Spot the Saint: More Dominicani

 Posted by on October 29, 2016  Spot the Saint  1 Response »
Oct 292016
 
So many Dominican saints!

So many Dominican saints!

Hello, all.  Deadlines, page proofs, preparing for tenure, and an extra heavy autumn teaching load with classrooms full of enthusiastic-and-therefore-time-consuming students have continued to keep me too busy for another skepticism essay, but here for your enjoyment (and with some help from the excellent Jo Walton who’s wonderful at hunting down saint pictures for me) is a new addition to my Spot the Saint Series, on how to recognize saints in art (click here to start the series from the beginning).

Today: more Dominicans.

As we all recall, the key to recognizing Dominicans in art is that they look like penguins.  (Black mantle over white robe – black wings, white belly.)  Dominicans are generally scholar monks, dedicated to the idea that the best way to reach Heaven is through knowledge, reason and study.  They are associated with Spain, through their founder Saint Dominic, and were particularly prominent at the University of Paris. For many years the primary theological adviser to the pope (called the Master of the Sacred Palace) was always a Dominican, and when the Roman Inquisition started kicking into high gear in response to the printing press and the Reformation, the Dominicans were in charge of it.  If you are familiar with the Jesuits, the Dominicans did a lot of the things the Jesuits would start to do in later periods.

In addition to Dominic, Thomas Aquinas and Peter Martyr, there are three other Dominican saints who show up frequently in Renaissance art, or at least in Florentine art. They are St. Antoninus, St Catherine and Siena, and St Vincent Ferrer.

dolci_santa_caterina_da_siena

Carlo Dolci, St Catherine of Siena

St. Catherine of Siena

  • Common attributes: Nun in Dominican robes, crown of thorns, lily
  • Occasional attributes: stigmata, book, model church, rose(s)
  • Patron saint of: Nurses, the sick, women tempted by lust, people mocked for their faith
  • Patron of places: Italy, Europe (yeah, she’s a big deal…)
  • Feast days: April 29-30
  • Most often depicted: Looking otherworldly & contemplative, marrying Christ, giving alms to the poor
  • Relics: body in Santa Maria sopra Miernva in Rome, head in Siena

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) is one of the two patron saints of Italy, along with St Francis. In 1970 she was one of the first two woman ever to be named a Doctor of the Church (along with Saint Teresa of Ávila).

catherine-vanniCatherine was born immediately before the Black Death, the twenty-third child in her family.  It was a poor family, and she received no education, and did not learn to read until quite late. Growing, up she had every attribute of a classic un-learned female mystic.  As a girl she had visions, and conversations with Christ, St Dominic, and the Virgin Mary. She refused to marry, but also refused to retreat into a cloistered life within a monastery, since she wanted to preach and travel, as male Dominicans did.  At the age of twenty-one, she went through a mystic marriage with Christ, where he gave her his foreskin as a wedding ring — it was invisible to other people. Much like Francis of Assisi, she fasted almost constantly, and performed other extreme mortification of the flesh including drinking pus from the sick in hospitals. She also developed stigmata like Saint Francis, though some reports say they were invisible.  Given how hard Catherine was on her body, it is no surprise that she only lived to be thirty-three.

catherinestainedglassWhat made Catherine an ecclesiastical superstar, differentiating her from scores of similar female mystics who were popular in their day but remained only minor local figures,  was that in the later part of her (not very long) life she began to transition from a mystic to a theologian.  Mysticism was one of few paths to respect and authority that were open to women within Medieval Christianity. A religious vocation for a woman would traditionally have led to a cloistered life (as Saint Francis prescribed for Claire of Assisi) but Catherine rejected this.  She chose instead to join the Dominican Tertiaries, an order of lay nuns created for widows who wanted to have a spiritual life while continuing to live with their families to care for children and family fortunes.  Catherine was the first non-widow to join the order (over much protest), and thus granted a unique new status as a nun without a convent, and a spiritual woman without a place or superior to anchor her.  This let Catherine wander widely to do good works and preach. Her mysticism and reports of visions, and her frequent transports into dramatic ecstasy, earned her great fame, so people crowded to see her wherever she went, even when her words began to sound less like mysticism and more like serious scholarly theology.  Her ideas were very different and substantially more penetrable than the learned, Thomist, Aristotelian content of many sermons.  She was taught to read by the Tertiaries when she became one, and the Dominicans assigned a scribe to follow her around and write down everything she said.  At first this simply produced accounts of her ecstatic visions, but over time she began to dictate more polished and serious works, and letters to people in many corners of politics.  She even served as Florence’s ambassador to the Avignon papacy for a time.  When she turned thirty, she learned to write, and helped to edit and polish her corpus, which includes nearly four hundred letters, a dialogue, and some prayers.  This constituted the first substantial body of theological writing by a woman of the Renaissance (though there had certainly been Medieval female theologians such as Hildegard of Bingen), and the first written theology ever by a woman from such a poor background who would not normally have had access to education.

giovanni-di-paolo-mystic-marriage-of-saint-catherine-of-siena

Catherine of Siena’s mystic marriage with Christ

Catherine resists temptation by demons, a very classic thing for both mystics AND male monk saints.

Catherine resists temptation by demons, a very classic thing for both mystics AND male monk saints.

Before this starts to sound too progressive, Catherine of Siena never stopped being a traditional mystic, having visions, ecstasy etc., and it was absolutely because of her status as a mystic that everyone (the Dominicans, Florence, Rome) started to care about her.  Mysticism was a traditional path which Catherine never left, though she did add something new to it, which women generally had not done before, through her preaching and written works.  It is really in the posthumous reception of her work that the transition becomes more significant.  Over the centuries since Catherine’s life, people in the Catholic Church and in the West in general have come to care more and more about education and especially education for women, and less and less about mysticism.  Society’s taste in saints has changed, and as it changed the many dozens of female mystics came to fit it less and less, while Catherine-the-groundbreaking-theologian came to fit it more and more.  Hence the expansion of her cult over the past centuries while many other saints’ cults have diminished, and her elevation to the prestigious positions of Patroness of Europe, Patroness of Italy alongside Francis whose life hers modeled so much, and in 1970 Doctor of the Church.

Piero della Francesca, St Catherine's Visions of Christ

Piero della Francesca, St Catherine’s Visions of Christ

Catherine having a vision, while at the right her scribes write down what she says.

Catherine having a vision, while at the right her scribes write down what she says.

Catherine died in Rome at the age of thirty-three, after a stroke probably caused by what would now be called anorexia.  Her body was immediately put on display in the Dominican headquarters church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, and began to be venerated there even though she would not be canonized for another 80 years.

This kind of sudden veneration of a non-canonized body was really not allowed, and happened a lot in more peripheral towns where Rome had little control, so the fact that it happened in Rome itself was quite remarkable.

Catherine's tomb has been moved to the front of Santa Maria sopra Minerva; here you see it with the tombs of the Medici popes Leo X & Clement VII behind it.

Catherine’s tomb has been moved to the front of Santa Maria sopra Minerva; here you see it with the tombs of the Medici popes Leo X & Clement VII behind it.

Her head was stolen almost immediately, and smuggled back to Siena, where it was encased in a bronze bust, which was honored in a parade which Catherine’s (very tired) mother attended.

Catherine was canonized in 1461 by Pius II, who was himself from Siena, so he had strong personal reasons to encourage the veneration of this great celebrity who would bring honor and pilgrims to his hometown.  He was also a scholar and theologian himself, so his enthusiasm for Catherine was certainly motivated by sincerity as well as hometown pride.

head-of-catherineSiena’s excitement about Catherine is overwhelming to this day.

One time I was visiting Siena to see a manuscript, and got to chatting with the taxi driver, who told me I should visit Catherine’s head while I was in town. I told him I had just visited her body in Rome. He became very quiet for a moment, and then said very seriously, “The head is the important part.”

In art Catherine can most easily be spotted as a female Dominican, sometimes balancing a female Franciscan, who will be St Clare. (If there’s a female Benedictine, it’s usually St Scholastica.)  She often has a lily, representing her chastity and connecting her to Saint Dominic who also holds one.  In later art, 17th century and on, she pretty consistently has a crown of thorns.  In some early art she was depicted with stigmata, but the Franciscans protested, and got the Church to rule that only Francis may be depicted with stigmata, so any images of Catherine with stigmata are technically heretical. Sometimes Catherine wears a starry headscarf (especially in paintings by Fra Angelico), which can lead her to be confused with the Virgin Mary. There are paintings of her visions, and of her mystical marriage. She is sometimes depicted holding a rose, reflecting a miracle that happened when her head was being smuggled out of Rome to Siena, and guards inspected the mysterious package as the thieves were leaving the gates of Rome, but when they looked in the bag they just saw a pile of roses instead of the head, so the head made it safely to Siena.

IMPORTANT: DO NOT confuse CATHERINE OF SIENA with CATHERINE OF ALEXANDRIA.

They have a lot in common, and are often depicted together, so the names can make it easy to mix them up.  Both are virgin saints, and both had a mystic marriage with Christ, but Catherine of Alexandria is depicted having a mystic marriage with the INFANT Christ, while Catherine of Siena is usually depicted as marrying the ADULT Christ. In addition, Catherine of Alexandria has a wheel, a crown, a martyr’s palm, and Roman clothes, while Catherine of Siena has a nun’s habit, and a lily, and if she has a crown it’s thorns, rather than a queenly crown. Here they are together:

catherines-together

Though before you get too comfortable, they do sometimes reverse which Catherine marries the adult Christ and which marries the baby:

barna_da_siena-_mystic_marriage_of_st_catherine-_boston_mfa

Here Catherine of Alexandria (with crown and martyr’s palm) marries the adult Christ, while small in the middle Catherine of Siena, in her nun’s outfit, interacts with the baby. And at the bottom left a demon is getting whacked with a hammer.

 

catherineconfusingmarriage

Note the many prominent Dominicans around Catherine of Siena here. The man in the bottom right without a halo, with the conspicuously detailed face, is a portrait of the man who commissioned the painting.

antonino-andrea-del-verrocchioSt. Antoninus of Florence

  • Common attributes: Dominican robe with white T-shaped sash with crosses on it across his shoulders (indicating that he is a bishop)
  • Occasional attributes: Bishop’s hat, bishop’s robes over Dominican habit
  • Patron saint of: Florentine Dominicans
  • Patron of places: The town of Moncalvo near Turin, + Florence
  • Feast days: May 2nd and 10th
  • Most often depicted: In Florence
  • Relics: Florence, San Marco

St Antoninus (1389-1459) is Florence’s own saint, the first Florentine to actually be made a saint since Saint Zenobius (d. 417 AD) which is a long time for Florence to wait, while their neighbors kept accumulating more and more: Saints Francis & Claire of Assisi, Saint Peter Martyr of Verona, Saint Antony of Padua, Saint Dominic buried in Bologna, Saints Bernardino and Catherine of Siena, etc.

Antoninus, from the fresco cycle in San Marco

Antoninus, from the fresco cycle in San Marco

Antoninus was the son of a Florentine notary.  In 1405 he became a Dominican and joined a monastery in the small hill town of Fiesole, just outside Florence.  At that time, there was only one large Dominican monastery in Florence, the one attached to Santa Maria Novella (now by the train station).  The Dominican brotherhood at Santa Maria Novella had been founded in 1221 to celebrate a peace settlement between the Guelphs & Ghibellines (which lasted all of 30 seconds before civil war resumed…), but it was a somewhat peripheral location Franciscans at Santa Croce and the Benedictins at the Badia.  Thus Antoninus aspired to found a larger Dominican congregation, somewhere within the heart of the city. Even though monastic life is supposed to be cloistered and separate, a central location would bring prestige and influence.  His attention focused on a small 12th century monastery in the north end of the city, built originally for Vallombrosan monks but occupied at the time by a small community of Benedictines, who were content to sell the property for the right price.

antoninuswithoutrobe

Antoninus dressed as a bishop, but still with the white sash with crosses on it, and the black over-cape of a Dominican

To muster the funds to buy the property and replace the cramped 12th century complex with a grand Renaissance one, Antoninus turned to his good friend Cosimo de Medici, who, in the first decades of the 1400s, was in the process of advancing from simply having a lot of money to controlling all of Florence with his money. Cosimo was very willing to spend on public works projects in general–both because it won the good will of the people and because he was worried about going to Hell for usury–and he was especially happy to spend on humanist and scholarly projects such as libraries, and setting up a community of scholar-monks to use said libraries. Antoninus extracted a lot of money from Cosimo over the years, not just for rebuilding and decorating San Marco, but for feeding and clothing the poor. Cosimo joked that it didn’t matter how much he gave, he could never close the books, he’d always be in God’s debt.

When Cosimo de’ Medici rebuilt the monastery for the Dominicans in 1433, Antoninus became the first prior of San Marco, and then became Archbishop of Florence in 1446. All archbishops of Florence in this period went through a mystical marriage with the Abbess of S. Pier Maggiore, which included a full wedding ceremony in the Duomo and spending a night in a special bed in the convent. Oddly enough, this incident, which is on record, does not appear in the great fresco cycle of Saint Antoninus’s life and miracles that decorates one of the courtyards in San Marco.

Antoninus, dressed as a bishop, with his umbrella, with some Dominican brothers, giving last rites to a Black Death sufferer

Antoninus, dressed as a bishop, with his umbrella, with some Dominican brothers, giving last rites to a Black Death sufferer

As well as feeding the poor, Antoninus went among them to give them last rites when they had the plague, which was a big deal.  So many priests had refused to put their own lives at risk doing this in the Great Plague of 1348 that the pope at the time (Clement VI, one of the Avignon popes) granted an indulgence to everyone who died of it, meaning they’d go straight to heaven, which was probably the largest indulgence ever granted, as that plague killed a third of Europe.

This is an enlargement of the armpit of the plague victim.

This is an enlargement of the armpit of the plague victim, showing the “bubo” or swollen lymph node which gave the “bubonic” form of the plague its name.

While we tend to think of the Black Death sweeping through in 1348 and then leaving again, it was actually endemic in Europe until the 18th century, and fresh outbreaks were frequent in Italy throughout the Renaissance.  There was a bad outbreak in Antoninus’s time, not as deadly since everyone alive in the 1420s was the child of somone who had resisted the 1348 outbreak so many had stronger immune systems (yay natural selection), but most people including priests still preferred not to have contact with the sufferers, so his ministration was exceptional.

Antoninus disapproved of gambling, cheating and usury. He didn’t have a dramatic life or dramatic miracles, but he was famous for living a simple and austere life even after he became famous and influential. He was also a great scholar and advocate of Church reform (which made his works popular during the Reformation and Counterreformation), not to mention incredibly popular with ordinary Florentines. As soon as Pope Leo X (Giovanni di Lorenzo de Medici i.e. Cosimo de Medici’s great grandson) was firmly seated on the Throne of St. Peter, he began the process of pushing for Antoninus’s canonization, but it was not completed until the (very brief) reign of Leo’s successor Adrian VI.

courtyard4tweakedcourtyard2tweakedThere’s an entire fresco-cycle running around the top of the first courtyard of San Marco devoted to Antoninus’s life of genuinely impressive public works and fairly unimpressive miracles. The most fun miracle is the time they had lost the key to a chest, and then he had a fish for dinner and the key miraculously turned up in the fish. He also performed some exciting exorcisms.

