Cameo of the Virgin and Child, ca. 1050–1100
Byzantine (probably Constantinople); mounted in Paris ca. 1800 in a gold frame by Adrien Jean Maximillian Vachette (1753–1839)
Agate; 3 x 2 1/8 x 1/4 in. (7.7 x 5.4 x .7 cm), without frame 2 3/8 x 1 5/8 in. (6 x 4 cm)
Gift of John C. Weber, in honor of Mary and Michael Jaharis, 2007 (2007.445)
Madonna and Child, ca. 1300
Duccio di Buoninsegna (Italian, Sienese, active ca. 1278–d. 1318)
Tempera and gold on wood, with original engaged frame; Overall, with frame, 11 x 8 1/4 in. (27.9 x 21 cm); painted surface 9 3/8 x 6 1/2 in. (23.8 x 16.5 cm)
Purchase, Rogers Fund, Walter and Leonore Annenberg and The Annenberg Foundation Gift, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Annette de la Renta Gift, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, Louis V. Bell, and Dodge Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, several members of The Chairman's Council Gifts, Elaine L. Rosenberg and Stephenson Family Foundation Gifts, 2003 Benefit Fund, and other gifts and funds from various donors, 2004 (2004.442)
Portable Mosaic Icon with the Virgin Eleousa, early 14th century
Byzantine, probably Constantinople
Miniature mosaic set in wax on wood panel with gold, multicolored stones, and gilded copper tesserae; some portions restored; 4 3/8 x 3 3/8 in. (11.2 x 8.6 cm)
Gift of John C. Weber, in honor of Philippe de Montebello, 2008 (2008.352)
Christians in the Middle Ages expressed and strengthened their faith through public rituals, such as celebration of the Eucharist, and personal devotions conducted in a private chapel, a monastic cell, or simply a corner of one's home. Individuals sought to deepen their faith through study, meditation, and prayer, which might be guided by psalters or private prayer books (54.1.2; 1998.179). Images, usually modest in scale, helped in these spiritual endeavors, since they made tangible the object of devotional practices. Reflecting the wealth and rank of the individual, such images were produced in every medium, from vellum to gold, ivory to clay. The fervor with which individual Christians practiced their faith often took a toll on the objects that aided their devotion. Owners might repeatedly kiss and caress them, wearing away details carved into the surface and obliterating the features of holy figures (1987.23).
In Byzantium, private devotion involved the use of icons. Early icons were often portraits of Christ, the Virgin, prophets, or saints. By the eleventh century, the appearance of icons changed, incorporating more narrative elements and expressing poignant emotions (63.68.1-.13). These changes encouraged the worshipper to forge a personal relationship to the holy figure or enter into the narrative as if actually present at the event. The increasing interest in the lifelike qualities of the icon and its ability to elicit an emotional response from the viewer is seen in Michael Psellos' description of an icon of the Crucifixion: "But as the [divine] force moved the painter's hand he showed Christ living at his last breath at once living and lifeless."
In western Europe, a form of spirituality that emphasized the emotional involvement of the faithful emerged by 1300. Believers were encouraged to contemplate events from the life of Christ, the Virgin, or the saints, as if they were present. The Franciscan author of the extremely popular and influential Meditations on the Life of Christ interrupts the narrative of the Nativity to address his readers:
Kiss the beautiful little feet of the infant Jesus who lies in the manger and beg his mother to offer to let you hold him a while. Pick him up and hold him in your arms. Gaze on his face with devotion and reverently kiss and delight in him.
Sculptures of the Virgin and Child were among the most popular images for private devotion and they frequently emphasize the tender relationship between the mother and her child. Images of the Virgin with the dead Christ, by contrast, invited the viewer to ponder their suffering (2001.78).
Department of Medieval Art. "Private Devotion in Medieval Christianity". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/priv/hd_priv.htm (October 2001)
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