Mrs. (Anna) Jameson.

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

. (page 16 of 41)
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 16 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of Norwich (a. d. 1137), St. Hugh of Lincoln (a. d.


1255), St. Richard of Pontoise (a. d. 1182), and St.
Simon of Trent (a. b. 1472).

Chancer has given the story of one of these little
Christian martyrs in The Prioress's Tale ; he places
the scene in Asia, but concludes with a reference to
" young Hugh of Lincoln, in like sort laid low." The
tale, as modernized by Wordsworth, is in everybody's

St. Hugh of Lincoln is represented as a child about
three years old, nailed upon a cross ; or as standing
with a palm in one hand and a cross in the other.
There is a picture attributed to Agostino Caracci, rep-
resenting St. Simon of Trent as a beautiful boy, hold-
ing a palm in one hand, and in the other the long bod-
kin with which those wicked Jews pierced his side.

The effigies of these little martyrs, which used to
occur frequently in the churches, kept alive that hor-
ror of the Jews which is so energetically expressed in
The Prioress's Tale. Such atrocious memorials of
religious hatred are now everywhere banished, or exist
only in relics of the old stained glass.

The Cistercians.

Another and a far more important reform in the
Order of St. Benedict took place in 1098, when Robert
de Molesme founded at Cisteaux (or Citeaux), about
twelve leagues to the north of Chalons-sur-Soane, the
first abbey of the Cistercians, in a desert spot, described
as " overgrown with woods and brambles, wholly un-
frequented by men,' and the habitation of wild beasts."

Of all the branches of the Benedictine Order, this
was the most popular. It extended, in a short time,
over France, England, and Germany; produced innu-
merable learned men, popes, cardinals, and prelates ;


and numbered, within a century after its foundation,
3000 affiliated monasteries. In England their first
seat was Wavcrley, in Surrey ; and Furness and Fouiv
tains, Kirkstall, Bolton, Tintern, and many other ab-
beys, magnificent even in ruin, belonged to this famous
Order. In Spain, the noble military orders of Cala-
trava and Alcantara were subject to it. In France, the
most celebrated of the numerous dependent monasteries
was that of Clairvaux in Champagne, (a. d. 1115.)

The habit adopted by the Cistercians, at the time
they placed their Order under the especial protection
of the Virgin Mary, was white, the color consecrated
to her purity ; and, according to a legend of the Order,
assumed by her express command, intimated in a vision
to St. Bernard, — the great saint of the Cistercians,
the man who mainly contributed to render the Order
illustrious throughout Christendom, and the onlv mem-
her of it who is conspicuous as a subject of art.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

Lat. Sanctus Bernardus Doctor mellifluus. Ital. San Bernardo
di Chiaravalle, Abbate. Ger. Der Heilige Bernhard. Fr. Saint
Bernard. Aug. 20, 1153.

The habit white, a long loose robe with very wide sleeves, and
a hood or cowl : he has sometimes the mitre and crosier as abbot.
The attributes are, — a book, or a roll of ftapers, always in his
hand ; often a pen or ink-horn <, sometimes a demon fettered at
his feet, or chained to a rock behind him.

If I were called upon to enter on the life and char-
acter of St. Bernard, in relation to the history of his
time ; to consider him as the religious enthusiast and
the political agitator ; as mixed up with the philosophy,
the theology, the wars, the schisms, the institutions, of
an aire which he seemed to have informed with his own
spirit, while in fact he was only the incarnation, it I


may so express myself, of its prejudices and its ten-
dencies, then I might fairly throw down the pen, and
confess myself unequal to the task ; but, luckily for me,
the importance of St. Bernard as a subject of ait bears
no proportion to his importance as a subject of history.
It is not as the leading ecclesiastic and politician of his
age, — it is not as the counsellor of popes and kings, —
it is not as the subtle theological disputant, — it is not
as the adversary of Abelard and Arnold de Brecia, that
he appears in painting and sculpture. It is as the
head of a dominant Order, and yet more as the teacher
and preacher, that we see him figure in works of
art : and then only occasionally ; for he is far less
popular than many saints who never exercised a tithe
of his influence, — whose very existence is compara-
tively a fiction.

