Botanical and Horticulture Photography PALM SYMBOLISM 4
19. In this same edition of the Biblia Pauperum
the palm is also, strangely enough, placed in
the hand of Christ in the Ecce Homo; the reed
in His right hand set there in mockery, changed
to the victor’s palm.
20. Occasionally the palm is given to the angel
Gabriel when he comes from Heaven to announce
the Saviour’s approaching birth. “Ave” is
his salutation to the Virgin, and in Roman
fashion, as in salutation to a queen, he kneels
with a lifted palm.
21. Spinello Aretino paints Gabriel with the
palm. In his Annunciation at Arezzo ‘ the
angel is first seen above, flying with the palm
from before God’s throne. Below he kneels,
the palm in his hand, before the Virgin. Ambrogio
Lorenzetti and others follow the same
tradition, but the palm was soon superseded
in Siena by the olive and elsewhere by the lily,
which was adopted by painters of all nations as
the flower of the Annunciation.
22. The Legenda Aurea of Jacobus de Voragine
gives an account of the death and burial of the
Virgin. The legend is said to be an invention
of the Gnostics, and there is reason to believe
of Lencius in the second century.
23. Shortly before the Virgin’s death the angel
Gabriel again appeared to her, and he gave
her a branch of palm from Paradise which he
commanded should be borne before her bier.
24. This branch of palm was clearly the symbol
of victory over sin, since she had passed a full
lifetime in perfect sinlessness and her surpassing
sorrows had entitled her to the reward of
25. The Legend continues: “And the palm shone which he had left
behind with great clearness; it was green like
a natural branch and its leaves shimmered like
the morning star”. The palm, therefore, is
distinguished from the palms of the martyrs
by being encircled with stars. A Sienese artist
paints seven, the sacred number, corresponding
with the Virgin’s sorrows; other artists
give twelve, foreshadowing that there should be
upon her head a crown of twelve stars.
26. Usually, in Italian pictures of the death or
Dormition of the Virgin, an angel, or Saint John
the Evangelist, appears at her bedside carrying
the palm. Northern art was almost entirely
uninfluenced by the details given by Jacobus
de Voragine of the Virgin’s death and burial,
and though in Germany The Death of the
Virgin is a very favourite subject, the palm is
never introduced. Saint John frequently, however,
holds a lighted taper, and some form of
the starry palm tradition may have drifted
northwards, for the master of the Sterzing Altar
paints a cluster of star-shaped flowers in the
hand of Saint John, who bends over the inanimate
form of the Virgin.
27. Her body was carried by divine command
to the valley of Jehoshaphat, and John bare
the palm branch in front of it.
28. This scene, too, belongs to Italian art, and
usually makes a beautiful processional group.
Saint John, with the privilege of a son, walks
before the bier. Duccio di Buoninsegna paints
him with the closed narrow palm of a martyr.
In the charming little long-shaped picture by
Fra Angelico the palm has its fan-shaped
leaves spread wide and it shines as if it were of
29. In the Immaculate Conception
of the Spanish school one of the attendant putti usually
carries a palm. This may be the palm of victory
over sin and death, or, following another
authority, it may be a symbol of the Immaculate
Conception, since it bears fruit at the same
moment at which it flowers.
30. According to Dr Anselm Salzer, O.S.B.,
The palm, when referring to Mary, is a figure
of her victory over the world and its temptations,
of her everlasting virtue, of her sovereignty
in heaven, of the protection that she offers to
mankind, of her triumphant motherhood and
of the beauty of her soul.
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