SAINT’S HALOES AND MOUSE’S EARS PART I
Or Putting A Few Things in Perspective
The things we accept visually, rapidly and at face value, are legion. All those things we recognize, that “jump the synapses directly as a code” (as the folks in advertising just love to say), make up probably the majority of what we encounter in our daily lives. (One of the main attractions of travel is to satisfy the yearning to see rather than recognize; conversely, no familiarity at all would probably end up being very tiring or far worse.) I got to wondering about all those things of a varying nature, which we manage to identify effortllessly (likely the product of an umpteenth belated attempt to understand « Kant and the Platypus» by the ineffable and avuncular Eco, effort hardly effortless on my part, at least until I gave up trying yet again…)
For some reason, my thoughts turned to haloes.
Which turned in turn into an unlikely but amusing discussion at breakfast… With my son, these discussions rapidly degenerate (or are elevated, depending on your point of view) into other realms of speculation.
“Funny how nobody has ever made a film with a character that has a halo” he remarked.
“Practical for reading late at night.” I commented.
“You’d need an on/off switch if you wanted to get some sleep, though” he replied, “Or one of these face masks they hand out on long flights.”
“I wonder if it would fizzle, like a neon lamp in the rain?”
“Or keep mosquitoes away?”
“You’d need a hook in the bathroom to hang it on when you shower.”
“His and Hers, like for towels.”
“Do you think it would need a charger or does it just glow, like, you know, by infra-red divine decree?”
But, pleasantries aside… how about haloes then ? They are a subject with which we are all familiar. Ubiquitous throughout much western religious art, they embody those things with which we all have an easy familiarity, so much so that it’s rare we actually look at them. Our eyes scan their outline, our minds note their presence, but with the faculties of recognition, not observation. To an illustrator, this process, the devolution of a potentially fully actively narrative element (which carries always much more that its simple cipher) to a narrative device, akin to written language, is a fascinating one. But back to haloes. They go with saints, speaking of which…
St. Ulrich (c. 890-973), Bishop of Augsburg from 923, was canonized by Pope John XV in 993, thus becoming the first person formally elevated to sainthood. (Another school maintains that the first such canonization was Saint Swibert’s, by Pope Leo III in 804. Swibert was an English saint who went off as a missionary to the Brabant in the 7th century.) The business of attaining sainthood (or at least sainthood approved at the very top of the hierarchy) came nearly 1000 years after the beginnings of Christianity. Naturally, saintly individuals and de facto sainthood existed, but it wasn’t yet regulated by the church; abbots held the authority to beatify at will. (Some saints made the grade quite briskly - barely two years after being murdered in Canterbury cathedral, Thomas Beckett got his halo.) Once Rome took up the reins, though, little time was wasted, since there are now over 10,000 if you count beati (those on their way to becoming saints - one miracle down and one to go). There are also venerables, or people who have been declared of heroic virtue during the investigation and process leading to canonization of a saint. (The Venerable Bede - or the Venemous Bede, as we disrespectfully dubbed him in school - is likely the best-known. The four successive shortlists of canonization run thus: Servant of God, Venerable, Blessed, Saint.)
Saints can also be demoted, (as the Vatican did in 1969 with Saint Christopher, on the grounds that he never existed) but this usually has little effect on their popularity, especially for saints with so rich a history as Christophoros (who even figures as a dog-headed cannibal giant in some stories - John of Mandeville meets the Scriptures.) Best-known for being the patron saint of travellers, he is also handy against lightning, floods and storms, pestilence, epilepsy and toothache or for a holy death. Additionally, as patron saint of archers, bachelors, bookbinders, fruit dealers, fullers, gardeners, market carriers, motorists, drivers, boatmen, sailors and surfers (!) he isn’t likely to be easily dismissed.
This multidues of saintly persons represents quite a roster, although only the really significant saints have signal days set aside for them, days that naturally often differ from country to country. And of course there are patron saints, which add another dimension, and incidentally provide generous iconography. (Saint Ursanne is the patron saint of those with stiff necks, for example, whereas Saint Polycarp comes in handy for earaches. Hairdressers have a special thought for Saint Martin de Porres, taxi drivers for Saint Fiacre, and tax collectors Saint Matthew, to name a very few. Albinus of Angers is to be prayed to in case of imminent pirate attack. There is even a saint for criminals in general and thieves in particular: Saint Dismas. (Saints Dismas and Gestas are the two crucified unfortunates who flank Christ on Golgotha - Dismas is the “Good Thief” on Christ’s right and Gestas, who loses patience with being so rudely crucified, is the Bad Thief to his left - though neither seem to merit a halo in popular iconography.) Whatever profession, activity, menace or ailment you can name, there’s likely a saint for it. (Although why inn-keepers, wine-merchants, brewers and Boy Scouts share a saint in the person of Saint Amand does escape me.) And yes, hagiophobia and hagiophilia are respectively fear and love of saints and holy things.)
And of course, the best way to recognize a saint is by his or her halo.
By all accounts, Christian haloes began to appear only a century into A.D.; though haloed Roman portraits exist, like the earlier Egyptian sun discs, they are seminally solar and not connected with holiness as we see it now. It is certainly a perfectly plausible transference, as burgeoning Christianity was busily erecting basilicae on sacred heathen sites and drafting paymin personailties into the ranks as saints (or as roundly condemning them as allies of the devil, depending), as well as pasting Christian holy days over adjacent pagan ones like so many hagiographic post-its. Transforming the Helios associated with Apollo to a radiance emanating from and symbolizing inner light of holy personnages is a small and logical step. (It’s worthwhile noting in passing the short-lived and controversial figure of Christus Helios, said to be represented in 3rd-century mosaics depicting Christ as the sun god Helios or Sol Invictus, from the Mausoleum of the Julii, also called the Tomb of “Cristo Sole”, in the Necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Early incidences of osmosis between Christ and classical deities, as well as characteristics derived from Mithraism, result in some fascinating and certainly enigmatic visual representations.)
