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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formerly been connected. For these services to the
Church he was appointed Inquisitor-General by Pope
Honorius III. At length two noblemen of the Vene-
tian states, whom he had delivered up to the secular
authorities, and who had suffered imprisonment and
confiscation of property, resolved on taking a summary
and sanguinary vengeance. They hired assassins to
waylay Peter on his return from Como to Milan,
and posted them at the entrance of a wood through
which he was obliged to pass, attended by a lay brother.
On his appearance, one of the assassins rushed upon
him and struck him down by a blow from an axe ; they
then pursued and stabbed his companion : returning,
they found that Peter had made an effort to rise on
his knees, and was reciting the Apostles' Creed, or, as
others relate, was in the act of writing it on the ground
with his blood. He had traced the word " Credo,"
when the assassins coming up completed their work by
piercing him through with a sword. He was canonized
in 1253 by Innocent IV. ; and his shrine, in the Sant'
Eustorgio at Milan, by Balduccio of Pisa, is one of the
most important works of the fourteenth century.

In spite of his celebrity in art, his fame and his sanc-
tity, the whole story and character of this man are pain-
ful to contemplate. It appears that in his lifetime he
was not beloved by his own brotherhood, and his severe
persecuting spirit made him generally detested. Yet,
since his death, the influence of the Dominican Order
has rendered him one of the most popular saints in
Italy. There is not a Dominican church in Komagna,


Tuscany, Bologna, or the Milanese which does not
contain effigies of him ; and, in general, pictures of the
scene of his martyrdom abound.

In the devotional figures he wears the habit of his
Order, and carries the palm as martyr, and the crucifix
as preacher; the palm, if not in his hand, is placed at
his feet. He is otherwise distinguished from St. Domi-
nick by his black beard and tonsure ; St. Dominick be-
ing of a fair and delicate complexion : but his peculiar
attribute — where he stands as martyr — is the gash in
his head with the blood trickling from it ; or the sabre or
axe struck into his head ; or he is pierced through with
a sword, which is less usual.

I will now mention a few examples : —

1. By Guercino (Milan Gal.) : — St. Peter M., kneel-
ing with the sabre at his feet.

2. By Bevilacqua (Milan Gal.): — He presents a
votary to the Madonna : on the other side is Job, the
patriarch of patience, holding a scroll on which is
inscribed, " Fruet Te De Morte et Bello de Manu

3. By Angelico (Fl. Gal.) : — He stands on one side
of the throne of the Madonna pierced through with a
sword ; with a keeu, ascetic, rather than stern and reso-
lute, expression.

The finest, the most characteristic, head of St. Peter
Martyr I have ever seen is in a group by Andrea del
Sarto (P. Pitti), where he stands opposite to St. Augus-
tine, " in aria e in atto Jieramente terribile," as Vasari
most truly describes him ; and never, certainly, were
fervor, energy, indomitable resolution, more perfectly
expressed. I have mentioned in another place the
significant grouping of the personages in this wonder-
ful picture.

The assassination — or, as it is styled, the "martyr-
dom" — of St. Peter occurs very frequently, and sel-
dom varies in the general points of treatment. The
two assassins, the principal of whom is called in the
legend Cariuo ; the saint felled to the earth, his head


wounded and bleeding, his hand attempting to trace the
word "Credo"; — these, with the forest background,
constitute the elements of the composition.

We have an example of the proper Italian treatment
in a small picture, by Giorgione, in our National Gal-
lery, which is extremely animated and picturesque. But
the' most renowned of all, and among the most cele-
brated pictures in the world, is the " San Pietro Mar-
tire " of Titian ; painted as an altar-piece for the chapel
of the saint, in the church of SS. Giovanni e Paolo
(which the Venetians abbreviate and harmonize into San
Zanipolo), belonging to the Dominicans. (Venice.)
Tbe dramatic effect of this picture is beyond all praise ;
the death-like pallor in the face of San Pietro, the
extremity of cowardice and terror in that of his flying
companion, the ferocity of the murderers, the gloomy
forest, the trees bending and waving in the tempest,
and the break of calm blue sky high above, from which
the two cherubim issue with their palms, render this the
most perfect scenic picture in the world.

It is a mistake to represent St. Peter Martyr assassinat-
ed on the steps of an altar or within a church, as in
some Spanish pictures.

