Tag: Virgin

Mary and the Immaculate Conception

Mary and the Immaculate Conception

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617 – 1682), “The Aranjuez Immaculate Conception” (1675), 222x118cm, Oil on Canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Today December 8th is the day of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. It’s one of the major Christian feast days and it’s a holiday in many Catholic countries. But what is it about; what is the Immaculate Conception of Mary? First of all: do not confuse it with Mary’s virginal conception of her son Jesus! That’s only happening on March 25th, when it’s announced to Mary that she will be pregnant, being 9 months before the birth of her son Jesus, which happens on December 25th and that’s Christmas day. December 8th is about the Immaculate Conception of Mary herself, and it’s exactly 9 months before another feast day in the Catholic church, the Nativity or Birth of Mary, and that’s on September 8th. It’s all easy to remember when you count with those 9 months pregnancy.

The Immaculate Conception of Mary is nothing more than that she was born immaculate, pure, spotless and without any sin. That’s in contrary to any other human being. Everyone is born with the Original Sin, which is the inherited sin of Adam and Eve, who were eating the forbidden fruit while being in Paradis. That was the first sin of mankind ever, and it became an inheritable sin. It means that every baby is born with this Original Sin, to be washed away by baptizing, as soon as possible after birth. Mary on the contrary was born without this Original Sin, she was born Immaculate. That also makes her the one and only human being ever been without any sin. And Mary being so immaculate and the purest of all, is celebrated on December 8th.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746 – 1828), “The Immaculate Conception” (1783), 80x41cm, Oil on Canvas, Museo del Prado, Mardrid.

The parents of Mary are Anna and Joachim, and these two are in that sense the grandparents of Jesus. Many believe that Anna, Mary’s mother, stayed a virgin herself while becoming pregnant of Mary. That’s not correct and officially considered an error by the Catholic doctrine. It’s also not so that Mary, after being born without the Original Sin, by default stayed without any personal sin. In general however, it’s believed that Mary was born without sin and stayed without sin.

Mary’s Immaculate Conception is a doctrine, being established as a faith by Popes and widely accepted within the Church. Already celebrated since the 5th century, the doctrine was only dogmatically defined in 1854, when Pope Pius IX declared so with “papal infallibility”. So, since then it’s a “true” story.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696 – 1770), “The Immaculate Conception” (1767), 281x155cm, Oil on Canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

It’s for artists not so easy to depict the concept of Immaculate Conception. Painters were struggling with the concept for long time, and only from the 17th Century onwards a standard image developed, based on paintings from the circle of the Spanish painter Murillo. It’s mostly an image of Mary in a heavenly realm with clouds and a golden light, surrounded by symbols of purity like white lilies and roses, with sometimes an image of God above Mary. On some painting symbols of the Original Sin, like snake and apple, can be seen at Her feet. Mary is standing on a crescent moon, symbol of virginity and chastity. It’s always an image of Mary herself and certainly without the baby Jesus, as that happened only later in the life of the Virgin Mary.

Assumption of Mary

Tiziano “Titian” Vecelli (1488 – 1576), “The Assumption of the Virgin Mary” (1516), 690x360cm, Oil on Panel, Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice.

Today August 15 is the official feast day of the “Assumption of Mary”. It’s a holiday in many, mostly Catholic, countries. But what is it about and how has it been depicted in art? This day is to celebrate that the Holy Virgin Mary, mother of Christ, is taken up into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. It’s not so much a historic event, but it’s deeply embedded in the Christian tradition, belief and faith. The historic element is that somewhere around the year 41, Mary passed away. From around the 3rd century the belief was added that the body of Mary was taken up into Heaven and in that sense she followed her son Jesus Christ, who was crucified and subsequently taken into Heaven about 10 years earlier. From the 5th century onwards, it was added that all the apostles were present at this very moment, which is depicted on the many paintings with Mary’s Assumption. They are the group of guys looking up in astonishment when Mary is taken into Heaven, up into the arms of God. On most paintings Mary goes up with the help of angels, like on the gigantic Titian altar piece, almost 7×4 meters, which is still on its original location in the Frari Church in Venice.

Annibale Carracci (1560 – 1609), “The Assumption of the Virgin Mary” (1587), 130x97cm, Oil on Canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

There is still an endless dispute about the moment just before the heavenly Assumption of Mary. Did Mary only fell asleep, the so-called “Dormition”, and then went up? Or did she actually also really die? The official Catholic dogma around the subject is not clarifying this element. Pope Pius XII proclaimed in 1950 that Mary indeed “completed her earthly life” and that her body and soul went up into heavenly glory. The Pope used his Papal authority to declare this dogma and did so with “Papal Infallibility”. He made not clear if Mary just fell asleep and went up, or if she also really died before going up into Heaven. On the Titian painting, Mary goes up into Heaven and no indication of the moment just before the Assumption. On the Carracci painting from the Prado, Madrid, Mary is ascending from a tomb, which would indicate that Mary indeed died. On the Rubens altar piece, still in its original location in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, the tomb is also present.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577 – 1640), “The Assumption of the Virgin Mary” (1626), 490x325cm, Oil on Panel, Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp.

