Sunday, May 31, 2020

A Dove Descending

Master of Sir George Talbot, Holy Spirit
From a Book of Hours
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1495-1500
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 390, fol. 167v

Veni, Sancte Spiritus,
et emitte caelitus
lucis tuae radium.

Veni, pater pauperum,
veni, dator munerum,
veni, lumen cordium.

Consolator optime,
dulcis hospes animae,
dulce refrigerium.

In labore requies,
in aestu temperies,
in fletu solatium.

O lux beatissima,
reple cordis intima
tuorum fidelium.

Sine tuo numine,
nihil est in homine,
nihil est innoxium.

Lava quod est sordidum,
riga quod est aridum,
sana quod est saucium.

Flecte quod est rigidum,
fove quod est frigidum,
rege quod est devium.

Da tuis fidelibus,
in te confidentibus,
sacrum septenarium.

Da virtutis meritum,
da salutis exitum,
da perenne gaudium.”
Latin text of the Sequence for the Feast of Pentecost *

The great feast of Pentecost draws our attention every year to the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost in older terminology).  We celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other disciples, including the Virgin Mary, which marks the true birthday of the Church.  
Pentecost
From the Rabbula Gospels
Late Antique (Syrian), c. 585
Florence, Laurentian Library
MS cod. Plut. I, 56, fol. 14r

This is the day, following ten days after the Ascension of Jesus, when the mysterious event which turned a group of people who had been frightened almost out of their wits just six weeks earlier into joyful, outgoing, courageous proclaimers of unexpected “Good News”. 

Jean Restout, Pentecost
French, 1732
Paris, Musée du Louvre

The Acts of the Apostles describes this mysterious event in terms of a “strong, driving wind” and “tongues as of fire” (Acts 2:2-3).1  The wind indeed relates to the word for spirit in most of the languages derived from Latin.  It survives for the English-speaking world in words such as "inspire" and "respire". So, in effect, the Holy Spirit is at base a Holy Wind which inspires action.  But it was clearly something spiritual, not just a mini hurricane.  Whatever did happen,  it was clearly something unusual.  Whatever it was, the same disciples (and those who came after them) began to call it the Holy Spirit and to include it in the formula which they very soon established to describe their new experiences of God.  From this group of devout Jews came the startling announcement that God, while still the one God proclaimed by the Jews, was somehow made up of three distinct Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And, what’s more, they proclaimed that the Threeness did not do any damage to the Oneness.  All Three are God and yet God is One.   It’s been puzzling both believers and non-believers ever since.  Presumably when we die we may begin to understand, but perhaps this mystery will still elude us even then.
Diagram which attempts to explain the relationships within the Holy Trinity

In any case, those who live in the temporal world have been trying to get their heads around this for a very long time and not succeeding too well.  So, just what are we talking about when we talk about the Holy Spirit?

First of all, the Holy Spirit is biblical.  There are many texts in the Old Testament which describe the spirit of God, which is somehow distinct from but related to the power of God.  Indeed, the very first verses of the Old Testament, the Book of Genesis, read:  In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram.  Terra autem erat inanis et vacua, et tenebrae super faciem abyssi, et spiritus Dei ferebatur super aquas (my emphasis).”2   The New Testament also makes several specific references to the Holy Spirit before we even get to Pentecost.  For instance, the Angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she has been chosen to bring the Messiah into the world.  She very sensibly asks how this can happen, since she is a virgin.  The answer is “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35).  Similarly, Joseph is told in a dream not to fear to make her his wife because “it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” (Matthew 1:20).  And, when Jesus is baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist we learn that “After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17) Also, in John’s recordings of Jesus’ talk at the Last Supper, there is frequent mention of another Advocate, the Spirit of Truth “which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17) and again “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” (John 14:26).  Or again, “When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me.” (John 15:26).  In one of his final appearances after the Resurrection, Jesus breathed on them and said “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:22-23) ".  Further, the Evangelist Matthew ends his Gospel with the words of the so-called Great Commission All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Consequently, when the mysterious event of Pentecost occurred, they knew that what had happened must have been the coming of the Advocate whom Jesus had told them to expect.  And, shortly thereafter, they began to use the formula which we still use today when baptizing, when beginning prayer with the sign of the cross, when thinking about God, “the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”.  By the middle years of the first century, within living memory of Jesus, the writer of 1 Peter, whether Peter himself, a secretary, or another person close to him, was able to begin his letter to the churches of the Eastern Mediterranean with the words “in the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification by the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ: may grace and peace be yours in abundance.” (1 Peter 2). 

But how to think of this mysterious Person.  And, even more so, how to depict “Him” when creating Christian art?  There have been many answers, but one in particular has proved to be the most prolific over the longest time and this is the one I will examine today.