I must mention another most interesting work which
relates to St. Peter Martyr. Pra Bartolomeo has intro-
duced him into most of the large pictures painted for
his Order, and has given him the usual type of head ;
but in one picture he has represented him with the feat-
ures of his friend Jerome Savonarola, that eloquent friar
who denounced with earnest and religious zeal the pro-
fane taste which even then had begun to infect the
productions of art, and ended by entirely depraving
both art and artists. After the horrible fate of Savona-
rola, strangled and then burned in the great square at
Florence, in 1498, Bartolomeo, who had been his disci-
ple, shut himself up in his cell in San Marco, and did
not for four years resume his pencil. He afterwards
painted the head of his friend, in the character of Peter
Martyr, with a deep gash in his skull, and the blood


trickling from it, — probably to indicate his veneration
for a man who had been his spiritual director, and who
by his disciples was regarded as a martyr ; and if ever the
Dominicans regain their former influence, who knows
but that we may have this resolute adversary of the
popes and princes of his time canonized as another " St.
Jerome " ?

St. Thomas Aquinas.

Ital. San Tomaso di Aquino, Dottore Angelico. March 7, 1274.

St. Thomas Aquixas, as a theologian one of the
great lights of the Roman Catholic Church, was of the
illustrious family of the Counts of Aquino, in Calabria.
His grandfather had married the sister of the Emperor
Frederic I. : he was, consequently, grand-nephew of
that prince, and kinsman to the emperors Henry VI.
and Frederic II. His father Landolfo, Count of
Aquino, was also Lord of Loretto and Belcastro, and
at this latter place St. Thomas was born in the year
1226. He was remarkable in his infancy for the ex-
treme sweetness and serenity of his temper, a virtue
which, in the midst of the polemical disputes in which
he was afterwards engaged, never forsook him. He
was first sent to the Benedictine school at Monte Casino,
but when he was ten years old his masters found they
could teach him no more. When at home, the mag-
nificence in which his father lived excited rather his
humility than his pride : always gentle, thoughtful,
habitually silent, piety with him seemed a true vocation.
The Countess Theodora, his mother, apprehensive of
the dangers to which her son would be exposed in a
public school, was desirous that he should have a tutor
at home : to this his father would not consent, but sent
him to finish his studies at the University of Naples.
Here, though surrounded by temptations, the warnings
advice of his mother so far acted as a safeguard,
l >is modestv and pietv were not less remarkable


teen he received the habit of St. Dominick in the con-
vent of the Order at Naples. The Countess Theodora
hastened thither to prevent his taking the final vows :
feeling that he could not resist her ' tenderness, he took
flight, and, on his way to Paris, was waylaid near
Acquapendente, by his two brothers Landolfo and Pu-
naldo, officers in the emperor's army. They tore his
friar's habit from his back, seized upon him and carried
him to their father's castle of Rocea-Secca. There his
mother came to him, and in vain supplicated him to
change his resolution. She ordered him to be confined
and guarded from all communication with others ; no
one was suffered to see him but his two sisters, who
were directed to use their utmost persuasions to turn
him from his purpose. The result was precisely what
one might have foretold ; he converted his two sisters,
and they assisted him to escape. He was let down
from a window of the castle in a basket. Some of the
Dominican brethren were waiting below to receive him,
and in the following year he pronounced his final vows.

Notwithstanding his profound learning, the humility
with which he concealed his acquirements and the
stolid tranquillity of his deportment procured him the
surname of Bos, or the Ox. One instance of his
humilitv is at once amusing and edifvinjr. On a cer-
tain day, when it was his turn to read aloud in the re-
fectory, the superior, through inadvertence or igno-
rance, corrected him, and made him read the word with
a false quantity. Though aware of the mistake, he
immediately obeyed. Being told that he had done
wrong to yield, knowing himself in the right, he replied,
" The pronunciation of a word is of little importance,
but humilitv and obedience are of the greatest."

From this time till his death, he continued to rise in
reputation as the greatest theological writer and teacher
of his time. Pope Clement IV. offered to make him
an archbishop, but he constantly refused all ecclesiasti-
cal preferment. In 1274 he was sent on a mission to
Naples, and was taken ill on the road, at Fossa-Nova,


where was a famous abbey of the Cistercians. Here
he remained for some weeks unable to continue his
journey, and spent his last hours in dictating a com-
mentary on the Song of Solomon. When they brought
him the sacrament, he desired to be taken from his bed
and laid upon ashes strewn upon the floor. Thus he
died, in the fiftieth year of his age, and was canonized
by John XXII. in 1323.

