Images with harmless erros can be left in place to avoid unrest among the populace
Year mention: 1617
Nativity of Virgin Mary ; Passion of Christ
Acceptable errors
Not corresponding to Scriptures

Events from the life of Mary and Christ were well spread amongst the populace but derived from the apocryphal scriptures and can be found in paintings as well. However, as long as the error is not dangerous and the painting is approved by the regional council, it does not need to be taken away

Molanus, Johannes
Frostispiece of Molanus, De historia sanctarum imaginum et picturarum (1617), Antwerp, Gasparus Bellerus
Frontispiece of Molanus, De historia sanctarum imaginum et picturarum (1617), Antwerp, Gasparus Bellerus
Augsburg, Staats- und Stadtbibliothek — Th H 1475. Digital Reproduction: München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, 2015.

In book 2, chapter 28, Molanus continues the discussion started in the previous chapter on images that contain an error but do not pose a real danger, in this chapter the main focus is on iconographies regarding Jesus Christ. The chapter thus fits in the greater scheme created by the author in the work in which he categorises images and the errors they contain, whether these are to be condemned or not, and according to what or whom. In general, Molanus argues that paintings containing the discussed errors do not have t be removed, as long as the provincial council of the Church does not decide otherwise.
In the passage, Molanus comments on two important religious iconographies, which can be found in many paintings and, according to his words are well known also by the common people. The attention in this passage is directed to the story of the Nativity of Mary as written down by Jerome and the Passion of Christ, known under the title of Anselm, which both would contain elements that can be confirmed only with great difficulties by the authorities/commentators. Molanus mentions several examples of problematic iconographies or elements of iconographies: Jacob who resembles Christ; descending from the cross; Mary was kissed on the arm while he was descending; the cross would have been fifteen feet high; Peter running away and hiding in a cave. The decision of removing a work of art containing an error should be based on the framework created by the Council of Trent, which decided that a work of art should be removed if it promotes a false doctrine and contains a dangerous error. Molanus concludes thus that the artwork should only be removed when both requirements are fulfilled. To this he adds that as long as the authority of the provincial council approves the work of art, to him it seems there is no need to remove or change the painting. His own addition to this official standing point is Molanus’ concern about the effect removing or modifying a work of art could have on the common people, also called “the weak” by Molanus, for the sake of not creating any disquiet among the populace he argues that it is better not to take action on an artwork as long as it can be acceptable to the Church’s doctrines. This rather balanced and pragmatic standing point fits very well in the greater discourse of the entire work that is focused on finding some sort of middle ground between the framework set by the Council of Trent and the reality of the Low Countries and surrounding areas marked by the Reformation.

“Similarities can be read in the treatise on the nativity of the Blessed Mary by Jerome. Again, in the dialogue on the Passion of the Lord, which has the title of Anselm, certain matters can be found as known by the common public, but which only with difficulty can be confirmed by the authorities. Such as Jacob resembled Christ; while he was coming down from the Cross, Mary kissed him on the arm; the examination was carried out; the Cross was fifteen feet high; Peter ran away and hid in a cave called Gallicante. What then is to be said of such pictures? Should we, therefore, refrain from exposing them because they contain an error? Indeed, the Council of Trent has said: No image should be exhibited which carries a false doctrine. But it did not confine itself to saying bearing a false doctrine, it added a dangerous error. It thus indicated quite clearly what is meant by false doctrine; these words mean that it is a question of images bearing error while excluding those whose error is not dangerous. About this now still some has to be added. To me, it seems (yet I submit my opinion to the correction of others) that as long as the authority of the provincial council does not decide otherwise on particular cases, it is not useful to make this kind of painting disappear or to modify it, if this would disturb the weakness of some. For the sake of the weak, let us tolerate and allow certain things, as our mother Church tolerates a certain number of them.”

“Similia leguntur in tractatu de nativitate Beatae Mariae apud Hieronymum. Rursus in dialogo de passione Domini qui titilum Anselmi habet, quedam leguntur vulgo nota, quae difficulter ex probatis authoribus confirmari possent. Qualia sunt, Iacobus simillimus sibi [Christo] erat. Deosculabatur Maria brachium cum deponeretur. Examinis sacta fuit. Crux habuit quindecum pedes in longitudine. Petrus currens abscondit se in lapide, qui vocatur Gallicantus. Quid igitur de huiusmodi picturis est dicendum? An posthac non sunt statuendae quia erroneae sunt? Dixit enim Concilium Tridentinum? Nullas falsi dogmatis imagines statuendas: verum dum non simpliciter dixit falsi dogmatis, sed adiecit et periculosi erroris, satis clare indicavit quid per falsum dogma intelligat et quod iis verbis nihil agat de imaginibus erroneis quidem, sed non periculose erroneis. De quibus ramen nunc aliquid dicendum est. Mihi itaque videtur (subiicio tamen sententiam meam aliorum correctioni) quod huiusmodi picturas non ex pediat tollere aut mutare, su quorundam infirmitas inde turbaretur, quamdiu authoritate provincialis Synodi in particulari aliud statuitur. Propter infirmos quaedam toleremus et permittamus, sicut mater nostra Ecclesia quaedam tolerat et permittit.”

Jesus Christ, Nativity of Virgin Mary, Passion of Christ, Virgin Mary

Erroneae, falsi dogmatis, periculosi erroris
Date mention

Historical Location

Iconclass Number
73A31; 73D

Molanus, De historia sanctarum imaginum et picturarum (1617), book 2, ch. 28, 106-107

Molanus 1996, 203-204.

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