The Dove

Probably the image that most easily comes to mind when attempting to depict the Holy Spirit is the dove.  And, it’s a good one.  For one thing it has solid Biblical grounding.  All four of the Evangelists mention that, at the baptism of Jesus the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32).  And, consequently, the dove is the most commonly used representation for the Holy Spirit. 

Giovanni di Benedetto and Workshop, The Holy Spirit
From a Missal
Italian (Milan), c. 1385-1390
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 757, fol. 241v
Willem Vralant, The Holy Spirit
Historiated Initial from Hours of Catherine of Aragon
Flemish, c. 1460
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 F 7, fol. 51v
The Holy Spirit
From the Hours of Francois II
French, 1555
Paris,Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 104, fol. 120v
Anselm Kiefer, Send Forth Your Spirit, Inspire the artist
German, 1974
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Anselm Kiefer


Other possible images, such as a third, identical human figure as part of the Trinity or alone are very infrequent.

The Holy Trinity
From Bible historiale by Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), c. 1350-1375
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 161, fol. 1

Master of James IV of Scotland and Collaborators, The Holy Trinity
From the Spinola Hours
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1510-1520
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS Ludwig IX 18, Leaf
Follower of Jean Pichore, The Holy Spirit
From a Book of Hours
French (Paris), c. 1510-1520
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS 286, fol. 92r

Eucharistic Doves

One of the early (and to modern eyes surprising) uses of the dove form were metal doves, made of precious metals, such as gold and silver, or highly decorated base metals.  They were suspended above the altars of churches from about the end of the fourth century until well into the Middle Ages.  They initially served the symbolic role of representing the Holy Spirit, whom the Eucharistic prayers invoke to bless the sacrificial offerings (the bread and wine to be consecrated), and, later in time, as receptacles, known as peristeria, for reservation of the consecrated Host, intensifying their own identity in the process.3   
Silver Dove from the Attarouthi Treasure
Byzantine, c. 500-650
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Eucharistic Dove
French (Limoges),, Enameled and Gilded Copper, c. 1215-1235
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Eucharistic Dove
French (Limoges), Enameled and Gilded Copper, First Half of the 13th Century
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Departement des Arts Decoratifs


The Baptism of Christ

The dove was, of course, most frequently seen in images of the Baptism of Christ.  Following the Evangelists, the dove is most frequently seen hovering over the head of Jesus, or between Jesus and John, in scenes of the Baptism.

Giusto de' Menabuoi, Baptism of Christ
Italian, c. 1378
Padua, Baptistry
Guido Reni. Baptism of Christ
Italian, c. 1623
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
However, the dove appears in many other contexts as well.  As the references in the sequence cited at the beginning of this article suggest the Spirit acts in many ways through the life of the Church and of the individual Christian.  So we have images that depict these many ways.

Source of Inspiration

The dove has often been shown hovering over the heads of preachers or whispering in the ear of theologians. 

Saint Gregory the Great Inspired by the Holy Spirit
Ivory Book Cover Plaque
German, c. 850-1000
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
Saint Augustine Writing Under the Inspiration of the Holy Spirit
From Enarrationes in Psalmos by Saint Augustine of Hippo
French (South West), 11th-12th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 1987, fol. 43
Saint Matthew
From a Bible
Byzantine, 13th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Supplement grec 104, fol. 10v

 
Mahiet, Saint John the Evangelist
From Bible historiale complétée by Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), c. 1325-1350
London, British Library
MS Royal 18 D VIII, fol. 162v
Jean Bandol and Workshop,  Saint James the Great Preaching
From Grande Bible Historiale Complétée by Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), c. 1371-1372
The Hague, Meermano Museum
MS RMMW 10 B 23, f569r
Peter and John in Samaria
From a Book of Hours
Flemish (Tournai), c. 1465-1475
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 316, fol. 18v


Master of Charles V, Saint Peter Preaching_
From Charles V Hours
Flemish (Brussels), 1533
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 491, fol. 131r

Comforter

Occasionally the dove will appear near a saint who is undergoing torture or martyrdom.
 
Mahiet and Workshop, Martyrdom of Saint Eulalia_
From Speculum historiale by Vincent of Beauvais
French (Paris), c. 1335
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 5080, fol. 262v

Indwelling in the Church

The dove is seen to hover above members of the Church as they participate in liturgies or meet in prayer outside of a formal liturgy.

