My photographs, the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome.
One of my favorite churches we visited in Rome (and we visited a lot) largely because I cannot tolerate baroque art and all these frescoes, although some of them are modern restorations, are nicely mediaeval, and the all match. In so many churches there is so much conflict between all the periods and materials.
This church has an interesting crypt which I remember nothing about except that I went in it.
As an aside, this is the church outside of which is the Mouth of Truth, where tourists queue to put their hands to see if the mouth bites it off. We skipped the queue and went straight inside so I’ll never be able to see if my hand would get bitten off or not, but it’s okay because the interior was lovely.
Bust Reliquary of St. Louis, Bishop of Toulouse, late 1300s
Italy, Tuscany (Siena?)
Portable Altar of Countess Gertrude, with enclosed relics
Shortly after 1038
Germany, Lower Saxony
Gold, cloisonné enamel, porphyry, gems, pearls, niello, wood core
“According to the prescriptions of the Seventh Ecumenical Council of Nicaea of 787, every consecrated altar was to contain sacred relics. The portable altar of Countess Gertrude was no exception. Of the various relics listed in the inventory of 1482, those of Sts. Hermes, Bartholomew, Vincent, Adelheid, Gertrude, Marcian, and others are still preserved today. They were wrapped in textiles, stuffed into a richly decorated silk pouch and inserted into the altar through a trap door on the altar’s underside…An accompanying cedula, or parchment strip with an identifying inscription, suggests that the bag used to contain relics of the arm of one of the Twelve Apostles, namely that of St. Bartholomew. Together with other precious relics, some of which were likewise wrapped in silk and linen textiles, the apostle’s remains (multiple fragments of soft tissue rather than bone) were found inside the portable altar of Countess Gertrude of Braunschweig in 1985, when the trap door on the reliquary’s underside was opened for the first time since the late nineteenth century. According to early Christian tradition, St. Bartholomew was flayed alive and beheaded, which may explain the presence of soft tissue (rather than bone) and its identification as the “arm” (brachium) of the apostle.”
Detail of a miniature in the upper register on the right side of the page. The Second day of Creation, with God creating the firmament in the midst of the waters.
From the Egerton Genesis Picture Book, English, 3rd quarter of the 14th century.
Miniature of the image of Christ from Veronica’s veil at the beginning of a prayer. From an English Psalter, 1st quarter of the 13th century.
The scribe and probable artist of the illuminations in this psalter was Matthew Paris, a Benedictine monk based at St. Albans Abbey in Hertfordshire. In addition to his illuminations, Matthew Paris lent his lively drawings and words to a number of books, mostly historical, albeit of varying reliability. Unlike other illuminators of the period, who remain largely anonymous, we know a great deal about Matthew Paris. We even have a self-portrait of him from his Historia Anglorum.
Despite his status as a simple monk, Matthew Paris traveled to London and Norway, and moved in high circles, enjoying friendship with Norwegian king Haakon IV and Henry III.Matthew Paris is alleged to have had a ‘censorious disposition.’ He vehemently denounced the Pope and the Roman Court, charging both with tyranny and avarice. Matthew Paris’ tendencies to exaggerate and his personal prejudices mean that his historical chronicles should be taken with a hefty grain of salt, but they are nevertheless flavorful; more readable than those of his contemporaries, and, above all, they give an excellent sense of the author and the world he lived in.
Full-page depiction of the Menorah surrounded by foliate scrolls inhabited by hybrids, at the end of the Pentateuch.
from a Pentateuch, Italian, Last quarter of the 13th century
Full-page miniature of a Gothic structure inhabited by dragons and incorporating the initial-word panel We-elleh (and these), at the beginning of Exodus. The circular form of the initial-word panel is surrounded by 16 small medallions inhabited by different kinds of animals.
From a Pentateuch (the ‘Duke of Sussex’s German Pentateuch’)
Germany, 1st quarter of the 14th century
Christ and St.John the Evangelist
Germany, Swabia, 1300-1320
Polychromed and gilded oak
This devotional image is based on the Last Supper from the Gospel of John, when the diciple “whom Jesus loved” was resting on Jesus’ shoulder. Sculptural groupings of Christ and St. John were prolific in Swabia after 1300, with at least twenty-eight extant versions. The subject appears unique to the region, and is linked to contemporary German practices of mystical contemplation. This sculpture, housed at the Cleveland Museum of Art, is one of the most beautiful examples. Only traces of the original gilding and polychrome remain, but the expressive figures convey well this quiet and touching moment. Christ’s gaze is kindly and benevolent, inviting the viewer forward, as he drapes his arm protectively around John’s shoulder, their hands delicately clasped.
Devotional images such as this—known as andachtsbilder—were, through contemplation, intended to aid the viewer in transporting the soul to God and achieving mystical union through the person of Christ. The relationship between Christ and St. John is emblematic of the relationship between Christ and the viewer. St. John’s ecstatic expression hints at the possibility of ecstatic union with the deity, achieved by the most devout mystics. This devotional image was especially popular among female worshippers. A Dominican nun, Mararet Ebner (d. 1351), recalled the following from her meditations on this subject:
"When I remembered how St. John rested on the sweet heart of my lord Jesus Christ I was moved by such a sweet grace that I could not express it in words. And when I thought on the sweet drink which he drank from the breast of Christ—I cannot put it in words—I sat still for a while in such joy and longing that I gladly would have died of love."
Additional reading: Christ and St. John the Evangelist as a Model of Medieval Mysticism, Carolyn S. Jirousek
Italian, 13th cent.
Figure Reliquary of St. Stephen
France, Late 12th century
This figure in his deacon’s robes represents the first Christian martyr, St Stephen. Full of dignity, wisdom and humanity, the figure stands out among the often restive and dynamic representations of the 12th century. But the monumentality and the inner tension, combined with masterfully executed decoration, make it one of the unquestioned masterpieces of Romanesque art. The figure holds a receptacle for relics, decorated with a cameo carved into bloodstone, which is considered to be Byzantine.
Detail from the 14th-century choir screen of Notre Dame de Paris.
Carolingian Disk Brooch
Location (found at): Niederbreisig, Germany
I have always found the metal work that flourished during the 7th and 8th centuries to be fascinating. We can see similar examples from the Visigoths in Spain. Precious stones were used along with a stylized decorative program. I have seen similar brooches in the Museo Arqueológico in Madrid.
Detail of the Batllo Crucifix (Majesty/Majestat). Polychromed wood, from Gerona, Catalonia, mid-twelfth century. Currently in the collections of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. Source.