LXVI: End of the trail – Part Two

To those who may be receiving one of these post-notifications for the first time: This is not a blog; it’s actually part of a book, and will make little sense to you without knowledge of what has come before—which you can easily obtain, along with a goodly amount of satirical theatre as matters progress, by simply entering ttgftyri.org into your web browser, opening the menu, and starting at page one. J.J.

And the meaning behind some other puzzling details that had I’d stumbled onto from time to time in all those old Madonna paintings also became clear now.

For instance, I’d noticed that whenever the lining of the Virgin’s mantle was depicted as of a different color than the exterior, with few exceptions that color was green; sure—like the green vegetation that lay between the earth and sky, you know?

And all those paintings by Mantegna, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Marco Zoppo, and especially Carlo Crivelli depicting the Madonna and Child enthroned amidst an assortment of big ripe fruit? Well as Christianity’s Great Mother, of course she’d been regarded—as all Great Mothers were—as responsibly providing her children with sustenance.

And then there were also all those paintings where her mantle was depicted as black as the night sky, with twinkling stars so prominent on her shoulders that you could scarcely miss them; or sometimes just tiny ones scattered all about the black; and the ones where she was closely associated with the moon, whose disc sometimes neatly framed her head, but more often—mainly in the Assumption paintings—was portrayed as her personal seat or podium in the heavens. In those paintings, she had come to be portrayed as not only the Great Mother of the Christian world, but ultimately Queen of the Universe, surpassed in rank only by Yahweh-god himself.

And finally, there were those paintings by Leonardo and Correggio where the Madonna and Child were associated with some cave; while Cimabue, Luca di Tommè, Fra Angelico, Andrea Mantegna, and Georgione had all painted Nativity and Adoration scenes indicating that Jesus had actually been born in a cave.

Now that I knew who the Madonna represented, it was easy to connect that to the fact that according to Funk & Wagnalls, most Culture Heroes both past and present were said to have been born in a cave—a simple, near-universal symbol of the divine Earth-mother’s birthing orifice. So I realized that that was what those were about—and just one more reason to believe that the painters and their patrons had known exactly who their Virgin ultimately represented.

I breathed a sigh of relief—there was just no way that I could be wrong. Everywhere that I looked, indisputable evidence pointed to the fact that through its quaint story of the Virgin and her Child—as told by the two late-comers to the Gospel party, Matthew and Luke—the Church had seized possession of the idea of the Great Mother in common consciousness and simply dismissed, or as necessary destroyed anyone who might have been of a mind not to accept their version of her.

And so now it was over, for me—except, I had to wonder in passing just how all those white-gowned Virgins of my childhood had come about.

But that one turned out to be easy—and in fact, a simple matter of Church record.

I found out that during the Middle Ages, a theory that the Virgin herself had been miraculously conceived, or ‘born without sin’, had arisen in Latin Europe; and while controversial from the start—the Benedictine monastic order had hotly rejected it, while the Franciscan had enthusiastically promoted it—it had steadily gained popularity with ecclesiastics and laity alike over the next nine centuries or so.

Known as the ‘doctrine of the Immaculate Conception’, it especially came to be embraced by many people in Spain; where in 1613, one priest’s sermon casting doubt upon the idea had actually caused a riot when some forty thousand of them had afterward poured into the streets of Seville, loudly declaring that the Virgin had been born without original sin and demanding that the Church immediately proclaim their belief official dogma.

That wouldn’t happen until 1854; but in 1661, the Spanish Church had manage to persuade the Pope to issue a bull clarifying the issue somewhat by declaring that the Virgin Mary was herself ‘without sin’, and seemingly giving the Spanish hope that what they ultimately wanted would eventually come to pass.

Meanwhile, painters in Spain and Italy were increasingly finding themselves tasked with depicting this new, popular idea of the Virgin’s purity in their art.

At first, they’d found it difficult to come up with an image of the Virgin that might express that idea to the satisfaction of everyone; but then as the first quarter of the seventeenth century had drawn to a close, some Italian had recalled a passage from the Book of Revelations: “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” And that had become the standard iconography for Italian painters commissioned to create a portrayal of the Immaculate Conception.

