To Touch the Divine: Picturing Christocentric Touch in Late Medieval Passion Devotion — By Nicole Pulichene

Commissioned from an anonymous Avignon school painter, the Pietà of the Castle of Tarascon depicts the Virgin, the Magdalene, John the Evangelist, and two anonymous female saints collectively cleansing and venerating the broken body of Christ (Musée de Cluny, before 1457, Figure 1 visible here). The Virgin’s hands support the gaunt torso of her son that rests on her knees, while the Magdalene bends to brush perfumed balm on his pierced feet, and John’s delicate fingers interlace between thorns and hair to extract the gnarled crown from Christ’s brow. Through this emphasis on the unmediated contact of the saints’ hands with the body of Christ, the gaze of the viewer-devotee is directed towards the pitiable central figure, soliciting compassion towards both the saints and the Crucified.

Between the mid-fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, traditions of affective piety in France and Northern Europe were firmly established through devotional texts and images, reflecting a greater desire among medieval Christians for intimacy with the saints and with Christ.[1] Panels such as the Tarascon Pietà belong to a category of devotional images representing the moments following the Crucifixion that were particularly efficacious in both satisfying and stoking this desire to know the divine not only as the Word, but as tangible flesh. Whether in poses of mourning, service, or prayer, it is the entirety of the depicted physical movements performed towards the dead Christ in works like the Tarascon Pietà that brought the devotee into spiritual proximity to the divine made flesh. This article argues that the potential to engage in a tactile relationship with Christ, referred to here as Christocentric touch, functioned as a central component of affective piety that was offered visually through the model of the saintly personages and participated in imaginatively by the viewer-devotee. The specific repertoire of gestures, bodily comportments, and forms of touch articulated by the figures surrounding Christ informed the devotee’s imagined imitation of and participation in Christocentric devotion by suggesting a polyvalent approach to modeling and performance. Likewise these restrained, ritualized gestures offered a focused outlet for the emotional energy generated by Passion devotion. This system of meditation is corporeal and tactile, yet also metaphorical. The viewer is encouraged to witness, contemplate, and finally imitate the reverential actions of the entire range of represented figures, taking advantage of every means of access offered in the painted scene.

Devotional panels such as the Tarascon Pietà were primarily commissioned by members of the clergy or secular elite for the use of both ecclesiastic and secular communities, but little more can be done to situate these panels in the contexts in which they were commissioned and used.[2] However by first identifying representations of touch in both devotional and secular works of art, this article will establish a range of interactions in which touch is suggested through both mediated and unmediated bodily contact. Texts like the Meditaciones Vite Christi by John of Caulibus, which positioned the reader as a participant in elaborations on the New Testament narrative, will introduce a broader discussion of devotional traditions that encouraged devotees to imagine their individualized relationship withChrist.[3]Therefore by considering the iconography of Christocentric devotional panels in conjunction with secular representations of touch, and identifying the roles and actions permitted to specific biblical personages in devotional images and texts, this article enables a more focused understanding of the ways in which touch allowed a range of possibilities for medieval devotees to personally interact with the divine.

Proxies for Touch: Representing Erotics and Desire in Late Medieval Art

Within a particular set of both secular and religious objects of the late Middle Ages, the dialectic between the desire to touch and the suggestion, realization, or refusal of that desire is manifested specifically through mediated forms. Courtly scenes make particular use of gestures and objects to embody abstract notions of love and desire. However the eroticism of longing for the body of the beloved also informs questions of access to the body of Christ, for the sacred and the profane cannot be considered mutually exclusive categories of images. The medieval trope of Christ as the bridegroom of the Song of Songs is perhaps the most widespread and well-researched instance of what Michael Camille describes as the “shared languages, subjectivities, and even…identical visual codes” of the sacred and profane.[4]In the broken body of Christ, the medieval devotee found both the subject of spiritual longing and the object in which emotional energy and tension culminated.

[Image removed at the request of the author.]
– Figure 2. Unknown. MS Clm. 4660, folio 72 recto. Illumination from the poem “Suspice, flos, florem,” from the Carmina Burana. ca. 1230. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich.

Whether this subject of desire is human or divine, the exchange of the gift is the clearest example of the mediating object’s capacity to establish both a physical and an emotional bond between the individual and his or her beloved.[5] In his seminal anthropological work The Gift, Marcel Mauss argues that the gift is not merely a passive object. Rather, by leaving the possession of the giver it becomes a conduit for part of the giver’s soul.[6] The gift is conditional, its acceptance establishes a relationship of obligation, such that “the giver has a hold over the beneficiary just as, being its owner, through it he has a hold over the thief.”[7] The illumination squeezed between the lines of a Latin poem in the thirteenth century German Carmina Burana manuscript exemplifies this interaction through two lovers who, through the offering of a flower, reiterate the poet’s longing to consummate his desire for his beloved (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek MS. Clm. 4660 f. 72r; Figure 2).[8] The negative space between their represented bodies impedes the realization of the poet’s carnal desires, which are suggested visually by the horizontal orientation of the figures.[9] Endeavoring to close this divide, the man dangles a bouquet of flowers above the grasp of his beloved, entreating her to accept his gift: “Flower, pluck my flower, because a flower stands for love.”[10] The woman in turn responds by lifting her gaze to contemplate the white blooms hanging languidly out of reach. The conflation of three-dimensional space in the illumination creates an ambiguity concerning the distance between the hands of the lovers who reach out to offer, entice, and contemplate the flowers and their latent suggestive meaning. In this way the lovers seem to touch, if only with a few gracefully curving fingertips, and communicate gesturally across the space separating their bodies. The viewer is therefore asked to contemplate the moment between offering and acceptance that in turn signals both the desire to touch and the possibility of its realization.

Figure 3. Ivory mirror backs depicting circuits of desire and amorous pairs, Paris, ca. 1320. Ivory, 11 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris, MRR 197.

A pair of fourteenth century ivory mirror cases housed at the Louvre likewise suspends that moment of enticementthrough the representation of pairs of lovers playfully exchanging circlets across its eight vignettes (Figure 3). Michael Camille refers to these circlets as “circuits of desire,” highlighting the capacity of the geometric forms to act as the loci of the pictured lovers’ mutual longings.[11] The culmination of love and desire is projected onto the circuits through a gestural dialogue of teasing refusals and gentle offerings.[12] The lovers’ contact with the circlets and with each others’ bodies displays a touch that is simultaneously direct and unmediated, yet also mediated through objects. The lovers’ dance reflects the ritual of courtship, allowing these ivory mirrors to carry the romantic musings of young lovers into reality, for mirrors were likewise often exchanged by amorous couples.[13] Seen in Mauss’ terms, the mirror cases function contractually as seals of possession in which the beloved is expected to respond favorably to the lover’s advances.

