All posts by Pamela Patton

Observations about the Soldiers Guarding the Tomb of Christ

From the Gospel of Matthew, 27:62-66, Douay-Rheims: And the next day…the chief priests and the Pharisees came together to Pilate, saying: Sir, we have remembered, that that seducer said, while he was yet alive: After three days I will rise again. Command therefore the sepulchre to be guarded until the third day: lest perhaps his disciples come and steal him away, and say to the people: He is risen from the dead; and the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate saith to them: you have a guard; go, guard it as you know. And they departing, made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting guards.

Of the four Evangelists, Matthew alone records the above conversation among Pilate, the chief priests and the Pharisees, the latter two being concerned that Christ would emerge from the tomb to continue stirring up the people. To which Pilate responded, well, then guard the tomb. He had already washed his hands of the matter, yet here it is again. So, just guard the tomb, and (reading between the lines) leave me out of it. This episode also appears in the apocryphal gospel of Peter, where the story follows the same thread.

1. Miscellany, 1280-1299, Cambridge, St. John’s College, MS K.21. The upper image shows two high priests or Pharisees before Pilate expressing their concern that the tomb be guarded. Below, Christ stands in a sarcophagus; three soldiers sit in front of it. The text in the left column relates the story.

Christ’s resurrection appears in the Index of Christian Art 500+ times in multiple media; the order to set the guard is represented only sixteen times. The Cambridge Miscellany (Fig. 1) presents the thread of the story well, with the text in the left column, and in the right, a miniature with two figures petitioning Pilate, above a resurrection image with soldiers.

2. Châlons Missal, c. 1400, New York, Morgan Library, MS M.331, fol. 130r. Three soldiers surround a sarcophagus, one leaning on the back side of the tomb.
3. Hours of Anne of France, 1470-1480, New York, Morgan Library, MS M.677, fol. 200v. Many recumbent bodies wearing gold armor surround the tomb.

The number of soldiers present varies. Two, three or four are common (Fig. 2); examples exist with what appear to be small armies (Fig. 3).

4. Rheinau Psalter, c. 1250 Zurich, Zentralbibliothek MS Rheinau 167, fol. 107r. Three soldiers, with eyes open, two looking up at Christ, one pointing toward him.

Largely the soldiers are sleeping, but some are awake, looking up toward the risen Christ, sometimes shielding their eyes (Fig. 4).

5. Coëytivy Hours, 1440-1449, Dublin, Chester Beatty Library MS W.82, fol. 342v. A soldier with his back turned rests comfortably on a red bolster with a gold tassel.

They wear chain mail or armor that is medieval, not Roman, which they would likely have been. Many are accompanied by weapons and shields, sometimes decorated with quasi-heraldic ornament. Some have creature comforts, such as a bolster to sit on, or a mattress to lie on (Fig. 5).

6. Antiphonary Fragment, c. 1300, Philadelphia Free Library MS Lewis EM 44.15. Christ steps from the tomb onto the neck of a sleeping soldier.

They pass the night at the tomb; they sleep even though Christ occasionally steps on them while climbing out of the tomb (Figs. 6 and 7); and they are still asleep when the three Marys, or Holy Women, arrive the next morning carrying ointment jars and sometimes censers.

7. Missal of Henry of Chichester, c. 1250, Manchester, John Rylands University Library, MS lat. 24, fol. 152v. Christ steps on one of two dark-skinned soldiers asleep before the tomb.

Signs of “otherness” appear: a distorted face with a pig-like snout for a nose; knotted headdresses; curved swords or scimitars; dark skin (Fig. 7). The tomb itself may be a plain sarcophagus; or it may look more like a medieval shrine, with openings in the base.

8. Psalter, c. 1290, New York, Morgan Library, MS M.34, fol. 187v. Each of three soldiers is tucked into an opening below the tomb.

Instead of pilgrims trying to get closer to the relics inside, the soldiers use those openings for cozy sleeping spaces (Fig. 8).

