Susan Koslow

“The Curtain-Sack: A Newly Discovered Incarnation Motif in Rogier van der Weyden’s Columba Annunciation”*

Minor emendations have been made to the text published in  artibus et historiae, nr. 13, 1986, 9—34.

For Julius Held

The first course I took with Julius Held—Fifteenth--Century Flemish Art-- was at Barnard College, where I received my undergraduate degree in 1963. I vividly recall the excitement that rippled through the class as Professor Held entered the lecture room and began to teach. So many years have passed since that moment, but the experience is still amazingly vivid, the intellectual frisson still very much alive. Much of the lecture centered on Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding. It was revelatory, and my fellow students and I became immersed in solving conundra Julius posed about the painting. Held’s performance was dazzling. Though I was already inclined to major in the history of art, it was then that I took my vows. The one motif not addressed in the discussion was the sack suspended from the marriage bed. As years passed, this enigma remained dormant until a serendipitous event occurred. I was looking at books on the history of food and as I flipped through the illustrations I encountered a Diderot plate illustrating stages in the manufacture of cheese. Two large sacks immediately caught my attention. The “sleeping” sack suddenly awoke, sprang to life, and prompted the question: did a connection exist between the furnishing in van Eyck’s picture and the cheese sack? So began my quest My dedication to Julius Held is intended to honor the decisive role he played in my life.

When the paper was published in 1986, Erwin Panofsky’s concept of disguised symbolism had been challenged and found wanting. Already In my graduate studies I had come to the conclusion that motifs in fifteenth-century Flemish imagery were not “disguised,” but figures overtly recognizable to their audience. My curtain-sack study was never  intended to advance the notion of Panofsky’s hidden meanings: analogical yes, but not disguised. 



“Conspicuous” and “unaccounted for.” Both statements are true of the red sack suspended from the corner of the canopy of the bed in Rogier van der Weyden’s Columba Annunciation (Figs. 01, 02). (1) This object, though present in numerous Netherlandish Annunciations and scenes of birth and death, has been largely ignored by historians, with one exception, Martin and Lauer, who posited that it provided handy storage for midnight snacks. (2) Scholarly reticence apparently was engendered by historical silence. Neither documents nor literature preserved a record of its designation.(3) Hence it was bereft of an identity, a nameless thing whose existence was attested to only be the mere fact of its representation. Without a designation how could it be investigated? Yet history, if not preserving a certain record of its appelation, does bear at least one imprint of its actuality which has until now gone unnoticed in this connected. It is located in an English household manual of 1460 in the section that details the duties of the grooms of the bedchamber. (4) Here are to be found instructions on its making. The servant is directed to wrap a curtain around his left hand and then to take the bundle of cloth, “the knob,” and turn it upwards insuring that is closed fast. Although the anonymous author does speak of a knob, there is no way of knowing whether this term was commonplce the Netherlands. Thus, in the absence of such evidence, I have chosen a descriptive term,  the curtain-sack.

Rogier has clearly accorded it considerable compositional prominence. Situated on the axis between Mary and Gabriel, the curtain-sack is silhouetted against a pale-grey wall and framed by adjacent vertical and horizontals. Its importance is further underscored by its conjunction with traditional symbols associated with the Logos, rays of divinely generated light, and  the dove. Given the fact that the curtain-sack is not unique to van der Weyden, it is safe to conclude that this familiar furnishing of everyday life was imbued with crucial significance. As will be demonstrated, the curtain-sack symbolizes no less than the most fundamental of Christian beliefs, the Incarnation, by alluding to the embryogenic processes whereby the “Word became flesh.”

The most widespread iconography of the Incarnation was simply the depiction of the Annunciation, for it was then that Mary, “overshadowed” by the Holy Ghost, conceived the anointed Savior, Jesus Christ, in her womb. (5) With the advent of the Renaissance, as man became increasingly concerned with his own earthly existence, a concomitant interest in the Savior’s humanity arose as well. (6) Hans Baldung Grien’s startling print of the Holy Family (Fig. 03) is a pointed illustration of this concern, as Leo Steinberg has shown. (7) Anne handles Christ’s genitalia as a demonstration of the Savior’s human lineage and to prove that as man he was complete. Vulnerable as all newborns are, Christ required protection, nourishment, amusement (Figs. 04, 05, 06, 08). He even had to be taught to walk (Fig. 07) and when he misbehaved he was subject to parental admonition. During his Passion he suffered mental anguish and physical torment (Figs. 09, 10, 11 ). In death, his body bore the marks of the brutal treatment suffered at the hands of his executioners and manifested the degeneration of frail flesh (Fig. 12).

