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 34 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 34 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Domenico. San Domenico Calaroga. Fr. Saint Dominique,
Fondateur des Freres Precheurs. Sp. San Domingo. August
4, 1221.

In the days when Alexander III. was pope, and
Frederic Barbarossa emperor of Germany, Don Al-
phonso IX. then reigning in Castile, Dominick was
born at Calaruga, in the diocese of Osma, in the king-
dom of Castile. His father was of the illustrious family
of Guzman. His mother, Joanna d'Aza, was also of
noble birth. His appearance in the world was attended
by the usual miracles. Before he was born, his mother
dreamed that she had brought forth a black and white
dog carrvino; in his mouth a lighted torch. When his
godmother held him in her arms at the font, she beheld
a star of wonderful splendor descend from heaven and
settle on his brow. Both these portents clearly denoted
that the saint was destined to be a light to the universe.
Moreover, such was his early predilection for a life of
penance, that when he was only six or seven years old
he would get out of his bed to he on the cold earth.
His parents sent him to study theology in the university
of Valencia, and he assumed the habit of a canon of
St. Augustine at a very early age. Many stories are
related of his youthful piety, his self-inflicted austerities,
and his charity. One day he met a poor woman weep-
ing bitterly ; and when he inquired the cause, she told
him that her only brother, her sole stay and support in
the world, had been carried into captivity by the Moors.
Dominick could not ransom her brother ; he had given
away all his money, and even sold his books, to relieve
the poor ; but he offered all he could, — he offered up
himself to be exchanged as a slave in place of her
brother. The woman, astonished at such a proposal,
fell upon her knees before him. She refused his offer,
but she spread the fame of the young priest far and
wide.



4 oo LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

Dominick was about thirty when he accompanied
Diego, bishop of Osma, on a mission to Fraoee. Diego
was sent there by King Alphonso to negotiate a mar-
riage between his son, Prince Ferdinand, and the
daughter and heiress of the Count de la Marche. They
had to pass through Languedoc, where, at that time,
the opinions of the Albigenses were in the ascendant,
and Dominick was scandalized by these heretical "rev-
eries." Their host at Toulouse being of this persua-
sion, Dominick spent the whole night in preaching to
him and his family. Such was the effect of his argu-
ments, that the next morning they made a public
recantation. This incident fixed the vocation of the
future saint, and suggested the first idea of a commu-
nity of preachers for the conversion of heretics.

The marriage being happily arranged, Dominick
soon afterwards made a second journey to France with
his bishop, accompanying the ambassadors who were
to conduct the young princess to Spain. They arrived
just in time to see her carried to her grave ; and the
sudden shock appears to have left a deep and dark im-
pression on the mind of Dominick. If ever he had
indulged in views and hopes of high ecclesiastical pre-
ferment, to which his noble birth, his learning, his
already high reputation appeared to open the way, such
promptings of an ambitious and energetic spirit were
from this time extinguished, or rather concentrated into
a flame of religious zeal.

On a journey which he made to Rome in 1207, he
obtained the pope's permission to preach in the Vaudois
to the Albigenses. At that time the whole of the South
of France was distracted by the feuds between the
Catholics and the heretics. As yet, however, there
was no open war, and the pope was satisfied with send-
ing missionaries into Languedoc. Dominick, armed
with the papal brief, hastened thither ; he drew up a
short exposition of faith, and with this in his hand he
undertook to dispute against the leaders of the Albi-
genses. On one occasion, finding them deaf to his



ST. DOMINI CK. 4 oi

arguments, he threw his book into the flames, and,
wonderful to relate ! it leaped three times from the fire,
and remained uninjured, — while the books which con-
tained the doctrines of the heretics were utterly con-
sumed ! By this extraordinary miracle many were
convinced ; but others, through some strange blindness,
refused to believe either in Dominick or his miracles.

Then began that terrible civil and religious war, un-
exampled in the annals of Europe for its ferocity.

What share Dominick may have had in arming the
crusade against the miserable Albigenses is not ascer-
tained. His defenders allege that he was struck with
horror by the excesses of barbarity then committed in
the name and under the banners of the religion of
Christ. They assert positively that Dominick himself
never delivered over the heretics to the secular power,
and refused to use any weapons against them but those
of argument and persuasion. But it remains an his-
torical fact, that at the battle of Muret, where twenty
thousand of the Albigenses were massacred by the
troops of Simon de Montfort, Dominick was kneeling
on an eminence, — some say in a neighboring chapel, —
with his crucifix in his hand, praying that the Church
might prevail : he has been compared to Moses holding
up the rod of the Lord while the captains of Israel slew
their enemies with the edge of the sword, " sparing not
the women nor the little ones." That Dominick, how-
ever mistaken, was as perfectly convinced as ever Moses
was of the righteousness of his cause and of the Divine
protection, I see no room to doubt : the man was a
fanatic, not a hypocrite.

