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Document Details :

Title: Seth of de terugkeer naar het paradijs - Seth or the Return to the Paradise
Subtitle: Bijdragen tot het kruishoutmotief in de Middeleeuwen - The Motif of Crosswood in the Literal and Iconographical Traditions in the Middle Ages
Author(s): BAERT, Barbara
Journal: Bijdragen
Volume: 56    Issue: 3   Date: 1995   
Pages: 313-339
DOI: 10.2143/BIJ.56.3.2002450

Abstract :
Literary sources
In the closing days of his life Adam sends his son Seth to Earthly Paradise in order to find the soothing Oil of Mercy. However, Seth receives a twig from the Tree of Life to be planted on Adam's grave. The Jews will use the wood for the construction of Christ's Cross (Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda Aurea, end 13th century). In 1962 Esther C. Quinn publishes the first monograph on the Seth-personage in the context of the Legend of the Crosswood. In 1977 A.F.J. Klijn studies the Seth-personage as it appears in the commentaries on Genesis, in the apocrypha of the life of Adam, in gnostic writings. While the Jewish apocrypha already considered the Seth-personage as a new Abel and a new Adam, patristics also typified him as a forerunner of Christ. Created after the image of Adam, he also was the pivot in the apocrypha on the life of Adam and Eve after the expulsion (Jewish Vita Adae et Evae (70 B.C.) and the christian Gospel according to Nicodemus (beginning 5th century)). Two motives from that (as interpolations or not) have persistently survived: the journey of Seth to Paradise and the Divine knowledge that was attached to two columns.
Iconographical sources
The fresco-cycle of Agnolo Gaddi in the Santa Croce in Florence (1380) at the beginning of the iconographical part of this article is not an arbitrary choice. It is here that the Seth-personage is visualized for the first time in the context of the Legend of the Crosswood. Subsequently it remains firmly bound to the fresco-medium and Franciscan donors in Italy. In this context the iconography of the Legend of the Crosswood is being transformed in function of an exegesis of the history of salvation (a Trinitarian view on history, stressing missio and eschatologia). The Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleve from the middle of the 15th century (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, ms. 917) is an isolated case, because its iconography of the Crosswood remains exceptional within the Netherlands. In the usual way the mass on Fridays concentrates upon the Cross or the Crucifixion in the text as well as in the iconography, but unusually by means of the long office of Gods Mercy and moreover illustrated by the Legend of the Crosswood (Lignum Vitae) culminating in an image of the Man of Sorrows. The choice of the subject might refer to a Franciscan background. From an iconographical point of view it is of considerable value that the Lutwin 14th-century German variant of the Vita Adae et Evae has been illustrated in a 15th-century manuscript (Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Codex Vindob. 2980). An existing tradition may be assumed, because the same iconography appears in three from the Vitae interpolated scenes in a Bavarian manuscript (Berlin, Preussische Staatsbibliothek, Ms. Germ. fol. 1416, 1410) of the chronicle of Rudolf von Ems (Christherrechronik, 13th century). This insertion in the Genesis-part of a worldchronicle allows it to presume that the Seth-personage could be found in 'classical' Genesis iconography. The southern porch of the choir in Schwabisch Gmünd (ca. 1400) and the northern friezes of the cathedral of Toledo (ca. 1400) bear witness to this. The second seems to use a Legenda-source. The representation of the Seth-vision seems to be confined to the one of Toledo, although Spanish variants of the Legenda-source have not been discovered as yet. Finally, the Seth-of-the-columns passage, as described in the Vita and included in medieval worldchronicles through Flavius Josephus, symbolizes the transmission of Divine knowledge to humanity. The Geometria Divina that was assigned to Adam, is destroyed by the Flood. This is shown in a miniature in a 14th-century manuscript of Rudolf von Ems (private collection), where Adam's column acts as counterpart of Noah's ark. The knowledge of astrology, Seth's learning, lives on. In this way the Chronica Regia Coloniensis (Brussels, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, ms. 467, middle of the 13th century) wants to found the Holy Roman Empire on these columns: Seth and Adam represented as the 'authors' of the Civitas Dei.