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Sacred Heart, Iconography of


The iconography of the Sacred Heart, properly speaking, does not appear in Christian art until the end of the 17th century following the apparition to St. Margaret Mary alacoque. The Heart was popularly depicted with a wound, encircled by a crown of thorns, and a small cross above, the whole radiating light. The Sacred Heart was first depicted alone, separate from a figure of Christ. Popular images were already made c. 1685 at Paray and were worn or carried close to the heart following the example of Margaret Mary. Representation of the Sacred Heart on the breast of the Person of Christ developed more slowly. In 1780 the Italian artist Pompeo Batoni painted an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the Queen of Portugal. In this painting Christ holds in His left hand an enflamed heart topped with a little cross and encircled with a crown of thorns. The Congregation of Rites (directive in 1878) did not approve this form of representation as suitable for gaining granted indulgences; the visible figure of the Heart was required to be represented externally on the breast of Our Lord. A further clarification (1891) permitted images of the Heart without the rest of the body for private devotion, but these were not to be exposed on the altar for public veneration.

Statues and paintings of disputable taste, often of vulgar sentiment repulsive to educated sensibilities, proliferated from the beginning of the 19th century. Occasional efforts have been made in reaction to these depictions of the Sacred Heart, but they have not effected a widespread and deeply meaningful image. The interest of the French painter George Desvallières led him to execute his celebrated "Sacred Heart" (1905), which depicts the Christ crowned with thorns tearing at His heart.

More recently Lambert Rucki has carved a figure of Christ showing his five wounds. In the church of the Sacred Heart, Audincourt, France, in the stained glass designed by lÉger (195052) behind the high altar, the five wounds are shown shining as five suns, recalling the vision of Margaret Mary.

Bibliography: a. l. delattre, La représentation du Coeur de Jésus dans l'art chrétien (Tunis 1927). h. j. grimouard de saint laurent, Les images du Sacré Coeur au point de vue de l'histoire et de l'art (Paris 1880). k. kÜnstle, Ikonograhpie der christlichen Kunst, 2 v. (Freiburg 192628) 1:615618. l. rÉau, Iconographie de l'art chrétien, 6 v. (Paris 195559) 2:4749.

[j. u. morris]

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