A. Poseidon, from a second-century A.D. mosaic.
B. Roman floor mosaic, El Djem, Tunisia. This Apollo with a radiant halo also dates from the second century A.D.
C. The Missorium of Theodisius I, made before 388.
D. Emporer Justinian, Master of San Vitale in Ravenna, before 547
The word “halo” itself, by the way, is apparently of a relatively late origin: mid 16th century according to my dictionary, coming from from medieval Latin, from Latin haloes, itself from Greek halōs ‘disk of the sun or moon.’ The sense of “light around the head of a holy person or deity” was apparently first recorded 1646. (Though this begs the question “Well what the heck did they call it before they had a name for it?”, one should not let unanswerable questions get in one’s way…)
Not to forget, of course, aureola or aureole, from Old French aureole, from Latin aureola ( corona) ‘golden (crown),’ feminine of aureolus (diminutive of aureus, from aurum ‘gold’ ) c.1220, from Latin feminine adj. dim. of aureus “golden.” In medieval Christianity, this was « the celestial crown worn by martyrs, virgins, etc., as a sign of victory over the flesh ». As for “nimbus”; early 17th century, from Latin, literally ‘cloud, aureole.’
There are many varieties of haloes. The early Christians depicted square ones to denote those holy individuals still alive at the moment of their portrayal. These are often blue, perhaps because they are said to be equated with the imperfect Earth and the –by deduction – as-yet-imperfect life of the saintly person still inhabiting it. Popular canonization, along with square haloes, was outlawed when sainthood was institutionalized. (Currently, it takes either a martyrdom or two officially homologated miracles to attain sainthood.) While a majority are golden or gilded, there are also coloured haloes of every hue, even a special dark halo for Judas Escariot. Christ has his own particular style of halo with a cross in it, as does God, when he shows up on the scene. (His Hand, or Manus Dei, also occasionally has a halo of its own.)There are even triangular haloes, a reference to the Trinity, and other unusual polygonal shapes as well. All solutions to the tricky task of rendering the numinous luminous, so to speak.
A selection of haloes from W. J. & G. A. Audsley’s « Handbook of Christian Symbolism », London, 1865. Where exactly the distinction between « lunar and feminin » and « solar and masculin » actually applies to haloes and mandorlas is a little beyond me, given that both happily enclose or accompany Mary, Jesus and God. (However, it is diligently reprised in many texts.)
A selection of square haloes.
A. Square haloes of early holy men, from the Monastery of Saint Simeon, Aswan, Egypt
B. An early halo, belonging to Pope John VII, 795-6, on this mosiac fragment in the Vatican Museum.
C & D. Another square halo for Paschal I. He was Pope from 817 – 824.
Basilica of Santa Prassede, Rome Pascal 1 is also pictured holding the Virgin’s foot in a mosaic at Santa Maria in Domnica, in Rome, dated c. 820
Johannus Diaconus in his life of Pope Gregory the Great, states: “circa verticem tabulae similitudinem, quod viventis insigne est, preferens, non coronam” (bearing around his head the likeness of a square, which is the sign for a living person, not a crown.)
E. Pascalis’ mother, Theodora. Santa Prassede, Rome. Mosaic of women who risked their lives saving holy relics. Theodora’s square halo indicates she was still alive at the time the mosaic was laid.
F. Mosaic from the church of Hagios Demetrios in Thessaloniki, late 7th or early 8th century, showing Saint Demetrios with donors. The saint, who has his hands companionably resting on the donors’ shoulders, has a round halo. Theirs are square, (if indeed they are haloes and not something else entirely) with a horizontal red line above their heads, and a cloth draped behind.
Haloes could also take on other unusual shapes.
A. Bénévent Exultet, c. 970. Bishop with a scrolled halo. (The Exultet is the traditional hymn of praise intoned by the deacon during the Easter Vigil.)
B. Another Bishop from the Bénévent Exultet.
C. This Bishop, from an Italian Latin manuscript of the 9th century, wears a square halo with the ends curled over like a scroll. From « Iconographie Chrétienne », by M. Didron, Paris, 1843.
D. Double triangular halo for God in this Trinity, from a fresco on Mount Athos. From « Iconographie Chrétienne », by M. Didron, Paris, 1843
E. Saint John the Evangelist has a circular halo topped by two sunflowers. 12th-century French stained glass, in the Abbey of Saint-Rémi in Reims. According to the text, Mary, who is also watching the Crucifixion, has a similar halo. Needless to say, these are a rarity. From «Iconographie Chrétienne», by M. Didron, Paris, 1843
F. Manus Dei, from a 9th century manuscript. From «Iconographie Chrétienne», by M. Didron, Paris, 1843.
Triangular haloes of course symbolize the Trinity.
A. God leans out of a balcony of cloud in this drawing of a 17th-century Greek fresco, wearing a triangular halo surrounded by rays. According to the author, this type of halo is exceedingly rare in France, but common in Italy and France from the 15th century onwards. From «Iconographie Chrétienne», by M. Didron, Paris, 1843
B. Fresco from the Monastery of Saint John of Rila, Bulgaria (destroyed and rebuilt several times, the last between 1843 and 1862.)
C. Antoniazzo Romano, detail of God the Father, from the Altapiece of the confraternity of the Annunciation, c. 1489-90, Santa Maria spora Minerva, Rome.
D. God’s All-Seeing Eye is usually housed in a triangular halo. Jacopo Carucci’s « Supper at Emmaus », 1525, associates the Masonic symbol with the scene. (Yet another avenue to explore, but which ultimately has little to do with haloes.)
E. Lastly, an usually late triangular halo, from the Saint Peter church in Saint Charles, Missouri, from the mid-1800’s.
Square haloes turned on one corner (or diamond-shaped) might be considered next in the hierarchy.
