Seeking the Personal: An Expanded View of the Forms and Functions of 15th-Century Netherlandish Devotional Art

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Seeking the Personal: An Expanded View of the Forms and Functions of 15th-Century Netherlandish Devotional Art
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Copyright 2005 by Brenna Frances Braley


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would first like to thank the members of my committee, John L. Ward and Robin Poynor, for all of their help and encouragement while working on this project. I also thank Julie Kauffman, Johanna Kauffman, Bonnie Hampton, and Jody Berman (for their technological assistance), Joshua Braley, Linda Braley, and Rance Braley (for their help as proofreaders), and all the rest of my friends and family (for their unending patience and moral support). iii


TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.................................................................................................iii LIST OF FIGURES.............................................................................................................v ABSTRACT......................................................................................................................vii CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION........................................................................................................1 2 HISTORICAL AND THEOLOGICAL CONTEXT....................................................5 3 THE PHYSICAL AND THE SPIRITUAL................................................................26 4 RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE AND THE DEVOTIONAL PROCESS......................46 Approach.....................................................................................................................46 Experience of the Sacred............................................................................................55 Departure....................................................................................................................77 4 DEVOTIONAL PROCESS AND BOOKS OF HOURS, AS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE HOURS OF ENGELBERT OF NASSAU (CA. 1477-1490)...............................83 5 CONCLUSION.........................................................................................................107 FIGURES.........................................................................................................................114 LIST OF REFERENCES.................................................................................................138 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH...........................................................................................151 iv


LIST OF FIGURES Figure page 1 Jan van Eyck, Man with a Red Turban, 1433........................................................114 2 Jan van Eyck, Margaretha van Eyck,1439.............................................................115 3 Quentin Massys, Man, 1510s.................................................................................115 4 Quentin Massys, Lady, 1510s................................................................................116 5 Quentin Massys, Man With Glasses, ca. 1515.......................................................116 6 Hans Memling, Christ Giving His Blessing, 1478.................................................117 7 Geertgen tot Sint Jans Man of Sorrows, ca. 1480-85.............................................118 8 Rogier van der Weyden, Bladelin Altarpiece, (1445-48).......................................118 9 French aritist, Arma Christi, Psalter and Hours of Bonne of Luxembourg, mid-1340s......................................................................................................................119 10 French aritist, Psalter and Hours of Bonne of Luxembourg, mid-1340s...............120 11 French aritist, Psalter and Hours of Bonne of Luxembourg, mid-1340s...............121 12 Dieric Bouts, Last Supper Altarpiece, 1464-67.....................................................122 13 Joos Van Ghent, Communion of the Apostles Altarpiece, ca.1475........................123 14 Master of Mary of Burgundy, Prayer to the Virgin “O excellentissima,” fol. 16v, Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490.............................................................124 15 Master of Mary of Burgundy,Hours of the Virgin (Matins), fol. 97v., Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490............................................................................125 16 Master of Mary of Burgundy,Hours of the Virgin (Matins), fol. 98, Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490............................................................................125 17 Master of Mary of Burgundy, Office of the Dead, fol. 214, Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490.................................................................................................126 v


18 Master of Mary of Burgundy, Hours of the Virgin (Lauds) fol. 115, Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490............................................................................127 19 Master of Mary of Burgundy, Hours of the Cross (Lauds), fol. 57, Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490............................................................................128 20 Master of Mary of Burgundy, Hours of the Cross (Vespers), fol. 84v, Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490............................................................................129 21 Master of Mary of Burgundy, Penetential Psalm 50, fol. 190v, Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490............................................................................130 22 Master of Mary of Burgundy, Prayers to Catherine of Alexandria, fol. 40, Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490........................................................................131 23 Queen Margaret at Her Devotions, fol. 243v, Prayerbook of King James IV of Scotland, early 16 th century....................................................................................132 24 Catherine of Cleves Kneeling Before the Virgin and Child, fol. 1v, Hours of Catherine of Cleves, ca. 1440.................................................................................133 25 Suffrage of St. Jerome, fol. 242, Hours of Catherine of Cleves, ca. 1440.............134 26 Suffrage of St. Nicholas, fol. 280, Hours of Catherine of Cleves, ca. 1440...........135 27 Master of Mary of Burgundy, Mary of Burgundy at Her Devotions, fol. 14v, Vienna Hours, before 1482....................................................................................136 28 Master of Mary of Burgundy, Hours of the Cross (Vespers), fol. 85, Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490............................................................................137 vi


Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts SEEKING THE PERSONAL: AN EXPANDED VIEW OF THE FORMS AND FUNCTIONA OF 15 TH -CENTURY NETHERLANDISH DEVOTIONAL ART By Brenna Frances Braley May 2005 Chair: John L. Ward Major Department: Art and Art History Over the past few decades, many scholars have worked to broaden the scope of art history as a field of study. One particularly inspiring idea was presented by James H. Marrow in 1989. He proposed the need to reexamine works of art in terms of their intended use, rather than only focusing, as had many previous scholars, on the iconographic meaning of the works. Marrow singled out two specific aspects on which to base his study of “how art works”: first, people’s reactions to the images and, second, the function of art as a means of inspiring “new states of consciousness.” As a response of sorts to Marrow’s challenge, this thesis expands on his ideas, investigating the role and function of religious art, and particularly manuscript illumination, as part of a devotional process. This study will focus primarily on the Northern Renaissance viewer’s personal encounter with sacred imagery, considering the devotee’s physical, mental, and spiritual engagement with religious works of art. Its underlying thesis is that religious manuscript illumination, like other forms of Northern vii


Renaissance art, establishes a direct connection with the viewer—a connection that involves both personal address and personal response. The Book of Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, by the Master of Mary of Burgundy (ca. 1477-1490), provides an especially vivid example of devotional art, and is used as a “test case” for the application of theories concerning manuscript illumination and religious experience. The Engelbert Hours is a particularly interesting example of 15 th -century Netherlandish manuscript illumination that features innovative treatments of miniatures, areas of text, and borders. It has been the subject of several erudite studies; however, scholars seem to focus most heavily on the unknown master’s artistic ingenuity and the logic of his spatial constructions, without taking the fundamental purpose of the Book of Hours as a devotional work into consideration. The present claim is that the manuscript’s innovative elements have been used to create a space for revelation, not just to reveal the superb artistic virtuosity of the illuminator. In establishing these points, this thesis contains chapters on the following: a contextual overview of historical and theological developments of the 14 th and 15 th centuries, a discussion of the forms and functions of certain types of religious imagery, an investigation of the concept of religious revelation and the importance of the devotional image in the devotional process, and an in-depth examination of how the preceding topics (which are usually applied to panel paintings) may be applied to the art of manuscript illumination, using the Engelbert Hours as a specific example. viii


CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Over the past few decades, many scholars have worked to broaden the scope of art history as a field of study. Fairly recent scholarship has come to include, among many other things: an emphasis on art “in context” (that is, how specific historical, social, religious, and artistic developments influenced the appearance of images), theories concerning audience reception (how viewers both see and interpret images), and attention to problems surrounding the discipline’s approach to history and ideological method in the abstract. A 1989 article by James H. Marrow reflects and ties together these emphases in recent art history. In this article “Symbol and Meaning in Northern European Art of the Late Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance,” Marrow called for a new approach to art historical research. He proposed the need to reexamine works of art in terms of their intended use, rather than only focusing, as had many previous scholars, on the iconographic meaning of the works. Maintaining this focus, Marrow investigated, in his own words, “how art works” rather than merely “‘what’ is represented in the images.” 1 Concentrating on 14 th and 15 th -century panel paintings of Christian subjects, Marrow contended that such works were designed for use in religious practice, to be a part of an overall religious experience. He singled out two specific aspects on which to base his 1 James H. Marrow, “Symbol and Meaning in Northern European Art of the Late Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance,” Simiolus 16(1986): 152. Emphasis added. 1


2 study of the “how”: first, people’s reactions to the images and, second, the function of art as a means of inspiring “new states of consciousness.” 2 Although the sort of approach Marrow suggests is not entirely without precedent in Northern Renaissance art scholarship, he offers a pointed statement of such an approach—as well as a succinct and creative look at devotional paintings of the period (both those rendered on panel and those in manuscript form). Marrow’s results suggest that his proposed method is a promising one, but much more extensive research is needed to demonstrate its relevance to the great majority of Northern paintings of the 14 th and 15 th centuries. To be sure, both before and since the publication of his article scholars have made various attempts to investigate the use as well as the appearance and symbolic content of works of art. Their efforts have certainly clarified some points about the art of the Northern Renaissance, but more remains to be done in this vein, particularly with regard to manuscript illumination. Though Marrow uses some examples of manuscript illumination to illustrate his points, his analysis is quite brief. Other scholars who have produced studies on the subject of manuscript illumination have generally concentrated more on formal and technical matters than on the way artists used the space and format of the decorated page and codex as a means of exciting viewers to attain religious experiences. As a response of sorts to Marrow’s challenge, this thesis will expand on his ideas, investigating the role of religious art, and particularly manuscript illumination, as part of a devotional process. This study will focus primarily on the Northern Renaissance viewer’s personal encounter with sacred imagery, considering the devotee’s physical, 2 Ibid.


3 mental, and spiritual engagement with religious works of art. Its underlying thesis is that religious manuscript illumination, like other forms of Northern Renaissance art, establishes a direct connection with the viewer—a connection that involves both personal address and personal response. The Book of Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, by the Master of Mary of Burgundy (ca. 1477-1490) provides an especially vivid example of devotional art, and will be used as a “test case” for the application of theories concerning manuscript illumination and religious experience. The Engelbert Hours is a particularly interesting example of 15 th -century Netherlandish manuscript illumination. This work contains innovative treatments of miniatures, areas of text, and borders. It has been the subject of several erudite studies; however, scholars seem to focus most heavily on the unknown master’s artistic ingenuity and the logic of his spatial constructions, without taking the fundamental purpose of the Book of Hours as a devotional work into consideration. 3 The present claim is that the manuscript’s innovative elements have been used to create a space for revelation, not just to reveal the superb artistic virtuosity of the illuminator. In establishing these points, the paper will proceed as follows. Chapter 1 consists of an overview of historical and theological developments leading up to the devotionalism of the 14 th and 15 th centuries that establishes a contextual base for the sections following. Chapter 2 focuses on the forms and functions of certain types of religious imagery (including altarpieces, private devotional panels, and of course illuminated manuscripts) in the context of specific historical and theological developments. This section provides a discussion of the use of physical things for 3 Otto Pcht and J. J. G. Alexander will be the primary scholars used in this study.


4 spiritual purposes and the role of images in religious practice. Chapter 3 investigates the concept of religious revelation and further develops the idea of the importance of the sacred image in the devotional process. It addresses how and why religious art was used, viewed, and comprehended from the late medieval period to the Renaissance. All of the preceding sections lead up to and lay a groundwork for Chapter 4, which contains an in-depth examination of how such concepts, usually associated with panel paintings, apply to manuscript illumination as well, using the Engelbert Hours as a specific example. Throughout the paper, leading scholars’ ideas and writings will be presented and reviewed where appropriate, and their theories evaluated as needed.


CHAPTER 2 HISTORICAL AND THEOLOGICAL CONTEXT This chapter will focus on the emergence of devotionalism, one of the most influential religious developments to affect late medieval and Renaissance Christianity. A new attitude toward the role of individual laypersons in their own spiritual maturation was a primary feature of devotionalism. This personal aspect finds increasingly clear expression in religious texts and images from the period. Historical and theological developments had created an atmosphere in which a personalized approach to spiritual growth could flourish. By investigating these currents, which moved forward the production and use of devotional art of the medieval and Renaissance periods, this chapter forms a historical and theological groundwork for those that follow. Devotionalism emphasized the personal nature of salvation, as well as the ability of the individual believer to “access” the divine realm without having to rely on ecclesiastical leaders. The emergence of devotionalism essentially granted the laity a considerable degree of control over their own spiritual lives. By encouraging private acts of piety, such as prayer or meditation, the basic principles of devotionalism had a noticeable effect on the appearance and purpose of religious art in general. During the late medieval period and continuing into the Renaissance, a number of new lay religious practices emerged. The average person was invited to take a more active and creative role in developing his or her own faith than had previously been encouraged by the official Church. A rather wide range of literary and artistic aids to worship was produced, providing individuals with a guide to enhancing their own 5


6 religious experiences. Lay piety took many forms throughout Europe at the time. Though the various groups often differed in their specific practices and foci, they generally used similar means for producing a personal and intense reaction in the Christian layperson. The roots of late medieval devotionalism may be traced back to the earlier Middle Ages. Ecclesiastical and cultural developments, beginning in about the 12 th century, produced an atmosphere of lay religious fervor. 1 It was an era of change in Europe. Although the main onset of the plague was some years to come, incidences of it had already emerged in some parts of Europe. Governments were changing, moving from established systems such as monarchies to those focused on the evolving middle class. Likewise, forms of worship were also changing. Instead of exclusive reliance on a central religious hierarchy, which had been in place for hundreds of years, there was a movement to make worship more individualized and personal. Interest in activities connected specifically with the official Church was beginning to wane. 2 Practices typically associated with monastic orders were becoming less restrictive, allowing members of secular society to become more involved with such orders, without their having to entirely depart from their former lifestyles. 3 The emergence of devotionalism was fairly widespread throughout Europe during the high to late medieval period, and religious tracts and images geared toward this 1 R. N. Swanson, Religion and Devotion in Europe, c. 1215-c. 1515 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 107. 2 Dom Jean Leclercq, Dom Francois Vanderbroucke, and Louis Bouyer,A History of Christian Spirituality, vol. II: The Spirituality of the Middle Ages (New York: The Seabury Press, 1977), p. 246. 3 Swanson, Religion and Devotion, p. 107.


7 personalized form of worship slowly made their way from one country to the next. Influential ideas concerning the spiritual development of the individual Christian were popular and often eagerly shared. Some movements were, however, more specifically associated with a particular region. One of the earliest forms of this sort of religious practice originated in Italy and was inspired by St. Francis of Assisi (1181/1182-1226), founder of the well-known Franciscan Order. As a young man, Francis experienced a religious conversion of sorts. Following a serious illness, he turned from his former life of affluence and comfort to that of a mendicant. Throughout his life, Francis had many miraculous spiritual encounters. He once, for example, heard the figure of Christ speaking to him from a crucifix; according to Jacobus de Voragine, author of The Golden Legend, Christ told Francis to “‘go and repair My house, which, as thou seest, is falling into ruins!’” 4 In response to this admonition, Francis set out to rebuild dilapidated church buildings as well as bring a graspable, living, and practical form of Christianity to people. He preached in a very basic, loving manner; Voragine states that “St. Francis bade all creatures to love their Creator.” 5 George Ferguson, a scholar of Christian art, asserts that “the simple, gentle, and indeed joyous humanity of St. Francis’ life served to emphasize the world of the true humanity of the Savior, which was in danger of being forgotten.” 6 St. Francis composed a number of religious writings, through which he encouraged his readers to lead simple, honest, and good lives, treating others with compassion and 4 Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, Granger Ryan and Helmut Ripperger, trans. (New York: Longmans Green and Co., 1948), p. 598. 5 Ibid., p. 604. 6 George Ferguson, Signs and Symbols of Christian Art (New York: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 121.


8 mercy, and spreading the love of Christ. 7 He encouraged people to imitate Christ in all aspects of life, and he did not focus on theological scholarship. 8 According to historian Joseph Dahmus, St. Francis instructed people “to live as Christ wanted them to live, and to [leave] learning and theology to their superiors.” 9 Rather than focusing scholastic understandings of Christianity, Francis emphasized the value of the empathetic experience. He stressed the spiritual worth of each individual (no matter how lowly), and he presented Christian subjects to people in familiar and easily understood terms. 10 Francis is, for example, credited with setting up the first crche scene as a way of heightening the reality of Christ’s birth for 13 th -century Christians. 11 Some of his most famous disciples wrote religious tracts on how to imagine oneself as an active observer, and even participant, in sacred events (this will be addressed further later in this chapter). For Francis, the ability to empathize with Christ’s experiences on earth was made physically manifest in the miraculous stigmata that he received two years prior to his death—he was so entirely focused on Christ’s Passion and so desirous to experience the simultaneous torment and unconditional love of the Savior, that he was blessed with the visible sign Christ’s sacrifice. 12 7 J. A. Wayne Hellmann, “The Spirituality of the Franciscans,” in Jill Raitt et al., ed., Christian Spirituality: Volume II High Middle Ages and Reformation (New York: Crossroad, 1988), pp. 32-36. 8 Joseph Dahmus, The Middle Ages: A Popular History (Garden City, New York: Image Books, 1970), p. 394. 9 Ibid. 10 Ibid. 11 F. L. Cross, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (London: Oxford University Press, 1957), p. 355. 12 Voragine, The Golden Legend, pp. 601-602, and Vandenbroucke, “Lay Spirituality in the Twelth Century,” in Leclercq et al., The Spirituality of the Middle Ages, p. 289.


9 Francis offered people of all types an opportunity to enhance their own spiritual experiences, and develop a closer connection to the Divine. Through the example of his own life, Francis inspired an enduring interest in devotionalism and lay piety. Historian Francis Vandenbroucke has identified a number of “themes that had always been dear to Francis [and were important to his followers as well]: poverty, manual labour, preaching, missions to the heathen, and the balance between action and contemplation.” 13 Such Franciscan ideals eventually spread throughout Italy and much of Europe. One of the leading developments in Christian devotional practice in the North—which will be particularly pertinent to this study—was that of the devotio moderna. Emerging in the Netherlands during the late 14 th century, this movement emphasized the ability of the average layperson to gain a closer, more intimate connection to Christ and the Virgin, as well as basic Christian beliefs and values. Through a renunciation of worldly things and a concentration on Christ’s life and sacrifice, a person could hope to attain a higher level of spiritual awareness and communion with God. 14 Historian Steven Ozment provides a very useful summary of the movement: In both theology and religious practice, the Modern Devotion seems to have been almost totally unoriginal. Because it revived the ideals of the Canons Regular and the mendicant orders at a time when the established orders of the church were in disrepair, the movement became a force within the religious life of the laity and in the monasteries, which adopted its reforms. 15 13 Ferguson, Signs and Symbols, pp. 289, 293. 14 Otto Grndler, “Devotio Moderna,” in Jill Raitt et al., ed, Christian Spirituality, p. 180. 15 Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform 1250-1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980), p. 96.


10 Though the devotio moderna took a fresh approach to personal devotional practices, offering people a much greater involvement in and even control over their own spiritual lives than had been previously encouraged or allowed for the laity, the movement remained within the established framework of ecclesiastically sanctioned modes of Christian worship. A similar analysis of this devotional movement by John van Engen, a scholar of medieval studies, supports Ozment’s statements. Van Engen defines the term moderna as meaning “‘new’ with the sense of ‘renewed’ or ‘present-day;’” he is careful to note that the movement was still very much a part of late medieval traditions and not something radically different from what had proceeded it. 16 The Canons Regular mentioned by Ozment, for example, were groups of individuals who chose to withdraw from the secular world and live communally in poverty and humility. 17 The members were usually overseen by a single leader and surrendered all their possessions and personal will upon entering the cloister. 18 This approach is very much echoed in the practice of the devotio moderna, especially in its later manifestations, mainly that of the Brethren of the Common Life. The practices of the devotio moderna were rooted in the living example of its founder and leader Gerard Groote (1340-1384). A brief look at Groote’s life is useful in understanding the beliefs associated with the devotio moderna. Groote was born a well-educated merchant’s son. After experiencing a religious revelation of sorts in 1374, he chose to reject his life of privilege and comfort, favoring instead an existence focused 16 John van Engen, and Heiko A. Oberman, eds. and trans., Devotio Moderna, Basic Writings (New York: Paulist Press, 1998), p. 10. 17 Leclercq, Spirituality, p. 138. 18 Ibid.


11 wholly on pious devotion to the Divine. Along with denying himself wealth and social status, Groote abandoned all scholarly pursuits that were not directly concerned with salvation. He left his hometown of Deventer, taking up residence in a Carthusian monastery, and eventually, at the prompting of his fellow brethren, he became a great preacher of church reform and the need for a spiritual focus in each person’s life. 19 Groote had studied the works of mystics such as Meister Eckhart and Jan van Ruysbroeck, though he chose not to follow their teachings in his own practice. According to Ozment, he strove to “keep religion simple, devout, and charitable.” 20 Groote stressed leading a pious life, both actively and spiritually. Though he gained many followers among the laity, his teachings were not always popular with Church officials (many of whose wayward habits he often criticized), and measures had been taken to prevent the spread of his ideas. In 1383, for example, Groote was no longer permitted to preach—the license he had received in 1380, with his ordination as a deacon of the Utrecht diocese, was temporarily revoked. 21 Despite such efforts of the church and his untimely death of the plague in 1384, the devotio moderna continued to develop. A number of Groote’s closest disciples promoted the teachings and practices associated with the movement. One of the followers, Florens Radewijns (1350-1400), was instrumental in establishing organized communities of believers—i.e. the Sisters and Brothers of the Common Life (two separate divisions). Group members lived together, adhering to the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, which closely resembled the 19 Grndler, “Devotio Moderna,” p. 176. 20 Ozment, Age of Reform, p. 96. 21 Grndler, “Devotio Moderna,” p. 176.


12 basic tenets of monastic orders at the time. Unlike their official counterparts, however, practitioners of the devotio moderna did not take formal oaths; rather, they emphasized their voluntary observance of such ideals. 22 Nevertheless, scholars have noted that many followers of the devotio moderna, especially in its later manifestations, were closely connected with the official Church. Historian Otto Grndler, for example, in his discussion of the movement, plainly states that “the majority of its [the Brethren’s] members were priests or candidates for the priesthood (clerics). The few lay brothers . . . usually carried out . . . menial tasks.” 23 Grndler goes on to clarify that the Sisters, on the other hand, were generally laypersons. 24 Groote’s original idea underwent a number of changes in the hands of his followers, but the emphasis on the private personal experience of religion remained a primary focus, as did the concept of living simply and piously. Like other devotional movements of the period, the beliefs and practices of the devotio moderna had a considerable impact on both the verbal and the visual religious works produced during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. In keeping with the emphases of the devotio moderna and other lay spiritual currents, devotional practices among the laity became increasingly popular, beginning at the end of the 12 th century. Historian Richard Kieckhefer, in his essay “Major Currents in Late Medieval Devotion,” describes the rising interest in devotionalism as one of “the most significant development[s] in late medieval Christianity.” 25 According to 22 Ibid., p. 177. 23 Ibid. 24 Ibid. 25 Richard Kieckhefer, “Major Currents in Late Medieval Devotion,” in Jill Raitt et al., ed., Christian Spirituality, pp. 75-77.


