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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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He lies in the midst of thorns ; two angels in front
scatter roses, while the temptiug devil is gliding away
behind. (Palma V. Milan. Brera.)

4. St. Benedict receives St. Maurus and St. Placi-
dus, who are presented by their respective fathers. (Pa-
dua. St. Giustina.)

5. St. Benedict kneeling, with his hands outspread,
and looking up with an expression of transport, sees, in
a vision his sister Scholastica, attended by two virgin
martyrs (probably St. Catherine and St. Agnes), and
St. Peter and St. Paul. (Le Sueur. Louvre.) Here
he wears the black habit with the cowl, thrown back;
the crosier and mitre, expressing his dignity as abbot,
lie near him. This beautiful picture was painted for
the convent of Marmoutier.

6. The wicked monks attempt to poison St. Bene-
dict. He is seated within the porch of a convent, a
monk approaches and presents to him a cup of wine,
another behind holds a pitcher, and turns away his head
with a look of alarm : as in a predella by Andrea del
Sarto. (Fl. Acad.) Here St. Benedict and the monks
wear the white habit, the picture having been painted
for the monastery of St. Salvi, near Florence, a branch
of the Vallombrosian Order.

7. The mission of St. Mauro and St. Placido : St.
Benedict gives them his blessing before they depart, the
one to France, the other to Sicily.

8. St. Benedict, being near his end, stands looking
down into his grave ; he is sustained by two angels,
and there are nine figures of monks and attendants.

A complete history of the life and miracles of St.
Benedict, in a series of subjects executed in painting,
sculpture, or stained glass, may still be found in many
of the churches, chapels, and cloisters of the Benedic-
tine convents. I will mention a few of the most cele-
brated.



ST. BENEDICT. 57

1. A series at Naples painted by Antonio Solario
(called Lo Zingaro, the Gypsy), in the cloisters of the
convent of San Severino. Here St. Benedict wears the
black habit.

2. A series by Spinello Aretino, which covers the
Avails of the sacristy of San Miniato. Here the convent
bein<x attached to the Vallombrosian Order, St. Bene-
diet and his monks wear the white habit.

3. A series elaborately carved in wood, in forty-
eight compartments, in the choir of the church of San
Giorgio at Venice. By Albert de Brule.

4. A series painted in fresco by Ludovico Caracci
and his pupils, in the Benedictine convent of San Mi-
chele-in-Bosco ; once famous as a school of art, now
unhappiiy in a most ruined state, these magnificent
cloisters having been converted into a horse-barrack by
the French.

5. A set of ten pictures by Philippe de Champagne :
not very good. (Musee. Brussels.)

As the selection of subjects is nearly the same in all,
I shall confine myself to the exact description of one
complete series, which will assist the reader in the com-
prehension of any others he may meet with, and shall
review that which is earliest in date, and in other re-
spects the most remarkable. Perhaps it were best to
begin with the story of the painter, one of those ro-
mances which enchant us in the histories of the early
artists. It reminds us of the story of the Flemish
blacksmith ; but Antonio lo Zingaro sounds better, at
least more musically, in a love tale, than Quinten Mat-
sys, — a name as quaint and hard as one of his own
pictures. Antonio was either a gypsy by birth, or he
followed the usual gypsy profession, — that of a tinker
or smith : he saw and loved the daughter of Col' Anto-
nio del' Fiore ; the father refused his consent, but ad-
miring the manly character and good looks of the hand-
some youth, he was heard to say, that if Antonio had
been a painter he would have given him his daughter.
On this hint Antonio left Naples ; changed, as Lanzi



5 8 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

says, his forge into an academy, his hammer into a
pencil ; placed himself for a few years under Lippo
Dalmasio of Bologna; then, at Venice, studied the
works of the Vivarini ; at Florence, those of the Bicci
and Masaccjo ; at Rome, those of Gentile da Fabriano ;
and returning to Naples in 1443, he claimed the love and
the hand of the fair daughter of Col' Antonio. Shortly
afterwards he painted for the Benedictines this life of
their great founder, in the very convent which, accord-
ing to tradition, had been endowed by Tertullus, the
father of St. Placid us.

The series begins from the beginning, and all the
stories represented may be found in the old legend.

1 . Benedict, as a boy of about seven or eight years
old, journeys from Norcia to Rome. A mountain ris-
ing in the middle divides the picture into two parts : on
one side is the city of Norcia, on the other a distant
view of Rome. He is seen on horseback accompauied
by his father Eutropius ; two servants armed with
lances go before, and his nurse Cyrilla, mounted on a
mule, follows behind.