A. Franciscan Allegories, Giotto : 1330, fresco, Lower Church, San Francesco, Assisi. See the diamond-shaped halo in the centre, flanked by two Virtues, each with a hexagonal halo.
B. Lorenzo and Jacopo Salimbieri, dated 1415, Elisabeth presents Mary to Zacharias, detail. A very late (and unusual) example of diamond-shaped haloes.
C. Italian miniature from the 14th century, from the “Speculum humanes salvationis”. God has a square diamond-shaped halo with concave sides. From « Iconographie Chrétienne », by M. Didron, Paris, 1843
D. In 1511, Raphael painted another diamond-shaped halo for God in his Disputa (Dispute Over the Sacrament, also called the Dispute at the Eucharist), Stanza della Signatura, Vatican Palace, Rome. The message of course is that God is eternal, and will always be living.
Nimbi and auras (or aureoles) of all shapes (being nimbi, some imprecision is in their nature) also appear, sometimes very discrete, sometimes lakes of light. The full-body nimbus, or vesica piscis (also called the mandorla - Italian for « almond ») is popular for those celestially enthroned. The vesica piscis or ixthus (literally ‘fish’s bladder” in Latin) is drawn by having two circles overlap.
Here is a small selection; there are as many styles of mandorla as there are mandorlas.
A. Christ Pantocrator, from the Curch of Petersburg, c. 1119. The term “Pantocrator” or Παντοκράτωρ , (via Latin from Greek) meaning ‘ruler over all.’ The figure is especially Byzantine.
B. In this Christ in Majesty from 1220, the shape of the vesica piscis is clearly defined.
C. Jacobello Alberegno’s Vision of St. John the Evangelist, from the 1360’s, is very similar. As in the others, the symbols of the four Evangelists appear next to the apex and base.
D. Pisanello gives Mary a spectacular nimbus in this painting of Apparition of the Virgin to Saints Anthony Abbot and George, c. 1445. Anthony, by the way, is graced with a tilted halo, whereas George, with his fashionable and voluminous straw hat taking up so much space, has none.
E. Lucas Cranach the Elder proposes a slightly more rounded mandorla in this Trinity from 1515-18.
F. Some nimbi or aureoles can be very complex. God in a circular aureole divided into symbolic squares. God is seated on a rainbow and his feet rest on another. (Rainbows are apt elements for providing saintly seating for holy figures enthroned in the heavens without placing them on physical thrones.) From « Iconographie Chrétienne », by M. Didron, Paris, 1843
G. Christ in Glory, Byzantine painting. Another variation on the same theme.
Haloes of fire occasionally occur in Eastern art.
Left : Fiery haloes from a medieval Persian Manuscript, showing Mohammud leading Moses, Abraham and Jesus
Centre :The Prophet can also have a round halo. The Prophet Muhammad, 17th century Ottoman copy of an early 14th century (Ilkhanate period) manuscript of Northwestern Iran or northern Iraq (the “Edinburgh codex”).
Illustration of Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī‘s al-Âthâr al-bâqiyah; (“The Remaining Signs of Past Centuries”). BNF, MS Arabe 1489, fol. 5v. (literature: Thomas Walker Arnold and Adolf Grohmann. The Islamic Book: A Contribution to Its Art and History from the VII–XVIII Century. Paris: Pegasus Press; New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1929. )
Right : Siyer-i Nebi: The Life of the Prophet 1595. Hazine 1223, folio 298a. Muhammad and his companions advancing on Mecca. The angels Gabriel, Michael, Israfil and Azrail, all with haloes of flame, are accompanying the expedition.
While haloes are traditonally gilded or gold in colour, early representations are often in a variety of hues. Many are found in early psalters, volumes containing the Book of Psalms and other devotional texts, which were among the most popular of medieval illuminated books. (They often included a calendar, a litany of saints, canticles from the Old and New Testaments, as well as other religious texts. Psalters were often profusely and lavishly illuminated. One of the best-known is certainly the Luttrell Psalter, created around 1325-35.)
A.Virgin & Child with Saints Theodore & George, 6th century, Sinai. Two angels, with blue haloes, look to the heavenly hand and beam. The others have more classically golden haloes, albeit with blue rims.
B. These angels in Santa Prassede, Rome, 4th century, also have blue haloes.
C. The Ingeborg Psalter, c. 1200-10. The Burial of Christ and the Three Marys at the Tomb. Haloes of green, blue, grey and orange
D. The Ingeborg Psalter. The Last Judgement, presided over by Christ with a blue halo anda red cross. The attendant angels have blue haloes, the two sounding horns have one blue and one orange.
E. Miniature from the Murthley Hours, Paris, c. 1280. Three angels, with wings and haloes alternating between red and blue.
F. Miniature from the Murthley Hours, Paris, c. 1280. Madonna, wearing a blue crown and a red halo.
G. Miniature from the Murthley Hours, Paris, c. 1280. Doubting Thomas. The apostles have alternating pink and blue haloes, Christ has a blue halo with a red cross.
H. Miniature from the Murthley Hours, Paris, c. 1280. Similar disposition, with a pink halo and red cross for Christ this time.
I. Miniature from the Murthley Hours, Paris, c. 1280. Light purple/blue halo with a green cross. The apostles’ haloes are uncoloured.
J. The Paris Psalter, Constantinople, c. 960. Isaiah’s Prayer. The unusual and shadowy figure of Nyx is represented in the Hellenic fashion.
A. The Paris Psalter, King David between Sophia and Prophetia, who have fetching pink haloes.
B. The Paris Psalter. Nathan reproaches David, David penitent. Nathan has a tranlucid light purple halo, David’s is gold.
C. The Paris Psalter, Isaiah and Ezekiah, gilded and blue haloes.
D. Saint Albans Psalter, 12th century. Mary Magdalen announcing the Resurrection to the assembly of apostles wearing alternating red and gold haloes.
