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 18 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 18 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

saint in an ecstasy of devotion. In the oratory is pre-
served the books, the crucitix, the bed, and some other
relics of this benevolent saint. I do not know that he
is distinguished by any particular attribute.

St. Philip Xeri was the spiritual director of the Mas-
simi family; it is in his honor that the Palazzo Massimi
is dressed up in festal guise every 16th of March, as
those who have been at Rome at that period will well
remember. The annals of the family relate, that the
son and heir of Prince Fabrizio Massimi died of a fever
at the age of fourteen, and that St. Philip coming into
the room amid the lamentations of the father, mother,
and sisters, laid his hand upon the brow of the youth,
and called him by his name, on which he revived,
opened his eyes, and sat up. " Art thou unwilling to
die ? " asked the saint. " Xo," sighed the youth. "Art
thou resigned to yield thy soul to God ? " "I am."
" Then go," said Philip. " Va, die sii benedetto, e pre-
ga Dio per noi I " The boy sank back on his pillow
with a heavenly smile on his face, and expired.

This incident, so touching as a well-authenticated
fact, so needlessly exalted into a miracle, is the subject
of a very beautiful picture by Pomerancia, painted by
order of Prince Fabrizio, and placed in the church of
Yallicella. The family portraits in this picture are from
life: the head of the saint bending over Paolo; the
beautiful expression in the face of the dying youth ; the
surprise of the father ; the devout thankfulness of the
pious mother ; the two sisters, who kneel with clasped
hands and parted lips, watching the scene, are rendered
with much dramatic power.

When I was at Rome in 1846, Pius IX. performed
a service in the family chapel of the Massimi in memory
of this incident. The prince received all visitors in


state ; and the halls and corridors of this once magnifi-
cent but now dilapidated palace were thronged with
people of all classes : some who came there in honor of
the saint ; others, as a mark of respect to the family ;
others, like myself, merely as spectators of a strange
and animated scene, — a sort of religious " at home."

It is worth remarking and considering, that at the
very time when St. Charles Borromeo, San Filippo,
and their companions and disciples, were setting an ex-
ample of Christian charity at Home, the massacre of St.
Bartholomew was enacted in France by those who pro-
fessed the same faith ; and the same pope who encour-
aged St. Charles in his spiritual reforms, and assisted
St. Philip Neri in his works of charity and in his efforts
for the moral regeneration of Italy, struck the medal
in honor of the massacre of the Huguenots ! Such are
the moral and religious inconsistencies which make the
devils sneer, and the angels weep.

I must not conclude these notices of the Reformed
Benedictines in their connection with art, without a few
words of the Port-Royalists and the Trappistes. The
renowned convent of Port-Royal-des-Champs was a
foundation of the Cistercians in the sixteenth century.
The account of the fortunes of this community, and of
the noble conduct of La Mere Angelique and her nuns,
which forms no unimportant page of French history,
has been recently given to us by Sir James Stephen ;
and his brief, but earnest and eloquent, summary of
their wrongs, and feminine and Christian heroism, must
lend a new interest to every memorial connected Avith
them. They were persecuted to the grave because they
refused to certifv, bv their signatures, that thev knew
what they did not know, and believed what they did not
believe. If they were not saints and martyrs of the
Church, yet saints they were in the true and original
sense of the word ; for they lived holily, worked faith-


fully, suffered patiently, resisted humbly, and died at
last, as their historian expresses it, " martyrs of sincer-
ity, strong in the faith that a lie must ever be hateful in
the sight of God, though infallible popes should exact
it, or an infallible church, as represented by cardinals
and confessors, should persuade it."

Xor can I refrain from numbering among these mar-
tvr-nuns the noble Jaqueline Pascal (the sister of the
great Pascal), with her large poet mind, and woman's
softest gifts, who died broken-hearted because she
had in evil hour signed that formal lie. She had
previously written to La Mere Angelique, — " Je sais
bien qu'on dit que ce n'est pas a des filles a defendre
la verite, mais si ce n'est pas a nous a defendre la ver-
ite, c'est a nous a mourir pour la ve'rite." Yet for the
sake of peace she was induced to sign, and died of that
malady for which earth has no cure, — a wounded con-
science ; a martyr to truth, which she could not violate
and live.*

The eldest daughter of the painter Philippe de Cham-
pagne had become a nun in the'convent of Port-Royal,
about the year 1650. Champagne was a religious man,
but he was also a rich and prosperous man, holding an
office at court ; and having lost two children by death,
he was unwilling to resign to a nunnery the only one
left : she persisted, however, and he consented perforce.

