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The Origin of the Vested Angel as a Eucharistic Symbol in Flemish Painting

Author(s): M. B. McNamee
Source: The Art Bulletin, Vol. 54, No. 3 (Sep., 1972), pp. 263-278
Published by: College Art Association
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The Origin of the Vested Angel as a Eucharistic Symbol

in Flemish Painting
M. B. McNamee

Some years ago I published a note in The Art BulletinI in

which I made the suggestion that the vested angel is an
additional eucharistic symbol among the many which occur

in Flemish painting during the fourteenth and fifteenth

centuries. In that note I suggested that in the Portinari
Altarpiece the garbing of all the angels in the vestments of

the subministers of a solemn high mass (in albs and stoles,

dalmatics, and copes, but never in the chasuble of the
celebrant) amounts to a conscious symbol of the mass in
which Christ himself is the celebrant vested in the chasuble

of his flesh. The vested angel thus becomes a symbol

analogous to the bundle of wheat, an obvious eucharistic
symbol in the same painting, and to the wheat stalks and
grapes and grape vines employed as eucharistic symbols in
many other Flemish paintings.2

Since publishing that note I have been able to check

rather exhaustively the occurrence of the vested angel in
Flemish book illuminations, sculpture, and panel paintings
throughout the whole history of Flemish art.3 In the Portinari Altarpiece the vested angels are employed in a Nativity
scene, but any attentive examination of Flemish art reveals
that they were used in almost every possible kind of scene in
the life of Christ from the Annunciation to the Last Judg-

ment. Close study also shows that there is complete consistency in the way the vested angels are represented by
Flemish artists: they are always dressed in the vestments of

symbolize the mass. I would like to make the further

suggestion here that the fact that the vested angel occurs in
scenes from the whole life of Christ and the Virgin in these

paintings represents a special interpretation of the mass the idea that what Christ offered in his sacrificial giving of
himself at the Last Supper and on Calvary and still offers in
the mass is the totality of himself in time and eternity - from
the moment of his Incarnation to the Last Judgment.5 Not

merely his death on Calvary, but every episode in Christ's

life - his incarnation, his birth, his manifestation to the
Gentiles at the visit of the Magi, his baptism, his public
miracles, his resurrection and risen life, his ascension into
heaven, and his second coming in the Last Judgment - is
part of his sacrificial gift of himself, and all are, therefore,
subsumed in the sacrificial offering of the mass. In this light,
it is perfectly appropriate to find the Flemish visual artists

employing the vested angel as a eucharistic symbol in any

scene from the life of Christ. Any incident from his life was

and remains a part of his redemptive sacrifice of himself in

time and it is embraced in every offering of the eucharistic
sacrifice of the mass.

The presence of vested angels in thirteenth-, fourteenthand fifteenth-century Flemish art needs no demonstration;
they confront us everywhere in the Flemish painting of those

centuries. What I wish to do in this article is suggest how

they came to be there and how they may have acquired a

deacons and subdeacons of the mass. In the hundreds of

eucharistic significance.

examples which I studied I found only one instance of an

angel dressed in a chasuble and that is in a painting late in
the sixteenth century by a minor artist who was probably
adopting a tradition whose full significance he did not

Studies such as Jeanne Villette's L'Ange dans l'art d'occident6 have shown that the angel vested in ecclesiastical garb
does not become a commonplace iconographic device in


The broad survey of the subject which I have been able

to make in the last few years gives me greater assurance that

Western art until the late fourteenth century, and that, even
then, it was most extensively and consistently employed only
in Flanders and in the parts of Germany, France, northern

Italy, Spain, and Portugal which were most influenced by

I was right in my previous suggestion that the vested angel

Flemish art.7

in Flemish painting, and in painting elsewhere that was

influenced by this especially Flemish convention, does

the thirteenth century was derived either from the Byzantine

1 M. B. McNamee, "Further Symbolism in the Portinari Altarpiece,"

Art Bulletin, XLV, 1963, 142-43.

2 Robert Campin, Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memling and Joos van Cleve are only a few of the Flemish artists who used
grapes or grape vines in the background or sculptural details of their
paintings with a eucharistic significance. A bundle of wheat or wheat
stalks was used for a similar symbolic purpose by several Flemish painters - notably Robert Campin, Rogier van der Weyden, Hugo van der
Goes, David Gerard and Jacob Cornelis van Oostsanen, to mention only
the most important.

3 A Research Fulbright Fellowship and a grant from the American

Philosophical Society in 1965 enabled me to spend the entire year
investigating this subject in libraries and museums both in the United
States and in Europe, and especially in the photographic indexes of
Flemish painting at the Institut Royal du Patrimoine Artistique in
Brussels. I am indebted to Professors H. W. Janson and Frederick Hartt
who supported my application for those grants and urged me to make

The usual costume of angels in the art of the West before

this study in the first place. I also owe much to Professor Charles Cuttler
who gave me many helpful suggestions while I was doing my research.
4 The painting is Mary with the Divine Infant and Angels by the Master of

the Aachen Altar (1480-I520). It is now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich

(No. 10756). One of the angels seems to be wearing a chasuble. It is the
only example I have discovered anywhere of an angel wearing a chasuble.
The painting is by a German, not a Flemish artist.
5 M. de la Taille, S.J., gives the best defence of this interpretation of the

mass, and he actually uses Jan van Eyck's Mystical Lamb and other

Flemish paintings as part of his proof that this was a traditionally accepted concept of the sacrifice of the mass. See his Mysterium Fidei de Augustissimo Corporis et Sanguinis Christi Sacrificio atque Sacramen to Elucidationes,

Paris, 1931.
6J. Villette, L'Ange dans l'art d'occident du XIIfme au XVklme siecle, France,

Italie, Flandre, Allemagne, Paris, 1940, 92.

7Ibid., 9o.

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tradition of the East or was based on an adaptation of the
Roman toga or of the tunic actually worn by men in the
Middle Ages. In Byzantine religious art, angels are frequently represented in functions analogous to those of
imperial court soldiers; they are often pictured as spearbearers standing guard at the throne of Christ the Pantocrator (Figs. I and 2). These spear-bearing guards of Christ


are another manifestation of the Eastern imagination which

focused on the royalty and divinity of Christ and which

built a religious cult and devised a religious art that highlighted the regal, the mysterious and the awe-inspiring
elements of the Christian revelation. Angels were a part of
that atmosphere; and, even when they did not function as
soldiers with spears in their hands standing guard at the
heavenly court of Christ the King, they nevertheless usually
wore either the sumptuous garb of the imperial court or the
vestments of the minor functionaries of the mass which, in

the East, were actually adaptations of the rich imperial

court costume. The regal background into which these




4 e



angels fit is well described in a panegyric of Constantine by

Eusebius which speaks of God as a Heavenly Emperor served

by the angels as royal guards: "He is above and beyond

all created things, the Highest, the Greatest, the most
Mighty One; whose throne is the arch of heaven, and the
earth the footstool of his feet. . ... His ministers are the
heavenly hosts; his armies the supernal powers, who own
allegiance to him as their Master, Lord and King."8
This Eastern manner of vesting angels became widely
known in the West through the many trade contacts between the East and West and through the Crusades. Eastern

ivories, illuminated manuscripts and enamels were brought

back by the Crusaders which familiarized the West with the
Eastern angelic image; as a result, we find angels in the
courtly oriental garb or in vestments adapted from it in
Western book illuminations, sculptures, frescoes, mosaics
(Fig. 3), and stained-glass windows from the third up to the
end of the thirteenth century especially in Italy but also


i Angels as Royal Guards of Christ the King, Homilies of the Monk

James, Paris, Bibl. Nat. MS Gr. 20o8, fol. I09v

north of the Alps.

