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 17 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 17 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and became tlreir Superior. In recompense of her
piety, she was favored with ecstatic visions, and per-
formed surprising miracles. It is related, that on a
certain day the provision of bread was found to be re-
duced to a few small pieces, hardly enough for two
persons (the number to be fed was fifteen) ; this being
told to the saint, she merely replied, " The Lord will
provide for us." Then, calling for the bread, she laid
it on the table, and, having blessed it, there was found
to be abundance for all. On another occasion, as she
was reciting the Office of the Virgin in her vineyard,
there came on a storm of rain, by which the sisters
were wet to the skin, while she remained perfectly dry.
Further, it is i*elated that, like St. Cecilia, she was
everywhere attended by an angel visible to herself alone.

After many years passed in a life of sanctity, re-
garded with enthusiastic reverence and affection, not
only by the Romans, but in all the neighboring states,
she died in the house of her son Baptista Ponzani, who
lived at that time near the church of St. Cecilia in
Trastevere. She had gone to comfort him with mater-
nal solicitude in some visitation of sorrow or sickness,
but was seized with fever, and expired in the arms of
her sisterhood, who had assembled round her bed,
while the bereaved poor prayed and wept at her door.

She was canonized by Paul V. in 1608. All pic-


tares of her date of course after that time ; and as the
Carraeei were then at the height of their celebrity, the
best pictures of her are from their school.

The church now dedicated to St. Francesca Romana
was formerly that of S. Maria Nuova, rendered cele-
brated as the scene of her prayers, vigils, and ecstatic
trances. It is situated in a locality of majestic interest,
near the extremity of the Forum, between the grand
remains of the Basilica of Constantine and the ruins of
the temple of Venus and Rome (on part of the site of
which it stands), and close to the Arch of Titus. She
is represented in the dress of a Benedictine nun, a black,
robe and a white hood or veil ; and her proper attribute
is an angel, who holds in his hand the book of the Of-
fice of the Virgin, open at the words, " Tenuisti manum
dexteram meain, et in voluntate tua deduxisti me, et cum
gloria suscepisti me" (Psalms lxxiii. 23, 24); which
attribute is derived from an incident thus related in the
acts of her canonization. Though unwearied in her
devotions, yet if, during her prayers, she was called
away by her husband or any domestic duty, she would
close her book, saying that " a wife and a mother, when
called upon, must quit her God at the altar, and find
him in her household affairs." " Now it happened
once, that, in reciting the Office of Our Lady, she was
called away four times just as she was beginning the
same verse, and, returning the fifth time, she found that
verse written upon the page in letters of golden light
by the hand of her guardian angel." This charming
and edifying legend is introduced in most of the pic-
tures of St. Francesca ; occasionally, however, she is
kneeling before a pix, while, from the consecrated wafer
within it, rays proceed and fall upon her breast, in allu-
sion to the name of her Order, the " Oblate."

There is a fine picture by Guercino (Turin Gal.), of
St. Francesca Romana seated, holding the book of the
Office of the Virgin, a basket of bread beside her, while
a young angel, clothed in the albe worn by boys who
serve at the altar, his hands crossed on his bosom,


stands reverentially before her. This picture was paint-
ed for Emanuel II. of Savoy, about 1656.

" The Vision of St. Francesca," painted by Xicolo
Poussin, represents her kneeling in supplication. The
Virgin appears to her from above, holding in her ex-
tended hands a number of broken or blunted arrows ;
figures of the dead and dying lie on the ground. This
alludes to the supposed cessation of an epidemic disease
in Rome through the prayers of the saint.

" St. Francesca restores a dead child, and gives him
back to his mother," is the subject of a picture by Tia-
rini, remarkable for true and dramatic expression.

The marble bas-relief by Bernini in the crypt of her
church at Rome, in which she is seated with her book
and her angel, is, for him, unusually grand and simple.

Pictures of St. Francesca are to be found in the con-
vents of the Congregation of Monte Oliveto.

St. Carlo Borromeo is represented sometimes in
companionship with St. Francesca ; they stand as pen-
dants to each other, or kneel together before the same
altar. Where they are thus placed in connection, it is
because the one founded the sisterhood of the Oblate
at Rome, the other introduced the brotherhood of the
Oblati into Milan, and became the Superior of the insti-
tution, for which reason I place him here.

