How to Distinguish the Saints in Art by Their Costumes, Symbols, and Attributes

How to Distinguish the Saints in Art by Their Costumes, Symbols, and Attributes

How to Distinguish the Saints in Art by Their Costumes, Symbols, and Attributes

How to Distinguish the Saints in Art by Their Costumes, Symbols, and Attributes

Excerpt

It is becoming more and more clear to those who visit the great Museums of the world, either in this country, where large numbers of the great masterpieces of bygone centuries are now congregating, or the grand old galleries of Europe, that the pleasure to be gained from the religious pictures of the 9th-16th centuries is in a great measure lost, unless one is able to understand their symbolism, and to recognise the personages portrayed, by the attributes and emblems which render them distinguishable. And one should bear in mind that almost seventy per cent. of all pictures painted, at least up to the end of the 15th century, at the zenith of the High Renaissance, treated of religious subjects, and were painted for churches or the private chapels of the powerful rulers of the small states, into which Italy, France, and Flanders were then divided.

Now, just as in Gothic architecture, every portion of a cathedral or church had its symbolic significance, so has every item in the splendid altar-pieces or mural paintings depicting the Divine Trinity, the Virgin Mary alone, or with Her Child, the Holy Family, the Evangelists and Apostles, the Fathers of the Church, the Patron Saints, the Monastic Orders, and so forth.

In all such pictures the placing of the personages was effected according to hierarchical laws laid down by the Church, and in addition to the added enjoyment one can find in the understanding of what has hitherto been largely a sealed book--as far as laymen are concerned--the knowledge of these laws will often help in attributing a picture, and deducing, from the evidence on its face, its history and origin.

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