There was one very important form of liturgical composi-

tion in Byzantine art, however, which was adopted only

rarely in the West - the Eternal Mass or Divine Liturgy in
which Christ in heaven is represented as the Celebrant of an

Eternal Mass assisted by angels vested in the orarion, the

:::'':~: ::::;:.: ...." !:' i-iiii }i~j ::

:s-ii, ::il-:;_ :I:: : ii~i::i:-i _iii:ii:-~ -:::::::

oriental stole, which is the distinguishing mark of the deacon

in the oriental rites. These angels are sometimes also repre-

sented as carrying the vessels of the mass in an offertory

procession. A good example of this Byzantine motif occurs
in the fourteenth-century fresco in the Church of the Peri-

bleptos in Mistra.9 There Christ appears at the altar vested

in the Eastern chasuble of the Celebrant assisted by angels
wearing the Eastern stole or orarion and other oriental vestments and carrying the utensils of the mass. In this Byzan-

tine representation of the Eternal Liturgy we already have

angels vested as deacons participating with Christ in offering
an Eternal Mass.

2 Angels as Royal Guards of the Trinity, The New Testament,

8s Eusebius, from "Oration in Praise of Constantine," A Select Library of

Vienna, Nationalbibliothek MS Sup. Gr. 52, fol. Iv (photo:

Bild-Archiv der Osterreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 2nd ser., eds. Philip

Schaff and Henry Wace, 1890, I, 582.

9 C. Diehl, Manuel d'Art Byzantin, 1925-26, figs. 400 and 401.

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I have been able to find only a few examples of possible

teenth century, for instance, to find an example in Italy.10

sculptures on the north transept portal of Notre Dame in

The angels of Rheims, then, would seem to be associated

with the mass through their carrying the utensils of that

Paris (Fig. 4). On the topmost and on the second registers of

sacrament, through the fact that some of them are wearing

the tympanum are scenes from the legend of the priest

Theophilus who, like Faust, sold himself to the Devil and
later was redeemed by the Virgin; on the third and lowest

vestments of subministers of the mass, and through the

position of all of them flanking the apse which actually

adaptations of this motif in Western art. One occurs in the

appears a series of angels holding the utensils of the mass.

canopies the altar of the real sacrifice of the mass, offered

here in time in contrast to the mass offered in eternity by
Christ in the Divine Liturgy of Byzantine iconography.
A third example of an adaptation of this Byzantine motif
is found in an unusual eleventh-century painting of the Last

They are vested, for the most part, in variations of the simple

Judgment (Fig. 6)11 in the Pinacoteca Vaticana. On the top

tunic and mantle which became the usual angelic garb in

register of this painting (shaped like a keyhole and perhaps

symbolizing the key to heaven) Christ is represented as the

registers are the Nativity, the Presentation of Christ in the

Temple, the Slaughter of the Innocents, and the Flight into
Egypt. On the innermost arch framing the tympanum there

medieval French art; but the third pair from the bottom is

definitely wearing a simple form of the vestments of the

deacon - the amice, the alb, and the dalmatic. They carry
the paten and the pall of the mass. The series of figures
appears to be an adaptation of the oriental procession of
angels in the Divine Liturgy carrying the utensils of the
mass. But - and this is a typical Western concept - they
accompany not Christ in heaven vested as the Eternal

judge seated on the arch of the heavens holding a cross in

one hand, and in the other, a medallion on which appear
the words ecce victimus sum. He is flanked by two angels

Priest but the human Christ born in time, offered by Simeon

and extends his arms as does the celebrant at the mass. On

above the altar in the temple, occasioning the Slaughter of

each side of the altar stand two angels vested in the Eastern
stole or orarion and holding scrolls in one hand on which are
inscribed the words of Christ's judgment of the elect and the

the Innocents, and fleeing into Egypt in order to escape the

sword of Herod. In other words, it is Christ beginning his

sacrifice of himself in time that is suggested here - the sacrifice that will be continued in the sacrifice of the mass

wrapped in the feathered wings of seraphim and by two in

Roman togas. But in the second register Christ appears

again standing behind an altar on which are displayed the

instruments of his Passion. He shows the wounds in his hands

damned, and, in the other hand, a modification of the

matics) worn by the third pair of angels.

A second example of a possible Western adaptation of this
Eastern motif may be seen in the sculptures on the exterior

Byzantine ripidion, the special instrument of the deacon in

the oriental rites.12 They, in turn, are flanked by the seated
figures of the twelve apostles. Christ is clearly represented
here as the celebrant of the Eternal Liturgy flanked by the
two angels vested as Byzantine deacons. It would appear that
the artists of the panel are suggesting that it is this inter-

of the apse of Rheims Cathedral. Vested for the most part

again in the medieval tunic, angels there appear between

Judgment of Christ above and the souls below being judged.

symbolized by the utensils of the mass carried by the angels

in the framing arch and by the deacon's vestments (dal-

cessory sacrifice of the mass that stands between the Last

the windows of the lower story holding items associated with

This motif was rather rare in the West, but there is

the liturgy of the mass - missals and scrolls, holy water

another favorite Byzantine eucharistic motif which is found

stoups, censors and incense boats. One of them, however, is

more often in Western art - the Communion of the Apostles.

wearing a cope and another both the dalmatic and maniple of

the deacon - the latter a vestment worn only at mass (Fig. 5).
Villette remarks that angels wearing these vestments this early
in the West are exceptions. One has to wait until the four-

One eleventh-century Byzantine example of this subject

may be seen in a mosaic in the apse of Hagia Sophia in
Kief.13 An altar arranged for mass appears in the center,
and Christ, in a toga-like garment, is represented at each

10 Villette, L'Ange dans l'art d'occident, 88, also points out that it is clear
that what some of the angels are wearing are copes and not secular capes
because they are fastened by the liturgical clasp or morse and not by the
band or cord of the secular cape.

remarks of it: "Au centre de la composition, le Christ, un grandpretre,

est debout sous un dais; devant lui defile la procession des anges portant
les objets necessaires au sacrifice eucharistique; sur le fond d'un bleu
intense ils passent d'une allure lkgere et rapide, largement drapes de

11 Pinacoteca Vaticana, No. 526. The painting, on a wood panel, shaped

like a large keyhole, is composed of five registers. It has been traditionally

attributed to the painters Joannes and Nicolaus of whom not much is

known except that they painted in Rome in the second half of the I Ith
century. See Gertrud Schiller, Ikonographie der Christlichen Kunst, ii, Gerd

Mohn, 1968, for comment on this picture as it relates to the Passion of


12 D. Attwater, A Catholic Dictionary, 1958, 434, has this to say of the

ripidion: (gr., fan.) "A flat metal disk representing a cherub's head surrounded by six wings, sometimes furnished with tiny bells, mounted
upright on a shaft in such a manner that it can be made to revolve; used
in Byzantine, Armenian, Coptic, Maronite and Syrian rites. Its original
purpose was to keep away flies from the holy gifts during the anaphora ...
It is the characteristic instrument of the deacon and is handed to him at

ordination." The angels in this painting, vested in the Byzantine deacon's

orarion are holding only the disk without the wooden staff.