E. The Christina Psalter, Paris, 1220-1230. An angel warns the three Wise Men not to return to Herod’s court. The admonishing seraph has a red halo. In the second scene, the Presentation at the Temple, Christ has a small red halo with a blue cross, and the priest a light green one.
F. The Saint Louis Psalter, 1258-1270. A sword-brandishing seraph with a red halo halts Barlaam’s donkey.
G. The month of December, from the Psalter of Saint Elizabeth, early 13th century. The bishop or cardinal has a blue halo, as does Joseph in the Nativity.
H. Bible Moralisée, Paris, c. 1220. One of the most famous psalter images, God creating the World, wearing a green halo with a gold cross.
I. Madonna lactans from the Amesbury Psalter, 13th century. Mary has a blue halo, as do the two angels looking on. Christ has a red halo with a gold cross.
J Pentecost, from the Ingeborg Psalter Christ and the two angels all have blue haloes
K. The Scherenberg Psalter. Mary and the Infant have blue haloes, his with a red cross.
L. The Toledo Bible, painted between 1227 and 1234. Chirst has a blue halo with a gold cross.
M. The Eadwine Psalter, Paris, c. 1150. The Creation. God wears haloes of different colours – gold and red, with crosses varying between white, red and blue. It would be possible to list hundreds of examples of varied and contrasting haloes, colours chosen according to a limited palette or in order to stand out against a burnished golden ground.
Haloes of stars crown the Virgin Mary when she appears as (especially from the Baroque Period onwards) the Woman of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation : « And a great sign appeared in heaven: « A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. »
A. The Facundo Beatus or the Beatus of Fernando and doña Sancha, Castillian, 1047, Detail of folio 186v. The style is unmistakably mauresque, at the very beginning of Spanish romanesque. The Virgin’s solar (?) shield is a feature that is common for the period, but is later abandoned.
B. The Silos Apocalypse, 1109. THe Woman of the Apocalypse is in the upper left corner, with the twelve stars above her head and a very discrete moon below her feet.
C. The Virgin as the Woman of the Apocalypse, c 1120, a canon of St. Omer named Lambert compiled a Liber Floridus, which included an illustrated Apocalypse. Mary is seated on the back of a cresent moon, with twelve stars in her halo, and looking very composed, despite the company of the seven-headed Dragon of the Apocalypse. “And behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns and on his heads seven diadems. 4 And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth.”
D. Virgin of the Apocalypse (1430-1435, Cologne, Augustinian Canon’s Church of Corpus Christi)
E. The Virgin of the Apocalypse, circa 1480-90, German, Middle Rhineland, Circle of the Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet.
F. Presentation of a cathedral tower and spire to the Virgin, mural from the Cistercian Abbey of Bebenhausen, Germany. The horns of the cresent of moon are turned downwards; instead of a diminutive devil peeking out, it is the very affable face of the man in the moon himself (or perhaps the woman of the moon - gender defintion of heavenly bodies in medival iconography is a hazardous exercise at best).
G.The Woman of the Apocalypse. Albrecht Durer, 1498
H. Saint John at Patmos, by Hans Baldung Grien, circa 1515. Mary is pictured as the Woman of the Apocalypse, with the horn of the cresent moon peeking out from below her robe.
I. Our Lady of Guadeloupe. Anonymous, 16th century.
J. Virgin of the Apocalypse, attributed to Mexican artist Balthasar de Echave Ibia, circa 1630. A crown has been substituted for the crown of stars, though the Virgin still stands on the cresent moon – with the horns turned downwards this time - and the Serpent pinned underneath. (The Crown of Immortailty is an especially popular theme with Baroque artists.)
K. Rubens settles for nothing less than a pitched battle, though the principal elements: stars, moon and serpent, are still present, they are largely lost in the turbulence.
Crowning of the Virgin, or the Virgin in Glory, is a very similar theme.
A. Crowning of the Virgin by Paolo Veneziano, 1324
B. Crowning of the Virgin from the Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry (Folio 60v), theLimbourg Brothers, 1413-16. Cerulian musician angels flank the angel holding the crown.
C. The Virgin in Glory with Saints Peter and Augustine, c 1440. Mary wears a layered nimbus of rays enclosed within a frame of cloud, which also uphold her throne. Her robe partially covers a golden cresent moon.
D. Fra Fillippo Lippi, Coronation of the Virgin, from 1467-69. The haloes for God and the Virgin are replaced by a resplendant sun encased in a rainbow, or perhaps a representation of the spheres. The cherubim, however, have three-dimensional haloes.
E. Coronation of the Virgin by the Housebook Master, 1475-90.
F. Botticelli’s Madonna of the Magnificat, 1480-81 has angels placing a crown of stars on her head. A many-pointed nimbus of rays outlines her head.
G. Crowning of the Virgin by the Master of Moulins, 1488-89. Note the crescent moon.
H. Virgin in Glory by Gérard de Saint Jean. Elements of the Woman of the Apocalypse are combined in this image, with a nasty-looking little devil peeking our from under the Virgin’s hem, balanced on a dark cresent moon. The sky is filled with dozens of tiny angelic musicians playing all manner of instruments.
I. Crowning of the Virgin with Saints, Carlo Crivelli, 1493. The attendant saints all have very three-dimensional haloes, for Mary and the Christ, crowns are being posed on their heads by a stern-looking God.
J. Madonna in Glory with Saints, by Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1496
K. Madonna in Glory, c. 1670, Carlo Dolci.
Christ, as mentioned earlier, has a special halo.
A. Anonymous woodcut, hand-coloured, c. 1500. A rather special representation of the Trinity.
B. This Lamb of God, carrying a staff with a cross in one hoof, has a crossed – and re-crossed - halo. 10th century Italian sculpture, from an engraving in Bosio, « Roma sotteranea », 1636. From « Iconographie Chrétienne », by M. Didron, Paris, 1843.
