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Dona nobis pacem

Better late than never, they say. With Christmas over, and all visiting relatives out of the way, I've at last found time to finish my 2009 Christmas video:

This is the conclusion of the Agnus Dei from the Missa L'homme armé sexti toni of Josquin des Prez (c. 1450-1521), accompanying views of an Annunciation (c. 1489) and a Nativity triptych (c. 1470) by Josquin's near contemporary Hans Memling (c. 1430-1494).

Josquin des Prez was, imho, the greatest composer born before 1685. And these few minutes of music are, again imho, the most beautiful that he ever composed.

Hans Memling, on the other hand, has never been a great favorite of mine. And I've not yet been able to find a useful commentary on his triptych, so I can only guess about this - but I take it that the older gentleman in red who appears in all three panels is St. Joseph.

And he's not looking at all pleased - from which I conclude that Memling had quite the sense of humor!

Which makes me like him better ;^)

Comments (19)

Quite beautiful. Mind if I ask what software you used to put it together?

Christmas OVER? Christmas has just begun! You have, in fact, 38 more days of Christmas, and I hope you keep it well!

Steve, I haven't had time to listen to it yet but am looking forward to it. I want to see the "Joseph" who doesn't look pleased in the paintings, too. :-)

Jeff, are you including Epiphany in Christmas? I, too, think that Christmas has just begun, but I think of that in connection with twelve days of Christmas, ending on Jan. 6.

Loved it. If I had to guess, I would bet that the Joseph in the Memling is a portrait of someone at the time. This is pure conjecture on my part, but if it's correct and the real person was a rather sober fellow, that might explain Joseph's expression. The other old man in one of the panels is clearly supposed to be Simeon.

Our priest told us at mass this morning that Christmas ends February 2nd on the feast of the Presentation of Jesus.

Pam Smith is correct: traditionally, Christmas concludes on February 2, Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (aka Presentation of Jesus).

WL - I use Windows Movie-Maker, which is free, plus a very handy (and very inexpensive - about ten bucks) pan/zoom tool from Pixelan software which integrates quite neatly into WMM. If you'd like more details, e-mail me.

Lydia - somebody suggested to me that the guy in red might be Jan Crabbe, a patron of Memling's who appears in several of his paintings. So that's my current guess.

Heh. So I was right. It _is_ a portrait! Of course, it could be both his patron _and_ an intended portrait of Joseph. I'd have to look into the iconography more. For example, in one of the scenes he appears to be holding a pitcher of some kind. I'm not familiar with this as part of the iconography of Joseph, but that would be very tell-tale if so. In another one he seems to have a staff, which _is_ found in pictures of Joseph.

Jeff, I still don't get it as far as the twelve days of Christmas and the beginning of Epiphanytide thereafter. It almost seems like we have two partially overlapping and partially conflicting definitions of the Christmas liturgical season. Interesting, actually. I'm assuming it is partly an Anglican vs. Roman thing, but that can't be all there is to it, because the twelve days designation is, AFAIK, also Roman Catholic.

Yeah, the pan/zoom was what got me curious. I've got WMM so I'll email next time I'm ready to prepare a slideshow.

Lydia - to sum up:

left panel: hat on head, hand held over a candle.

right panel: no hat. holding a staff, or cain, in his right hand, and a pitcher in his left.

central panel: hat held in his right hand, staff, or cain, in his left.

No doubt each of these details has iconographic significance.

I'm just using Google here, so hopefully I'm not leading you astray, but I think it is definitely Joseph. Compare this Nativity, which is different from the one in your triptych, if I'm not mistaken:


The third figure _must_ be Joseph, because there's no one else it could be. Same candle and similar pose.

Now look at this triptych:


Same scenes, similar iconography, different paintings. According to the accompanying commentary, the patron is the guy in black in the middle panel behind the wall. So the man in red in all the paintings must be Joseph.

Ah, and see here:


The image of Joseph in the Campin painting is more what we would expect of him, the fond protector watching the child with care. But he still declares his Christological distance from the scene. He holds a lighted candle but shields the flame with his hand so as to diminish the light that falls on the Christ Child. This is a motif repeated in many medieval Nativity paintings, especially of the Flemish school. It is a sign of humility, in that Joseph's light can add nothing to the brilliance of the infant who is the Light of the World. [emphasis added]

Lydia, you're a better detective than me! I think that clinches it.

The hand held over the candle-flame was such a striking detail that I suspected it must have some special significance - but I couldn't imagine what.

:-) That kind of detective work is great fun. This appears to be the Campin Nativity painting referred to:


It's hard to go wrong with Josquin. For a very lovely modern Dona Nobis Pacem, check out that of contemporary Latvian composer Peteris Vasks. There are two versions, one for choir and organ, and one for choir and strings. The latter is somewhat different, and better IMO.

Here's a clip featuring Vasks' work -- for some reason it stops at the climax and doesn't include the conclusion, but at least you'll get the idea. Vasks doesn't include the whole text, but simply repeats 'Dona Nobis Pacem.'


Vaughan Williams' setting is nothing to sneeze at either, btw.

Rob G - thanks for the link to that lovely piece. I'm very familiar with Arvo Part, but it seems that Peteris Vasks is equally worthy.

