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Legends of the Madonna by Mrs. Jameson

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"pierce through her own heart also." In this sense they were often
suspended as memorials in the chapels dedicated to the dead, of which
I will cite one very beautiful and touching example. There is a votive
Deposition by Giottino, in which the general conception is that which
belonged to the school, and very like Giotto's Deposition in the Arena
at Padua. The dead Christ is extended on a white shroud, and embraced
by the Virgin; at his feet kneels the Magdalene, with clasped hands
and flowing hair; Mary Salome kisses one of his hands, and Martha
(as I suppose) the other; the third Mary, with long hair, and
head dropping with grief, is seated in front to the right. In the
background, in the centre, stands St. John, bending over the group in
profound sorrow; on his left hand Joseph of Arimathea stands with the
vase of "spices and ointments," and the nails; near him Nicodemus.
On the right of St. John kneels a beautiful young girl, in the rich
Florentine costume, who, with a sorrowful earnestness and with her
hands crossed over her bosom, contemplates the dead Saviour. St.
Romeo (or San Remigio) patron of the church in which the picture was
dedicated, lays his hand paternally on her head; beside her kneels a
Benedictine nun, who in the game manner is presented by St. Benedict.
These two females, sisters perhaps, are the bereaved mourners who
dedicated the picture, certainly one of the finest of the Giottesque

[Footnote 1: It is now in the gallery of the Uffizii, at Florence. In
the Florentine edition of Vasari the name of the church in which this
picture was originally placed is called San _Romeo_, who is St. Remi
(or Remigio), Bishop of Reims. The painter, Giottino, the greatest and
the most interesting, personally, of the Giottesque artists, was, as
Vasari says, "of a melancholy temperament, and a lover of solitude;"
"more desirous of glory than of gain;" "contented with little, and
thinking more of serving and gratifying others than of himself;"
"taking small care for himself, and perpetually engrossed by the works
he had undertaken." He died of consumption, in 1356, at the age of
thirty two.]

Secondly, we find that the associations left in the minds of the
people by the expeditions of the Crusaders and the pilgrimages to
the Holy Sepulchre, rendered the Deposition and the Entombment
particularly popular and impressive as subjects of art, even down to
a late period. "Ce que la vaillante epee des ayeux avait glorieusement
defendu, le ciscaux des enfans aimait a le reproduire, leur piete a
l'honorer." I think we may trace these associations in many examples,
particularly in a Deposition by Raphael, of which there is a fine old
engraving. Here, in the centre, stands a circular building, such as
the church at Jerusalem was always described; in front of which are
seen the fainting Virgin and the mournful women: a grand and solemn
group, but poetically rather than historically treated.

* * * * *

In conclusion, I must notice one more form of the Mater Dolorosa, one
of the dramatic conceptions of the later schools of art; as far as I
knew, there exist no early examples.

In a picture by Guercino (Louvre), the Virgin and St. Peter lament the
death of the Saviour. The Mother, with her clasped hands resting on
her knees, appears lost in resigned sorrow: she mourns her Son. Peter,
weeping, as with a troubled grief, seems to mourn at once his Lord
and Master, and his own weak denial. This picture has the energetic
feeling and utter want of poetic elevation which generally
characterized Guercino.

There is a similar group by Ludovico Caracci in the Duonio at Bologna.

In a picture by Tiarini, the _Madre Addolorata_ is seated, holding
in her hand the crown of thorns; Mary Magdalene kneels before her,
and St. John stands by--both expressing the utmost veneration and
sympathy. These and similar groups are especially to be found in the
later Bologna school. In all the instances known to me, they have been
painted for the Dominicans, and evidently intended to illustrate the
sorrows of the Rosary.

In one of the services of the Passion Week, and in particular
reference to the maternal anguish of the Virgin, it was usual to read,
as the Epistle, a selection from the first chapter of the Lamentations
of Jeremiah, eloquent in the language of desolation and grief. The
painters seemed to have filled their imagination with the images
there presented; and frequently in the ideal _Pieta_ the daughter
of Jerusalem "sits solitary, with none to comfort her." It is the
contrary in the dramatic version: the devotion of the women, the
solicitude of the affectionate Magdalene, and the filial reverence of
St. John, whom the scriptural history associates with the Virgin in a
manner so affecting, are never forgotten.

In obedience to the last command of his dying Master, John the

"He, into whose keeping, from the cross,
The mighty charge was given--"


conducted to his own dwelling the Mother to whom he was henceforth to
be as a Son. This beautiful subject, "John conducting the Virgin to
his home," was quite unknown, as far as I am aware, in the earlier
schools of art, and appears first in the seventeenth century. An
eminent instance is a fine solemn group by Zurbaran. (Munich.) Christ
was laid in the sepulchre by night, and here, in the gray dawn, John
and the veiled Virgin are seen as returning from the entombment, and
walking mournfully side by side.

* * * * *

We find the peculiar relation between the Mother of Christ and St.
John, as her adopted son, expressed in a very tender and ideal manner,
on one of the wings of an altar-piece, attributed to Taddeo Gaddi.
(Berlin Gal., No. 1081.) Mary and St. John stand in front; he holds
one of her hands clasped in both his own, with a most reverent and
affectionate expression. Christ, standing between them, lays one hand
on the shoulder of each; the sentiment of this group is altogether
very unusual; and very remarkable.






The enthusiastic and increasing veneration for the Madonna, the large
place she filled in the religious teaching of the ecclesiastics and
the religious sentiments of the people, are nowhere more apparent,
nor more strikingly exhibited, than in the manner in which she was
associated with the scenes which followed the Passion;--the manner
in which some incidents were suggested, and treated with a peculiar
reference to her, and to her maternal feelings. It is nowhere said
that the Virgin Mother was one of the Marys who visited the tomb on
the morning of the resurrection, and nowhere is she so represented.
But out of the human sympathy with that bereaved and longing heart,
arose the beautiful legend of the interview between Christ and his
Mother after he had risen from the dead.

There existed a very ancient tradition (it is mentioned by St.
Ambrose in the fourth century, as being then generally accepted by
Christians), that Christ, after his return from Hades, visited his
Mother even before he appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden.
It is not indeed so written in the Gospel; but what of that? The
reasoning which led to the conclusion was very simple. He whose last
earthly thought was for his Mother would not leave her without that
consolation it was in his power to give; and what, as a son, it was
his duty to do (for the _humanity_ of Christ is never forgotten by
those who most intensely believed in his _divinity_,) that, of course,
he did do.

The story is thus related:--Mary, when all was "finished," retired
to her chamber, and remained alone with her grief--not wailing, not
repining, not hopeless, but waiting for the fulfilment of the promise.
Open before her lay the volume of the prophecies; and she prayed
earnestly, and she said, "Thou, didst promise, O my most dear Son!
that thou wouldst rise again on the third day. Before yesterday was
the day of darkness and bitterness, and, behold, this is the third
day. Return then to me thy Mother; O my Son, tarry not, but come!"
And while thus she prayed, lo! a bright company of angels, who entered
waving their palms and radiant with joy; and they surrounded her,
kneeling and singing the triumphant Easter hymn, _Regina Coeli laetare,
Alleluia!_[1] And then came Christ partly clothed in a white garment,
having in his left hand the standard of the cross, as one just
returned from the nether world, and victorious over the powers of
sin and death. And with him came the patriarchs and prophets, whose
long-imprisoned spirits he had released from Hades.[2] All these knelt
before the Virgin, and saluted her, and blessed her, and thanked her,
because through her had come their deliverance. But, for all this, the
Mother was not comforted till she had heard the voice of her Son. Then
he, raising his hand in benediction, spoke and said, "I salute thee,
O my Mother!" and she, weeping tears of joy, responded, "Is it thou
indeed, my most dear Son?" and she fell upon his neck, and he embraced
her tenderly, and showed her the wounds he had received for sinful
man. Then he bid her be comforted and weep no more, for the pain
of death had passed away, and the gates of hell had not prevailed
against him. And she thanked him meekly on her knees, for that he had
been pleased to bring redemption to man, and to make her the humble
instrument of his great mercy. And they sat and talked together, until
he took leave of her to return to the garden, and to show himself to
Mary Magdalene, who, next to his glorious Mother, had most need of

[Footnote 1:

"Regina Coeli laetare Alleluia!
Quia quem meruisti portare, Alleluia!
Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia!
Ora pro nobis Deum, Alleluia!"]

