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Article

Alexander Nagel

[Fr. postautel, retable; Ger. Altar, Altaraufsatz, Altarbild, Altarretabel, Altarrückwand, Retabel; It. ancona, dossale, pala (d’altare); Sp. retablo]

An image-bearing structure set on the rear part of the altar (see Altar, §II), abutting the back of the altarblock, or set behind the altar in such a way as to be visually joined with the altar when viewed from a distance. It is also sometimes called a retable, following the medieval term retrotabulum [retabulum, retrotabularium].

The altarpiece was never officially prescribed by the Church, but it did perform a prescribed function alternatively carried out by a simple inscription on the altarblock: to declare to which saint or mystery the altar was dedicated. In fact, the altarpiece did more than merely identify the altar; its form and content evoked the mystery or personage whose cult was celebrated at the altar. This original and lasting function influenced the many forms taken by the altarpiece throughout its history. Since the altarpiece was not prescribed by the Church, its form varied enormously. For this reason, it is often impossible, and historically inaccurate, to draw neat distinctions between the altarpiece and other elements occasionally associated with the altar apparatus. For example, movable statues, often of the Virgin and Child, were occasionally placed on altars according to ritual needs, and at those times fulfilled the function of the altarpiece....

Article

Sarit Shalev-Eyni

Thirteenth-century Ashkenazi illuminated Bible (Milan, Ambrosiana, MSS. B.30–32 INF). One of the earliest illuminated Hebrew manuscripts originating in Germany, it is a giant manuscript in three volumes, containing the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible. As attested by a colophon at the end of the first volume, the Bible was commissioned by Joseph ben Moses from Ulmana, possibly referring to Ulm in Swabia or to Nieder-Olm in the Rhineland. The Bible was copied by Jacob ben Samuel and was massorated and vocalized by Joseph ben Kalonymus in collaboration with another masorete. The first part was completed between 1236 and 1238. The three volumes were illuminated by two artists, whose style is related to the 13th-century school of Würzburg. Illustrations with biblical scenes are located mainly within the initial word panels of the various biblical books, or at their end. Some of the illustrations carry a messianic or eschatological meaning. A broad cosmological composition occupies an opening at the end of the third volume, suggesting an impressive climax for the entire Bible. The full page miniature on the right illustrates the seven heavens, accompanied by the four animals of Ezekiel’s vision and the luminaries (fol. 135...

Article

Lucy Freeman Sandler

Group of twelve manuscripts, primarily Psalter and Book of Hours, nearly all illustrated by in-house artists for members of the Bohun family in the second half of the 14th century. The owner–patrons were the successive earls of Essex, Hereford and Northampton: Humphrey de Bohun VI (1309–61), the 6th Earl of Hereford and 5th Earl of Essex and his nephew Humphrey de Bohun VII (1342–73), the 7th earl of Essex and 2nd Earl of Northampton, Humphrey VII’s wife Joan Fitzalan (d 1419) and their daughters Eleanor (1366–99), who married Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester (see Plantagenet, House of family §(5)), son of King Edward III, and Mary (c. 1369–94), who married Henry of Bolingbroke (1366–1413; from 1399 King Henry IV), son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Known to have been active between c. 1360 and ...

Article

Diptych  

Nigel J. Morgan

Two wood, ivory, or metal panels of equal size, usually hinged together so that they can be folded, and closed with some form of clasp. There are usually images on the inside surfaces of the panels and sometimes also on the outer sides. The panels are most commonly vertical rectangles; Gothic examples often have gables, while those from the 15th century may be round-headed.

The diptych as a work of art seems to have originated in Late Antique ivory-carving as a luxury form of writing tablet. These ivories have carved images on the exterior faces, while a sunken field inside could be filled with wax for writing on with a stylus. Such objects commonly functioned as gifts from the imperial consuls at the beginning of their term of office. They were carved with an image of either the consul or the ruling emperor, seated or standing in an attitude of authority and sometimes presiding over such activities as wild beast fights. These ...

Article

Dossal  

Article

Katrin Kogman-Appel

Richly illuminated manuscript of the Passover liturgy together with a series of liturgical poems to be read during the Passover week (London, BL, Add. MS. 27210), possibly made in Barcelona, c. 1320. This text was to be recited during the seder ceremony at the eve of the Passover holiday. Like most medieval Haggadot (see Haggadah), the Golden Haggadah has no colophon, and its scribe and patrons are unknown. It contains both marginal decorations and a series of full-page miniatures preceding the text and displaying a fully fledged cycle of biblical illustrations following the books of Genesis and Exodus from the Creation of Man to the Crossing of the Red Sea. Stylistically both types of decoration are indebted to early 14th-century Catalan Gothic art.