While the exchange of gifts in late medieval art was a common method of suggesting a relationship between two figures, the use of cloth to mediate flesh-to-flesh contact is also often attested, especially when the body of Christ is handled and adored by biblical figures. In a representation of the Presentation at the Temple from a Flemish Book of Hours (Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 112 f. 71r, early sixteenth century; Figure 4 visible here), the devotee witnesses the biblical prophesy of Simeon, which is contingent on Simeon’s desire to witness, and indeed to take into his arms and bless, the materially present salvation of his people.[14] Here, Simeon is represented holding the figure before him in an unmistakable reference to the celebration of the Eucharist, with the infant’s feet steadied against the altar.[15] Yet Simeon’s contact with the Christ Child is mediated through the infant’s swaddling clothes. In turn, these tightly wrapped and banded textiles visually reinforce the biblical prefiguration of Christ’s death and resurrection through their affinity with contemporaneous representations of burial shrouds.[16]

Figure 5. Unknown. Presentation at the Temple. Burgundy, late 14th century. Marble. Musée al du Moyen Âge de Cluny, Paris

A late fourteenth century Burgundian Presentation at the Temple offers an alternative representation of the interaction between Simeon and the Christ Child (Musée de Cluny, Figure 5). Here, Simeon’s outstretched hands are draped with the folds of his cloak in anticipation of receiving the infant, with his left arm posed to bring the Christ Child to his body and his right hand raised in admiration and prophetic announcement.[17] The contours of his spread fingers can be discerned beneath the heavy drapery folds, emphasizing the tactile relationship of the receiver’s flesh to the texture and weight of the cloth itself. Simeon’s preliminary act of covering his own hands manifests the importance of a physical preparedness to receive and to likewise shield the infant’s sacred body.[18] Both Presentations therefore suggest that, whether by shrouding the body of the infant or the skin of the devotee, cloth served as a specialized object of mediation predicated on a reverential distinction between profane hands and the divine made flesh. This provided a model for the medieval devotee to imaginatively prepare his or her own body in order to lay hands on that sacred object of devotion.

Figure 6. Rogier Van der Weyden, The Descent from the Cross, Louvain, c. 1435, oil on panel, 220 x 262 cm. Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, P02825.

Rogier Van der Weyden’s Deposition enables a consideration of the mediation of Christocentric touch through textiles in the post-Crucifixion narrative (Museo del Prado, ca. 1435; Figure 6). Here, contact with Christ’s body is emphatically mediated as both Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea support the torso and legs of Christ behind a white cloth draped under the body. Joseph and Nicodemus’ role in physically supporting the body in its descent derives from a long-established iconographic tradition coinciding with their biblical roles.[19] In Van der Weyden’s Deposition, the men control and propel the panel’s central action of lifting the body of Christ from the cross to the ground, while an aging Joseph echoes Simeon’s relation to Christ, his shrouded hands holding Christ from the back of the torso. A third unidentified man positioned behind the ladder is the only figure privileged to touch Christ directly, yet his modest white garments and fluttering sash recall the vestments of a cleric or an angel.[20] If the figure is indeed angelic, his privileged access to the body of Christ is justified by his holiness. Beneath the other figures’ hands, the sheet-like drapery conforms to the curve of Christ’s body, helping the devotee imagine its contours and its pose, for even the hard bones pressing against the gaunt flesh could conceivably be felt through the mediation of cloth.

Just as the Christ Child in both Presentation scenes functions as an animate object of veneration, conflating the notion of the beloved with the passivity arising from the infant’s lack of mature agency, so too does the crucified body hanging lifeless and conforming to the grasps of the saintly persons reinforce the conception of Christ as object. Employing the vocabulary of thepsychoanalystD. W. Winnicott, Brooke Hopkins observes that “it is Jesus’ ‘quality of ‘always being destroyed’’ that makes him an object, in Winnicott’s terms, that can be used, that is, experienced as something external, something independent, ‘wholly other.’”[21] The possibility of witnessing this process of perpetual destruction of Christthrough images was widespread and influential in fifteenth century devotion, yet the continual process of lamentation over the destroyed object informs the affective response to this subset of Deposition and Pietà scenes.[22] At these extremes in the cycle of human life, Christ is represented as a hollow form that merely echoes the contours of a man, much like the textiles that so often enfold him in scenes of lamentation. Likewise the saints interacting with Christ’s body tangibly model the emotional response that the devotee is encouraged to produce in his or her own meditative exercises.

II. Exploring the Modalities of Christocentric Touch in Scenes of Lamentation

Through the dissemination of copies and the selective quotation of formal elements in commissioned works, Van der Weyden’s Deposition exercised a decisive influence on subsequent Deposition panels throughout late medieval Europe.[23] One example, the Bartholomew Master’s Descent from the Cross (Musée du Louvre, 1480-1510; Figure 7 visible here), references Van der Weyden’s painting through its figural composition and in the graceful, cruciform curve of Christ’s body as it is lifted from the cross. By virtue of the panels’ shared influence, a comparison of the differing means by which Christocentric touch is presented in the panels sheds light on the specific possibilities each painting offers the devotee.

The direct, unmediated contact of the male figure group with the body of Christ in the Descent from the Cross contrasts with the mediated touch of the corresponding personages in Van der Weyden’s panel. The heavy cloth that supported the body in Van der Weyden’s Deposition has been reduced to a modest covering. A young and fashionable man, his arms encircling Christ’s waist as both figures descend the ladder, has replaced the aging Joseph of Arimathea who appeared in Van der Weyden’s composition. Christ’s upper body slumps over the man’s embrace. With his arms and legs stretched between the hands of the attending figures, Christ’s body is suspended in the posture of the Crucifixion.

The angelic figure of the Van der Weyden Deposition has also been replaced by a young man who, rather than gently supporting Christ’s elbow, squeezes the malleable flesh of Christ’s arm under the sinking weight of the body. Straining under the corpse, the figure emphasizes the physicality of Christ’s body in terms of its mass and human proportions, while the young man’s grip prompts the viewer to consider how sacred flesh might be perceived beneath the hand. By witnessing the labor involved in lowering the body from the cross, the devotee may develop a sense of the weight and feel of Christ’s human body. Jacqueline Jung has argued that, from the twelfth century onward, sculpture was uniquely capable of suggesting these very qualities in the wounded body of Christ.[24] Similarly,the medieval preoccupation with determining Christ’s physical measurements has been attested in fifteenth century woodcuts and illuminations depicting the mandorla-shaped side wound where, as David Areford has observed, the images “encouraged a very corporeal kind of meditation, allowing the body of Christ to become part of the devotee’s physical and spatial reality.”[25] Like the sculptural modeling andtwo-dimensional mapping of Christ’s body, the Descent from the Cross suggests an interest not only in viewing the corpse and its relation to other figures as in the Van der Weyden panel, but also the devotee’s decidedly tactile desire to apprehend the weight of the body, the malleability of its flesh, and the texture of its skin.