2. On his flight from Rome, he arrives at Affkle,
and is received before the church of St. Peter by the
men of the place. Behind him is seen his nurse Cy-
rilla, who has followed him from Rome.

3. Cyrilla, occupied in preparing food for her charge
while he was busied in his devotions, borrowed from a
neighbor a sieve or earthen vessel in which they clean
the corn ; she broke it, and was in great distress, not
having money wherewith to replace it. Benedict by a
miracle repaired it. In this picture the youthful saint
is represented at prayers in his chamber ; Cyrilla in
front holds the broken sieve ; in the background is seen
a church, and over the door the country people have
hung the sieve, and are looking at it with admiration
and amazement. The broken sieve is sometimes, but
not often, introduced as an attribute in pictures of St.
Benedict.



ST. BENEDICT. 59

To the left of this composition a beautiful woman is
seen standing at a balcony smelling at a sprig of myrtle ;
it is the portrait of the daughter of Col' Antonio : two
doves billing upon the roof above are supposed to al-
lude to the recent marriage of the artist.

4. Benedict, in the wilderness of Subiaco, meets Ro-
mano. He puts on the dress of a hermit.

5. The cave at Subiaco, since famous as Jo sagro Spe-
co ; Benedict seated within it intently reading ; beside
him a basket tied to a string which communicates with
a bell at the mouth of the cave. The demon is busy
cutting the string. Various wild animals around ex-
press the solitude of the place.

6. Romano the hermit dies, and Benedict is left in
his cave alone, with none to feed him or care for him ;
but absorbed in his devotions, he is unmindful of the
wants of nature. In the mean time, a certain priest had
prepared himself a feast for Easter day, and on the eve,
as he slept in his bed, an angel said to him, " Thou
hast prepared a feast for thyself while my servant on
yonder mountain dies for food." When the priest arose
in the morning, he took the food that he had prepared
for himself and went forth to seek the servant of God ;
and after a long search, he found him towards the even-
ing in his solitary cave, and he said unto him, " Rise,
brother, let us eat, for this is Easter day." Benedict
was surprised, for he had dwelt so long apart from men
that he knew not what day it was. The picture repre-
sents Benedict and the priest with food spread before
them ; in the background is seen the priest asleep in his
cell, and visited by the divine revelation.

Guido painted in the cloisters of San-Michele-in-Bos-
co, the peasants bringing their offerings to the cave of
St. Benedict. Ei - om the beauty and graceful head-
dress of one of the female figures, the Italians styled
this picture la Turbantina. It has perished like the
rest.

7. Benedict in his solitude is tempted by recollections
and desires which disturb his devotions. On one side



60 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

of the picture he is seated reading : he makes the sign
of the cross to drive away a little black bird, — of course
the demon in disguise, — which, hovering over his book,
perpetually interrupts him by suggesting sinful thoughts.
He flings down his book, tears off his garment, and
throws himself down amidst th,e thorns and the nettles.

8. Benedict, being chosen superior of the monastery
near Subiaco, endeavors in vain to reform the profligate
monks. In return they attempt to poison him. A
monk presents the cup of wine, five others stand behind
with hypocritical faces. The saint raises his hand in
benediction over the cup, which is seen to break.

" The seven women introduced into the monastery
to tempt Benedict and his companions," was painted
by Ludovico Caracci in the series at Bologna, but is
omitted in the series by Solario.

9. The reception of the two children, St. Maurus
and St. Placid us. This, in the Neapolitan series, is a
rich and charming composition. The children are seen
habited in magnificent dresses, and with glories round
their heads. The two fathers, Anicius and Tertullus,
present them. They are accompanied by a great ret-
inue of servants on foot and on horseback, with hawks,
dogs, &c. Lo Zingaro has introduced his own portrait
at full length holding his pencils, and behind him, his
master, Lippo Dalmasio : the authenticity of these por-
traits gives additional value to the picture.

10. A certain monk in one of the dependent cells at
Subiaco was always inattentive to his religious duties,
and, at the hour devoted to mental prayer, was seen to
leave the choir and wander forth. Benedict, coming
to reprove him, saw that he was led forth by a demon
in the shape of a little black boy who pulled him by the
robe (a personification of the demon of sloth) ; this
demon, however, was visible to no other eyes but those
of the saint, who, following the monk, touched him on
the shoulder with his staff and exorcised the demon,
who from that hour troubled the sinner no more.