Saint Peter Baptising
From a Book of Hours
French (Therouanne), c. 1295-1305
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 60, fol. 50v
Celebration of Mass
From a Treatise on the Mass
English, c. 1300-1325
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 13342, fol. 48
Master of Morgan 453, Holy Spirit Descending on Converts
From a Book of Hours
French, c. 1415-1425
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 1000, fol. 156r
Attributed to the Dunois Master, Baptism
From a Book of Hours
French (Paris), c. 1440-1450
London, British Library
MS Egerton 2019, fol. 135
ean le Tavernier and Workshop, Celebration of Mass
Flemish (Oudenaarde), c.1450-1460
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 F 2, fol. 76r
The Faithful Praying to the Holy Spirit
From a Book of Hours
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1465-1475
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 285, fol. 150r
The Holy Spirit Acts Through the Church
From a Book of Hours
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1465-1475
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 285, fol. 149r

Master of Charles V,  An Apostle Bringing Down the Holy Spirit on Converts
From Hours of Charles V
Flemish (Brussels), 1533
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 491, fol. 132r

The dove almost always appears in medieval depictions of an important event in the history of the Church in France, the baptism of Clovis, the first of the Frankish kings to convert to Christianity.  Legend insists that at his baptism, a dove actually flew down with an ampule of holy oil in its beak, an oil which was used to anoint Clovis as a Christian king and which was carefully guarded by the kings of France and never depleted.  It was used for the coronation of every king of France down to the very last.  The oil did exist, but how it was originally delivered and maintained one can only guess.
Master of the Roman de Fauvel, Baptism of Clovis
From Vie de Saint Denis
French (Paris), c. 1300-1350
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 13502, fol. 53
Baptism of Clovis
From Grandes chronicques de France
French (Paris), c. 1375-1380
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 2813, fol. 12v

Adoration

The dove symbol of the Holy Spirit may appear in images which stress the adoration due to the Third Person of the Holy Trinity independently of the two other Persons.  This is unusual, but not unheard of.
Hans Bol, Adoration of the Holy Spirit
From a Prayerbook
Flemish (Antwerp), 1582
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10564, fol. 4v
Giovanni Battista Merano, Holy Spirit Surrounded by a Wreath of Flowers Held Up by Infant Angels
Italian, c. 1660-1698
New  York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Jacinto Gomez Pastor, Holy Spirit Adored by Angels
Spanish, c.1797
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Spirit of the Divine

Finally, one of the most powerful images of the Holy Spirit as dove that was ever imagined by a human is the dramatic image in different colored panes of alabaster that was incorporated by Gianlorenzo Bernini into the Cathedra Petri (the Chair of Peter) which is the final statement of Saint Peter’s Basilica.  
Gianlorenzo Bernini, The Holy Spirit, center of the Cathedra Petri
Italian, 1656-1666
Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica
Photo: Saint Peter's Basilica

This glowing image, set into the end wall of the basilica nave amid an adoring throng of gilded bronze and stucco angels, seems to blast right through the stone walls of the building with the force of divine life, just as it blew over the waters of the abyss or through the house in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost day.
Gianlorenzo Bernini, Cathedra Petri
Itialian, 1656-1666
Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica

Photo:  Jari Kurittu


© M. Duffy, 2020

The traditional Gregorian chant setting for the Sequence, Veni Sancte Spiritus, can be heard here.  My apologies for any advertising content that may appear beforehand.  Please click Skip to get past it, if it appears.

* English Translation by Edward Caswell

Holy Spirit, Lord of light,
From Thy clear celestial height
Thy pure beaming radiance give.

Come, Thou Father of the poor,
Come with treasures which endure,
Come, Thou Light of all that live.

Thou, of all consolers best,
Thou, the soul’s delightsome Guest,
Dost refreshing peace bestow.

Thou in toil art comfort sweet,
Pleasant coolness in the heat,
Solace in the midst of woe.

Light immortal, Light divine,
Visit Thou these hearts of Thine,
And our inmost being fill.

If Thou take Thy grace away,
Nothing pure in man will stay;
All his good is turned to ill.

Heal our wounds; our strength renew;
On our dryness pour Thy dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away.

Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.

Thou, on those who evermore
Thee confess and Thee adore,
In Thy sevenfold gifts descend.

Give them comfort when they die,
Give them life with Thee on high;
Give them joys that never end.



1.  See also Acts, Chapter 1 which is full of references to the Holy Spirit.
2. Latin Vulgate Genesis 1:1-2.  I made the translation myself, with a little help from Google Translate for the words “inanis et vacua” and “ferebatur”, to avoid any wrangling over which official English translation to use.  It reads “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.   And the earth was a formless void, and darkness was over the face of the deep, and the spirit of God moved over the waters. "
3.  For the history of Eucharistic reservation and of doves in particular see:  King, Archdale A.  Eucharistic Reservation in the Western Church, New York, Sheed and Ward, 1965, pp. 42-45.  See also: Gauthier, Marie-Madeleine, Bernadette Barriere, Dom Jean Becquet, Elisabeth Taburet-Delahaye, Barbara Drake Boehm, Michel Pastoureau, Beatrice de Chancel-Bardelot, Isabelle Biron, Pete Dandridge and Mark T. Wypyski, Enamels of Limoges, 1100–1350; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996, pp. 318-320.



Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Quotations in Latin are taken from the Latin Vulgate of Saint Jerome, which is available online at: a) https://www.newadvent.org/bible (also includes the Greek), b) http://www.latinvulgate.com and c) http://www.vatican.va/archive/bible/nova_vulgata/documents/nova-vulgata_index_lt.html

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Saint Bernardino of Siena, Advocate for the Holy Name


Giovanni di Ser Giovanni, San Bernardino Preaching
Italian, Mid-15th Century
Birminghan (AL), Birmingham Museum of Art
Saint Bernardino of Siena is a saint who is little recognized in the United States today, except perhaps by the residents of San Bernardino, California, which is named after him.  However, for many centuries, and especially in Italy, he was one of the most widely known of the medieval saints.  He also has the distinction of being one of the first saints whose real face has come down to us.  We actually know what he looked like in life.  He is also responsible for promoting one of the best known and most ubiquitous symbols of Catholic Christian culture.

Early Life

Bernardino Albizzeschi was born in the south Tuscan town of Massa Marittima, not far from Siena, in 1380.1 By the age of six both of his parents had died and he was brought up by an aunt.  As a child he would have followed the usual medieval studies, the trivium and quadrivium, what we would think of as a basic and advanced elementary education.  While still a young teenager he joined the Confraternity of Our Lady at a hospital attached to one of the churches in the town.  There he helped take care of the sick while also studying law, both civil and canon.  His family may have expected him to become a lawyer or civic officer, following in the footsteps of his father, who had been the town governor.  But God had other plans for him.

In 1400, when Bernardino was 20 years old, the plague, which had wrought such terrible devastation in Europe in the middle years of the fourteenth century, returned to Tuscany.  When it got to Massa Marittima the entire weight of caring for its victims fell on the shoulders of Bernardino and ten companions whom he organized.  The four months spent battling the plague, which no doubt he also caught, left him with ill health for the rest of his life.  However, this didn’t stop him.

Bernardino Capitelli, San Bernardino Enters the Franciscan Order
From The Life of Saint Bernardino of Siena
Italian, c. 1610-1639
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

He joined the Observant branch of the Franciscan order in 1403 and was ordained a priest in 1404.  His prior education probably gave him a boost in preparation.  He was charged with a special preaching ministry the following year and began his career as an important preacher throughout Italy.  This was his principal career for the rest of his life, in spite of a break from 1438-1442 during which he served as Vicar General of the Observant Franciscans.

Stirring Preacher

In addition to being a Scholastic philosopher, Bernardino was, by all accounts, a very effective colloquial preacher, characterized as being able to express complex contemporary thought into simple, colloquial language that could be understood by everyone.  
Saint Bernardino of Siena Preaching
Italian, Before 1444
Oxford, Bodleian Library
MS Canon. Misc. 312, fol.  44r
However, his preaching was not without controversy, both in his own time and in ours.  For one thing, he didn’t preach just on the readings of the day, as is so common now, but about the hard things, the sins that people commit against God, each other and themselves, which are not always mentioned in Scripture.  This is never easy stuff, then or now.  It is unsettling.  It makes some people feel ashamed, it makes others penitent, it makes some angry.  Among Bernardino’s topics were: usury (the charging of interest on borrowed money), the ethics of business, whether the acquisition of wealth could be a good thing (he proposed that it could be useful for society as a whole), homosexuality, condemnation of the abuse of women, emotionally and physically.  As good preaching should be, it was as contrary to expectations then as it would be now.  But my concerns here are not with any of these topics. 

Attributed to Sassetta, Saint Bernardino Preaching
Predella of a full length portrait of Saint Bernardino
Italian, c. 1444
Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale
In this picture, probably painted by someone who knew him, the dove of the Holy Spirit is shown whispering in the saint's ear as he speaks.

What I am interested in is something else entirely.  It is the way in which Bernardino and his preaching have impacted the history of art, especially of the art of his home town and of Italy during the Quattrocento as a whole.  As has been said “More than any other figure Bernardino
fostered the perpetuation of earlier imagery, but he himself became the new subject. It is as if his physical appearance encouraged realism in Sienese art”.2 

At that time in Italy preaching had the kind of appeal that today we associate with spectator sports like baseball or football.  Preachers often drew huge crowds to hear them.  The crowds were often too large for any church to hold, so wooden pulpits were often set up in town squares to accommodate the crowds.  We have evidence of this from paintings and from the wonderful sketch book of Jacopo Bellini of Venice now at the British Museum.

Jacopo Bellini, Saint Bernardino of Siena Preaching
From the Sketch-Book of Jacopo Bellini
Italian, c. 1440-1470
London, British Museum
Saint Bernardino preached in Venice in 1443, the year before his death. so Bellini probably saw him.