Bernard was born at the little village of Fontaine,
near Dijon, (a. d. 1190.) His father was noble, a lord
of the soil. His, mother, Alice, was an admirable
woman ; all the biographies of Bernard unite in giving
her the credit of his early education. He was one of a
large family of children, all of whom were fed from the
bosom of their mother; for she entertained the idea
that the infant, with the milk it drew from a stranger's
bosom, imbibed also some portion of the quality and
temperament of the nurse : therefore, while her children
were young, they had no attendant but herself. They
all became remarkable men and women ; but the fame
of the rest is merged in that of Bernard, who appeal's,
indeed, to have moulded them all to his own bent.

After pursuing his studies at the University of Paris,
Bernard entered the reformed Benedictine monastery
of Citeaux. He was then not more than twentv, re-
markable for his personal beauty and the delicacy of his
health ; but he had already, from the age of fifteen,
practised the most rigorous self-denial : he had been
subject to many temptations, but surmounted them all.
It is related that, on one occasion, he recollected him-


self at the moment when his eyes had rested with a
feeling of pleasure on the face of a heautiful woman,
and, shocked at his own weakness, he rushed into a
pool of water more than half-frozen, and stood there till
feeling and life had nearly departed together.

He was ahout twenty-five, when the abbey of Citeaux
became so overcrowded by inmates, that his abbot sent
him on a mission to found another monastery. The
manner of going forth on these occasions was strikingly
characteristic of the age ; — the abbot chose twelve
monks, representing the twelve apostles, and placed at
their head a leader, representing Jesus Christ, who,
with a cross in his hand, went before them. Tho
gates of the convent opened, — then closed behind
them, — and they wandered into the wide world, trust-
ing in God to show them their destined abode.

Bernard led his followers to a wilderness called the
Valley of Wormwood, and there, at his bidding, arose the
since renowned abbey of Clairvaux. They felled the
trees, built themselves huts, tilled and sowed the ground,
and changed the whole face of the country round ; till
that which had been a dismal solitude, the resort of
wolves and robbers, became a land of vines and corn,
rich, populous, and prosperous.

In a few years the name of Bernard of Clairvaux had
become famous throughout the Christian world. His
monastery could no longer contain those who came to
place themselves under his guidance. On every side
the feudal lords appealed to him to 'decide differences,
and to reconcile enemies ; the ecclesiastics, to resolve
questions of theology. He was the great authority on
all points of religious discipline ; he drew up the stat-
utes of the Templars ; Louis VI. appointed him arbiter
between the rival popes, Anacletus and Innocent II.,
and Bernard deciding in favor of the latter, the whole
Church received the fiat with perfect submission. He
was then in his thirty-ninth year. He was afterwards
sent to reconcile the disputes between the clergy of Mi-
lan and those of Rome, and succeeded. He was com-


missioned by Eugenius III. to preach a second crusade.
He succeeded here also, unhappily ; for his eloquent
adjurations so inflamed the people, that those who re-
fused to take up the cross were held in scorn, and had a
distaff put into their hands, in mockery of their effemi-
nate cowardice. Bernard was invited to assume the com-
mand of the multitude he had excited to take up arms ;
but he had the wisdom to decline. He remained at
home studying theology in his cell ; and of those whom
his fiery exhortations had impelled to the wars of Pal-
estine, few, very few, returned. The people raged
against Bernard for a false prophet ; but their rage was
transient as violent. He defended himself boldly and
eloquently, affirming that the armies of the crusaders
were composed of such a vile, insubordinate, irreligious
crew, that they did not deserve to be protected by Heav-
en. If they had been betrayed, defeated, destroyed ; if
the flood, the plague, the sword, had each had a part
in them, it was in just punishment of the vices and
the crimes of the age. He bid them go home and re-
pent : — and they did so.

Worn out by fatigues, missions, and anxieties, by long
and frequent journeys, by the most rigorous fasts and
penances, the health of this accomplished and zealous
monk gave way prematurely ; and, retiring to his cell,
he languished for a few years, and then died, in the
sixty-third year of his age. Twenty years after his
death he was canonized by Alexander III.

The virtues and the talents of Bernard lent a dread-
ful power to his misguided zeal, and a terrible vitality
to his errors. But no one has ever reproached him
with insincerity. In no respect did he step beyond his
age ; but he was, as I have already said, the imperson-
ation of the intellect of that age ; and, in a period of
barbarism and ignorance, he attracts us, and stands out,
in the blood-soiled page of history, like a luminous spot
surrounded with shadow. Of his controversy with Abe-
lard it is not necessary to speak. Had the life of Abe-
lard been as pure from moral stain as that of Bernard,


he might possibly have had a better chance against his
great adversary.

