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 23 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 23 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

from the world ; and she built and endowed, at a great
expense, the monastery of Wastein, in which she placed
sixty nuns and twenty-four brothers, figuring the twelve
apostles and seventy -two disciples of Christ. She pre-
scribed to them the rule of St. Augustine, with certain
particular constitutions which are said to have been dic-
tated to her by our Saviour in a vision. The Order
was approved in 1363 by Urban V., under the title of
the Rule of the Order of our Saviour. But the nuns
always bore the name of the Brigittines. She was said
to have been favored by many revelations, which were
afterwards published. She died in the odor of sanctity
in 1373, was canonized by Boniface IX. in 1391, and
has since been regarded as one of the patron saints of

She is represented of mature age, in the dress of a
nun, wearing the black tunic, white wimple, and white
veil, which has a red band from the back to the front and
across the forehead ; this distinguishes the habit from
that of the Benedictines. She has the crosier, as first
abbess of the Order, and sometimes the pilgrim's staff
and wallet, to express her various pilgrimages to Com-
postella and to Rome. The earliest representation I
have seen of this saint is a curious old woodcut in posses-
sion of Lord Spencer, of which there is an imitation
in Otley's History of Engraving. It represents her
writing her revelations. As her disciples considered
her inspired, the holy Dove is generally introduced into
the devotional representations of this saint. In the
Church of the Hospital of St. John at Florence, there
is a fine picture of " Santa Brigitta giving the rule to
her nuns/' by Fra Bartolomeo. In the Berlin Gallery
(Xo. 1105, Lorenzo di Pieto) are two curious pictures
representing this saint at a writing-table and one of her
visions ; — called there by mistake St. Catherine of

One of the daughters of St. Bridget, distinguished
for her extreme piety, became Superior of the com-
munity after the death of her mother, and was canon-
ized under the name of St. Catherine of Sweden.


The Order of the Brigittines was introduced into
England by Henry V., and had a glorious nunnery,
Sion House near Brentford, which at the Reformation
was bestowed on the Duke of Northumberland, and still
continues in possession of his descendants. The nuns,
driven from their sacred precincts, fled to Lisbon, where
they found protection and relief; and their Order still
exists there, but in great poverty. Some of the beauti-
ful relics and vestments which they had carried away
from Sion, and religiously preserved in all their wander-
ings, are now in the possession of the Earl of Shrews-

In the Madrid Gallery there is a most beautiful pic-
ture by Giorgione, representing a lovely female saint
offering a basket of roses to the Madonna, and behind
her a warrior saint with his standard. This is called
in the Madrid Catalogue, by some strange mistake, St.
Bridget and her husband Fulco. There can be no doubt
that it represents two saints very popular at Venice, and
often occurring together in the Venetian pictures of that
time, St. Dorothea and St. George, with their usual

To the Augustines belong the two great Military
Orders, the Knights Templars (1118) and the Knights
of St. John of Jerusalem, afterwards styled of Malta
(1092). The first wear the red cross on the white man-
tle ; the second, the white cross on the black mantle.
They may thus be recognized in portraits ; but in
connection with sacred art I have nothing to record
of them here.

* Among these, a cope of wonderful beauty, embroidered all over
with Scriptural subjects worked in silk and gold, was in the collec-
tion of " Works of Mediaeval Art" exhibited in the Adelphi (April,


The Franciscans. The Dominicans. The


<^g>£j]HE three great Mendicant Orders arose al-
most simultaneously in the beginning of the
thirteenth century.

The Carmelites, as we shall see, claim for
themselves a very high antiquity ; and for their founder,
no other than the prophet Elijah himself. These claims
the Roman Church has not allowed ; neither do we find
the Carme'ies, at any time, an influential Order; nor
are they conspicuous in early art ; and in modern art
thev are interesting for one saint only, the Spanish St.
Theresa. Ou the other hand, the Franciscans and
Dominicans are so important and so interesting in
every respect, so intimately connected with the revival
of the fine arts and their subsequent progress, and so
generally associated and contrasted in the imagination,
that I shall give them the precedence here; and I shall
say a few words of them in their relation to each other
before I consider them separately.