I think the Assumption of Mary is a beautiful belief and it’s great to depict this story. Every viewer of a painting with the Assumption of Mary, the mother of Christ, has a mother him- or herself and many viewers are also “mother” themselves. And all those mothers will one day pass away. It must have given – and still gives – a lot of comfort to know or believe that Mary, as the mother of all mothers, was taken up into heaven after her death. It gives hope to everyone, and certainly to our mothers, that one day they will follow Mary up into Heaven. August 15 is a public holiday, but it’s above all the ultimate and sacred Mother’s Day.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577 – 1640)

On the 30th of May, 1640, death of Peter Paul Rubens, the most important Baroque painter from the Flemish Netherlands. Rubens was not only a well-educated scholar and painter, but also businessman and diplomat. He made religious altarpieces, portraits of royalty, mythological paintings and hunting landscapes. All his paintings are impressive big pieces with lots of color and typical Baroque-emphasized movement and sensuality. He run a large studio in Antwerp which is now the Rubenshuis Museum.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577 – 1640), “The Descent from the Cross” (1613), 420x320cm, Oil on Panel, Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp, Belgium.

Here are two of his paintings. It’s “The Descent from the Cross” (1613), which is the 4×3 meters magnificent central panel of a triptych, which is still in its original place in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, Belgium. The body of Christ is lowered from the cross, with very energetic support of Saint John (in the red mantle). Mary Magdalena is gracefully supporting Christ’ leg and Mary, a mother in despair, is stretching out her arms towards her son. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are placed on both sides of the scenel.

Also here is a 2×3 meters big painting of the legendary hero “Daniel in the Lions’ Den” (1614). Chief counselor to the Persian king, Daniel fell victim to his jealous co-officials. They plotted against him and threw him into a den of lions. But that plot truly failed! Daniel keeps on staring up and praying towards the light of heaven. And he stayed unharmed! Next day he was freed without a single scratch. A strong moral: look up when things get you down; keep your head up and think positive!

Peter Paul Rubens (1577 – 1640), “Daniel in the Lions’ Den” (1614), 224x351cm, Oil on Canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Mannerism

Bronzino (1503 – 1572), “An Allegory with Venus and Cupid” (1545), 146x116cm, Oil on Wood, The National Gallery, London.

Mannerism is a European art style that follows Renaissance and precedes Baroque, originating in Italy around 1520 and spreading over Europe. Mannerism lasted until the end of the 16th Century, when Mannerism gradually turned into the Baroque style.

How did Mannerism originate and what is it all about? The artists from the Renaissance, like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, excelled in painting and sculpting ideal beauty, balanced proportions and ultimate elegance. Their art had reached the top of what could be achieved; Renaissance was considered the peak of perfection. That gave the next generation of artists a feeling that they had not much to add anymore, and therefor they started to search for additional artistry on top of the Renaissance skills and values. This next generation started to add wisdom and intelligence to their art. And that resulted in a “manner” of over-sophisticated elegance. Mannerism is more about artificial and intellectual beauty than the perfect natural beauty from the Renaissance times.

The word “Mannerism” comes from the Italian word “maniera”, meaning “manner”. The Mannerist painters were painting in the “manner” of Renaissance painters like Michelangelo, but topped it up with their own intellectual and sophisticated inventions. One could say that they overdid it a bit. The mannerist artists tried to exceed Renaissance art, but that resulted in an overcomplicated way of depicting nature. And ultimately that was followed by the even more complex manner of depicting beauty during the Baroque.

Look at Bronzino’s “An Allegory with Venus and Cupid” (1545). It’s an almost bizarre composition and an exaggerated anatomy of figures. It reminds us of Michelangelo, but with an over-the-top approach of beauty. And the meaning behind this painting is so over-intellectual, that one hardly understands what it is about. It’s passion and play, time and despair, love and seduction; with every figure having it’s own symbolic meaning and art historians nowadays in doubt of the actual meaning. Or look at the Virgin Mary with Child (1540) by Parmigianino. In his efforts to create more elegance, Parmigianino gave his figures those long stretched bodies. And ironically, the painting is now just known as “The Madonna with the Long Neck”. Both Bronzino and Parmigianino want to express that there is more to achieve than the old-fashioned way of traditional Renaissance painting. They show the viewer their new “manner” of dealing with art and beauty. Mannerist painters proudly created Modern Art in the 16th Century.

Parmigianino (1503 – 1540), “The Madonna with the Long Neck” (c. 1537), 216x132cm, Oil on Wood, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Pontormo (1494 – 1557)

Pontormo (1494 – 1557), “Visitation of the Virgin and Saint Elizabeth” (1528), Oil on Board”, 202x156cm, Church of San Michele e San Francesco, Carmignano, Italy.

On the 24th of May, 1494, birth of Jacopo Carucci da Pontormo, simply known as Pontormo. He is famous for his Mannerist way of painting, with figures in a floating, almost dancing, manner. Pontormo painted in and around Florence, often supported by the Medici family. Here is Pontormo’s “Visitation of the Virgin and Saint Elizabeth”, housed in the church of San Francesco e Michele in Carmignano, about 20 km west of Florence. The Visitation is the visit of the Virgin Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, to Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist, (Luke 1:39–56).

Pontormo’s work was quite out of fashion for several centuries. Though he has received renewed attention by contemporary art historians. Indeed, in 2002, Pontormo’s “Portrait of a Halberdier” was the world’s most expensive painting by an Old Master. The Halberdier holds a halberd, a combination of spear and battle-axe. The sitter’s identity has been much discussed. It could be the young nobleman Francesco Guardi at the age of around fifteen. But it has also been suggested that the portrait represents Cosimo de’ Medici himself.

Pontormo (1494 – 1557), “Portrait of a Halberdier (Francesco Guardi?)” (1529), Oil on Panel transferred to Canvas, 95x73cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

Pontormo’s closest pupil was Bronzino, who followed Pontormo’s style. Of several paintings it’s disputed if the author is Pontormo or Bronzino.