Apocrypha, Iconography of the

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From late Hellenistic times through the medieval period, apocryphal literature constantly provided artists with rich sources of iconography. As a source of iconography the apocrypha of the New Testament is of much greater importance than that of the Old Testament. Of the Old Testament apocrypha, Ascensio Jesaiae is the only book known today to have been used as an iconographical source. It is assumed that there existed a certain number of narrative cycles on deuterocanonical literature of Hellenistic Jewish origin from the late Hellenistic period.

In early Christianity artists used the apocryphal New Testament literature to complete narrative cycles of the lives of Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Apostles and other saints, since canonical books gave artists only imperfect information about the lives of these important figures. The influence of apocryphal New Testament literature is most conspicuous in the following cycles: (1) The life of Christ. For the Nativity and the Infancy, the Protoevangelium Jacobi and the Evangelium Pseudo-Matthaei are the main sources for themes such as the Birth in the Mountain Cave, Two Midwives, the Animals by the Manger, etc. The Evangelium Infantiae Salvatoris arabicum as well as the Gospel of St. Thomas provide supplementary information about the Nativity and the Infancy, such as the Star of Angels and the occurrence of early miracles. The Bathing of the Infant Christ in the Nativity scene is a borrowing from pagan birth scenes. There are two sources for the apocryphal details of the Passion and the descent of christ into hell: the Gospel of Bartholomew and the Gospel of Nicodemus (Acta Pilati ). (2) The life of the Virgin. The Protoevangelium Jacobi is again the most important source for the life of the Virgin in reference to Joachim and Anna, the Nativity of the Virgin, the Presentation of the Virgin, the Engagement, and the Annunciation. For the last part of her life, the De transitu Beatae Mariae Virginis attributed to Melito of Sardis is the main source. (3) The lives of Apostles. There are several apocryphal books of the Acts of the Apostles, e.g., Acts of Paul, Acts of Peter, Acts of Andreas, etc. They are the principal sources of the miraculous deeds and martrydoms of the Apostles as well as the source of their portraits [Peter and Simon Magnus, Martyrdom of Peter (Quo vadis, Domine ), etc.].

Bibliography: e. b. smith, Early Christian Iconography (Princeton 1918). Reallexikon zur deutschen Kunstgeschichte, ed. o. schmitt, v.1 (Stuttgart 1937) 781801. k. wessel, ed., Reallexikon zur byzantinischen Kunst, v.1 (Stuttgart 1963) 1: 209218.

[s. tsuji]