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Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Saint Dorothy

  • Object:

    Panel

  • Place of origin:

    Upper Rhine (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1470-1480 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Clear and coloured glass with painted details and yellow (silver) stain

  • Museum number:

    1184-1864

  • Gallery location:

    Sacred Silver & Stained Glass, Room 84, The Whiteley Galleries, case S4

The central image of the Virgin and Child and Sts John the Baptist and Dorothy is set within a double frame of green and blue glass. The outer frame of blue glass includes, in the four corners, symbols of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, who wrote the four Gospels of the New Testament. In between them at the tops and sides are four personifications of the sun. The whole composition strongly resembles the richly decorated covers of church books.

In the biblical books of the prophet Ezekiel and Revelation there are descriptions of 'four winged creatures'. Since the 4th century, the church has equated these creatures with the writers of the Gospels, and they are often portrayed as such. Matthew's symbol is the winged man, because his book begins with the human ancestry of Christ. Mark is the winged lion, because he starts with an account of John the Baptist - the 'one crying in the wilderness' - the lion is a creature of the wilderness. Luke is the ox, a sacrificial animal, since he begins his Gospel with the sacrifice by the priest Zachariah. Finally, John's symbol is the eagle, which flies high towards heaven - his Gospel begins with the Word of God.

Here St John the Baptist is accompanied by a scroll that bears the text 'ecce ang', an abbreviation for 'Ecce agnus dei' ('Behold the Lamb of God'). The Gospel of St John the Evangelist recounts that he spoke these words when he saw Jesus Christ.

The cult of St Dorothy did not develop until late in the Middle Ages. She was popular in Germany. Legends say that she was a young noble woman living in Cappadocia (in eastern Turkey), which was a rich province of the Roman empire. During the persecution of Christians under Emperor Diocletian (reigned 284-313), she was brought before the Roman officials and refused to recant her faith. While she was imprisoned, her pagan persecutors taunted her to bring them fruit and flowers from the garden of her god. Miraculously, she did so, and her attribute (identifying symbol) is a basket of fruit and/or flowers. St Dorothy was often included as one of the 'Fourteen Holy Helpers', a late medieval devotion.

Physical description

Panel in stained glass. The enthroned Virgin holds the Christ Child on her knee and is flanked by St John the Baptist and the seated virgin martyr St Dorothy. The Baptist strides forward, book in hand, and points towards the Christ Child, his gesture reinforced by the words written on the scroll representing his speech: 'ecce ang (for agn[us]) dci' ('Behold the Lamb of God'). St Dorothy is crowned with flowers and holds a wicker basket filled with flowers and fruit, attributes connected with her legend. At the corners of the frame are the four Evangelist symbols, and in the middle of each side a personification of the sun. In the background the decoration consists of extremely fine needle-point diapers of yellow-stained flowers on exquisite lacy stems.

Place of Origin

Upper Rhine (made)

Date

ca. 1470-1480 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Clear and coloured glass with painted details and yellow (silver) stain

Marks and inscriptions

'ecce ang (for agn[us]) dci'
'Behold the Lamb of God'
Decoration; Latin; incorporated into the decoration; on scroll between John the Baptist and the Virgin; stained glass

Dimensions

Height: 39.5 cm, Width: 33.5 cm

Historical context note

The central image of the Virgin and Child and Saints John the Baptist and Dorothy is set within a double frame of green and blue glass. The outer frame of blue glass includes, in the four corners, symbols of the four evangelists. In between these on the tops and sides are four personifications of the sun. The whole composition strongly resembles richly decorated church book covers.

The four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the writers of the four Gospels of the New Testament. In the Old Testament book of the prophet Ezekiel and in the New Testament Book of Revelations there are descriptions of 'four winged creatures'. From the 4th century, the church has equated these creatures with the writers of the Gospels and they are often portrayed as such. Matthew's symbol is the winged man as his book begins with the human ancestry of Christ. Mark is the winged lion because he begins with an account of John the Baptist - the voice of one crying in the wilderness - the lion is a creature of the wilderness. Luke is the ox, a sacrificial animal, as he begins his Gospel with the sacrifice by the priest Zachariah. Finally, John's symbol is the eagle as it flies high towards heaven - John's gospel begins with the Word of God.

St John the Baptist is accompanied by a scroll in this panel on which is the text 'ecce ang'. This is an abbreviation for the text from the Gospel of St. John the Evangelist 'Ecce agnus dei' (Behold the Lamb of God) where he recounts the words of St John the Baptist when he beheld Jesus Christ.

St Dorothy is a saint whose cult did not develop until late in the Medieval period. She was popular in Germany. Legends about her life describe her as a noble young woman living in the early 4th century in Cappadocia, which was a rich province of the Roman Empire and now part of eastern Turkey. She was a Christian during the time of the mass persecution of the followers of Christianity during the time of the Emperor Diocletian. She was brought before the Roman officials and refused to recant her faith. During her imprisonment she was taunted by her pagan persecutors who demanded that she bring to them fruit and flowers from the garden of her god. Miraculously, she did so and so her attribute is a basket of fruit and/or flowers. Towards the end of the Middle Ages a devotion to the 'Fourteen Holy Helpers' developed. St. Dorothy was often included as one of these.

Descriptive line

Panel of clear and coloured glass with painted details and yellow (silver) stain. Depicting the Virgin and Child with Saints John the Baptist and Dorothy. Made in the Upper Rhineland in Germany about 1470-80.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Williamson, Paul. Medieval and Renaissance Stained Glass in the Victoria and Albert Museum. London, 2003. ISBN 1851774041

Labels and date

THE VIRGIN AND CHILD WITH SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST AND SAINT DOROTHY

St John the Baptist points to the Infant Christ, his words carried on a scroll: Ecce agnus dei ('Behold the Lamb of God'). At the corners of the frame are the four symbols of the Evangelists, and in the middle of each side a personification of the sun. The figure style and design of the Evangelist symbols links the panel with Upper Rhenish artists such as Martin Schongauer and the Master E.S.

Germany (Upper Rhine), about 1470-80
Museum no. 1184-1864 [(PW) 2003]

Subjects depicted

Flowers; Diaper-work; Baskets; Sun; Halo; Crowns; Saints; Thrones; Wings; Lions; Ox; Eagles; Angels; Scrolls

Categories

Stained Glass; Religion; Christianity

Collection

Ceramics Collection

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