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Gospel Illustrations

Compositions of place

for the contemplations of the SPIRITUAL EXERCISES of St. Ignatius Loyola

Introduction to the 153 remarkable woodcuts which have been reconstructed from Jerome Nadal's 16th century publication

"Adnotationes et Meditationes in Evangelia quae in sacrosancto Missae sacrificio toto anno leguntur; cum Evangeliorum concordantia historiae integritati sufficienti"(Antwerp, 1595)
Ten "Second Week" Illustrations
#3 Nativity

#15 Cana

#28 Widow of Naim

#29 Storm at sea

#35 Samaritan woman

#42 Feeding 5,000

#44 Walking on water

#53 Adulteress

#57 Man born blind

#78 Raising of Lararus

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hit any of the following five (purple) headings.


Table of contents
Part I (1 to 50) Week #2:Christ's infancy and early public life
Part II (51 to 100) Week #2:Christ's public life
Part III (101 to 153) Week #3 & # 4:Christ's Passion and Resurrection

It was Jerome Nadal's intention to furnish illustrations of the Gospel stories as an aid to those making the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius, so these illustrations are arranged chronologically according to the activities of Christ's life.


Jerome Nadal initiated two books of meditation, both with elaborate titles: "Evangelicae Historiae Imagines ex Ordine Evangeliorum quae toto anno in Missae sacrificio recitantur, in ordinem temporis vitae Christi digestae" (Antwerp, 1593) and "Adnotationes et Meditationes in Evangelia quae in sacrosancto Missae sacrificio toto anno leguntur; cum Evangeliorum concordantia historiae integritati sufficienti" (Antwerp, 1594).

The first, "Evangelicae historiae imagines . . ." (Images of Scriptural History) is referred to as one of the most remarkable Counterreformation publications of the late sixteenth century. It was printed in Antwerp by Martinus Nutius (successor to Christophe Plantin) in 1593. Shortly before he died Ignatius Loyola had urged Jerome Nadal, to furnish novices with an illustrated guide to meditation. The Antwerp publisher Christophe Plantin pledged his effort and capital. Unfortunately, neither Plantin nor Nadal survived to witness its completion. Eventually the 153 engravings by Bernardino Passeri, Marten de Vos, and Jerome and Anton Wierix, were published as a single volume. A year later a supplementary text volume, "Adnotationes et meditationes in Evangelia. . . " was added, but the most innovative aspect of each work involved these illustrations, the subjects and layouts of which Nadal is said to have programmed himself. John O'Malley comments on these books.

By 1573 Nadal was explicitly commending the writing of books "that can guide souls to goodness and devotion.'' At about that time he took his own advice by composing for publication Adnotationes et meditationes in Evangelia. . . . The magnificent series of 153 illustrations that accompanied the text in the first edition (Antwerp, 1594) is the earliest such series of the whole of the New Testament of any size or importance ever produced; the text identified persons, places, and things in the illustrations and then used them as materials for the meditations. (The First Jesuits by John W. O'Malley, S.J. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1993. pp 116, 164)
Samuel Y. Edgerton, Professor of Art History at Williams College, argues convincingly that it was perspective drawing which enhanced artistic as well as mechanical drawings. The Europeans had made rapid advances in perspective geometry that enabled three-dimensional shapes to be displayed in two-dimensions. Mechanical arts were greatly enhanced by perspective drawing which furnished intelligible diagrams for assembling the engines of the scientific revolution thereby encouraging practical inventions. Moreover for the first time, perspective drawing provided many illustrated scientific textbooks for the brilliant young minds who later became the founders of modern science. Perspective art also provided a wonderful opportunity for explaining Gospel stories by using that universal language of pictures enhanced by these new perspective conventions. Nadal wanted to use this new art to make the Gospel more vibrant and attractive. So the early Jesuits began an ambitious program to use perspective paintings to enhance worship space in churches and to print devotional books with realistic perspective pictures of Gospel stories in order to assist in the contemplations of their Spiritual Exercises. Edgerton comments on what made these books unique: their absolute dependence on images for inspiration.