C. Christ Pantocrator, mosaic, cupola of choir, Hosios Loukas Monastery, Boeotia, Greece 11th-century Byzantine mosaic. (The crossed halo is a relatively early invention.)
D. A most unusual Christ of the Apocalypse, from a fresco in the 13th-century Church of Notre-Dame, Gargilesse-Dampierre (Indre), France. He is holding a sword in his teeth pirate-fashion, leaving no ambiguity as to the serious nature of his intentions. In other works, notably from Flanders, the sword is simply hovering in mid-air.
E. Christ as Savior of the World, by the Master of the Darmstädter Passion, circa 1460. An elegant example of a crossed halo.
F. Christ is born with a halo, and consequently has one as an infant. This version by Benozzo Gozzoli, 1466, has the customary cross.
F. Icon by Simon Ushakov, 1677. Christ’s halo is often imprinted along with his visage on the cloth Saint Veronica gave him to wipe his forhead. The Greek letters ώ Ό Ν mean « I AM », or “the Existing One”.
Actually, Veronicas deserve a couple of galleries of their own.
A. Vernicle from the Workshop of the Two Masters von St. John, c. 1375, Santa Maddalena, Prazöll
B. Saint Veronica with the Sudarium, Master of Saint Veronica, c. 1420. This painting, typical of the “International Gothic” style, shows a large halo on Christ’s visage. Vernica’s halo is barely visible against the gold ground.
C. Saint Veronica with the Holy Kerchief, Master of Saint Veronica, c. 1420. Another painting by the same artist; Veronica herslef is nearly identical, Christ, however, has abandoned his halo for a crown of thorns, a trefoil cross and a rather more pained expression. The most curious aspect of the two paintings is the size of Christ’s face. Proportionalley, he would measure at least 12 feet tall.
D. Saint Veronica, Robert Campin, c. 1430. The saint’s middle-aged face is one of the most personalized and expressive in medieval art where a nominative portrait is not concerned. (The near-transparent cloth is probably not a simple artistic device either, fine near-transparent cloth often appears in medieval images.
E. Crucifixion, Rogier van der Weyden, 1440-44. Saint Veronic occupies the right ring of the retable.
F. Jesus’ Coat of Arms from the Hyghalmen Roll, c. 1450. That Jesus bbe considered an armiger is an amusing flight of fancy. Scourge, whip, garment and cross (with nails and INRI) make up his crest, the banner, with the long schwenkel typical of German heraldry, has the lamb of God and his shield a vernicle.
G. Saint Veronica, from a 15th-century Book of Hours. The saint has a very solid gilded halo, Christ a much fainter one, with a cross.
H. The Road to Calvary, from the Hours of Etienne Chevalier, 1452-60. Saint Veronica can be seen trice, once waiting by the wayside, and a second time displaying the cloth in the illuminated capital D in the centre of the page. (The floral decorations in the square to the right of the lettrine were added at a later date by an anonymous posessor of the manuscript, who must have thought some pretty flowers would be much nicer than gothic latin script..)
I. Saint Veronica from the book of hours of Louis d’Orleans, 1469. Once again, Christ’s head is the size of a Goliath.
J. Christ carrying the Cross, late 15th or 16th century French or Flemish (?), Musée d’Art de la Joliette, Québec
K. Crucifixion, Hans Memling, 1470.
L. Saint Veronica with the Sudarium, Master of the Legend of Saint Ursula, 1475-1500. In this case, the veil is out of all proportion, becoming he size of a bedsheet.
M. Angels Supporting the Veil of St Veronica, Master of the Legend of Saint Ursula, 1480-1500.
N. Saint Veronica, Martin Schongauer, third quarter of the 15th century.
O. Christ Carrying the Cross, Biagio d’Antonio, late 15th/early 16th century.
P. Angels Supporting the Veil of St Veronica, Predella of the altarpiece in Saint Peters Church in Lund Sweden, 1480’s. (Sculpted in Cologne.)
Q. Saint Veronica, from the Nuremberg Chronicles, engraving by Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514), c. 1510.
R. The Sudarium of St Veronica, Scene 22 from the Small Passion, Albrecht Dürer, 1511
S. The Sudarium of St Veronica Supported by Angels, Albrecht Dürer, 1513
T. Saint Veronica, Lorenzo Costa, early 16th century. A rendering more in keeping with relics likethe Turin Shroud, where the full painterly representation of Christ’s visage has given way to a fainter “imprint”.
U. The Road to Calvary, anonymous, 16th century.
A. Saint Veronica, anonymous Flemish, late 15th/early 16th century, Bourg-en-Bresse, Eglise de Brou. A disturbingly disembodied Christ on a veil so transparent as to be practically invisible.
B. Veil of Veronica, rear side of the High altar, Schwabach, late 15th/early 16th century.
C. Saint Veronica, Jacopo Pontormo, 1515.
D. Saint Veronica displays the Sudarium, Church of Saint Peter, Nowton, Suffolk, c. 1525.
E. Winged Altarpiece with Adoration of the Magi in the Shrine, Upper Bavaria, 1519. The vernicle, unsupported except by two painted nails, is on the base of the triptych.
F. Saint Veronica, El Greco, 1576-79.
G. The Veil of Saint Veronica, El Greco, 1580-82.
H. The Shroud of Saint Veronica, Philippe Champagne, before 1674.
I. Saint Veronica, Guido Reni, early 1600’s (?)
J. Saint Veronica Holding the Holy Shroud, Simon Vouet, first half of the 17th century. By this time the switch of vocabulary from veil to shroud is complete, vindicating and authentificating the Shroud of Turin.