11. Three monks come to complain to Benedict that



ST. BENEDICT. 61

three out of the twelve monasteries at Subiaco are in
want of water. Benedict by his prayers procures an
abundant fountain, which gushes forth and flows like a
torrent down a mountain side. This subject is particu-
larly striking in the frescos by Spinello, in the Church
of San Miniato.

12. A Gothic peasant, employed in felling wood, lets
the blade of his billhook fall into the lake. Benedict
takes the handle of the billhook, puts it into the water,
and the blade rises miraculously from the bottom, and
unites to it. The disciple Maurus, behind, looks on
with astonishment.

13. St. Placidus, while yet a child, in going to draw
water, falls into the lake ; St. Benedict, who is praying
in his cell, has a revelation of his danger, and sends
Maurus all in haste to help him ; Maurus rushes to his
assistance, treading the water as if it had been dry land.
(Benedict imputed this miracle to the ready obedience
and unselfish zeal of Maurus, while his disciple, in his
humility, insisted that he was miraculously sustained by
the virtue and prayers of his Superior.)

14. The wicked priest Florentius, being filled with
jealousy and envy at the superior sanctity of Benedict,
sent him a poisoned loaf. Benedict, aware of his
treachery, threw the loaf upon the ground, and com-
manded a tame raven, which was domesticated in the
convent, to carry it away and place it beyond the reach
of any living creature. In the picture the scene repre-
sents the refectory of the convent : on one side Benedict
is receiving the poisoned loaf, on the other side the
raven is seen flying through the window with it in his
beak. In the background Florentius is seen crushed
to death, bv the walls of his house falling; on him.

15. Benedict is seen preaching to the people near
Monte Cassino. In the background, on the top of the
hill, is the temple of Apollo, and Benedict flings down
the idol.

16. He founds the monastery of Monte Cassino.
The demon endeavors to retard the work, and seats



62 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

himself on the top of a -large stone required for the
building, so that no human power avails to move it
from its place. In the picture, several monks with
long levers are endeavoring to move a great stone : St.
Benedict kneels in the foreground, and at his prayer the
demon takes to flight. (The composition of this sub-
ject, by Spada, is famous, and has been engraved.)

17. One of the monks who was assisting in the build-
ing of the monastery is crushed to death. He is brought
to the feet of St. Benedict, who recalls him to life.

In digging the foundations of the monastery of Monte
Cassino, they discover an idol of bronze, from which
issues a supernatural fire which threatens to destroy the
whole edifice. St. Benedict perceives at once that this
is a delusion of the enemy, and at his prayer it dis-
appears. This subject is not in the series by Lo Zingaro.

18. Totila, the king of the Goths, visits St. Benedict
in his monastery. He is prostrate at the feet of the
saint, while his' warriors and his attendants are seen
behind.*

19. The sick child restored at the prayer of its par-
ents ; a frequent subject.

20. St. Benedict visits his sister Scholastica, and they
spend the day in spiritual discourse and communion.
" And when the night approached, Scholastica besought
her brother not to leave her ; but he refused her request,

* And Totila, king of the Goths, hearing that Benedict possessed
the spirit of prophecy, and, willing to prove him, attired Riggo,
his armor-bearer, in his royal sandals, robes, and crown, and sent
him, with three of his chief counts, Yuleni, Rudeni, and Bledi, to the
monastery. Benedict witnessing his approach from a lofty place
whereon he sat, called out to him, " Put off, my son, those bor-
rowed trappings : they are not thine own " ; and Totila, hearing of
this, went to visit him ; and perceiving him from a distance seated
he presumed not to approach, but prostrated himself on the earth,
and would not rise till, after having been thrice bidden to do so by
Benedict, the servant of Christ deigned to raise him himself, and
chid him for his misdeeds, and in a few words foretold all that was
to befall him, the years of his reign, and the period of his death.
See Lord Lindsay's Sketches of Christian Art.



ST. BENEDICT. 63

saying, that it was not right to remain all night from
his convent. Thereupon Seholastica, who had a secret
feeling that her end was approaching, and that she
should never see him more, bent down her head upon
her folded hands, and prayed to God for the power to
persuade her brother ; and, behold, the heavens, which
till that moment had been cloudless, were immediately
overcast ; and there arose such a tempest of thunder and
lightning and rain, that it was impossible for Benedict
and his attendant to leave the house, and he remained
with his sister in prayer and holy converse till the morn-
ing." (This subject also is omitted in the series by Lo
Zingaro.)