St. Thomas Aquinas represents the learning, as St.
Peter Martyr represents the sanctity, of the Dominicans.
Effigies of him are frequent in pictures and in prints,
and the best of them bear a general resemblance, show-
ing them to have been derived from a common original.
The face is broad and rather heavy ; the hrow fine and
ample ; the expression mild and thoughtful. His attri-
butes are, 1. a book, or several books ; 2. the pen or
inkhorn ; 3. on his breast a sun, within which is some-
times a human eve to express his far-seeing wisdom :
4. the sacramental cup, because, he composed the Office
of the Sacrament still in use. He is often intently
writing, or looking up at the holy Dove hovering above
him, the emblem of inspiration : he is then distinguished
from other doctors and teachers, who have the same at-
tributes, by his Dominican habit.

The most ancient and most remarkable pictures of
St. Thomas Aquinas have been evidently intended to
express his great learning and his authority as a doctor
of the Church. I will mention five of these, all cele-
brated in art : —

1. Bv Francesco Traini, of Pisa. St. Thomas
Aquinas, of colossal size, is enthroned in the centre of
the picture. He holds an open book, and several books
lie open on his knees ; rays of light proceed from him
in every direction : on the right hand stands Plato,
holding open his Timeus ; on the left Aristotle, hold-

- open his Ethics , Moses, St. Paul, and the four

'lists, are seen above, each with his book ; and

""hrist appears in a glcry : from him proceed


the rays of light which fall on the Evangelists, thence
on the head of St. Thomas, and emanate from him
through the universe. Under his feet lie prostrate the
three arch-heretics, Arius, Sabellius, and the Arabian
Averrhoes, with their books torn. In the lower part
of the picture is seen a crowd of ecclesiastics looking
up to the saint ; among them, Pope Urban VI., in-
scribed Urbanus Sex Pisanus, who was living when the
picture was painted, about 1380. It is still preserved
with great care in the Church of St. Caterina, at Pisa.
A figure by Benozzo Gozzoli, now in the Louvre, is so
like this of Traini, that it should seem to be a copy or
imitation of it, made when he was at Pisa in 1443.

2. By Taddeo Gaddi, in the large fresco in S. Maria
Novella. (Florence.) St. Thomas is seated on a mag-
nificent throne, over which hover seven angels carrying
the symbols of the theological virtues. On his right
hand sit Peter, Paul, Moses, David, and Solomon ; on
the left the four Evangelists. Crouching under his
feet are the three great heretics, Arius, Averrhoes, and
Sabellius. In a row beneath, and enthroned under
beautiful Gothic niches, are fourteen female figures,
representing the arts and sciences ; and at their feet are
seated fourteen figures of great theological and scientific

3. By Filippino Lippi, in the S. Maria-sopra-Mi-
nerva (Rome) ; a large elaborate fresco, similar to the
preceding in the leading allegory, but the whole treated
in a more modern style. St. Thomas is enthroned on
high, under a canopy of rich classic architecture ; under
his feet are the arch-heretics, and on each side stand
the theological virtues. In front of the picture are
assembled those renowned polemical writers, disputants,
and scholars, who are supposed to have waited on his
teaching and profited by his words.

4. St. Thomas is kneeling before a crucifix. From
the mouth of the crucified Saviour proceed the words,
" Bene scripsisti de me, Thomas; quam mereedem acci-
pies ? " (Thou hast written well of me, Thomas ; what



recompense dost thou desire I ) The saint replies, M Xon
aliam nisi te, Domine ! " (Thyself only, Lord ! )
•• A companion of St. Thomas, hearing the crucifix
thus speaking, stands utterly confounded and almost
beside himself." Vasari.) This refers to-a celebrated
vision related by his biographers (not by himself), in
which a celestial voice thus spoke to him. The same
subject was painted by Francesco Vanni in the Church
of San Romano at Pisa.

