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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her also, and that He should be her chosen bridegroom.
The most blessed Virgin heard and granted her prayer,
and from this time forth did Catherine secretly dedicate
herself to a life of perpetual chastity, being then only
eight yeai*s old.

Her mother and her father were good and pious
both, but they understood not what was passing in the
mind of their child. Her love of solitude, her vigils
and her dreams, her fastings and penances, seemed to
them foolishness. Her mother rebuked her ; and her
father, as she grew up fair and beautiful to look upon,
wished her to marry like her sisters ; but Catherine re-
jected all suitors ; she asked only to dwell with Him
whom, in her heart, she had espoused : she regarded
herself as one consecrated and set apart, and her days
wei - e passed in solitude, or before the altar in prayer.
Her parents were excited to anger by her disobedience ;
she was no longer their well-beloved child ; they dis-
missed the woman servant, and laid all the household
duties, even the meanest and most toilsome, on Cather-
. ine. Moreover, they treated her harshly, and her broth-


ers and sisters mocked her. Bnt Catherine thought
in her heart, " Were not the saints thus afflicted ! did
not the martyrs of old suffer far more and worse ? and
she endured all unrepining ; she performed submissively
and diligently whatever duties were required of her:
but she lived almost without food and sleep ; and, to
discourage her earthlv suitors, she became nefflisent in
her attire, and cut off her long and beautiful tresses,
offering them up at the foot of the altar. Her mother
and her sister Bonaventura spoke hard words to her ;
they again pressed her to accept a husband approved
bv her father, but she refused. Shortly afterwards
Bonaventura died in child-birth, which Catherine knew
was a judgment upon her for her wicked advice ; never-
theless, she prayed so earnestly that her sister might be
delivered from purgatory, that her prayer was granted,
and it was revealed to her that the soul of Bonaventura
was translated into paradise.

But, for all this, her parents still urged her with
offers of marriage ; until one day, as Benincasa entered
his daughter's chamber, or cell, he found her kneeling
in prayer, and on her head sat a snow-white dove. She
appeared unconscious of its presence. Then the good
man trembled within himself, and he feared lest, in op-
posing her vocation, he might offend against the Holy
Spirit, who thus, in visible form, attended and protected
her. So, from this time forth, he resolved to say no
more, and left Catherine free to follow the promptings
of her own heart. She went up to the convent of St.
Dominick, humbly entreated admission, and was re-
ceived as a Penitent of the Third Order. She never
inhabited the convent as a professed and secluded nun ;
but she vowed herself to an absolute silence for three
years, slept on a deal board with a log for a pillow, and
shut herself up in the little chamber or garret she had
appropriated in her father's house, ascending at early
dawn, or coming night, the steep path which led to the
summit of the hill, to perform her devotions in the con-
vent church, afterwards the scene of her miraculous


But in her vocation Catherine did not find that peace
which she had looked for. The story relates, that the
arch-enemy of man rendered her task of self-denial as
difficult as possible ; that he laid in her path horrible
snares ; — tortured her, tempted her with foulest images
and fancies and suggestions, just as he had tempted the
holv hermit St. Autonv in the davs of old. In these
visitations, as it is recorded, Catherine did not argue
with her spiritual deceiver ; she knew from experience
that the father of lies could argue better than she could,
— that argument, indeed, was one of his most efficient
weapons. She prayed, she fasted, she scourged herself
at the foot of the altar till the blood flowed down from
her shoulders ; and she called on Christ, her affianced
bridegroom, to help her. He came, he comforted her
with his visible presence. When at midnight she arose
and went into the church to compose her soul by
prayer, He appeared before her, walked up and down
the cold pavement with her, talked to her with ineffable
graciousness and sweetness : — thus she herself related,
and some believed ; but others, wicked and doubting
minds, refused to believe ; and there were times when
she distrusted herself and the goodness of God towards
her: "If these mysterious graces vouchsafed to her
should be after all but delusions, but snares, of the
enemv ! " For a time she laid aside her strict austeri-
ties and her recluse life, and devoted herself to the most
active charity. She visited the poor around, she nursed
the sick ; but, through the ill offices of Satan, she was
tried and tempted sorely, even through her charitable

