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mean, according to the taste and manner of his time and school. His
ascending Madonnas have a sort of a√Ђrial elegance, which is very
attractive; but they are too nymph-like. We must be careful to
distinguish in his pictures (and all similar pictures painted after
1615) between the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception; it is a
difference in sentiment which I have already pointed out. The small
finished sketch by Guido in our National Gallery is an Assumption and
Coronation together: the Madonna is received into heaven as _Regina
Angelorum_. The fine large Assumption in the Munich Gallery may be
regarded as the best example of Guido's manner of treating this theme.
His picture in the Bridgewater Gallery, often styled an Assumption, is
an Immaculate Conception.

The same observations would apply to Poussin, with, however, more of
majesty. His Virgins are usually seated or reclining, and in general
we have a fine landscape beneath.

* * * * *

The Assumption, like the Annunciation, the Nativity, and other
historical themes, may, through ideal accessories, assume a purely
devotional form. It ceases then to be a fact or an event, and becomes
a vision or a mystery, adored by votaries, to which attendant saints
bear witness. Of this style of treatment there are many beautiful

1. Early Florentine, about 1450. (Coll. of Fuller Maitland, Esq.)
The Virgin, seated, elegantly draped in white, and with pale-blue
ornaments in her hair, rises within a glory sustained by six angels;
below is the tomb full of flowers and in front, kneeling, St. Francis
and St. Jerome.

2. Ambrogio Borgognone - 1506. (Milan, Brera.) She stands, floating
upwards In a fine attitude: two angels crown her; others sustain her;
others sound their trumpets. Below are the apostles and empty tomb; at
each side, St. Ambrose and St. Augustine; behind them, St. Cosimo and
St. Damian; the introduction of these saintly apothecaries stamps the
picture as an ex-voto - perhaps against the plague. It is very fine,
expressive, and curious.

3. F. Granacci. 1530.[1] The Virgin, ascending in glory, presents
her girdle to St. Thomas, who kneels: on each, side, standing as
witnesses. St. John the Baptist, as patron of Florence, St. Laurence,
as patron of Lorenzo de' Medici, and the two apostles, St. Bartholomew
and St. James.

[Footnote 1: In the Casa Ruccellai (?) Engraved in the _Etruria

4. Andrea del Sarto, 1520. (Florence, Pitti Pal.) She is seated
amid vapoury clouds, arrayed in white: on each side adoring angels:
below, the tomb with the apostles, a fine solemn group: and hi front,
St. Nicholas, and that interesting penitent saint, St. Margaret of
Cortona. (Legends of the Monastic Orders.) The head of the Virgin
is the likeness of Andrea's infamous wife; otherwise this is a
magnificent picture.

* * * * *

The Coronation of the Virgin follows the Assumption. In some
instances, this final consummation of her glorious destiny supersedes,
or rather includes, her ascension into heaven. As I have already
observed, it is necessary to distinguish this scenic Coronation from
the mystical INCORONATA, properly so called, which is the triumph of
the allegorical church, and altogether an allegorical and devotional
theme; whereas, the scenic Coronation is the last event in a series of
the Life of the Virgin. Here we have before us, not merely the court
of heaven, its argent fields peopled with celestial spirits, and the
sublime personification of the glorified Church exhibited as a vision,
and quite apart from all real, all human associations; but we have
rather the triumph of the human mother; - the lowly woman lifted
into immortality. The earth and its sepulchre, the bearded apostles
beneath, show us that, like her Son, she has ascended into glory by
the dim portal of the grave, and entered into felicity by the path of
pain. Her Son, next to whom she has taken her seat, has himself wiped
the tears from her eyes, and set the resplendent crown upon her head;
the Father blesses her; the Holy Spirit bears witness; cherubim and
seraphim welcome her, and salute her as their queen. So Dante, -

"At their joy
And carol smiles the Lovely One of heaven,
That joy is in the eyes of all the blest."

Thus, then, we must distinguish: -

1. The Coronation of the Virgin is a strictly devotional subject where
she is attended, not merely by angels and patriarchs, but by canonized
saints and martyrs, by fathers and doctors of the Church, heads of
religious orders in monkish dresses, patrons and votaries.

2. It is a dramatic and historical subject when it is the last scene
in a series of the Life of the Virgin; when the death-bed, or the
tomb, or the wondering apostles, and weeping women, are figured on
the earth below.

Of the former treatment, I have spoken at length. It is that most
commonly met with in early pictures and altar-pieces.

With regard to the historical treatment, it is more rare as a separate
subject, but there are some celebrated examples both in church
decoration and in pictures.

1. In the apsis of the Duomo at Spoleto, we have, below, the death
of the Virgin in the usual manner, that is, the Byzantine conception
treated in the Italian style, with Christ receiving her soul, and over
it the Coronation. The Virgin kneels in a white robe, spangled with
golden flowers; and Christ, who is here represented rather as the
Father than the Son, crowns her as queen of heaven.

2. The composition by Albert Durer, which concludes his fine series
of wood-cuts, the "Life, of the Virgin" is very grand and singular. On
the earth is the empty tomb; near it the bier; around stand the twelve
apostles, all looking up amazed. There is no allusion to the girdle,
which, indeed, is seldom found in northern art. Above, the Virgin
floating in the air, with the rainbow under her feet, is crowned by
the Father and the Son, while over her head hovers the holy Dove.

3. In the Vatican is the Coronation attributed to Raphael. That he
designed the cartoon, and began the altar-piece, for the nuns of
Monte-Luce near Perugia, seems beyond all doubt; but it is equally
certain that the picture as we see it was painted almost entirely by
his pupils Giulo Romano and Gian Francesco Penni. Here we have the
tomb below, filled with flowers; and around it the twelve apostles;
John and his brother James, in front, looking up; behind John, St.
Peter; more in the background, St. Thomas holds the girdle. Above is
the throne set in heaven, whereon the Virgin, mild and beautiful, sits
beside her divine Son, and with joined hands, and veiled head, and
eyes meekly cast down, bends to receive the golden coronet he is about
to place on her brow. The Dove is omitted, but eight seraphim, with
rainbow-tinted wings, hover above her head. On the right, a most
graceful angel strikes the tambourine; on the left, another, equally
graceful, sounds the viol; and, amidst a flood of light, hosts of
celestial and rejoicing spirits fill up the background.

Thus, in highest heaven, yet not out of sight of earth, in beatitude
past utterance, in blessed fruition of all that faith creates and love
desires, amid angel hymns and starry glories, ends the pictured life


Online LibraryMrs. JamesonLegends of the Madonna → online text (page 30 of 30)