The role and miraculous agency of images A844 Ex. 1.4 & 1.4.1
The required reading for this subsection is Robert Maniura, ‘Persuading the absent saint: image and performance in Marian devotion’ (2009a). First read pp. 629–32, which provides a primary source by Guizzelmi and the history of how the image of the Virgin in Santa Maria delle Carceri in Prato came to be miraculous.
Consider the following questions:
· What was the first miracle that the Virgin performed and what does this say about how Renaissance viewers may have approached these images?
The Virgin was seen by a boy to have ‘detached’ itself from the fresco on the disused prison wall and entered the prison to clean it (631f.). The implication we could assume is that images had the ability to summon or contained a real presence which could be release from its two-dimensions and enabled to achieve ritual ends. The cleaning of the prison is presumably about the consecration of the building (1684) in its path to becoming a holy church. The picture remained miraculous in that it exuded signs of the present body of Mary – bleeding, sweating, etc.
· What other sorts of miracles did the Virgin/image perform?
Out of 94 in the collection surveyed, 10 involved the collector, Guizzelmi, himself & another 2 involve family members. Earlier stories involve earlier custodians of the shrine. The role of ‘curation’ of the image then seems ritually tied to its ritual potential including embodiment, intercession and co-involvement in its own sacral ontology (633f.).
· How is the image of the Virgin connected to Guizzelmi’s nephew’s miraculous recovery from illness?
The serial relations of bodily contact (touch) that appear to perform ritual connections between prototypical images (and their sacred embodied original) and things used to substitute for and sometimes copy that image, whether as wax or leaded figures or prints, that had themselves to be touched to the prototype before their ritual power can be released in touching the target of intervention. The power is a power of resurrection in small or symbol (power over the moment of life and death). 629f.
· How does Guizzelmi thank the Virgin for this recovery?
He fulfils his ritual promise by using 10 pounds of new wax covered in silver to make an image of his nephew (once recovered) at the weight he was when intercession was requested. To fulfil the last part he ritually measure the nephew. The votive image was offered to Madonna (in swaddling clothes like Christ). The hint of ritual ‘sacrifice’ is heavy (a father gives his relative).
· What role do images play in this account? And how many images are actually being discussed?
Images are consecrated by themselves with the aid of votives. There is the fresco image of Mary, the lead simulacrum, and the votive wax effigy of the nephew-baby. Note intercession is asked for of the Great Crucifix ‘of the Pieve of Prato’ before the Madonna of the Carcari is approached. So let’s say 4. The account below says 3 since it omits the Great Crucifix. I’ll stick by 4 since I think the sequence ‘sacrificed son’ to mother offered substitute baby is important.
FROM DISCUSSION TO CHECK MY ANSWERS
The first miracle performed by the image of the Virgin involved her animation: she exited the painting and cleaned the prison. This signals an image culture that believed in the ability of pictures to not only perform miracles but also to become animated. The miracles that followed also continued the tradition of her ability to come alive, as she wept, sweated blood and opened her eyes, in addition to performing healing miracles.
Guizzelmi’s nephew was cured by having a lead figure of the Virgin (a copy of the painting) applied to his flesh. In thanksgiving for the cure, Guizzellmi promised to have a portrait of the child made in wax and covered in silver, and then placed it (swaddled in clothes) in the church in front of the image of the Virgin.
There are three images mentioned here: the original cult image of the Virgin, the lead Madonna of the Virgin touched to the cult fresco Mary and the votive wax portrait of the child, which was gifted to the cult fresco image – these will be further discussed in the next exercise.
In this exercise continue reading the rest of Robert Maniura, ‘Persuading the absent saint: image and performance in Marian devotion; you are only required to read pp. 629–42 (read until ‘... history of ideas’), and pp. 644–51 (start again at ‘The stories in Guizzelmi’s collections ...’ on p. 644).
· Pay attention to the multiple images of the Virgin of Santa Maria delle Carceri: consider their medium, their connection to the cult image and their efficacy in performing miracles.
The Virgin delle Carceri is a figure from a painted fresco, whilst the small amulet is am existent lead figure consecrated by being touched to the painted image. The votive image is of wax covered with silver (expensive). The link to the cult image is one of consecration by image to the lead figure on ritual touch. The votive image is given to the painted image as a ritual of devotion to the Madonna and gratitude for use of her benevolent power.
· Also keep in mind the public nature of these images.
They are public in that they are part of a means of publicly celebrating the power of the image – both recognising it before the public and demonstrating it by embellishing the display with votives known to come from their giver.
· How are they being viewed and circulated?
Not by written publicity since the book record is relatively private (634). Tokens that have received by touch the power of the icon are worn on the person, on clothing or as jewellery (635). They adorn the body but also dedicate the body to the image and memory of its prototype. Prints are another type (637) and illustrate the issue of need for similitude between consecrated thing and its protype. Note in both cases a physical object is required (638) that can receive touches and impress them. Relics like the Marian girdle could having received power by being worn on Mary’s real body, could transmit this power to their physical objects that touch the believer (640f). The image takes part in a dramatic performance (644) – ritual (645). The similitude is needed because it is a prop in a drama. What is being copied is the ritual of approach to the holy one not the object representing that holy one (648f.). The ritual was that which cemented community identity.
· What is the relationship between the cult image and its copies?
It is discussed 640ff. It is a mistake to see the relationship of one of identity. It is about the need for ritual substitution to distribute the power of the image (and ultimately its embodied prototype) across the community or public it serves. The issue is not about naïve belief in the agency of copies but willing suspension of disbelief, while still not believing, at the moment in which the copy plays its role in a ritual. We know the performance constituting the ritual is ‘unreal’ but know that it aspires to the real just as much as do we as we reach out to test it. Important section on p. 648: ‘inherent’ multiplicity of images because its role is to make multiplicity and division into oneness with an ideal – community (649) _> mimetic rituals.
Discussion from course
Maniura demonstrates that these multiple images – badges and prints – of the Virgin often performed miracles themselves, particularly for those who were too infirm to travel to the miraculous image itself. A particularly instructive example is the story of Mona Lisabetta (p. 637), whose cure is mediated by the woodcut print of the Virgin. Guizzelmi makes reference to these prints as being numerous and notes that he bought many in Florence, not in Prato; their production and circulation thus occurred beyond the original cult site (p. 638). These prints, even though they were reproduced in multiples, could perform miracles through ‘chains of touch’ (p. 639).
This raises issues around the relationship between copies and originals in this time period, and also alludes to the varied functions prints could serve, an issue we will come back to in 1.7. You may have also noted that the image dates from the fourteenth century and is by an unidentified artist – its fame is thus not linked to its author (the artist) but rather to its miracle-working powers.
Consider also the ways that images acted as surrogates, for instance, in the case of the wax image (standing in for the nephew), which was offered as a votive gift to the Virgin. Having understood the notion of publics, you might think about how the Madonna del Prato produced a specific form of public – the church as public space – which was not only a religious space, but one that was civic, social and cultural. In addition, the various copies that circulated of the image, from the lead replicas to the prints, allowed for a broader public. It connected, for instance, Mona Lisabetta, who could not physically go to see the Madonna but who had access to her through the copy.