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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of the Cistercian houses. Wordsworth, from whom I take the
quotation, has thus paraphrased it : —

" Here man more purely lives ; less oft doth fall ;
More promptly rises ; walks with nicer tread ;
More safely rests ; dies happier ; is freed
Earlier from cleansing fires ; and gains withal
A brighter crown."


Crusades had upheaved society from its depths, as a
storm upheaves the ocean, and changed the condition
of men and nations. Whole provinces were left with
half their population, whole districts remained unculti-
vated ; whole families, and those the highest in the land,
were 'extinguished, and the homes of their retainers and
vassals left desolate. Scarce a hearth in Christendom
beside which there wept not some childless, husbandless,
hopeless woman. A generation sprang up, physically
predisposed to a sort of morbid exaltation, and power-
fully acted on by the revelation of a hitherto unseen,
unfelt world of woe. In the words of Scripture, "Men
could not stop their ears from hearing of blood, nor
shut their eyes from seeing of evil." There was a
deep, almost universal, feeling of the pressure and the
burden of sorrow ; an awakening of the conscience to
wrong; a blind, anxious groping for the right; a
sense that what had hitherto sufficed to humanity would
suffice no longer. But in the uneasy ferment of men's
miuds, religious fear took the place of religious hope,
and the religious sympathies and aspirations assumed
in their excess a disordered and exaggerated form.
The world was divided between those who sought to
comfort the afflictions, and those who aspired to expiate
the sins, of humanity. To this period we refer the wor-
ship of Mary Magdalene, the passion for pilgrimages,
for penances, for martyrdoms ; for self-immolation to
some object or for some cause lying beyond self. An
infusion of Orientalism into Western Christianity add-
ed a most peculiar tinge to the religious enthusiasm
of the time, a sentiment which survived in the palpable
forms of Art long after the cause had passed away.
Pilgrims returning from the Holy Land, warriors re-
deemed from captivity among the Arabs and Saracens,
brought back wild wonders, new superstitions, a more
dreamy dread of the ever-present invisible, — enlarging
in the minds of men the horizon of the possible, without
enlarging that of experience. With more abundant
food for the fancy, with a larger sphere of action, they


remained ignorant and wretched. As one, whose dun-
geon-walls have been thrown down by an earthquake
in the dead of night, gropes and stumbles amid the
ruins, and knows not, till the dawn comes, how to esti-
mate his own freedom, how to use his recovered pow-
ers, — thus it was with the people. But what was dark
misery and bewilderment hi the weak and ignoi-ant, as-
sumed in the more highly endowed a higher form ; and
to St. Francis and his Order we owe what has been
happily called the Mystic school in poetry and painting :
that school which so strangely combined the spiritual
with the sensual, and the beautiful with the terrible,
and the tender with the inexorable ; which first found
utterance in the works of Dante and of the ancient
painters of Tuscany and Umbria. It has been disputed
often, whether the suggestions of Dante influenced Gi-
otto, or the creations of Giotto inspired Dante : but the
true influence and inspiration were around both, and
dominant over both, when the two greatest men of their
age united to celebrate a religion of retribution and suf-
fering ; to solemnize the espousals of sanctity with pov-
erty, — with the self-abnegation which despises all things,
rather than with the love that pardons and the hope
that rejoices ; and which, in closing " the gates of pleas-
ure," would have shut the gates of mercy on mankind.
We still recognize in the Franciscan pictures, those at
least which reflect the asceticism of the early itinerant
preachers and their haggard enthusiasm, something
strangely uncouth and dervish-like. Men scourging
themselves, haunted by demons, prostrate in prayer,
uplifted in ecstatic visions, replaced in devotional pic-
tures the dry, formal, but dignified figures of an earlier
time. For the calmly meditative life of the Benedic-
tine pictures, we have the expression of a life which
panted, trembled, and aspired ; a life of spiritual con-
test, of rapture, or of agony. This is the life which is
reflected to us in the pictures painted for those religious
brotherhoods which sprang up between 1200 and 1300,
and drew together and concentrated, in a common feel-


ing, or for a common purpose, the fervid energies of
kindred minds.

