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The DESCENT OF THE HOLY GHOST is a strictly scriptural subject. I
have heard it said that the introduction of Mary is not authorized by
the scripture narrative. I must observe, however that, without any
wringing of the text for an especial purpose, the passage might be
so interpreted. In the first chapter of the Acts (ver. 14), after
enumerating the apostles by name, it is added, "These all continued
with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary
the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren." And in the commencement
of the second chapter the narrative thus proceeds: "And when the day
of Pentecost was fully come, they were _all_ with one accord in
one place." The word _all_ is, in the Concordance, referred to the
previous text (ver. 14), as including Mary and the women: thus they
who were constant in their love were not refused a participation in
the gifts of the Spirit. Mary, in her character of the divine Mother
of Wisdom, or even Wisdom herself,[1] did not, perhaps, need any
accession of intellectual light; but we must remember that the Holy
Spirit was the Comforter, as well as the Giver of wisdom; therefore,
equally needed by those, whether men or women, who were all equally
called upon to carry out the ministry of Christ in love and service,
in doing and in suffering.

[Footnote 1: The sublime eulogium of Wisdom (Prov. viii. 22), is, in
the Roman Catholic Church, applied to the Virgin Mary.]

In the account of the apostles I have already described at length the
various treatment and most celebrated examples of this subject, and
shall only make one or two observations with especial reference to
the figure of the Virgin. It was in accordance with the feelings and
convictions prevalent in the fifteenth century, that if Mary were
admitted to be present, she would take the principal place, as Queen
and Mother of the Apostles (_Regina et Mater Apostolorum_). She
is, therefore, usually placed either in front, or in the centre
on a raised seat or dais; and often holding a book (as the _Mater
Sapientiæ_); and she receives the divine affusion either with veiled
lids and meek rejoicing; or with uplifted eyes, as one inspired, she
pours forth the hymn, _Veni, Sancte Spiritus_.

I agree with the critics that, as the Spirit descended in form
of cloven tongues of fire, the emblem of the Dove, almost always
introduced, is here superfluous, and, indeed, out of place.

* * * * *

I must mention here another subject altogether apocryphal, and
confined to the late Spanish and Italian schools: The Virgin receives
the sacramental wafer from the hand of St. John the Evangelist.
This is frequently misunderstood, and styled the Communion of Mary
Magdalene. But the long hair and uncovered head of the Magdalene, and
the episcopal robe of St. Maximin, are in general distinguishable from
the veiled matronly head of the Virgin Mother, and the deacon's vest
of St. John. There is also a legend that Mary received baptism from
St. Peter; but this is a subject I have never met with in art, ancient
or modern. It may possibly exist.

I am not acquainted with any representations taken from the sojourn on
earth of the Blessed Virgin from this time to the period of her death,
the date of which is uncertain. It is, however, generally supposed to
have taken place in the forty-eighth year of our era, and about eleven
years after the Crucifixion, therefore in her sixtieth year. There
is no distinct record, either historical or legendary, as to the
manner in which she passed these years. There are, indeed, floating
traditions alluded to by the early theological writers, that when the
first persecution broke out at Jerusalem, Mary accompanied St. John
the Evangelist to Ephesus, and was attended thither by the faithful
and affectionate Mary Magdalene. Also that she dwelt for some time on
Mount Carmel, in an oratory erected there by the prophet Elijah, and
hence became the patroness of the Carmelites, under the title of Our
Lady of Mount Carmel (_La Madonna del Carmine_, or _del Carmelo_).
If there exist any creations of the artists founded on these obscure
traditions, which is indeed most probable, particularly in the
edifices of the Carmelites in Spain, I have not met with them.

* * * * *

It is related that before the apostles separated to obey the command
of their divine Master, and preach the gospel to all the nations of
the earth, they took a solemn leave of the Virgin Mary, and received
her blessing. This subject has been represented, though not by any
distinguished artist. I remember such a picture, apparently of the
sixteenth century, in the Church of S. Maria-in-Capitolio at Cologne,
and another, by Bissoni, in the San Giustina at Padua. (Sacred and
Legendary Art.)