The writings of St. Bernard are of such authority
that he ranks as one of the fathers of the Catholic
Church. It was said of him (and believed) that when
he was writing his famous homilies on " The Song of
Songs, which is Solomon's," the holy Virgin herself
condescended to appear to him, and moistened his lips
with the milk from her bosom ; so that ever afterwards
his eloquence, whether in speaking or in writing, was
persuasive, irresistible, supernatural.

In devotional pictures, a monk in the white habit of
the Cistercian Order, with a shaven crown, little or no
beard, carrying a large book under his arm, or with
writing implements before him, or presenting books to
the Madonna, may be generally assumed to represent
St. Bernard. His peculiar attributes, however, are :
1. The demon fettered behind him ; the demon having
the Satanic, and not the dragon, form, is interpreted to
signify heresy. 2. Occasionally three mitres on his
book or at his feet, as in a picture by Garofalo, signify
the three bishoprics he refused, — those of Milan, Char-
tres, and Spires. 3. He has also the bee-hive as sym-
bol of eloquence, in common with Chrysostom and Au-
gustine ; but here it alludes also to his title of Doctor
melUfluus. 4. The mitre and crosier, as abbot of Clair-
vaux, are also given to him, — but rarely.

In old German art he may be found occasionally
with the black mantle over the white tunic.

He is often grouped with other Benedictine saints, —
St. Benedict or St. Bomualdo, — or he is embracing
the instruments of the Passion, a subject frequently met
with in the old French prints.

The subject called " the Vision of St. Bernard " must
be considered as mystical and devotional, not historical.
St. Bernard, as we have seen, was remarkable for his
devotion to the Blessed Virgin : one of his most cele-
brated works, the Missus est, was composed in her honor
as Mother of the Redeemer ; and in eighty sermons on


texts from the Song of Solomon, he set forth her divine
perfection as the Selected and Espoused, the type of
the Church on earth. Accordingly, the Blessed Virgin
regarded her votary with peculiar favor. His health
was extremely feeble ; and once, when he was employed
in writing his homilies, and was so ill that he could
scarcely hold the pen, she graciously appeared to him,
and comforted and restored him by her divine presence.
Of this graceful subject, there are some charming ex-
amples : — *

1. He is kneeling before a desk, the pen in his hand ;
the Virgin above, a graceful veiled figure, comes float-
ing in, sustained by two angels ; as in a picture by

2. St. Bernard is writing in a rocky desert, seated at
a rude desk formed of the stump of a tree. (Fl. Chiesa
de la Badia.) The Virgin stands before him, attended
by angels, one of whom holds up her robe. On the
rock behind him is inscribed his famous motto, — Sus-
tine et abstine (Bear and forbear). The figure of
the Virgin is singularly noble and graceful ; the
angels, as is usual with Filippino, are merely hand-
some boys.

3. He is seated writing, and looking round to the
Virgin, who enters on the opposite side attended by two
angels. (Munich Gal. Perugino.) Behind St. Ber-
nard stand St. Philip and St. Bartholomew. A beau-
tiful version of the subject.

4. He is sustained amid clouds, the pen in his hand,
looking up at the Madonna and infant Saviour, who are
surrounded by a choir of red seraphim : Mary Magda-
len stands near. This visionary representation is ex-
tremely characteristic of the painter, — original, fantas-
tic, but also elegant. (Louvre.)

I have seen several other instances, by Fra Bartolo-
meo ; by Murillo ; and one by Benozzo Gozzole in the
collection of M. Joly de Bamville, in which the figures
are half-length. The leading idea is in all the same,
and easily recognized.


5. The Virgin nourishes St. Bernard with milk from
her bosom. (The finest example by Murillo.) This
subject occurs only in the later schools of art, and must
be taken in a mystical and religious sense. It is a lit-
eral and disagreeable version of a figure of speech too
palpable for representation. Yet genius has overcome
these objections, and Murillo's great picture is cited as
a remarkable example of his skill in treating with dig-
nity and propriety a subject which in many hands,
might have suggested opposite ideas. " The great Ab-
bot of Clairvaux, seated amongst his books, and with
jars of lilies on the table, as an emblem of his devotion
to Our Lady, is surprised by a visit from that celestial
personage. As the white-robed saint kneels before her
in profound adoration, she bares her beautiful bosom,
and causes a stream of milk to fall from thence upon
the lips of her votary, which were from that time forth
endowed with a sweet persuasive eloquence that no
rival could gainsay, no audience resist. Above and
around the heavenly stranger cherubs disport them-
selves in a flood of glory ; and on the ground lie the
abbot's crosier and some folios bound in pliant parch-
ment, like those which once filled the conventual libra-
ries of Spain, and which Murillo has so often intro-
duced into his pictures. The chaste and majestic beauty
•of the- Virgin almost redeems the subject."*