Similarly, the imagery of the biblical picture cycle also draws on Christian Old Testament iconography and reflects a familiarity with Christian art. The artists and patrons of the Golden Haggadah adopted Christian pictorial sources in a complex process of adaptation and modification, translating the Christian models into a Jewish visual language meaningful in its messages to the Jewish readership. Avoiding themes and iconographic features of a particular Christological concern, the imagery also reflects a close affinity with the traditions of late antique Bible interpretation (Midrash). This points to a specific circle of scholars active in Iberia during the 13th and early 14th centuries as being responsible for the imagery of the cycle. The use of traditional midrashic Bible exegesis is typical for Sephardic Rabbis of anti-rationalist standing, who opposed earlier philosophical trends and followed, rather, scholarly trends common among the Tosafists of northern France. It has also been observed that some images adopt a more specific anti-Christian stance and address polemical issues....

Article

Icon  

Richard Temple

[Gr. eikon: ‘image’]

Wooden panel with a painting, usually in tempera, of a holy person or one of the traditional images of Orthodox Christianity (see fig.), the religion of the Byzantine empire practised today mainly in Greece and Russia (see Early Christian and Byzantine art, §VI, and Post-Byzantine art, §II, 1). The word also has a range of related but disparate meanings, from the abstract and philosophical to the purely literal. For example, it is still used in modern Greek to mean an image or picture in the ordinary sense. In antiquity, Platonists and Neo-Platonists held that the material, earthly world reflects, or is the image of, the higher and divine cosmos; the Old Testament provides the theme of man as the icon of God in the temple of the world; and St Paul declared that ‘Christ is the icon of God’ (2 Corinthians 4:4). Thus the idea of the icon is associated with cosmology and the theology of the Incarnation. In the Early Christian period, disputes over such questions as whether or not God can be known or depicted or the invisible can be seen were part of an intense debate surrounding the acceptability, meaning and function of images of Christ. All this was bound up with the complex questions of Christology that exercised the best minds of the period. Whole communities and nations were divided into Orthodox and heretics over the problem of defining the two natures of Christ, the relationship between his humanity and his divinity. The theory and belief system of icons was developed by theologians between the 4th and the 9th centuries, though only a few icons survive from then and up to the 12th century. Once established, however, the doctrinal principles never changed, and the study of icons is as much a matter of theology as of art. Subject-matter, form and composition did not deviate from the established dogma on which they depended; indeed, icons have been called theology in colour (Trubetskoy)....

Article

Katrin Kogman-Appel

[Mahzor]

Illuminated Hebrew Machzor (Leipzig, Ubib., MS. Voller 1002/I–II)—prayer book for holy days—made c. 1310–20. Its two volumes contain the optional liturgical poems commonly recited according to the Ashkenazi rites. The text reflects the specific prayer rite of Worms and, even though this assumption cannot be confirmed by a colophon, it must have served this particular community up to the early 17th century when it was transferred to Poland.

Both volumes are richly illustrated in a style that recalls upper Rhenish schools of illumination and may have been decorated by artists trained in that region. At least two different hands, one of them most probably Christian, were involved in the layout of the book. The decorative programme includes elaborate initial panels and marginal images. The former display complex allegorical and symbolic compositions relating to the poems or the subject matter of the holy days. An example is the juxtaposition of various symbols related to the New Year showing a man with a Jewish hat blowing a ...

Article

Illuminated manuscript (Paris, Bib. N., MS. n.a.fr. 16251) made in Cambrai depicting 87 of an original set of 90 full-page illustrations of the Life of Christ and a Litany of the Saints accompanied by a Cistercian Calendar, a subject-list and captions to the illustrations. Comprised of 107 folios, the work was made c. 1285. Two artists participated: the assistant, traceable as Master Henri, who painted a compendium of Richard de Fournival’s Bestiaire d’amour and a Vies de saints with tiny historiated initials, in 1285 (Paris, Bib. N., MS. fr. 412), and many other books; and the major painter, otherwise untraced, who probably worked in monumental art, wall painting or stained glass. The book was made for a lady identified in the subject list as ‘Madame Marie’ and the pictures originally showed her kneeling before her ten favourite saints: Michael, John the Baptist, Paul, John the Evangelist, James the Greater, Christopher, Francis, Catherine, Margaret (now missing) and Agnes. All but one of these portraits were painted out, probably when the book came into Cistercian possession. SS Gertrude of Nivelles and Waudru of Mons at the end of the litany indicate where Madame Marie lived—the city of ...