13 Kieckhefer, this movement, which focused on bringing the laity into a fuller, more personal understanding of Christian truths and teachings, helped to bridge a gap between approaches to religious practice that he terms “liturgical and contemplative.” 26 Until this time, the strictly ecclesiastical or the monastic were the two main avenues of worship available to pious Christians. Kieckhefer sees devotional activities as an “intermediate” between the corporate rituals associated with official Church doctrines and the generally solitary, contemplative modes of worship more typical in monastic circles than in the ecclesiastical. 27 For the pious layperson, devotional instruction and exercises presented new opportunities for spiritual development. Devotionalism provided the laity, on the one hand, with a means of practicing their faith in a more personal manner than may have been offered by the Church, while, on the other hand, it offered the benefits of both a somewhat structured worship method and the moral support of fellow believers, neither of which are typical features of the contemplative life. 28 Kieckhefer emphasizes one fundamental difference between the methods of worship used by the official Church, the practices of Christians who adhered to a contemplative approach, and this new devotionalism. “Devotions,” Kieckhefer writes, “are defined more by their objects than by their form.” 29 He goes on to clarify “object” (which is not necessarily a physical “thing”) as people’s primary focus during their exercises, ranging from the Virgin Mary, to various saints, to Christ’s torments, to the Eucharist, and so on. 30 Therefore, the focus 26 Ibid., p. 76. 27 Ibid., p. 75. 28 Ibid. 29 Ibid. Emphasis added. 30 Ibid.


14 of devotionalism was not so much on the procedures by which a person meditated on things divine, but rather on the attainment of a sort of revelation. Instead of focusing on a litany of recitations, generally requiring a cleric to lead the reading of the liturgy, devotionalism stressed the ability of the individual to concentrate on holy figures and concepts—gaining a better understanding of the subjects and substance of their own faith. One of the main concentrations of devotionalism was on Christ’s humanity. In order to emphasize Christ’s sacrifice and his role as the Savior, devotional art and literature deliberately heightened the human aspects of his life, death, and resurrection—including his emotional and physical experiences. In contemplating the Nativity, for example, the reader or viewer of such devotional works is presented with a “vision” of sweetness and tenderness, or when meditating on the Crucifixion, one is expected to be filled with sorrow and anguish. As fellow humans, the devout could identify to some extent with the written or pictorial renderings of significant events in Christ’s life. The Virgin and other saints were also frequently depicted for devotional purposes, once again providing pious individuals with a personal connection to religious events through the very humanness of the holy figures. Vivid portrayals in words or images of sacred scenes helped the laity feel more involved with the, at times, seemingly distant Biblical texts and Church doctrines. Numerous expressions of the devotional approach exist in various forms of writing, song, visual arts, and performances. 31 According to art historian Jeffrey 31 Ibid., p. 77. Also John Bossy, Christianity in the West 1400-1700, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 7.


15 F. Hamburger, religious imagery became increasingly more important and involved in devotional activities as the movement expanded. 32 This sort of devotional approach offered the laity a means of communal worship, less restricted by formal, official Church rule. In this way one could seek a more direct experience of the sacred realm, without the necessary involvement or participation of the clergy. There was certainly an emphasis on the personal, private experience, but, by forming a cohesive body of believers, individuals could encourage and inspire one another to greater heights of spiritual development. Devotionalism was not only somewhat “detachable” from Church rituals and clergy but was also a movement not restricted to any one level of society. Whether poor, wealthy, or somewhere in between, people were generally able to find some form of the movement to suit their particular needs. Though many groups advocated imitating the apostles through a life dedicated to poverty and evangelism, this was obviously not the only acceptable form of pious existence. 33 Historian R. N. Swanson notes that such a life was impractical and often undesirable for many Christians. 34 He writes, “Christ might therefore be imitated without going to extremes.” 35 On a very basic level, wealthy individuals could provide support for fellow Christians, as well as finance costly church 32 Jeffrey F. Hamburger, The Visual and the Visionary: Art and Female Spirituality in Late Medieval Germany (New York: Zone Books, 1998), p. 131. 33 Swanson, Religion and Devotion, pp. 104-105. 34 Ibid. 35 Ibid.


16 projects. 36 Thus, many of the artistic and literary devotional works that were created for the laity were largely funded by members of the upper classes. Before investigating religious imagery more closely, a look at some of the literature associated with this movement will be worthwhile. By clearly revealing a sense of the religious atmosphere at the time, such written works provide important “source documents” for anyone trying to understand late medieval and Renaissance devotional art. Hamburger, in his book The Visual and the Visionary (published in 1998), provides an interesting investigation of late medieval religious art—he attempts to identify a characteristic “look” or quality common among certain kinds of Christian images. 37 As part of his study, Hamburger describes a number of 13 th century devotional works, which were originally designed principally for use by monks and nuns, but were later copied and distributed amongst the laity as well. 38 The texts often provide formulas for devotion, some containing as many as fifteen steps. 39 Such monastic literature on devotion and worship provided useful models for pious people living in the cloister or “in the world.” 36 Alexander Murray, Reason and Society in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), p. 323. As a matter of fact, affluence and high connections in secular society were often seen as beneficial in the selection of church officials. Thomas Aquinas is even said to have considered worldly wisdom and good social standing to sometimes be preferred traits in religious leaders. 37 Hamburger, The Visual and the Visionary, p. 9. 38 Prayer books were often commissioned for use by women. Many devotional manuscripts were small, delicate, and exquisitely decorated, making them very valuable materially and spiritually. (Roger S. Wieck, Time Sanctified: The Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life (New York: George Braziller, Inc., 2001), p. 40) Women were quite involved in the devotional movements of the medieval period and were heavily featured in prayer books. (p. 35) 39 Hamburger, The Visual and the Visionary, p. 131.


17 The importance of written devotional works is also evident in the rise of the immensely popular Book of Hours, which was in high demand from about the mid-13 th to the mid-16 th centuries. Private prayer books—and particularly Books of Hours—were designed to be used principally in the home, not in an ecclesiastical setting. These allowed the individual Christian more spiritual independence than the collections of prayers, Psalms, and Gospel readings intended for use during church services, such as a Breviary. The Book of Hours, which takes its name from the Hours of the Virgin that formed the main part of these devotional books, served an important function for the laity, allowing them to have a personal and individualized collection of readings and prayers to be recited in their own private domains. 40 The contents of Books of Hours were even apt to vary according to the patron’s specific preferences and the particular conventions associated with regional religious practices. Art historian Roger S. Wieck provides an especially vivid description of this popular type of devotional work; he writes, “the entire celestial court, God and his cosmos, could be held within the palms of one’s hands and taken home.” 41 He also notes that pious people viewed “the reading of 40 Gloria Konig Fiero, Devotional Illumination in Early Netherlandish Manuscripts: A Study of the Grisaille Miniatures in Thirteen Related Fifteenth Century Dutch Books of Hours (Tallahassee: Florida State University, 1970), p. 17. 41 Roger S. Wieck, Painted Prayers: The Book of Hours in Medieval and Renaissance Art (New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1998), p. 22. The Hours of the Virgin, consisting of a series of prayers to be offered to Mary at eight different intervals throughout the day, were developed sometime around the 9 th century. By the 11 th century, the Hours were practiced regularly. They were recorded in Antiphonaries (choir books), often to be recited in churches. (p. 9) The Hours were later (in about the 12 th century) added to Psalters—traditionally comprised of a calendar and various prayers, in addition to the complete section of the Psalms. It was from this combination that the Book of Hours, as such, came into being. During the mid-1200s, the Hours of the Virgin predominated and, instead of containing all the Psalms, only a small selection was included in Books of Hours. (p. 10) The standard format of the 14 th -century Book of Hours incorporated a calendar of feast days and Church holidays, a section of Gospel lessons, the Hours of the Virgin, the Hours of the Cross, the Hours of the Holy Spirit, prayers to the Virgin (“Obsecro te” and “O intermerata”), the Penitential Psalms (numbers 6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, and 142), the Litany, the Office of the Dead, and assorted Suffrages to specific saints. (pp. 10, 26, 91)


18 religious works in the Middle Ages as a reflective, active process— ‘listening to the voices of the page’ with eyes, ears, and lips [here Wieck is citing Jean Leclercq]. People read slowly and carefully, ruminating about every word.” 42 The intimacy and exquisite nature of the illuminated manuscript enabled the viewer to meditate on and even, in a sense, possess the sacred subjects. This concept will be discussed further in succeeding chapters. In keeping with the aim of devotionalism, as well as the devotio moderna, to make religion more accessible and personal some later Books of Hours were written in the vernacular. 43 Around the beginning of the 15 th century, other languages besides the customary Latin began to be incorporated into the prayer books. French, for example, was sometimes used in calendars as well as in certain minor prayers, and in the northern Netherlands entire Dutch translations of the Hours were made in association with the devotio moderna. 44 According to Wieck, the Dutch version of the Hours met with great popularity and became the most common variety in the region, lasting through the 16 th century. 45 Many different types of devotional tracts developed during the period; some made use of miniatures while others did not. Turning to specific examples of influential devotional texts, one can gain further understanding of the religious milieu in Europe, and particularly the Netherlands, during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Some of 42 Wieck, Time Sanctified, p. 41. 43 Ibid., p. 10. 44 Ibid. 45 Ibid. It should be noted, however, that outside of the Netherlands, Latin still prevailed for many religious texts.


19 these texts, indeed, bear directly on the issue of devotional art, since they specifically deal with imaginative visualization as a spiritual practice. One of the most famous pieces of literature from the North is associated with the devotio moderna movement. In about 1425, a book entitled The Imitation of Christ, which has been referred to as “the most celebrated mystical work [ever] written,” was produced in the Netherlands. 46 The text has been ascribed to Thomas Kempis (1379-1471) who was a follower of the second generation of members of the devotio moderna. The authorship is not certain, although Kempis did apparently produce a revised copy of the work in 1441 and was known to have composed a number of other religious tracts throughout his long life. 47 The Imitation contains four sections, or books, entitled “Councils for the Spiritual Life,” “Councils Calling to the Inner Life,” “Of Inward Consolation,” and “A Devout Exhortation to Holy Communion.” 48 The text is primarily a collection of prayers, instructions, and rhetorical questions, intended to inspire an attitude of humility and contrition in the heart of the viewer. The author reinforces his statements with quotations from the Bible, always emphasizing the goodness of Christ and the wretchedness of human beings. In Book I, chapter 1, part 5, for example, Kempis (assuming he was the writer) cites Proverbs 1:8 “The eye is not sated with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing,” followed by his own admonition to “study therefore to wean your heart from the love of visible things, and to attend rather to things invisible. For the man who indulges his sensual nature, sullies his conscience and loses 46 Thomas Kempis, Of the Imitation of Christ in Four Books (Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1952), p. viii. See also Denys Hay, Europe in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, 2 nd edition (London: Longman, 1989), p. 337. 47 Kempis, Imitation of Christ, p. viii. 48 Ibid., pp. x-xv.


20 the grace of God.” 49 In keeping with Groote’s rejection of worldly education, Kempis discourages learning that does not directly relate to sacred subjects. 50 Kempis’ writings reveal a close connection to the roots of the devotio moderna. Another very influential and widely disseminated devotional work, Meditations on the Life of Christ, is of a rather different variety from The Imitation. The text apparently originated in Italy during the late 13 th century, and was actually once attributed to St. Bonaventura. 51 Like many religious tracts, from about the 12 th century on, Meditations emphasizes the individual’s need, as well as ability, to be personally involved with events from the Bible and imitate Christ’s actions. 52 Meditations was very popular in the later Middle Ages, among both the monastics and the laity, and it was translated into many languages. 53 The editions vary considerably in length, though the basic contents are the same. 54 Renditions of Meditations were sometimes illustrated as well, providing the reader with a visualization of the narrative being conveyed through the text. 55 49 Ibid., p. 2. 50 Ibid., p. 3. 51 Isa Ragusa and Rosalie B. Green, eds. and trans., Meditations on the Life of Christ (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), pp. xxi n. 2, xxii. 52 Swanson, p. 104. 53 Holly Flora, “A Book for Poverty’s Daughters: Gender and Devotion in Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, MS Ital. 115,” in Susan C. Karant-Nunn, ed., Varieties of Devotion in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Arizona Studies in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, 7, (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols Publishers n.v., 2003), p. 83. 54 Ragusa, Meditations, p. xxii. 55 Ibid., p. xxiii.


21 The original work was apparently written by a Franciscan monk for a member of the female Franciscan order of the Poor Clares. 56 According to Isa Ragusa and Rosalie B. Green, who edited and translated into English one Italian version of the Meditations (1961), the author kept the gender and social position of his reader in mind while composing the book; Ragusa and Green note, for instance, a strong focus on humility, poverty, and domesticity. 57 Throughout the text, a meditative process, always concentrating on Christ’s humanity is established. 58 The Christian is often encouraged to approach Christ or the Virgin humbly and reverently, picturing herself interacting with them. 59 This particular book, like many other devotional texts of the period, includes minute anecdotal details concerning events in the life of Christ, intended to aid in devotions by making the stories more real and alive. In a section entitled “Of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” based on Luke chapter 2, for example, such supplemental information may be found. 60 The writer relates that a single angel departed from the adoring heavenly host at the place of Christ’s birth, to alert “the shepherds who were nearby, about a mile away,” of the miraculous event. 61 The author goes on to instruct the reader, “You too, who lingered so long, kneel and adore your Lord God, and then His mother, and reverently greet the saintly old Joseph.” 62 The scene does not stop 56 Ibid., p. xxvii. 57 Ibid. 58 Ibid. 59 Ibid. 60 Ibid., p. 31. 61 Ibid., p. 38. 62 Ibid.


22 there, but continues on, encouraging the individual to “Kiss the beautiful little feet of the infant Jesus who lies in the manger. . . . Pick Him up and hold Him in your arms. Gaze on His face with devotion and . . . delight in Him.” 63 The reader is even reminded to maintain an attitude of “reverence and love,” during the exercise, never presuming to think herself worthy through human merit of interacting with Christ in such a way. 64 The Meditations was well known throughout Europe. This collection of writings, in its various forms, served as an influential vehicle to devotion, as well as a valuable source of religious imagery for artists. 65 Ragusa and Green express their conviction that the Meditations “undoubtedly influenced pictorial art.” 66 Some copies of the Meditations were, in fact, accompanied by illuminations, though very few of the extant copies (i.e., fewer than twenty of the remaining two hundred or so) contain images. 67 In most renditions of the devotional book that do have pictures, the miniatures seem quite secondary to the text. A third type of devotional book intended for use by the laity utilized symbolic associations to illustrate religious concepts. The 15 th -century text Here Begins a Devout Book on the Preparation and Decoration of the Dwelling of Our Heart, by Hendrik Mande, is one example of this sort of literature. As a follower of the devotio moderna, Mande wrote the piece in Dutch, and concentrated on making the abstract Christian 63 Ibid., p. 39. 64 Ibid., p. 32. 65 Ibid., p. xxiii. 66 Ibid. 67 Ibid.


23 concepts more comprehensible, personal, and direct. 68 Throughout the work, Mande uses the image of a house and garden, furnished and tended with the greatest care and affection. 69 The symbolic domestic structure serves as a model for the building and maintenance of a pure, stable, and well-founded faith within the human heart and soul—the pious Christian is, thus, invited and encouraged to create a “space” in which he or she will be able to welcome Christ. 70 Rather like Meditations, Mande’s work contains meticulous descriptions of the setting and provides specific instructions on how readers should use the text to their greatest benefit. 71 Art historian Reindert Falkenburg refers to Mande’s text in his 2001 essay, “Household of the Soul: Conformity in the Mrode Triptych.” 72 Falkenburg identifies the primary goal of Mande’s book as helping the reader design a spiritual “‘bridal suite’” that Christ as the “Heavenly Bridegroom will inhabit.” 73 Falkenburg describes some of the symbolic meanings contained in the domestic objects; he notes, for example, that the inclusion of cleaning supplies in one’s spiritual dwelling relates to purifying the soul, sweet smelling herbs and oils remind readers of Christ’s burial and the torments and sorrows he endured as a human. 74 According to Falkenburg, other furnishings, such as “two clean white sheets” refer to 68 Reindert Falkenburg, “The Household of the Soul: Conformity in the Mrode Triptych,” in Maryan W. Ainsworth, ed., The Metropolitan Museum of Art Symposia: Early Netherlandish Painting at the Crossroads: A Critical Look at Current Methodologies (New York: Yale University Press, 2001), p. 6. 69 Ibid. 70 Ibid. 71 Ibid. 72 See note 68 for full citation. 73 Falkenburg, “The Household,” p. 6. 74 Ibid.


24 “compassion and . . . true belief,” a supper table laid with “a roast lamb” represents “godly love,” the salt on the lamb signifies “spiritual modesty,” and a burning taper relates to the Christian’s intense “love and desire for Christ.” 75 Mande’s entire text is filled with such symbolic articles; the goal of works like Mande’s, was basically to elevate the mind and soul of the pious reader to a state of spiritual union with the Divine. By presenting the reader with simple, familiar, mundane objects and settings, Mande and other writers in this genre endeavored to make the unseen and the abstract realm of the spirit more of a comprehensible reality. Of Mande’s specific work, Falkenberg writes, “instead of involving its readers in the esoteric pleasures of mystical rapture, this devotio moderna text remains down to earth[, using] humble processes of ‘spiritual housekeeping’ as meditation,” in order to “elevate the minds of those believers who were mystically less gifted.” 76 The rise of devotionalism brought with it an increase in art and literature that was intended to create a personal connection between the pious Christian and the divine realm. As this section has shown, devotional practices of the Middle Ages and Renaissance encouraged the spiritual development of the individual. Both written and artistic devotional works explored different means of making religious concepts more accessible to the lay mind and spirit. In an effort to excite and enliven the faithful spiritually, writers and artists often used everyday language and objects to convey Biblical events and Christian doctrines. Vivid accounts of people’s (especially saints’) spiritual encounters in texts and images helped the individual layperson attain a sort of 75 Ibid., pp. 6-7. 76 Ibid., p. 7.


25 religious revelation during his or her own devotions. Such detailed descriptions, whether verbal or pictorial, supplied the worshiper with a private guide or pattern for experiencing spiritual ecstasies similar to those portrayed in the written or painted objects. Basing devotional works on particular saints’ stories of their contact with the divine realm, furthermore, lent a certain credibility to the accounts and provided a sacred endorsement of sorts for the laity seeking their own religious experiences. The following section will examine medieval and Renaissance views of devotional art more specifically, as well as the use of physical things to represent those of the spirit.


CHAPTER 3 THE PHYSICAL AND THE SPIRITUAL As has been seen in the preceding selection of devotional texts, there were a number of varying ideas concerning the value and proper use of imaginative visualization for people’s spiritual development. Despite a fair amount of opposition, images became an integral part of many devotional practices. This chapter will focus on varying medieval and Renaissance views concerning religious art. Particular ideas held by theologians of the period will be cited and the notion of using tangible, concrete objects and images to convey spiritual, abstract concepts and beliefs will be discussed. Throughout this section, the forms and functions of certain types of religious works of art will also be addressed to provide a framework for the discussion of art and the devotional process, presented in the chapter that follows. Though some individual theologians as well as entire religious groups discouraged the use of physically and sometimes even mentally visible images for devotional aids, many of these same advocates for imageless devotion, did, however, allow that pictures could be useful and even beneficial for people who were not overly advanced spiritually. The Church essentially held this same position concerning sacred images. 1 Devotional works of art were therefore often tolerated as being something of a “necessary evil” for much of the laity, even by thinkers and organizations that were 1 David Freedberg, The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989), pp. 162-167. 26


27 generally opposed to such images. This concession was sometimes made with the idea, as Kempis suggests, that one should make use of images only as temporary vehicles for meditation, to be replaced with an imageless devotion as spiritual maturity progressed. 2 Medieval and Renaissance thinkers had, thus, a variety of opinions concerning the use and propriety of religious art. Even theologians who were opposed to images allowed some leeway for the use of pictures in both private devotions and church interiors. Other religious writers, on the other hand, openly favored the idea of sacred imagery, and saw numerous benefits in having a visual focus for people’s prayers and meditations. Regardless of the specific views of medieval and Renaissance theologians concerning such Christian works of art, individuals and organizations (lay and ecclesiastical) continued to commission and purchase panel paintings, religious tokens, and illuminated manuscripts in great numbers and for a variety of reasons. In late medieval Europe (as well as in religious practice more generally), religious imagery served many uses and functions. On the most basic level, works of art depicting sacred scenes provided decoration. Such images could also be used for purposes of instruction, reminding viewers of various teachings and the foundations of Church doctrines. Finally, on a deeper level, religious images—particularly those in less public venues—could be used as aids to meditation. 3 Art historian David Freedberg, author of The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response (1989), notes that it was through representations of events in the life of Christ or the saints that medieval and Early Renaissance people were able to focus more directly on the exemplary individuals, 2 Kempis, Imitation of Christ, p. 2. 3 David Freedberg, The Power of Images, p. 164.


28 and by actually seeing renditions of holy figures’ faces and actions, the devout could attain a level of “empathetic meditation”—in which people could share in the joys and sorrows of the figures depicted. 4 Physical, visible images helped people maintain their focus during their devotions. As Freedberg puts it, “the natural inclination of the mind to wander is kept in check,” by an ever-present picture. 5 Praying or meditating before an image of Christ’s face, for instance, would remind worshipers of Jesus’ physical and spiritual presence in the world. Artistic developments of the Renaissance helped to create a particularly effective sort of image for religious purposes. Greater attention to the appearance of the natural, visible world enhanced the sacred image’s sense of reality. This interest in naturalism and the suggestion of a depicted figure’s physical presence was not exclusive to religious art, however, but was also used in secular works. Portraits of individuals from the rising middle class, for example, became quite popular during the Renaissance. Many of the artistic techniques painters used in secular images of this kind were used to achieve similar results in religious pieces. 6 A brief examination of secular portraits will be useful in establishing a general context for the appearance of sacred images as well as the manner in which late medieval and Renaissance Christians conceived of such works. Directional gazes and the suggestion of movement in paintings enabled artists to invest depicted individuals with a sense of life and volition. 7 Figures that appear to look 4 Ibid. 5 Ibid., p.162. 6 A more in-depth discussion of methods of engaging the viewer appears in Chapter 3. 7 Verbal components were also sometimes used to establish a personal connection with the viewer. These so-called speaking portraits generally contain inscriptions (often found on the edges of the original frames) that appear to be first-person, self-referential statements coming directly from the sitters, imparting


29 out of the picture plane and return the viewer’s gaze establish a certain connection with the spectator. Both figures in Jan van Eyck’s portraits Man with a Red Turban (1433) and Margaretha van Eyck (1439), for example, have an outward glance, which seems to settle on the viewer (figs. 1, 2). In both images, the sitters have fixed gazes that appear to meet the observer’s eyes with a rather knowing, unyielding air. The figures seem to be aware of the presence of spectators. Sven Sandstrm, in his book Levels of Unreality (1963), suggests that the Man with a Red Turban “is perhaps the first time that the subject of a portrait looks the observer full in the face.” 8 Though portraits from this period are often less than warm and inviting, there is a definite sense of engagement with the viewer. The implication that the sitter is actually capable of sight accentuates the concept of there being some sort of interaction between the painted figure and the viewer. Gestures and the suggestion of movement, similarly, convey a sense of the sitter’s connection to something or someone beyond the confines of the picture plane. Three portraits by Quentin Massys, for example, capture a momentary glance and action in the persons depicted. Massys’ portrait of a Man (fig. 3) as well as his painting of a Lady (fig. 4), both done in the 1510s, were likely designed to be displayed together and were possibly even joined on the same panel originally, though they are now separated. 9 Both personal information about themselves and frequently mentioning the painter as well. Jan van Eyck’s portrait of his wife Margaretha, for instance, bears the Latin words for “My spouse Jan finished me on 17 June 1439. My age was thirty three years” (van Eyck’s motto “As I can” also appears on the frame). The viewer seems to receive a sort of quiet proclamation that comes from the sitter and not from a detached narrator. With such verbal devices, artists managed to lend an almost auditory quality to the words. The depicted individual is given a sense of being a real, living, breathing, speaking human. Lorne Campbell, Renaissance Portraits: European Portrait-Painting in the 14 th , 15 th , and 16 th Centuries (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1990), p. 58. 8 Sven Sandstrm, Levels of Unreality: Studies in Structure and Construction in Italian Mural Painting During the Renaissance (Uppsala: Almqvist and Wiksells Boktryckeri Ab, 1963), p. 62. 9 Campbell, Renaissance Portraits, p. 34.