[Footnote 2: The legend of the "Descent into Hades" (or limbo), often
treated of in art, will be given at length in the History of our

[Footnote 3: I have given the legend from various sources; but there
is something quite untranslatable and perfectly beautiful in the
naivete of the old Italian version. After describing the celestial
music of the angels, the rejoicing of the liberated patriarchs, and
the appearance of Christ, _allegro, e bello e tutto lucido_, it thus
proceeds: "_Quando ella lo vidde, gli ando incontro ella ancora con
le braccia aperte, e quasi tramortita per l'allegrazza. Il benedetto
Gesu l'abbraccio teneressimamente, ed ella glidesse; 'Ahi, figliuolo
mio cordialissimo, sei tu veramente il mio Gesu, o pur m'inganna
l'affetto!' 'Io sono il tuo figliuolo, madre mia, dolcissima,' disse
il Signore: 'cessino hormai le tue lagrime, non fare ch'io ti veda
piu di mala voglia, Gia son finiti li tuoi e li miei travagli e dolori
insieme!' Erano rimase alcune lagrime negli occhi della Vergine....
e per la grande allegrezza non poteva proferire parola alcuna ...
ma quando al fine pote parlare, lo ringrazio per parte di tutto
il genere humano, per la redenzione, operata e fatta, per tutto
generalmente."--v. Il Perfetto Legendario_]

The pathetic sentiment, and all the supernatural and mystical
accompaniments of this beautiful myth of the early ages, have been
very inadequately rendered by the artists. It is always treated as a
plain matter-of-fact scene. The Virgin kneels; the Saviour, bearing
his standard, stands before her; and where the delivered patriarchs
are introduced, they are generally either Adam and Eve, the authors
of the fall or Abraham and David, the progenitors of Christ and the
Virgin. The patriarchs are omitted in the earliest instance I can
refer to, one of the carved panels of the stalls in the Cathedral of
Amiens: also in the composition by Albert Durer, not included in his
life of the Virgin, but forming one of the series of the Passion.
Guido has represented the scene in a very fine picture, wherein an
angel bears the standard of victory, and behind our Saviour are Adam
and Eve. (Dresden Gal.)

Another example, by Guercino (Cathedral, Cento), is cited by Goethe
as an instance of that excellence in the expression of the natural
and domestic affections which characterized the painter. Mary kneels
before her Son, looking up in his face with unutterable affection;
he regards her with a calm, sad look, "as if within his noble soul
there still remained the recollection of his sufferings and hers,
outliving the pang of death, the descent into the grave, and which
the resurrection had not yet dispelled." This, however, is not the
sentiment, at once affectionate and joyously triumphant, of the
old legend. I was pleased with a little picture in the Lichtenstein
Gallery at Vienna, where the risen Saviour, standing before his
Mother, points to the page of the book before her, as if he said, "See
you not that thus it is written?" (Luke xxiv. 46.) Behind Jesus is
St. John the Evangelist bearing the cup and the cross, as the cup of
sorrow and the cross of pain, not the mere emblems. There is another
example, by one of the Caracci, in the Fitzwilliam Collection at

A picture by Albano of this subject, in which Christ comes flying or
floating on the air, like an incorporeal being, surrounded by little
fluttering cherubim, very much like Cupids, is an example of all that
is most false and objectionable in feeling and treatment. (Florence,
Pitti Pal.)

The popularity of this scene in the Bologna school of art arose, I
think, from its being adopted as one of the subjects from the Rosary,
the first of "the five Glorious Mysteries;" therefore especially
affected by the Dominicans, the great patrons of the Caracci at that

* * * * *

The ASCENSION, though one of the "Glorious Mysteries," was also
accounted as the seventh and last of the sorrows of the Virgin, for
she was then left alone on earth. All the old legends represent her
as present on this occasion, and saying, as she followed with uplifted
eyes the soaring figure of Christ, "My Son, remember me when thou
comest to thy kingdom! Leave me not long after thee, my Son!" In
Giotto's composition in the chapel of the Arena, at Padua, she is by
far the most prominent figure. In almost all the late pictures of the
Ascension, she is introduced with the other Marys, kneeling on one
side, or placed in the centre among the apostles.

* * * * *

The DESCENT OF THE HOLY GHOST is a strictly scriptural subject. I
have heard it said that the introduction of Mary is not authorized by
the scripture narrative. I must observe, however that, without any
wringing of the text for an especial purpose, the passage might be
so interpreted. In the first chapter of the Acts (ver. 14), after
enumerating the apostles by name, it is added, "These all continued
with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary
the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren." And in the commencement
of the second chapter the narrative thus proceeds: "And when the day
of Pentecost was fully come, they were _all_ with one accord in
one place." The word _all_ is, in the Concordance, referred to the
previous text (ver. 14), as including Mary and the women: thus they
who were constant in their love were not refused a participation in
the gifts of the Spirit. Mary, in her character of the divine Mother
of Wisdom, or even Wisdom herself,[1] did not, perhaps, need any
accession of intellectual light; but we must remember that the Holy
Spirit was the Comforter, as well as the Giver of wisdom; therefore,
equally needed by those, whether men or women, who were all equally
called upon to carry out the ministry of Christ in love and service,
in doing and in suffering.

[Footnote 1: The sublime eulogium of Wisdom (Prov. viii. 22), is, in
the Roman Catholic Church, applied to the Virgin Mary.]

In the account of the apostles I have already described at length the
various treatment and most celebrated examples of this subject, and
shall only make one or two observations with especial reference to
the figure of the Virgin. It was in accordance with the feelings and
convictions prevalent in the fifteenth century, that if Mary were
admitted to be present, she would take the principal place, as Queen
and Mother of the Apostles (_Regina et Mater Apostolorum_). She
is, therefore, usually placed either in front, or in the centre
on a raised seat or dais; and often holding a book (as the _Mater
Sapientiae_); and she receives the divine affusion either with veiled
lids and meek rejoicing; or with uplifted eyes, as one inspired, she
pours forth the hymn, _Veni, Sancte Spiritus_.

I agree with the critics that, as the Spirit descended in form
of cloven tongues of fire, the emblem of the Dove, almost always
introduced, is here superfluous, and, indeed, out of place.

* * * * *

I must mention here another subject altogether apocryphal, and
confined to the late Spanish and Italian schools: The Virgin receives
the sacramental wafer from the hand of St. John the Evangelist.
This is frequently misunderstood, and styled the Communion of Mary
Magdalene. But the long hair and uncovered head of the Magdalene, and
the episcopal robe of St. Maximin, are in general distinguishable from
the veiled matronly head of the Virgin Mother, and the deacon's vest
of St. John. There is also a legend that Mary received baptism from
St. Peter; but this is a subject I have never met with in art, ancient
or modern. It may possibly exist.

