Mrs. (Anna) Jameson.

Legends of the monastic orders, as represented in the fine arts. Forming the second series of Sacred and legendary art online

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Online LibraryMrs. (Anna) JamesonLegends of the monastic orders, as represented in the fine arts. Forming the second series of Sacred and legendary art → online text (page 1 of 41)
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By the same Author.

Legends of the Madonna.
Sacred and Legendary Art. 2 vols.
Characteristics of Women.
Loves of the Poets.
Diary of an Ennuyee.
Sketches of Art.
Italian Painters.
Studies and Stories.



LE t?6x










Corrected and Enlarged Edition.


(i 8 6a' .




1922 l

University Press:

Welch, Bigelow, and Company,




X presenting to the public this Second Series
of Sacred and Legendary Art. I can
but refer to the Preface and general Intro-
duction prefixed to the First Series for an
explanation of the purpose of the work as a idide, and
the motives from which it was first undertaken.

I spoke of it there as, at best, only an attempt to do
what has not hitherto been done, — to interpret, as far
as I could in a limited space, and with very imperfect
knowledge, those works of Art which the churches and
galleries of the Continent, and our own rich collections,
have rendered familiar to us as objects of taste, while
they have remained unappreciated as subjects of thought ;
— to show that, while we have been satisfied to regard
sacred pictures merely as decorations, valued more fur
the names appended to them than for their own sakes,
we have not sufficiently considered them as books, — as
poems, — as having a vitality of their own for good and
for evil, and that thus we have shut out a vast source
of delight and improvement, which lay in the way of
many, even the most uninstructed in the technicalities
of Art.


This was the object I had in view, — knowing that,
doing my best, I could do no more nor better than
make the first step in a new direction. No one can
feel more strongly than myself the deficiencies of the
First Series of this work. That it has met with great
and unhoped-for success is no evidence of its merit ;
but rather a proof that it did, opportunely, supply a
want which, as I had felt myself, I thought others
might feel also.

For the gentle and generous tone of criticism, towards
that work — public and private — I am deeply gi-ateful.
But, in this Second Series, I shall require even more
especially the candor and forbearance of the reader.

To speak of the religious pictures painted for the
monastic communities, and to avoid altogether any
allusion to disputed points of faith, of history, of char-
acter, has been impossible. It was said of the First
Series, by an authority for which I have a high respect,
that I had " spoiled my book by not making it Roman
Catholic." But I am not a Roman Catholic : how,
therefore, could I honestly write in the tone of thought,
feeling, conviction, natural and becoming in one of that
faith ? I have had to tread what all will allow to be
difficult and dangerous ground. How was this to be
done safely, and without offence, easily given in these
days 1 Not, surely, by swerving to the right or to the
left ; not by the affectation of candor ; — not by leav-
ing wholly aside aspects of character and morals which
this department of the Fine Arts, the representations
of monastic life, necessarily place before us. There
was onlv one wav in which the task undertaken could


be achieved in a right spirit, — by going straigbt for-
ward, according to the best lights I had, and saying
what appeared to me the truth, as far as my subject
required it : and my subject — let me repeat it here
— is artistic and aesthetic, not religious. This is too
much of egotism, but it has become necessary to avoid
ambiguity. I will only add that, as from the begin-
ning to the end of this book there is not one word
false to my own faith, — my own feeling, so I truly
hope there is not one word which can give offence to
the earnest and devout reader of any persuasion : — if
there be, I am sorry ; — what can I say more ?

The arrangement is that which naturally offered
itself ; but, in classing the personages under the various
Orders, I have not pedantically adhered to this system :
it will be found that I have departed from it occasion-
ally, where the subjects fell into groups, or were to be
found in the same pictures. Much has been omitted,
and omitted with regret, to keep the volume within
those portable dimensions on which its utility and its
readability depended. If it be asked on what principle
the selection has been made, it would be difficult to
reply. I have just followed out the course of my own
thoughts, — my own associations. If I have succeeded
in carrying my readers with me, there needs no excuse :
they can pursue the path into which I have led them,
to far wider knowledge and higher results. But if so
far they find it difficult or tedious to accompany me,
what excuse would avail ?