21. Three days afterwards, St. Benedict, standing
rapt in prayer, beheld the released soul of his sister, in
the form of a dove, flying towards heaven.

The death of St. Seholastica has been painted by
Luca Giordano.

22. St. Benedict dies at the foot of the altar. Two
of his disciples behold at the same moment the selfsame
vision : they see a path or a ladder extending upwards
towards heaven strewed with silken draperies, and lamps
on either side burning along it ; and on the summit the
Virgin and the Saviour in glory. And while they won-
dered, a voice said to them, " What path is that 1 " and
they said, " We know not." And the voice answering,
a^ain said, " That is the path by which Benedict the
Beloved of God is even now ascending to Heaven."
So they knew that he was dead.

The following curious and picturesque legend seems
to have been invented as a parable against idle and
chattering nuns.

Two ladies of an illustrious family had joined the
sisterhood of St. Seholastica. Though in other respects
exemplary and faithful to their religious profession,
they were much given to scandal and vain talk ; which
being told to St. Benedict, it displeased him greatly ;
and he sent to them a message, that if they did not re-



64 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

frain their tongues and set a better example to the com-
munity he would excommunicate them. The nuns
were at first alarmed and penitent, and promised amend-
ment ; but the habit was too strong for their good re-
solves ; they continued their vain and idle talking, and,
in the midst of their folly, they died. And being of
great and noble lineage, they were buried in the church
near the altar ; and afterwards, on a certain day, as St.
Benedict solemnized mass at that altar, and at the
moment when the officiating deacon uttered the usual
words, " Let those who are excommunicated, and for-
bidden to partake, depart and leave us " ; behold ! the
two nuns rose up from their graves, and in the sight of
all the people, with faces drooping and averted, they
glided out of the church. And thus it happened every
time that the mass was celebrated there, until St. Bene-
dict, taking pity upon them, absolved them from their
sins, and they rested in peace.

This most rich and picturesque subject, called by the
Italians " le Snore ?nojie," was painted by Lucio Mas-
sari, in the series at Bologna. Richardson mentions
it with praise as equal to any of those by his master,
Ludovico, or his competitor, Guido ; he calls it " the
dead nuns coming out of their tombs to hear mass."
The fresco has perished ; and the engraving in Patina's
work does not give a high idea of it as a composition.

The above detailed description of a series of subjects
from the life of St. Benedict will be found useful ; for
in general, however varied in treatment, the selection
of scenes and incidents has been nearly the same in
every example I can recollect, and some of them may
be found separately treated.



ST. 1LDEF0XS0. 65



St. Ildefoxso.

Or St. Alphonso. Ger. Der Heilige Ildephons. Archbishop and
patron saint of Toledo. Jan. 23, 667.

This saint, famous in the Spanish hierarchy, and
hardly less famous in Spanish art, was a Benedictine,
and one of the earliest of the Order in Spain ; he be-
came Archbishop of Toledo in 657, and died in 667.
He wrote a book in defence of the perpetual virginity
of the Holy Virgin, which some heretics had questioned,
and in consequence the Holy Virgin — could she do
less ? — regarded him with especial favor. Once on a
time when St. Ildefonso was entering his cathedral at
the head of a midnight procession, he perceived the
hiirh altar surrounded bv a blaze of lijrht. He alone
of all the clergy ventured to approach, and found the
Virgin herself seated on his ivory episcopal throne and
surrounded by a multitude of angels, chanting a solemn
service from the psalter. He bowed to the ground' be-
fore the heavenly vision, and the Virgin thus addressed
him : " Come hither, most faithful servant of God, and
receive this robe, which I have brought thee from the
treasury of my Son." Then he knelt before her, and
she threw over him a chasuble or cassock of heavenly
tissue, which was adjusted on his shoulders by the
attendant angels. From that night the ivory chair
remained unoccupied and the celestial vestment unworn,
until the days of the presumptuous Archbishop Sisi-
berto, who died miserably in consequence of seating
himself in the one, and attempting to array himself in
the other.

This incident has been the subject of two magnificent
pictures.

1. (Madrid Gal., a. d. 267.) "Murillo has repre-
sented the Virgin and two angels about to invest the
kneeling saint with the splendid chasuble ; other an-
gels stand or hover around and above ; and behind the

5



66 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

prelate there kneels, with less historical correctness, a
venerable nun, holding in her hand a waxen taper.
The Virgin and the angel on her left hand are lovely
conceptions, and the richly embroidered chasuble is
most brilliantly and carefully painted. The reputation
of this picture has been extended by the excellent grav-
er of Fernando Selma." (Stirling's Sp. Painters.) A
good impression is in the British Museum.

