This coming January, we are planning a trip to Frankfurt and touring the surrounding area of Hessia. Apart from visiting family there, there is a very exciting prospect waiting for me as it is the birthplace of the mythology of Dr. Faustus. As you can obviously tell, the legend of Faustus has inspired me since I was a boy. It is a name I have taken unto myself. It will be a time for special inquiry in situ and I will hopefully find some time to contemplate the themes of Faustus in his own country. How did this myth shape the history of that place? What is the current fingerprint of the legend on the people who live there? Where do the stories overlap with real history? These will be some of the questions I present myself, with the help of 500 years of scholarship on Faustus to work from. It is an exciting time, more to come!
Lloyd de Beer, curator at The British Museum, explains the origin of the Canterbury pilgrim badges and how they relate to the swift rise of the cult of Thomas à Becket, whose followers drank the blood of the martyr for miracle cures.
490-500 BCE: This Attic red-figure psykter (wine cooling vessel) from the necropolis of Cerveteri depicts bearded satyrs in revelry. A satyr falls backwards and balances a cantharos (drinking cup) upon his erect penis. Other satyrs around him pour wine into the cantharos. Other figure groups in the artefact depict other acrobatic satyrs in various states of drunkenness.
It boggles my mind to think that this piece of pornographic pottery is as old as Buddhism.
Currently located at the British Museum.
These highly sculptural 19th century alcohol burning kettle/warmers are of Russian Imperial origin. Made of wood, bronze and copper, these two specimens feature fantastical medievalized basilisks holding a teapot over an alcohol burner. The grip and other functional points are stylized with floral motifs and grotesques. The large curly tail holds up the burner.
This specimen found at the Museum of Samovars & Bouillottes, Grumant, Russia
Flemish artist Adriaen Collaert (1560-1619) produced the engravings, pictured here, which depict personifications of Aristotle’s classical elements: Earth, Water, Air & Fire, printed in a wunderbuch in the collection of Jean de Poligny. Now located at the Rijksmuseum.
Prior to modern atomic theory, these elements were postulated to be the prima materia whose infinite combinations were the physical composites of all things in the Universe. Each engraving was modeled on paintings by the Flemish master de Vos the Elder.
Between 1999 and 2003, an archaeological excavation of the Sainte-Catherine river produced a remarkable collection of medieval pilgrim badges. Between C. XII and C. XV, Christian pilgrims would display these inexpensive badges as charms bought at shrines to the saints.
Some pilgrim badges would display a mundane concern to which the pilgrimage was dedicated (healing, expiation for sins committed, special blessing, travel concerns, etc.) while others were fashioned through verisimilitude to have the same protective powers as the sacred relics they represented.
These badges, or signs, not only represented the experiences of the pilgrimage, but also presented the wearer’s status as a pilgrim as well as what pilgrimage they were set upon. These would also function as a visual language between pilgrims who did not speak a common tongue. The wide popularity, mobility and cheap easy production has resulted in a high number of found examples. Besides their apotropaic qualities, to the medieval pilgrim, the badge also served as a visual memory of their encounter with the sacred relic–a souvenir.
In the image above, a variety of examples from Canterbury Cathedral depict the head relic of St. Thomas à Becket. The head was removed from public veneration and the Cult of Becket was outlawed during the English Reformation.
Blick, Sarah, ‘Comparing Pilgrim Souvenirs and Trinity Chapel Windows at Canterbury Cathedral: An Exploration of Context, Copying, and the Recovery of Lost Stained Glass’, Mirator (2001), 1-27
Lee, Jennifer, ‘Beyond the Locus Sanctus: The Independent Iconography of Pilgrims’ Souvenirs’, Visual Resources 21 (2005), 363-381
TIXADOR A. Enseignes sacrées et profanes médiévales découvertes à Valenciennes, Service archéologique de Valenciennes / Illustria-Librairie des Musées, 2004.
The figuration of the damned crowded in the middle of demonic creatures is common in the XV th century to represent Hell. The painter innovates by associating it with the representation of various abuses, such as those described in the Purgatory of Saint Patrick , text which relates the voyage of the knight Owein in Paradise and in Hell. He associated it with the idea of the fall, made even more legible by the composition, built around a vertical line. In the lower half of the image, the damned, battered by monsters, sink into the depths of the earth. The conflagration of bodies combined perfectly reflects the terrible aspect of the scene.
The visual contrast with the very clear panel of Paradise, by the same artist, is accentuated by a radically different palette: here brown and gray tones, and to a lesser extent cold tones dominate. The artist’s masterpiece, this supernatural vision undoubtedly inspired the very suggestive works of Bosch.
Hell and Paradise are perhaps the shutters of a triptych representing the Final Judgment. They have sometimes been identified with elements of a composition produced for the town hall of Louvain in 1468.
Each detail of the work has been the subject of great attention from the painter. The anatomy of the suffering bodies, the textures of the scales of the monsters and their gleaming eyes are dramatically represented, making the horror of the scene even more palpable before our eyes.
The characters’ pain in the brazier manifests itself in their grinning attitudes and faces. The liveliness of the flames is rendered by means of a very opaque paint, as well as the eyes of the demons, which makes it possible to create striking contrasts.
This may be the last place you’d expect to find content like this, I’m sure. At the time of this writing, the world is currently stuck in the clutches of the awful Covid19 pandemic. Naturally my our energies are spent on more important things than writing on a niche website. But this particular bit of papal magic was not only extremely interesting, but also quite moving. More importantly, it is living history unfolding before our eyes.
Last week was the Pope’s semi-annual Urbi et Orbi declaration, where he traditionally pontificates on the state of the Church and the world, took place in an emptied St. Peter’s square. After his address, the small number of clergy present performed the rites of Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction. Here, the pope took the ostensorium in his hands, and blessed the whole city of Rome, and perhaps the whole world, with the sacred host. As he did so, the basilica and the surrounding churches began to PEEL with thunderous resounding, while the sirens of the gendarmeria blared in salute. As soon as the pope had finished, the bells stopped and silence again fell over the empty square. It was like watching something from the end of the world.
Also present was a miraculous crucifix which was reported to cure the City during a plague in 1522. The pope reverenced this relic as it was also exposed to the open square, obviously in the hopes that the pandemic will soon end. We shall see what efficacious qualities this rite may bare.
Watch this moment of magic below: