Copyright
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 21 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 21 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


was his model, it was the Raphael of Perugia ; and
whilst his contemporaries El Mudo and El Greco were
imbuing Castilian art with the rich and voluptuous
manner of the Venetian school, he affected the antique
severity of the early Florentine or German masters."
(Stirling.) He was particularly remarkable for the
combination of majesty with ineffable mildness and be-
neficence which he threw into the heads of our Saviour.
We can easily imagine that such a painter, both in his
personal character and his genius, was fitted to please
the good Archbishop of Valencia ; and not the least
precious of the works which Juanes left behind him is
the portrait, from life, of St. Thomas of Villanueva
.which now hangs in the sacristy of the cathedral. He
appears robed and mitred, " with that angelic mildness
of expression, that pale and noble countenance, which
accorded with the gentleness of his nature." (Stirling.)



ST. THOMAS DE VILLANUEVA. 24.1

This picture was painted when Juanes was in the prime
of his life and powers, and his excellent patron declin-
ing in years.

Thomas de Villanueva died in 1555. To the
astonishment of the people he left no debts, in spite
of the enormous sums he had spent and given; and
thenceforth it was commonly said and believed, that his
funds, when exhausted, had been replenished by the
Ancels of God. On his death-bed he ordered all the
ready money in his house to be distributed to the parish-
poor ; and sent all his furniture and goods to the college
he had founded in Valencia. There remained nothing
but the pallet on which he lay ; and that he bequeathed
to the jailer of the prison, who, as it appears, had be-
come one of the instruments of his charity. He was
followed to the grave by thousands of the poor, who
bewailed the loss of their benefactor ; and, already canon-
ized in the hearts of his people, he was declared a Beato
in the year 1618, by Paul V. At the same time it was
ordained, that in his effigies an open purse should be
placed in his hands instead of the crosier ; with the poor
and infirm kneeling around him ; and thus we find him
represented, though the crosier is not always omitted.
Most of the pictures of St. Thomas de Villanueva which
are now commonly to be met with in the churches of
the Augustines, both in Italy and in Spain, have been
painted since 1688, the year in which the Bull of his
canonization was published by Alexander VII. It can
easily be imagined that he was most popular in his own
country. " There were few churches or convents on
the sunny side of the Sierra Morena without some
memorial-picture of this holy man," but the finest be-
yond all comparison are those of Murillo.

Lord Ashburton's picture, perhaps the most beautiful
Murillo in England next to that of Mr. Tomline, repre-
sents the saint as a boy about six or seven years old,
dividing his clothes among four ragged urchins. The
figures are life-size. This picture was formerly in the
collection of Godoy, by him presented to Marshal Se-
16



24 z LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

bastiani, from whom it was purchased by the late Lord
Ashburton in 1815. The small original sketch of the
composition is in the same collection.

The picture called the " Charity of San Tomas de
Villa Xueva," which Murillo preferred to all his other
works, and used to call " his own picture," was one of
the series painted for the Capuchins at Seville. " Robed
in black (the habit of his Order), and wearing a white
mitre, St. Thomas the Almoner stands at the door of his
cathedral, relieving the wants of a lame half-naked beg-
gar who kneels at his feet. His pale venerable counte-
nance, expressive of severities inflicted on himself, and
of habitual kindness and good-will towards all mankind,
is not inferior in intellectual dignity and beauty to that
of St. Leander."

There is a fine picture of the same subject, but differ-
ently treated, in the Louvre ; and another, brought from
Seville about 1805, was purchased by Mr. Wells of
Eedleaf, and recently sold.

In the College of Valencia, which he founded, is a
grand picture of St. Thomas " surrounded by scholars,"
(?) parts of which, says Mr. Ford, " are as fine as Velas-
quez." This must have been painted, however, long
after the death of the saint.



St. Johx Nepomuck.

ltal. San Giovanni Nepomuceno. Ger. S. Johannes von Nepo-
muk. Canon Regular of St. Augustine. Patron saint of Silence,
and agaiDst Slander. Protector of the Order of the Jesuits. In
Bohemia and Austria, the patron saint of bridges and running
water.

Charles IV., emperor of Germany, of whom I have
already spoken, died in the year 1378, after having pro-
cured/by lavish bribery to the electors, the succession
of the empire for his son Wenceslaus IV. In his carly
childhood his father had invited Petrarch to superintend
his education : the wise poet declined the task, and it



ST. JOHN NEPOMUCK. 243

may be doubted if even he could have made anything
of such untoward material. The history of the long
and disgraceful reign of this prince does not, fortunately,
belong to our subject : it is sufficient to observe that he
obtained from his people the surnames of the Slothful
and the Drunkard; and from historians that of the Mod-
ern Sardanapalus. He married the Princess Joan of
Bavaria, a beautiful and virtuous princess : she was con-
demned to endure alternately his fits of drunkenness,
of ferocity, and fondness, and her life was embittered
and prematurely brought to a close by his cruelty and
his excesses.

She had for her confessor and almoner a certain excel-
lent priest, called, from the place of his birth, John of
Nepomuck. This good man pitied the unfortunate
empress, and, knowing that for misery such as hers
there was no earthly remedy, he endeavored by his re-
ligious instructions to strengthen her to endure her fate
with patience and submission.

Wenceslaus, in one of his fits of mad jealousy, sent
for John and commanded him to reveal the confession
of the empress. The priest remonstrated, and repre-
sented that such a violation of his spiritual duties
was not only treachery, but sacrilege. The emperor
threatened, entreated, bribed in vain. The confessor
was thrown into a dungeon, where he was kept for a
few days in darkness and without food. He was again
brought before the emperor, and again repelled his of-
fers with mild but most resolute firmness. Wenceslaus
ordered him to be put to the torture. The unhappy
empress threw herself at her husband's feet, and at
length by her prayers and tears obtained the release of
the saint- She ordered his wounds to be dressed, she
ministered to him with her own hands ; and as soon as
he was recovered he reappeared in the court, teaching
and preaching as usual. But, aware of his dangerous
position, he chose for the text of his first sermon the
words of our Saviour, Yet a little while and ye shall not.
see me, and sought to prepare liimself and his hearers
for the fate he anticipated.



244 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

A few days afterwards, as he was returning home
from some charitable mission, the emperor, perceiving
him from the window of his palace, was seized with one
of those insane fits of fury to which he was subject ; he
ordered his guards to drag him to his presence, and
again repeated his demand. The holy man, who read
his fate in the eyes of the tyrant, held his peace, not
even deigning a reply. At a sign from their master
the guards seized him, bound him hand and foot, and
threw him over the parapet of the bridge into the waters
of the Moldau. (a. d. 1383, May 16.)

He sank ; but, says the legend, a supernatural light
(five stars in the form of a crown) was seen hovering
over the spot where his body had been thrown, which
when the emperor beheld from his palace, he fled like
one distracted, and hid himself for a time in the fortress
of Carlstein.

Meantime the empress wept for the fate of her friend,
and the people took up the body and carried it in pro-
cession to the Church of the Holy Cross.

From this time St. John of Nepomuck was honored
in his own country as a martyr, and became the patron
saint of bridges throughout Bohemia. In the year 1620,
when Prague was besieged by the Imperialists, during
the thirty years' war, it was commonly believed that
St. John of Nepomuck fought on their side ; and on
the capitulation of Prague, and subsequent conquest of
Bohemia, the Emperor Ferdinand and the Jesuits so-
licited his canonization, but the papal decree was not
published till the year 1729.

The rest of the history of Wenceslaus would here be
out of place, but it may be interesting to add that the
unhappy empress died shortly after her director ; that
Wenceslaus was deprived of the Empire, and reduced
to his hereditary kingdom of Bohemia, which, during
the last few years of his life, was distracted and laid
waste by the wars of the Hussites.

On the bridge at Prague, and on the very spot



ST. JOHN NEPOMUCK. 245

whence he was thrown into the river, stands the statue
of St. John of Nepomuck. He wears the dress of a
canon of St. Augustine ; in one hand the cross, the
other is extended in the act of benediction ; five stars
of gilt bronze are above his head. This is the usual
manner of representing him ; but I have seen other
devotional effigies of him, standing with his finger on
his lip to express his discretion ; and in some of the old
German prints he has a padlock on his mouth, or holds
one in his hand. He is of course rare in Italian art,
and only to be found in pictures painted since his can-
onization. There is one by Giuseppe Crespi,* in which
he is pressing the crucifix to his heart, painted about
1730; and another by the same painter in which he is
confessing the empress. She is kneeling by the confes-
sional, and he has the attribute of the five stars above
his head. Neither of these pictures is good.