There was a poor woman, a neighbor, whose bosom
was half eaten away by a cancer, and whom few could
venture to approach. Catherine, overcoming the strong
repugnance of her nature to such an office, ministered
to her, sometimes in the cold winter night carrying the
wood on her back to make a fire ; and, although the
woman proved ungrateful and even spiteful towards
.her, forsook her not till death had released her. There


was another woman who was a leper, and, as such, was
banished beyond the walls of the city. Catherine
sought her out and brought her home, gave up her
bed to her, tended her, and nursed her, and in conse-
quence was herself infected by leprosy in her hands.
Now this woman also proved ill-conditioned and thank-
less, and peevishly exacted as her right what was
bestowed in Christain charity. But Catherine endured
everything from her with unwearied patience ; and
when at length the woman died, and there was no other
to undertake the perilous and disgusting office, she
washed her, laid her out, and buried her with her own
hands, which, from being diseased, were from that
moment miraculously healed.

Another time, as she was wending her way through
the city on some compassionate errand, she saw two
robbers carried forth to the place of execution without
the walls, and they filled the air with imprecations and
cries of despair, rejecting the offices of religion, while
the multitude followed after them with curses. And
Catherine was moved with a deep and holy compassion ;
for these men, thus hurried along to a shameful, cruel,
merited death, were they not still her brethren in Christ?
So she stopped the car and demanded to be placed by
their side ; and so tender and so persuasive were the
words she spoke, that their hard hearts were melted ;
they confessed their sins and the justice of their sentence,
and died repentant and reconciled.

Catherine, that her virtue and her sanctity might be
fully manifested, was persecuted and vilified by certain
envious and idle nuns of the convent of St. Dominick,
among whom a sister, Palmerina, was especially malig-
nant ; and these insisted that her visions were merely
dreams, and that all her charitable actions proceeded
from vainglory. She laid her wrongs, weeping, at the
feet of Christ. He appeared to her, bearing in one
hand a crown of gold and jewels, in the other a crown
of thorns, and bid her choose between them : she took


from his hand the crown of thorns and placed it on her
own head, pressing it down hastily, and with such force
that the thorns penetrated to her brain, and she cried
out with the agony. Palmerina afterwards repented,
and, falling at the feet of Catherine, begged her forgive-
ness, which was immediately granted.

Catherine would often pray in the words of Scripture
for a new heart : whereupon, as it is related, our Saviour
appeared to her in a vision, took her heart from her
bosom, and replaced it with his own ; and there re-
mained a wound or scar on her left side from that time.

Many other marvellous gifts and graces were vouch-
safed to her, but these I forbear to relate, for the great-
est of all remains to be recorded.

When Catherine was at Pisa she was praying at early
dawn in the chapel of St. Christina, before a crucifix
venerable for its sanctity ; and while she prayed, being
absorbed in rapturous devotion, she was transfixed, that
is, received the stigmata, as St. Francis had done be-
fore ; which miracle, notwithstanding her endeavor to
conceal it, was attested by many who knew her, both
in her lifetime and after her death.*

The conversion, through her prayers or her eloquence,
of many wicked and unjust persons to a new life, the
revelations with which she was favored, her rigorous
self-denial, and her extraordinary virtues, spread the
fame of Catherine through all the cities of Tuscany,
and even as far as Milan and Naples. At this time
(about 1376) the Florentines, having rebelled against
the Holy See, were excommunicated by the pone,
Gregory XL They would have braved his displeasure,
but that it reacted on their commercial relations with
other countries, with France more particularly ; and

* The crucifix commemorated in this legend is a painting on
panel by Giunta Pisano (about 1260). It was afterwards removed
from Pisa by a special decree of the Pope, and placed in the ora-
tory of St. Catherine at Siena, where I saw it in 1847.


they wished for a reconciliation. They chose for their
ambassadress and mediator Catherine of Siena.