Considering this profound fascination with Christ’s human nature, it is not surprising that the most awesome aspect of the Incarnation, the unition of Logos and flesh, gnerated intense curiosity and that artists were enlisted to viusalize it. The problem seemed to defy solution, however, for conception could not actually be shown. Christ’s physical presence at the Annunciation had already been hazarded but the results were either too iconic and unnatural to be acceptable in the Renaissance, for example, as in the Byzantine type of the nimbed Infant enthroned on mary’s chest (exemplified by the Novorgord Annunciation   [ Fig. 13] ), or were open to heretical interpetation as when Christ was shown preformed as man, even before the Word entered Mary’s womb (Fig. 14). (8) Thus, the great conundrum confronting artists was to discover the means whereby the essential mystery of the Incarnation could be preserved, and at the same time, without violating decorum, demonstrate how this mystery took place. Only in the Netherlands was this riddle solved. There, two factors favored its solution, one supplied the “material cause,” to use an Aristotelian notion, the other, the “efficient cause,” whereby this “matter” could be endowed with portentous significance. In this case, the material to be worked on was a type of bed consisting of a canopy, known as a ciel (heaven, in French), tester, and curtains, which when pulled fully enclosed the bed. Known as a “hungbed,” it was regionally restricted to the drafy North where it had gained popularity shortly after 1400, and continued in use until replaced by the four-poster in the subsequent century. (9) As for the second factor, it was the practice of Flemish artists to imbue the phenomenal reality they depicted with spiritual meaning, using as a guiding principle visual analogy based either on word or shape. It was the latter, the analogy of form, that the inventor of the curtain-sack motif employed; apparently he recognized a resemblance between the pendant shape of a sack and the form of the womb as it was then depicted (Fig. 15 ). (10) However, it is unlikely that this visual match in itself would have sufficed to elevate the curtain-sack to the dignity of sacred symbol, for it did not respond to the issue of process to explain the mechanism of how “the Word was made flesh.” For this to occur a second parallel had to be perceived, namely that the sack’s shape corresponded to the abomasum, a ruminant’s fourth stomach. This association was critical, for it was the key to making intelligible Christ’s embryogeny. Insofar as Mary conceived through the agency of the Word, the Incarnation was unique, but Christ being a man like all others was formed by the same physiological processes that governed mankind.

In the fifteenth century, the prevailing embryogenic theory was basically Aristotelian, as it had been throughout the Middle Ages. Aristotle, in his treatise On the Generation of Animals, had posited that an embryo resulted from the union of male and female substances, the male being semen, the female, menstrual blood, the catamenia; the former supplied  “the Form,” the latter, its “Matter,” the material to be shaped. Existing within the catamenia was a mechanism that once activated--this could occur only on contact with “the Form”-- organized the sequential stages of foetal development. (12) Of all the stages, the initial one was the most mysterious, as it could not be observed. To explain it Aristotle employed an analogy, the curdling of milk in cheese manufacture. (13) In Book I of the treatise On the Generation of Animals, he wrote that “the male provides the ‘form’ and the principle of the movement,’ the female provides the body, in other words the material. Compare the coagulation of milk. Here the milk is the body, and the fig-juice or rennet contains the principle which causes it to set. The semen of the male acts in the same way as it gets divided up into portion within the female.” (14)

And again in Book II, he reiterates the analogy: “When the material secreted by the female in the uterus has been fixed by the semen of the male (this acts in the same way as rennet acts upon milk, for rennet is a kind of milk containing vital heat, which brings into one mass and fixes the similar material, and the relation of the semen to the catamenia being of the same nature), when, I say, the more solid part comes together, the liquid is separated off from it, and as the earthy parts solidify membranes form all round it.” (15) The prevalence of Aristotle’s analogy is attested to by its citation in the writings of classical authors. In the only passage Pliny devoted to the processes of human conception in the Natural History, he wrote (as rendered in the late sixteenth-century translation of Philomen Holland): “For in very deed it  (“women’s monthly sickness”) is the material substance of generation: and the man’s seed serveth in steed of runnet to gather it round into a curd: which afterwards in processe of time quickeneth and groweth to the form of a bodie.” (16) Writing in the second century, Aulus Gellius gives an account of conception that likewise follows the Aristotelian model: “when the life-giving seed has been introduced into the female womb, in the first seven days it is compacted and coagulated and rendered fit to take shape.” (17) Galen, too, writes of semen as a coagualting agent, “the active principle of the animal, the material principle being the menstrual blood.” (18)