Thus in 1627, Guido Reni had painted this:

5. Immaculate Conception, Guido Reni, 1627
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

But the Spanish had soon gone them one better.

6. Immaculate Conception, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo , ca. 1663
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Actually, Murillo painted more than two dozen Immaculate Conceptions, and in every one of them the Virgin is depicted in a white gown—to the extent that today, art historians credit him with having created a whole new Virgin-iconography.

And in fact, his white-gowned Virgins became so popular—and thus greatly in demand—that most other Spanish painters soon followed suit.

7. Immaculate Conception, Jusepe de Ribera, 1635
Church of Las Agostinas, Salamanca, Spain
8. Immaculate Conception, Juan de Valdéz Leal, 1682
Museo del Prado, Madrid
9. Immaculate Conception, Francisco de Zurbaran, 1661
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
10. Immaculate Conception, Juan Antonio de Escalante, ca. 1667
Cordoba Fine Arts Museum
11. Immaculate Conception, Francisco Herrera, ca. 1670
Museo del Prado, Madrid
12. Immaculate Conception, Francesco de Goya, 1784
Museo del Prado, Madrid

And so forth.

The white gown also began to appear in many of their Assumption paintings; but other than that, Christian painters have largely stuck with the red to this day.

13. Adoration of the Shepherds, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1650
Museo del Prado, Madrid

It almost goes without saying that two centuries later, when a young girl in Lourdes, France told everyone that she’d actually seen the Virgin, she described her as having been clad all in white, save for a blue sash; which is how that statue of the Virgin came to be.

Ditto the statue that’s based on the report of three small children who claimed to have seen her near Fatima, Portugal in 1917.

So there you have it. If you believe that more people should be exposed to the photographs and line of reasoning presented on this site—especially young art-book lovers and/or museum goers who might feel a little bewildered when confronted with such mysteries as Christ’s birth apparently occurring in a cave, whole assortments of ripe fruit surrounding his mother, and some strange, red gown that helped mark her presence in classic Christian iconography; should anyone have yet even bothered to teach them that word, much less explain how it would apply to modern, everyday Christian art—please, by all means send them around.

5: The Met https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437423

6: Wikipedia https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Immaculate_Conception_of_El_Escorial

7: Pixels https://pixels.com/featured/immaculate-conception-painted-in-naples-in-1635-salamanca-las-agostinas-church-virgin-mary-jusepe-de-ribera-1591-1652.html

8: Pinterest https://www.pinterest.dk/pin/406731410102139502/?nic_v1=1bhQl0u%2FTMFCSeIF8gahIEwofDe8DW7raJVoS0pQXkhAZIEVlGiG3wfd1nn1iyel6j

9: WGA https://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/z/zurbaran/2/immacula.html

10: Wikimedia Commons https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Juan_Antonio_de_Fr%C3%ADas_y_Escalante._Inmaculada_Concepci%C3%B3n.jpg#mw-jump-to-license

11: Museo del Prado https://www.museodelprado.es/en/whats-on/exhibition/special-display-immaculate-conceptions/34b5f40a-53d3-49e4-a4f9-a3df1fd67402

12: Museo del Prado https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/the-immaculate-conception/be7caaca-3c25-4d6a-81cd-98574eb8ab36

13: Wikimedia Commons https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adoraci%C3%B3n_de_los_pastores_(Murillo).jpg

One thought on “LXVI: End of the trail – Part Two

  1. The idea of the Virgin Mary being conceived without original sin and leading a sinless life appears to have spawned in the early centuries. During this time, the Church Fathers spoke of Mary as the New Eve and New Ark of the Covenant. Her flesh was described as being holy and she was free from all putridity and corruption. Irenaeus drew a link between Mary’s perpetual virginity and freedom from the stain of sin. Eve lost her virginity by her fall from grace, whereas Mary never lost her virginity and thereby her endowmnent of grace.


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