St. John of Nepomuck, or, as he is called there, San
Juan Nepomuceno, became popular in Spain, but at so
late a period that the pictures which represent him in
the Jesuit churches and colleges there are probably
worthless. I have before me a Spanish heroic poem in
his praise, entitled La Eloquencia del Silencio, Poema
Heroico, Vida y Martyrio del gran Protomartyr del Sac-
ramental Sigillo, Fidelissimo Custodio de la Fama y Pro-
tector de la Sagrada Compahia de Jesus ; dedicated sig-
nificantly to the Jesuit confessor of Philip V., William
Clarke by name. In the opening stanza St. John is
compared to Harpocrates, and in the frontispiece he is
seen attended by an angel with his finger on his lip ;
underneath is the bridge and the river Moldau, on
which is the body of St. John Nepomuck with five
stars over it. I lived for some weeks under the pro-
tection of this good saint and " Proto-Martyr of the
Seal of Silence," at the little village of Traunkirchen
(by the Gmunden-See, in the Tyrol), where his effigy
stood in my garden, the hand extended in benediction

* San Giovanni Nepomuceno che affettuosamente stringe al pet-
to il Crocifisso. Turin Gal.



246 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

over the waters of that beautiful lake. • In great storms
I have seen the lightning play round his head till the
metal stars became a real fiery nimbus, — beautiful to
behold !



St. Lorenzo Gitjstiniani, of Venice, was born in
1380, of one of the oldest and noblest of the Italian
families. His mother, Quirina, the young and beauti-
ful widow of Bernardo Giustiniani, remained unmarried
for his sake, and educated him with the utmost care
and tenderness. He appears to have been a religious
enthusiast even in his boyhood, and believed himself
called to the service of God by a miraculous vision at
the age of nineteen. As he was the eldest son, his
family was anxious that he should marry ; but he fled
from his home to the cloister, and took refuge with the
Augustine hermits at San-Giorgio-in-Alga. The next
time he appeared at the door of his mother's palace, it
was in the garb of a poor mendicant friar, who humbly
begged an alms, per i pooeri di Dio. His mother filled
his wallet in silence, and then retired to her chamber to
pray, perhaps to weep — whether tears of gratitude or
grief, who can tell ?

He became distinguished in his retirement for his in-
defatigable care of the poor, his penances, and his mor-
tifications (which were, however, private), and was held
in such general esteem and veneration that he was cre-
ated Bishop of Castello by Pope Eugenius IV. And
a few years afterwards, on the death of the Patriarch
of Grado, the patriarchate was transferred to Venice,
and Lorenzo was the first who bore that title.

The whole of his long life was spent in the quiet
performance of his duties, and the most tender and
anxious care for the people committed to his charge.
He wore habitually his coarse black gown, slept on
straw, and devoted the revenues of his diocese to char-
itable and religious purposes. He died, amid the pray-
ers and tears of the whole city, in 1455. The people
believed that the republic had been saved from plague,



ST. ROSALIA OF PALERMO. 347

war, and famine by his prayers and intercession, and
did not wait for a papal decree to exalt him to the
glories of a saint. They built a church in his honor,
and placed his effigies on their altars, two hundred
years before his canonization, which took place in 1690
by a decree of Alexander VIII., who was a Venetian.

The portrait of San Lorenzo was painted during his
life by Vittore Carpaccio, and is engraved in the great
work of Litta. There is a fine half-leno-th figure in
marble over his tomb in San Pietro di Castello. Both
these represent him with the spare yet benign linea-
ments we should have given to him in fancy, and in
the simple dress of a priest or canon. I do not know
that he has any particular attribute. The contempo-
rary picture (Venice, S. Maria dell' Orta) by Gentil
Bellini, is singular, because he has the nimbus, and is
attended by angels bearing the crosier and mitre, al-
though not canonized.

Pictures of this amiable prelate abound in the churches
of Venice and Palermo. Tbe best I have seen was
painted about the time that Clement VII. had declared
him a Beato, and represents him standing in a niche on
an elevated step ; three canons of his Order are looking
up to him ; St. John the Baptist, St. Augustine, and
St. Francis, stand in front. (Pordenone, Venice Acad.)

There is also a fine picture by II Prete Genovese, in
which San Lorenzo, during a famine, is distributing in
charity the precious effects, plate, and vestments be-
longing to his church. (Venice, ai Tolentini.)



St. Rosalia of Palermo, of whose festival we have
such a gorgeous description in Brydone's " Sicily,"
would be claimed by the Augustines as belonging to
their order of hermits ; for which reason I place her here.