You very seldom see Saint Antoninus represented outside Florence — or even very far from San Marco, so he is usually recognizable by context.  Are you in Florence, or looking at Florentine art?  If so, that Dominican with a bishop’s white T-shaped sash is pretty certainly Antoninus.  In general he is differentiated from other major Dominican saints by the white sash.

 

St. Vincent Ferrer

St Vincent Ferrer by Fra Angelico

St Vincent Ferrer by Fra Angelico

  • Common attributes: Dominican robes, flame.
  • Occasional attributes: Book, wings or winged cherubs, trumpet.
  • Patron saint of: plumbers, construction workers
  • Patron of places: Vannes (in Brittany), Valencia somewhat
  • Feast days: April 5
  • Most often depicted: With other Dominicans
  • Relics: Vannes Cathedral

St Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419) was born in Valencia in Spain. He became a Dominican very young, and spent his life travelling around Europe preaching and converting Cathars and Jews. He was canonized by Pope Calixtus III (Alfons de Borja i.e. Rodrigo Borgia’s uncle), who himself came from Valencia — yes another hometown canonization.

723Vincent Ferrer was a contemporary of Catherine of Siena, and the two of them ended up on opposite sides of the Western Schism.  For those who need a refresher, in 1305, after a big fight between Pope Boniface VIII and the King of France over who got to appoint French bishops, a rough and frightened papal conclave elected a French pope, Clement V, who stayed in Avignon, and for the next several popes the papacy remained in Avignon, under the control of France.  This ended when Pope Gregory XI returned from Avignon to Rome in 1377 and then died in 1378, but upon his death Rome elected one new pope (Urban VI) and Avignon elected another (Clement VII), and when these died yet more rival popes were appointed, until the whole mess was finally solved by the Council of Constance in 1416 (a long time to wait to know who’s pope!)  During the controversy, Vincent Ferrer was a strong and loyal supporter of the Avignon popes (note that Avignon is quite close to Valencia), while Catherine of Siena supported the Roman popes, and was sent to argue for them as Florence’s ambassador (unsuccessfully but her work probably helped set the stage for later embassies).  Thus the fact that both Vincent and Catherine were eventually canonized shows how spread out and complex the Dominican order was, and how it was often part of many different Church movements at once, even contradictory ones: pro-Spanish/French v. pro-Italian, pro-scholarly v. pro-mystic, and of course how, later on, it could at the same time be a great promoter of intellectual study and innovation and also run the Inquisition.

tumblr_mw3yfy7srn1sknvnko1_1280In art, at least outside Valencia and Vannes, Vinecnt Ferrer is generally just an extra Dominican.  His most common attribute is a tongue of flame, either on his head or in his hand, though Antony of Padua sometimes has the same, as do apostles and evangelists, so make sure to look for the penguin robes before reaching for Vincent Ferrer as an identification.  If Dominic and Thomas Aquinas and Peter Martyr are accounted for and there’s an extra one, even without attributes, it usually turns out to be Vinecnt Ferrer. So if you’re looking at a painting and there’s another male penguin monk who doesn’t he have a lily and a star, isn’t chubby, doesn’t have the ability to interpret Aristotle blazing from his chest like the son, and doesn’t he have a knife in his head or gore dripping down his shoulders, then he’s probably Vincent Ferrer. There’s a slight possibility he may be St Raymond of Penafort or St Hyacinth of Poland, higher if the picture is from Spain or Poland. Albertus Magnus is another possibility, but he is depicted rarely enough that he generally seems to get labelled.

saint-vincent-ferrer-01

Spot the Saint Mini-Quiz

And now, for the first time in a long time, your spot-the-saint review quiz.  If you review earlier Spot the Saint posts, you should be able to identify all these figures except the man all the way on the right, with a harp and a crown (though those of you with biblical knowledge can hopefully recognize him. Hint: he’s not a saint):

clementedetorres

Nov 182014
 

late-gothic-pulpit-with-carvings-of-the-original-four-doctors-of-the-church-st-jerome-on-the-left-and-st-ambrose-on-the-rightHello, all.  I must thank you all for your patience during the long lag since my last post, but they were months well spent on  my move to Chicago, settling into a rich new community, plus a lot of  work on my Norse mythology album project which is now, at last, nearly complete.

In addition, my essay-writing time usually directed toward ExUrbe went, over the last few months, toward a new essay now live on Tor.com, which is very like my earlier double review of the Borgia TV series, but takes as its subject the new BBC series The Hollow Crown, a TV adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henriad (Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 & 2 and Henry V), comparing it to several other film and stage versions of the same plays.  If you’ve enjoyed my ExUrbe posts then I highly recommend the new essay, since it really in the ExUrbe spirit.  (Some may also enjoy my earlier Tor.com post recapping a panel I was on at Worldcon about which comics of the last 15 years will be remembered in 50).

Meanwhile, since I’m not yet prepared for the next installment of my skepticism series, here’s a fresh Spot the Saint:

First, a Review of Saints’ Hats:

Hats are often one of the best clues for narrowing down who any given saint might be, so BishopHat1anyone who wants to become a Spot the Saint expert needs to get good at differentiating between different categories of hats. Some are easy to confuse with each other, but the critical basics are these:

Bishop Hat (mitre) vs. Pope Hat (tiara):

These can be easy to mix up because they’re both tall and pointy, but if you look closely the fundamental structures are different.

A bishop hat, properly called a “Mitre” is fundamentally diamond-shaped, usually with two subtle corners on the sides a little below half way up.  When seen from the front, it is often decorated with a cross and/or a pair of symmetrically placed gems.  In art, the distinctive decoration with an up-side-down T or partial cross is often an essential distinguishing feature since no other hat, even similar-looking pope hats, will have it:

A-Bishop-Saint_1937669i

a-bishop-saint



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two images above are simply identified as “a bishop saint” since the hat and crosier let us spot a bishop but they have no other details so we can’t know more.

When seen from the side, the structure of a bishop hat becomes clearer: two flat semi-triangular pieces of fabric connected together at the top by a flap that goes across above the head.  There are two flaps hanging down in the back, but the centerpiece is that it is not a cone but a flat structure:

Paenula_mitre_front

hatfromside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In contrast, the pope hat, or “papal tiara” also called the “triple tiara” is a cone or beehive shape rather than a flat triangular structure.  Whether viewed from the front or from the side the round shape remains identical.  It is decorated with three crowns set above each other.  If a bishop’s mitre is a soft hat made of fabric which becomes flat when in storage, a papal tiara is 100% stiff, often made of metal, and the same shape whether or not there is a head inside:

leothegreat1Saint_Fabian1




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TiaraTiaraPiusIX-2

It is important to remember that a pope is also bishop of Rome so entitled to wear a bishop’s mitre in addition to wearing the papal tiara, and in real life it’s pretty common for live popes to wear a mitre since it’s much less heavy and much more practical, being made of fabric rather than metal as the tiara usually is.  But in art, popes will usually have pope hats.

In the case below, you can see two decorated mitres on the outside and two papal tiaras on the inside (all from behind):

case

Any saint who was a pope is entitled to wear a papal tiara in art, and usually they will.  The fun exception here is St. Peter who is usually differentiated just by holding the keys and being dressed like an apostle, but sometimes they will depict him with a pope hat just to be trixy.  (In the image below the old bronze statue of Peter in the Vatican has been given a pope hat for a holiday):

55656477

Cardinals’ Hats vs. Cosmus and Damian:

Also essential is identifying a cardinal’s hat.  In daily life a live-on-the-street cardinal may wear any of several different designs of hat, and will usually opt for one of the smaller hats:

SemismallHatCardinal_Burke-220x220

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Hat

SmallHat

 

 

 

 

 

But symbolically, and reliably in art, a cardinal’s hat is a very large wide-brimmed bright red hat:

CardinalHat

175px-Cardinal_Thomas_Bourchier

 

 

This wide hat, with dangling tassels, is in fact a red version of the technical formal priest’s hat which also exists in black for ordinary priests and in green for bishops. Tassels hanging from it differentiate rank.  This type of hat is pretty-much never worn, and those that exist in physical reality are pretty-much all in museums as the historic property of the famous cardinal so-and-so, but the hats serve a major purpose in heraldry, since when one becomes a priest, bishop or cardinal one is entitled (indeed expected) to add the hat above one’s coat of arms to distinguish rank, just as a king or duke adds a crown and a pope adds the papal tiara and crossed keys.

Here is a real life museum piece cardinal’s hat:

images (2)

A cardinal’s hat and robes:

CardinalRobes

Here is a real life coat of arms of someone who is very excited to be a cardinal, and advertising that he has been “given the cardinal’s hat” which is a traditional way of referring to the promotion:

HatArm

Here are the technical heraldic formula for arms of clerics different ranks, showing different numbers of tassels.

Note also how, rather than just red, the hat and tassels are sometimes a pinkish color:

images (3)Here are some examples of the arms of priests who are not cardinals.  One does occasionally see the black priest’s hat (though mostly in movies) but I have never in my life found an image of one of the green bishop hats in real life since bishops are generally represented by the mitre, and use the green flat hat only in heraldry:

galero1

A bishop’s arms, with the hat green instead of red, sometimes decorated with silver in illuminated manuscripts:

ArchbishopHat

And here are the specific arms of some highly-ranking clerics.  Note the differentiation of cardinals of different ranks.  The arms at the op left are the arms of the Patriarch of Lisbon.  A few places (like Constantinople and Venice) had a special rank called “Patriarch” which is effectively above cardinal, and the quasi-peer of the pope.  A patriarch’s arms could have the triple tiara, but could not combine them with the papal keys, which were reserved only for the pope.

HatArms

In art, the tassels are generally too complicated to bother depicting, so the key is to look for the big flat red hat with its distinctive crisp brim.  Sometimes it will be on the cardinal’s head, but often, especially in the case of Jerome, it will be sitting on the ground nearby, representing that this person is a cardinal but doesn’t care about the ostentation of rank:

JeromeHat

On occasion, the same will be done for popes, as in this image of Gregory:

gregory2The one point at which cardinals’ hats get tricky are when Cosmus & Damian get involved, because they too usually have red hats.  But cardinals’ hats always have a crisp, stiff brim, whereas Cosmus & Damian’s hats are soft and bag-like:

CosmusDamian-MiraculousLegTransplant

CosmusDamian

CosmusDamianHats2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Similarly important is the ability to tell when hats are NOT any church rank hat but are simply a person wearing a random hat because all medieval and Renaissance people (except monks) wore hats pretty-much all the time.  These two hats, for example, differentiate people who were simply merchants or ordinary members of their society and not monks or priests:

OtherHats

And with this review of hats under your belt, you are prepared to look at an image like this one and understanding who is bestowing what rank on whom:

St_Hubert_of_Liège_is_consecrated_bishop_by_Pope_Sergius

You are also prepared to identify the Four Doctors of the Church.

514px-Pier_Francesco_Sacchi_-_Dottori_della_Chiesa_-_ca._1516The Four Doctors of the Church

I already discussed St. Jerome, patron saint of translators, recognizable by his cardinal’s hat, his gaunt, hermit-like appearance, his friendly lion, and often a skull, a crucifix, or a rock so he can beat himself when he catches himself wanting to read Cicero. Jerome is also one of the four original “Doctors of the Church” i.e. four early, learned theologians who wrote fundamental works explicating Christian metaphysics and theology, which were adopted as major authorities by the Catholic Church.  Jerome’s companions in this set of four are St. Augustine (bishop), St. Ambrose (bishop) and St. Gregory the Great (pope).  Jerome himself was, of course, a cardinal, so the four are easily recognized as a set when you see four saints, two with bishops’ hats, one with a papal tiara and one with a cardinal’s hat.

Because Renaissance art loved symmetry, the Four Doctors were particularly popular because they could be depicted alongside the Four Evangelists, for example painting four on the four panels of one vault and the other four on the panels of a matching vault.  In the painting at the right, the four doctors, clearly differentiated by their hats, are accompanied by the four companion animals of the evangelists, making the comparison explicit even in the absence of depictions of the evangelists themselves.

Doctors-carlo-braccesco-four-doctors-of-the-church

Sometimes, as in the piece above, they make it very easy by all being in full, clear robes, but sometimes Jerome is tricky, leaving his hat behind and being mostly naked (hermit) with just a snatch of red fabric to remind you that he’s a cardinal:

DoctorsBloemaert_Peres

The doctors often have books, and are frequently still writing in them, or pictured debating with each other, or with other theologians, as in this excellent group image where a now-familiar monk saint has gone over to see what Gregory and [Augustine] are doing.  Note here how Jerome is trying to throw us by being in pink instead of red:

Doctors-signorelli30

In the image above it’s not actualy possible to tell which is Augustine and which is Ambrose among the two bishops, beyond guessing that Thomas Aquinas is probably checking with Augustine since he used Augustine a lot more.  Often the two bishops are impossible to tell apart, since artists are content so long as we realize it’s the four doctors, butall four do also have individual attributes that you sometimes see if artists are kind and thorough.

54Saint (Pope) Gregory the Great (540-604):

  • Common attributes: Papal tiara, dove representing the holy spirit
  • Occasional attributes: beehive, book, pen
  • Patron saint of: Teachers, musicians, singers, masons, protection against gout
  • Patron of places: England
  • Feast day: Sept 3, March 12
  • Most often depicted: With the other three doctors, writing a book, writing music
  • Relics: St. Peter’s, in Rome

Gregory was a Roman born of Christian parents and was given an excellent education in math and science as well as rhetoric and eloquence.  He became a Benedictine monk, then a deacon working for the pope (like St. Stephen and St. Lorenzo).  He was the first monk to become pope.  He was responsible for the creation of Gregorian chant, and for sending legates to evangelize in England.  In addition to being dressed as a pope (and sometimes wearing a Benedictine white monk’s habit under his cloak) he is distinguished by the addition of a white dove representing the holy spirit whispering in his ear inspiring his writing.

AmbroseGiuLungaraSaint Ambrose (340-397)

  • Common attributes: Bishop robes, hat and crosier
  • Occasional attributes: Book, beehive, scourge, model church
  • Patron saint of: Bishops, beekeepers, chandlers, schoolchildren
  • Patron of places: Milan
  • Feast day: December 7
  • Most often depicted: With the other three doctors, writing a book,
  • Relics: Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, Milan

While Gregory had Christian parents, Ambrose was a convert, born of a Roman noble family with traditional power in Milan.  He studied the classics and law, and became Governor of Milan during the middle of the controversy over Arianism.  Shortly after his conversion to Christianity, the Archbishop of Milan died and there was a fierce squabble over who should succeed him.  When Ambrose stepped in, as governor, to try to resolve the dispute, his words were so sweet, mild and wise that everyone decided to make Ambrose bishop, even though he had only been Christian a short time.  Ambrose reluctantly accepted.  He helped battle the Arians, and had an important influence on Augustine.  His theological writings were so sweet and eloquent that he was called the “honey-tongued doctor” and is sometimes depicted with a beehive or another representation of honey.  At one point when Gothic raiders kidnapped some of Milan’s citizens, he not only used all his own wealth but also melted down the treasures from the church to ransom them, saying that people were the true reasure.  He is sometimes depicted with a scourge, possibly connected with his position battling the Arian heresy.  Usually, though, he is depicted as just a bishop with a book, or with nothing, making him hard to definitively identify outside the context of the other three doctors.