St. Charles Borromeo.

Ital. San Carlo. Cardinal and Archbishop of Milan. Nov. 4,


This admirable saint, " whom Jews might bless, and
Protestants adore," lived at a period when Christian art
had widely departed from its primitive simplicity ; and
there is something in the grand, mannered, ostentatious
style of the pictures and sculptures which commemorate
him, quite at variance with the gentle yet severe moral-
ity, the profoundly spiritual temper, the meek and reso-



lute character, of the man to whose influence and
example Ranke* imputes, in great part, the reform
among the prelates of Italy and the restoration of
ecclesiastical discipline in the sixteenth century ; the
preservation, in fact, of the Church of Rome, when it
seemed hastening to a swift destruction. A picture of
St. Charles, by such a painter as Angelico, might have
rendered with characteristic truth this lowly, beneficent,
and serene spirit, upon whom the ample draperies, the
rich artistic accessories of the Caracci school seem to
hang like a disguise. But, however represented, the
actions and effigies of St. Charles Borromeo must al-
ways interest the religious and the philosophic mind.
His was a phase of character so genuine and so pecu-
liar, that before the worst picture of him we are inclined
to pause, heart-struck, and bow in reverence.

He was born in 1537, of one of the oldest, noblest,
and wealthiest families of Lombardy. He was the
second son of his father, Count Borromeo ; and, like
all the younger brothers of his race, from generation
to generation, he was from infancy dedicated to the
Church. In this case, his destiny happily coincided
with the natural vocation. At twelve years old, he had
a grant of the revenues of a rich Benedictine monastery,
and he then requested that only such sums should be em-
ployed for his maintenance and education as were abso-
lutely necessary, and the rest devoted to works of piety
and charity. Even in his boyish years, the gravity and
sanctity of his demeanor edified all his family. His
father died before he was twenty, and his uncle Pope
Pius IV. created him cardinal and archbishop of Milan
at the age of twenty-three.j He lived in the Court of
Rome as his uncle's chief Counsellor and favorite, not

* Lives of the Popes, i. 330.

t He was cardinal by the title of Santa Prassede (see Sacred
and Legendary Art). I was much astonished to find in the Duo-
mo at Milan an altar dedicated to this peculiarly Roman saint,
till I renumbered that San Carlo was titular Cardinal di Santa


only without reproach, but an object of reverential won-
der for the singular combination of youthful modesty
and candor with the wisdom and the self-government
of maturer years. He was a good deal under the do-
minion of the Jesuits at this time, who seem to "have
inspired him with prudence, without either corrupting
his native sincerity or weakening his fervid charity. On
the death of his elder brother, Count Frederigo, he suc-
ceeded to the hereditary honors of his family, and left
Rome to take possession at once of his heritage and
his diocese; he was then in his twenty-sixth year. His
fame had gone before him, and the people of Milan
received him as a second St. Ambrose. Not so the
ecclesiastics; they dreaded the arrival of a young apos-
tle whose whole life was in singular contrast with their
own ; who came among them armed with bulls and
edicts for the reformation of abuses and the restoration
of the Church revenues to their proper channels, — the
maintenance of an active and efficient clergy and the
relief of the poor. Having assembled a convocation for
these purposes, and distributed in charity the immense
personal property he had inherited, he was suddenly
called back to Rome, to attend his uncle on his death-
bed (a. d. 1566); in this sacred duty he was assisted
by St. Philip Neri. His subsequent influence in the
conclave procured the election of Pius V., who en-
deavored to detain the young archbishop at Rome ; but
in vain. St. Charles felt that his duty called him to
the government of his diocese ; and from this time his
life presents a picture of active charity, of self-denying
humility, only to be equalled by the accounts we have
of the primitive apostles and teachers of Christianity.
All his own private revenues, as well as those of his
diocese, were expended in public uses : he kept nothing
for himself, but what sufficed to purchase bread and
water for his diet, and straw for his bed. He travelled
through every district and village, examining into the
state of the people and the conduct of the priesthood,
conversing with and catechizing the poor. Up among


