The Sacred Image and Florentine Religious Experience….

Sally will be our guide for this article, however, here are just a few queries to begin the discussion…
1. How was the Madonna employed by the Florentines and what does that tell us about their conception of the agency of sacred power? In other words, how did the image of the Virgin wield power?
2. To worship an image without virtu was idol worship. Discuss.
3. What do Our Lady of Impruneta and Tinkerbell have in common?
4. What is the paradigm shift that occurs between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance? Why does the focus shift to the patron of the holy?
5. Whether saint or hero, the image has a tremendous effect on the formation of consciousness. Is this still true? Does art deepen our communion with the world?


7 responses

  1. Here are my ideas about question 3:
    Tinkerbell gains her magic power when her audience professes their belief in her. Our Lady of Impruneta is probably not inherently magical. Instead, she gains her power because society believed that she was able to work miracles. Through this belief, Our Lady of Impruneta gained the power to inspire hope and increase morale, thus empowering society.

  2. Here are some of my thoughts inspired by question #1 and #4
    Madonna’s power during the Florentines times is mostly on rain control, the arousal of positive psychological effect and devotion. When it’s the time for rain pray or military predictions, the Florentines will carry the image of Our Lady out and transport it to Florence. It’s clear to me that the Florentines are aware that they were praying to the image, which indicates that unity of the image and sacred power itself. Also, the sensory attributes and psychic power that the image possessed also demonstrate the consistency between the image Our Lady and the power of the Virgin. I almost want to conclude that the image IS the Virgin until I read that the Florentines would destroy the image when the “image-worshiping” failed. If the image really is the sacred figure, then was the sacred figure itself being destroyed? Clearly, the Florentines are no longer abject and helpless figures as in the Middle Ages. Instead, they become fully aware of their ability to manipulate the image/sacred power to do as they wish. They became part of the “miracle”. When the image failed to provide what they have worshiped for, the Florentines got angry, not with the sacred figure or its power, but with the bad power-devotee relationship. To me, it seems like the image is an outlet of the power of the sacred figure that possesses the power (in our case, sensory, can actually see what’s happening) but also not the complete power resource.

  3. While reading this article, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the Vestal Virgins and Our Lady of Impruneta. Similar to Our Lady of Impruneta, the Vestal Virgins became a religious symbol for Romans representing the safety and good of the city. By worshiping the goddess Vesta (hearth) they were protecting Rome from invaders. As long as the Vestal Virgins remained virgins the walls of Rome were safe from “penetration”. However if a Virgin engaged in sexual activity, Rome was polluted and needed to be saved. Religious officials would then go about purifying the city and religious symbol by sacrificing the Vestal Virgin. I found the power behind Our Lady of Impruneta to be quite similar to the Vestal Virgins by literally boosting the morale of the city. By literally protecting Our Lady of Impruneta from defacement, Florentines’ were protecting Florence from chaos just as the Romans protected the Vestal Virgins for the “greater good of the city”. I also wanted to add something to Hannah’s statement about Tinkerbell and Our Lady of Impruneta. While their powers are strengthened through public belief, both figures can choose to be malevolent or benevolent. Similar to Our Lady of Impruneta, Tinkerbell is an opinionated figure who selectively determines who she loves or hates (Wendy). By selectively choosing who to aid and who not to, Our Lady of Impruneta enforces a moral code that Florentines’ can live by.

  4. Shan Shan and Jess both highlight the incredible agency with which the Florentines imbue their Madonna, as well as the reciprocal nature of the relationship between the image and its audience. When you ponder the seeming identification of the Virgin with her image, Shan Shan, you are very close to a major distinction between the medieval and Renaissance periods. The Middle Ages did identify its images with their prototypes—which is what led to Iconoclasm in the 8th century and subsequent periods of mistrust of images. What’s interesting to me is where the Renaissance drew the line on this—-which makes Jess’ comparison with the Vestal Virgins so interesting. The idea of keeping the city out of harm’s way—a way she was quite capable of engendering—is a very compelling suggestion. In this sense she makes an interesting enforcer of the moral code!

    • Dr. Sadler, thank you so much for clarifying the distinction between the medieval and Renaissance periods! It really helps me understand the transition now!

  5. Hannah literally took the words right out of my mouth. If we believe something to be true, then it becomes our own reality. If enough people share a belief (especially people in positions of power or respect) then it becomes the reality for an entire society. Then, when events occurred that supported their idea of her “magic” they were interpreted as miracles. And when events occurred that did not support this idea, they were dismissed as being caused by some force other than her. In that way, the legend of her “magic” and miracles were perpetuated.

  6. Responding to question 1, I read the article to argue that the Virgin held power because the supplicants were already associating her with the power of the person she represented. Despite the Renaissance people having graduated from believing she was indeed the Virgin Mary herself, they understood the distinction between image and the spirit of the image. It was not to the image itself they would pray, but rather the spirit of her in the image which was transferred to the image via ______________. I would say that power transference comes from a) belief, b) the power the community places in her — in this example the Madonna had a reputation which often preceded her arrival in cities in Italy, c) or the nature of the subject matter –> If the image is of a powerful figure, the image itself is powerful because of who is depicted, so if Mary is the mother of God herself and is widely respected by the population because of her centrality to the regional religion, an image of her is similarly revered because it deals in importance. I think that I am less qualified to analyze why Mary gets her special attention here because I find it difficult to shed the assumptions about religious behavior that Trexler warns against.

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