30 sitters appear to have been distracted by something during their private devotions—the man holds prayer beads and the woman has a prayer book in her hands. They do not appear to be formally posed, set apart from the everyday activities of the viewer’s surroundings, as one might expect in a portrait. Rather, the figures appear to be actual people whose attention is engaged by something outside of the picture. The woman’s concentration seems to have been broken by some concrete, physical stimulus, while the man’s expression and unfocused gaze suggests that he may be meditating or even visualizing something spiritual—presumably as a result of his devotional activities. 10 In a manner similar to Massys’ Lady, his Man with Glasses (fig. 5), painted in about 1515, looks as though he has been interrupted while reading. His hand is raised and he glances off to the left side of the painting, as if in response to the distraction. Hans Memling’s painting, Christ Giving His Blessing, provides a good example of a devotional image that exhibits some of the developing artistic practices of the Renaissance. The “portrait” of Christ captures the viewer’s attention in an immediate and personal manner (fig. 6). The frontal figure appears to look directly out of the picture plane, in a rather traditional form—reminiscent of Byzantine and Gothic icons. This particular version, however, engages the viewer in a more intimate way than many earlier renditions. Memling’s use of naturalism and detail (like the paintings by van Eyck and Massys discussed above) imbues the figure with a definite sense of life and presence. Christ appears to be “in the flesh,” addressing the individual viewer with a gesture of blessing and a somber and compassionate expression. In this painting, Memling presents 10 The gazes of the figures in Massys’ paintings Man and Lady may have been influenced by those of the donors in van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece (one of whom appears to be staring at a devotional object, while the other gazes off into space as if deep in imageless contemplation).


31 the viewer with a very human portrayal of Christ. The image appeals to the observer on a personal level. Jesus appears before the viewer in his earthly, physical form; he is not intimidating or distant, but rather ever approachable and available for the pious individual. As a focus for private devotional activities, such an image of the Savior would help inspire and maintain a person’s spiritual concentration. Sandstrm addresses this same sort of idea. In discussing the ability of art to depict unseen things, he writes: Depiction of an everyday motif is more easily credible than depiction of the supernatural. It is, however, in the nature of the aesthetic fiction that the observer adopts right from the beginning a liberal attitude in this respect, since one of his requirements is that the painting shall make visible for him things that he cannot himself give form to. 11 According to Sandstrm, images with realistic qualities lend more “credibility” to the thing or idea they represent; therefore, images that lack, what he terms, an “objective reality” do not convey concepts to viewers as effectively. 12 By giving a fairly realistic visible form to something abstract or intangible, people would have a familiar and vivid image as an aid to worship. As was seen in Memling’s painting, Christ appears very human; he seems to actually occupy space, while personally engaging the viewer through the direction of his gaze and the gesture of his hand. The artistic developments just discussed dovetailed effectively with medieval understandings of the way religious art was supposed to “work” in the spiritual life of the believer. At first glance, it might seem odd that increasingly lifelike images worked in conjunction with an emphasis on imageless devotion. As medieval Christians understood 11 Sandstrm, Levels of Unreality, p. 19. 12 Ibid., p. 18, 62-63.


32 matters, after all, the goal of image-based meditation was to ascend beyond the physical stuff of nature to a spiritual level, attaining a communion with the divine realm. This ascent, however, was accomplished using the familiar and the mundane as an avenue of approach. 13 Thus, the use of naturalistic artwork as an avenue for approaching the divine could be quite appropriate. According to the thinking of the time, another variation on the concept of using pictures as devotional aids relied not on the presence of actual, tangible objects, but on the remembered appearance of such “things.” 14 Mental images of pictures once seen and stored in one’s memory could be recalled at any time and used to assist the individual in his or her devotions. Again, although it might seem paradoxical at first, this stress on memory and the absence of devotional objects actually reinforced the importance of lifelike images. Artistic representations of sacred personages and events were highly valued, since they might be internalized by the viewer as useful aids for a later time. Further enhancing this idea of the physical and mental sacred image, a number of theologians and devotional writers conceived of painting as a metaphor for images conjured up in the mind. 15 Furthermore, it was through the sense of sight that religious experiences were most commonly recounted, and detailed descriptions of visions provided vivid material for the medieval Christian’s imagination. 16 The idea was that people could envision events or holy portraits in a manner similar to an artist’s approach to his or her subject. As Freedberg writes, “the meditator imitates [that is, 13 Freedberg, The Power of Images, p.162. 14 Ibid. 15 Ibid. 16 Georgia Frank, “The Pilgrim’s Gaze in the Age Before Icons,” in Robert S. Nelson, ed., Visuality Before and Beyond the Renaissance: Seeing as Others Saw (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 98.


33 imagines or portrays] Christ (for example) just as the painter does his model.” 17 In a similar vein, art historian Sixten Ringbom, mentions a theory that had persisted throughout the Middle Ages in which a person’s “soul” was likened to “a house where the mental images are painted on the walls.” 18 As such medieval notions of vision attest, the ability to see something, physically or mentally, was highly valued and often used as a way of gaining a closer connection to the spiritual realm. Though the worth and appropriateness of religious images varied in the opinions of medieval theologians and clerics, spiritual experiences and ideals were often most effectively and explicitly communicated (verbally or pictorially) through the vocabulary of vision or sight. 19 Therefore, despite a general consensus that imageless devotion was preferable, many religious leaders believed works of art to be very beneficial visual aids for worship. A number of medieval thinkers, some more cautiously than others, even became champions of the use of religious art. St. Bernard (1090-1153), for example, felt that images should be used by individuals who were not spiritually advanced enough to attain a purer form of meditation, wholly independent from images, be they physical, mental, or otherwise. 20 St. Augustine’s theories on sight were very influential for the way medieval people conceived of prayer and meditation. 21 Sight, according to St. Augustine, could be divided 17 Freedberg, The Power of Images, p. 162. 18 Sixten Ringbom, Icon to Narrative: The Rise in the Dramatic Close-up in Fifteenth-Century Devotional Painting, 2 nd edition (Doornspijk, The Netherlands: Davaco Publishers, 1984), p. 16. 19 Frank, “The Pilgrim’s Gaze,” p. 108. 20 Ibid. 21 Ringbom, Icon to Narrative, p. 15.Ibid.


34 into three categories. The first and basest level, corporeal, involves the anatomical ability to see using the eyes. The next category, spiritual sight, perceives images conjured up in the mind, based on remembered objects or imagined pictures of written accounts. The third stratum, intellectual vision, is the most advanced and desirable mode of sight. It reveals abstract theological concepts, such as “Virtue” and “the Trinity,” as Ringbom notes in his discussion of the Augustinian view of intellectual sight. 22 Augustine’s three-part model suggested that a worshiper might ascend through the different levels, and that each stage was important to the ultimate goal of intellectual vision. According to Freedberg, the debate over the appropriate role and use of religious artwork “had crystallized” by the 1250s. 23 St. Thomas Aquinas found three primary reasons for the use of images: instruction of the illiterate, reinforcement of Christian teachings for all believers, and thirdly, moving the individual to an emotional attitude of devotion; this final point was based on St. Augustine’s belief that visual reminders are more powerful and affecting than the spoken (or written) word. 24 St. Bonaventura also followed Augustine’s model quite closely, though he expressed his view of human deficiencies, which, due to a propensity for distraction in the average person, warranted the use of pictures in devotional activities. 25 Freedberg includes a brief list of Bonaventura’s criticisms against most of humanity, writing that people are far too prone to “ignorance . . . , sluggishness of . . . emotions, and . . . lability of memory.” 26 In 22 Ibid. 23 Freedberg, The Power of Images, p. 162. 24 Ibid. 25 Ibid., p. 163. 26 Ibid.


35 Freedberg’s view, Bonaventura’s special emphasis was on the decoration of church buildings with images for the purposes of instructing and inspiring congregations of people too mired in the mundane to gain any glimpse of a spiritual vision, without the assistance of physical objects and depictions. 27 Despite the aforementioned debates over the appropriateness of images in devotional activities, particularly private practices, there was a long-standing tradition, dating back to the Early Christian period, of using physical things to convey those of the spirit, and people would have been accustomed to such associations. 28 Church buildings and their decorations, for example, were carefully designed to contribute to a spiritually inspiring environment. The atmosphere created inside a church during the Mass helped “transport” the congregation to a heavenly realm through various means. Candles and filtered daylight through colored glass or alabaster illuminated the interior of the building, filling the space with a soft unearthly glow. Burned incense also produced a subtle, otherworldly quality through its sweet fragrance. The use of ringing bells, songs, and chants, likewise elevated the churchgoer to a higher plane. Elaborate and distinctive clerical garb also contributed to the feeling that something important and above the activities of the mundane was taking place. All of these elements, through an appeal to the individual’s senses, enhanced the sacred aspect of the Mass and the experience of entering the church building itself. By using physical, tangible, palpable means, the unseen spiritual realm might be suggested. The Christian could, in a way, “feel” and “experience” a bit of the divine. Images used in church adornments, furthermore, 27 Ibid. 28 Frank, “The Pilgrim’s Gaze,” p. 98.


36 confronted churchgoers with vivid representations of Christ’s majesty as he appeared enthroned in Heaven, enduring the pain of the Cross, and acting as Judge over creation at the Second Coming. Throughout a person’s time spent in and around the church, he or she would be constantly presented with reminders of God’s greatness, power, and might. Images could achieve in a more direct manner what other features associated with sacred spaces were able to suggest in a rather general manner. 29 One of the most popular forms artists used for religious imagery was that of the triptych. In her book Early Netherlandish Triptychs, Shirley Neilsen Blum investigates the topic of patronage and religious art in its original context. 30 Before delving into her study of select works and the details of their commission, however, Blum provides a very useful analysis of the triptych in general. Considering its form and function, Blum discusses the particular popularity of the triptych in 15 th -century northern Europe. Blum asserts that northern painters found the multi-paneled form of the triptych a valuable way to capture and convey “theological concepts,” unified “by analogical thought units rather than by visual logic.” 31 In this way, Blum draws a parallel between the basic design and 29 One of the most famous proponents of the use of sumptuous physical materials for the creation of religious objects and church interiors was Abbot Suger (ca. 1081-1151). Known as the individual responsible for beginning the Gothic style of architecture and sculpture in France, at St. Denis, Suger believed in the ability of beautiful materials to inspire spiritual awe and reverence in the heart of the worshiper. By appealing to viewers’ physical senses, glorious earthly substances elevated beholders to a contemplation of the greater splendors of the heavenly realm. Suger’s idea was based upon the concept that in seeing resplendent tangible objects, the preciousness of the sacred subjects they represented would be emphasized. In this way, the physical could actually be transcended, providing worshipers with a means of attaining a spiritual experience. Erwin Panofsky, Meaning in the Visual Arts (Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1955), pp. 122-124. 30 Shirley Neilsen Blum, Early Netherlandish Triptychs: A Study in Patronage (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969). 31 Ibid., p.5.


37 function of the triptych form and the manner in which medieval churches communicated Christian beliefs through their architecture as well as their pictorial decorations; she asserts that neither one can be fully experienced from a single glance or position. 32 Blum suggests that both church buildings and triptychs (the latter due to their ability to be opened and closed with images painted on both sides) require a physical as well as an intellectual movement through their structures. 33 Both forms essentially become part of the individual’s unfolding religious experience. Blum’s assessment on this point is especially pertinent to the topic of this thesis. She writes: The triptych form . . . re-created certain experiences that had previously been found in medieval architecture. The spectator sees both an exterior and an interior setting. . . . When he passes from the exterior to the interior, just as when he passes through a portal, the content and form of the exterior can be retained only in his memory, for a new visual realm is disclosed. As this new realm appears, the spectator is asked to make a careful, step-by-step progression through it. . . . Rather than being immediately apparent, the iconography unfolds slowly. The spectator must move through the central panel and then through the two wings. As in a medieval church, the total thought realm is not revealed until all the parts have been experienced. Only in the mental synthesis of the interior and exterior is the full content comprehended. 34 Blum credits the appeal of this form of painting to a primarily medieval mindset in the North during the 15 th century. She sees the sectional quality of the triptych (especially those with moveable wings) as being both structurally and visually well-suited to Northern religious sensibilities. Being made up of more than one part, the triptych is, for example, to use Blum’s terms, “essentially additive and hierarchical,” unified by over-arching concepts rather than strictly realistic visual means. 35 Exterior 32 Ibid. 33 Ibid. 34 Ibid., p. 4. 35 Ibid., p. 5.


38 paintings frequently feature elements that imitate sculptural works; these are largely monochromatic (grisaille) and figures appear fixed to a simulated base. On the interior, however, figures and their surroundings are rendered in full color and seem quite lifelike; the depicted individuals often show great emotion and engage the viewer in a more intimate and sympathetic manner than those shown on the outsides of the wings. 36 A sense of revelation is suggested by the gradual experience of the entire triptych that is the “mental synthesis of the interior and exterior,” as Blum states. 37 In such works, the cold-looking “stone” figures on the outside provide a visual and symbolic lead-in for the depiction of warmth and life encountered on the inside. On a similar note, Blum asserts that in keeping with a medieval outlook, 15 thcentury Northern artists were not compelled to create accurate representations of time and space; instead, such painters concentrated on symbolic representations of their subjects, conceiving of temporal and spatial details in terms of “eternity” and “infinity.” 38 Blum does not suggest, however, that early Netherlandish artists were still painting in a generally “medieval” style. Rather, though the spatial relationships are not technically “accurate” in most Northern works from this period, the appearance of individual objects and figures reveal careful observation of their actual visible forms, “a new correctness,” as Blum puts it. 39 By rendering people 36 Not all altarpieces served the same exact function. Some works conveyed doctrinal beliefs advanced by the Church, others focused mainly on the representation of a narrative, while still others attempted to capture a sense of an unfolding religious revelation. This is not to say that these are the only categories altarpieces can be classified under, nor are these all necessarily exclusive types, but, generally speaking, most works fall into one of these three groupings. Of course, as objects of religious art, such images would likely suggest different things to different viewers, even if the original intent of the artist or patron had been very specific. 37 Blum, Early Netherlandish Triptychs, p. 4. 38 Ibid., p. 5. 39 Ibid.


39 and things in a naturalistic manner, artists provided viewers with vivid and quite “convincing” images of religious subjects. Sandstrm addresses this same concept; he claims that the more “real” depicted objects appear, the more “credible” they are as stand-ins for the persons and things they represent. 40 Barbara G. Lane also touches on this idea in her book The Altar and the Altarpiece (1984). Citing Lloyd Benjamin’s theories on early Netherlandish art, Lane writes that “the new realistic style [in painting] . . . resulted from the requirements of the Devotio Moderna, . . . which . . . [put a] strong emphasis on devout meditation [and] encouraged intimacy in the portrayal of sacred subjects.” 41 According to Lane’s reading of Benjamin, “the enhancement of the worshiper’s devotional experience must have been one of the aims of the new realistic settings that appear in the works of this period.” 42 With regard to the popularity of the triptych in the North during the 15 th century, Blum suggests that it resulted from the newly evolving, independent role of the painted image. 43 Though the triptych form was used prior to the 15 th century, it did not become a highly favored structure until the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. 44 Before this era, Blum notes, paintings were frequently attached to texts; such images appeared in illuminated manuscripts and generally relied on the accompanying passage to convey 40 Sandstrm, Levels of Unreality, p. 19. 41 Barbara G. Lane, The Altar and the Altarpiece: Sacramental Themes in Early Netherlandish Painting (New York: Harper and Row, 1984), p. 9. 42 Ibid. 43 Blum, Early Netherlandish Triptychs, p. 3. 44 Anne Hagopian van Buren, “Thoughts, Old and New, On the Sources of Early Netherlandish Painting,” Simiolus 16 (1986): 93-112. In her article, van Buren presents evidence for the existence of triptychs before 1420.


40 some of the pictures’ meaning. 45 Religious art in other contexts, Blum asserts, often took the form of architecture or sculpture. 46 She notes, however, that in the 15 th century artists were exploring the use of the strictly “visual field of representation” to communicate religious ideas. 47 The triptych offered a convenient solution to some of the difficulties encountered by painters, who had been accustomed to art in other forms; Blum writes that artists “did not have to face immediately the prospect of condensing a total thought onto a single panel. The tryptych [sic] offered [them] a series of units on which” to work. 48 Blum essentially describes the triptych as a complex, multileveled piece of religious art that had to be properly contemplated in order to yield the most fulfilling spiritual experience. Her analysis of this form of religious imagery emphasizes the notion of art’s role in the private devotional process. Blum’s assertions reinforce the idea that Christian art in general, and triptychs more particularly, were most effective when individuals were prepared to personally engage with the works and concepts physically, mentally, and spiritually, following a progression of devotional stages in order to attain the purest and most intense experience of the divine realm. For many Christian laypersons, who supported and adopted the ideals and practices of devotionalism in general, religious images were valued as far more than mere 45 Ibid. 46 Ibid. 47 Ibid. 48 Ibid. Blum notes that the triptych remained popular in the North throughout the 15 th century, though interest began to wane at the end of the 15 th and beginning of the 16 th centuries. Like Italian painters a century earlier, Northern artists who were exploring very naturalistic spatial constructions found it unwieldy and eventually opted for the single panel. (p. 5)


41 decoration. In the private home, a small religious panel painting might have been placed on the ledge of a prayer bench. Devotional images were often used as an avenue to the divine realm. 49 As part of devotional processes, religious pictures might even take on a living quality of their own. In a public setting, images were similarly imbued with a strong sense of an unfolding event—something happening “right in front” of the viewer. In the public ecclesiastical context, the altarpiece, before which the Mass would be celebrated, might become an impressive teaching tool. The believer would have a vivid pictorial representation of an event specifically connected to the Eucharist. Images of the birth of Christ, the Crucifixion, or the Deposition, for example, could be used to heighten the impact of Christ’s sacrifice. Depictions of such events all basically serve the same Eucharistic function, albeit often with different emphases. The Nativity, for instance, generally focuses on Christ’s entry into the world as a perfect, sinless being. The fact that he is often shown in a manger—a feeding trough in essence—further emphasizes his presence during the Eucharist as the “Bread of Life.” 50 Alfred Acres notes that as early as the 4 th century, “the Incarnation” came to be associated “with the offering of the bread.” 51 Acres goes on to note that in the later Middle Ages, another moment in Christ’s infancy took on special Eucharistic significance, as artists began to emphasize connections between the theme of the Adoration of the Magi and the celebration of the 49 At the very least, sacred images in this form would have served as pictorial reminders of one’s religious affiliation. 50 Lane, The Altar and the Altarpiece, pp. 53, 57. Lane also discusses connections between the manger and the altar, both in form and symbolic function. See p. 57. 51 Alfred Acres, “The Columba Altarpiece and the Time of the World,” Art Bulletin 80 (September 1998): p. 425.


42 Mass. 52 The Crucifixion has obvious connections to the Eucharistic elements. A number of images were designed to appear as though Christ’s sacrificial blood actually runs down from his wounds and into the chalice on the altar. 53 Lane, who has produced an extensive study of the connection between the appearance of altarpieces and Christian sacraments (1984), has described the principal function of altarpieces as the reflecting of “the rituals performed at the altars they adorned.” 54 She does not discount other interpretations of such works, but she hopes to emphasize the “sacramental meaning” of the sacred paintings. 55 Lane goes on to say that, “as altarpieces, these radiant paintings . . . related to the rituals celebrated in their liturgical settings.” 56 The doctrine of Transubstantiation is illustrated, in a sense, for the viewer. Lane suggests that the images supply to the faithful the assistance needed to visualize the transformation of the Host, since “the consecrated Host is still a wafer of bread.” 57 If, however, individuals were presented with a vivid pictorial reminder “in which Christ’s sacrifice was more explicit . . . [people] would not have to strain to see it in . . . [their] imagination[s].” 58 Martin Kemp, who has also carefully researched the 52 Ibid. 53 Lane, The Altar and the Altarpiece, pp. 84, 85. 54 Lane, “Sacred Versus Profane in Early Netherlandish Painting,” Simiolus 18(1988): p.114. 55 Ibid. Some other interpretations of altarpieces include Craig Harbison’s suggestion that pious individuals were beginning (especially in the 15 th century) to embark on pilgrimages through mental exercises. Based on his research, Harbison concludes that a “painting over the altar might very well be meant to stimulate the viewer to enact a mental pilgrimage or remember the results of a real one.” (Craig Harbison, “The Northern Altarpiece as a Cultural Document,” in Peter Humfrey and Martin Kemp, eds., The Altarpiece in the Renaissance (Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 70-71.) 56 Lane, The Altar and the Altarpiece, p. 115. 57 Ibid., p. 79. 58 Ibid.


43 form and function of altarpieces (1990), supports such Eucharistic readings. Based upon his study of images that depict altars in use, Kemp maintains that altarpieces were very closely connected with the celebration of the Mass, and, though such images were not essential to the celebration of the Eucharist, altarpieces were highly valued and very beneficial as visual expressions of the events relived through the Mass. 59 For the medieval and Renaissance Christian, altarpieces were intended to provide both a means of religious instruction and a vehicle for meditation; Ringbom dubs these two main categories the “didactic” and the “theological.” 60 Kemp, on the other hand, has identified three primary functions, which basically reiterate the views of St. Augustine: first, teaching, second, reminding Christians of Christ’s incarnation and the lives of saints, and finally serving as a way of inspiring expressions of devotion in viewers. 61 These notions are, of course, fairly well known and widely accepted; images painted on altarpieces frequently convey a sacred narrative drawn from the Bible, from apocryphal supplementary texts, or perhaps from various accounts of saints’ lives. The stories were generally represented and replicated using certain pictorial elements common to each depiction that would trigger an immediate recognition in the viewer. Narrative content and its mode of representation were apt to vary, however, according to particular needs or interests of the artist or patron. Adjustments might be influenced by personal tastes, local traditions concerning, for example, a particular miraculous occurrence, or some sort of 59 Martin Kemp, “Introduction: The Altarpiece in the Renaissance: A Taxonomic Approach,” in Peter Humfrey and Martin Kemp, eds., The Altarpiece in the Renaissance, pp. 11, 12. 60 Ringbom, Icon to Narrative, pp. 11 and 12. 61 Kemp, “Introduction,” p. 7.


