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a natural resin that has undergone quite a transformation of its own …
from the sap of a tree formed from the incestuous mother of Adonis,
throug one of the three presents given by the eastern monarchs who appeared from nowhere to welcome the nativity of Jesus Christ,
to the the embalming fluid held by one of Jesus Christ’s closest friends
Myrrh
in Western painting
Myrrh is mentioned in the New Testament as one of the three gifts (with gold and frankincense) that the magi "from the East"
presented to the Christ Child (Matthew 2:11).
But an apocryphal tradition indicates that the Magi king Balthazar brought myrrh as an offering, a sign of future suffering,
while Melchior offered gold (symbol of royalty) and Gaspard frankincense (symbol of divinity).
The Magi are shown in front of Mary and Jesus …
the first to pay homage kneels to present a golden ewer and basin,
the second king holds his Gothic ciborium of frankincense,
and
the third bears a spherical ciborium decorated with a phoenix,
containing myrrh
Hieronymus Bosch, Jérôme Bosch
The Adoration of the Magi
L'Adoration des mages
1470-1480
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
A precarious hut,
a monumental Mary,
the child Christ sitting on his lap
Melchior
kneeling with his gift: a sculpture of gold with the Sacrifice of Isaac, a forecast of Jesus' Passion;
below the object are several toads, symbols of heresy
Caspar
offers the Child incense on a golden plate;
the upper part of its cloak is decorated with one of the biblical themes: the Queen of Sheba
presenting her gifts to Solomon
Balthazar
brings a spherical vessel whose reliefs depict the Offer of Water to King David, and which
contains myrrh; the phoenix gathering grain in its beak, evokes the Resurrection of Christ
Hieronymus Bosch, Jérôme Bosch
The Adoration of the Magi, centre panel
L’Épiphanie ou L'Adoration des Mages, panneau central
1495
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Gerard David’s more conventional Adoration of the Magi …
The Three Kings – Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar – present
gifts to the Christ Child in the ruins of a grand building
overgrown with ivy and other weeds.
The Virgin Mary sits on the edge of the manger, while
her husband Saint Joseph comes down a staircase.
A crowd of curious onlookers, some wearing turbans,
peers through the arch.
Beyond, everyday life goes on in the suburbs of Bethlehem,
the walls of which rise in the background.
Gerard David
The Adoration of the Magi
L'Adoration des Mages
1515
National Gallery, London
Balthazar,
stands to the right in a long white robe, pointed red boots, and with a makeshift
radiate crown tied around his head.
His gift of myrrh is contained in a gold vessel fashioned into a sailing ship
with a long gold chain, built around a spiraling green nautilus shell.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Pieter Bruegel l'Ancien
The Adoration of the Kings
L'Adoration des mages
1564
National Gallery, London
Peasants, animals, angels and richly dressed kings and courtiers,
come to worship the infant Christ.
The Virgin Mary sits with the Christ Child on her lap.
She holds a golden goblet containing gold coins, the lid of which lies
at her feet. This is the gift of the elderly king, Caspar, who kneels
before her.
The second king, Melchior, stands behind Caspar on the right,
and carries frankincense in an elaborate golden vessel.
Opposite him the third king approaches. His name runs around
the top of his hat: BALTAZAR. His gift of myrrh is contained
in a golden vessel decorated with naked babies.
(On a capital above Caspar’s head is a representation of the sacrifice
of Isaac, which prefigures the Crucifixion.)
Jan Gossaert
The Adoration of the Kings
L'Adoration des mages
1500-1515
National Gallery, London
The subject of Adoration of the Magi was one of the most popular
in all fifteenth-century art, especially for the opportunities it
presented for the display of rich costumes and accessories,
and of numerous subordinate figures with horses and other
animals in an extensive landscape.
Mantegna, however, restricts his composition to just six figures
the three magi and the three members of the Holy Family
Caspar presents a rare Chinese cup, made of delicate porcelain
and filled with gold coins.
Melchior, holds a Turkish censer for perfuming the air with
incense.
In a prophetic gesture foretelling Jesus’ suffering and death,
Balthasar offers an agate vessel containing myrrh.
Myrrh was used to soothe the suffering and anoint the dead.