13 See C. Diehl, Manuel d'art byzantin, Paris, 1925-26, 809-0o, for a description of the Divine Liturgy as it appears in Hagia Sophia in Kief. He

dalmatiques blanches dont les plis dessisent leur hanches pleines, un

ruban blanc traversant leurs cheveux roux, leurs ailes vertes 'a revers
bleus largement eploudes, les uns, coiff6s de la mitre, tenant en main des
cierges ou des encensoirs, les autres soutenant sur leur mains les espices."
L. R6au, Iconographie de l'art Chritien Iconographie de la Bible, ii, Paris, 1957,

40, says of Christ the High Priest in Oriental iconography: "I1 se rattache
a deux sujets particuliers 'I l'art byzantin: la Communion des Apdtres oui le

Christ distribue lui-meme aux disciples le pain et le vin et la Divine

Liturgie ou1 ii celebre en personne, avec l'assistance des anges vetus en
diacres, le saint sacrifice." And he further observes: "Ce type sacerdotal
ou eucharistique est l'illustration d'un passage des Psaumes: 'I1 a etd fait

grand-pretre pour l'Lternitd selon l'ordre de Melchisedec.' " M. A.

Lavin, in "The Altar of Corpus Domini in Urbino: Paolo Uccello, Joos

van Ghent, Piero della Francesca," Art Bulletin, XLIX, 1967, 1-24, discusses the influence of the Byzantine motif of the Divine Liturgy and the
Communion of the Apostles on the Communion of the Apostles byJoos van

Ghent at Urbino, but she points out that it has been combined with

details from the Western liturgy. In it, two angels, vested in amice and alb
hover at each side of the composition in the apse-like setting of the scene.

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end of the altar with a ciborium in his hands moving

towards lines of the apostles to whom he is about to give
Communion. Christ is assisted by angels at each side of the
altar who carry the ripidion of the Eastern liturgy and who

wear the oriental orarion. Another example of the same

motif occurs in a fresco in the fourteenth-century Peribleptos church in Mistra, and still another in the fourteenthcentury church of Megoricino in Serbia.14

I have indicated above that, in contrast to the liturgical

garb of angels in some of these Byzantine motifs, the garments worn by most of the angels in the sculptures of the
north transept portal of Notre Dame in Paris are adaptations of the simple medieval tunic. It was this garment that
came to be the most usual garb of angels in French art of the
thirteenth century, a simplification of the tunic actually
worn by men at the time. Often combined with the tunic
was a very simple flowing mantle. It is this combination of
tunic and mantle that the first pair of angels on the Notre
Dame north portal are wearing. The Byzantine court dress
or an adaptation of the Roman toga is the predominant
angelic dress in the early Middle Ages up to the thirteenth
century in France as elsewhere in the West, but the simple
tunic or the tunic and mantle become the more usual garb
in thirteenth-century France and generally also in England.





. Avt,:


In Italy what developed into the Byzantine garb for

angels is also in evidence in all media of artistic expression
from the third to the thirteenth century; but from the




0*04 41


thirteenth century on the Italians tended to favor an adapt-

ed Roman toga as an angelic dress. In the thirteenth and

fourteenth centuries, we find some Italian artists borrowing
the simple tunic or tunic and mantle from the French. But


some artists north of the Alps also normally dressed their

angels in the Roman toga, as, for example, Nicolas of

Verdun, in his Klosterneuburg enamels of 1 181, and, even
earlier, Renier de Huy, in his Baptismal Font of ca. I II o in
Saint Barthelemy, Liege.
During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, among
the variations of the Byzantine court dress, the Roman toga,

and medieval tunic, we find some few angels appearing in

strictly liturgical garb - the alb and stole. They appear first

in illuminated manuscripts, especially in miniatures representing the angel in scenes of the Visit of the Marys to the

tomb of Christ. Ordinarily, in miniatures of this scene in

early illuminated psalters, Bibles and books of hours, the
angel is garbed in the familiar toga or tunic. However, in
some quite early manuscripts we detect a differentiation
between the garb that the angel wears at the tomb of Christ
in scenes of the Visit of the three Marys from what is worn
by angels in other scenes in the same manuscript. In minia-

tures of the Annunciation, for instance, the angel may

3 Last Judgment, mosaic, detail of an angel in Byzantine orarion.

Torcello, Cathedral of Santa Maria (photo: Alinari)

white tunic. A good example of this variation occurs in the

thirteenth-century Psalter of Ingeburge of Denmark

(Chantilly, Mus6e Cond6, Ms 27062). The angel of the

Annunciation (Fig. 7) wears the traditional colored toga;

while the angel seated on the tomb in the Visit of the Marys

appear in a colored toga, while in the miniature of the Visit

(Fig. 8) is garbed in a pure white toga and holds a baton,

symbol of his authority as a messenger of God. In a thir-

of the Marys he wears either a pure white toga or a simple

teenth-century psalter and book of hours of French origin

14 For an illustration of this mosaic in San-Sophia, Kief, see plate xxIv

in C. Diehl's La peinture byzantine, Paris, 1933; for the fresco of the same

in the Peribleptos church in Mistra, plate XLIV; and for that in the

Megoricino church in Serbia, plate LIII. A very good modern example of

the Eternal Liturgy in a proper liturgical setting may be seen in the West
in the oriental church of Chevetogne, Belgium, which was built in this
century precisely to educate Western Christians in the Eastern liturgy
and iconographic traditions.

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------ ON




4 North transept portal, tympanum, angels in vestments carrying utensils of the mass. Paris, Notre Dame

(photo: Alinari-Giraudon)



:::- .. ..Ilk




5 Angel on exterior of apse, in alb and dalmatic, carrying a

missal. Rheims, Cathedral

Ilk I

6 Last Judgment, panel, 9th century. Rome, Pinacoteca Vaticana

(photo: Alinari)

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in the Bibliotheque Nationale, we find a similar differentia-

tion of costume. In the Annunciation the angel wears a

tunic and colored mantle, while in the Visit of the Marys
(Fig. 9) he wears only a simple white tunic. This differentiation, of course, might only illustrate the text of St. Mark