I am not acquainted with any representations taken from the sojourn on
earth of the Blessed Virgin from this time to the period of her death,
the date of which is uncertain. It is, however, generally supposed to
have taken place in the forty-eighth year of our era, and about eleven
years after the Crucifixion, therefore in her sixtieth year. There
is no distinct record, either historical or legendary, as to the
manner in which she passed these years. There are, indeed, floating
traditions alluded to by the early theological writers, that when the
first persecution broke out at Jerusalem, Mary accompanied St. John
the Evangelist to Ephesus, and was attended thither by the faithful
and affectionate Mary Magdalene. Also that she dwelt for some time on
Mount Carmel, in an oratory erected there by the prophet Elijah, and
hence became the patroness of the Carmelites, under the title of Our
Lady of Mount Carmel (_La Madonna del Carmine_, or _del Carmelo_).
If there exist any creations of the artists founded on these obscure
traditions, which is indeed most probable, particularly in the
edifices of the Carmelites in Spain, I have not met with them.

* * * * *

It is related that before the apostles separated to obey the command
of their divine Master, and preach the gospel to all the nations of
the earth, they took a solemn leave of the Virgin Mary, and received
her blessing. This subject has been represented, though not by any
distinguished artist. I remember such a picture, apparently of the
sixteenth century, in the Church of S. Maria-in-Capitolio at Cologne,
and another, by Bissoni, in the San Giustina at Padua. (Sacred and
Legendary Art.)


_Lat._ Dormitio, Pausatio, Transitus, Assumptio, B. Virginis. _Ital._
Il Transito di Maria. Il Sonno della Beata Vergine. L' Assunzione.
_Fr._ La Mort de la Vierge. L'Assomption. _Ger._ Das Absterben der
Maria. Maria Himmelfahrt. August, 13, 15.

We approach the closing scenes.

Of all the representations consecrated to the glory of the Virgin,
none have been more popular, more multiplied through every form of
art, and more admirably treated, than her death and apotheosis.
The latter in particular, under the title of "the Assumption,"
became the visible expression of a dogma of faith then universally
received--namely, the exaltation and deification of the Virgin in
the body as well as in the spirit. As such it meets us at every turn
in the edifices dedicated to her; in painting over the altar, in
sculpture over the portal, or gleaming upon us in light from the
shining many-coloured windows. Sometimes the two subjects are
combined, and the death-scene (_Il transito di Maria_) figured below,
is, in fact, only the _transition_ to the blessedness and exaltation
figured above. But whether separate or combined, the two scenes, in
themselves most beautiful and touching,--the extremes of the mournful
and the majestic, the dramatic and the ideal,--offered to the medieval
artists such a breadth of space for the exhibition of feeling and
fancy as no other subject afforded. Consequently, among the examples
handed down to us, are to be found some of the most curious and
important relics of the early schools, while others rank among the
grandest productions of the best ages of art.

For the proper understanding of these, it is necessary to give the old
apocryphal legend at some length; for, although the very curious and
extravagant details of this legend were not authorized by the Church
as matters of fact or faith, it is clear that the artists were
permitted thence to derive their materials and their imagery. In
what manner they availed themselves of this permission, and how far
the wildly poetical circumstances with which the old tradition was
gradually invested, were allowed to enter into the forms of art, we
shall afterwards consider.


Mary dwelt in the house of John upon Mount Sion looking for
the fulfilment of the promise of deliverance, and she spent
her days in visiting those places which had been hallowed by
the baptism, the sufferings, the burial and resurrection of
her divine Son, but more particularly the tomb wherein he was
laid. And she did not this as seeking the living among the
dead, but for consolation and for remembrance.

And on a certain day; the heart of the Virgin, being filled
with an inexpressible longing to behold her Son, melted away
within her, and she wept abundantly. And lo! an angel appeared
before her clothed in light as with a garment. And he saluted
her, and said, "Hail, O Mary! blessed by him who hath given
salvation to Israel I bring thee here a branch of palm
gathered in Paradise; command that it be carried before thy
bier in the day of thy death; for in three days they soul
shall leave thy body, and though shalt enter into Paradise,
where thy Son awaits thy coming." Mary, answering, said, "If I
have found grace in thy eyes, tell me first what is thy name;
and grant that the apostles my brethren may be reunited to me
before I die, that in their presence I may give up my soul to
God. Also, I pray thee, that my soul, when delivered from my
body, may not be affrighted by any spirit of darkness, nor
any evil angel be allowed to have any power over me." And the
angel said, "Why dost thou ask my name? My name is the Great
and the Wonderful. And now doubt not that all the apostles
shall be reunited, to thee this day; for he who in former
times transported the prophet Habakkuk from Judea to Jerusalem
by the hair of his head, can as easily bring hither the
apostles. And fear thou not the evil spirit, for hast thou not
bruised his head and destroyed his kingdom?" And having said
these words, the angel departed into heaven; and the palm
branch which he had left behind him shed light from every
leaf, and sparkled as the stars of the morning. Then Mary
lighted, the lamps and prepared her bed, and waited until the
hour was come. And in the same instant John, who was preaching
at Ephesus, and Peter, who was preaching at Antioch, and all
the other apostles who were dispersed in different parts of
the world, were suddenly caught up as by a miraculous power,
and found themselves before the door of the habitation of
Mary. When Mary saw them all assembled round her, she blessed
and thanked the Lord, and she placed in the hands of St. John
the shining palm, and desired that he should bear it before
her at the time of her burial. Then Mary, kneeling down, made
her prayer to the Lord her Son, and the others prayed with
her; then she laid herself down in her bed and composed
herself for death. And John wept bitterly. And about the third
hour of the night, as Peter stood at the head of the bed and
John at the foot, and the other apostles around, a mighty
sound filled the house, and a delicious perfume filled
the chamber. And Jesus himself appeared accompanied by an
innumerable company of angels, patriarchs, and prophets; all
these surrounded the bed of the Virgin, singing hymns of joy.
And Jesus said to his Mother, "Arise, my beloved, mine elect!
come with me from Lebanon, my espoused! receive the crown that
is destined for thee!" And Mary, answering, said, "My heart
is ready; for it was written of me that I should do thy will!"
Then all the angels and blessed spirits who accompanied Jesus
began to sing and rejoice. And the soul of Mary left her body,
and was received into the arms of her Son; and together they
ascended into heaven.[1] And the apostles looked up, saying,
"Oh most prudent Virgin, remember us when thou comest to
glory!" and the angels, who received her into heaven, sung
these words, "Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness
leaning upon her Beloved? she is fairer than all the daughters
of Jerusalem."

[Footnote 1: In the later French legend, it is the angel
Michael who takes charge of the departing soul. "_Ecce Dominus
venit cum multitudine angelorum_; et Jesus Christ vint en grande
compaignie d'anges; entre lesquels estoit Sainct Michel, et quand
la Vierge Marie le veit elle dit, 'Benoist soit Jesus Christ car il
ne m'a pas oubliee.' Quand elle eut ce dit elle rendit l'esprit,
lequel Sainct Michel print."]

But the body of Mary remained upon the earth; and three among
the virgins prepared to wash and clothe it in a shroud; but
such a glory of light surrounded her form, that though they
touched it they could not see it, and no human eye beheld
those chaste and sacred limbs unclothed. Then the apostles
took her up reverently and placed her upon a bier, and John,
carrying the celestial palm, went before. Peter sung the 114th
Psalm, "_In exitu Israel de Egypto, domus Jacob de populo
barbaro_," and the angels followed after, also singing. The
wicked Jews, hearing these melodious voices, ran together; and
the high-priest, being seized with fury, laid his hands upon
the bier intending to overturn it on the earth; but both his
arms were suddenly dried up, so that he could not move them,
and he was overcome with fear; and he prayed to St. Peter
for help, and Peter said, "Have faith in Jesus Christ, and
his Mother, and thon shalt be healed;" and it was so. Then
they went on and laid the Virgin in a tomb in the Valley of

[Footnote 1: Or Gethsemane. I must observe here, that in the
genuine oriental legend, it is Michael the Archangel who hews off
the hands of the audacious Jew, which were afterwards, at the
intercession of St. Peter, reunited to his body.]

