Sunday, March 27, 2022

15C Madonna & Child in a Garden


Unknown Master, Flemish (15C in Brussels) Virgin and Child.  National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.

The unidentified artist who executed this panel is sometimes referred to as the Master of the Embroidered Foliage, based on his characteristic foregrounds, carpeted with flowers & decorative leaves. He appears to have been active in Brussels & the South Netherlands, & was apparently influenced by Flemish masters Rogier van der Weyden c 1399-1464 & Hugo van der Goes, (c 1440—1482).

Here the Virgin sits on a high=back turfed bench protected within a walled garden enclosure.  The Metropolitan Museum notes that turf benches were among the most distinctive features of medieval gardens depicted in manuscripts, paintings & tapestries. 

Medieval garden benches may be rectangular, circular, L-shaped, or U-shaped; the U-shaped type is known as an exedra. The benches were usually constructed with low-walled frames made out of brick, wood, stone, or wattle (often woven willow). 

Most bench frames were filled with soil & the surfaces were topped with turf. Turf seats were placed in the middle of the garden or against one of its walls, & were sometimes incorporated into the design of an enclosure. 

Arbors or trellises were sometimes built into the seat to provide shade & shelter.  Circular garden benches usually were constructed around single trees.

Not all turf benches were constructed within a frame; some had grass growing on all sides. The same plants & flowers depicted in the lawn are often shown growing in the turf of the bench. 

In medieval depictions, turf benches are usually occupied by the Virgin, or by a pair of lovers. 

While figures are often shown sitting on the bench, the Virgin Mary is sometimes shown seated on the ground, occasionally leaning back against a bench, as a symbol of humility.

The simplest form of turf bench is the four-walled rectangular frame with turf growing only on the top of the bench. Such benches are common in representations of medieval gardens.

Friday, March 25, 2022

The Annunciation of the coming Birth of Jesus to Mary in Spring Gardens - Illuminated Manuscripts

The Annunciation in a Garden, Book of Hours (Bodmer Hours), ca. 1400–1410 Michelino da Besozzo (Italian, act. 1388–1450). Renaissance (about 1400–1600) manuscript artists depicted gardens in a variety of texts, and their illustrations attest to the Renaissance spirit for the careful study of the natural world. In a society then dominated by the church, gardens within the miniature & in the margins surrounding were also integral to a Christian visual tradition.

The Annunciation is a day of celebration for many Christians throughout the world which reminds them of the time when the Virgin Mary was asked by the Lord to bring into the world a Savior who would be named Jesus.  Mary as Mother of Jesus was prophesized in Isaias 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, & bear a son, & his name shall be called Emmanuel.”
Psalter Annunciation in Garden, 1180. (National Library of theNetherlands) The Annunciation ca 1450, Book of Hours

The Annunciation is mentioned only a few times in the New Testament. The gospel of Matthew begins by describing the heritage of Jesus stating “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham:” (Matthew 1:1). In Chapter 1:2-16, continues listing Jesus’ heritage ending with a conclusion in verse 16 stating “And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” (Matthew 1:16).  Matthew describes the Annunciation of Mary. The Virgin Mary was found with a child, before she & Joseph “came together” Matthew 1:18). Joseph had concerns about what to do in this situation, until an angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: “Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. & she shall bring forth a son: & thou shalt call his name Jesus. For he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).
 The Annunciation in a Garden from the Book of Hours,  Flanders c.1460

Luke is the only other gospel to mention the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. Luke states that: “the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; & the virgin’s name was Mary. & the angel said unto her: 'Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women..And the angel said to her: fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, & shalt bring forth a son; & thou shalt call his name Jesus.” (Luke 1:26-31)  Mary, being of such a young age, was in wonder, because she had not been with any man. Gabriel answered “.The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, & the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. & therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
The Annunciation to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel, with Anne Boleyn's note in the lower margin (London, British Library, MS King's 9, f. 66v).
The Annunciation in a Garden, about 1469

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Lent in the Wilderness - Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Christ Driven by the Spirit.

Stanley Spencer, (English painter, 1891-1959) Christ in the Wilderness Driven by the Spirit. 1942

The origin of the season of Lent lies not in a conscious re-enactment of the Lord's time in the wilderness, but in the preparation of Christians for the celebration of the resurrection of Christ at Easter.  In many Christian churches, Lent starts on Ash Wednesday lasting for 40 days (not including Sundays) reflecting the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness. Related to Jesus' time in the wilderness, the Bible states;

‘And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.’ Mark 1:12
Matthew 6:28-29   King James Bible

British artist Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) sought to give some form to the Lent's 40 days. In the 1930s-40s Spencer set himself a goal of creating 40 paintings, one for each day Christ was in the wilderness. The series, called "Christ in the Wilderness," never came to full completion. Eighteen drawings were made & 8 paintings completed. Each of the designs explores the solitary figure of Christ interacting with various elements of the wilderness - a hen, a scorpion, lilies, eagles. The paintings titled "Driven by the spirit into the wilderness" was inspired by Mark 1:12.  Nothing overt in the paintings speaks of the details Christ's 40 days in the wilderness, echoing Mark's lack of narrative specifics. The figure of Jesus is not the slim body commonly seen in paintings. A bulky figure & billowing garment are common to all the finished paintings in the series. Spencer envisioned the pictures hanging as a group on the ceiling of a church. In such a position Jesus' garments would be perceived as billowing, ethereal clouds.

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.  He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.”  Mark 1:12-15

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

In 875 AD Imagining the origin of the Gospels

Illuminated Manuscript, Gospels of Freising, Evangelist Portrait of Matthew, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.4, fol. 33v Freising, Germany c 875.

A gospel is an account describing the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The most widely-known gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John.  Some Christians use the term "gospel," otherwise known as the "good news," in reference to the general message of the biblical New Testament.  Here Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John are portrayed with a few of their fierce friends writing about the life of Jesus.
Illuminated Manuscript, Gospels of Freising, Evangelist Portrait of Mark, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.4, fol. 90v Freising, Germany c 875.
Illuminated Manuscript, Gospels of Freising, Evangelist Portrait of Luke, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.4, fol. 126v Freising, Germany c 875.
Illuminated Manuscript, Gospels of Freising, Evangelist Portrait of John, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.4, fol. 178v Freising, Germany c 875.