Thursday, January 03, 2008

Saint Francis Receiving Stigmata from Winged Christ: Images

The Stigmatization of St. Francis
Stained Glass Window
Cappella Baroncelli, Santa Croce, Florence
(Image from Web Gallery of Art)

Concerning yesterday's entry from the Commentaries of St. Bonaventure the Bishop (Legenda S. Francisci cap. 13) (Latin original, with English translation) on the vision of St. Francis receiving the stigmata from a winged figure, Professor Roy Flannagan, one of the scholars on the Milton List suggested this:
Jeffery, several things occurred to me after reading the account of the seraphim with stigmata and Francis, together with the Giotto painting in the basilica of Assisi: the seraph, so far as I can tell, is just an angel in Francis's dream, but an angel with the stigmata; and I think you are making a leap both in interpreting the legend and the fresco to make the angel imitating Christ into Christ himself. The point might be that both the seraph and Francis are emulating Christ in accepting his wounds.

The seraph as painted conforms to same dimensions and wing-formation as would Raphael in Paradise Lost 5.277ff or in Isaiah 6.2. Check my notes on the brightness and the color of those wings in the Riverside Milton.

And, in Assisi, doves are still very much associated with St. Francis, and, just to add another wrinkle, the dove is associated with the other members of the Trinity in Genesis when the Sprit (interpreted by Christians as the Holy Spirit) dove-like sits brooding. To quote Dolly Parton, among other interpreters, "On the wings of a snow white dove, He sends His pure sweet love...."
I replied:
Thanks, Roy. I probably wasn't very clear, but when I referred to "the 'winged Christ' . . . wounding rather than healing St. Francis," I put 'winged Christ' in scare quotes to show my uncertainty.

Here's what I posted on my blog:
The expression "there appeared to him as it had been one of the Seraphim" comes from the Latin clause "vidit quasi spéciem uníus Séraphim," which I suppose could also be translated as "it appeared as one of the seraphim kind." My Latin is not very good, but the obscure passage seems to imply that Francis's love took the form of a seraphim in the likeness of Christ crucified.
I based this inference on the context to the passage, but the text is not entirely clear to me, and later in the same source, the crucified image is referred to as a seraph, so perhaps you're correct.
However, I think that Professor Cynthia Gilliatt went too far in therefore concluding that "Renaissance paintings . . . [were] more or less devoid of [a] winged Jesus." So, I posted the following to the Milton List:
While Roy Flannagan may be correct that the figure in the vision of St. Francis is not Christ but an angel (the seraph-like figure), I think that stating that Renaissance paintings are devoid of a 'winged Jesus' might be too hasty a conclusion. Take a look at these Medieval and Renaissance images:

An unidentified work:

St Francis Receiving the Stigmata
(Artist not identified)
(Image from Franciscan Archive)

A fresco by Giotto di Bondone:

Giotto di Bondone
Stigmatization of St Francis
Assisi, Italy, 1297-1300
(Image from Web Gallery of Art)

Tempera on wood by Giotto di Bondone:

Giotto di Bondone
Stigmatization of St Francis (1300)
Tempera on wood, Musée du Louvre, Paris
(Image from Web Gallery of Art)

Another fresco by Giotto di Bondone:

Giotto di Bondone
Stigmatisation of Saint Francis
Fresco, Bardi Chapel
(Image from Web Gallery of Art)

Oil on panel by Jan van Eyck:

Jan van Eyck
Stigmatization of St Francis (1428-29)
(Image from Web Gallery of Art)

Oil on canvas by Pieter Pauwel Rubens:

Pieter Pauwel Rubens
The Stigmatization of St Francis (c. 1616)
(Image from Web Gallery of Art)

Even if the figure giving St. Francis the stigmata in the original vision is correctly interpreted as a seraph that has taken on the form of the crucified Christ, the aesthetic force of these images would be to reinforce the impression that a winged Christ appeared to St. Francis.

All that being shown and said, I doubt that Charles Wesley was influenced by any depiction of St. Francis receiving the stigmata. Rather, he was almost certainly referencing Malachi 4.2:
"But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall." (Malachi 4.2)
We see a double reference in these lines of Wesley's hymn:
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.
There's surely no need to look to a tradition of depictions of a winged Christ in Medieval and Renaissance art (or in Blake) for a source behind Wesley's imagery.

I am, however, glad that the question was posed, for I might otherwise never have become of aware of this fascinating series of artworks depicting a extraordinary winged Christ . . . or perhaps an ordinary winged seraph who happens to be crucified and looks exactly like Christ.
So . . . are we seeing an image of a winged Christ or an image of a winged seraph in the image of Christ? And would the latter have made a difference to the viewer?

Draw your own conclusions.

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At 9:40 AM, Blogger Brandon said...

So . . . are we seeing an image of a winged Christ or an image of a winged seraph in the image of Christ? And would the latter have made a difference to the viewer?

I think there's an even more complicated possibility (and I think it's the one Bonaventure is actually trying to suggest in the passage you quoted in the previous post), namely, that it is the image of Francis himself in the image of a seraph in the image of Christ crucified. I think Bonaventure, at least, wants to avoid treating the figure in the vision as directly of either Christ or a seraph because Christ is not a seraph and seraphim do not suffer. By treating the vision symbolically as being of Francis himself, Bonaventure is able to avoid suggesting that Francis's vision implied either of these, while still being able to treat it as a significant event worth careful study.

Incidentally, Bonaventure himself discusses the issue briefly in his Itinerarium Mentis ad Deum, particularly in the prologue.

At 10:09 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Brandon, thanks for the comment. Your suggestion is also one that I considered in the previous post but that I wasn't sure enough about because of my faulty Latin. You might take a look at my musings on that point.

Meanwhile, I'll look at the link that you've provided and see what support it adds.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found your blog while I was looking for some information about Giotto´s "St. Francis receiving the Stigmata". And now a have one information for you....
Let me just remind you that Czechoslovakia doesn´t exist from the year 1993. Now it´s Czech republic and Slovakia....

Many greetings from Prague (The Capitol City of the Czech republic!!!!) :-)


At 8:27 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dina, thanks for the greetings from the Czech Republic.

I was puzzled by your reference to "Czechoslovakia" until I realized that you were referring to my travels.

Actually, I've never been to the Czech Republic -- though I'm aware of it's independence -- because I visited Prague before Czechoslovakia's division into Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

By the way, congratulations on dividing peacefully (unlike, say, Yugoslavia).

Also, I hope that my blog has been useful for your research.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:47 AM, Anonymous Chris Berry said...

Bonaventure rewrote an earlier description of Thomas of Celano. This ealier version, attributed to Brother Leo, depicts an account of a winged seraph either partially covering or is above an image of Christ crucified. Interpretively, it may be reasonably assumed that the seraphim was bearing a message to Francis (the stigmata)that he was to be "like Christ" even unto his flesh... such was supposed to be the dearest wish of Francis. If the original is the most accurate account, then Bonaventure's innovations and all of the artist depictions based on them distort the original image in profound ways.
Chris BErry, undergrad student, Missouri State University; researching stigmata

At 11:00 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Mr. Chris Berry, for the comment. If I follow your point, then the original vision was of a seraph showing St. Francis an image of the crucified Christ. Later, the seraph and Christ were conflated. Is that right?

Jeffery Hodges

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