And on the third day, Jesus said to the angels, "What honour
shall I confer on her who was my mother on earth, and brought
me forth?" And they answered, "Lord, suffer not that body
which was thy temple and thy dwelling to see corruption; but
place her beside thee on thy throne in heaven." And Jesus
consented; and the Archangel Michael brought unto the Lord,
the glorious soul of our Lady. And the Lord said, "Rise up, my
dove, my undefiled, for thou shalt not remain in the darkness
of the grave, nor shall thou see corruption;" and immediately
the soul of Mary rejoined her body, and she arose up glorious
from the tomb, and ascended into heaven surrounded and
welcomed by troops of angels, blowing their silver trumpets,
touching their golden lutes, singing, and rejoicing as they
sung, "Who is she that riseth as the morning, fair as the
moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?"
(Cant. vi. 10.)

But one among the apostles was absent; and when he arrived
soon after, he would not believe in the resurrection of the
Virgin; and this apostle was the same Thomas, who had formerly
been slow to believe in the resurrection of the Lord; and he
desired that the tomb should be opened before him; and when it
was opened it was found to be full of lilies and roses. Then
Thomas, looking up to heaven, beheld the Virgin bodily, in a
glory of light, slowly mounting towards the heaven; and she,
for the assurance of his faith, flung down to him her girdle,
the same which is to this day preserved in the cathedral of
Prato. And there were present at the death of the Virgin
Mary, besides the twelve apostles, Dionysius the Areopagite,
Timotheus, and Hierotheus; and of the women, Mary Salome, Mary
Cleophas,[1] and a faithful handmaid whose name was Savia.

[Footnote 1: According to the French legend, Mary Magdalene and her
sister Martha were also present.]

* * * * *

This legend of the Death and Assumption of the Virgin has afforded to
the artists seven distinct scenes.

1. The Angel, bearing the palm, announces to Mary her approaching
death. The announcing angel is usually supposed to be Gabriel, but
it is properly Michael, the "angel of death." 2. She takes leave of
the Apostles. 3. Her Death. 4. She is borne to the Sepulchre. 5.
Her Entombment. 6. Her Assumption, where she rises triumphant and
glorious, "like unto the morning" ("_quasi aurora consurgens_"). 7.
Her Coronation in heaven, where she takes her place beside her Son.

In early art, particularly in the Gothic sculpture, two or more of
these subjects are generally grouped together. Sometimes we have the
death-scene and the entombment on a line below, and, above these,
the coronation or the assumption, as over the portal of Notre Dame at
Paris, and in many other instances; or we have first her death, above
this, her assumption, and, above all, her coronation; as over the
portal at Amiens and elsewhere.

* * * * *

I shall now take these subjects in their order.

The angel announcing to Mary her approaching death has been rarely
treated. In general, Mary is seated or standing, and the angel kneels
before her, bearing the starry palm brought from Paradise. In the
frescoes at Orvieto, and in the bas-relief of Oreagna,[1] the angel
comes flying downwards with the palm. In a predella by Fra Filippo
Lippi, the angel kneels, reverently presenting a taper, which the
Virgin receives with majestic grace; St. Peter stands behind. It was
the custom to place a taper in the hand of a dying person; and as the
palm is also given sometimes to the angel of the incarnation, while
the taper can have but one meaning, the significance of the scene
is here fixed beyond the possibility of mistake, though there is a
departure from the literal details of the old legend. There is in
the Munich Gallery a curious German example of this subject by Hans

[Footnote 1: On the beautiful shrine in Or-San-Michele, at Florence.]

* * * * *

The death of the Virgin is styled in Byzantine and old Italian art
the Sleep of the Virgin, _Il Sonno della Madonna_; for it was an
old superstition, subsequently rejected as heretical, that she did
not really die after the manner of common mortals, only fell asleep
till her resurrection. Therefore, perhaps, it is, that in the early
pictures we have before us, not so much a scene or action, as a sort
of mysterious rite; it is not the Virgin dead or dying in her bed; she
only slumbers in preparation for her entombment; while in the later
pictures, we have a death-bed scene with all the usual dramatic and
pathetic accessories.

In one sense or the other, the theme has been constantly treated,
from the earliest ages of the revival of art down to the seventeenth

In the most ancient examples which are derived from the Greek school,
it is always represented with a mystical and solemn simplicity,
adhering closely to the old legend, and to the formula laid down in
the Greek Manual.

There is such a picture in the Wallerstein Collection at Kensington
Palace. The couch or bier is in the centre of the picture, and Mary
lies upon it wrapped in a veil and mantle with closed eyes and hands
crossed over her bosom. The twelve apostles stand round in attitudes
of grief angels attend bearing tapers. Behind the extended form of the
Virgin is the figure of Christ; a glorious red seraph with expanded
wings hovers above his head. He holds in his arms the soul of the
Virgin in likeness of a new-born child. On each side stand St.
Dionysius the Areopagite, and St. Timothy, Bishop of Ephesas, in
episcopal robes. In front, the archangel Michael bends forward to
strike off the hands of the high-priest Adonijah, who had attempted to
profane the bier. (This last circumstance is rarely expressed, except
in the Byzantine pictures; for in the Italian legend, the hands of the
intruder wither and adhere to the bed or shrine.) In the picture
just described; all is at once simple, and formal, and solemn, and
supernatural; it is a very perfect example in its way of the genuine
Byzantine treatment. There is a similar picture in the Christian
museum of the Vatican.

Another (the date about the first half of the fourteenth century,
as I think) is curious from the introduction of the women.[1] The
Virgin lies on an embroidered sheet held reverently by angels; at the
feet and at the head other angels bear tapers; Christ receives the
departing soul, which stretches out its arms; St. John kneels in
front, and St. Peter reads the service; the other apostles are behind
him, and there are three women. The execution of this curious picture
is extremely rude, but the heads very fine. Cimabue painted the Death
of the Virgin at Assisi. There is a beautiful example by Giotto, where
two lovely angels stand at the head and two at the feet, sustaining
the pall on which she lies; another most exquisite by Angelico in
the Florence Gallery; another most beautiful and pathetic by Taddeo
Bartoli in the Palazzo Publico at Siena.

[Footnote 1: At present in the collection of Mr. Bromley, of Wootten.]

The custom of representing Christ as standing by the couch or tomb of
his mother, in the act of receiving her soul, continued down to the
fifteenth century, at least with slight deviations from the original
conception. The later treatment is quite different. The solemn
mysterious sleep, the transition from one life to another, became a
familiar death-bed scene with the usual moving accompaniments. But
even while avoiding the supernatural incidents, the Italians gave to
the representation much ideal elegance; for instance, in the beautiful
fresco by Ghirlandajo. (Florence, S. Maria-Novella.)

* * * * *

In the old German school we have that homely matter-of-fact feeling,
and dramatic expression, and defiance of all chronological propriety,
which belonged to the time and school. The composition by Albert
Durer, in his series of the Life of the Virgin, has great beauty and
simplicity of expression, and in the arrangement a degree of grandeur
and repose which has caused it to be often copied and reproduced as a
picture, though the original form is merely that of a wood-cut.[1] In
the centre is a bedstead with a canopy, on which Mary lies fronting
the spectator, her eyes half closed. On the left of the bed stands
St. Peter, habited as a bishop: he places a taper in her dying hand;
another apostle holds the asperge with which to sprinkle her with
holy water: another reads the service. In the foreground is a priest
bearing a cross, and another with incense; and on the right, the other
apostles in attitudes of devotion and grief.

[Footnote 1: There is one such copy in the Sutherland Gallery; and
another in the Munich Gallery, Cabinet viii. 161.]

Another picture by Albert Durer, once in the Fries Gallery, at
Vienna, unites, in a most remarkable manner, all the legendary and
supernatural incidents with the most intense and homely reality. It
appears to have been painted for the Emperor Maximilian, as a tribute
to the memory of his first wife, the interesting Maria of Burgundy.
The disposition of the bed is the same as in the wood-cut, the foot
towards the spectator. The face of the dying Virgin is that of the
young duchess. On the right, her son, afterwards Philip of Spain,
and father of Charles V., stands as the young St. John, and presents
the taper; the other apostles are seen around, most of them praying;
St. Peter, habited as bishop, reads from an open book (this is the
portrait of George a Zlatkonia, bishop of Vienna, the friend and
counsellor of Maximilian); behind him, as one of the apostles,
Maximilian himself, with head bowed down, as in sorrow. Three
ecclesiastics are seen entering by an open door, bearing the cross,
the censer, and the holy water. Over the bed is seen the figure of
Christ; in his arms, the soul of the Virgin, in likeness of an infant
with clasped hands; and above all, in an open glory and like a vision,
her reception and coronation in heaven. Upon a scroll over her head,
are the words, "_Surge propera, amica mea; veni de Libano, veni
coronaberis._" (Cant. iv. 8.) Three among the hovering angels bear
scrolls, on one of which is inscribed the text from the Canticles,
"_Quae est ista quae progreditur quasi aurora consurgens, pulchra ut
luna, electa ut sol, terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata?_" (Cant.
vi. 10;) on another, "_Quae est ista quae ascendit de deserto deliciis
affluens super dilectum suum?_" (Cant. viii. 5;) and on the third,
"_Quae est ista quae ascendit super dilectum suum ut virgula fumi?_"
(Cant. iii. 6.) This picture bears the date 1518. If it be true, as
is, indeed, most apparent, that it was painted by order of Maximilian
nearly forty years after the loss of the young wife he so tenderly
loved, and only one year before his own death, there is something
very touching in it as a memorial. The ingenious and tender compliment
implied by making Mary of Burgundy the real object of those mystic
texts consecrated to the glory of the MATER DEI, verges, perhaps,
on the profane; but it was not so intended; it was merely that
combination of the pious, and the poetical, and the sentimental, which
was one of the characteristics of the time, in literature, as well as
in art. (Heller's Albrecht Duerer p. 261.)

The picture by Jan Schoreel, one of the great ornaments of the
Boisseree Gallery,[1] is remarkable for its intense reality and
splendour of colour. The heads are full of character; that of the
Virgin in particular, who seems, with half-closed eyes, in act to
breathe away her soul in rapture. The altar near the bed, having on
it figures of Moses and Aaron, is, however, a serious fault and
incongruity in this fine painting.

[Footnote 1: Munich (70). The admirable lithograph by Strixner is well

I must observe that Mary is not always dead or dying: she is sometimes
preparing for death, in the act of prayer at the foot of her couch,
with the apostles standing round, as in a very fine picture by Martin
Schaffner, where she kneels with a lovely expression, sustained in the
arms of St. John, while St. Peter holds the gospel open before her.
(Munich Gal.) Sometimes she is sitting up in her bed, and reading from
the Book of the Scripture, which is always held by St. Peter.

In a picture by Cola della Matrice, the Death of the Virgin is treated
at once in a mystical and dramatic style. Enveloped in a dark blue
mantle spangled with golden stars, she lies extended on a couch;
St. Peter, in a splendid scarlet cope as bishop, reads the service;
St. John, holding the palm, weeps bitterly. In front, and kneeling
before the coach or bier, appear the three great Dominican saints
as witnesses of the religious mystery; in the centre, St. Dominick;
on the left, St. Catherine of Siena; and on the right, St. Thomas
Aquinas. In a compartment above is the Assumption. (Rome, Capitol.)

* * * * *

Among the later Italian examples, where the old legendary accessories
are generally omitted, there are some of peculiar elegance. One
by Ludovico Caracci, another by Domenichino, and a third by Carlo
Maratti, are treated, if not with much of poetry or religious
sentiment, yet with great dignity and pathos.

I must mention one more, because of its history and celebrity:
Caravaggio, of whom it was said that he always painted like a ruffian,
because he _was_ a ruffian, was also a genius in his way, and for a
few months he became the fashion at Rome, and was even patronized by
some of the higher ecclesiastics. He painted for the church of _la
Scala in Trastevere_ a picture of the Death of the Virgin, wonderful
for the intense natural expression, and in the same degree grotesque
from its impropriety. Mary, instead of being decently veiled, lies
extended with long scattered hair; the strongly marked features
and large proportions of the figure are those of a woman of the
Trastevere.[1] The apostles stand around; one or two of them--I must
use the word--blubber aloud: Peter thrusts his fists into his eyes to
keep back the tears; a woman seated in front cries and sobs; nothing
can be more real, nor more utterly vulgar. The ecclesiastics for whom
the picture was executed were so scandalized, that they refused to
hang it up in their church. It was purchased by the Duke of Mantua,
and, with the rest of the Mantuan Gallery, came afterwards into the
possession of our unfortunate Charles I. On the dispersion of his
pictures, it found its way into the Louvre, where it now is. It has
been often engraved.

[Footnote 1: The face has a swollen look, and it was said that
his model had been a common woman whose features were swelled by
intoxication. (Louvre, 32.)]

* * * * *

uncommon subject. There is a most beautiful example by Taddeo Bartoli
(Siena, Pal. Publico), full of profound religious feeling. There is
a small engraving by Bonasoni, in a series of the Life of the Virgin,
apparently after Parmigiano, in which the apostles bear her on their
shoulders over rocky ground, and appear to be descending into the
Valley of Jehoshaphat: underneath are these lines:--

"Portan gli uomini santi in su le spalle
Al Sepolcro il corpo di Maria
Di Josaphat nella famosa valle."

There is another picture of this subject by Ludovico Caracci, at

* * * * *

THE ENTOMBMENT. In the early pictures, there is little distinction
between this subject and the Death of the Virgin. If the figure
of Christ stand over the recumbent form, holding in his arms the
emancipated soul, then it is the _Transito_--the death or sleep; but
when a sarcophagus is in the centre of the picture, and the body
lies extended above it on a sort of sheet or pall held by angels or
apostles, it may be determined that it is the Entombment of the Virgin
after her death. In a small and very beautiful picture by Angelico, we
have distinctly this representation.[1] She lies, like one asleep, on
a white pall, held reverently by the mourners. They prepare to lay her
in a marble sarcophagus. St. John, bearing the starry palm, appears
to address a man in a doctor's cap and gown, evidently intended for
Dionysius the Areopagite. Above, in the sky, the soul of the Virgin,
surrounded by most graceful angels, is received into heaven. This
group is distinguished from the group below, by being painted in a
dreamy bluish tint, like solidified light, or like a vision.

[Footnote 1: This picture, now in the possession of W. Fuller
Maitland, Esq., was exhibited in the British Institution in the summer
of 1852. It is engraved in the Etruria Pittrice.]

* * * * *

THE ASSUMPTION. The old painters distinguish between the Assumption
of the soul and the Assumption of the body of the Virgin. In the first
instance, at the moment the soul is separated from the body, Christ
receives it into his keeping, standing in person either beside her
death-bed or above it. But in the Assumption properly so called, we
have the moment wherein the soul of the Virgin is reunited to her
body, which, at the command of Christ, rises up from the tomb. Of all
the themes of sacred art there is not one more complete and beautiful
than this, in what it represents, and in what it suggests. Earth and
its sorrows, death and the grave, are left below; and the pure spirit
of the Mother again clothed in its unspotted tabernacle, surrounded
by angelic harmonies, and sustained by wings of cherubim and seraphim,
soars upwards to meet her Son, and to be reunited to him forever.

