The Lives of the Saints through 100 Masterpieces
Publication Year: 2011
The Lives of the Saints through 100 Masterpieces has been designed to look beyond the unquestioned artistic merit of these paintings — often quite well known to us as visual images — to deepen our appreciation of the meanings behind such masterpieces. Jacques Duquesne’s descriptions of each piece recount the stories they represent and explain, further, the religious, historical, and cultural background surrounding them.
Published by: Duquesne University Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
The Lives of the Saints draws on the vast artistic corpus that has developed over the centuries out of the relationship between us pilgrims on earth and those considered to be saints in heaven. Each piece of artwork is accompanied by a biographical sketch, often more anecdotal than historical,...
Among the thousands of saints recognized by the Roman Catholic Church or by other Christian confessions, there are only a few dozen who stand out in prominence. Others’ prestige is more limited, confined to a country or geographical region. Some, after having enjoyed immense popularity, fall...
They are everywhere, the saints. Not only in churches, along the road in wayside shrines, on identitification documents, or in civil registers, but also on placards at the entrances of cities and villages — close to 5,000 towns in France are named after saints. We also find them on the labels of cheeses, sweets, and wines....
The Lives of the Saints
Agatha is the prototype of those martyrs whose glorious sufferings — minutely described in The Golden Legend, a collection of the stories of the saints’ lives compiled at the end of the thirteenth century — fascinated the faithful of those...
Hers was one of the earliest cults on record: Agnes suffered martyrdom in the beginning of the fourth century, and the first texts beseeching her intercession appeared only 50 years later. Saint...
Albert the Great
Born in 1207 to a noble German family, Albert entered the Dominican order at age 17. His entire life was spent within the university milieu in Padua, Cologne, and Paris as a student and, very early, as a professor. In 1260 he was named bishop...
Catholicism has eight popes and a few obscure saints named Alexander, but none can rival Alexander Nevsky, founder of Russia, canonized in 1547 by the patriarch of Moscow, and “recanonized” during Stalin’s reign, in the 1938 Eisenstein...
Nothing could be simpler than the life of Saint Alexis, yet nothing more jarring to modern sensibilities. Scion of a rich Christian family of Rome, Alexis waited until the night of his wedding to announce to his spouse that he actually was called to be a hermit. Thus disposing of familial ties, he headed off on...
Alfred the Great
Devotion to Saint Alfred is strongest in England, as Alfred the Great was the sixth Saxon king of the island nation. Born in 849, he ascended to the throne at age 23 and subsequently passed his entire reign struggling against the Danish invader....
In 374, the Christians of Milan were divided between those faithful to the orthodoxy of Rome and the partisans of Arianism, which denied the divinity of Christ. To bring an end to the strife, the emperor sent an envoy to the troubled area...
The elder brother of Peter and a disciple of John the Baptist, Andrew was the first apostle to follow Christ. He accompanied him throughout his public life and was present at the baptism of Jesus, at the multiplication of the loaves and fish...
Anne, the mother of Mary, may not figure in the Gospels, but she is very much present in the Protoevangelium of Saint James, which details the infancy of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Let us recall that, while the apocryphal gospels were...
Anthony оf Padua
His name was not Anthony, but rather, Fernando. He did not come from Padua, but was a native of Lisbon and a descendant of Godfrey of Bouillon. Born in 1195, he at first desired to be part of the drive for peaceful evangelization — missions,...
Antony of Egypt
The life of a hermit does not necessarily imply absolute solitude. An archer once was shocked to find Saint Antony relaxing in the company of other hermits. Antony told him, “Put an arrow to your bow and shoot,” which he did. The saint then...
Apolonia was already advanced in years when, in 249, she was taken captive when a wave of anti-Christian persecution struck Alexandria. Her persecutors began by pulling out her teeth and then breaking her jaws. They threatened to consign her to...
The conversion to Christianity of this 22-year-old Berber in 387 bequeathed to the world one of its greatest literary monuments: the Confessions, a historical and intellectual biography and an irreplaceable mystical and ethnographic document....
Barbara was the daughter of Dioscorus, prince of Nicomedia, a town located by the Sea of Marmara, where Hannibal died. To shield her from the eyes of suitors and the preaching of Christians, her father locked her up in a high tower. She...
Before the Crucifixion, Barnabas was already numbered among the disciples of Christ. He hailed from Cyprus, a Jew of the Diaspora like Saint Paul, which might explain why he lent his support to the convert of Damascus while some apostles...
Bartholomew, called Nathanael by Saint John, was inclined to xenophobia. A native of Canaan, he refused at first to acknowledge Christ, saying derisively, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”...
There are families in which sanctity seems to be hereditary. Such was the case with Basil of Cæsarea, a city of Asia Minor. His grandfather died a martyr, and his mother was considered a saint while yet living. Moreover, his family was of the nobility, so...
