Artibus et Historiae no. 86 (XLIII)

2022, ISSN 0391-9064

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DOBROSŁAWA HORZELA - The Burning Bush Virgin. In Search for the Origins of the Iconographic Type and Reasons for its Wide Currency in the Stained Glass of Lesser Poland at the Beginning of the Fifteenth Century (pp. 195–240)

At the beginning of the fifteenth century, depictions of the crowned Virgin and Child enclosed within a rayed glory appeared in objects of goldsmith’s art, on seals, in embroidery and in stained glass produced in Lesser Poland. Apart from such images of the Virgin of the Apocalypse, there appeared representations of the crowned Virgin and Child standing on the moon and enclosed within a rayed glory, that is with the attributes of the Apocalyptic Lady, but shown against a background of thick greenery, sometimes, but not always, with addition of flickering flames. The latter representations count as the most numerous iconographic type that appears in stained glass of Lesser Poland in the first half of the fifteenth century, at the same time being very rare in Western art in general. The present paper seeks to identify the circumstances in which such Marian images became widespread in the art of Cracow.

The representation of the Burning Bush Virgin is an iconographic type that the West took over from Byzantium. The process may have taken place along two routes: through France, where monumental images of the Virgin and Child accompanied by Moses and the burning bush appeared, or through Bohemia during the reign of Charles IV, where inspiration may have come from an icon. Among arguments supporting a hypothesis that an Eastern artwork, which had served as a model for Bohemian paintings, was held at a canonry of Roudnice is the fact that one of the oldest surviving images of the Burning Bush Virgin comes from Corpus Christi church of the Canons Regular of the Lateran in Cracow’s district of Kazimierz, who were brought there in 1405 from a provostry of the Roudnice monastery in Kłodzko. The earliest Bohemian examples of the iconographic type of the Burning Bush Virgin must have originated no later than in the 1370s, since a stained-glass panel at Straßengel, modelled on these artworks, was executed before 1380. In the 1380s, probably on the initiative of the Archbishop of Prague Jan of Jenštejn, there came to a fusion of the images of the Virgin of the Apocalypse and the Burning Bush Virgin, which resulted in a new variant, of the Virgin of the Assumption of the Burning Bush, represented both in sculpture and in painting. Following Martin Pavlíček, it should be concluded that the prototype painting based on an Eastern iconographic type, in which the Virgin is represented standing against a huge flaming bush, was executed by the Master of Třeboň. It is attested by clear affinities with the style of the master visible in the images of the Burning Bush Virgin starting from around 1415 (in the Wrocław Missal).

The Bohemian variant of the image had been shaped in the circle of the elite well-versed in Marian theology, who also actively contributed to its development. The undoubted source of the new image was the sermon of St Bernard of Clairvaux for the Sunday within the Octave of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in which he considered jointly the representations of the woman clothed in the sun and of the burning bush. The fact that the new variant was disseminated in Lesser Poland in the form of stained glass is not accidental, but deeply rooted in the incarnational symbolism of the coloured glass penetrated by light, which may have been discussed anew in Cracow at the end of the fourteenth century, coinciding with the reception of the works of St Bridget of Sweden. An idea of executing a stained-glass panel whose message was related to the theophany witnessed by Moses was at the same time a consequence of recognising performative capacities of the glass medium. An image executed in stained glass, whose reception changes depending on the lighting may have been intended as a means of activating emotions in keeping with the instructions of the new devotion, and allowed the viewers to identify themselves with the subject of the Old-Testament theophany, absent from the picture itself. And the monastery of the Canons Regular in Kazimierz was one of the places in Cracow where the Bohemian version of devotio moderna was explored.

The study shows an important role in reconstructing the past played by taking into account the artistic and intellectual centres located on the peripheries of the main current of research such as Cracow, and the categories of artworks that have been usually neglected in the scholarship, such as stained glass.

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