About this time he united with himself several eccle-
siastics, who went about barefoot in the habit of peni-
tents, exhorting the people to conform to the Church.
The institution of the Order of St. Dominick sprang
out of this association of preachers, but it was not united
under an especial rule, nor confirmed, till some years
later, — by Pope Honorius in 1216.

It was during his sojourn in Languedoc that St.
26



4 o2 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

Dominick instituted the rosary. The use of a chaplet
of beads, as a memento of the number of prayers re-
cited, is of Eastern origin, and dates from the time of
the Egyptian Anchorites. Beads were also used by the
Benedictines, and are to this day in use among the
Mohammedan devotees. Dominick invented a novel
arrangement of the chaplet, and dedicated it to the
honor and glory of the Blessed Virgin, for whom he
entertained a most especial veneration. A complete
rosary consists of fifteen large and one hundred and
fifty small beads ; the former representing the number
of Pater-nosters, the latter the number of Ave-Marias.
In the legends of the Madonna I shall have much to
say of the artistic treatment of the " mysteries of the
rosary " : meantime, with reference to St. Dominick,
it will be sufficient to observe that the rosary was re-
ceived with the utmost enthusiasm, and by this simple
expedient Dominick did more to excite the devotion
of the lower orders, especially of the women, and made
more converts, than by all his orthodoxy, learning,
arguments, and eloquence.

In 1218, St. Dominick having been charged by the
pope with the care of reforming the female convents at
Borne, persuaded them to accept of a new Bule which
he drew up for them : and thus was instituted the Order
of the Dominican Nuns. The institution of the " Third
Order of Penitence " followed soon after, but it never
was so popular as the Third Order of St. Erancis.

From this time we find Dominick busily employed
in all the principal cities of Europe, founding convents.
He was in Spain in the beginning of 1219 ; afterwards
at Paris, where, by permission of Blanche of Castile,
mother of St. Louis, he founded the magnificent con-
vent of his Order in the Rue St. Jacques, from which the
Dominicans in France obtained the general name of
Jacobins. At Paris, meeting Alexander II. king of
Scotland, he at the earnest request of that prince sent
some of his brotherhood into Scotland, whence they
spread over the rest of Great Britain.



ST. D0MIX1CK. 403

From Paris he returned to Italy, and took up his
residence in the principal convent of his Order at Bo-
logna, making occasional journeys to superintend the
more distant communities. Wherever he travelled he
fulfilled what he had adopted as the primary duty of
his institution. He preached wherever he stopped,
though it were only to repose for an hour : everywhere
his sermons were listened to with eagerness. When at
Bologna he preached not only every day, but several
times in the day, to different congregations. Fatigue,
excitement, and the extreme heat of the season brought
on a raging fever, of which he died in that city on the
6th of August, 1221. He was buried in a modest tomb in
a small chapel belonging to his Order ; but on his canon-
ization by Gregory IX., in 1233, his remains were trans-
lated to the splendid shrine in which they now repose.

The adornment of the " Area di San Domenico "
(Bologna) — for so this wonderful tomb is styled in
Italy — was begun as early as 1225, when Niccolo Pi-
sano was summoned to Bologna to design the new church
of the Dominicans, and the model of the shrine which
was to be placed within it. The upper range of bas-
reliefs, containing scenes from the life of the saint, by
Niccolo and his school, dates from 1225 to about 1300.
The lower range, hy Alfonso Lombardi, was added
about 1525, in a richer, less refined, but still most
admirable style.

We come now to the various representations of this
famous saint ; and, first, it will be interesting to com-
pare the innumerable effigies which exist of him with
the description of his person left by a contemporary,
Suor Cecilia, one of his Koman disciples. The accu-
racy of the portrait has been generally admitted : —

" In stature he was of moderate size ; his features
regular and handsome ; his complexion fair, with a
slight color in his cheek ; his hair and beard inclining
to red, and in general he kept his beard close shaven.
His eyes were blue, brilliant, and penetrating ; his hands



4 o4 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

were long;, and remarkable for their beauty ; the tones
of his voice sweet, and at the same time powerful and
sonorous. He was always placid, and even cheerful,
except when moved to compassion." The writer adds,
that " those who looked on him earnestly were aware
of a certain radiance on his brow ; a kind of light al-
most supernatural." It is possible that the attribute
of the star placed on his brow or over his head may be
derived from this traditional portrait, and, as in other
instances, the legend of the godmother and the star
afterwards invented to account for it.