The father of Western monasticism, Saint Benedict was persecuted all his life by the devil, who rained torments and temptations upon the author of the Benedictine rule in an attempt to break this formidable adversary....
This photograph of Bernadette Soubirous, taken in 1860 — a few months after the Virgin Mary appeared to her in Lourdes, France, identifying herself as the Immaculate Conception — marks a turning point in the iconography of saints. From...
Of the two great founders of European monasticism, artists were much less inspired by Bernard than by his predecessor, Saint Benedict, whose rule he restored. This he first did at the Abbey of Citeaux, where he entered in 1112 at age 22, and...
Yet another of those saints who are nearly forgotten in our day, Blaise enjoyed immense popularity for more than 1,000 years, a fact testified to by the innumerable churches and chapels named after him, and he remains the patron saint of Croatia and Paraguay....
A letter written immediately after the fact by fugitive members of the Christian community of Lyons informs us precisely of what happened in the year 177, in that former capital of Gaul. Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher...
A disciple of Saint Francis and his successor at the helm of the Franciscan Order, Bonaventure unwittingly illustrates the tension that existed in the thirteenth century between his new order and the Dominicans. He taught theology in Paris concurrently with...
Bridget of Sweden
Bridget is the patroness of Scandinavia, and even beyond, of all of northern Europe. She is also the protectress of pilgrims who today venture upon the same routes she took herself at the beginning of the thirteenth century. This mother of eight...
Bruno is a saint who was never canonized, but whose cult is nonetheless officially authorized. The story of Saint Bruno is thus evidence of the ambiguities in ecclesiastical processes, but also of the profound unity that prevailed in Christian Europe around the first millennium....
Catherine of Alexandria
The Catholic Church not long ago erased Saint Catherine from the liturgical calendar, which has not erased her continuing popularity. It is difficult to ignore the testimony of Saint Joan of Arc, who saw Catherine alongside Saint Margaret...
Musical instruments appear as a constant theme in portrayals of Saint Cecilia: harpsichord, spinet, harp and viola da gamba, contrabass, lute, and all string instruments, but no wind instruments except the organ. This suggests that the saint...
The Song of Roland is not only the epic that marked the beginning of French literature; it is also a religious text that profoundly influenced Christianity and, in the long term, contributed to the mobilization of the crusades. Other such venerable
Nepotism did not always have disastrous results. In 1560, Giovanni de Medici, having become pope under the name Pius IV, appointed his 25-year-old nephew, Charles Borromeo, cardinal of Milan. The young aristocrat took his nomination...
At the very dawn of the Christian era, there lived in Canaan a gigantic man who was named Reprobus. He proudly decided to put his strength at the service of the most powerful king on earth, and set out to find that monarch. Once found, Reprobus...
The canonization of Clare of Assisi took place only two years after her death in 1255, demonstrating her popularity and the high esteem in which the order she founded was held — the Poor Clares, Franciscan contemplative nuns....
Clotilde is one of the three sainted queens of French history, along with her daughter-in-law Radegonde and Joan of Valois, daughter of Louis XI. By convincing her husband, Clovis, to adopt the faith of Rome rather than Arianism, she...
Cosmas and Damian
With these twin brothers of Asia Minor, who lived in the third and fourth centuries, the art of healing moved away from the realm of the miraculous to touch the borders of science, without shedding its extraordinary aspects....
Denis (also Dionysius)
The author of The Golden Legend is more meticulous than generally believed. He cites the testimony of Hincmar, the Bishop of Rheims, and of John Scotus Eriugena, to substantiate the tradition that Denis, the bishop of Lutetia (later known as Paris), was
It seems that to make a mark in church history, reformers must also be powerful miracle workers. This was the case with the founder of the Dominican Order, the friars preachers who fought against the Albigensian heresy — by persuasion...
The name Dorothy can lead to confusion; it was the name of several pagan historians and poets, certain male saints of the East, and two female saints. The most recent Dorothy lived in Danzig in the thirteenth century. Despite her merits,...
Eligius (οr Eloy)
There is a French nursery rhyme about “Good King Dagobert,” but it gives only a faint glimmer of the illustrious career of he who became known as “the great Saint Eligius.” This metalworker from Limoges, born around 590, first became a goldsmith....
The mother of Saint John the Baptist is responsible for one of the most well-known prayers in Christianity. Having miraculously become pregnant by her husband Zachariah despite her advanced age, she received a visit from Mary, who had been...
Elizabeth оf Hungary
It is difficult to imagine a life more disconcerting than that of the Duchess Elizabeth of Thuringia, daughter of the king of Hungary: married at age 14, widowed at 20 (having lost her husband to the Crusades), dead at 24 from excessive privations. She was canonized just four years later....
