Friday, 24th December 2010
Most people would be familiar with at least one of Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks, exhibited in London and Paris.
In the paintings, the eponymous rocks are different – but there are other, more subtle differences that one may see when pictures of the two paintings are depicted side-by-side. The Louvre version, the Baptism is prophesied through the pool in the foreground.
On April 25, 1483, da Vinci had been contracted to deliver an altarpiece to decorate the chapel of the Immacolata at the church of San Francesco Grande, in Milan. Simultaneously, Evangelista De Predis, who died before the opus was finished, was to carry out the gilding, colouring and retouching with his brother Ambrogio doing the side panels. Giacomo del Maino’s commission was to carve the framework. The assembled, finished pieces would resemble a miniature temple.
The contract was explicitly worded.
Item, Our Lady is the centre: her mantle shall be of gold brocade and ultramarine blue. Item, her skirt shall be of gold brocade over crimson, in oil, varnished with a fine lacquer…Item, God the Father: his gown shall be of gold brocade and ultramarine blue. Item, the angels shall be gilded and their pleated skirts outlined in oil, in the Greek manner. Item, the mountains and rocks shall be worked in oil, in a colourful manner… [etc]
The deadline was short; on or before December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. He didn’t kill it, and this work became the source of two interminable lawsuits. Experts hold that the Louvre version to be entirely by Leonardo; the National Gallery version one could have been a collaborative work with the De Predis. The Louvre painting was probably gifted to King Louis XII of France by da Vinci, in gratitude for settling the law suit, and it was this that would have created the need for a second artwork. In both, da Vinci made changes to the brief. He had been ordered to put across the immaculate flawlessness of Mary; in his own way, he decided that this was to be done by painting her as a flat-chested young lady, surrounded by phallic rocks and womb images. Her skirt is reminiscent of a cornucopia.
These pictures depict the legend of how, when King Herod committed the Massacre of the Innocents, John the Baptist, who was still a baby, and his mother, Elizabeth, were saved by the Archangel Uriel, who flew them with him to the house of the Virgin Mary, after their flight to Egypt. The toddlers Jesus and his cousin John are depicted playing together under the loving, watchful eyes of the Madonna.
The Louvre version of the painting is set in autumn, and Uriel is androgynous. The work was first mentioned as being in the royal collection at Fontainebleau in 1625. The painting in London’s National Gallery brings the figures closer; it has a bluer tone, and Saint John has a cross of reeds. The hand of Uriel no longer points at; there are halos, which, together with the cross, were added later by an unknown artist.
In iconography, Uriel is usually portrayed carrying a papyrus scroll (or a book), which signifies wisdom. His symbol is an open hand holding a flame, the great gift to humanity.
Uriel has many titles in non-canonical and apocryphal lore. Some sources say he is a Seraph, but others say he is a Cherub. Some of his tittles are Angel of the Presence, Flame of God, Regent of the Sun, and Archangel of Salvation. Milton calls him the “sharpest sighted spirit of all in Heaven”. Occult, apocryphal, and cabbalistic writings have often failed to differentiate between Uriel and Nuriel, Uryan, Jeremiel, Vretil, Sariel, Suriel, Puruel, Phanuel, Jehoel, Jacob, Ezrail, Azrael and Israfil/Raphael.
Uriel is the dark angel who wrestled with Jacob at Peniel, and the Messenger who warned Noah of the imminent deluge. Further back in time, he was the one who stood at the gate of Eden with a fiery sword when Adam and Eve were booted out after sinning.
Uriel is multi-talented. He disclosed the mysteries of the esoteric secrets of heaven to Ezra; the prophet asks a series of questions, and Uriel answers them. He interpreted prophecies, and led Abraham out of Ur. He is the angel of music and poetry.
Gabriel, Raphael and Michael are still today celebrated on September 29. There was a time when Uriel was considered equal to them; however, in 745AD Pope Zachary decided to remove him from the list.
In the older books of the Hebrew Bible, angels have no names. RabbiSimeon Ben Lakish of Tiberias said that all the specific names for the angels were brought back by the Jews from Babylon.
Christians, albeit not Catholics often recite an age-old prayer to Uriel the Archangel when in need of special graces:
Oh holy St. Uriel, intercede for us that our hearts may burn with the fire of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Assist us in co-operating with the graces of our confirmation that the gifts of the Holy Spirit may bear much fruit in our souls. Obtain for us the grace to use the sword of truth to pare away all that is not in conformity to the most adorable Will of God in our lives, that we may fully participate in the army of the Church Militant. Amen.
Uriel is important in the Jewish religion, Anglican, and Protestant religions.