The Lion and the Wisdom—The Multiple Meanings of the Lion as One of the Keys for Deciphering Vittore Carpaccio’s Meditation on the Passion
1. Carpaccio’s Meditation on the Passion
2. Provenance and Literature Review
3. Symbolic Animals in Ancient and Medieval Literature
4. The Conception of Job as a Prophet
Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.50
What can be clearer than this prophecy? No one since the days of Christ speaks so openly concerning the resurrection as he did before Christ. He wishes his words to last for ever; and that they might never be obliterated by age, he would have them inscribed on a sheet of lead, and graven on the rock. He hopes for a resurrection; nay, rather he knew and saw that Christ, his Redeemer, was alive, and at the last day would rise again from the earth.53
5. The Lion in Carpaccio’s Meditation
Thus our Lord, falling asleep in death, physically, on the cross, was buried, yet his divine nature remained awake; as it says in the Song of Songs: ‘I sleep but my heart waketh’ (5:2); and in the Psalm: ‘Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep’ (121: 4).63
6. The Conception of Wisdom in the Book of Job
While they thought only of the things they could see, they were unable to perceive in the Lord the things they could not see; for whilst they contemn the flesh that was to be seen, they never reached to the unseen Majesty.67
7. The Throne, the Wisdom, and the Venetian Self-Image
Conflicts of Interest
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Vittore Carpaccio (Italian, ca. 1464–1525/6), Meditation on the Passion, ca. 1490–1510, oil and tempera on wood, 273/4 × 341/8 in. (70.5 × 86.7 cm), New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
On the Christian hermeneutical tradition of ascribing multiple meaning to Biblical figures and verses, see Smalley 1964.
For a short review of the multiple meanings of the figure of Job, see Moscovich 2015, pp. 134–35.
Hornik 2002. The other works of art featuring the figure of Job include Giovanni Bellini’s (Italian, 1435–1518) San Giobbe Altarpiece, Ca. 1445–1487, Oil on Wood, 15 ft. 5⅜ in. × 8 ft. 6 in. (471 × 258 cm), Venice, Galleria dell’Accademia. Giovanni Bellini’s The Sacred Allegory, ca. 1490–1510, oil and tempera on wood, 29 × 47 in. (78 × 119 cm), Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi. Vittore Carpaccio’s Dead Christ, 57 × 72¾ in. (145 × 185 cm), tempera on wood, ca. 1510–1520, Berlin, Staatliche Museum, Gemäldegalerie. To this list, addressed by Hornik, one should also add St. Job and St. Francis, a marble relief above the Church of San Giobbe by Pietro Lombardo (Italian, 1435–1515), and Marcello Fogolino’s (Italian, 1470/1488?–1548) Madonna and Child between Saints Job and Gothard), 79⅞ × 63 in. (203 × 160 cm), oil on wood, ca. 1508, Milan, Pinacoteca Brera.
It might be that one of them (Giovanni Bellini, Pietà, 1460–1465, canvas, 45¼ in. × 10 ft. 3/4 in. [115 × 317 cm], Venice, Doge Palace), a rare composition featuring Christ and two saints, was a precedent to Carpaccio’s Meditation.
Friedmann, ibid., p. 65; see also Rice 1985, pp. 75–76.
Saint Jerome, Letters, 22:3.
For details of Dead Christ, see endnote No. 3 above.
See below, in the Literature Review section.
Phillips 1911, p. 144; Borroughs 1911; The Metropolitan Museum of Art website, http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/110000284.
Saint Gregory the Great, Moralia in Iob, (http://www.lectionarycentral.com/GregoryMoraliaIndex.html); Hartt 1940, pp. 28, 29.
Job, 16:9–14; 10:16; Hornik 2002, p. 554.
Blass-Simmen, ibid., 87.
For the persistence of this literature during the Renaissance, see Cohen, ibid., passim, esp. Introduction; for the connection with Carpaccio’s oeuvre, see Cohen 53–134.
