The Hours of Joanna I of Castile, Joanna the Mad (The London Rothschild Prayerbook)

The Hours of Joanna I of Castile, Joanna the Mad (The London Rothschild Prayerbook) f. 134v, Second apparition


f. 134v, Second apparition

The scene in this illustration is set in two planes. Depicted in the upper or heavenly plane is Christ, the axis of the composition, sitting upon a double rainbow in line with eastern iconography, with the globe at his feet. His torso is bare but the wounds of the Passion cannot be seen on his body. He wears a purple cloak and his right hand is raised in blessing, whilst the gesture of his slightly lower, left hand may be interpreted as a rejection of the damned. He is surrounded by six blue angels, possibly seraphims judging by their colour, bearing the arma Christi, i.e. the instruments of the Passion: one holds the cross and the spear, another the pillar and another apparently the nails. Yet another bears the whips, another, a sort of book or document, and the last angel, the crown of thorns. Also depicted in a circle are the chosen ones, amongst whom women prevail. The chosen ones at the bottom stand facing the beholder and those at top sit with their back to the viewer. Rising up on the other side, beyond a large body of water, is a large promontory with naked figures that represent the saved souls situated on the right of the Lord. This mountain inhabited by the chosen ones may be related to the apocalyptic tale of the chosen ones on mount Zion. In the second plane, in hell, is a group of sinners’ souls depicted as naked persons alongside a body of water, the classical motif of the topography of the great beyond. On the left, two men gesture in pain: since they are not in the boat and do not belong to heaven, they may constitute a reference to the slothful. Finally, the earth opens up in a manner similar to the jaws of Leviathan, the traditional representation of hell of insular origin. This is the most dramatic scene: the serenity of the saved souls contrasts with the exaggerated, awkward gestures of anguish of the damned, who begin to fall headlong into the abyss. The composition is virtually identical – apart from certain very minor details such as the fact that Christ is fully clothed – to the one employed by the Master of Vienna of Mary of Burgundy in the Hours of Engelbert of Nassau (f. 181v), even as regards the desperate gestures and some figures of the damned, borrowed in turn from Hans Memling’s Final Judgment made around 1466-1473 (Gdansk, Muzeum Pomorskie), such as the damned person on the left in the foreground with his hands joined or the two falling into the abyss on the far side. Likewise, the woman tearing at her hair, also in the bottom, left corner, resembles somewhat one of the sinners in Dirk Bouts’s Fall of the Damned, dated around 1450 (Lille, Musée des Beaux Arts, n.º inv. P. 1808). The scene portrays the parousia, i.e. the apparition of the cross and the vision of the Son of Man (according to Matt. 24: 30 and 25: 31). From the end of the 7th to the 14th century, most of the theophanic images referring to a greater or lesser extent to quotations from St Matthew’s Gospel use four iconographic types to signify the apparition of Christ the judge and his sign: the illustration chosen for the Hours of Joanna of Castile is that of Christ enthroned and flanked by an angel carrying the cross. This, the fourth iconographic type, with famous precedents such as the Saint-Savin porch (c. 1100) and the counter apse in Reichenau Oberzell (1100-1150), often reappeared in monumental Gothic iconography, particularly on the façades of the main French cathedrals. The characteristics of this theme, despite certain differences in details, are the five wounds and the gesture pointing at them. As a result, in the illustration in the Hours of Joanna of Castile, the Lord is represented in a rather archaic way since the wounds are not visible and Our Lady and St John the Evangelist are not present as intercessors. Mention must also be made of Christ enthroned: in this case flanked by angels, one of whom bears the cross. This is, therefore, the crucified Redeemer who will appear at the end of time. In this specific context, the signa in the hands of the guard of angels are similar to the instruments of the Passion and are called trophies in many medieval texts. Disregarding these medieval signa, i.e. the wounds and instruments of the Passion, a familiar layout emerges: the image of Christ enthroned in heaven and flanked by angels carrying sceptres, as in the apse of San Vitale in Ravenna, in the nave of San Apollinare Nuovo and in the Maiestas Domini in the Codex Amiantus (Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana, ms. 1). The origin of this representation lies, obviously, in the image of the enthroned emperor surrounded by his guard, although the first Christian image stemming