The insistence on mediated contact with the body of Christ in Van der Weyden’s composition can also be contrasted with the Bartholomew Master’s panel through the figure of Mary Magdalene, whose bare right hand supports Christ’s legs while her gloved left hand presses her breast. The Magdalene’s removal of the glove before handling the body of Christ suggests the necessity of flesh-to-flesh contact with Christ and underscores the privilege of this form of touch. The discarded glove limply overlaying a vessel enhances the Magdalene’s traditional iconographic pairing with the perfume jar while also serving as a powerful metaphorical reference to theories of the Eucharistic body.[26] When describing the miracle of transubstantiation, Peter of Poitiers (d. 1205) likened the presence of the physical body of Christ within the consecrated elements of the Eucharist to a gloved hand, such that the body is merely veiled by the species of bread and wine.[27] Although this notion of Christ’s veiled bodily presence had been solidified by the early thirteenth century, Peter’s metaphor of the glove retains the significance of its original Eucharistic reference while gaining new meaning in the context of Passion devotion. Inscribed into the painted scene as a symbolic object for the viewer’s contemplation, the glove recasts the notion of divine sacrifice as a metaphor, suggesting that Christ’s divine nature is present yet veiled by the flaccid shell of his flesh. Like human contours enfolded by cloth, one has only to lay hands upon that covering in order to approach and discern the presence of the divine beneath.[28]

The metaphor of the glove makes explicit the role of human flesh as another form of object mediation which veils Christ’s divine nature yet also enables the devotee to approach that divinity through touch. In both the Tarascon Pietà and the Pietà de Villeneuve-lès-Avignon by Enguerrand Quarton(Musée du Louvre, ca. 1455; Figure 8 visible here), the gaunt figure of Christ lays stretched and rigid on the knees of the Virgin with his skin pulled taut against his ribs.[29] In the Quarton Pietà, Christ’s body arcs backwards lifelessly so that the bones of his torso push unnaturally against his flesh, suggesting underlying layers of human corporality through the cloth-like membrane of skin. The hard angles of Christ’s skeleton, so prominent in both panels, allow the viewer to imagine the feel of his corpse, perhaps with greater immediacy than the still fleshy bodies in the Deposition panels. Likewise, around the attenuated figure of Christ in the Quarton Pietà, the heavily populated compositions that characterized the Deposition altarpieces have been dramatically reduced to a minimum of figures. In the Quarton Pietà, only the Virgin, John the Evangelist, and the Magdalene preside over the body of Christ, surrounding his exposed flesh in a triad of mournful, haloed faces. Christ’s exposed flesh contrasts sharply with the heavy, richly colored robes of his followers, which enfold the body while accentuating his naked disfigurement.

Yet how might the viewer-devotee respond to the suggestion of divine presence beneath that veil of suffering human form? The figure of Mary Magdalene in the Descent from the Cross offers a powerful insight into the viewer’s emotional response to Christ’s body, for her role aswitness is one of the clearest calls to affective piety. Her extended arm and unmediated grip on Christ’s ankle serve to direct the viewer’s attention towards the body of Christ. Simultaneously, the free hand clutched to her breast acts as an intercessory gesture, an attribute ascribed more frequently to the Virgin in late medieval art.[30] While the Magdalene’s touch suggests an emotional response to the suffering body, her grief is not expressed through unrestrained weeping or other physical gestures. Rather, the Bartholomew Master paints the Magdalene such that the figure’s implied grief is externalized through tearstained, reddened skin and puffy eyes directed out from the canvas towards the viewer, as well as the physical link her gesture establishes between her breast and Christ’s body.

While the Bartholomew Master echoes Van der Weyden’s Magdalene as a model for internalized grief, in the Van der Weyden panel the Magdalene’s knees, shoulders, and elbows are strained in a vigorously controlled expression of interior suffering. She wrings her interlaced hands as though locking her fingers through the force of her grief. The tendons in her hand and neck swell in her effort, suggesting a conscious choice to abstain from touching the feet of Christ lowered close to her face. Joining her hands, the Magdalene forms a circuit through her own body that ultimately serves to prevent her from touching the object of her compassion. Thus while the figure of the Magdalene in both altarpieces strains against dramatic displays of emotion, the resistance of Van der Weyden’s Magdalene to touching Christ contrasts the touch of the Bartholomew Master’s Magdalene, suggesting not only an indulgence of grief but also a reverential responsibility to Christ’s physical body.

Textual Traditions of Affective Piety

Contemporaneous devotional texts help situate the devotional art of the late Middle Ages within the broader tradition of affective piety. Through the genre of meditations on the life of Christ, the reader was invited to contemplate Christ’s humanity by witnessing the events of his life and Passion.[31] John of Caulibus’ widely read Meditaciones Vite Christi, which set the tone for subsequent meditation literature in the later Middle Ages,provides a striking textual example of Christocentric touch because of its unique incorporation of the reader-devotee as a participating member at the scene of Christ’s deposition.[32] Scholars postulate that Caulibus’ Meditaciones were first written near the year 1300 upon the request of a Poor Clare nun.[33] The voice shifts fluidly between third person narration and direct address as Caulibus guides his advisee in an imaginative narrative of Christ’s life, ultimately inviting the Poor Clare to witness the agony of Christ and his followers at the Passion through their elaborated gestures, emotions, and dialogues. In the Meditation on the Passion at Vespers, Caulibus narrates the Deposition as a series of actions undertaken by successive personages. He treats each of the biblical figures individually, ordering the progression of actions through a physical descent from the arms of the cross to the ground below:

Nicodemus climbed down to extract the nail from the feet. Joseph held up the Lord’s body; a fortunate man indeed is that Joseph, who won the privilege of embracing the body of the Lord! Then our Lady reverently took his limp right hand, pressed it to her face, gazed upon it, and tearfully rained kisses on it, with deep sighs. After the nail was pulled out from the feet, Joseph came down a little at a time, and they all took hold of the Lord’s body and placed it on the ground. With the disciples around her, our Lady cradled his head in her lap; and Magdalene his feet where once she had won so much grace. The others all stood around and all loudly raised their lamentation over him (Acts 8:2): for they all mourned him most bitterly (Ez 27:31-32), as if he were a first-born son (Zec 12:10).[34]

Caulibus is selective in his development of characters,[35] and it is essential to note in this passage that the actions attributed to Christ’s followers relate the saints physically to the body of Christ through gestures of service, veneration, and mourning. Here the male characters are occupied with the more strenuous tasks of extracting and carrying the body from its cross, while the Virgin and the Magdalene cradling the corpse create a space for the emotional identification of the Meditaciones’ original female audience. Throughout the extended passage of the post-Crucifixion scenes, the format of the reader’s engagement with the text is founded on a polyvalent approach to imitatio, such that the reader is told to carefully watch and model herself after specific characters’ methods of venerating and preparing the body of Christ.

While John of Caulibus is often studied in terms of soliciting affective piety through the devotee’s compassion for Christ’s physical suffering, the role of Christocentric touch as the stimulus for compassio and imitatio within the Meditaciones has yet to be considered.[36] By collectively taking hold of Christ’s body, the biblical personages in Caulibus’ Deposition sequence offer a model for the veneration of Christ as a physical entity. This emphasis on the collective and the tactile is likewise mobilized visually in the devotional art of the late Middle Ages, as seen in Rogier Van der Weyden’s Deposition and in the Descent from the Cross by the Bartholomew Master. Both panels represent the biblical personages enacting individualized roles within a multi-figural composition centered on the body of Christ. Yet while the paintings parallel Caulibus’ description of tactile veneration and service, the immediacy and poignancy through which the panels solicit the desire to touch Christ’s body ultimately move beyond the capabilities of devotional literature.

