Rest on the Flight into Egypt | Art for A Christmas 2

Matthew 2:13 An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt…

Rest on the Flight into Egypt
SCHONGAUER, Martin
(b. ca. 1430, Colmar, d. 1491, Breisach)
Rest on the Flight into Egypt
c. 1745
Engraving, 254 x 194 mm
Museum of Art, Cleveland
Click image for more information.
This scene and folk story from The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (scroll down to chap 20)
travelled to Europe becoming, with many changes, The Cherry Tree Carol.
Known in several variations here is a performance by Joan Baez.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Rest on the Flight into Egypt, engraving, c. 1470-75, Martin Schongauer, 1430 -1491

Johannes Guttenberg invented moveable type and printed the Bible not long before Martin Schongauer engraved, “Rest on the Flight into Egypt,” but since most people could not read, art remained an essential means of learning stories of the Bible. During the fifteenth century the range of subjects expanded widely and stories about Mary were enhanced with lore. In addition to events such as the Annunciation and the Nativity, stories based on tradition often were included in illustrations of her life.

When Herod learned the “King of the Jews” had been born he was troubled and ordered all males who were two years old and under in Bethlehem and its region to be killed. When an angel warned Joseph of Herod’s plan, “…he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod” (Mat. 2:14). Schongauer’s engraving is based on an account from the non-canonical book, The Gospel of Pseudo Matthew, which tells of a rest stop taken while the family was on their journey. After three days, Mary was tired, hungry, and thirsty so they stopped under a date tree; Mary looked up at the fruit but could see that it was too high to reach. The baby Jesus said, “O tree, bend thy branches and refresh my mother with thy fruit.” Schongauer depicts five angels bending the tree thus allowing Joseph to reach the dates. Jesus then caused water to flow from the roots of the palm tree and the family was refreshed.

It was a common practice for artists of this time to include symbolic content in their work. Some of the flora and fauna in this print may seem gratuitous to us now but in its day the meaning would have been understood. The stag, a symbol for Christ and a destroyer of serpents, is standing watch through the trees in the background. It was believed a stag sheds its horns and then renews them after drinking from a spring – likewise people who drink from the spring of the spirit shed their sins and are renewed. In the right foreground, the dandelion, a symbol of Christ’s passion, is a reminder of the future that awaits the child. The lily at the left foreground is a symbol of Mary’s purity, and to the far left is a dragon tree. Two lizards are on its trunk and one is approaching it. The presence of lizards, serpents, and dragons represents the devil and lurking danger. At the very top of the tree is yet another symbol; a parrot. Because a parrot has the ability to fly and talk it symbolizes a messenger and is associated with the angel that brought word of the Immaculate Conception to Mary. In paintings of Mary, a parrot is sometimes placed by her ear as though it has just said, “Ave Maria.” When not with Mary, a parrot may be placed high in a tree (as here in the dragon tree) where it can not be reached by serpents.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Hurault Gospels | Art for Christmas 1C

John 1:1 In principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum.

Hurault Gospels
Hurault Gospels
Portrait of Saint Jean and beginning of his Gospel
Reims, 2nd quarter of the 9th century
Bibliothèque nationale de France, manuscripts, Latin fol 265. 176-177
school of the Palace of Charlemagne
attributed to Greek artists of North Italy.
Click image for more information.

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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

 

Portrait of Saint Jean (John) and the Beginning of His Gospel, 9th Century, Illuminated Manuscript, Monastery at Reims, France

In the fifth century, Rome was sacked by Visigoths and Vandals, and threatened by Huns; it was conquered finally in AD 476 by Odoacer, a barbarian from a Germanic tribe.  The eastern portion of the Roman Empire remained free from invasion, however, and its culture continued.  Europe, on the other hand, faced very troubled times.  By the ninth century, Latin was being lost as a unifying common language and literacy had declined greatly.  Greek and Roman culture was almost forgotten.  Small kingdoms and tribes fought to control their territories and the Church tried to hold on to its power and influence.  During these unstable times, monasteries were places where literature, knowledge and Christian history was preserved.  They were centers of learning.

In the eighth century, Charles I – a Frank known as Charlemagne – fought numerous wars, formed an empire, and was determined to re-establish literacy and culture among his people.  Art played a key role in the renaissance he had in mind.  Under Charlemagne, copying and originating illuminated manuscripts was a priority and at the monastery in Reims, under Archbishop Ebbo’s direction, gospel books such as “Saint   John” were made.  The portrait of John depicted at the front of his book shows him looking out at the viewer; his seated position is a much repeated pose copied from Byzantine sources.  Although a quill and scroll are being held to indicate he is the writer of the gospel that bears his name, an eagle, the animal associated with him and included usually as an identifying feature, is missing.  The Latin text starts with the very large decorative first letter “I” and to its right the letter “N.”  The letter “N” also is large but almost hidden beneath its embellishment.  Though spaced apart, the two letters spell the word “IN” which begins the introductory words of John’s Gospel; “IN PRINCIPIO ERAT VERBUM” (“In the beginning was the word”).  The lacy designs, vines, and animal decorative work of the middle ages are not from Greek or Roman sources but the result of the assimilation of images brought into Europe by barbarian tribes.

Note

Making books at a monastery required a team of artists with specialized skills; these included not only calligraphers and painters but also people who prepared vellum, ground pigment, mixed inks, and bound books,  Often goldsmiths were employed to create a book’s cover and embellish it with precious jewels.

The city of Byzantium was founded by Greeks in the fifth century BC and named after their king, Byzas.  When the Roman Emperor Constantine moved his capital east to Byzantium in AD 330, the city was renamed Constantinople (now called Istanbul).  The eastern portion of the Roman Empire was not called the “Byzantine Empire” during its time.  Historians of the sixteenth century were responsible for that designation.

