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The life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order online

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debased or degraded in his hands ; but we miss the
mystic spirituality of his predecessor, although there is
ample evidence that Bartolomeo ever placed before his
eyes the life of the saintly artist as his guide and model.
He was himself a true and excellent religious. Vasari


tells us that " he arrived at length at the wished-for
power of accompanying the labour of his hands with the
uninterrupted contemplation of death." He was also,
like so many other of the pupils of Savonarola, a poet
and a musician, and some of his pious verses have
been found traced on the back of his pictures in his
own hand. He died when only forty-eight, having in the
brief period of seventeen years produced a marvellous
number of works, the list of which is given by Marchese.
The close friendship existing between him and Rafaele
may possibly have had some share in bringing about,
what Marchese calls " the most splendid religious re-
habilitation of Savonarola — the most luminous proof of
his innocence, and the most convincing proof of the
perfidy of his persecutors." We allude to the intro-
duction of the great reformer in the grandest work of
Rafaele's genius — the " Disputation on the B. Sacra-
ment," where he is painted among the doctors of the
Church, the face being, as it is thought, an exact copy
of the likeness of Fra Girolamo, painted by Delia Porta
many years before. This magnificent work was executed
only ten years after the death of the friar ; it was under-
taken by the command of Julius II., and adorned the
. very halls of the Pontifical palace, and may be considered
as offering almost as complete a vindication of his name
from the aspersions of his enemies as that given by Paul
III., who hesitated not to declare " that he should regard
that man as heretical who dared to accuse Savonarola
of heresy."

But we have already gone far beyond our limits in
treating of the connection of the order with religious
art, and must hasten to bring this chapter to a close.
There is a crowd of illustrious names which might be
given in illustration of the fact that the Dominican order
has never relinquished its principle of cultivating and
sanctifying the imaginative arts, as means of influencing
the popular heart, and guiding men's minds to God by
possessing itself of every avenue by which to reach them.
Some of these were simple lay-brothers ; others, like
Ignatius Dante (of the family of the poet) attained the


highest ecclesiastical dignities. And let it be remem-
bered, that the art encouraged by the Dominican painters
and sculptors has always been essentially Christian ; and
that Savonarola's denunciations against the corruptions
of heathenism in art and literature have been faithfully
re-echoed by other champions of Christian purity. In
the succeeding age the classic imitators had it their
own way ; the world, as we know, was flooded with
pagan literature, and the beautiful monuments of the
ages of faith were, in too many cases, swept away to
make room for clumsy imitations of heathenism. Popes
and cardinals vied with one another in their enthusiastic
patronage of brick and mortar, and in the bad taste
with which they used them ; but even at the court of
Pius IV., a Dominican was found to lift his voice against
the prevailing corruptions. The Pontiff was himself
a great encourager of the classical rennaissance then in
fashion. He was a great builder, and a patron of
architects and men of taste. In the summer of 1561,
however, he was entertaining one who seemed insensible
to all which he beheld ; it could not be stupidity, for
Bartholomew of the Martyrs, the primate of Portugal,
was not a stupid man ; nevertheless, when the new
buildings at the Belvidere were submitted to his view, he
only shrugged his shouldars. " What do you think of
the Belvidere, my lord of Braga ?" inquired the Pope.
" It is for me to admire and not to judge," was the reply.
" Your excellency, however, intends adding to the epis-
copal palace of Braga ; I am told it is in the old style,
quite unsuitable to our modern taste." " Your holiness
is probably aware that I have no money for building."
" Come, I am determined to know your opinion of my
architect ; I will know what you think of the Belvidere
and its statues : they at least are full of merit." " Since
your Holiness commands me to say what I think"
at length replied the imperturbable archbishop, " 1
think the Son of God will one day come to burn up
palaces such as these : I think they are quite worthy
of their architect, but not of your holiness, whom God
has placed in the Church to rear up lively temples for


Himself. As to the paintings, I care for those only
which trace the image of God on the souls of the faithful :
this, Holy Father, is what I think." It was certainly a
fair specimen of Dominican freedom of speech, but the
words of Bartholomew are every way remarkable. So too
was the Pope's reply. " I see how it is, — you and
Charles Borromeo have been together; you are just a pair;
he cares no more for my statues than you do, and I will
answer for it when he gets to Milan, his palace will be the
counterpart of yours."

