Thursday, May 11, 2017

Iconography of the Resurrection – Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother

Thedor van Thulden, Christ Presents the Redeemed
to His Mother
Flemish, 1660
Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland
In the late fifteenth century and into the early part of the sixteenth century, a new iconography of the Resurrection was introduced by artists. 

Instead of the simple encounter between Mother and Son, joyously reuniting after the terrible experience of the Crucifixion and Entombment, which we have looked at previously, artists began to imagine an encounter that would take into account the time between Good Friday afternoon and Easter Sunday morning.  This is the time of Christ’s descent into Limbo and His liberation of the souls of the righteous that had been imprisoned there, awaiting His salvific act.  In this new iconographic subject, Christ presents the liberated souls to His mother. 

The earliest of these images show Christ, appearing to the Virgin Mary, His Mother, very much in the same manner we have already looked at (here).  

Follower of Jean Pichore
Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother
Book of Hours
French (Paris), c. 1490-1500
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M7, fol. 20r

However, this time He is not alone and His companions are not angels.  The first person with Him is an older, white-bearded man, whose head is encircled with a golden halo.  Some have identified this as the patriarch, Abraham, but I am not so sure.  Would it not be logical that the first person among the righteous dead should be the other person who had the most impact on the life of Jesus, His stepfather, Joseph.  Tradition suggests that Joseph was already dead before Jesus began His public ministry and Joseph’s proximity in time, space and affection suggest that the halo is not inappropriate.  I think that these present us with a reconstituted Holy Family image.
Christ Presents the Redeemed (Saint Joseph?)
to His Mother
from a Book of Hours
French (Tours), c. 1495-1505
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 12, fol. 25v

In the background of one of these images we can also see that Adam and Eve kneel behind the older man.  They are easily recognized by their nakedness.  They are prominent not simply because they are the mother and father of all humanity, but because it is their sin that was the reason for the Incarnation, the enfleshment of the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, through Mary.  In these images the first Adam and the first Eve meet the new Adam (Christ) and the new Eve (Mary). 

Juan de Flandes, Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother
Flemish (Active Spain), c. 1500
London, National Gallery

Quite rapidly they are joined by a host of other predecessors.  They crowd behind Jesus as He approaches Mary to present them to her.  Different painters included different people, but often the group obviously includes:  Abraham, Moses and David.  Also discernible in some are Saints Anne and Joachim, the grandparents of Jesus, and Saint John the Baptist, as well as Saint Joseph.

There is a more formal tone in these pictures than in those that simply show the reunion of Mother and Son.  Although Mary’s setting remains humble, she is approached by the souls of the redeemed as if already the Queen of Heaven, which she will become on her death and assumption into heaven. 

Fernando Yanez de la Almedinam Christ Presents the Redeemed to the His Mother
Spanish, 1510-1518
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Jan Mostaert, Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother
Dutch, c. 1515-1525
Enschede, Rijksmuseum Twenthe
Left wing of a diptych.  The right wing is in the 
Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Madrid (shown
at right)
Jan Mostaert, The Redeemed, with a Portrait of
the Donor, presumed to be Mary of Burgundy
Dutch, c. 1515-1525
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

Simon Bening, Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother
from The Stein Quariptych
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1525-1530
Baltimore (MD), Walters Art Gallery
MS W442, D 58r
Bernaert (Barend) van Orley, Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother
Flemish, c. 1525-1540
Private Collection
Over time, the simple setting of Mary’s room becomes transformed with the addition of clouds of glory, singing angels and other Baroque touches. 

Alessandro Allori, Christ Presents the Redeemed
to His Mother
Italian, c. 1580-1590
Florence, Museo di San Marco
Ludovico_Carracci, Christ Presents the
Redeemed to His Mother
Italian, 1601
Bologna, Church of Corpus Domini

Theodor van Thulden, Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother
Flemish, c. 1650
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Cosmas Damian Asam, Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother
German, 1718-1720
Aldersbach, Former Convent Church of the Assumption

Engraving by Giuseppe Camerata After a Painting of Andrea Vaccaro, Christ Presents the Redeemed to His Mother
Italian, c. 1750-1760
London, British Museum
During the eighteenth century this motif also ceased to be used by artists or requested by patrons.

© M. Duffy, 2017

  1. Breckenridge, James D., "Et Prima Vidit:  The Iconography of the Appearance of Christ to His Mother". Art Bulletin, Vol. 39, Number 1, March 1957, pp. 28-32.  As far as I can tell, no one has written on this particular motif since this 1957 article.

No comments: