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Art works from the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation

Art works from the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation of Houston, scheduled for display during the Vatican Museums Exhibition at the Museum of Texas Tech from June 2 through Sept. 15

Workshop of the Boucicaut Master

Annunication (c. 1410)

Tempera and gilding on velum, 6 5/8 x 4 7/8 inches

Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation Houston, 1991

Leaf from the Book of Hours which shows the ornate style of religious depictions in the 15th century. The picture shows St. Mary dressed in blue (left) and the angel Gabriel dressed in a red robe. A vine-like plant motif surrounds the central picture.

The work represents the moment of the Annunciation. It depicts the moment that Mary is impregnated with Christ - the Incarnation of God in human flesh. The event is recounted in Luke 1:26-38. The angel Gabriel, sent by God, comes to Mary and says, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: Blessed art thou among women."

Gabriel explains to Mary that she will conceive a son to be called Jesus who "shall reign in the house of Jacob forever." Mary, being a virgin, wonders aloud how this might be, and Gabriel responds: "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."

The Book of Hours is based on the divine office performed by the clergy, but was intended for the laity. Its use for private devotions and at Mass became common among the upper classes during its use from the late 13th to the early 16th centuries. The text on the recto and verso of this leaf consists of a series of brief prayers, a gloria, and a psalm, beginning with "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise."

South Netherlandish School

The Baptism of Christ (1520s)

Oil on panel, 23 1/4 x 28 3/8 inches

Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston, 1978

The painting depicts Christ's baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. The water symbolically washes away sins. Baptism, like circumcision, was not necessary to Christ for the remission of sins because he was without sin. But his baptism showed his humility and, in instituting the sacrament of baptism, "Christ washed our sins in the Jordan for us." In baptism, which replaced circumcision as a rite of initiation, the Christian dies and is resurrected with Christ (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:11-12).

Attributed to Lambert Lombard c. 1506-66

Scenes of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ 1541

Oil on double-sided panel, 39 1/2 x 66 1/4 inches

Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston, 1978

The function of this panel is as unclear as its attribution.

One side is painted in full range of color and the other in monochrome, and it has been suggested that the Blaffer panel is an altarpiece wing, which would reveal the more elaborate full-color side when open. However, the horizontal shape is unlike other altarpiece wings of the period or earlier. By their very nature, since they cover only half of a central panel, altarpiece wings are vertically proportioned, or at least square. It is possible that this panel was stacked with another to form one wing of a large altarpiece, but the arrangement would have been unprecedented. Most likely it was the main panel of a relatively small altarpiece, with or without wings.

The use of simultaneous (or continuous) narrative - that is, repeating figures from different parts of a narrative within a continuous space - was outmoded by 1541, the date of this panel.

The dramatic Resurrection is featured in the center; minor scenes that follow the Resurrection are, from left to right: Christ appearing to his mother and St. John; Christ appearing to the holy women; Christ on the Road to Emmaus; and the Noli Me Tangere, in which Christ appears to Mary Magdalene. The crucifixion is not depicted, though that event may have been accounted for by a crucifix on the altar.

Scenes subsequent to Christ's death, such as the Lamentation, also are not depicted and may have appeared on now-lost wings.

Lambert Lombard was instrumental in transmitting to Northern Europe an interest in Italian painting and humanism, and he was an influential teacher. The heroic figure type, especially that of the semi-nude Christ of the Resurrection, evinces an interest in classical sculpture and Italian painting of the 16th century, however, filtered through a Northern sensibility.

The reverse of the Lombard panel is a monochrome depiction that shows, from left to right: The flagellation of Christ; Christ before Pilate; the crowning with thorns and the mocking of Christ; the road to Calvary as the focus of the image; and the two thieves taken to Calvary.

The combined panels - the Resurrection painted in bright, vivid colors, and the tribulations Christ suffered, painted in monochromatic tones - comprise so many scenes within the two images of the Blaffer panel that it suggests it did not function as part of an altarpiece wing, but may have stood alone or as a central panel with a few other images on small wings.