5. By Zurbaran, his masterpiece, the " San Tomas"
now in the Museum at Seville. This famous picture
was painted for the Dominican college of that city. Xot
having seen it, I insert Mr. Stirling's description . —

" It is divided into three pans, and the figures are
somewhat larger than life. Aloft, in the opening heav-
ens, appear the Blessed Trinity, the Virgin, St. Paul,
and St. Dominiek, and the angelic doctor St. Thomas
Aquinas ascending to join their glorious company ;
lower down, in middle air, sit the four Doctors of the
Church, grand and venerable figures, on cloudy thrones ;
and on the ground kneel, on the right hand, the Arch-
bishop Diego de Deza, founder of the college, and on
the left the Emperor Charles V., attended by a train of
ecclesiastics. The head of St. Thomas is said to be
a portrait of Don Agustin de Escobar, prebendary of
S ille : and, from the close adherence to Titian's pict-
ures observable in the £jave countenance of the imperial
adorer, it is reasonable to suppose that in the other
historical personages the likeness has been preserved
wherever it was practicable. The dark mild face imme-
diately behind Charles is traditionally held to be the
portrait of Zurbaran himself. In spite of its blemishes
as a composition, — which are perhaps chargeable leas
[\_-ainst the painter than against his Dominican patrons
of the college ; and in spite of a certain harshness of
outline, — this picture is one of the grandest of altar-

~es. The coloring throughout is rich and effective,

~»rthy of the school of Roelas : the heads are all

admirable studies ; the draperies of the doctors


and ecclesiastics are magnificent in breadth and ampli-
tude of fold ; the imperial mantle is painted with Vene-
tian splendor ; and the street view, receding in the centre
of the canvas, is admirable for its atmospheric depth
and distance."

On a certain occasion, when St. Thomas was return-
ing by sea from Rome to Paris, " a violent storm terri-
fied the crew and the passengers ; the saint only was
without fear, and continued in tranquil prayer till the
storm had ceased." I suppose this to be the subject of
a picture in St. Thomas-d' Aquin at Paris, painted by

I must mention two other learned personages who
have been represented, though very rarely, in art, and
who may be considered in connection with St. Thomas

Albertus Magxus, a Dominican, and a famous
teacher of theology, was the master of St. Thomas.
He is sometimes called in Italy Sanf Alberto Magno,
and is painted as the pendant to St. Thomas Aquinas
in two pictures, by Angelico da Fiesole, now in the
Academy at Florence (Nos. 14 and 20).

Of Do~s Scot us, the Franciscan, the rival and
adversary of St. Thomas in theological disputation,
there is a fine and striking picture at Hampton Court ;
it belonged to James II., and is attributed to Ribera,
by whom it was probably painted for a Franciscan con-
vent. I shall have more to say of this celebrated friar
in reference to the legends of the Virgin, as he was one
of the earliest defenders of the Immaculate Conception.
The disputes between him and St. Thomas gave rise
to the two parties called Thomists and Scotists, now for-

Dante has placed S. Thomas Aquinas and S. A 1
bertus Magnus as companions in paradise : —

" Questi che m' e a destra piu vicino ho«e who

Frate e maestro fummi ; ed esso Alberto " p

E di Cologna, ed io Tomas d' Aquino." ' a TCVer_lor-


In the collection of Mr. Rogers there is a fine old
head of St. Thomas Aquinas, with his book, pen, and
inkhorn. It is in the manner of Ghirlandajo.

St. Catherine op Siena.

Lat. Sancta Catharina Senese, Virgo admirabilis, et gloriosa Spon-
sa Christi. Ital. Santa Caterina di Siena. La Santissima Vergine
Senese. At Siena, La Santa. April 30, 1380.

What St. Clara is for the Franciscans, St. Cather-
ine of Siena is for the Dominicans, — the type of female
sanctity and self-denial, according to the rule of her

She is represented, in many beautiful and valuable
pictures, alone, or grouped with St. Dominick or St.
Peter Martyr, or with her namesake St. Catherine of
Alexandria, as types respectively of wisdom and sanc-
tity. At Siena, where she figures as protectress of the
city, she is often grouped with the other patrons, St.
Ansano and St. Bernardino the Franciscan. It is from
the painters of that peculiar and beautiful school of art
which flourished at Siena that we are to look for the
finest and most characteristic effigies of St. Catherine
as their native saint and patroness. Some very singu-
lar representations from the legends of her life and from
her ecstatic visions, which, critically, do not rank high
as works of art, derive a strong, an almost painful,
interest from the facts of her history, from her high en-
dowments, from her real and passionate enthusiasm, —
her too real agonies and errors, and from the important
part which she played in the most troubled and event-
ful times of Italian story. Whether we regard her un-
der the moral and religious, or the poetical and pictu-
resque, aspect, Catherine of Siena is certainly one of the
most interesting of the female saints who figure in art.