Saint_Augustine_PortraitSaint Augustine (354-430)

  • Common attributes: Bishop, book
  • Occasional attributes: Pen, flaming/glowing/pierced heart, dark skin, monk’s habit
  • Patron saint of: Brewers (because he drank a lot as a youth), printers, theologians
  • Patron of places: Bridgeport CT; Cagayan de Oro, Philippines; San Agustin, Isabela
  • Feast day: August 28 (June 15)
  • Most often depicted: With other doctors, writing books, debating theology
  • Relics: Church of San Pietro in Ciel D’Oro, Pavia

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, wrote a jillion skillion books.  He wrote books and then more books and then more books until he had a big pile of books and then wrote even more books.  We have more surviving works by St. Augustine than the entire classical Latin corpus put together.  In art, he is often depicted still writing yet another book.

We know much more about Augustine’s life than most saints because he left an autobiography, the Confessions, which is an enormously important text in the history of philosophy in general, and one I teach regularly.  He was born to a well-educated and ambitious father who paid for him to have an expensive Greek education so he could have a career as a lawyer or sophist. Augustine’s poorly-educated mother Monica was a deeply pious new Christian convert, and his accounts of her tell us a lot about the conversion process.  Monica tried to get young Augustine to embrace Christianity, but, thinking of the philosophy and metaphysical detail he had learned from his teachers, he kept demanding that she explain the technical details of Christianity (“Where is Heaven? What’s it made of? What is the soul made of? Does it have parts? How does it touch the body? How is God three things and one thing at the same time?” <= imagine all this in an obnoxious, scornful teenaged voice).  When Monica couldn’t supply satisfactory answers, Augustine became contemptuous of Christianity as a religion for idiots.  He had a wanton youth, drinking and sleeping around, smashing things with his drunken friends, and flirted with other religions, first Manicheeism, then Neoplatonism.  Patient Monica continued to attempt to get him to convert, enduring ridiculous abuse from him (including one time they were traveling in Italy and he ditched her and jumped a boat for Africa without telling her, stranding her alone).  In more mature years, however, with a full knowledge of Platonic Augustinelargmetaphysics under his belt, he looked again at Christianity and suddenly everything clicked, and he could see, using Plato, where Heaven was, what it was made of, how many parts the soul had, etc. and he converted eagerly, and dedicated his remaining years to writing the detailed explanations of metaphysics and theology whose absence had let his thirteen-year-old self to turn his back on Christianity. Augustine remains in essence the most influential architect of Christianity outside scripture itself, especially because of his influence on Luther and other Protestant reformers, who rejected most later Catholic dogma but still largely embraced Augustine’s contributions, seeing him as a voice of the early, “pure” Church.

Because it is known that Augustine as born in northern Africa, he is sometimes depicted with dark skin and African features, both in medieval illuminations and in modern icons. While he is often assumed to have been of Greek ancestry, and often depicted as white, his African status has led to him being embraced by some as a role model for Christians of African descent.  Monica too is a saint, often depicted in the habit of an Augustinian nun, while Augustine is sometimes depicted in the habit of an Augustinian monk, though inevitably with the trappings of a bishop (hat etc.) over the top.

In art, Augustine and Ambrose can be very difficult to tell apart, but my rule of thumb is that if only one of them has a book it’s Augustine, or if they both have books but one is writing and the other just holding it, Augustine will be the one writing.

Below, a rare image of the four doctors all with clear distinguishing attributes beyond just hats.  

Note how Augustine, in addition to having the flaming heart, is actively working with a book:

Doctors-71wFufbvNSL._SL1000_

The original four doctors, also called the “Latin Doctors” since they wrote in Latin, were extremely influential in the Middle Ages, and especially in the 1200s when scholasticism was taking off.  Later on many new doctors were added, including scholastics like Thomas Aquinas and Anselm of Canterbury, “Greek doctors” who had been popular with the Eastern Church such as John Chrysostom, Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, and female doctors including the legendary St. Catherine of Alexandria, who was supposed to have confounded pagans in a debate, and the not-legendary St. Catherine of Sienna, the first great female Dominican nun saint and a powerful and articulate theologian.

 And now, for the first time in a long time, it’s Spot the Saint Quiz Time!

In this set of six you should get five with certainty.  Hint: this is tricky because it DOESN’T have all four Doctors of the Church. The artist expects you to verify who’s who by reading the text, but even without you can tell who they have to be.

BishopHats

Skip to the next Spot the Saint entry: More Dominicans.

 

 

 

 

 

Jul 122013
 

Alessandro_Gherardini_-_Saint_Jerome_penitentSaint Jerome

  • Common attributes: Book, lion, skull, cardinal’s hat, withered old man
  • Occasional attributes: Cardinal’s robes, crucifix, rock
  • Patron saint of: Translators, archivists, librarians, libraries, students and school children
  • Patron of places: Saint-Jérôme (Quebec)
  • Feast day: Sept 30 (June 15)
  • Most often depicted: In the wilderness contemplating death or Christ, writing in a book, hitting himself in the chest with a rock, having an angel blow a trumpet in his face, receiving his last communion before death
  • Relics: Santa Maria Maggiore, in Rome

For scholars, few historical figures are as central as St. Jerome (c. 347 – 420 AD), the great translator of the early Christian world.  Jerome was responsible for first translating large sections of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin, producing what would become the Vulgate, the standard Latin Bible which filtered Christian Europe’s understanding of scripture for over a thousand years.  Whenever you hear standard Church Latin chanted or quoted, it’s Jerome’s Latin, and he was responsible for such quirky translation moments as translating the “rays of light” which are supposed to radiate from Moses’ brow as “horns”, leading to horns or horns made of light becoming Moses’ perennial Spot-the-Saint-like-dude attribute.  He also wrote and translated other major works, including the Chronicon of Eusebius (a multi-calendar record of assorted events from Abraham to the late 300s which tells us a lot about early attempts at history and record keeping) and many commentaries, saints’ lives and other treasures of the not-otherwise-well-recorded past.  (A faithful facing page English-Latin translation of Jerome’s Vulgate bible was recently printed by the gorgeous new Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, for those interested in getting directly at the Latin form which shaped Catholicism so much.)

Jerome will never win a "most cheerful Saint to hang out with" competition, but I still want to discuss linguistics with him.

Jerome will never win a “most cheerful Saint to hang out with” competition, but I still want to discuss linguistics with him.

Jerome’s parents were Christian, but he himself started out pagan and had a truly top-notch classical education which left him quoting Cicero and Virgil all his life.  He enjoyed the traditional wanton youth that wealthy Romans so often enjoyed, then converted, and plunged himself into repentance and guilt.  Thereafter his primary activities were visiting catacombs to contemplate death, spending time alone in the wilderness contemplating death, and writing.  His life was dominated by a conflict between his profound love of the Greek and Latin classics, and deep shame that he still loved something he now considered wrong, corrupt and sinful.  He supposedly vowed at one point to never again read a non-Christian author, and there are anecdotes of him being repeatedly distracted mid-devotion by an overwhelming desire to read Cicero, particularly as he slogged through the rough and clumsy Latin of early Christian authors.  Jerome attempted to conquer this desire through mortification of the flesh (hence the paintings of him beating himself in the chest with a rock), but eventually determined to help others and himself by translating Christian texts into elegant Latin, so those who, like him, craved gorgeous prose could sate themselves, and not be tempted, as he so constantly was, to sneak some classics between sermons.  This made Jerome not only a founder of the Medieval literary canon, but a model for later authors, especially in the Renaissance, who wanted to figure out how to balance enthusiasm for Ovid and Homer with their Christian faith.  He was also a model for monks and hermits, since he was so dedicated to the hermetic life that even when he was made a bishop it was only on condition that he could continue to live in the wilderness contemplating death and writing alone.  While he is not patron of any particular monastic order, he appears frequently in monastic art as a general role model and core author of scholastic education.

Jerome's lion sits patiently as he contemplates the ablative absolute.

Jerome’s lion sits patiently as he contemplates the Ablative Absolute.

In addition to translating and collecting texts, Jerome took part in heresy fights, and wrote powerful and far-reaching pamphlets against the heresies of his day, like Origenism and Pelagianism.  Sometimes his activities were so effective that he got in trouble.  In Rome, for example, he convinced a few too many eligible young aristocratic ladies to become nuns, and was eventually driven out by families angry at losing the chance for politically advantageous marriages.  He left Rome for Antioch, but even here occasionally stirred up the odd angry mob when he wrote too fiercely against a rival sub-sect.

As I write it out here, his story is not particularly remarkable for a saint’s life, and he doesn’t have an exciting martyrdom or particularly flashy miracles.  What he does have is something far more unusual: a meaningful scholarly presence that is still discussed today by theologians and, more broadly, by historians.

Here Jerome has no beard, and is wearing his robes, and has a nice office instead of a cave and a rock, but he still has the telltale lion and industrious attitude.

Here Jerome has no beard, and is wearing his robes, and has a nice office instead of a cave and a rock, but he still has the telltale lion and industrious attitude.

In my daily work it’s common enough for me to be reading about Saint Luke, or Saint Bartholomew, or Saint Francis, to be studying their iconography, their followers, their influence, but with Jerome it’s different.  Jerome I look at as a source, and an interpreter: what he says about the date of a certain figure’s death, what he thought about the causes of a particular intellectual or political rift, comparing his reading and interpretation with those of other historians of his and later eras including our own.  Even with someone like St. Augustine I’m usually studying his ideas, not consulting his guidance in studying someone else.   Jerome is a secondary source, in essence, a predecessor and colleague of current historians, while the others are all primary sources, or, for those who left no writing, topics rather than sources at all.  It makes Jerome feel strangely more human, and I admit that I almost always forget to put the “Saint” in front of his name.

In art, Jerome is invariably depicted as a scrawny old man, almost always bearded.  He usually has his flat red Cardinal’s hat discarded on the ground somewhere nearby, but is wearing only a loincloth, or his red robes pulled down so as to work like a loincloth, leaving his care-weathered torso bare.  Occasionally, though, he is depicted in his full red robes, particularly when he is standing around among other saints, instead of off in the wilderness.

"HELLO! I AM AN ANGEL! CAN YOU HEAR ME?!"

“I’M AN ANGEL! CAN YOU HEAR ME?!”

 

There is a legend that Jerome removed a thorn from the paw of a rampaging lion, and so tamed it.  He is often accompanied by his lion, making it easy to mix him up with Saint Mark, especially since both of them usually have beards and books.  Rule of thumb: look for the cardinal’s hat.  If there is a cardinal’s hat and the lion has no wings then it’s Jerome.  If there is no hat, and the figure is wearing apostolic robes (i.e. a colorful toga-like drape), or if the lion has wings, then it’s Mark.  Sometimes St. Jerome is depicted at work being visited by angels, or hearing an angel blow the trumpet of the Last Judgment, which is often awkwardly framed so it looks like an angel blowing a horn in Jerome’s face.

Jerome is one of the original “Four Doctors of the Church,” and is often depicted with his three comrades, Saints Augustine, Ambrose and Gregory the Great.  I will discuss the set of four in another entry, but it means that if you ever see a set of four saints of which two have bishop hats, one has a papal tiara, and the fourth has a cardinal’s hat, you’re probably looking at the four doctors, and the cardinal is probably Jerome.  Especially if he looks like he might be thinking about Cicero.

0926cosmasanddamian1Saints Cosmas & Damian (Cosimo & Damiano)

  • Common attributes: Distinctive red hats, twins
  • Occasional attributes: Medical equipment
  • Patron saint of: Doctors, surgeons, barbers, taking care of kids, and of the Medici family
  • Patron of places: Mostly places the Medici used to own
  • Feast day: September 26 (or 27)
  • Most often depicted: Performing a miraculous leg transplant, being beheaded
  • Relics:  Cyrrus (in Syria), skulls at the Convent of the Poor Clares in Madrid

Cosmas and Damian are precisely the sort of saints that are not secondary or primary sources.  They are supposed to have died around 287 AD in Roman Syria, and effectively count as one saint despite there being two of them, since they are twin brothers who did everything together, including being martyred.  They were doctors, specifically surgeons, and are supposed to have worked for free for the poor.  Their most celebrated miracle was a miraculous leg transplant, from an Ethiopian (dead) donor onto a (presumably) Syrian or Roman patient, depicted in art with a very dark leg being transplanted onto a pale patient.

Angelico_Fra_2010-The_Healing_of_Justinian_by_Saint_Cosmas_and_Saint_Damian_San_Marco_Altarpiece

The historical pattern of Christian persecutions in the Eastern Roman Empire involved periods without much persecution followed by acute bouts of it, usually brought on by political pressures or the need to vent public dissent on a scapegoat.  The persecution of Diocletian fit this pattern exactly, and it was from this particularly massive and nasty one that Cosmas and Damian’s martyrdom story arises.  The full account says they were tortured but refused to give up their faith.  They were first hung from crosses for a while, then shot with arrows, and finally beheaded.  Some accounts have them beheaded along with a number of younger siblings, or possibly orphans they were caring for.

saint-cosmas-and-saint-damian-before-lisius-1440

Cosmas and Damian being sentenced in the persecution.

Cosmas and Damian were patron saints of the Medici family (Medici = doctor, Cosmas = Cosimo), so, despite their obscurity, they are extremely prominent cast members in any game of Spot the Saint involving Florentine artists.  In fact, spotting the pair of them in a painting, particularly if Lorenzo is with them, is a pretty powerful indicator that a Medici paid for whatever this is.  That makes them useful to art historians who are trying to identify the source and history of an otherwise unknown piece of art.  In fact, Cosmas and Damian are so closely tied to the Medici that they not only gave the name “Cosimo” to so many Medici named Cosimo, but the Medici sometimes had themselves painted in portraits as their patron saints.  In the pair below, the right half is a copy (by our good ol’ Medici stooge Vasari) of a classic portrait of Cosimo the Elder in his traditional Florentine merchant red hat and robes, but the addition of a halo has turned him into St. Cosimo, accompanied on the left by a portrait of Vasari’s patron Duke Cosimo I as Damiano, completing the pair.  Definitely the kind of hubris the Medici only displayed after they were in power.  The age difference between the “twins” is a little awkward, more so when you remember we are looking at men separated by several generations:

Giorgio-Vasari-Cosimo

When painted, Cosmas and Damian usually seem to be in their thirties or forties.  Their most reliable attribute is that they have matching hats, usually distinctive round red hats.  These are presumably doctors’ hats, and they generally wear red robes with them.  This is only a semi-reliable tell, however, since those hats and robes are actually just how Florentine doctors dressed, so it only holds true in Florentine paintings of them.  I remember going to Venice and seeing them in green and going “What the?!”  But since they aren’t depicted very often except by artists on Medici payroll, they usually look Florentine.  Other attributes–pill boxes, medical tools, medical spoons–are less reliable.  The easiest tell, of course, is that there are always two of them.  I found that after a few months in Florence I picked up the inexplicable capacity to recognize Cosmas and Damian in paintings even when they had no attributes at all.  I would say it’s proof that I’ve been in Florence too long, but you can never be in Florence too long.

And now, Spot the Saint quiz time!

There are ten figures in this one.  You can identify eight with certainty, and the final two you should be able to identify categorically as being a specific type of saint, and you can be sure of one of them from the fact that this was painted in a monastery called “San Marco”.  If you could read the text on the book you’d also get the last one.  You should also be able to tell who forked over the cash, and what order of monks it was made for.

