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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For the Benedictine convent of San Sisto, at Pia-
cenza, Baphael painted his Madonna di San Sisto, now
at Dresden. The monks have been sorely chidden for
parting with their unequalled treasure ; but that they
knew how to value it is proved by the price they set on
it, 60,000 florins (about 6,500/. English money), proba-
bly the largest sum which up to that time had ever been
given for a single picture, and which, be it observed,
was paid by a petty German prince, Augustus, Elector
of Saxony. With this sum the Benedictines repaired
their church and convent, which were falling into ruin.

For the monks of Grotta Ferrata, Domenichino
painted the life of San Nilo. The cloisters of San Mi-
chele in Bosco were painted by all the best painters of
the later Bologna school (Ludovico Carracci and his
pupils) in emulation of each other. These once admi-
rable and celebrated frescos, executed between 1 600 and



1630, are now more ruined than the frescos at Subiaco,
painted four centuries earlier.

The San Giustina at Padua is one of the oldest and
most celebrated of the Benedictine foundations. The
church having been rebuilt between 1502 and 1549 by-
contributions collected throughout Europe by the monks
of the community, all the best artists, from 1550" to
1640, were employed in its decorations. Much more
valuable than any of these late works, though good of
their kind and date, are the paintings in the old clois-
ters by a very rare and admirable master, Bernardo
Parentino, who died in the habit of an Augustine friar
about 1500.

In Prance the most celebrated of the Benedictine
houses were the abbeys of St. Maur, Marmoutier, and
Fontevrauld, all ruined or desecrated during the first
French Revolution, and their splendid libraries and
works of art destroyed or dispersed.

In Germany one of the greatest of the Benedictine
communities was that of Bamberg.

With regard to the Reformed Benedictines, the mon-
asteries of Vallombrosa and Gamaldoli in Tuscany pro-
duced some of the most interesting of the early mo-
nastic artists. The pictures in our National Gallery by
Taddeo Gaddi were painted for the Camaldolesi. Pe-
rugino painted for the Vallombrosians the grandest of
his altar-pieces, the Assumption now in the Floi-ence
Academy with the saints of Vallombrosa ranged below.
Ghirlandajo and Andrea del Sarto painted for these
Orders some of their finest works, — for instance, the
frescos of the Sassetti Chapel in the Trinita, and the
Cenacolo in the San Salvi.

Of the Carthusian monasteries, the parent institution
is the Chartreuse at Grenoble. The Ceiiosa di Pavia
remains unapproached for its richness and beauty, and is
filled with the works of the finest of the Lombard sculp-
tors and painters, — Luini, Borgognone, Fossano, So-
lari, Cristoforo Romano, Amadeo, and others beyond


The Certosa at Eomc, built by Michael Angelo out
of the ruins of the Baths of Diocletian, is filled with
pictures by the later artists. Zurbaran and Carducho
painted for the Carthusians of Spain ; and Le Sueur
painted for the Carthusians of Paris his finest work, —
the life of St. Bruno, now in the Louvre.

In the churches and abbeys of the Cistercians we
shall generally find St. Bernard a prominent figure, and
the companion of the patriarch St. Benedict. In con-
sequence of his particular devotion to the Virgin, the
Cistercian churches are generally dedicated in her name ;
and St. Bernard visited by the Virgin, or presenting his
books to her, are favorite subjects.

In our own country, the cathedrals of Canterbury,
Westminster, Winchester, Durham, Ely, Peterborough,
Bath, Gloucester, Chester, Rochester, were Benedictine.
St. Albans, which took precedence of all the others,
Croyland, Glastonbury, Malmsbury, Malvern, Tewkes-
bury, and hundreds of others, lie in ruins, except that
here and there the beautiful abbey-churches have been
suffered to remain, and have become parish churches.

The Olivetans, a congregation of Keformed Benedic-
tines, produced some celebrated artists. Lanzi men-
tions three lay-brothers of this Order, all of Verona,
who excelled in the beautiful inlaid work called Tarsia
or Intarsiatura. The monastery at Monte Oliveto near
Siena, the beautiful Church of San Lorenzo at Cremona,
and S. Maria in Organo at Verona, belong to this Order.

