Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 8 September 2014

The Birthday of Our Lady

Today is the Feast of the Birthday of Our Lady. 

To celebrate this joyful day I am posting an image of a painting by Jan van Eyck (c.1380/90-1441), and dated to 1438-40, which is now in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin.



There is an online account of the painting here.

At only 12.2 inches high and 5.5 inches wide it is essentially a miniature.

Apart from its beauty and indeed charm it is of interest as a depiction of the interior of a church in the Low Countries in the early fifteenth century - and church interiors remained popular as a theme with artists there both before and after the reformation. There is a delight in conveying the spatial qualities of the building as well as the play of light through the north porch and windows. Given that this must represent afternoon light is there a hint that time is moving on, and that ?late in time the Redeemer has come to save? Is there something then of later medieval mysticism and expectations of the call to Judgement? That is an idea that has been popular - as in Jan Huizinga's The Waning of the Middle Ages - and it is certainly present in the culture of the times with books of Ars moriendi, cadaver tomnbs and the danse macabre. Against that one should bear in mind the artistic vitality - of which this is but one example - and the general confidence of the fifteenth century in its beliefs and its ability to achieve great things.

Theologically I like the association here of the Child-bearing Virgin with the Church as represented by an ecclesiastical building. Here indeed is Mary as Mother of the Church, Mother of the Church which is the Body of Christ, that Body which she holds. The Virgin Mary is also a type of the Church, and that too is eloquently conveyed in this delicate composition. 

Blessed Mary, Ever Virgin, pray for us 

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