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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aries from the seventh to the twelfth century, belonged
to the same religious communitv.

But it appears that from the middle of the ninth to
the middle of the eleventh century, the intellectual
superiority of the Benedictines, and their moral influ-
ence over the people, declined. As far as I can judge,
Mr. Maitlaud has triumphantly proved, that the com-
mon notion of the universal ignorance, and laziness,
and depravity of the monks, even during this period,
has been much exaggerated ; still, the complaints of
the ecclesiastical writers of the time, writers of their
own Order, — there were no other, — prove that mani-
fold disorders had crept into the religious houses, and


that the primitive rule of the founder, particularly that
chapter which enjoined manual labor, was neglected
or evaded by the monks. If there appeared among
them some men more conscientious or more enlight-
ened, who denounced, or endeavored to reform, these
abuses, they were in some instances imprisoned or
even murdered by their own companions ; oftener they
withdrew in disgust, and hid themselves in deserts, to
avoid what they could neither heal nor prevent. The
number of these solitaries was so great, that every
forest, every woodland glade, or rocky glen, had its
hermit-cell ; and in all the romances, legends, and
poems of the time, some holy hermit is sure to figure
as one of the chief actors.

The first successful attempt to restore the strict in-
stitutions of St. Benedict was made in France, in the
famous monastery of Clugni, by the Abbot Odo, be-
tween 927 and 942: but as these monks of Clugni,
however important in the page of history, are com-
paratively insignificant in art, I pass them over for the
present. In Italy, the reform began in the following
century under Romualdo and Gualberto, two very
remarkable characters, who occur very frequently in
the early Florentine works of art, but rarely in any

St. Romualdo, Founder of the Order of

Feb. 7, 1027.

The habit entirely white, — white hood and girdle.

Romualdo, descended from one of the noblest fami-
lies of Ravenna, that of the Onesti, was born about
the year 956 ; his father, Sergius, gave him the usual
education of a young nobleman of that time. In his
youth he was fond of hunting, but when he chased the


boar through the pine forests of Ravenna, he would
slacken his bridle, and become, almost unconsciously
to himself, absorbed in contemplation of the beauty
and quietude of the scene. Then he would sigh forth
a prayer or two, and think of the happiness of those
who dwell in peace far from the vain pleasures and
deceits and turmoil of the world.

His father, Sergius, was a man of a far different
spirit, — worldly, haughty, grasping, and violent. Be-
lieving himself aggrieved by a near relation, on the
subject of a succession to a certain pasture, in the
course of the dispute he challenged his adversary and
slew him on the spot. Eomualdo, then a young man
of twenty, was present on this occasion ; and, struck
with horror and compunction, he believed himself called
upon to expiate the crime of his father by doing pen-
ance for it himself. He retired to the monastery of
Sant Apollinare in Classe, about four miles from the
city of Ravenna ; and there, in a fit of disgust and
despair, assumed the habit of the Order of St. Bene-
dict, lie passed seven years in the convent, but was
scandalized by the irregularity of the monks, and the
impunity with which the fundamental rules of a relig-
ious order were daily and hourly transgressed. The
idea of restoring to the monastical institutions that
purity and that spiritual elevation of which he fondly
believed them capable, took possession of his mind, and
the rest of his long life was one of perpetual struggle in
the cause. He was slandered and vilified by the cor-
rupt monks, his life threatened, often in danger ; but
his enthusiastic faith and firmness overcame all. After
a conflict of about thirty years, he found himself at the
head of some hundreds of reformed monks, and had
become celebrated throughout the whole of the North
of Italy.

The parent monastery was founded by Romualdo, in
a solitary glen among the Apennines, near Arezzo ;
called from the family name of its original owners, the
Campo-Maldoli ; hence the appellation of the Order.


It is one of the strictest of all the monastic institutions.
The congregations of the Camaldolesi remind us in
some respects of those of the ancient Egyptian hermits ;
they are devoted to the perpetual service of God, in
silence, contemplation, and solitude ; they neither con-
verse nor eat together, but live in separate huts, each' of
which has its little garden, for that part of the institute
of St. Benedict which enjoined manual labor is retained.
Romualdo died in 1027, according to his legend, at
the great age of one hundred and twenty years ; ac-
cording to more probable accounts, at the age of seventy.
Dante has placed him in his Paradiso (c. 22) " among
the spirits of men contemplative."