Andrea Mantegna
Adoration of the Magi
L’Adoration des Mages
1495-1505
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
The other major involvement of myrrh in the writings of the New Testament is with a woman who has subsequently been identified
(not uncontroversially) as Mary Magdalene.
Mary Magdalene became associated with a container of myrrh in a great many paintings.
Christ is held by Mary, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus.
Mary by John the Evangelist.
The two crying women in the back hold the nails that were used
to nail Jesus to the cross.
The woman to the left is Mary Magdalene.
On the platter in the foreground are the mixture of myrrh and aloes
that is mentioned in John's description.
Hugo van der Goes
Vienna Diptych, the right panel: The Lamentation of Christ
Diptyque de Vienne, panneau de droite: Lamentation du Christ
1467-1468
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Christ’s dead body is being carried to the tomb in a carved-out rock.
Joseph of Arimathaea supports Christ, wrapped in linen,
Mary Magdalene and Nicodemus, who has brought myrrh
for anointing and preserving the body, at his feet.
The Virgin, John the Evangelist, in red, Mary, mother of James,
and Mary Salome, the midwife at Christ’s birth, are also present
Flemish School, Ecole flamande, after, après
The Entombment of Christ
La Mise au tombeau
Date Unknown
Snowshill Manor and Garden, Gloucestershire
After the removal from the cross, Jesus was placed
on the shroud – a burial cloth and smeared his body
with precious incenses from a mixture of myrrh and aloe.
The Virgin Mary in this scene holds the hand of Christ.
There are myrrh-bearers, the Myrrhbearers.
One of them holds in his right hand a vase with myrrh
to anoint the body.
Hans Holbein the Elder, Hans Holbein l'Ancien
Grey Passion, Entombment of Christ
La passion grise, La Mise au tombeau
1494-1500
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Stuttgart
Mary Magdalene
carrying the bottle of nard, which she used to anoint the feet of Christ
at Simon's house and then at the sepulcher.
Piero della Francesca
Mary Magdalene
Marie Madeleine
1460
Arezzo Cathedral, Arezzo
According to Church (but not biblical) tradition, Mary Magdalene
was a sinful woman, who upon meeting Christ repented her former ways.
She was present at the Crucifixion and later went to anoint Christ's dead body.
(in accordance with Jewish burial ritual)
…
Mary as Myrrhbearer.
She is here transferring myrrh from a maiolica pharmacy jar to a smaller vessel,
as if preparing to take it to embalm the body of Christ.
Andrea Solari
Saint Mary Magdalene
Sainte Marie Madeleine
1524
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
The story of Myrrha and the birth of Adonis.
After an incestuous relationship with her father Cinyras, Myrrha gave birth to Adonis and was transformed into the myrrh tree
(Ovid, Metamorphoses X, 298-502)
Although an apparently difficult story to present to pious Christians, it was also quite a popular subject for paintings between
1500-1700.
This classical fresco from the Golden House of Nero in Rome
one version of the story of the birth of Adonis,
A woman, perhaps Lucina, goddess of childbirth,
presents the goddess of love, Aphrodite (Roman Venus)
with the beautiful infant Adonis.
Aphrodite holds the myrrh tree from which Adonis was born.
Aphrodite turned Adonis's mother Myrrha into a tree
to save her own father, King Cinyras.
Artist not known, artiste inconnu
The Birth of Adonis
La naissance d'Adonis
AD 55-65
Fresco from the Domus aurea, Rome
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Titian
The Birth of Adonis
La naissance d'Adonis
1505-1510
Musei Civici di Padova, Padua
The story is that of an incest between Myrrha, in love with her father Cinyras …
mountains, trees, rustic houses and a small stream
a rabbit and two roe deer are depicted, symbols of marriage fertility
and
the birth of Adonis, in the center, the baby is delivered from the woody womb of Myrrha,
and
two iconographic readings:
on the one hand
on the left the pair of lovers King Cinyras and her daughter,
on the right the figure of Venus, who will fall in love with Adonis, refers to his future,
on the other
who interprets the narration of the myth by inverting the traditional reading order,
the female character on the right would be identified with Myrrha desperate for her incestuous passion,
while the two young men in close courtship would represent Venus and Adonis.
Over a century later, this wonderful panel was painted, possibly after Luigi Garzi.