In the Introduction, and in the preceding chapters, I
have touched upon that wonderful religious movement
which, in the thirteenth century, threw men's minds into
a state of fusion. I have described some of its results.
Without doubt, the most important, the most memora-


ble of all, was the portentous twin-birth of the two great
mendicant communities of St. Francis and St. Domi-
nick. Their founders were two men of different na-
tions, — differing yet more in nature, in temperament
and character, — who, without any previous mutual
understanding, had each conceived the idea of uniting
men under a new religious discipline, and for purposes
yet unthought of.

In the year 1216, Dominiek the Spaniard, and Fran-
cis of Assisi, met at Rome. They met and embraced,
— each recognizing in the other the companion pre-
destined to aid the Church in her conflict with the
awakening mental energies, so long repressed ; and in
her attempt to guide or crush the aspiring, inquiring,
ardent, fevered spirits of the time. Some attempts were
made to induce them to unite into one great body their
separate institutions. Dominiek would have complied :
it may be that he thought to And in Francis an instru-
ment as well as an ally. Francis, perhaps from an
intuitive perception of the unyielding, dogmatic charac-
ter of his friend, stood aloof. They received from
Innocent III. the confirmation of their respective com-
munities, "and parted," as it has been well expressed,
<' to divide the world between them." For, before the
end of the century, — nay, in the time of one genera-
tion, — their followers had spread themselves in thou-
sands, and tens of thousands, over the whole of Christian
Europe, and sent forth their missionaries through every
region of the then known world.

Both had adopted, as their fundamental rule, that of
Sr. Augustine; and hence it is that we meet with pic-
tures of the Franciscans and Dominicans in the churches
of the Augustines : whereas I do not remember meeting
with pictures of the Mendicant Orders in any of the
Benedictine houses and churches; such must, therefore,
be rare, if they occur at all.

In fact, from the beginning, the monks have been
opposed to the friars, as, in earlier times, the secular
clergy had been opposed to the monks.


The monastic discipline had hitherto been considered
as exacting, in the first place, seclusion from the world ;
and, secondly, as excluding all sympathy with worldly
affairs. This, at least, though often departed from in
individual cases, was the fundamental rule of all the
stricter Benedictine communities ; who, as it seems to
me, wherever their influence had worked for good, had
achieved that good by gathering the people to them, —
not by lowering themselves to the people. They were
aristocratic, rather than popular, communities.

The Franciscans and Dominicans were to have a
different destination. They were the spiritual demo-
crats ; they were to mingle with the people, yet without
being o/'the people : they were to take cognizance of all
private and public affairs ; of all those domestic concerns
and affections, cares and pleasures, from which their
vows personally cut them off. They were to possess
nothing they could call their own, either as a body
or individually; they were to beg from their fellow-
Christians food and raiment: — such, at least, was the
original rule, though this article was speedily modified.
Their vocation was to look after the stray sheep of the
fold of Christ ; to pray with those who prayed ; to weep
with those who wept ; to preach, to exhort, to rebuke,
to advise, to comfort, without distinction of place or
person. The privilege of ministering in the offices of
religion was not theirs at first, but was afterwards con-
ceded. They were not to be called Padri, fathers, but
Frati (or Frari, Freres, Friars), Suori, brothers and
sisters of all men : and as the Dominicans had taken
the title of Frati Predicatori, preaching brothers ; so
Francis, in his humility, had styled his community
Frati Minori, Freres Mineurs, Minorites, or lesser broth-
ers. In England, from the color of their habits, they
were distinguished as the Black-Friars, and the Gray-
Friars, names which they have bequeathed to certain
districts in London, and which- are familiar to us at this
day: but it does not appear that the Mendicant Orders
ever possessed, in England, the wealth, the power, or
the popularity of the Benedictines.


