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mandorla

mandorla (mänˈdôrlä) [key], [Ital., = almond], a medieval Christian artistic convention by which an oval or almond-shaped area or series of lines surrounds a deity, most commonly Jesus. The mandorla is thought to have derived from either Greek or Roman prototypes. Figures of deities were sometimes placed within semicircular outlines on Greek vases. The Romans surrounded portrait busts with medallions and shields. One of the earliest known uses of the mandorla in Christian iconography occurs in the 5th-century mosaics in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome. The principal applications of the mandorla, also sometimes termed aureole or vesica pisces, were in paintings depicting the Transfiguration, the Ascension, the Last Judgment, the Harrowing of Hell, and in symbolic portrayals of the evangelists and Christ in Majesty. The Virgin Mary and the major angels were also shown enclosed in a mandorla. The convention, like that of the halo, was discontinued during the Renaissance. See nimbus.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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