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the request of the Sanseverini, princes of Salerno, to be presented to
a nunnery, in which one of that noble family had taken the veil. Under
the form of the blessed Virgin, Andrea represented the last princess
of Salerno, who was of the family of Villa Marina; under that of St.
Joseph, the prince her husband; an old servant of the family figures
as St. Elizabeth; and in the features of Zacharias we recognize those
of Bernardo Tasso, the father of Torquato Tasso, and then secretary
to the prince of Salerno. After remaining for many years over the high
altar of the church, it was removed through the scruples of one of
the Neapolitan archbishops, who was scandalized by the impropriety of
placing the portraits of well-known personages in such a situation."
The picture, once removed from its place, disappeared, and by some
means found its way to the Louvre. Andrea, who was one of the most
distinguished of the scholars of Raphael, died in 1545.[1]

[Footnote 1: This picture is thus described in the old catalogues of
the Louvre (No. 1207); but is not to be found in that of Villot.]

8. The composition by Rubens has all that scenic effect and dramatic
movement which was characteristic of the painter. The meeting takes
place on a flight of steps leading to the house of Zacharias. The
Virgin wears a hat, as one just arrived from a journey; Joseph
and Zacharias greet each other; a maiden with a basket on her head
follows; and in the foreground a man unloads the ass.

I will mention two other example, each perfect in its way, in two most
opposite styles of treatment.

9. The first is the simple majestic composition of Albertinelli.
(Florence Gal.) The two women, standing alone under a richly
sculptured arch, and relieved against the bright azure sky, embrace
each other. There are no accessories. Mary is attired in dark-blue
drapery, and Elizabeth wears an ample robe of a saffron or rather
amber colour. The mingled grandeur, power, and grace, and depth of
expression in these two figures, are quite extraordinary; they look
like what they are, and worthy to be mothers of the greatest of kings
and the greatest of prophets. Albertinelli has here emulated his
friend Bartolomeo - his friend, whom he so loved, that when, after the
horrible execution of Savonarola, Bartolomeo, broken-hearted, threw
himself into the convent of St. Mark, Albertinelli became almost
distracted and desperate. He would certainly, says Vasari, have gone
into the same convent, but for the hatred be bore the monks, "of whom
he was always saying the most injurious things."

Through some hidden influence of intense sympathy, Albertinelli,
though in point of character the very antipodes of his friend, often
painted so like him, that his pictures - and this noble picture more
particularly - might be mistaken for the work of the Frate.

* * * * *

10. We will now turn to a conception altogether different, and equally
a masterpiece; it is the small but exquisitely finished composition
by Rembrandt. (Grosvenor Gal.) The scene is the garden in front of
the house of Zacharias; Elizabeth is descending the steps in haste
to receive and embrace with outstretched arms the Virgin Mary, who
appears to have just alighted from her journey. The aged Zacharias,
supported by a youth, is seen following Elizabeth to welcome their
guest. Behind Mary stands a black female attendant, in the act of
removing a mantle from her shoulders; in the background a servant,
or (as I think) Joseph, holds the ass on which Mary has journeyed; a
peacock with a gem-like train, and a hen with a brood of chickens (the
latter the emblem of maternity), are in the foreground. Though the
representation thus conceived appears like a scene of every-day life,
nothing can be more poetical than the treatment, more intensely true
and noble than the expression of the diminutive figures, more masterly
and finished than the execution, more magical and lustrous than the
effect of the whole. The work of Albertinelli, in its large and solemn
beauty and religious significance, is worthy of being placed over an
altar, on which we might offer up the work of Rembrandt as men offer
incense, gems, and gold.

As the Visitation is not easily mistaken, I have said enough of it
here; and we pass to the next subject, - The Dream of Joseph.