The city of Siena, as those who have not seen may
read, is situated on the highest point of one of those


lofty eminences which rise up from the barren hilly dis-
trict to the South of Tuscany. The country, as we
approach it, has the appearance of a great volcanic sea,
consolidated even while the waves were heaving. The
Carapagna of Rome, in its melancholy yet glorious soli-
tude, is all poetry and beauty compared to the dreary
monotony of the hilly waste which surrounds Siena.
But the city itself, rising with its ample walls and tow-
ers, is wonderfully striking. It is built on very unequal
ground. You look down into peopled ravines, — you
gaze up at palace-crowned heights ; and every now and
thea you come on wide vacant spaces of greensward
and trees, between the inhabited part of the city and
the massive walls, and heaps of ruined buildings show-
ing the former size and splendor of the city, when it
could send out a hundred thousand fighting men from
its twenty-four gates.

Between two high ridges, — one crowned by the
beautiful cathedral barred with white and black marble,
the other by the convent of St. Dominick, — sinks a
deep ravine, to which you descend precipitately by nar-
row lanes ; and at the bottom of this ravine there is a
famous fountain, — the Fonte-Branda (or Blanda). It
is called a fountain, but is rather a gigantic well or
tank : a wide flight of steps leads down to a great Gothic
hall, open on one side, into which pour the gathered
streamlets of the surrounding hills, pure, limpid, abun-

This ancient fountain was famous for the coldness
and affluence of its waters in the days of Dante (Inferno,
c. 30). Adam of Brescia, the hypocrite and coiner,
when tormented in fire, says that " to behold his ene-
mies in the same plight would be to him sweeter and
more refreshing than the waters of Branda to his burn-

ing tongue "

" Per Fonte-Branda non darei la vista " :

— a horrid association of ideas which, with those who
have seen the fountain itself, is merged in a never-for-


gotten picture of gay and busy life, and sunshine, and
sparkling waters. Around the margin of this cool,
capacious, shadowy well congregate men, women, and
children in every variety of costume, with merry voices,
— merry, not musical ; — and cattle and beasts of bur-
den, with their tinkling bells. From time immemorial
the Fonte-Branda has been the favorite resort of the
gossips and loungers of the city. The dwellings of
dyers, woolcombers, bleachers, and fullers, and all other
trades requiring an abundant supply of water, are col-
lected in the neighborhood of this fountain ; and on the
declivity of the hill stands an oratory, once the dwelling
of St. Catherine of Siena. From it we look up to the
convent and church of St. Dominick, the scene of many
passages in her story, which is thus related : —

In the year 1347 there dwelt in the city of Siena a
certain Giacomo Behincasa, who was a dyer by trade,
and for his station a rich and prosperous man ; for
those were the palmy days of Siena, when as a free
republic she equalled Florence in arts and arms, and
almost rivalled her in the production of the line woollen
fabrics which are still the staple manufacture of the
place. Benincasa and his wife Lapa dwelt, as I have
said, not far from the Fonte-Branda; and they had
many children, of whom the youngest and the most
beloved was named Catherine. She was so fair, so
gay, so graceful in her infancy, that the neighbors
called her Euphrosyne : but they also remarked that
she was unlike her young companions ; and as she
grew up, she became a strange, solitary, visionary
child, to whom an unseen world had revealed itself in
such forms as the pictures and effigies in the richly
adorned churches had rendered familiar to her eve and
her fancy.

One evening Catherine, being then about seven years
old, was returning with her elder brother, Stefano,
from the house of her married sister, Bonaventura, and
they sat down to rest upon the hill which is above the


Fonte-Branda ; and as Catherine looked up to the
Campanile of St. Dominick, it appeared to her that
the heavens were opened, and that she beheld Christ
sitting on a throne, and beside him stood St. Peter, St.
Paul, and St. John the Evangelist. While she gazed
upon this vision, lost in ecstasy, her bi-other stretched
forth his hand and shook her, to recall her to herself.
She turned to him, — but when she looked up again,
the heavens had closed, and the wondrous vision was
shut from her sight ; — she threw herself on the ground
and wept bitterly.

But the glory which had been revealed to her dwelt
upon her memory. She wandered alone away from
her playmates ; she became silent and very thoughtful.
She remembered the story — she had seen the pictures
— of her holy patroness and namesake, Catherine of
Alexandria ; and she prayed to the Virgin Mary that
she would be pleased to bestow her divine Son upon

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 35 of 41)