Here, as in the former series, the difficulty of com-
pression has been the greatest of all my difficulties : it

viii PREFA CE.

was hard sometimes, when in the full career of reflection
or fancy, to pull up, turn short round, and retrace my
steps, lest I should be carried beyond the limits abso-
lutely fixed by the nature and object of the work.
There was great temptation to load the text with notes
of reference to authorities, or notes of comment where
such authorities were disputed and contradictory ; but
I found it would only encumber, not elucidate, the
matter in hand. The authorities consulted are those
enumerated in the Preface to the First Series, with the
addition of separate and authentic biographies of the
most remarkable persons. To Mr. Maitland's Essays
on the Dark Ages ; to Sir James Stephen's Essays in
Ecclesiastical Biography ; and to Lord Lindsay's beau-
tiful work on Christian Art, — I have been largely
indebted, and have great pleasure in thus acknowledg-
ing my obligations.



I. General Character and Influence of Monastic Art. Ug-
liness and Sameness of the Representations. His-
torical and Moral Importance of the Monastic Sub-
jects, generally and individually. Contrast between
the Benedictine Pictures and those of the Mendicant

Orders 1

II. Distinction between the Devotional and the Historical

Subjects 12

III. Pounders, Habits, and Attributes of the different Or-

ders 15

IV. Principal Churches and Edifices of the various Orders 28


Origin of the Benedictines. Effigies of the Benedictines in-
teresting and suggestive under three Points of View.
As Missionaries, and as the Depositaries of Learning.
As Artists, Architects, and Musicians. As Agricultu-
rists. Principal Saints of the Benedictine Order . . 39

St. Benedict. The Legend. His Sister, St. Scholastica
His Disciples, St. Maurus, St. Placidus, and St. Flavia.
Pictures of St. Benedict. The Proper Habit, sometimes
white, and sometimes black. Attributes of St. Benedict.
Examples of Devotional Figures. Subjects from his Life
by various Painters. Legend of the Dead Nuns . . 45

St. Ildefonso. Famous in Spanish Art. His Vision of the

Virgin. His Vision of St. Leocadia . . . . 65


St. Bavon. The Legend. Pictures of the Saint. Story of the

Slave . 67

St. Giles. Origin of the Legend 69

St. Benedict of Anian and St. William of Aquitaine . 71
St. Nilus of Grotta Ferrata. Legend of St. Nilus and the
Emperor Otho. Frescos of Domenichino at Grotta
Ferrata 73


Introduction of the Order into England. Its Interest and
Importance as connected with our History. Earliest
English Saints. St. Helena, St Alban. The Legend.
First Introduction of Christianity into England. The
Legend of Glastonbury. The Legend of St. Augustine
of Canterbury, of St. Paulinus of York, of St. Bennet of
Wearmouth, of St. Cuthbert of Durham, of St. Oswald
the King, of St Hilda of Whitby, of St. Ebba of Colding-
ham, of Caedmon the Poet, of St Chad of Lichfield, of
St Guthlac of Croyland, of St. Ethelberga, of St. Ethel-
reda (as represented in Ely Cathedral), of St Werburga
of Chester. St. Edith of Polesworth, and St. Modwena . 80

St. Boniface, Martyr. The Legend. Habit and Attributes.
Popularity in Germany. St. Ewald the Black and St.
Ewald the Fair. St. Swidbert. St. Lieven. St. Wal-
burga. St. Ottilia. St. Sebald of Nuremberg. St.
Benno Ill

Disputes of the English Benedictines with the Norman
Kings. Legend of Dale Abbey. Legend of St. Edmund
and Ragnar Lodbrog. Martyrdom of King Edmund.
St. Neot. St. Swithen. St. Dunstan : his Legend •, his
Skill as an Artist , as a Musician : ancient Figure. St.
Edith of Wilton 125

Legends of St. Edward the Martyr and St. Edward the Con-
fessor. Legend of St. Thomas a. Becket .... 138


Decline of the Moral Influence and Discipline of the Order.

Reform of the Order in Italy 154

The Order of Camaldoli. Legend of St Romualdo. Fig-


ures of St. Romualdo in the early Florentine School.

