Antonio Vivarini e Giovanni D’Alemagna,
Incoronazione della Vergine, 1444
This painting can be found in the Chiesa di San Pantalon in Venice. It is rated PG-13
San Pantalon was an early Christian martyr whose invention and adoption of trousers was deemed heretical by the Sanhedrin. In early Christian art, all people, men and women wore dresses, except for infants, who were encouraged always to appear naked.
The coronation shows a stratified tableau of the throne room in one of heaven’s trendier neighborhoods at the time. The use of this particular throne room was discontinued shortly after this picture was taken because of overcrowding. Another of the archaic aspects of the design of this throne room is that the focus is not on the throned figure, but on the observer. Most of the figures appearing in the scene could not really see what is going on. Many who can are clearly uninterested, which may explain why the obstructed view seating didn’t cause a revolt. God, St. Peter, a young lady, and two unidentified popes are the only ones at all interested in looking out at the observer, so crowding heaven’s elite into the galleries like this was later thought to be a waste of time.
Uppermost, flying just below the golden dome are several squads of angels, all of whom are wearing team uniforms. They will have just participated in celebratory games before the show. The athletic angels and the poorly dressed saints have to wear blue ribbons to ensure they don’t try to get a better seat below.
Just below the unwashed saints is Apostle’s row. As the most senior ones in the gallery, they each get their own stall. They have all seen things like this before, and so each apostle has a book to keep from getting really bored. They can’t get too absorbed in their reading because the saints in the peanut gallery above sometimes throw things and some of the brightly colored robes of the apostles are devilishly hard to clean. You can’t see it, but they have an exit door behind the throne so they can get out easily without tripping over the ordinary saints.
Below the apostles are male noblemen who lived such exemplary lives that they were admitted to paradise’s First Class Lounge. One can see from the golden headgear that this level goes back a long way, but only the ones in from can see anything. Only the points of the miters and the top of a frisbee hat reveal the saints in the back rows of that level. One can suppose that there are a great many behind the throne that can’t see a thing at all, even the observer. One of the identifiable ones is San Lorenzo, at left, who carries a miniature golden barbecue rack.
The female saints occupy the row below the male saints. It can be supposed that because they might be expected to provide child care to the babies in the center, they are placed there so they can intervene if something goes wrong. Among the ladies in attendance, there are quite a few crowned heads, but most of them have a golden frisbee disk at the back of their head, making it much harder for the ladies behind them to see what’s going on. Only one of the ladies is looking out of the painting. I can’t tell who she is, but the golden cross topped staff in her hands identifies her as a martyr. Martyrs are often forced to carry around some sort of totem to identify them, but few do so here. I suspect the lady next to her with the dirty lamb must be Agnes. Next to Agnes is a woman with a golden plate with what look like sweetbreads. Possession of a plate with a body part usually identifies the saint according to which part of them was lopped off. Perhaps only a few of the saints are carrying their totems to this ceremony, perhaps they were excused from doing so because of overcrowding.
The really good seats are at the bottom.
At floor level there are the four evangelists, each with a pet, all with books, and Luke even has the painting he did of Mary.
Matthew usually gets to hang out with an adult man, but that guy, like the eagle, lion, and ox, have all been miniaturized so that everyone could fit. You can be sure that as soon as the ceremony is over they are going to grab their pets and leave. It looks like with all those people there, it must be uncomfortably warm for anyone who isn’t naked.
Four men share the lower level with the evangelists and their livestock. There is a cardinal with a dollhouse, a pope wearing an elaborate cope over filthy pajamas, and two bishops. The cardinal, John, and Matthew have their books open, but don’t appear to be really interested in what is in them. They are all open to blank gray pages. The cardinal has one hand on his dollhouse and the other on his book, which must be a bit awkward to manage. When it’s all over and the evangelists dash for the door, the cardinal is going to have to balance the doll house on top of the book before he can get up and go anywhere. If he’s smart, he will put his valet ticket on top of the doll house so he doesn’t have to fish it out of a pocket when picking up his car.
In the center of the painting there is a white stone structure supporting a throne. At the very top, the angel team that won the competition, now dressed in gold, has looped their blue “cheap seats” ribbon around the decorative element at the top. To either side of God’s head are members of his domestic staff, miniaturized servants who wear red and blue uniforms. Note that the blue angels occupy the side of the chair where blue robed Mary is sitting on God’s footstool, and the red angels on the side of the chair where red robed Jesus is likewise seated, reaching across God’s lap to put a crown on his mother.
What Jesus is doing is harder than it might look, as he has to do it without scratching the golden disk behind her head with one of the jewels on her crown. Add to that, the Holy Spirit is flapping its wings right below God’s chin. Both Jesus and Mary are turning their faces away so they don’t get poked in the eye with one of Holy Spirit’s wing feathers. Even so, they both have their eyes closed. Mary is holding her cloak closed with crossed hands as she leans over. This is because Mary ascended into heaven somewhat by surprise, and on the morning of August 15, she decided it was a good day to wash her brassiere. It was still on the drying line when she began to rise, and so entered into heaven without all of her underclothing. For this reason, the crossing of hands across the chest is a symbol of virginal modesty. It is still a good idea for women to do it if they are wearing a loose robe and no bra when they bend over. Mary appears here without her girdle. St. Thomas missed the assumption as he was away on a safari. Mary returned close to the planet’s surface to drop this item of intimate wear to him as a token of affection. Not Kidding.
God rests his hands on his son and Mary. In Catholicism, this represents the first time God physically touches Mary, the impregnation having been accomplished by the bird flying near her head. (In Mormonism, the impregnation of Mary was accomplished by God himself in the usual biological manner.)
The blue cloak worn my Mary is a new one. The garment she wore during the Annunciation had to be discarded because it was too badly stained to be of use after that incident.
[see Luke 1:35 (NIV) “The Holy Spirit will come on you”]
Below the four main Gods is the Babies Mezzanine. About a hundred infants, all obviously boys, each carrying a unique tool or emblem, appears naked. The foremost lad holds a ladder for three of the Gods above to descend from their platform. (The Holy Spirit does not need ladders.) It has been theorized that the other boys hold the distinctive torture implements ordinarily carried by the saints in attendance, so that they can reunite the saints with their totems at the conclusion of the ceremony. If I were the cardinal in front with the dollhouse, I would have wanted to have a baby of two hold it for me during the ceremony so I wouldn’t have to balance it on my knee the whole time. It could get heavy.
Since there are no young boys helping the cardinal out, it is fair to wonder if he made too liberal use of young boys prior to becoming a saint. If you follow the line of sight of the cardinal, he is staring at the bits of the kid in front with the ladder, who is not interested at all in the cardinal, and is pretending not to notice.