She was a Sicilian virgin, of noble birth, who, in her
sixteenth year, rejected all offers of marriage, and with-
drew secretly to a cavern near the summit of Monte
Pellegrino, — that rocky picturesque mountain which



248 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

closes in the bay of Palermo on the west ; and there
she devoted herself to a life of solitary sanctity, and
there she died unknown to all. But, when she had
ascended into bliss, she became an intercessor before
the eternal Throne for her beautiful native city, which
she twice saved from the ravages of the plague. Hap-
pily, after a long interval, her sacred remains were dis-
covered lying in her grotto, uncorrupted — such virtue
was in her unsullied maiden purity ! — and on her head
a wreath of roses from Paradise, placed there by the
angels who had sung her to rest. Her name, inscribed
by herself, was found on the rock above. She was
thenceforth solemnly inaugurated as the patroness of
Palermo; and in the year 1626, through the credit
of the Sicilian Jesuits, she was cauonized by Pope
Urban VIII.

On the summit of Monte Pellegrino stands the colos-
sal statue of the virgin saint, looking to the east over
the blue Mediterranean, and seen from afar by the
Sicilian mariner, — at once his auspicious beacon and
his celestial protectress.

Her grotto has become a church and a place of pil-
grimage, and statues and pictures of her abound through
the locality. She is not usually represented in the re-
ligious habit, but in a brown tunic, sometimes ragged ;
her hair loose. She is generally recumbent in her
cavern, irradiated by celestial light, and pressing a cru-
cifix to her bosom, while angels crown her with roses.
Such a picture, by a late Sicilian painter, probably
Novelli, I saw in Dublin (Tyrone House) in the pos-
session of Mr. Alex. Macdonnell. Sometimes she is
standing, and in the act of inscribing her name on the
rocky wall of her cavern.

As a subject of painting, St. Rosalia is chiefly in-
teresting for the series of pictures painted by Vandyck,
soon after her canonization, for the Jesuits' Church at
Antwerp. One of these is now at Palermo : two are
at Munich ; — the Vision of St. Rosalia ; and the saint
ascending into heaven with a company of angels, one



ST. NORBERT. 249

of whom crowns her with roses : a fourth, very grand
and beautiful, represents St. Rosalia glorified and
crowned with roses by the infant Saviour. We must
be careful not to confound St. Rosalia with the Mag-
dalen, or with St. Cecilia, or with St. Dorothea.

Another Augustine saint whom we find occasionally
in pictures is Clara di Monte-Falco, styled in her own
country Saint Clara; but, as she was never regularly
canonized, her proper title is the " Beata Clara della
Cruce di Monte-Falco." This beautiful little city crowns
the summit of a lofty hill seen on tbe right as we travel
through the Umbrian valleys from Foligno to Spoleto.
Here she was born about the vear 1268, and here she
dwelt in seclusion, and shed over the whole district the
perfume of her sanctity and the fame of her miracles
and visions. She is represented in the dress of her
Order, the black tunic fastened by a leathern girdle,
black veil, and white wimple, which distinguishes her
from her great namesake the Abbess St. Clara of Assisi.
This Beata Clara is met with in the Augustine churches.
There is a picture of her in the Santo Spirito at Flor-
ence.



Of the various communities which emanated directly
from the Augustine Order, properly so called, the earli-
est which has any interest in connection with art is one
with a very long name, — the Premoxstratexsians.

St. Norbert, Founder.

Ital. San Norberto, Fondatore de' Premostratesi. Ge.r. Stifter der
Pr'amonstratenser-Orden. May 6, 1134.

St. Norbert, whose effigy occurs frequently in
French and Flemish art, was a celebrated preacher and
religious reformer in the eleventh centurv. He was
born at Cologne ; he was a kinsman of the emperor
Henrv IV. ; and though earlv intended for the ecclesias-
tical profession, in which the highest dignities awaited



a 5 o LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

his acceptance, he for several years led a dissolute life
in the Imperial court.

One day, as he was riding in pursuit of his pleasures,
he was overtaken by a sudden and furious tempest ; and
as he looked about for shelter, there fell from heaven a
ball of fire, which exploded at his horse's feet, burned
up the grass, and sank deep in the earth. On recover-
ing his senses, he was struck with dismay when he re-
flected what might have been his fate in the other world
had he perished in his wickedness. He forsook his evil
ways, and began to prepare himself seriously for the life
of a priest and a missionary. He sold all his posses-
sions, bestowed the money on the poor, reserving to
himself only ten marks of silver, and a mule to carry
the sacred vestments and utensils for the altar; and
then, clothed in a lamb-skin, with a hempen ford round
his loins, he set out to preach repentance and a new life.

