Life of the Virgin Mary, The
- Place of origin:
- Materials and Techniques:
Clear, coloured and flashed glass with painted details
- Credit Line:
Given by Henry Vaughan, Esq.
- Museum number:
1223:1 to 6-1864
- Gallery location:
Medieval and Renaissance, room 9, case WS
The scenes in this window are believed to be episodes in the 'Life of the Virgin Mary', mother of Jesus Christ. Such a window was erected in the centre of the apse of the Lady Chapel of the Abbey Church of Saint Germain de Prés in Paris. This abbey was closed down at the end of the 18th century and the Lady Chapel itself was destroyed in 1805. Prior to that, the windows from the church had been removed and some of them ended up in a temporary museum in Paris. After this museum was closed in 1816, the windows were sold. Some ended up in museum collections, others were reinstated in the church and others simply disappeared. This window here is now believed to have been part of the Lady Chapel 'Life of the Virgin Mary' window. The 6 panels that form this window are a modern arrangement and so it is difficult to be certain which scenes from the Life are depicted.
The scenes probably depict St Anne, mother of Mary, grieving over her husband Joachim's decision to withdraw to the country. Joachim's offering to the Temple had been rejected by the Temple elders because the couple were childless and he withdrew in dispair and shame. During this separation, an angel appeared to Joachim and also to Anne to tell them that Anne would conceive. Joachim returns and one of the scenes on this window probably shows Anne waiting for him at the Golden Gate. Anne and Joachim's child was Mary. In thanksgiving for her birth, her parents dedicated her to the Temple and when Mary was 14, the Temple elders were directed by God to find her a husband. A number of suitors assembled, one of whom was the elderly St Joseph. The bottom scene on the left of the window may depict a Temple Elder bringing the rather relunctant Joseph to the Temple. The story goes on that God showed favour on Joseph by causing his rod to blossom, thus signalling that he was chosen to be Mary's husband.
The New Testament of the Bible contains no information on the life of Mary prior to the birth of Jesus Christ. In the early centuries of the Christian faith, various authors wrote stories to fill gaps in our knowledge of persons important in Christianity. These writings were not authorised by the Church but were popular and were re-written many times over the centuries. Collectively, they were known as the 'Apocrypha'.
In the thirteenth century, these apocryphal accounts were included, along with other stories of the lives of Christian saints, in popular texts such as the 'Speculum Historiale' ('Mirror of History') and the Golden Legend. These texts exerted a great deal of influence over the imagery of artworks made for the Church. It is also at this time that the Church recognised the importance of celebrating the lives of people such as St Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary. A Feast Day was established in her name. No information on her life exists other than in the Apocrypha and then in the compilation of these stories and saints' lives mentioned above.
This is a composite panel made up of six quadrants not originally joined together. At the bottom right is the figure of the seated St. Anne, the mother of the Virgin, grieving after the departure of her husband, Joachim. To the left a haloed, bearded man is held by the hand by a mitred high priest. The former probably represents Joseph, and thus the scene would have formed the left half of the Marriage of the Virgin. In the second register, on the left, a haloed young female figure is shown supported by an angel, perhaps illustrating the Virgin as an adolescent, visited by angels during her time in the Temple. On the right is a crowd of onlookers, led by a cowled figure. In the top register, on the left, a female figure moves forward with arms extended, possibly to be identified as Anne meeting Joachim at the Golden Gate. On the right are two men holding books, probably the elders of the Temple consulted about the refusal of the Virgin to take a husband.
[Panel] Panel of clear, coloured and flashed glass with painted details of a scene from a window depicting the Life of the Virgin Mary. This scene is believed to depict the priest of the Temple leading St Joseph. Originally in the Lady Chapel of Saint Germain de Prés. French, 1245-50.
[Panel] Panel of clear, coloured and flashed glass with painted details of a scene from a window depicting the Life of the Virgin Mary. This scene is believed to depict St Anne, mother of Mary, grieving over the departure of her husband, St Joachim. Originally in the Lady Chapel of Saint Germain de Prés. French, 1245-50.
[Panel] Panel of clear, coloured and flashed glass with painted details of a scene from a window depicting the Life of the Virgin Mary. This scene is believed to depict an angel ministering to Mary. Originally in the Lady Chapel of Saint Germain de Prés. French, 1245-50.
[Panel] Panel of clear, coloured and flashed glass with painted details of a scene from a window depicting the Life of the Virgin Mary. This scene depicts a crowd of people, perhaps Mary's other suitors or witnesses to her marriage. Originally in the Lady Chapel of Saint Germain de Prés. French, 1245-50.
[Panel] Panel of clear, coloured and flashed glass with painted details of a scene from a window depicting the Life of the Virgin Mary. This scene is believed to depict St Ann at the Golden Gate. Originally in the Lady Chapel of Saint Germain de Prés. French, 1245-50.
[Panel] Panel of clear, coloured and flashed glass with painted details of a scene from a window depicting the Life of the Virgin Mary. This scene depicts two, perhaps priests, with books. Originally in the Lady Chapel of Saint Germain de Prés. French, 1245-50.