She set out therefore for Avignon, where the popes
then resided, and, being received by the Papal court
with all respect and deference, she conducted the negotia-
tion with so much discretion that the pope constituted
her arbitress, and left her to dictate the terms of peace
between himself and the turbulent Florentines. But on
her return to Florence she found the whole city in a
state of tumult, and when she would have harangued
the populace they not only refused to listen to her, but
obliged her to take refuge in a convent of her Order,
where she remained concealed till the sedition was put
down. Catherine, and others too, believed that much
of the misery and misrule which then afflicted Italy
arose from the absence of the Roman pontiff;; from their
own capital. She used all her influence with the pope
to induce him to return to Rome, and once more fix
the seat of government in the Lateran ; and it is related
that her urgent and persuasive letters, at this time ad-
dressed to the pope and the cardinals, decided their
wavering resolution. The pope left Avignon in Septem-
ber, 1376; Catherine met him on the way, attended on
him when he made his public entry into Rome ; and
when, in his alarm at the consequences of the step he
had taken, the Holy Father was about to return to
Avignon, she persuaded him to remain. He died the
following year. The " Great Schism of the West "
followed ; and Christendom beheld two infallible popes,
supported by two factions arrayed against each other.
Catherine took the part of the Italian pope, Urban VI.,
and showed, in advocating his cause, more capacity,
good sense, and honesty of purpose than the most favora-
ble of his biographers ever discovered in the character
and conduct of that violent and imbecile pontiff. He
appointed her his ambassadress to the court of Joanna
II. of Naples, and she at once accepted the mission ; but
those who were to accompany her refused to undertake
a journey so beset with dangers, and, after various de-


lays, the project was abandoned. Pity that the world
was not edified by the spectacle of Catherine of Siena,
the visionary ascetic nun, playing the part of plenipoten-
tiary in the most licentious court of Europe, and brought
face to face with such a woman as the second Joanna
of Naples !

In the midst of these political and religious dissen-
sions Catherine became sick to death, and after a period
of grievous bodily suffering, still full of enthusiastic
faith, she expired, being then thirty-three years old. In
her last moments, and while the weeping enthusiasts who
surrounded her bed were eagerly gathering and record-
ing her dying words as heavenly oracles, she was heard
to murmur, — " No ! no ! no ! — not vainglory ! — not
vainglory ! — but the glory of God I" — as if she were
answering some accuser within ; — as if to the half-
alarmed conscience there had been a revelation of some
merely human purposes and feelings lurking behind
the ostensible sanctity. But who can know this truly ?
— and it is fair to add that the words have been differ-
ently interpreted, indeed in quite an opposite sense, as
expressing an assertion, not a doubt.

Among the devout admirers of Catherine during her
lifetime was the painter Andrea Vanni. He belonged
to a family of artists, the first of whom, his grandfather,
flourished in the beginning of the fourteenth century ;
the last, Raffaello Vanni, died towards the end of the
seventeenth. The family was noble ; and it appears
that Andrea, besides being the best painter of his time,
was Capitano del Popolo, and sent as ambassador from
the republic of Siena to the Pope, and afterwards to
Naples, where, during his embassy, he painted several
pictures ; hence he has been styled by Lanzi the Rubens
of his age. St. Catherine appears to have regarded
him with maternal tenderness. Among her letters are
three addressed to him during his political life, contain-
ing excellent advice with respect to the affairs intrusted
to him, as well as his own moral and religious conduct.


These letters bear as superscription on the outside, "A
Maestro Andrea di Vanni, Dipintore " ; and begin, " Ca-
rissimo Figliuolo in Christo." In one of them she points
out the means of obtaining an influence over the minds
of those around him, and then adds, "Ma non veggo il
modo che noi potesshno ben reggere altrui se prima von reg-
ghiamo noi niedesimi." (I do not see how we are to gov-
ern others unless we first learn to govern ourselves.)
Among the works of Andrea in his native city was a
head of Christ, said to have been painted under the
immediate instruction of St. Catherine, representing the
Saviour as she had, in her visions, beheld him. Un-
happily, this has perished : it would certainly have been
a most curious document, and would have thrown much
light on Catherine's own mind and character. Equal,
however, in importance and interest is the authentic
effigy of his sainted friend and patroness which Vanni
has left us. This portrait was painted originally on
the wall of the Church of San Domenico, in that part
of the nave which was the scene of Catherine's devo-
tions and mystic visions, and which has since been di-
vided off and enclosed as a place of peculiar sanctity.
The fresco, now over a small altar, has long been cov-
ered with glass and carefully preserved, and is in all
respects most striking and life-like. It is a spare, worn,
but elegant face, with small regular features. Her black
mantle is drawn round her ; she holds her spotless lily in
one hand, the other is presented to a kneeling nun, who
seems about to press it reverentially to her lips : this
figure has been called a votary, but I think it may repre-
sent the repentance and pardon of her enemy Palmcrina.
In the single devotional figures, so commonly met
with in the Dominican churches, St. Catherine is dis-
tinguished by the habit of the Order and the stigmata ;
these together fix the identity at once. It is true that
one of the earliest of her biographers, the good St.
Antonino of Florence, who was born seven or eight
years after her death, asserts distinctly that the stigmata
were not impressed visibly on her body, but on her


