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Legends of the Madonna by Mrs. Jameson

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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 Misericordiae, 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 Misericordiae _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 graces du _pretendu_ succes obtenu sur Charles
VIII. a 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 seconde la bravoure de
leur chef, l'armie de Charles VIII. etait perdue sans ressource--Ils
se disperserent pour piller et laisserent aux Francais 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 Pieta 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. Rene, 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 Rene 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 Rene 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 Rene, 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 _cortege_. 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 _naivete_ 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 _naivete_, 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 Nascita 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 _commerage_, 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. (Musee, 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 Carita_), and still to be seen
there--the Carita 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 Mariae. 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 Abbe 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 Musee 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 Citta 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 Angelique. _Ger._ Die Verkuendi 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.

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