Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

The Portrait Miniature of Cardinal Zbigniew Oleœnicki on a Letter of Indulgence Issued in 1449 for the Church of All Saints in Cracow

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

The Portrait Miniature of Cardinal Zbigniew Oleœnicki on a Letter of Indulgence Issued in 1449 for the Church of All Saints in Cracow

Article excerpt

Illuminations in medieval documents have never been a subject of extensive research, because only a small number of them survived, and they are generally of poor artistic quality. For the same reason almost unknown are portrait miniatures in such carrier. The relatively greatest attention of researchers has been focussed on indulgence documents1, which had had a broad sphere of influence, owing to their wide dissemination among large audiences of the faithful.2 In Poland, a particularly interesting example is a document granting indulgences to all who would visit the parish church of All Saints in Cracow on the major feasts of the liturgical year, issued by the Cracow Bishop, Cardinal Zbigniew Oleśnicki (1423-1450) in 1449 [Figs 1, 2].3 A piece of parchment of substantial size (75 × 44 cm) is adorned with a sizeable miniature (27 × 18.5 cm) and reveals traces of multiple folding, as well as of having been displayed by hanging (as is testified by holes in the corners where it was fastened with nails). The miniature is composed of two juxtaposed fields, of which the upper one shows Christ with St Peter on His right, surrounded by the community of saints; the bottom field depicts the Pope seated between St Jerome and Cardinal Oleśnicki. This hierarch had been raised to the purple no fewer than three times. For the first time, Pope Eugene IV granted him this dignity with the accompanying title of St Prisca, on 18 December 1439, but Oleśnicki did not accept it. Then Antipope Felix V, elected by the Council of Basle, elevated Oleśnicki to the cardinalate (with the title of St Anastasia) probably on a secret consistory, on 12 October 1440. The Cracow prelate likely did not accept the cardinal's hat again and did not use the title, abiding by the orders of King Ladislaus the Jagiellon who was reluctant towards the Council. It was only in 1447 that Oleśnicki had relinquished the camp of the Council's supporters, regarded by Rome as schismatics, and endorsed the rightful pope, Nicholas V. Oleśnicki received the cardinal's hat sent from Rome in Cracow Cathedral, on 1 October 1449, thereby becoming the first rightful cardinal in the history of Polish Church.4

The portrait composition on the Cracow miniature is complex and combining a few iconographic solutions popular in the late Middle Ages. Of particular significance seem to be the representation of the pope enthroned, the Traditio legis and Traditio clavium, as well as the juxtaposition of ecclesiastical hierarchy with the heavenly one. Depictions of pope seated on the throne had appeared already in the first millennium, but it was only starting from the twelfth century that their gradual development could be observed. It consisted in the introduction of additional attributes of power, particularly the throne, white and red robes, the pallium decorated with crosses, the keys, the Ring of the Fisherman (since the times of Martin V, decorated with the image of St Peter in a Boat), and finally, the tiara.5 While analysing the miniature under discussion, the symbolic value of the robes and tiara must be emphasised. The symbolic meaning of the white-and-red robes was explained by Guillaume Durand (c. 1286), according to whom: 'the pope always appears enrobed in a red cloak, whereas underneath he is wearing clothes in the colour of white. It is so because the white stands for purity and love, while the red of the external cloak symbolises the co-suffering [...], because the pope represents him who stained his clothes with red for our sake'.6 The tiara, which over several hundred years of its development has undergone only slight transformations, shortly after 1300 acquired an element of crucial importance for its symbolic meaning, namely, three crowns of gold.7 They signify the doctrine of the triregnum, formulated in the times of Boniface VIII (1294-1303), which promulgated the fullness of the threefold authority of the pope: as a priest, emperor and king.8 In Boniface VIII's times all the above attributes of power had been used simultaneously, and the works of art that originated in that period (e. …

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