soul : and about a century later, the Franciscans peti-
tioned Pope Sixtus IV. that Catherine of Siena might
not be represented in a manner which placed her on
an equality with their own great saint and patriarch.
Sixtus, who before his elevation had been a Franciscan
friar, issued a decree, that in the effigies of St. Cathe-
rine the stigmata should thenceforth be omitted. This
mandate may have been in some instances, and
at the time, obeyed; but I cannot, on recollection,
name a single picture in which it has not been dis-

The lily is an attribute scarcely ever omitted ; and
she also (but rarely) bears the palm, — not as martyr,
but expressing her victory over temptation and suffering.
The book so often placed in her hand represents the
writings she left behind her. The crown of thorns is also
given to her, in reference to the legend already related.

I will now give a few examples : —

1 . In a rare Sienese print of the fifteenth century.
(B. Museum.) She stands with a hideous demon pros-
trate under her feet : in one hand the lily and the palm ;
in the other a church, which may represent the Church,
of which she was styled the defender, in its general
sense, or a particular church dedicated to her.

2. She stands holding her lily ; probably one of the
first pictures of her in her character of saint, painted
for the Dominicans at Perugia.*

3. She stands with Mary Magdalene " rapt in spirit,"
and looking up at a vision of the Virgin and Saviour :
by Fra Bartolomeo, in the church of San Romano at
Lucca, — as fine as possible. Vasari says, " e una
fiijura, della quale, in quel grado, non si pub far megho."

4. She stands holding a cross and a book. A beau-
tiful figure by Ghirlandajo.

* This elegant figure, which i3 engraved in Rossini's Storia
della Pittura (vol. i.), is not by Buffalmacco, to whom it is attrib-
uted, nor in his style. Buffalmacco painted about 1350-60 ;
Catherine died in 1380, and was not canonized till a century


5. She stands holding her book and lily. Statue in
white marble by Attichiati.

6. She kneels with St. Dominiek before the throne
of the Madonna ; the lily at her feet. The Infant
Saviour is turned towards her, and with one hand he
crowns her with thorns, with the other he presents the
rosary. This small but most beautiful altar-piece was
painted by Sasso Ferrato for the Santa-Sabina on the
Aventine, the first Church of the Dominicans at Rome. *
The composition of this picture is the masterpiece of
the painter, with all his usual elegance, and without his
usual insipidity.

7. She kneels, and our Saviour, a majestic figure,
standing, places on her head the crown of thorns ;
behind St. Catherine are Mary Magdalene, St. Raphael,
with Tobit, St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. Philip the
apostle. A magnificent group, painted by P. Bissolo.
(Venice Acad.)

8. She receives the stigmata, fainting in a trance
before the crucifix, and sustained in the arms of two
sisters of her Order. (Siena. S. Domenico.) The
fresco in her chapel, by Eazzi, is justly celebrated.
Here St. Catherine and her companions wear the white
tunic and scapulary, without the black mantle, — an
omission favorable to the general effect of the color,
which is at once most delicate, rich, and harmonious ;
and the beauty of the faces, the expression of tender
anxiety and reverence in the nuns, the divine languor
on the pallid features of St. Catherine, render this
fresco one of the marvels of art.

As a subject, St. Catherine fainting before the cruci-
fix is of very frequent occurrence, but generally she is
sustained in the arms of angels, as in the picture by
Eaffaello Vanni, and in another by Tiarini ; or, while
she sleeps or swoons angels hover round her.

The Sposalizio of St. Catherine of Siena is variously
represented, and often in a manner which makes it
difficult to distinguish her from St. Catherine of Alex-
andria, except by the habit and the veil.