* When the commissioner of the Archbishop of Paris was sent
to examine into the condition and profession of faith of the nuns
of Port-Royal, Soeur Jaqueline was one of those interrogated. Af-
ter a searching examination on grace, election, and so forth, which
she met unflinchingly, the commissioner concluded with a home
question: " N'avez vous point de plaintes a faire ? " R. "Xon,
monsieur ; par la grace de Dieu je suis parfaitement contente."
D. '• Mais cela est etrange ! Quand je vais quelquefois voir des
Religieuses, elles me tiennent des deux heures de suite a me faire
des plaintes, et je ne trouve point cela ici ? " R. " II est vrai,
monsieur, que par la grace de Dieu nous vivons dans une tres-
grande paix et une grande union. Je crois que cela vient de ce
que chacune fait son devoir sans se meter des autres." — Vie
de Jacqueline de Pascal, par Victor Cousin.


She took the vows under the abbess Ange'lique, second
of that name, a woman of genius, virtue, and learning.
Of this excellent abbess there remains a portrait by-
Champagne : where it is now, I do not know ; but the
portraits of her father and her mother, Arnauld-D'An-
dilly and his wife, Madlle. Le Febre, are in the Louvre.
The first is one of the finest portraits ever produced by
the French school : the second is rather hard in the
execution ; but it is a face of such peculiar character, —
so spiritualized, so refined from all earthly alloy, with
such a tinge of pale, religious contemplation, such a
look of transparent purity, without any of the charms
of youth, — that, once seen, it leaves an indelible im-
pression upon the mind. This portrait hangs nearly
opposite that of her husband ; they ought to hang side
by side. In the same gallery we find Philippe de
Champagne's most celebrated picture, known as " Les
Religieuses." It represents the daughter of Champagne,
who had been ill of a fever, and given over by her
physician, restored by the prayers of one of the sister-
hood, Catherine Agnes by name. This picture, re-
markable for the simplicity and purity and religious
repose of the treatment, seems to have been painted
with earnest feeling and good-will, to please his daugh-
ter, and as an offering of paternal gratitude. The nuns
wear the white habit and black hoods proper to their
Order; and are distinguished by a red cross on the
breast, the badge of the Port-Eoyalists.

The Trappistes, another late community of Reformed
Cistercians (a. d. 1664), is the most austere of all ; and
remarkable as having originated in an age of general
luxury, profligacy, and irreligion.

The romantic story of the conversion of the Abbe'
de Ranee, who, on hastening to an assignation with his
mistress, the beautiful Duchess de Montbazon, found
her dead in the short interval of his absence, and laid
out in her coffin under circumstances of peculiar hor-
ror, is well known, and would afford many picturesque
subjects; but as they would hardly belong to religious


art, properly so called, I pass them over. De Ranee,
on founding his famous institution of La Trappe, seems
to have taken as his device the text, " In the midst of
life we are in death " ; and imposed as conditions, per-
petual silence, perpetual labor, perpetual contemplation
of our mortality. Not only all art and all ornament,
but all literature, was banished. That in the mind of
De Ranee there was, after the shock he had received, a
touch of the morbid or the mad, — that even in his
gloomy retreat he was haunted by that " enervating
thirst for human sympathy which had distinguished him
in the world," — seems clear and intelligible ; yet the
numbers of those who resorted to him, who lived and
died under his terrible ordinations, — lived happily and
died calmly, shows us that there are forms of moral suf-
fering, and mental disease, for which we might provide
more appropriate asylums than either the hospital or
the mad-house.


