Before the Lord in fact, there stands some repellent angels looking like monsters
The iconography of the reliefs on the double tympana of the Puerta de las Plateriás at Compostela was intended as a direct thematic extension from the scenes of the Expulsion from Paradise on the north portal. Where the former represented the victory of Satan in the form of the Serpent in the Garden, the Plateriás reliefs show Christ triumphing over Satan and Death
Discarding the elements added when it was decided to enlarge the space from its original lunette form, it is apparent that the subject of the left hand tympanum is the Temptation of the Lord
Depicted is the narrative in the gospels of Matthew and Luke where Jesus has gone into the wilderness for forty days and nights.
There, he meets Satan who offers him three temptations; one to assuage his hunger by turning stone to bread, a second whereby he should jump from the pinnacle of the temple and depend on angels to rescue his fall and a third where he is offered all the kingdoms of the world in return for prostrating himself before Satan.
In a gesture which can be seen in Byzantine mosaics, Christ is turned towards his left where two winged demons, hands clasped in supplication implore him to surrender himself before Satan.
A tree stands between Christ and the demons alluding to the Tree of Knowledge, through which the serpent Satan is entwined. An image of Christ in dialogue with Satan, Christ’s gesture with his right hand is a visual representation of his words “Get thee behind me Satan”.
On either side of the Christ figure angels are ministering, which according to Matthew’s Gospel they did after Satan had left, defeated. The angel immediately above is emerging from clouds waving a thurible just in front of the serpent’s head.
The angel behind Christ appears to be holding aloft items which may be liturgical appurtenances, corresponding to the thurible held by the first angel.
Elsewhere on the tympanum of the Temptation are reliefs carved by the Master of the Porta Francigena which were included when the design was enlarged.
These include a slab with three ape-headed demons and notable a seated woman cradling a skull on her lap.
The author of the description of the cathedral in the Book of Saint James, makes much of this, referring to it as an image of a woman taken in adultery. The writer however has shown himself to be unreliable elsewhere in his readings of the sculptural imagery.
The Woman Bearing the Skull would seem to have been intended for the north portal where as Eve, the Mother of Death, the image would have complemented the others from the Genesis cycle.
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Reading Romanesque Sculpture: The Iconography and Reception of the South Portal Sculpture at Santiago de Compostela, Karen Rose Mathews, Gesta XXXIX/1 2000
The Romanesque Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela: A Reassessment, Christabel Watson, BAR International Series 1979-2009
The Codex Calixtinus as an Art-Historical Source, S Moralejo in John Williams / Alison Stones The Codex Calixtinus and the Shrine of St. James 1992
Manuel Castiñeiras: Didacus Gelmirez, Patron of the arts. Compostela’s long journey: From the periphery to the centre of Romanesque art. Compostela and Europe : the story of Diego Gelmírez.Milano : Skira, c2010.
Topographie Sacrée, Liturgie Pascale et Reliques dans les grands centres de pèlerinage: Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, Saint-Isidore-de-Léon et Saint-Étienne-de-Ribas-de-Sil, Manuel Antonio Castiñeiras González, Les Cahiers de Saint-Michel de Cuxa, XXXIV, 2003
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