THE TWELVE MAIDENS WITH THE BLESSED VIRGIN
Taken from the sermon by San Bernardino of Siena, "Delle Dodici Donzelle che ebbe la Vergine Maria".
The scene is a vaulted alcove with five sides; the walls are of unpolished marble in alternate horizontal bands of black and white yellowed with age, - the prevailing colour in the ceiling is dark blue. In the wall of the alcove to the right of the main or central wall of the five, is the deep recess of a gracefully pointed arched window; in the corresponding wall opposite is a doorway, arched like the window, - in the upper part of the dark panelled door is a little wicket. The floor of the alcove is laid with tiles of the same white marble as that of the walls, but even more yellowed and worn by time. In the foreground two rows, of black marble tiles a little distance apart, form a border. Across the topmost band of black marble in the central wall just below the arch of the vaulted ceiling, is written in gold letter. -
"After her shall virgins be brought".
In the center of the foreground the Blessd Virgin, young and fair, is seated on a low carved chair without a back. Her features are very fine, her face is calm, the curve of her lips is sweet and tender. She wears a tunic of deepest pink, girdled with a silk cord of the same colour, - the long wide sleeves are tunred back from her delicate white hands; on her head is a white veil of finest texture, and over this a pale blue veil, which reaches to the ground, falling round her like a mantle when she stands. Her golden hair is waved sloftly back from her face, and coiled low on her long, slender neck, but soft curls flow from under the coil, and fall over her shoulders as she sits bending slightly forward.
At her right hand is a low bookstand, on which lies an illuminated volume of the Old Testament, open at the seventh chapter of the Book of Isaiah, verses 12-5. Beside the book is a brass Italian lamp and an hour-glass. On the ground, to her left, is a blue and white pocelain pot of Annunciation lilies.
In front of the bookstand, on a purple velvet cushion with gold tassels at the corners, sits a maiden dressed in a long robe of softest golden brown, caught up round her waist by a girdle, over which it falls in straight folds; the closely fitting sleeves reach to her wrists. Her dark hair is parted and rolled back at the sides into a loose coil. Across her left shoulder and under her right arm, where it is lightly fastened, the ends floating, passes a silken scroll the colour of her robe, which bears her name in gold letters: Diligence. She is sorting the contents of a wicker work-basket, and she hands the Blessed Virgin a ball of palest brown wool as the scene opens.
At the window stands a maiden dressed in grey; the silken scroll she wears, bears her name in gold, Seclusion. Opposite her, at the door, as if listening there, is another maiden in grey, wearing a scroll with her name on it, Audience.
On each side of the blessed Virgin, and close to her, stands a maiden in white; the scroll of the one on her right hand reads, Modesty, of the one on her left, Virginity. Beyond Modesty, and a little farther back, stands a maiden on whose scroll is written Timidity; and in a corresponding position, beyond Virginity, stands another maiden, on whose scroll is writeen, Purity. These also are dressed in white. All four are very fair.
Grouped in the foreground, -two on the side where the window is, and where Diligence is seated, and three on the same side as the doorway, - stand five maidens with dark hair and eyes. Like those in white and in grey these five resemble Diligence in regard to the style of their dress and the arrangement of their hair. Of the two who stand together, the one in front is dressed in a beautiful rich green and has on her scroll the name Obedience; the maiden beyond her is in soft yellow, and bears the name Prudence. Of the three on the opposite side, the one in front, dressed in deep red, has on her scroll the name, Longing; the maiden beyond her, dressed in sapphire blue, has on hers, Faith, and the third and last, nearest the door, wears so as to half conceal her white robe a long black mantle, - on her white scroll is lettered in gold, Humility.
The Blessed Virgin speaks, in a gentle voise.
"Knowest thou, dear Seclusion, how thou must act should any one knock at the door? Never open it without telling me, and always look out first at the window. And never open the door itself, only the wicket, a little, so much" (she shows with her hands how much). "If it is a man who knocks, thou must never open; if it is a woman, ask first what she wishes, that we be not deceived".
At this moment a knock is heard. Seclusion, who has come forward to listen while the Blessed Virgin is speaking, returns to the window, and looking out asks: - "Who is there?"
She then hastens to the Blessed Virgin, her hands clasped against her heart, and exclaims: - "Some one has knocked at the door, dear Mary, and indeed it seems to me to be in very truth an angel!".
Mary. "Go then, and open to him." She bows her had, letting her veil fall a little over her face.
Seclusion crosses in the background and speaks to Audience, who opens the wicket to look out, and then opens the door to admit the Archangel Gabriel. As he enters, she and Seclusion low before him, their hands crossed on their breats. He wears a robe of pale lavender flowered in white and gold, and a mantle gracefully knotted at this throat and lined with lavender of a deeper shade. His long wide sleeves are lined like the mantly,k and bordered with gold-lettered scrolls: on the right sleeve scroll is written, "Ave Gratia Plena", on the left, "Angelus Domini"; a scroll that passes over his right shoulder and under his right arm bears in gold lettersthe words of the prophecy of Isaish, "Ecce virgo concipiet, et pariet filium, at vocabitur nomen ejus Emmanuel". His fine red-gold hair clusters about his head in rignlets below a narrow golden coronet, which has a very little delicate open work in front; he wears a garland of tiny leaves, and in his long graceful fands he carries a branch of olive. His soft wings are of lavender, tipt with gold.
He stands a moment at the door, and says very quietly: - "Hail, ful of Grace, the Lord is with thee":
The Blessed Virgin, hearing these words, turns in sweet amazement to Modesty, and says: --
"Many times have I spoken with the angels, but never yet have I heard one speak to me in a buman voice!"
Gabriel advances into the room, passes Humility, and crosses in front of the Blessed Virgin. He kneels before her, a little to the right, and as she rises and crosses her hands on her breast,,he says,bowing his head: "Blessed art thou among women".
Prudence (advancing) "What manner of salutation shall this be? Do not reply at once, Mary, but reflect, for this is matter of great importance". The blessed Viirgin turns, trembling, to Timidity and holds out protecting arms about her.
Gabriel. "Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold, thou shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne on David his father: And he sahll reign in the house of David for ever. And of His kingdom there shall be no end".
Obedience comes to the Blessed Virgin and takes her gently from Timidity, saying: - "Be content, Mary beloved, that God has sent thee this angel. Reply to him, and say that thou art content in this, and resigned to the will of God".
The Blessed Virgin, falling on her knees, says very simply: - "Behold the handmaid of the Lord".
Faith: "All things are possible to Him".
Longing (advancing) "May that be, which is to His honour and glory".
Gabriel rises, lays the olive branch on the ground before Mary, and goes quietly out at the door. The maidens return to their places and stand, while the Blessed Virgin still kneels, her hands crossed on her breast and her head bowed. The Magnificat is heard outside, as if sung by angels.