Apostles, Iconography of
APOSTLES, ICONOGRAPHY OF
The 12 disciples of Christ were called "apostles," because they were sent out (Gr. ἀποστέλλειν, to send forth) by Him to spread the gospel through the world. Thus one of the characteristics of the Church is its apostolicity; an indispensable element in its foundation was the preaching, holiness, and martyrdom of the Apostles. This article treats the development in Christian art of the full group, or college of the Apostles, in symbolic representations and in narrative scenes from the New Testament. (For additional information on the Apostles in art, see last supper, iconography of; pentecost, iconography of; and saints, iconography of.)
Traditio Legis. The establishment of the Church is shown in early Christian art by the seating of the Apostles to the left and right of Christ. The idea of the Traditio Legis or expansion of the Church is conveyed by standing Apostles converging in a double line toward Christ (4th-century sarcophagus; S. Ambrogio, Milan). The establishment of the Church by the teaching of Christ to the Apostles was painted in the Roman catacombs. In the fresco of the "cripta dei fornai" (Domitilla), St. Peter and St. Paul are sitting on folding stools, while the other ten Apostles are standing. Christ was shown enthroned twice amidst ten Apostles making the gesture of "adclamatio" (5th-century silver chalice from Antioch, The Cloisters, New York). He appears as the teaching Logos and as the Apocalyptic Christ, accompanied by the lamb.
The hillock represented in the early Christian sarcophagi, on which Christ teaches, sitting, or delivers the Law, standing, was interpreted as Mt. Zion on which Jerusalem is built. The mountain in Galilee where Christ appointed the "eleven disciples" to meet him before He delegated to them His authority and vanished from their view (Mt 28.16–20) was equated by St. Jerome with the mountain, exalted above the mountaintops, toward which a multitude of people will climb to hear the teaching of the Lord (Is 2.2–3). Thus, Christ stands on the mountain, "giving the law" to the Apostles and presenting St. Peter with the rotulus of the New Dispensation (Borghese sarcophagus, probably of the 4th century, Louvre).
Sometimes the college of the Apostles is gathered around Christ resurrected and holding the victorious "crux gemmata" (Probus sarcophagus, Museo Petriano). In a "star and wreath" sarcophagus in the Museum of Arles, the Resurrection was rendered symbolically present by a cross topped by a wreath of victory encompassing the monogram of Christ. On a beautiful fragment of a sarcophagus in the S. Sebastiano catacomb, the crowns, which in the Arles sarcophagus are held by the hand of God above the head of each Apostle against a starry sky, are now presented by the Apostles to Christ. The latter theme was taken from the Roman practice of having the provinces send the aurum coronarium to the head of state and according to which on solemn occasions the senators offered to the emperor the aurum oblaticium.
The key motif of the Traditio Legis was made explicit by the words "Dominus legem dat" inscribed on the rotulus proffered by Christ to Peter (sarcophagus, Arles Museum). According to St. Irenaeus and to the Fathers, the Traditio Legis consisted in the authority delegated to the Apostles to redeem through Baptism (Mk 16.16; Mt 28.19). That connection is made manifest in the mosaics of the early Christian baptisteries (S. Giovanni in Fonte and Baptistery of the Arians, Ravenna).
The Traditio Legis received its official recognition at the Roman synod of 382. Christ stands on the mountain, Mt. Zion and Paradise, uplifting His right hand with the gesture of Sol Salutis (Sun of Salvation), inherited from the Roman monuments of Sol Invictus. St. Paul hails Him and St. Peter takes in his veiled hands the rotulus of the new law. In this way the doctrine of the priority of the See of Rome, based on the double apostolicity of Peter and Paul in Rome and their martyrdom there, was confirmed in the circle of Pope Damasus. In the apse of the Cluniac priory of Berzé-la-Ville, the early 12th-century fresco developing the theme of the Traditio Legis, complete with 12 Apostles, signified the direct allegiance of the order of Cluny to the Holy See under the patronage of St. Peter and St. Paul, whose relics had been deposited in the main altar of the abbey church consecrated in 1095. In Rome the tradition of the modified Traditio Legis was continued until the 9th century (mosaics in SS. Cosmas and Damian, S. Prassede, and S. Cecilia).
Animal Symbols. As early as the time of Pope Damasus the Traditio Legis theme developed into the introduction into Paradise of saints whom St. Peter and St. Paul presented to Christ. After the saints, a new symbol appears. Twelve lambs representing the Apostles are shown going out of the symbolical cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem; they converge toward the Agnus Dei standing on the mount. The Apostles are symbolized by lambs also in the presence of the Transfiguration (mid-6th-century mosaic, S. Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna).
