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Title: The Virgin of the Passion: Development, Dissemination and Afterlife of a Byzantine Icon Type
Authors: Milliner, Matthew John
Advisors: Curcic, Slobodan
Contributors: Art and Archaeology Department
Keywords: Feminism
Our Lady of Perpetual Help
Virgin Mary
Virgin of the Passion
Subjects: Art history
Issue Date: 2011
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Mary holds the Christ child in the traditional formula, but unexpectedly, angels appear above bearing not good news, but a cross, spear and sponge - tidings of Christ's future torment. This is the Virgin of the Passion icon. Due to its enormous proliferation by papal command, it has been called perhaps the most popular religious icon of the twentieth century. But despite an abundance of recent studies on the Virgin Mary in Byzantium, there has been little investigation into what first spurred this iconographical innovation. This dissertation pursues this question by exploring four themes related to the Virgin of the Passion in Byzantium: Power, painting, priesthood, and predestination. My first two chapters explore what the Virgin of the Passion is not. "Power" has been a pervasive scholarly theme in the humanities in recent decades, and Byzantine art history is no exception. Yet a vague concept of power does little to illuminate the original context of the first known Virgin of the Passion, which dates to 1192 on the island of Cyprus. Instead, the image conveys an iconography of political defeat, which was possible because the cult of the Virgin in Byzantium preceded imperial sponsorship, and could consequently transcend and outlast that sponsorship as well. Another obstacle to understanding the Virgin of the Passion comes from traditional accounts of the history of painting, suggesting Byzantine stasis and Renaissance innovation. Tracing the image to the creative milieu of Komnenian Constantinople, I argue that the history of the Virgin of the Passion type illustrates the reverse - Byzantine dynamism, followed by relatively homogenous mass production in the Renaissance and beyond. My third and fourth chapters offer a new interpretation of the type. By connecting the icon to a twelfth-century Eucharistic controversy, I make the case that the original Virgin of the Passion is Eucharistic, which consequently associates Mary with priesthood. To contextualize this observation, I point to a surprising series of texts and images in the Byzantine world that also refer to Mary as priest. Finally, I offer a new interpretation of the instruments of the Passion borne by the angels above Mary and Christ. I relate them to the "Prepared Throne" imagery, a popular Byzantine motif most often interpreted as a throne "prepared" for Judgment. Instead, I make the case that it is a throne "prepared" from the foundation of the world. The result is that the Virgin of the Passion - a work of visual theology - treads on the verbally contested terrain of predestination.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Art and Archaeology

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