the mountains, into the secluded valleys of the Italian
Alps, where the neglected inhabitants had long remained
in a state of physical and spiritual destitution, did this
good man penetrate ; he sent missionaries among them
to teach and to preach, and then went himself to see
that they performed their duty : on one occasion he was
found in a poor mountain-hut, lying on some straw,
shivering with ague, which had seized him in one of his
excursions on foot. With all his excessive austerity,
his fasts, and his penances, he lived in public with the
splendor becoming his rank, and exercised the most
munificent hospitality, wearing under his cardinal's
robes of scarlet and fur a ragged black gown ; and,
where the feast was spread for others, contenting him-
self with a little dry bread and a glass of water. His
buildings and foundations, his seminaries, his colleges,
his hospitals, were all on a magnificent scale according
to the taste of the time ; his charities boundless.

But his determination to restore the discipline of the
Church, and his strictness with regard to the moral con-
duct of the people committed to his charge, raised a host
of enemies. The slothful, ignorant clergy, the profli-
gate nobles, united against him ; but, inflexibly firm as
he was gentle of spirit, he overcame all opposition. His
most determined adversaries were the Umiliati and the
Franciscan friars, whom he required to live according
to the rule of their Order. The former community
hired one of their own brotherhood, a miserable, per-
verted wretch, to assassinate him : this is one of the
great events of his life, and one often represented. It
was in November, and by the light of tapers, that the
good prelate was celebrating the evening service in his
chapel ; he was kneeling at the altar, and they were
singing the anthem, Non turbetur cor meum neque formi-
det, when the assassin, Fra Farina, concealed behind a
door, fired at him ; the bullet struck him on the back,
but was turned aside by the rich metallic embroidery on
his cope. At the report of fire-arms the music ceased ;
every one rose in consternation. St. Charles, who be-



lieved himself mortally wounded, made them a sign to
kneel down again, and, without stirring from the spot,
or a change in his countenance, finished his prayer. It
was found that the ball had bruised him, and several
small shot had penetrated his clothes, but he was other-
wise unhurt. The people in their enthusiastic venera-
tion, attributed his safety to the direct interposition of
Heaven, to a miracle operated in his favor. He, mean-
while, shut himself up for a few days, and solemnly re-
dedicated to God the life which had been spared to

The other memorable incident of his life was the
plague at Milan in 1575. It had been preceded by a
scarcity, in which St. Charles ministered to his people
like a -beneficent angel. He sold his principality of
Oria, and gave the produce, forty thousand crowns, for
their relief. When the pestilence broke out, he was at
Lodi : while all the higher clergy and the nobles were
flying from Milan in different directions, St. Charles
calmly took his way thither, and entered the city in
spite of the remonstrances of his vicars, replying only,
that it was the duty of the shepherd to die for his flock.
During the continuance of the plague, which carried
off some thousands of the people, he preached every
day, distributed medicine and relief to the sick and poor,
administered the last sacraments to the dying and as-
sisted in burying the dead. Three several times he
walked barefoot through the city, wearing his puqfle
robes as cardinal, and with a halter round his neck ;
then, kneeling before the crucifix in the cathedral, he
solemnly offered himself as a sacrifice for the people.
Twenty-eight priests voluntarily joined him in his min-
istry, and it is recorded that neither himself nor any of
these caught the infection.


In considering the life and character of St. Charles
Borromeo, we cannot but feel that in earnestness and
goodness lies a power beyond all other power which
God has given to man. It is clear that he was not a


man of large intellect. The admirable good sense he
exhibited on several occasions was at other times
clouded by the most puerile superstition. He was not
wiser than the men of his creed and time, except in so
far as he was better : he was better, because he lived up
to the creed he professed. If he was a rigid disciplina-
rian in external forms, he was most rigid to himself.
He took no interest whatever in politics, and, after he
had possession of his diocese, not much in science, in
art, or in literature, though he extended education on
every side and to all classes. Neither did he owe his
boundless influence over the people to any external ad-
vantages. He had a sallow, meagre visage, a very
aquiline nose, a dark complexion, a high but narrow
forehead ; bis features, altogether, presenting almost a
caricature of the Italian physiognomy. He was tall and
thin, and stooped in his gait from bodily weakness ; he
had a bad voice and stammered, yet he was one of the
most forcible and eloquent of preachers. He died on
the 4th of November, 1584, and, true to his spiritual vo-
cation to the very last, he was heard to breathe out, with
a sort of dying rapture, the words " Eeee, venio ! " and
so expired, having lived on this earth forty-six years.

