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Juan de Flandes (1465-1519). Museo Nacional del Prado – Madrid.

The theme of Pentecost is narrated in the Acts of the Apostles.

When Pentecost day came round, they had all met together, when suddenly there came from heaven a sound of a violent wind, which filled the entire house in which they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak different languages as the Spirit gave them power to express themselves G38 .

The Pentecost scene marks the beginning of the missions of conversion to Christianism of the lands around Palestine. The disciples were suddenly able to speak different languages, a fact that was further stressed as a major miracle in the Acts. Peter makes a long speech that gave the sign of the spreading of Jesus’s message.

Juan de Flandes worked in Palencia in Spain. Although immersed in the Spanish tradition, he may have been born in Flanders, as his name could indicate. He may have been born around 1465; he died in Palencia in 1519. He worked at the court of Spain from 1496 to 1504, that is in the period when the reconquista of whole Spain over the Islamists was finished.

Juan de Flandes made a panel of the Pentecost scene, which originated from the Saint Lazarus church of Palencia. The painting shows the Holy Virgin seated as a throning Madonna, in the habits of a nun. She wears the blue maphorion and a white headdress. This headdress is in the same style as the early Flemish painters like Rogier Van Der Weyden and the entire work of de Flandes is very much in this style. A dove, representing the Holy Spirit hovers above the throne of the Madonna and sends its rays over all the figures around, who are not just the apostles but a complete church congregation. All heads are turned upwards to the Holy Spirit. Some figures hold their hands in wonder, others in praying. The Virgin keeps her folded hands straight up, also in a gesture of prayer.

The message of Pentecost was addressed to all people of the earth, so several of the persons present in the scene wear turbans. The Spanish painters knew Islamists intimately, for many were of course still present in Spain in the fifteenth century. Most of these had converted to Christianity and become Moriscos. But they had retained some of their former culture; they continued to wear turbans and veiled their women. By their presence, Juan de Flandes seems to have given a gentle, soothing message of peace and tolerance. Remarkable in this painting also is the non-conformist element of a square column to the left of the frame. By this element one feels to be in a church, so the element adds to the solemnity of the event, but it diverts attention somewhat from the real centre image of the Virgin. The picture is of interest for the historical studies of the evolution of Spanish painting.

Pentecost ended the story of the life of Jesus Christ. Another story started from this point: the story of Christianity. For after Pentecost the disciples were sent out to all corners of the known earth. The early Christian community grew and recorded the extraordinary events of Jesus’s life. It will probably always remain a mystery how many of the stories that came to us in the Gospels were historical events and how many were created for the needs of the religious movement itself. We have seen works of artists who arduously believed the New Testament as being the life of a realisation of God. We have seen artists who may have believed less, but who anyhow lived intensely into the scenes that were commissioned to them. Art was Christian for these painters and each gave his vision of the events, be these visions very human or very idealised, showing reality or showing the idea behind the theme. We followed throughout this book these two visions.

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Copyright: René Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: January 2007
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