The Coronation of the Virgin Mary

THE CORONATION of the Virgin follows the Assumption. In some instances this final consummation of her glorious destiny supersedes, or rather includes, her ascension into heaven.

As I have already observed, it is necessary to distinguish this scenic Coronation from the mystical INCORONATA, properly so called, which is the triumph of the allegorical church, and altogether an allegorical and devotional theme; whereas the scenic Coronation is the last event in a series of the Life of the Virgin. Here we have before us, not merely the court of heaven, its argent fields peopled with celestial spirits, and the sublime personification of the glorified Church exhibited as a vision, and quite apart from all real, all human associations ; but we have rather the triumph of the human mother — the lowly woman lifted into immortality. The earth and its sepulchre, the bearded apostles beneath, show us that, like her Son, she has ascended into glory by the dim portal of the grave, and entered into felicity by the path of pain. Her Son, next to whom she has taken her seat, has himself wiped the tears from her eyes, and set the resplendent crown upon her head ; the Father blesses her ; the Holy Spirit bears witness ; cherubim and seraphim welcome her, and salute her as their queen. So Dante —

At their joy And carol smiles the Lovely One of heaven, That joy is in the eyes of all the blest. Thus, then, we must distinguish : — `

1. The Coronation of the Virgin is a strictly devotional subject where she is attended, not merely by angels and patriarchs, but by canonized saints and martyrs, by fathers and doctors of the Church, heads of religious orders in monkish dresses, patrons and votaries.

2. It is a dramatic and historical subject when it is the last scene in a series of the Life of the Virgin ; when the death-bed or the tomb, or the wondering apostles and weeping women are figured on the earth below.

Of the former treatment I have spoken at length. It is that most commonly met with in early pictures and altar-pieces.

With regard to the historical treatment, it is more rare as a separate subject, but there are some celebrated examples, both in church decoration and in pictures.

1. In the apsis of the Duomo at Spoleto we have, below, the death of the Virgin in the usual manner, that is, the Byzantine conception treated in the Italian style, with Christ receiving her soul, and over it the Coronation. The Virgin kneels in a white robe spangled with golden flowers ; and Christ, who is here represented rather as the Father than the Son, crowns her as Queen of Heaven.

2. The composition by Albert Dürer, which concludes his fine series of woodcuts, the “Life of the Virgin,” is very grand and singular. On the earth is the empty tomb ; near it the bier; around stand the Twelve Apostles all looking up amazed. There is no allusion to the girdle, which, indeed, is seldom found in northern Art. Above, the Virgin floating in the air, with the rainbow under her feet, is crowned by the Father and the Son, while over her head hovers the Holy Dove.

3. In the Vatican is the Coronation attributed to Raphael. That he designed the cartoon, and began the altar-piece, for the nuns of Monte-Luce, near Perugia, seems beyond all doubt ; but it is equally certain that the picture as we see it was painted almost entirely by his pupils Giulio Romano and Gian Francesco Penni. Here we have the tomb below, filled with flowers ; and around it the Twelve Apostles ; John and his brother James, in front, looking up ; behind John, St. Peter ; more in the background, St. Thomas holds the girdle. Above is the throne set in heaven, whereon the Virgin, mild and beautiful, sits beside her divine Son, and with joined hands and veiled head, and eyes meekly cast down, bends to receive the golden coronet he is about to place on her brow. The dove is omitted, but eight seraphim, with rainbow-tinted wings, hover above her head. On the right, a most graceful angel strikes the tamborine ; on the left, another, equally graceful, sounds the viol ; and, amidst a flood of light, hosts of celestial and rejoicing spirits fill up the background.

Thus in highest heaven, yet not out of sight of earth, in beatitude past utterance, in blessed fruition of all that faith creates and love desires, amid angel hymns and starry glories, ends the pictured life of Mary, MOTHER OF OUR LORD.






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