He was canonized by Pope Paul V. in 1610, and his
remains were afterwards consigned to the rich shrine in
which, guarded merely by the reverential piety of all
denominations of Christians, they now repose ; for amid
the changes and revolutions of Italy, as yet no one has
dared to violate the sanctity of his chapel, or take away
a jewel from among the offerings of his votaries. What
the good saint himself would have thought of the gold,
silver, gems, and crystals lavished upon him, we can all
imagine and believe. This thought has always intruded
Avith a disagreeable and discordant feeling in the visits I
have paid to his chapel, panelled with silver, and glit-
tering with heaped-up treasures ; the dead form arrayed
in splendid pontificals, the black skeleton head crowned
witb the jewelled mitre, shocked me. " Upon the sar-
cophagus, and all around, we find repeated tbe motto


of San Carlo, HuniUitas, reading :ts lesson, and almost
reproaching the sumptuous decorations of the house of

Iu crossing the Simplon into Italy, the colossal statue
of San Carlo, standing on an eminence near the shore
of his native lake, the Lago Maggiore, and visible for
many miles around, is one of the first objects which
strike the traveller. It was erected in 1696, and is
nearly seventy feet high ; the attitude is majestic ; the
proportions agreeable to the eye, when viewed from a
distance, though lost when near ; and the hand is ex-
tended in benediction over the district which still reveres
him as " // buon Santo."

The Company of Goldsmiths at Milan raised to him
a statue of pure silver, as large as life, which stands iu
the sacristy of the cathedral.

The best devotional figures represent St. Charles in
his cardinal's robes, barefoot, carrying the crosier as
archbishop ; a rope round his neck, one hand raised in
benediction. In all the Italian pictures he is distin-
guished by the peculiar physiognomy which has been
preserved in authentic portraits : the thin beardless face,
mild dark eyes, rather large mouth, and immense aqui-
line nose.

Of the many pictures which exist of him, I shall no-
tice only the most remarkable, all of which belong to a
late period of art.

His portrait by Guido is in his fine church in the
Corso at Rome ; another, by Philippe de Champagne,
is at Brussels. We have " San Carlo kneeling, with
angels around him," by L. Caracci, and the same sub-
ject by Annibal. He stands beside the figure of the
dead Christ, to whom an angel points, by C. Procac-
cino : the same subject by L. Caracci. San Carlo pre-
sented by the Virgin to our Saviour, — one of the best
pictures of Carlo Marratti, — is over the high altar of
San Carlo-in-Corso. In the late Milanese pictures he
is often represented with St. Catherine and St. Am-

* v. Murray's Handbook, Milan.


brose ; also with St. Francesca Romana, for the rea-
son given in her life ; and with St. Philip Neri, his
friend and contemporary.

When the citizens of Bologna added him, about the
year 1615, to the list of their patron saints, he became
a favorite subject in the then flourishing Bologna school.
All the three Caracci, Guido, Guercino, Lanfranco,
Garbieri, and Brizio have left pictures of him. In
Guido's magnificent Pieta, his masterpiece, St. Charles
stands below with the other protectors of Bologna, St.
Petronius, St. Dominick, St. Prancis, St. Proculus, St.
Plorian. The head of San Carlo is on the right, —
beautiful for devout feeling, besides being a character-
istic portrait.

Among the incidents of his life, the two principal
arc, the plague at Milan, and the attempt to assassinate
him. In the subjects taken from his conduct during
the pestilence, he is sometimes represented standing
amid the dead and dying, and administering the sac-
rament, — a subject frequently painted ; or, prostrate
before the altar, he offers himself a sacrifice for his
afflicted people. Of this last incident, the finest ex-
ample I know is the picture by Le Brun : yet the senti-
ment, as it seems to me, is weakened, not enhanced, by
the introduction of the attendant behind, who, lifting
up the rich robe, shows to his companion the feet of
the saint streaming with blood (he had walked barefoot
through the streets of Milan). But Le Brun has always
a touch of the theatrical, — always painted in a wig.