(26: 5) where we are told that the Marys arrived at the

tomb and found "on the right, a young man seated wearing

a white robe." But in a thirteenth-century psalter from

Burgundy in the British Museum (Add. Ms 16975), where
the angel of the Annunciation again appears in a colored

miniature which represents both the Resurrection of Christ

and the Visit of the Marys (fol. 77v) (Fig. 12) is likewise in

amice and alb. And in the early panel painting of the Visit
of the Marys in the Boymans-van Beuningen Museum in
Rotterdam, which is certainly Eyckian in style, the angel
wears an amice, an alb, a stole, and a maniple on his left
arm - the last, a vestment worn only at the mass (Fig. 13).
We might well ask what accounts for the sudden appearance of the angel in a liturgical garb at the scene of the three
Marys at the tomb. A possible answer may be found in the

alb and white cope (distinguished by the morse) (Fig. io),

and holds a palm in his hand. And in the Peterborough

influence of the Latin medieval liturgical drama in which

the directives prescribe that the angel at the tomb be so
vested. In some of the plays he is also directed to hold a

Psalter in the Biblioth&que Royale in Brussels (Ms 9661-62),

palm, symbol of Christ's victory over death, as we have seen

toga, the angel in the Visit of the Marys is dressed in a white

also dating to the thirteenth century, we find a similar

differentiation of costume that would appear to be more

him doing in the Burgundian Psalter (Fig. Io) and in the

Peterborough Psalter (Fig. I I). Karl Young in The Drama

than a mere variation in the color of the traditional angelic

of the Medieval Church15 and Gustave Cohen in his Livre de

garb. In this manuscript, too, the angels throughout wear

medieval tunics and mantles (see, for instance, fol. 73v

conduite du Rdgisseur16 have conveniently assembled the texts

of most of the extant liturgical Latin plays, many of which

where the angel with Jacob is dressed in a toga-like garment

or tunic and mantle), but the angel seated on the tomb in the
Visit of the Marys and holding a palm in his hand is vested

contain explicit directives concerning the costuming of the

not in a simple white tunic but clearly in a liturgical alb

with a cowl-like amice showing at the neck-line (Fig. I i).

There are, of course, other examples of this last kind of

clerics who were to enact the parts. As these historical

studies of the development of medieval, ecclesiastical Latin
drama show, it was the dramatization of the Easter trope17
concerned with the Visit of the Marys to the tomb that was
the starting point of the whole evolution of medieval church

angels in early miniatures and those worn by the angel in

drama. The simple dialogue between the angel and the

three Marys was gradually expanded and combined with

the Visit of the Marys: one other occurs in the Paris Brevi-

other episodes until something like a full-fledged drama in

differentiation between the vestments worn generally by the

ary, from the second half of the thirteenth century, Biblio-

Latin had evolved. And then an evolution similar to the one

theque Nationale, Ms lat. 13233, in which the angel of the

that developed around the Easter trope or the Visit of the

Annunciation miniature wears the toga (fol. 352v) while that

three Marys to the tomb also developed in connection with

the Visit of the Magi, the Nativity, and the Annunciation.18

in the Visit of the Marys wears a white alb and holds a palm

in his hand. The following examples represent a solidification of this tradition. The angel in the Visit of the Marys in

This gradual development of a dramatic form extended

over a period of five centuries, and the Latin ecclesiastical

teenth century, the usual garb of the angel in the Visit of the

plays that were the result had an international popularity.

They varied only slightly from country to country, and were
enacted regularly, at their proper liturgical seasons, in conjunction with the mass or the Divine Office, from the tenth
until as late as the sixteenth century. We are referring here,

Marys and other scenes as well is the liturgical alb, amice,

of course, not to the miracle and mystery plays in the ver-

the Bourgueil Breviary, from the second half of the fourteenth century, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, Ms lat. 1043,

fol. I99v, is also clearly vested in amice and alb. By the

middle of the fourteenth century and throughout the fif-

and cope or dalmatic. Just to cite one or two of the dozens of

naculars which were eventually performed outside the

possible examples from this later period, let me call atten-

church and by lay actors, but to the Latin liturgical drama

tion to the Visit of the Marys miniature in the Salisbury

which continued to be performed in the church itself by

Breviary or the Breviary of the Duke of Bedford (I4241435) (Bibliothbque Nationale, Paris, Ms lat. I7294, fol.
228v), in which the angel wears an amice and alb. In the
Livre des Trbs Belles Heures du Duc de Berry (some of the
illuminations of which were done by Jan van Eyck), now
preserved in the Museo Civico at Turin, the angel of the

clerics and in more or less close association with the liturgical

functions of the mass and the Divine Office.

15 K. Young, The Drama of the Medieval Church, 2 vols., Oxford Clarendon

Press, 1932.
16 G. Cohen, Livre de conduite du Rigisseur et le compte des dipenses pour le
Mystire de la Passionjoud e' Mons en 1501, Paris, 1925.
17 See Young, The Drama of the Medieval Church, I, 178-97, for a definition

and discussion of the development of tropes in general, and 201-33, for

the development of the Easter trope in particular. On page I78, he gives
the following definition of a trope: "In its broadest sense a trope may be
defined as a verbal amplification of a passage in the authorized liturgy,
in the form of an introduction, an interpolation, or a conclusion, or in
the form of any combination of these." The trope most important to this
study of course is that commonly attached to the introit of the mass of

Since these plays were enacted in the church in conjunction with the liturgy and by clerics, it was natural that

the costumes employed would be those conveniently at

hand - the liturgical vestments. And these are the costumes
Easter, which consisted originally of the brief dialogue of the Angel and
the three Marys at the tomb beginning with the words Quemn quaeritis in
sepulcro, Christicole? With the expansion of this dialogue began the whole

development of medineval church drama, and in its more expanded

dramatic forms we find the directives for dressing the angel or angels in

the liturgical vestments which came to be their habitual attire in

Flemish pictorial practice. Although this Easter trope was originally

attached to the Introit of the mass itself, it was later detached from it and
sung at the end of matins which immediately preceded the mass.

18 See Young, The Drama of the Medieval Church, I, 451-92; In, 3-172; I99-

225, for a thorough discussion of the evolution of these other types of

plays on the analogy of the Easter play.

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8 Three Marys at the Tomb, Psalter of Ingeburge of Denmark,

Chantilly, Mus6e Cond6 MS 27062, fol. 28v (photo: Giraudon)

7 Annunciation, Psalter of Ingeburge of Denmark, Chantilly,

Mus6e Cond6 Ms 27062, fol. 15r (photo: Giraudon)

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9 The Angel and Three Marys at the Tomb;

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Bibl. Nat. Ms Lat. o1077, fol. 14v

Io Three Marys at the Tomb,

Burgundian Psalter, London, Brit.

Mus. Add. Ms 16975, fol. 2or
(courtesy of the Trustees)

ii The Angel and Three Marys at the Tomb,

Peterborough Psalter, Brussels, Biblio. Roy.
Albert ler MS 9961-62, fol. 73r (photo:

Biblio. Roy.)

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as a guide to what was probably the current practice in

............ ..... .. ... .

Flemish Ghent itself. It directs that, while the third lesson

of Matins is being read, four brethren are to vest themselves.