We have several images of such events early in the iconography of Saint Bernardino, painted or sketched by artists who could actually have been present for the events depicted.  In these pictures Bernardino is often depicted holding one or other symbol as a kind of prop, often while gesturing with his free hand.  One of the symbols is the crucifix, the other is the symbol for the Holy Name of Jesus, which he himself designed. Bernardino himself seems to have been very interested in art, commissioning several paintings and statues for his convent and for churches in the city and referring to examples in his sermons.3
Sano di Pietro_Saint Bernardino Preaching
at  the Church of San Francesco in Siena
Italian, 1445
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo
In this picture the pulpit is set up on the extreme right
of the picture.
Sano di Pietro, Saint Bernardino Preaching
at the Campo of Siena
Italian, 1445
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo
In this picture the pulpit is set up in front of the 
Siena Palazzo Publico, which is decorated with
the kinds of emblems Bernardino was trying to
replace with his emblem of the Holy Name





























Studio of Lorenzo Vecchietta, Saint Bernardino Preaching
Italian, c. 1450-1480
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery
The pulpit in this picture is directly above the head of the young man in the light blue cloak standing slightly to the left of center.  Trumpeters are announcing the beginning of the sermon just above the head of the man in the pink cloak a few steps to the right.  

Sano di Pietro, Saint Bernardino Preaching
Italian, c. 1460-1480
Private Collection
This picture shows a more intimate setting.  It may even be an indoor one (note the tapestry on the walls) or perhaps in the courtyard of a private home.  The audience would seem to be just one family and their servants.  

Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Saint Bernardino Preaching
Italian, c. 1470-1475
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Robert Lehman Collection
I love this little picture.  Not only does it convey some
of the saint's energy, but it also captures the raw wood
of the temporary pulpit.
St. Bernardino Preaching
Polish, 1503
Jawor (Poland), Church of the Blessed Virgin
This wall painting shows that the story of the energy
and power of Saint Bernardino's preaching had
traveled all the way to Poland in just over 50 years.

























The Holy Name of Jesus

The Holy Name of Jesus is one of the principal things about which Bernardino preached.  This must have been his most burning topic, for it is the one by which his name (and even his face) have been transmitted to the present and the one that got him into the most trouble in his own lifetime.  It may have developed as he dealt with a practical problem.  As readers of the works of Dante will remember, this is the time in which the patchwork of small states that comprised the Italian peninsula following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, were bitterly divided into two powerful warring factions, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines.  Dante was a White Guelph, a further subdivision of the Guelph party, which caused him to be exiled from Florence by fellow Guelphs of the opposing part of the party when it took control of the city.  In general, the Guelphs supported the Pope on the Italian peninsula, while the Ghibellines supported the position and influence of the Holy Roman Emperor.

All of the towns of Italy belonged to one or the other faction, which frequently led to warfare between them.  Individual families and city governments often placed emblems of the faction to which they belonged on the walls of the town buildings, even of the churches.  One of Bernardino’s main roles as a preacher was to encourage peace among people and among the city-states.  In the course of his efforts he came up with a symbol which he proposed to everyone as a replacement for these politicized emblems.  He designed a new symbol, incorporating a much older, Christian one, which could override the political and lead to peace.
Dish with the Monogram of Christ
Italian (Faenza), c.1500
London, Victoria and Albert Museum
The symbol he designed was based on three letters representing the first three letters of the name of Jesus “YHS or IHS”, known as the Monogram of Jesus.  At its most basic, the symbol proposed by Bernardino is the three letters, in gold, painted on a wooden panel with a deep blue background and surrounded by a golden sunburst of twelve large rays and many smaller ones.  The Monogram of Jesus had been in use for many centuries by the time San Bernardino began to propose surrounding it with a sunburst.  However, although the basic use of the letters of the name of Jesus was centuries old, this innovation in its display, and his preaching of it, brought him under suspicion in some ecclesiastical quarters.  He was summoned to Rome in 1426 to stand trial for heresy.  Not only was he able to refute the charges, but he expressed himself so well that the Pope invited him to preach to the papal household (a position made permanent a bit over 100 years later and currently held by another Franciscan, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, of the Capuchin branch of the order). 
Andrea del Castagno, Saint Bernardino of Siena
Italian, c.1450
Vetralla, Church of San Francesco

Later Life

After preaching to the papal household, Bernardino returned to his preaching in the towns of the Italian city-states, with a new authority.  This helped him to accomplish some of his intentions of bringing peace to the warring factions while spreading devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus.  During these years he was offered the office of bishop in three different cities, Siena, Ferrara and Urbino, all of which he refused in order to continue his itinerant preaching.   Consequently, his iconography may include three bishop’s miters.