Place of Origin
Materials and Techniques
Clear, coloured and flashed glass with painted details
Height: 207 cm whole object, including frame, Width: 91.8 cm whole object, including frame, Weight: 46.5 cm whole object, including frame
Object history note
History of windows at Saint Germain de Prés (SGdP):
(1793) Much destruction by revolutionists
(1794) Refectory pulled down
(1796) Alexandre Lenoir received glass - 8 panels - from the curate of SGdP (part of now back in the church)
Alexandre Lenoir set up the Musee des Monuments Francais in the old monastery of the Petis-Augustin. Many of these monuments came from Saint Denis and Saint Germain.
(1802) Lady Chapel sold by property developers
(1805) Lady Chapel pulled down
(after 1816) Closure of museum, glass [all?] returned to SGdP and installed in a window
(1867) Engraved plate, published by Albert Lenoir (son of Alexandre)
according to Albert these panels came from the Abbey of SGdP from buildings erected between 1245 and 1250 - Great Refectory and the LC (Life of Virgin from refectory)
(1867) Lenoir says that pre Revolution there existed at SGdP 13th century windows in
(1962-3) Grodecki says the Life of Virgin panels came from the Lady Chapel
(1245) Beginning of construction by Hugues d'Issy, abbot (1244-1246)
(by 1255) Chapel finished
presumably same makers and designers as in refectory
7 windows of 2 lights each
windows all established on a module of ca. one metre.
have the more fashionable narrow borders (demi-bordures) as at Sainte Chapelle
Surviving panels from the Life of the Virgin window:
2 panels of 4 quandrants reinstalled in Ste Genevive chapel in SGdP
1 panel of 2 quadrants in the Montreal Museum (Joachin with his sheep and cattle; Priest in front of the Temple making the gesture of repudiation)
It is believed that the original arrangement of the window was that of scenes in quadrants contained witin oval medallions, each quadrant bisected horizontally and vertically by structural irons
Historical context note
The canonical gospels do not make reference to the parents of the Virgin Mary. Such information was gleaned from various apocryphal sources:
1) Protevangelium Jacobi (apocryphal)
2) Evangelium de Nativitate Mariae (apocryphal)
3) Evangelium de Nativitate (apocryphal)
4) Mariae et Infantia Salvatoris (apocryphal)
5) Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (apocryphal)
6) Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum Maius (Historiale) (from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew)
7) Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend (from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew)
The Feast of St Anne was not instituted until the 13th century.
Artworks of St Anne:
First known appearance of is in the capitals of the 12th century West portal of Chartres Cathedral.
General scenes depicted:
Joachim's offering is rejected in the Temple
Joachim's withdrawl to the wilderness
Angel appears to Anne
Angel appears to Joachim
Anne and Joachim meet at the Golden Gate
Birth of Mary
Dedication of 3 year old Mary to the Temple
Mary climbs 7 (or 15) steps to the High Priest Zacharias
(Mary at age 14) Zacharias told by angel to gather widowers to the Temple and to bring their rods
Joseph's rod blossoms
Grodecki believed these panels to have formed part of a window in the Lady Chapel at Saint Germain des Prés in Paris. He surmised that the window in this chapel would have contained scenes from the lives of the Virgin Mary and her mother Saint Anne.
He identified the scenes in the panels from the V&A as, reading from left to right and bottom to top:
Old nimbed man and priest? (from scene of the Marriage of the Virgin)
Nimbed woman sitting (St Anne distraught over the departure of her husband Joachim)
Angel ministering to a young girl (angel ministering to the Virgin)
Crowd of people (unknown)
Woman standing (St Anne at the Golden Gate)
Two men in white with books (Elders of the Temple)
Panel, The Life of the Virgin Mary, ca.1245-1250, France
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Williamson, Paul. Medieval and Renaissance Stained Glass in the Victoria and Albert Museum. London, 2003. ISBN 1851774041
Grodecki, Louuis, 'Stained glass windows of Saint Germain des Prés', Connoisseur, CXL (1957), pp.33-7
les vitraux de Notre-Dame et de la Sainte-Chapelle, Corpus-French I, Paris, 1954
Severens, Kenneth W., 'A Stained glass Flight into Egypt', Bulletin of the Allen Memorial Art Museum, vol.XXVIII (no.3), Spring 1971
Philippe Verdier, 'The Window of Saint Vincent from the Refectory of the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, pp.39-99
Slocock, Gilia, ed., Saint Anne in History & Art, Oxford: St Anne's College, 1999
H. M. Bannister, 'The Inastitution of the Cultus of St Anne into the West', English Historical Review, XVIII (1903), pp.107-112
Albert Lenoir, Statistique monumentale de Paris, Paris, 1867
shows an engraving of a window with scenes (not the ones here) from the Life of the Virgin; some of which are arranged in the same form of medallions
Shepard, Mary B. The St. Germain Windows from the Thirteenth-Century Lady chapel at Saint-Germain-des-Prés. In: Elizabeth C. Parker, ed. The Cloisters. Studies in Honor of the Fiftieth Anniversary. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in association with The International Center of Medieval Art, 1992. pp.283-30, ill. ISBN 0870996355.
Originally from the Lady Chapel of the Abbey Church of Saint Germain de Prés
Mary (Virgin Mary); Anne (Saint); Joseph (Saint); Life of the Virgin Mary; Life of St Anne