In The Birth of Adonis and Transformation of Myrrha,
reference to Myrrha’s dark past has been concealed, and she is here shown
as a chimera between woman and tree, with the infant Adonis just delivered
by a large team of midwives and maids.
The helper at the right wears a coronet with the crescent moon on it,
signifying the goddess Diana.
On the left side of the tree, one of the other helpers is holding up a tray
with a small container of myrrh, with which to anoint Adonis.
In the foreground, a wingless putto is laying out a napkin for the infant.
Luigi Garzi, after, après
The Birth of Adonis and Transformation of Myrrha
La naissance d'Adonis et la métamorphose de Mirra
1660
The Wellcome Library, London
In an Arcadian landscape where the distances invite to travel ...
Barely brought into the world by Myrrha, her mother transformed
into a tree, "the most beautiful of infants ... so beautiful that it could
even please the eyes of Envy" (Ovid, Metamorphoses) is greeted
by an assembly of naiads, fauns and cupids.
Diana who here becomes Diane Lucina or Lucine (divinity who presides
over the deliverance of mothers and the birth of children),
carries it delicately.
Adonis is being given to Venus, who stars in his later life,
and is already admiring his beauty.
Marcantonio Franceschini
The Birth of Adonis
La naissance d'Adonis
1685-1690
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
Diana is handing Adonis over to Venus, who is preparing to take the role of wet-nurse.
Pan and a satyr are providing some celebratory music,
the napkin-bearing putto is here a winged Cupid,
and
the two girls are still looking in amazement at the anatomical mysteries of the tree
(is it possible that they are feeling less favored?)
Marcantonio Franceschini
The Birth of Adonis
La naissance d’Adonis
1692-1709
Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Vienna
Myrrh in Western painting
La myrrhe dans la peinture occidentale
images and text credit www.
Music The Piano Guys What Child Is This (Piano & Electric Cello)
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The Transformation and Uses of Myrrh

  • 1.
  • 2.
  • 3. a natural resin that has undergone quite a transformation of its own … from the sap of a tree formed from the incestuous mother of Adonis, throug one of the three presents given by the eastern monarchs who appeared from nowhere to welcome the nativity of Jesus Christ, to the the embalming fluid held by one of Jesus Christ’s closest friends
  • 5.
  • 6. Myrrh is mentioned in the New Testament as one of the three gifts (with gold and frankincense) that the magi "from the East" presented to the Christ Child (Matthew 2:11). But an apocryphal tradition indicates that the Magi king Balthazar brought myrrh as an offering, a sign of future suffering, while Melchior offered gold (symbol of royalty) and Gaspard frankincense (symbol of divinity).
  • 7. The Magi are shown in front of Mary and Jesus … the first to pay homage kneels to present a golden ewer and basin, the second king holds his Gothic ciborium of frankincense, and the third bears a spherical ciborium decorated with a phoenix, containing myrrh Hieronymus Bosch, Jérôme Bosch The Adoration of the Magi L'Adoration des mages 1470-1480 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • 8.
  • 9.
  • 10. A precarious hut, a monumental Mary, the child Christ sitting on his lap Melchior kneeling with his gift: a sculpture of gold with the Sacrifice of Isaac, a forecast of Jesus' Passion; below the object are several toads, symbols of heresy Caspar offers the Child incense on a golden plate; the upper part of its cloak is decorated with one of the biblical themes: the Queen of Sheba presenting her gifts to Solomon Balthazar brings a spherical vessel whose reliefs depict the Offer of Water to King David, and which contains myrrh; the phoenix gathering grain in its beak, evokes the Resurrection of Christ Hieronymus Bosch, Jérôme Bosch The Adoration of the Magi, centre panel L’Épiphanie ou L'Adoration des Mages, panneau central 1495 Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
  • 11.
  • 12.
  • 13.
  • 14.
  • 15. Gerard David’s more conventional Adoration of the Magi … The Three Kings – Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar – present gifts to the Christ Child in the ruins of a grand building overgrown with ivy and other weeds. The Virgin Mary sits on the edge of the manger, while her husband Saint Joseph comes down a staircase. A crowd of curious onlookers, some wearing turbans, peers through the arch. Beyond, everyday life goes on in the suburbs of Bethlehem, the walls of which rise in the background. Gerard David The Adoration of the Magi L'Adoration des Mages 1515 National Gallery, London
  • 16.