Judith K. Golden

Registration for the Medieval Iberian Treasury Conference is now open

On May 19-20, 2017, international and US Scholars will gather at Princeton to examine the near-intact monastic treasury of San Isidoro in Leon, in northern Spain, as a springing point for larger questions about sumptuary collections and their patrons across Europe and the Mediterranean across the Middle Ages. Topics of inquiry include Islamic law and sumptuary production, Christian manuscripts and metalwork, patronage and royal studies, identity and gender studies, and cultural and political history. The diversity of questions and perspectives addressed by the speakers will shed light on the nature of Leon as a paradigmatic treasury collection, as well as on the broad efficacy of multidisciplinary study for the Middle Ages.

Follow the link below for a full schedule and (free) registration information. We hope to see you there!

Conferences

The Annunciation at the Spring

The Annunciation at the Spring. Detail of an ivory diptych (Milan Cathedral Treasury), 5th century CE.

In medieval terms, March 25 was about as symbolically busy as a day could get. Already noted in the Julian calendar as the date of the vernal equinox, it is identified in the Golden Legend of the chronicler and archbishop Jacopo da Voragine as the date of an unusual number of auspicious Biblical events: Adam’s and Eve’s fall into sin; Cain’s murder of Abel; Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac; Melchisidek’s offering of bread and wine to Abraham; the martyrdom of John the Baptist; the deliverance of Saint Peter; the martyrdom of Saint James the Great; and the Crucifixion. Still more strongly associated with this date was the Annunciation, at which, according to Luke 1:26-28, the archangel Gabriel brought word to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive the son of God: “And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”

Gabriel’s announcement to Mary inaugurated the Christological narrative that governed all the feasts of the liturgical year, so it is unsurprising that this event should be highlighted in medieval calendars, where its proximity to the start of spring also led many to treat March 25 as the beginning of the new year.

The Annunciation is among the most consistently depicted subjects in medieval iconography; it is found in everything from early Christian catacombs and sculpted facades to books of hours, mosaics, and panel paintings. Its composition and details vary in accordance with its setting: the Virgin might appear on a throne, in a loggia, in a bedroom, or outdoors, and she often is shown spinning or reading. A variant of particular interest is the depiction of the Annunciation at the Spring (as it is catalogued in the Index), also known as the Annunciation at the Well. Inspired by accounts preserved in early apocryphal texts such as the Protoevangelium of James and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, this variant depicts the Virgin greeted by Gabriel as she is fetching water, the first of two successive meetings in which the angel delivers his news.

Annunciation at the Spring, Homilies of James Kokkinobaphos (Paris, BnF, MS gr. 1208, fol. 159v), first half of the 12th century.

The Annunciation at the Spring emerged in late Antiquity and flourished in Byzantium and the visual traditions close to it. An early exemplar appears on a fifth-century plaque, possibly a book cover, now in Milan Cathedral Treasury. Here, a small square scene of the Annunciation initiates the narrative of Christ’s life; it depicts the Virgin Mary kneeling by a stream, pitcher in hand, as she looks back to receive the angel’s greeting. In a much later manuscript example, a twelfth-century Homilies of James Kokkinobaphos (Paris, BnF, MS gr. 1208, fol. 159v), two meetings are implied: at left, Mary dips her pitcher into a well as she turns to hear Gabriel’s message; at right, she approaches a house where she will receive the angel a second time.

The Annunciation at the Spring, pendentive mosaic in the Church of the Savior at Chora (Kariye Camii), Istanbul, early 14th century.

A more dynamic version of the well scene appears in an early fourteenth-century mosaic in the Church of the Savior at Chora in Istanbul: composed on a pendentive below one of the structure’s domes, it positions the angel as a fluttering visitor who descends the curved surface to greet Mary as she teeters over the well below.

 

The Annunciation at the Spring, detail of transept mosaic in San Marco, Venice, 12th century.

Other cultures with close ties to Byzantine traditions also adopted the Annunciation at the Spring. The scene appears among twelfth-century mosaics of the Life of the Virgin in the transept of the church of San Marco in Venice, as well as in the early fourteenth-century Armenian manuscript known as the Glazdor Gospels (Los Angeles, University of California Research Library, MS. 1, p. 305).

