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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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founder of the Carthusians, i§ omitted. At the time
the fresco was painted, about 1440, St. Bruno was not

We have portraits of distinguished members of the
various communities who were never canonized, but
these do not properly belong to sacred Art. The de-
cree of beatification did not confer the privilege of being
invoked as intercessor and portrayed in the churches ;
it was merely a declaration that the personage distin-
guished for holiness of life had been received into bliss,
and thence received the title of Beato, Blessed. The
bull of canonization was a much more solemn ordinance,
and conferred a species of divinity : it was the apotheo-
sis of a being supposed to have been endowed while on
earth with privileges above humanity, with miraculous
powers ; and regarded with such favor by Christ, whom
he had imitated on earth, that his prayers and inter-
cessions before the throne of grace might avail for
those whom he had left in the world. To obtain the
canonization of one of their members became with each
community an object of ambition. The popes fre-
quently used their prerogative in favor of an Order to
which they had belonged, or which they regarded with
particular interest. Sometimes the favor was obtained
through the intercession of crowned heads.

In the monastic pictures it is most especially neces-
sary to ascertain the date of the canonization in order
to settle the identity of the personage. I will give an
example. There is in the Dresden Gallery a remarka-
bly fine devotional picture, by Garofalo, representing
St. Peter and St. George standing, and a little behind
them, in the centre, a saint in a white habit, seated with
a pen and an open book in his hand, looking up to the
Madonna in glory. This figure is called in the cata-


logue St. Bruno. Now there can be no doubt that it is
St. Bernard, and not St. Bruno : for, in the first place,
the habit has not the proper form of the Carthusian
habit, — there is no scapulary united by the band at the
sides ; secondly, it was St. Bernard, not St. Bruno, who
wrote the praises of the Virgin ; and, thirdly, the whole
question is set at rest by the fact that St. Bruno was
not canonized till the beginning of the seventeenth cen-
tury, consequently could not appear between St. Peter
and St. George in a picture painted in the beginning
of the sixteenth.

The color and form of the habit are also of great
importance in ascertaining the name of the personage ;
but though, at a single glance, we distinguish the black
Benedictine monk from the white Cistercian, and the
gray or brown tunic of the Franciscan from the white
tunic and black mantle of the Dominican, it is not al-
ways easy to discriminate further. St. Benedict, for
instance, sometimes wears the black, and sometimes the
white, habit ; and the color will decide whether the
picture was painted for the Monad Neri or for the Re-
formed Benedictines. I have explained this at length
in the legend of the saint, and will only point to the
picture by Francia in our National Gallery as an ex-
ample of St. Benedict in the white habit.

Gray was the original color of the Franciscan habit.
The Reformed Franciscans introduced the dark-brown
tunic : the girdle, of a twisted hempen cord, remains
the peculiar distinction of the habit at all times.

The black habit is worn by the Augustines, the
Servi, the Oratorians, and the Jesuits.

The white habit is worn by the Cistercians, the
Camaldolesi, the Port-Royalists, the Trappistes, the

Black over white, by the Dominicans.

White over black, by the Premonstratensians and
the Carmelites.

The tonsure, the shaven crown, has been from very


early times one of the distinguishing signs of the priest-
hood. To shave the head was anciently an expression
of penitence and mourning, and was thence adopted by
the primitive hermits in the solitudes of Egypt. The
form of the tonsm-e was settled by the Synod of Toledo
in 633 ; and the circle of short hair left round the head
has since been styled the clerical crown (corona clericalis).
The Carthusians alone of the Monkish Orders shaved
the whole head, in sign of greater austerity.

I do not know what is the specific rule of the differ-
ent Orders with regard to beards ; but in pictures we
find long beards worn only by the early Benedictines,
the Hermits, and the Capuchins.

But when, with some attention, we have settled the
Order, it requires some further examination to dis-
criminate the personage. This is determined by some
particular attribute, or by some characteristic treat-
ment ; by the relative position of the figures ; or by the
locality for which the picture was painted, — all of
which have to be criticallv considered. Some saints,
as St. Francis, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Elizabeth of
Hungary, are easily and at once discriminated ; others,
after a long study of characteristics and probabilities,
leave us at a loss.