One important innovation on the rules and customs
of all existing religions communities was common to
the Franciscans and Dominicans ; and, while it ex-
tended their influence, and consolidated their power, it
was of incalculable service to the progress of civilization
and morals, — consequently to the cause of Christianity.
This was the admission into both communities of a
third class of members (besides the professed friars and
nuns), called the Tertiary Order, or Third Order of
Penitence. It included both sexes, and all ranks of
life ; the members were not bound by vows, nor were
they required to quit their secular occupations and do-
mestic duties, though they entered into an obligation to
renounce secular pleasures and vanities, to make resti-
tution where they had done wrong, to be true and just
in all their dealings, to be charitable to the extent of
their means, and never to take up weapon except against
the enemies of Christ. Could such a brotherhood have
been rendered universal, and could Christians have
agreed on the question, "who, among men, Christ
himself would have considered as his enemies ? " we
should have had a heaven upon earth, or at least the
Apostolic institutions restored to us ; but, with every
drawback caused by superstition and ignorance, by
fierce, cruel, and warlike habits, this institution, diffused
as it was through every nation of Europe, did more to
elevate the moral standard among the laity, more to
Christianize the people, than any other that existed
before the invention of printing. It is necessary to
keep this "Third Order" in mind, to enable us to
understand some of the stories and pictures which will
be noticed hereafter ; those, for instance, which relate
to St. Ives and St. Catherine of Siena.

The distinction between the Franciscans and Domin-
icans lay not in essentials, but mei'ely in points of
discipline, and difference of dress.

In pictures the obvious and, at first sight, the only
apparent distinction between the two Orders is the


habit ; we should therefore be able, at a glance, to tell
a Franciscan from a Dominican by its form and color.
This is so essential a preliminary that I shall here de-
scribe the proper costume of each, that the contrast
may be impressed on the memory.

The habit of the Franciscans was originally gray, and
it is gray in all the ancient pictures. After the first
two centuries the color was changed to a dark brown.
It consists of a plain tunic, with long loose sleeves, —
less ample, however, than those of the Benedictines.
The tunic is fastened round the waist with a knotted
cord. This cord represents symbolically the halter or
bridle of a subdued beast, for such it pleased Francis to
consider the body in its subjection to the spirit. A
cape, rather scanty in form, hangs over the shoulders,
and to the back of the cape is affixed a hood, drawn
over the head in cold or inclement weather.

The Franciscan nuns wear the same dress, onlv in-
stead of a hood they have a black veil.

The habit of the Dominicans is a white woollen
gown, fastened round the waist with a white girdle :
over this a white scapular (a piece of cloth hanging
down from the neck to the feet, like a long apron before
and behind) : over these a black cloak with a hood.
The lay brothers wear a black scapular.

The Dominican nuns have the same dress, with a
white veil.

The members of the Third Order of St. Francis are
distinguished by the cord worn as a girdle. Those of
the Third Order of St. Dominick have the black mantle
or the black scapular over a white gown ; the women,
a black cloak and a white veil.

The Dominicans are always shod. The Franciscans
are generally barefoot, or wear a sort of wooden sandal
called, in Italy, a zoccolo ; hence the name of Zoccohurti
sometimes given, in Italy, to the Franciscan friars.

The dress, therefore, forms the obvious and external
distinction between the two Orders. But, in consider-


ing them in their connection with art, it will be inter-
esting to trace another and a far deeper source of con-
trast. As the two communities have preserved, through
their whole existence of six hundred years and more,
something of that character originally impressed by their
founders ; so in pictures, and in all the forms of art,
we feel this distinctive character as sensibly as we should
the countenance and bearing of two individuals. I
mean, of course, in genuine art, not in factitious art, —
art as the interpreter, not the imitator.

Two celebrated passages in Dante (Paradiso, c. xi.)
give us the key to this distinct character, rendered by
the great painters as truly as by the great poet.

Dominick was a man of letters ; a schoolman, com-
pletely armed with all the weapons of theology ; elo-
quent by nature ; sincere, as we cannot doubt ; in
earnest in all his convictions ; but, as Dante portrays
him, Benigno ai suoi ed ai nemici crudo. (c. xii.)

The holy wrestler, gentle to his own,
And to his enemies terrible.

In other words, unscrupulous, inaccessible to pity, and
"wise as the serpent" in carrying out his religious
views and purposes.

Francis, on the contrary, was a wild and yet gentle
enthusiast, who fled from the world to espouse the
" Ladv Poverty " ; a man ignorant and unlettered, but
of a poetical nature, passionate in all its sympathies ; —
in Dante's words, Tutto serafico in ardore. " The one
like the cherub in wisdom, the other like the seraph in
fervor." The first would accept nothing from the
Church but permission to combat her enemies ; the
latter, nothing but the privilege of suffering in her
cause. And the character of the combatant and peni-
tent, of the active and the conteinjtkuive religious life, re-
mained generally and externally impressed on the two
communities, even when both had fallen away from
their primitive austerity of discipline.