44 significant historical event. 62 Lane contends that Netherlandish pieces “portray timeless theological truths in terms of the worshiper’s own everyday experience.” 63 She goes on to clarify that some paintings appear to have been painted for personal devotional activities, separate from the rituals of the Church. 64 In support of her theory concerning both public and private commissions, Lane attributes the great number of such works to an “anxiety for salvation” present during the late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance. 65 In keeping with this assertion concerning the afterlife, Lane suggests that wealthy patrons may have donated altarpieces with the hope of aiding in their salvation. 66 Religious art, in a public or private setting, was generally considered to be an asset. Images were able to connect with viewers in ways that were more immediate and direct than other sensory aids or even written works could achieve; through them various Christian messages could be communicated in a manner that would seem more personal and intimate. Depending on the location, depictions of sacred subjects could heighten the spiritual significance of official church rituals or private devotions in the home. Art of this kind often appealed to the viewer’s capacity to empathize with the figures in the paintings, which allowed worshipers to become emotionally involved and provided the pious with a means of “participating” in the otherwise somewhat distant Biblical events 62 Lane, The Altar and the Altarpiece, p. 8. Particular causes for variations in the appearance of altarpieces are often difficult to ascertain. Their original locations are, likewise, frequently unknown. Despite the lack of such details, Lane contends that one point is fairly certain: many such religious works could have served as altarpieces in large churches or in small, secluded chapels (essentially, anywhere the Mass might be celebrated). 63 Ibid. 64 Ibid. 65 Lane, “Sacred Versus Profane,” p. 115. 66 Ibid.


45 and Christian concepts. This idea of viewer involvement and response to sacred imagery will be addressed further in the next chapter.


CHAPTER 4 RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE AND THE DEVOTIONAL PROCESS With a general historical, theological, and artistic context now established, the functional role of medieval and Renaissance art as part of a devotional process will be discussed. This chapter considers the use of religious art in different stages of the devotional process, broken down into three main sections: approach, experience of the sacred, and departure. 1 There are many examples of religious significance being attached to something physical and tangible. Some of the most obvious instances may be found in the practices associated with the sacrament of Holy Communion, where Christ is believed to be both bodily and spiritually present in the actual physical elements of the bread and wine. Similarly, the veneration of relics and specific key sites associated with holy persons suggests a direct connection between the concrete, natural world and the abstract realm of the divine. A number of prayers and devotional activities for gaining indulgences—the lessening of one’s own time in purgatory or that of deceased relatives—were also developed in the Medieval period and often relied heavily on sacred imagery to provide a physical focus for the petitioner’s pious supplications. Approach The present section will focus exclusively on the first stage of the devotional process, the idea of approach. The individual’s actual physical, mental, and spiritual 1 It should be noted that, though this thesis is particularly concerned with the idea of the devotional process as a means of attaining a rich religious experience, this is only one way of considering encounters of the sacred. Obviously, visions and revelations are not restricted to a specific method or form and could come upon an individual through no conscious effort of his or her own (in, for example, a sudden, miraculous event or even a dream). 46


47 approach to religious subjects and rituals will be discussed throughout this section, with examples drawn from various requisite preparations that Christians were expected to make prior to their participation in certain devotional activities. Generally speaking, at the heart of a person’s approach to sacred activity, there seems to be some sort of need. People sought divine aid for all sorts of dilemmas and concerns, both general and specific. On this subject, Swanson writes that “devotional acts to demonstrate piety and seek help from God. . . . were routine but purposeful. They aimed to secure God’s favour on earth and achieve communion with Him here and in the hereafter.” 2 With regard to many religious teachings and practices of the times, the sense of spiritual needs was essentially “built in.” Among the more weighty anxieties felt by medieval Christians was the belief that, as human beings, they were automatically mired in sin; their own mortality (as well as that of their relatives and friends) was an ever-present worry, and their assurance of salvation had to be continually reinforced. 3 Some people, no doubt, viewed devotional activities as an obligation or just part of their regular routine, but it seems that regardless of the intensity of the person’s motivation, the hoped-for goal would largely be the same. The desired result of such experiences was often a sense of spiritual reassurance as well as, for many pious individuals, an intimate and personal religious encounter. 4 In order to attain the most fulfilling experience of the sacred, the person’s approach must be pure and sincere. One’s frame of mind and spiritual state should be properly prepared and even the body should be appropriately 2 Swanson, Religion and Devotion, p. 136. 3 Ibid., pp. 24, 62, 136, 217. 4 Ibid., p. 136.


48 arrayed and, at times, certain postures assumed. Preparatory prayers and actions to be recited at specific times of the Mass or in private worship were frequently included in prayer books and devotional works of varying kinds; sermons also often provided instruction on how to approach and mentally conceive of the spiritual realm. The concept of approach will first be addressed in terms of preparatory rituals specific to official ecclesiastical practices. Believers were, for example, expected to purify themselves through the act of confession before receiving the bread and wine of the Eucharist. According to Josef A. Jungmann, a prolific scholar of theology and Church history, the Eucharist involves more than “just a . . . ritual to be performed outwardly.” For the concept of Christ’s sacrifice to be properly communicated, the ceremony “must be pure, that is, performed interiorly at the same time.” 5 This interior sacrifice could be satisfied through the “purifying act of confession at the beginning” of the ceremony. 6 The 4 th Lateran Council of 1215, under Innocent III, made confession mandatory for all Christians, requiring that one must confess before a priest at least once a year. 7 Historian Jonathan Sumption describes confession as being “the most personal act of piety which the ordinary man performed.” 8 The order of the celebration of the Mass was designed to have a progress of actions, before the actual distribution of the elements took place. Gregory Dix, in his 5 Josef A. Jungmann, The Mass: an Historical, Theological, and Pastoral Survey, Julian Fernandes, trans., Mary Ellen Evans, ed., (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1976), p. 22. 6 Ibid. Jungmann also points out some of the ancient sources for such ideas from, as one might expect, traditional Jewish practices, pp. 23-24. 7 Jonathan Sumption, Pilgrimage: An Image of Mediaeval Religion (Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield), 1976, p. 12. 8 Ibid.


49 book The Shape of the Liturgy, describes the Eucharistic ceremony as having four main parts, which involve: the bringing of the elements to the altar, the offering of thanks, the breaking of the bread, and finally the actual “Communion” and consumption of the elements. 9 This quadripartite system quickly developed in the first couple of centuries of the Early Christian period and has persisted even into the present day. 10 The idea of a process with specific steps and rituals to be enacted at appropriate moments in the service helped to put participants in the proper mindset; by seeing the events unfolding throughout the service, the moment of Communion could be anticipated by observers. 11 Another method of enhancing the sense of spiritual progression and gradual revelation of the sacred may be found in the practice of concealing the altar in a church during the Mass, when the actual Transubstantiation was taking place. Lane discusses the concept of keeping holy objects veiled to protect them and inspire veneration in the viewer. 12 During the Mass, Lane notes, the curtains in front of the altar would be closed until the climactic “moment of elevation to reveal the transformed Host.” 13 Just as such techniques were used in religious practice to generate enthusiasm in the participants of ecclesiastical rituals, various forms of devotional art employed similar devices and for similar purposes. Experiences of the sacred were attained most fully through a process. 9 Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (London: Dacre Press Adam and Charles Black), 1952, pp. 48-49. 10 Jungmann, The Mass, pp. 20-21. 11 Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, mentions several heretical groups that retained the ritual of the Eucharist, even while changing the significance or, in some cases, the elements themselves. Such evidence reinforces the importance of the process and the sequential building of practices. Dix, pp. 48-49. 12 Lane, Altar and Altarpiece, p. 53. Lane claims that there was a great “prevalence of altar curtains in northern Europe in the late Gothic period.” (p. 76, n. 44.) 13 Ibid.


50 Official Church rituals and objects, then, both answered personal needs and required a thoughtful approach. The same could be said of sacred relics, which became quite popular during the Middle Ages. Relics helped people satisfy their perceived needs and gain a sense of closeness to the divine. Particularly during the Middle Ages, relics were seen as having the power to heal and redeem the faithful in body, mind, and soul. 14 Sumption regards an intense concern for securing one’s salvation as a primary impetus for the medieval Christian’s enthusiasm for pilgrimages and the cult of relics. 15 Historian John Bossy asserts that relics also served to instill a sense of “piet or compassion” in the hearts of the pious, generated by being in the presence of, as Bossy puts it, “a holy refuse of splinters, thorns, shrouds and phials of blood.” 16 Through such objects, people might be able to feel a greater connection to Christ’s experiences during the Passion than could be inspired without the sacred physical objects. Saints were venerated through relics as well. The holy figures were believed to act as intercessors for the faithful, beseeching the Almighty for mercy and absolution on behalf of the contrite sinner. Seeing or coming into contact with the physical remains of saints allowed people access to the Divine. 17 Sumption quotes a 13 th -century priest, Bertold of Regensburg, “‘God is wonderful in his saints.’” 18 Sumption also rephrases the sentiments of a 12 th -century theologian, asserting that “[t]he relics of the saintswere the means whereby the faithful 14 Sumption, Pilgrimage, p. 21. 15 Ibid. 16 Bossy, Christianity in the West, pp. 6-7. 17 Ibid. 18 Sumption, Pilgrimage, p. 21.


51 might resist the power of evil in the world.” 19 According to such beliefs, a glimpse of God is revealed through the saints and the saints’ powers are, likewise, retained and exercised through their bodily remains. This idea was promoted in the medieval concept of the speculum, which taught that saints, like the Scriptures, reflected God’s eternal light to the rest of humanity. 20 The value placed upon painted and sculpted images of saints or Christ himself seems to further this practice of finding divine power in physical matter, be it human beings or just images of holy individuals. Relics were often associated with shrines. Reaching such sites, and the closeness to God that they promised, was accomplished by a very specific means of approach: pilgrimage. As Freedberg states, “the focus of every pilgrimage journey is the shrine.” 21 The pilgrim would essentially seek a personal experience from a sacred image or space (usually clearly marked with a shrine of some sort). Pilgrimage was often associated with meeting a direct need. At such holy sites, pilgrims believed they might receive restored health, forgiveness for weighty sins, or spiritual rejuvenation, to name but a few of the hoped-for benefits. 22 People also sometimes approached the shrines to offer thanksgiving for supplications fulfilled. 23 Regardless of what the pilgrim’s specific purpose in making the journey might have been, Freedberg contends that “the element of hope” was “fundamental to every pilgrimage.” 24 Pilgrimages also offered the laity 19 Ibid. 20 Steven F. Kruger, Dreaming in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 138. 21 David Freedberg, The Power of Image, p. 100. 22 Ibid. and Sumption, Pilgrimage, p. 13. 23 Freedberg, The Power of Images, p. 100. 24 Ibid.


52 another opportunity to take religion “into their own hands,” so to speak. 25 Sumption notes that some Christians wanted to “escape” the domination of the parish priest over their spiritual lives. 26 In this sense, the layperson was able to seek a very personal and vivid religious experience through pilgrimage. The first part of a pilgrimage journey essentially represented a long “approach” toward a holy site. Medieval pilgrims, however, also engaged in acts of preparation even before setting out. It was no secret that pilgrimage journeys were often long and strenuous. The routes were quite well traveled but not without dangers and difficulties, especially for the infirm, and the trip was not to be taken lightly. People frequently wrote wills before setting out or made arrangements for their families, should they never return. 27 Certain other preparations were also expected of pilgrims before they set out on their journeys. They were encouraged to unburden themselves—from worldly goods as well as feelings of guilt, by giving away money and requesting forgiveness from anyone they may have wronged. Pilgrims were to make a heartfelt confession of their sins and then ask for the blessing of their trip by the parish priest. 28 The next step before embarking on the journey involved being marked in some way with the sign of the cross, donning the rough tunic and leather waist pouch (designed to hold comestibles and money) of a pilgrim, and taking up the wooden staff associated with the endeavor; by the 25 Sumption, Pilgrimage, p. 13. 26 Ibid. 27 Ibid., pp. 168-169. According to Sumption, one year and a day seems to have been a sort of standard waiting period for the pilgrim to return, after which the person was considered dead, and as a result might lose hold of his or her possessions and even relationships, for example, property would be dispersed and spouses were free to remarry. 28 Ibid., pp. 168-171.


53 mid 13 th century, a hat with a large wide brim and a long scarf attached to the back became customary. 29 According to Sumption, such garb was actually blessed by the Church in a special ceremony (beginning in the 11 th century). 30 Pilgrims’ garments were given symbolic significance, Sumption explains: the pouch referred to humble almsgiving; the staff represented an implement for fending off temptations; it also came to be seen as a third leg, symbolizing the Trinity and God’s power over evil; lastly, the tunic was sometimes said to represent Christ’s humanity. 31 Sumption notes that such symbolic associations were most important during the 14 th and 15 th centuries. 32 Special sermons were also often preached to pilgrims prior to the commencement of their travels. 33 The pilgrim was thus arrayed physically and mentally for the religious journey ahead. Once pilgrims embarked on this journey, they not only made their way toward a specific sacred image or object but they were also accompanied by images along the way. Freedberg, for instance, writes that “at every stage in this complex process of the manifestation of hope, desire, and gratitude, it is the image that is central, that is regarded as effective and treated as if it were perpetually and transcendently capable of remaining so.” 34 While traveling to the main object of veneration, pilgrims would have passed a number of small shrines and religious images, which would help to inspire them and spur 29 Ibid., pp. 171-172. 30 Ibid., p. 172. 31 Ibid., p. 173. 32 Ibid. 33 Ibid. 34 Freedberg, The Power of Images, p. 100.


54 them on to their ultimate goal (both earthly and spiritual). These shrines and images also provided a place for prayers of need or thanksgiving. As has been mentioned, the pilgrims’ approach to a specific sacred site—the culmination of their entire journey, involved much more than simply arriving at the main shrine. Numerous visual reminders of what they would see and experience at the end of their trip marked the way. 35 Continual reinforcement of the goal and the need for the goal was punctuated by the small shrines and votive images during the person’s actual physical movement toward the sought-after relics. In addition to venerating and contemplating the small pictorial reminders, pilgrims also expressed their piety and the intensity of their devotion through the manner of their approach. Particularly when nearing the main relic or holy site, pilgrims would sometimes assume various bodily attitudes of devotion. 36 Some people came forward crawling, others might shed their material garments and approach the shrine completely unclothed. 37 As the examples throughout this section have shown, medieval and Renaissance Christians took quite a lot of time and care in readying themselves for various kinds of spiritual encounters. Without the proper approach, one could not hope to experience the desired sense of the Divine (in whatever form it might be manifest). Whether visiting sacred places, participating in church rituals, or practicing private devotional activities, the pious were expected to take their actions seriously and be prepared in body, mind, and soul for the fulfillment of their “spiritual journeys.” Art helped the devout stay 35 Ibid. 36 Ibid., p. 103. 37 Ibid.


55 focused during their approach, providing visible, tangible images of what they sought in the abstract, spiritual realm. Images for this purpose were often designed to capture viewers’ attention quickly through their visual and emotional appeal. The next section examines the function of the image in the second stage of the devotional process—the climactic experience—and ideas surrounding the attainment of this goal. Experience of the Sacred This section will focus on the second stage of the devotional process—the individual’s actual experience of the sacred. This climactic moment for the medieval and Renaissance Christian could not come about without the proper physical, mental, and spiritual preparations, which were discussed in the preceding section on the approach. Art and literature served as important devotional aids for the pious, providing a vehicle for intense religious experiences. Such works articulated a personal address, which in turn, called for a personal response from the individual. In helping to engender such reactions from the faithful, religious images could not only function as devotional springboards for fully developed visions, but could also offer “substitutes” for sacred visions, particularly for the less spiritually gifted layperson. This section will expand on the way religious images inspired such reactions, by looking at certain artistic techniques, both symbolic and technical, that helped establish a personal connection with the viewer. One’s experience while actually in front of a religious work has been the subject of various, fairly recent academic studies. A number of art scholars—including, notably, Hamburger, Reindert L. Falkenburg, James Snyder, Hans Belting, Marrow, and Ringbom have addressed the apparent relationship between art and both devotional writings and practices. Though each author approaches the subject in a slightly different way, they all


56 stress the concept of experience—that is, the role the work of art serves in the viewer’s overall active and meditative devotional process. Hamburger assesses the rise of devotional art as a “transformation of attitudes;” he writes, “Rather than a concession to a debased form of religiosity, late medieval devotional imagery should be seen as a response to a new set of religious aspirations in which the image plays a central role.” 38 According to Hamburger, the devout, both within and outside of the cloister, made use of sacred imagery during spiritual exercises. 39 In the last decade, art historian Reindert L. Falkenburg conducted a study of Flemish devotional paintings and their connection to practices and theories associated with medieval forms of mysticism. In his book The Fruits of Devotion, Falkenburg investigates the metaphorical connections in religious imagery of the Late Middle Ages—focusing closely on the inclusion of fruits and vegetables as well as flowers and trees in art from the period. 40 Falkenburg draws particular attention to the notions of tasting and consumption that are apparent in numerous religious devotional paintings; he concentrates especially on images of Mary and the infant Christ. Falkenburg cites devotional and Biblical texts that refer to vegetation, as well as to the senses of taste and smell. 41 In support of the idea that worshipers can experience the sacred through their senses, he refers to the medieval outlook on the concept of human beings possessing both 38 Hamburger, The Visual and the Visionary, p. 148. 39 Ibid. 40 Reindert L. Falkenburg, The Fruit of Devotion: Mysticism and the Imagery of Love in Flemish Paintings of the Virgin and Child, 1450-1550, Sammy Herman, trans. (Philidelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1994). 41 Ibid. Falkenburg addresses this topic throughout the entire work, so no specific pages have been cited.


57 a physical and a spiritual consciousness. 42 According to a theory by the 3 rd -century theologian Origen, humans are invested with five spiritual senses, mirroring the five physical senses. Origen suggested that it is through the spiritual senses that people experience things divine—much in the same manner that objects and phenomena in nature are examined, understood, and identified using the physical senses. 43 This concept was accepted widely during the Middle Ages. In the 12 th century, for example, St. Bernard of Clairvaux made use of Origen’s ideas and, according to Falkenburg, Bernard equated communing with God with tasting God. 44 Falkenburg goes on to state that “in the Middle Ages, certain biblical verses mentioning taste, smell, sound, etc. were seen as referring to spiritual sensations.” 45 This concept of human beings having both spiritual and physical modes of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching seems to reinforce the idea that medieval Christians relied on the tangible and the concrete to illustrate, as well as (in a way), access the spiritual and the abstract. In an effort to make a story or concept intellectually accessible and personal, artists employed a number of techniques, including contemporary costuming, directional gazes and gestures, and even “super-real” trompe-l’oeil elements. By presenting viewers with something familiar and recognizable, artists created a sense of immediacy and actual presence, which could attract and keep the worshiper’s attention during his or her devotional activities. In his book, The Image and Its Public in the Middle Ages (English 42 Ibid., p. 18. 43 Ibid. 44 Ibid. 45 Ibid. Falkenburg also mentions a theory held by William of St. Thierry (ca. 1085-1148), who used the sense of taste to describe the loving relationship between God and humans. Fruits of Devotion, p. 19.


58 translation, 1990), Hans Belting notes that during the medieval period, devotional images “became more and more corporeal and communicative, as the individual wished his partner in dialogue to be.” 46 These aspects will first be discussed generally and will then be addressed in reference to specific works throughout this thesis. Artists often rendered religious figures in anachronistic garb. Rather than clothes appropriate to the 1 st century A. D., for example, figures in scenes of the Annunciation, the Nativity, or the Crucifixion appear in garments contemporary with the artist’s time period. Hairstyles, jewelry, architectural settings, and interior furnishings were also rendered in “modern” modes. In a similar manner, some garments were rendered as ecclesiastical robes. Such vestments helped to create a sense of familiarity for 15 th -century viewers as well as emphasize eucharistic connections between the image and the sacrament. 47 Such intentional anachronisms were not, for the most part, due to an extreme ignorance on the part of the artist, but, instead, the result of a desire to provide the audience with a spiritual image containing familiar elements, which viewers might identify with and grasp more readily and fully than a “historically accurate” rendering might permit. Some devotional writings even advocated imagining a sacred scene taking place in familiar surroundings and visualizing one’s acquaintances in the scenes as well. 48 Devotional works (both written and painted) could be “custom-made” in a sense, 46 Hans Belting, The Image and Its Public in the Middle Ages: Form and Function of Early Paintings of the Passion, Mark Bartusis and Raymond Meyer, translators (New Rochelle, New York: Aristide D. Caratzas, Publisher, 1990), p. 58. 47 Lane, Altar and Altarpiece, p. 43. See also p. 43 n. 14 in which Lane identifies M. B. McNamee as being the first art historian to note the use of liturgical vestments for angels in Flemish paintings. 48 Michael Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), p. 46.


59 specially tailored to the patron. Devotional texts and images could be used in more generic ways as well, functioning as “templates” for people’s private religious visions. Directional gazes and gestures also helped achieve a personal connection between the viewer and figures in religious works of art. Many late medieval and Renaissance images contain figures that appear to look out of the space of the picture, meeting the eyes of the viewer. The suggestion of actual eye contact heightens the sense of immediacy and intimacy, as well as lending an impression of the scene’s reality. Gestures, similarly, attract the viewer’s eye and draw attention to specific key features of the painting. The use of the “new correctness” in the 15 th century, which Blum referred to, heightened an image’s sense of reality. 49 In their work, artists employed varying degrees of accuracy to represent the appearance of the physical world. Some of the most detailed and meticulously rendered paintings contain depicted objects that take on a very tactile and three-dimensional quality. Such trompe-l’oeil elements in devotional paintings are quite characteristic of Netherlandish artists. 50 By rendering figures, objects, and textures in an almost “super-real” manner, the scenes being depicted take on a very living and present quality—in this way, the realm of the spirit is represented in terms familiar to the human sphere of understanding. Illusionistically rendered elements, furthermore, attract the viewer’s attention and enhance the credibility of the subject being represented. While a means of conveying the personal religious experience took form in art and literature, views concerning the role of holy figures were evolving as well. Falkenburg 49 Blum, Early Netherlandish Triptychs, p. 5. 50 The use of trompe-l’oeil was not, of course, exclusive to sacred art. Illusionistically rendered objects appear in both religious and secular images from the period.


60 points out, for example, that medieval Christians viewed “their relationship to Christ, Mary, and other saints in terms of family ties, or as one of kith and kin.” 51 Addressing this same concept, Bossy claims that during the late medieval period, the long-held view (dating back to Early Christian times) of saints being fierce and so exalted as to be rather distant and unapproachable for the average mortal was on the decline. 52 Saints were thus seen as family members, holy figures whom one might, in Bossy’s words, “talk to . . . or visit at their shrine[s] as a relative.” 53 This emerging view of the average person’s relationship to sacred individuals helped to emphasize the concept of compassion. The devout could identify with the some of the human sufferings of Christ and the saints, feeling simultaneous senses of awe, gratitude, and sympathy for the experiences of holy individuals. With the increased sense of compassion, a more sentimental view of the saints emerged, that is, in comparison with the predominance of earlier hagiographic traditions that portrayed saints as being rather fearsome figures. 54 Following the teachings of many devotional writings of the late medieval period, devout Christians were encouraged to approach the holy beings in humility and reverence, but also with a familiarity and affection associated with earthly familial bonds. In this way, a personal and almost reciprocal relationship might be established. 55 51 Falkenburg, “The Household of the Soul: Conformity in the Merode Triptych,” in Maryan W. Ainsworth, ed., Early Netherlandish Painting at the Crossroads: A Critical Look at Current Methodologies (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press, 2001), p. 13 52 Bossy, Christianity in the West, p. 12. 53 Ibid. 54 Ibid., pp. 12-13. 55 Ibid.


