The theme of the Wise and Foolish Virgins as part of the Last Judgement iconography in Flanders and Italy in the late 15th and the 16th centuries
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The parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins is told in Matthew's Gospel, Ch.25, v1-13, as an allegory of the Last Judgement. This thesis sets out to examine firstly, how closely the parable is related to the iconography of the Last Judgement in the art of the 15th and 16th centuries; secondly to demonstrate how its interpretation came to be broadened by association with other biblical themes, themselves part of the Last Judgement iconography. Part I traces the origins and development of the theme from early Christian times to the 15th century. In these early sources the artistic tradition of linking the parable to the Last Judgement was first established; the Wise and Foolish Virgins were also linked with Ecclesia and Synagogue and with the Virtues and Vices; and the typological tradition of biblical illustration broadened the theme further by pairing it with other biblical feasts. Appendix I is a handlist of the Wise and Foolish Virgins up till the late 15th century and it illustrates how popular the theme had become by the Middle Ages. Part II treats the parable in the late 15th and the 16th centuries. Chapter I looks at examples of Wise and Foolish Virgins in prints and drawings in the early years of the 16th century, and demonstrates how the virgins were treated individually, how the theme was secularised and tended to degenerate, sometimes into mere costume studies of contemporary, fashionably-dressed maidens; sometimes into rather sensual nudes. Chapter II shows the theme restored to its original biblical context by Netherlandish artists; while Chapter III examines how later Northern artists, greatly influenced by contemporary drama and philosophy, bestowed upon the theme certain wider interpretations and depicted it with strong moral and didactic overtones. Chapter IV examines the contributions of Hans Eworth, Marten de Vos, and Crispin de Passe the Elder to the theme, and shows how the ideas of both the Renaissance and Reformation influenced these artists in their portrayals of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. Chapter V treats the theme as it appeared in Italian art - notably in renderings by Parmigianino and Tintoretto. Chapter VI draws conclusions and sees the theme essentially as a mirror reflecting the social, philosophical and religious climate in 16th century Europe. Finally, a handlist of the Wise and Foolish Virgins in the late 15th and the 16th centuries concludes the study.
Thesis, MPhil Master of Philosophy
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