Article

Michael Curschmann

The medieval term mappa mundi (also forma mundi, historia/istoire) covers a broad array of maps of the world of which roughly 1100 survive. These have resisted systematic classification, but the clearly dominant type is one that aims at comprehensively symbolistic representation. Its early, schematic form is a disc composed of three continents surrounded and separated from one another by water (“T-O Map”) and associated with the three sons of Noah: Asia (Shem) occupies all of the upper half, Europe (Japhet) to the left and Africa (Ham) to the right share the lower half. Quadripartite cartographic schemes included the antipodes as a fourth continent, but the tripartite model was adopted by the large majority of the more developed world maps in use from the 11th century on and—with important variations—well into the Renaissance. While details were added as available space permitted, the Mediterranean continued to serve as the vertical axis and, with diminishing clarity, the rivers Don and Nile as the horizontal one. The map also continues to be ‘oriented’ towards Asia, where paradise sits at the very top. A circular ocean forms the perimeter and not infrequently the city of Jerusalem constitutes its centre....

Article

Lucy Freeman Sandler

Composite volume (Cambridge, Corpus Christi Coll., MS. 53) consisting of a Psalter (fols 1–180) and chronicles of England and Peterborough Abbey (fols 180v–187v) produced in England in the first quarter of the 14th century, richly illuminated by several artists, and followed by a contemporary Bestiary (fols 189–210v) differing in script and format, and illustrated by another English artist. The two sections of the manuscript have been bound together since they were given to Corpus Christi College by Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 16th century. Although its place of origin and original destination are uncertain, the Bestiary takes its name from the Peterborough Abbey provenance of the first part of the volume. The manuscript contains accounts of the physical form and habits of animals, birds, reptiles and fish, many supplied with Christian moralizations identified as spiritualiter (that is, spiritual, as opposed to physical), with small text illustrations and decorated initials at the beginning of each of the 104 entries. The animals are represented in profile, sometimes alone and sometimes in narrative situations in which human actors play a role. The elegant script, page layout, and execution of the miniatures and decoration reach the high level of refinement characteristic of the so-called Court style of English illumination, continuing the tradition of such manuscripts as the Alphonso Psalter (London, BL, MS. Add. 24686) of ...

Article

Pietà  

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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....

Article

Santos  

James Cordova and Claire Farago

Term that refers to handmade paintings and sculptures of Christian holy figures, crafted by artists from the Hispanic and Lusophone Americas. The term first came into widespread use in early 20th-century New Mexico among English-speaking art collectors to convey a sense of cultural authenticity. Throughout the Americas, the term imagenes occurs most frequently in Spanish historical documents. Santos are usually painted on wood panels (retablos) or carved and painted in the round (bultos). Reredos, or altarpieces, often combine multiple retablos and bultos within a multi-level architectural framework.

European Christian imagery was circulated widely through the Spanish viceroyalties in the form of paintings, sculptures, and prints, the majority of which were produced in metropolitan centres such as Mexico City, Antigua, Lima, and Puebla, where European- and American-born artists established guilds and workshops. These became important sources upon which local artists elsewhere based their own traditions of religious image-making using locally available materials such as buffalo hides, vegetal dyes, mineral pigments, and yucca fibres, commonly employed by native artists long before European contact....

Article

Katrin Kogman-Appel

Illuminated manuscript of the Passover liturgy to be recited during the seder ceremony at the eve of the Passover holiday, also containing a series of liturgical poems to be read during the Passover week (Sarajevo, N. Mus of Bosnia and Herzegovina.), possibly made in Aragon, c. 1335. Its particularly rich decoration combines French-style marginal scroll decoration with a cycle of full-page miniatures showing biblical history. The latter opens with a visual rendering of the Creation, a theme rarely shown in Jewish art, and follows the story of the Israelites up to the passage through the desert after the Exodus from Egypt.

Like other Sephardic biblical picture cycles, the one in the Sarajevo Haggadah is indebted to Christian pictorial sources, especially of French origin, adapted to suit a Jewish patronage and readership. Jewish biblical exegesis plays a crucial role in the transmission of Christian iconographic formulae to a Jewish idiom. The Creation sequence, for example, reflects Nahmanides’ views of the Creation from Nothing opposing allegorical views about the eternal world held by rationalist philosophers. Likewise midrashic interpretation is dominant in the Sarajevo cycle, where midrashic elements were added to what were really Christian iconographic models....

Article

Anne-Françoise Leurquin

Manual for religious and moral instruction commissioned by Philip III, King of France (reg 1270–85), from his confessor, the Dominican Frère Laurent. The work was finished in 1279–80 and was a literary success. Over 100 manuscript copies have survived, with printed editions appearing in the 15th century, and translations were made into English, Castilian, Catalan, Italian, Dutch and Occitan.

Although the presentation copy is lost, 7 manuscripts have a complete cycle of 15 full-page images and another 20 have selected images. The scenes include representations of the Ten Commandments, the Credo, the Pater noster, the Apocalyptic beast, the Last Judgement and personifications of the virtues and vices paired with moralizing scenes taken mainly from the Old Testament. The images, like the text, are extremely didactic. Nearly all the fully illuminated manuscripts were made for the royal entourage at the turn of the 14th century, often by exceptional artists. Two books were made for the royal family in ...