* * * * *

Although the feast of the Visitation is fixed for the 2d of July, it
was, and is, a received opinion, that Mary began her journey to the
hill country but a short time, even a few days, after the Annunciation
of the angel. It was the sixth month with Elizabeth, and Mary
sojourned with her three months. Hence it is supposed, by many
commentators, that Mary must have been present at the birth of John
the Baptist. It may seem surprising that the early painters should not
have made use of this supposition. I am not aware that there exists
among the numerous representations of the birth of St. John, any
instance of the Virgin being introduced; it should seem that the lofty
ideas entertained of the Mater Dei rendered it impossible to place her
in a scene where she would necessarily take a subordinate position:
this I think sufficiently accounts for her absence.[1] Mary then
returned to her own dwelling at Nazareth; and when Joseph (who in
these legendary stories is constantly represented as a house-carpenter
and builder, and travelling about to exercise his trade in various
places) also came back to his home, and beheld his wife, the
suspicion entered his mind that she was about to become a mother,
and very naturally his mind was troubled "with sorrow and insecure
apprehensions; but being a just man, that is, according to the
Scriptures and other wise writers, a good, a charitable man, he would
not openly disgrace her, for he found it more agreeable to justice to
treat an offending person with the easiest sentence, than to render
her desperate, and without remedy, and provoked by the suffering of
the worst of what she could fear. No obligation to justice can force
a man to be cruel; pity, and forbearance, and long-suffering, and
fair interpretation, and excusing our brother" (and our sister), "and
taking things in the best sense, and passing the gentlest sentence,
are as certainly our duty, and owing to every person who _does_ offend
and _can_ repent, as calling men to account can be owing to the law."
(v. Bishop Taylor's Life of Christ.) Thus says the good Bishop Taylor,
praising Joseph, that he was too truly just to call furiously for
justice, and that, waiving the killing letter of the law, he was
"minded to dismiss his wife privily;" and in this he emulated the
mercy of his divine foster-Son, who did not cruelly condemn the woman
whom he knew to be guilty, but dismissed her "to repent and sin no
more." But while Joseph was pondering thus in his heart, the angel
of the Lord, the prince of angels, even Gabriel, appeared to him in a
dream, saying, "Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee
Mary thy wife!" and he awoke and obeyed that divine voice.

[Footnote 1: There is, however, in the Liverpool Museum, a very
exquisite miniature of the birth of St. John the Baptist, in which the
female figure standing near represents, I think, the Virgin Mary. It
was cut out of a choral book of the Siena school.]

This first vision of the angel is not in works of art easily
distinguished from the second vision but there is a charming fresco by
Luini, which can bear no other interpretation. Joseph is seated by the
carpenter's bench, and leans his head on his hand slumbering. (Milan,
Brera.) An angel stands by him pointing to Mary who is seen at a
window above, busied with needlework.

On waking from this vision, Joseph, says the legend, "entreated
forgiveness of Mary for having wronged her even in thought." This is
a subject quite unknown, I believe, before the fifteenth century, and
not commonly met with since, but there are some instances. On one of
the carved stalls of the Cathedral of Amiens it is very poetically
treated. (Stalles d'Amiens, p. 205.) Mary is seated on a throne under
a magnificent canopy; Joseph, kneeling before her and presented by two
angels, pleads for pardon. She extends one hand to him; in the other
is the volume of the Holy Scriptures. There is a similar version of
the text in sculpture over one of the doors of Notre-Dame at Paris.
There is also a picture by Alessandro Tiarini (Le repentir de Saint
Joseph, Louvre, 416), and reckoned by Malvasia, his finest work,
wherein Joseph kneels before the Virgin, who stands with a dignified
air, and, while she raises him with one hand, points with the other
up to heaven. Behind is seen the angel Gabriel with his finger on
his lip, as commanding silence, and two other angels. The figures are
life-size, the execution and colour very fine; the whole conception in
the grand but mannered style of the Guido school.


_Ital._ Il Presepio. Il Nascimento del Nostro Signore. _Fr._ La
Nativité. _Ger._ Die Geburt Christi. Dec. 25.

The birth of our Saviour is related with characteristic simplicity
and brevity in the Gospels; but in the early Christian traditions this
great event is preceded and accompanied by several circumstances
which have assumed a certain importance and interest in the artistic

According to an ancient legend, the Emperor Augustus Cæsar repaired
to the sibyl Tiburtina, to inquire whether he should consent to allow
himself to be worshipped with divine honours, which the Senate had
decreed to him. The sibyl, after some days of meditation, took the
Emperor apart, and showed him an altar; and above the altar, in the
opening heavens, and in a glory of light, he beheld a beautiful Virgin
holding an Infant in her arms, and at the same time a voice was heard
saying, "This is the altar of the Son of the living God;" whereupon
Augustus caused an altar to be erected on the Capitoline Hill, with
this inscription, _Ara primogeniti Dei_; and on the same spot, in
later times, was built the church called the _Ara-Coeli_, well known,
with its flight of one hundred and twenty-four marble steps, to all
who have visited Rome.