The Erotics of Promise and Withdrawal

Figure 9. Detail. Rogier Van der Weyden, The Descent from the Cross, ca. 1435. Oil on panel, 220 x 262 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, PO2825.

In Van der Weyden’s Deposition, touch is again suggested but ultimately denied through the proximity of Christ’s right hand to the hand of the Virgin, who has collapsed unconscious under the arms of John the Evangelist and a female attendant (Figure 9). The corporeal mirroring between fainting Mother and crucified Son is widely attested in both devotional literature and visual art dating to the Byzantine period.[37] As Christocentric devotion increasingly focused on Christ’s humanity in the late Middle Ages, the emphasis on Mary’s parallel suffering likewise arose from an affective model of devotion.[38] Through her swoon, the Virgin participates in the sacrifice of her son, as Marguerite de Navarre narrates the Crucifixion:

[…..] et [ta parfaicte mere]
qui n’avoit moins de toy tristesse [amere],
car l’unÿon de vous deux, ce me s[emble],
par une mort en tuot deux ensemble.
[…..] and [your perfect mother]
who had no less of your [bitter] sorrow,
by the union of the two of you, it [seems] to me,
through a death in both of you together.[39]

This potential for the union of Christ and the Virgin through dual suffering and death at the Passion is reiterated in the Van der Weyden panel through the suggested yet unfulfilled union of their hands. The soft luminosity of the Virgin’s fair skin contrasts sharply with the pallor of Christ’s hand, gored by the nail wound that opens the flesh to the viewer’s gaze.[40] While the figures’ arms hang limply, the hands appear to be animated with human desire, actively seeking for one another as though their proximity is mutually sensed.

Paradoxically, the negative space between Christ and the Virgin in the Van der Weyden Deposition is the locus for all tensions and frustrations between the figures and the signifier of their tragedy. In this way, the physical separation of the figures can be compared to the illumination in the Carmina Burana, with the erotic charge between the poetic lovers of the manuscript echoed in the complex bond of the holy Mother and Son.[41] While enumerating the multiplicity of human relationships culminating in the pair, John of Caulibus’ commentary on the Lamentation combines notions of spiritual espousal with the suffering of the Virgin as a widow:

Those days really were days of widowhood, because the Lord Jesus was to her both son and spouse, father and brother, and every good; and with his death at a single stroke, she lost everything. She is really a widow (1 Tm 5:5) and a person abandoned, and she has no one to turn to.[42]

With the many relationships manifested between Christ and the Virgin culminating in the mourning of a widowed spouse, Caulibus laments the disrupted union of Christ and the Virgin through notions of abandonment and loss. Likewise, the Carmina Burana illumination echoes the words of the Latin poet by soliciting, yet ultimately suspending, the figures’ longings in a moment of unconsummated desire. Van der Weyden similarly acknowledges the potential of touch as a powerful medium for eroticized spiritual union. By offering the flesh of their hands for contemplation, the viewer-devotee is persuaded to long for the consummation of their union through the proximate hands. In deliberately refusing that touch, the panel speaks to a literally hands-off mode of piety that likewise enforces a spiritual separation between the medieval viewer and Christ, the object of his or her devotion.

Acts of Service Rendered onto the Body of Christ

The desire for physical union with the Crucified is not only solicited in devotional panels in terms of unfulfilled longing; the eroticism of touch is also realized through the laying on of hands in the veneration of Christ’s body. While the Magdalene of the Bartholomew Master’s panel exhibits a strong emotional response to the crucified Christ, her association with the glove and perfume jar implies a preparatory moment occurring outside of the immediate pictorial narrative. Indeed, the notion of serving Christ through the treatment of his corpse at the Passion exemplifies the majority of relationships between Christ and the biblical personages attested in this set of devotional images. In a similar way, John of Caulibus narrates the Magdalene’s preparation of the corpse as an improvised effort to offer a reverential service to Christ:

“A quite new and yet final service it was that she now performed for him: and in its very performance her soul was embittered, because she was unable to do it as fittingly as she would have liked. She longed to bathe his entire body, to anoint it and wrap it carefully, but there was neither time nor place for that. She could do no more. She could do nothing else; so she did what she could. At least she washed his feet with her tears. One last time she devoutly dried them, embraced and kissed them; and then, as carefully as she could and knew how, tenderly wrapped them.”[43]

Here, the final offering of Caulibus’ Magdalene entails both cleansing the body of Christ and venerating the corpse through tears and caresses. Through Caulibus’ progressive treatment of distinct gestures, the Magdalene’s actions are imbued with a sense of ritual, as though the care with which she bathes, dries, and wraps the body is conducted according to a code of reverential actions. Thus Caulibus’ Meditaciones again offers parallels to the representation of Christocentric touch in devotional art, which in consideration of acts of service rendered onto the body of Christ is best exemplified in both the Tarascon and Avignon Pietàs.

Drying her face with her garment, the Magdalene of the Quarton Pietà demonstrates a more immediate concern with the act of mourning, or rather literally wiping clean the external signs of lamentation. With the ointment jar posed ready in her left hand, the Magdalene is portrayed in the moment preceding the physical act of salving the corpse for burial. Likewise, one of the anonymous female saints in the Tarascon Pietà brings Christ’s pierced hand to her lips, kissing it reverently. She lifts his arm delicately at the wrist and with her index finger touches the blood flowing from the wound on his palm. The saint’s reflective gaze on the hand, coupled with this gesture towards the crucified body, legitimizes her position within the depicted scene not only in terms of the function she performs in the veneration of the body of Christ, but also through the dual possibilities of touch she offers to the viewer. As an exemplar of devotional response, both the saint of the Tarascon Pietà and the Magdalene figures of the Quarton Pietà offer models of touch that ultimately bring the devotee into immediate physical contact with the residual blood and grime of Christ’s torments. In both images, interactions with Christ implying the touch of flesh to liquid offers the blending of blood, balm, and tears as alternative tactile means of approaching Christ’s body.

In the Quarton panel, John the Evangelist, like the Magdalene, also treats the body of Christ with reverence, entering into a tactile relationship with the instrument and wounds of his Passion. With his right hand, John delicately disentangles the crown of thorns from Christ’s radiating, gilded aureole. His left hand stabilizes Christ’s head, his fingers interlacing with the aureole and Christ’s hair. Yet, the figure of John the Evangelist is complicated in terms of gender and his gendered relation to Christ. As Jeffrey Hamburger argues, John’s virginity renders him “not just male and female, but also body and soul, desire and bliss, change and stasis, corruption and transcendence.”[44] Thus his virginity renders his body a pure vessel much like the Virgin’s, ready to bear the divinity of Christ as the Word made Flesh and to present the Word through the Gospels. By interlacing his finger between the rays of Christ’s aureole, the crown of his divinity, Quarton’s John is depicted with the authority to lay hands upon the materialized manifestation of Christ’s divine nature. Through his touch, John effectively accepts the crown of thorns as a nuptial circlet, like the circuits of desire, now recast with the promise of salvation through spiritual union with the divine (Figure 3).