_Lat._ Dormitio, Pausatio, Transitus, Assumptio, B. Virginis. _Ital._
Il Transito di Maria. Il Sonno della Beata Vergine. L' Assunzione.
_Fr._ La Mort de la Vierge. L'Assomption. _Ger._ Das Absterben der
Maria. Maria Himmelfahrt. August, 13, 15.

We approach the closing scenes.

Of all the representations consecrated to the glory of the Virgin,
none have been more popular, more multiplied through every form of
art, and more admirably treated, than her death and apotheosis.
The latter in particular, under the title of "the Assumption,"
became the visible expression of a dogma of faith then universally
received - namely, the exaltation and deification of the Virgin in
the body as well as in the spirit. As such it meets us at every turn
in the edifices dedicated to her; in painting over the altar, in
sculpture over the portal, or gleaming upon us in light from the
shining many-coloured windows. Sometimes the two subjects are
combined, and the death-scene (_Il transito di Maria_) figured below,
is, in fact, only the _transition_ to the blessedness and exaltation
figured above. But whether separate or combined, the two scenes, in
themselves most beautiful and touching, - the extremes of the mournful
and the majestic, the dramatic and the ideal, - offered to the medieval
artists such a breadth of space for the exhibition of feeling and
fancy as no other subject afforded. Consequently, among the examples
handed down to us, are to be found some of the most curious and
important relics of the early schools, while others rank among the
grandest productions of the best ages of art.

For the proper understanding of these, it is necessary to give the old
apocryphal legend at some length; for, although the very curious and
extravagant details of this legend were not authorized by the Church
as matters of fact or faith, it is clear that the artists were
permitted thence to derive their materials and their imagery. In
what manner they availed themselves of this permission, and how far
the wildly poetical circumstances with which the old tradition was
gradually invested, were allowed to enter into the forms of art, we
shall afterwards consider.


Mary dwelt in the house of John upon Mount Sion looking for
the fulfilment of the promise of deliverance, and she spent
her days in visiting those places which had been hallowed by
the baptism, the sufferings, the burial and resurrection of
her divine Son, but more particularly the tomb wherein he was
laid. And she did not this as seeking the living among the
dead, but for consolation and for remembrance.

And on a certain day; the heart of the Virgin, being filled
with an inexpressible longing to behold her Son, melted away
within her, and she wept abundantly. And lo! an angel appeared
before her clothed in light as with a garment. And he saluted
her, and said, "Hail, O Mary! blessed by him who hath given
salvation to Israel I bring thee here a branch of palm
gathered in Paradise; command that it be carried before thy
bier in the day of thy death; for in three days they soul
shall leave thy body, and though shalt enter into Paradise,
where thy Son awaits thy coming." Mary, answering, said, "If I
have found grace in thy eyes, tell me first what is thy name;
and grant that the apostles my brethren may be reunited to me
before I die, that in their presence I may give up my soul to
God. Also, I pray thee, that my soul, when delivered from my
body, may not be affrighted by any spirit of darkness, nor
any evil angel be allowed to have any power over me." And the
angel said, "Why dost thou ask my name? My name is the Great
and the Wonderful. And now doubt not that all the apostles
shall be reunited, to thee this day; for he who in former
times transported the prophet Habakkuk from Judea to Jerusalem
by the hair of his head, can as easily bring hither the
apostles. And fear thou not the evil spirit, for hast thou not
bruised his head and destroyed his kingdom?" And having said
these words, the angel departed into heaven; and the palm
branch which he had left behind him shed light from every
leaf, and sparkled as the stars of the morning. Then Mary
lighted, the lamps and prepared her bed, and waited until the
hour was come. And in the same instant John, who was preaching
at Ephesus, and Peter, who was preaching at Antioch, and all
the other apostles who were dispersed in different parts of
the world, were suddenly caught up as by a miraculous power,
and found themselves before the door of the habitation of
Mary. When Mary saw them all assembled round her, she blessed
and thanked the Lord, and she placed in the hands of St. John
the shining palm, and desired that he should bear it before
her at the time of her burial. Then Mary, kneeling down, made
her prayer to the Lord her Son, and the others prayed with
her; then she laid herself down in her bed and composed
herself for death. And John wept bitterly. And about the third
hour of the night, as Peter stood at the head of the bed and
John at the foot, and the other apostles around, a mighty
sound filled the house, and a delicious perfume filled
the chamber. And Jesus himself appeared accompanied by an
innumerable company of angels, patriarchs, and prophets; all
these surrounded the bed of the Virgin, singing hymns of joy.
And Jesus said to his Mother, "Arise, my beloved, mine elect!
come with me from Lebanon, my espoused! receive the crown that
is destined for thee!" And Mary, answering, said, "My heart
is ready; for it was written of me that I should do thy will!"
Then all the angels and blessed spirits who accompanied Jesus
began to sing and rejoice. And the soul of Mary left her body,
and was received into the arms of her Son; and together they
ascended into heaven.[1] And the apostles looked up, saying,
"Oh most prudent Virgin, remember us when thou comest to
glory!" and the angels, who received her into heaven, sung
these words, "Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness
leaning upon her Beloved? she is fairer than all the daughters
of Jerusalem."

