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Legends of the Madonna - The Girlhood of the Virgin

( Originally Published 1895 )



Some other scenes of her early life, which in the Protevangelion are placed after her marriage with Joseph, in pictures usually precede it. Thus, she is chosen by lot to spin the fine purple for the temple, to weave and embroider it. Didron mentions a fine antique tapestry at Rheims, in which Mary is seated at her embroidery, while two unicorns crouching on each side look up in her face.

I remember a fine drawing, in which the Virgin is seated at a large tapestry frame. Behind her are two maidens, one of whom is reading; the other, holding a distaff, lays her hand on the shoulder of the Virgin, as if about to speak. The scene represents the interior of the temple with rich architecture. (Vienna, collection of Archduke Charles.)

In a small but very pretty picture by Guido, the Virgin, as a young girl, sits embroidering a yellow robe. She is attended by four angels, one of whom draws aside a curtain. (Lord Ellesmere's Gallery.)

It is also related, that among the companions of Mary in the temple was Anna the prophetess ; and that this aged and holy woman, knowing by inspiration of the Holy Spirit the peculiar grace vouchsafed to Mary, and her high destiny, beheld her with equal love and veneration ; and, notwithstanding the disparity of age, they became true and dear friends.

In an old illumination the Virgin is seated spinning, with an angel by her side.

It is recorded that the angels daily ministered to her and fed her with celestial food. Hence in some early specimens of Art an angel brings her a loaf of bread and a pitcher of water — the bread of life and the water of life from Paradise. In this subject, as we find it carved on the stalls of the cathedral of Amiens, Mary holds a book, and several books are ranged on a shelf in the background ; there is, besides, a clock, such as was in use in the fifteenth century, to indicate the studious and regular life led by Mary in the temple.

St. Evode, patriarch of Antioch, and St. Germanus assert, as an indubitable tradition of the Greek Church, that Mary had the privilege — never granted to one of her sex before or since — of entering the Holy of Holies, and praying before the ark of the covenant. Hence, in some of the scenes from her early life, the ark is placed in the background. We must also bear in mind that the ark was one of the received types of her who bore the Logos within her bosom.

In her fourteenth year Mary was informed by the high priest that it was proper that she should be married ; but she modestly replied that her parents had dedicated her to the service of the Lord, and that, therefore, she could not comply. But the high priest, who had received a revelation from an angel concerning the destiny of Mary, informed her thereof, and she with all humility submitted herself to the divine will. The scene between Mary and the high priest has been painted by Luini, and it is the only example with which I am acquainted.

Pictures of the Virgin in her girlhood, reading intently the Book of Wisdom, while angels watch over her, are often of great beauty. [An example is the fresco by Pinturicchio in S. Maria del Popolo, Rome.

The girlhood of the Virgin is the subject of a remarkable picture by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It represents the Virgin and her mother sitting at an embroidery frame in a vine-covered balcony. St. Joseph is trimming the vine, and a child angel waters a lily standing near. The picture was the first outcome of the artist's pre-Raphaelite views, and prepared the way for his still more beautiful interpretation of the Virgin's girlhood, the " Ecce Ancilla Domini." Several modern German artists have painted the child Mary as a single figure, the best perhaps being Ittenbach's Maria Virgo, in the Museum at Hanover. The face is of an exquisite flower-like beauty, and there is much spirituality in the conception.

Others, imitated apparently from the figure by Ittenbach, are by Sinkel and by Franz Müller.



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