Hovak Najarian © 2012

Hurault Gospels | Art for Christmas 1B

John 1:1
In the beginning was the Word…

Hurault Gospels
Hurault Gospels
Portrait of Saint Jean and beginning of his Gospel
Reims, 2nd quarter of the 9th century
Bibliothèque nationale de France, manuscripts, Latin fol 265. 176-177
school of the Palace of Charlemagne
attributed to Greek artists of North Italy.
Click image for more information.

Previously posted 12/30/2012

______________
Commentary by Hovak Najarian

 

Portrait of Saint Jean (John) and the Beginning of His Gospel, 9th Century, Illuminated Manuscript, Monastery at Reims, France

In the fifth century, Rome was sacked by Visigoths and Vandals, and threatened by Huns; it was conquered finally in AD 476 by Odoacer, a barbarian from a Germanic tribe. The eastern portion of the Roman Empire remained free from invasion, however, and its culture continued. Europe, on the other hand, faced very troubled times. By the ninth century, Latin was being lost as a unifying common language and literacy had declined greatly. Greek and Roman culture was almost forgotten. Small kingdoms and tribes fought to control their territories and the Church tried to hold on to its power and influence. During these unstable times, monasteries were places where literature, knowledge and Christian history was preserved. They were centers of learning.

In the eighth century, Charles I – a Frank known as Charlemagne – fought numerous wars, formed an empire, and was determined to re-establish literacy and culture among his people. Art played a key role in the renaissance he had in mind. Under Charlemagne, copying and originating illuminated manuscripts was a priority and at the monastery in Reims, under Archbishop Ebbo’s direction, gospel books such as “Saint John” were made. The portrait of John depicted at the front of his book shows him looking out at the viewer; his seated position is a much repeated pose copied from Byzantine sources. Although a quill and scroll are being held to indicate he is the writer of the gospel that bears his name, an eagle, the animal associated with him and included usually as an identifying feature, is missing. The Latin text starts with the very large decorative first letter “I” and to its right the letter “N.” The letter “N” also is large but almost hidden beneath its embellishment. Though spaced apart, the two letters spell the word “IN” which begins the introductory words of John’s Gospel; “IN PRINCIPIO ERAT VERBUM” (“In the beginning was the word”). The lacy designs, vines, and animal decorative work of the middle ages are not from Greek or Roman sources but the result of the assimilation of images brought into Europe by barbarian tribes.

Note

Making books at a monastery required a team of artists with specialized skills; these included not only calligraphers and painters but also people who prepared vellum, ground pigment, mixed inks, and bound books, Often goldsmiths were employed to create a book’s cover and embellish it with precious jewels.

The city of Byzantium was founded by Greeks in the fifth century BC and named after their king, Byzas. When the Roman Emperor Constantine moved his capital east to Byzantium in AD 330, the city was renamed Constantinople (now called Istanbul). The eastern portion of the Roman Empire was not called the “Byzantine Empire” during its time. Historians of the sixteenth century were responsible for that designation.

Hovak Najarian © 2012

The Nativity between Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel | Art for A Christmas 1

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us….

The Nativity between Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel
DUCCIO di Buoninsegna
(b. ca. 1255, Siena, d. 1319, Siena)
The Nativity between Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel
1308-11
Tempera on wood
National Gallery of Art, WashingtonClick image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian
(Previously Hovak has commented on works from the Maesta:
Christ’s Appearance to the Apostles and Solomon)

The Nativity (with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel), 1308-1311, egg tempera, Duccio di Buoninsegna, c. 1255-1319

Duccio’s “Nativity” was once part of the Maesta (Majesty) which served as an altarpiece for the Cathedral of Siena, Italy. When the painting was completed in 1311, it was composed of a very large panel of the Madonna and Child surrounded by saints and angels. Its base – called a “predella” (Italian for “foot stool” which it resembled) – was below the main panel. It served physically to support the altarpiece and visually to depict seven scenes of the birth and early life of Christ. In its original form, an Old Testament prophet stood to the right of each event holding a scroll on which a passage written by him pertained to the scene.

Duccio’s “Nativity,” the second scene in the predella, takes place in a grotto with Mary reclining on a red cushion in a royal robe of blue. In keeping with the practice of increasing a person’s size in accordance with their importance, she is much larger than the other figures. In the manger, the baby Jesus is being watched over by an ox and an ass and many angels have gathered above them; some are looking heavenward in praise and others are leaning over for an adoring glance at the baby. A small star is at the peak of the cave entrance with its rays shining onto the face of Jesus. Below the figure of Mary are two related scenes. On the left, two midwives are bathing the new born Jesus and on the right, angels are announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds as they stand with a sheepdog and their flock. On the left side, Joseph is sitting outside of the grotto in a pink robe, To the right of this scene is a painting of Ezekiel holding a scroll with his words; “This gate shall be kept shut: it shall not be opened, and no man may pass through it.”

In the early eighteenth century, the Maesta altarpiece was taken apart in order to divide it between the two altars of the Cathedral of Siena. During this process, damage was caused and some parts of the painting became separated and lost. Other sections were purchased and placed in museums. One of the results is Isaiah now is not with the scene to which he and his words belong. The scroll he is holding states; “Behold a young woman shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel” and he was placed originally at the immediate right of the “Annunciation,” (the first scene of the predella). He was separated from it and is now at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC standing next to the “Nativity.” Isaiah is not looking toward the birth of Jesus because in the original he was looking toward the archangel Gabriel’s visit to Mary. The painting of the “Annunciation,” to which his words of prophecy apply is an ocean away in the National Gallery of London without its accompanying prophet, Isaiah.

Hovak Najarian © 2013