Marriage of the Virgin

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The Marriage of the Virgin by Giotto (Scrovegni Chapel)

The Marriage of the Virgin is the subject in Christian art depicting the marriage of the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph. The marriage is not mentioned in the canonical Gospels but is covered in several apocryphal sources, and later redactions, notably the 14th century compilation the Golden Legend. Unlike many other scenes in Life of the Virgin cycles (like the Nativity of Mary and Presentation of Mary), it is not a feast in the church calendar.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, essentially the same scene, with very similar iconography, is considered to represent the earlier scene of the "Entrusting of Mary to Joseph", with Joseph being made Mary's guardian by the temple authorities.

In art the subject could be covered in several different scenes, and the betrothal of Mary, with Joseph's blossoming rod, was often shown, despite its apocryphal origin. Wedding processions are also shown, especially in the Early Medieval period.

The Betrothal legend in the Golden Legend[edit]

Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel, The Rods Brought to the Temple
Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel, Wedding Procession of Mary

The Golden Legend, which derives its account from the much older Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, recounts how, when Mary was 14 (and living in the Temple), the high priest gathered together all the male descendents of David of marriageable age (including Saint Joseph, though he was much older than the rest) and ordered them to bring a rod. Whoever's rod blossomed into flower would become Mary's husband. After the Holy Spirit descended as a dove and caused Joseph's rod to blossom, he and Mary were married according to Jewish custom. (It is unclear whether this story was set before or after the Annunciation which, in the New Testament account, occurred after their betrothal but before their marriage.) The account, quoted in its entirety, runs thus:

In fact, neither the Golden Legend nor any of the early apocryphal accounts describe the actual ceremony, and they differ as to its timing, other than that it preceded the "Journey to Bethlehem". In the Gospel of James it comes after the Annunciation, but in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, the primary source in the West, it comes before it.

Artists[edit]

The scene, or scenes, was a common component in larger cycles of the Life of the Virgin and thus very frequently found, especially in the Middle Ages; it is not found in the typical cycle in a Book of hours however. The marriage scene has been painted by, among others, Giotto, Perugino, Raphael, Ventura Salimbeni (1613, his last painting), Domenico Ghirlandaio (1485-90, at the Tornabuoni Chapel), Bernardo Daddi (now in the Royal Collection), Pieter van Lint (1640, Antwerp Cathedral), Tiburzio Baldini, Alfonso Rivarola, Francesco Caccianiga, Niccolò Berrettoni, Giovanni Jacopo Caraglio, Filippo Bellini, Veronese (in San Polo church, Venice), Giulio Cesare Milani, Franciabigio (in the Santissima Annunziata, Florence), and Giacomo di Castro.

Sources[edit]