61 As holy figures became more approachable, new meditative techniques were being developed to help people connect with these beings. Marrow notes the increase in private devotional exercises involving meditation and the practice of imagining oneself in the midst of various sacred scenes, along with Christ or the saints—sometimes using painted or drawn images in the process. Works of art created for this devotional purpose were designed to achieve a particular and very intense sort of response. Marrow writes, “such representations were intended to stimulate emotional or compassionate responses by playing upon the viewer’s empathy.” 56 The development of the devotional image, or so-called Andachtsbild, reflects the need for the viewer to be faced with an immediate and direct representation of adoration, suffering, or struggle. 57 The Christian is essentially invited to “experience” the emotion or sensation depicted. Both verbal and pictorial forms of devotional works tended to emphasize Christ’s, and often Mary’s, humanness. Some works focus on the goodness and purity of the holy figures, seen in depictions of the Nativity, for instance, while other pieces stress Christ’s and Mary’s agonies through the artists’ use of contorted facial expressions, distinctive gestures, and the inclusion of blood or tears. Devotional images of this kind are often presented as a close-up view of a single moment, detached from any larger narrative. 56 Marrow, “Symbol and Meaning,” p. 154. 57 During this period mysticism was another “route” by which religious teachers and pious individuals sought a closer connection to the divine realm. James Snyder, in writing on artists who are considered to be of a mystical bent, states that “[i]n a general sense, mysticism in art can be described as the more personal and more intimate approach to the representation of spiritual beliefs as opposed to the impersonal, didactic statements of dogma and doctrine. Rather than displaying a simple pictorial illustration of the facts of his religion or recording the unraveling of its history, the mystic artist will present a personal experience of it. Rather than depict an event from the life of Christ, Mary, or the saints, the mystic offers the way to reexperience it.” James Snyder, Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, the Graphic Arts from 1350 to 1575, (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey and New York: Prentice Hall Inc. and Henry N. Abrams, Inc., 1985), pp. 175-176. Emphasis added.


62 Man of Sorrows, by the Dutch artist Geertgen tot Sint Jans, is a prime example of an Andachtsbild (fig. 7). Dating from about 1480-85, it illustrates how most extraneous details, such as any reference to an actual setting, inclusion of other disciples or Roman soldiers, and the time of day have been pared away. 58 The viewer is, therefore, faced with a powerful image of Christ standing in a low tomb, holding the cross with one arm and touching his side with his right hand. His eyes look directly out toward the viewer, and his body is bent and covered in streams of blood. 59 Mary Magdalene, St. John, and the Virgin Mary kneel around Christ and three angels hover behind him; all respond to his death with great emotion. Besides their anguished expressions, all bear carefully rendered tears, which seem to glisten and roll down the figures’ cheeks—John even appears to wipe his eye with his right hand. The figures’ show of grief is designed to personally engage the beholder and evoke a similar response. As a means of further enhancing the intensity of the image, the artist included the implements of Christ’s torment; some are carried by the angels, while others appear on the far right hand side of the painting. In his analysis of this piece, Henk van Os claims that this work reflects some of the practices of the Brethren of the Common Life. 60 He writes that their “meditations . . . involved steeping oneself in the Passion while indulging in powerful fantasies of bloodletting.” 61 Marrow addresses this same sort of relationship between 58 Henk Van Os, The Art of Devotion in the Late Middle Ages in Europe 1300-1500 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), p. 183. The original location and placement of this painting is not known, though it is fairly small (measuring 9 5/8 in x 9 in), and, according to Van Os, there is some evidence in support of the idea that the work may have once been hinged and used as a door “on a portable tabernacle.” 59 Marrow sees Christ’s facial expression and outward gaze as serving “as a kind of admonition, demanding a suitable response” from the viewer. Marrow, “Symbol and Meaning,” p. 165, also 165 n. 14. 60 Van Os, The Art of Devotion, p. 128. 61 Ibid.


63 painted and written religious works. He emphasizes the desire of the artist to incite a “response” in the viewer; Marrow describes pieces of devotional literature that advocate pious individuals actually “making devout genuflections, and if necessary even scourging themselves . . . until they produce a plenteous stream of tears.” 62 As noted previously, devotional images such as the Man of Sorrows sometimes not only provided direct access to experiencing the divine, but also enabled the images’ users to “piggyback” on the visions of previous, particularly gifted mystics. Images of the Man of Sorrows may stem from the famous vision of St. Gregory, in which the crucified Christ appeared before Gregory on the altar during the celebration of the Eucharist; paintings of the subject helped replicate the Saint’s extraordinary religious experience for the benefit of all viewers, not just Gregory himself. 63 St. Brigitte of Sweden’s account of the Nativity (in the 14 th century) was another saint’s vision that found great popularity in medieval and Renaissance art. 64 Numerous renditions of Nativity scenes feature elements from Brigitte’s experience; some of the most familiar include the unclothed infant Christ lying on the ground glowing, the Virgin dressed all in white, and Joseph holding a small candle. 65 62 Marrow, “Symbol and Meaning,” p. 155. 63 Ringbom, Icon to Narrative, p. 25. 64 H. A. Reinhold, ed., The Soul Afire: Revelations of the Mystics (New York: Meridian Books, Inc., 1960), pp. 33-34. 65 Although it is generally believed that religious art was influenced by, or perhaps even wholly based upon devotional writings, some scholars suspect that recorded visions may have actually been inspired by the worshippers’ experiences while meditating on a piece of religious art. In that case, the verbal accounts of sacred experiences would actually reflect the appearance of the “visual aid” the person was using, rather than the reverse. (Ringbom, Icon to Narrative, p. 19).


64 A prime example of St. Brigitte’s version of the Nativity is found in the center panel of the Bladelin Altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden (1445-8) (fig. 8). The scene takes place in a dilapidated stable. The naked figure of Christ lies on the ground, cushioned only by the hem of the Virgin’s blue outer robe; light radiates from the infant, and he is surrounded by the adoring figures of the Virgin, St. Joseph, assorted angels, and Pieter Bladelin (the donor of the work). Apart from three angels hovering above the thatched roof of the shelter, all the figures kneel before Christ. In keeping with St. Brigitte’s vision, the artist included certain significant details, such as the Virgin wearing a simple white garment, the ox and ass being present, and Joseph bearing the single candle that is outshone by Christ’s divine light. By using the saint’s visionary account of the Nativity as a model for the painting, Rogier presents the viewer with a “simulated revelation” of sorts; in this way, average laypeople could themselves experience a bit of the miraculous. Rogier further enhanced the painting’s meaning for viewers by including four separate instances of Christ’s birth being proclaimed (or “four Annunciations,” as Blum states). 66 These scenes help to emphasize the importance of Christ’s incarnation for the individual believer, both past and present. The exterior of the wings feature the Virgin receiving the tidings of the Angel Gabriel that she is to be the mother of Christ. The interior wings depict Augustus learning of Jesus’ birth, on the left panel and, on the right, the Annunciation to the Magi. A very small representation of the Annunciation to the Shepherds takes place in the far distance (the upper left hand corner) of the Nativity scene in the center panel. The effect of the entire triptych is one of miraculous events and 66 Blum, Early Netherlandish Triptychs, p. 18.


65 visionary revelations. Augustus, according to legend, saw a holy apparition of the Madonna and Child encircled by gold light. The vision came after Augustus consulted the Tiburtine Sibyl about the identity of the earth’s supreme ruler. 67 Blum writes that as a result of his spiritual experience, “Augustus fell on his knees and worshiped the vision[, and i]n honor of this revelation he consecrated the room [he was in] to the Virgin.” 68 She regards the placement of the various Annunciation scenes throughout the piece as indicating that Christ’s incarnation is a universal gift to all of humanity. Blum asserts that “Rogier’s panel dramatizes the universality of the Annunciation. On the left wing Christ’s birth is told to the West; on the right wing, to the East. He is proclaimed as the universal Savior of both Gentiles and Jews.” 69 This painting, typical of Northern Renaissance art, not only presents the viewer with a familiar version of the Nativity, but also suggests the narrative’s reality and relevance to the 15 th -century Christian’s life. By using the recently founded city of Middleburg as the geographic setting and prominently placing Bladelin before the stable where the sacred birth has just taken place, for instance, Rogier extends a sort of invitation to the viewer to join in the holy scene. 70 In this way, the artist provides a means of approach, as well as a visual manifestation of a variety of religious revelations, all of which emphasize the entry of Christ into the world. Like many other sacred images of the period, the rendition of the Nativity depicted in this particular altarpiece represents an interesting combination of Biblical and visionary accounts. St. Brigitte’s vision 67 Ibid., p. 19. 68 Ibid. 69 Ibid., p. 20. 70 Ibid., pp. 24-26.


66 provided Renaissance Christians with a more personal and dramatic telling of Christ’s birth than did the original narrative from the Bible. Rogier then enhanced the story, translating it into vivid pictorial form. He made adjustments to the narrative presumably in order to accommodate the wishes of the patron. But the changes also intensify the personal quality of the scene and provide an avenue for religious encounters through the use of familiar and contemporary elements. Rogier is famous for altering traditional stories in an attempt to create a more spiritually inspiring image. As Blum states, “Rogier’s work is marked by a distinct tendency toward a devotional or symbolic interpretation of any given Christian subject.” 71 Artists also utilized other means of heightening the personal quality of the image. In order to inspire immediate and intense experiences, for example, artists sometimes isolated the most essential elements of a traditional narrative subject to create a more concentrated, intensified image. Pictures in some devotional books, for instance, contain representations of a close-up of a particular figure, a moment from a larger narrative, or even an isolated view of a certain aspect of a person or story. 72 “Portraits” of saints with their attributes were fairly common, as were images of the Crucifixion with only two or three persons in attendance. Other elements that were sometimes emphasized, however, seem a bit more unusual: the spear-wound in Christ’s side was rendered at times as a full page illumination. One particularly striking example of this sort of image may be found in the Psalter and Hours of Bonne of Luxembourg, painted in the mid-1340s by a French artist (fig. 9). 71 Ibid., p. 17. 72 Devotional panels and other forms of art also sometimes featured such isolated elements.


67 This rendition of the arma Christi is actually preceded by two other illuminations, which help the reader/viewer of the devotional work to assume the proper frame of mind, heart, and body. Hamburger has investigated this aspect of the meaning and use of these miniatures. The first image represents an abbot (thought to be St. Bernard) kneeling with his arms crossed and his face lifted toward a very detailed crucifix atop a cloth covered altar (fig. 10). 73 The image of the devout clergyman before an inert, religious sculpture is followed by another folio containing a miniature with two figures—the donors, Bonne and her spouse—in an attitude of pious devotion, on their knees with their hands extended in prayer and upturned faces, gazing at a full-size figure of Christ on the cross (fig. 11). 74 While still held fast to the cross by his left hand and feet, Christ’s right hand distinctly points to the place of the spear wound on his right side. Christ’s eyes are open and look directly into those of the two donors below. The donors are in the actual presence of the Savior, who addresses them personally. The miniature of the arma Christi, as the third image in this progression, appears only after the first two illuminations had helped to prepare the worshiper for the sight. The reader/viewer would have been able to benefit from the examples shown by the figures of the saint and the pious laypersons concerning the proper manner of one’s approach to sacred subjects in their devotions. The third illumination of the enlarged, abstracted spear wound and the isolation of the particular implements of torment would confront the viewer with a profound vision of Christ’s suffering. There are no other worshipers present, and even the whole figure of Christ has been removed. The image would provide the individual 73 Hamburger, The Visual and the Visionary, pp. 140-141. 74 Ibid., p. 141.


68 with a private avenue to the Savior. The wound, which, according to Hamburger, represents “the entrance to Christ’s heart,” could be concentrated on and even touched. 75 Hamburger also points out that the image would be approximately life-size and would, therefore, have heightened the sense of the reality of Christ’s sacrifice and the audience’s impression of the event. 76 Hamburger further asserts that the image “aspires to the immediacy of a vision.” 77 In this way, the painted wound “hovers” before the viewer’s eyes, suggesting a mystical, visceral, and very personal religious experience. Miniatures such as these, especially those designed for the laity, provided the individual beholder with a ready-made vision—even an ordinary layperson could attain a vivid religious encounter, using a physical image to inspire or simply stand in as a mystical vision. 78 The types of devotional images just discussed correlated with important trends in personal religious practice that developed during the period. Starting in the 13 th century, certain devotional exercises developed featuring a strong emphasis on details. These exercises focused solely on the limbs of Christ or the Virgin. 79 According to Ringbom, devotional “how to” books advocated the employment of a holy image, in order to better meditate on specific details of the sacred physical forms of Christ or the Virgin. 80 This practice of emphasizing the corporeal aspects of a holy person for the spiritual benefit of the pious individual, emerged, in part, from written religious works. One such text, 75 Ibid., p. 142. 76 Ibid. 77 Ibid., p. 143. 78 Ibid. 79 Ringbom, Icon to Narrative, pp. 21, 48. 80 Ibid., pp. 48-49.


69 traditionally believed to have been composed by St. Bernard, had quite a large following in the late medieval period. 81 By their very nature, tracts of this kind encouraged image-based worship; as a matter of fact, some writers during the late 15 th century claimed that St. Bernard’s devotions were supposedly inspired by his experiences, manifested while meditating before a portrait of the Virgin (and by the 15 th century, indulgences were also associated with this form of devotion). 82 Thomas Kempis even wrote a collection of fourteen prayers dedicated to particular parts of Christ’s physical person. 83 Ringbom also notes that the popularity of the image of the Holy Face, the “cult,” as Ringbom describes it, was at its zenith in the Quattrocento, revealing a sense of people’s interest in, and enthusiasm for, a vision of Christ’s (or Mary’s, in respect to the popular Hodegetria) physical features. The Sudarium offered, in some ways, an even more valuable rendition of the Savior’s face, since it was “not made by human hands,” resulting in a more “real” portrait than any artist could render—though, ironically, commissioned paintings of the Holy Face were obviously created by an artist’s hand. 84 Devotional books were not the only places in which Christians could encounter the sort of images at issue here (and, in encountering these images, gain access to encounters with the sacred). Such images also appeared in altarpieces. Altarpieces, it should be noted, were linked to the central ritual of medieval Christian life: the Mass. The Mass 81 Ibid. Ringbom lists some of the parts described, which, depending on variations from different editions, might include: “eyes, soul, body, words, . . . womb, . . . lips, mouth, ears, teeth, nose, neck, and head, breasts etc..” p. 49 82 Ibid. According to this tradition, St. Bernard’s devotion to the Virgin’s limbs developed during pious contemplation of an image of the Virgin, based on the Hodegetria—the painting supposedly painted by St. Luke—located in the cathedral at Speyer. 83 Ibid. 84 Ibid.


70 was the most important part of any church service. The ceremony helped the congregation to understand the significance of the ritual by enabling them to “see” and participate in a symbolic reenactment of Christ’s sacrifice. The concept of the real presence of God being manifest in the Eucharistic elements constituted one of the most crucial aspects of the Mass. 85 During the meeting of the Fourth Lateran Council, the doctrine of Transubstantiation was officially instated. According to the Church, Christ is always present in the consecrated Eucharistic wafer, in body and in spirit. The bread, therefore, following the words of the liturgy, serves not only as a reminder of the events of the Passion, but literally becomes Christ’s sacrificial body. The recognition of this belief also cemented the association of Christ with the dual roles of priest and sacrifice. 86 This idea had long been a part of Christian tradition, based on the Biblical accounts of the Last Supper, as well as verses from the Biblical book of Hebrews (chapter 5), in which Christ is described as a priest and compared to the Old Testament “prototype” Melchizedek. 87 According to Lane, St. Ambrose described Melchizedek as “‘author of the sacraments’” (this subject found its way into panel painting, as well). 88 According to historian James F. McCue, in keeping with the acceptance of such notions as Transubstantiation, there was a rising emphasis on the value of the sacraments, which, he notes, were “understood not so much as a ritual in which [a person] took part or (using a later model) as the word addressed to [one]; rather, it was a power-filled act which, if the 85 James F. McCue, “Liturgy and Eucharist, West,” chapter 18, part II, in Jill Raitt et al., Christian Spirituality, p. 433. 86 Lane, The Altar and the Altarpiece, p. 107. 87 Hebrews 5:5-11. 88 Lane, The Altar and the Altarpiece, p. 107.


71 proper conditions were fulfilled, would have its effect on [the individual].” 89 McCue elaborates on this point, noting that during the prayers of the Eucharist recited by a priest, the laity were discouraged from saying any private prayers of their own, so as to avoid hindering the celebrant’s recitations. 90 Intellectually, the devout were invited to make the shift from the words and movements associated with the liturgy to the symbolic meaning of the event. McCue writes that “the Mass was seen as a dramatic and symbolic reenactment of the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.” 91 McCue further describes the Mass as an “allegorization of the liturgy, a different kind of intelligibility [and], a substitute for the intelligibility that had been implicit in the Eucharistic practice of an earlier age.” 92 During the Middle Ages, a number of traditions surrounding the power of the consecrated Host developed. Based upon the idea that Christ was actually present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, the elements themselves were seen as having the ability to work miracles and, borrowing McCue’s term, provide “spiritual benefits.” 93 Consuming the Host, or at least witnessing its elevation, was thought by numerous devout individuals to yield myriad rewards, including exclusive mystical visions, good health, financial gain, and protection against all sorts of evils—even blindness and 89 McCue, “Liturgy and Eucharist,” p. 429. 90 Ibid. 91 Ibid. 92 Ibid. 93 Ibid., pp. 433-434.


72 indigestion. 94 One of the recurring ideas about the benefits reaped from the Eucharist, however, is that the effects are only assured for one day—that is, the same day in which the elements were consumed or seen and the Mass was heard. 95 Numerous legends from the Middle Ages also contain stories about blessed wafers that miraculously bled, usually in response to impious treatment of the Host or a person’s disbelief in the power of the Holy Bread. 96 One instance of the Host inspiring sacred visions may be found in a 14 th -century story of St. Dorothy of Dantzig, who experienced such spiritual ecstasies over seeing the elevated Host that she began to lose physical sight of the actual object. 97 St. Dorothy’s spiritual transport from viewing the consecrated, and therefore transformed, wafer is quite similar to the manner in which many pious people approached the function of Christian art. In both situations, actual objects become vehicles to religious experiences, which were, at the time, no longer dependent on the physical matter of the tangible wafer or the painted image. McCue attributes much of the Eucharistic enthusiasm during the period to a medieval view of “the Christian life as an accumulation of grace,” which he further describes as a sort of “divinely imparted 94 Ibid., pp. 433-435. Observing the elevated Host, rather than partaking of it, was often considered a safer and less restricted means of contact with the Divine. (p. 437) The actual consumption of the Elements generally required more preparation in the form of cleansing oneself through penance, but persons not yet purified through confession were able to share to some extent in the experience of the Mass by viewing the Elevation of the Host without incurring further spiritual debts by taking Communion improperly. (p. 436) 95 Ibid., pp. 434-435. 96 Ibid., p. 435. 97 Ibid., p. 432.


73 energy.” 98 According to this belief, grace may be found and collected in and through the sacraments. 99 Altarpieces helped to accentuate the symbolic reenactment of Christ’s sacrifice found in the Mass, since altarpieces were, in essence, pictorial representations of what the Mass signified. 100 Although altarpieces (as discussed in Chapter 2) generally depict events from the life of Christ (especially those that emphasized his incarnation and sacrifice and, therefore, had special eucharistic connections, for instance the Nativity, the Crucifixion, the Lamentation, or the Entombment), other subjects, such as the Mass, were also treated. Large-scale public works were sometimes designed to depict more specifically doctrinal subjects. Dieric Bouts’ Last Supper Altarpiece (1464-67), for example, deals specifically with the theological basis for the sacrament of Communion (fig. 12). The center panel represents Christ blessing the bread and wine consumed during his last meal with the Apostles before his Crucifixion. Though this work was not necessarily designed with the intention of providing the viewer with a religious revelation per se, the artist created an image that would be intellectually accessible to the contemporary viewer. This aspect is evident in the naturalistic rendering of the composition, the use of familiar types of geographic and architectural settings, and the incorporation of recognizable portraits of individuals. The figures are arranged around a square table that is placed inside a large 15 th -century Flemish interior. Through the room’s tall windows, glimpses of a Netherlandish city are visible, and four contemporary 98 Ibid., p. 434. 99 Ibid. McCue also discusses the medieval popularity of participating in Masses for the benefit of the dead. According to belief, the living could hear the Mass and partake of the Eucharist in order to help relieve the torments of their relatives who were already languishing in Purgatory. 100 Lane, The Altar and the Altarpiece, p. 82.


74 figures appear as well—two can be seen through a square window on the left side of the room, while the other two stand behind Christ and the Apostles. These 15 th -century individuals are thought to be members of the confraternity (that is, the Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament of St. Peter’s Church in Louvain) that commissioned the piece. 101 The side panels of Bouts’ piece reinforce the concept of the sacred meal with images of other, Old Testament precursors of the Last Supper. The left wing contains images of Melchizedek offering bread and wine to Abraham from Genesis 14 and the Jewish Passover meal from Exodus 12. 102 The right wing of the triptych depicts the Israelites gathering Manna from Exodus 6 and Elias being given bread and wine by an angel in the desert from I Kings 19. 103 Such themes seem to have been most often commissioned by confraternities that wanted a specific sort of image to convey their particular religious affiliation. 104 Another piece devoted to the sacrament of Communion and the doctrine of Transubstantiation, also commissioned by a Confraternity dedicated to the Body of Christ, is Joos Van Ghent’s Communion of the Apostles Altarpiece, dating from about 1475. The work presents the viewer with a less conventional Eucharistic image (fig. 13). The subject of this piece ties the events of the Last Supper to Christ’s continuing presence in the elements and rituals of the Eucharist. In this work, Christ actually acts as the priest, distributing wafers to the faithful. He stoops down in order to place a wafer, 101 Snyder, Northern Renaissance Art, p. 146. 102 Ibid., p. 147. 103 Ibid. Snyder asserts that this subject is fairly unusual in Netherlandish art. (p. 146) 104 Ibid. Snyder notes that, for Bouts’ Last Supper Altarpiece, “two theologians were appointed [as] special consultants to advise the painter in matters of iconography.”


75 into the mouth of one of the Apostles—likely St. Peter. Similar to Bouts’ work, all twelve of the Disciples are in the scene, along with several easily recognized contemporary individuals, and all of the action takes place inside a fairly “modern” setting—in this instance, a medieval church. Christ is centrally located and, in Joos’ work, is quite large, the figures around him kneel or appear as though they are preparing to do so, while those in the back right stand and observe. These individuals frame the figure of Christ, emphasizing his supreme importance and providing “modern day” participants of the Mass with a “living” vision of the Biblical basis for the rituals they performed in their own century. The arrangement of the figures also suggests that Renaissance (and later period) Christians approaching the altar would be joining Christ’s original followers, imitating their movements, and partaking of the same consecrated wafers that the Savior distributes to the Disciples. Both Bouts and Joos focused on conveying the relevance of the sacrament to the 15 th -century viewer through the use of naturalistic, familiar, and recognizable pictorial elements. Joos’ painting, however, seems to engage the viewer in a more individualized manner than Bouts’ rendering. The fact that Christ himself serves the people emphasizes the personal nature of salvation and heightens the impact of the moment during the Mass when the elements would actually be received. 105 The prescribed preparations before participating in the sacraments (for example, penance, prayer, and absolution) primed individuals, body and soul, for this religious encounter. The belief in Transubstantiation and the subsequent enthusiasm over the elevated wafer suggest that the devout expected to witness and acknowledge some sort of 105 Lane, The Altar and the Altarpiece, p. 107.


