Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Grail in Bezlawki part 2: Mary Magdalene patronage and pagans

The second part of the legend of grail in Bezlawki. How the grail was taken from Britain, by whom, in my previous entry about what happened after the battle of Hastings. 

This is a legend, we don't know how old it is, bu tit is very interesting as a story, and has historical events, as well people who lived in real life. A bit of historic  background of the story.

After Svidrigaila installed the grail and his army in today's Bezlawki, in a fortified tower which belonged to Teutonic Knights, military order crusading against the pagans of the East North, he lived like a prince. Historical records show food provided by Teutonic Knights, among them very costly morsels and spices imported from afar. Teutonic Knights promised him to become the grand duke of Lithuania, even though Svitrigaila didn't qualify, as Lithuania had the law of primogeniture, and he was the younger brother in line to the throne. His older brother, Jogailla was a pagan. They were also engaged in a bitter feud with their uncle, who also was keen of becoming the only ruler of Lithuania. It seemed that those three men had reasons to fear for their lives. The fortress in Bezlawki, in the middle of dense forest was a safe place for Svitrigaila.

 Here is video how Bezlawki tower was changing through centuries. For those of you who have trouble to watch the video's embedded in this blog, here is the to the youtube video.About  4 min on shows the change for Svidrigaila, making it more fit for princely residence.

One of the people who was on diplomatic missions dealing with Teutonic Knights, who were considered those days unstoppable, was young Polish queen Jadwiga. Or rather a young king who was a woman. Why? Because in Poland by law kings were ruling, so, if the sovereign wasn't male, she got the title of king, that meant she was a ruler on her own, not a queen consort.She was elected a king, and crowned as such at a tender age of 11, like some of the Merovingian child-king. But she was an extremely capable young genius.

Jadwiga of Poland was half Hungarian, half Bosnian, but from both parents she had genetic ties with native Polish Piast dynasty. She was also from Angevine dynasty, therefore the fleur-de-lys. Her mother, Elisabeth of Bosnia was ruling Poland, as the last king of Poland decided that his sons are no capable enough. Poland didn't have law of primogeniture. king or the nobles could decide who was the best candidate for the throne. But Elisabeth of Bosnia  wasn't  capable enough as a monarch to please the nobles and she  was replaced by her daughter, Jadwiga.

Jadwiga of Poland  by Antoni Piotrowski, at Jagiellonian University
Note the chalice on the right. Picture painted in 1901. 
Jadwiga of Poland grew up in Hungary in royal court of Buda, she was a polyglot speaking six languages, spent one year at royal court in Vienna, as it was common to send children of noble birth to be educated at other courts.She was supposed to be the future wife of William of Austria, one of the Habsburg dukes, was engaged to him as a little girl (sponsalia). The Habsburgs were expanding their influence by marrying heiresses, this engagement was an early attempt in such politics.

Jadwiga was a politician and patron of culture, in addition she was very religious: she revered four saints, specially Mary Magdalene and her sister Martha. Mary Magdalene was the patron saint of Angevin dynasty, after Charles II, Count of Provence and king of Naples discovered the body of Mary Magdalene in Provence, at  Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume.Mary Magdalene was immensely popular saint and enjoyed patronage of rulers, but the Angevins were the most important in spreading and strengthening her cult. Without them Saint Baume pilgrimage site wouldn't exist, her cult in France wouldn't be as strong.

Charles II discovered the body of Mary Magdalene in 1279, he was called Charles of Salerno at this time, he became Charles II later.  At this moment this popular saint became the dynastic patron, so, no wonder Jadwiga venerated dynastic saint who according to the legend converted pagans of Provence to Christianity A scholarly article to read about Angevins and Mary Magdalene as their patron saint, and Angevins role is spreading the cult of Mary Magdalene in Provence, Naples and so supporting also the legitimacy of their dynasty, of which they claimed, Mary Magdalene was a miraculous founder.
Grotto of Mary Magdalene in Sainte-Baume, by Disdero
by Dr. Sarah Wilkins, professor of art history and design.

When Jadwiga was enthroned, however, several suitors appeared, hopeful for marriage and crown. William also appeared at the court in Krakow, as he was thinking now was the right time to got get married, after all Jadwiga was his fiancee. He was bitterly disappointed: the young sovereign declared the annulment of their contract, and the Habsburg duke went home.