The devotional figures of St. Dominick always repre-
sent him in his proper habit, — the white tunic, white
scapulary, and long black cloak with a hood. In one
hand he bears the lily ; in the other a book. A star is
on his forehead, or just above his head. The dog with
the flaming torch in his mouth is the attribute peculiar
to him. Every 01 e who has been at Florence will
remember his statue, with the dog at his side, over
the portal of the Convent of St. Mark. But in pict-
ures the dog is frequently omitted, whereas the lily and
the star have become almost indispensable.

It is related in one of the Dominican legends, that a
true portrait of St. Dominick was brought down from
heaven by St. Catherine and Mary Magdalene, and
presented to a convent of Dominican nuns.

There is a head of St. Dominick in Angelico's
" Coronation of the Virgin," in the Louvre. There
is, certainly, nothing of the inquisitor or the persecutor
in this placid and rather self-complacent head; rather,
I should say, some indication of that self-indulgence
with which the heretics reproached this austere saint.
Iu other heads by Angelico we have an expression of
calm, resolute will, which is probably very characteris-
tic ; as in the standing figure in an altar-piece now in
the Pitti Palace, and many others. In the pictures by
Fra Bartolomeo, St. Dominick has rather a mild full
face. In no good picture that I have seen is the expres-
sion given to St. Dominick severe, or even ascetic. In



ST. DOMINI CK. 405

the Spanish pictures the head is often coarse, with a
black beard and tonsure : altogether false in character
and person.

A very ancient and interesting figure of St. Domi-
nick, formerly in the Church of St. Catherine of Siena
at Pisa, is now in the Academy there. It was painted
for a certain " Signore di Casa Cascia," by Francesco
Traini. The character of the head agrees exactly with
the portrait drawn by Suor Cecilia. " 11 volto tra il
severo e il piacevole ; i capelli rossiccie, tagliati a guisa di
corona ; barba rasa." He holds a lily in his right hand,
in the left an open book on which is inscribed " Venite
JUii, audite me, timorem Domini docebo vos." The hands
very small and slender. Around this figure are eight
small subjects from his life.

Besides the devotional figures, in which he stands
alone, or grouped with St. Peter Martyr or St. Cathe-
rine of Siena near the throne of the Virgin, there are
some representations of St. Dominick which are partly
devotional, partly mystical, with a touch of the dramat-
ic. For example, where he stands in a commanding
attitude, holding the keys of St. Peter, as in a fresco in
the S. Maria-sopra-Minerva (Rome) ; or where the In-
fant Christ delivers to him the keys in presence of other
saints, as in the altar-piece of Orcagna in the Strozzi
chapel (Florence) : and in the innumerable pictures
which relate to the institution of the rosary ; which, as
a subject of art, first became popular after the victory
of Lepanto in 1571. Gregory XIII. instituted the Festi-
val of the Rosary to be held in everlasting commemora-
tion of that triumph over the infidels. From this period
we find perpetual Madonnas " del Rosario " ; and St.
Dominick receiving the rosary from the hand of the
Virgin, or distributing rosaries, became a common sub-
ject in the Dominican churches.

The most famous example is by Domenichino (Bo-
logna Acad.), a large, splendid picture; but the inten-
tion of the artist in some of the groups does not seem