In the churches of the Augustines we shall generally
find St. Augustine and his mother, Monica, as princi-
pal personages. The Apostles, and stories from their
lives and ministry ; St. Joseph the husband, and Joa-
chim and Anna the parents, of the Virgin, arc also con-
spicuous ; and the saints, martyrs, and bishops of the
earliest ages, as St. Sebastian, St. Nicholas, St. Lau-
rence, St. Mary Magdalene, though common to all the
Orders, figure especially in their pictures. In the con-
vents of the Augustine Hermits we frequently find the



pattern and primitive Hermits, St. Anthony and St.
Paul, and others whose legends are given in the first se-
ries of this work. The principal saints who belonged
to the different branches of this great Order, many of
them canonized for their charities, of course find a place
in their churches ; as St. Thomas of Villanueva, St.
Lorenzo Giustiniani : but their great saint is St. Nicho-
las of Tolentino.

The churches of the Agostini in Italy most remark-
able for works of art are, — the Sant' Agostino at Rome,
for which Raphael painted his prophet Isaiah ; the Sant'
Agostino at Pavia, which contains the shrine of the
patron saint, marvellous for its beauty, and peopled with
exquisite statuettes ; the Eremitani at Padua, and the
San Lorenzo at Florence, both rich in early works of
art. Churches dedicated to St. Laurence, St. Sebas-
tian, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Antonio Abbate, gener-
ally belong to the Augustines.

Most of the great cathedral churches along the Rhine
— Cologne, Mayence, Strasburg — belonged to this
Order ; in our own country, the cathedrals of Oxford,
Lincoln, Salisbury, Lichfield, Carlisle, Hereford ; and
York Minster and Beverley Minster, though founded by
the Benedictines, afterwards belonged to the Augus-

The most celebrated edifices of the Franciscans are,
first, the parent convent and church at Assisi, in the
decoration of which the greatest artists of Italy, for a
space of three hundred years, were successively em-

Some of the finest pictures of the Perugino school
were executed for this Order. Raphael painted his
Madonna di Foligno for the Ara-Celi at Rome. In the
same church Pinturicchio painted the chapel of St. Ber-
nardino. The Santa-Croce at Florence is a treasury
of early Florentine Art, — of the frescos of Giotto, Tad-
deo and Angelo Gaddi, and Giottino, and the sculptures
of Luca della Robbia and Benedetto da Maiano. Ti-



tian rests in the Frari at Venice ; but round this noble
church I looked in vain for any pictures especially com-
memorating the Franciscan worthies.

The St. Antonio-di-Padova is rich with most precious
monuments of art, with the bronzes of Donatello and
Andrea Eiccio ; the marbles of the Lombardi, Sanso-
vino, Sammichele ; and pictures and frescos of all the
great painters of Upper Italy, from the earliest Paduan
masters, Avanzi, Zevio, and Andrea Mantegna, down
to Campaguola.

When Murillo returned from Madrid to his native
Seville, poor and unknown, the Franciscans were the
first to patronize him. They had resolved to devote a
sum of money, which had been collected by one of the
begging brothers, upon a series of pictures for their
small cloister ; for the eleven pictures required, they
could give only the sum in their possession, — a trifling
remuneration for an artist of established name ; but
Murillo was glad to undertake the commission, and
thus laid the foundation of his future fame. He after-
wards, when at the height of his reputation, painted for
another Franciscan community (the Capuchins of Se-
ville) twenty of his finest pictures.

The Dominicans have a splendid reputation as ar-
tists and patrons of art. The principal church of the
Order is the San Domenico at Bologna, in which is the
shrine of the patriarch. The Dominicans employed
Niccolo Pisano to build their church as well as to ex-
ecute this wonderful shrine. The church has, however,
been rebuilt in a modern style, and is now chiefly re-
markable for the works of the Caracci school.

The most interesting, the most important, and the
largest of all the Dominican edifices, is the Santa Ma-
ria-sopra-Minerva, at Rome. Here sleeps that gentlest
of painters, Angelico da Fiesole, among the brethren
of his Order. Around him are commemorated a host
of popes and cardinals : among them Leo X., Cardinal
Howard, Cardinal Bembo, and Durandus. The whole


church is filled with most interesting; pictures and me-
morials of the Dominican saints and worthies, particu-
larly the chapels of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Cath-
erine of Siena. To the right of the choir stands Mi-
chael Angelo's statue of Our Saviour.

