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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With regard to the frescos, they were taken from
the walls when the Church of San Giacomo was de-
stroyed a few years ago, and transferred to canvas. I
saw them in this state when at Rome in 1846. They
comprise the following subjects : —

1. San Diego takes the Franciscan habit. 2. A
mother shut her child in an oven, and lighted a fire
under by mistake ; the saint, in pity to the mother,
takes out the child uninjured. 3. Travelling with an-
other lay-brother, and being ready to perish with hunger
by the way, an angel spreads for them a repast of bread


and wine. 4. He restores sight to a blind boy, by
touching his eyes with oil from a lamp suspended before
an altar of the Madonna. (This was in some respects
imitated, but far surpassed, by Domenichino, in his
fresco of the Epileptic Boy.) 5. San Diego, being the
porter, or, as some say, the cook of his convent, is
detected by the guardian giving away bread to the
poor, and, on opening his tunic, finds his loaves con-
verted into roses (an impertinent version of the beau-
tiful legend of St. Elizabeth).

There were some others, but I do not well remember
what they were. The whole series was engraved at
the time by Guilain.

I will mention one or two other pictures of this

By Murillo. 1. San Diego, bearing a cross upon
his shoulders, holds up his tunic full of roses. 2. He
kneels, in the act of blessing a copper pot of broth.
3. San Diego, while cooking for the brotherhood, is
rapt in ecstasy, and raised above the earth, while angels
are performing his task of boiling and frying below.
Three ecclesiastics entering on the left, regard this mir-
acle with devout admiration. (Sold from the Soult
Gal., May 20, 1852.) 4. San Diego stands fixed in
devotion before a cross. (Aguado Gal.) Behind Di-
ego, and observing him, is seen the Cardinal Archbishop
of Pampeluna with several friars ; the consummate
vulgarity of the head of Diego, with the expression of
earnest yet stupid devotion, as fine as possible, — as fine
in its way, perhaps, as the San Juan de Dios. But
now I have done with San Diego d'Alcala.

We must be careful not to confound St. Francis de
Paula with St. Vincent de Paule, who wears the
habit of a Cordelier, and not of a Minime. He also
was very popular in France. Those who have been at
Paris will remember the familiar effigies of this amiable


saint, with his foundling baby in his arms or lying at
his feet. He was the first institutor of hospitals for
deserted children (that is to say, the first in France:
there had existed one at Florence from the thirteenth
century), and the founder of the Sisters of Charity.
He was born in 1576 at Puy, in Gascony, not far from
the foot of the Pyrenees. His parents were small farm-
ers, and he began life as his father's shepherd. The
contemplative sweetness and piety of his disposition,
something which distinguished him from the peasants
around, induced his father to send him for education to
a convent of Cordeliers ; and he assumed the habit of
the Franciscan Order at the age of twenty. The next
ten years were spent as a tl eological student and a
tutor, and his life would probably have passed in the
quiet routine of conventual duties if a strange accident
had not opened to him a far wider career. He had oc-
casion to go to Marseilles to transact some affairs, and,
returning by sea, the small bark was attacked midway
in the Gulf of Lyons by some African pirates ; and
Vincent de Paule, with others on board, was carried to
Tunis, and there sold for a slave.

Vincent spent two years in captivity, passing from
the hand of one master to that of another. The last to
whom he was sold was a renegado, whose wife took
pity on him. She would occasionally visit him when
he was digging in their field, and would speak kindly
words to him. One day she desired him to sing to her.
He, remembering his sacred profession, and at the same
time thinking of his home and country, burst into tears,
and when he found voice he began to sing " By the
waters of Babylon we sat down and wept," and then, as
if taking heart, he ended with the triumphant strain of
the " Salve Regina." Either by his songs or his preach-
ing, this woman was turned to the true faith. She
converted the husband, and they all escaped together
and landed at Aiguesmortcs. Vincent, having placed
his converts in a religious house, repaired to Rome,
whence he was despatched by Paul V. on some eccle-