The strictures of two such men as Bartholomew and
S. Charles were doubtless levelled, not merely at the
expense but also at the character of these decorations.
Bartholomew could scarcely have been insensible to the
claims of that religious art, the appreciation of which
was hereditary in his order ; his censures were not
directed against the frescoes of Angelico, at that moment
rotting on the walls of their neglected chapel, but rather
against that school of restored paganism which has not
hesitated to place in the basilica of S. Peter's, and on
the very tombs of the Pontiffs, statues which modern
refinement has been compelled to veil. Nevertheless,
the spirit of the age was then too strong to be resisted.
For three centuries art was well-nigh lost to the cause
of religion, and, like all creatures of his imagination
when emancipated from the control of the faith, it became
only the minister of sensuality. Yet there are indi-
cations that even during this period, the tie between
the Dominican order and the Christian use of art was
never wholly severed. Besides those architects and
sculptors of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,
an account of whom will be found in the work of Padre
Marchese, we find incidental mention of the cultivation
of painting among some of the South American mission-
aries, and that for a purpose purely religious. Gonzalo
Lucero, provincial of Mexico in 1550, a man possessed ot
much of the peculiar genius of his order, is spoken of as
painting a series of all the chief mysteries of the faith,
and preaching from them to the people, thus carrying
out the old principle of Passavanti, that M pictures were


the books of the unlettered." And the same is told us
of other and later missionaries in the same field.

It cannot, indeed, be pretended that all the Dominican
artists followed in the steps of Angelico, or that the
genius of such men as Marcillat could be claimed as
doing much credit to their order. But these were ex-
ceptions ; in general the character of the painters, equally
with that of their paintings, was devout and spiritual.
Out of many names we may select that of Fra Paolino
Signoraccio, who, when a young novice in the convent of
Prato, evinced so much artistic talent as to induce his
superiors to place him as a pupil under Fra Bartolomeo.
Almost his first essay in modelling was made on the clay
figures for the Christmas crib of S. Magdalene's hospital,
in whose books there occurs an entry of the said figures
"made by little Paul of Pistoja," with the memorandum
that they are already hard, "for he made three years
before and painted them, to the honour of God, S. Domi-
nic, and S. Magdalen." Little Paul, as he is here called,
was but thirteen when he commenced his career as an
artist. He followed the style of his master, Fra Barto-
lomeo, and if he was inferior to him in boldness and
originality of design, he is acknowleged to have excelled
him in the devotion and " celestial beauty" of his repre-
sentations of the Madonna. In fact, Paolino was an
excellent and worthy religious, " simple, upright, devout,
modest, and obedient."* He was the friend of S. Cathe-
rine de Ricci, and of Plautilla Nelli, and he ever aimed at
rendering his talents subservient to the cause of religion.

Yet more celebrated in his own peculiar art was
Damian of Bergamo, the renowned worker in wood
mosaic, or, as it is technically called, tarsia. His
extraordinary works far surpassed anything of the kind
which had been hitherto seen, and are still the wonder
of all who beheld them, They excited the incredulous
admiration of Charles V., who, on his visit to the friars'
church at Bologna, could not be led to believe that what
he saw was i eally worked in wood, till he had convinced
himself by unsheathing his dagger and chipping off a
x- RazzL


portion of the work. He gave his imperial testimony to
the singular merits of the artist, by visiting him in his
humble cell. It was on that occasion that Damian gave
the greatest monarch in Christendom a memorable lesson
of independence. The emperor was followed by Alfonso
of Este, the Duke of Ferrara, but Damian refused him
entrance : the duke's officers had been guilty of some
unjust and tyrannical impositions, and the sturdy lay
brother had determined he should never see his works
till he had done him justice. His independence of
character, however, had nothing in it that was morose;
he was the favourite of his convent, and not only a man
of genius, but a holy and excellent religious.