Awareness of the Greek philosopher’s analogy was not limited to  Graeco-Roman scientists. Needham has noted its influence in Indian, Arabic, and Jewish authors who introduced it into their scientific and religious writings. (19) In the Book of Job (10:10), for instance, the protagonist asks: “hast thou not poured me out as milk and curdled me like cheese?” Later, the church fathers were to draw from this heritage as well. Tertullian (Galen’s younger contemporary), in his Treatise on the Incarnation, a work that was to become a central text on Christ’s humanity, used Aristotelian embryogeny to attack the Marcionite heresy which denied the Incarnation of Christ. (20) On several occasions he writes of curdling in this connection. Replying to the charge that it would have been undiginified in the usual fashion, he pictures these conditions. “Beginning then with the nativity you so strongly object to . . . the nastiness of genital elements in the womb, the filthy curdling of moisture and, blood, and of the flesh to be for nine months nourished on the same mire.” (21) Later, he asserts that Christ was mankind’s protector despite or just because of his origins. “Christ, there is no doubt of it, did care for the sort of man who was curdled in incleanesses [sic] in the womb.” Aristotle’s analogy is recalled most fully in the passage explicating John I; 12—13. Refuting Marcion’s interpretation, Tertullian declares that John’s statement, “Was born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of a man but of God,” does not deny that Christ “was born of the substance of flesh . . . because neither does the denial that he was born of blood involve any repudiation of the substance of flesh, but of the material of the seed, which material it is agreed is the heat of the  blood [which] is changed . . .  into a coagulator of the woman’s blood. For from the coagulator there is in cheese a function of that substance, namely milk, which by chemical action it causes to solidfy. We understand, then,  a denial that the Lord’s nativity was the result of coition (which is the meaning of ‘the will of a man and of the flesh’), but no denial that it was by a partaking of the womb.”

Like Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria applied the current theories of embryogeny to Christ’s nativity. He wrote “the devlopment of a fetus after it has been conceived comes about by contact with the pure blood left from the monthly purification; just as the beestings of the cow cause its milk to coagulate, so, by congealing the blood, the power contained in the fetus accomplishes the substance of that development.” (22)

Throughout the Middle Ages Aristotle’s analogy can be found in the writings of theologians and even mystics, witness Hidegard Of Bingen. (Fig. 17) (23) With the restoration of the Aristotelian corpus in the Scholastic era, the Greek philosopher’s views acquired the status of dogma. However, though the belief in coagulation was never doubted, the function of the menstrual fluid in Aristotle’s embryogeny was sometimes questioned, with some authors preferring the Galenic position. Albertus Magnus, for example, accepted the notion of female seed but he also compared menstrual blood to marble and semen to a sculptor wielding a chisel, thereby actually contradicting the Galenic view he also espoused.

Even as late as the sixteenth century, scientists still accepted the Aristotelian theory, as evidenced by the text and illustrations of human embryogeny in an obstetrical treatise entitled Conceptu et Generatione Hominis by the German physician Jakob Rueff (Figs. 18, 19). (24) These figures depict the coagulum’s presence throughout the successive stages of embryological development. It was William Harvey, the seventeenth-century English physician best known for his discovery of the circulation of the blood, who finally proved that curdling did not take place at conception. (25)

Although Aristotle’s theory likened foetal formation to cheesemaking, it did not parallel the womb to the paraphenalia and substances used in the manufacture of cheese. However, in the fifteenth century, this apparently did occur when artists awoke to the symbolic potential of the curtain-sack. Two articles used in cheese-making, the curd-sack or cloth for draining and storing cheese (Fig. 20 ) and the rennet producing abomasum (Fig. 21 ) probably struck the artistic imagination as being analogous in form and  function to the womb.

