Sunday, December 14, 2014

Simon Marmion - The Visions of the Knight Tondal, 1470

The Beast Acheron"In this miniature, Tondal's wandering soul observes the punishments meted out in Hell to the greedy. The illuminator has envisioned the entrance to Hell as the mouth of the beast Acheron, whose name derives from Greek mythology, referring to the river in Hades or Hell. This creature rolls its horrid eyes, its mouth gaping threateningly wide; two devils impaled on its sharp teeth hold its mouth open. Inside, souls endure brutal torment in a fiery furnace. Flames from this hot pit, represented with wispy brushstrokes of blue, red, orange, yellow, and green, lap about the edges of the beast's upper lip. The artist, Simon Marmion, represented Tondal's soul as a naked and vulnerable figure. In the Middle Ages, souls were commonly represented as nude human figures, expressing the idea that the trappings of the material world are shed in death. Except for the angel's blue robe, which is brightened with gold flecks and lines, Marmion saturated this scene with the dark, vivid colors he reserved for Hell."

The Torment of Unchaste Monks and Nuns"The angel points out to Tondal's soul the beast that tortures unchaste priests and nuns. After the beast devours the souls, he excretes them, dropping them onto a frozen pond. Once on the ice, the souls regain their bodily forms but now both women and men are made pregnant. As multiple creatures grow inside them, they eat the sinners' entrails. The sinners eventually give birth to hideous serpents, which emerge from all parts of their bodies. This torment is reserved not only for nuns and priests but for all men and women who are guilty of the sin of lust. As punishment for his lustful life, Tondal's soul goes through one cycle of this torment before the angel rescues him and they continue their journey."

The Gates of Hell and Lucifer"The angel takes Tondal's soul to the gate of Hell. Amidst a crowd of demons, the great Lucifer squeezes writhing souls in his ten thousand hands as if they were in a winepress. He then tosses the crushed souls into the flames around him. Tondal's soul recognizes many of his friends and family members suffering in this infernal region."

The Torment of Unbelievers and Heretics"The angel leads Tondal's soul to a narrow pass at the foot of a mountain where demons torment unbelievers and heretics. The fiends first cast the sinners into great stinking fires of sulphur on one side of the pass. On the other side, the fiends haul the sinners out with red-hot hooks and drag them into abysses of cold, jagged ice. As the narrator describes the torture, 'From bad to worse, the souls were treated without hope of ever leaving.'"

The House of Phristinus"Traveling through darkness, the angel and the soul of Tondal arrive at an oven-shaped building as tall as a mountain. As fire spews forth from an opening in this structure, devils skewer all who come within reach, dismembering them and casting them into the fire. Again the soul of Tondal is told that if he does not change his ways, he will suffer for his sins. He hears the crying and moaning of innumerable souls who are racked by insatiable hunger and whose genitals are rotten with worms. As in the rest of the story, the punishment meted out to the gluttons and fornicators in this portion of hell is cleverly tailored to the individual sins. The artist used color to distinguish the calm radiance of the angel, in a blue gown with gold highlights, from the demon executioners, who are barely distinguishable from their dark and fiery world."

The Torment of Thieves: Tondal Leads a Cow Across a Nail-studded Bridge"In the part of hell reserved for thieves, Tondal must lead a cow over a narrow bridge in penance for once having stolen a cow from a friend. At the midpoint of the bridge, which is only as wide as his hand and studded with sharp iron nails, Tondal encounters another sinner carrying sheaves of wheat. Miraculously, Tondal and the man pass each other and make it across, completing their penance without falling into the pit of demons below."

The Forge of Vulcan"In the Valley of Fire, demons seize Tondal's soul and throw it into a blazing forge. Here demons cook sinners' souls and then pound them into a fiery mass with anvils. As before, the angel rescues Tondal's soul after much torment and asks him if the "delights and pleasures of the flesh" he enjoyed on earth were worth the punishment delivered in hell. Tondal, however, is so weak he cannot utter a word."

The Torment of the Proud - Valley of Burning Sulphur"The angel leads Tondal's soul across a narrow bridge, "in width barely one foot" and "much more than a thousand feet in length." Tondal's soul hears the piteous moans of souls of "the proud, the ungrateful, and the presumptuous" from below as they tumble into the deep valley."

The Torment of Murderers"The angel first shows Tondal's soul the torment reserved for murderers. Those who have killed people are repeatedly burned, roasted, then liquefied and strained into a cauldron of burning coals. The illuminator here depicted the murderers falling into the pot of boiling liquid."

Tondal's Soul Enters Hell, Accompanied by his Guardian Angel"After Tondal fell unconscious to the floor, he refused to leave his body for fear of the terrible demons waiting to take his soul. According to the text, a beautiful angel descended to offer comfort. The angel promised to take Tondal's soul on a journey, beginning with hell, and ordered him to remember all he will learn. In the miniature, the demons hover over the heads of Tondal's worried friends in the interval before his angelic guide appears."

Demons Dragging Tondal into the Infernal Cistern"The angel takes Tondal's soul to the Cistern of Hell, where demons cook sinners' souls in a pit filled with a foul-smelling whirlwind of flame. To the despair of Tondal's soul, demons drag him into the pit and threaten to take him to their prince, Lucifer. Suddenly, however, the angel once again comes to Tondal's aid, driving the demons away and comforting him."

Simon Marmion - The Visions of the Knight Tondal, 1470 (The Gates of Hell and Lucifer) detail

"The Visions of the Knight Tondal tells the story of a wealthy and errant Irish knight, whose soul goes on a journey through Hell and Paradise with an angel for a guide. As a result of his experience, Tondal is spiritually transformed and vows to lead a more pious life. Before Dante's Divine Comedy , the story of Tondal was one of the most popular in a long tradition of visionary and moralizing literature. Originally written in Latin in the 1100s by Marcus, an Irish monk in Regensburg, the story was later translated into fifteen vernacular languages. " - quotes and imagery found at The J. Paul Getty Museum.


Marcel Ruijters said...

Excellent resolution on these!

Aeron said...

Yeah, you'll notice on the original files at the Getty the images are really dark. I brightened them up a great deal to bring out all of the color and weird details.