And, first, with regard to the distinctive emblems
and attributes. They are the same already enumerated
and explained, in the first series of this work, as of gen-
eral application in the sacred and legendary subjects ;
but in the monastic pictures they have sometimes a
particular significance, which I shall endeavor to point

The Glory expresses the canonized saint : it ought
not to be given to a Beato. In some instances, where
the figure of the saint has been painted before the date
of the canonization, the glory has been added after-
wards ; in the later schools of the sixteenth and seven-
teenth centuries it is omitted.


The Dragon or the Demon at the feet of the saint
is a common attribute, and bears the common mean-
ing, — that of sin and the world overcome : but some-
times the Demon or Demons, chained to a rock behind,
or led captive, signify heresy vanquished ; as in pic-
tures of St. Bernard, the great polemic of the middle

The Hind or Stag, as the general emblem of soli-
tude, is frequent ; but it has a special meaning in the
legends of St. Giles and St. Felix de Yalois.

Wild Beasts, such as bears, wolves, &c., 'at the
feet of a saint, originally signified that he had cleared a
wilderness, or founded a convent in a solitude. When
the original signification was forgotten, some legend
was invented or suggested to account for it.

The CrucIfix held in the hand signified a preach-
er ; in this sense it is given to St. Francis, St. Domi-
nick, St. Peter Martyr, St. John Capistrano, St. Fran-
cis Xavier, St. Vincent Ferrier. Merely as a 6ymbol
of penance and devout faith it is given to St. Francis,
St. Margaret of Cortona, St. Theresa. It has a spe-
cial significance in the pictures of St. John Gualberto
and St. Catherine of Siena.

The Lily, as the emblem of purity and chastity, is
common to hundreds of saints, male and female : it is,
however, especially characteristic of St. Clara, St. An-
tony of Padua, St. Dominick, and St. Catherine of
Siena ; and also of those young saints who made early
vows of celibacy, as St. Casimir, St. Stanislas, St.
Aloysius of Gouzaga. The crucifix twined with the
lily, common in late pictures, signifies devotion and pu-
rity of heart : it is given particularly to St. Nicholas of
Tolentino. But the lily being also the symbol of the
Virgin, and consecrated to her, is placed near those
saints who were distinguished by their devotion to the
Mother of the Redeemer, as in pictures of St. Bernard.

The Infant Christ placed in the arms of a saint is
a common allegory or legend, but comparatively mod-
ern, and a favorite subject of the later schools of art.


I believe it to be derived from the legend of St. Antony
of Padua, of whom it is related that the radiant figure
of Christ descended and stood on the open book of the
Gospel while preaching to the people. The pictures of
the Madonna and Child, that universal subject in all re-
ligious edifices, may, in heated imaginations, have given
rise to those visions so common in the lives of the mo-
nastic saints, Avhere the Virgin-mother, bending from
her throne, or attended by a train of angels, resigns her
Divine Infant to the outspread eager arms of the kneel-
ing recluse. Such representations we have of St. Cath-
erine of Siena, St. Theresa, St. Catherine of Bologna,
and indeed of all the nun-saints ; also of St. Francis,
St. Antony of Padua, St. Felix of Cantalicia, and
others ; never of St. Dominick, nor, that, I remember,
of St. Clara. They strike me sometimes as very pa-

The Standard with the Cross is the general sym-
bol of Christianity triumphant, and is given to the ear-
ly preachers and missionaries. But it is also given to
the royal and warrior saints connected with the differ-
ent Orders, as St. Oswald, St. Wenceslaus, St. Henry,
St. Leopold.

The Flaming Heart is the rather vulgar and com-
monplace emblem of Divine love. I have never met
with it in any of the very early pictures, except those
of St. Augustine. The heart crowned with thorns is
given to St. Francis de Sales ; impressed with the
name of Christ, the I H S, it is given to the Jesuit
saints, to St. Theresa, to St. Bridget of Sweden, and to
St. Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi. It has a particular
meaning in the legend of St. Catherine of Siena.

The Crown of Thorns, placed on the head or in
the hand of a saint, is a modern emblem, and expresses
suffering for Christ's sake. It has a more special mean-
ing in the pictures of St. Francis, who is considered by
his followers as a type of the Redeemer ; and also in
the legends of St. Louis of France, of St. Catherine
of Siena, and St. Rosa di Lima.


