Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Entombment Statues in Moissac

This group is from around 1476. The statues are made of oak wood, and the style is sort of formal, sort of emotional. Not as restrained as Gothic, but not as emotive as the Renaissance.

The sadness comes across to me. I saw this group right after a friend of mine died. I felt the emotion of the Mary's and James. I really put myself in the group. [sigh] I still feel it when I see it.

But who were those other two men? Well, apparently, Entombment groups usually include Joseph of Arimethea, and Nicodemus. Who were they? This Joseph is mentioned in the Gospels as the rich man who bought the fine linen to wrap Jesus' body and gave up his own tomb for Jesus to be laid in. Nicodemus, another rich man, brought the myrrh and aloes for preparing Jesus' body for burial. I think Joseph is on the left, and Nicodemus is on the right.

It's interesting to me that both men are said to be rich. At the time when most of these Entombment sculptures were being done, they were commissioned by wealthy Christians who wanted to beautify/be remembered in their local churches - generally cathedrals, or sites along the pilgrimage trail of Santiago de Compostela. The family crests of the patron are on the side of Jesus' coffin.

The other statues represent, from the left, Mary - Martha's sister (probably), the Virgin Mary, James (the Beloved), Salome (not the one who had John the Baptist beheaded), and Mary Magdalene.

For my research I read, The entombment of Christ: French sculptures of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, by William H. Forsyth, Published for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, by the Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1970.

Mary Magdalene in Moissac

This statue is part of a group in Moissac, Southern France. You can tell it's Magdalene because she's wearing a red outer robe, she's quite pretty and she's holding a jar of perfume. She looks calm, but sad. I reacted so strongly to her. She drew me in to the whole group. I guess I saw the perfume jar first, recognized her, and then wanted to know more about the group.

The sculpture as a whole is called an "Entombment" group, which, I learned upon doing some research, became common, mostly in France, in the late 1400's.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

So, who was Mary Magdalene?

Lucky for me there's been a whole lot of buzz about Mary Magdalene in the press and in books recently. She's a new hot commodity. I say new, but she's always been there - maybe not in the center of it all. Who was she? The sister of Lazarus and Martha? The woman from whom Jesus cast out 7 demons? She was the one who anointed Jesus, was present at his death, and, of course at his resurrection. She is mentioned all over the place in the Gospels and, in my opinion, should be counted among the disciples.

Many people agree that she was wealthy. I think the idea of her as a prostitute was cooked up long after her death as a way to discredit her and move away from having women in powerful positions within the new church. And for Magdalene to be able to afford the perfume she anoints Jesus with, she had do have money. [That's a perfume jar in her hand in the statue.] The disciples berate her for wasting the perfume on Jesus, and argue that the money would have been better used if the perfume had been sold with the proceeds going to the poor. But Magdalene has bigger ideas.
Mark 14:3-9
3While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

4Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, "Why this waste of perfume? 5It could have been sold for more than a year's wages[a] and the money given to the poor." And they rebuked her harshly.

6"Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."
John 11:2
2This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.
Magdalene is most often shown holding a perfume jar. This refers both to her anointing of Jesus, but also the time after his death when she and the other women, along with Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus, prepare him for burial. The perfume would have been used at both times and was probably a blend of frankincense and myrrh. Have you ever smelled those two together? They're the main two ingredients in church incense which smells great!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mary Magdalene in Robert Lentz's icon

I like that in the Robert Lentz image, Mary Magdalene is wearing a rich red robe. Red, the color of passion, sensuality, over a simple white robe which we can barely see. Do the stories of Magdalene's worldliness get in the way of the "truth" and simplicity of her story?

And the background, behind her, is pitch black. It makes me think of the tomb, death, The Void - what utter darkness. Magdalene is the one who tells us all that Jesus is out of the tomb - and alive! She is the first person he appears to, and each of the Gospels tells the story. See Johns' text (below). She is devastated by the death of Jesus, and now his body is missing. She goes back to his tomb and is crying over her loss.

Jesus speaks to her in such a tender and confiding way. He trusts her to get the message out. In our church this is the Gospel reading on Easter Sunday. And it brings me such comfort.

John 20: 10Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?"

"They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." 14At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15"Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?"
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."

16Jesus said to her, "Mary."
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).

17Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' "

18Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.

She is the first person to spread the news. And she is the first person to have to let go of the Jesus she knew and accept a new understanding of him. I think of her position and status as a wealthy woman back then, and her role among the disciples, and think she is worthy of such a fabulous icon.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The image that started it all

So, this is the image that started it all for me. I had been talking with my cousin, Anthony, about religious art for a while. He is an iconographer, and he told me all about the style of traditional icons, and why they look the way they do. He explained the method, and practice involved.

That was interesting to me, but I didn't really connect with it. Not like I do with Robert Lentz's work. This is an image of Mary Magdalene. And I was drawn to it immediately. Look at the color. Look how she's looking at you. It's emotional, but don't you want to know what it's all about? Mysterious.

The story goes that Mary Magdalene, after the Ascension, was invited to the home of Tiberius Caesar, because of her high social status. When asked about the resurrection, she used an egg to explain the story of what happened to Jesus. Caesar responded that a human could no more return from the dead, than the egg in her hand turn red. The egg turned red immediately, and is why in the Eastern Church, red eggs have been exchanged at Easter. It makes for a good image.

I also like the story of Mary Magdalene being the first person that Jesus appears to in the garden on Easter morning in Mark's Gospel. It's a powerful moment. But more about that later.

You can find Robert Lentz's images at Trinity Stores.

Thursday, February 15, 2007