K. Veil of Veronica, anonymous, 17th century, Cathedral of Évora, Portugal.
L. Veronica’s Veil, Domenico Fetti, 1618-22.
M. The Sudarium of St Veronica, Francisco de Zurbaran, 1658-61.
N. Christ Carrying Cross, Giovanni Tieopolo, 1727-38.
O. Saint Veronica, Louis Gondelfinger, second quarter of the 19th century, France.
P. Veronica, Tomás B. Zízala, 1883.
Q. Saint Veronica, Paul Delaroche, 3rd quarter of the 19th century
R. Re-enactment of the Passion, Burzet, 1st quarter of the 20th century. This extraordinary postcard shows a procession in Burzet, a hamlet in the Ardèche, halfway between montelimar and Le-Puy-en-Velay, in what could best be described as a VERY rural part of France.
M. Saint Veronica, Bernardo Strozzi, 1625-30
The Veronica, or Vernicle, (also called the Sudarium, referring to the cloth itself) was a popular medieval theme, especially north of the Alps. Veronica is often figured in the crowd along the road to Golgotha, crucifixions are often accompanied by a Saint Veronica, placidly stationed to one side, displaying the veil with Christ’s face. “Veronica” itself is a latinization of Berenice, a Macedonian name, meaning “bearer of victory” and the image of the cloth itself ultimately came to be called a Veronica. (Another etymological candidate for the origin of her name is the consideration that the face of Christ on the cloth was a true likeness, or « vera eikon », which became « veronica ».) Matthew of Westminster – who, strangely enough, seems not to have actually existed - speaks of the imprint of the image of the Savior which is called Veronica: “Effigies Domenici vultus quae Veronica nuncupatur” (“effigy of the face of the Lord which is called a Veronica”) in the 13th century.
One of the virtues of the Veronica lay in establishing the true likeness of Christ. There is no physical description of him in the New Testament. Before the 5th century, he was considered youthful and clean-shaven, but bearded versions began to appear, supplanting the juvenile Jesus with a wiser-looking, more mature figure. Soon, the image we all have in our heads came to be the norm, an image first determined four centuries after his death. Since then, Jesus has shown a remarkable consistency, later images of a glabrous Christ are rare and strike the viewer as unusual.
There is no mention of the story of Veronica and her veil in the Gospels (the closest being the woman who touches the hem of Christ’s robe). The tradition, which only dates from the Middle Ages, tells of a pious woman named Veronica, who slipped throug the crowd to Christ’s side to wipe the sweat ond blood from his face. The cloth she used came away with the image of the Savior’s face. Veronica later travelled to Rome to present the miraculous cloth to the Roman Emporer Tiberias, curing him of a severe malady. (The veil also is reputed to cause miracles, being able to quench thirst of imprisoned Christians, cure blindness, and even raise the dead on occasion. Veronica stayed on in Rome, bequeathing the image to Pope Clement and this successors.)
The legend possibly has its origins in the existence of Mandylions, portraits of Jesus’ face particular to the Eastern churches, in turn reinforcing the « authenticity » of these images by depicting the event of the Passion. Veneration of a “Veronice” can be dated to the pontificate of John VII (705-707). In 1011, Pope Sergius IV consecrated a special altar for the veneration of this “sudarium”, or « Volto Santo » and appointed a scribe as keeper of the relic. Geraldus Cambresius mentions it in his account of a visit to Rome in 1199 ; by the 12th century, the relic was the object of a distinct cult, and its popularity as a subject for medieval painters would blossom. Publicly paraded by Pope Innocent III, indulgences were granted to those who prayed before it. Word spread internationally through the publication of « Meditations on the life of Christ » in 1300 ; at the same time, depicting the Holy Face with a crown of thorns and a pained expression became popular, in contrast to earlier depictions, which favoured a halo and a more tranquil mien. It became a popular object of pilgrimages.
In the words of Dante, in the Divine Comedy:
“As he who peradventure from Croatia
Cometh to gaze at our Veronica,
Who through its ancient fame is never sated,
But says in thought, the while it is displayed,
My Lord, Christ Jesus, God of very God,
Now was your semblance made like unto this?”
Paradiso. Canto XXXI
During the 14th century, it became an exemplary icon of the Western or Roman Church, and was still popular centuries later. In 1580, Montaigne wrote : “No relic has such veneration paid to it. The people throw themselves on their faces on the ground, most of them with tears in their eyes and with lamentations and cries of compassion.”
Veronica is the patron saint of… well, photographers of course, and laundry workers as well.
The Byzantine cousin of the Veronica, the Orthodox Mandylion, was likely also its indirect ancestor. (In the world of iconography, primly trimmed family trees with simple branches are hard to find.) The Holy Mandylion, or Image of Edessa, is a square of cloth with the image of Jesus’ face. The manufacture is reputed to be miraculous.
The story, first recored by Eusebius of Caesarea in the early fourth century, tells of King Abgar of Edessa, who wrote to Jesus, asking him to come cure him of an illness. Jesus declined, promising to send an apostle in his stead. Along with his letter, he sent a likeness of himself. Eusebius claimed to have seen the actual letter, delivered by a certain « Thaddeus ». At any rate, legend has it that King Abgar was miraculously cured.
The first written record of the image itself dates from the 6th century. Moved, or « translated » to Constantinople in the tenth century, it disappeared during the Sack of Constantiople in 1204, reappearing at the Sainte Chapelle in Paris upon King Louis IX’s return from the crusade. It disappeared, this time forever, during the French Revolution. There are several Holy Faces in existence today.
Some Mandylions are also Acheiropoieta*. The Greek term “acheiropoietoi” means “not made by human hands.” Icons are cosidered “windows to heaven.” Not considered to be human works, they are images revealed to, not created by the artists who paint them. Signatures on the backs of the panels habitually read, “painted by the Holy Spirit through the hand of…” followed by the name of the artist.