Figures of St. Romualdo are met with only in pic-
tures painted for the houses of his Order, and are easily
recognized. He wears the white habit, with loose wide
sleeves, a long white beard descending to his girdle,
and leans upon a crutch : we have such a picture in
our National Gallery, painted by Taddeo Gaddi, either
for the convent at Camaldoli, or, which is more proba-
ble, for that of the " Angeli," a foundation of the
Camaldolesi at Florence, now suppressed. It is one
of the two compartments entitled in the catalogue
" Saints " ; the Virgin and Child having evidently
formed the centre group. St. Romualdo sits on the
right in front ; his pendant in the opposite wing being
St. Benedict with his rod. Thus we have the two
patriarchs of the Order most conspicuously placed.
With St. Benedict, beginning at the top, we have St.
Ambrose with his music-book, St. Francis, St. Stephen,
St. Paul, St. Catherine as patroness of theologians and
schoolmen, St. John the Baptist, St. Mark (holding
his Gospel open at the text ch. xvi. v. 16); and in •
company with St. Romualdo we find St. Gregory, St.
Philip, St. Laurence, St. Dominick, St. John the
Evangelist, St. Peter, and (I think) St. Bernard, the
great scholar and polemic of his time, as pendant to
St. Catherine.


" The Vision of St. Romualdo " is the only subject
I have seen from his life. It is recorded in his legend,*
that, a short time before his death, he fell asleep beside
a fountain near his cell; and he dreamed, and in his
dream he saw a ladder like that which the patriarch
Jacob beheld in his vision, resting on the earth, and the
top of it reaching to heaven ; and he saw the brethren
of his Order ascending by twos and by threes all clothed
in white. When Romualdo awoke from his dream, he
changed the habit of his monks from black to white,
which they have ever since worn in remembrance of
this vision.

The earliest example is a small picture by Simone
Avanzi, which I saw in the Bologna Gallery. The
latest, and a justly celebrated picture, is the large altar-
piece t by Andrea Sacchi, painted for the Church of the
Camaldolesi at Rome ; the saint, seated under a tree,
leaning on his staff, and surrounded by five of his
monks, is pointing to the vision represented in the
background. It has been a question whether Andrea
has not committed an error in representing St. Romu-
aldo and his companions already in white ; supposing
the alteration to have been made in consequence of the
vision. But the picture ought perhaps to be under-
stood in a devotional and ideal sense, as Romualdo
pointing out to his recluses the path to heaven.

Although the Camaldolesi have not been remarkable
as patrons of art, their Order produced a painter of
great importance in his time, — Lorenzo, called from his
profession Don Lorenzo Monaco ; and another painter
named Giovanni, who belonged to the same convent,
" Degli Angeli," already mentioned. Several pictures
from this suppressed convent are in the Florence Acade-
my, and one in which Don Giovanni Monaco assisted
Frate Angelico. In the Gallery of the Uffizi, is a
beautiful Adoration of the Magi by Don Lorenzo.

* Perhaps the same which Dante alludes to, Purg. c. v.
t Rome. Vatican. Engr. Musee Napoleon.


St. Johx Gualberto, Founder of the Order
of Vallombrosa.

Ital. San Giovanni Gualberto. Fr. S. Jean Gualbert, or Calbert.

July 12, 1073.

The proper habit is a pale ash color or light gray ; the monks
now wear a black cloak, and, when abroad, a < large hat.

Saixt John Gualberto appears only in the Floren-
tine pictures, and I have never seen his beautiful legend
represented in a manner worthy of its picturesque and
poetical associations and grave moral significance.

Giovanni Gualberto was born at Florence of rich and
noble lineage. His father, who was of high military
rank, gave him a good education according to the ideas
of the time : he excelled in all manly exercises, and
entered on the active and brilliant career of a young
Florentine noble, in the days when his native city was
rising into power and opulence as a sovereign state.