[Footnote 1: In the later French legend, it is the angel
Michael who takes charge of the departing soul. "_Ecce Dominus
venit cum multitudine angelorum_; et Jésus Christ vint en grande
compaignie d'anges; entre lesquels estoit Sainct Michel, et quand
la Vierge Marie le veit elle dit, 'Benoist soit Jésus Christ car il
ne m'a pas oubliée.' Quand elle eut ce dit elle rendit l'esprit,
lequel Sainct Michel print."]

But the body of Mary remained upon the earth; and three among
the virgins prepared to wash and clothe it in a shroud; but
such a glory of light surrounded her form, that though they
touched it they could not see it, and no human eye beheld
those chaste and sacred limbs unclothed. Then the apostles
took her up reverently and placed her upon a bier, and John,
carrying the celestial palm, went before. Peter sung the 114th
Psalm, "_In exitu Israel de Egypto, domus Jacob de populo
barbaro_," and the angels followed after, also singing. The
wicked Jews, hearing these melodious voices, ran together; and
the high-priest, being seized with fury, laid his hands upon
the bier intending to overturn it on the earth; but both his
arms were suddenly dried up, so that he could not move them,
and he was overcome with fear; and he prayed to St. Peter
for help, and Peter said, "Have faith in Jesus Christ, and
his Mother, and thon shalt be healed;" and it was so. Then
they went on and laid the Virgin in a tomb in the Valley of

[Footnote 1: Or Gethsemane. I must observe here, that in the
genuine oriental legend, it is Michael the Archangel who hews off
the hands of the audacious Jew, which were afterwards, at the
intercession of St. Peter, reunited to his body.]

And on the third day, Jesus said to the angels, "What honour
shall I confer on her who was my mother on earth, and brought
me forth?" And they answered, "Lord, suffer not that body
which was thy temple and thy dwelling to see corruption; but
place her beside thee on thy throne in heaven." And Jesus
consented; and the Archangel Michael brought unto the Lord,
the glorious soul of our Lady. And the Lord said, "Rise up, my
dove, my undefiled, for thou shalt not remain in the darkness
of the grave, nor shall thou see corruption;" and immediately
the soul of Mary rejoined her body, and she arose up glorious
from the tomb, and ascended into heaven surrounded and
welcomed by troops of angels, blowing their silver trumpets,
touching their golden lutes, singing, and rejoicing as they
sung, "Who is she that riseth as the morning, fair as the
moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?"
(Cant. vi. 10.)

But one among the apostles was absent; and when he arrived
soon after, he would not believe in the resurrection of the
Virgin; and this apostle was the same Thomas, who had formerly
been slow to believe in the resurrection of the Lord; and he
desired that the tomb should be opened before him; and when it
was opened it was found to be full of lilies and roses. Then
Thomas, looking up to heaven, beheld the Virgin bodily, in a
glory of light, slowly mounting towards the heaven; and she,
for the assurance of his faith, flung down to him her girdle,
the same which is to this day preserved in the cathedral of
Prato. And there were present at the death of the Virgin
Mary, besides the twelve apostles, Dionysius the Areopagite,
Timotheus, and Hierotheus; and of the women, Mary Salome, Mary
Cleophas,[1] and a faithful handmaid whose name was Savia.

[Footnote 1: According to the French legend, Mary Magdalene and her
sister Martha were also present.]