I believe it is well known that the fine stained glass
in the choir of Lichfield Cathedral was brought from a
Cistercian nunnery near Liege (the Abbey of Hereken-
rode, ruined and desecrated in the French revolutionary
wars). On one of these windows, the third on the north
side of the choir, we find this mystical legend very beau-
tifully expressed. St. Bernard kneels at the feet of the
Virgin, looking up with passionate devotion ; she pre-
pares to bare her bosom. Behind him stands his sister,
the abbess St. Humbeline. The workmanship dates be-
tween 1530 and 1540, when the nuns rebuilt thtir cou-

* Stirling's Sp. Painters, p. 914.


vent, and employed the best artists of the Low Coun-
tries to decorate it. The designs for these windows I
should refer to Lambert Lombard, the first, and by far
the best, of the Italianized Flemish school of the six-
teenth century.

The historical subjects from the life of St. Bernard
are very feAV.

He was in the habit of lecturing his monks every
morning from some passage in Scripture. (Bartsch,
xiii. 11.) This scene is represented in a rare old en-
graving by Benedetto Montagna.

At Bei-lin there are two little pictures from the early
life of St. Bernard. (Masaccio.) 1. As a child, his
mother consecrates -him to the service of the Church ;
2. His habit having fallen into the fire, he takes it un-
injured from the flames. And in the same gallery is a
curious picture representing St. Bernard holding his
crosier and book ; and around this central figure six
small subjects from his life.

Some other incidents in the life of St. Bernard
would be admirable for art. As, for instance, the build-
ing of his monastery, where he and his white monks,
scattered in the wilderness, are felling the trees, while
others are praying for Divine strength and aid ; or the
preaching of the Crusade in various countries and
among various conditions of men : but I have not met
with either of these subjects.

It is related that, when he was abbot of Clairvaux,
his sister Humbeline, who had married a nobleman,
came to pay him a visit borne in a litter, and attended
by a numerous retinue of servants : he, scandalized by
so much pride and pomp, refused to see her. She then
desired to see another brother, who was also in the
convent, who in like manner rejected her. She burst
into tears, and entreating on her knees that her saintly
brother would instruct her what she ought to do, he
condescended to appear at the gate, desired her to go
home, and imitate her mother. Humbeline afterwards


became a model of humility and piety, and ended her
life in seclusion. This conference between the brother
and the sister would be a fine subject for a painter.

In the Boisseree Collection there is a very curious
picture entitled " St. Bernard in the Cathedral of
Spires," (Der Heilige Bernhard im Dom zu Speir,)
wbich for a long time embarrassed me exceedingly, as
I dare say it has others. At length I found the legend.
It is related, that when St. Bernard was preaching the
Crusade in Germany, he entered the Cathedral of
Spires, accompanied by the Emperor Conrad, and a
splendid retinue of prelates and nobles. There, in
presence of all, he knelt down three times as he ap-
proached the altar, reciting the famous hymn to the
Virgin. The first time, he exclaimed " Clemens ! "
the second, " Pia ! " the third time, " du.lcis Virgo
Maria ! " In memory of the saint and of this incident
these words were inscribed on the pavement where he
had knelt, and the Salve Regina was sung every day in
the choir. These memorials were preserved, and this
custom retained, till the magnificent Cathedral of
Spires, almost equal to that of Strasbourg, was dese-
crated and turned into a military station in the begin-
ning of the French Revolution. The picture I have
alluded to represents in the centre, St. Bernard kneel-
ing in the black habit, which is very unusual ; and
rather fat and clumsy, which is not characteristic, for
he was of a fair complexion, and spare and delicate
temperament. The three inscriptions are visible on
the pavement, The Emperor Conrad stands on the
rio-ht, with his courtiers and warriors; on the left, a
bishop and an abbot with attendants. The picture is
gorgeous in color, and very curious as an historical