from this particular type may date back to the early 4th century, if the text of the Liber Pontificalis is to be believed when it mentions the silver fastigium donated to the Lateran church by Constantine. The group was depicted on the back of this object, “The roof looking towards the rear of the apse has the Saviour seated upon a throne and angels [...] holding spears”. Angels with instruments are found elsewhere in an image of the parousia upon the arch of triumph in San Michele in Africisco, Ravenna: Christ enthroned appears in the clouds with two angels carrying the spear and the reed on one side and another seven angels with trumpets on the other. This is the first stage in this iconography. The second phase consists of a comparison between the parousia and the texts: the Revelation, the synoptic Gospels (particularly Matt. 24 and 25) and the homilies or the respective commentaries. In most of these writings, the parousia is described as a triumphant coming, i.e. like an imperial adventus, in which the emperor is replaced by Christ, and the Victory figures and trophy-bearing soldiers, by angels carrying the cross-trophy or the instruments of the Passion. In Elucidarium (l. 3, c. 12), Honorius Augustodunensis explains how the Lord will arrive on the day of judgement, “Just as when the emperor, about to enter the city, is preceded by his crown and other insignias to announce his arrival, so will Christ be also, in the manner he ascended, when he comes to the judgement with all the other orders of the angels: the angels bearing his cross will go ahead of him” (PL.: 172, col. 1165). The iconography, with certain exceptions, did not follow the same path: what is represented is not so much the image of an adventus as the static figuration of a triumph or tribunal. This aspect is important since it reveals that the image was not composed solely on the basis of St Matthew’s text but was based on the layout of imperial triumphs, which were static, and whose origin was unrelated to the apocalyptic text of St Matthew. The representation of the signa as instruments of the Passion is a sort of medieval adaptation, a particular interpretation obviously intended to assimilate Christ the triumphant judge in the parousia with the redeeming, crucified Christ in the first coming. Emphasis is placed on only one aspect and its meaning, leaving its triumphal nature, its meaning of trophies or instruments of power that prevailed until the mid 12th century on one side. The figure of Christ surrounded by angels brandishing their signa, the instruments of the Redemption, characterises the last phase in a series of modifications made by Christians to images of the emperor, shown standing or enthroned, flanked by the soldiers in his guard. The emperor makes one of the soldiers in his personal guard present the instrument of his power, his victory shield which is sometimes marked with the Christian sign. This layout was to persist throughout the Middle Ages in images of Ottoman and Carolingian emperors: the monarch is shown sitting on a high throne flanked by two high-ranking officers, one of whom presents the sovereign’s sword and the other, his spear and shield, as can be seen, for example, in an image of Lotarius (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, ms. lat. 266, f. 1v). The vision of the Son of Man must be seen to be a theophany, unlike the separation of the righteous from the evil. Although it translates certain aspects of the supernatural vision of God, it appears as a moral and pictorial explanation of the consequences of the second coming of Christ. From the 13th and 14th centuries onwards, when the meaning was that conveyed by the image in the Hours of Joanna of Castile, it constituted merely an anecdotal digression and was not a mystic or dogmatic interpretation of the direct vision of God. It is not, therefore, strange that it very rarely appeared in eastern Christian art prior to the 11th century and that it was in the West from that century onwards that it became more widespread. Byzantium cared little for moralism and there was little room in its vision of God for such digressions, considered to be vulgar and incompatible with its spiritual traditions. In the West, on the other hand, with its more developed sense of history, it was logical for the parousia to trouble minds. The idea that history would come to an end was based on the feeling and fragility of things, an idea that St Augustine was one of the first to reflect in his famous book, penned after Rome was seized by the Vandals, entitled De civitate Dei. The first judgements seem to have been written by the Manicheans and Mani himself in the 3rd century. Although these works have disappeared, they are known thanks to certain written documents of Coptic origin and a text by one of the Manicheans’ adversaries: St Ephraim the Syrian. Certain opposition