If the three great divisions ot the regular Ecclesias-
tics seem to have had each a distinct vocation, there
was at least one vocation common to all. The Bene-
dictine monks instituted schools of learning ; the Au-
gustines built noble cathedrals ; the Mendicant Orders
founded hospitals ; all became patrons of the fine arts,
on such a scale of munificence that the protection of the
most renowned princes has been mean and insignificant
in comparison. Yet, in their relation to Art, this splen-
did patronage was the least of their merits. The ear-
liest artists of the Middle Ages were the monks of the
Benedictine Orders. In their convents were preserved
from age to age the traditional treatment of sacred sub-
jects, and that pure unworldly sentiment winch in later
times was ill exchanged for the learning of schools and
the competition of academics ; and as they were the
only depositaries of chemical and medical knowledge,
and the only compounders of drugs, we owe to them
also the discovery and preparation of some of the finest
colors, and the invention or the improvement of the im-
plements used in painting ; — for the monks not only
prepared their own colors, but when they employed
secular painters in decorating their convents, the mate-
rials furnished from their own laboratories were conse-
quently of the best and most durable kind.* As archi-
tects, as glass painters, as mosaic workers, as carvers
in wood and metal, they were the precursors of all
that has since been achieved in Christian Art ; and if
so few of these admirable and gifted men are known to
us individually and by name, it is because they worked
for the honor of God and their communitv, — not for
profit, nor for reputation.

Theophilus the Monk, whose most curious and im-
portant treatise on the fine arts and chemistry was writ-

* Materials for a History of Oil Painting, by Sir Charles East-
lake, p. 6.


ten in the twelfth century, and lately republished in
France and in England, was a Benedictine. Friar Ba-
con was a Franciscan, and Friar Albert-le-Grand (Al-
bertus Magnus) a Dominican. It is on record, that the
knowledge of physics attained by these two remarkable
men exposed them to the charge of magic. Shake-
speare, " who saw the thing that hath been as the thing
that is," introduces Friar Laurence as issuing from his
cell at dawn of day to gather simples and herbs, and
moralizing on their properties. The portrait is drawn
throughout with such wonderful and instinctive truth,
it is as if one of the old friars of the fourteenth century
had sat for it.*

In reference to the monastic artists, it is worth ob-
serving that the Benedictines are distinguished by the
title Don or Dom (Dominus), peculiar, I believe, to the
ecclesiastics of this Order : as Don Lorenzo Monaco,
who painted the beautiful Annunciation in the Florence
Gallery ; t Don Giulio Clovio, the famous miniatore of
the sixteenth century. The painters of the Mendicant
• Orders have the prefix of Fra or Frate, as Fra Giacopo
da Turrita, a celebrated mosaic worker in the thirteenth
century ; Fra Antonio da Negroponte, who painted
that supremely beautiful and dignified Madonna in the
Fran at Venice ; — both Franciscans : Fra Filippo
Lippi, the Carmelite : Fra Beato Angelico da Fiesole,
and Fra Bartolomeo (styled, par excellence, II Frate, the
Friar), — both Dominicans.

Thus much for the historical and artistic interest of
the monastic representations taken generally. Consid-
ered separately, some of these pictures have even a
deeper interest.

* " The good friar of this play," says Mr. Knight, in his notes
to Romeo and Juliet, " in his kindliness, his learning, and his in-
clination to mix with, and perhaps control, the affairs of the
world, is no unapt representation of one of the distinguished Or-
der of St. Francis in its best days."

t v. Sacred and Legendary Art.


The founders of the various religious communities
were all remarkable men, and some of them were more,
— they were wonderful men ; men of genius, of deep
insight into human nature, of determined will, of large
sympathies, of high aspirations, — poets, who did not
write poems, but acted them : all differing from each
other in character, as their various communities dif-
fered from each other in aim and purpose. As a mat-
ter of course, in all works of art dedicated by those
communities, the effigies of their patriarchs and found-
ers claim a distinguished place. Thus we have in the
monastic pictures a series of biographies of the most in-
teresting and instructive kind. It will be said that this
is biography idealized. Idealized certainly, but not fal-
sified ; — not, I think, nearly so falsified as in books.
After having studied the Avritten lives of St. Benedict,
St. Bernard, St. Francis, St. Clara, St. Dominick, and
others, to enable me to understand the pictures which
relate to them, I found it was the pictures which ena-
bled me better to understand their lives and characters.
I speak, of course, of good pictures, painted by earnest
and conscientious artists, where traditional or charac-
teristic resemblance has been attended to. The monk-
ish pictures of the later schools are in general as igno-
rantly false in character as they are degraded in taste
and style.