We have mentioned the name of Ignatius Dante,
whose celebrity was perhaps rather as a mathematician
and an engineer, than as an artist. The singular and
beautiful maps still to be seen in the galleries of the
Vatican, however, evince no inconsiderable degree of
taste, as well as of science. He was appointed to
superintend the works at the Vatican under the ponti-
ficate of Gregory XIII., and his influence was of the
happiest kind, "for to his knowledge of art," we are
told, "he added the most unblemished morality." The
same may be said of Fra Portigiani, the architect, and
the celebrated worker in bronze, whose piety and devotion
have found honorable records in the annals of his
convent of S. Mark.

Paganelli, another engineering genius of the order,
and architect to Paul V., was held in equally great
repute for his skill in the sacred sciences; and, as
became a member of the order, ever zealous for the
purity of ecclesiastical discipline, was one of the congre-
gation appointed by the authority of the council of
Trent, for the reformation of the clergy.

The art of military defence perhaps scarcely merits to
be included in our present subject ; and that it should
have found any to cultivate it among the ranks of the
Dominicans may possibly excite our reader's surprise.
But the friars were the men of their age : they were ever
ready to turn their talent in whatever direction it was


noeded; and so, when the republic of Genoa was strain-
ing every nerve to defend its liberties against the tyranny
of Charles Emmanuel of Savoy, the enthusiastic citizens,
who toiled day and night at the walls, did not appeal in
vain to the patriotism of Fra Yincengo Maculano, the
most experienced engineer of the day, who filled the
office of Inquisitor in the Genoese capital. After ex-
hausting every resource of his genius on the military
defence of Genoa, Maculano was called to Rome, where
he rose to high repute as a theologian, and became
master of the Sacred Palace. His skill as a military
engineer, however, was destined to be once more exerted,
and in a cause that was not unworthy his sacred pro-
fession. . He presided over the works raised at Malta in
1640, when the island was threatened by the Turks, and
on his return to Rome was created cardinal and arch-
bishop of Benevento by Urban VIII. Marchese assures
us that on two occasions he was within a single vote of
being raised to the pontificate, of which dignity his
virtues and talents rendered him not unworthy.

We may add, that even in our own day the arts still
find those who cherish them in a truly Christian spirit,
in the ranks of the Friars Preachers. The great church
of Bologna, which contains the shrine of the holy founder
of the order, has not long since been restored in excellent
taste under the direction of one of the lay brothers, Fra
Girolamo Bianchedi of Faenza, who also presided over
the restoration of the Minerva in Rome. This church,
the head-quarters of the order, originally raised by two
Florentine Dominicans, presents one of the very few
remains of the earlier ecclesiastical style still existing in
that city. Its restoration is but partial; and Girolamo
died a victim, it is said, to the terrors of the late revo-
lution, before seeing the completion of his design. He
did not live to witness what was a proud day for his
order; when, on the feast of S. Dominic 1855, the church
was reopened by the pope in person, and the relicts of
S. Catherine, which had lain since her death in the
Rosary chapel, were solemnly removed to the high altar,
under which they now repose. A proud day, we have


said, for the order ; for on the evening of that day tho^e
streets, which four centuries since had been trodden by
the feet of the seraphic saint of Siena, were filled with
the lines of an immense and splendid procession, in the
midst of which her relicts, borne in a silver urn and
canopied with flowers, were shown for the veneration of
the enthusiastic multitudes. The skill of Fra Girolamo,
who has thus enjoyed the happiness of restoring the two
churches of his order which contain the shrines of its
two greatest saints, and the principles on which he
conducted his restoration, which are essentially based on
the rules of Christian art, have received the sanction of
his present Holiness, who, when bishop of Imola, employed
the Dominican artist in the restoration of his own cathe-
dral in that city. We might mention other indications
that the artistic spirit of the order still survives among us,
but we have already exceeded our limits. Yet we cannot
resist concluding this chapter in the words of the writer
so often quoted : — " The mission of our order," says Mar-
chese, "is to infuse new life into hearts that have been
weakened by the corrupt influences of the times ; to
consecrate our energies to the amelioration of the people ;
and to prove that religion, however inflexibly opposed to
a false and spurious progress, is, nevertheless, the truest
protectress of sound knowledge, and the most zealous
patroness of national prosperity. Nor should we forget
the arts, for it lies on us to inspire them with noble and
sublime sentiments, and associate them with all that
is sanctified by religion. Let him, therefore, who cannot
speak from the pulpit, or the professor's chair, speak
with the chisel, or the pencil, but let us all speak a
noble and a holy language. Never let us forget that we
saved the arts in the days of barbaric devastation: and
that we sheltered and cherished them in the times of the
renaissance. Never let us forget that we warmed them
with the breath of our hearts, and that we educated them
for the honour and glory of Christianity. Thus shall we
convince men that we comprehend the full sublimity of
our vocation ; and for every benefit we bestow on the peo-
ple, we shall receive the benedictions of grateful hearts."


