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Barbara Watts

[It.: ‘pity’]

Devotional image of the Virgin Mary mourning the dead Christ, who lies across her lap. Occasionally other figures, such as St John the Evangelist or Joseph of Arimathea, grieve with her. The Pietà was a popular devotional subject in European painting and sculpture from the 13th century to the end of the 17th.

The subject is thematically related to the Crucifixion, the Descent from the Cross, and the Lamentation, but unlike these it is not a specific event from the Passion cycle. Thus, representations of the Pietà usually lack narrative elements such as the cross, the tomb, and other mourning figures. A related, but more hieratic, subject is the Man of Sorrows (imago pietatis; Lat. ‘image of pity’), in which the dead Christ, sometimes supported by Mary or angels and surrounded by the instruments of the Passion, is presented to the viewer for contemplation.

There are three general types of Pietà, differentiated by the position of Christ’s body. In early German representations it has a sharp diagonal axis, with the torso virtually upright, as in the ...


Brian Spencer

Brian Spencer

Emblem, usually made of metal, on sale at pilgrimage sites to celebrate the saint or devotional object venerated there. The badges were usually worn in the hat, attached by pins or stitching rings that were cast in one piece with them. Their use flourished in the Middle Ages in Europe, particularly in the 14th and 15th centuries, but declined after the Reformation of the mid-16th century. In Catholic countries, however, the production of medallions for pilgrims continued at some shrines thereafter, in a few instances until the present day. Despite their fragility, several thousand medieval badges have been excavated or recovered from riverbeds across the whole of Europe since the early 19th century. These still represent only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of souvenirs that were sold at some shrines every year. In 1466, for example, 130,000 badges were sold in a fortnight at the Swiss monastery of ...


Jacques Heyman and Francis Woodman

A slender, turret-like projection employed universally as an architectural feature, particularly associated with Gothic architecture from the 13th to the 16th centuries, where it was used decoratively on such features as parapets and gables, and with some structural purpose on buttresses.

Jacques Heyman

A pinnacle placed on a buttress provides stability at the head of the pier, counteracting the tendency towards sliding failure caused by the force exerted on the pier by the flier. The relatively small weight of a pinnacle increases the frictional force along the potential lines of slip, effectively locking the stones together. The pinnacle can do little to prevent a buttress from overturning completely under the action of the thrust delivered by the flier. In fixing the stability of the head of the pier, the line of action of the pinnacle is immaterial, so that it can be placed towards the outside of the main buttress, where its small effect on the overall stability will be even further diminished....



Victor M. Schmidt

[Gr. polyptychos: ‘of or with many folds’]

Type of object with several panels, usually an altarpiece, although it may also fulfil other functions. The polyptych normally consists of a central panel with an even number of side-panels, which are sometimes hinged to fold. Although in principle every object with two panels or more may be called a polyptych, the word is normally used as a general term for anything larger than a Triptych. As with diptychs and triptychs, the size, and material can vary.

In the plural form polyptycha the word was used in late Classical and medieval Latin to describe account-books or registers. It may therefore be assumed that in Antiquity diptychs, in their original function as writing-tablets, were extended with additional hinged panels, so as to form polyptych-like structures. Such foldable objects existed in Byzantine painting as calendar icons from the 11th century onwards (examples in Sinai, monastery of St Catherine). In Russia during the 16th and 17th centuries multi-panelled portable ...





Lucy Freeman Sandler

Book containing the 150 psalms of the Old Testament. This article is concerned with manuscript Psalters used in the Western Church; for those used in the Orthodox Church see Early Christian and Byzantine art, §V, 2. The Psalter is usually divided into sections to be recited daily at Matins and Sunday Vespers and hence is a liturgical book used by the clergy in the Divine Office (forming the basis for the Breviary), or by the laity for private devotions. In addition to the psalms, Psalters generally contain an ecclesiastical Calendar, canticles, creeds, and the litany of the saints; the calendar and litany frequently provide evidence of the intended destination of a Psalter. Traditionally attributed to King David and his court musicians, the psalms are hymns in praise of God and pleas for his help and mercy. With the advent of Christianity, the psalms were interpreted in specifically Christian terms: the Lord of the Old Testament was understood as Christ the Messiah, and many passages of individual psalms were seen as Christian metaphors and prefigurations. The Hebrew text of the psalms reached the Latin West via the translations made by St Jerome in the 4th century AD, two from the Greek version (the Septuagint) and one directly from the original language. The three versions, known respectively as the Roman, Gallican, and Hebrew Psalters, differ in the numbering of the psalms (the Gallican will be followed here), and there are also many important textual differences. In the West, the Gallican translation became the standard text. Some Psalters, even illustrated examples such as the ...



Iris Kockelbergh

[Lat. pulpitum: ‘platform’]

Raised structure from which a preacher delivers a sermon or religious exhortation in church. Its most important element is the casket, which sometimes rests on a pedestal or base, or may be suspended from a wall, and is approached by a flight of steps. A sound-board, positioned above the pulpit, was not introduced until after the 15th century. Figural and decorative ornament often comprises biblical scenes or iconography related to the pulpit’s function in the dissemination of Christian doctrine, such as the four Latin Doctors of the Church (e.g. 15th century; Burnham Norton, St Margaret). The placing of the pulpit within the church has varied according to the liturgy practised and the emphasis placed upon preaching (see Church, §II, 3, (i)).

