Text, Textile, Blood: Mary under the Cross in an Illuminated ‘Meditationes Vitae Christi’ (Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS 410)


This talk considers an image in an illustrated manuscript of the Meditationes Vitae Christi (Oxford Corpus Christi, MS 410, dated ca. 1350) in which Mary parts her mantle to collect Christ’s blood at his Crucifixion. By the later Middle Ages, an interest in Mary’s bloody veil emerged in central Europe. It was possibly influenced by the proliferation of devotional texts that describe Mary soaking her clothes with Christ’s blood but certainly by Emperor Charles IV of Bohemia’s acquisition and display of veil relics among other cherished contact relics of the Virgin. However, the motif is unusual in Trecento art. I consider it in the context of this remarkable illuminated Meditationes manuscript, owned, I argue, by a Poor Clare nun. Within MS 410’s unusually expansive Crucifixion cycle and in light of the meanings of Marian cloths in late medieval Italy, I contend that it evokes both union and severance by recalling Mary’s childbearing body and her material/maternal bond with her son.

Renana Bartal (PhD, Hebrew University, 2010) is Senior Lecturer in the department of Art History, Tel Aviv University and currently a visiting research fellow at the Courtauld. Before joining the Tel Aviv faculty, she was a member of the ERC-funded research group ‘Spectrum: Visual Translations of Jerusalem to Europe’ at the Hebrew University. Her articles have appeared and are forthcoming in Gesta, Studies in Iconography, Viator, Journal of Medieval History and Cahiers de Civilisation Médiévale. She is the author of Gender, Piety and Production in Fourteenth Century Apocalypse Manuscripts (Ashgate/Routledge, 2016) and co-edited, Natural Materials of the Holy Land and the Visual Translation of Place, 500-1500 (Ashgate/Routledge, 2017).

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26 Jun 2019

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Vernon Square, Penton Rise, King’s Cross, London