The Dominicans as a body were the most learned


and the most energetic. We find them constantly-
arrayed on the side of power. They remained more
compact, and never broke up into separate reformed
communities, as was the case afterwards with the Fran-
ciscans. Their greatest canonized saints were men
who had raised themselves to eminence by learning, by
eloquence, by vigorous intellect or resolute action.

The Franciscans aspired to a greater degree of sanc-
tity and humility, and a more absolute self-abnegation.
They were most loved by the people. They were
among the Catholics of the thirteenth century what the
Methodists of the last century were with us. Their
most famous saints were such as had descended from
worldly power and worldly eminence, to take refuge in
their profession of lowly poverty and their abject self-
immolation, rendered attractive to the high-born and
high-bi-ed by the very force of contrast. The Francis-
cans boast of several princely saints ; which is not, I
believe, the case with the Dominicans. The latter have,
however, one canonized martyr in their ranks, their
famous St. Peter, more glorious in their own estimation
than all the Franciscan royalties together : but on this
point, as we shall see, opinions differ. He was certainly
the incarnate spirit of the Order.

I have taken here the picturesque and poetical aspect
of the two Orders, which, of course, is that which we
are to seek for in sacred art, where a fat jovial Fran-
ciscan would be a solecism : a gross, arrogant, self-
seeking Dominican, not less so. As the painters em-
ployed by each generally took their models from the
convents in which, and for which, they worked, we may
read no unmeaning commentary on the progressive
history of the two communities in the pale, spiritual,
thoughtful, heavenward look of the Friars in the early
pictures ; and the commonplace and often basely vul-
gar heads which are so hatefully characteristic of the
degenerate friarhood in some of the later pictures, and
more particularly in the second-rate Spanish and Bo-
lognese schools.



Very interesting and very significant to the thought-
ful observer are those pictures which represent in com-
panionship the chief saints of the two Orders : as where
St. Francis and St. Dominick are embracing each other ;
or stand on each side of the throne of the Virgin ; or
are jointly trampling on the world and sustaining the
Church and the cross between them.

And we can sometimes tell at a glance for which of
the two Orders the picture was painted, by observing
the degree of relative importance and dignity given to
the figures. As, for instance, in a picture where St.
Dominick stands pointing to the Virgin, while St.
Francis and St. Clara are kneeling ; painted, of course,
for the Dominicans. Or where St. Francis receives his
awful seraphic vision, while St. Dominick is standing
by ; painted, of course, for the Franciscans. And when
the Mendicant Orders had attained the height of their
power and popularity, we find the Augustines exceed-
ingly anxious to assert their own superiority as the
primitive Order, and to represent St. Augustine as
giving the rule to St. Francis and St. Dominick. An-
drea del Sarto painted a picture,* by command of the
Augustine Hermits, in which St. Augustine stands in
an attitude of great dignity, expounding the doctrine of
the Trinity ; St. Francis stands meditating, and St.
Peter the Dominican consults an open volume ; St.
Lawrence, St. Sebastian, and St. Mary Magdalene are
listening around. The introduction of the last three
personages expresses the right assumed by the Augus-
tines of including in their Order all those sacred worthies
who lived between the first and the sixth centuries.
The picture is one of wonderful beauty, and, with this
interpretation of its significance and its intention, may
be read like a page out of a book.

Of the munificent patronage extended by the Fran-
ciscans and Dominicans to every branch of art, — of

* Florence. Pitti Pal.


the great artists they produced from their ranks, — I
have given a general sketch in the Introduction. In
looking at the pictures produced by them or for them,
it will be well and wise and just to recollect, not merely
their connection with the progress of art, but with the
progress of human culture and social amelioration.
Equally beautiful and candid is the testimony borne to
their deserts by Sir James Stephen, in his " Ecclesias-
tical Sketches."

