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Pentecost, Iconography of


The pentecost, or Sending of the Holy Spirit, was the last stage in the glorification of Christ, although He

was not present. It occurred directly after the Ascension. In early Christian iconography of Pentecost, the 12 Apostles are grouped in a circle around the Virgin Mary (6th century, Gospel Book of Rabbula; Biblioteca Laurenziana, Florence), who appears in the scene probably as a symbol of the Church. Above their heads the Holy Spirit is represented in the form of a dove, from which golden rays of light emanate or tongues of fire dart upon them. The hands of the Apostles are shown making a variety of gestures following the linguistic miracle that has enabled them to go forth and spread the gospel to the four corners of the world.

Although not nearly so common as those with the Virgin, there occur representations of Pentecost with the Apostles alone (11th century, Gradual of Reichenau; Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris). The fire of the Holy Spirit is shown also as a flaming wheel with the Apostles grouped around it (11th century, Book of Pericopes; Munich Library). On occasion, instead of the dove, the hand of God is represented with rays of light coming from the extended fingers. Representations of the 12 Apostles alone, with Peter and Paul at either side of the throne of Christ, a doorway of a church, or an archway with the nations in it, depict the foundation of the Church.

In the typological art of the late Middle Ages (e.g., the Speculum humanae salvationis ), the tower of babel is shown alongside the miracle of Pentecost. The parallel is based on an early literary and pictorial tradition alluded to in homilies and sacramentary texts of the Feast of Pentecost, in both East and West. The Tower of Babel represented, according to interpretation, a confusion of tongues and the dispersion of the peoples of Earth; at Pentecost, on the contrary, there was a gift of tongues and a regathering through the power of the gospel.

The representation of the "Throne, Gospel Book, and Dove," called the Etimasia, became an accepted symbol and an important part of Pentecost representations. The Etimasia has been taken to mean the gospel preached by Christ and confirmed by the Holy Spirit; or a Trinitarian symbol in which the "Throne" stands for the Father, the "Gospel Book" for the Son, and the "Dove" for the Holy Spirit. The Russian Orthodox connect the symbol with the seat of the Last Judgment and the "preparation of the Throne" (Hetoimasia tou Thronou ) of Christ's Second Coming.

The Etimasia is in the center of the Pentecost dome mosaic of St. Mark's, Venice. There is a similar mosaic in the dome of St. Luke in Phocis, Greece. In the Pentecost frescoes of the Cappadocian rock churches the Etimasia comes at the top of the picture; this arrangement has been copied into many illuminated manuscripts.

Frequently, below the group of the Apostles are depicted representatives of the 16 nations (mentioned in the Acts as present in Jerusalem at the time of the descent of the Holy Spirit) who marveled on hearing the Apostles speaking their native tongues. In the dome mosaics in Venice and Phocis, the nations appear between the windows of the drum supporting the dome. In Venice, each nation is represented by a pair of figures, male and female. In later miniatures, to avoid the difficulty of representing 16 nations, an old man symbolizing "Time," with rolls of the Gospel in his arms, is placed in a central arched doorway. The central doorway occurs in many Pentecost miniatures. In the Syrian miniatures of the Orthodox Convent, St. Mark's, Jerusalem, the doorway is interpreted as the door of the Cenacle through which Christ passed when He appeared to the Apostles, who testify to His Resurrection. The figure of the Virgin also may occur in the central doorway.

In the Anglo-Saxon MS of the famous Winchester School, the Apostles are seated in two groups but without either the Throne or the Virgin Mary in the center. From the same period, the Gospel Book of St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls, Rome, shows the Virgin in the center of the design. The Gospel Book from Cologne (now in Brussels, dating from 1250) goes so far as to place St. Peter in the center. In England, however, in the 13th-century St. Alban's Psalter, the Virgin Mary maintains the central position.

In later centuries Pentecost has been represented by the 12 Apostles surrounding Our Lady. The subject was frequently represented in the 16th and 17th centuries: Titian (S. Maria della Salute, Venice); Tintoretto (Victoria and Albert Museum, London); El Greco (Prado, Madrid); Zurbarán (Cadiz Museum). The 16 nations are not often referred to, nor are the 120 persons present in the Cenacle given much attention.

Bibliography: g. de jerphanion, Les Églises rupestres de Cappadoce, 5 v. (Paris 192542) 1:297376. a. m. grabar, La Schéma iconographique de la Pentecôte (Prague 1923). a. fabre, "L'Iconographie de la Pentecôte et le Portail de Vézelay," Gazette des beaux-arts (1923). s. seeliger, Die Ikonographie des Pfingstwunders (Munich 1956). l. rÉau, Iconographie de l'art chrétien, 6 v. (Paris 195559) 2.2:591596.

[j. u. morris]

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