Dante, whose great poem is a reflection of the re-
ligious feelings prevalent in his time, has given St.
Bernard a most distinguished place in the " Paradiso "
(c. xxxi.). The poet, looking round, finds that Bea-
trice has left his side, and that her place is filled by


that " teacher revered," St. Bernard, upon whom, with
great propriety, devolves the task of presenting him to
the Virgin, who, in turn, is to present him to her divine
Son. St. Bernard then hreaks forth into that sublime
address to the Virgin-mother, which Petrarch has imi-
tated, and Chaucer has translated. This leading idea,
this rapport between the Virgin and St. Bernard, must
be borne in mind, for it is constantly reproduced in the
pictures painted for the Cistercian Order ; and I shall
have much to say on this subjeet in the " Legends of
the Madonna."

In pictures executed for the French, Flemish, and
German churches, St. Bernard is often found in com-
panionship with his friend and contemporaiy St. Nor-
bert, bishop of Magdeburg, founder of the Premonstra-
tensians ; for whom the reader will turn to the Augus-
tins, farther on.

The Congregation' of Moxte Oliveto.

We must bear in mind that there are three St. Ber-
nards represented in art : — the great abbot of Clair-
vaux, whose history has just been given ; St. Bernard
degli Uberti, abbot of Vallombrosa, and Cardinal,
already mentioned ; and a third St. Bernard, distin-
guished as San Bernardo dei Tolomei, who is more
properly the Beato Bernardo, for I do not find that he
has been regularly canonized : he was born in 1272, of
an illustrious family of Siena, and for some years was
distinguished as a learned professor of law in his native
city ; but the dominant passion of the age reached him,
and he was still in the prime of life when, seized with
religious compunction, he withdrew from the world to
a mountain, about ten miles from Siena, called the
Monte Uliveto, or Mount of Olives. Others joined
him ; they erected cells and an oratory in the usual
manner ; and thus was founded the " Olivetani," or


" Congregation of the Blessed Virgin of Monte Olive-
to." (Monaci Bianchi di Monte Uliveto.) Bernardo
placed his new Order under the rule of St. Benedict,
and gave them the white habit. The Order was con-
firmed by Pope John XXII. in 1319. The principal
saints represented in the churches and monasteries of
the Olivetani are St. Benedict, as patriarch, and St.
Bernard of Clairvaux, the patron saint of their founder.
Only in late pictures do we find the founder himself,
generally in the white Benedictine habit, with a branch
of olive in his hand, in allusion to the name of his
Order. In a picture by Salviati (Bologna, S. Cristina)
he kneels before the Madonna, and at his feet is a small
model of a hill, with an olive-tree, and a cell, at the
summit. In a picture by Pamfilo he receives from the
Blessed Virgin branches of Olive. (Cremona. Church
of S. Lorenzo.)

The saint who figures in the Olivetan foundations as
the boast of their Order is St. Francesca Romana, as
her name implies, a Roman saint. (March 9, 1440.)
Effigies of her abound in Rome ; we even meet with
them on the outer walls of the houses. Her convent,
in the Torre de' Spechi, is (or was) the best seminary
in Rome for young women of the higher classes.
Many who have visited Rome of late years will re-
member the splendor and interest of her festival, when
the doors of this school are thrown open to all visitors.

She was born in 1384; the daughter of Paolo di
Bassi and his wife Jacobella. She was baptized in the
church of Sant' Agnese, in the Piazza Navona, and,
from her childhood, displayed the most pious disposi-
tions. Her parents married her, against her inclination,
to Lorenzo Ponziano, who was rich and noble ; but she
carried into her married life the same spiritual virtues
which had distinguished her in early youth. Every
day she recited the Office of the Virgin from beginning
to end. She was particularly remarkable for her charity
and humility. Instead of entering into the pleasures
to which her birth and riches entitled her, she every


day went, disguised in a coarse woollen garment, to her
vineyard, outside the gate of San Paolo, and collected
fagots which she brought into the city on her head,
and distributed to the poor. If the weight exceeded
her womanly strength, she loaded therewith an ass,
following after on foot in great humility.

In the lifetime of her husband, with whom she lived
in the most blessed union, she had already collected a
congregation of pious women, whom she placed under
the rule of St. Benedict ; but they pronounced no irrev-
ocable vows, and were merely dedicated to works of
charity, and the education of the young. After her
husband's death (a. d. 1425) she joined these sisters,

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 16 of 41)