Unfortunately, Vaughan Williams' *Dona nobis pacem* is one piece of his to which I just can't seem to warm up.

I'm listening to it right now, and finding it just as pedestrian as ever.

Vasks' orchestral music is outstanding (he hasn't written as much choral music). I especially like his first two symphonies and his violin concerto, and he's got some great shorter orchestral works too. He's got a little of that 'holy minimalist' thing going on, but not as much as Part or Gorecki.

Hmmm...I'll have to listen to the RVW again. Maybe I'm confusing it with another of his choral works. I'm keen on the Serenade to Music so I know that's not that one I'm thinking of.

Jeff, I still don't get it as far as the twelve days of Christmas and the beginning of Epiphanytide thereafter


We apply the name of Christmas to the forty days which begin with the Nativity of our Lord, December 25, and end with the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, February 2. It is a period which forms a distinct portion of the Liturgical Year, as distinct, by its own special spirit, from every other, as are Advent, Lent, Easter, or Pentecost. One same Mystery is celebrated and kept in view during the whole forty days. Neither the Feasts of the Saints, which so abound during this Season; nor the time of Septuagesima, with its mournful Purple, which often begins before Christmastide is over, seem able to distract our Holy Mother the Church from the immense joy of which she received the good tidings from the Angels [St Luke ii 10] on that glorious Night for which the world had been longing four thousand years. The Faithful will remember that the Liturgy commemorates this long expectation by the four penitential weeks of Advent.

The custom of celebrating the Solemnity of our Saviour’s Nativity by a feast or commemoration of forty days’ duration is founded on the holy Gospel itself; for it tells us that the Blessed Virgin Mary, after spending forty days in the contemplation of the Divine Fruit of her glorious Maternity, went to the Temple, there to fulfil, in most perfect humility, the ceremonies which the Law demanded of the daughters of Israel, when they became mothers.

The Feast of Mary’s Purification is, therefore, part of that of Jesus’ Birth; and the custom of keeping this holy and glorious period of forty days as one continued Festival has every appearance of being a very ancient one, at least in the Roman Church. And firstly, with regard to our Saviour’s Birth on December 25, we have St John Chrysostom telling us, in his Homily for this Feast, that the Western Churches had, from the very commencement of Christianity, kept it on this day. He is not satisfied with merely mentioning the tradition; he undertakes to show that it is well founded, inasmuch as the Church of Rome had every means of knowing the true day of our Saviour’s Birth, since the acts of the Enrolment, taken in Judea by command of Augustus, were kept in the public archives of Rome. The holy Doctor adduces a second argument, which he founds upon the Gospel of St Luke, and he reasons thus: we know from the sacred Scriptures that it must have been in the fast of the seventh month [Lev. xxiii 24 and following verses. The seventh month (or Tisri) corresponded to the end of our September and beginning of our October. -Tr.] that the Priest Zachary had the vision in the Temple; after which Elizabeth, his wife, conceived St John the Baptist: hence it follows that the Blessed Virgin Mary having, as the Evangelist St Luke relates, received the Angel Gabriel’s visit, and conceived the Saviour of the world in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, that is to say, in March, the Birth of Jesus must have taken place in the month of December.

But it was not till the fourth century that the Churches of the East began to keep the Feast of our Saviour’s Birth in the month of December. Up to that period they had kept it at one time on the sixth of January, thus uniting it, under the generic term of Epiphany, with the Manifestation of our Saviour made to the Magi, and in them to the Gentiles; at another time, as Clement of Alexandria tells us, they kept it on the 25th of the month Pachon (May 15), or on the 25th of the month Pharmuth (April 20). St John Chrysostom, in the Homily we have just cited, which he gave in 386, tells us that the Roman custom of celebrating the Birth of our Saviour on December 25 had then only been observed ten years in the Church of Antioch. It is probable that this change had been introduced in obedience to the wishes of the Apostolic See, wishes which received additional weight by the edict of the Emperors Theodosius and Valentinian, which appeared towards the close of the fourth century, and decreed that the Nativity and Epiphany of our Lord should be made two distinct Festivals. The only Church that has maintained the custom of celebrating the two mysteries on January 6 is that of Armenia; owing, no doubt, to the circumstance of that country not being under the authority of the Emperors; as also because it was withdrawn at an early period from the influence of Rome by schism and heresy.

The Feast of our Lady’s Purification, with which the forty days of Christmas close, is, in the Latin Church, of very great antiquity; so ancient, indeed, as to preclude the possibility of our fixing the date of its institution. According to the unanimous opinion of Liturgists, it is the most ancient of all the Feasts of the Holy Mother of God; and as her Purification is related in the Gospel itself, they rightly infer that its anniversary was solemnized at the very commencement of Christianity. Of course, this is only to be understood of the Roman Church; for as regards the Oriental Church, we find that this Feast was not definitely fixed to February 2 until the reign of the Emperor Justinian, in the sixth century. It is true that the Eastern Christians had previously to that time a sort of commemoration of this Mystery, but it was far from being a universal custom, and it was kept a few days after the Feast of our Lord’s Nativity, and not on the day itself of Mary’s going up to the Temple.

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