4 o6 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

clear. The Madonna del Rosario is seated above in
glory; in her lap the Divine Infant ; both scatter roses
on the earth from a vase sustained by three lovely cher-
ubs. At the feet of the Virgin kneels St. Dominick,
holding in one hand the rosary; with the other he points
to the Virgin, indicating by what means she is to be
propitiated. Angels holding the symbols of the " Mys-
teries of the Rosary" (the joys and sorrows of the Vir-
gin) surround the celestial personages. On the earth,
below, are various groups, expressing the ages, condi-
tions, calamities, and necessities of human life : — lovely
children playing with a crown ; virgins attacked by a
fierce warrior, representing oppressed maidenhood ; a
man and his consort, representing the pains and cares
of marriage, &c. And all these with rosaries in their
hands are supposed to obtain aid, " per intercessione dell'
Sacratissimo Rosario." I confess that this interpretation
appeared to me quite unsatisfactory when I looked at
the picture, which, however, is one blaze of beauty in
form, expression, and transcendent coloring. — " Mai
si videro puttini e piu cari e amorosi ; mai verginelle piii
vaghe e spiritose ; mai uomini piu fieri, piu gravi, piii maes-
tosi! " I remember once hearing a Polish lady recite
some verses in her native language, with the sweetest
voice, the most varied emphasis, the most graceful gest-
ures imaginable ; and the feeling with which I looked
and listeued, — at once baffled, puzzled, and enchanted,
— was like the feeling with which I contemplated this
masterpiece of Domenichino.

A series of subjects, more or less numerous, from
the life of St. Dominick, may commonly be met with
in the Dominican edifices.

The most memorable examples are : —

1. The bas-reliefs on the four sides of his tomb or
shrine, by Niccolo Pisano and Alfonso Lombardi.
(Bologna.)

2. The set of six small and most beautiful compo-
sitions by Angelico, on the predella of the " Coronation
of the Virgin." (Louvre.)



ST. DOMINI CK. 407

3. The set of eight subjects round the figure by
Traini, already mentioned. (Pisa.)

I shall here enumerate, in their order, all the scenes
and incidents I have found represented, either as a
series or separately : —

1 . The dream of the mother of St. Dominick. Gio-
vanna d'Aza is asleep on her couch, and before her
appears the dog holding the torch. In front, two
women are occupied washing and swaddling the infant
saint.

2. The dream of Pope Innocent III. (exactly similar
to his Vision of St. Francis). He dreams that the
Church is falling to ruin, and that Dominick sustains it.

3. When St. Dominick was at Rome, praying in the
church of St. Peter that the grace of God might be
upon his newly-founded Order, he beheld in a vision
the blessed apostles, Peter and Paul. Peter presented
to him a staff, and Paul a volume of the Gospel, and
they said to him, " Go, preach the "Word of God, for
He hath chosen thee for that ministry." Of this sub-
ject, the bas-relief by Niccolo Pisano is as fine as
possible,

4. The burning of the heretical books. The book
of St. Dominick is seen leaping from the fire. In the
picture by Angelico, the Albigenses are dressed as
Turks ; the good painter could form no other idea of
heretics and infidels. The grand dramatic fresco by
Lionello Spada, in the chapel at Bologna, should be
compared, or rather contrasted, with the simple elegance
of Angelico.

5. On Ash "Wednesday in 1218, the abbess and some
of her nuns went to the new monastery of St. Sixtus
at Rome, to take possession of it ; and, being in the
chapter-house with St. Dominick and Cardinal Stephano
di Fossa-Nova, suddenly there came in one, tearing his
hair, and making great outcries, for the young Lord
Napoleon, nephew of the cardinal, had been thrown
from his horse and killed on the spot. The cardinal
fell speechless into the arms of St. Dominick, and the



4 o8 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

women and others who were present were filled with
grief and horror. They brought the body of the youth
into the chapter-house, and laid it before the altar ; and
Dominick, having prayed, turned to the body of the
young man, saying, " adolescens Napoleo I in nomine
Domini nostri J. C. tibi dico surge!" and thereupon he
arose sound and whole, to the unspeakable wonder of
all present.

This is a subject frequently repeated. The bas-relief
by Niccolo, the little picture by Angelico, and the fresco
by Mastelletta, should be compared. In the first two,
the saint and the dead youth fix the attention ; in the
last, it is the furibondo cavallo which makes us start.

6. The supper of St. Dominick. " It happened that
when he was residing with forty of his friars in the con-
vent of St. Sabina at Rome, the brothers who had been
sent to beg for provisions had returned with a very
small quantity of bread, and they knew not what they
should do, for night was at hand, and they had not
eaten all day. Then St. Dominick ordered that they
should seat themselves in the refectory, and taking his
place at the head of the table, he pronounced the usual
blessing : and behold ! two beautiful youths clad in
Avhite and shining garments appeared amongst them ;
one carried a basket of bread, and the other a pitcher
of wine, which they distributed to the brethren : then
they disappeared, and no one knew how they had come
in, nor how they had gone out. And the brethren sat
in amazement ; but St. Dominick stretched forth his
hand, and said calmly, ' My children, eat what God
hath sent you ' ; and it was truly celestial food, such
as they had never tasted before nor since."