The earliest and finest example is perhaps the beau-
tiful altar-piece by Fra Bartolomeo, painted for his
Convent of S ar Fio sin :e I

of Francis I., one of the ornam< . >f the Lo i

The Virgin s ironed, holdi ig her divine 8

before her kneels St. Catherine, receiving from the
Infant Christ the mystic ring. On one side of the
throne stand St. Peter, St. Bartholomew, and St Vin-
cent Ferraris; on the other, St. Francis -,. Domi-
nick are embracing each other. This was one of the
pictures seen and admired bv Raphael when he visited
Fra Bartolomeo at Florence between 1505 and 1507,
and which first roused his attention and emulation
with resrard to color.

- ■

Historical subjects relative to St. Catherine are rarely
met with out of her native city ; all those of which I
have preserved memoranda exist in the churches and
oratories at Siena.

In her chapel in the San Domenico, besides the beau-
tiful fresco by Razzi, already described, we have on one
side the scene with the robbers, by the same painter;
on the other the healing of a demoniac, by Francesco

In her oratory (formerly the Bottega di Tintoria of
her father) is the cure of a sick man, who at her com-
mand rises from his bed ; by Pacchiarotti : and by
Salimbeni, the scene in which she harangues the revolted
Florcji tines. St. Catherine before Gregory XI. at
Avignon, pleading the cause of the Florentines, — and
her return to Florence, — are by Sebastian Folli, a late
Sicnesj painter: and by Pacchiarotti, the finest of all,
— the pilgrimage of S therin - to visit the tomb of

St. Agnes o\' •" • vas a

Dominica!- great intelligent 3 id

activity of mind c sane:'

abbess of • .

about 1311 a great

people of the South of Tuscany, she was not formally




canonized till 1604 ; consequently we see few pictures
of her, and those of a verv late date and confined to
the locality. But to return to St. Catherine. She was
among those who, through respect and devotion, visited
the tomb of Agnes, accompanied by two of her nieces,
who, on that occasion, took the veil : the fresco is mag-
nificent, and contains heads which for depth and beauty
of expression have been compared to Raphael.

The library of the Duomo is decorated with a series
of ten large frescos representing the principal events
in the life of Pius II., painted by Pinturicchio with the
assistance of Raphael. The last of these is the cere-
mony of the canonization of Catherine of Siena, per-
formed by Pius II. with great solemnity in 1461. The
body of the saint, exhumed for the purpose, lies extended
before the pope ; a lily is placed in her hand ; several
cardinals, and a crowd of assistants bearing tapers,
stand around.

In the year 1648, a special Office was appointed in
honor of St. Catherine of Siena by Urban VIII., in
which it was said that Catherine was descended from
the same family as the Borghesi ; — she who was only
the daughter of a dyer ! That noble house, greatly
scandalized by such an imputation, made a formal com-
plaint to the papal court : — " c'e'tait injurieusement
faire passer leur maison pour roturiere et plebeienne,
et laisser egalement a leurs descendants un affront
eternel dans toute la Chre'tiente' " (Baillet, Vies des
Saints) ; and they insisted on having these obnoxious
passages expunged from the Ritual. There cannot be
a stronger proof of the change which had taken place
in point of religious feeling between the fourteenth and
the seventeenth century.

Gregory XI., the friend of St. Catherine, lies buried
in the Church of S. Francesca Romana. (Rome.)
Over his tomb is a very fine bas-relief representing his
solemn entry into Rome, on the occasion of the return


of the papal court from Avignon. Catherine of Siena
is seen conspicuous in the assemblage of cardinals, prel-
ates, and princes who form the triumphant procession.

St. Antonino, Archbishop of Florence.
May 10, 1461.

The story of this good saint is connected in a very
interesting manner with the history of art.

He was born at Florence, of noble parents, about the
year 1384. While yet in his childhood the singular
gravity of his demeanor, his dislike to all childish sports,
and the enthusiasm and fervor with which he was seen
to pray for hours before a crucifix of particular sanctity,
— then, and I believe now, in the Or San Michele
(Florence), — caused his parents to regard him as one
set apart for the service of God. At the age of fifteen
he presented himself at the door of the Dominican con-
vent at Fiesole, and humbly desired to be admitted as

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 36 of 41)