HAVE given a sketch of the most eminent
of our Anglo-Saxon princes, who were can-
onized through the influence of the Benedic-
tine Order in England ;' confining myself to
those who have either figured, or ought, as I presume,
to figure, in the illustration of our early ecclesiastical
history. I shall now, in order to keep this department
of my subject quite distinct, place together those Royal
Saints who flourished throughout Christendom in early
times ; who either preceded the institute of St. Benedict,
or whom we find in connection with that illustrious
Order in religious art or through historical associa-

I know not how it may be with others, but to me the
effigies of the Royal Saints are not satisfactory. They
are all, of course, historical personages, hut they do not
figure as such in sacred art ; and whatever space they
may fill in the page of history — though it be that of a
whole era, like Charlemagne — however distinguished
as actors in the world's drama, however reverenced for
virtues which the world seldom sees in high places, —
still, in their saintly character, they are not, with one
or two exceptions, eminent or interesting. As con-
nected with art they are comparatively unimportant,
both in regard to what they represent and what they
suggest. For, be it remembered, they do not represent


histoi'y ; neither do they personify an attribute of Divine
power, nor embody a truth, nor set forth an example ;
which is the reason, I suppose, that for one real St.
Charlemagne or St. Clotilda, we have ten thousand St.
Christophers and St. Catherines. In considering these
Royal Saints we must in the first place, and in all cases,
set the saint above the sovereign, and put history out
of our minds, and its stern facts and judgments out of
our memories. Now this is not easy : in some cases it
is not possible ; hence the legendary fictions connected
with many of these stately and glorified personages dis-
turb rather than excite the fancy, for here the real and
ideal do not blend well together. When Constantine,
with the celestial nimbus round his head, figures as the
hero of a religious legend, he becomes as mere a fiction
as Charlemagne starting amid his magicians and pala-
dins at the sound of Orlando's horn. Unluckily for
these pictured or poetical creations, we can hardly in
either case set aside the image in our minds of the real
Constantine, the real Charlemagne : and the reality is
more perplexing, more painful, when it distui'bs our
religious, than when it interferes with our poetical,
associations. The Charlemagne of Ariosto is delight-
ful ; the Saint Constantine of Church history is to me
disgusting. There should not intrude repugnance and
offence and the risk of a divided feeling, where the idea
conveyed ought to be either abstract, or at least gracious
and harmonious, and the feeling completely reverential.
Now in the case of historical or political personages,
whose effigies are placed before us in the character of
superior beings, they are involuntarily subjected to a
judgment such as crowned kings must be prepared to
endure, but which in regard to crowned saints is in
some sort profane ; — " For the glory of the celestial is
one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another." There-
fore, I repeat, the effigies of sainted potentates and
princes are unsatisfactory. As it is out of the question
to deal with them otherwise than in the religious and
artistic point of view, they may be passed over briefly.


We should, in the first place, distinguish between
those who were canonized for services and submission
to the Church or for the interest of churchmen, and
those who were canonized — so to speak — in the hearts
of the people, long before an ecclesiastical decree had
confirmed their exaltation, for virtues difficult and rare
on a throne, — beneficence, clemency, self-denial, hu-
mility, active sympathy with the cause of humanity
and the general good, as far as they understood it. To
the former class belong St. Constantine, St. Henry, St.
Ferdinand, and a crowd of others ; to the latter class
belong St. Charlemagne, St. Elizabeth, and perhaps a
few more. In giving a reason for the canonization of
the Empress Cunegunda, the writer of her life remarks,
that those who are placed in high stations must neces-
sarily be to very many the occasion of eternal salvation
or of eternal perdition : that, as far as the wide circle
of their influence and example extends, they cannot rise
without raising the standard of virtue around them ;
they cannot fall without dragging down others into the
abyss of sin. " Therefore," he argues, " a greater de-
gree of glory or of punishment than would be the lot
of common men is the just and everlasting portion of
the rulers of men."

I shall now take them in order.

At their head stand Constantine and Charlemagne,
often together, as patrons respectively of the Greek and
the Latin Churches. St. Constantine rarely stands alone
in Western art. Notwithstanding his famous donation
of the central territory of Italy to the popes of Rome
(which Ariosto has so irreverently placed in the moon
with Orlando's lost wits), I have seldom seen him figure
in anv situation where his Christian merits took prece-
dence of his imperial greatness, — not even in the " Hall
of Constantine " in the Vatican, where Raphael has
done his best to glorify him. It is still the emperor,
and not the saint ; and when Sylvester receives the act
of donation, he is throned, and the imperial Constantine


humbly presents it on his knees. The " Legend of
St. Constantine and St. Sylvester " I have already
given at length ; * the emperor plays, throughout, the
secondary personage in that curious fiction. In an
assemblage of the Blessed in a Last Judgment, a Para-
diso, a Coronation of the Virgin, and such subjects, it
is usual to find Constantine and Charlemagne standing
together: the former bearing the long sceptre, or the
standard with the cross (the Labarum), and, in Italian
art, always in the classical costume ; the latter in a suit
of armor, a long mantle often trimmed with ermine ; a
sword, or a globe surmounted by a small cross, in one
hand ; and in the other a book, — either as the great
legislator of his time, or because he ordered the transla-
tion of the Scriptures to be carefully corrected and
widely promulgated.