Essential for the fabrication of cheese is a curdling agent, the preferred substance rennet obtained from the abomasum, that is the fourth stomach of the ruminant. (26) According to a recipe of the early sixteenth century, soon after a young goat suckled and the milk ingested had entered the fourth stomach, thereby activating the production of the enzyme renin, the creature was slaughtered and the organ removed. Set into a bed of nettles until reddened—perhaps it was from this practice that a Dutch term for the abomasum, de rode (27) derived—it was opened, cleaned and then refilled with the coagulum that had originally formed within the pouch. These stomachs were “kept alive,” to use a phrase of the time, by periodic feeding with milk. When hung from the “neck,” the customary postion if used as a source of rennet throughout the year, its likeness to the curtain-sack is indeed apparent. Not only is the shape comparable, but its superficial features—folds oriented vertically and gathered at the juncture with the omasum (the third stomach) and color—are alike as well.

The second object resembling a curtain--sack, the curd--sack , (28) was used for the short term storage of curds, which like our cottage cheese or ricotta, were to be consumed shortly after manufacture. Being the food of peasants and the poor, it is rarely encountered in art and when it is shown, it is being prepared and eaten on the spot (Fig. 22). Only Diderot’s comprehensiveness accounts for this humble but ubiquitous article, the curd-sack, being documented.

To resume the points argued above, we may conclude that the curtain-sack’s form is  like a womb, an abomasum or a curd--sack, and by extension, receives their functions and attributes. Once recognized as possessing these likenesses, the curtain-sack could be exploited to convey the sacred meaning of the Incarnation.

Having established the identity and significance of the curtain-sack, the motif’s history prior to Rogier’s use of it in the Columba Altarpiece will be traced and examples given of works influenced by that painting. Variants of the sack will also be identified and finally its adaptation to contexts other than the Annunciation will be demonstrated.

It should be stressed that not all depictions of curtain-sacks were intended to signify the

Incarnation. Only when the context was appropriate might it have this meaning. Especially in the early years of the fifteenth century, before the Annunciation was typically situated in a bedchamber, curtain-sacks were often shown suspended from throne and bed canopies without bearing an incarnational significance. However, when curtain-sacks occur within scenes that have a sexual association, then they may relate to conception as, for example, in birth scenes such as those of John the Baptist (Fig. 23) (29) and the Virgin. The first examples of curtain—sacks signifying the Incarnation in Annunciations date from the second deccade of the fifteenth century. One occurs in a drawing (Fig. 25) by a Franco-Flemish artist that was pasted into a compilation of Dutch religious texts, (30)  the other, painted at about the same time, appears in an Annunciation produced in the Boucicaut Master’s workshop (Fig. 26). (31) It signifcance, however, is not as pointed as in the work by of the anonymous draughtsman. By the third decade of the century Jan van Eyck adopted it as a sign of the procreative imperative of matrimonial union and its sanctification through Christ in the so-called Arnolfini Wedding (Fig. 27a). Jan seems not to have designed an Annunciation with this motif; it was his “disciple” Petrus Christus who accomplished that in the Berlin panel, dated 1452 (Fig. 27b). In the provincial Roermund Altarpiece (ca. 1440), ascribed to a painter  active in Guelders, a curtain--sack is situated between the angel and the Annunciate. On at least two occasions prior to the Columba painting, Rogier used the motif, but it was not until the Cologne commission that he fully explored its implications. The Columba Altarpiece, having achieved the status of a “classic” in its own time, became a touchstone for later painters as can be seen by numerous works. Several examples will suffice to make the point: two anonymous Flemish followers of Rogier (Fig. 28, 29 ), and panels by Hans Memling (Fig. 30), the others by the German master Friedrich Herlin (Fig. 31).

Two of the most interesting variants of the motif appear in paintings by the Master of the Virgin among the Virgins. In the Aachen Annunciation (Fig. 32 ), the sack suspended above Mary’s head, independent of a canopy, is slit open to disclose the inner fabric crumpled in a manner that can only be construed as representing the coagulum of conception. The other painting (Figs. 33, 34 ) by the Dutch master confounds the iconography of the homunculus with the curtain-sack to insure that the meaning is not missed. Yet a third panel by this painter indicates his proclivity for the motif (Fig. 35). Other artists of Dutch origin, Dieric Bouts (Fig. 36 ) and the Master of the Brunswick Diptych (Fig. 37 ) employed it as well. Until the end of the first quarter of the sixteenth century the motif was frequently used. Three especially fine examples from this period are Gerard David’s Frankfurt Annunciation , Joos van Cleve’s Annunciation (Fig. 38 ) in New York and  the Magadalen Master’s Annunciation (Figs. 39, 40). Other painters who used the motif occasionally were Jan de Beer and Jan Provost.