2 3

The Palm, as the meed of martyrdom, is proper
to a few only of the monastic saints. St. Placidus,
the disciple of St. Benedict, is the earliest monastic
martyr ; St. Boniface and St. Thomas a Becket were
also Benedictines. St. Albert and St. Angelo were
Carmelites, and St. Peter Martyr a Dominican ; —
these, I believe, are the only monkish martyrs who are
conspicuous and individualized in works of art. The
only nun-martyr is St. Flavia, the sister of St. Placi-

We find, also, pictures and prints commemorating
the five Franciscans martyred at Morocco ; a long pro-
cession of about a hundred Dominican martvr-mission-
aries ; and the Jesuit Martyrs of Japan : but they are
not individually named, nor have they, I believe, been
regularly canonized.

But the palm is also occasionally given to several
saints who have not suffered a violent death, but have
been conspicuous for their victory over pain and temp-
tation ; for instance, to St. Francis and St. Catherine
of Siena.

The Lamb, as an attribute, is proper to St. Francis,
both as the symbol of meekness and with an especial
meaning for which I must refer to the legend.

The Fish, the ancient Christian symbol of baptism,
is proper to some of the old missionaries and primitive
bishops who converted the heathen ; but the original
meaning being lost or forgotten, a legend has been in-
vented by way of interpretation, as in the stories of St.
Ulrich of Augsburg and St. Benno of Meissen.

The Crown, placed near the saint, or at his feet,
signifies that he was of royal birth, or had resigned a
kingdom to enter a monastery. Those royal saints
who retained the sovereign power till their death wear
the crown ; and the sainted queens and princesses fre-
quently wear the diadem over the veil.

A Seraph is sometimes introduced as an ornament,
or hovering near, to distinguish the saints of the Se-
raphic Order ; as in a figure of St. Bonaventura.


The Stigmata, the wounds of Christ impressed on
the hands, feet, and side, are, as an attribute, proper to
St. Francis and St. Catherine of Siena ; improperly
given also to St. Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi, and re-
lated of several other saints whom I have not met with
in pictures.

A Sun on the breast expresses the light of Wisdom,
in figures of St. Thomas Aquinas. It is carried in the
hand of St. Bernardino of Siena in the form of a tablet,
and within the radiant circle are the letters I H S.
This is the proper attribute of that famous Franciscan,
and is explained in his legend. The Monte de Piete is
given to him in some pictures, as in the small Francis-
can predella, attributed to Raphael, in Lord Ward's
collection ; but it is, I am assured by a high authority,
the px'oper attribute of Fra Bernardino da Feltre (who
was never canonized), and given by mistake to St. Ber-
nardino of Siena.

The Star, over the head or on the breast, is given
to St. Pominick (black and white habit), and St. Nicho-
las of Tolentino (black habit) ; and seems to express a
divine attestation of peculiar sanctity, the idea being bor-
rowed from the star in the East. The five stars given
to St. John Nepomuck have a special significance,
which is explained by his story.

A Book in the hand of a saint is, in a general way,
the Scriptures or the Gospel. It is given in this sense
to preachers and missionaries. It has, however, a spe-
cial meaning in pictures of St. Boniface. Books in the
hand or at the feet of St. Bernard, St. Thomas Aqui-
nas, Cardinal Bonaventura, St. Theresa, accompanied
by the pen or inkhorn, express the character of author
or writer, and the books are often lettered with the
titles of their works.

The Dove, as the Scriptural emblem of the Holy
Spirit, and expressing direct inspiration, is also given
as an attribute to the same saints ; but in the effigies
of St. Scholastica, the sister of St. Benedict, it has a
special meaning.


The Open Book, in the hands of a founder, often in-
dicates the written rule of the Order, and sometimes the
first words of the rule are inscribed on the page.

The Scourge indicates self-inflicted penance, and is
given in this sense to St. Dominick (who was famous
for scourging himself), and St. Margaret of Cortona.

Walking over the Sea or over rivers is a- miracle
attributed to so many saints, that it becomes necessary
to distinguish them. St. Raymond the Dominican,
and St. Fraucis de Paula the Capuchin, cross the sea
on a cloak. St. Peter of Alcantara, a Franciscan,
walks over the water. St. Hyacinth, the Dominican,
walks over the river Dniester when swollen to a torrent,
and is always distinguished by the image of the Vir-
gin in his hand. St. Sebald, in a German print, crosses
the Danube on his cloak. In devotional figures of
these saints the miracle is often represented as an attri-
bute in the background.