When he was still a young man, his only brother,
Hugo, whom he loved exceedingly, was murdered by a
gentleman with whom he had a quarrel. Gualberto,
whose grief and fury were stimulated by the rage of
his father and the tears of his mother, set forth in pur-
suit of the assassin, vowing a prompt and a terrible

It happened, that when returning from Florence to
the country-house of his father on the evening of Good
Friday, he took his way over the steep, narrow, wind-
ing road which leads from the city gate to the church
of San Miniato-del-Monte. About half-way up the hill,
where the road turns to the right, he suddenly came
upon his enemy alone and unarmed. At the sight of
the assassin of his brother, thus, as it were, given into
his hand, Gualberto drew his sword. The miserable
wretch, seeing no means of escape, fell upon his knees


and entreated mercy : extending his arms in the form
of a cross, he adjured him by the remembrance of
Christ, who had suffered on that day, to spare his
life. Gualberto, struck with a sudden compunction,
remembering that Christ when on the cross had prayed
for his murderers, stayed his uplifted sword, trembling
from head to foot; and after a moment of terrible con-
flict with his own heart, and a prayer for Divine sup-
port, he held out his hand, raised the suppliant from
the ground, and embraced him in token of forgiveness.
Thus they parted ; and Gualberto, proceeding on his
way in a sad and sorrowful' mood, every pulse throb-
bing with the sudden revulsion of feeling, and thinking
on the crime he had been on the point of committing, ar-
rived at the church of San Miniato, and, entering, knelt
down before the crucifix over the altar. His rage had
given way to tears, his heart melted within him ; and
as he wept before the image of the Saviour, and suppli-
cated mercy because he had shown mercy, he fancied,
that, in gracious reply to his prayer, the figure bowed
its head.* This miracle, for such he deemed it, com-
pleted the revolution which had taken place in his whole
character and state of being. From that moment, the
world and all its vanities became hateful to him ; he felt
like one who had been saved upon the edge of a preci-
pice : he entered the Benedictine Order, and took up
his residence in the monastery of San Miniato. Here
he dwelt for some time an humble penitent; all earthly
ambition quenched at once with the spirit of revenge.
On the death of the Abbot of San Miniato, he was
elected to succeed him, but no persuasions could induce
him to accept of the office. He left the convent, and
retired to a solitude amid the Apennines about twenty
miles from Florence, the Vallombrosa, renowned for its
poetical as well as its religious associations.

Here he took up his abode, and built himself a little
hut in company with two other hermits. But others,

* This crucifix is preserved in the Church of the Triniti at Flor-
ence, which belongs to the Vallombrosan Order.


attracted by his sanctity, collected around him ; the
number increased daily, all regarding him as their head,
and he found it necessary to introduce some order into
his community. He therefore gave to his disciples the
rule of St. Benedict, renewing those strict observances
which for three centuries had been almost laid aside ;
adding also some new obligations, — for example, that
of silence. The rule, however, was considerably less
severe than that of the Camaldolesi.

This new institution received the confirmation of the
Pope, and the founder lived to see twelve houses of his
Order spring up around him. One of the most cele-
brated of these, next to the parent institution at Vallom-
brosa, was the monastery of the Salvi, about two miles
from Florence : it is now ruined and deserted, but the
vast space it covers shows its former magnificence. In
the refectory still exists Andrea del Sarto's Last Sup-
per, to which many a pilgrimage is still made. The
Church of the Trinita at Florence, so familiar to those
who have dwelt there, also belongs to the monks of

St. John Gualberto died in 1073. The devotional
figures of this saint, which are to be found only in the
pictures painted for the convents of his Order, exhibit
him in the light-gray habit, and in general holding a
cross in his hand, sometimes also a crutch. He is gen-
erally beardless.

With regard to the subjects from his life, some of
them are of extreme interest in the history of Florentine
art. I have always regretted that the most beautiful
and most affecting incident in his story, the meeting
with the murderer on the road to San Miniato, has
never been worthily treated. The spot where the meet-
ing took place has been consecrated to memory by a
small tabernacle surmounted by a cross, within which
the sceue is represented ; and I remember, in the churches
at Florence and in the convents of the Order of Vallom-
brosa, several miserably bad pictures of this incident,
1 1


where Gualberto is generally an armed cavalier on
horseback, and the murderer kneels at his stirrup en-
treating mercy. There may possibly exist better ex-
amples, but I have not met with them. As the Order
increased in importance and in riches, the subjects se-
lected by the monks were those relating to the religious
life of their founder and to the legends connected with
it. The following are the most important : —

1. John Gualberto, amongst his other virtues, was
remai'kable for his simplicity and his humility. On a
certain occasion, visiting one of his dependent monas-
teries, that of Moscetta or Moscera, over which he
had placed, as Superior, one of his disciples named
Rudolfo, he found that this man had expended in
the embellishment of his convent a large portion of
the sums intrusted to him ; having enriched it with
marbles, columns, and other decorations. Gualberto*
sternly reproved this vainglory, and prophesied the im-
pending destruction of the convent, which soon after
took place, from a sudden inundation of the mountain
torrents, which carried away great part of the newly
constructed edifice.