The Vision of St. Romualdo 155

The Order of Vallombrosa. Legend of St. John Gual-
berto. Popular at Florence. Subjects from his Life.
The Guardian Saints of Vallombrosa St. Umilti . . 159

The Carthusians. Origin, Interest, and Importance of the
Order in connection with Art. Legends of St. Bruno as
represented by Le Sueur, by Zurbaran, by Carducho.
The Charter-House in London. St. Hugh of Grenoble.
St. Hugh of Lincoln, Martyr. Other Infant Martyrs . 166

The Cistercians. Popularity of the Order. St Bernard of
Clairvaux. The Legend. His Learning and Celebrity.
Preaches the Second Crusade. Pictures and Effigies of
St. Bernard. Hahit and Attributes. Devotional Sub-
jects. The Vision of St. Bernard. Popularity of this
Subject. Lichfield Cathedral. Historical Subjects. St.
Bernard in the Cathedral of Spires 179

The Olivetans. St. Bernard Ptolomei, Founder. St. Fran-

cesca Romana. Popularity of her Effigies at Rome . 189

St. Charles Borromeo. His Character. His Influence in
the Reform of the Church. His great Charity. The
Plague at Milan. Effigies of St. Charles. Scenes from
his Life. Palestrina 193

St. Philip Neri. Founder of the Oratorians. Legend of the

Massimi Family. Pictures of St. Philip Neri . . 201

The Port-Royalists : La Mere Angelique ; Jaqueline Pascal ;
Pictures by Philippe Champagne. The Trappistes:
Story of De Ranee 204


Effigies of Royal Saints not satisfactory ; and why. St.
Charlemagne. St. Clotilda. St. Cloud. St. Sigismond
of Burgundy. St. Cyril and St. Methodius, Apostles of
the Sclavonians. St. Wenceslaus of Bohemia, and St.
Ludmilla St. Henry of Bavaria. St. Cunegunda. St.
Stephen of Hungary. St. Leopold of Austria. St. Fer-
dinand of Castile. St. Casimir of Poland . . .203



Origin of the Order. Their Patriarch, St. Augustine. St.

Monica. St. Patrick and St. Bridget or' Ireland . . 230
St. Nicholas of Tolextixo 236

St. Thomas of Villanueva : his Popularity in Spain •. Mu-

rillo's Picture 238

St. John Nepomuck. The Legend. Patron Saint of Bridges.

Popularity throughout Bohemia and Austria . . 242

St. Lorenzo Giistiniani. Popular at Venice. Pictures by

Carpaccio, Bellini, and Paris Bordone .... 246

St. Rosalia of Palermo. The Sicilian Legend. Painted

by Vandyck for the Jesuits 247

St. Clara of Monte-Falco 249


The Premonstratexsians. Legend of St. Norbert : various
Pictures of him in the German School. St. Herman-
Joseph •. Picture by Vandyck ...-.., 249

The Servi. St. Philip Benozzi. Church of the Annunziata
at Florence. Frescos painted for the Order by Andrea
del Sarto and others 253

The Trinitarians. Instituted for the Redemption of Cap-
tives. Legend of St John de Matha, St. Felix de Valois.
and St. Radegunda. How represented .... 257

The Order of Ocr Lady of Mercy. Legends of St. Peter

Nolasco. Popular in Spanish Art 261

The Brioittixf.s. Legend of St. Bridget of Sweden, Foun-
dress. Popular Representations 264


Origin of the Mendicant Orders in the Thirteenth Century.
Characters of St. Francis and St. Dominick contrasted.
Of their two Communities. Distinction in Habit. Phys-
iognomy. How characterized in Dante How repre-
sented by the early Painters : by the later Schools.
Patronage of Art 267

The Franciscans. The Seraphic Order. Principal Saints

represented in the Franciscan Edifices .... 275


St. Francis of Assisi. The Legend. Origin of the Porzion-
cula. Popularity of the Effigies of St. Francis. The
Devotional and Mystical Subjects. Single Figures as
Founder. The Stigmata. The Vision of the Virgin and
Infant Christ. The Legend of the Roses. St. Francis
espouses Poverty. Frescos in the Choir at Assisi. The
Life and Miracles of St. Francis, as a Series of Subjects
by Giotto, by Ghirlandajo, by Benedetto da Maiano.
St. Francis preaches to the Birds. His Ideas concerning
Animals. Separate Subjects from the Life of St. Francis 278

St. Clara. Her Legend. She is the Type of Female Piety.
Ancient Representations of her . as Abbess ; as the
" Madre Serafica." Pictures from her History . . 309

St. Antony of Padca. The Legend. His Church at Padua.
His Life, as a Series of Pictures by Titian and others.
St. Antony with the Infant Christ 317

St. Bonaventura, Cardinal, and Doctor of the Church . 326
St. Bernardino of Siena. Habit and Attributes. Popu-
larity of his Effigies. Bernardino da Feltri, with the
Monte-di-Pietd 330

St. Elizabeth of Hungary. The Type of Female Charity.
Beauty and Interest of the Legends relating to her.
Her Life. Devotional Representations of her popular
throughout Europe. The Legend of the Roses. Pictures
from her Life. Description of St. Elizabeth in the " Er-
linde '' of Wolf von Goethe. St. Elizabeth of Portugal,
the original Heroine of Schiller's " Fridolin " . . . 335
St. Locis of France, King ; and his Sister, St. Isabella . 359

St. Locis of Toulouse, Bishop 306

St. Margaret of Cortona 363

St. Ives of Bretagne 371

St. Eleazar de Sabras . 373

St. Rosa di Viterbo 374

St. Francis de Paula 375

St. Juan de Dios 378

St. Felix de Cantalicio 383

St. Diego d'Alcala. The Cappella nerrera. Anecdote of

Annibal Caracci and Albano 384

St. Vincent de Paule 387


rl/S^f i^jN the first series of this work, I reviewed the
Scriptural personages and the poetical and
traditional saints of the early ages of the
Church, as represented in Art.
I endeavored to show that these have, and ought to
have, for us a deep, a lasting, a universal interest ; that
even where the impersonation has been, through igno-
rance or incapacity, most imperfect and inadequate, it
is still consecrated through its original purpose, and
through its relation to what we hold to be most sa-
cred, most venerable, most beautiful, and most gracious,
on earth or in heaven. Therefore the Angels still hover
before us with shining, wind-swift wings, as links between
the terrestrial and the celestial ; therefore the Evangel-
ists and Apostles are still enthroned as the depositaries
of truth ; the Fathers and Confessors of the Church still
stand robed in authority as dispensers of a diviner wis-
dom ; the Martyrs, palm-sceptred, show us what once
was suffered, and could again be suffered, for truth and
righteousness' sake ; the glorified Penitents still hold
out a blessed hope to those who, in sinning, have loved
much ; the Virgin Patronesses still represent to us the
Christian ideal of womanhood in its purity and its
power. The image might be defective, but to our fore-


fathers it became gracious and sanctified through the
suggestion, at least, of all they could conceive of holiest,
brightest, and best; the lesson conveyed, either by direct
example or pictured parable, was always intelligible,
and, in the hands of great and sincere artists, irresistibly
impressive and attractive. To us, therefore, in these
later times, such representations are worthy of reverent
study for the sake of their own beauty, or for the sake
of the spirit of love and faith in which they were created.

Can the same be said of the Monastic personages, and
the legends relating to them, as we find them portrayed
in sculpture and painting ? I think not. It appears to
me that, here, the pleasure and the interest are of a more
mingled nature, good and ill together. At the very
outset we are shocked by what seems a violation of the
first principles of Art. Monachism is not the conse-
cration of the beautiful, even in idea ; it is the apotheo-
sis of deformity and suffering. What can be more
unpromising, as subjects for the artist, than the religious
Orders of the Middle Ages, where the first thing de-
manded has been the absence of beauty and the absence
of color ? Ascetic faces, attenuated forms, dingy dark
draperies, the mean, the squalid, the repulsive, the abso-
lutely painful, — these seem most uncongenial materials,
out of which to evolve the poetic, the graceful, and the
elevating ! True, this has been done, and done in
some cases so effectually, that we meet constantly with
those whose perceptions have become confused, whose
taste is in danger of being vitiated through the con-
ventional associations awakened by the present passion
for what is called Mediaeval Art. But with all our
just admiration and sympathy for greatness achieved
through the inspiration of faith and feeling in spite of
imperfect means and imperfect knowledge, let us not
confound things which, in their very essence, are incom-
patible. Pain is pain; ugliness is ugliness; the quaint
is not the graceful. Therefore, dear friends, be not
deceived! — every long-limbed, long-eyed, long-draped


saint is not " a Giotto " ; nor every meagre, simpering
nun, or woe-begone monk, " a Beato Angelico."

And again, the effigies of the monastic personages do
not only fail, and necessarily fail, in beauty ; — they
have a deeper fault. Generally speaking, the moral
effect of such pictures upon the mass of the people was
not, at any time, of a healthy kind. The subjects were
not selected to convey a precept, or to touch the heart :
the aim was not to set forth the virtue of the good man
as an example ; but to glorify the community to which
he belonged, and to exalt the saints of the respective
Orders as monks, not as men. Even where, as men,
they shine most attractively, the holy example conveyed
in the representation is neutralized through a species of
assumption in the purpose of the work, a vainglorious
and exclusive spirit, which has certainly interfered with,
and diminished, the religious impression. Sometimes,
where the sentiment which the painter brought to his
task was truly pious, we still feel that the glory of his
community was the object at heart ; and that the exal-
tation of his own patriarch, whether that were St. Bene-
dict, St. Francis, or St. Dominick, had become to him
an act of devotion. I have observed that many who
have resided long in Catholic countries are apt to see,
in the monastic pictures, only this selfish, palpable pur-
pose ; and, associating such representations with the
depravation of the priestly character, the tyranny of
rulers, and the ignorance of the people, regard them
either as mere objects of virtu, where the artist is rare
and the workmanship beautiful, — or as objects of dis-
gust and ridicule, where they have not this fancied value
in the eyes of the connoisseur.

The want of physical beauty, the alloy of what is
earthly and self-seeking in the moral effect, — these are
surely important drawbacks in estimating the value of
the monastic pictures considered as religious Art. If
they can still charm us, still attract and rivet attention,
still excite to elevated feeling, it is owing to sources
of interest which I will now endeavor to point out.


In the first place, then, Monachism in Art, taken in
a large sense, is historically interesting, as the expres-
sion of a most important era of human culture. We
are outliving the gross prejudices which once repre-
sented the life of the cloister as being from first to last
a life of laziness and imposture : Ave know that, but for
the monks, the light of liberty, and literature, and sci-
ence, had been forever extinguished ; and that, for six
centuries, there existed for the thoughtful, the gentle,
the inquiring, the devout spirit, no peace, no security,
no home but the cloister. There, Learning trimmed
her lamp ; there, Contemplation " pruned her wings " ;
there the traditions of Art, preserved from age to age
by lonely, studious men, kept alive, in form and color,
the idea of a beauty beyond that of earth, — of a might
beyond that of the spear and the shield, — of a Divine
sympathy with suffering humanity. To this we may
add another and a stronger claim on our respect and
moral sympathies. The protection and the better educa-
tion given to women in these early communities ; the
venerable and distinguished rank assigned to them
when, as governesses of their Order, they became in a
manner dignitaries of the Church ; the introduction
of their beautiful and saintly effigies, clothed with all
the insignia of sanctity and authority, into the deco-
ration of places of worship and books of devotion, —
* did more, perhaps, for the general cause of womanhood
than all the boasted institutions of chivalry.

This period is represented to us in the Benedictine
pictures or effigies. Those executed for the Cistercians,
the Vallombrosians, the Camaldolesi (or by them, for
these communities produced some of the most excelling
of the early artists), are especially characterized by an
air of settled peace, of abstract quietude, — something
fixed in the attitude and features, recalling the con-
ventual life as described by ►St. Bernard.* There is an

* " Bonum est nos hie esse, quia homo vivit purius, cadit
rarius, suryit velocius, incedit cautius, quiescit securius,
moritur felicius, punjutur citius, priemiatur copiusus."*


example at hand in the assemblage of Saints by Taddeo
Gaddi, now in our National Gallery. The old mosaics,
and the most ancient Gothic sculpture, exhibit still
more strongly this pervading sentiment of a calm,
peaceful, passionless life ; sometimes even in the female
figures, grave, even to sternness, but oftener elevated,
even to grandeur.

Then followed a period when tne seclusion of the
cloister-life ceased to be necessary, and ceased to do
good. The strong line of demarcation between the
active and the contemplative life, between life in the
world and life out of the world, could no longer be
safely drawn. The seventh century after the death of
St. Benedict saw the breaking forth of a spirit which
left the deepest, the most ineffaceable, impression on the
arts and the culture of succeeding times ; and some of
the grandest productions of human genius, in painting,
sculpture, and architecture, signalized the rise of the
Mendicant Orders.

To understand fully the character of these produc-
tions, it is necessary to comprehend something of the
causes and results of that state of spiritual excitement,
that frenzy of devotion, which seized on Christian Eu-
rope during the period I allude to. It seems to me,
that in this movement of the thirteenth century there
was something analogous to the times through which
we of this present generation have lived. There had
been nearly a hundred years of desolating wars. The

(" Good is it for us to dwell here, where man lives more purely ;
falls more rarely ; rises more quickly ; treads more cautiously ;
rests more securely ; dies more happily ; is absolved more easily ;
and rewarded more plenteously.")

This sentence was usually inscribed on some conspicuous part

Online LibraryMrs. (Anna) JamesonLegends of the monastic orders, as represented in the fine arts. Forming the second series of Sacred and legendary art → online text (page 1 of 41)