The overarching significance of the Pietà and Deposition panels discussed in this paper lies in the fact that each biblical figure is represented in a distinct and highly individualized relationship with the body of Christ. The roles they fulfill within the visual narrative certainly draw inspiration from the Gospels, yet elaborate them as individuals with an emotional expressiveness and sense of personal agency which render their relationship to the dead Christ more accessible to the medieval devotee. These distinct roles converge within each panel, so that as a group the figures encircle their beloved, enfolding that object of devotion within the circuit formed by the curving outlines of their own bodies, the sumptuous folds of their garments, and the lattice of their outstretched hands.

III. Responding to the Promise of Christocentric Touch

It remains to be explained how the medieval devotee would have responded to the promise of Christocentric touch in panels representing the moments following the Crucifixion. In order to illuminate the ways in which the medieval viewer might have synthesized the multifarious options for touch into a clear devotional program, one might look to the donor portrait, an obvious point of reference for imaginative devotional practices. Donor portraits were not merely artistic inventions, but highly motivated choices determined in correlation with the patron’s specifications. Because the donor or the donor’s family paid for the donor’s inclusion, the placement and pose of the donor figure is indicative of the benefactor’s devotional preferences and intentions. Enguerrand Quarton’s Pietà exemplifies one model of portraiture with the supposed donor, the canon Jean de Montagnac, kneeling in prayer in the left foreground of the panel (Figure 8).[45] The canon is removed from the central narrative through his bodily separation from the saintly personages, and his gaze is distant and clouded as he stares obliquely away from the scene of lamentation. Thus, rather than a biblical scene actively witnessed by the donor, the moment of lamentation is cast as an external reflection of the donor’s interior meditations on the Passion.

Conversely, in the Descent from the Cross by the Bartholomew Master, the inclusion of a donor portrait is hardly apparent to the viewer due to the harmonious integration of the figures into active poses and their collective engagement with supporting the body of the Crucified. However the young man encircling Christ around the waist may represent a donor, as he enfolds the crucified body in an intimate embrace unmatched by the models of touch represented by the surrounding figures. In turn, Christ hangs limply in his arms, conforming to the man’s touch. The notion of Christ’s embrace is repeated frequently in monastic textual and visual sources, reflected in the desires of medieval Christians and in the raptures attributed to the mystics by their followers.[46] If the young recipient of the embrace in the Descent from the Cross is indeed the donor of the painting, the panel opens a new and complex range of questions concerning the imagined role of the viewer-patron. His presence brings to mind the climactic mystical encounter of the soul with God, a physically transformative experience best evidenced in Bonaventure’s writings: “the soul itself is an image of God and a likeness so present to itself and having God so present that the soul actually grasps him and potentially ‘is capable of possessing him and of being a partaker in him.’”[47] The soul is able to reach across the space dividing itself from God to lay hands on, take possession of, and even merge into the divine. Therefore, in addition to indicating the extent to which the viewer might insert him or herself into the biblical narrative, the fifteenth-century figure in the Descent from the Cross also manifests the devotee’s capacity to envision a personal relationship with Christ that culminates in a direct, unmediated mode of touching. Clothing both the devotee’s soul and God in human flesh, the panel sets the devotee’s spiritual encounter against the backdrop of the Passion in all the complexity of its historical reality. Thus in late medieval Passion devotion, touch has the potential to be both individualized and thematized, such that it shows a specific touch by a specific individual, as well as a touch that is grounded in a broader cultural framework.

While the modern viewer cannot know if the painted representations reflect the donors’ original specifications, it is clear that the paintings were motivated by an initial desire on the part of the donors or their families to visualize and concretize their imagined participation in the biblical narrative through the paintings. In both examples of donor portraits, the affective participation of the devotee is solicited by manifesting on the painted surface a coherent model for an interior experience of devotion. As demonstrated specifically in the Bartholomew Master’s Descent from the Cross, through the imitation of biblical personages the devotee was equipped to imaginatively insert him or herself within the various scenes of the Passion and participate in the tactile veneration of the body of Christ. Further, by presenting a concrete and immediate visualization of the donor’s devotional possibilities, the panels no doubt fueled a further desire to experience the Passion with the fullness of the senses, to feel the true weight and malleability of Christ’s flesh beneath the hands rather than merely witnessing one’s own distant presence at the event.

Although a range of theories treating Christocentric devotion circulated in the late Middle Ages, one contemplative tradition emphasized a turning away from the physical world, including the reliance on images, believing that true spiritual vision necessitated a blindness of corporeal sight.[48] In the Quarton Pietà the Virgin’s hands join together in prayer over the body of her son and her eyes are lowered reflectively. Through her insistently hands-off pose over the body of Christ, the Virgin exemplifies an internalized, contemplative mode of piety such that some scholars have even likened the Virgin to a priestly figure presiding over the first mass.[49] The Virgin’s transcendence of the immediate action of Quarton’s Pietà speaks to the implied intellectualism of her spiritual understanding. Yet while this Augustinian model of interior vision was certainly prevalent in medieval devotional theory, there was likewise a strain of devotional practice that considered imitatio the first step in the soul’s ultimate ascension to communion with the divine.[50]

Mobilized through this interrelationship of visualization and tactility, the central devotional practices of affective piety, imitatio, and imaginative participation were available in late medieval textual sources in addition to devotional art. John of Caulibus situated his text within a larger process in which the contemplation of Christ’s humanity through the Meditaciones functioned as one rung in a hierarchical approach to God.[51] The devotee was expected to meditate profoundly on the historical events of the Passion with the aid of devotional literature and images before ascending to more reflective, intellectual stages of devotion.[52] It follows that Caulibus’ reader utilizes the examples of piety offered by the characters of Christ’s followers so that he or she might metaphorically join these figures in the preparation and veneration of the body of Christ. For example,Caulibusinvites the reader to perform the role of a handmaiden at the Nativity:

“And you who have lingered a bit, kneel and adore your Lord God, and then his mother, and reverently greet the holy old man Joseph. Then kiss the feet of the child Jesus lying in the manger, and ask our Lady to hand him to you and even allow you to hold him. Take him and hold him fast in your arms; gaze on his face. Kiss him with loving reverence and delight confidently in him. You can do this because he came to sinners for their salvation. He humbly conversed with them and finally left himself as food for them. Therefore his loving kindness patiently permits his person to be touched as you wish, and he’ll not attribute it to your presumption but to your love… Afterwards hand him back to his mother and carefully note how devotedly and wisely she minds him, nurses him, and so forth. She is showing her loving care. Stay and help her if you can. Delight in these things, rejoice in them and remember to meditate on them time and again; and as much as you can, remain close to our Lady and the boy Jesus…. So that you do not risk being turned away, always approach, as I’ve said, with reverential fear (Heb 12:28). For you should consider yourself unworthy of such an experience.”[53]

While this excerpt is exemplary as a model for the manner in which the Nativity is re-imagined in late medieval Passion literature, it is especially notable for the step-by-step narration of the reader’s participation in caring for the Christ Child. Not only does the female reader caress the infant, enfolding him in her arms and devoutly kissing him, her authorization to touch the Christ Child is granted through an implied verbal exchange with the Virgin. The reader is instructed to take the Virgin as a model for care giving, and only after closely observing the mother’s duties is the reader allowed to imitate the Virgin and serve the Child through tactile means.[54]

