Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Rich Man and Lazarus (part 19): The Golden Gospels of Echternach (ca. 1045-46)

The Golden Gospels of Echternach: The Rich Man and Lazarus 

The community of monks at Benedictine Abbey of Echternach (in modern Luxemborg) produced some of the finest illuminated manuscripts ever created. The most important of these manuscripts is known as the Golden Gospels of Echternach (Codex Aureus Epternacensis), because of the 23½ karat gold lettering that makes up most of the text. The metalwork and ivory on the front cover, which includes precious stones and pearls set into gold, come from an earlier manuscript and the 135 pages of the manuscript were apparently trimmed so they would fit into the current binding (Dodwell 1993:144).
This manuscript is distinctive for its use of color and comparatively rare depictions of the parables. The representations of the parables and other narrative illuminations appear on full pages in three panels, explanations of which are written in narrow gold strips. Each Gospel is preceded by such illuminated pages, with three scenes on each page, but the images are not connected to specific Gospels (e.g., unique scenes from the Gospels of Luke and John are included in the pages before the Gospel of Mark), which accents the idea that the four Gospels present a unified vision.

Four pages that precede the Gospel of Luke depict four parables from the Gospels (for details, see Metz 1957: plates 67, 68, 69, and 70): The Workers in the Vineyard; The Wicked Tenants; The Great Supper; The Rich Man and Lazarus:

The depiction of the rich man and Lazarus parable, like in other representations, consists of three panels. The top panel shows the rich man (dives) wearing red/purple clothes and feasting at a table, with a servant bringing more food. Just outside the door crouches Lazarus, with his arm raised in supplication. Sores cover his entire body, and two dogs lick his wounds. The second panel on the left shows Lazarus lying dead. His body lies alone and abandoned, but two angels are taking his soul, which comes out of the corpse’s mouth, and are wrapping the soul with a white cloth. The right side of the panel shows Lazarus sitting on Abraham’s lap, and twelve other souls—six on each side—look at them with their hands raised in a prayer-like fashion.

The left side of the lowest panel shows the rich man having died. His body lies in his expensive house, with friends/family looking on. This scene shows two demons—their bodies are black, their wings red, and they have fearsome claws—taking his soul out of his mouth. One demon in the middle of the panel carries him away. The right side of the panel shows the rich man in the “inferno,” looking up at Abraham and Lazarus, with both arms raised, begging Abraham to help him, but to no avail. Both Abraham and Lazarus look down at the rich man; their arms are raised, signifying that it was too late for anyone to help him. Luke’s allusion to Jesus’ resurrection might also be reflected in the twelve souls (symbolizing the apostles?) that flank Abraham and Lazarus in heaven. 

All of the demons in hell are dark brown, with purple hair and fire coming out of their mouths. Four demons face the rich man with their arms and menacing claws stretched out toward him. A fifth demon, larger than all the rest, lies helplessly bound with a rope around his neck, hands, and feet, perhaps signifying the day when the angels will bind Satan (Rev. 20:2?). The faces of two other demons appear on the other side of the rich man, and they are flanked by seven other human figures—three on the left and four on the right—who also appear in supplication. The illumination thus offers a concise and terrifying portrait of what awaits those who act as the rich man did and the future comfort offered to the Lazaruses of the world.

Next up: Bonaventure's interpretation of the parable.

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