I have spoken of the want of beauty in the early pic-
tures of monastic subjects ; but though the figures of
the ascetic saints are not in themselves beautiful, the
pictures in which they occur are sometimes of the highest
conceivable beauty, either through the effect of sugges-
tive and harmonious combination, or the most striking
and significant contrasts. For instance, a group which
meets us at every turn is the combination of the dark-
robed, sad-visaged, self-denying monk, with the lovely,
benign Madonna and the godlike innocence of her Child.
Sometimes the votary kneels, adoring in effigy the di-
vine Maternity, the glorification of those soft affections
which, though removed far from him in his seclusion,


are brought near to him, and at once revealed and
consecrated through the power of Art. Sometimes the
sainted recluse stands with an air of dignity by the
throne of the Virgin-mother ; sometimes the introduc-
tion of angels scattering flowers, or hymning music, for
the solace of the haggard hermit, form most striking
and poetical contrasts.

And, again, the grouping in some of the monastic
pictures is not merely beautiful, it is often in the highest
degree significant. It has struck me that such pictures
are not sufficiently considered like books, as having a
sort of vitality of meaning ; only, like books, before we
can read them we must understand the language in
which they are written. I have given a number of in-
stances in the course of this volume. I will add another
which has just occurred to me. In the Pitti Palace
there is an " Annunciation of the Virgin," in which St.
Philip Benozzi, who lived in the fourteenth century,
stands by in his ample black robes, listening to the an-
gelic salutation. We are struck, not by the anachronism,
— where the subject is not treated as an event, but as a
mystery, there can ' be no anachronism, as I have else-
where shown, — but we are embarrassed by what ap-
pears a manifest incongruity ; and such it is on the walls
of a palace : in its original place the whole composition
was full of propriety, and, through its associations,
became harmonized into poetry. It was painted for
the Order of the Servi, in honor of their chief saint,
Filippo Benozzi ; it was suspended in their church at
Florence, dedicated to the Annunciation of the Blessed
Virgin (the famous Annunziata). The Order was
founded in especial honor of the Virgin, and, by a rule
of the original institute, all their devotions began with
the words of the angel Gabriel, " Ave Maria ! " Thus
we have the explanation at once ; and the dark-robed,
listening monk in the background becomes an object
of intelligent interest to those who understand the im-
port and the original purpose of this fine picture.


I will give another example : we often meet with
pictures of St. Dominick holding the keys of St. Peter,
or receiving them from the apostle. The allusion is to
a custom of the papal court, which has prevailed since
the days of Innocent III. The important and confi-
dential office of Master of the Sacred Palace was given
to St. Dominick in 1218, and has ever since been held
by a member of the Dominican Order. The pictured
allegory is thus the record of an historical fact, and
commemorates one of the chief honors of the com-


The representations of Monastic Saints may be
classed, like other sacred and legendary subjects, as
either devotional or historical.

The Devotional pictures exhibit the saint as an ob-
ject of reverence, either in his relation to God or his
relation to man ; the}' set forth his sanctity or his charity.

In those effigies which express his sanctity, he stands
with his proper habit and attribute, either alone or beside
the throne of the Virgin ; or he is in the attitude of
prayer, kneeling before the Madonna and Child ; or he is
uplifted on clouds, with outstretched arms ; or he is visited
by angels ; or he beholds the glory of Paradise ; or the
most blessed of Mothers places in his arms her Divine
Infant; or the Saviour receives him into joy eternal.
In all such pictures, the purpose is to exalt the human
into the divine. The principle of Monachism which
pervades the early legends of St. Anthony and others
of the saintly hermits, that which made sanctity consist
in the absolute renunciation of all natural feelings and
affections, we find reproduced in the later monastic
representations, sometimes in a painful form : —

" They who, through wilful disesteem of life,
Affront the eye of Solitude, shall find
That her ruild nature can be terrible."