As the popularity of the motif grew, its use expanded to new contexts. The illuminator Jean Mansel’s writings introduced it into a portrayal of conjugal union (Fig. 41 ). (32) A homunuculus in a prayerful attitude, has just flown beneath a curtain-sack and approaches his parents-to-be; they blissfully lie side by side as the Trinity informs them that “Man is made in our image.” In a miniature dating from the late fifteenth century, a French illuminator represented the Virgin baring her breast in suppplication to Christ who is enthroned as sovereign and the Man of Sorrows (Fig. 42). (33) A canopy overhangs the throne. Suspended between the two figures is a curtain—sack towards which Christ gestures as if reiterating his redemptive role apparent already from the wounds inflicted on his person.

Yet another context in which this iconography appeared was that of the deathbed where it signified the Word Incarnate and redemption and triumph over death, in accordance witih soteriological doctrine. Martin Schongauer’s engraving of the Death of the Virgin (Fig. 43) illustrates this usage, as does Hieronymus Bosch’s Death of the Miser (Fig. 44, 45). (34)  Bosch, however, has not pictured the certitude of salvation. Rather, he shows the terrible conflict endured by the dying man, who, poised on the brink of eternity, is tempted even now by a demon to choose that which has substantial material existence, the money bag, in lieu of the hidden substance of salvation figuratively suspended in the curtain-sack.

During the course of the sixteenth century, the curtain—sack disappeared from the repertoire of visual symbolic motifs as circumstances in art and culture that spured its invention, underwent change. The hung bed which had made this iconography possible was replaced in the course of the century by a new kind of furnishing, the four-poster. With that change, the curtain-sack became a sign of obsolescent fashion. Out moded, too, was the vogue for the type of analogical symbolism that had flourished so vigorously in the fifteenth century; now humanist-inspired symbolic systems dominated. Also, Italianate forms radically reformed the northern pictorial style. Most importantly, the death knell was sounded by scientists probing anew the secrets of the body. Their research brough about the rejection of the Aristotelian cheese analogy as well as Aristotle’s theory of conception, thereby finalizing the symbol’s demise.

* A version of this paper was delievered at the session of the Historians of Netherlandish Art (HNA) at the 73rd annual meeting of the College Art Association of America, Los Angeles, February 1985.