Saint Bernardino of Siena
Italian, Second Half of 15th Century
Cremona, Museo Civico Ala Ponzone
Dario da Pordenone, San Bernardino of Siena
Italian, c. 1460-1470
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Taddeo Crivelli, Saint Bernardino of Siena
From the Gualenghi-d'Este Hours
Italian (Ferrara), c.1469-1473
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS Ludwig IX 13, fol. 195v

However, he did accept the call to serve as Vicar General of the Observant Friars Minor in 1438, which limited his preaching.  He resigned as Vicar General in 1442 in order to continue preaching the name of Jesus and was on a preaching tour of southern Italy when he died on May 20, 1444. 

Pinturicchio, Death of Saint Bernardino
Italian, c. 1484-1486
Rome, Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Capella Bufalini

The First Portraits

Due to his renown and obviously holy life a movement for his canonization was undertaken within a few months of his death.  He was indeed canonized within six years, on May 24, 1450.  The movement for his canonization and its successful completion resulted in the creation of an iconography that is unique for his time, for the pictures presented to us are actual portraits.

Up to this time images of the saints or of those proposed for sainthood were largely idealized.  They were recognizably human faces, but without individuality.  This began to change with the images of Saint Bernardino.  At his death a wax cast of his face was made.  Thanks to this death mask, artists were able to produce images that actually are identifiable as real portraits.  Saint Bernardino is, therefore, the very first saint whose distinctive, individual face can be recognized with reasonable accuracy.  And, it is impressive how carefully artists followed the death mask.  We can easily recognize the small oval face, with the distinctive sunken cheeks, toothless mouth and pointy chin in every painting in which he is represented. 
Death Mask of Saint Bernardino of Siena
Italian, 1444
L'Aquila, Convent of San Bernardino

His image was widely spread during the six years between his death and his canonization by numerous works derived from the death mask model.  Further, many of the first artists to produce works with his image had actually known and even worked with and for him. So, for them, he was a living memory.  Some of the early images depict only his head and shoulders, others (following a picture commissioned almost immediately by Giovanni da Capestrano, another Observant Franciscan and later a saint himself) included his entire body.  
Sano di Pietro_Saint Bernardino of Siena
Italian, 1445-1460
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lehman Collection

Sano Di Pietro, Saint Bernardino
Italian, c. 1444-1450
Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale
Giovanni di Paolo
Italian, c.1450
Trequanda, Confratery of the Holy Trinity and St. Bernardino






































Anonymous, Saint Bernardino
Italian, c. 1450
Casarano, Church of Our Lady of Sorrows

Especially influential in dispersing the actual portrait was a medallion designed by the artist Antonio Marescotti, based on the earliest images and, possibly, on a plaster cast taken from the death mask.  This little work in metal was able to travel wide and far. 4
Antonio Marescotti, Saint Bernardino of Siena
Italian, c. 1444-1450
Washington, National Gallery of Art
The text surrounding the portrait is taken from Acts 1:1 "Coepit facere et posta docere" (from the words of the Acts writer regarding all that Jesus  began to do and teach)

Antonio Marescotti, Reverse of the Medaillion of Saint Bernardino
Italian, c. 1444-1450
Washington, National Gallery of Art
The reverse of the medal features the symbol for the Holy Name which Bernardino proposed.  It is surrounded by a quotation from the Gospel of John (John 17:6), "Manifestavi Nomen Tuum Hominibus" (I have manifested your name to men) and the name of the maker "Antonio Marescotto da Ferrara".

Diffusion of His Image

Following his canonization, the Franciscan order encouraged the distribution of the image of their newest saint through commissions for their churches throughout Italy and beyond.
Jacopo Bellini, Saint Bernardino of Siena
Italian, c. 1450-1455
Private Collection
Style of Veccietta, Bust of St. Bernardino
Italian,  Mid-15th Century
London, Victoria and Albert Museum

Vincenzo Foppa, Saint Bernardino of Siena
Italian, c. 1450
Pisa, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio

Giorgio Schiavone, Saint Bernardino of Siena
From the Sant' Niccolo Altarpiece, Padua
Italian, c. 1456-1461
London, National Gallery
Lorenzo d'Alessandro, St. Bernardino of Siena
Italian, c. 1475-1500
Avignon, Musée du Petit Palais

Andrea Mantegna, The Monogram of Christ with Saints Anthony of Padua and Bernardino of Siena
Italian, 1452
Padua, Museo Antoniano
The  text that encircles the Monogram comes from Philippians 2:10 "In nomine Iesu omne genuflectatur caelestium et terrestrium et infernorum" (At the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven, on earth and under the earth).

During the remainder of the fifteenth century Saint Bernardino’s fame and face spread far and wide throughout Europe.  And in the majority of these pictures he is shown holding or pointing to the image of the holy name of Jesus, the symbol of the devotion which he worked so hard to spread.