Not less interesting is the principal church of the
Dominicans at Florence, the Santa Maria Novella. In
this church is the famous chapel Dei Spagnuoli, painted
by Taddeo Gaddi and Simone Memmi ; and the chapel
of the Strozzi, painted by Andrea Orcagna. In the
cloisters is a series of fifty-six pictures of the lives of
Dominican saints, St. Thomas Aquinas, San Pietro
Martire, St. Vincent Ferrier, and others, painted by
Santi di Tito and Cigoli. In this church is preserved
the Virgin and Child by Cimabue, which excited such
admiration at the time and such delight and wonder
among the people, that the quarter of the town through
which it was carried to its destination was styled for
ages afterwards, and is even to this day, the Borgo

In the same city is the convent of St. Mark, where
Angelico and Fra Bartolomeo lived and worked and
have left some of their finest productions.

In the San Domenico at Siena are some of the finest
productions of that remarkable school of art, — the fa-
mous Madonna by Guido da Siena which preceded
that of Cimabue, and the admirable frescos by Razzi.

The churches of San Sabino and San Giovanni-e-
Paolo at Rome, and the San Giovanni-e-Paolo at Venice,
belong to this Order. For the last-named church Titian
painted his San Pietro Martire.

For the Dominicans of S. Maria Alle Grazie at
Milan, Leonardi da Vinci painted his Last Supper.
Other interesting churches of this Order are Sant' Eus-
torgio at Milan, Sant' Anastasia at Verona, and Santa
Catarina at Pisa.

It is worthy of remark, that the churches built by the
Dominicans generally consist of a n.ave only, without


aisles, that when preaching to the people, their chief
vocation, they might be heard from every part of the
church. This form of their churches showed off their
pictures to great advantage.*

Among the churches of the Carmelites, I may men-
tion as the most interesting the Carmini at Florence,
in which Masaccio, Masolino, and Filippino Lippi
painted, in emulation of each other, the frescos of the
Brancacci Chapel, the most important works of the
fifteenth century.

In this convent worked that dissolute but accom-
plished friar, Fra Filippo Lippi.

I must say one word of the Jeronymites, who are
scarcely alluded to in the succeeding pages because I
do not find one of their Order who, as a canonized
saint, has been a subject of Art. They claim as their
patriarch St. Jerome, whose effigy, with the stories
from his life, is always conspicuous in their churches.
Stories of the Nativity and of Bethlehem (where St.
Jerome planted his first monastery), and of a certain
holy bishop of Lyons, St. Just (San Giusto), who left
his diocese and turned hermit in the deserts of Egypt
about the end of the fourth century, are also to be
found there.

The Jeronymites were remarkable for the splendor
of some of their edifices : in Spain, the Escurial be-
longed to them ; the Monastery of San Just, to which
Charles V. retired after his abdication, and the re-
markable Monastery of Belem (Bethlehem) in Portugal,
also belonged to them. St. Sigisraond, near Cremona,
is perhaps the finest in Italy. A community of this
Order, the Jesuati, had a convent near Florence (the
San- Giusto, now suppressed), in which the friars carried
on an extensive manufactory of painted glass ; and it is
particularly recorded that they employed Ferugino and
other artists of celebrity to make designs, and that

* The S. Maria-sopra-Minerva, at Rome, is au exception.


Perugino learned from them the art of preparing colors.
Vasari has given us a most picturesque description of
this convent, of the industry of the friars, of their labo-
ratories, their furnaces, and their distilleries ; of their
beautiful, well-ordered garden, where they cultivated
herbs for medicinal purposes ; and of the vines trained
round their cloisters. This abode of peace, industry,
and science, with its gardens and beautiful frescos, was
utterly destroyed by the Imperialist army in 1529.

The Jesuits employed Rubens and Vandyck to deco-
rate their splendid church at Antwerp. The best pic-
tures painted for this Order were by the late Flemish
and Spanish artists.

Though the religious communities of Spain were
most generous patrons of Art, and though some of the
very finest pictures of the Valencian and Seville schools
were those which commemorated the monastic saints ;
yet these subjects, considered as sacred Art, do not ap-
pear to advantage in the Spanish pictures, for it was the
monachism of the seventeenth century, and the Spanish
painters rendered it from the life. In the representation
of Spanish friars, Zurbaran perhaps excelled all others :
his cowled Carthusians, with dark, deep-set eyes and thin
lips, his haggard Franciscans, his missionary fathers
and Inquisitors, convey the strongest idea of physical
self-denial and the consciousness of spiritual power.
Murillo, Juanes, and Alonzo Cano frequently give us
vulgar heads, sublimated through the intense truth of
expression ; but, on the whole, we should seek in vain
in the Spanish monastic pictures for the refined and
contemplative grace and intellectual elevation of the
early Italian painters.