* * * * *

We must consider this fine subject under two aspects.

The first is purely ideal and devotional; it is simply the expression
of a dogma of faith, "_Assumpta est Maria Virgo in Coelum_." The
figure of the Virgin is seen within an almond-shaped aureole (the
mandorla), not unfrequently crowned as well as veiled, her hands
joined, her white robe falling round her feet (for in all the early
pictures the dress of the Virgin is white, often spangled with stars),
and thus she seems to cleave the air upwards, while adoring angels
surround the glory of light within which she is enshrined. Such are
the figures which are placed in sculpture over the portals of the
churches dedicated to her, as at Florence.[1] She is not always
standing and upright, but seated on a throne, placed within an aureole
of light, and borne by angels, as over the door of the Campo Santo
at Pisa. I am not sure that such figures are properly styled the
Assumption; they rather exhibit in an ideal form the glorification
of the Virgin, another version of the same idea expressed in the
_Incoronata_. She is here _Varia Virgo Assumpta_, or, in Italian,
_L'Assunta_; she has taken upon her the glory of immortality, though
not yet crowned.

[Footnote 1: The "Santa Maria del Fiore,"--the Duomo.]

But when the Assumption is presented to us as the final scene of her
life, and expresses, as it were, a progressive action--when she has
left the empty tomb, and the wondering, weeping apostles on the earth
below, and rises "like the morning" ("_quasi aurora surgens_") from
the night of the grave,--then we have the Assumption of the Virgin in
its dramatic and historical form, the final act and consummation of
her visible and earthly life. As the Church had never settled in what
manner she was translated into heaven, only pronouncing it heresy to
doubt the fact itself, the field was in great measure left open to the
artists. The tomb below, the figure of the Virgin floating in mid-air,
and the opening heavens above, such is the general conception fixed
by the traditions of art; but to give some idea of the manner in which
this has been varied, I shall describe a few examples.

1. Giunta Pisano, 1230. (Assisi, S. Franceso.) Christ and the Virgin
ascend together in a seated attitude upborne by clouds and surrounded
by angels; his arm is round her. The empty tomb, with the apostles and
others, below. The idea is here taken from the Canticles (ch. viii.),
"Who is this that ariseth from the wilderness leaning upon her

2. Andrea Orcagna, 1359. (Bas-relief, Or-San-Michele, Florence.) The
Virgin Mary is seated on a rich throne within the _Mandorla_, which
is borne upwards by four angels, while two are playing on musical
instruments. Immediately below the Virgin, on the right, is the
figure of St. Thomas, with hands outstretched, receiving the mystic
girdle: below is the entombment; Mary lies extended on a pall above
a sarcophagus. In the centre stands Christ, holding in his arms the
emancipated soul; he is attended by eight angels. St. John is at the
head of the Virgin, and near him an angel swings a censer; St. James
bends and kisses her hand; St. Peter reads as usual; and the other
apostles stand round, with Dionysius, Timothy, and Hierotheus,
distinguished from the apostles by wearing turbans and caps. The whole
most beautifully treated.

I have been minutely exact in describing the details of this
composition, because it will be useful as a key to many others of the
early Tuscan school, both in sculpture and painting; for example, the
fine bas-relief by Nanni over the south door of the Duomo at Florence,
represents St. Thomas in the same manner kneeling outside the aureole
and receiving the girdle; but the entombment below is omitted. These
sculptures were executed at the time when the enthusiasm for the
_Sacratissima Cintola della Madonna_ prevailed throughout the length
and breadth of Tuscany, and Prato had become a place of pilgrimage.

This story of the Girdle was one of the legends imported from the
East. It had certainly a Greek origin;[1] and, according to the Greek
formula, St. Thomas is to be figured apart in the clouds, on the
right of the Virgin, and in the act of receiving the girdle. Such is
the approved arrangement till the end of the fourteenth century;
afterwards we find St. Thomas placed below among the other apostles.

[Footnote 1: It may be found in the Greek Menologium, iii. p. 225]


An account of the Assumption would be imperfect without some notice
of the western legend, which relates the subsequent history of the
Girdle, and its arrival in Italy, as represented in the frescoes of
Agnolo Gaddi at Prato.[1]

[Footnote 1: _Notizie istoriche intorno alla Sacratissima Cintola
di Maria Vergine, che si conserva, nella Citta di Prato, dal Dottore
Giuseppe Bianchini di Prato_, 1795.]

The chapel _della Sacratissima Cintola_ was erected from the designs
of Giovanni Pisano about 1320. This "most sacred" relic had long been
deposited under the high altar of the principal chapel, and held in
great veneration; but in the year 1312, a native of Prato, whose name
was Musciatino, conceived the idea of carrying it off, and selling it
in Florence. The attempt was discovered; the unhappy thief suffered
a cruel death; and the people of Prato resolved to provide for the
future custody of the precious relic a new and inviolable shrine.

The chapel is in the form of a parallelogram, three sides of which are
painted, the other being separated from the choir by a bronze gate of
most exquisite workmanship, designed by Ghiberti, or, as others say,
by Brunelleschi, and executed partly by Simone Donatello.

On the wall, to the left as we enter, is a series of subjects from the
Life of the Virgin, beginning, as usual, with the Rejection of Joachim
from the temple, and ending with the Nativity of our Saviour.

The end of the chapel is filled up by the Assumption of the Virgin,
the tomb being seen below, surrounded by the apostles; and above it
the Virgin, as she floats into heaven, is in the act of loosening her
girdle, which St. Thomas, devoutly kneeling, stretches out his arms to
receive. Above this, a circular window exhibits, in stained glass, the
Coronation of the Virgin, surrounded by a glory of angels.

On the third wall to the right we have the subsequent History of the
Girdle, in six compartments.

St. Thomas, on the eve of his departure to fulfil his mission as
apostle in the far East, intrusts the precious girdle to the care of
one of his disciples, who receives it from his hands in an ecstasy of
amazement and devotion.

The deposit remains, for a thousand years, shrouded from the eyes
of the profane; and the next scene shows us the manner in which it
reached the city of Prato. A certain Michael of the Dogomari family
in Prato, joined, with a party of his young townsmen, the crusade
in 1096. But, instead of returning to his native country after the
war was over, this same Michael took up the trade of a merchant,
travelling from land to land in pursuit of gain, until he came to the
city of Jerusalem, and lodged in the house of a Greek priest, to whom
the custody of the sacred relic had descended from a long line of
ancestry; and this priest, according to the custom of the oriental
church, was married, and had "one fair daughter, and no more, the
which he loved passing well," so well, that he had intrusted to her
care the venerable girdle. Now it chanced that Michael, lodging in
the same house, became enamoured of the maiden, and not being able to
obtain the consent of her father to their marriage, he had recourse
to the mother, who, moved by the tears and entreaties of the daughter,
not only permitted their union, but bestowed on her the girdle as a
dowry, and assisted the young lovers in their flight.

In accordance with this story, we have, in the third compartment, the
Marriage of Michael with the Eastern Maiden, and then the Voyage from
the Holy Land to the Shores of Tuscany. On the deck of the vessel, and
at the foot of the mast, is placed the casket containing the relic, to
which the mariners attribute their prosperous voyage to the shores of
Italy. Then Michael is seen disembarking at Pisa, and, with his casket
reverently carried in his hands, he reenters the paternal mansion in
the city of Prato.

