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Lace Book of Marie de’ Medici, Lace margins, Walters Manuscript W.494, Folio 10r by Walters Art Museum
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This Prayerbook was made for Marie de’ Medici in the second quarter of the seventeenth century. Beyond its provenance as a personal book owned by the famous queen, it is exceptional for its intricately cut borders, which transform the parchment margins into lace. This effect was created using a technique known as “canivet,” in which a small knife was used to cut ornate patterns into paper or parchment. An art form that flourished originally among nuns in France, Germany, and the Netherlands beginning in the sixteenth century, it was employed to exceptional effect in several manuscripts connected with Marie de’ Medici. The Walters manuscript, made for her while she was regent of France, and wife of King Henry IV, contains twenty-eight miniatures, including original religious imagery as well as several later additions: a gouache portrait of the elderly queen, and nine small miniatures produced in Bruges ca. 1450 by an artist influenced by the Eyckian and Gold Scrolls styles prevalent at the time; the coat-of-arms of Marie de Medici, as well as her monogram. The Walters manuscript retains its original binding composed of mosaic inlays in green and black leather, as well as fine gilt pointillé foliate tooling, and a replica of the binding was created by Léon Gruel for Henry Walters on one of his seventeenth-century printed books (92.467) that also connects to Marie de’ Medici. All manuscript images and descriptions were created and are provided through Preservation and Access grants awarded to the Walters Art Museum by the National Endowment for the Humanities, 2008-2014. Access a complete set of high-resolution archival images of this manuscript for free on the Digital Walters at www.thedigitalwalters.org/Data/WaltersManuscripts/html/W494/

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By Costanza Beltrami

Today, 22 July, is the feast day of St Mary Magdalene, one of Christianity’s most important saints. Mentioned in all the canonical Gospels as a close follower of Jesus, Mary is nevertheless a mysterious figure. Her name suggest that she originated from Magdala Tarichaea, an historical town on the sea of Galilee, and may also indicate that she was not married, as it does not include her husband’s name.

On the contrary, the best-known facts of the Magdalene’s life — her sinful life as a prostitute and her momentous conversion to a saintly life — are not confirmed by the Bible’s text. For example, Jesus’ well-known maxim “let him that is without sin cast the first stone,” traditionally associated with the Magdalene, actually only refers to an unnamed “woman caught in adultery” (John 8:2–11). Along the centuries, the figure of the Magdalene became intertwined and confused with that of other female disciples and Biblical Marys.

Later events of this saint’s life, for example her presence at the Crucifixion and her face-to-face encounter with Jesus shortly after the Resurrection, have a solid scriptural basis.

Combining alluring sensuality, orthodox repentance and encouraging redemption, the letter and the legend of Mary Magdalene have been represented in countless variations by Italian artists.


Further reading: Faith, Gender and the Senses in Italian Renaissance and Baroque Art: Interpreting the Noli me tangere and Doubting Thomas by Erin E. Benay and IAS Member Lisa M. Rafanelli.

Master of the Palazzo Venezia Madonna, St Mary Magdalene, c. 1350, egg tempera on wood, 60 x 35 cm, National Gallery, London. Photo: Web Gallery of Art. 

Donatello, St Mary Magdalene, c. 1457, polychrome wood, height 188 cm,
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence. Photo: Web Gallery of Art.

Taddeo Crivelli, St Mary Magdalene Penitent, c. 1469, manuscript (Ms Ludwig IX 13), J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Photo: Web Gallery of Art.

Agnolo di Polo, Mary Magdalene, c. 1495, gilt and painted terracotta, height 156 cm, private collection. Photo: Web Gallery of Art.

Titian, St Mary Magdalene, c. 1532, oil on wood, 84 x 69 cm, Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence. Photo: Web Gallery of Art.

Caravaggio, Mary Magdalene, 1596-97, oil on canvas, 123 x 99 cm, Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome. Photo: Web Gallery of Art.

Domenico Fetti, The Repentant St Mary Magdalene, 1617-21, oil on canvas, 98 x 78,5 cm, Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome. Photo: Web Gallery of Art.

Francesco del Cairo, Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy, c. 1650, oil on canvas, 58 x 47 cm, private collection. Photo: Web Gallery of Art.