2. Gualberto had distinguished himself by his con-
stant enmity to the practice of simony then common in
the Church. Pietro di Pavia, a man of infamous char-
acter, having purchased by gold the archbishopric of
Florence, Gualberto denounced him for this and other
malpractices. Pietro sent a body of soldiers, who
burnt and pillaged the monastery of San Salvi, and
murdered several of the monks. Gualberto persisted
in his accusation ; but such was the power of this
wicked and violent prelate, that he would proba!>ly
have prevailed, if one of the monks of Vallombrosa
had not demanded the ordeal of fire, at that time in
legal use. He passed between the flames triumphantly,
and the archbishop was deposed. This monk, after-
wards known as Peter Igncus, is commemorated among
the worthies of the Order. I have seen this incident

* v. Southey's Poems_. Ballad of S. Gualberto.


represented in pictures ; he is seen passing in his white
habit between two fires in the midst of a crowd of
spectators, St. John Gualberto standing by: — as in a
small picture by Andrea del Sarto. (Fl. Acad.)

3. It is related of Gualberto, as of other saints,, that
when his monks were driven to extremity by want, he
multiplied the viands upon the table.

4. One of his monks being grievously tormented by
the demon when on his sick-bed, Gualberto came to
his assistance, and, holding up the cross which he
usually carried in his hand, he exorcised the tormentor.

When the figure of a cardinal is introduced into pic-
tures painted for this Order, as in the magnificent As-
sumption by Perugino, it represents St. Bernard degli
Uberti, a celebrated abbot of Vallombrosa. The same
cai'dinal is introduced into a group of saints, " St.
Michael, St. John the Baptist, St. John Gualberto,
and the Cardinal St. Bernard"; — one of the grand-
est pictures ever painted by Andrea del Sarto. (Fl.

The most beautiful monument relating to the history
of Gualberto is the series of bas-reliefs by Rovezzano,
now in the Florence Gallery. At the time when tbe
remains of the saint were about to be translated from
the convent of Passignano to that of the Salvi, Rovez-
zano was employed to build a chapel and a shrine to
receive them. Of the shrine, which was of exquisite
beauty, but little remains except this series of five
compositions : — 1. Gualberto exorcises the demon from
the couch of the monk Fiorenzo. 2. The monks,
while performing service in the choir, are attacked by
the soldiers of the archbishop and his partisans. 3.
Peter Igneus, having received the blessing of his supe-
rior, passes unhurt through the fire. 4. The death of
the saint, surrounded by his weeping monks. 5. The
translation of the relics of St. John Gualberto. The
blind, the lame, and other afflicted persons, throw
themselves in the way of the procession.

These charming works, among the most finished re-


mains of Italian sculpture in its best time, were injured
by the brutal and ignorant German soldiery during the
invasion of Italy in 1530. Yet, mutilated as they are,
they remain, for grace, expression, and delicacy of
finish, worthy of being reckoned among the miracles of
art. They are now to be seen on the walls of a little
corridor on the north side of the sculpture gallery at

It is interesting to find these Vallombrosan hermits
not only in possession of one of the finest libraries in
all Italy, until despoiled by the French of its rarest
books and manuscripts, but, from a very early period,
among the most munificent patrons of art.*

The pictures painted for them have been abstracted
from their shrines, and are now only found on the
walls of galleries and academies ; but surely it is a
species of injustice to look upon them without refer-
ence to their original destination. For the Vallom-
brosans, Cimabue painted his Madonna, famous in the
history of the revival of art, and for a long time pre-
served in the Trinita at Florence ; for them, Signorelli

* Raphael, on his journey over the mountains from Urbino to
Florence, in 1508, spent some days at Yallombrosa, and painted
the portraits of Don Biagio, the General of the Order, and Don
Baldassare, the Abbot of the Monastery. (Passavant, i. 115.)
These two heads, after being preserved for three hundred years
among the treasures of the convent, were removed, in 1813, to the
Academy, and, when I was there, they hung in the little side-
room, beneath the beautiful groups of angels by Granacci. In the
catalogue they are attributed to Perugino, but are, without doubt,
by Raphael. I hardly know in what words to express my feeling
of their wonderful beauty. They are nearly life-size, yet finished
like exquisite miniatures, and, with the intense expression and
color of Titian, have an elevation of sentiment, a delicacy and
precision in the drawing, to which Titian never attained. Not
long ago, I heard a distinguished writer of the present day — an
artist, too— express his opinion, that "Raphael had been over-
rated." One might as well say that Shakespeare had been over-
rated. I would be content to rest the question of his superemi-
nence as a painter on these two heads alone.


painted the chapel of San Miniato ; for them, Perugino
painted the Assumption in the Academy, — once over
the high altar in the church at Vallombrosa ; for them,
Andrea del Sarto painted his Cenacolo (S. Salvi) and
the " Quattro Santi." In the groups of saints painted
for this Order we shall generally find St. Benedict as
patriarch ; St. John Gualberto as founder ; St. Michael
the archangel, the celestial patron and protector of the
community; and San Bernardo Cardinale, already men-
tioned. I have seen strange mistakes made with re-
gard to these pictures ; such mistakes as diminish
greatly their interest and significance. Thus, San
Bernardo Cardinale is confounded with St. Bernard of
Clairvaux when he wears the mitre as abbot ; or with
St. Jerome when he wears the cardinal's hat. The
same figure in Botticelli's Coronation of the Virgin is
called in the catalogue St. Dominick. So in a beauti-
ful Nativity painted for the Camaldolesi, St. Romualdo,
in his monk's habit, and leaning on his crutch, is
styled St. Joseph.

There were formerly Vallombrosan nuns, and I be-
lieve they still exist. The foundress was Rosana, the
wife of Ugolotto Caccianemici of Faenza, afterwards
beatified as Sant Umilta (Saint Humility). There is a
curious effigy of her, with incidents from her life, by
Bufalmacco. In one of these she is preaching conti-
nence to her husband, reminding us of St. Cecilia and
St. Valerian ; in another, she has persuaded her hus-
band to assume the monastic habit. These quaint
little pictures are of great value as memorials ; genuine
works of Bufalmacco — the friend and butt of Giotto
and Boccaccio — being extremely rare.

Guido Aretino, the greatest musician of his time,
and the inventor of the modern system of notation in
music, was originally a monk of Vallombrosa.


The Carthusians.

The Carthusian Order was founded in 1084, by-
Bruno, a monk of Cologne. The first seat of the
Order was the famous monastery at Chartreux, near
Grenoble (afterwards known as la grande Chartreuse,
and which gave its name to the Order, and all the
affiliated foundations). Another contemporary monas-
tery rose at La Torre, in Calabria. Both were reared
by Bruno himself in his lifetime.

Of all the reformed Benedictine congregations, the
Order of the Carthusians is the most austere, but it is
also the most intei-esting. As a community, the Car-
thusians have never exhibited the ambitious self-seeking
of the Franciscans and the Dominicans. They have
been less in alliance with the Church as a power ;
more in alliance with religion as an influence. In
their traditional origin, and the early legends connected
with their founder Bruno, there is something wildly
poetical : in the appearance of the monks themselves,
in their ample white robes and hoods, their sandalled
feet and shaven heads, (for the tonsure is not with
them partial, as with other monks,) there is something
strangely picturesque. Their spare diet, their rigorous
seclusion, and their habits of labor, give them an
emaciated look, a pale quietude, in which, however,
there is no feebleness, no appearance of ill health or
squalor ; I never saw a Carthusian monk who did not
look like a gentleman. The sumptuous churches and
edifices of this self-denying Order date from the six-
teenth century ; about that period we find the first api pli-
cation of their increasing funds to purposes of architec-
ture and artistic decoration. They had previously been
remarkable for their fine libraries, and their skill in
gardening. They were the first and the greatest hor-
ticulturists in Europe : of the Carthusians it may em-
phatically be said, that wherever they settled, " they


made the desert blossom as the rose." When they
built their first nest amid the barren heights of Char-

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 14 of 41)