Close of the 15th century. Discovery of America. First Dominican
missions in the New World. Bartholomew de Las Casas. Jeromo
Loaysa. S. Louis Bertrand. The Philippine Islands.

As we draw on to the close of the fifteenth and the
opening of the sixteenth century we are conscious of the
approach of a great change ; the infancy of the world is
over, and its education complete; will, understanding,
and imagination, have all come to maturity ; the child has
become a man, and is about to assert its independence,
and to enter on a career which may display its energies
to the full. Two great discoveries mark the commence-
ment of this singular era, and in no small degree help
on the designs of Providence: Columbus gives a new
world to European enterprise by the discovery of Ame-
rica, and the invention of printing accomplishes the
greatest social revolution the world has ever known :
henceforth two thirds of mankind will be governed by
the press. The Dominicans had hitherto claimed their
share in each new influence to which the world had been
subjected since the foundation of their order, and it was
not to be supposed that they could remain insensible to
the new field thrown open to their apostolic labours by
the discovery of America, or to the demand made on
them in their character of a teaching order by the
revival of literature. The little flotilla which sailed from
Europe on the 3rd of August, 1492, and was destined to
gain a new world to Christendom, bore on the decks of
its admiral's vessel three friars, the representatives of
their respective orders — a Franciscan, a Dominican, and
F. Solorzano of the order of Mercy, who acted as con-
fessor to Columbus, and almoner to his fleet. The lands
which the Genoese adventurer added to the empire of
Spain, these three mendicant friars may be said to have


taken possession of in the name of Christ ; and the part
which succeeding brethren of those three orders were to
play on the soil of the newly discovered continent, made
the circumstance of their presence at that first landing a
peculiarly appropriate accident. In fact, Columbus owed
not a little of his success in gaining the consent and
protection of Ferdinand, to the orders of S. Francis and
S. Dominic. His two great advocates at the court of
Spain were the Franciscan, John Perez de Marchena,
and Diego Deza, Dominican professor of theology at the
university of Salamanca; and Remesal does not hesitate
to say, that Spain in a great measure owed the discovery
of her new empire to F. Diego. Marchena led a com-
pany of missionaries of his order to Haiti in the
following year, and the little hut which he erected at
Isabella, and where he celebrated Mass directly on his
landing, was the first Christian church erected by the
Spaniards in America. Diego did not himself enter on
the apostolate of the new world, but his nephew, Peter
Deza, was the first archbishon of Xaragua, and primate
of the American churches.

It is melancholy to read the solemn terms in which
that Alexandrian bull is couched which delivers the pro-
vinces of the new world to the keeping of the kings of
Spain, and charges them with the care of the souls of
their inhabitants, and their instruction in the Christian
faith " by the memory of their baptism, and by the bowels
of mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ," and then to remem-
ber that only ten years after the publication of that bull
the atrocities committed by the Spanish conquerors had
attained their height, and cruelty had already been formed
into a system which the indignant and courageous remon-
strances of the Christian missionaries were unable to
suppress. Queen Isabella died in 1504; her death was,
in the words of Las Casas, the signal for the destruction
of the aborigines, and her last testament which gives such
evidence of the deep impression made on her soul by the
Papal charge of Alexander VI. was scarcely written ere
it was violated. Six years afterwards we find the first
regular mission opened in America by the Friars