Earlier tracts employed illustrations only as a kind of adjunct; readers were expected to concentrate on the words and refer to the pictures as supplementary guides. Nadal's pictures functioned just the other way around. They, rather than the explanatory text, had the responsibility of projecting the viewer's mind and emotions vicariously into the "composition of place," just as St. Ignatius urged as the necessary prelude to devotion in his Spiritual Exercises.

In the Nativity, plate 3 of the Evangelicae historiae imagines, we notice immediately that Nadal was inspired by contemporary scientific illustration. So impressed was he by the clarity of the diagrams recently published that he decided to adapt the standardized conventions. Just as water-pump designs could help the viewer reconstruct a full-scale working model, Nadal's pictures would recapitulate the life of Christ with scientific objectivity.

In order that his viewers might comprehend how the Nativity "worked," Nadal, like any competent sixteenth-century engineer, had his artist (Marten de Vos) label each depicted sequential moment in the picture with a block letter keyed to a caption below. At center right, A is Bethlehem, the holy place of Jesus's birth. We contemplate it as a distant cityscape, noticing the Roman tax collectors gathered in the forum at B. In the foreground at C the Nativity itself commands our attention. On the straw-covered floor of this cave lies the just-born Jesus, D, being adored by angels above at E, while the ass and ox stand mutely behind at F. G then reminds us to ponder the mystic light shed by the infant Savior. Furthermore, just as sixteenth-century engineers and architects often depicted separate but related features as details in scale around the main diagram, especially to demonstrate different spatial aspects of the same machine or building, Nadal had the artist emphasize important events temporally related to the Nativity. Thus he bade him draw in miniature to the right the stories of the angel appearing to the shepherds, H. I, and K, and the star directing the three magi at M. Patron and/or artist ingeniously thought to have these background details engraved in lighter lines, thus giving the illusion of intervening atmospheric perspective. Depth in space, as Renaissance artists could now illusionistically picture it, also provided a convenient symbol for indicating distance in time. In others of the engraved images, this convention was used to indicate typologically related but temporally separated Gospel stories, such as the Crucifixion behind the Annunciation or the Flight into Egypt as a detail to the rear of the Visitation. In the lower right-hand corner of the Nativity at L we note yet another common convention of current scientific illustration: the transparent or cutaway view, here applied to reveal how the angel of the Lord announced Jesus' incarnation to souls in limbo.

Nadal believed that because of Renaissance advances in science and printmaking technology, the sacred idea of his images would now appeal with greater realism and clarity to a larger audience than any religious art before, by means of the most universal of all languages, that of pictures, enhanced now by the easy-to-read conventions of the modern machine diagram. Nadal's book influenced the manner by which Christian missionaries went about converting the heathen. The Jesuit mission to China under the brilliant Father Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) carried along Nadal's images as a treasured field manual, an indispensable aid for proselytizing among the pagans. Ricci praised it thus: "This book is of even greater use than the Bible in the sense that while we are in the middle of talking [to potential converts] we can also place right in front of their eyes things that with words alone we would not be able to make clear." (The Heritage of Giotto's Geometry by Samuel Y Edgerton: Cornell Un. Press, Ithaca 1991. p 255-258)

This 1593 work is found in some Jesuit rare book collections throughout the world and is highly esteemed, partly because it was undertaken at the instigation of Ignatius Loyola who had urged Jerome Nadal to make available Gospel illustrations which would aid in the "Composition of Place" stressed in the Spiritual Exercises.

This ancient tome is part of the Jesuitana (Jesuit Collection) found in the John J. Burns Library of Boston College which was graciously made available to me by the Burns Library director Robert O'Neill.

This present reconstruction of the illustrations GOSPEL ILLUSTRATIONS is an electronic reproduction of the 153 woodcuts (together with the title page and frontispiece) of the second edition (1595) of Jerome Nadal's ADNOTATIONES ET MEDITATIONES IN EVANGELIA. Here they are arranged chronologically according to Christ's age, whereas in the original book they are arranged as they occur in the liturgical calendar, starting with the season of Advent.

Title page of Nadal's ADNOTATIONES

To move around quickly around Gospel Illustrations . . .
hit any of the following five headings.

Table of contents
Part I (1 to 50) Week #2:Christ's infancy and early pulbic life
Part II (51 to 100) Week #2:Christ's pulbic life
Part III (101 to 153) Week #3 & # 4:Christ's Passion and Resurrection

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