Ultimately, Caulibus reminds his reader to look upon her role in the Nativity as a privilege rather than a certainty. Gaining access to the Christ Child is predicated on the devotee’s earnest demonstration of humility and reverence. In approaching the holy family with fear, the devotee must adhere to a solemn code of authorized expressions of adoration. This model of bodily comportment is provided through the actions and gestures of the biblical personages, for as Jeffrey Hamburger argues, “the repetitive, diagrammatic quality of the scene renders it an ideal matrix for the mapping out of essential and exemplary relationships not only among the three protagonists, but also between the sacred figures and the viewer, for whom they stand as models of pious response.”[55] The participatory actions articulated in John of Caulibus’ account of the Nativity are highly expressive and can be visualized much like prayer gestures attested in both the text and illuminations of medieval manuscripts.[56] Scholarship has tended to treat these gestures as isolated instances; however, the juxtaposition of reverential gestures in the Deposition and Pietà groups suggests that the devotee should instead develop a wide vocabulary of associations. These in turn ought to be imaginatively performed in the meditations in accordance with the devotee’s emotions rather than in a prescribed, sequential order.

The reader’s imagined presence and physical participation in the Nativity is given a clear theological justification in Caulibus’ Nativity: Christ suffered the company of mankind for their salvation, thus the devotee’s tactile interactions with the human body of the divine are not presumptive but a bodily gesture of love. It is indeed significant that touch is explicitly justified at the beginning of Caulibus’ text. By providing a rationale for physically expressing love for the divine as well as a set of thematic approaches to tactile veneration, Caulibus establishes a devotional framework through which the entirety of his text is experienced. The obvious differences between the Nativity and the Passion must be acknowledged as a complication for the issue of Christocentric touch. However, if the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice can only be understood through both Christ’s birth and death, the justification for touching the crucified body of Christ is extended and even considered with greater urgency.

Perhaps the most vivid examples of the power of contemplating Christ are devotional meditations centered around the metaphor of the speculum, or mirror, which in the late Middle Ages became a popular means of both comprehending the Passion and conceptualizing the path to a more perfect Christian life.[57]In Marguerite de Navarre’s Miroir de Jhesus Christ crucifié, the focus shifts comparatively among contemplation of the Ecce Homo figure of Christ, the mortality of the narrator’s own body, and mankind’s internal disfigurement through moral corruption.[58] Michael Camille explicates this textual notion of reciprocity across devotional mediums through the relationship between the viewer and the viewed, saying, “When any character in a painting looks directly at us, conscious not only of being observed but also observing us, this crucially breaks the illusion of reality that has been constructed. Instead of being a historical narrative happening in the past, the internal gaze incorporates the viewer within the scene.”[59] In the Descent from the Cross by the Bartholomew Master, the mirrored relationship between the figures and the viewer-devotee is made possible through the Magdalene’s direct gaze. In calling the viewer to share in her internal suffering and duties to the body of Christ, the Magdalene becomes a model for the viewer’s meditations and the gateway to his or her imagined participation in the various manifestations of Christocentric touch.

By the late Middle Ages, popular understanding and theory likened the specificity of vision to the literal touching of viewer and viewed.[60] Yet existing scholarship often focuses exclusively on ocular questions in devotional art without identifying how the senses are mobilized collectively to solicit compassio. In the Tarascon and Avignon Pietàs and the Deposition scenes by Rogier Van der Weyden and the Bartholomew Master, one begins to understand the reciprocal relationship between the senses, namely that touching is thematized through the act of visualizing and witnessing the Passion narrative. This interplay of the senses suggests that somatic encounters function as a means of accessing the divine, perhaps with greater efficacy than purely intellectual or cognitive exercises.[61] Bonaventure likewise reinforces this notion by identifying the regaining of spiritual senses as the stimulus for spiritual union, saying, “No one grasps this except him who receives, since it is more a matter of affective experience than rational consideration.”[62]By imitating the performance of services around Christ and imaginatively participating in tactile acts of lamentation, the devotee is able to experience the divine with greater immediacy and specificity.

Concluding Remarks

In considering the possibility of individual experience of the divine through devotional texts, McGinn points out that, “whatever ‘knowledge’ it is that may exist on the superintellectual level, it is so purely personal that it can never be conveyed to anyone else.”[63] This private, even exclusive bond between the devotee and the divine operates within the thematic structure of the devotional prompt, be it textual or visual. John of Caulibus paces his Meditaciones in a flexible rhythm, pausing his narrative to allow the reader’s mental departure from the text into her own meditations. It is precisely the level of personal reflection permitted within the Meditaciones that effectively allows the reader to imaginatively lay hands on that physical object bearing the weight of his or her desires. By inspiring conceptions of the weight and feel of Christ’s crucified body, mobilizing the desires of the devotee for tactile access to that body, and providing models of service through which that desire might be realized, visual culture specifically establishes a framework through which the desire for Christocentric touch is solicited and offered as a devotional possibility. Nevertheless, it is the viewer’s spiritual meditations that animate the painted figures. At the core of what unites the figures of the scene, the immobile body of Christ is the locus for narrative elaborations and spiritual longings.

In the Deposition and Pietà panels discussed here, the consummation of the desire to touch is precluded by the very nature of the relationship between viewer and representation. Through his discussion of the Carmina Burana manuscript, Camille considers the parallel narrative of the poet longing for his beloved as a tragedy: “For the lover the image seems to be on the one hand just an empty illusion, an always-elusive object of desire, but on the other this very emptiness serves as an indispensable prop in the construction of that desire. Without the image love could not exist.”[64] While Camille’s argument is certainly true in relation to secular experiences of love and longing, the space between the viewer-devotee and the devotional object is not the locus of frustration, but rather promise. Like the hands of Christ and the Virgin in Van der Weyden’s Deposition, in late medieval devotional art it is the space separating the viewer from the painting that solicits and perpetuates desire. In the examples discussed in this article, touch is mediated in terms of the viewer’s visual access to the pictorial realm of touching. Even prayer and ritual are in themselves forms of mediation, allowing the devotee to approach the divine while maintaining a distinction between the divine and the human self.[65] Likewise, it is the space separating the viewer from the devotional image in which devotion truly occurs.

Nicole Pulichene is a Master’s candidate at the Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture. She received her undergraduate degree in Art History and French Language and Literature from the University of Chicago in 2010, and is currently writing about the representation of Christocentric touch in the Magdeburg ivory group.

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To Touch the Divine: Picturing Christocentric Touch in Late Medieval Passion Devotion by Nicole Pulichene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

[1] This article developed from my undergraduate thesis, and I am indebted to Aden Kumler for her unceasing supportand advisement during my research and writing. I would also like to thank Ittai Weinryb, who introduced me to new bodies of scholarship that have informed my latest research for this article. I am also grateful to Beth Fischer and Hortulus’ anonymous readers for their suggestions. For sources on affective piety and private devotion in the late Middle Ages, see Hans Belting, Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image Before the Era of Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 409-419; David Freedberg, “Invisibilia per visibilia: Meditation and the Uses of Theory,” in The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 168-191.

