Christianity and the Renaissance: Image and Religious Imagination in the Quattrocento

By Timothy Verdon; John Henderson | Go to book overview

should remember that the high chapels of the great churches of the mendicant orders were mainly for the use of the friars.

One may wonder why the Franciscans did not more fully develop the image of the Water of Life, which theme, as we have seen, is so closely connected to that of the Tree of Life. If Christ is the fruit of the tree, then surely the water that flows beneath it is his redeeming blood. One remembers that Paul had already identified the water that Moses struck from the rock with the blood that flowed from Christ's side when he died for us. 63 The idea that Christ's blood is the Water of Life does, of course, occur often in medieval art and literature. It may be present in the fresco cycle in Santa Croce. But even there, little is made of it. Why such reticence on the Franciscans' part? Perhaps we are dealing with merely one of the more partisan quirks of Franciscan devotion; St. Francis, after all, did not shed any blood when he was stigmatized. 64 Or perhaps it was feared that water imagery would too easily be mistaken for a reference to Baptism. Finally, some Franciscans were worried lest an excessive stress on Christ's blood lead to the erroneous supposition that it was the blood itself that saved us rather than Christ's willingness to die for our sake. 65 Whatever the reason, it remains a disappointment that the Franciscans did not do more with the Water of Life. Still, that disappointment seems a fair price for the spiritual beauty of what they, and some artists who worked in their convents, did with the Tree of Life and the story of the Holy Cross.


NOTES

For their suggestions and help I am especially indebted to Timothy Verdon and Manuel Vega.

1.
All biblical citations are from the King James Version; the words in italics were supplied by the translators.
2.
Cf. also Rev. 2:7: "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God."
3.
Cf. Ezek 47:12: "And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed; it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they

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