After preaching for several years through the north-
ern provinces of France, Hainault, Brabant, and Liege,
he assembled around him those whose hearts had been
touched by his eloquence, and who were resolved to
adopt his austere discipline. Seeing the salvation of so
many committed to his care, he humbly prayed for the
Divine direction ; and thereupon the blessed Virgin ap-
peared to him in a vision, and pointed out to him a
barren and lonesome spot in the valley of Coucy, thence
called Pr6-montre. (Pratum Monstratum.) Hence the
name adopted by his community, "the Premonstraten-
sians." The Virgin likewise dictated the fashion and
color of the habit they were to adopt ; it was a coarse
black tunic, and over it a white woollen cloak, in imita-
tion of the angels of heaven, " who are clothed in white
garments." The four-cornered cap or beret, worn by
the Augustine canons, was also to be white instead of
black. The rule was that of St. Augustine, but the
discipline so severe that it was found necessary to
modify it. Still, the necessity of monastic reform was
so universally felt, that, even in the commencement, it
found favor with the people. St. Norbert lived to count



ST. NORBERT.



251



twelve hundred members of his community ; was created
Archbishop of Magdeburg by the emperor Lothaire ;
and, after a most active and laborious ministry, died
in 1134.

In the German prints and pictures St. Norbert has
the cope, mitre, and crosier, as archbishop, and carries
the sacramental cup in his hand, over which is seen a
spider, in allusion to the following story : —

One day that Norbert had consecrated the bread and
wine for the ceremony of the mass, on lifting the cup to
his lips he perceived within it a large venomous spider.
He hesitated, — what should he do ? To spill the sa-
cred contents on the ground was profane — not to be
thought of. To taste was certain death. He drank it,
and remained uninjured. This was regarded as a mira-
cle, as the recompense of his faith, and has been often
represented. When, instead of the cup, he holds the
Monstranz, I think it may be an allusion to the name
of his Order. He has also the attribute of the demon
bound at his feet, common to all those saints who have
overcome the world.

A frequent subject is St. Norbert preaching at Ant-
werp against the heretic Tankelin. This Tankelin was
a sort of atheist and socialist of those times. He in-
sisted that the institution of the priesthood was a cheat,
the sacraments unnecessary to salvation, and that a
community of wives as well as goods was the true apos-
tolic doctrine. Of course he had no chance against our
austere and eloquent saint. In a very beautiful pic-
ture* by Bernard v. Orlay (Munich Gal.), St. Norbert
with his mitre on his head is preaching to a large assem-
blage of people ; before him stands Tankelin, in a rich
robe trimmed with fur, and with frowning and averted
looks ; in front are two women seated, listening, ap-
parently a motber and her daughter, — the latter inim-
itable for the grace of the attitude and the pensive
expression of the beautiful face. The costume and
style of this picture are thoroughly German, and I

* Eng. in the Boisseree Gal.



252 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

suppose it was painted before Bernard v. Orlay had
studied in the school of Raphael.

" St. Norbert in a vision receiving the habit of his
Order from the hand of the Virgin/' was painted by
Niecolo Poussin.

Two pictures from his life are in the Brussels Gallery.
1. He consecrates two deacons. 2. He dies, surrounded
by his brotherhood, in the act of benediction. The pic-
tures are not very good.

I know but one other saint of this Order who has
found a place in the history of art, and his legend is
very graceful.

St. Herman was the son of very poor parents, dwell-
ing in the city of Cologne. His mother brought him
up piously, giving him the best instructions she could
afford. Every day, as he repaired to school, he went
into the Church of St. Mary, and, kneeling before the
image of Our Lady, said his simple prayer with a right
lowly and loving and trusting heart. One day he had
an apple in his hand, which was all he had for his din-
ner, and, after he had finished his prayer, he humbly
offered his apple in childish love and faith to the holy
image, " which thing," says the legend, " pleased Our
Blessed Lady, and she stretched forth her hand and
took the apple and gave it to our Lord Jesus, who sat
upon her knee ; and both smiled upon Herman." The
young enthusiast took the habit of the Premonstraten-
sians, and edified his monastery by his piety, his austeri-
ties, and his wonderful visions. He had an ecstatic



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 21 of 41)