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Assumption Iconography East and West

Assumption Iconography East and West

The Iconography of the Assumption East and West

To learn about the Assumption iconography of the East, search for a reflection on the Andreas Ritzos' icon of the Dormition from a Greek Orthodox point of view.

In the West, as a rule, images of the Assumption are found in the late Middle Ages. Only a few representations exist from the early and high Middle Ages. One such piece from pre-Carolingian times is a depiction of the Assumption on a golden breast cross stemming from the end of the seventh century (located now in Schloss Goluchow). A second piece is found on a fragment of fabric (Sens Cathedral Treasure) from the eighth century. The images of this period show Mary standing in the midst of the apostles as she is called home to heaven.

The later Latin translation of Melito and the Transitus, which were at times included in liturgical books and in books on the liturgy of the hours, are decorated with images of the Assumption in bridal array. This imagery, strongly influenced also by linking Mary to the bride in the Song of Songs and Psalm 44, slowly develop from the representation of the richly dressed "bridal" Mary, who is assumed into heaven, to representations of Mary receiving a crown upon her arrival in heaven.

It was only in the eleventh century that images (from the Reichenau School, Germany) begin to be produced in which Christ is not present at Mary's side to take her to heaven. Instead, Christ is in a mandorla far above her and angels are carrying a decree or scroll to her announcing her pending home-going. By the middle of the twelfth century, Mary, the richly dressed bride, represents the features of the praying Church. It is much later, that Mary is presented alone or with angels who assist her or acclaim.

Assumption of the Virgin Mary

Important to Assumption iconography is whether Mary rises "by herself" or is "assumed." Mary "rising" rather than being lifted up, is thought to represent the fulfillment of Mary's longing which literally lifts her to the heart of God. Her whole being longs for union with Christ.

Here Titian has portrayed God the Father as the one who receives the Virgin as she is being lifted up on a cloud by the angels.


Images shown:
Assumption of the Virgin, Anonymous, In the Museum of San Juan de Dios, Granada
Assumption (detail), Titian

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