siastical business to Paris : he arrived there in 1609.
From this period may be dated his long apostleship,
of which I can give only a short abstract. His com-
passion had been strongly ex<ited by the condition of
the wretched jrallev-slaves at Marseilles. He himself
had tasted of chains and slavery ; he himself knew what
it was to be sick and neglected and friendless. He be-
gan by visiting the prisons where criminals were con-
fined before they were sent off to the galleys , he beheld,
to use his own expressions, " des malheureux renfermes
dans de profondes et obscures cavernes, mange's de
vermille, attenues de langueur et de pauvrete, et en-
tierement ne'gliges pour le corps et pour l'arae." The
good man was thrown into great perplexity ; for on the
one hand he could not reconcile such a state of things
with the religion of Christ, which it was his profession
to uphold and to preach, and on the other hand he
could not contravene the laws of justice. He knew not
how to deal with ruffians so abased, who began by re-
sponding to his efforts for their good, only by outrage
and blasphemy ; and he was himself poor and penniless,
a mendicant friar. Yet this precursor of Howard the
Good did not lose courage ; he preached to them, com-
forted them, lagged for their maintenance. His next
efforts wore for the wretched girls abandoned in the
streets of Pari*, many of whom he reclaimed, and es-
tablished the hospital of '* La Madelaine " to receive
them. A few years afterwards he instituted the Order
of the Sisters of Charity, an order of nuns " qui n'ont
point de- monasteres que les maisons des malades, pour
cellules qu'une chamhre de louage, pour chapelle que
realise de lenr paroisse, pour cloitre que les rues de la
villc ct les salles des hopitaux, pour cloture que Tobe-
issance, pour grille que la crainte de Dieu, et pour voile
(prune sainte et exacts mudestie, et cependaut elles se
preservent de la contagion du vice, elles font germer
partout sur leurs p:\s la vertu." This beautiful descrip-
tion is applicable to this day; — to this day the Insti-
tution remains one of those of which Christendom has


most reason to be proud. The rules and regulations
which Vincent de Paule drew up for this new Order
were admirable, and within a few years afterwards he
had the satisfaction to see these congregations of charity
spring up in all the cities of France.

One of the most singular things in the history of this
saint is his intercourse with the haughty Richelieu, with
whom he remained on terms of friendship till the death
of the cardinal in 1642. The following year he was
called from the bedsides of the galley-slaves and the
sick in the hospital, to attend Louis XIII. in his last
moments. In 1648 he instituted the hospital for found-
lings : he had been accustomed to pick up the poor
children out of the street, and carry them home either
to his charitable Sisters or some of the ladies of rank
who aided him in his good works ; but these wretched
orphans accumulated on his hands, and at length he
succeeded in founding " la Maison des Enfans trouve's,"
which he placed under the superintendence of the Sis-
ters of Charity.

When the wars of the " Fronde " broke out, he was
everywhere found ministering to the sufferers and
preaching peace.

Amongst the charitable projects of Vincent de Paule
was one to assist the Catholics of Ireland, then horribly
oppressed ; and he carried his enthusiasm so far as to
forget his peaceful and sacred profession, and endeav-
ored to persuade Richelieu to send troops into that
country, offering to raise a hundred thousand crowns
towards their pay. Richelieu contented himself with
smiling at the request ; perhaps also gave him a hint
to be content with looking after his Sisters of Charity,
instead of meddling with the angry politics of the


The enthusiastic admiration with which this excel-
lent man was regarded throughout the country was
honorable to the people who bad given him, by common
consent, the name of " Tlntendant de la Providence, et
Pere des Pauvres." He died at St. Lazare, in 1660,


in his eighty-fourth year, and was canonized by Pope
Clement XII. in 1747.

The effigies of St. Vincent de Paule which meet us
in the churches of Paris, and more particularly in the
magnificent church lately dedicated to him (in 1844),
represent him in his Franciscan habit, generally with
a new-born infant in his arms, and a Sister of Charity
kneeling at his feet. We have, fortunately, authentic
portraits of the man ; and it is a pleasure to feel that
the benevolent features, the bright clear eye, the broad
forehead, and the silver hair and beard, fill up the out-
line suggested by the imagination.

Over the entrance of his church at Paris is a fine
circular window of stained glass, representing St. Vin-
cent surrounded by the Sisters of Charity.