In the apse of the 5th-century baptistery at Albenga, 12 doves, symbolizing the 12 Apostles, surround a triple halo bearing the triple monogram of Christ as well as the letters alpha and omega repeated three times, which is a threefold anti-Arian reference to the Trinity.
Narrative Scenes. In the primitive liturgy the Ascension was celebrated on the afternoon of the Feast of the Pentecost. In the church of the Apostles in Constantinople, as it had been rebuilt by Justinian I (546), the cupola with the mosaic of the Ascension was located above the southern arm of the cross-shaped building—a plan that was copied in the church of the Apostles in Milan— and the cupola with the mosaic of the Pentecost was located above the western arm. The Ascension cupola was separated from the central cupola, reserved to the Pantocrator, by an arch the mosaics of which illustrated the appearance of Christ before His Disciples in the cenacle before the Ascension. The Pentecost cupola was separated from the Pantocrator cupola by an arch illustrating the mission of the Apostles. Mosaics on the three wall arches supporting the Pentecost cupola showed the Apostles administering Baptism. In a 9th-century manuscript of the sermons of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, the scene of the mission given to the 11 Apostles (Mt 28.19) tops a composition divided into 12 compartments in each of which an Apostle is painted performing the rite of Baptism. Together with the 46 illuminations representing the Passions of the Apostles, they constitute a cycle illustrating the common feast of the Apostles which, in the Greek East, was celebrated on June 13. The Greek iconography of the Apostles' Passion, revived in the 9th century after preiconoclastic models, was transmitted to the illustrators of the Western medieval Passionalia; their works, in their own turn, were used as the sources of the martyrdom of the Apostles in Gothic sculpture (portals of the cathedral of Strasbourg, Holy Cross in Gmünd, and Saint-Thiébaut in Thann).
Although the feast of the Divisio Apostolorum, which in the West occurs on July 15, was not celebrated until the end of the 11th century, a long tradition prepared it. It was initiated by Eusebius's Historia Ecclesiastica (Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne 20:213–216) and the apocryphal Acts of the Apostles and iconographically anticipated in illuminated codices of the commentary on the Apocalypse by Beatus of Liébana (c. 776). The names of the nations allotted to the Apostles are written above the head of each, that of "Spania," inscribed above St. James, bearing testimony to the belief in the apostolicity of his mission in Spain and to the fame of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The separation of the Apostles, departing toward their respective assignments, appears in the lunettes of the 12th-century façade of the cathedral of Angoulême. Peculiar to Byzantine iconography is the blessing of His Apostles by Christ in Bethany, before "He parted from them and was carried up into heaven" (Lk 24.50–51). The ceremonious bowing down of the Apostles worshiping Christ is treated in an aweinspiring way in a splendid mural painting in the choir of Hagia Sophia at Trebizund (13th century).
Romanesque art, with its propensity for synthesis, achieved the fusion of the iconography of the mission of the Apostles and that of Pentecost. In the Pentecost image
in a lectionary from Cluny, Christ proffers a scroll with the inscription: "Ecce mitto promissum Patris mei in vos." The first word "Et" of Lk 24.49 was significantly changed to "Ecce." On the main tympanum of the Magdalene church at Vézelay, a gigantic Christ, flattened against the mandorla that circumscribes Him, darts shafts of light onto the Apostles. On His proper right the clear sky and the books held open by the Apostles proclaim in the words of Mk 16.16: "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved." On the left side the closed books and the waves of thunder, billowing above the Apostles, warn that "he who does not believe shall be condemned."
The renewal of the early Christian and Byzantine association between the Ascension and the mission of the Apostles is exemplified in a relief by Donatello (c. 1427). Christ enthroned on a mountain between clouds beyond which He is about to vanish, gives the keys to St. Peter in the presence of the Virgin and the other Apostles. The tapestry cartoons designed by Raphael in 1514, however, broke with every allegorizing trend as well as with the apocryphal tradition. Following the literal straightforwardness first exhibited by Giotto in the Arena Chapel of Padua, Raphael conceived his cycle of the life of the Apostles as "istorie" in the sense of Alberti. The first series of the tapestries for the Sistine Chapel was begun in Brussels in 1516 (cartoons, Victoria and Albert Museum).