Fra_Angelico_SanMarcoDormatory

Skip to the next Spot the Saint entry: the Four Doctors and Saints’ Hats.

Apr 132013
 

We still have plenty of saints to cover, now that the Machiavelli series is done.

In the last edition of Spot the Saint I discussed John the Evangelist, common in crucifixion scenes and in paintings that want an excuse to show a comely young man.  But another common reason to depict him is when one, for aesthetic symmetry purposes, wants a set of four saints to depict, often for architectural purposes: decorating a row of four vaults or four arches, in the four corners of a frame, on the four sides of a dome or a cabinet, etc.  The four Evangelists serve perfectly, and in Florence at least one sees Matthew, Mark and Luke far more often in the set of four than one sees them individually; John is the exception.  I will thus briefly discuss each of the remaining three gospel-writers, and then treat how one spots them when they’re together.

Each of the four Evangelists has a special symbolic animal, making the set very easy to spot.  The animals come from Revelations 4.7, and their connection to the Evangelists is… vague but firmly rooted in iconograpic tradition.  Any given Evangelist is often sitting near or on his animal, or has the animal as a decorative motif in the frame.  Sometimes the animal alone is used to depict the saint.  These animals are always winged, and sometimes covered with eyes.  Spotting the four in a set makes the Evangelists easy to pick out.  The four are a Lion for Mark, a Bull for Luke, an Eagle for John, and a winged person i.e. an angel for Matthew.

Saint Mark (San Marco)

  • Common attributes: Winged Lion, book, long white beard
  • Occasional attributes: Inscription saying “Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus”
  • Patron saint of: Lawyers (Barriesters), Venetian Sailors
  • Patron of places: Venice, Egypt, Alexandria
  • Feast day: April 25th
  • Most often depicted: Writing in a book while looking dower, being a winged lion, riding a winged lion.
  • Relics: Venice.  (Venice: “We have him!  You can’t have him!  Wa haha!  Wa hahahaha!”)

Setting aside the technical biblical details about who Mark started as (which never appear in art), St. Mark seems to have served as an interpreter and traveling companion for Peter for a while, transcribing his sermons (which turned into the Gospel of St. Mark), and thereafter founded the Church of Alexandria and eventually served as its bishop.  The Church of Alexandria later evolved into the Coptic Church (notable for leaving us many exciting manuscripts and for coming up with the brilliant idea that instead of writing in long scrolls you could bind pages of writing together into a rectangular structure called a “codex” which we recognize as the modern standard book) so Mark is extremely popular with the surviving Coptic Church, and there are late Coptic stories that he might have been martyred by having a rope tied around his neck and being dragged by it through the street until he was strangled, but this is quite apocryphal so there are fairly few Italian paintings of it.

The Doge of Venice kneeling before his patron.

Mark is particularly prominent in Italy because he is the patron saint of Venice.  In 828 AD, Venetian sailors stole Mark’s relics from Alexandria and took them to Venice, where they are now housed in the stunningly expensive Basilica of St. Marco.  Venice is excessively proud of this, so much so that the front of said Basilica boasts a mosaic featuring the theft.  This may seem strange, but stolen relics were particularly prestigious in the pre-modern world.  When a relic was stolen it was “The will of the saint,” whereas if it was bought then human greed and avarice made the acquisition less holy.  Mark wanted to be in Venice, is the logic, which is why he arranged to be stolen.  Theft also proves power and conquest, and the rest of the Basilica is built from expensive colored marbles looted from Constantinople when the Venetians conquered it, thus advertising Venice’s wealth and military prowess as well as their piety.

The winged lion of St. Mark is thus the symbol of Venice, and they put it on absolutely everything.  In fact, if lost in Italy you can usually tell how close to Venice you are by the steady increase in winged lions as one approaches the lagoon.  So enthusiastic is Venice about the winged lion that, when called upon to create a three-part symbol representing the city, its land empire and its sea empire, the government settled on a winged lion standing on land for the land empire, a winged lion standing on waves for the sea empire, and a third winged lion in a different pose in the middle for the city itself.  So powerfully was St. Mark associated with Venice in the Renaissance that, if you ever see him depicted outside the context of the set of four, smart money says there are Venetians about.  Even in Rome you can spot Venetian-built buildings by the winged lions all over them, and anywhere once ruled by Venice is saturated with them.

Hard to see in a photo, but here you can see the body being stolen on the right, and the ship on the far left. In the middle they’re smuggling it in a basket, past the cargo inspectors. Saints work in complex ways.

Saint Luke

  • Common attributes: Winged ox, book, beard.
  • Occasional attributes: Paintbrush, surgical tool, icon of the Virgin and Child.
  • Patron saint of: Artists, sometimes doctors, surgeons, notaries, historians, butchers.
  • Patron of places: Padua
  • Feast day: October 18th
  • Most often depicted: Painting the Virgin, sitting on a winged bull, being a winged bull.
  • Relics: Padua, with a piece in Thebes.

Luke came from Antioch, in Syria, and is credited as author of the Gospel of St. Luke and of the Acts.  He is described as having been a doctor, but is not particularly associated with doctors or generally invoked as their patron becuase, unlike Cosmus and Damian, he did no medical miracles.  He is often discussed as an historian, since the books credited to him seem to contain an unusual amount of historical and geographical detail in addition to describing events he did not himself witness and must have researched.  His status as an historian is thus a product of later scholars noting the difference in his tone from other bits of the New Testiment.  Debates over whether or not Luke counts as an historian have been fought a lot, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, and are something of a nexus for arguments over what an “historian” is, i.e. can someone whose work had a specific persuasive goal be called an historian?  An interesting debate.

Even more divorced from textual sources but far more important in visual depictions of Luke is the idea that he was a painter.  He is supposed, according to Medieval tradition, to have painted the first religious icon, a portrait of the Virgin Mary, painted either while she was alive or while she visited him in a vision.  The incredbly monotonous and identical icons of Mary which proliferated throughout the Middle Ages and, in the East, even later, were supposed to be copies of his, and their slavish dedication to being as identical as possible was motivated by the desire to preserve the authentic original.  Icons supposed to be the original painted by Luke pop up from time to time in the Renaissance, often brought home to places like England from Italy, or farther east.  When shown solo, saint Luke is most commonly depicted as an artist, and one of the most popular tricks is to paint St. Luke painting the Virgin, so one gets to paint her, him, accompanying angels, plus the canvas with his unfinished portrait.

Luke’s relics were in Ottoman hands for a long time, but were brought to Europe as part of the dowry of a Serbian princess and then sold to Venice sometime close to 1500.  Venice put the relics in Padua, the city closest to it on the mainland, its most constant and important subject city and the home of its university.  The relics were examined by scientists in the 1990s (when the Eastern Church asked for a piece back to put in his tomb in Thebes, a request which was, in fact, granted) and the bones seem to be of the right place and period.   His animal is the ox, for which reason he is occasionally a patron of butchers.

Saint Matthew

  • Common attributes: Book, beard, accompanied by a small angel
  • Occasional attributes: Money bag
  • Patron saint of: Tax collectors, accountants, other people who handle money, perfumers
  • Patron of places: Salerno, Trier (Germany), Washington DC
  • Feast day: Sept. 21, Nov 16
  • Most often depicted: Writing his gospel
  • Relics: Salerno

Matthew was a tax collector before converting to writing and preaching.  Tax collectors were not well-liked at the time, so he is taken as an example that Jesus wanted to call bad people as well as good.  In addition to the Gospel of St. Matthew, many  now-officially-apocryphal writings were attributed to him, and he is one of few Apostles whose existence is firmly accepted in the Muslim tradition as well.  Everyone agrees he evangelized in Ethiopia.  We don’t know that much about Matthew’s life and he has few extra adventures credited to him by the medieval tradition, so is rarely depicted at all except with the set of the other three.  A man in apostolic (i.e. vaguely Roman) robes with a beard, a book and an angel is often him, but might be any number of other people, so it’s best to see if his three companions are nearby before making a firm guess.  His relics are the pride of the city of Salerno, in a very early cathedral, constructed in the 1000s.

The fourth, of course, is John, who, when in the set with the others, usually has his eagle, and is usually depicted in his old man state to match the other three.

Evangelists are usually easy in Spot the Saint, particularly since they travel in a set, but occasionally you get one by himself just standing there with no animal or nothing: bearded man in apostle-looking robes with book.  Sometimes the first line of the relevant gospel is written on the book, so if you have memorized the Latin Vulgate translation of the first sentence of each you can tell who’s who, but few of us today have.  Failing Latin, in such circumstances the best way to figure out who it is is to think about where you are, or where the painting is from.  Are you, perhaps, standing in a monastery named “San Marco”?  Or looking at a painting made in Venice?  Or Padua?  If so, you can make a pretty confident guess.  Sometimes, though, the best you can do is: “There are two apostle-looking guys discussing a book.  They’re probably evangelists, most likely Mark and Luke since they’re the most popular.”

The Evangelists are also a good way to get yourself used to spotting what apostles dress like, which is to say they are always in Roman-ish robes, with a colored drape of one color over a floor-length tunic/robe of a second color.  This uniform is exclusive to saints of the Roman era and pretty exclusive to apostles, so is a good taxonomic way to narrow things down.   Is the mystery saint dressed like an Apostle?  If so you can rule out a huge portion of saints.

And now, Spot the Saint Quiz time.

First, since it’s been a while, a brief review of everyone we’ve seen so far, so you have the possibilities fresh in your mind.  See if you can remember one or two attributes for each:

  • Sometimes Evangelists’ animals don’t have wings!

    Saint John the Baptist

  • Saint Lawrence
  • Saint Sebastian
  • Saint Catherine of Alexandria
  • Saint Peter
  • Saunt Paul
  • Saint Zenobius
  • Saint Reparata
  • Saint Dominic
  • Saint Peter Martyr
  • Saint Thomas Aquinas
  • Saint Francis of Assisi
  • Saint Antony of Padua
  • Saint Bernardino of Sienna
  • Saint Nicholas of Cusa
  • Saint Agatha
  • Saint Lucy
  • Saint John the Evangelist
  • Saint Mary Magdalene
  • Saint Mark the Evangelist
  • Saint Luke the Evangelist
  • Saint Matthew the Evangelist

And now the quiz, a Fra Angelico fresco from one of the cells in the gorgeous monastery of San Marco in Florence, a political hotbed of a monastery, patronized and paid for by Cosimo do Medici but later the seat of Savonarola.  All but one of the figures in this image are figures we have discussed.  The last one is St. Benedict, founder of the Benedictine monks, here depicted unhelpfully without his usual attribute, a bundle of canes to flog novices with.  You should still be able to tell which he is.  Throwing one’s hands up as the saints are doing is a gesture of surprise and awe.

 Skip to the next Spot the Saint entry.

May 022012
 

It’s been a while, so here are some extra trixy new saints to add to our challenge.  (Note, the Renaissance images featured in this post will feature nudity, so if you’re not comfortable with that skip this entry):

John the Evangelist (Giovanni Evangelista)

  • Common attributes: Eagle, book, pen, Roman robes, EITHER beautiful young man OR old man with very long beard
  • Occasional attributes: Chalice with a snake or dragon crawling out of it, often dressed in pink
  • Patron saint of: Friendship, everyone in the bookmaking industry (writers, editors, compositors, booksellers, bookbinders, print makers, engravers), protection from burns, protection from poison
  • Patron of places: Asia Minor, Umbria, Wroclaw Poland, Sundern Germany, lots of weird places like Cleveland and Milwaukee and Boise Idaho
  • Feast day: December 27th, also May 6th (his surviving being boiled in oil).
  • Most often depicted: Standing around with other saints, mourning at the Crucifixion or Deposition, asleep in Christ’s lap at the Last Supper, being boiled, in a set with the other three Evangelists
  • Relics: Ephesus (church has now been turned into a Mosque)

Due to the popularity of Crucefixion scenes, the most commonly depicted apostle in Renaissance art is not, shockingly, Peter, nor Paul, but John the Evangelist, who, like the fainting Virgin and tearful Magdalene, makes a mandatory cameo at the base of every cross.  Add to this the frequency with which artists decorate four matching surfaces (four vaults, four doors, four pinacles above central images) with the Four Evangelists, and the frequency with which John is depicted writing his Gospel or witnessing events of his Gospel, and he becomes one of the most familiar faces in our list.

Familiar but tricky.  John the Evangelist, or “the Beloved”, presumed author of the Gospel of John, is a great challenge to saint spotting for three reasons.  First: he often has no attributes, and has to be identified from his general bearing, location and activities.  Second: he appears at two completely different ages, which can throw one off.  Third: when young he often looks so female to the modern eye that the mind leaps straight to our list of female saints, looking for spiked wheels and eyes on plates, without considering the fact that this might be a boy.  The fact that he appears so often in the same scenes where Mary Magdalene makes sense to appear makes the two of them frustratingly easy to mix up.

John’s radically fluctuating age is due to the fact that he is believed to have lived a very long time, and did important things at many different points in his life, unlike martyrs who are pretty-much always shown at the ages they were when they died.  He was established as having been very young (and handsome) during Christ’s life, and can be spotted among full sets of apostles by being the most handsome, and often the only one without a beard.  He then went on to live a very long life preaching and writing, and survived numerous near-martyrdoms: He was arrested and beaten by Domitian, but remained impervious.  He was then poisoned, but he blessed the chalice and the poison turned into a snake or dragon and ran away (Where did it go?!  Is it still out there?…), hence his attribute of holding a cup with a snake in it.  He was then boiled in oil, but that didn’t work either, and he escaped to Ephesus where he lived a long and pious life.  He also supposedly got into a conflict with some worshipers of Artemis at one point, who tried to stone him, but the stones bounced off, and then at his invocation two hundred of them were killed by lightning, and then resurrected, in one of the largest mass-resurrections in the palette of saintly miracles.  But because none of the implements involved in these stories actually killed John, he does not carry them around with him in Heaven (i.e. in art), so while Lorenzo and Catherine and Paul have convenient death tags, John remains elusively short on attributes.

John is depicted either as a beautiful youth, or as an old man with a very long beard.  Modern gender tag conventions make his youthful form particularly easy to mistake for a woman, mainly because of his hairstyle, which is usually long and loose down to his shoulders or shoulder blades.  This style looks feminine by modern standards, but was not by Renaissance standards.  In Renaissance art, pretty-much no woman would ever have hair nearly that short.  Women’s hair is generally to the elbows, and is worn tied up in an elaborate hairstyle, or at least covered by a veil.  Loose hair with nothing tying it up is the style of a knight or dashing nobleman, never a woman.  The to-modern-eyes feminine presentation of John the Evangelist is enhanced by the fact that, at least in Tuscan art, he’s usually dressed in pink.  I don’t know why this is, and it certainly isn’t a solid rule, but just as the Virgin Mary is almost always in a blue robe, John is almost always in pink, which was not gender-coded in the Renaissance as it is now, but does rather add to the overall effeminacy of the young “beloved”.

