This post deals with more connections to the story of Samson found in the Agony in the Garden folio from the Turin-Milan Hours.
In my previous post I mentioned that ‘foxes’ had a role in the lives of both Samson and Jesus.
On one occasion Samson took revenge on the Philistines by a most unusual method. “He went off and caught three hundred foxes, then took torches and turning the foxes tail to tail put a torch between each pair of tails. He lit the torches and set the foxes free in the Philistines’ cornfields. In this way he burned both sheaves and standing corn, and the vines and olive trees as well” (Judges 15 : 4-5).
And responding to a scribe who said, “Master I will follow you wherever you go”, Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8 : 19-20).
Here, the artist is pairing the response of Jesus to the instruction he gave to his three disciples seen sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane to “stay awake and pray not to be put to the test” (Matthew 26 : 41).
In Luke’s gospel (13 : 31-33) Jesus refers to the Galilean ruler Herod Antipas as a fox. Warned by some Pharisees that Herod meant to kill him, Jesus responded, “You may go and tell that fox this message: Learn that today and tomorrow I cast out devils and on the third day attain my end…” He was speaking about his three days in the tomb and resurrection on the third day, an event that happened soon after his capture by the cohort sent by the chief priests and Pharisees.
The artist has also made two visual references to foxes which connect to the two passages from the New Testament and to the story of Samson from the Book of Judges.
The hands of Jesus are shaped as the head of a fox, so too is the head of Jesus. Not only are his long ringlets intended to depict him as a Nazarite but they also represent the foxes tails set on fire by Samson. The ringlets also connect to the time Delilah asked Samsom what would be needed to bind him. Samson replied: “If you wove the seven locks of my hair into the warp of the web and fixed the peg firmly, I should lose my strength and become like any other man” (Judges 16 : 13).
This corresponds to when the cohort “seized Jesus and bound him” (John 18 : 12). Jesus offered no resistance, the illustration shows him with his hands coming together in prayer and in a manner of surrender to his Father, knowing the self sacrifice he is soon to make.
On three occasions Delilah called out to the sleeping Samson, “The Philistines are on you Samson!” Similarly, before Jesus was arrested by the cohort he found his disciples sleeping on three occasions.
Many of the elements from the Agony in the Garden are reworked into The Three Marys at the Tomb painting attributed to Hubert or Jan van Eyck, or even both.
The figure of Jesus praying to his Father in Heaven was also translated into the figure of William VI, Count of Holland, in another folio from the Turin-Milan Hours known as the Prayer on the Shore. Like Jesus, William is portrayed with his hands joined in prayer and his head looking up to God and his angels in Heaven. The pleats in William’s fur coat echo the ringlets rolling down from the head of Jesus.
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