The procession through the streets of Milan during
the pestilence, by Pietro da Cortona, is over the high
altar of San Carlo-ai- Cat atari at Rome, where no less
than three churches are dedicated to him.

Before I close this brief account of San Carlo, it
seems worth recording that his name is associated with
music, as well as painting and sculpture. In the middle
of the sixteenth century the style of music performed
in the churches had become so secular and depraved


in taste and style that the Council of Trent took the
matter in hand as a scandal to religion ; and Pius IV.
" nominated a commission to advise upon the question,
whether music was to be permitted in the churches or
not." The decision was long doubtful. " The Church
required that the words should be distinctly articulated,
and the musical expression adapted to them. The
musicians affirmed that this was not to be attained ac-
cording to the laws of their art." * Carlo Borromeo
was at the head of this commission, and the very strict
opinions of this " great ecclesiastic " on all matters of
Church discipline rendered it most probable that judg-
ment would be given against that heaven-descended art
which had been so profanely abused. " But," adds
the historian, " happily the right man appeared at the
critical moment." That man was Palestrina. When
his great Mass, since known and celebrated as the
" Mass of Pope Marcellus," was performed before Pius
IV., St. Charles, and the other members of the com-
mission, they were unable to resist its majestic solem-
nity, its expressive pathos ; and " by this one great
example the question was forever set at rest."

In connection with St. Charles Borromeo, we find
his contemporary and intimate friend, St. Philip

Effigies of this saint, who was canonized in 1622,
belong, of course, to the later schools of art, and none
are very good. He is, himself, extremely interesting
as founder of one of the most useful, practical, and
disinterested of all the religious communities, — that of
the Oratorians. t

* Ranke, History of the Popes, i. 508.

f When I visited the elegant little church of the Oratorians,
recently erected near Alton Towers, I found portrayed, on the
window over the high altar, the following saints. In the centre,
as patron of the church, St. Wilfred of York ; on his right, St.
Benedict (I presume St. Bennet of Wearmouth), and St. Ethel-
burga ; on his left, St. Chad of Lichfield, and St. Hilda of Whitby.
From this selection I presume that the Oratorians consider them-
selves as derived from the Benedictine Order.


He was born in 1515, the son of a Florentine law-
yer, and descended from one of the oldest Tuscan
families. In 1533 he repaired to Rome in search of
employment, and became a tutor in the family of a
nobleman. He was already distinguished as a profound
and elegant scholar and conscientious teacher, and yet
more for his active charity. His superior intellect, his
persuasive eloquence, his spotless life, rendered him a
very influential personage in the religious movement of
the sixteenth century. As the adviser and almoner of
St. Charles Borromeo, he had great power to do good,
and he used it for noble and practical purposes.

Ranke gives us a striking picture of Filippo Neri in
few words. " He was good-humored, witty, strict in
essentials, indulgent in trifles. He never commanded;
he advised, or perhaps requested : he did not discourse,
he conversed • and he possessed, in a remarkable de-
gree, the acuteness necessary to distinguish the peculiar
merit of every character."

He associated with himself, in works of charity,
several young ecclesiastics, members of the nobility,
and students in the learned professions at Rome, who,
under his direction, were formed into a community, and
devoted themselves to the task of reading the Scrip-
tures, praying with the poor, founding and visiting
hospitals for the sick, &c. They were bound by no
vows ; there was no forced seclusion from the ordinary
duties of life. They took the name of Oratorians, from
the little chapel or oratory in which they used to
assemble round Filippo to receive his instructions.

Cardinal dc Berulle introduced the Peres de VOratoire
into France in 1631, and they have lately been estab-
lished in England. After a long, useful, and religious
life, Filippo Neri died in 1595, at the age of eighty-two.

Gregory XIII. , in confirming the congregation of
the Oratory in 1575, bestowed on Filippo Neri and his
companions the church of S. Maria della Vallicclla.
After the death of the saint it was entirely rebuilt, not,
certainly, in very good taste, yet it is one of the most



superb churches in "Rome. It still belongs to the Ora-
torians. Here, after his canonization in 1622, a chapel
was dedicated to San Filippo by his Florentine kins-
man Xero de' Xeri, and in it is placed the mosaic copy
after the fine picture by Guido which represents the

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 17 of 41)