The Four Evangelists have four winged animals that represent them: the Winged Lion for Mark, the Winged Bull for Luke, the Winged Person i.e. Angel for Matthew, and the Winged Eagle for John (no, no one has a non-winged Eagle as an attribute).  Sometimes just the animal is used to stand in for the evangelist, with no human figure at all.  The evangelists’ animals are sometimes depicted covered with lots of eyes, but more often John just has an eagle hanging out next to him.  This, combined with John’s youth and beauty, strongly invokes the Greco-Roman image of the handsome Ganymede being carried of by Zeus in the form of a lustful eagle, and puts John solidly with Sebastian in the palette of “sexy saints,” i.e. saints who are sometimes used as an excuse to show a sexy male body in a world in which eroticism, particularly homoeroticism, was controversial, yet religious content often eased criticism.  We have Renaissance diatribes in which theologians rail against the sensuality of paintings in aristocrats’ collections, citing nude Venuses and scandalous Ganymedes, but the same treatises often explicitly say that nudity is A-ok in religious art, because the bodies of John, Sebastian and Mary Magdalene point the soul toward heavenly thoughts rather than Earthly.  Looking at them, though, it is sometimes hard to see the difference:

Michelangelo’s Rape of Ganymede

John the Evangelist. Note the pose of the legs, and the position of the eagle.

The old John, author of the gospels, is often depicted with the other three evangelists in a set, but sometimes he is depicted as just a bearded sage with a book and an eagle, or, less helpfully, with just a book, or even less helpfully as just a bearded man, though, often, still in pink robes.  Sometimes, to mix things up, he’s just an eagle.

One way to spot John when he has no attributes is by his customary position.  At a Crucifixion, John is always depicted near the foot of the cross, mourning dramatically, accompanied by Mary Magdalene, the Virgin Mary and ladies attending to the Virgin, usually including Margaret.  Thus, if there are several beautiful mourners at Christ’s feet, the one with the shortest hair is John.  The gender tags remain trixy, however, and unless one knows what to look for in the hair styles, it can be difficult to tell the difference between John and Christ’s other major mourner, Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene

  • Common attributes: Long loose hair
  • Occasional attributes: Ointment jar (often made of alabaster) or cup, skull, naked except for her hair
  • Patron saint of: Penitent sinners, converts, the contemplative life, apothecaries, women, reformed prostitutes, protection against sexual temptation
  • Patron of places: Atrani, Italy
  • Feast day: July 22nd
  • Most often depicted: Standing around with other saints, grieving at the Crucefixion or Deposition, anointing or embracing Christ’s feet, in the wilderness being a hermit, being airlifted to heaven by angels, with Christ in the garden attempting to touch him while he refuses (“noli me tangere”)
  • Relics: Either Constantinople OR the French hemitage on La Sainte-Baume, depending who you ask

Ah, Mary Magdalene, unofficial patron saint of conspiracy theorists, historical mystery fiction and feminist historicist conflicts.  There is either way too much information about Mary Magdalene or way too little, depending on what sources you listen to.  Our goal is to present the version which appears in Renaissance Art, as opposed to the skillion other versions, from Mary “Equal of the Apostles”, to Mary thesystematically-suppressed founder of a long-lost feminist Christianity, to… I don’t actually know what she is in the Korean comic “Let’s Bible!” but given that Jesus is a teenage girl with no pants and Satan is a Mexican guitarist, I think I am safe in assuming that she is a talking spider plant.

In the Gospels, apart from a vague reference to her being cleansed of “seven devils”, and being Lazarus’ sister (even this is debated), she pretty-much only appears during the Crucifixion process, at which she is a named and specified witness of (A) the Crucifixion, (B) the fact that the tomb is empty, and (C) the Resurrection.  Renaissance artists depict her consistently at all these things, accompanied at the Crucefixion and tomb by the Virgin Mary, the confusingly vague “Other Mary”, and at the Crucifixion by them along with John the Evangelist and, often, Margaret.

Gregory the Great (in 591 AD) is credited with establishing the idea that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, who renounced and reformed her evil ways when she converted, and it is this version who populates Renaissance art as the second-most-commonly-depicted woman after the Virgin.  She is thus usually a very beautiful, sensual young woman, the cultural antithesis of the Virgin, and a figure which lets Renaissance religious art have a conversation about female sexuality in a way that the endless martyred virgins like Catherine and Lucy can’t facilitate.  The legend also has Mary Magdalene go out into the wilderness after the Crucifixion and live as a hermit, allowing her to be used as a prototype for serious female participation in the extreme religious life of total commitment, contemplation and self-denial which made hermits and, later, monks such a central part of medieval Christian ideas of true religious life.  Remember that, until St. Francis’s revolutionary program of bringing religious life to the urban lay population, the term “religious” in European culture meant a hermit, priest, monk or non, who were considered the only people with meaningful religious lives, and the only ones likely to go to heaven without being martyred.  The archetype of Mary Magdalane, female hermit, opened this to women.

As champion and representative of the Contemplative Life, Mary Magdalene is patroness of contemplative philosophers, and of the Dominican order, which so values contemplation as a path to the divine.

A depiction of the “Noli me tangere”

While the Mary Magdalene story could serve to open some doors of religious activity to women, it also closed some in the form of the “Noli me tangere” scene.  This scene, frequently depicted in art, was when the resurrected Christ appeared to Mary (before he did to anyone else) and, when she attempted to embrace him, said “Don’t touch me” (Noli me tangere).  This scene is sometimes used to justify refusing to allow women to be priests, where they have to consecrate and touch the body of Christ.  The scene in which Thomas, after doubting the resurrection and saying he won’t believe until he touches Christ’s wounds, is then actually allowed to touch Christ’s wounds is used to demonstrate that men can touch him but not women.  The fact that Mary Magdalene was allowed to anoint Christ’s body when he was dead leads to all sorts of confusing cultural attempts to figure out the correct divisions of male and female physicality in liturgical, medical and funerary situations which I will not attempt to sort out.

“Penitent Magdalene” in hermit mode, with skull

The thing which makes Mary Magdalene recognizable 95% of the time in art is the fact that she has long loose trailing hair.  This derives from (A) the pre-modern association between loose hare on a woman and wantonness/ sensuality/ prostitution, and (B) a medieval legend that, when Mary renounced being a prostitute and threw away her luxurious seductive clothes, her hair miraculously grew to cover her nakedness.  And even though the miracle of her long hair happens at a certain point in the logic of her linear narrative, the same special relationship with time that allows renaissance artists to cheerfully depict toddler-aged John the Baptist in a hairshirt and carrying a staff allows them to depict Mary Magdalene’s miraculously long hair at any point.

Another fun Mary Magdalene legend moment, also medieval, describes the fact that she refuses to eat while in the wilderness, so to keep her alive angels air-lift her to Heaven every day where she is fed divine manna and then set down again.

All this makes Mary Magdalene the top choice saint for painters who want an excuse to depict a sexy woman, just as the usually-nearly-naked Saint Sebastian is the top choice for depicting a sexy man.  Saint Sebastian can be depicted as a fully clothed guy holding an arrow, but is usually a luscious youth with a gauze-like loincloth, and in the same way Mary Magdalene can be a haggard penitent hermit, or she can be a luscious nude, chest heaving with ecstatic (religious) excitement, indistinguishable from Lady Godiva.  Thus we encounter extremes with Mary, as we do with John, ranging, in her case, not in age, but in sensuality, from the extreme of Titian’s Magdalene, whose luscious hare carefully covers everything except the naughty bits, to Donatello’s gaunt and stunning hermit.

Donatello’s Version

Titian’s Version

The disparity of how Mary Magdalene is depicted is perhaps best summarized by who artists tend to pair her with, since saints are most often spotted in symmetrical groups flanking Christ or the Virgin, and thus every one needs a partner symmetrically opposite.  Often “reasonable Magdalene” (as I think of her) beautiful, in nice clothes, with long flowing hair and her jar, is paired with John the Evangelist, the two beautiful, young people who loved and were emotionally close to Christ the man.  In contrast, “hermet Magdalene” is usually paired with John the Baptist (her hair paralleling his hairshirt), or to the old wasted hermit Saint Jerome, so the pair of them can kneel on rocks and beat their breasts and contemplate skulls and crucifixes in the wilderness in parallel.  Finally “sexy Magdalene” is usually alone, as an excuse to have a naked lady.

But don’t forget to look for the jar – she does have it sometimes.

Population of a Crucefixion Scene:

With John and Mary Magdalene under our belts, it is now possible to sort the population of a standard Crucifixion scene.  Generally not all of these figures are present, but the scenes often include:

  • Virgin Mary, generally wearing a hood/veil, and depicted fainting into the arms of companions
  • Mary Magdalene, with long beautiful hair, generally embracing the foot of the cross, or otherwise grieving very conspicuously, with arms flung wide
  • John the Evangelist, also grieving conspicuously, occasionally helping those who catch the fainting Virgin
  • St. Margaret and “The Other Mary”, nondescript women catching the Virgin Mary while she faints
  • A skull at the base of the cross, supposed to be Adam’s skull, because he was buried at the same place that the cross was set up
  • The Good Thief and the Wicked Thief, crucified on two other crosses on the either side of Christ, with the Wicked Thief on Christ’s left having his soul carried of by a (usually adorable) little devil.
  • St. Longinus, the centurion who stabbed Christ with a spear, depicted carrying a spear, sometimes on horseback.  May or may not have a halo, since at the moment he does the stabbing he hasn’t yet converted, so some artists show him not-quite-yet a saint and therefore halo-free
  • Other non-saint figures, including the soldiers playing dice to see who keeps Christ’s clothes, an unappealing man mocking Christ’s thirst by offering him a sponge dipped in vinegar on a long pole (the Holy Sponge!), and assorted random witnesses who are sometimes so plentiful that it starts to feel like they must be time travelers gathering to watch the occasion
  • Angels with cups (the holy grail) catching the dripping blood
  • Other random saints who logically shouldn’t be there, like John the Baptist, or Francis or Dominic, or whoever is the local patron saint is, stuck in by the artist and shown as witnesses, contemplating the scene and grieving, or, in John the Baptist’s case, pointing at Christ.

The population of a Deposition, when they take the body down and mourn it, is about the same.

Samples:

Quiz Yourself on the Saints You Know So Far:

 The next level of challenge in saint spotting is judging when you do and don’t know figures.  In the image below, you should recognize five of the seven figures.  (One figure is deceptive, since the figure on the left holding lilies is, in fact, a portrait of a more obscure local figure made to look like a more famous one, but you should be able to identify who he’s pretending to be).

Some comments on the old figure second from the right (read these after you have done your best to identify everyone in the picture).  It is often possible to figure out a fair amount about a figure even if you don’t know who it is from looking at details of costume.  Looking at this figure, you can tell first what religious order he is a part of from his clothes, and from the extra decorated band on his habit you can tell he held a high rank, probably a bishop.  Now, note his halo.  See how, while everyone else’s halo is a circle, his is instead a bunch of linear rays coming from his head?  Artists sometimes use this technique, employing two different halo styles in one painting, to differentiate full saints (with the round halos here) from someone who is beatified, i.e. who has gone through the first three stages of becoming a saint but not the last one.  Someone who is beatified has been examined officially by the Church, which has determined that the person is in Heaven and capable of using their position in heaven to intercede with the divine on behalf of people, but who has not yet had the three confirmed miracles necessary to establish sainthood.  Historically, beatification was controlled more by local officials, so that bishops had the authority to beatify local people, while sainthood always required Vatican approval.  Reverting to our Kingdom of Heaven terms for a moment, someone who is beatified is at court, but hasn’t yet succeeded in securing any notable favors from the king, so is a less certain benefactor than an established court favorite like John the Baptist or St. Francis.  For example, Pope John Paul II is currently beatified, but not yet officially a saint.  Long-term, cult followings for figures who are beatified but never canonized are sometimes actively discouraged by the Vatican, which usually has a reason for denying sainthood to such a figure if they do.  For example, Charlemagne was beatified but never canonized, and when the power struggles between Pope and Emperor as rival claimants to imperial power got tougher, the Vatican actively suppressed the cult of Beato Carlo Magno in order to monopolize heavenly authority – this, however, is why Charlemagne is sometimes depicted with a halo, and his remains are stored in fancy reliquaries and treated as holy relics.

Reliquary of Charlemagne

Thus, whoever this figure in the painting is, you can tell by looking, has been beatified but not yet canonized at the point that the painting was done.  Since beatified figures are usually only popular in the areas where they lived, when you see a beatified figure like this, it’s a safe guess that the painting was done in the figure’s home town, or somewhere (s)he was active, and that it may well have hung over the beatified figure’s tomb, or in a church where (s)he worked.

The presence of two different distinct styles of halo is thus a marker that can help you nail down a painting’s origin.  Note: some artists use linear halos for everyone, so you can’t always say a linear halo = a beatified figure, rather what you need to look for is two different types of halo in one painting.  At other times artists use the same technique to differentiate other weird kinds of things, for example an altarpiece I saw at the Academia last week which had round halos on a bunch of female saints and linear halos on some allegorical ladies who were hanging out with them.  This can also be used to differentiate saints from angels, and from Virtues, like Temperence and Strength/Fortitude, who also hang out in Heaven when they’re not busy crushing Vices underfoot or participating in Tarot readings.

Jump to the next Spot the Saint entry.

Spot the Saint Mini-Quiz

 Posted by on February 20, 2012  Spot the Saint  No Responses »
Feb 202012
 

Hello, all. My latest post has been delayed by, among other things, Venetian Carnival, book projects, visiting friends, private tours of the back rooms of the Cathedral, doing my taxes, preparing to upgrade this website, and the investment of the Archbishop of Florence as a Cardinal. I hope to post soon, but as a quick consolation in the meantime, here are are some saint-spotting pictures, so those who enjoy it can quiz yourselves on the saints you know so far:

If you hover the mouse over an image, it will tell you the file name, which tells you who it is.  Don’t hover accidentally, or it’ll give it away.

JohnTheBaptist-Martyrdom

Jump to the next Spot the Saint entry.

Jan 202012
 

I have just returned from a jaunt through Sicily, where the change of cityscape was a perfect reminder of how useful the ability to spot saints can be.  I popped into church after church, and by the fourth it was easy to tell we weren’t in Florence anymore, and not just by the prevalence of baroque frufru on the altars.  San Lorenzo was scarcely anywhere to be seen, John the Baptist uncommon at best, Zenobius and Reparata distant memories, while every single church had an altarpiece or, more often, wooden statue of the two virgin martyrs Agatha and Lucy.  Two guesses who are the patron saints of major cities in Sicily.

Saint Agatha (died around 250 AD)

  • Common attributes: Breasts on a platter, breasts cut off, martyr’s palm
  • Occasional attributes: Pliers or pincers or big scissors, dressed in antique Roman-style robes
  • Patron saint of: Victims of rape and torture, single women, wet nurses, protection against volcanic eruptions, and fire, and natural disasters in general
  • Patron of places: Sicily, especially Palermo and areas where Mt. Etna’s eruptions threaten
  • Feast day: February 5th
  • Most often depicted: Standing around with other saints, having her breasts ripped off
  • Relics: Catania (Sicily)

Saint Agatha is, like Catherine, one of the popular set of late Roman beautiful virgin martyr saints.  The story is, like many of such vintage, tangled and unreliable, and follows a fairly stock sequence of romance and persecution, but in Agatha’s case she dedicated her virginity to God but was lusted after by a Roman official, Quintinianus.  He persecuted her for her rejection of him, and sent her to a brothel, but she refused to succumb.  The stories have her make some very sophisticated philosophical arguments against pagan idols.  Eventually he had her tortured, including having her breasts cut or ripped off, though an apparition St. Peter miraculously healed them.  She died in prison.