76 change (physically and spiritually) in the elements and in themselves, while partaking of the Mass. The belief that healing was possible or even probable, speaks to the medieval Christian’s conviction that supernatural things could and did happen in the earthly realm. Religious experience, thus, often involved a variety of levels—ranging from the most physical through the mental to the spiritual. The Christians’ bodily posture and actions (as has been seen in the preceding section on people’s approach to religious sites and images) would help communicate to others present, as well as to the individuals themselves, their seriousness and pious intent. Another development in the concept of religious experience and the late medieval belief in the power of sacred imagery may be found in the practice of praying before an image for the benefit of being granted indulgences. Ringbom presents a number of examples of subjects believed to be connected to the reduction of punishments in the afterlife. 106 During the 15 th century, Pope Sixtus IV seems to have been instrumental in feeding the enthusiasm for indulgences. 107 The practice was widely accepted and is known to have been a feature of religious groups throughout Europe—in the Netherlands, the Brethren of the Common Life were proponents of such activities. 108 Among the most popular subjects for indulgence images were, according to Ringbom, the Veil of St. Veronica, the Arma Christi, the Man of Sorrows, the Madonna of the Sun, and the Madonna of the Rosary. 109 106 Ringbom, Icon to Narrative, p. 24. 107 Ibid., p. 27. 108 Ibid., p. 24. 109 Ibid., pp. 25-27.


77 Based upon pictorial and written accounts, people believed that religious visions were real and attainable. As this section has shown, devotional artwork of the Middle Ages and Renaissance addressed the pious viewer in a direct fashion. This straightforward address summoned forth a deeply felt religious response. Through the use of various symbolic and compositional techniques, artists of this time were able to produce devotional materials that played a vital role in the lives of the pious. Of course, what happened in front of an image did not complete the devotional process. In the section that follows, the last stage of this process, departure, will be explored. It will consider how and what the pious carried away with them after a religious experience. Departure This section will address the final phase of the devotional process—departure. Devotional works of art were not merely “out of sight, out of mind” for those who used them; rather, such images produced aftereffects, which carried over into “everyday life.” After looking at connections between this phenomenon and medieval devotional practices more generally (for example, pilgrimages and the rituals associated with the Eucharist), the section will discuss the concepts of memory and departure (physical, mental, and spiritual). The results of a religious experience of any variety were sometimes very tangible and concrete; physical healings or bodily exhaustion, for instance, might follow a person’s actual pilgrimage journey, his or her participation in the Mass, or the individual’s private devotional exercises. Although countless stories of such corporeal manifestations of spiritual encounters exist, this was obviously not the only way contact with the divine realm made an impression on people. Numerous written testimonies recount strictly spiritual and mystical revelations, which had a profound affect on the


78 individual, emotionally and spiritually, but left no plainly physical mark. Religious art might be seen to have helped provide a tangible, visible connection between the intellectual, spiritual aspect of existence and that of the physical, especially for members of the laity who were, likely, not as “spiritually mature” as clergymen, monks, and nuns were thought to be. 110 By providing people with a definite, graspable, and obtainable object, religious images served as personal reminders of events or experiences that devout individuals might relive at will. Physical things, in this way, helped encourage spiritual development. People could figuratively and literally “take something away” with them from a sacred place, be it a church or a pilgrimage site. On leaving a holy site, pilgrims often purchased badges to remind them of their journey and their experiences at the site. In relating some of the details of the religious fervor surrounding the Regensburg Madonna of the early 16 th century, Freedberg writes that, due to an insufficient number of “tokens to take home . . . many people cried and were tearful at having to go back without any.” 111 He notes that the next year, in an attempt to meet the large demand, there were ,108 clay pilgrimage badgesand 9,763 silver ones” manufactured. 112 Apparently such large numbers of replicated images were not unusual for popular pilgrim sites. 113 From the sheer quantity of badges that were created and sold, it seems clear that people wanted and needed to have some tangible evidence of their pilgrimage, physical reminders of their spiritual, emotional, 110 This statement is not meant to imply that members of the clergy or monastic orders did not use religious art in their devotional practices, but, rather, that the laity were generally seen as needing more spiritual assistance in attaining visions, etc. than priests, monks, and nuns. 111 Freedberg, The Power of Images, p. 103. 112 Ibid. 113 Ibid.


79 intellectual, and bodily experiences. 114 Departure from a holy site would be emotionally difficult. After enduring a lengthy trek to reach a shrine, the anticipation and excitement of beholding the image and relic must have been enormous and rather overwhelming. 115 Leaving the site of so much spiritual intensity, the pilgrim would need a means of remembering and reliving the event. Pilgrim badges were also given special significance, as they were thought to have miraculous powers. 116 In a similar vein, a number of late medieval illuminated manuscripts (including the Engelbert Hours) contain painted representations of pilgrims’ badges (fig. 14). The tradition appears to have mimicked the practice of sewing actual badges onto the folios of private prayer books. The tokens, which often resemble coins, could be carried on one’s person, serving as physical proof that the arduous journey of devotion had come to fruition. 117 According to art scholar A. M. Koldewey, the badges were also often thought to have taken on some of the “power” associated with the various sacred sites from which the pilgrim obtained them. 118 Koldewey claims that in this way, the objects were elevated to nearly the same status as relics and became much more than just a “ticket stub” of sorts. 119 Koldewey writes that realistically rendered representations of pilgrim 114 Sumption, Pilgrimage, p. 175. “Counterfeit” badges were being made on a regular basis and controversies broke out concerning the issue. 115 Freedberg, The Power of Images, p. 100. 116 Sumption, Pilgrimage, p. 175. 117 Ibid., p. 174. Sumption notes that some “much-traveled pilgrims would cover the brims of their hats with badges until their heads were bowed beneath the weight of lead.” 118 A. M. Koldewey, “Pilgrim Badges Painted in Manuscripts: A North Netherlandish Example,” in Koert van der Horst and Johann-Christian Klamt, eds., Masters and Miniatures: Proceedings of the Congress on Medieval Manuscript Illumination in the Northern Netherlands, Utrecht, 10-13 December, 1989 (Utrecht, The Netherlands: Davaco Publishers, 1991), p. 211. 119 Ibid.


80 badges in manuscripts, like their molded prototypes, helped the Christian during devotional exercises. By combining “the concrete reality of the object from the pilgrim resortwith the abstract spirituality of the prayer or biblical text” to be read or recited, the reader was provided with an avenue of approach, so to speak. 120 The intangible was introduced through the tangible and tactile (whether “real” or simulated) and the sacred associations surrounding pilgrim badges could be transmitted to the written words. Just as was the case with pilgrimages, participation in the Mass involved an obvious physical component. The Eucharist offered people tangible objects—the elements of the Mass—which could be taken away from the altar. In accordance with the rulings of the Fourth Lateran Council, Christians were required to attend the Mass and partake of the Eucharist at least once a year, on Easter. By actually ingesting and imbibing the body and blood of the Savior, devotees would have physically and spiritually taken Christ into their own bodies and souls. Therefore, leaving the altar after the celebration of the Eucharist, individuals would carry away a very tangible piece of their religious experience. Painted altarpieces presented participants with vivid representations of scenes connected to the sacrament of Communion. The ritual would be made more personal through the use of such imagery, by appealing to the viewer’s emotional sensibilities. Though the Mass was a collective ritual, it also provided a personal, private experience. The personal connection between the ceremony and the individual was heightened through the distribution of the elements and the pictorial reminders of their significance. 120 Ibid.


81 The departure from private devotional experiences in the home is somewhat less apparent than that of the pilgrimage or the Mass. With regard to domestic devotion, few extant written accounts of spiritual encounters address the concept of the devotee’s departure from the climactic moment (the focus of such descriptions is generally on the high point of the experience, with less emphasis on the manner of approach, and still less information on the actual moments following the climax). There are, however, certain inferences one can make on the subject. Memory and the recollected experience (as discussed in Chapter 2), for example, were of great value to the pious Christian. Personal devotional exercises often relied on the individual’s ability to bring past experiences to mind and, ideally, use them to encourage spiritual maturation. By building on the effects of past religious encounters, deeper levels of understanding could be achieved. In a home, furthermore, images (on panels or in manuscripts) could be looked upon often. Most private works were small and portable, convenient for domestic use. In the private sector, the personal aspect of the worshiper’s experience of the divine realm and his or her departure from it seem closely related. The objects and site of religious devotion were always available and accessible, unlike a pilgrimage shrine or an altarpiece. Pilgrimage badges, private devotional panels, and illuminated manuscripts, served similar functions for the laity. Such objects were purchased, displayed, and used as spiritual reminders, avenues to the heavenly realm, and emblems of religious status. Devotional art represented the owner’s dedication, enthusiasm, and even quality of taste, in terms of the kinds of images individuals decided to commission and/or purchase. As this chapter has demonstrated, pious Christians’ devotional activities were often quite complex. Religious experiences were attained and recollected through participation


82 in some sort of devotional process; various types of activities developed, many of which used the earthly and the familiar to communicate supernatural beliefs and concepts. Furthermore, spiritual value was often attached to physical objects and places (sacred sites, relics, and the elements of the Eucharist, to name a few). Art served an important function in satisfying people’s desire for a tangible connection to the heavenly realm by providing worshipers with visual, concrete representations of Christ, the saints, and other sacred individuals and subjects. Throughout the individual’s entire devotional “journey,” involving his or her approach, climactic experience, and departure, the image functioned as a focus, a guide, and a reminder of spiritual experiences. Depending on the level of the individual’s spiritual maturity, devotional paintings could provide the pious with “ready-made” religious visions, or inspire worshipers to greater spiritual heights. Images, in their various capacities, served an integral part of the devotional process.


CHAPTER 5 DEVOTIONAL PROCESS AND BOOKS OF HOURS, AS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE HOURS OF ENGELBERT OF NASSAU (CA. 1477-1490) Throughout the course of this paper the concept of the private religious experience and the role of art as an integral part of the devotional process (in its three proposed stages) has been discussed. A theoretical groundwork thus has been laid, and various examples have been presented. Now a more in-depth study of a specific religious work will commence. This chapter will concentrate on the manner in which the devotional process is exemplified through the art and form of the Book of Hours. The importance of the personal address and response communicated through devotional images will also be treated in this section, as well as the use of artistic representations of religious revelations as a means of enhancing worshipers’ spiritual experiences during their devotions. The primary work studied in this chapter will be The Book of Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, by the Master of Mary of Burgundy dating from about 1477 to 1490 (other manuscripts will be discussed in passing). The illuminated Book of Hours serves as a particularly good example of the tendencies discussed in this thesis. The organization and composition of the texts comprising Books of Hours were very much centered around the idea of devotional process, and the concept can be applied to the manner in which miniatures were used as well. Though the three-part model does not seem to relate to images in manuscripts in precisely the same way that it does the progression of the texts, it offers a heuristic device for understanding the overall layout of the page and the interplay between the parts. Among Books of Hours in general, that of Engelbert offers 83


84 an attractive subject for study due to its well-documented provenance and innovative illuminations. This chapter will show how understanding works of late medieval and Renaissance religious art as part of a process of approach, revelatory experience, and response can shed new light on the Engelbert Hours. Private devotional books of this kind (as discussed briefly in Chapter 1) were organized according to the monastic Hours of the day: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. These eight divisions provided worshipers with constant access to the spiritual realm throughout the day. 1 The process began each Hour with the Hail Mary, followed by an exchange of versicles and responses. 2 In his book Painted Prayers (1997), Wieck includes a translation of the latter for the Hours of the Virgin (Matins): “V. Lord, Thou shalt open my lips. R. And my mouth shall sing thy praise. V. God, come to my assistance. R. Lord, hasten to help me.” 3 According to Wieck, “This plea, with its almost breathless cadence, sets the tone and states two themes that run throughout the Office, praise of God and a request for aid.” 4 The devotions continue with the main body of each Hour—for the Hours of the Virgin, this section is mainly composed of a series of Psalms, hymns, and prayers; however, the Hours of the Cross and those of the Holy Spirit are shorter, do not feature any Psalms, and consist mainly of 1 Wieck notes that “Books of Hours . . . offered their medieval reader an intimate conversation with one of the most important people in his or her life: the Virgin Mary.” (Wieck, Time Sanctified, p. 27. emphasis added) 2 Wieck, Painted Prayers, p. 52. Wieck observes that the Hail Mary is not usually found in “Books of Hours made for adults because its recitation was assumed.” (p. 52) 3 Ibid. This same opening appears in the Hours of the Cross and the Hours of the Holy Spirit. (p. 79) 4 Ibid., p.52.


85 hymns and prayers. 5 Throughout the various Hours, the devotional process continued. Each set of readings and recitations contained its own form of approach, climactic experience, and departure. Antiphons, for example, were included before and after each selection of the Psalms, other readings, and prayers. Antiphons often began as shortened versions of those recited at the conclusion of each main section. Psalm 8, for instance, from the Hours of the Virgin (Matins) is bordered by the words “Blessed art thou” and “Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” 6 Wieck describes these elements “as a kind of frame.” 7 In using such a regular process, the pious individual would go through a preparatory interval before continuing through the main focus of the devotions, and then finally closing with a statement that completed the experience and tied all the parts together, as well as reinforcing the significance of the devotional readings. Despite the seemingly rigid and formal quality of using the Hours, the practice was not apt to become mindless repetition. Particularly with regard to the Hours of the Virgin, different Psalms were read on different days of the week and the arrangement of the Biblical readings, hymns, and recitations prevented the use of the prayers from becoming monotonous. 8 As Wieck puts it, “praying the Hours of the Virgin offered its readers [an experience of] richness and variety.” 9 Frequent use of such prayer books encouraged individuals to develop a deeper and more personalized faith than could necessarily be gained from simply attending Mass at a church. Moreover, depending on 5 Ibid., p. 52-53, 79. 6 Ibid., p. 53. 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid., p. 54. 9 Ibid.


86 the desires of the patron and his or her financial situation, the contents of Books of Hours varied considerably. Wieck writes that “there was a nearly inexhaustible array of ancillary prayers that people felt free to add.” 10 Furthermore, owners of devotional books could continue to expand their selection of prayers. Wieck describes “the Book of Hours [as] a cherished possession lovingly cared for, added to, worked on. And this loving care goes beyond the obviously material, into the spiritual world.” 11 He goes on to say that “devout medieval people collected prayers the way twentieth-century cooks collect recipes.” 12 Much like the texts included in Books of Hours, the number and treatment of miniatures could vary according to how elaborate the artist or patron wished the finished work to be. There were, however, by the 14 th century, established patterns concerning what images would typically accompany the specific texts. 13 These set picture schemes helped to indicate where sections began and ended, as well as provide the reader with devotional aids. 14 Interestingly, the miniatures and the written passages are not always overtly related. The scene of the Annunciation, for example, is usually associated with the Hours of the Virgin, Matins, but nowhere in the selection of readings for the hour does the actual, Biblical account of the event (found in Luke 1: 26-38) appear. The images have a more symbolic connection to the texts. As may be seen in the example of 10 Ibid., p. 99. 11 Wieck, Time Sanctified, p. 40. 12 Ibid. 13 J. J. G. Alexander, The Master of Mary of Burgundy: A Book of Hours for Engelbert of Nassau (New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1970), p. 25. 14 Ibid.


87 the Annunciation, for instance, the belief in Mary as the intercessor between sinners and God is continually reinforced throughout the texts, as is her role as the mother of Christ. Excerpts from the Hail Mary are interspersed with Psalms and readings from the Apocrypha (which are often symbolically applied to the Virgin). 15 Consequently, the combination of texts and images remind the reader of the importance of Christ’s incarnation and emphasize Mary’s indispensable role in helping to bring salvation to the world. This same type of relationship between readings and miniatures exists throughout each section of the Book of Hours. Wieck notes that “[i]mages in Books of Hours could also help a devotee visualize the process of prayer.” 16 In relation to the three-part model of the devotional process proposed throughout this thesis, Wieck’s assertion reinforces the idea that miniatures provided worshipers with a means of approach. People could prepare for the various devotional texts as well as ready themselves for experiences that might result from their readings and meditations. Concentrating on the artist’s portrayal of significant sacred events or objects, readers/viewers could imitate the pious attitudes of the figures depicted. In a similar way, narrative scenes also helped reinforce Christian concepts—such as unconditional love, self-sacrifice, and the value of virtue—by providing the viewer with vivid visible examples of them. Furthermore, depictions of certain holy objects, the Veil of St. Veronica, for example, were thought to have redemptive qualities for worshipers, who could benefit from merely looking at such images. 17 Wieck writes that “gazing 15 Wieck, Painted Prayers, p. 53. 16 Wieck, Time Sanctified, p. 44. 17 Ibid.


88 upon” representations of this specific subject was itself often considered a “form . . . of prayer.” 18 The visual component in Books of Hours enabled worshipers to attain a fuller experience of the sacred than might be afforded through readings of the text alone. Wieck asserts that a Book of Hours could be used “as a guide to devotion” for “anyone—even a busy or marginally literate person.” 19 He bases his comments on the idea that images could be used by anybody “to inspire prayer. In fact, [Wieck states,] some images could serve as aids to contemplation without a text.” 20 As is typical of private devotional manuscripts, the Engelbert Hours is a fairly small book, measuring 5 5/8 in. x 4 1/8 in., and is made up of 285 vellum folios. In keeping with the usual format for such devotional works, it contains a calendar of the Church’s fixed holidays (written in French, while the rest of the book features Latin), prayers to specific saints, the Hours of the Cross, the Hours of the Virgin, the Seven Penitential Psalms, the Litany and Prayers, the Office of the Dead, and the Gradual Psalms. 21 The manuscript contains 62 miniatures, illustrating various scenes from the texts they accompany. The work is best known for its trompe-l’oeil border decorations as well as its detailed miniatures, which have often been compared to contemporary panel paintings. The artist associated with both these innovations is the Master of Mary of Burgundy. 22 18 Ibid. 19 Ibid. 20 Ibid. 21 Alexander, Hours, p. 6. Peculiar to this manuscript are the addition of a sequence of hawking scenes with the Hours of the Cross and the Hours of the Virgin respectively. (p. 19) 22 The name Master of Mary of Burgundy identifies the artist with one of his other famous manuscripts—The Hours of Mary of Burgundy, now in the Nationalbibliothek in Vienna. The identity of the Master has


89 The original owner of the manuscript was Engelbert of Nassau (1451-1504), who held the prestigious position of Lieutenant of the Realm. 23 Many symbolic references to Engelbert appear throughout the book. Some instances of this may be seen in the inclusion of peacocks, their feathers, or the letter “e” in the border decorations (figs. 15, 16). 24 Engelbert’s motto “Ce sera moy,” which is included in a border for the Office of the Dead (fol. 214), also serves as evidence of his ownership (fig. 17). 25 The book not only has a well-documented history but also displays some distinctive artistic elements. The miniatures reveal the artist’s careful observation of the natural world as well as his attempt to create an accurate sense of space and atmosphere. Exploring artistic developments of the period and, presumably, seeking to increase the worshiper’s opportunity for attaining a rich devotional experience, the Master painted not only the traditional sort of images associated with various texts but also additional scenes that were not part of the usual selection included in Books of Hours. 26 been a matter of some debate and speculation. Some scholars, such as Hulin de Loo (in 1924), F. Winkler (in 1942), and Paul Wescher (in 1946), have made cases for the Master being Alexander Bening, who was admitted to the painter’s guild in Ghent in 1469 and was friends with painters Hugo van der Goes and Joos van Ghent. Some art historians dispute this notion, though it is generally accepted as the best possibility for the Master’s identity. Alexander, Hours, p. 23 and Paul Wescher, “Sanders and Simon Bening and Gerard Hourenbout,” Art Quarterly 9 (Summer 1946): 197. 23 Alexander, Hours, p. 22. 24 Ibid., p.8. 25 Ibid. Later owners have had some of Engelbert’s emblems erased and painted over, though many references to the original patron remain in the work. (pp. 7 and 65). 26 In his book Time Sanctified, Wieck provides descriptions of the sorts of images that traditionally accompanied the various Hours of the Virgin and the Hours of the Cross throughout the day (the following information was drawn from his brief tables on the subject). The Hours of the Virgin: Matins—Annunciation, Lauds—Visitation, Prime—Nativity, Terce—Annunciation to the Shepherds, Sext—Adoration of the Magi, None—Presentation in the Temple, Vespers—Flight into Egypt (Massacre of the Innocents), Compline—Coronation of the Virgin (Flight into Egypt, Massacre of the Innocents, Assumption of the Virgin, or Death of the Virgin). (p. 60) The Hours of the Cross: Matins—Betrayal,


90 Two folios from the Hours of the Virgin (Matins) (97v and 98) provide good examples of the two types of images. A fairly traditional full-page rendition of the Annunciation (fol. 97v) faces a rarely depicted scene of Mary traveling to visit her cousin Elizabeth (fol. 98) (fig. 15). The Annunciation takes place in a lavish, Flemish home. The room is equipped with elaborate furnishings, such as a red-canopied bed and rich green draperies, and a number of sumptuous household items appear in the chamber as well. The angel Gabriel is represented with “rainbow” wings and wears a white garment with a gold cape. As a messenger of God, Gabriel carries a scepter in his left hand and approaches Mary with a gesture of address, his right arm upraised. 27 In the traditional manner, the descending dove of the Holy Spirit appears above the Virgin’s head. Mary wears her characteristic blue gown and sits in a humble position on the floor, with a prayer book open before her. J. J. G. Alexander, in his annotated facsimile of the Engelbert Hours (1970), suggests that the text she is reading is Isaiah’s prophesy concerning the birth of Christ. 28 Wieck has observed that in images of the Annunciation, the Virgin serves as “a model of piety for the reader, [while] she is also . . . depicted [as] a reflection of contemporaneous devotional practices.” 29 She is both an example of human devotion to God and herself a focus for devotion from the reader. The scene depicting Mary’s journey, in comparison, is less traditional than that of the Annunciation (fig. 16). The illumination, which occupies just over half of the space Prime—Christ before Pilate (Christ Mocked or Flagellation), Terce—Flagellation (Christ Crowned with Thorns, Christ Buffeted, or Christ Carrying the Cross), Sext—Christ Carrying the Cross (Christ Nailed to the Cross or the Crucifixion), None—Crucifixion, Vespers—Deposition, Compline—Entombment. (p. 90) 27 George Ferguson, Signs and Symbols, p. 73. 28 Alexander, Hours, p. 124. 29 Wieck, Time Sanctified, p. 60.