Roses are sometimes an allusion to the name of the
saint ; St. Rosalia of Palermo, St. Rosa di Viterbo
(Franciscan), St. Rosa di Lima (Dominican), all wear
the crown of roses, or it is presented by an angel. But
roses in the lap or the hand of St. Elizabeth are an at-
tribute taken from her beautiful legend.

The Cardinal's Hat is proper to St. Bonaventura,
and he is the only monkish saint to whom it belongs ;
he is distinguished from St. Jerome, the other Cardinal-
saint, by the Franciscan girdle, and the absence of the
long beard.*

The Mitre and Pastoral Staff are borne by
abbots as well as bishops : the pastoral staff only, with-
out the mitre, by abbesses.

Slaves, with their chains broken, Beggars, Chil-

* In the German " Christliche Ikonographie," and other books
of the kind, the cardinal's hat is mentioned as an attribute of St.
Francis Borgia, the Jesuit. He was not a cardinal : if the cardi-
nal's hat be introduced into his effigies (of which I do not remem-
ber an instance), it must signify that he rejected that dignity when
offered to him.


dren, Lepers, at the feet of a saint, express his benefi-
cence ; and in the ancient devotional figures these are
sometimes of diminutive size, showing that they are
merely emblems to signify charity, and not any par-
ticular act of charity.

Other attributes in use in the monastic representa-
tions, and peculiar to certain saints (as the kneeling
mule in pictures of St. Antony of Padua), will be ex-
plained in their respective legends.*

To understand and to sympathize with the impor-
tance attached to almsgiving, and the prominence given
to this particular aspect of charity in the old pictures,
we must recall a social condition very different from our
own : a period when there were no poor-laws ; when
the laws for the protection of the lower classes were im-
perfect and perpetually violated ; when for the wretched
there was absolutely no resource but in private benefi-
cence. In those days a man began his religious voca-
tion by a literal and practical application of the text in
Scripture, " Sell all thou hast, and distribute to the
poor." The laws against debtors were then very se-
vere, and the proximity of the Moors on one side, and
the Turks on the other, rendered slavery a familiar
thing. In all the maritime and commercial cities of
Italy and Spain, brotherhoods existed for the manu-
mission of slaves and debtors. Charitable confraterni-
ties performed then, and in Italy perform now, many
duties left to our police, or which we think we fulfil in
paying our poor-rates. These duties of charity shine
in the monastic pictures, and were conspicuous on the
walls of churches, I am persuaded to good purpose.
Among the most interesting of the canonized saints
whose stories I have related in reference to Ait, are the
founders of the charitable brotherhoods ; and among

* A very useful book, as a companion to churches and picture-
galleries, is the little manual, " Emblems of Saints," compiled by
the Rev. F. C. Husenbeth.


the most beautiful and celebrated pictures, were those
painted for these communities ; for instance, for the
Misericordia in Italy, the various Scuole at Venice,* the
Merced and the Caritad in Spain, and for the numerous
hospitals for the sick, the houseless travellers, the poor,
and the penitent women (Donne Convertite). All these
institutions were adorned with pictures, and in the ora-
tories and chapels appended to them the altar-piece gener-
ally set forth some beneficent saint, — St. Roch, or St.
Charles Borromeo, the patrons of the plague-stricken ;
or St. Cosmo and St. Damian, the saintly apothecaries ;
or St. Leonard, the protector of captives and debtors ;
or that friend of the wretched, St. Juan de Dios, or the
benign St. Elizabeth ; — either standing before us as
objects of devout reverence, or kneeling at the feet' of
the Madonna and her Son, and commending to the
Divine mercy " all such as are any ways afflicted in
mind, body, or estate."