Agatha is protector against fire because of some of the tortures she endured.  This makes her extremely popular in Sicily, which is dominated by the towering volcano of Mt. Etna.  Some active volcanoes sort-of sit there rather calmly, or lurk building up steam for a millennium or two before destroying Pompeii again, but not Etna.  Etna erupts all the time.   It erupted two or three times last year alone.  Heck, it erupted while I was there, just a little eruption, but enough for the lava to trail visibly down through the snow cap like spilled ink.  Now, usually it just erupts around the crater part where no one lives, but it does erupt enough to destroy some inhabited ground once every few decades, making protection against fire the top question on everyone’s minds.  They have Agatha’s veil there and occasionally get it out and parade it in front of the lava as it’s coming down to try to get it to stop, and, miraculously, it sometimes does.  During one such incident the veil miraculously turned from white to red, confirming its special powers.

Like many martyr saints, Agatha carries the symbols of her martyrdom, in this case usually her severed breasts on a platter.  In art, the challenge is less to recognize this very distinct attribute, than to overcome the average early artist’s complete inability to visualize what breasts sitting on a platter would look like.   One sees a female saint holding a tray with… are those muffins?  Oranges?  Bells?  Bags?  Little pyramidal paperweights?  Oh!  It’s Agatha.

Saint Lucy (Santa Lucia, 283-304 AD)

  • Common attributes: Eyeballs on a platter, eyeballs on a cup or something other than a platter, lamp or cup with a flame in it possibly also with eyeballs in it, martyr’s palm.  Note that despite the eyeballs, she will still herself have eyes.
  • Occasional attributes: Sword, dressed in antique Roman-style robes
  • Patron saint of: Eyesight, blind people, writers (who need to read a lot!) especially Dante.
  • Patron of places: Perugia, Syracuse (Sicily), Malta
  • Feast day: December 13th
  • Most often depicted: Standing around with other saints, especially Agatha
  • Relics: Venice

Lucy was a little later than Agatha and intentionally followed her model, even receiving a visit from Agatha’s spirit.  In Lucy’s case she rejected a pagan bridegroom and wanted to give her dowry to the poor.  The disappointed suitor denounced her, and she was sentenced to be taken to a brothel, but became miraculously heavy, so the guards couldn’t lift her, even when they tied her to some oxen and had them pull.  She was then tortured and killed.

Lucy’s name means light, and this is the source of her association with eyesight.  The story of her having her eyes put out is a late addition, probably derived from the association rather than the other way around.  Renaissance artists are about as bad at drawing eyeballs as they are at breasts, but they generally just paint a pair of non-ball eyes, which are much easier to recognize than Agatha’s muffins.

Lucy was Dante’s personal patron saint, so it is to she that Beatrice turned within the hierarchy of heaven when Beatrice wanted permission to give Dante his tour of the afterlife.  Lucy then went to Mary, who arranged things with the King.

And now, Spot the Saint Quiz Time:

Quiz yourself on the saints you know so far.  (click here for a higher-res image)

Sorry it’s hard to see what she’s holding. Even in the room with the original painting it’s hard to see.

Jump to the next Spot the Saint entry.

Dec 242011
 

‘Tis the season for a review of the vague saintly origins of the modern Hallmark Christmas:

Saint Nicholas of Bari (or of Myra; San Nicola, 270-343 AD)

  • Common attributes: Bishop (with robes, hat, miter), holding 3 golden balls, or 3 coins, or 3 bags of gold
  • Occasional attributes: Accompanied by ship, accompanied by barrel containing three kids
  • Patron saint of: Sailors, ships, merchants, fishermen, children, also pharmacists & a few other things
  • Patron of places: Myra (Turkey), Bari (Italy)
  • Feast days: May 9th, December 6th
  • Most often depicted: Standing around with other saints, on the coast near ships, sneaking in a window
  • Relics: Bari (Italy), Basilica di San Nicola

Saint Nicholas was a 3rd to 4th century bishop saint, Greek by birth and active in the Middle East.  He was of a wealthy family but orphaned and raised by an uncle.  He came to the priesthood comfortably (no towers or evil parents or prostitutes or lightning) and progressed to bishop status in good time.  Nicholas is remarkable for the large number of miracles he is supposed to have worked during his lifetime, and for that reason is a very popular saint to pray to, since he is obviously willing to use the powers all saints have.  He saved ships from storms, multiplied grain to save towns from famine, and resurrected three kids.

Nicholas’ most famous story involves, not a miracle, but generosity.  It has several variants, but all revolve around a poor man in the town who had three daughters but did not have enough money to give them dowries so they could marry.  Nicholas stealthily provided the money, which is most commonly said to have been three bags of gold coins, but it varies.  He did it on three successive visits (either three days or three years), each time tossing the money secretly into the house so the father never knew his benefactor.  On the last visit (predictable due to the regularity of the first two), the father lay in wait, hoping to spot and thank his mysterious benefactor.  The ending varies, but in one popular version Nicholas, realizing the man was watching the window, climbed across the roof and dropped the gold down the chimney.  Some versions add the detail that one of the daughters had left her stockings hung up to dry by the hearth, and the money fell into one.  He is also supposed to have given other charitable gifts, including leaving coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him.

Saint Nicholas multiplies grain, so sailors can give some to end a famine and still have enough to deliver.

In 1071, when the area where Nicholas was buried fell into non-Christian hands, the relics were removed to the Italian town of Bari, sparking his large Italian cult.  Some Venetians claimed to have a big chunk, spawning another major church to him in Venice (where a patron of sailors was very popular) but scientists and their x-rays have confirmed that the remains at Bari are mostly intact.  Nicholas’ relics excrete a rose-scented liquid substance, referred to as myrrh, which has healing properties, much like the substance produced by the remains of Catherine of Alexandria.

Bishop saints are tricky to identify in art.  They’re easy to tell from other saints, with their curved shephard’s-crook-shaped miters, their pointy, triangular bishop hats (not to be confused with the cone-shaped pope hats with three crowns on them), and their fancy robes, with a cloak with elaborate trim closed by a broach at the breast, and, frequently, gloves with gems on the back of the hand.  Yet they can be very difficult to tell one from another, because their attributes are often unclear, or omitted.

How can we be expected to tell them apart if they have no identifying attributes?  Often the original context of the painting would make it clear, since it would be commissioned by or for devotees of a particular bishop saint, or in a city where a specific one was most popular.  But since pieces are so often in museums now, sometimes all one can do is guess.  Nicholas was one of the most popular bishop saints, along with Augustine and, in Florence, Zenobius, so in general Nicholas is a safe guess.  When in doubt, the artist sometimes provides separate scenes as hints.  Sometimes these are painted on separate panels below or above the main painting, showing a recognizable scene from the saint’s life.  With bishop saints, sometimes scenes from their lives are embroidered on their robes, though this can be deceptive, since I’ve seen Saint Augustine with scenes from the life of Saint Stephen on his robe.

As for Nicholas specifically in art, three golden balls or golden coins or bags of gold are the clearest sign, or a bishop accompanied by ships or standing near the sea.  Beyond that, though, Nicholas is a decent generic guess if you don’t have a better clue for your unidentified bishop.

La Befana, the Epiphany Witch (not a saint, but…)

  • Common attributes: Pointy hat, dark shawl, rough dress, old, long nose with warts, scraggly gray hair, spectacles
  • Most often depicted: Flying through the air on a broomstick with a sack of toys

Since Saint Nicholas is not, in fact, a jolly, red-clad toymaker equipped with flying reindeer, someone else has to bring presents to the kids in Italy.  This office falls to La Befana the Christmas Witch, or more accurately the Epiphany Witch, who flies on her broomstick with her sack of toys bringing presents to all the children on Epiphany Eve (Jan 5th).  She looks like a witch in every classic sense, so Christmas fairs in Italy are packed with witches and Christmas decorations often look more like Halloween than Christmas to American eyes.

If you ask Wikipedia about La Befana it will tell you various origin myths.  She was hostess to the Three Wise Men on their way to the Nativity; she regretted not following them and is still looking for the Christ Child so visits all children; she had a child which died so Christ let her be Mom to every kid in Italy; she’s the Sabine goddess Strina.

La Befana ornaments crowd for space at a stall in Piazza Navona, Rome.

If you ask an Italian, in my experience you don’t get any of that.  La Befana is a part of the holiday tradition, unquestioned as Santa in areas where he’s the gift giver, so just as most of those in the Santa region can’t tell you much about Nicholas of Bari, Italians are content with the witch they’ve known since childhood and don’t seem to wonder much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have to say, though, Italian kids have more excuse to freak out at shopping malls when parents set them in the lap of someone costumed as the Christmas gift-giver.  A witch!  Why are my parents handing me to a witch?

La Befana is also subject to the same bizarre cultural distortions as Santa:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So this year, if you’re the tree-trimming type, get out your broomsticks and pointy hats and have a nice witch-filled Italian Holiday!

 

 

And now, Spot the Saint Quiz Time:

(Click for more detail.  If your eyes are sharp, you should be able to identify a few of the tiny figures on the sides as well as the main ones.  Scroll down for a detailed view of the left-hand main figures.)

A little more detail on the left-hand side:

Skip to the next Spot the Saint entry.

Dec 012011
 

The ecstacy of St. Francis. He is accompanied above by the three angels of Monastic vows, Chastity (with lily), Obedience (with yoke) and Poverty (in patches), while under his feet he crushes the vices of Vanity/Lust, Vainglory, and Greed. This painting is heretical, by the way, since it’s totally not allowed for anyone other than Christ, the Father or the Virgin to have that red corona made of Seraphim, but people really, really love Francis, so just this once…

A dear friend’s visit and a weekend in Rome has delayed this update, but while I was trying to write up my recent tour of fascinating Roman churches, a mix of famous and obscure, I discovered that I couldn’t make the discussion make sense unless I covered a couple other related topics first.  I shall begin with the Order of the Friars Minor, aka. the Franciscans (just as the Dominicans are officially the Order of Preachers).

In art, Franciscans wear plain habits that are usually a gray-brown color, but sometimes gray and sometimes brown.  There are several sub-groups of Franciscans, including the Capuchins, but for our Renaissance purposes, and in art, we are concerned only with the main branch.  The Friars Minor are so called in memory of the focus on modesty, humbleness and obedience of their founder.  They were founded at the very beginning of the 1200s, just like the Dominicans.  This means that during the lives of early Renaissance figures like Dante and Petrarch, the Franciscans were a powerful but recent movement, something Italy could be proud of.

Saint Francis (San Francesco) 1181/2-1226

  • Common attributes: Franciscan habit, stigmata (wounds of Christ on his hands, feet, side)
  • Occasional attributes: lamb, bird, wolf, T-shaped cross (“Tau”)
  • Patron saint of: The Franciscan order, animals, merchants
  • Patron of places: Italy (yes, all of it), Assisi
  • Feast day: October 4th
  • Most often depicted: Receiving stigmata from an angel, nude as a young man being received into the Church, kneeling before the pope, preaching to animals, in front of a sultan intending to walk through fire, embracing Saint Dominic, dead with people examining his corpse
  • Relics: Assisi, Basilica di San Francesco

Francis is Patron Saint of Italy.   Not part of it, not a town, not a province, not an order, not a profession; Italy.  Italy had a lot of major saints to choose from: Peter, Paul, Mark, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, Jerome, Ambrose, Gregory… the fact that the all-important home province went to a saint from the late twelfth century is proof by itself that Francis is something very special within Heaven’s high heirarchy.

Young Francis returns his clothes to his father, and is welcomed by the bishop.

Francis’ father was a merchant and his mother was French.  As a youth he spoke French, loved French clothes, French songs, French everything, and his baptismal name of Giovanni was soon forgotten in favor of the nickname “Francesco” i.e. little Frenchman.  He took part in some military stuff when young, during which time he seems to have had a religious crisis, and thereafter showed a growing interest in monastic life.  One day, on the way home from selling some of his father’s goods at market, he couldn’t take it anymore, went into a church and insisted he was going to stay there and become a monk.  The priests were terrified, knowing of his father’s wealth and inevitable wrath, and tried to force the boy to leave, but he refused.  He tried to give them the money he had been carrying home, but they didn’t dare touch it, and the bag of coin sat in the church, abandoned out of fear.  After a while Francis’ father came hunting for him, enraged, and insisted that he return.  Francis gave the money back, but refused to come himself.  His father continued to insist that Francis was his and was coming home with him.  Francis then stripped naked and handed his clothes to his father, saying he had returned everything that was his father’s and the rest belonged to god.  At this point, the bishop intervened, and wrapped his cloak around the young man, welcoming him into the Church.  Francis then went on to be the most enthusiastic and influential monk of all time.

Why was Francis so incomparably important?  Put simply, he changed what the word “religious” meant.  In the Middle Ages, when one said a “religious person” one meant a monk, nun or priest, or maybe a hermit.  That’s simply what the word meant.  There was not really the concept that a lay person, particularly an urban person like a merchant or crafts worker, could have a meaningful religious life.  One wanted them to be baptized and to try to live virtuously, but that was mostly in order to prevent earthly divine smiting, and expectation was that someone living a secular life was likely not heaven-bound most of the time, and certainly didn’t participate in religious life or thought any more than occasional churchgoing.  Francis changed that.  He came into the cities and preached to the urban poor.  He encouraged everyone to think about religious questions and have a personal intellectual religious life.  He suggested that merchants and workmen might gather once a week for religious meetings, wear monastic symbols under their clothes as self-reminders of their faith, and in other ways meaningfully do things “religious” people did despite, or rather as an enhancement to, their worldly lives.  He made Christianity welcoming and accessible to ordinary people in a way it really hadn’t been before.  He made people welcome, and for that people adored him, and still do.

St. Francis marries the Angel of Poverty (in the patched, brown dress) while her sisters Chastity (in white) and Obedience (in pink, carrying a yoke) attend.  Note how, unlike her sisters, Poverty has no shoes, and gazes wistfully after Francis as the three depart.

 

 

Francis was also very hard core about the monastic life.  Francis was so fierce in his renunciation of wealth and his fixation on wandering and begging that, even when he was an invited guest at someone’s house, he would nonetheless insist on going outside to beg for his supper on the street.  Francis was spiritually married to the Angel of Poverty, one of the three angels of monastic vows, who hangs out with the Angel of Chastity and the Angel of Obedience.

In honor of Francis’ dedication on this front, to this day the Franciscan order, is the only mendicant (begging) order whose members are still forbidden to own any property whatsoever.  All items possessed by Franciscans, from the grand Basilica of St. Francis to the sheets on their dormitory beds legally belong to the pope who lends them to the Franciscans, and the pope can walk up to any Franciscan and demand the shoes off his feet and he has to give them up (I am assured that popes don’t generally actually do this, but I imagine many popes have had fun thinking about it).  The Friars Minor also focus on humility, following the model of Francis who, despite being a great and popular leader, never let himself be in authority, always deferring to the commands of others, and preferring to be led, not followed.

Francis was also big on the mortification of the flesh.  He referred to his physical body as “Brother Ass” which had to be frequently beaten into obedience; he practiced intense fasting, as well as physical mortification, and, among other things, would often throw himself naked into snow (whenever Italy’s clement environment made snow an option).  So fierce was he in this self-mortification that he often made himself quite sick, and would likely have died sooner than he did had his fellow monks not frequently ordered him to eat more, take it easy on himself, permit himself richer foods, etc., and orders Francis eagerly obeyed (thank you Angel of Obedience).