Divine inspiration for art is not a new phenomenon – in Hinduism, the Apaurusheyatva « being unauthored » is a term applied to the Vedas - but the veneration of acheiropoieta became a significant aspect of the Eastern Churches. By the seventh century, they were considered « windows » to communicate directly with the saint depicted thereupon. Icondules saw them as powerful protection against iconoclasm – the Byzantine Empire saw two outbreaks of deliberate destruction in the 8th and 9th centuries, motivated by interpretations of the Ten Commandments forbidding the making of any lifeless image (a painting or a statue) representing Jesus or one of the saints.
Divine approval of icons is promoted by the Patriarch of Constantinople in 836, in a document listing acheiropoieta and icons. Amongst them are :
1. the Image of Edessa, (described as still at Edessa)
2. the image of the Virgin at Lydda in Israel, which miraculously appeared imprinted on a column of a church built by the apostles Peter and John.
3. the Veil of Veronica
Nine other miracles are listed, where acheiropoieta resist the attacks of assorted pagans, Arabs, Persians, Jews, scoffers, madmen and iconoclasts, or are miraculously restored after being damaged.
A. Bust of Christ, mural painting from the catacomb of Commodilla. An early bearded image of Christ, showing the face which would supplant the younger, clean-shaven version. (There is an unusual clean-shaven Christ depicted by Andrea del Castagno in a Resurrection dated 1447; I don’t know of any others painted at such a late date. The defining of the visual aspects of iconic figures through the centuries would make a book in itself.)
B. King Abgar, holding the Mandylion. (The portrait is possibly that of Constantine VII Porphyrogenetes, Emperor of Byzantium from 913 to 959.) Painting on wood, Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai, circa 940
C. Mandylion, Russian, second half of the 13th century.
D. Mandylion, Russian, 15th century
E. Mandylion, 17th century
F. Mandylion of Edessa, from the private chapel of the pope in the Vatican
G. Volta Santo of Genoa
H. Mandylion, 19th century
I. Holy Mandylion, Monastery of Dionysiou Aghion Oros, Athos, Greece, 17th century.
J. Mandylion, Egg Tempera on Wood, Silver-gilt and Engraved Frame and Halo, late 17th or early 18th century.
K. 17th century Mandylion
L. Acheiropoieta, 1400’s
M. Volto Santo from Manoppello
N. God Painting the Virgin of Guadalupe. Anonymous author, eighteenth century. God is coiffed with a triangualr halo; Christ, who is looking on (one is tempted to imagine him saying “A little more blue, I think, and the moon should be nice and bright.” has a classical crossed halo, while the cherub holding the canvas has a circlet of gold. The admiring angel, while having no halo, has a garment with the moon and stars.
Hexagonal haloes are in evidence when the Virtues or the Arts are present. (It appears that polygonal haloes are not limited to the seven cardinal virtues.)
A. Franciscan Allegories, Giotto : Allegory of Poverty (detail), 1330, fresco, Lower Church, San Francesco, Assisi
B. Franciscan Allegories : Allegory of Chastity
C to F. Andrea Pisano, reliefs, South Doors, Florence Baptistry, 1330-36, gilded bronze : Faith, Hope, Charity and Justice.
G.Giovanni della Ponte, 1435, the Seven Artes, detail.
H.Hope, by Alessi di Andrea, 1347, has a straight-sided hexagonal pink halo.
I. Franciscan Allegories : Allegory of Obedience
Giorgio Vasari, in his Lives of the Artists, has this to say about Giotto’s depictions of the Virtues : “On the third angle is Poverty, who goes in her bare feet trampling on thorns; there is a dog behind her, barking, and near at hand one naked boy throwing stones and another pressing thorns into her legs with a stick. We see this same figure of Poverty being wed by St Francis, with her hand held by Jesus Christ, in the mystical presence of Hope and Charity.”
“Chastity is depicted standing secure in a strong castle and unmoved by the offers being made to her of kingdoms and crowns and palms of glory. At her feet is the figure of Purity,..attended by Fortitude. To [her] side is the figure of Penitence, chasing away Cupid with the cord of discipline and putting Impurity to flight.” I-62
“He depicted St Francis glorified in heaven, surrounded by the virtues…On one side is Obedience, putting a yoke on the neck of a friar who kneels in front of her; the reins of the yoke are being drawn up towards heaven and, and Obedience, a finger at her lips, is cautioning silence and turns her eyes towards the figure of Jesus Christ, whose side is flowing with blood.”
Four cards from the so-called Charles VI tarot ((also known as “The Gringonneur Tarot”), created in Ferrara, Italy, in the early 1400’s.
Some medieval and early Northern Renaissance haloes could be quite a size.
A. The Annunciation, Konrad Witz, first half of the 15th century.
B. The Resurrection, panel from the St. Thomas Altar from St. John’s Church, Hamburg begun in 1424, shows Christ clambering rather awkwardly out of his tomb, with a wide halo against a gilded sky.
C. Adoration, Master Francke, 1401-50.
D. The Martyrdom of St. Thomas, panel from the St. Thomas Altar from St. John’s Church, Hamburg, begun in 1424.
E. Lamentation by the Hausbuch Master, 1485-90
Northern European medieval painters often favoured texts or trompe-l’oeil jewels in haloes. Others might be heavily ornamented and tooled, stippled, incised and otherwise treated in low relief before the gold leaf is applied.
A. Adoration of the Magi, Konrad Witz, 1443-44, Witz mixes jewelled and lettered haloes
B. Presentation of Cardinal de Mies to the Virgin, 1443-44
C. Meeting of Joahim and Anna by the Golden Gates. Here,Witz makes sure that there is no mistaking who we are looking at.. (Apologies for not being to find a better image.)
D. Or, realistically rendered pearls and jewels might be added, as in this Blessing Christ and Praying Virgin by Robert Campin in the first half of the 15th century.