Jadwiga got married three years later, she was 13 years old. Her king consort became duke Jogaila of Lithuania, who being a pagan needed to convert to Christianity. And through Jadwiga's influence the last pagan country of Europe was Christianized.She didn't need to preach to pagans: she just made the requirement that he husband to be needed to be Roman Catholic.

Svitrigaila  the owner of holy chalice (which one of two?)  lived with his hopes for Lithuanian throne in Bezlawki, in the area of crusader state of the Teutonic Knights, the military order which also targeted pagan Lithuania in their Northern Crusades. His alliance seemed easy, as the Teutonic Knights were believed to be invincible. Yet they were crushed, one day, and by no one else than his brother Jogaila with armies of allies.Life of Svidrigaila was marked by wars and dynastic struggles. He became grand duke of Lithuania for two years, noting more.

As Jogaila was baptised in Wawel Castle in Krakow, Christianization of Lithuania was official in 1386 The marriage couldn't happen without Jogaila's

 Svidrigialla also got baptized with his brother at the Wawel Castle. He converted from Greek Orthodox faith of his mother into Roman Catholicism.But in his case it was of no great political advantage. 

Because Jogaila became king of Poland, this didn't mean that Jadwiga was now a queen consort. She was the ruler, marriage didn't chip away her power, he was the king consort, but of course both were politically active. Jadwiga was known for her charity, good character and for her support of good causes. She was so much liked and revered by people that she was considered a saint, and legends of her miraculous powers spread. This was a queen of a true noble ideal of a virutous lady.She died young, only 26 years old, after complicated child birth. She and her daughter lived only one month. This was nothing unusual in those days, even among people who were very privileged, such deaths happened among ruling families too.

Sarcophagus of Jawdiga of Poland, Wawel Castle Cathedral
After Jadwiga died she was declared a saint by people, and her cult spread. Her relics are in the Wawel Cathedral under the crucifix at front of which she prayed. Even she was considered a saint and worshiped as such, her beatification happened as late as 1980, and she was officially declared a saint by Vatican in 1997, by the pope John Paul II as you may guess. He prayed at her sarcophagus. Pity I didn't take the picture, the sarcophagus sculpture includes a nice lap dog at Jadwiga's feet.Thank you Cezary Piwowarski for the picture. (Dog symbolized loyalty). Close to the sarcophagus her regal insignia are exhibited: the scepter and the globe. They are made of wood, painted gold. Maybe those were lighter for a child ruler to hold, but also she is remembered by her unusual generosity, she sold her jewels in order to support Krakow University (today Jagiellonian University) etc.

After Jadwiga's death it didn't mean that Jogaila as consort was now entitled to rule. There were several candidates, but he was considered the most suitable one, so, he became the king.

 As for pagans in Lithuania: they were left unmolested, their priests also. As officially Lithuania was a Christian country, crusades stopped after battle of Tannenberg in 1410.

Jadwiga's patronage of art and culture is continuation of  Angevin artistic patronage of the Neapolitan Angevin dynasty. She had good examples. In the article you will see also the image of funerary monument of Mary of Hungary, Queen of Naples, who was also patroness of arts, and like Jadwiga also connected to Hungarian Arpad dynasty. Mary's mother was a pagan of Cuman tribe who converted to Christianity in order to marry Stephen V, king of Hungary, and Dalmatia, Croatia, Rama, Bulgaria, Serbia, Galicia, Lodomeria and Cumania; Duke of Styria.

More about grail in Bezlawki, also historical background, soon, I hope, and I hope you enjoy it. Knowing the legend is one thing, but knowing the people in the legend can shed additional light, in my opinion. Again, we don't need to believe in the legend, that there are historical persons it doesn't make it automatically more credible. It is just a legend after all. Wasn't the legend  about Joseph of Arimathea who brought grail to Britain also a legend of Christianisation?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Iconography of Anounciation of Merode Altarpiece by Robert Campin

Robert Campin and apprentice, Annunciation triptych, Merode Altarpiece,  1427-1430 Cloisters, New York

This version of Annunciation is rich in symbolism which was easily understood by average person of the days this altarpiece was commissioned. Today anyone interested can see it at the Cloisters, branch of Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, but in today's world an average person doesn't understand its symbolism. Usually someone notices what is going on and who is there, as we are trained to understand different type of symbols. This painting belongs to Northern Renaissance but has still many elements of Late Gothic. Click on the picture to see it bigger.