St. Peter of Alcaxtara, one of the latest of the
canonized Franciscans, was born at Alcantara in Es-
tramadura, in 1499, and, after a long life of sanctifica-
tion, died in 1562 ; he was canonized by Clement IX.,
1669. Of this friar we have the oft-repeated legend of
walking on the water, through trust in God. About
the time he was canonized, Claudio Coello painted an
exceedingly fine picture of this subject. (Munich Gal.)
The saint appears walking on the sea, with a terrified
lay-brother at his side : pointing up to heaven, he
calmly bids him trust, like Peter, in divine aid. The
picture is life-size, and struck me as admirably fine, —
dramatic, without exaggeration. Another beautiful
picture of this saint, by Murillo, was in the Aguado
Gallery ; it represents him kneeling at his devotions,
and the Holy Dove hovering over his head.

St. Johx Capistraxo is only met with in late pict-
ures. At the time that all Europe was thrown into
consternation by the capture of Constantinople by the
Turks, the popes, Eugenius IV., Nicolas V., and Pius


II., endeavored to set on foot a crusade for the defence
of Christendom, and sent forth this eloquent and enthu-
siastic friar to preach through Europe.

At the siege of Belgrade, where Mahomet was re-
pulsed by the brave Hungarians under John Corvinus
(a. d. 1465), the Franciscan preacher was everywhere
seen with his crucifix in his hand, encouraging the
troops, and even leading them on against the infidels.
He died the same year, and was canonized by Alex-
ander VIII., in 1690, a few years after the deliverance
of Vienna from the Turks in 1683, and in commemora-
tion of that event.

The proper attribute of this saint is the crucifix, or
the standard with the cross. In the little Franciscan
Predella (an early work of Raphael, in the Gallery of
Lord Ward), the figure with the standard is styled, in
the account of the picture, " San Giovanni Capistrano " ;
but having been painted before his canonization, it
represents, I think, St. Antony of Padua. A colossal
statue of St. John Capistrano stands on the exterior of
the cathedral at Vienna, a very appropriate situation :
he has a standard in one hand, a cross in the other, and
tramples a turbaned Turk under his feet.

St. Peter Regalato of Valladolid is another
Franciscan saint, who appears in the late Italian and
Spanish pictures painted for the Order. He was re-
markable only for the extreme sanctity of his life and
his " sublime gift of prayer." He died at Aquileria,
in the province of Osma, in Spain, in 1456, and was
canonized by Benedict XIV. in 1746.

Before concluding these notices of the Franciscan
worthies connected with art, I must mention St. Cath-
erine of Bologna, called also Santa Caterina cle'
Vigri ; for, although one of the latest who were formally
canonized, she had been venerated previously in her
own city for nearly two centuries under the title of La


She was of a noble family, and early placed in the
court of Ferrara as maid of honor to the Princess Mar-
garet d'Este.* After the marriage of the princess, from
motives and feelings which are not clearly explained,
she entered a convent of Poor Clares, where she became
distinguished not only for the sanctity and humility of
her life, which raised her to the rank of abbess at an
early age, but also for a talent for painting. Several
specimens of her art are preserved, it is said, in the
churches and convents at Bologna. I have seen but
onC; — the figure of St. Ursula (v. Legend of St. Ur-
sula), which has been inserted in the first series of this
work. It is painted in distemper on panel ; the face
mild and sweet, but, from the quantity of gilding and
retouching, it is difficult to judge of the original style
and execution of the picture.

In a small chapel in her convent at Bologna they
still preserve, and exhibit to strangers, the black and
shrivelled remains of Santa Caterina de' Vigri, dressed
out sumptuously in brocade, gold, and jewels. And
in the Academy is a picture by Morina, in which she
stands with St. Stephen and St. Laurence, wearing her
Franciscan habit and veiled. Her proper attributes
would be, perhaps, her palette and pencils ; but I have
never seen her so represented.

The Dominicans.

St. Dominick and the worthies of his Order are
glorious in the history of art. They are conspicuous

* Nicholas IIL of Ferrara had, by his second wife, Parisina (the
heroine of Lord Byron's poem), two daughters, twins, — Lucia and
Ginevra. The princess Margaret mentioned here must have been
his eldest natural daughter of that name, who married, in 1427,
Galeotti Roberto Malatesta, Lord of Rimini, " e colla sua ambizi-
one, fece esercitar tanta pazienza al marito che diventd
santo." Who knows but that this lady, who converted her hus-
band into a saint by trying his patience, may, by a similar pro-
cess, have assisted in the beatification of her maid of honor ?