The moderate celebrity of this bishop of Antioch is due to the circumstances of his martyrdom under the emperor Diocletian. His abdomen was slit open and his intestines were attached to a windlass and slowly wound out of his body. The originality...
The story of this Roman general demonstrates how Christian piety has been able to recycle tales and old legends of pagan antiquity for the greater glory of God. Once when hunting, this righteous soldier came to a halt upon encountering a stag...
Two distinct martyrs are honored under this name, at times being confused with one another. The first, mentioned in the canon of the Mass, from Carthage, was slave to Perpetua, also a Christian. Since Felicity was pregnant at the time of her imprisonment, her executioners waited for her delivery...
In 1640, Nicholas Sauvage created the first company of hired coaches in Paris — the precursors of the taxi. He established his operation at the rue Saint-Martin, in a hotel named after Saint Fiacre. Consequently, the name fiacres was
With thousands of saints to choose from, it is natural that particular devotions arise according to particular locations. Thus, Florian is venerated mostly in Austria and Bavaria...
Francis of Assisi
Beyond any possible doubt, Saint Francis must be the most popular saint and the most portrayed in all of Christian history. He was immensely popular among his contemporaries in the thirteenth century, who felt an immediate...
As an immortal being, an archangel such as Gabriel is not, properly speaking, a saint in the earthly sense of the term. However, once called a saint, he can be invoked as an intercessor, which explains how he was assimilated into the ranks of the canonized in the early years of Christianity....
Before being transformed into a mausoleum for grand personages chosen by criteria as variable as they were enigmatic (the French revolutionaries Mirabeau, Marat, and Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau were removed from its precincts after...
This Christian hero — an officer of the Roman army at the time of Emperor Diocletian in the beginning of the fourth century — proved to be superior to the greatest heroes of ancient mythology. Just like Perseus’s rescue of Andromeda, Saint...
Two distinct saints are invoked under the name of Germain, both bishops and near contemporaries. Germain of Paris was in charge of the diocese of Paris during the reign of Childebert. In this capacity, he founded an abbey just outside...
Before defeating the Sarracens in Poitiers, Charles Martel committed the sin of incest with his sister. Overcome with remorse, he dared not bring such an infamous act to confession. Instead, he went to a famous holy man of Provence and asked him for absolution of a sin that he would not make known. In...
Helena was concubine to the Roman general Flavius Constantinus, but when he became emperor, under the name of Constantius Chlorus, he repudiated her in order to enter into a more advantageous union. However, Helena had given him...
Unlike Saint Eustace, in whose case the stag was merely a means of conversion to Christianity, the same animal played a prominent role in the story of Hubert’s life....
Francis I of France was indirectly responsible for the vocation of Ignatius of Loyola. In 1521, Ignatius, a captain of Basque origin and member of the Spanish minor nobility, had his leg crushed by a cannonball in the French siege of Pamplona. While...
There are several Irenes, all of them equally obscure. Irene of Thessalonica was martyred in 304, with her sisters Agape and Chionia, for having holy books in her possession. Irene of Portugal, who gave her name to the town of Santarém (Santa Irene),...
Two apostles bore the name James, so that at times it is difficult to tell them apart. James the Less, author of the New Testament epistle, was the only companion of Jesus not to leave the Holy Land after Pentecost to evangelize the world. He remained in Jerusalem, becoming its first bishop; but his apostolate...
This doctor of the church owes to the Latin language both his glory and his woes. Because he had the just reputation of being one of the greatest scholars of his days, in 380, after his studies in Rome, he was entrusted by the pope...
Joachim has provided an iconographic theme celebrated in countless masterpieces found in all major museums. In our day, however, its significance escapes most museum-goers, including those who are Christian. Because the story of Anne...
Joan of Arc
It isn’t often that a supposed sorceress is canonized. And this is not the most perplexing aspect of the story of this shepherdess, burned alive at age 19, and exonerated 25 years later in 1456, at the conclusion of a second process....
“He whom Jesus loved” — as he is identified in his Gospel — survived all other apostles, dying of natural causes at the time of Emperor Trajan, and thought by some to have been taken directly to heaven in an assumption comparable to that of the Virgin Mary....
The life of John of the Golden Mouth (Chrysostom in Greek) illustrates both the rupture and the continuity between ancient classical culture and the new Christian civilization that was expanding in the East during the fourth century. Born...
John the Baptist
There is a rich iconography dedicated to John the Baptist. Tracing the course of his life, it begins with the apparition of the archangel Gabriel to Zachariah announcing his future fatherhood. Then, there is the image of the Visitation, when...
While he is the most discreet among the characters of the Gospels, Saint Joseph has had a very prominent place in iconography. Beyond the events surrounding the birth of Christ, the foster...
