The Bible In The Middle Ages
In the biblical tradition, sleep is rarely personified, but dreams bear great significance as prophetic moments, or as the means of connection between the divine and the earthly realms. Thus, occasions arise in art not to depict images that are "dream-like," or that one may imagine represent the artists' dreams, but that, rather, explicitly represent dreams as described in the text of the bible. Most often, these depictions include the dreamer, with the dream itself in a realm slightly above and beyond. In both Jewish and Christian art from late antiquity through the Renaissance, the biblical dreams of the Patriarchs Jacob and Joseph, the Egyptian Pharoah, and of King Nebuchadnezzar are favorite subjects for depiction. The New Testament and, particularly, its apochrypha introduce the subjects of the dreams of Joseph the husband of Mary, those of Three Magi, and that of Pilate's wife. The dreams are depicted sometimes simply, sometimes with elaboration, but the fact that the viewer recognizes that these are crucial prophetic turning points in the story make them ever powerful.
While many of the illustrations, illuminations, and carvings depicting these subjects are anonymous, biblical and apocryphal dreams were treated by artists known to history, such as Simone dei Crocifissi (1330–1399), whose "Dream of the Virgin" heralded an interest in this topos in Italian painting of the fourteenth century, and Piero Della Francesca's (1415–1492) quiet and lyrical depiction of Constantine's Dream as part of the fresco cycle of the Legend of the True Cross in the Church of San Francesco in Arezzo, Italy (c. 1457–1458). Night scenes are notoriously difficult to depict, yet the artists, through the simple devices of positioning and composition, manage to convey a supernal and pervasive sense of quietness, calm, and sacred anticipation.