One, in an alb and with a palm in his hands, is to quietly

seat himself at the tomb; and, while the response is being
sung, the other three, vested in copes and carrying censors,

are to approach the sepulcher. The angel, seeing them

approach, is to ask them whom they are seeking: Quem
quaeritis? And the little drama proceeds from there.20 The
young man in an alb with a palm in his hand seated quietly
on the tomb describes perfectly the angel in the illumination
of the three Marys in the thirteenth-century Peterborough

Psalter (Fig. I I). Other directives of a comparable and later

date prescribe that the angel be vested in a white alb and
stole, a white alb and dalmatic, or a white alb and cope,
with or without the additional property of wings. And we
find many miniatures from the thirteenth and fourteenth



p X:M

centuries, such as those described above (see Figs. 10, I I,

and 12), that so represent the angel.

I am not suggesting that these vestments necessarily had
a symbolical significance in the liturgical plays in which they

occurred. But they do show that the medieval public was

perfectly familiar with the spectacle of angels in religious
scenes garbed in vestments of the subministers of the mass.

12 The Resurrection and the Angel and Three Marys at the Tomb,

Livre des Tres Belles Heures du Duc de Berry, Turin, Museo

Civico, fol. 77v (photo: Museum)

They had seen them for centuries so represented in their

liturgical dramas performed every year in their churches.
Karl Young points out that many churches retained the
simple forms of the Easter Latin plays even after more
complex Latin forms had evolved21 and that, in one form or

that we find mentioned in the extant directives of these

another, they continued to be performed in the churches

even after the vernacular plays had developed and were

plays. In the Easter play, the three Marys were themselves

frequently vested in copes or dalmatics. But what is of

being enacted outside the churches. As a matter of fact, they

actually continued to be staged as late as the early sixteenth

particular interest to us here are the directives for vesting

the angels. One of the most specific set of directives is that in
the Regularis concordia19 of Winchester which was written in
the tenth century by St. Ethelwold as a guide to Benedictine


practice all over England, but the author remarks that it

follows the usages of Fleury and of Ghent. Since the sacramentaries of Fleury and Ghent on which the Regularis

Although the vested angels may not have carried any

intended symbolical meaning in these plays, it is worth
noting here that, from the beginning, there was a close
association between them and the mass. The earliest plays
were actually performed in the context of the mass itself as a
dramatization of the Quem quaeritis trope in the Introit22 and

concordia is based have been lost, the Concordia itself may serve

with the altar functioning as the tomb. Later they were

19 See E. K. Chambers, The Medieval Stage, Oxford University Press,

1963, II, 3o6-Io, Appendix o, for a reprint of the pertinent part of the

sedentis in monumento, atque Mulierum cum aromatibus uenientium,

ante locum Sepulchri. Aguntur enim haec ad imitationen Angeli

Regularis Concordia of St. Ethelwold. It was probably written in the Ioth

century in connection with one of the councils of Winchester. It is stated

ut ungerent corpus Jhesu. Cum ergo ille residens tres uelut erraneos, ac

in the Prooemium of the Concordia itself that it was based on the customs of

dulcisone cantare: Quem queritis?"

Fleury and Ghent. St. Dunstan, who is supposed to have done some work

21 Young, The Drama of the Medieval Church, I, 272, emphasizes the

perdurance of these plays up into the I6th century: "From the dates of

on the revision of the Re'gularis Concordia, had found refuge in Saint Peter's
of Ghent during his banishment from England, so the Concordia brings us

very close to the liturgical customs and dramatic practice of Flemish

Ghent itself.

20 This following text is that of the British Museum Ms Cotton Faustino B,

IIi, fol. I88v-89v: "Dum tertia recitatur lectio, quatuor fratres induant
se, quorum unus alba indutus acsi ad aliud agendum ingrediatur, atque
latenter Sepulchri locum adeat, ibique manu tenens palmam, quietus

sedeat. Dumque tertium percelabratur responsorium, residui tres

succedant, omnes quidem cappis induti, turribula cum incensu manibus

gestantes, ac pedetemptim ad similitudinem querentium quid, ueniant

aliquid querentes, uiderit sibi adproximare, incipiat mediocre uoce

the manuscripts we must infer that the plays of the simple sort now under
review were in use for more than five hundred years. Although during the
later Middle Ages arose far more ambitious forms of the Visitatio Sepulchri,

many churches adopted or retained the elementary type. The earliest of

these plays can be assigned to the second half of the tenth century, and
texts of them are still found in manuscripts of the fifteenth century and in

numerous printed books of the sixteenth."

22 Ibid., I, Chap. 7, discusses this early series of dramatic tropes still

associated with the Introit of the mass and employing the altar itself as
the tomb of Christ.

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13 Hubert van Eyck(?) or Adam

Dumont(?), Three Marys at the Tomb.
Rotterdam, Boymans-van Beuningen

Museum (photo: Museum)

transferred to the end of Matins which immediately preceded the mass. And in the earliest versions of the plays the
altar itself served as the tomb of Christ,23 an association that
we find occurring later with deliberate symbolical intention
in several Flemish paintings.
In some of the more developed Quem quaeritis Easter plays,

which included the Noli me tangere scene with Mary Magdalene, Christ himself appeared in a chasuble, while the
angel, or in some instances, two angels (to dramatize St.

singing of the Te Deum, during which Christ in chasuble and

the angels in dalmatics slowly left the choir as the celebrant

of the mass in chasuble accompanied by the deacon and

subdeacon in dalmatics approached the altar to begin

mass.25 In this situation the public would have witnessed a
visual parallel between Christ and the celebrant, both in
chasubles, and the angels and deacon and subdeacons, all in
dalmatics.26 Hence, at the end of the thirteenth century,

John's statement that there were two angels in the tomb)24

when angels vested as deacons or subdeacons began to appear

in the visual arts simultaneously in Italy, at the Burgundian

were vested in dalmatics. These later plays ended with the

court, in England, and in Flanders, they came already

23 This convention in the medieval Latin plays of identifying the

sepulcher of Christ with the altar had a very ancient tradition behind it.
For instance, Germanus I, Patriarch of Constantanople (733), says in his
Theoria: "Altare est Propitiatorium in quo offerebatur pro peccato, iuxta

sanctum monumentum Christi, in quo altari victimam se Christus

obtulit Deo et Patri, per oblationem Corporis sui ... Altare est et dicitur
praesepe, et sepulchrum Domini," Maxima Bibliotheca Veterum Patrum,
xmi, Lyons, 51. And later Durandus, Bishop of Mende (1296), remarks:
"Nec est omittendum, quod in quibusdam icclesijs in his septem diebus
duo cum albis super pellicijs incipiunt responsorium Hec dies; et in alijs,
quosdam tropos post altare, - quod representat sepulchrum pro eo quod
corpus Jesu in eo sacramentaliter collocatur et consecratur - gerentes
typus duorum angelorum qui stantes in sepulcro Christum resurrexisse

many Flemish paintings. Note that Germanus I, above, identifies the

altar with both the sepulchrum and the praesepe.

24 St. John II: I I-12: "But Mary stood without before the tomb,
weeping. And she bent down, still weeping, and looked into the tomb, and

she saw two angels clothed in white sitting there, one at the head, and
the other at the feet, where the body ofJesus had lain."
25 See Young, The Drama of the Medieval Church, I, 369-40o, for a discussion of this late stage of the Easter plays in which Christ himself functioned in chasuble.

