May 5, 2009


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Leaf from an Antiphonary:

Initial P with the Ascension

Flanders, 1325

Script: Gothic bookhand

Parchment with ink, paint, and gold

Notation: Square


This initial begins the first response of the first nocturn of Matins for Ascension week, “Post passionem suam per dies quadraginta apparens eis …” (After his Passion, during forty days he appeared to them). In this scene of the Ascension, only Christ’s feet are visible as his body “disappears” into heaven. One often finds the marginal spaces of medieval manuscripts filled with fanciful creatures or humorous scenes that often mocked or parodied everyday life. Here, a man holds a leash attached to three dogs dressed in elegant costume dancing to the music of a pipe and tabor.

The Disappearing Christ originated in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts around the 11th century and quickly spread to the Continent: previous depictions of the Ascension displayed Christ with his body entirely visible. The idea behind the Disappearing Christ is that Christ ascended into heaven without any help: in contrast, the Hebrew prophets Elijah and Enoch required assistance, as did the Virgin Mary (who was assumed by the power of God into heaven).

This leaf is from a Flemish antiphonary that belonged to John Ruskin (1819-1900).

Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E M 42:15