The materials used are largely subject to regional variations. The earliest pulpits were of stone, commonly marble in Italy, painted sandstone in Germany, France, and the Netherlands, and limestone or ...



Massumeh Farhad

[Qumm; Qom; Kum]

Major shrine centre in central Iran. Sasanian remains in the vicinity suggest that the site may have been occupied in pre-Islamic times, but most medieval geographers and historians claimed that it was founded after the Muslim conquest in the 7th century ad. By 712–13 it had become a bastion for persecuted Shi‛ites, and throughout the medieval period it attracted members of the more extreme Shi‛ite sects. Under the Saljuqs (reg 1038–1194) Qum was celebrated for its madrasas, and it is still the most important centre of Shi‛ite theological studies in Iran.

Its reputation as a holy city is linked to the presence of the tomb of Fatima al-Ma‛suma, the sister of the eighth Shi‛ite imam, Riza. In 816–17, while en route to visit her brother at Tus in north-eastern Iran, she fell ill at Saveh, a Sunni town, and asked to be taken to nearby Qum, where she died and was buried. Her tomb acquired particular importance under the Safavid dynasty (...


Diane Apostolos-Cappadona

Art has played an integral role in the development of all world religions. As the visualization of experiences, stories and aspirations, art translates into perceptible imagery what it means to be human, while religion, as the spiritual inspiration for human creativity and culture, binds together humanity and divinity through ritual and mythology (see also Spirituality and art). In the exercise of rituals and the narration of mythology, religion and art coincide both in theory and in practice. By its intrinsic and natural relationship to truth and beauty and to human sensibilities, art may evoke a religious experience or, to use the terminology of the phenomenologist of religion Rudolf Otto, ‘an experience of the numinous’. Works of art can ‘capture’ the meaning or import of a ritual or religious experience and, by ‘freezing it’ in form, allow for the (possible) repetition of the original ritual or religious experience. In its quest for beauty, art may present the ideal archetypal or sacred model for human beings to follow on their paths to salvation, and in its visual expressions of the divine, art may offer human beings a way of relating to the cosmos. Religion both as a path to salvation and as spiritual inspiration supports the desire and the fundamental human need for creative expression. When authentic religious intentions are expressed through images, art becomes religious communication, and this unique form of communication reinforces religious beliefs, customs and values....


Kinga Szczepkowska-Naliwajek, John N. Lupia and Helen Loveday

Receptacle for the preservation of relics, principally the physical remains (Lat. reliquiae) of a holy person or an object of particular veneration. The practice is most prevalent in Christianity (see Cult of relics) (although it has been rejected by Protestant denominations) and Buddhism (see §II below).

Kinga Szczepkowska-Naliwajek

The belief that the destiny of the world and the existence of humanity were in the hands of God and depended on the protection and intercession of the Virgin and the saints was responsible for the development of the cult of saints and their relics. This practice of relic veneration was first documented in the second half of the 2nd century AD and its sources can be traced to Late Antiquity. In the 4th century a number of relics were miraculously discovered, the most precious of which were those that recalled the life, passion, and death of Christ. From this time, the cult and the exaltation of relics in Christian culture became important, in that they became indispensable in the rites and liturgy of the Church. At the outset the Eucharist took place before an altar placed directly over the tombs of the martyrs or an altar under which were buried relics placed in special receptacles known as reliquaries. Later, the relics in their reliquaries were set directly on the altar. Until the 9th century the Western Church rarely allowed the tombs of martyrs to be opened in order to extract the ...


John Williams

Spanish silver reliquary (813×330×445 mm; León, Mus.–Bib. Real Colegiata S Isidoro) made for the relics of St Isidore, which arrived from Seville in December of 1063 as a result of King Ferdinand I’s subjection of the Muslim city. They were placed in a wooden chest covered with silver gilt and lined with silk fabrics of Islamic origin and deposited in the Treasury of S Isidoro, León. No previous Hispanic shrine of comparable size, technique, or iconography is known. In 1808 this shrine and one from the 12th century that had enclosed it were damaged during the Napoleonic occupation of S Isidoro; the reliquary was restored in 1847.

Around the sides are five repoussée panels illustrating, in a disrupted order stemming from the restoration, episodes from the Book of Genesis, three of them with their original inscriptions: the Creation of Adam (hic format[ur] ada[m] et inspirat[ur] a d[e]o); the Temptation of Adam...