Girlamo da Santacroce (c.1480-90/1556)

The Resurrection c.1525

Oil on panel, 21 3/4 x 33 inches

Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston, 1983

The painting alludes to the resurrection story through the presence of the two angels and Magdalene, the landscape setting and its dawn lighting. But the image is iconic rather than narrative. Christ, carrying the standard of the cross, or labarum, showing a red cross on a white field (a common attribute of the resurrected Christ), is positioned on the central axis of the picture.

The painting begins to approach the ahistoricity of another version of the subject by Santacroce or his workshop in which the resurrected Christ, now stepping out of a sarcophagus in an open landscape, appears with St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Benedict, and an unidentified female. A naturalistic or narrative element such as the dawn lighting carries with it symbolic associations as well, since Christ had been identified from early Christian times with the rising sun. The rabbits on the path at the right of the painting may also have symbolic meaning.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine (c. 1615)

Oil on canvas, 30 3/4 x 45 1/2 inches

Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston, 1978

Rubens depicts St. Catherine of Alexandria and her symbolic marriage to Christ.

When the young Catherine was growing in Christian faith she spoke with a holy hermit about her desire to see the Virgin and Christ child. The hermit provided her with a small painting of the two, and told her that her prayers before it would be answered with a vision.

In response to her prayers, the Virgin and child appeared to her. Christ expressed his pleasure with Catherine's progress in her faith, and said that he was prepared to take her as his perpetual spouse. The Virgin Mary held Catherine's hand to Christ, who placed on it a golden ring, set with a precious stone. In a tradition well established during the Renaissance and followed by Rubens, the Christ child is held on the lap of the Virgin Mary, the saintly bride kneeling at his feet. A painting like this one by Rubens might well have provided the kind of devotional focus suggested by the story of Catherine and her own painting of the Virgin and child.

St. Peter, identifiable in Ruben's painting by the keys he holds, has no direct connection with St. Catherine, and he is probably included here as another object of the patron's devotion. Because of the empty space at the upper left of the picture and the presence at the left of the organ, which is an attribute of St. Cecilia rather than of St. Catherine, Hans Vlieghe suspected that there had been an additional female figure in the painting, subsequently painted over. But X-radiographs have failed to reveal a trace of any such figure, and the anomaly of the organ remains unexplained.

Petrus Nicolai Moraulus

The Mass of Saint Gregory (c. 1530)

Oil on panel, 26 x 30 5/8 inches

Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston, 1963

The Mass of St. Gregory the Great, pope from 590 to 604, was the most frequently depicted Eucharistic miracle, especially in Northern Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. Moraulus was a little-known painter who was active in Bruges in the 16th century.

Typically, Gregory holds his arms out or his hands folded in prayer as a figure of Christ miraculously appears on the altar at the consecration of the Host. Christ either holds his hands up to display his wounds or crosses them over his abdomen. Blood issues from his wounds, often directly into a chalice on the altar.

In the Blaffer painting, Gregory kneels in prayer before an altar on which are placed a Sacramentary, a host on a paten, and a chalice. Behind the chalice is a small figure of Christ as the eucharistic man of sorrows, wearing the crown of thorns and seated on an open sarcophagus, his right hand pressing the bleeding wound in his side.

The montage behind the figure of Christ includes the head of Judas Iscariot and the bag of money for which he betrayed Christ attached to a rope around his neck that he used to hang himself.

Other images in the montage include:

The cock that reminded Peter he had denied Christ; the column and scourge of Christ's flagellation; the cross; the hammer and nails, and the pliers with which the nails were removed; the sop or sponge on a pole, with which Christ was offered vinegar to quench his thirst; and the lance that pierced Christ's side.

Resting on the edge of the sarcophagus is an ointment jar, used in preparing Christ's body for burial. The disembodied heads include Peter and the woman who accused him of knowing Christ, the high priest Caiaphas, and possibly Pilate.

The earliest references to the legend of the mass of St. Gregory appear relatively late, dating from the first half of the 15th century in Germany.

Images of the Mass of St. Gregory do not seem to depict a clear or specific narrative, serving instead as a general representation of a miraculous epiphany meant to confirm the doctrine of transubstantiation, that Christ truly is present in the bread and wine of the mass.

(Source: "The Body of Christ: In the Art of Europe and New Spain 1150-1800" by James Clifton, David Nirenberg and Linda Elaine Neagle; 1997)

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