E. Virgin and Child, Robert Campin, c. 1410.
F. Saint Martin’s Dream, Simone Martini, 1317-19
G. Some might be VERY ornate, as in this Madonna and Child, by Fra’ Filippo Lippi, 1433.
H. Michele Giambono has chosen an elaborate crown for His Virgin and Child, c. 1450.
Other unusual shapes were experimented with, often by the same artist ; Fra Filippo Lippi seems to have tried them all. From canted discs in an early Annunciation, to jaunty spoked haloes and finally radiant stars over the heads of both angel and Mary. (Leonardo da Vinci’s angel, in his famous Annunciation, has an identical halo.)
Depicting Pentecost afforded another challenge. According to Acts 2 :1-4
« And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. »
Xenoglossy aside, mixing tongues of fire and haloes involved making a few choices.
While hardly enough examples to establish a full treatment, here are a few.
A. The miniaturist of the Rabula Gospels (completed in 586 at the Monastery of St. John of Zagba, between Antioch and Apamea) places the flames above the haloes.
B. Giotto, Pentecost, 1304-06
C. Giotto, Pentecost, 1305-07
D. Pentecost, Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308 Tempera on wood
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena. Duccio opts for discrete flames in each halo.
E. The artist of the Westfälisher Altar, 1370-80, opts for a curious arrangement.
F. Flames are absent from this 15th century illumination, though the artist has discretely decorated the curtain behind Mary with flame motifs.
G. The late 15th century Master of the Salem Heilegenaltar places discrete flamlets practically on the heads of all present, like little tufts of unruly hair.
H. El Greco keeps only the wavering flames, the undulating bodies of the Apostles echoing each flickering light.
I. Joseph Ignaz Mildorfer, 1750’s.
J. Mikhail Vrubel 1884, fresco, Church of St Cyril, Kiev. The Stil Modern Russian painter depicts tongues of flame literally reaching to heaven, in a fiery glossolalian display.
William Durand of Mendes (1230-1296) says in his Rationale Divinorum Officiorum « Justi accipient regnum decoris et diadema speciei de manu Domini. Corona autem huiusmodi depingitur in forma scuti rotundi… » (The Just shall receive a kingdom of glory, and a crown of beauty at the hands of the Lord, and a crown of this kind is shown in the form of a round shield.) Durand also explains that the square haloes of living saintly persons symbolize the four cardinal virtues, underlining the heirarchy of the imprefectness (or the not-yet-perfectness) of a square figure as contrasted with a round one. However, Durand is commenting on a practice that had been going on for over half a millenium, so he may well be attaching virtues and Pythagorean symbolism of his own initiative. (Indeed, much over-intepretation of the symbolism of medieval imagery was more or less invented wholesale in the 19th century by well-meaning but slightly misguided specialists in a concerted effort to shoehorn a multiplicity of interpretations into a methodology of interpretation. Alas, a sum of particulars does not necessarily constitute a rule.)
But, the most common halo, and the one that springs most readily to mind, is of course the medieval gilded disc that is always face on, whether the owner be facing the viewer, in profile or even have his or her back turned. It obeys no physical spatial law, rather like Mickey Mouse’s ears, which are always facing front, regardless of where Mickey is looking. Now, of course the comparison is fortuitous, but the interesting part is how we are able to accept, without the least discomfort, ears and haloes at face value in a context where the simplest pictorial laws of perspective are transgressed. Different and contradictory levels of lecture can be contained or even juxtaposed in the same pictorial space and assimilated without conscious thought, as long as they do not try to evolve within the laws and under the limitations of their neighbours.
Commissions depended largely on their size and the materials used. Lapis lazuli, if the patron wished for the Virgin’s cloak to be of the purest blue, could double or triple the cost. Naturally, gold was also precious, and the richer the image, the more prestige was conferred on the owner.
Iris Origo, in her book “The Merchant of Prato: Daily Life in a Medieval Italian City” evokes the spirited and occasionally acrimonious exchanges between Francesco di Marco Datini, the fourteenth-century merchant who is the subject of her study, and the various artists he commissions to create painting or decorate his homes. It’s very much worthwhile reading.
Also, the reflective qualities of gold leaf, which can blaze brightly when the rest of the image is adumbrated, create a pause in the narrative, an instant of contemplation removed out of time and logical sequence, where the divine nature of the scene can be reinforced for an instant before the narrative (and the attached moral and spiritual lessons) continues on. (An aura of aurum, no etymology intended.) Gilded haloes are a powerful device to add subtext to a story, their intrusion into the narrative, often governed by the chance qualities and direction of the light as well as the position and movements of the viewer, are aptly unexpected reminders of the sublime, on the same level as so-called “God rays” breaking through the clouds. Both give pause, both hint at those dimensions to which we are not normally attentive, neither hinder resumption of event or story.
The exclusion of other forms of transmission than the purely, logically pictorial really only came to an end recently, more or less at the same time as the invention of Mickey (with his curious two-dimensional ears) and the inauguration of the word bubble in comic strips (another good old-fashioned medieval practice that went out of style with the Renaissance, although strictly speaking, medieval illuminators used scrolls and not bubbles). Both rely on a double level of comprehension and a strict segregation of roles. Like haloes during the Renaissance, Mickey’s ears were briefly «three-dimensionalized» in the 1940’s, moving with his head, but the idea was quickly abandoned. By mobilizing Mickey’s ears along with the rest of the body, by imposing a narrative structure rather than an iconic on his silhouette, Mickey’s ears lose their principal “raison d’être”: an instantly recognizable figure whatever the circumstances. Haloes of course played a similar role, and enrolling them in the narrative, and by inference, in the physical space occuped by the narrative, ultimately deprived them of their role and finally their existence.
But back to saints. Given that one of the essential acts of sainthood is an untimely and occasionally gruesome demise, usually in a vigorous and imaginative fashion, the question arises ; what happens to the halo when the head is lopped off ?
It happens quite a bit.
More on the subject of stray occiputs next
Posted by John on 16/11/08 | 03:00 AM | Chronicles
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