Sarah Morgan

Type of structure, usually associated with the Early Christian and Eastern Churches, that is found where volcanic rock is soft enough to carve or where natural caves occur. This includes parts of southern Italy (e.g. Basilicata and Apulia), Greece (e.g. Meteora), Turkey (e.g. Cappadocia; see Cappadocia §2, (i), (a); and Beşparmak), Cyprus (St Neophytos Monastery), Ethiopia (e.g. Lalibela), Georgia (David Garedzhi), Romania (Basarabi-Murfatlar), Bulgaria (e.g. Ivanovo), and the Crimea (near Chersonesos). The churches and dwelling places created in these areas survive in a variety of forms: part-natural cave, part-built, or wholly carved from the rock, with some churches so carefully shaped and finished as to resemble built architecture. From the Early Christian period caves and rock-cut dwellings were popular with hermits and saints as retreats. In some cases communities formed around a saintly figure, and monasteries were established with living spaces, refectories, chapels, and occasionally a larger congregational church. Several texts of saints’ lives, such as that of ...



Peta Evelyn

Large-scale representation of the crucified Christ with flanking figures. Roods are confined to the Western Church and are distinguished from altarpieces or Calvary groups by their position above the entrance to the ritual choir, which was often separated from the congregation by a screen, upon which the rood was placed (see Screen, §3), sometimes with a rood loft. They were usually carved, most in wood that was coloured and gilded, but roods were also painted on walls, particularly where they provided a cheap alternative to a damaged sculpture, such as the wooden so-called Tympanum (16th century) at St Stephen’s, Winsham, Somerset. The carved rood was suspended from the ceiling or supported by a rood beam, such as the examples (both c. 1170–90) on Gotland at Väte and Hemse, respectively, or occasionally a combination of the two (e.g. Halberstadt Cathedral; see below).

It has been suggested (see Thoby; ...



Nigel J. Morgan

In the Roman Catholic Church, the devotion to the 15 Mysteries, the prayers of which are often counted on a string of beads, also referred to as a rosary. The name may derive from the fact that the beads are sometimes carved with roses. The form of the devotional prayers became standardized in the 15th century and is still used in the late 20th century. It consists of meditations on 15 episodes in the life of Christ and the Virgin, comprising three cycles, or chaplets: the Joyful Mysteries (the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation in the Temple and the Finding of the Christ Child in the Temple), the Sorrowful Mysteries (the Agony in the Garden, the Flagellation, the Crowning with Thorns, the Road to Calvary and the Crucifixion), and the Glorious Mysteries (the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Descent of the Holy Ghost, the Assumption of the Virgin and the Coronation of the Virgin). The devotion begins with the recitation of the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, three Hail Marys and the ...


Evelyn M. Cohen

The most profusely decorated Hebrew codex produced in Renaissance Italy. It is a compilation of approximately 70 works, including biblical, liturgical, historical, legal, philosophical, astrological, Cabbalistic and moralistic texts, many of them with a commentary written in the margins. The religious works include the books of Psalms, Proverbs and Job, a Machzor and a Haggadah. The secular books include Josippon’s history of the Jews (based on Josephus) and the Meshal ha-Kadmoni. The codex would thus have functioned as a miniature library. The patron of the manuscript is unknown, as there is no colophon or inscription of ownership, but the name Moses ben Jekutiel ha-Cohen, mentioned in the blessing of the Torah (fol. 106), possibly refers to the original owner. The calendar of the lunar cycle (fol. 471) begins with 1470, and stylistically the manuscript appears to belong to the third quarter of the 15th century.

This small (210×156 mm) codex, written on fine vellum in an Italo-Ashkenazi script, is composed of 437 folios, 408 of which are illuminated. In addition to two full-page miniatures for the Book of Job and five full-page diagrams, the manuscript contains approximately 200 smaller text illustrations, which are placed in the columns of text, the outer margins of the pages, or the borders of the initial word panels. These pictures capture the daily life of a Renaissance Jew in Italy by portraying the religious observances that were performed daily, on the Sabbath and on the various holy days, as well as the rituals of circumcision, marriage and mourning. Biblical episodes are also depicted, as are scenes from numerous animal fables....


Nigel Gauk-Roger

[It.: ‘sacred conversation’]

Term applied to a type of religious painting, depicting the Virgin and Child flanked on either side by saints, which developed during the 15th and 16th centuries and is associated primarily with the Italian Renaissance. The specific characteristics of the genre are that the figures, who are of comparable physical dimensions, seem to co-exist within the same space and light, are aware of each other and share a common emotion. This relationship is conveyed, with greater or lesser emphasis, by gesture and expression. The compositions are usually frontal and centralized, and are distinguished by an aura of stillness and meditation.

In late medieval and early Renaissance art Central Italian polyptychs had generally consisted of a main panel of the Virgin and Child enthroned, flanked by smaller panels showing individual figures of saints; large altarpieces often had small scenes of related narrative below (predellas) and sometimes also above. Usually the panels were divided and surrounded by a frame of a consistent architectonic pattern. Main and lesser figures were differentiated in terms of size and, set against a gold background, seemed to exist beyond space and time....


[revestry; vestry]

Storeroom in a church used for sacred vessels and ecclesiastical vestments.

H. W. van Os: Vecchietta and the Sacristy of the Siena Hospital Church: A Study in Renaissance Religious Symbolism (The Hague, 1974) L. Hamlett: ‘The Sacristy of San Marco, Venice: Form and Function Illuminated’, Art History, 32(3) (June 2009), pp. 458–84...