Francis himself did preach, to anybody and anything who would listen (people, birds, wolves, insects), but he led mainly by example.  He himself was not particularly literate and did not know Latin pretty much at all, nor sophisticated theology, and the only book he left was a little collection of sweet prayer poem-songs.

Now, when a new, weird, popular and powerful movement enters a religion and starts getting a lot of momentum, attention, press and money, and is led by someone who isn’t quite preaching the usual, the religious leaders inevitably become nervous.  In the Catholic tradition, a moment of examination arrives, when the new movement hovers on the edge between being welcomed as a breath of fresh reform, and being expunged as a heresy.  It could easily have gone either way with Francis, whose changes to the usual way Chrisitanity had been practiced, particularly in urban settings, was so extreme.  But, especially since Francis was so keen on obedience, he was eager to be part of the Church rather than against it, and was happy to formally acknowledge the authority of the pope.

On the left, the pope dreams that Francis will hold up the crumbling Church; on the right, Francis presents the rule for his monks to the pope for approval.

When one sees paintings of scenes from the life of Francis, one of the most common and, on the surface, least interesting is a scene showing him kneeling before the pope, being received in Rome.  This may seem boring, the sort of moment which should go without saying, but the scene, and repeated images of the scene, were a critical reminder to all that, powerful as the Franciscan movement was, the Franciscans served Rome, Francis served the pope, and the old structure still stood.

The rivalry with the Dominicans came about mainly after Francis’ death.  It was partly a power and money thing.  Even though both orders were founded on the notions of poverty and modesty, there is a life cycle of monastic movements, which generally runs:

 

  1. Charismatic leader wants to live more modesty, without corruption, imitating Christ, so breaks off from the corrupted institutions of the Church.
  2. Many others find spiritual richness in this, and follow him/her.
  3. Movement takes off, gets official recognition from the Church, becomes established.
  4. People who like the movement donate wealth and land to it, both out of respect for the order, and in hopes that the monks/nuns will pray for them (and thus get them out of purgatory).
  5. Movement becomes wealthy and powerful, and noble families start sending their younger sons into it in order to gain wealth and power.
  6. Corruption leads a charismatic leader to want to break off and live more modestly, imitating Christ.
  7. A new order is formed… (Lather, rinse, repeat.)

This eventually happened even to the Franciscans, spawning the more extreme Capuchin sub-group, and it was mainly in the money and power seekers that the orders rivalry grew.  But there was also an intellectual contrast, as I mentioned.  The well-educated scholar-priest Dominic believed that the best way to reach God was through knowledge, since God is Truth.  Studying the nature of God, the soul, Christ, heaven, even the Earth would help the soul understand the divine and, through understanding, reach toward union with it (those of you who smell Plato’s residue in this are spot on).  The less educated and more passionate Francis focused in stead on reaching God through fierce desire, since God is Love, and that a heart that deeply and sincerely loved God would be drawn toward His heavenly light (those of you who also smell Plato here are also right).  Both movements, and both techniques, were much loved, but Francis’ focus on simplicity, and the idea that one could reach God through passion by itself, without the rigor and expense of education, made the Franciscan movement able to appeal much more broadly to the poor populace, in contrast with the inherent elitism of Dominican literate culture.  To Dominic went the universities, to Francis went the crowds.

Still, it was an amicable rivalry, since both groups had the same goals.  Perhaps my favorite token of this is in Dante’s Paradiso, where the great and ultra-educated Dominican theologian Thomas Aquinas, before administering the theology exam which Dante must pass to get to the upper levels of Heaven, recites a long, praise-filled biography of Francis, founder of his order’s rival, but still loved by all in Heaven.

Francis was the first saint to have stigmata, the wounds of Christ on his hands and feet, and the spear wound in his side.  An eyewitness account states that he was in the mountains one day when an angel (or possibly a flying crucifix) zapped him with rays of light, and gave him the wounds.  We have accounts of the examination of his body upon his death (often depicted in art, since many were curious to examine the famous wounds up close); medical scientists reading the descriptions of the wounds as having been strange and hard and bumpy believe them to have been some kind of cancer.  In art, Francis is usually holding his hands and feet out so you can easily see the nail marks on them, and often his robe has a slit so you can see the spear wound.  Sometimes rays of golden light are radiating from the wounds.  The stigmata and his Franciscan habit are usually more than enough to make him recognizable.  While he is often depicted in more recent art with a lamb or bird or animals, since the story of him preaching to animals is popular, in Renaissance art he didn’t need that; stigmata was enough.

Francis’ story also has enough interesting episodes that he has many distinctive common activities you can keep an eye out for:

  • As a young man, being wrapped in the bishop’s cloak as he stands naked before his father
  • Receiving the stigmata
  • Marrying the Angel of Poverty
  • Hugging Saint Dominic
  • Appearing in a dream, where the pope sees Francis holding up a crumbling church (prophesying how important Francis would be)
  • Kneeling before and being received by the pope
  • Dead, his corpse being inspected by curious mourners, one of whom is reaching into the wound on his side
  • “Walking through fire before the sultan.”  I put this in quotes because the standard image shows him standing before the Sultan, with a big bonfire, and Francis in front of it, while some Arab-looking people shudder and gawk.  The story is that Francis went to the holy land to try to convert the Sultan (or get martyred; it’s win-win!).  He preached earnestly in front of the Sultan, who said he was a sweet kid, and gave him some presents and told him to go home.  Francis then insisted he was going to walk through fire to prove his faith, and asked if the Sultan’s Muslim spiritual leaders would do the same.  Nobody but Francis thought this was a good idea, and, in the official story, the Sultan told Francis that he had convinced him, and that the Sultan had secretly personally converted, but that he couldn’t reveal that publicly without causing a civil war, so he told Francis to please go home and stay safe before someone murdered him.  Francis then went home, so the scene is actually a depiction of Francis not walking through fire in front of the sultan.

Saint Antony of Padua (San Antonio) 1195-1231

  • Common attributes: Franciscan habit, tonsure
  • Occasional attributes: Book, flaming heart, carrying Christ child, lily, occasionally bread or fish
  • Patron saint of: Lost objects (and those seeking them), travelers (and their hosts), the elderly, lots of other rather random typical stuff like barrenness, harvests, oppressed people etc.
  • Patron of places: Portugal, Brazil, Native Americans
  • Feast day: June 13th
  • Most often depicted: Standing around with other Franciscan saints, preaching, holding the Christ Child and looking friendly
  • Relics: Padua, Basilica di San Antonio

Antony, or Anthony, was originally named Fernando, and came from Lisbon, Portugal, from a noble family, but insisted on becoming a friar.  An Augustinian friar, at first, an old and lucrative order, which Thomas Aquinas’ parents would’ve approved of.  When he was still young, early on in the history of the order (11 years after Francis founded it) five Franciscans came through Lisbon on their way to Morocco, and stayed in the guest house young Antony ran.  He was impressed by them, and even more impressed when they got martyred (a great political coup for the Franciscans, and good proof of why the Dominicans made such a fuss over Peter “I have a big knife sticking out of my head” Martyr).  Seeing the five martyrs’ bodies as they were being brought home, young Antony was struck by their devotion and got special permission to quit being an Augustinian in order to become a Franciscan.

Since there weren’t Franciscans outside Tuscany yet really, Antony went to Tuscany and lived as a semi-hermit with the order, doing nothing in particular, until one day a bunch of Dominicans came over to, you know, do monk things together, and there was a bit of a fuss over whose job it was to preach to the assembly, each order expecting the other to step forward.  After some kerfluffle, somehow Antony wound up on the podium, and everyone discovered suddenly that he was an extremely well educated child of the nobility and preached with extreme clarity and erudition.  A stellar career of preaching, fame and distinguished service followed.  He did not succeed in his childhood dream of martyrdom, but did become one of the best loved and most famous of his order and a major international hero of the church.

In art, Antony is very tricky.  His attriutes have varied a lot over time, tending gradually toward the more adorable.  Early on he usually has a lily and a book, just like Dominic except with a brown/gray Franciscan habit.  Later he often has a flaming heart, representing his passion for preaching.  Sometimes he has flame and separately a heart, just kind-of sitting there, on a tray or something.  He also, in early art, often had a book with an image of the Christ Child on it, then later a book with the Christ Child kind-of coming out of it as if it were coming to life, and, eventually, he just holds the Christ Child (do not confuse him with the equally adorable St. Christopher who does the same, and who is, with Antony, co-patron saint of travelers).

These days Antony almost always has the adorable Christ Child with him and the whole thing is terribly cute.  Often in early art, though, the best way to spot him is process of elimination: there are two Franciscans here and only one can be Francis, therefore the one without stigmata is probably Antony.  Antony is also the only major Franciscan to carry a book, since Francis was not particularly literate, and left only a few vernacular songs.

As patron saint of lost objects and those seeking them, Saint Antony is a very popular and frequently-invoked patron in practical and everyday life.

One of my favorite proofs of how incomparably valuable relics were in the Renaissance is the official Life of St. Antony of Padua.  The little book is divided into three sections of roughly equal length.  The first describes his life.  The third describes his posthumous miracles.  The middle one describes the virtual civil war which broke out in Padua after his death, when it was obvious he would be made a saint, so the different groups who had a potential claim to his body (the monastery he lived at, the one he was visiting when he died, local lords, local communal government) divided into fiercely-opposed camps even before he died, and in the end martial law had to be declared and the force of the Holy Roman Emperor called in to settle the dispute.

Saint Bernardino of Siena, 1380-1444

  • Common attributes: Franciscan habit, plaque or other item with the Coat of Arms of Christ! (Christogram), narrow chin and dour expression
  • Occasional attributes: Three mitres (representing 3x he refused to be made a bishop; note, despite looking I have NEVER actually found him with this attribute).
  • Patron saint of: Advertising, advertisers, public relations work & PR employees, chest conditions (coughs, asthma etc.), gambling addicts
  • Patron of places: Aquila (Italy), San Bernardino CA
  • Feast day: May 20th
  • Most often depicted: Standing around with other Franciscans, glaring at you looking angry, brandishing the Coat of Arms of Christ! (Christogram) and making you feel guilty you don’t have one.  Yes, you!  I’m talking to you!!
  • Relics: Aquila, Italy; his personal tablet with the Coat of Arms of Christ! is at Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome.

Bernardino was an orphan from a noble family, and became an extremely popular preacher.  He resolved feuds, reconciled enemies, fired hearts, drew crowds, held vast bonfires of the vanities, and, when he was eventually called to Rome by the inquisition, who needed to make sure everything he did was orthodox, he impressed the pope so much that the pope had him preach in Rome and held a big procession.  He turned down offers of being made bishop of Siena, Ferrara and Urbino in turn, to focus on his preaching rather than career things.  He also ministered to the sick, and contracted the Black Death himself, from which he recovered.

Bernardino’s big thing was the Christogram, aka. the Coat of Arms of Christ! A Christogram is when you use an abbreviation of some part of one of Jesus’ names, i.e. X for Christ, or IHS for the Greek form of Jesus.  Bernardino used a certain common version of the IHS monogram, surrounded by a distinctive circle with radiating sun rays, which had been a favorite of, among other figures, St. Bernard of Clairvaux.  Bernardino would end every sermon by dramatically unveiling a tablet with the Coat of Arms of Christ on it, gilded, to the great excitement of the crowd.  Bernardino encouraged people to put it everywhere, and even suggested that in a perfectly pious world all coats of arms would be replaced with the Coat of Arms of Christ!  Thanks to him you see the Coat of Arms of Christ! on Churches and even simple houses all over Tuscany and central Italy, and in a rather Kilroy-esque sense, it always translates in my mind to “Saint Bernardino of Siena was here.”

The Coat of Arms of Christ! It’s so exciting!

In art, Bernardino wears a Franciscan robe, and usually carries the Coat of Arms of Christ!   He also generally looks like he’d be no fun at a party.

Bernardino is one of the few saints who lived late enough that Renaissance art was developed enough that there were good, lifelike portraits of him made while he was still alive.  As a result, actual images of his real face were available when the first icons were made, so he doesn’t have a generic face in art but a distinctive one, based on what he seems to have really looked like.  He looks… like he’d be no fun at a party.  That’s my best description: a narrow, dry, bony face with a very pointed chin and sunken cheeks, who just looks like he’s about to go on and on about, well, in his case probably the the Coat of Arms of Christ!

The unique face does make him extra fun to spot, though, since it feels more like recognizing a real person than a symbol of a person, and sometimes it’s enough by itself to spot a dour, prune-faced Franciscan to know it’s him, even if some artist didn’t include his Coat of Arms of Christ!

Here, by the way, here is the actual Saint Bernardino of Sienna, visible in his tomb in Aquila, Italy, which proves that his particular Franciscan habit was more on the brown side than gray:

The variable attributes on Antony make Franciscans a little hard to tell apart, but usually a simple mental order of operations flow chart will do the trick:

  • (1) Does he have stigmata?  If yes, it’s Francis.  If not…
  • (2) Does he have the Coat of Arms of Christ!?  If yes, it’s Bernardino.  If not…
  • (3) Does he have a lily, a book, a heart, fire, or a baby?  If yes, it may well be Antony.
  • (4) Does he lack all of the above, and look like a narrow-chinned un-fun guy?  If so, back to Bernardino as our prime suspect.
  • (5) If none of the above, you may be dealing with a different Franciscan.

And now, Spot the Saint Quiz Time:

Skip to the next Spot the Saint entry.

 

Spot the Saint: Dominicani

 Posted by on November 16, 2011  Spot the Saint  3 Responses »
Nov 162011
 

St. Francis and St. Dominic meet, and bond about how much they love being monks.

Since a friend I recently visited wanted something more challenging in our saint spotting, I’m starting in on some of my favorites, the monk saints, very easy to separate from non-monastic saints, but sometimes a real challenge to separate from each other.

I’m going to start with the Dominicans, who, as the most scholarly order (unless we want to argue about Jesuits) are near and dear to my heart.  There are also Dominican nuns, but the monks are enough to start.

First-off, there are a lot of orders of monks.   There aren’t as many orders of monks as there are of nuns; in fact, in chat around the Vatican, “How many orders of nuns are there?” is often held up as an example of an unanswerable question, since new unknown orders, often from the far east, are even today constantly showing up on pilgrimages with unfamiliar habits, novel origin stories and astounding enthusiasm.  But there are still a lot of orders of monks.  I spent a month once studying the differences between different mendicant orders beginning with the letter C, and after a month I was still shaky.  There are, though, a few orders who, especially in art, far dominate the monastic landscape: Benedictines, Augustinians, Carmelites, Franciscans, Dominicans, and, later, Jesuits.  (Carthusians not so much, since living in isolated hermetic cells, they don’t generally go out in public enough do things like work flashy miracles, become pope, or pose for altarpieces).

The Dominican and Franciscan orders  were both founded at the beginning of the 1200s (in our mental chronology of Florence , Guelphs are fighting Ghibellines, universities have only existed for about a century, Dante and Giotto won’t be born for another half century, and the majority of historians will still say this is medieval, not yet Renaissance).  Both orders, Franciscan and Dominican, began as movements away from the opulence, corruption and politicization of the church, toward a greater focus on austerity, poverty, and reaching out to the people.