* * * * *

This legend of the Death and Assumption of the Virgin has afforded to
the artists seven distinct scenes.

1. The Angel, bearing the palm, announces to Mary her approaching
death. The announcing angel is usually supposed to be Gabriel, but
it is properly Michael, the "angel of death." 2. She takes leave of
the Apostles. 3. Her Death. 4. She is borne to the Sepulchre. 5.
Her Entombment. 6. Her Assumption, where she rises triumphant and
glorious, "like unto the morning" ("_quasi aurora consurgens_"). 7.
Her Coronation in heaven, where she takes her place beside her Son.

In early art, particularly in the Gothic sculpture, two or more of
these subjects are generally grouped together. Sometimes we have the
death-scene and the entombment on a line below, and, above these,
the coronation or the assumption, as over the portal of Notre Dame at
Paris, and in many other instances; or we have first her death, above
this, her assumption, and, above all, her coronation; as over the
portal at Amiens and elsewhere.

* * * * *

I shall now take these subjects in their order.

The angel announcing to Mary her approaching death has been rarely
treated. In general, Mary is seated or standing, and the angel kneels
before her, bearing the starry palm brought from Paradise. In the
frescoes at Orvieto, and in the bas-relief of Oreagna,[1] the angel
comes flying downwards with the palm. In a predella by Fra Filippo
Lippi, the angel kneels, reverently presenting a taper, which the
Virgin receives with majestic grace; St. Peter stands behind. It was
the custom to place a taper in the hand of a dying person; and as the
palm is also given sometimes to the angel of the incarnation, while
the taper can have but one meaning, the significance of the scene
is here fixed beyond the possibility of mistake, though there is a
departure from the literal details of the old legend. There is in
the Munich Gallery a curious German example of this subject by Hans

[Footnote 1: On the beautiful shrine in Or-San-Michele, at Florence.]

* * * * *

The death of the Virgin is styled in Byzantine and old Italian art
the Sleep of the Virgin, _Il Sonno della Madonna_; for it was an
old superstition, subsequently rejected as heretical, that she did
not really die after the manner of common mortals, only fell asleep
till her resurrection. Therefore, perhaps, it is, that in the early
pictures we have before us, not so much a scene or action, as a sort
of mysterious rite; it is not the Virgin dead or dying in her bed; she
only slumbers in preparation for her entombment; while in the later
pictures, we have a death-bed scene with all the usual dramatic and
pathetic accessories.

In one sense or the other, the theme has been constantly treated,
from the earliest ages of the revival of art down to the seventeenth

In the most ancient examples which are derived from the Greek school,
it is always represented with a mystical and solemn simplicity,
adhering closely to the old legend, and to the formula laid down in
the Greek Manual.

There is such a picture in the Wallerstein Collection at Kensington
Palace. The couch or bier is in the centre of the picture, and Mary
lies upon it wrapped in a veil and mantle with closed eyes and hands
crossed over her bosom. The twelve apostles stand round in attitudes
of grief angels attend bearing tapers. Behind the extended form of the
Virgin is the figure of Christ; a glorious red seraph with expanded
wings hovers above his head. He holds in his arms the soul of the
Virgin in likeness of a new-born child. On each side stand St.
Dionysius the Areopagite, and St. Timothy, Bishop of Ephesas, in
episcopal robes. In front, the archangel Michael bends forward to
strike off the hands of the high-priest Adonijah, who had attempted to
profane the bier. (This last circumstance is rarely expressed, except
in the Byzantine pictures; for in the Italian legend, the hands of the
intruder wither and adhere to the bed or shrine.) In the picture
just described; all is at once simple, and formal, and solemn, and
supernatural; it is a very perfect example in its way of the genuine
Byzantine treatment. There is a similar picture in the Christian
museum of the Vatican.

Another (the date about the first half of the fourteenth century,
as I think) is curious from the introduction of the women.[1] The
Virgin lies on an embroidered sheet held reverently by angels; at the
feet and at the head other angels bear tapers; Christ receives the
departing soul, which stretches out its arms; St. John kneels in
front, and St. Peter reads the service; the other apostles are behind
him, and there are three women. The execution of this curious picture
is extremely rude, but the heads very fine. Cimabue painted the Death
of the Virgin at Assisi. There is a beautiful example by Giotto, where
two lovely angels stand at the head and two at the feet, sustaining
the pall on which she lies; another most exquisite by Angelico in
the Florence Gallery; another most beautiful and pathetic by Taddeo
Bartoli in the Palazzo Publico at Siena.