" So reiterated," he says, " and so just have been the
assaults on the Mendicant Friars, that we usually forget
that, till the days of Martin Luther, the Church had
never seen so great and effectual a reform as theirs. . . .
Nothing in the histories of Wesley or of Whitfield can
be compared with the enthusiasm which everywhere
welcomed them, or with the immediate and visible re-
sult of their labors. In an age of oligarchal tyranny,
they were the protectors of the weak ; in an age of
ignorance, the instructors of mankind ; and in an age
of profligacy, the stern vindicators of the holiness of the
sacerdotal character and the virtues of domestic life."

If an earnest English Protestant could thus write of
them in the nineteenth century, we may be permitted
to look with some sympathy and respect on the effigies
which commemorated what they were, — what they acted
and suffered during the thirteenth and fourteenth ; and
this in spite of their dingy draperies, and what Southey
pleasantly calls their " bread and water " expression.

The Franciscans.

In pictures painted for the Franciscans, we expect of
course to find, conspicuous in their gray or brown habits,
and girded with the knotted cord, the worthies of their
own Order. And in entering a church or convent be-
longing to any of the Franciscan communities, whether
under the name of Minorites, Capuchins, Minims, Ob-


servants, Recollets, the first glance round the walls and
altars will probably exhibit to us, singly or grouped, or
attending on tbe Madonna, their eight principal saints,
called in Italian / Cardini dell Ordine Serafico ; — " The
Chiefs of the Seraphic Order."

In the first and highest place St. Francis, as the
Padre Serafico, patriarch and founder.

St. Clara, as the Madre Serafica, first Franciscan nun
and foundress of the Povere Donne (Poor Clares).

St. Bonaventura, il Dottore Serafico, the great prel-
ate of the Order, sometimes as a simple Franciscan
friar, sometimes as cardinal ; often grouped with St.
Clara, and with St. Louts.

St. Antony of Padua. He generally figures as the
pendant to St. Francis, being the second great luminary
and miracle-worker of the Order ; he is very conspicuous
in Spanish art.

St. Bernardino of Siena ; the great preacher and
reformer of the Order. *

Then the three princely saints : St. Louis, king of
France ; St. Louis, bishop of Toulouse ; and the charm-
ing St. Elizabeth of Hungary, with her crown on her
head, and her lap full of roses, conspicuous in German

Following after these, and of less universal popularity,
we find, —

St. Margaret of Cortona, in Italian pictures only.

St. Ives of Bretagne.

St. Eleazar of Sabran.

St. Rosa di Viterbo.
(These four belonged to the Third Order of Penitence.)

St. John Capistrano.

St. Peter Regalato.
And chiefly in Spanish pictures, —

St. Juan de Dios.

St. Felix de Cantalicio.

St. Peter of Alcantara.

St. Diego of Alcala.

Any works of art in which we find one or more of


these personages conspicuous, we may safely conclude
to have been originally executed for a community of
Franciscans, or for the purpose of being placed in one
of their churches.

A signal instance of a picture dedicated to the honor
of the Franciscan saints is to be found in a grand altar-
piece in the Church of San Bernardino at Verona, of
which it is written in Murray's Handbook, — " No
lover of art should pass through Verona without seeing
this picture " : and I venture to add my testimony to
its exceeding beauty. The Virgin and Child are seated
in glory ; and on each side are St. Francis and St.
Antony of Fadua, nearly on an equality with the celes-
tial personages. Around these, and mingled with the
choir of angels, are seven beautiful seraphic or allegori-
cal figures, bearing the attributes of the Seven Cardinal
Virtues. Below on the earth stand six Franciscan
saints ; on the right of the Virgin, St. Elizabeth of
Hungary, St. Bonaventura, and St. Louis, king ; on
the left, St. Eleazar of Sabran, St. Louis of Toulouse,
and St. Ives ; below these in the centre is seen the half-
length of the votary who dedicated this fine picture, a
certain Madonna Caterina de' Sacchi, who appears
veiled and holding a rosary. The lower group, painted
by Faolo Morando (or Cavazzola, A. d. 1522), is much
superior to the upper part of the picture. Morando
died young while he was at work upon it, and it was
finished by Francesco Morone.

Some of these saints are personally so interesting,
their lives and actions so full of matter and so signifi-
cant, that it is with difficulty I refrain from following

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 23 of 41)