Friday, May 16, 2014

Rossano Gospels: The Wise and Foolish Virgins

Tomorrow we will attend the wedding of the son of my best friend, so in honor of that wedding/bridegroom, let me say a few words about the other parable illumination in the Rossano Gospels, the Wise and Foolish Virgins:

The Rossano Gospels, The Wise and Foolish Virgins

This miniature is placed in the cycle of pictures after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the driving of the money-changers from Temple and before the Last Supper and Jesus’ washing the feet of the apostles. Once again, at the bottom of the page, four characters from the Hebrew Bible stand holding scrolls from their writings that have selections that serve to predict the event pictured above. King David appears three times. The two representations of King David on the left side, both of whom raise their right arms in the direction of the wise virgins, connect Psalm 45:14-15 to the wise virgins (where the princess and her virgin companions “with joy and gladness . . . enter the palace of the king”). On the right, David is paired with the prophet Hosea, and they both characterize the foolish virgins, since their right arms are raised in the direction of the foolish virgins above. David holds a scroll that cites Psalm 53:5 (God rejects the ungodly; they are put to shame and are in “great terror”), and Hosea holds a scroll that quotes Hosea 7:13 (which pronounces woes and destruction on those who have strayed from God).

The parable is depicted at the top of the page. The foolish virgins stand on the left side of the page; Jesus and the wise virgins stand on the right, and Jesus has closed or is closing the door between them. The foolish virgins each wear different colored clothes. Only two foolish virgins carry unlit torches, and they also carry three upside-down, empty small jars for their oil. One empty-handed virgin either is knocking or attempting to open the door, but Jesus stands on the other side with his hand raised, signifying that the door is closed to them forever. Jesus is dressed in gold and dark blue. The five wise virgins stand with Jesus on the right, all of them dressed in white and gold; all five carry lit torches and up-right jars that still contain oil. Behind them is a forest of fruit-bearing trees that clearly represent the garden of Paradise. Paradise is also represented by the four streams of water that flow from the right side of the picture. These four streams merge into one larger stream and end just on the Paradise side of the door, with a small tree planted at the end of the stream, both near the feet of Jesus who is standing at the door. 

Recommended Reading: Jeffrey Spier, Picturing the Bible.

I’ll continue this series of the Good Samaritan in the Visual Arts next week.

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