[2] Charles Sterling, Enguerrand Quarton: Le peintre de la Pietà d’Avignon [Enguerrand Quarton: Painter of the Avignon Pietà] (Paris: Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1983), 9.

[3] See John of Caulibus, Meditations on the Life of Christ, trans & ed. Francis X. Taney, Anne Miller, & C. Mary Stallings-Taney (Asheville, North Carolina: Pegasus Press, 2000).

[4] “On all levels, from the political down to the psychological, the sacred and profane overlapped, shared languages, subjectivities, and even…identical visual codes.” See Michael Camille, The Medieval Art of Love: Objects and Subjects of Desire (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1998), 22; see also 22-25, 37-38; Jeffrey Hamburger, Nuns As Artists: The Visual Culture of a Medieval Convent (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 56-58; 116-117; 218-220.

[5] Camille, The Medieval Art of Love, 51-52.

[6] Marcel Mauss, The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, trans. W.D. Halls(New York: W.W. Norton, 1990), 11-20; Camille likewise cites Mauss’ argument that the gift retains something of the spirit of its giver. See Camille, The Medieval Art of Love, 63.

[7] Mauss, The Gift, 12.

[8] Camille, The Medieval Art of Love, 23-25.

[9] Ibid., 24-25.

[10] Ibid., 25.

[11] Ibid., 54-57.

[12] Jean-Claude Schmitt, La raison des gestes dans l’occident médiéval (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1990), 256-258.

[13] See Camille, The Medieval Art of Love, 51, 69.

[14] For the Biblical story of Simeon see Luke 2:25-35. All biblical citations are taken from the Douay-Rheims Version.

[15] Simeon is portrayed in the vestments of a bishop, and his position behind the altar and under the wooden baldacchino signifies a privileged position in the medieval church as well as a privileged access to the Eucharistic corpus. By placing the Biblical episodeagainst the backdrop ofa church interior and endowing the Biblical personages with the garb and attributes of the late medieval nobility, the illumination creates a space in which the possibilities for the reader’s imagined participation are defined by the interactions permitted these figures. For a discussion of how manuscript representations of the liturgy reveal ideals of bodily comportment and personal piety among the laity, see Aden Kumler, “Translating the Eucharist” in Translating Truth: Ambitious Images and Religious Knowledge in Late Medieval France and England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), 103-159.

[16] Sophie Oosterwijk, “Swaddled or Shrouded? The Interpretation of ‘Chrysom’ Effigies on Late Medieval Tomb Monuments” in Weaving, Veiling, and Dressing: Textiles and Their Metaphors in the Late Middle Ages, ed. Kathryn M. Rudy and Barbara Baert (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2007), 307-348.

[17] The covering of hands to receive sacred objects is widely attested in the context of the liturgy, specifically in the handling of sacred texts and the Eucharistic species. Significantly, these objects in themselves were conceived of as the body of Christ, signaling the presence of the divine in mediated, material forms. Christine Sciacca notes the frequency with which dedicatory images for manuscripts are presented through veiled hands in her article “Raising the Curtain on the Use of Textiles in Manuscripts” in Weaving, Veiling, and Dressing, ed. Kathryn M. Rudy and Barbara Baert, 161.

[18] Philine Helas postulates that the notion of being “clothed in righteousness” expressed in Job 29:14-16 was the inspiration for a prayer (unfortunately otherwise unspecified), which was recited by priests when vesting themselves before mass. See Helas, “The Clothing of Poverty and Sanctity in Legends, and their Representations in Trecento and Quattrocento Italy” in Weaving, Veiling, and Dressing, ed. Kathryn M. Rudy and Barbara Baert, 284. She further describes robes as “[matrices] for the visualization of the social position” of venerable Christians, and thus as active players in what she terms “the ‘economy’ of salvation.” See 283-284; 287.

[19] John 19:38-40.

[20] Barbara Baert, “Mantle Fur, Pallium: Veiling and Unveiling in the Martyrdom of Agnes of Rome” in Weaving, Veiling, and Dressing, ed. Kathryn M. Rudy and Barbara Baert, 231; 235-236.

[21] Brooke Hopkins, “Jesus and Object-Use: A Winnicottian Account of the Resurrection Myth” in Transitional Objects and Potential Spaces: Literary Uses of D. W. Winnicott, ed. Peter L. Rudnytsky (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 255; Referenced in Camille, “Mimetic Identification and Passion Devotion in the Later Middle Ages: A Double-sided Panel by Meister Francke” in The Broken Body: Passion Devotion in Late-Medieval Culture, ed. A.A. MacDonald, H.N.B. Ridderbos, & R.M. Schlusemann (Groningen: Egbert Forsten, 1998), 183-210. The sacrificial godhead is likewise discussed cross-culturally in Henri Hubert & Marcel Mauss, “The Sacrifice of the God” in Sacrifice: Its Nature and Function (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964), 77-94.

[23] For the history of the commission and reception of copies of Van der Weyden’s Deposition, specifically panels by the Bartholomew Master, see Amy Knight Powell, Depositions: Scenes from the Late Medieval Church and the Modern Museum (New York: Zone Books, 2012),18-19, 143-157; Powell, “The Errant Image: Rogier Van der Weyden’s Deposition From the Cross and its Copies,” Art History 29.4 (September 2006), 540-562.

[24] Jacqueline Jung, “The Tactile and the Visionary: Notes on the Place of Sculpture in the Medieval Religious Imagination” in Looking Beyond: Visions, Dreams, and Insights in Medieval Art and History, ed. Colum Hourihane (Princeton: Index of Christian Art, 2010), 224-225. Jung also observes that van der Weyden’s panel “explicitly simulated sculpture.” See 224.

[25] David S. Areford, “The Passion Measured: A Late-Medieval Diagram of the Body of Christ,” in The Broken Body: Passion Devotion in Late-Medieval Culture, ed. A.A. MacDonald, et. al. (Groningen: Egbert Forsten, 1998), 238.

[26] The jar carries references to Mary Magdalene’s biblical relationship to Christ during his life, a relationship founded on acts of service and atonement. The Magdalene was often associated with the fallen woman in the Gospel of Luke who baths Christ’s feet with her hair and tears, then anoints his feet with perfume from an alabaster jar (Luke 7:36-50). Even John of Caulibus’ description of the Magdalene cleansing Christ’s body recalls these earlier scenes of devotion and service: “And the feet which on another occasion she had moistened with tears of contrition, now much more copiously she washed with waves of tears of sorrow and compassion. See John of Caulibus, Meditations on the Life of Christ, 261-262.

[27] Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 51.

[28] I am grateful to Beth Fischer for bringing to my attention Petrarch’s use of metaphors of gloves and veiling in his poetry. While a comparison of the use of the metaphor of the gloved hand and veiled flesh in romantic poetry and devotional literature is beyond the scope of this article, it is nevertheless important to note the extended implications of these metaphors in late medieval Europe. See Francesco Petrarca and Mark Musa, Petrarch: The Canzoniere, or Rerum Vulgarium Fragmenta Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1996; Margaret Brose, “Fetishizing the Veil: Petrarch’s Poetics of Rematerilization” in The Body in Early Modern Italy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), 3-23.

