Simone Martini

‘The Annunciation’, section, by Simone Martini

Simone Martini ( c. 1284–1344) was a medieval Sienese artist. Check out the tartan style cloak on the angel! And Mary is interestingly defensive and worried looking on receiving the annunciation of the angel.
But I think my favourite thing about this sumptuous piece of blazing gold art is the detail…


Giotto’s frescos in the Arena Chapel: Joachim & Anne

Joachim and Anne were a barren couple, desperate for a child, when one day, as Joachim was out in the fields, Anne received a vision from an angel, an annunciation. She learned that she would at last conceive a child.

Little did Anne know that meanwhile her husband Joachim had received a vision too, learning that they would have a child and that she would be called Mary.

Giotto depicts the ecstatic husband and wife embracing with joy, having both received these great tidings. The embrace is touching and very tender, and the birth of the Virgin Mary herself approaches, making this a wonderful moment. But I cannot help my eye wandering to the woman who stands half-cloaked in the centre of festivities, staring out from the darkness of her robes. There is something disturbing about her presence.

The Magdalene in a Strasbourg Cathedral tympanum

Tympanum from Strasbourg Cathedral, Gothic style – closeup of Mary Magdalene

The expression on Magdalene’s face is breathtaking here. The way she clasps one of her own hands in another makes me feel as though she wishes to hold Christ’s hand in hers but knows she cannot; he is dead and all she can do is stare and hold back despair even as her heart sinks inside her and she falls to sit, the weight of grief too heavy to stand.

Now we are they who weep, and trembling keep
Vigil, with wrung heart in a sighing breast,
While slow time creeps, and slow the shadows creep.

– Christina Rossetti, from ‘A Song for All Maries’

Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral, Old Testament jamb figures including (from the left) Melchizedek, Abraham with Isaac, Moses, Samuel, and David c. 1205

I can’t stop gazing at this door jamb sculpture from the Gothic Chartres Cathedral. Abraham holds his son Isaac, ready to sacrifice him with the knife (half broken unfortunately) held high to cut Isaac’s throat. But Abraham is turning away from his son, craning his neck because, if you look closely enough, you’ll see there is an angel emerging from above him…He will not have to sacrifice his own son. And underneath their feet is the ram, who will replace the boy Isaac as sacrifice.

Notre-Dame de Paris


Notre Dame de Paris 2 by Albert Lebourg


Notre Dame de Paris by ~NeworldPhoto on deviantart

‘That most terrible church of the most glorious Virgin Mary, mother of God, deservedly shines out, like the sun among stars. And although some speakers, by their own free judgment, because [they are] able to see only a few things easily, may say that some other is more beautiful, I believe however, respectfully, that, if they attend more diligently to the whole and the parts, they will quickly retract this opinion.’
—Jean de Jandun, Tractatus de laudibus Parisius

Saint Lazare Cathedral

The Magi

The Romanesque Cathedral of Saint Lazare/Autun contains several unique and intriguing carvings, including the Magi sleeping – although notice the angel touches one of them, and his eyes have just popped open!

The nude figure of Eve is also fascinating. Notice how the vines and foliage of the garden have a distinctly serpentine quality to them.


Opus Anglicanum

Felbrigge Psalter, 13th century

Did you know that England was famous for its needlework in the Middle Ages? Known as Opus Anglicanum, English artistic embroidered products became popular throughout Europe during the Anglo-Saxon period but continued to be renowned up the 14th century.

Although much of the work was done by men (in the later period often in professional urban workshops), there were also associations with religious women and Opus Anglicanum. The example above is thought to be done by Anne de Felbrigge in the 13th century and appears on the binding of a Psalter.