91 provided, is followed by a section of text. The image is of the Virgin traversing a verdant landscape. The miniaturist, in keeping with developing artistic techniques in the 15 th century, was very careful to capture a sense of nature. The sky is a pale blue with a hint of softly rendered clouds. The ground swells gently as the space appears to actually recede. A meandering stream flows behind the Virgin, and a castle of sorts may be seen in the background. The Master even considered the effects of light in a naturalistic way: the Virgin casts a shadow, the trees along the rivulet are reflected in the water, and atmospheric perspective was used for the mountainous area in the far distance. The figure of Mary appears just slightly to the left of the center of the image. Despite the detailed landscape and the fact that she is rendered in the same cool colors as the background, the Virgin is definitely the focal point of the illumination. She occupies a prominent place in the space and is shown quite large. The path on which she walks is a very light tan, which also helps to draw attention to her. Mary is again rendered in her traditional blue garment, this time with the addition of a grayish cloak of sorts that covers her head and shoulders and envelops much of her body. The construction of space and the lone figure of the Virgin may have been used to enhance the viewer’s personal connection to Christ’s mother. Alexander, for example, considers the Master’s use of this unconventional scene to be a means of emphasizing Mary’s situation, the feelings of solitude she must have felt in her unusual condition, and her desire to seek the company of her sympathetic cousin. 30 Mary also seems to be represented as an example of pious devotion. As with the Virgin Annunciate, this portrayal of Mary emphasizes her quiet, 30 Ibid., 25.

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92 humble, obedient nature, and she seems to be walking in contemplation, her hands folded as if in prayer—perhaps even reciting the very words that appear beneath her. 31 Furthering the personal connection to the Flemish viewer, the landscape in this miniature, like those appearing in numerous other illuminations throughout the text, displays weather conditions that seem to correspond to those of Northern Europe during the appropriate seasons for the scenes represented (according to the Church calendar). 32 In the rendering of Mary’s journey, for instance, there is a suggestion of springtime; the trees have new foliage growing on them and the colors are rather fresh. As a contrast, the scene from the Hours of the Virgin (Lauds), where Mary and Joseph are turned away at the inn (fol. 115) is set during the winter—most everything is gray or brown, the trees are bare, the ground appears hard and cold, and patches of snow lie on the earth (fig. 18). 31 The words are the same as those quoted on p. 77. 32 The practice of including seasonal changes dates back at least to the late 14 th century, as may be seen in the work of Jacquemart de Hesdin. The Limbourg Brothers also produced some very sophisticated images that capture the changes in nature associated with certain times of the year. They also depicted different times of the day, being some of the first artists to paint convincing night scenes, as may be seen in certain folios from the Trs Riches Heures du Jean, Duc de Berry (ca. 1416). Later in the 15 th century, the Master of Mary of Burgundy also revealed his careful attention to the changing appearance of nature in his rendering of night scenes. Folio 56 verso is a good example of the Master’s skill in portraying an event that actually seems to take place in the dark—rather than just suggesting the evening hours through the inclusion of a lantern or something in the midst of an otherwise daytime scene, as many earlier artists had done (fig. 19). The miniature is from the Hours of the Cross (Lauds) and depicts the moment when Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. Numerous soldiers carrying torches surround Christ, while he simultaneously restores the severed ear to Malchus, the servant who was struck by St. Peter. Malchus is shown in the foreground, after having collapsed. The artist uses the light from the torches to illuminate certain figures’ facial features and gestures. Those of Christ and Judas as well as two soldiers are easily seen. The soldiers seem aggressive and menacing through their postures, and the victim of Peter’s rage appears to be both afraid and astonished. The Master placed the scene in a wooded setting with very minimal light coming from the sky itself, though there is a certain glow from what seems to be the moon behind clouds. The shadows cast by the figures are quite dramatic and reveal a sense of the artist’s thorough understanding of light and naturalistic painting. A tipped-over lantern (in the lower left of the image) is also cleverly rendered, throwing light out onto the ground. This light even appears to follow the mild curve of the swelling earth beneath it, as the pale yellow trapezoidal patches of light are depicted on the ground. The Master manages to suggest the mood of the moment through the use of very dramatic light, shadow, and color (for example, the harshness of the orange-yellow torch flames in the deep blue-greens of the night), which conveys a sense of gloom and emphasizes the hostility of the soldiers and the weightiness of Christ’s decision to undergo the approaching torments. Ibid., p. 25.

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93 Besides providing the viewer with familiar and recognizable settings for the religious scenes, the artist may have been trying to enhance the mood of the story. Alexander even suggests that the Master used seasonal conditions to help inspire empathy in the viewer. The bright newness of the springtime landscape in the scene of Mary’s journey, for instance, could relate to the hope and joy associated with Christ’s upcoming birth. The cold, rather desolate grounds around the inn, by comparison, seem to accentuate the humble conditions of Christ’s entrance into the world. 33 Such images provided the pious with vivid representations of the lives of Christ, the Virgin, and the saints. As has been discussed previously, this kind of image would have been a valuable devotional aid in the worshiper’s daily recitations. In a way roughly analogous to the manner in which the devotional process was carried out through the reading of devotional texts, images also contained a form of approach, climactic experience, and departure. The miniature would direct attention; then it could serve as a visualization for the reader, and such illuminations could also be stored in one’s memory at the end of the devotional experience. The Master, like many other painters of the period, created devotional art that appealed to the individual on a variety of levels—physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. 34 The miniatures of the Engelbert Hours all seem to serve the same devotional purpose that has been considered throughout this thesis. Though the Master used many of the same artistic methods as other Northern 33 Alexander, Hours, p. 126. 34 The texts in Books of Hours contain numerous sensory associations. Mary, in the Hours of the Virgin, is often described as sweet smelling and as an image of perfect beauty. (see Wieck, Painted Prayers, pp. 52-54) Similarly, in the Hours of the Cross, each hour contains an antiphon in which the cross is described as being “adorned with [Christ’s] limbs like pearls.” (Wieck, Painted Prayers, p. 79) Readers of such devotional works were encouraged to envision spiritual concepts by associating them with familiar physical things. Both texts and images conveyed such spiritual and physical connections.

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94 artists of the 15 th century, his illuminations have been dubbed “innovative.” 35 It is the manner in which the Master combined the various elements, such as late medieval architectural settings and interior furnishings, Northern landscape and seasonal changes as well as naturalism and realistic perspective to convey both traditional and rarely depicted scenes that has won him this distinction. 36 He attempted to establish a personal connection between the image, what or whom it represents, and the viewer, emphasizing the familiarity and reality of the religious subjects and suggesting the appropriate moods for the scenes. The Master essentially created devotional images with which the pious viewer could identify and empathize. 37 Another feature of the Engelbert Hours, and perhaps the most striking, appears in the very different treatments of the borders that are encountered throughout the manuscript. At some point prior to the book’s completion, many of the decorative borders were repainted. The earlier style of decoration consisted of curling vines and delicate sprays of flowers and berries. The later, redone borders are composed of trompe-l’oeil illuminations that feature a variety of motifs, including flowers, peacock feathers, cockleshells, insects, and even human skulls. 38 The cause of this considerable change in 35 Alexander, Hours, p. 26. 36 Ibid. 37 Marrow discusses this general idea of the manner in which devotional diptychs and Andachtsbilder present sacred scenes to viewers by vividly conveying the “cause” as well as the “desired effects” of the events on the worshipers. (Marrow, “Symbol and Meaning,” p. 157) Marrow also asserts that the “materiality” of the representations of figures and objects, during the late medieval and Renaissance periods, enhanced the personal connection of the depicted scenes to the viewers’ own lives and worldly experience. (Marrow, “Symbol and Meaning,” 158) 38 Alexander, Hours, p. 22. Interestingly, the Master’s carefully rendered illusionistic flowers and curling acanthus leaves seem to resemble the flora of the earlier flatter borders; some of the same flowers and fruits even appear. A rather unusual scheme appears in a folio from the Office of the Dead (fol. 214) (fig. 17). Rendered in trompe-l’oeil, skulls sit in golden niches around the bottom and right hand side of the framed section containing the text and miniature showing a burial. The skulls are turned in various directions,

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95 the overall decorative scheme of the manuscript is unknown; Alexander suggests that this alteration may indicate a pause in the project of illuminating the manuscript. 39 The wishes of the artist or the patron may have also brought about the drastic change. The Master’s overall approach to the border, the text, and the miniature has been considered quite new. The two most prominent art historians who have studied the manuscript, Otto Pcht and Alexander, have suggested similar explanations of the Master’s spatial innovations. Both scholars agree that the Master unifies the entire page more successfully than previous miniaturists had done. Pcht, in his 1944 Burlington Magazine article on the Master, notes that earlier borders had been conceived of “planimetrically,” unlike the later trompe-l’oeil decorations that occupy “the space above the page.” 40 Alexander elaborates on this notion. 41 He claims that the visual coherence of manuscript illuminations in the 15 th century was being compromised by the rising use of illusionistically rendered three-dimensional space in the miniatures (based on one-point perspective). 42 According to Alexander, many manuscripts produced during the 14 th and 15 th centuries exhibit a growing confusion between the flatness of the surface, necessary to contain the texts, and the apparent depth of the miniature. In Alexander’s view, artists attempted to resolve such spatial discrepancies by decorating the borders with curling vine tendrils (like the earlier borders in the Engelbert Hours). Though this some even facing the viewer, and serve as a memento mori, reminding the beholder of his or her own mortality. A little scroll with the patron’s motto “Ce sera moy” appears above two skulls at the bottom of the page—emphasizing the personal actuality of death. (Alexander, Hours, 174) 39 Ibid. 40 Otto Pcht, “The Master of Mary of Burgundy,” The Burlington Magazine 85 (December 1944): 296. 41 Alexander, Hours, p. 16. 42 Ibid., p. 15.

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96 type of decoration bridged the “gap” between text and miniature by serving as “a sort of neutral zone,” as Alexander puts it, the three levels were not yet successfully unified. 43 The Master’s use of trompe-l’oeil elements to surround the text and miniature, however, proved to be an innovative method for tying the border, text, and miniature together. 44 Alexander writes that the Master saw that the solution to the problem lay in emphasizing the flat surface of the page and relating both border and miniature to it, so that all three are seen from a single unified point of view. The result is a series of levels each related to the others. Nearest to us are the flowers in front of the page, then comes the page itself, and finally behind it is the scene portrayed in the miniature. 45 Both Pcht’s and Alexander’s assertions have been widely accepted by scholars, and such theories appear quite convincing at first. After examining certain folios more closely, however, one can see that the borders on several folios are painted as though they lie beneath the level of the text and miniature. The framed miniatures on such pages actually seem to hover slightly above the illusionistically rendered marginal elements. Though not all the miniatures throughout the manuscript appear to be so detached from their surrounding borders, those that do feature this quality raise questions as to what the artist intended to convey through the unusual treatment of the page’s space. Considering the work with respect to its devotional function, one of the possible explanations that 43 Ibid. 44 Ibid. and Pcht, The Master of Mary of Burgundy (London: Faber and Faber, Ltd., 1947). Pcht and Alexander are careful to note that the trompe-l’oeil borders were not a total innovation. Pcht claims that some of the earliest examples exist from the late 14 th century. (Pcht, p. 29) The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, a Dutch manuscript from the 1430s, is a particularly fine example of an earlier work with trompe-l’oeil borders. Both the Cleves and the Engelbert Hours contain a wide variety of border decorations. Alexander notes that the Limbourg brothers, in the Trs Riches Heures, used trompe-l’oeil elements, and Italian illuminators were also working with the technique in the late 14 th century. (Alexander, p. 16) According to Alexander, however, the difference between such earlier attempts and the “innovation” of the Master’s work “lay in the way he combined these borders with the miniatures and the script into a coherent whole.” (Alexander, p. 16) 45 Alexander, Hours, p. 16.

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97 suggests itself is that the Master may have been experimenting with ways of enhancing the personal and revelatory aspect of the illuminated page. This idea will be explored further throughout the remainder of this chapter. The Hours of the Cross (Vespers) (fol. 84v), is a prime example (fig. 20) of a framed miniature that appears to have been placed in front of the border (which serves as a “background”). The border contains alternating gold and silver cockle shells placed within a grid design made up of interwoven golden lines on a pink ground. The top of the arch in the miniature and text area actually obscures the scalloped edges of three shells and, while some of those located along the right side of the miniature’s frame are painted smaller altogether, others are partially covered up by the space containing the narrative or the text beneath it. A similar relationship between the framed area and the border appears in the Hours of the Virgin (Matins) (figs. 15, 16). On these folios, the border of peacock feathers is overlapped by the framed illuminations, which appear to sit right on top of them. Some feathers are almost completely hidden from view by the miniatures. Other folios contain an even greater sense of the framed miniatures’ “detachment” from the page. A folio from the Penitential Psalm 50 (fol. 190v), for instance, features a border composed of a soft blue ground overlaid with gold lattice-work and assorted letters in the open spaces (fig. 21). Like many of the manuscript’s trompe-l’oeil border designs, these elements appear to cast shadows onto the illusionistic surface behind them. So far, this description supports the view of Pcht and Alexander that the region around the miniature is supposed to seem closer to the reader than the level of the text or the even deeper space of the narrative painting; however, the enclosed area containing the

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98 miniature and the text appears to be painted over (that is to say, in front of) the lattice motif. A dark shadow even lies beneath the framed area, darkening the blue backdrop. The space in the miniature does, indeed, seem to illusionistically recede, but it is as though the framed scene opens up into the space of a separate realm, independent from the border. The effect of all this, in contrast to what Pcht and Alexander have proposed, produces a sense that the miniature and text are actually closest to the viewer. Rather than looking as if the surface of the folio has been cut away, revealing various levels of depth, the framed illusion seems to lift off the page somewhat. 46 Another example of the frame itself casting a shadow onto the surrounding space may be found in the Prayers to Catherine of Alexandria (fol. 40) (fig. 22). In this folio, ornate jewels are rendered as if attached to the blue ground of the border—some of the pins “holding” the ornaments in place even appear to pierce the page, illusionistically threading through its surface. Furthering the sense of reality, some of the pendants seem to twist slightly against the surface of the border. Once again, the idea advanced by both Pcht and Alexander is initially rather convincing, but becomes less so when one notices the shadow caused by the miniature. Around the bottom and right hand edges, a distinctive darkened area is apparent, which is consistent with the shadowing on and 46 At least one full text page (fol. 85), featuring no miniature, is also rendered as though it is not fixed to the page but is suspended above it, casting a shadow on the border (fig. 28). This observation suggests that the Master was experimenting with the spatial relationships between the various parts of the page—in some cases, perhaps, he used the shadowing technique for a purpose that was not specifically devotional. His work of this kind may be seen as a precursor to later works of the late 15 th and 16 th centuries that feature texts, which appear to be “suspended” by illusionistic ropes strung from one side of the page to the other. In such pieces, borders depicting scenes, Biblical or otherwise, appear more like partially concealed miniatures that are visible only around, or behind, the areas of text. Folio 214 from the Office of the Dead features yet another variation of the artist’s treatment of the page’s space. Though the area containing the miniature and text does not appear to “cast” any shadows, it definitely seems to be “in front” of the series of niches that comprise the border. The artist may have been trying to heighten the sense that death is an inescapable reality, by placing the scene of a 15 th -century burial ceremony and the accompanying text closest to the viewer.

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99 around the jewels in the border. The framed area no longer seems to exist in a space beneath the surrounding border, but appears, rather, to hover slightly above the lavishly adorned blue ground. Another particularly impressive image from the Engelbert Hours that calls the results of earlier studies into question appears on folio 16 verso, Prayer to the Virgin “O excellentissima” (fig. 14). The border contains representations of pilgrim badges carefully arranged on a green ground, which surrounds a framed miniature of the Virgin and infant Christ and an area of text (two of the badges along the right side of the frame, and one on the lower left, are covered by the “hovering” miniature and script). All the tokens, as well as the framed area appear to “cast shadows” to their lower right-hand sides. The half-length image of the Madonna and Child appear in front of a red ground, and the entire image is rendered as though it is a religious vision. The Virgin wears blue garments and an elaborate crown, and, in a fairly traditional pose, she gently holds the figure of Christ—as if presenting him to the viewer. The baby is clothed only in a sheer piece of cloth, and golden rays radiate from around his head. In approximating a sacred vision, this familiar sort of image seems to be revealed by the opening of the purplish-gray clouds that are rendered around the inside edges of the frame. The fact that this image seems to “hover” and contains the “revelatory” miniature, suggests that the artist may have been trying to achieve a sense of the visionary religious experience. Many other works, both panel and manuscript paintings, contain images of the Madonna and Child appearing before a patron in a manner similar to the Engelbert illumination. The Prayer Book of James IV of Scotland (dating from the early 16 th century), for example, contains an illumination of Queen Margaret at Her Devotions (fig.

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100 23). While she kneels with an open prayer book in front of her (it is placed on a cloth covered prieu-dieu) a half-length image of the Virgin and infant Christ hover before her. Ringbom describes the image as “Queen Margaret . . . worshipping a vision of Virgo Maria in Sole.” 47 Rather like the clouds in the image from the Engelbert Hours, Queen Margaret’s vision appears surrounded by an aureole, which sets the sacred figures apart from the earthly things around them and suggests a moment of revelation. With regard to the illumination of Queen Margaret, Ringbom asserts that the presence of Mary and Christ “cannot be intended to represent an apparition, but rather a mental image,” since the Queen is “an ordinary person [and] not a visionary saint.” 48 An earlier example of such a religious vision appears in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves (ca. 1440) (fig. 24). The patroness, Catherine, kneels with an open prayer book in her hands. She is situated just to the left of a full-length image of the Virgin and Christ (like Queen Margaret’s vision, Catherine’s is a variation of the Madonna of the Sun, which refers to the Woman of the Apocalypse, described in Revelation 12: 1-6). The sacred individuals are surrounded by a golden mandorla, which fills a small interior space; John Plummer, who has studied the manuscript in some detail, suggests that the “shallow chapel” might actually represent “Catherine’s own.” 49 Queen Margaret’s vision also appears in an ecclesiastical setting of some sort. Though depictions of religious visions vary in the particular way they are represented, one aspect that seems common to all is that they appear to people (generally 47 Ringbom, Icon to Narrative, p. 21. Ringbom also notes that the Virgo Maria in Sole is associated with the idea of the Immaculate Conception as well as “the Benediction of the Virgin’s limbs.” 48 Ibid., pp. 21-22. 49 John Plummer, The Hours of Catherine of Cleves: Introduction and Commentaries (New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1975), p. 26.

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101 those in attitudes of pious devotion) in their earthly settings. The divine realm is revealed to people in surroundings that are familiar to them and through forms that are recognizable. 50 In light of such observations, it seems that the Master of Mary of Burgundy may have been trying to heighten the reader’s ability to visualize the sacred by giving some of the miniatures in the Engelbert Hours a “hovering” quality—allowing the pious viewer to attain a “visionary experience” of sorts. 51 These observations concerning the Master’s use of the illuminated folio seem to suggest a couple of possible explanations. First of all, the miniatures and areas of text could be viewed simply as other objects placed on the page. Some framed areas appear to have been laid on top of a flat, horizontal surface, while other miniatures seem to have been placed (or “hung”) on a vertical surface. 52 Such miniatures could be interpreted as 50 As has been noted throughout this thesis, many other religious subjects and figures, besides the Madonna and Child, appeared to people in the form of holy apparitions. 51 The Master of Mary of Burgundy was not the first artist to experiment with different ways of using the space of the page (and its three levels: miniature, text, and border). In the Cleves’ Hours, for instance, some unusual solutions to unifying the space appear. The Suffrage of St. Jerome (fol. p. 242), features a miniature of Jerome in his cardinal’s garb removing a thorn from the lion’s paw (fig. 25). Below the framed image is an area of text, and the border is actually rendered to appear as a silk banner on which the miniature and text are arranged. (Plummer, Hours, p. 260) The entire page is essentially made to look like an object that is independent of the vellum on which it is painted—as if one might be able to lift the fabric right off the page. In the Suffrage of St. Nicholas (fol. p. 280), also in the Cleves Hours, the artist manipulates the concept of the page in a different way (fig. 26). Here the text panel is situated above the framed miniature of St. Nicholas. The standing figure of the saint wears the garb of a bishop and raises his hand in blessing. The border is quite unusual; the area just around the centralized miniature and text is composed of a blue ground with gold stars and “three monstrous moon faces,” as Plummer describes them, appear at each of the four corners of the script and picture. Surrounding the blue sky is an undulating, scalloped edge, painted to resemble the dissolution of the flat page to reveal the miniature. According to Plummer, this edge is supposed to represent clouds, which have been calmed—a reference to St. Nicholas. (Plummer, 297) In this illumination, the artist very cleverly suggests that the miniature exists somewhere beyond the vellum surface. The physical diminishes and the spiritual is realized. 52 Both types of arrangements suggest that the book could be turned, tilted, and adjusted during devotional activities. The basic format and concept of the illuminated book, especially those designed for private devotional use, lent themselves to the heightened sense of the “personal.” The fact that a person could hold and manipulate the book automatically made it more intimate.

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102 highly valued and very detailed paintings and nothing more. Sandstrm’s analysis of architectonic framing elements in late medieval manuscript illumination confirms this idea. “Not content with depicting a picture on the page of the book,” he writes, “the medieval artist represented the picture itself as an object. This is a way of making clear that the illumination is a work of art, a precious object, and not just an illustration to the text.” 53 Sandstrm goes on to say that this practice also represents a “way of lowering the picture’s pictorial level of reality in relation to its objective quality, to the same extent that the framework asserts itself as a three-dimensional object against the flat page.” 54 This manner of reading illuminations suggests that miniatures serve as exquisite devotional aids that maintain their quality as painted images. In general, this assessment seems quite fitting; however, the function of such sacred images can be extended. Some paintings begin to approximate the appearance of a religious vision of sorts. The arma Christi in the Psalter and Hours of Bonne of Luxembourg (figs. 9-11) features one way in which an illumination can suggest an actual visual experience of the sacred realm attained through a devotional process. The example from the Bonne Hours (discussed in chapter 3) operates through a progression of texts and images. The worshiper is led, with visible models, through the proper approach to the sacred subjects, followed by a vivid private realization of the source of the individual’s Salvation represented through Christ’s wounds. In the Engelbert Hours, this sense of revelation is suggested in a slightly different manner, but the concept is rather similar. The reader/viewer of the Engelbert Hours 53 Sandstrm, Levels of Unreality, p. 61. 54 Ibid.

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103 might receive a “vision” through a more subtle process of contemplation. Many of the miniatures in the Engelbert Hours seem to exist in a space above the border but paradoxically open into a very deep interior or an expansive landscape. Rather than trying to unify the three levels of the illuminated folio by creating a “telescoping” sense of space, such as Pcht alluded to and Alexander further developed, it seems that the artist may have been working toward a different end. Instead of approaching the illuminations primarily as an opportunity to find a solution to rising spatial quandaries in manuscript decoration from both an artistic and conceptual standpoint, the Master seems to have focused on the book’s intended function. As a work designed first and foremost as a private devotional object, the images would have been created as aids to meditation. 55 Just as the readings and recitations contained a means of approach, followed by the climactic devotional experience, and concluded by words of departure, the structure of the decorated page would suggest a similar method for inviting the worshiper in, presenting the main focus of the text/image, and then providing a means of withdrawal. 56 The fact that several framed miniatures (and texts, when included with a partial illumination) seem to float above the surface of the page, contribute to a feeling of the image’s actual presence, approximating that of revelation. 57 In this way, worshipers using the Hours would be given a more awe-inspiring devotional experience, complete with visual manifestations of the sacred. 58 In the Engelbert Hours, it seems that the artist 55 Alexander, Hours, p. 25. 56 There may be some connection to panel painting as well, such as devotional diptychs. The illuminations seem to have the illusion of being set up in front of something. 57 There is at least one exception to this statement (see note 46). 58 In a very recent book review of Leo Steinberg’s Leonardo’s Incessant Last Supper, Joseph Leo Koerner suggests an interesting and rather promising possibility for the study of space and time in Renaissance art.