  • 17.
  • 18. Balthazar, stands to the right in a long white robe, pointed red boots, and with a makeshift radiate crown tied around his head. His gift of myrrh is contained in a gold vessel fashioned into a sailing ship with a long gold chain, built around a spiraling green nautilus shell. Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Pieter Bruegel l'Ancien The Adoration of the Kings L'Adoration des mages 1564 National Gallery, London
  • 19.
  • 20.
  • 21. Peasants, animals, angels and richly dressed kings and courtiers, come to worship the infant Christ. The Virgin Mary sits with the Christ Child on her lap. She holds a golden goblet containing gold coins, the lid of which lies at her feet. This is the gift of the elderly king, Caspar, who kneels before her. The second king, Melchior, stands behind Caspar on the right, and carries frankincense in an elaborate golden vessel. Opposite him the third king approaches. His name runs around the top of his hat: BALTAZAR. His gift of myrrh is contained in a golden vessel decorated with naked babies. (On a capital above Caspar’s head is a representation of the sacrifice of Isaac, which prefigures the Crucifixion.) Jan Gossaert The Adoration of the Kings L'Adoration des mages 1500-1515 National Gallery, London
  • 22.
  • 23.
  • 24.
  • 25.
  • 26. The subject of Adoration of the Magi was one of the most popular in all fifteenth-century art, especially for the opportunities it presented for the display of rich costumes and accessories, and of numerous subordinate figures with horses and other animals in an extensive landscape. Mantegna, however, restricts his composition to just six figures the three magi and the three members of the Holy Family Caspar presents a rare Chinese cup, made of delicate porcelain and filled with gold coins. Melchior, holds a Turkish censer for perfuming the air with incense. In a prophetic gesture foretelling Jesus’ suffering and death, Balthasar offers an agate vessel containing myrrh. Myrrh was used to soothe the suffering and anoint the dead. Andrea Mantegna Adoration of the Magi L’Adoration des Mages 1495-1505 J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
  • 27.
  • 28.
  • 29.
  • 30. The other major involvement of myrrh in the writings of the New Testament is with a woman who has subsequently been identified (not uncontroversially) as Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene became associated with a container of myrrh in a great many paintings.
  • 31. Christ is held by Mary, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus. Mary by John the Evangelist. The two crying women in the back hold the nails that were used to nail Jesus to the cross. The woman to the left is Mary Magdalene. On the platter in the foreground are the mixture of myrrh and aloes that is mentioned in John's description. Hugo van der Goes Vienna Diptych, the right panel: The Lamentation of Christ Diptyque de Vienne, panneau de droite: Lamentation du Christ 1467-1468 Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
  • 32.
  • 33.
  • 34.
  • 35. Christ’s dead body is being carried to the tomb in a carved-out rock. Joseph of Arimathaea supports Christ, wrapped in linen, Mary Magdalene and Nicodemus, who has brought myrrh for anointing and preserving the body, at his feet. The Virgin, John the Evangelist, in red, Mary, mother of James, and Mary Salome, the midwife at Christ’s birth, are also present Flemish School, Ecole flamande, after, après The Entombment of Christ La Mise au tombeau Date Unknown Snowshill Manor and Garden, Gloucestershire
  • 36.
  • 37.
  • 38. After the removal from the cross, Jesus was placed on the shroud – a burial cloth and smeared his body with precious incenses from a mixture of myrrh and aloe. The Virgin Mary in this scene holds the hand of Christ. There are myrrh-bearers, the Myrrhbearers. One of them holds in his right hand a vase with myrrh to anoint the body. Hans Holbein the Elder, Hans Holbein l'Ancien Grey Passion, Entombment of Christ La passion grise, La Mise au tombeau 1494-1500 Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Stuttgart
  • 39.
  • 40.
  • 41. Mary Magdalene carrying the bottle of nard, which she used to anoint the feet of Christ at Simon's house and then at the sepulcher. Piero della Francesca Mary Magdalene Marie Madeleine 1460 Arezzo Cathedral, Arezzo
  • 42.
  • 43.