Were it the purpose of my book to give a history of
Monastic Art and Monastic Artists, I should have to
extend these compressed notices into volumes ; but it
must be borne in mind that I have undertaken only to


describe or to interpret briefly the lives and characters
of tbosc monastic personages who were subjects of Art,
— thence subjects of thought to those who painted
them, and sources of thought to those who behold

I cannot better conclude than in the appropriate
words of an old monk, Wilhelm of Bamberg, who lived
about eight hundred years ago : " I offer this little
work as Ions as I live to the correction of those who
are more learned : if I have done wrong in anything, I
shall not be ashamed to receive their admonitions; and
if there be anything which they like, I shall not be slow
to furnish more."



A. P. 529.

IRST in point of time, and first in interest
and importance, not merely in the history
of Art, but in the history of civilization,
we rank the Benedictine Order in all its


The effigies of the saintly personages of this renowned
and wide-spread Order occur in every period, and every
form, and every school of art, from the earliest and
rudest to the latest and worst, — from the tenth to
the eighteenth century. To the reflecting mind they
are surrounded with associations of the highest interest,
and are suggestive of a thousand thoughts, — some
painful and humiliating, such as wait on all the institu-
tions which spring out of the temporary conditions of
society and our imperfect human nature : yet predomi-
nant over these, feelings of gratitude, sympathy, and
admiration ; if not in all cases due to the individual
represented, yet belonging of right to that religious
community, which under Providence became the great
instrument of civilization in modern Europe.


I have alluded in Sacred and Legendary Art to the
origin of Eastern monachism in the life of St. Anthony.
There were monks in the West from the days of
Jerome. The example and the rules of the Oriental
anchorites and cenobites had spread over Greece, Italy,
and even into Gaul, in the fourth and fifth centuries ;
but the cause of Christianity, instead of being served,
was injured by the gradual depravation of men, whose
objects, at the best, were, if I may so use the word,
spiritually selfish, leading them in those miserable times
to work out their own safety and salvation only ; — men
who for the most part were ignorant, abject, often im-
moral, darkening the already dark superstitions of the
people by their gross inventions and fanatic absurdities.
Sometimes they wandered from place to place, levying
contributions on the villagers by displaying pretended
relics ; sometimes they were perched in a hollow tree or
on the top of a column, or housed, half naked, in the
recesses of a rock, where they were fed and tended by
the multitude, with whom their laziness, their contempt
for decency, and all the vagaries of a crazed and heated
fancy passed for proofs of superior sanctity. Those
who were gathered into communities, lived on the lands
which had been granted to them ; and belonging neither
to the people nor to the regular clergy, responsible to
no external law, and checked by no internal discipline,
they led a useless and idle, often a miserable and per-
verted, existence. Such is the picture we have of
monachism up to the end of the fifth century.

Whether Benedict, in collecting out of such materials
the purer and better elements, subjugating such spirits
to a far stricter discipline, and supplying what was defi-
cient in the Oriental monastic rule, — namely, the obli-
gation to labor, (not merely for self-support, but as one
of the duties towards God and man,) — contemplated
the vast results which were to arise from his institution,
may well be doubted. We can none of us measure the
consequences of the least conscious of our acts ; nor did
Benedict, probably, while legislating for a few monks,


anticipate the great destinies of his infant Order. Yet
it is clear that his views were not bounded by any nar-
row ideas of expediency ; and that while he could not
wholly shake from his mind the influences of the age
in which he lived, it was not the less a rarely gifted
mind, large, enlightened, benevolent, as well as enthusi-
astic ; the mind of a legislator, a reformer, and a sage,
as well as that of a Christian recluse.

The effigies of the Benedictines are interesting and
suggestive under three points of view : —

First, as the early missionaries of the North of Eu-
rope, who carried the light of the Gospel into those
wilds of Britain, Gaul, Saxony, Belgium, where heathen-
ism still solemnized impure and inhuman rites ; — who
with the Gospel earned also peace and civilization, and
became the refuge of the people, of the serfs, the slaves,
the poor, the oppressed, against the feudal tyrants and
military spoilers of those barbarous times.