Then we have a scene of wonder. Michael is extended on his bed in
profound sleep. An angel at his head, and another at his feet, are
about to lift him up; for, says the story, Michael was so jealous
of his treasure, that not only he kindled a lamp every night in its
honour, but, fearing he should be robbed of it, he placed it under
his bed, which action, though suggested by his profound sense of its
value, offended his guardian angels, who every night lifted him from
his bed and placed him on the bare earth, which nightly infliction
this pious man endured rather than risk the loss of his invaluable
relic. But after some years Michael fell sick and died.

In the last compartment we have the scene of his death. The bishop
Uberto kneels at his side, and receives from him the sacred girdle,
with a solemn injunction to preserve it in the cathedral church of the
city, and to present it from time to time for the veneration of the
people, which injunction Uberto most piously fulfilled; and we see him
carrying it, attended by priests bearing torches, in solemn procession
to the chapel, in which it has ever since remained.

Agnolo Gaddi was but a second-rate artist, even for his time, yet
these frescoes, in spite of the feebleness and general inaccuracy
of the drawing, are attractive from a certain _naive_ grace; and the
romantic and curious details of the legend have lent them so much of
interest, that, as Lord Lindsay says, "when standing on the spot one
really feels indisposed for criticism."[1]

[Footnote 1: M. Rio is more poetical. "Comme j'entendais raconter
cette legende pour la premiere fois, il me semblait que le tableau
reflechissait une partie de la poesie qu'elle renferme. Cet amour
d'outre mer mele aux aventures chevaleresques d'une croisade, cette
relique precieuse donnee pour dot a une pauvre fille, la devotion
des deux epoux pour ce gage revere de leur bonheur, leur depart
clandestin, leur navigation prospere avec des dauphins qui leur font
cortege a la surface des eaux, leur arrivee a Prato et les miracles
repetes qui, joints a une maladie mortelle, arracehrent enfin de la
bouche du moribond une declaration publique a la suite de laquelle
la ceinture sacree fut deposee dans la cathedrale, tout ce melange
de passion romanesque et de piete naive, avait efface pour moi les
imperfections techniques qui au raient pu frapper une observateur de

The exact date of the frescoes executed by Agnolo Gaddi is not known,
but, according to Vasari, he was called to Prato _after_ 1348. An
inscription in the chapel refers them to the year 1390, a date too
late to be relied on. The story of Michele di Prato I have never seen
elsewhere; but just as the vicinity of Cologne, the shrine of the
"Three Kings," had rendered the Adoration of the Magi one of the
popular themes in early German and Flemish art; so the vicinity of
Prato rendered the legend of St. Thomas a favourite theme of the
Florentine school, and introduced it wherever the influence of that
school had extended. The fine fresco by Mainardi, in the Baroncelli
Chapel, is an instance; and I must cite one yet finer, that by
Ghirlandajo in the choir of S. Maria-Novella: in this last-mentioned
example, the Virgin stands erect in star-bespangled drapery and
closely veiled.

We now proceed to other examples of the treatment of the Assumption.

3. Taddeo Bartoli, 1413. He has represented the moment in which the
soul is reunited to the body. Clothed in a starry robe she appears in
the very act and attitude of one rising up from a reclining position,
which is most beautifully expressed, as if she were partly lifted
up upon the expanded many-coloured wings of a cluster of angels, and
partly drawn up, as it were, by the attractive power of Christ, who,
floating above her, takes her clasped hands in both his. The intense,
yet tender ecstasy in _her_ face, the mild spiritual benignity in
_his_, are quite indescribable, and fix the picture in the heart and
the memory as one of the finest religious conceptions extant. (Siena,
Palazzo Publico.)

I imagine this action of Christ taking her hands in both his, must be
founded on some ancient Greek model, for I have seen the same _motif_
in other pictures, German and Italian; but in none so tenderly or so
happily expressed.

4. Domenico di Bartolo, 1430. A large altar-piece. Mary seated on a
throne, within a glory of encircling cherubim of a glowing red, and
about thirty more angels, some adoring, others playing on musical
instruments, is borne upwards. Her hands are joined in prayer, her
head veiled and crowned, and she wears a white robe, embroidered
with golden flowers. Above, in the opening heaven, is the figure of
Christ, young and beardless (_a l'antique_), with outstretched arms,
surrounded by the spirits of the blessed. Below, of a diminutive
size, as if seen from a distant height, is the tomb surrounded by
the apostles, St. Thomas holding the girdle. This is one of the most
remarkable and important pictures of the Siena school, out of Siena,
with which I am acquainted. (Berlin Gal., 1122.)

5. Ghirlandajo, 1475. The Virgin stands in star-spangled drapery, with
a long white veil, and hands joined, as she floats upwards. She is
sustained by four seraphim. (Florence, S. Maria-Novella.)

6. Raphael, 1516. The Virgin is seated within the horns of a crescent
moon, her hands joined. On each side an angel stands bearing a flaming
torch; the empty tomb and the eleven apostles below. This composition
is engraved after Raphael by an anonymous master (_Le Maitre au
de_). It is majestic and graceful, but peculiar for the time. The two
angels, or rather genii, bearing torches on each side, impart to the
whole something of the air of a heathen apotheosis.

7. Albert Durer. The apostles kneel or stand round the empty tomb;
while Mary, soaring upwards, is received into heaven by her Son; an
angel on each side.

8. Gaudenzio Ferrari, 1525. Mary, in a white robe spangled with stars,
rises upward as if cleaving the air in an erect position, with her
hands extended, but not raised, and a beautiful expression of mild
rapture, as if uttering the words attributed to her, "My heart is
ready;" many angels, some of whom bear tapers, around her. One angel
presents the end of the girdle to St. Thomas; the other apostles and
the empty tomb lower down. (Vercelli, S. Cristofore.)

9. Correggio. Cupola of the Duomo at Parma, 1530. This is, perhaps,
one of the earliest instances of the Assumption applied as a grand
piece of scenic decoration; at all events we have nothing in
this luxuriant composition of the solemn simplicity of the older
conception. In the highest part of the Cupola, where the strongest
light falls, Christ, a violently foreshortened figure, precipitates
himself downwards to meet the ascending Madonna, who, reclining amid
clouds, and surrounded by an innumerable company of angels, extends
her arms towards him. One glow of heavenly rapture is diffused over
all; but the scene is vast, confused, almost tumultuous. Below, all
round the dome, as if standing on a balcony, appear the apostles.

10. Titian, 1540 (about). In the Assumption at Venice, a picture of
world-wide celebrity, and, in its way, of unequalled beauty, we have
another signal departure from all the old traditions. The noble figure
of the Virgin in a flood of golden light is borne, or rather impelled,
upwards with such rapidity, that her veil and drapery are disturbed
by the motion. Her feet are uncovered, a circumstance inadmissible in
ancient art; and her drapery, instead of being white, is of the usual
blue and crimson, her appropriate colours in life. Her attitude,
with outspread arms--her face, not indeed a young or lovely face,
but something far better, sublime and powerful in the expression of
rapture--the divinely beautiful and childish, yet devout, unearthly
little angels around her--the grand apostles below--and the splendour
of colour over all--render this picture an enchantment at once to the
senses and the imagination; to me the effect was like music.

11. Palma Vecchio, 1535. (Venice Acad.) The Virgin looks down, not
upwards, as is usual, and is in the act of taking off her girdle to
bestow it on St. Thomas, who, with ten other apostles, stands below.