in some of the grandest works which have been conse-
crated to sacred purposes since the revival of painting
and sculpture. The cause is not to be attributed to
their popularity, which never seems to have equalled
that of St. Francis and his followers ; nor to their
greater riches and munificence as patrons ; but to their
pre-eminence as artists. They pi'oduced from their
own community two of the most excelling painters who
have drawn their inspiration from religious influences,
— Angelico da Fiesole, and Bartolomeo della Porta.
Of these two celebrated friars I have already spoken in
their relation to the general history and progress of art.
I should call them emphatically religious painters, in
contradistinction to the mere church painters. It is true
that, as Dominicans, they worked for the glorification
of their own Order, and the decoration of their own
churches and convents ; no doubt they had a share of
that esprit-de-corps which characterized more or less
all the religious communities, and most especially the
Dominicans : but had they worked with no higher aim,
from no purer inspiration, their pictures would not
have remained to this day the delight and wonder of
the world, — could not have the power, even now, to
seize on our sympathies, to influence us through our
best feelings. They do so still, because, however dif-
fering in other respects, they were in this alike, — that
each was deeply impressed with the sanctity of his vo-
cation ; and did, in heart and soul, and in devout faith
and earnestness, dedicate himself to the service of God
and the teaching of men : and as it was said of Angelico
that every picture he painted was " an act of prayer,"
through which his own pure spirit held communion
with a better and a purer world, so it might be said of
Bartolomeo, with his bolder genius and more ample
means, that every picture he painted was as an anthem
of praise sung to the pealing organ, and lifting up soul
and sense at once, like a divine strain of harmony.

Neither of them worked for monev, though even in
their lifetime the sale of their works enriched their con-


vents : nor for fame ; — that "infirmity of noble minds "
had not penetrated into their cells, whatever other infirm-
ities might be there. Even the exaltation of their com-
munity was present in their minds as a secondary, not
as a primary, object. The result has been, that the
Dominicans, at all timss less popular as an Order, and
as subjects less poetical and interesting than the Fran-
ciscans, are important in their relation to art through
the consummate beauty of some of the works in which
they are represented. No pictures painted for the Fran-
ciscans, however curious and instructive as specimens,
however finished as performances, can be compared with
those which these inspired Dominican painters executed
for the convents of their Order at Florence, Rome, and

The habit I have already described. We find in
reference to it the usual legend, that the form and color
were dictated by the Blessed Virgin herself in a vision
to one of the brethren, a monk of Orleans. It is white
and black : the white denoting purity of life ; the black,
mortification and penance. Hence, when the Domini-
cans are figured as dogs (Domini Canes), a common
allegory, they are always white, with patches of black.
In the famous and otherwise very remarkable fresco of the
" Church Militant," painted by Simone Memmi in the
chapel " degli Spagnuoli," we see five or six of " these
dogs of the Lord " engaged in worrying the heretics,
who figure as wolves ; while two others guard the flock
of the faithful, figured as sheep, peacefully feeding at
the foot of the pope's throne, and within the shadow of
the Church. A particular description of the other parts
of this elaborate composition may be found in Kugler.

There are four principal saints who are of universal
celebrity, and are to be found in all the Dominican
edifices : —

St. Dominick, as patriarch and founder of the Order.

St. Peter Martyr, distinguished by the gash in his
head. In early pictures usually the companion or pen-
dant of St. Dominick.


St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, who, in
the Dominican pictures, takes the same rank which St.
Bonaventura occupies in the Franciscan pictures ; he
represents the learning of the Order.

These three appear in the ancient works of art, and
in the pictures of Angelico.

St. Catherine of Siena, the great female saint of
the Dominican Order, does not appear in any pictures
painted hefore the latter half of the fifteenth century.
Fra Bartolomeo is, I think, the first painter of any note
who has. treated her as a devotional subject.

In later pictures we find, — St. Antonino, the good
archbishop of Florence.

St. Raymond.

St. Vincent Ferraris.
And, confined almost wholly to Spanish art, —

St. Peter Gonsalez.

St. Rosa de Lima. «

St. Louis Beltran.

Pope Pius V., a Dominican, was canonized in 1712
by Clement XL I have never met with him in pict-
ures as Saint. Pius, though such may exist ; and proba-
bly, as the canonization took place just at the worst
period of the decline of art, they are worthless.