These were, at their inception, orders one joined when one wanted to become a monk in order to actually have a religious life, as opposed to older, more established orders which were a standard worldly career choice for a younger son.  This didn’t stop both orders from becoming lucrative career options as they gained power and prestige over the next centuries, but one can’t help but respect the desire of Francis, Dominic and their early supporters to create an order for monks who wanted to be monks.

As for spotting Dominicans in art, there is no way around the simple characterization: Dominicans are the monks that look like penguins.  They wear white robes with black cloaks and chaplets over them, producing a white underbelly with black around the top and sides.  Dominican nuns look the same, only with headdresses.  Confusingly, sometimes Dominicans (especially in summer) don’t wear the black overcape, so you do occasionally see them (in art and in real life) wearing all white, and thus practically indistinguishable from when Benedictines also sometimes wear all white, but happily, since the artists want us to be able to tell which saint is which, you can generally rely on them to paint the major Dominicans in their full penguinesque glory.

Saint Dominic (San Domenico) 1170-1221

  • Common attributes: Dominican habit, lily, star above head
  • Occasional attributes: book, dog, rosary
  • Patron saint of: The Dominican order, astronomy/ers
  • Patron of places: Dominican Republic, to some extent Bologna, Calaruega (Spain)
  • Feast days: August 8th (or 4th)
  • Most often depicted: Preaching, receiving the rosary from Mary, standing around with other saints
  • Relics: Bologna, Basilica di San Domenico

Dominic of Osma, as he’s sometimes called, must be differentiated from the earlier  Benedictine bishop St. Dominic of Silos, but in general if someone says “Saint Dominic” they mean the Dominican.  Founder of the Dominican order, Dominic was born in Calaruega Spain, but traveled extensively, and spent a lot of time in Italy, eventually dying in the university town of Bologna.  He is often depicted with a star above his head, usually inside his halo, because before his birth his mother is supposed to have seen a miraculous star which foretold the coming baby’s coming greatness.  This, and not any actual personal astronomical activity, is why he is the patron of Astronomers, but his general scholarly bent, and the even stronger thirst for knowledge which would characterize his order, make it a good fit.  He was a bright young man, and attended university, but during a famine he sold all his possessions including his (expensive!) books in order to help the starving.

Arriving in Rome, he criticized the pomp and sparkly decor, and created his new order to reach people through direct preaching and good personal example, demanding inward and outward simplicity and austerity in order to provide the public a model of pure and pious living.  The lily branch he carries represents his lifelong virginity, and is not specific to him, since technically any virgin saint can hold a lily branch, but usually it’s reserved for figures for whom virginity was an extra-big deal, like maidens who were martyred for refusing pagan husbands, or Gabriel, who makes the annunciation to the Virgin.  If you see a Dominican with a lily, it’s Dominic.

He also focused on intellectual rigor and the fierce pursuit of truth, since he believed truth of all kinds would lead one to better understand and therefore approach God, so he encouraged his followers to enthusiastic academic study.  The dog which sometimes accompanies Dominic is a a pun, and a venerable one.  The Dominicans are named after Dominic, but in Latin the plural “Dominicani” separates into Domini (of God) and cani (dogs), i.e. hounds of God, who sniff out truth.  This was why he held major meetings in Bologna, home of the oldest university (founded ~1088).  This thirst to sniff-out truth is also why the Dominicans, once they grew in power and numbers, were trusted by the papacy to be in charge of the Inquisition.

 

Dominic often holds a book in art, both because of his general scholastic interest and because he left some writings; generally any saint who wrote a book is entitled to hold one if the artist so chooses. The Dominicans are largely responsible for the spread of the rosary as a Catholic devotional tool.  The Virgin Mary visited Dominic in 1214 and personally gave him the first rosary (archaeological evidence to the contrary not withstanding).  You can still see the divine rosary in the Rosary Chapel in San Domenico in Bologna, just opposite the chapel where Dominic himself is buried in a stunningly-sculped tomb which everysculptor who was anysculptor at the time worked on (yes, even Michelangelo), and in the back of which you can see his skull (removed and set in an elaborate gold and crystal reliquary), and, posted on the wall behind, an X-ray of the tomb, so you can see the black & white outline of his skeleton within.

Dominic remains the most respected and important Dominican, so if you see a painting with just one Dominincan in it, and he doesn’t have anything distinctive enough to tell you who it is, it’s probably Dominic.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274

  • Common attributes: Dominican habit, chubby, sun or star shaped burst of divine radiance in the middle of his chest (representing his brilliant scholarship), book (often glowing with divine radiance)
  • Occasional attributes: Accompanied by angels carrying his books, and often whacking heathens over the head with said books.  Don’t mess with Thomas Aquinas.
  • Patron saint of: Universities, scholarship, students, scholasticism, exams
  • Patron of places: Toulouse, Aquino, all universities
  • Feast days: Jan 28th
  • Most often depicted: Triumphing over Averroes and other “heathen” scholars, standing around with other saints
  • Relics: Toulouse, all over the place

Son of the Count of Aquino and related to Holy Roman Emperors, young Tomas was earmarked in his youth to become a Benedictine monk, and likely take over for his uncle who was abbot of the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, preserving a valuable political and economic seat for the family. Unfortunately, young Thomas was too pious and excited by theology to want to do anything so worldly as become a Benedictine abbot (Church reform; we needz it!) and determined instead to join this upstart, totally unimportant new order of Dominicans, who were all preaching to people and studying stuff, and had no money, and no cardinals and no lucrative landholdings, and only one saint, and even he (Dominic) had only been a saint for, like, a decade.  Parents did not approve.

Ruins of the tower where Thomas was imprisoned, infested with Latin students.

Thomas’s official hagiography describes many attempts by his parents to break his spirit and get him to become a Benedictine, including locking him in a remote tower and saying they wouldn’t let him out until he agreed.  But even that didn’t do it, so his mother and/or brothers took the extreme step of sending a prostitute into the tower with him, because obviously if he broke down and slept with a prostitute that meant he would become a Benedictine?…  Medieval parent logic is not the best…  Nonetheless, Thomas was miraculously liberated from the tower by a well-timed lightning bolt, which broke open the tower wall and let him escape, and as implausible as it sounds, I’ve been to that hilltop and seen that tower and the scorch-marks and lightning damage are clearly visible, so it’s an undeniable fact that God/Zeus/Thor/Entropy was quite determined that Thomas Aquinas must become a Dominican.

A tower on the hill next to the one where Thomas was held, not damaged by lightning.

His family gave up at that point, and sent him to Naples, then Rome, to meet what Dominicans there were, since the order was very popular and charismatic and much-discussed (Monks who act like monks?!), and he was sent thence to Paris, to the Great University, where it was quickly discovered that he was very, very, very, very smart.  The floodgates opened and the crowning masterpieces of scholasticism poured forth for the rest of his career.

In one sentence: Thomas Aquinas’ importance in the history of philosophy lay in his taking the works of Aristotle, which were at the time the only  comprehensive set of textbooks on philosophical and scientific topics, and whose Organon(logical works) outlined clear, teachable methods for the organization of thought and logical proof, and reconciling them with Christian theology, thereby both making Aristotle’s textbooks usable in Chrisitan classrooms, and simultaneously providing scientific and technical answers to an enormous array of theological questions which had been hitherto unclear.

View from Thomas’ Aquinas’ tower.

An example of the sort of question he took on was the question of Heaven and Judgment Day, i.e. if people who are dead now are in Heaven why do they need to be resurrected later on Judgment Day, or if they aren’t in Heaven now where are they?  His special focus was the detailed mechanics of the soul, and its interface with body, emotion, thought, memory, sensation, pain, Heaven, Hell, knowledge and God. I cannot overstate the degree to which Aquinas’ application of Aristotle to these questions is dense, and meticulous, and dense, and erudite, and dense, and enlightening, and dense, and geometrically strict, and dense, and rigorous, and, did I mention, dense enough that I can assign two pages, count them, two pages of the Summa Theologica to my students and they come back the next day red-eyed and desperate.

Thomas Aquinas presents his opera omnia to the Virgin Mary in Heaven. Below, Aristotle kicks himself: “Dangit! I knew I should’ve brought her more than the one scroll!”

Even more desperate, however, was 13th century Europe’s thirst for a functional, systematic theology which could answer the accumulation of detailed questions that Christianity had picked up over the centuries, and Aquinas accomplished this so spectacularly that, despite the odd condemnation of specific comments here and there, he became the core of education, and through him the Dominicans skyrocketed in influence and fame.  At the debate over his canonization, posthumous miracles were declared unnecessary since every article in his Summa was a miracle, and soon, just as one could call Aristotle simply “The Philosopher,” and Averroes “The Commentator,” Aquinas was, “The Theologian”.  So synonymous was Aquinas with theology that in Dante’s Paradiso, it is Thomas Aquinas who comes and administers the oral masters’ exam in theology which one must pass in order to enter the higher levels of Heaven (Study up, folks!), and in 1568 when the decision was made to supplement the original Four Doctors of the Church (Augustine, Ambrose, Gregory and Jerome) with four more great theologians who made Christianity what it became, Aquinas was the youngest nominee by almost a millennium and the only one post-Charlemagne (his peers were Gregory Nazianus, Basil, & John Chrysostom).  It was Aquinas who cemented the Dominicans’ position as the order of scholars, theologians, truth-seekers, and the appropriate group to lead the Inquisition.

In art, Thomas Aquinas’ overwhelming brilliance is depicted as an overwhelming brilliance, radiating in a sun-like burst of gold from the middle of his chest (which is apparently where divine brilliance lives.)  He is also usually chubby, one of these rare moments of physical honesty, indicating a saint who lived late enough that when he’s painted there’s somebody around who knew somebody who knew him and could tell the artist that Thomas Aquinas was, in point of fact, incredibly, credibly fat.  So fat was he that the story I heard (and I heard it from a member of the Papal Curia so am inclined to accept it) is that when he died, upstairs in a little monastery at Fossanova outside Rome, they couldn’t get his body down the stairs.  They had to break the window open and lower it with a pully, and then they didn’t have the means to carry it to town, so they employed mos teutonicus, a technique popularized during the second crusade, in which natural decomposition made it impractical to transport the bodies of crusader martyrs back from the holy land, so they would boil the corpse (with great ceremony) in a vat of vinegar to remove the flesh and separate the clean bones for transport.  Only Thomas died at a little tiny monastery which didn’t have a good supply of vinegar, so they boiled him in red wine,  so his bones are, to this day, rather purple, making fake relics easy to spot.

Other than standing symmetrically next to St. Dominic, Thomas Aquinas’ favorite activity in art is to sit on a throne surrounded by divine glory while he, or angels at his behest, clonk unbelievers over the head with his collected works.

Here angels best Aquinas’ intellectual opponents while he visits the Virgin Mary in the panel above.

There’s a lovely fresco of this in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome, and a charming one in the Louvre (to the right) about 2 rooms away from the Mona Lisa.  Averroes, the great Islamic commentator on Aristotle, is his most commonly-depicted enemy in these panels, since, while Averroes’ commentaries were indispensable reading for all students of Aristotle across Europe, certain details of his interpretations, and European interpretations of his interpretations, led Averroism to be so disproportionately demonized as a pernicious and contagious plague on scholars and universities, that in a lecture on Pomponazzi, I once heard a great professor attribute the general pessimism of Pomponazzi’s philosophy to, “Well, but he was down there in Minas Morgul in Padua which was full of Averroism.”  Clearly, it is the most natural of human desires to want see Sam squash Shelob with the Summa Contra Gentiles.

Before moving on, let me share a few more photos from the lovely, and peculiarly Gothic, Cistercian (more Cs!) monastery at Fossanova where Thomas Aquinas died, or, to be more accurate, where the substantial form of his existence terminated material contact in order for its Intellect to participate directly in the Divine essence, which will serve as an immaterial but completely perfected substitute for the material Passive Intellect until Judgment Day:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But, wait, there’s more!

After all, when you have Dominic in the middle of a painting, you need TWO other major Dominicans to stand on either side and be symmetrical:

Saint Peter Martyr (Pietro Martire) aka. Peter of Verona, 1206-1252

  • Common attributes: Dominican habit, big knife sticking out of his head, lots of blood streaming down his head
  • Occasional attributes: Knives sticking out of his shoulders or back, martyr’s palm, book, more blood!
  • Patron saint of: Inquisitors, midwives
  • Patron of places: Puerto Rico, Verona, Milan
  • Feast days: April 6th
  • Most often depicted: Standing around with other saints, especially Dominicans, being murdered
  • Relics: Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio, Milan

“Peter Martyr is a martyr!  Did we mention he’s a martyr!  Because he’s totally a martyr!  Look, he has blood and knives coming out of him and everything!  Because we Dominicans totally have a martyr, and that totally makes us as good as all the older monastic orders!  So people like Thomas Aquinas’ parents can totally stop picking on us now!  Also, we totally got a martyr before the Franciscans did!  Because Francis totally failed to get martyred that one time he went to the Holy Land and met with the Sultan and was gonna throw himself in fire to prove his faith, and the Sultan was like, ‘No, no, you’re a sweet boy, I believe you, now go home’.  Because we’re totally better than the Franciscans if we got a martyr first!”

I wish this were more of an exaggeration than it was, but there was a lot of politics and competition in the first decades of these new orders, and one really did have to get a martyr to be taken seriously.  There was a genuine race.  The friendly rivalry between the Franciscans and Dominicans did have a legitimate doctrinal crux, the Dominicans believing that the best road to heaven is through truth, knowledge and study, i.e. the mental organ of the intellect, and the Franciscans believing the best road to heaven was through love, emotion and passionate faith, i.e. the mental organ of the will.  But they were also two new growing powers in the Church, exercising influence, and through which the ambitious could aim to exercise influence, and there was a power race as they established themselves.  They needed Saint Cred, as one might call it.

Peter Martyr was knifed (or axed) in the head by a Milanese Cathar, a blow which cut off the top of his skull, and after writing “Credo in unum deum” in his own blood, was stabbed some more, then taken home by friends, where it took him five days to die.  The fact that he still gets to have blood dripping down the sides of his head to remind us of this is not unreasonable.  What may be unreasonable are some questions about the motives for the murder.  Peter had been appointed Inquisitor General for northern Italy, where his main job was to weed out the Cathar heresy, yet another version of the old Manichean heresy (belief, not in one all-powerful God but in the semi-independence of an Evil Force opposing God’s Good Force) which plagued great men from Augustine to Voltaire.  The heresy was rampant in northern Italy, especially around Milan and ever-impregnable and equally-incomprehensible Venice, and there is some debate over whether the assassins went after Peter over theology and his assaults on Cathars, or whether it was because he’d been violently badmouthing Milan and Venice in his sermons, damaging the cities with his political influence, and generally making worldly enemies.

Either way, the Dominicans knew how to lobby, and after dying April 6th 1252, Peter Martyr was declared a martyr and canonized March 9th 1253, a record-breaking seven-month turnaround, still the fastest canonization on record, which proves both that the current administration actually are taking a sensible amount of time with John Paul II, and that the Dominicans were really, really ready to to publicize their martyr.

Peter Martyr was also the one who expelled the possessed/demonic horse that molested a crowd he was preaching, one of few accredited miracles (apart from St. Zenobius’ posthumus resurrection of an elm tree) to have actually taken place in good old Florence.

And now, Spot the Saint quiz time.

You know everyone here except the figure in armor all the way on the left, and there you can probably guess.

Skip to the next Spot the Saint entry.