[Footnote 1: At present in the collection of Mr. Bromley, of Wootten.]

The custom of representing Christ as standing by the couch or tomb of
his mother, in the act of receiving her soul, continued down to the
fifteenth century, at least with slight deviations from the original
conception. The later treatment is quite different. The solemn
mysterious sleep, the transition from one life to another, became a
familiar death-bed scene with the usual moving accompaniments. But
even while avoiding the supernatural incidents, the Italians gave to
the representation much ideal elegance; for instance, in the beautiful
fresco by Ghirlandajo. (Florence, S. Maria-Novella.)

* * * * *

In the old German school we have that homely matter-of-fact feeling,
and dramatic expression, and defiance of all chronological propriety,
which belonged to the time and school. The composition by Albert
Durer, in his series of the Life of the Virgin, has great beauty and
simplicity of expression, and in the arrangement a degree of grandeur
and repose which has caused it to be often copied and reproduced as a
picture, though the original form is merely that of a wood-cut.[1] In
the centre is a bedstead with a canopy, on which Mary lies fronting
the spectator, her eyes half closed. On the left of the bed stands
St. Peter, habited as a bishop: he places a taper in her dying hand;
another apostle holds the asperge with which to sprinkle her with
holy water: another reads the service. In the foreground is a priest
bearing a cross, and another with incense; and on the right, the other
apostles in attitudes of devotion and grief.

[Footnote 1: There is one such copy in the Sutherland Gallery; and
another in the Munich Gallery, Cabinet viii. 161.]

Another picture by Albert Durer, once in the Fries Gallery, at
Vienna, unites, in a most remarkable manner, all the legendary and
supernatural incidents with the most intense and homely reality. It
appears to have been painted for the Emperor Maximilian, as a tribute
to the memory of his first wife, the interesting Maria of Burgundy.
The disposition of the bed is the same as in the wood-cut, the foot
towards the spectator. The face of the dying Virgin is that of the
young duchess. On the right, her son, afterwards Philip of Spain,
and father of Charles V., stands as the young St. John, and presents
the taper; the other apostles are seen around, most of them praying;
St. Peter, habited as bishop, reads from an open book (this is the
portrait of George à Zlatkonia, bishop of Vienna, the friend and
counsellor of Maximilian); behind him, as one of the apostles,
Maximilian himself, with head bowed down, as in sorrow. Three
ecclesiastics are seen entering by an open door, bearing the cross,
the censer, and the holy water. Over the bed is seen the figure of
Christ; in his arms, the soul of the Virgin, in likeness of an infant
with clasped hands; and above all, in an open glory and like a vision,
her reception and coronation in heaven. Upon a scroll over her head,
are the words, "_Surge propera, amica mea; veni de Libano, veni
coronaberis._" (Cant. iv. 8.) Three among the hovering angels bear
scrolls, on one of which is inscribed the text from the Canticles,
"_Quæ est ista quæ progreditur quasi aurora consurgens, pulchra ut
luna, electa ut sol, terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata?_" (Cant.
vi. 10;) on another, "_Quæ est ista quæ ascendit de deserto deliciis
affluens super dilectum suum?_" (Cant. viii. 5;) and on the third,
"_Quæ est ista quæ ascendit super dilectum suum ut virgula fumi?_"
(Cant. iii. 6.) This picture bears the date 1518. If it be true, as
is, indeed, most apparent, that it was painted by order of Maximilian
nearly forty years after the loss of the young wife he so tenderly
loved, and only one year before his own death, there is something
very touching in it as a memorial. The ingenious and tender compliment
implied by making Mary of Burgundy the real object of those mystic
texts consecrated to the glory of the MATER DEI, verges, perhaps,
on the profane; but it was not so intended; it was merely that
combination of the pious, and the poetical, and the sentimental, which
was one of the characteristics of the time, in literature, as well as
in art. (Heller's Albrecht Dürer p. 261.)

The picture by Jan Schoreel, one of the great ornaments of the

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