Several manuscripts written in Italian, most of them in the Tuscan dialect, were studied over a hundred years ago, see Kenneth McKenzie 1905, 380–433. However, one of these manuscripts, written in the Venetian dialect (probably od. C.R.M.248 [C, G, K], was found in the Museo Civico di Padova [Bibl. Comun.]. McKenzie does not provide enough information on this point. Yet, the provenance of the manuscript written in the Venetian dialect, is probably Venice, and perhaps was in Venice when Carpaccio’s Meditation was painted. Also see Cohen 2008, p. 6; Hassig 1995. A list of bestiaries can also be found on the online catalogue of bestiaries, http://www.bestiary.ca/articles/family/mf_other.htm.)
(Early Greek copies of the book did not survive, and the earliest texts known to us today are Latin translations from the eight-century A.D. The book was also translated into several Mediterranean languages. See Cohen 2008, p. 4. Baxter, xiii, 29; Aberdeen Bestiary; Hassig 1995, pp. xvi, 5; Sobol 1993, 160–62. The additional sources added during the ages to the text of the Physiologus in the Bestiaries are listed in Hassig 1995, pp. 5–8; see also Cohen 2008, p. 5.)
Baxter, ibid., p. 72.
Baxter, ibid., pp. 27, 72.
Baxter, ibid., p. 78.
Cohen 2008, p. 5; Baxter, ibid., pp. 192–93, 209, 212.
However, he also found texts written at a later date, and adapted for private reading, see Baxter, ibid., pp. 202–5.
Baxter, ibid., pp. 72, 82.
Baxter, ibid., esp. pp. 37–62.
Baxter, ibid., pp. 156–61, 179–81. Bestiaries that were not owned by monasteries, monks or clergy were very rare, see Baxter, ibid., p. 199.
St. Jerome, Contra Joannem Hierosolytitanum, in Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, pp. 439–40, http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/0347-0420,_Hieronymus,_Contra_Joannem_Hierosolytitanum_Ad_Pammachium_Liber_Unus_[Schaff],_EN.pdf.
St. Gregory the Great, Moralia, II: XX, xl, 77.
Job, 19: 23–24.
Isidore of Seville, 12:2:3–6, http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast78.htm; Levi D’Ancona, ibid., p. 149.
Guillaume le Clerc http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast78.htm.
Franciscus de Retza, Defensorum, https://archive.thulb.uni-jena.de/ufb/rsc/viewer/ufb_derivate_00002796/Xyl-00008_012r.tif; Also quoted in Levi D’Ancona 2001, p. 149.
Levi D’Ancona (ibid., p. 148) quotes Fillippo Picinelli, Mundus Symbolicus, which is a late source, from the seventeenth century, but it is quite possible that this interpretation existed at an earlier date.
Aberdeen Bestiary, Fol.7v, https://www.abdn.ac.uk/bestiary/ms24/f7v.
Job, 28:12; 28:20.
St. Gregory the Great, Moralia, Vol. II, Book XIV, xli, 49.
Voragine, vol. 6, pp. 83–94; for other versions and sources—see Heffernan 1975. However, since Voragine’s Golden Legend was translated into Italian by Nicolò Malerbi and published in Venice by Nicholas Jenson in 1475 (see Pignatti 1965), therefore it was, most probably, the source used by Carpaccio. Heffernan (p. 67) also mentions that St. Eustace first appears in the pseudo-Jerome Martyrology. It might worth further research, whether this text might have been known—and still attributed to Jerome—in Carpaccio’s milieu, which would form another connection with St. Jerome, and thus with the Mediation as well.
On the narrative parallels and linguistic similarities between the Life of St. Eustace and the Book of Job, see Heffernan, ibid, pp. 72–73.
