Virtues and Vices, Iconography of

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The personification of virtues and vices, extant in medieval manuscript illumination and sculptural decoration, occurs early in Christian literature.

Early Literary Formulation. Its formulation is found first in Tertullian's De spectaculis (29), where the vices and virtues are personified as two armies contending for the soul. This antagonism of the virtues and vices as expressing various moral conflicts within the soul received its epic imagery later in the Psychomachia, an allegorical poem written by the Christian poet, A. C. prudentius (348after 405). In the poem of Prudentius the seven conflicting pairs personified (to be submitted later to considerable variations or additions or both) are: Worship of the Ancient Gods (Vetera cultura deorum ) and Faith (Fides ), Lust (Libido ) and Modesty (Pudicitia ), Anger (Ira ) and Patience (Patientia ), Pride (Superbia ) and Humility (Mens Humilis ), Avarice (Avaritia ) and works of Charity (Operatio, with the assistance of Ratio ), Harmony (Concordia ) and Discord (Discordia ). At the end of the struggle, the victorious virtues erect a temple to Wisdom.

Visual Representation. Already in a fresco of the S. Gennaro catacombs (Naples) three virtues were depicted completing a tower symbolizing the church. Sixteen illuminated manuscripts of Prudentius's Psychomachia bear witness to the channeling of the theme into Christian art. They date from the 9th century to 1298. The illustrated prototypes are lost. In them, as well as in the pattern books that circulated from one scriptorium to another, the fight of the virtues against the vices was originally represented as battle scenes themselves copied after sculptured groups of warriors and battle scenes of late Roman art. From the 9th century on, the complex and dynamic story of the battle depicted in the narrative style was superseded by a sequence of duels between two opposed enemies: a virtue and its contrary, the corresponding vice. Impersonal allegorical figures were replaced by characters dressed in contemporary costume or by demons. Apart from the Psychomachia, the whole drama is seen in the Gospels of Henry the Lion (by Hermann of Helmarshausen, c. 1175) and, with the addition of supplementary figures of virtues, in the ivory front cover of the Melisenda Psalter (British Museum, c. 113144). In the Hortus Deliciarum of Herrad von Landsberg (c. 1185) the three theological virtues, clad as knights, followed by the four cardinal virtues, are arrayed phalanx-like behind the leading Humility. They hold a sword symbolizing the Word of God while Faith carries the cross staff and Temperance a vase whose contents are pouring into a mixing bowl. That distribution, which opposed Humility and her companions to Superbia and her suite, derives from the De fructibus carnis et spiritus, a treatise attributed to Hugh of Saint-Victor.

The very triumph of the virtues was pregnant with a more static theme in those formulations where they stand over the vices. The immobile imagery that one may detect also in Prudentius's Peristephanon was influenced by imperial iconography in which the ruler, after his victory, crushes underfoot his defeated enemy (exemplified in late Roman coinage, and on a Carolingian ivory book cover in the National Museum, Florence), as well as by that of Christ trampling the monsters [Ps 90 (91).13]. Types of specific virtues in the Old Testament became associated with their embodiments in the Bamberg Apocalypse

(100102): Abraham with Obedience, Moses with Purity, David with Penitence, Job with Patience. During the 12th century in Mosan enamels and in an illumination of a copy of Conrad of Hirsau's Speculum Virginum (British Museum, second quarter of the 12th century), the emphasis was laid on the victory of Humility as the root of all virtues, over Superbia as root of all vices. In a drawing illustrating an allegorizing tract written in Ratisbon (c. 117085), the cross on which Christ is crucified transfixes the four monsters mentioned in Psalm 90 while Humility stabs Pride (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod. Pat. 14159 fol. 5).

Incorporation in Sculptural Ornamentation. The Psychomachia in its static formulation met an extraordinary fortune in Romanesque sculpture of Western France, a region where painted representations survive also (for instance in the crypt of the church at Tavant). The figures of Prudentius's virtues standing over the vices were carved along the archivolts of tympanumless portals or blind arcades. The Psychomachia was also incorporated into the iconographical program of the Last Judgment through the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Saint-Gilles's portal at Argenton-Château, c. 1135). The elongated figures of virtues, covered by oval pointed shields, enframing a window in the south transept of the church of Saint-Pierre, Aulnay (c. 1130), reappeared along the jambs of the Porte Mantile of Tournai cathedral, c. 1170. In the cycle of the west front of the cathedral of Strasbourg (c. 1280), both the virtues triumphant and the virgins of the Last Judgment parable are standing figures, no longer allegorized, but represented as attractive women. Toward the close of the 12th century, the Psychomachia was given an archivolt over the Magi portal in the west front of the cathedral of Laon, side by side with the types of the Virgin in the Old Testament. The psychomachy archivolt in the north porch of Chartres cathedral, in the early 13th century, was connected, in the same manner as at Laon, with a program dedicated to the life and glorification of the Virgin.

Reflecting the allegorized theology of the 12th century and anticipating the logical disquisitions of the 13thcentury scholastic Summae, 12 pairs of virtues and vices were set up on the plinths, left and right of the Last Judgment portal of the west front of the cathedral of Paris, c. 1210. In the upper rows of each side the virtues were exquisitely carved in relief under trefoils. On the right side are: Humility, Prudence, Chastity, Charity, Hope, and Faith; and, on the other side: Fortitude, Patience, Gentleness, Harmony, Obedience, and Perseverance. Each holds her proper emblem in a disc: dove, serpent, the fabulous bird charista (which, without igniting, hovers above a blazing mountain), lamb, banner, cross and chalice, lion, ox, sheep, olive branch, camel, and crown of life. The virtues are allegorically treated and engage only in a few gestures (Charity distributes clothing, Hope reaches for a crown, and Fortitude holds a sword upright). The vices, represented below them in a lower relief and sunk in roundels, allude to instances of sinful life: the falling rider (Pride) followed by a fool; a harlot looking at herself in a mirror; a miserly woman; a suicide; an idolator; a knight fleeing from a hare; a lord threatening a monk; a master kicking a servant; a brawl; an altercation between a bishop and a layman; and a monk eloping from his abbey.

Many iconographical features appear to have been inspired by law treatises (Decreta ) and manuals of penitence (Poenitentialia ). The 12 pairs illustrating the conceptual contest between the virtues and the vices occupied a place on the jambs of the Paris Notre Dame portal under the 12 statues of the Apostles, who assist Christ on Last Judgment day. Medallions of the virtues and vices were added also, as warning footnotes to the Last Judgment, in the western stained glass rose window of the same Paris cathedral. This occurs also on the plinths of the jambs under the Apostles of the central portal of Amiens Cathedral (c. 1230) and on the central piers, south porch of Chartres cathedral (c. 1240).

Bibliography: r. stettiner, Die illustrierten Prudentius Handschriften (Berlin 1905). p. deschamps, "Le Combat des vertus et des vices sur les portails romans de la Saintonge et du Poitou," Congrès Archéologique de France à Reims en 1911, 2v. (Paris 1912) 2:309. a. e. m. katzenellenbogen, Allegories of the Virtues and Vices in Mediaeval Art (London 1939).

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