymous painters of these walls were trying to do, which was certainly not to daub haphazardly because only the sacred content mattered. One has only to see the evidence, as the 15th century wore on, of painters trying to figure out mathematical perspective by eye, and almost managing it, to realise that although they may have been less talented than the painters of the Continental Renaissance, or the English cathedral painters, or the manuscript painters, they were no less serious in intention.
¹ (The earliest layer of the remarkable paintings now being uncovered at Houghton-on-the-Hill, near Swaffham in Norfolk, may prove to date from the 10th century.)
Romanesque art is generally a powerful transition: from the classic period on one hand, and Byzantine splendor on the other to something uniquely Western: rustic, individualized, and direct. It came naturally to the West to bare Our Lady's breast; it is the same unsophisticated feeling that St. Luke carried over to us in the simple act of veneration of the woman in the crowd: "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and blessed are the paps that gave You suck!"
When we look at these discolored, vandalized frescoes, we understand something about the Western culture, raw and simple, and unafraid of its humble origin. The perfection of Renaissance somehow masks that aspect of our psyche.
This is how these "dooms" might have looked like, before the so-called reformers' whitewash got to them:
LOL! Artwork, y'know ...
very interesting art and history - thanks for posting
We also forget that medieval art was not perceived as “reporting,” but was highly symbolic. Figures weren’t just themselves but represented something else. Furthermore, the spectators knew what they represented; that is, they could read these symbols.
For example, early Nativity scenes (post St Francis, at least) always had a certain set of figures, among which were the Ox and the Ass. Naturally, anybody looking at it knew that the Ox and the Ass represented the Gentiles and the Jews, just as the Three Kings represented the “three races of man,” and were shown as being of different ages because they represented the “ages of man.” So visual works and even folk representations were laden with doctrinal content.
This, of course, is one of the reasons that visual representations were a major target of the so-called reformers.
There was a very good poster of art threads (Republican Professor, or a name similar to that, I believe), but he seems to have found other things to do. Also, I think a lot of people got driven away from FR by some particularly shrill posters about a year ago (who had an unrelated obssession, but spammed every thread).
It would be nice to see more art threads, especially now that we seem to have a Pope who really encourages Christian art.
Just near the Church of the Nativity is the Milk Grotto which is a popular veneration site. The Milk Grotto is said to be the location where Mary, Joseph and the Infant Jesus temporarily sought refuge during the incident of the Slaughter of the Innocents.
It is also in the Milk Grotto where Mary was able to nurse the infant Christ before they traveled to Egypt. It is said that a drop of milk from Mary dropped to the ground, which turned the color of the rock floor, white. The soft white rock of the grotto is popularly thought of as having healing powers as well as health benefits for lactating mothers.
Having grown up Catholic I thought I was well aware of the great works of art depicting the Holy Family.
These took me by surprise. Their beauty and sacredness stands out.
I also think Gibson's Passion of the Christ was so artistic in its creation.
Although my career has little if anything to do with it, one of my BA's is in Art History, and my primary hobby is calligraphy/manuscript illumination. An essential element to virtually all Christian art, especially in the Byzantine and Roman traditions, is the symbology or iconography and what was basically a visual vocabulary for the generally illiterate masses. A good introduction to the overwhelmingly obvious, as well as some of the more esoteric imagery used is George Ferguson's Signs and Symbols of Christian Art.
but that way we get Cabezalero AND Titian . . .
. . . and then there's Poussin . . .
Christian iconography and its visual vocabulary derive fromg both the allegorical language used by Christ himself, as well as the need for covert symbols in Christianity's underground days prior to Constantine...
Thank you for this wonderful thread. I particularly enjoy the first picture because it depicts Mary in a luxurious setting, wearing silks and velvet and the Infant wearing jewelry. It’s all so unlike any image I’ve had of her.
It’s pagan fertility goddess imagery used in Christian art.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux was praying before a statue of the Virgin and Child, and exclaimed, "Demonstrate that you are a Mother!" Whereupon the statue came alive and expressed milk that fell on St. Bernard's lips --
The people of the Middle Ages didn't have the same shrinking from natural bodily functions that we have inherited from the Victorians. . . . and they also didn't have the strident insistence on them that the La Leche League/hippy types have . . . . a nice, happy medium. I think it comes from all of them being closer to the land than we are.
I worked on a dairy farm one summer, and some time back I had showed my daughter how you milk a cow. She is doing a biology field studies program in Costa Rica, and they toured a dairy farm yesterday -- the farmer let the biology students try to milk a cow (mostly so they could laugh at the city slickers, I'm sure!) and daughter was the only one who was able to get milk out of said cow. She was SO proud that the farmer complimented her. No knowledge is ever wasted!
I completely disagree. If you actually LOOK at pagan fertility images, the physical attributes of fecundity and lactation are grossly exaggerated.
Artemis of Ephesus -- for whom the silversmiths rioted in the streets against St. Paul.
The paintings of the Blessed Virgin nursing simply point out that she really was a mother, with all that implies.
Someone please explain: is this coming from the Pope, or from a committee at the Vatican, or just one person? Who is the “Vatican”? I’ve seen a lot of previous posts where some Vatican annoucement is not well received, said to not represent the Pope.
My wife and I got a good look at Romanesque sculpture in France this past winter. It satisfies spiritually in a way the more literal gothic style fails to achieve.
ISTM that our discomfort at seeing nudity in a sacred context says more about our own disordered sinfulness than anything else.
Cheers and best wishes.
It is very ancient. Sadly, many of us have forgotten how to read it.
The Church, of course, also kept a lot of poetry alive, and it was recited by the people (think of things like the Litany of Loretto, with its beautiful titles of the Virgin, many of them taken from the Song of Songs or other parts of the OT). Very often these phrases were also expressed in the churches as visual images - sculpture or murals - which everyone recognized.
We are so lacking in this vocabulary now that people have no idea what they’re looking at. I lead tours in a Cathedral that was heavily renovated in the early 1960s, although fortunately this was still a time when traditional imagery was incorporated into the decorative art in churches. I always love explaining the symbols to people. But what’s sad is that many of them nowadays really have never heard it before. We’ve lost the language.
Not exactly. "An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master's manger; But Israel does not know, my people has not understood." Isaiah 1:3
Because of my (medieval) art background, the post Chaplain at one installation I was stationed at asked me to give a presentation on Christian iconography to his bible study class. I started by showing them all the Hangul (Korean) word for “Stop,” and asking how many knew what it meant...of course, none of them did. Having established that the class was, “illiterate,” I then presented the word in white letters on a red octagon, and 100% knew what it meant...not only did they recognize the meaning, under the right circumstances, that very symbol would have illicited a trained physical reaction...ah....the power of symbols in our lives, and how little we realize the influence they can have.
Lots of others, but they border on the pornographic.
Yes...Pompeii and Khajuraho come to mind....