The Annunciation, Glazdor Gospels (Los Angeles, University of California Research Library, MS. 1, p. 305), 1300-1307.

In the Gospels manuscript, a flattened, stylized well and pitcher offer only a vestige of the original iconography as they stand between Gabriel and the Virgin. The figures’ static postures, animated only by Gabriel’s speaking gesture and the Virgin’s raised palm, recall western Annunciation scenes, but Mary’s gilded brocade and the ogival dome at the top of the composition attest to its eastern roots.

Just in Time for Flu Season: Saint Blaise of Sebaste

Episodes from the life of Saint Blaise: Saint Blaise living with animals; extracting the fishbone; restoring the pig, and martyred with steel combs. Vitae Sanctorum, Anjou, 14th c. (Bib. Vat., MS lat. 8541), fol. 52v.

February 3 in the Roman Catholic calendar and February 11 in the Orthodox one mark the feast day of Saint Blaise, Bishop of Sebaste in Armenia in the early fourth century. According to his hagiography, Blaise had been trained as a physician before becoming a bishop in the early Christian church, an institution still outlawed in the Roman Empire. Seeking solitary prayer in the wilderness, he lived peacefully with the wild animals until his arrest by Roman soldiers on the orders of the Roman governor Agricola, under whom he was imprisoned, tortured, and martyred. Blaise’s best known miracles include his restoration of a pig to a woman from whom it was stolen by a wolf who returned it on the saint’s command, and the cure of a boy who was choking on a fishbone. This second miracle resulted in Blaise’s designation as the patron saint of those suffering from throat ailments, inspiring the annual tradition of the Blessing of the Throats on Saint Blaise’s Day, also known in the west as Candlemas.

 

Saint Blaise before Agricola, detail of a stained glass window from the Soissons region, first quarter of the 13th c (Louvre, OAR 504).

In the Index of Christian Art, Blaise is catalogued as “Blasius of Sebaste.” He is typically depicted wearing his bishop’s robe and miter and holding a crozier. In later medieval art, he often holds a wool carder’s comb, perhaps a medieval reinterpretation of the Roman steel combs with which his flesh is said to have been raked during his martyrdom. Post-medieval images sometimes depict him holding two crossed candles in an allusion to the Blessing of the Throats. His most common narrative depictions show him meditating or ministering among the wild beasts; extracting the fishbone from the choking boy; standing before Agricola; or in the act of martyrdom, sometimes accompanied by the seven pious women who, according to Eastern tradition, followed him throughout his torments, wiping up his blood.

 

Martyrdom of Saint Blaise and his followers, Menologion of Basil II, Constantinople, 10th c (Bib. Vat., MS gr. 1613), p. 390.
Portrait of Saint Blaise, Book of Hours of D. Duarte, Bruges, first half of the 15th c (Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo, PT/TT/MSMB/A/L65), fol. 30v.

Happy Holidays

The Adoration of the Shepherds and Magi, from a Gospel Book from the Lake Van region, 14th c (Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum, MS. M. 1112).

As friends and colleagues around the world prepare to celebrate festivals of light, we at the Index wish you all a luminous holiday season and a peaceful, prosperous New Year.

Access to the Database

w26-064rOur website has had a lot of new traffic since its launch, and some users have reported difficulties getting into the database from our homepage. Please remember that if you normally access the database through an institutional subscription, you may still need to enter through your library website, using your institutional credentials. If you encounter other kinds of access problems, please use the staff contacts to let us know. We are happy to help.

Kress Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Index of Christian Art

m126.155vaThe Index of Christian Art is pleased to invite applications for a one-year postdoctoral fellowship for AY 2017-2018, with the possibility of renewal contingent on satisfactory performance.

Funded by a generous grant from the Kress Foundation, the Kress Postdoctoral Fellow will collaborate with permanent research and professional staff to develop taxonomic and research enhancements for the Index’s redesigned online application, which is set to launch in fall 2017. Salary is $60,000 plus benefits for a 12-month appointment, with a $2,500 allowance provided for scholarly travel and research. The Fellow will enjoy research privileges at Princeton Libraries as well as opportunities to participate in the scholarly life of the Index and the Department of Art & Archaeology.