Secondly, as the sole depositaries of learning and the
arts through several centuries of ignorance ; as the col-
lectors and transcribers of books, when a copy of the
Bible was worth a king's ransom. Before the invention
of printing every Benedictine abbey had its library and
its Scriptorium, or writing-chamber, where silent monks
were employed from day to day, from month to month,
in making transcripts of valuable works, particularly of
the Scriptures : these were either sold for the benefit of
the convent, or bestowed as precious gifts, which brought
a blessing equally to those who gave and those who re-
ceived. Not only do we owe to them the multiplication
and diffusion of copies of the Holy Scriptures : we are
indebted to them for the preservation of many classical
remains of inestimable value ; for instance, of the whole
or the greater portion of the works of Pliny, Sallust,
and Cicero. They were the fathers of Gothic archi-
tecture ; they were the earliest illuminators and limners ;
and to crown their deservings under this head, the inven-
tor of the gamut, and the first who instituted a school
of music, was a Benedictine monk, Guido d' Arezzo.


Thirdly, as the first agriculturists who brought intel-
lectual resources, calculation, and science to bear on the
cultivation of the soil ; to whom we owe experimental
fanning and gardening, and the introduction of a variety
of new vegetables, fruits, &c. M. Guizot styles the
Benedictines " les dtfricheurs de I' Europe " : wherever
they carried the cross they carried also the plough. It
is true that there were among them many who preferred
study to manual labor ; neither can it be denied that the
" sheltering leisure " and " sober plenty " of the Bene-
dictine monasteries sometimes ministered to indolence
and insubordination, and that the cultivation of their do-
mains was often abandoned to their farmers and vassals.
" But," says Mr. Maitland, " it was, and Ave ought
most gratefully to acknowledge that it is, a most happy
thing for the world that they did not confine themselves
to the possession of such small estates as they could
cultivate with their own hands. The extraordinary
benefit which they conferred on society by colonizing
waste places, — places chosen because they were waste
and solitary, and such as could be reclaimed only by
the incessant labor of those who were willing to work
hard and live hard, — lands often given because they
were not worth keeping, — lands which for a long while
left their cultivators half-starved and dependent on the
charity of those who admired what we must too often
call fanatical zeal, — even the extraordinary benefit, I
say, which they conferred on mankind by thus clearing
aud cultivating, was small in comparison with the ad-
vantages derived from them by society, after they had
become large proprietors, landlords with more benevo-
lence, and farmers with more intelligence and capital,
than any others."

Sir James Stephen thus sums up their highest claims
upon the gratitude of succeeding times : " The great-
ness of the Benedictines did not, however, consist either
in their agricultural skill, their prodigies of architecture,
or their priceless libraries, but in their parentage of
countless men and women illustrious for active piety,


for wisdom in the government of mankind, for profound
learning, and for that contemplative spirit, which dis-
covers, within the soul itself, things beyond the limits
of the perceptihle creation."

The annalists of the Benedictine Order (" Chronique
de S. Benoit") proudly reckon up the worthies it has
produced since its first foundation in 529, — viz. :' 40
popes, 200 cardinals, 50 patriarchs, 1,600 archbishops,
4,600 bishops, and 3,600 canonized saints. It is a more
legitimate source of pride that "by their Order were
either laid or preserved the foundations of all the em-
inent schools of learning of modern Europe."

Thus, then, the Benedictines may be regarded as, in
fact, the farmers, the thinkers and writers, the artists,
and the schoolmasters of mediaeval Europe ; and this
brief, imperfect sketch of their enlightened and enlight-
ening influence is given here merely as an introduction
to the artistic treatment of characters and subjects con-
nected with them. All the Benedictine worthies who
figure in art are more or less interesting ; as for the le-
gendary stories and wonders by which their real history
has been perplexed and disfigured, even these are not
without value, as illustrative of the morals and man-
ners of the times in which they were published and rep-
resented : while the vast area of civilization over which
these representations extend, and the curious traits of
national and individual character exemplified in the va-
riety of treatment, open to us, as we proceed, many
sources of thoughtful sympathy with the past, and of
speculation on the possible future.

The following is a list of the principal saints of the
Benedictine Order whom I have found represented in

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 4 of 41)