26 How effective this juxtaposition of the dramatis personae of the Visitatio

Sepulchri and the ministers of the mass all similarly dressed in liturgical
vestments can be was impressed upon the writer in 1963 when he had the

retulerunt." The long tradition in the Easter plays of the identification of

opportunity of seeing a presentation of the Visitatio Sepulchri that included

association of the tomb of Christ with the altar of the mass which we see

immediately before the Communion service or mass. The performance

was directed by E. Martin Browne who was responsible for the revival
of the York Cycle of Mystery plays at York.

the altar with the tomb of Christ makes more understandable the reverse

in many Flemish paintings. A similar association of the crib of the

Nativity and the altar is also pertinent to the symbolism of the mass in

the figure of Christ in chasuble in Saint Paul's Cathedral, London,

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14 Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Annunciation. Siena, Pinacoteca

(photo: Alinari) m

15 Orcagna (Andrea di Cione), Coronation of

the Virgin. London, National Gallery
(courtesy of the Trustees)





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16 Matteo di Giovanni, Madonna of the

Girdle. London, National Gallery (courtesy of
the Trustees)

17 Orcagna (Andrea di Cione), Last Judgment (detail). Florence, Santa

Maria Novella (photo: Alinari)

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x8 Annunciation (detail), Livre d'Heures du Duc de

Berry, I5th Century, Brussels, Biblio. Roy. Albert Ier
MS I Io060-6I, fol. I8r (photo: Biblio. Roy.)











19 Annunciation (detail), Livre des Tres Belles Heures de Notre

Dame du Duc de Berry, Turin, Museo Civico, fol. iv
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(photo: Giraudon)

21 Annunciation (detail), Salisbury Breviary or Breviary of the

Duke of Bedford, 15th century, Paris, Biblio. Nat. Ms Lat. 17294,
fol. 44or

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carrying various associations with the mass. And, indeed,

they actually were transferred into the visual arts after

enjoying a long career in medieval, Latin, liturgical

drama.27 It is highly probable, then, that when the Flemish
artists employed a whole catalogue of other symbols in their
paintings to call attention to the sacrifice of the mass, they
found that the angel of the Latin liturgical plays attired in
the vestments of the subministers of the mass was another

helpful symbol for their purposes.

Whether for symbolical purposes or not, we find the

angel so garbed appearing almost simultaneously in religious art of the late fourteenth century in Italy and north of

the Alps. And in both areas he was probably borrowed from

the Latin liturgical drama which was widespread on both

sides of the Alps - as the numerous extant versions of the
plays from both regions show.28

Good examples of the vested angel in early fourteenthcentury Italian art are the Annunciation dated about 1300, in

Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome, in which the Archangel

Gabriel is garbed in an alb and a stole crossed on his breast
which flutter in the ribbon-like manner typical of the Italian
artists, and the Annunciation of Ambrogio Lorenzetti now in

the Pinacoteca, Siena (Fig. 14), in which the angel wears an

alb and a stole in the manner of the deacon. See also the

four angels in the foreground of the Coronation of the Virgin by

Orcagna in the National Gallery, London, who wear albs,

cut-down dalmatics, and stoles outside the dalmatics
(Fig. 15). But in Italy it is doubtful that the vestments long
continued to carry any symbolic meaning, if they ever had

one. Carried over from the liturgical drama, they were

almost immediately exploited for decorative purposes and
were modified to enhance the pictorial design of the compositions in which they occur. Some of these early Italian
angels wear albs without arnices (a rather usual liturgical
practice in Italy); but these are soon replaced by a double

22 Claus Sluter, Well of Moses (detail). Dijon, Chartreuse de


(also an actual liturgical practice in some places in the

A good example of this type of angelic dress may be seen in

the angels of the Madonna qf the Girdle by the Sienese master

Middle Ages; see Fig. 15) became a favorite Italian motif in

angelic dress; but these stoles, too, were soon narrowed into
mere decorative ribbons embroidered with crosses. They
often float in most unliturgical fashion, creating mere
decorative arabesques. The angels in the top register of
Orcagna's Last Judgment in Santa Maria Novella, Florence,

Matteo di Giovanni in the National Gallery, London

(Fig. 16). It is also the type of angelic vestment usually
employed by Botticelli. Stoles worn outside the dalmatic

well exemplify this treatment (see Fig. i7).

It is in France that the angels first assume a more strictly
correct liturgical dress and there especially in Annunciation

27 E. MAle has sometimes been said to exaggerate the importance of the

mystery plays as sources of motifs in early medieval miniatures, sculpture
and painting, but he is unquestionably correct in seeing some influence
on the visual arts from that quarter. He has the following to say about the

Ages. The more important influence, and the one most relevant to the

cinctured garment fitting the feminine form of the Italian

angels and owing something to the classical Greek chiton.

medieval church drama as a possible source of the vested angel in the

medieval visual arts (L'art religieux de la fin du Moyen-dge en France, Paris,

1922): "Quand on 6tudie les miniatures du XIVe siecle, on est tout

etonn6 de voir, vers 1380, le costume des anges se modifier soudain. Ils

ne portent plus la longue robe blanche du XIIIe siecle, cette belle

tunique decente qui n'est d'aucun pays, d'aucun temps, mais qui semble
le vetement meme de la vie 6ternelle. Ils disparaissent maintenant sous de
lourdes chapes aux couleurs 6clatantes, que ferme une agrafe d'orf6vrerie; un mince cercle d'or serre parfois leurs cheveux blonds. On dirait
de jeunes acolytes servant une messe sans fin. Qui ne connait les anges
musiciens de van Eyck, ces clercs adolescents qui donnent un concert
les manuscrits
du anges,
duc de cinquante
Berry. C'est
tels ils
dans le de
d.jai les
apparaissent dans les Mysteres des le XIVe siecle." See the entire chapter, "L'art et le thditre religieux," 35-84. MAle is speaking here mostly
of the theater as it developed outside the church at the end of the Middle

tradition of the vested angel, however, is that of the Latin liturgical plays
that continued to be acted well into the I6th century by clerics inside the

church in connection with the liturgical functions. Maile first proposed

his idea of the influence of the medieval mystery plays on the visual arts

of the Middle Ages in an article, "Le Renouvellement de l'Art par les

Mysteres," Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 3rd ser., xxxI, 1904, 89- o6, 215-30;
he enlarged upon it in the work referred to above. The idea was further

developed by G. Cohen, "The Influence of the Mysteries on Art,"

Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 6th ser., xxIv, 1943, 327-42. The whole position of
Miale and Cohen in this matter and the criticisms it has evoked from

some scholars are summarized by L. Reau, Iconographie de L'Art Chritien,

I. Introduction Geinrale, 261-65. See Rdau, Iconographie, I, 265-66, for a
helpful bibliography on the medieval theater in general and its influence
on the visual arts in particular.

28 The plays which Karl Young mentions or publishes in The Drama of

the Medieval Church number over four hundred. All those that explicitly
prescribe the garb of the angels prescribe liturgical vestments of subministers of the mass; albs and stoles, dalmatics, or copes, but never a
chasuble, the vestment of the celebrant.