Promoting Devotion to the Holy Name

Attributed to Domenico di Francesco d'Antonio, Saints Francis, Bernardino and Anthony of Padua
Italian, c. 1451-1470
Cortona, Museo Diocesano
Antonio Vivarini, Saints Jerome, Bernardino and Louis of Toulouse
Italian, c. 1451-1456
Venice, San Francesco della Vigna
Benvenuto di Giovanni, Saint Bernardino of Siena
Italian, c. 1474
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection
Vincenzo Foppa, Saint Bernardino of Siena
Italian, c.1495-1500
Washington, National Gallery of Art

Preaching and Miracles

Other images focus on the reasons for the regard in which he was held, primarily on his preaching and on his posthumous miracles. 

Neroccio de' Landi, Saint Bernardine Preaching in the Campo
Italian, c. 1470
Siena, Museo Civico, Palazzo Publico
Domenico Beccafumi, Saint Bernardino Preaching
Italian, c. 1537
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Sano di Pietro, San Bernardino Reviving a Drowned Infant
Italian, c. 1450-1470
Private Collection
Sano di Pietro, San Bernardino Restoring the Child Carino, Drowned in a Millpond, to Life
Italian, c. 1450-1470
Private Collection
Sano di Pietro_Donna Pema Cured on Approaching Saint Bernardino's Body
Italian, c. 1450-1470
Private Collection
Saint Bernardino, Rescuing a Boy Drowned in a River
From a Book of Hours
Italian (Naples), c. 1460
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS Ludwig IX 12, fol. 334v
Pietro Perugino, The Healing of a Mute by Saint Bernardino
Italian, 1473
Perugia, Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria
Pietro Perugino, The Healing of a Young Girl by Saint Bernardino
Italian, 1473
Perugia, Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria
Matteo di Giovanni, Saint Bernardino Restoring Life to Carino Aquila Drowned in a Millpond
Italian, Early 1480s
Private Collection

As a Patron

Still others emphasized his power as an intercessor and patron.  

Giovanni Antonio de'Ferrari, Saint Bernardino Presenting a Donor to the Virgin and Child
Italian, Second Half of 15th Century
Cremona, Museo Civico Ala Ponzone
Gerard David, Canon Bernardino Salviati with Saints Martin, Bernardino and Donatiian
Flemish, c. 1501-1506
London, National Gallery

With Other Saints in the Sacra Conversazione

He is frequently, indeed very frequently, one of the saints that appear in the so-called Sacra Conversazione type of picture.  In these saints accompany images of the Madonna and Child or of biblical images. 
Sano di Pietro, Madonna and Child with Saints Bernardino, Jerome and Two Angels
Italian, c. 1450-1481
Detroit, Institute of Arts
Sano di Pietro, Madonna and Child with Staints Jerome and Bernerdino of Siena
Italian, c. 1450
Altenburg, Lindenau-Museum

Sano di Pietro, Madonna and Child with Saints Jerome and Bernardino, with Angels
Italian, c. 1450-1480
Siena, Basilica dell' Osservanza
Zanobi di Jaopo di Piero Machiavelli, Madonna and Child Entroned with Saints Sebastian, Andrew, Bernardino, Paul, Lawrence and Augustine
Italian, c. 1460s
Boston, Museum 
Piero della Francesca, Pala Montefeltro, Madonna and Child with Saints and Angels
Made for the Church of San Bernardino in Urbino
Italian, 1472-1474
Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera
Saint Bernardino stands at the left between Saints John the Baptist and Jerome.
Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Nativity with Saints Bernardino and Thomas Aquinas
Italian, c. 1475
Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale

Alvise Vivarini, Madonna and Child with Saints Anne and Joachim and Saints Louis of Toulouse, Anthony of Padua, Francis of Assisi and Bernardino of Siena
Italian, c. 1480
Venice, Gallerie dell'Accademia
Benozzo Gozzoli, Saints Nicholas of Tolentino, Roch, Sebastian and Bernardino of Siena with Kneeling Donors
Italian, 1481
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Cima da Conegliano, Lamentation with Saints Francis of Assisi and Bernardino of Siena
Italian, c. 1495-1505
Ferrara, Pinacoteca Nazionale-Gallerie Estensi
Pietro Perugino, Madonna and Child with Saints Francis of Assisi and Bernardino of Siena
Italian, 1496
Perugia, Museo Nazionale dell'Umbria
Marco Meloni, M&C with Saints John the Baptist, Bernardino of Siena, Francis of Assisi and Jerome
Italian, 1504
Modena, Galleria Estense di Modena
Workshop of Luca Signorelli, Masonna and Child with Saints Michael,Anthony of Padua, Bernardino of Siena, and Nicolas of Myra
Italian, c. 1510-1515
Cortona, Museo Diocesano