The artworks commissioned specifically for San Giobbe are Lombardo’s relief and Bellini’s San Giobbe Altarpiece, both featuring St. Francis and Job. For an interpretation of the legend of St. Eustace as reflecting human compassion to all living creatures, due to its Buddhist sources, and for Buddhist influence on Franciscan reverence to all forms of life, see Wilson 2009, esp. pp. 179–83, 188–91, 192. See Heffernan 1975, for another opinion, rejecting the suggestion on the Buddhist source (p. 69), yet referring to the emphasis on the motif of compassion (p. 66).
Veneziano, The Virgin Blessing the Doge, a lunette on the tomb of the Doge Francesco Dandolo, Venice, Santa Maria Gloriose Dei Frari. A marble relief by Pietro Lombardo: Doge Leonardo Loredan in front of the Virgin, Venice, Doge Palace. A painting attributed to Vittore Carpaccio, The Virgin with SS. Christopher and John the Baptist and with the Doge Giovanni Mocenigo, 1478–1485, oil on canvas, 9 ft. 8¾ in. × 72½ in. (295.9 × 184.2 cm), London, The National Gallery. Giovanni Bellini, The Virgin blesses the Doge Agostino Barbarigo, 1488, oil on canvas, 8 ft. 30 in. × 87¾ in. (320 × 200 cm), Murano, San Pietro Martire. Jacopo Tintoretto (Italian, 1519–1594), The Madonna with the Doge Alvise Mocenigo and his Family, c. 1573, oil on canvas, 85 in. × 13 ft. 8⅜ in. (216 × 416.6 cm), Washington, National Gallery. Jacopo Tintoretto, The Virgin Blesses the Doge Pietro Loredan, oil on Canvas, Venice, Doge Palace. Jacopo Tintoretto, The Doge Nicolò da Ponte Invoking the Protection of the Virgin, 1584, oil on canvas, Venice, Doge Palace.
One can see examples of this iconography in the relief Venice, attributed to Filippo Calendario, from the west façade of the Doge Palace, Venice; in the statue Justice by Bartolomeo Buon, Porta della Carta, also in the Doge Palace, Venice; in Jacobello del Fiore’s Justice with the Angels Michael and Gabriel, 1421, oil, 133/4 × 353/8 in. (35 × 90 cm), Venice, Galleria del’Accademia; and in Justice by Bonifacio dei Pitati and his studio, Venice, Galleria dell’Accademia. Also see Goffen 1986a, p. 144; Goffen 1986b, p. 64; Rosand 2001, p. 99ff.
God gave King Solomon superior wisdom, Kings I, 3:13; for the Biblical description of the throne, see Kings I, 10:18–20.
See Hartt’s analysis, Hartt 1940, p. 31.
Genesis, 49: 9.
Amos, 9:11: “In that day will I raise vp the tabernacle of Dauid, that is fallen, and close vp the breaches thereof, and I will raise vp his ruines, and I will build it as in the dayes of old”
Explaining the verse “his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly” (Job 40:16), which describes the mythological creature Behemoth, St. Jerome translated the Hebrew word “מָתְנָיו” as “loins”, and explains, “Thus, the descendant of David, who, according to the promise is to sit upon his throne, is said to come from his loins” (St. Jerome 1893, Letter No. 22, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3001022.htm).
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Moscovich, A. The Lion and the Wisdom—The Multiple Meanings of the Lion as One of the Keys for Deciphering Vittore Carpaccio’s Meditation on the Passion. Religions 2019, 10, 344. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10050344
Moscovich A. The Lion and the Wisdom—The Multiple Meanings of the Lion as One of the Keys for Deciphering Vittore Carpaccio’s Meditation on the Passion. Religions. 2019; 10(5):344. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10050344Chicago/Turabian Style
Moscovich, Atara. 2019. "The Lion and the Wisdom—The Multiple Meanings of the Lion as One of the Keys for Deciphering Vittore Carpaccio’s Meditation on the Passion" Religions 10, no. 5: 344. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10050344