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F5 Maw
23-26 Claus Sluter, Well of Moses (details). Dijon, Chartreuse de Champmol

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scenes. David M. Robb, in his study of the iconography of
the Annunciation,29 has pointed out that the French setting
for this scene was often the interior of an oratory or chapel

rather than the outdoor portico favored by the Italians. It

may have been this ecclesiastical setting for the Annunciation that suggested to French artists the more exactly correct
liturgical vestments for the angel, but the long established
usage of the liturgical drama no doubt also influenced them.
The extant texts of the Latin plays, performed in conjunction with the liturgy of the Feast of the Annunciation30 in

the churches suggest that small aediculae be constructed in

the choir in which two vested choir boys would place them-

selves behind curtains before the mass. As the proper

functionary of the mass (the celebrant himself in an ordinary
high mass and the deacon in a solemn high mass) begins the
chanting of the Gospel describing the scene of the Annuncia-

on his breast which floats off in long ribbons to the rear.

Very similar, both in setting and in the vestments of the

angel (alb, dalmatic, and narrow, ribbon-like, floating

stole) is the Annunciation miniature in the Livre des Tres
Belles Heures de Notre Dame du Duc de Berry in the Museo
Civico at Turin (Fig. 19).
But in other early fifteenth-century miniatures of the
Annunciation executed in France, all similarly situated in a

Romanesque or Gothic oratory setting, we find the angel

more correctly and carefully dressed in the vestments of the
subministers of the mass. In the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de

Berry in the Musde Cond6 at Chantilly by Pol de Limbourg,

MS 65 (Fig. 2o), the angel is wearing an amice, an alb and a

dalmatic with complete liturgical decorum; in that of the
Book of Hours of the Marechal de Boucicaut in the Musde

tion, the curtains are to be drawn to reveal the two boys

Jacquemart-Andrd, in Paris, he is also wearing an alb, an

amice, and a dalmatic. In the Salisbury Breviary or the

impersonating the Virgin and the angel in their chapel-like

Breviary of the Duke of Bedford (Fig. 2 I) in the Bibliotheque

aediculae. The directives indicate that the two boys are to

speak the parts in the Gospel of the Virgin and the angel, as
the priest at the altar or the deacon at the lectern continues

to chant the narrative part of the Gospel. This liturgical

play probably had some influence on the very noticeable

Nationale in Paris, Ms lat. 17294, he wears an alb, an amice

and a cope. This miniature has the added interest of showing God the Father above seated on a throne and holding a
crystal globe surmounted by a cross. He is commissioning
the kneeling angel Gabriel, vested in amice, alb and cope, to

tendency, in works associated with the Court of Burgundy

and French centers in general, to represent the angel of the

bring the message of the Incarnation to the Virgin Mary.

Other angels in amices and albs, playing musical instru-

Annunciation in liturgical vestments in the interior of a

little Romanesque or Gothic chapel. A combination of the

ments or singing from hymnals, surround the throne of God

the Father; and one of them has followed the angel Gabriel

the Annunciation miniature in the Book of Hours of the Duc

to Mary's oratory and is observing the scene of the Annunciation from behind the curtain which he has partly drawn

French and Italian influences is evident in such instances as

de Berry in the Bibliotheque Royale in Brussels, Ms I Io606 (Fig. 18) where the setting is a small Gothic oratory in
which the Virgin kneels in prayer. The curtain has been
drawn back; and the angel, hovering in the air at the left,
wears an alb (no discernible amice), a dalmatic, and stole

worn outside the dalmatic. But the ribbon-like stole flutters

in the air in true Italian style. A similar example is the

back. The cross on the crystal globe in the lap of God the
Father is, of course, an allusion to the Sacrifice of the Cross
by which the Son being sent now at the Annunciation into
time will redeem the world symbolized by the crystal globe;
and the angel, in turn, vested in the amice, alb, and cope of

subministers of the mass, probably already alludes to the

mass which is to perpetuate the Sacrifice of the Cross in

Annunciation in the Book of Hours of Philip the Good in the


Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, Ms. lat. 10538, fol. 3 Iv. The

setting is again a small oratory, and the angel flies in from
the right vested merely in an alb and a narrow stole crossed

Although the influence of the medieval liturgical drama

on late medieval sculpture and painting may have been
over-emphasized by writers like lmile Mile32 and Leo van

29 D. M. Robb, "The Iconography of the Annunciation in the Four-

ments of subministers of the mass, e.g., amice, alb and stole as in Robert

teenth and Fifteenth Centuries," Art Bulletin, xviii, 1936, 495f.

30 Young publishes the texts of several such Annunciation plays (see The
Drama of the Medieval Church, H, 245-50). The dramatic performance came
to be known as the Missa Aurea and it was established at Tournai as early

as 123 1. D. C. Shorr, "The Role of the Virgin in Giotto's Last Judgment,"

Art Bulletin, xxxvIIi, 1956, 207-14, calls attention to the Annunciation
drama that was traditionally performed in Padua at the church of the
Annunciation, a structure which preceded the Scrovegni chapel on the

site of the ancient Roman arena. She suggests that this traditional
dramatization of the Annunciation "is undoubtedly reflected in the
prominence given by Giotto to the scene of the Annunciation on the
apsidal arch of the [Scrovegni] chapel." We might also add that the

Campin's M6rode Altarpiece; amice, alb and cope as in Jan van Eyck's
Washington Annunciation and the Adoration of the Lamb, and in Roger van

der Weyden's Louvre Annunciation and the Annunciation panel of the

Adoration of the Magi Triptych in Munich; or in amice, alb and dal-

matic as in the Annunciation in the Metropolitan Museum (gift ofJ. Pier-

pont Morgan). In Nativity scenes such as the Nativity (Dijon) by Robert

Campin and the Portinari Altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes, in which
whole choirs of vested angels appear, every possible variation of the vestments of subministers of the mass is employed but again never the chasuble. In these scenes the Christchild as celebrant of the perennial mass
is represented nude, wearing the chasuble of his flesh and making a

sacrificial offering of himself in an offertory gesture.

figures of both the angel Gabriel and the Virgin in their separate little

32 See E. Male: L'Art religieux du XIIe siecle en France. Jtude sur les origines


influence of the medieval mystery play on early medieval sculpture.

book illumination, and painting. See, for instance, his statement quoted

curtained aediculae probably owe something to that same dramatic

31 The practice of I4th-century Flemish panel painters regarding the

vested angel in Annunciation scenes is in complete agreement with that
of the earlier book illuminators. They never use the chasuble, the vestment of the celebrant of the mass, but always some variation of the vest-

de l'iconographie du Moyen-dge, Paris, 1922. Male greatly emphasizes the

in note 3o. See also his L'art religieux de lafin du moyen-dge en France. Jtude
sur l'iconographie du moyen-dge et sur ses sources d'inspiration, Paris, 1949,

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27 Anonymous Netherlandish painter,

Well of Life, I6th century. Prague,
Narodni Gallery (photo: Gallery)

Puyvelde,33 it seems quite clear that both book illuminators

and panel painters of the late Middle Ages did draw considerably upon that source for some of their inspiration. The
closeness with which the details of some illuminations and

intentions of the Flemish painters in their use of that

iconographic detail.
Panofsky has called attention to the effect of late medieval

sculpture on the style of early fifteenth-century Flemish

painters. He has emphasized the necessity of studying such
works as the sculptures of Claus Sluter in order to under-

paintings of vested angels approach the details prescribed

by the directives in the extant Latin liturgical plays is
another bit of evidence of that influence and provides a

stand the sculpturesque quality of the figures in some of the

helpful background for understanding some of the symbolic

paintings of Robert Campin, van Eyck and van der

33 See L. van Puyvelde, Schilderkunst en tooneelvertooningen op het Ende van de

Middeleeuwen, Ghent, 1912, 241. Van Puyvelde agrees with Mile con-

cerning the important influence of the medieval liturgical drama on the

early medieval visual arts, but he points out that Mile exaggerated the
French contribution in that influence. He convincingly shows that the
same kind of influence was making itself felt in Flanders simultaneously
with the French influence and frequently independent of it. He specifically points out (pages 239-41) that the Flemish custom of vesting angels
in copes and dalmatics probably owed something to the habit of so vesting them in the medieval liturgical drama.