The successful candidate will have a specialization in medieval art from any area or period; broad familiarity with medieval images and texts; a sound grasp of current trends in medieval studies scholarship; and a committed interest in the potential of digital resources to enrich work in art history and related fields. Strong foreign language and visual skills, the ability to work both independently and collaboratively after initial training, and a willingness to learn new technologies are highly desirable; previous experience in digital humanities, teaching, and/or library work is advantageous. Applicants must have completed all requirements for the PhD, including dissertation defense, before the start of the fellowship. Preference will be given to those whose subject expertise complements that of current Index staff.

Applications will be reviewed beginning January 15 and will continue until the position is filled. Applicants must apply on line at https://jobs.princeton.edu/applicants/jsp/shared/Welcome_css.jsp, submitting a C.V., a cover letter, a research statement, and the names and contact information of three references. The position is subject to the University’s background check policy.

Princeton University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer, and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to age, race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

The Index at Kalamazoo

Feasting like a boss in the Bayeux Tapestry, ca. 1080
Feasting like a boss in the Bayeux Tapestry, ca. 1080

The Index will be represented at two events at the Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo this year. First is a joint reception with the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence at 5:15 pm on Friday, May 13, in Bernhard 208. Second will be two sessions, titled “Pardon Our Dust: Reassessing Iconography at the Index of Christian Art,” organized and chaired by Index researchers Catherine Fernandez and Henry Schilb, on Sunday from 8:30 to noon in 1145 Schneider Hall. We hope to see many friends there!

From the Director: Survey Results and Future Plans

RomanAbacusHeartfelt thanks to the over 150 people who took our online survey this past month. Your thoughtful, detailed responses will be central to our plans for the coming year. They confirmed many concerns already on the mind of Index staff, especially concerning the difficulties of navigating our current database. They resolved a few hot office debates over how researchers approach the system (Team “Keyword Search” routed Team “Browse List,” 93-7, while “Search by Subject” ran away with “Initial Search Field,” earning 87% of responses). They also offered high marks for the accuracy of our data and the quality of our programs and publications. Most appreciated of all, however, were your concrete, insightful suggestions about how the new database could be designed so as to perform most effectively for an evolving scholarly community.

Three issues emerged repeatedly in the survey results. First was navigation: many researchers reported difficulty using the online database because of outdated or unwieldy design, unfamiliar terminology, and a lack of research guidelines. Close behind this was cost: past subscription fees for the Index have been high enough to make access difficult for smaller institutions and individuals. Finally, many researchers expressed concern about access to and quality of images: not only did past policies at the Index restrict many images from view by remote users, but the quality of our older images (some nearly a century old) can be quite low.

We hear you, and we are happy to say that most of these issues should be mitigated as we move to a new database design over the next two years. We are currently engaged in selecting a vendor to create the new system, which will be more intuitive, researcher-oriented, and image-centered than the original 25-year-old design. We also expect it to be more efficient, allowing us to migrate existing data and integrate new material, including improved images, with greater speed and effectiveness, while nationally changing practices surrounding copyright and fair use will allow us to make more of those images available universally. Finally, once a vendor is selected and the database is in design, we will address the question of subscription costs with our advisory committee, with the goal of offering more affordable access to the database for both institutions and individuals, including independent scholars and students.

We look forward to sharing news of all the changes to come at the Index as we approach our 100th year, and as always, we look forward to hearing from you when our resources or research staff can be of help to your work.

Please Help Us Shape the Future of the Index

As you may know, the Index of Christian Art is in the midst of a major and long-awaited redesign aimed at making our online database more flexible, accessible, and user-friendly. Please help us by taking a very brief (5-10 minutes) survey about your use of the current database. Your responses will help refine the new design with our researchers’ needs in mind. You can access the link here.

All responses will remain anonymous, and all will be valuable in helping us to design a new database that will better serve you and all researchers whose work concerns the history and signification of images in the Middle Ages.

Thank you very much for your support of our work.