  1. For the most recent account of the triptych, see M. Davies, Rogier van der Weyden, New York, 1972, 227-8. [as of 1986]
  2. H. Martin and P. Lauer, Les Principaux manuscrits de la Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal à Paris, 1929, p. 55.
  3. Because the sack was a temporary arrangment and not a permanent fixture, inventories do not record its presence or literary texts on account of its mundane character.
  4. Transcribed in F. J. Furnivall, Early English Meals and Manners, London, 1868, pp. 191-2, from The Boke of Curtasye, London, British Museum, Sloane Ms. 1986. In lines 451—3, the Usher (groom) of the bedchamber is instructed to draw the bed curtains apart: “He strikes them up with a forked wand [stick] And lappes [rolls] up fast about the left hand the knob up turns and closes [fastens] on right [upright].”
  5. For Incarnation iconography, see Y. Hirn, The Sacred Shrine, London, 1912, pp. 272 ff.; E. Guldan, “Et verbum caro factum. Die Darstellung der Inkarnation Christi in Verkundigungsbild,” Römische quartalschrift für christliche altertumskunde und Kirchengeschichte, 63, 1968, pp. 145-69; G. Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art, trans. J. Seligman, Greenwich, Conn, 1971, I, pp. 4-52; Lexikon der christlichen  Ikonographie, Rome, 1972, p. 430f.; C. Purtle, The Marian Paintings of Jan van Eyck, Princeton, 1982, pp. 33, 121 ff. The Madonna del Parto should also be cited in this connection. See C. Feudale, “The Iconography of the Madonna del Pardo, “ Marysas, VII, 1957, pp. 8 ff.
  6. For the best account of the trend, see L. Steinberg’s “The Sexuality of Chirst in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion,” October, 25, 1983, passim (published as a book , same title, New York, Random House, 1984). See, too, G. B. Ladner, “Ad Imginem Dei,” The Image of Man in Medieval Art, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, 1965, passim.
  7. Steinberg, “Sexuality of Christ,” op. cit., p. 6 ff.
  8. See D. M. Robb, “The Iconography of the Annunciation in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, The Art Bulletin, 18, 1936, pp. 523—6, Robb pointed out (p. 526), as had Hirn before him (The Sacred Shrine, pp. 314—5), that this iconography elicited criticism from St. Antonius of Florence who roundly condemned it use, since he believed that it could be construed as advancing the thesis that Christ was not conceived in Mary’s womb and consequently that he did not have a human nature.
  9. The bed is so-named because its canopy was supported by cords attached to wall fixtures. The earliest refernces to hung beds date from the thirteenth century. See P. Eames, Furniture in England, France and the Netherlands from the Twelfth to the Fifteenth Century, London, 1977, pp. 75-87; Viollet-le-Duc, Dictionnaire raisonné du mobilier français, Paris, 1972, I, pp. 156—72; H. Havard, Dictionnaire de l’ameublement et de la décoration depuis le XIIIe siècle jusqu’ à nos jours, Paris, 1889, III, 405-99; L. Wright, Warm and Snug. The History of the Bed, London, 1962, passim. Italian artists seem to have shared the same concern as their northern brethren but the “matter” they had at hand, that is the bed style, could not fashioned into an effective symbol. This is evident in Jacopo di Paolo’s 1380 Annunciation. See Purtle, Marian Paintings, op. cit., fig. 20.
  10. The so-called Paneth Codex was written in Bologna in the early--fourteenth century for the Prague medical faculty. Many of its illustrations were executed in that city by a Bohemian painter late in the century. See L. Choulant, History and Bibliography of Anatomic Illustration, Science and the Graphic Arts, trans. and ed. M. Frank, Chicago, 1920, p. 83f.; Ms . Susan Alon of the Library of the Yale School of Medicine is currently preparing a monograph on this manuscript. In medieval religious art there were few occasions for the representation of the womb. These were recognition events—the Visitation and Joseph’s acknowledgement  of the miracle of Mary’s conception of Jesus. Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art, I, pp. 56-7. When depicted in these contexts an oval or circular form was drawn on the torso or abdomen. For the scientific tradition, see F. Weindler, Geschichte der gynäkologisch—anatomischen Abbildung, Dresden, 1908; C. Ferckel, “Diagramme der Sexualorgane in mittlealterlichen Handschriften,” Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin, 10, 1917, pp. 255-63; H. Speert, Iconographia Gyniatrica. A Pictorial History of Gyneacology and Obstetrics, Philadelphia, 1973, p. 8 ff., p. 153 ff. The standard images of the uterus in medieval scientific texts owe their origin to classical treatises on obstetrics, gynaecology and anatomy from the School of Alexandria. During the Middle Ages the most important illustrations were those that derived from On Gynaecology and Cathechism for Midwives by Soranus of Ephesus, a physician who was probably trained and paracticed in Alexandria and in Rome in the first century A.D. Although the original texts do not survive intact, a North African physician of the sixth century, Moschion (Mustio, Muscio), translated the second treatise into Latin and had the illustrations copied, as can be seen in the earliest surviving Moschion, a ninth-century manuscript in Brussels (Fig. 16). See K. Sudhoff, “Neue Uteruszeichnungen in einer bisher unbekannt Mus(t)io handschrift zu Vicenza,” Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin, 17, 1925, p. 6, fn. 1.