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Weyden. If the world of sculpture provides the source of

because, as I have pointed out above, two of the angels are

some of the stylistic features of early Flemish painters, it is

also there that some of their favorite iconographic motifs are

wearing the maniple, a vestment worn only during the mass

(Figs. 23 and 25). If this is part of what the sculptor had in

anticipated, and nowhere more significantly than in the

mind, he already suggests here symbolically through the

vested angels what is expressed later with almost painful

work of Claus Sluter.

In Sluter's famous Well of Moses at the Chartreuse du

Champmol in Dijon34 (Figs. 22-26), we find an interesting
use of vested angels which anticipates their appearance in
the panel paintings of Robert Campin and the van Eycks.

explicitness in the sixteenth-century painting of the HWell of

What remains of the W/4ell is a hexagonal structure on the

sides of which appear the beautifully sculptured figures of

of Calvary is channeled to the faithful is made explicit

through the presence of angels vested in amices, albs and
stoles who actually distribute the blood of Christ in mass

the prophets Moses, David, Jeremiah, Habbakuk, Isaiah

and Daniel. On slender Gothic pillars between the prophets
stand the figures of angels with spread wings functioning
somewhat as caryatid figures sustaining the hexagonal platform above. This platform once supported a Crucifixion
group: hence the Well originally was a symbolic representa-

Life or Mystical Winepress (Fig. 27), now preserved in the

Narodni Gallery in Prague. In this later work, the fact that
the mass is the means through which the redemptive grace

chalices which they have dipped from the mystical well filled
from the wine-press in which the body of Christ himself is
being pressed. It should be noted that the priest kneeling in
the foreground of this painting and offering the chalice is
vested, as he should be, in a chasuble. He is the celebrant of

tion of the Well of Life filled with the saving blood of Christ

the mass which continues in time the sacrifice which Christ

shed in his Sacrifice on the Cross, and channeled to the

is represented as offering on the Cross and in the wine-press

in the background.

faithful through the sacrifice of the mass. The last concept

would seem to be symbolized here by the presence of the

angels supporting the platform of the Crucifixion group; all

but two of which are garbed in the vestments of the subministers of the mass. Beginning from the left of the figure of

It would seem, then, that the long tradition in medieval

liturgical drama of presenting angels in the vestments of
subministers of the mass helped to establish a similar tradition in the visual arts of Flanders. The book illuminators,

Moses and reading counter-clockwise, they are wearing a

especially those associated with the Burgundian Court,

striped tunic without cincture; an amice, alb, stole, maniple

many of whom were from Flanders, were the first to adopt

(worn only at mass), and cope (Fig. 23); an amice, alb and

cincture (Fig. 26); the feathered wings in which the

the convention in painting. And the sculptor Claus Sluter

actually anticipated the panel painters' later symbolic use

seraphim were frequently represented at the end of the

of the vested angels in his Well of Moses. Although Byzantine

Middle Ages, and a non-liturgical cape; an amice, alb,

maniple and dalmatic (Fig. 25); and an alb and cope

iconography had developed the convention of angels vested

(Fig. 24). The four angels garbed in exactly correct vestments of the subministers of the mass may very well be

Liturgy, there is no evidence to prove that this tradition had

any direct influence on the development of the convention

employed here as symbols of the mass which is the means of

channeling to mankind the grace of redemption represented

Flemish art.35 The medieval ecclesiastical Latin drama seems

in the complete composition by the Crucifixion group and

by the Well itself. This is an especially persuasive notion

in the West.

as deacons and participating in the offering of the Divine

of the vested angels as a eucharistic symbol in western

to be the more likely source of the convention as it developed

St. Louis University

34 E. Mile, in L'Art religieux de lafin du Moyen-dge en France, 110-12, discusses the relationship of the Fountain of Life (Fontaine de Vie) and the
Mystical Wine Press (Pressoir Mystique) as symbolizing first the Passion
and death of Christ and finally the Eucharist. He points out that by the

early I6th century the Pressoir Mystique had definitely taken on a

eucharistic significance. He calls attention particularly to the eucharistic

significance in the Pressoir Mystique in the I6th-century windows of the

Abbey Church at Conches. I have suggested in the text that at Dijon

Claus Sluter had given the Well of Life a eucharistic symbolism
through the presence of the vested angels much earlier than the
i6th century. Male, L'Art religieux de la fin du Moyen-dge, 71, suggests
that the costumes of the prophets in the Well of Moses may be derived

from those they wore in the medieval mystery play called the Jugement de

Jesus. In this play Mary pleads with each of the prophets for a reprieve
for her Son; but each of them as a judge uses words from his own writings
to indicate that Christ must die. The words they use in the play are those
painted on the phylacteries of the prophets in the Well of Moses, convincing evidence of the influence of this medieval mystery play on its
composition. If the function, attitudes and costume of the prophets of
Sluter's Well of Moses came from the tradition of the medieval mystery
play, it is highly probable that the liturgical vestments of its angels came

35 Since seeing final proof of this article, I have had the opportunity of
reading Professor Lotte Brand Philip's excellent new study of the Ghent
Altarpiece (Princeton University Press, 1971), in which she convincingly

demonstrates the central importance of the Eucharistic theme in the

iconography of that work. Her chapter on "The Eternal Mass," as it
pervasively operates in the polyptych, shows that the Eternal Mass was
perfectly parallel to the Eternal Liturgy which was a constant in the
Byzantine iconographic tradition and in fact may owe something to that

tradition. In it, angels always appeared in the vestments of deacons

assisting Christ as Celebrant of the Eternal Liturgy. It is worth noting

that the angels both in the Musical Angel panels in the upper register in
which, as Professor Philip points out, Christ is functioning as the priest
of the Eternal Mass, and those around the Altar of the Lamb in the
lower register, in which he is represented as the sacrificial victim of the

same Eternal Mass, are all garbed in the vestments of deacons, sub-

ministers of the Mass, as they would have been in the Byzantine Eternal
Liturgy and as they should be here in this iconographic representation
of the Eternal Mass in which Christ himself is both celebrant and sacri-

ficial victim.

from the same tradition.

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