Preachers, and in the same year Bartholomew de Las
Casas sang at Vega the first high mass which had been
heard in the new world. It was also his own first mass,
and he was then a simple secular priest ; already full of
enthusiastic kindness for the natives, whose language he
had learnt with a view of devoting his life to their ser-
vice and conversion. The celebration of that high mass
of Bartholomew would form no bad subject as an historic
picture. By command of Diego Columbus it was accom-
panied with the greatest pomp. "Everyone then at La
Vega," says Herrera, " assisted at it, and a vast number
of the inhabitants from other parts of the island were also
present, it being then the season of gold-finding. They
came from all quarters with quantities of the precious
metal as offerings to the new celebrant, who gave them
all to his godfather in the sacred ceremony, keeping only
a few pieces better cast than others." Well, indeed,
might the simple and trustful people of America crowd
instinctively around their future protector and offer him
their gratuitous homage. It was not long before Bar-
tholomew, already disposed to compassionate the suffer-
ings of the Indians, was induced, on a closer knowledge
of the cruelties practised on them, to embrace their cause
as his own ; and, giving up the employments he had at
first accepted under the viceroy of Hispaniola, he resolved
to do and suffer anything in order to deliver the victims
of his countrymen's cruelty from the tyranny under which
they languished.

In this general resolve he was warmly encouraged by
the Dominican missionaries, under Peter of Cordova, who
had scarcely arrived at Haiti before they began their
bold and uncompromising protests against the injustice
and rapacity of the Spaniards. Their determined and
dogged assertion of evangelic truth soon raised a storm ;
before many months Antonio de Montesino, the chief
orator in the defence of the Indians, was sent back to
Spain to plead their cause before King Ferdinand ; and
though little real fruit came of the affair, the successful
advocacy of the natives before the Court at Burgos, was
a triumph >f which their generous protectors might well


be proud. It was soon evident that if the missionaries
would have free room for their labours, they must act
independently of the Spanish authorities, and preach the
cross in provinces where the Spaniards had as yet made
no settlements, and created no prejudice against the
name of Christian; and accordingly, in the year 1512,
those missions were commenced on the continent of
America, which gained so many a martyr to the order oi
Preachers, and so many a soul to the faith of Christ.
And here again we have occasion to admire the admirable
spirit of unity which marked the missionary labours of
the orders of S. Francis and S. Dominic. When in 1516
Las Casas had so far interested the Spanish regency in
the cause to which he had devoted himself, that they had
nominated him Protector General of the Indians, and
had induced Ximenes, then at the head of affairs, to enter
warmly into his views, a great impulse was given to the
zeal of the various religious orders; and F. llemi, a
Franciscan of great interprise and courage, who had
lately returned to Europe after many years spent among
the infidels, set himself to organize a fresh body of
labourers whom he collected from all countries, and with
them prepared to set out a second time for the scene of his
former missions. They were fourteen in all : among them
it is interesting to read the name of F. Remigius Stuart,
a member of our own royal and unfortunate house. He
was the brother of King James IV. of Scotland, and not
less distinguished for his religious zeal than for his illus-
trious birth. When the little company of Franciscans
were ready to sail, Ximenes added several Dominicans,
who joined the body, and acknowledged Eemi as their
leader and superior.

In 1518, the conquest of M< xico was undertaken by
Fernando Cortez, and the first missionaries who entered
on this new field were of the order of mercy. They were,
soon followed by the Franciscans, under the celebrated
Martin de Valencia, the blessed Martin, as he is
deservedly called, who, as Wadding tells us, began to
preach the same year that Luther commenced spreading
his doctrines in Germany; "so that it would seem as if


the providence of God had disposed that one Martin
should repair, by the conversion of new kingdoms, the
loss caused to the Church by the corruptions of another
Martin." But very soon after the country had fallen
under the Spanish dominion the Dominicans were sent
thither by the command of Charles V., and we again read

Online LibraryR. S AlemanyThe life of St. Dominic and a sketch of the Dominican Order → online text (page 29 of 37)