to the images used by the adversaries may explain why orthodox sacred art refrained for a great time from representing the vision of the judgement. The natural reluctance of the Byzantine spirit and theology may have been added to by the refusal to borrow models from Manichean imagery, deemed to be heretical. Meanwhile, in Rome, Ravenna and throughout the Italian peninsula, other reasons hampered the development of the judgement iconography. However, from the early 9th century, the last judgement was represented frequently, with Ireland playing a leading role in the creation, dissemination and popularity of its iconography which featured references to De civitate Dei and the more popular Coptic art forms. This suggests that the Irish models originated in Egypt or north Africa – whose monasteries the island was in close contact with – where the Manicheans were very numerous and influential, according to St Augustine. Certain extant representations of the last judgement, dated prior to the 9th century, consisted merely of Christ’s apparition to the dead brought back to life or the symbol of sheep being separated from goats. Monumental paintings of the last judgement were more elaborate, as can be seen in the one at St John’s in Münster divided into four superimposed bands: the Christ of Judgement occupies the middle of the second band. Sitting upon a throne, he extends his arms in a prelude to the separation of the dead brought back to life. Still visible are the division of the good from the wicked and fragments of an image of hell that must have formed a pair with an image of heaven which is now missing. In the light of the Roman military triumphs, the last judgement theme has quite a precise meaning. The influence of this theme upon the image of the parousia according to St Matthew was mentioned earlier but it must also be said, as regards the separation of the good from the wicked, that the damned play the role of the conquered or captives, and the last judgement looks like a triumphal proclamation of the victory of Christ. Of all the theophanic visions related to the theme of the parousia, this is perhaps the one inspired most directly by the official art of the Roman empire. Whilst images of the emperor’s victory enable the origins and the genesis of the medieval iconography of the last judgement to be reconstructed, the brutality inherent in military triumphs would explain why it was only at a later date that the great Christian art created in Rome and Byzantium took an interest in the last judgement visions that had fascinated the West immediately. This theme was still not firmly established in the 9th – 11th century period but its theophanic and triumphal nature must be emphasised. In the first half of the 12th century, clergy and artists considered this image to be a triumphal scene demonstrating Christ’s omnipotence. The influence of imperial layouts was still decisive although certain innovative, moving details that can be perceived reveal the feelings of the chosen ones, the dead brought back to life and the damned. Little by little, anecdotes with colourful details began to appear in compositions that originally focussed on triumph alone. Unlike the Apocalypse, the revelations of St Matthew did not give rise to pictorial creations inspired directly by chapters 24 and 25 of the first Gospel. They simply took shape by being incorporated into layouts taken from the Roman iconography reserved for the veneration of the emperor. The vision of St Matthew, as it was called, retained its triumphal appearance for many years but in the Gothic period it was rapidly incorporated into the iconography of the last judgement. After meaning the Resurrection, then the victory of the Son, and then Christ’s triumph at the end of time, this theme in some way found its original sense: that of a victorious emperor surrounded by dignitaries, winged Victories and trophies watching the humiliation of their enemies. Appearing in different guises, the image of St Matthew’s vision constitutes a strict definition of the parousia which is why episodes of the last judgement were often introduced. The meaning of the last judgement in the section of the seven penitential Psalms is related to the attrition – the imperfect contrition arising from fear – felt by the beholder when viewing this image. Meditating upon death, the torments of hell and the last judgement to prompt the repentance of sin has nothing to do with pondering upon Christ’s sufferings in order to achieve the same effect (contrition). In the latter instance, as seen earlier in the illustrations in the short office of the cross, man is motivated by charity, whilst in the first case, the beholder is driven by fear. What inspires remorse is, in this case, the love of oneself, of course, which implies an act of attrition.

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