The most ancient representation of Charlemagne in
his saintlv character I have vet met with is a fragment
of mural painting preserved in the Christian Museum
in the Vatican ; the head only, wearing the kingly crown
surmounted by the aureole ; he has a short, square,
yellowish beard, and a refined and rather melancholy
face : I describe from memory, but it impressed me as
having a portrait-like ah-, as a head I would have given
to Alfred.

The copies of the Gospels which Charlemagne ordered
to be transcribed and distributed to various religious
institutions were sometimes illuminated by Greek ar-
tists, whom he had invited from Constantinople. Two
of these MSS. are in the national library at Paris. The
drawing of the figures is as rude as that of St. Dunstan ;
the colors vivid ; the ornaments fanciful. An Evangel is-
tarium, copied and illuminated for the use of Charle-
magne and his empress Hildegarde, was presented to
Xapoleon on the birth of his son, and was in the ex-
King's private library in the Tuileries : I know not if
it still exist there. Napoleon liked to be considered as
a second Charlemagne ; and Charlemagne assumed the

* Sacred and Legendary Art.


name and attributes of King- David.* He occurs per-
petually in the French missals : in Angelico's exquisite
Coronation of the Virgin, he kneels at the foot of the
Divine throne, on the left of the picture ; and has three
crowns embroidered on his robe, representing his do-
minion over France, Germany, and Italy. In order to
represent the embodied religious and intellectual spirit
of those times, the imperial saint should stand between
his secretary and chronicler Eginhardt, and the wise
Saxon monk Alcwin, " le confident, le conseiller, le
docteur, et, pour ainsi dire, le premier ministre intcl-
lectuel de Charlemagne " : and, thus accompanied, I
should not object to see him with a halo round his head.
In France, Germany, and Italy, Charlemagne stands
at the head of the Royal Saints ; but, in a chronological
series, St. Clotilda and St. Sigismond should precede

Clotilda, the Christian wife of the fierce and war-
like Clovis, was a princess of Burgundy, (a. d. 534,
Jan. 3.) She is said to have Christianized France, and
occurs frequently in French pictui'es and illuminated
missals and breviaries. She is usually represented in
the royal robes, with a long white veil and a jewelled
crown : she is either bestowing alms on the poor, or
kneeling in prayers ; or attended by an angel holding a
shield, on which are the three Fleurs-de-lys. By her
prayers and alms she hoped to obtain the conversion
of her husband, who for a long time resisted her and
the holy men whom she had called to her aid. At
length, as the historians tell us, Clovis having led his
army against the Huns, and being in imminent danger
of a shameful defeat, recommended himself to the God
of his Clotilda : the tide of battle turned ; he obtained a
complete victory, and was baptized by St. Remi, to the

* So Alcwin occasionally addresses him in his letters, — " Tn's
excellentet digne de tout honneur, Seigneur Roi David ! '' Alcwin
had been educated in the Benedictine Monastery of York, under St.
Wilfred. — Guizot : Cours d'Histoire Moderne, Le$on 22.



infinite joy of Clotilda. On this occasion, says the
legend, not only was the cruse of holy oil miraculously
brought by a dove (figuring the Holy Ghost), but, ow-
ing to a vision of St. Clotilda, the lilies were substi-
tuted in the arms of France for the three from* or toads
(Crapauds) which Clovis had formerly borne on his
shield. In the famous Bedford missal * presented to
Henry VI. when he was crowned King of France, this
legend, with appropriate and significant flattery, is intro-
duced in a beautiful miniature : an angel receives in
heaven the celestial lilies, descends to earth, and pre-
sents them to St. Remi, who receives them reverently
in a napkin, and delivers them to Clotilda ; lower down
in the picture, she bestows the emblazoned shield on her
husband. Such is the famous legend of the Fleurs-de-
lys, the antique emblems of purity and regeneration ;
how often since trailed through blood and mire ! St.
Clotilda displayed some qualities not quite in harmony
with her saintly character. When in her old age, her
two younger sons had seized the children of their eldest
brother Chlodomir, and demanded of her whether she
would prefer death or the tonsure for her grandsons ;
she exclaimed passionately, " Better they were dead,
than shaven monks ! " They took her at her word ;
two of the princes were immediately stabbed. The
third escaped, fled to a monastery, assumed the cowl,
and became famous as Saint Cloud (or Clodoaldus,
a. d. 560) ; who should be represented as a Benedictine
monk, with the kingly crown at his feet.