And terrible it certainly appears to us in some of these
pictures, where the solitude is haunted by demons, or
defiled by temptations, or agonized by rueful penance,
or visited by awful and preternatural apparitions of the
crucified Redeemer. In the later pictures of the female
saints of the various Orders, — those, for instance, of
St. Catherine of Siena, St. Theresa, St. Maria Madda-
lena de' Pazzi, and others, — the representation becomes
offensive, as well as painful and pathetic. I recollect
such a picture in the CorSini Palace, which I cannot
recall without horror, and dare not attempt to describe.
The gross materialism of certain views of Christianity,
not confined to the Roman Catholics, strikes us in pic-
tures more than in words; yet surely it is the same

On the other hand, there is a view of the sanctity of
solitude, placed before us in the earlier monastic pic-
tures, which is soothing and attractive far beyond the
power of words. How beautiful that soft, settled calm,
which seems to have descended on the features, as on
the souls, of those who have kept themselves unspotted
from the world ! How dear to the fatigued or wounded
spirit that blessed portraiture of stillness with commu-
nion, of seclusion with sympathy, which breathes from
such pictures ! Who, at some moments, has not felt
their unspeakable charm ? — felt, when the weight of
existence pressed on the fevered nerves and weary heart,
the need of some refuge from life on this side of death,
and all the real, or at least the possible, sanctity of
solitude ?

But as;ain : where the saint has been canonized for
works of charity, which exalted him in his human rela-
tion, it is common in the devotional effigies to express
this, not by some special act, but in a poetical and
general manner. He stands looking up to heaven, with
a mendicant or a sick man prostrate at his feet ; or he
is giving alms to Christ in the likeness of a beggar; or
he is holding aloft the crucifix, or the standard, as a


preacher to the poor. Such pictures are often of ex-
ceeding beauty; and the sentiment conveyed — "Be
followers together of me, and mark them which walk
so as ye have us for an ensample " — would be irresisti-
ble were it not for that frequent alloy of pride and
emulation, in the purpose of the picture, of which I
have spoken.

Such figures as those of St. Theresa interceding for
souls in purgatory, and St. Dominick doing penance
for the sins of others, express, at once, the sanctity and
the charity of the saint.

The historical subjects arc those which exhibit some
event or action in the life of the saint, generally ex-
pressing the virtues for which lie was canonized ; conse-
quently they may be regarded as the attestation, in a
dramatic form, either of his sanctity or his charity.

Thus we have in the first class his miracles performed
either before or after death, and these miracles are almost
invariably copied from those of our Saviour. The
dead are raised, the blind see, the dumb speak, the sick
are restored, food is multiplied ; the saint walks through
fire or over water, stills the tempest, or expels evil
spirits. When these wonders are not copied literally
from the Gospels, they are generally allegorical; as
where roses spring from 'the blood of St. -Francis, or
fall from the lips of St. Angelo ; or where St. Francis
preaches to the birds, or St. Antony of Padua to the
fishes ; or where the same saint discovers the miser's
heart buried in his treasure chest, — " where his treasure
is, there shall his heart be also." Or they arc parables
for the purpose of setting forth some particular or dis-
puted dogma of the Church, as the mule kneeling before
the Host when carried by St. Antony, or the Saviour
administering in person or by an angel the consecrated
wafer to St. Bonaventura. Or they are obvious inven-
tions to extol the glory of some particular saint, and,
through him, the popularity and interests of the com-
munity to which he belonged : such is the whole story
of St. Diego d'Alcala.


Martyrdoms, of course, come under this designation,
but among the monastic saints there are few who suf-
fered death for their faith. The death of St. Peter the
Dominican, called the Martyr, (persecutor at once and
victim,) was an assassination rather than a martyrdom :
it is, however, the most important among these represen-
tations, and, in the hands of Titian, in the highest de-
gree tragic and striking.

Less frequent in the churches, but more interesting,
are those dramatic and historical picture's which place
the saint before us in his relation to humanity ; as where
he is - distributing alms, or ministering to the sick, or
redeeming slaves and prisoners, or preaching to the
poor. Pictures of St. Elizabeth of Hungary tending
the sick boy in the hospital; of St. Charles BoiTomeo
walking amid the plague-stricken wretches, bearing the
sacrament in his hand ; of St. Antony of Padua rebuk-
ing the tyrant Eccellino ; of St. Vincent de Paul carrying
home the foundlings ; of St. Catherine of Siena convert-
ing the robbers ; and innumerable others, — belong to
this class.