12. Annibale Caracci, 1600. (Bologna Gal.) The Virgin amid a crowd
of youthful angels, and sustained by clouds, is placed _across_ the
picture with extended arms. Below is the tomb (of sculptured marble)
and eleven apostles, one of whom, with an astonished air, lifts from
the sepulchre a handful of roses. There is another picture wonderfully
fine in the same style by Agostino Caracci. This fashion of varying
the attitude of the Virgin was carried in the later schools to every
excess of affectation. In a picture by Lanfranco. she cleaves the air
like a swimmer, which is detestable.

13. Rubens painted at least twelve Assumptions with characteristic
_verve_ and movement. Some of these, if not very solemn or poetical,
convey very happily the idea of a renovated life. The largest and most
splendid as a scenic composition is in the Musee at Brussels. More
beautiful, and, indeed, quite unusually poetical for Rubens, is
the small Assumption in the Queen's Gallery, a finished sketch for
the larger picture. The majestic Virgin, arrayed in white and blue
drapery, rises with outstretched arms, surrounded by a choir of
angels; below, the apostles and the women either follow with upward
gaze the soaring ecstatic figure, or look with surprise at the flowers
which spring within the empty tomb.

In another Assumption by Rubens, one of the women exhibits the
miraculous flowers in her apron, or in a cloth, I forget which; but
the whole conception, like too many of his religious subjects, borders
on the vulgar and familiar.

14. Guido, as it is well known, excelled in this fine subject,--I
mean, according to the taste and manner of his time and school. His
ascending Madonnas have a sort of aerial elegance, which is very
attractive; but they are too nymph-like. We must be careful to
distinguish in his pictures (and all similar pictures painted after
1615) between the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception; it is a
difference in sentiment which I have already pointed out. The small
finished sketch by Guido in our National Gallery is an Assumption and
Coronation together: the Madonna is received into heaven as _Regina
Angelorum_. The fine large Assumption in the Munich Gallery may be
regarded as the best example of Guido's manner of treating this theme.
His picture in the Bridgewater Gallery, often styled an Assumption, is
an Immaculate Conception.

The same observations would apply to Poussin, with, however, more of
majesty. His Virgins are usually seated or reclining, and in general
we have a fine landscape beneath.

* * * * *

The Assumption, like the Annunciation, the Nativity, and other
historical themes, may, through ideal accessories, assume a purely
devotional form. It ceases then to be a fact or an event, and becomes
a vision or a mystery, adored by votaries, to which attendant saints
bear witness. Of this style of treatment there are many beautiful

1. Early Florentine, about 1450. (Coll. of Fuller Maitland, Esq.)
The Virgin, seated, elegantly draped in white, and with pale-blue
ornaments in her hair, rises within a glory sustained by six angels;
below is the tomb full of flowers and in front, kneeling, St. Francis
and St. Jerome.

2. Ambrogio Borgognone--1506. (Milan, Brera.) She stands, floating
upwards In a fine attitude: two angels crown her; others sustain her;
others sound their trumpets. Below are the apostles and empty tomb; at
each side, St. Ambrose and St. Augustine; behind them, St. Cosimo and
St. Damian; the introduction of these saintly apothecaries stamps the
picture as an ex-voto--perhaps against the plague. It is very fine,
expressive, and curious.

3. F. Granacci. 1530.[1] The Virgin, ascending in glory, presents
her girdle to St. Thomas, who kneels: on each, side, standing as
witnesses. St. John the Baptist, as patron of Florence, St. Laurence,
as patron of Lorenzo de' Medici, and the two apostles, St. Bartholomew
and St. James.

[Footnote 1: In the Casa Ruccellai (?) Engraved in the _Etruria

4. Andrea del Sarto, 1520. (Florence, Pitti Pal.) She is seated
amid vapoury clouds, arrayed in white: on each side adoring angels:
below, the tomb with the apostles, a fine solemn group: and hi front,
St. Nicholas, and that interesting penitent saint, St. Margaret of
Cortona. (Legends of the Monastic Orders.) The head of the Virgin
is the likeness of Andrea's infamous wife; otherwise this is a
magnificent picture.

* * * * *

The Coronation of the Virgin follows the Assumption. In some
instances, this final consummation of her glorious destiny supersedes,
or rather includes, her ascension into heaven. As I have already
observed, it is necessary to distinguish this scenic Coronation from
the mystical INCORONATA, properly so called, which is the triumph of
the allegorical church, and altogether an allegorical and devotional
theme; whereas, the scenic Coronation is the last event in a series of
the Life of the Virgin. Here we have before us, not merely the court
of heaven, its argent fields peopled with celestial spirits, and the
sublime personification of the glorified Church exhibited as a vision,
and quite apart from all real, all human associations; but we have
rather the triumph of the human mother;--the lowly woman lifted
into immortality. The earth and its sepulchre, the bearded apostles
beneath, show us that, like her Son, she has ascended into glory by
the dim portal of the grave, and entered into felicity by the path of
pain. Her Son, next to whom she has taken her seat, has himself wiped
the tears from her eyes, and set the resplendent crown upon her head;
the Father blesses her; the Holy Spirit bears witness; cherubim and
seraphim welcome her, and salute her as their queen. So Dante,--

"At their joy
And carol smiles the Lovely One of heaven,
That joy is in the eyes of all the blest."

Thus, then, we must distinguish:--

1. The Coronation of the Virgin is a strictly devotional subject where
she is attended, not merely by angels and patriarchs, but by canonized
saints and martyrs, by fathers and doctors of the Church, heads of
religious orders in monkish dresses, patrons and votaries.

2. It is a dramatic and historical subject when it is the last scene
in a series of the Life of the Virgin; when the death-bed, or the
tomb, or the wondering apostles, and weeping women, are figured on
the earth below.

Of the former treatment, I have spoken at length. It is that most
commonly met with in early pictures and altar-pieces.

With regard to the historical treatment, it is more rare as a separate
subject, but there are some celebrated examples both in church
decoration and in pictures.

1. In the apsis of the Duomo at Spoleto, we have, below, the death
of the Virgin in the usual manner, that is, the Byzantine conception
treated in the Italian style, with Christ receiving her soul, and over
it the Coronation. The Virgin kneels in a white robe, spangled with
golden flowers; and Christ, who is here represented rather as the
Father than the Son, crowns her as queen of heaven.

2. The composition by Albert Durer, which concludes his fine series
of wood-cuts, the "Life, of the Virgin" is very grand and singular. On
the earth is the empty tomb; near it the bier; around stand the twelve
apostles, all looking up amazed. There is no allusion to the girdle,
which, indeed, is seldom found in northern art. Above, the Virgin
floating in the air, with the rainbow under her feet, is crowned by
the Father and the Son, while over her head hovers the holy Dove.

3. In the Vatican is the Coronation attributed to Raphael. That he
designed the cartoon, and began the altar-piece, for the nuns of
Monte-Luce near Perugia, seems beyond all doubt; but it is equally
certain that the picture as we see it was painted almost entirely by
his pupils Giulo Romano and Gian Francesco Penni. Here we have the
tomb below, filled with flowers; and around it the twelve apostles;
John and his brother James, in front, looking up; behind John, St.
Peter; more in the background, St. Thomas holds the girdle. Above is
the throne set in heaven, whereon the Virgin, mild and beautiful, sits
beside her divine Son, and with joined hands, and veiled head, and
eyes meekly cast down, bends to receive the golden coronet he is about
to place on her brow. The Dove is omitted, but eight seraphim, with
rainbow-tinted wings, hover above her head. On the right, a most
graceful angel strikes the tambourine; on the left, another, equally
graceful, sounds the viol; and, amidst a flood of light, hosts of
celestial and rejoicing spirits fill up the background.

Thus, in highest heaven, yet not out of sight of earth, in beatitude
past utterance, in blessed fruition of all that faith creates and love
desires, amid angel hymns and starry glories, ends the pictured life


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