St. Sigismoxd of Burgundy was the cousin of Clo-
tilda, (a. d. 525, May 1.) At this time, Gaul was
divided between the Arians and the Catholics ; the
Catholics triumphed, and those who perished on their
side became consequently canonized martyrs. Sigis-
mond was one of these : his father Gondubald, an Arian,
had murdered the parents of Clotilda. When Sigis-
rnond succeeded to the throne of Burgundy, he became

* Collection of Sir J. Tobin.


a Catholic, and was distinguished by his piety : he, how-
ever, like the pious Constantine, put his eldest son to
death, on the false accusation of a cruel stepmother;
and while repenting his crime in sackcloth and ashes,
he prayed that the punishment due to him might fall
upon him in this world rather than the next. His
prayers were heard : the sons of Clotilda invaded his
kingdom, took him prisoner, and avenged the crimes
of his father Gondubald, by putting him to death. The
body of Sigismond was flung into a well ; and thence,
some years afterwards, removed to the convent of St.
Maurice. It is his connection (as a saint only) with
St. Maurice and the Theban Legion which has popular-
ized St. Sigismond in Italy. He is one of the patrons
of Cremona. In a chapel dedicated to him there,
Francesco Sforza, celebrated his marriage with Bianca
Visconti, the heiress of Milan. As a monument at
once of his love, his gratitude, and his piety, he con-
verted the little church into a most magnificent temple,
glorious with marbles, and pictures, and shrines of
wondrous beauty. The painters of the Cremona school,
rarely met with out of Italy, cannot be better studied
than in the Church of St. Sigismond. I made a
pilgrimage thither one hot dusty day (it is two miles
from the city gate), and I remember well the feeling
with which I put aside the great floating draperies which
hung before the portal, and stepped out of the glaring
sunshine into the perfumed air and subdued light, and
trod the marble pavement, so cool and lustrous, and
leaned, unblamed, against the altar-steps, to rest me.
I was quite alone, and, for many reasons, that Church
of San Gismondo dwells in my remembrance. Yet
the pictures, though interesting as examples of a particu-
lar school of art, were not to me attractive, either in
style or subject, excepting always the grand altar-piece
of Giulio Campi. It represents the Madonna and Child
enthroned ; and Francesca Sforza and Bianca Maria
Visconti, as duke and duchess of Milan, presented by
St. Chrvsanthus and St. Daria, with St. Sigismond and


St. Jerome standing on each side. The choice of the
attendant saints appears unintelligible, till we remember
that the nuptials which gave Sforza the sovereignty of
Milan and Cremona were celebrated on the feast of SS.
Chrysanthus and Daria (Oct. 25, 1441 ) ; that the church
was dedicated to St. Sigismond, and the monastery to
St. Jerome. The picture is splendid, — like Titian ;
and the dress of St. Sigismond in particular, with its
deep crimson and violet tints, quite Venetian in the
intense glow of the coloring. The describer of this
picture in Murray's Handbook mentions " the shrink-
ing timidity in the figure of Bianca." There is no
such thing : on the contrary, she looks like a gorgeous
bride who had brought two duchies to her husband.
But this is a digression ; — I must turn back to the old
royalties of Germany and Gaul. How is it there were
no Royal Saints among the powers and principalities
of Italy ? I find none : not even the " great Countess
Matilda," whose munificent piety almost doubled the
possessions of the Church of Borne.

Next after Charlemagne we find St. Wenceslaus. and
St. Ludmilla, familiar to all who have visited Prague.

A school of art, distinct from German art, and of
which we know little or nothing in England, flourished
in Bohemia about the middle of the fourteenth century.
Charles IV., king of Bohemia and emperor, who held
his court at Prague, decorated his churches and pal-

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 18 of 41)