Outside of Italy

His popularity was not restricted to Italy either.  He frequently appears in works by artists from Northern Europe and Spain. 
Saint Bernardino of Siena
German, c.1465
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Master of the Legend of Saint Ursula, Saints Bernardino of Siena and Anthony Abbot
Flemish, c. 1483
Indianapolis, Museum of Art
Attributed to the Ghent Gradual Master, Saints Francis, Clare and Bernardino
From a Prayer Book
Flemish, c. 1460
London, British Library
MS Stowe 23, fol. 62
Master of the Glorification of Mary, Saints Clare, Bernardino, Bonaventure and Francis
German, c. 1480
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corbaud
Saint Bernardino of Siena
From a Prayer Book
French (Paris), 1485-1495
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS H3, fol. 173v
Master of St. Severin, Saints Louis of Toulouse and Bernardino of Siena
German, c.1500
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum

Continuing Popularity, Growing Idealization

His popularity continued for well over two centuries.  However, as time passed, the connection of the work of art and the portrait of the saint, so strong at the beginning, began to diminish.  Artists felt free to give Saint Bernardino an idealized face that was not his own.
Girolamo dell Pecchia, Saint Bernardino with Two Angels
Italian, c. 1510
Munich, Bayerisches Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek
Attrib Bonifazio de'Pitati, Sacra Conversazione with Saints Jerome, Justina, Ursula and Bernardino of Siena
Italian, c. 1520-1530
Bangor (Wales), Penrhyn Castle, National Trust
Lorenzo Lotto, Sacra Conversazione with Saints Joseph, Bernardino of Siena, John the Baptist ans Anthony Abbot
Italian, 1521
Bergamo, Church of Saint Bernardino in Pignolo
Moretto da Brescia, Madonna and Child with Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Catherine of Siena with Saints Jerome, Joseph, Bernardino of Siena, Nicholas of Bari and Francis of Assisi
Italian, c.1540-1545
London, National Gallery
Anonymous Lombard Painter, Saint Bernardino of Siena with an Angel
Italian, First half of 17th Century
Sassuolo, Palazzo Ducale di Sassuolo
Fulvio Signorini, Saint Bernardino of Siena
Italian, c. 1600
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ventura di Arcangelo Salimbeni, Holy Trinity with Saints Peter and Bernardino of Siena
Italian, c. 1600
Ajaccio, Palais Fesch, Musée des Beaux-Arts

El Greco, Saint Bernardino of Siena
Greco-Spanish, 1603
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Carlo Bononi, Dead Christ Adored by Angels and Saints Sebastian and Bernardino of Siena
Italian, Before 1618
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Only the Franciscan habit, the three miters and the edge of the Monogram peeking out from between two of them identify this figure as Saint Bernardino.  Facial resemblance has been reimagined.
Francesco Maffei, Madonna and Child with Saints Charles Borromeo, Bernardino of Sienaand Anthony of Padua
Italian, c, 1640
Sarzana, Oratorio del Carmine
Here only the Monogram held near his head by a cherub identifies Saint Bernardino.
Alonso Cano, Saint John of Capistrano and Saint Bernardino of Siena
Spanish, c. 1653-1657
Grenada, Museo de Bellas Artes de Granada

Antonio Raggi, San Bernardino of Siena
Italian, 1660s
Siena, Cathedral, Capella Chigi

By the end of the eighteenth century his popularity began to wane and by our time he has become rather obscure.

Donato Creti, Glorification of Saint Bernardino of Siena
Italian, c.1700-1710
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Giuseppe di Garbo, Saints Bonaventure, Bernardino and John of Capestrano
Italian, c. 1768-1800
Castelbuono, Church of San Francesco
Francisco de Goya, Sermon of Saint Bernardino of Siena
Spanish, 1784
Madrid, Basilica of San Francisco el Grande
© M. Duffy, 2020

1.  For the outline of his life see: Robinson, Paschal. "St. Bernardine of Siena." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 20 May 2020 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02505b.htm

2.  Strehlke, Carl Brandon. “Art and Culture in Renaissance Siena” in Christiansen, Keith; Kanter, Laurence B.; Strehlke, Carl Brandon.  Painting in Renaissance Siena: 1420-1500, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988, p. 42.

3. Strehlke, Carl Brandon, op cit., p. 52.

4.  For the beginnings of the iconography of Saint Bernardino, especially regarding the use of the funerary death mask see:
  • Israëls, Machtelt.  “Absence and Resemblance:  Early Images of Bernardino of Siena and the Issue of Portraiture (With a New Proposal for Sassetta)”, I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance, Vol. 11 (2007), pp. 72-114.
  • Cobianchi, Robert.  “Fashioning the Imagery of a Franciscan Observant Preacher:  Early Renaissance Portraiture of Bernardino of Siena in Northern Italy”, I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance, Vol. 12 (2009), pp. 55-83.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Quotations in Latin are taken from the Latin Vulgate of Saint Jerome, which is available online at: a) https://www.newadvent.org/bible and b) http://www.latinvulgate.com