  11. The following account depends chiefly on J. Needham, A History of Embryology, 2nd ed. rev. by A. Hughes, New York, 1959. I have also consulted F. J. Cole, Early Theories of Sexual Generation, Oxford, 1930.; E Lesky, Die Zeichnungs—und Vererbungslehre der Antike und ihr Nachwirken (Abhandlungen der Geistes—und Sozialwissenschaftlichen Klasse, LXX, 1950), Wiesbaden, 1951; H. B. Adelmann, Marcello Malpighi and the Evolution of Embryology, Ithaca, New York, 1966, II, pp. 752 ff.
  12. According to Aristotle, menstrual fluid is a residue from blood which he denotes as “useful nourishment.” Because the male is hotter than the female, he purifies (concocts) blood into semen, a more compact residue. The woman’s body cannot carry out this stage of purification because her body is cooler due to an “inferior” heart. See Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals, trans. A. L. Peck, Cambrdige, Mass., 1979, lxvi—lxvii, pp. 71 ff., 89 ff. For theories of menstruation, see G. Müller-Hess, “Die Lehre von Menstruation vom Beginn der Neuzeil bis zu Begründung der Zellenlehre,” Abhandlungen zur Geschichte der Medezin und Naturwissenschaft, 27, 1938. 
  13. G. E. R. Lloyd, Polarity and Analogy. Two Types of Argumentaion in Early Greek Thought, Cambridge, 1966, p. 189, fn. 1, p. 369 f., for precedents in earlier Greek thought.
  14. Aristotle, Generation, op.cit., p. 109.
  15. Quoted from Needham, Embryology, op. cit., p. 50; cf Aristotle, Generation, op.cit., pp. 191—2.
  16. The Historie of the World Commonly called the Natural Historie of  C. Plinius Secundus, trans. Philemon Holland, London, 1601, I, p. 163 f. Cf. Pliny, Natural History, trans H. Rackham, Cambridge, Mass., 1969, II, p. 549.
  17. Aulus Gellius, The Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius, trans. J. G. Rolfe, Cambridge, Mass., 1979, I, p. 271.
  18. Galen, On the Natural Faculties, trans. A. J. Brock, Cambridge, Mass., 1979, pp. 131, 135. See Needham, Embryology, op. cit., p. 69 ff., esp. p. 73. Despite the apparent agreement between Galen and Aristotle in this treatise, a decidely different position was advanced in Galen’s On the usefulness of the parts, which is understood as his canonical view. He asserts that the catamenia’s role is simply nutritive and “is not the principal or suitable material for the generation of the animal.” Galen, On the Usefulness of the Parts of the Body, trans. M. T. May, Ithaca, New York, 1968, II, p. 623. For commentaries on Galen’s views, see p. 631 and Adelmann, Malphighi, II, p. 745.
  19. Needham, Embryology, op.cit., p. 25 f. , pp. 77-82. For example, in the Midrash (Leviticus) Parascha, XIV, xii, 2: “The uterus remains full of blood, which would else fow out as menstrual issue. When it is the will of the Creator, there comes a drop of white seed and falls therein and the growth of the child at once takes place exactly as it happens when one puts rennet into a bowl of milk.” Quoted from Not in God’s Image, eds. J. O’Faolain and L. Martines, London, 1973, II, p. 444. The text of Wisdom VII:2 should also be cited in this connection. “And in my mother’s womb was fashioned to be flesh in the time of ten months, being compacted in blood of the seed of man and the pleasure that came with seed.”
  20. For Tertullian and Marcion, see J. Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), Chicago, 1971, pp. 72—80.
  21. For this and the following quotes from Tertullian, see Tertullian, Treatise on the Incarnation, trans. E. Evans. London, 1956, pp. 13, 15, 65, respectively. In the sixteenth century, Calvin reiterated Tertullian’s arguments in a reply to Menno Simons, the founder of the Anabaptist sect. Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. J. T. McNeill, trans. F. L. Battles, Phaladelphia, 1960, pp. 479-80. For Menno’s views (he repeatedly invoked Job X: 10, and Wisdom VII: 2), see The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, trans. L. Verduin, ed. J. C. Wenger, Scottdale, Pennsylvania, 1966, pp. 767, 793, 805.
  22. Clement of Alexandria, Christ the Educator, trans. S. P. Wood, New York, 1954, p. 45.
  23. 23. For Hildegard of Bingen and Albertus Magnus, see Needham, Embryology, pp. 84, 86 ff. The fusion of Aristotelian and Galenic notions can be observed in the writings of sixteenth-century anatomists. See L. R. Lind, Studies in Pre-Vesalian Anatomy, Biography, Translations, Documents, Philadelphia, 1975, pp. 99, 279.