[29] For a related discussion of representations of the suffering body of Christ at the Passion in relation to the body of the punished medieval criminal, see Mitchell B. Merback, The Thief, the Cross, and the Wheel: Pain and the Spectacle of Punishment in Medieval and Renaissance Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).

[30] Hamburger, Jeffrey F. St. John the Divine: The Deified Evangelist in Medieval Art and Theology, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 79-81. Hamburger cites an illuminated D from Psalm 101 from the liturgical psalter of Saint Andreas (Engelberg, ca. 1325-1350) to demonstrate the dual roles played by the Virgin and Christ as intercessors, bearing breast and side wound respectively for the salvation of mankind.

[31] Bernard McGinn. The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism, vol. 3,“The Flowering of Mysticism: Men and Women in the New Mysticism (1200-1350).” (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1998), 119.

[32] Freedberg, The Power of Images, 168-169.

[33] Lawrence F. Hundersmarck, “The Use of Imagination, Emotion, and the Will in a Medieval Classic: The Meditaciones Vite Christi,” Logos 6:2 (2003): 46-62. Datation from McGinn, The Flowering of Mysticism, 119.

[34] John of Caulibus, Meditations on the Life of Christ, 260.

[37] Amy Neff, “The Pain of Compassio: Mary’s Labor at the Foot of the Cross,” The Art Bulletin 80 (1998): 254. For the specific mirroring of the Virgin and Christ’s bodies in Van der Weyden’s Deposition, see Powell, Depositions, 18, 144-149.

[38] Neff, “The Pain of Compassio,” 254.

[39] I am grateful to Andrew Goodhouse for helping me to translate this passage. For the full text, see Marguerite de Navarre, Miroir de Jhesus Christ crucifié [Mirror of Jesus Christ Crucified], ed. Lucia Fontanella.(Alessandria: Edizioni Dell’Orso, 1984), 190-200.

[40] In Wisdom’s Watch Upon the Hours by Henry Suso (d. 1366), the dialogue between the Disciple and Christ appearing in the guise of Wisdom derives much of its emotional intensity from discussions of Christ’s suffering at the Passion. Through Wisdom’s words, the reader begins to understand the significance of this appeal to the violence of the Passion and the mutilation and decay of Christ’s human body: “The more I take on the pallor of death out of the greatness of my love and sorrow, the more hideous I appear in a deathly discoloring, the more lovable shall I become to a loving heart and a mind well disposed.” After viewing the body of Christ in its disfigurement, Suso’s Disciple is moved to declare his love and fidelity to the Crucified. See Henry Suso, Wisdom’s Watch Upon the Hours. Trans. Edmund Colledge (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1994), 77.

[41] Camille, The Medieval Art of Love, 135; Hamburger, Nuns as Artists, 56-58; 103; 116-117; Hamburger, St. John the Divine, 30.

[42] John of Caulibus, Meditations on the Life of Christ, 263.

[43] John of Caulibus, Meditations on the Life of Christ, 262.

[44] Jeffrey Hamburger, “Brother, Bride and alter Christus: The Virginal Body of John the Evangelist in Medieval Art, Theology, and Literature” in Text und Kultur: Mittelalterliche Literatur 1150-1450, ed. Ursula Peters (Stuttgart: Metzler, 2001), 300. See also Hamburger, St. John the Divine, 145-164.

[45] For a background on the attribution of the Pietà to the canon Jean de Montagnac, see: Charles Sterling, Enguerrand Quarton: Le peintre de la Pieta d’Avignon (Paris: Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1983), 101-102.

[46] Hamburger, “The House of the Heart” in Nuns as Artists, 137-175.

[47] Bonaventure, “The Soul’s Journey into God,” Bonaventure, ed. et trans. Ewert Cousins (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), 81. Here Bonaventure quotes Augustine, De Trinitate, XIV, c. 8, no. 11.

[48] Hamburger, St. John the Divine, 18.

[49] Sterling, 104; Caroline Walker Bynum, Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (New York: Zone Books, 1991), 101. Sterling integrates a citation of Bazin’s argument within the body of his own, while Bynum likens the Virgin to a priest because “it is she who offers to ordinary mortals the saving flesh of God.”

[50] Augustine, On the Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book 12, Vol. 2, trans. John Hammond Taylor (Paulist Press, 1983), 178-232, ; David C. Lindberg, Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 88-90; McGinn, “The Flowering of Mysticism,” 119.

[51] John of Caulibus, Meditations on the Life of Christ, 172.“You ought to know that there are three kinds of contemplation, the two principal kinds for the perfect, and the third added for the imperfect. The two for the perfect are the contemplation of the majesty of God and the contemplation of the heavenly court. The third kind for beginners and the imperfect is the contemplation of the humanity of Christ, which I describe for you in this little book. You must begin with this kind if you wish to ascend to the higher kinds; otherwise, you could not so much rise to the others as be in awe of them.”

[52] Jeffrey Hamburger, “The Use of Images in the Pastoral Care of Nuns: The Case of Heinrich Suso and the Dominicans” Art Bulletin 71 (1981), 20-46; Richard C. Trexler, “Peter’s Words” in The Christian at Prayer: An Illustrated Prayer Manual Attributed to Peter the Chanter (d. 1197), (Binghamton: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1987), 23-53.

[53] John of Caulibus, Meditations on the Life of Christ, 28.

[54] For counterpoints to nuns’ modeling of personal piety in visual culture, see Hamburger, Nuns as Artists, 56-58; Jacqueline Jung, “Crystalline Wombs and Pregnant Hearts: The Exuberant Bodies of the Katharinenthal Visitation Group” in History in the Comic Mode: Medieval Communities and the Matter of Person, ed. Rachel Fulton and Bruce W. Holsinger (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 223-237.

[55] Jeffrey Hamburger, “Brother, Bride and alter Christus: The Virginal Body of John the Evangelist in Medieval Art, Theology, and Literature” in Text und Kultur: Mittelalterliche Literatur 1150-1450, ed. Ursula Peters. (Stuttgart: Metzler, 2001), 304.

[56] For example see Richard Trexler, The Christian at Prayer. The very gestures articulated in Peter the Chanter’s text are in fact described in Caulibus’ post-Crucifixion narrative, in which the holy personages frequently genuflect before the cross, the tomb, and other isolated subjects of meditation.

[57] McGinn, “The Flowering of Mysticism,” 68-69. McGinn attributes the introduction of the metaphor of the speculum in the Franciscan mystical tradition to Clare of Assisi (1193-1253).

[58] Marguerite de Navarre, Miroir de Jhesus Christ crucifié.

[60] C.M. Woolgar, The Senses in Late Medieval England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 148.

[62] Bonaventure, “The Soul’s Journey Into God,” 89.

[63] McGinn, The Flowering of Mysticism, 83.

[64] Camille, The Medieval Art of Love, 25.

[65] Bernard McGinn, ed. The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. (New York: The Modern Library, 2006), xvi.



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