  • 44. According to Church (but not biblical) tradition, Mary Magdalene was a sinful woman, who upon meeting Christ repented her former ways. She was present at the Crucifixion and later went to anoint Christ's dead body. (in accordance with Jewish burial ritual) … Mary as Myrrhbearer. She is here transferring myrrh from a maiolica pharmacy jar to a smaller vessel, as if preparing to take it to embalm the body of Christ. Andrea Solari Saint Mary Magdalene Sainte Marie Madeleine 1524 Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
  • 45.
  • 46.
  • 47. The story of Myrrha and the birth of Adonis. After an incestuous relationship with her father Cinyras, Myrrha gave birth to Adonis and was transformed into the myrrh tree (Ovid, Metamorphoses X, 298-502) Although an apparently difficult story to present to pious Christians, it was also quite a popular subject for paintings between 1500-1700.
  • 48. This classical fresco from the Golden House of Nero in Rome one version of the story of the birth of Adonis, A woman, perhaps Lucina, goddess of childbirth, presents the goddess of love, Aphrodite (Roman Venus) with the beautiful infant Adonis. Aphrodite holds the myrrh tree from which Adonis was born. Aphrodite turned Adonis's mother Myrrha into a tree to save her own father, King Cinyras. Artist not known, artiste inconnu The Birth of Adonis La naissance d'Adonis AD 55-65 Fresco from the Domus aurea, Rome Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
  • 49.
  • 50.
  • 51. Titian The Birth of Adonis La naissance d'Adonis 1505-1510 Musei Civici di Padova, Padua The story is that of an incest between Myrrha, in love with her father Cinyras … mountains, trees, rustic houses and a small stream a rabbit and two roe deer are depicted, symbols of marriage fertility and the birth of Adonis, in the center, the baby is delivered from the woody womb of Myrrha, and two iconographic readings: on the one hand on the left the pair of lovers King Cinyras and her daughter, on the right the figure of Venus, who will fall in love with Adonis, refers to his future, on the other who interprets the narration of the myth by inverting the traditional reading order, the female character on the right would be identified with Myrrha desperate for her incestuous passion, while the two young men in close courtship would represent Venus and Adonis.
  • 52.
  • 53.
  • 54. Over a century later, this wonderful panel was painted, possibly after Luigi Garzi. In The Birth of Adonis and Transformation of Myrrha, reference to Myrrha’s dark past has been concealed, and she is here shown as a chimera between woman and tree, with the infant Adonis just delivered by a large team of midwives and maids. The helper at the right wears a coronet with the crescent moon on it, signifying the goddess Diana. On the left side of the tree, one of the other helpers is holding up a tray with a small container of myrrh, with which to anoint Adonis. In the foreground, a wingless putto is laying out a napkin for the infant. Luigi Garzi, after, après The Birth of Adonis and Transformation of Myrrha La naissance d'Adonis et la métamorphose de Mirra 1660 The Wellcome Library, London
  • 55.
  • 56.
  • 57. In an Arcadian landscape where the distances invite to travel ... Barely brought into the world by Myrrha, her mother transformed into a tree, "the most beautiful of infants ... so beautiful that it could even please the eyes of Envy" (Ovid, Metamorphoses) is greeted by an assembly of naiads, fauns and cupids. Diana who here becomes Diane Lucina or Lucine (divinity who presides over the deliverance of mothers and the birth of children), carries it delicately. Adonis is being given to Venus, who stars in his later life, and is already admiring his beauty. Marcantonio Franceschini The Birth of Adonis La naissance d'Adonis 1685-1690 Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
  • 58.
  • 59.
  • 60. Diana is handing Adonis over to Venus, who is preparing to take the role of wet-nurse. Pan and a satyr are providing some celebratory music, the napkin-bearing putto is here a winged Cupid, and the two girls are still looking in amazement at the anatomical mysteries of the tree (is it possible that they are feeling less favored?) Marcantonio Franceschini The Birth of Adonis La naissance d’Adonis 1692-1709 Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Vienna
  • 61.
  • 62.
  • 63.
  • 64.
  • 65. Myrrh in Western painting La myrrhe dans la peinture occidentale images and text credit www. Music The Piano Guys What Child Is This (Piano & Electric Cello) created olga_oes thanks for watching o.esqsegues@gmail.com