Of the sibyls, generally, in their relation to sacred art, I have
already spoken.[1] This particular prophecy of the Tiburtine sibyl
to Augustus rests on some very antique traditions, pagan as well as
Christian. It is supposed to have suggested the "Pollio" of Virgil,
which suggested the "Messiah" of Pope. It is mentioned by writers of
the third and fourth centuries, and our own divines have not wholly
rejected it, for Bishop Taylor mentions the sibyl's prophecy among
"the great and glorious accidents happening about the birth of Jesus."
(Life of Jesus Christ, sec. 4.)

[Footnote 1: Introduction. The personal character and history of the
Sibyls will be treated in detail in the fourth series of Sacred and
Legendary Art.]

A very rude but curious bas-relief preserved in the church of the
Ara-Coeli is perhaps the oldest representation extant. The Church
legend assigns to it a fabulous antiquity; but it must be older than
the twelfth century, as it is alluded to by writers of that period.
Here the Emperor Augustus kneels before the Madonna and Child and at
his side is the sibyl, Tiburtina, pointing upwards.

Since the revival of art, the incident has been frequently treated. It
was painted by Cavallini, about 1340, on the vault of the choir of
the Ara-Coeli. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it became
a favourite subject. It admitted of those classical forms, and that
mingling of the heathen and the Christian in style and costume, which
were calculated to please the churchmen and artists of the time, and
the examples are innumerable.

The most celebrated, I believe, is the fresco by Baldassare Peruzzi,
in which the figure of the sibyl is certainly very majestic, but
the rest of the group utterly vulgar and commonplace. (Siena, Fonte
Giusta.) Less famous, but on the whole preferable in point of taste,
is the group by Garofalo, in the palace of the Quirinal; and there
is another by Titian, in which the scene is laid in a fine landscape
after his manner. Vasari mentions a cartoon of this subject, painted
by Rosso for Francis I., "among the best things Rosso ever produced,"
and introducing the King and Queen of France, their guards, and a
concourse of people, as spectators of the scene. In some instances the
locality is a temple, with an altar, before which kneels the Emperor,
having laid upon it his sceptre and laurel crown: the sibyl points to
the vision seen through a window above. I think it is so represented
in a large picture at Hampton Court, by Pietro da Cortona.

* * * * *

The sibylline prophecy is supposed to have occurred a short tune
before the Nativity, about the same period when the decree went forth
"that all the world should be taxed." Joseph, therefore, arose and
saddled his ass, and set his wife upon it, and went up from Nazareth
to Bethlehem. The way was long, and steep, and weary; "and when Joseph
looked back, he saw the face of Mary that it was sorrowful, as of one
in pain; but when he looked back again, she smiled. And when they,
were come to Bethlehem, there was no room for them in the inn, because
of the great concourse of people. And Mary said to Joseph, "Take me
down for I suffer." (Protevangelion.)

The journey to Bethlehem, and the grief and perplexity of Joseph, have
been often represented. 1. There exists a very ancient Greek carving
in ivory, wherein Mary is seated on the ass, with an expression of
suffering, and Joseph tenderly sustains her; she has one arm round his
neck, leaning on him: an angel leads the ass, lighting the way with
a torch. It is supposed that this curious relic formed part of the
ornaments of the ivory throne of the Exarch of Ravenna, and that it is
at least as old as the sixth century.[1] 2. There is an instance more
dramatic in an engraving after a master of the seventeenth century.
Mary, seated on the ass, and holding the bridle, raises her eyes to
heaven with an expression of resignation; Joseph, cap in hand, humbly
expostulates with the master of the inn, who points towards the
stable; the innkeeper's wife looks up at the Virgin with a strong
expression of pity and sympathy. 3. I remember another print of the
same subject, where, in the background, angels are seen preparing the
cradle in a cave.

[Footnote 1: It is engraved in Gori's "Thesaurus," and described in
Münter's "Sinnbilder."]