The Mystical Mill. At the opposite aesthetic and intellectual pole of the compositions by Raphael, the dying spirit of the Middle Ages invented the mystical mill or host mill. The theme assumed an extraordinary development in the visionary and surrealistic art of the end of the Middle Ages and was used for the purpose of putting double emphasis on the "Corpus Mysticum" both as the Eucharist and as the Church. In a miniature of a Gradual, the Apostles turn the crank of the host mill, molendarium hostiae (Zentralbibliothek, Lucerne).
Apocalyptic Themes. The Apostles embody the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem in keeping with Rv 21.14: "The wall of the city has twelve foundation stones, and on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (Romanesque fresco; San Pietro al Monte, Civate). The 24 Elders (Rv 4.4) are interpreted as the double college of the Prophets and Apostles in early medieval illustrated apocalypses and in Romanesque portals. As a rule, the 24 Elders accompany the Majestas Domini, but in the transept of the cathedral of Lausanne (13th century) they gyrate around the coronation of the Virgin. In the final phase of Romanesque art, the theophany of the Last Judgment according to Matthew (24.27–31) progressively replaced the Apocalyptic Majestas Domini. In an intermediate period, the Majestas Domini became more and more imbued with connotations of the Last Judgment. The Apostles, enthroned on globes, accompany Christ enthroned as a judge (Mt 19.28): "You shall sit on twelve thrones and shall be judges over the twelve tribes of Israel" (early 12th-century fresco, church of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe).
Architectural Symbolism. On account of the very number 12, the college of the Apostles sustained a special relationship with architectural symbolism. Realizing the will of Emperor Constantine the Great, Emperor Constantius II (337–361) buried him in a mausoleum joining the church of the Apostles. Because of relics deposited there of St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John, and St. Thomas, with those of St. Timothy added in 356 and those of St. Andrew and St. Luke in 357, the church became the shrine of the apostolic founders of the church. The mausoleum was in the form of a rotunda surrounded on the inside by 12 columns which were surmounted by as many bust reliefs of the Apostles as imagines clipeatae (Medallions of the Apostles, Ottoman Museum, Istanbul). As we see on an ivory plaque representing the Resurrection (c. 400, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich), the rotunda built above the tomb of Christ in the Anastasis church in Jerusalem was decorated with similar busts of the Apostles. The formula of the college of Apostles, carved on both sides in the splays of a Last Judgment portal, prevailed in the cathedrals of Chartres and Amiens between 1215 and 1230. There, as "bases" and "columns" of the church of which Christ standing against the trumeau of the portal is the "doorway," they continued the tradition of statue-columns of the ancestors of Christ on façades of cathedrals and abbey churches of western and northern France of the mid-12th century. Apostle portals descended from French models are found in the German Gothic cathedrals at Strasbourg, Münster, Erfurt, and Augsburg.
Symbol of the Creed. According to early tradition, before they scattered toward the countries assigned to them (Rufinus, Patrologia Latina, 21:337), on the very day of the Pentecost (Pseudo-Augustine, Patrologia Latina, 39:2188–91), the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostles to speak, each in his turn, one article of the creed. Ottonian art seized upon that tradition and dramatized it by building the concordance of the articles of faith and the prophecies, perching the Apostles on the shoulders of the Prophets (fresco, S. Sebastiano in Pallara, Rome). This caryatidal pattern of concordance struck deep roots in Germany (12th-century baptismal font, cathedral of Merseburg; 13th-century "Fürstenportal," Bamberg Cathedral). The iconographical scheme of the concordance of the Prophets and Apostles became very popular in the 12th century in the Cologne and Mosan workshops (enameled portable altar, made by Eilbertus of Cologne, c. 1130, Berlin Museum). In France, Suger had laid out symbolically the choir of his abbey church—"raised aloft by columns representing the number of the twelve Apostles and, on the second hand, by as many columns in the ambulatory that signified the number of the prophets" (De Consecratione 5, with reference to Eph 2.20). From the end of 14th to the 16th century the credo tapestries continued the tradition of presenting the Apostles and Prophets in pairs.
Apostle Glasses and Spoons. Some early Christian sense of the mysterium of the Church embodied in the college of the Apostles was salvaged in the decorative arts of the Renaissance and 17th century, illustrating the Apostles. On enameled glasses produced in Silesia, Franconia, and Bohemia, the 12 Apostles distributed into two tiers under arches surround the Salvator Mundi. The Apostle silver spoons were first made as separate baptism gifts, and later ordered as complete iconographical series. They are recorded from 1494 to 1686 in England, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy.
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