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

By Timothy Verdon; John Henderson | Go to book overview

saints," and it is inappropriate to regard them as comparable to Bernardino's second type of letters. They are not about the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception -- though Maria Immacolata, to take one example, obviously could not be depicted without reference to liturgy and doctrine. Their form may change in the course of the Renaissance, but their function does not, both because the aspect of religious practice to which such images were related, the cult of saints and of the Virgin, remained essentially unchanged, and because that function was simple enough to accommodate itself to a variety of types of visual expression, as indeed it was to continue to do long after 1500. During the sixteenth century, there was obviously a certain change in the appearance of altar- pieces, as Sacre Conversazioni were increasingly superceded by compositions that look like storie; but the general purpose remained that of "recalling the Virgin and the other saints," and, more specifically, of encouraging the faithful to offer prayers to the divine figures represented in such paintings. These aims could best be achieved by works that would attract the public by their beauty rather than by subtle allusions to theological ideas. Their role is defined with particular clarity in the prayer for the blessing of images contained in the Rituale Romanum compiled in 1614 under Paul V:

Almighty and everlasting God, who does not disapprove that the likenesses of thy saints should be made manifest in painting [or sculpture], so that as often as we behold them with our bodily eyes so often may we resolve in our hearts to imitate their holiness of life, vouchsafe, we beseech thee, to bless and sanctify this image made in honor of thine only-begotten son Jesus Christ Our Lord [or of the Virgin, or of saints]; and grant that whosoever shall venerate and honor thine only-begotten Son [or the Virgin, or saints] in prayer before it, may by his [or her or their] merits and intercession obtain from thee grace in this life and eternal glory in the life to come. 55


NOTES
1.
I am particularly grateful to Elizabeth McGrath for her advice and criticism.
2.
The following observations are essentially amplifications of remarks made by E. H. Gombrich in his Symbolic Images ( London: Phaidon, 1972), esp. 13-17, 26-30; a similar

-564-

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