Artibus et Historiae no. 81 (XLI)

2020, ISSN 0391-9064

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JAN K. OSTROWSKI - The Assumption of the Virgin Mary in a Triumphal Chariot: A Contribution to Marian Iconography and to the History of Art History (pp. 291–306)

In the Roman Catholic parish church in Monasterzyska (until 1939 Poland, now Ukraine) there was once a valuable late Baroque sculptural furnishing, almost completely destroyed during the Soviet rule, but fortunately documented by Polish art historians before the Second World War. A special place was occupied by the large bas-relief of the Assumption of the Virgin, work of the Lwów sculptor Antoni Sztyl, which contained an unusual motif of a decorative throne, to which angels invite the Virgin Mary. At the beginning of the 1990s the present author identified a graphic pattern of this bas-relief: a composition by Gottfried Bernhard Göz, reproduced in the etchings illustrating numerous editions of the Roman Missal, published in Kempten and Augsburg from 1734 to the beginning of the nineteenth century. It is a motif not yet recorded in Marian iconography: it turned out that the object that Sztyl interpreted as a throne is in fact a triumphal chariot on which Mary is to be taken to heaven. Searching for a text that could suggest such a solution has lasted about 25 years. A pertinent passage was finally identified in the commentary on the Psalms by the French Jesuit Thomas Le Blanc, published several times in Cologne in the second half of the seventeenth and in the first half of the eighteenth century. The author not only mentions the exaltation of the Virgin Mary on a triumphal chariot, but also associates its wheels with her virtues. Detailed elements of this formulation appear in earlier church literature (Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Albert the Great, Saint Bridget of Sweden), but it seems that it was Le Blanc who gave it the final form. His treatise was undoubtedly known in the theological circles of Kempten and Augsburg, from which probably the inspiration came for Göz, as illustrator of the Roman Missal. In the circle of Lwów sculpture of the eighteenth century, one can indicate at least one more similar, still unresolved iconographic puzzle: the scene of the Dead Christ Mourned by Saint Mary Magdalene.

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