I may as well add that the Virgin, in this character of mysterious,
and religious, and most pure maternity, is venerated under the title
of _La Madonna del Parto_.[1]

[Footnote 1: Every one who has visited Naples will remember the
church on the Mergellina, dedicated to the _Madonna del Parto_, where
lies, beneath his pagan tomb, the poet Sannazzaro. Mr. Hallam, in
a beautiful passage of his "History of the Literature of Europe,"
has pointed out the influence of the genius of Tasso on the whole
school of Bolognese painters of that time. Not less striking was the
influence of Sannazzaro and his famous poem on the Nativity (_De Partû
Virginis_), on the contemporary productions of Italian art, and more
particularly as regards the subject under consideration: I can trace
it through all the schools of art, from Milan to Naples, during the
latter half of the sixteenth century. Of Sannazzaro's poem, Mr.
Hallam says, that "it would be difficult to find its equal for purity,
elegance, and harmony of versification." It is not the less true, that
even its greatest merits as a Latin poem exercised the most perverse
influence on the religious art of that period. It was, indeed, only
_one_ of the many influences which may be said to have demoralized the
artists of the sixteenth century, but it was one of the greatest.]

The Nativity of our Saviour, like the Annunciation, has been treated
in two ways, as a mystery and as an event, and we must be careful to
discriminate between them.


In the first sense the artist has intended simply to express the
advent of the Divinity on earth in the form of an Infant, and the
_motif_ is clearly taken from a text in the Office of the Virgin,
_Virgo quem genuit, adoravit._ In the beautiful words of Jeremy
Taylor, "She blessed him, she worshipped him, and she thanked him that
he would be born of her;" as, indeed, many a young mother has done
before and since, when she has hung in adoration over the cradle of
her first-born child; - but _here_ the child was to be a descended
God; and nothing, as it seems to me, can be more graceful and more
profoundly suggestive than the manner in which some of the early
Italian artists have expressed this idea. When, in such pictures, the
locality is marked by the poor stable, or the rough rocky cave, it
becomes "a temple full of religion, full of glory, where angels are
the ministers, the holy Virgin the worshipper, and Christ the Deity."
Very few accessories are admitted, merely such as serve to denote that
the subject is "a Nativity," properly so called, and not the "Madre
Pia," as already described. The divine Infant lies in the centre of
the picture, sometimes on a white napkin, sometimes with no other
bed than the flowery turf; sometimes his head rests on a wheat-sheaf,
always here interpreted as "the bread of life." He places his finger
on his lip, which expresses the _Verbum sum_ (or, _Vere Verbum hoc
est abbreviatum_), "I am the word," or "I am the bread of life" (_Ego
sum panis ille vitæ._ John vi. 48), and fixes his eyes on the heavens
above, where the angels are singing the _Gloria in excelsis._ In
one instance, I remember, an angel holds up the cross before him; in
another, he grasps it in his hand; or it is a nail, or the crown of
thorns, anticipative of his earthly destiny. The Virgin kneels on one
side; St. Joseph, when introduced, kneels on the other; and frequently
angels unite with them in the act of adoration, or sustain the
new-born Child. In this poetical version of the subject, Lorenzo
di Credi, Perugino, Francia, and Bellini, excelled all others[1].
Lorenzo, in particular, became quite renowned for the manner in which
he treated it, and a number of beautiful compositions from his hand
exist in the Florentine and other galleries.

[Footnote 1: There are also most charming examples in sculpture by
Luca della Robbia, Donatello, and other masters of the Florentine

There are instances in which attendant saints and votaries are
introduced as beholding and adoring this great mystery. 1. For
instance, in a picture by Cima, Tobit and the angel are introduced
on one side, and St. Helena and St. Catherine on the other. 2. In a
picture by Francia (Bologna Gal.), the Infant, reclining upon a white
napkin, is adored by the kneeling Virgin, by St. Augustine, and by two
angels also kneeling. The votary, Antonio Galeazzo Bentivoglio, for
whom the picture was painted, kneels in the habit of a pilgrim.[1] He
had lately returned from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, thus
poetically expressed in the scene of the Nativity, and the picture was
dedicated as an act of thanksgiving as well as of faith. St. Joseph
and St. Francis stand on one side; on the other is a shepherd crowned
with laurel. Francia, according to tradition, painted his own portrait
as St. Francis; and his friend the poet, Girolamo Casio de' Medici,
as the shepherd. 3. In a large and famous Nativity by Giulio Romano
(Louvre, 293), which once belonged to our Charles I., St. John the
Evangelist, and St. Longinus (who pierced our Saviour's side with his
lance), are standing on each side as two witnesses to the divinity of
Christ; - here strangely enough placed on a par: but we are reminded
that Longinus had lately been inaugurated as patron of Mantua, (v.
Sacred and Legendary Art.)