The treatment of this subject in the little picture by
Angelico is perfectly exquisite. The friars, with their
hoods drawn over their heads, are seated at a long
table ; in the centre is St. Dominick, with his hands
joined in prayer. In front, two beautiful ethereal
angels seem to glide along, distributing from the folds
of their drapery the " bread from paradise."



ST. DOMIXICK. 409

7. The English pilgrims. When Simon de Moat-
fort besieged Toulouse, forty pilgrims on their way
from England to Compostella, not choosing to enter
the heretical city, got into a little boat to cross the
Garonne. The boat is overset by a storm, but the
pilgrims are saved by the prayers of St. Dominick.

This subject is often mistaken ; I have seen it called,
in Italian, " la Burrasca del Mare." In the series by
Traini it is extremely tine : some of the pilgrims are
struggling in the water ; others, in a transport of grati-
tude, are kissing the hands and garments of the saint.

8. He restores to life a dead child. The great fresco
of this subject in the chapel " dell' Area" at Bologna
is by Tiarini, and a perfect masterpiece in the scenic
and dramatic style ; so admirably got up, that we feel
as if assisting, in the French sense of the word, in a
side-box of a theatre. To understand the scene, we
must remember that St. Dominick, being invited to the
funeral banquet, ordered the viands to be removed, and
the child to be placed on the table instead ; the father,
with outstretched arms, about to throw himself at the
feet of the saint, — the mother, with her eyes fixed on
her reviving child, seeming only to live in his returning
life, — are as fine and as animated as possible. It is
Rubens, with Italian grace and Venetian color.

9. " Pope Honorius III. confirms the Order of St.
Dominick," often met with in the Dominican convents.
There is a tine large picture of this subject in the
sacristy of St. John and St. Paul at Venice, painted by
Tintoretto with his usual vigor. The small sketch is,
I think, in the collection of the Duke of Sutherland.

10. St. Dominick, in the excess of his charity and
devotion, was accustomed, while preaching in Langue-
doc, to scourge himself three times a day ; — once for
his own sins ; once for the sins of others ; and once
for the benefit of souls in purgatory. There is a small,
but very striking, picture of this subject by Carlo Dolce.
(P. Pitti.) Dominick, with bared shoulders, kneels in
a cavern , the scourge in his hand ; on one side, the



4 io LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

souls of sinners liberated by his prayers, are ascending
from the flames of purgatory ; far in the background is
seen the death of Peter Martyr.

11. The death of the saint. In the early pictures of
this subject we often find inscribed the words of St.
Dominick, " Caritatem habete ; humilitatem servate,
paupertatem voluntariam possidete."

12. Fra Guala, prior of a convent at Brescia, has a
vision, in which he beholds two ladders let down from
heaven by the Saviour and the Virgin. On these two
angels ascend, bearing between them a throne, on which
the soul of St. Dominick is withdrawn into paradise.

13. The solemn translation of the body of St. Domi-
nick to the chapel of San Domenico in Bologna ; in
the series by Traini.

14. The apotheosis of the saint. He is welcomed
into heaven by our Saviour, the Virgin, and a choir of
rejoicing angels, who hymn his praise. Painted by
Guido with admirable effect on the dome of the chapel
at Bologna.

We, must now turn from St. Dominick to his far
more stern disciple —



St. Peter Martyr.

St. Peter the Dominican. Ital. San Pietro (or San Pier) Martire.
Fr. Saint Pierre le Dominicain, Martyr April 28, 1252.

This saint, with whom the title of Martyr has passed
by general consent into a surname, is, next to their great
patriarch, the glory of the Dominican Order. There
are few pictures dedicated in their churches in which we
do not find him conspicuous, with his dark physiognomy
and his bleeding head.

He was born at Verona about the year 1205. His
parents and relatives belonged to the heretical sect of
the Cathari, prevalent at that time in the North of Italy.
Peter, however, was sent to a Catholic school, where he



ST. PETER MARTYR. 411

learned the creed according to the Catholic form, and
for repeating it was beaten on his return home. St.
Dominick, when preaching at Verona, found in this
young man an apt disciple, and prevailed on him to
take the Dominican habit at the age of fifteen. He be-
came subsequently an influential preacher, and remarka-
ble for the intolerant zeal and unrelenting cruelty with
which he pursued those heretics with whom he had



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 34 of 41)