  24. I have used the seventeenth-century English translation The Expert Midwife or an Excellent and Most Necessary Treatise of the Generation and Birth of Man, London, 1637. Rueff’s text was first published in1554, in Zurich.
  25. Needham, Embryology, op.cit., pp. 145 ff.
  26. I have especially relied on V. Cheke, The Story of Cheese-Making in Britain, London, 1959, chapters 1—5. For the following account, see Cheke, op.cit., pp. 72—3. E. Huguet, Dictionnaire de la language Française du Seizième Siècle, Paris, VII, p. 282,  quotes the sixteenth-century zoologist Pierre Belon for a definition of caillette (abomasum); this indicates that the procedure Cheke cites was indeed widespread: “Leur pylorus, qu’on nomme une caillette en francois pour ce que les villageoises prennent la tourneure [rennet] en telles caillettes don’t elles font cailler leur laict.” This method was still in use in the second half of the eighteenth century. Diderot wrote: “on a de la presure ou lait caillé qu’on trouve et qu’on conserve salé dans l’estomac du veau, suspendu dans un lieu chaud au coin de la chiminée.” Enclyclopédie: Recueil de Planches sur les arts libéraux et les arts mechaniques avec leur explication, Paris, 1768, VI, p. 333. See, too, VII, pp. 333ff.
  27. The Swiss physician J. C. Peyer, in the first study of the stomach of ruminants (Merycologia, 1685), recorded that Martin Schoock observed that the Belgae referrd to the abomasum as de rode.
  28. 28. I have coined “curd-sack,” since I was unable to discover an appropriate English term. In German Quarksack refers to a sack in which dried curd is stored. For this mode of storage, see Cheke, op.cit., Cheese making, 11: Encyclopédie, VI, Addition à l’économie rustique. Fromage de gruières contenant deux planches, “La brocotte [cheese curd] qu’on ne peut pas consommer sur-le-champ, se met sur une serviette qu’on ne peut pas consommer su-le-champ, se met sur une serviette qu’on noue par les quatre coins et qu’on suspend ainsi.”
  29. M. Meiss, French Painting in the Time of Jean de Berry. The late XIV Century and the Patronage of the Duke, London, 1967, I, p. 242, dates the manuscript about 1407. St Elizabeth’s bed, as designed by the Luçon Master, seems to refer to concealed and revealed truth by means of the bed’s sacks, the closed sack signifying Jesus, who is yet to appear, the open one to the Baptist who has just been born. (Might it be for this reason  that Rogier gave such prominence to the curtain-sack in the panel The Naming of St John the Baptist in the Berlin St John Triptych?) The form visible within the open sack can be aptly compared to the spirals drawn within the uterus diagrams illustrating a thirteenth-century Moschion (Fig. 24). This text is appended to Gariopontus’ Passionarum, the title under which the manuscript is catalogued in Vicenza, Sudhoff, “Neue Uteruszeichnungen,” op.cit., p. 8f. Sudhoff suggested that the spirals were either uterine appendages viewed  from the side or uterine chambers. He did not entertain the idea that they may be depictions of the coagulum of conception.
  30. Robb, Iconography, op. cit., p. 503; E. Panofsky, Early Netherlandish Painting. It Origins and Character, Cambridge, Mass., 1953, p. 107. The bed alone indicates that the room is a bedchamber; no hint of architecture is even suggested. In effect this furnishing is the chamber. This recalls the very word used in French for the set of stuffs that constitute a bed’s dressing, that is,  la chambre. This chambre is to be identified with the mystical thalamos, the bridal chamber wherein Christ weds his spouse. See Purtle, Marian Paintings, op.cit., p. 30 ff. By showing Mary seated on the bed the artist indicates her regal status. During the period in which the drawing was executed, rulers had two beds, one for repose, situated in a room of modest dimensions, and a second one, the Bed of State (lit de parade, lit de justice, lit d’honneur) for public appearances. When receiving visitors the sovereign reclined or sat on the bed. Hence the artist shows Mary seated as she receives the amabassador of heaven. For the Bed of State, see Havard, Dictionnaire de l’ameublement, III, p. 435 ff.
  31.  M. Meiss, French Painting in the Time of Jean de Berry. The Boucicaut Master, London, 1968, p. 105 ff.
  32. Martin and Lauer, Les Principaux Manuscrits, op.cit., p.  203.
  33. M. Vloberg, La Vièrge et l’enfant dans l’art français, Paris, n.d.., n. 94
  34. See A. M. Morganstern, “The Pawns in Bosch’s Death and the Miser,” Studies in the History of Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. XII, 1982, pp. 32-9, for a convincing interpetation of this painting as the death of a usurer. Morganstern also argues that the picture was part of triptych that included the Ship of Fools. See “The Rest of Bosch’s Ship of Fools,” The Art Bulletin, LXVI, 1984, pp. 295--302


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