[Footnote 1: "An excellent likeness," says Vasari. It is engraved as
such in Litta's Memorials of the Bentivogli. Girolamo Casio received
the laurel crown from the hand of Clement VII. in 1523. A beautiful
votive Madonna, dedicated by Girolamo Casio and his son Giacomo, and
painted by Beltraffio, is in the Louvre.]

In a triptych by Hans Hemling (Berlin Gal.) we have in the centre the
Child, adored, as usual, by the Virgin mother and attending angels,
the votary also kneeling: in the compartment on the right, we find the
manifestation of the Redeemer to the _west_ exhibited in the prophecy
of the sibyl to Augustus; on the left, the manifestation of the
Redeemer to the _east_ is expressed by the journey of the Magi, and
the miraculous star - "we have seen his star _in the east_."

But of all these ideal Nativities, the most striking is one by Sandro
Botticelli, which is indeed a comprehensive poem, a kind of hymn on
the Nativity, and might be set to music. In the centre is a shed,
beneath which the Virgin, kneeling, adores the Child, who has
his finger on his lip. Joseph is seen a little behind, as if in
meditation. On the right hand, the angel presents three figures
(probably the shepherds) crowned with olive; on the left is a similar
group. On the roof of the shed, three angels, with olive-branches in
their hands, sing the _Gloria in excelsis_. Above these are twelve
angels dancing or floating round in a circle, holding olive-branches
between them. In the foreground, in the margin of the picture,
three figures rising out of the flames of purgatory are received and
embraced by angels. With all its quaint fantastic grace and dryness of
execution, the whole conception is full of meaning, religious as well
as poetical. The introduction of the olive, and the redeemed, souls,
may express "peace on earth, good will towards men;" or the olive may
likewise refer to that period of universal peace in which the _Prince
of Peace_ was born into the world.[1]

[Footnote 1: This singular picture, formerly in the Ottley collection,
was, when I saw it, in the possession of Mr. Fuller Maitland, of
Stensted Park.]

I must mention one more instance for its extreme beauty. In a picture
by Lorenzo di Credi (Florence, Pal. Pitti) the Infant Christ lies on
the ground on a part of the veil of the Virgin, and holds in his hand
a bird. In the background, the miraculous star sheds on the earth a
perpendicular blaze of light, and farther off are the shepherds. On
the other side, St. Jerome, introduced, perhaps, because he made his
abode at Bethlehem, is seated beside his lion.


We now come to the Nativity historically treated, in which time,
place, and circumstance, have to be considered as in any other actual

The time was the depth of winter, at midnight; the place a poor
stable. According to some authorities, this stable was the interior
of a cavern, still shown at Bethlehem as the scene of the Nativity, in
front of which was a ruined house, once inhabited by Jesse, the father
of David, and near the spot where David pastured his sheep: but the
house was now a shed partly thatched, and open at that bitter mason to
all the winds of heaven. Here it was that the Blessed Virgin "brought
forth her first-born Son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid
him in a manger."

We find in the early Greek representations, and in the early Italian
painters who imitated the Byzantine models, that in the arrangement
a certain pattern was followed: the locality is a sort of
cave - literally a hole in a rock; the Virgin Mother reclines on a
couch; near her lies the new-born Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes.
In one very ancient example (a miniature of the ninth century in a
Greek Menologium), an attendant is washing the Child.

But from the fourteenth century we find this treatment discontinued.
It gave just offence. The greatest theologians insisted that the birth
of the Infant Christ was as pure and miraculous as his conception; and
it was considered little less than heretical to portray Mary reclining
on a couch as one exhausted by the pangs of childbirth (Isaiah lxvi.
7), or to exhibit assistants as washing the heavenly Infant. "To her
alone," says St. Bernard, "did not the punishment of Eve extend." "Not
in sorrow," says Bishop Taylor, "not in pain, but in the posture and
guise of worshippers (that is, kneeling), and in the midst of glorious
thoughts and speculations, did Mary bring her Son into the world."

We must seek for the accessories and circumstances usually introduced
by the painters in the old legendary traditions then accepted and
believed. (Protevangelion, xiv.) Thus one legend relates that

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