In arranging according to fchcir dignity the saints of
the different Orders, the Pounders would claim, of
course, the first place ; after them follow the Martyrs,
if anv : then the Roval Saints who wear the habit ;
lastly, the Canonized Saints of both sexes, taldng rank
according to their celebrity and popularity.

St. Benedict is the general patriarch of all the Bene-
dictine communities, who, next to him, venerate their
separate founders :

St. Romualdo, founder of the Camaldolesi ;

St. John Gualberto, of the Vallombrosians ;

St. Bruno, of the Carthusians ;

St. Bernard, of the Cistercians.


St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the four great Latin
Doctors, is considered as the general patriarch of the
Augustines, and of all the communities founded on his
Rule ; each venerating besides, as separate head or

St. Philip Benozzi, of the Servi ;

St. Peter Nolasco, of the Order of Mercy ;

St. Bridget of Sweden, of the Brigittines.

The Augustine Canons also regard as their patriarch
and patron St. Joseph, the husband of the Virgin.

St. Francis is the general patriarch of the Francis-
cans, Capuchins, Observants, Conventuals, Minimes,
and all other Orders derived from his Rule.

St. Dominick founded the Dominicans, or Preaching

St. Albert of Vercelli is generally considered as the
founder of the Carmelites, who, however, claim as their
patriarch Elijah the Prophet.

St. Jerome is claimed as patriarch by the Jerony-
mites ; and St. Ignatius Loyola was the founder of

In those grand sacred subjects which exhibit a congre-
gation of saints, as the Paradiso, the Last Judgment, and
the Coronation of the Virgin, the founders of the differ-
ent Orders are usually conspicuous. I will give an
example of such a poetical assemblage of the various
Orders, because it is especially interesting for the pro-
foundly significant treatment ; because it is important
as a chef-d'oeuvre of one of the greatest of the early ar-
tists, Angelico da Fiesole ; and because, having been
recently engraved by Mr. George Scharf for the Arun-
del Society, it is likely to be in the hands of many, and
convenient for immediate reference.

The picture to which I allude is the fresco of the
Crucifixion painted on the wall of the Chapter House
of St. Mark at Florence. To understand how pro-
foundly every part of this grand composition has been


meditated and worked out, we must bear in mind that
it was painted in a convent dedicated to St. Mark ; in
the city of Florence ; in the days of the first and great-
est of the Medici *Cosmo and Lorenzo ; and that it was
the work of a Dominican friar, for the glory of the
Dominican Order.

In the centre of the picture is the Redeemer crucified
between the two thieves. At the foot of the cross is
the usual group of the Virgin fainting in the arms of
St. John the Evangelist, Mary Magdalene, and another
Mary. To the right of this group, and the left of the
spectator, is seen St. Mark, as patron of the convent,
kneeling, and holding his Gospel; behind him stands
St. John the Baptist, as protector of the city of Flor-
ence. Bevond are the three martvrs, St. Laurence, St.
Cosmo, and St. Damian, patrons of the Medici family.
The two former, as patrons of Cosmo and Lorenzo de'
Medici, look up to the Saviour with devotion ; St.
Damian turns away and hides his face. On the left of
the cross we have the group of the founders of the
various Orders. First, St. Dominick, kneeling, with
hands outspread, gazes up at the Crucified ; behind him
St. Augustine, and St. Albert the Carmelite, mitred
and robed as bishops ; in front kneels St. Jerome as a
Jeronymite hermit, the cardinal's hat at his feet ; behind
him kneels St. Francis ; behind St. Francis stand two
venerable figures, St. Benedict and St. Romualdo ; and
in front of them kneels St. Bernard, with his book;
and, still more in front, St. John Gualberto, in the atti-
tude in which he looked up at the crucifix when he
spared his brother's murderer. Beyond this group of
monks Angelico has introduced two of the famous friars
of his own community : St. Peter Martyr kneels in front,
and behind him stands St. Thomas Aquinas ; the two,
thus placed together, represent the sanctity and the learn-
ing of the Dominican Order, and close this sublime and
wonderful composition. Thus considered, we may read
it like a sacred poem, and every separate figure is a
study of character. I hardly know anything in paint-


ing finer than the pathetic heauty of the head of the
penitent thief, and the mingled fervor and intellectual
refinement in the head of St. Bernard.

It will be remarked that, in this gr»up of patriarchs,
" Capi e Fondatori de' rdiyioni," St. Bruno, the famous

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 2 of 41)