The pictures, too, which were suspended in churches
as votive memorials of benefits received, are often very
touching. I recollect such a picture in the Gallery at
Vienna. A youth about fifteen, in the character of
Tobias, is led by the hand of his guardian angel Ra-
phael ; and on the other side is St. Leonard, the patron
of captives, holding his broken fetters : Christ the Re-
deemer appears above ; and below, in a corner, kneels
an elderly man, his eyes fixed on the youth. The
arrangement of this group leaves us no doubt of its
purpose ; it was the votive offering of a father whose
son had escaped, or had been redeemed, from captivity.
The picture is very beautiful, and either by Andrea del
Sarto or one of his school. t If we could discover
where it had been originally placed, we might discover

* For some account of the objects of these Scuole, see "Sacred
and Legendary Art."

t The two figures of St. Raphael and Tobias, without the others,
are in a small picture in the Pitti Palace : the peculiar dress and
physiognomy of the youth give to the picture the look of a por-
trait ; the reason of this is understood in the complete group.


the facts and the personages to which it alludes ; hut
even on the walls of a gallery we recognize its pathetic
significance : we read it as a poem, — as a hymn of

When we consider the deep interest which is attached
to pictures and other works of art in their connection
with history and character, we have reason to regret
that in the catalogues of galleries and collections the
name of the church, chapel, or confraternity whence the
picture was purchased, or where it was originally placed,
has been so seldom mentioned. The locality for which
a picture was painted will often determine the names
of the personages introduced, and show us why they
were introduced, and why they held this or that position
relatively to each other. A saint who is the subordinate
figure in one place, is the superior figure in another ;
and there was always a reason, a meaning, in the ar-
rangement of a group, even when it appears, at first
sight, most capricious and unaccountable. What a
lively, living, really religious interest is given to one of
these sacred groups when we know the locality or the
community for which it was executed, and how it be-
comes enriched as a production of mind when it speaks
to the mind through a thousand associations, will be
felt, I think, after reading the legends which follow.


Those who have thought on works of art with this
reference to their meaning and intention should be able,
on looking round a church or any other religious edi-
fice, to decide at once to what community it belongs,
and to understand the relation which the pictures bear
to each other and to the locality in which they are
placed. This is a very interesting point, and leads me
to say a few words of some of the most important of
these edifices and the memorials of art and artists which
they contain.


There is a Latin distich which well expresses the
different localities and sites affected by the chief Monas-
tic Orders, —

Beraardus valles, colles Benedictus amabat,
Oppida Franciscus, niagnas Ignatius urbes ;

and we shall find almost uniformly the chief foundations
of the Benedictines on hills or mountains, those of the
Cistercians in fertile valleys by running streams, those
of the Franciscans in provincial towns, and those of the
Jesuits in capital cities.

To begin with the Benedictines ; the Order produced
the earliest painters and architects in Europe, and their
monasteries and churches are among the earliest and
most important monuments of Art in our own and
other countries. The term Abbey applies particularly
to the foundations of this Order.

In looking rouud one of the Benedictine edifices, we
shall find, of course, St. Benedict as patriarch, his sister
St. Scholastica, and the other principal saints of his
Order enumerated in the introduction to his legend.
We shall also find the apostle Paul frequently and con-
spicuously introduced into pictures painted for this
community. He is their patron-saint and protector,
and their rule was framed in accordance with his pre-

The parent monastery of Monte Cassino was founded
by St. Benedict on the spot where stood a temple of
Apollo. The grand masses of the conventual buildings
now crown the summit of a mountain, rising above the
town of San Germano ; the river Rapido, called, farther
on, the Garigliano, flows through the valley at its base.
The Hospice, or house for the reception and entertain-
ment of strangers and travellers, stands lower down.
The splendid church and cloisters are filled with works
of art, — the series of statues in marble of the most
illustrious members and benefactors of the community
being perhaps the most remarkable ; but the monastery


having been restored, almost rebuilt, in the seventeenth
century, most of the pictures belong to the modern

More interesting for the antiquity of its decorations
is Subiaco, formerly the mountain cave in which St.
Benedict, at the age of sixteen, hid himself from the
world. The Sacro Speco, or sacred cavern, is now a
church ; the natural rocks forming the walls in some
parts, are covered with ancient frescos, the works of
Concioli, painted in 1219, before the time of Cimabue,
and most important in the history of early Italian Art.
About a mile from the Sacro Speco is the monastery of
Santa Scholastica, once famous for its library, and still
interesting as the spot where the first printing-press in
Italy was set up ; — as the first printing-press in Eng-
land was worked in the cloisters of the Benedictine Ab-
bey of Westminster.

San Paolo-fuor-le-Mure at Borne belongs to the

For the San Severino at Naples, Antonio lo Zingaro
painted the series of pictures of the life of St. Benedict
■which I have described further on.

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 3 of 41)