Who is there?  From right to left: Joseph, engaged in wood working in his workshop, secluded an din a different landscape as we see through the window. Virgin Mary, absorbed in reading a book and she is not noticing the Archangel Gabriel yet. Archangel just arrived, he looks as he is about to kneel.  Above him in the air  on the rays of light there is a tiny baby Jesus with the cross. Merode couple kneeling outside, open or semi-open door at front of them.Maybe they are watching the scene. And close to the wall in the background we see a messenger. As for those who dismiss Virgin Mary as Virgin Mary on artistic depictions anytime she is dressed in red: this is Virgin Mary indeed, and she was often depicted in this color, specially in Northern school to which the painting belongs, and no, she is not pregnant. The bump under heavy draped robe is just  her knee.

Joseph made two mouse traps. This relates to the sermon by St Augustine who described incarnation of Jesus as a bite for Satan, in some way as mice are trapped in mouse traps. There are two traps, if they represent Jesus and Mary as two participants in the process of incarnation, etc. I prefer to say I don't know instead of giving you my guesses. This can mean many things, and there is debate among scholars, so, as I am not someone specializing in this part of art history, I leave it at this point how it is, no point of adding my opinions to it.

The central panel has symbols of Mary's purity: white as color symbolizing purity, white vase and white lily (chastity), also the wash basin and towel: Mary was called a pure vessel.  Archangel Gabriel also dressed like a deacon, in white, underlines the idea of purity. I like the respect shown for books, they were considered precious objects and this painting shows it.

On the table the scroll represents  Testament, the book is the New Testament. Book represents law, here is the fulfillment of what was written in the book. Green of the cache for the book  is the color of hope, Paradise and resurrection. It is not symbolizing fertility in this case, as it is religious painting, not secular one, and green is tied to Paradise and resurrection. The incarnation of the divine here is not regular event relating to natural earthly fertility.

The candle which is extinguished symbolizes divine light extinguished in order to become human, in order to incarnate in human body. The divine light in eternal aspect is shown on the wings of Archangel: gold or yellow in its place was also symbolizing divine light. The window which now shows the sky and family crests was painted in gold earlier, before over-painting with what we see today. Seven rays on which baby Jesus is traveling stands for divine light, seven rays: seven is the sacred number. Bu the dark color on the wings stands for depth of divine mysteries, for which black stood. The tiny carved lions on the bench are symbols of the seat of Salomon.

 Red robe of the Virgin symbolizes her love: ( agape the unconditional love), charity, redemption by the sacrifice on the cross, but also is a fashionable robe of the days in a very expensive color. Campin showed a domestic setting, and fashion of the days, which was typical. Old paintings are also valuable resources for costume historians and costume designers, as there is so much historical information, specially in the case of the painters with great attention to details and skills in rendering them. What we see also is an interior of a typical home in a city. Usually Annunciation was shown in a church or palace, here we have an interior of a real home. Campin was a painter for the city people, not a painter for aristocrats or churches. This small altarpiece was not intended to be installed in a church, but was an object of private domestic devotion.

The courtyard where the three people who are real life persons of Campin's days are present (donor with his wife and the messenger) is alluding to garden, but is not the same as in depiction of Virgin Mary in gardens: here it is is more cloistered, not much vegetation. Those gardens were cloistered gardens, in which the Virgin was depicted but had more vegetation, here it is more sparse. Still it is enclosed garden, hortus conclusus, which symbolizes Mary's virginity. Here the vegetation relates less to Paradise, which was typical in those hortus conclusus types of paintings, but the flowers represent the virtues of the Virgin: rose stand for her charity, violet for her humility.

The scenes are like almost everyday situations, except angel showing up. In Gothic slowly the divide between sacred and real human life started to narrow. Here we see religious scene happening like in real life, the saintly people don't even have halos, it was unusual. Painting saints without halos happened one century later, in Renaissance Italy.

Perspective in this painting is partially correct. It is not a typical linear perspective, where mathematics rules.Here those rules are bend and we have some twisted angles, like for example the table is painted correctly to the rules, this is not realistic, but allowed the painter to show more details. Sometimes artists do such things in order to make greater visual impact. For example Pieta by Michelangelo, where Mary is so much bigger than Jesus, yet for viewers it looks very natural.

 Bellow we have another painting of Virgin, this time with baby, in an interior by Campin, for comparison. I think now you will be able to read with ease the symbols contained in this domestic scene.