2. The second picture was painted by Eubens (Vi-
enna Imp. Gal.) ; it is an altar-piece with two wings ;
in the centre, the Virgin is seated on the episcopal
throne attended by four angels, before her kneels St.
Ildefonso, and receives from her hands the sacred vest-
ment. On the right side kneels the archduke Albert,
attended by his patron, St. Albert ; and on the left
wing, the archduchess-infanta, Clara Isabella Eugenia
(daughter of Philip II.), who is attended by St. Clara.

The investiture of St. Ildefonso is a subject of fre-
quent occurrence : there are two or three examples in
the' Spanish Gallery of the Louvre. There is another
curious legend of St. Ildefonso which has furnished a
subject for the Spanish artists. This was a vision of
St. Leocadia, to whom he had vowed a particular wor-
ship, and who rose out of her sepulchre clad in a Span-
ish mantilla, in order to inform St. Ildefonso of the
favor with which the Virgin regarded the treatise he
had written in her praise : he had just time before she
disappeared to cut off a corner of her mantilla, which
was long preserved in her chapel at Toledo as a most
precious relic. Mr. Ford mentions with admiration
the bas-reliefs by Felise de Vigarny representing the
principal events in the life of St. Ildefonso, which were
executed in the reign of Charles V., about 1540.



ST. BAVON. 67



St. Bavon.

Flem. St. Bavo, or St. Baf. Ital. San Bavone. Patron saint of
Ghent and Haerlem. Oct. 1, 657.

St. Bavon is interesting, as we have a fine sketch
of him in our National Gallery ; and many pictures of
him exist in the churches at Belgium.

He was a nobleman, some say a duke, of Brabant,
and was born about the year 589 : after living for nearly
fifty years a very worldly and dissipated life, and being
left a widower, he was moved to compunction by the
preaching of St. Amand, the apostle of Belgium and
first bishop of Maestricht. Withdrawing himself from
his former associates, Bavon bestowed all his goods
in charity, ami then repaired to St. Amand, who re-
ceived him as a penitent, and placed him in a monas-
tery at Ghent. But this state of penance and seclusion
did not suffice to St. Bavon : he took up his abode in a
hollow tree in the forest of Malmedun near Ghent, and
there he lived as a hermit ; his only food being the wild
herbs, and " his drink the crystal well." He is said to
have died in his hermitage, somewhere about the year
657.

In the old Flemish prints and pictures he is repre-
sented either as a hermit, seated and praying in a hol-
low tree ; or as a prince, in armor, and with a falcon
on his hanfl. Among the penances he imposed on
himself was that of carrying a huge stone, emblematical
of the burden of his sins, which is sometimes introduced
as an attribute. The chapel erected in his honor is now
the cathedral of Ghent, for which Rubens painted the
great altar-piece. It represents the saint in his secular
costume of a knight and a noble, presenting himself be-
fore Amand, bishop of Maestricht ; he is ascending the
steps of a church ; Amand stands above, under a porti-
co, and lower down are seen the poor to whom St.
Bavon has distributed all his worldly goods. The



68 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

original sketch for this composition (London Nat. Gal.)
is the more valuable because of the horrible ill treat-
ment which the large picture has received from the
hands of a succession of restorers. I find also the
following representations of this saint : —

1. St. Bavon in his ducal robes, with a falcon on his
hand ; statue over the door of the cathedral at Ghent.
(G. Huge,' Sculp.)

2. St. Bavon in armor, with the falcon on his hand.
(Eng. J. Matham.)

3. The slave of a nobleman, being possessed or mad,
is restored by St. Bavon. The nobleman, in a balcony
behind, looks down on the scene. (Jordaens. Eng.)

There is a story of St. Bavon which I do not re-
member to have seen represented, and which would be
a beautiful subject for a picture. (Guizot, Hist, de la
Civ. Fr.) It is related that St. Bawn, one day
after his conversion, beheld coming towards him a man
who had formerly been his slave, and whom he had,
for some remissness in his service, beaten rigorous-
ly and sold to another master. And at the sight of
him who had been his bondman, the Man of God was
seized with an agony of grief and remorse, and fell
down at his feet and said, " Behold, I am he who sold



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 6 of 41)