Of all these, only the first four are of any great inter-
est and importance as subjects of art.

All the later Dominican saints have been canon-
ized for the wonders they performed as preachers and
missionaries, — for the numbers converted from sin,
from heresy, or from paganism by their all-persuasive
eloquence, and yet more by their all-convincing mira-
cles. The Spanish Dominicans were particularly re-
markable for their " signs and wonders," their autos-
da-fe', and their triumphs over the Moors and Jews. I
think it unnecessary to give any specimens of their ora-
tory. The most admired sermons of St. Vincent, into
which I have looked cursorily, reminded me, in the pecul-
iar fervor of their style, of sermons I had heard in the
tabernacles and camp-meetings in America. Yet some


of the apologues invented by the Dominican preachers
are extremely ingenious, picturesque, and significant;
and they are otherwise remarkable for one pervading
characteristic, — the exaltation of their own Order, the
advancement of their own objects, rather than the en-
forcement of any general religious or moral truths.
Here is a specimen, not unworthy of John Bunyan, —
if John had been a Dominican friar instead of a Puritan
tinker (Legenda Aurea) : —

" A certain scholar in the university of Bologna, of
no good repute, either for his morals or his manners,
found himself once (it might have been in a dream) in
a certain meadow not far from the city, and there came
on a terrible storm ; and he fled for refuge until he
came to a house, where, finding the door shut, he
knocked and entreated shelter. And a voice from
within answered, 'I am Justice; I "dwell here, and this
house is mine ; but as thou art not just, thou canst not
enter in.' The young man turned away sorrowfully,
and proceeding farther, the rain and the storm beating
upon him, he came to another house ; and again he
knocked and entreated shelter : and a voice from within
replied, ' I am Truth ; I dwell here, and this house is
mine ; but as thou lovest not truth, thou canst not enter
here.' And farther on he came to another house, and
ajrain besought to enter ; and a voice from within said,
f I am Peace ; I dwell here, and this house is mine ;
but as there is no peace for the wicked and those who
fear not God, thou canst not enter here.' Then he went
on farther, being much afflicted and mortified, and he
came to another door and knocked timidly, and a voice
from within answered, * I am Mercy ; I dwell here, and
this house is mine ; and if thou wouldst escape from
this fearful tempest, repair quickly to the dwelling of
the brethren of St. Dominick; that is the only asylum
for those who are truly penitent.' And the scholar
failed not to do as this vision had commanded. He
took the habit of the Order, and lived henceforth an
example of every virtue."


The following legend is more daringly significant,
and, besides being repeated in various forms, has been
represented in art : —

" St. Dominiek, being at Rome, had a vision in
which he beheld Christ, who was sitting in judgment,
and held in his hand three sharp arrows, which were
the arrows of the divine wrath ; and his mother has-
tened and threw herself at his feet, and said, ' What
wouldst thou do, O my Son ? ' and he replied, ' The
world is so corrupt with pride, luxury, and avarice, that
I am come to destroy it.' Then the Blessed Virgin
wept in supplication before him, and she said, ' O my
Son, have pity upon mankind ! ' and he replied, « Seest
thou not to what a pitch they have carried their in-
iquity ? ' and she said, ' O my son, restrain thy wrath
and be patient for a while, for I have here a faithful
servant and champion, who shall traverse the whole
earth and subdue it to thy dominion, and to him I will
join another who shall fight valiantly in thy cause.'
And Christ replied, * Be it so 1 ' Then the Virgin
placed before him St. Dominiek and St. Francis; and
our Lord, looking upon them, relented from his wrath."

There are many old prints, perhaps also pictures,
which appear to be founded on this legend : St. Domi-
niek or St. Francis, or both, are either prostrate on the
earth, or covering it with the skirts of their habits or
mantles, while Christ (the Saviour !) appears above as
the stern avenger, armed to punish or destroy, with the
Virgin-mother interceding at his feet.

Rubens has been severely censured for a profane
picture of this kind, in which St. Francis figures as the
redeeming angel, shielding the earth with his extended
robe. But Rubens did not invent the subject, nor did
St. Francis ; it originated, I presume, from this char-
acteristic vision of St. Dominiek, — of whom we are
now to speak.


St. Dominick.

Lat. Sanctus Dominicus, Pater Ordinis Predicatorum. Ital. San

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 33 of 41)