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104 used the trompe-l’oeil elements in the borders to catch the viewers’ attention and draw them in; however, inspection of the minute details yields discovery of the hovering miniature. The framed area seems to lift off of the flat surface of the folio, and, though still a two-dimensional element itself, “miraculously” opens into the spatial depth of the illusionistically rendered images. As a result, the limitations of earthly time and space, in a sense, diminish. The intended result of this process is itself exemplified in many illuminated manuscripts. As has been shown, a number of late medieval and Renaissance works depict pious individuals having religious visions while at their devotions (see figs. 23, 24). In many cases the holy apparition seems to hover right before the eyes of the person, who is frequently shown kneeling with an open prayer book of some kind. Mary of Burgundy at Her Devotions (before 1482) from the Vienna Hours is another work by the hand of the Master of Mary of Burgundy and provides an appropriate image with which to close this chapter (fig. 27). The miniature is of a large open window, through which a vast interior of a Gothic church is revealed. Mary of Burgundy actually appears twice in this image—once in the foreground, seated on the left side of the illumination reading her prayer book, as well as inside the church; she is shown kneeling on the right side of the Virgin and Christ. Several other figures, both human and angelic, are also included. The simultaneous appearance of Mary of Burgundy outside and inside the church suggests that, in participating in the devotional process, Mary is using her devotional book as a “In order to perceive the image stretched between the extremes of surface and world,” he writes, “it is necessary to abandon a conventional understanding of objects as bounded entities. Beyond what seems a rather tame model of ambiguity—as that which cannot be reduced to a single meaning or moment—there lies a radical and not yet theorized ‘sensible’ economics, in which images do not replace their absent prototype but are parts of that prototype, participating in it synecdochially by sharing in its incarnation.” Joseph Leo Koerner, “Book Review of Leonardo’s Incessant Last Supper,” The Art Bulletin 86 (December 2004): 782.

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105 means of attaining a rich religious experience. Wieck asserts that Mary’s “closeness to the Virgin grows out of absorbed contemplation. Her Book of Hours creates a physical and psychic space for solitude and contemplation.” 59 The text essentially provided her with the avenue for her approach, and she appears to be experiencing a spiritual vision. 60 Christ and the Virgin are revealed to the reader; they are seated in front of the church’s altar. Mary of Burgundy is rendered in the perpetual presence of the Savior and his mother. 61 Anyone else using this Book of Hours is similarly presented with an invitation to the sacred. The exquisite miniature with its incredible detail and naturalistic renderings of objects and textures draws the viewer in through its apparent tactile qualities; the vision through the window is then revealed. The construction of the space in this miniature supports the idea that the Master was conceiving of the miniatures in the Engelbert Hours as tiny visions and that he experimented with different ways of communicating such a concept. Following a period of preparatory contemplation of the image, the worshiper might be primed to notice something that a cursory glance might not yield. As has been noted earlier in this thesis, various religious movements of the Middle Ages and Renaissance advocated trying to attain a higher spiritual state through meditation and intense devotional activities. Furthermore, as discussed in Chapter 3, Northern panel painters of the period were experimenting with elements of trompe-l’oeil, 59 Wieck, Time Sanctified, p. 44. 60 The depiction of her spiritual encounter could represent an actual vision, or, as Ringbom suggested of Queen Margaret’s experience, the scene may depict an image of Mary in the presence of the Virgin and Christ that she has imagined. 61 The idea of devotional materials helping to create a personal connection between the viewer and the sacred subjects is emphasized by Wieck’s statements concerning the image of Mary of Burgundy; he writes that for Mary “the Virgin becomes her mother, her friend, a confidante to whom she can disclose herself, her pain, her joy.” (Wieck, Time Sanctified, p. 44)

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106 suggestions of spatial depth, and the creation of a more personal connection between the viewer and the depicted image. The work of the Master of Mary of Burgundy may or may not have been designed with the express purpose of heightening the personal aspect of the book through artistic innovations, but the treatment of several illuminated pages does seem to beg for further scrutiny in terms of the Master’s intention. This chapter has attempted to offer one such study of the Engelbert Hours, considered through the lens of 15 th -century devotional practices. As has been discussed previously, late medieval and Renaissance Christians would have been familiar with devotional art that relied on a progression of meditative levels, in order to attain religious vision. In keeping with this notion, the illuminated pages of the Engelbert Hours, presented in this chapter, would have been no different than numerous panel paintings that sought to convey spiritual revelations of sorts through the gradual unfolding of the triptych form. Similarly, votive images along pilgrimage routes helped devotees prepare for the moment when a religious encounter at the main shrine would take place. Ceremonies in churches, furthermore, often incorporated curtains and veils to increase the sacred quality of the rituals being enacted. Spiritual realities were frequently suggested through the physical, and, to enhance the value of the representative images and objects, full attainment of the personal religious experience for the devout was often prolonged, achieved only through the proper spiritual, mental, and physical application of the devotional process.

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CHAPTER 6 CONCLUSION Until quite recently, the idea of art as part of a religious process has not been a major part of art historical research. As has been emphasized through this study, however, images were a very vital part of Christian practice, for both public and private rituals. A brief review of the conclusions reached up to this point should not only reinforce this idea, but also show the promise of further in-depth study concerning the function of religious art with particular regard to the devotional process. As this paper has attempted to demonstrate, religious images during the Middle Ages and Renaissance were highly valued and served a specific devotional function. When late medieval and Renaissance art is considered in the broader historical and theological context of the devotional movement (and its various forms such as the devotio moderna), religious imagery takes on an enhanced function. To many devout Christians of the period, paintings of sacred subjects were worth much more than a brief glance and momentary appreciation. For such believers (particularly followers of devotionalism), sacred art became an integral part of an extensive devotional process, which incorporated numerous steps or stages, simplified and divided throughout this study into: people’s approach to such artwork, their experience before the images, and finally their departure from sacred pictures. According to this model, religious paintings should be viewed as a very valuable part of a rather involved spiritual experience. 1 Pious Christians were very 1 Obviously, the ornate quality of many forms of devotional art, particularly from the medieval and Renaissance periods, appealed to patrons’ aesthetic sensibilities, and some wealthy individuals 107

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108 serious about how they prepared for worship, how they carried out their actions and contemplations at the climax of their devotional activities, and what they should receive from their experiences, be it a physical object, a sense of healing, or a memory of the encounter. All aspects of this three-part manner of looking at medieval and Renaissance devotional practices and processes seem to revolve around the use of the visual as a guide, a goal, and a reminder of the person’s experience of and with the Divine. Of course, the value of images for an enhanced spiritual experience, especially in private devotional activities, might seem questionable, since the frequent use of the same pictures or set of pictures would run the risk of becoming too familiar (with the devotional practices eventually lapsing into mindless repetition). Though this is certainly a valid concern, medieval theologians and writers of devotional texts encouraged the pious to repeat religious exercises frequently and fervently—as was illustrated, for example, in people’s enthusiasm for attending the Mass often, since its benefits were believed to “wear off” daily; or the popularity of pilgrimages, in which some people visited the same sites multiple times; or the widespread use of private devotional texts, designed for daily spiritual activities. Prayer books offered people a means of constantly renewing and reiterating their devotion to God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Virgin, and the saints in the privacy of the worshippers’ own homes. With regard to the Hours of the Virgin, Wieck writes that the “constancy” with which it was recited “was clearly a comfort. Repeated on a daily basis from childhood to old age, the Hoursbecame a commissioned more than one Book of Hours, as well as collecting those originally made for other patrons, presumably desiring to own the manuscripts for their artistic appeal. Jean de Berry, who possessed a wide array of prayer books, is a prime example of such a patron.

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109 familiar steadfast friend.” 2 By using familiar and previously encountered devotional materials (both texts and images), individuals could focus on reliving intense experiences and developing a deeper and more satisfying religious practice than might be attained through the use of completely new and unprecedented paraphernalia. The 20 th -century historian of religion, Jonathan Z. Smith addresses such ideas in his essay “Sacred Persistence” (1982). 3 Smith protests the frequent assumption on the part of Western scholars of religion that originality and spontaneity are the paradigmatic categories for understanding religious experience. According to Smith, human religiosity is much more frequently characterized by repetition (precisely as might be the case with a frequently used Book of Hours). Smith makes his point by contrasting his own ideas with those of an earlier scholar of religion, Adolf Jensen. Smith’s remarks are worth quoting in full. He writes that for Jensen: All truth, meaning, and value are located in . . . a primal, creative moment of ontic ‘seizure,’ a ‘revelation,’ a direct cognition of the essence of living reality.’ Myth, he argues, ‘always begins with a condition antecedent to concretization, when the creative idea is already in existence and finally manifests itself through the mythic event.’ The first ‘concretization,’ the first ‘formulation,’ is an ‘intuitive spontaneous experiencing’ which Jensen terms ‘expression.’ Expression is, for Jensen, an essentially passive experience equivalent to the religious term ‘inspiration.’ All subsequent ‘formulations’ and ‘concretizations’ are reinterpretations of this primal experience and are termed by Jensen, ‘applications’—a pejorative word in his lexicon. ‘Application’ over time leads to ‘mere survivals’ of the original, authentic ‘seizure’ and ‘first expression.’ All ‘application’ for Jensen is under the sway of the iron ‘law of degeneration,’ or 2 Wieck, Painted Prayers, p. 51. Wieck’s statement is significant to this study. He suggests that worshipers using Books of Hours would find comfort in the frequency and reliability of the Hours. Furthermore, Wieck’s choice of the word “friend” reinforces the idea that the use of prayer books would not be static and one-sided, but, rather, the person’s “relationship” with the texts and images, and that which they represent, would continue to develop and grow. 3 Jonathan Z. Smith, Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1982).

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110 ‘semantic depletion’ and results in the original ‘spontaneity’ becoming a ‘fixed but no longer understood routine’—a statement, on Jensen’s part, of the traditional Protestant bugaboos of ‘habit,’ ‘dogma,’ and ‘magic’ which has resulted in the vast majority of religious phenomena remaining unintelligible to most western scholarship. 4 In another essay, “in contradistinction” to Jensen’s assertions concerning religious experience, Smith “propose[s] an enterprise that would insist on . . . the value of the prosaic, the expository, [and] the articulate [in order to] gain an appreciation of the complex dynamics of tradition and its necessary dialectics of self-limitation and freedom.” 5 Smith’s position suggests that the effect of repetition does not lessen the impact or value of devotional exercises, but, rather, that the repetition provides a means for reaffirming the importance of a step-by-step movement through the progression of the devotional process and the resulting religious experience. Far from draining the practices of impact, the repetition itself could help to reinforce the significance of a spiritual encounter and integrate it into the person’s life. The frequent use of such routines might lead not so much to the blurring of their component steps as to the reinforcement of an ordered progression. If the sacred became “routine,” then perhaps at the same time the everyday might become suffused with the sacred. All told, the physical and tangible helped convey the spiritual and the abstract. Pilgrimage routes were marked by small images leading up to the more elaborate ones marking the primary, sought-after shrine, and pilgrims frequently went home with miniature representations of holy images to be used later as visual reminders of their 4 Ibid., p. 42. 5 Smith, “The Domestication of Sacrifice,” in Violent Origins: Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly, ed. (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1987), p. 196.

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111 travels and foci for future devotions. In ecclesiastical settings, images generally confronted churchgoers on approaching the door as well as during their entire journey up to the main altar, which would have been adorned with an altarpiece emphasizing the meaning of the Mass, and when exiting the building, images would remind the people of their need for renewal and salvation. Private devotions, particularly among the laity, often involved the use of images for the attainment of personal, “empathetic” religious experiences. Like the pilgrimage journey or the walk toward a church’s main altar, images for private use helped to give Christians a sacred example of the ideal way of responding to religious images and ideas. The work itself also provided a focus for devotions, and having the image in the home at all times, provided an ever-present reminder of the person’s religious experience before the work and with sacred material. As has been discussed throughout this thesis, painted images could serve as vehicles for meditation, for instance by illustrating a particular Biblical event, a “portrait” of a holy figure, or a rather abstract Christian concept. Art provided a means for individuals to visualize things of the sacred realm and discover a personalized manner of comprehending and even, in a sense, interacting with spiritual matters and beings. Therefore, religious artworks not only had the ability to function as spiritual guides and reminders for Christians performing their devotional exercises, but also painted images could stand in as substitute holy visions for individuals who might not otherwise be intellectually or spiritually inclined to have visual religious experiences any other way. Devotional images in the form of panel paintings or manuscript illuminations utilized many of the same types of methods for connecting with the viewer in a personal manner and conveying a sense of spiritual revelation. Artists of both varieties of artwork

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112 enhanced the personal aspect of the religious themes they depicted by featuring familiar and apparently tangible manifestations of the sacred. Familiar geographic locations and contemporary settings heightened the sense of relevance for the medieval and Renaissance Christian; figures’ facial expressions and bodily gestures also helped to capture the viewer’s attention and establish an impression of a personal exchange. These same aspects could increase the worshiper’s ability to imagine the emotional impact of the events depicted and empathize with the individuals involved. Images could also serve as vehicles and models for religious visions. During the three stages of the devotional process, worshipers could refer to images as a constant means of approach to the divine realm, a visualization of their desired goal, as well as a tangible, accessible, and vivid reminder of what they had attained or what they continued to strive for. As the last chapter of this thesis emphasized, manuscript illumination can be studied with the same set of questions and concerns that scholars use to investigate the appearance and function of panel paintings. The Book of Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, demonstrates the validity of this assertion. The Master of Mary of Burgundy’s use of space, his renderings of figures, and his careful attention to detail all resemble the methods of contemporary panel painters. The similarities between the Master’s miniatures and large-scale (that is, in relation to the small size of most manuscript illuminations) panel paintings do not, however, end with such concerns. Blum asserted, for instance, that the popularity of triptychs in the North (especially during their heyday in the 15 th century) represents a shift in the way people conceived of art’s role and function (i.e., that worshipers began to approach many religious paintings much as they approached decorated church interiors: both forms of art provided the pious with

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113 something that they could maneuver through during their devotions, mentally, visually, and even physically), and her observations can be applied to the work of manuscript illuminators of the late medieval and Renaissance periods as well. Illuminators and panel painters alike used their talents and respective media to convey religious themes and provide a vehicle for religious experiences. The concept of human beings having both spiritual and physical modes of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching seems to reinforce the idea that medieval Christians relied on the tangible and the concrete to illustrate as well as, in a way, access the spiritual or the abstract. This thesis has argued that works of late medieval and Renaissance religious art are best understood in terms of their role within a devotional process. This process may be broken down into three basic constituent elements: approach, climactic experience, and departure. Whether or not life imitates art, religious art and the devotional life cannot be understood apart from one another.

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FIGURES Figure 1. Jan van Eyck, Man with a Red Turban, 1433, National Gallery, London (Campbell, The Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Schools, p. 213). 114

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115 Figure 2. Jan van Eyck, Margaretha van Eyck,1439, Groeningemuseum, Bruges (Harbison, Jan Van Eyck: The Play of Realism, pl. 7). Figure 3. Quentin Massys, Man, 1510s, Private Collection, Switzerland (Campbell, Renaissance Portrait Painting in the 14 th , 15 th , and 16 th Centuries, pl. 43).

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116 Figure 4. Quentin Massys, Lady, 1510s, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Campbell, Renaissance Portrait Painting in the 14 th , 15 th , and 16 th Centuries, pl. 44). Figure 5. Quentin Massys, Man With Glasses, ca. 1515, Stdelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfort (Snyder, Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, and the Graphic Arts from 1350-1575, fig. 479).

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117 Figure 6. Hans Memling, Christ Giving His Blessing, 1478, Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena (De Vos, Hans Memling: The Complete Works, pl. 27).

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118 Figure 7. Geertgen tot Sint Jans Man of Sorrows, ca. 1480-85, Rijksmuseum Het Catharijneconvent, Utrecht (Van Os, The Art of Devotion in the Late Middle Ages in Europe 1300-1500, pl. 41). Figure 8. Rogier van der Weyden, Bladelin Altarpiece, (1445-48), Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preussischer Kulturbesitz (De Vos, Rogier vander Weyden: The Complete Works, pl. 15).

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119 Figure 9. French aritist, Arma Christi, Psalter and Hours of Bonne of Luxembourg, mid-1340s, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Hamburger, The Visual and the Visionary: Art and Female Spirituality in Late Medieval Germany fig. 2.22).

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120 Figure 10. French aritist, Psalter and Hours of Bonne of Luxembourg, mid-1340s, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Hamburger, The Visual and the Visionary: Art and Female Spirituality in Late Medieval Germany fig. 2.20).

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121 Figure 11. French aritist, Psalter and Hours of Bonne of Luxembourg, mid-1340s, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Hamburger, The Visual and the Visionary: Art and Female Spirituality in Late Medieval Germany fig. 2.21).

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122 Figure 12. Dieric Bouts, Last Supper Altarpiece, 1464-67, Church of St. Peter, Louvain (Snyder, Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, and the Graphic Arts from 1350-1575, colorplate 25).

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123 Figure 13. Joos Van Ghent, Communion of the Apostles Altarpiece, ca.1475, Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Ducal Palace, Urbino (Snyder, Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, and the Graphic Arts from 1350-1575, fig. 159).

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124 Figure 14. Master of Mary of Burgundy, Prayer to the Virgin “O excellentissima,” fol. 16v, Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490, Bodleian Library, Oxford (Alexander, The Master of Mary of Burgundy: A Book of Hours for Engelbert of Nassau, fig. 27).

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125 Figure 15. Master of Mary of Burgundy,Hours of the Virgin (Matins), fol. 97v., Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490, Bodleian Library, Oxford (Alexander, The Master of Mary of Burgundy: A Book of Hours for Engelbert of Nassau, fig.72). Figure 16. Master of Mary of Burgundy,Hours of the Virgin (Matins), fol. 98, Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490, Bodleian Library, Oxford (Alexander, The Master of Mary of Burgundy: A Book of Hours for Engelbert of Nassau, fig.73

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126 Figure 17. Master of Mary of Burgundy, Office of the Dead, fol. 214, Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490, Bodleian Library, Oxford (Alexander, The Master of Mary of Burgundy: A Book of Hours for Engelbert of Nassau, fig. 101).

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127 Figure 18. Master of Mary of Burgundy, Hours of the Virgin (Lauds) fol. 115, Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490, Bodleian Library, Oxford (Alexander, The Master of Mary of Burgundy: A Book of Hours for Engelbert of Nassau, fig. 76).

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128 Figure 19. Master of Mary of Burgundy, Hours of the Cross (Lauds), fol. 57, Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490, Bodleian Library, Oxford (Alexander, The Master of Mary of Burgundy: A Book of Hours for Engelbert of Nassau, fig. 39).

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129 Figure 20. Master of Mary of Burgundy, Hours of the Cross (Vespers), fol. 84v, Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490 Bodleian Library, Oxford (Alexander, The Master of Mary of Burgundy: A Book of Hours for Engelbert of Nassau, fig. 68).

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130 Figure 21. Master of Mary of Burgundy, Penetential Psalm 50, fol. 190v, Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490, Bodleian Library, Oxford (Alexander, The Master of Mary of Burgundy: A Book of Hours for Engelbert of Nassau, fig. 96).

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131 Figure 22. Master of Mary of Burgundy, Prayers to Catherine of Alexandria, fol. 40, Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490, Bodleian Library, Oxford (Alexander, The Master of Mary of Burgundy: A Book of Hours for Engelbert of Nassau, fig. 35).

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132 Figure 23. Queen Margaret at Her Devotions, fol. 243v, Prayerbook of King James IV of Scotland, early 16 th century, National Library, Vienna (Ringbom, Icon to Narrative: The Rise of the Dramatic Close-Up in Fifteenth-Century Devotional Painting, fig. 3).

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133 Figure 24. Catherine of Cleves Kneeling Before the Virgin and Child, fol. 1v, Hours of Catherine of Cleves, ca. 1440, Pierpont Morgan Library (Plummer, The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, pl.1).

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134 Figure 25. Suffrage of St. Jerome, fol. 242, Hours of Catherine of Cleves, ca. 1440, Pierpont Morgan Library (Plummer, The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, pl. 118).

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135 Figure 26. Suffrage of St. Nicholas, fol. 280, Hours of Catherine of Cleves, ca. 1440, Pierpont Morgan Library (Plummer, The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, pl. 136).

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136 Figure 27. Master of Mary of Burgundy, Mary of Burgundy at Her Devotions, fol. 14v, Vienna Hours, before 1482, Nationalbibliothek, Vienna (Alexander, The Master of Mary of Burgundy: A Book of Hours for Engelbert of Nassau, fig. 1).

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137 Figure 28. Master of Mary of Burgundy, Hours of the Cross (Vespers), fol. 85, Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, 1477-1490, Bodleian Library, Oxford (Alexander, The Master of Mary of Burgundy: A Book of Hours for Engelbert of Nassau, fig. 69)

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139 _____. Patterns of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictures. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985. Belting, Hans. The Image and Its Public in the Middle Ages: Form and Function of Early Paintings of the Passion. Mark Bartusis and Raymond Meyer, trans. New Rochelle, New York: Aristide D. Caratzas, Pub., 1990. _____. Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art. Edmund Jephcott, trans. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994. Black, Christopher F. Italian Confraternities in the Sixteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Blum, Shirley Neilsen. Early Netherlandish Triptychs: A Study in Patronage. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969. Boon, K. G., “Bouts, Justus of Ghent, and Berruguete,” The Burlington Magazine 100 (January 1958): 8-14. Borchert, Till-Holger. The Age of Van Eyck: The Mediterranean World and Early Netherlandish Painting 1430-1530. New York: Thames and Hudson Inc., 2002. Borsook, Eve, and Fiorella Superbi Gioffredi, eds. Italian Altarpieces 1250-1550: Function and Design. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994. Borst, Arno. Medieval Worlds: Barbarians, Heretics and Artists in the Middle Ages. Eric Hansen, trans. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991. Bossy, John. Christianity in the West 1400-1700. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985. Bredero, Adriaan H.. Christendom and Christianity in the Middle Ages: The Relations Between Religion, Church, and Society. Reinder Bruinsma, trans. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994. Brilliant, Richard. Portraiture. London: Reaktion Books, Ltd., 1991. Brown, Peter. The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1981. Bryson, Norman. Vision and Painting: The Logic of the Gaze. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983. Buckler, William E., ed. Walter Pater: Three Major Texts (The Renaissance, Appreciations, and Imaginary Portraits). New York: New York University Press, 1986.

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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Brenna Braley is a lifelong Florida resident. She attended Santa Fe Community College and the University of Florida, both located in Gainesville, Florida. Brenna has a B.A. in art history (U.F.) and is currently finishing an M.A. in art history (U.F.). Her area of concentration is Northern Renaissance art. 151