Tuesday, April 06, 2010

St Albans Psalter: Mary Magdalene--Apostle to the Apostles

John 20:18; Mark 16:9-10

Mary Magdalen is in profile isolated commandingly in her own rectangle while the eleven apostles crowd together under an arch. Mary is telling the disciples that she has seen the risen Lord (John 20:18). The apostles look amazed, clutching books and raising their hands.

At this date Mary Magdalen’s announcement to the apostles is rare in western art, although it is depicted in Byzantine manuscripts like Florence, Laurenziana MS.Plut. VI.23, f97. The Gospels of Henry the Lion (c1175, formerly Gmunden) derive their iconography from the St Albans Psalter formula but the scene is accompanied by speech scrolls in which the apostles ask ‘Dic nobis, Maria, quid vidisti in via?’ and she says ‘Sepulchrum Christi viventes (et) gloriam vidi resurgentes’. These words, composed in the 11th century, were incorporated in the liturgical Easter play Quem quaeritis by the 12th century (Young, 1933, 149). This is another indication of drama influencing the fresh iconography of the St Albans Psalter. (AP, 63, pl 115)

Mary’s authoritative role as ‘apostle to the apostles’ derives from her witness of Christ’s risen body in the previous scene. Christina’s visions of Christ, both as a baby and pilgrim, give her similar authority, particularly over Abbot Geoffrey.

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