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Altarpiece of the Virgin (Miraflores Altarpiece)

Passion Story, Image 201

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Audio transcription

“Do not weep for me, mother, who has carried me in your womb without seed.” In Maximilian Steinberg’s song for four-part choir and tenor, the late Christ addresses his mother. He does so in a voice that sounds vital and young, thereby reminiscent of Jesus’s young age at the time of his death.

[Music.]

The special relationship between Mary and her son is also central to the design of the three-part altar piece created by Rogier van der Weyden for the Castilian Carthusian cloister Miraflores. Its imagery is rendered symbolic. The left wing shows the veneration of the newborn Christ child. Joseph sleeps. Only Mary worships her son who as God’s son is also her father: God enters the world through Jesus.

The central panel silhouetted against the landscape shows the lamentation of Christ. The rigid corpse has been taken down from the cross. Mary holds her son just as she held him as a newborn on her lap. The particularly close relationship between mother and son is expressed in this embrace. John and Nikodemus or Joseph of Arimathea console the grieving Mary.

The third scene, paralleled by a simultaneous scene in the background that stresses the symbolism of this representation, shows the parting of Christ from this world. Prior to his ascension he appears before Mary. This is no longer a physical meeting. Christ has already outgrown his humanness. But Mary finds consolation in her son’s resurrection. Maximilian Steinberg’s piece recreates this constellation: the tenor voice is at the moment of the resurrection’s announcement completely encompassed by the choir’s sound. Through his resurrection Christ prepares the path to heaven for all humankind.

[Music.]

Full Length Music

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Maximilian Steinberg (1883–1946)
„Ne lugeas me“
From: “Strastnaya sedmitsa“ (The Passion Week), op. 13
RIAS Kammerchor Berlin

Details

Altarpiece of the Virgin (Miraflores Altarpiece) (vor 1445),
Rogier van der Weyden,
Eichenholz,
74.3 × 45.0 cm

Christoph Schmidt

Detail, Joseph

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Audio transcription

From an interview with Stephan Kemperdick, curator of the Gemäldegalerie, spoken by Andrew Redmond, bass in the RIAS Kammerchor Berlin

To the left, this painting depicts Mary’s adoration of the newborn Christ. The Holy family, but Joseph, the adoptive father, sleeps. Why is he sleeping? He’s an old man who naps every now and then, but also because he’s not really involved. Mary prays to her son who’s at the same time her father. That’s the idea. Mary is clad completely in white, the traditional colour of purity. This is essential for the Christian belief. After conception and birth, Mary still is a virgin. From above, an angel hands her a crown. There’s a banner with Latin words, in every scene an angel with a crown and in the first scene Mary is told that she will receive this crown because she is the purest virgin. This is Jesus’s arrival in the world, delivered by Mary who venerates him as her own divine father.

Detail, Lamentation

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Audio transcription

From an interview with Stephan Kemperdick, curator of the Gemäldegalerie, spoken by Andrew Redmond, bass in the RIAS Kammerchor Berlin

In the middle by the cross, set as a silhouette agains the opening landscape, we see the lamentation. There’s the stiff body of Christ. He’s been so tensely strapped to the cross, his arms are still stretched, but he’s been taken down now and Mary holds him in her lap, just like she held him as a newborn child. The accompanying figures are John and probably Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea, and you can see how Mary presses her face into Jesus’s dead face, how she embraces his body. The painting depicts their intense relationship. It is a physical relationship in both cases. The angel’s banner announces her reception of the crown due to the pain she’s had to endure. Her love and her pain.

Detail, Jesus Speaks from the Grave

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Audio transcription

From an interview with Gregor Meyer, artistic assistant of the RIAS Kammerchor Berlin, spoken by Andrew Redmond, bass in the RIAS Kammerchor Berlin

In the piece by Steinberg, Jesus speaks if you will from his grave to his mother. And he does so in the same manner as we see it here in the painting. He addresses her, speaks about their past together. He says: “Don’t cry for me, mother who have borne me in your womb.“ And he adds: “Without semen“, so as to stress his divine origin. In the composition, it is a solo tenor, a pretty vital voice that might be associated with Jesus’s age when he died, probably in his early thirties. Yet then, approximately in the middle of this piece, this solo breaks off and transforms into a polyphony, when the theme of resurrection approaches (“Resurgam”), and the tenor is being consumed by the whole choir. The universe sings in all registers that the palette of singing offers. And this human has become God, that’s what the sound of this movement conveys.

[Music.]

Altarpiece of the Virgin (Miraflores Altarpiece)
Gemäldegalerie
Main floor, Room IV

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