Justina was the daughter of a pagan priest of Antioch and was thus brought up in paganism. However, from her window she would hear a deacon reading from the Gospels; soon she converted and persuaded her parents to be baptized along with her....
The course of popular piety can sometimes take surprising turns. Because Lawrence suffered martyrdom on a grill, he became the patron saint of barbecuers, cooks, and innkeepers....
Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary whom Jesus raised from the dead, has lent his name to a number of places by association with the other Lazarus of the Gospels — the beggar of the parable, covered with sores, sitting by the door of the mean rich man....
The 21 years of the pontificate of Leo I, called the Great, were particularly charged and eventful. With the Roman Empire in its final agony, he affirmed himself as the defender of Rome against barbarian invaders, most notably when Attila rampaged through Italy in 452....
The piety and zeal of Louis IX of France was a costly thing for the royal budget: £135,000 to purchase Christ’s crown of thorns from the emperor of Byzantium in 1239; £40,000 for the construction of the Sainte-Chapelle to house the crown; £400,000 as ransom when he was taken prisoner during the 1248 crusade....
At times, the desire to give testimony to one’s faith can lead to regrettable excesses. This is demonstrated by the dramatic stories surrounding Lucy, a young woman of the Syracuse nobility who had consecrated herself to Christ and distributed her wealth among the poor. She was denounced by her abandoned...
Unlike Matthew and John, but like Mark, Saint Luke the Evangelist was not an apostle. This doctor from Antioch, converted by Saint Paul, whom he accompanied in several missions, is the most historically oriented of the...
The names Greta and Marina are both derived from “Margaret.” This young woman of Antioch, daughter of a prominent pagan priest, was converted to the Christian faith by her nurse....
He was not one of the original 12 disciples of Christ. Still, some say that Mark was present at the Mount of Olives on the night of the Lord’s arrest, specifically that it was he who ran away naked, escaping from the hands of his pursuers...
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things.” This affectionate reproach, which Jesus directed to the mistress of the house as she fretted about how to better...
There are close to 500 towns and villages in France named after Martin, bishop of Tours — an indication of the great renown of this “apostle of the Gauls,” son of a Roman official of present-day Hungary, and a long-time military officer himself....
There are countless representations of the Virgin Mary, as diverse as the forms of devotion that she has inspired. This profusion follows the Roman Catholic liturgical year, tracing the many feasts that are either dedicated to her or to which she is closely...
Mary Magdalene is the saint of extremes: at one point sumptuously decked in all her jewelry, and then hair draped, face-to-face with a skull; laughing at the feet of Christ, then weeping at the foot of the cross; the flamboyant sinner and the model penitent....
Matthew may likely be a surname, since the other evangelists call him more often by the name of Levi. He was the tax collector of Capernaum who abandoned everything to follow the Messiah. And “everything” must have been a considerable amount, judging...
He is the first black saint in the history of the church and also the patron of the Swiss region of Valais, where he was martyred. These seemingly incongruous facts are explained by the course of events in his life. A military career officer, Maurice...
Mentioned as early as the book of Daniel in the Old Testament, the archangel Michael enjoyed such renown in antiquity that the identity of certain pagan gods can be traced to him. It is true that his role as a warrior protector of the kingdom...
The Christianization of the ancient world was largely effected through the influence of women. Such is the case with Monica, as related by her son Saint Augustine in his autobiography, Confessions. Born into a Christian family of Carthage, Saint Monica...
The process by which Saint Nicholas came to be Santa Claus reflects the course of Christian history, just as strata in the soil show a succession of geological events. From the very beginning, he was considered the protector of children as a result of a miracle: he brought back to life three young children who had been...
In order to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity to the pagans of Ireland, Saint Patrick used the three-leaf clover, or shamrock, which became the national emblem of the island. However, Patrick was from England. At the beginning of the...
“As soon as I can set out for Spain . . . .” It is not known whether this prodigious traveler ever realized this desire, expressed in his Epistle to the Romans. However, the careful details related in the Acts of the Apostles, and Saint Paul’s own writings, sufficiently...
Saint Peter is the apostle who most often appears in the Gospels, which supplies artists with an abundance of episodes to illustrate, from his calling at the margins of Lake Tiberias to his denial in Caiaphas’s palace, where, fulfilling Jesus’ prediction, he said, “I do not know this man,” and the cock then crowed....
Petronilla, also known as Perrine or Perrette, was the daughter of Saint Peter and accompanied her father to Rome. In order to protect his daughter from the dangers of the big city, Saint Peter gave her a fever so that she would keep to her room. However, when...
The New Testament mentions two men by the name of Philip who are often confused for each other. The apostle Philip, one of the first to follow Jesus, was the purveyor at the multiplication of bread, astonished that it had been possible to feed 5,000 men, in...
Saint Quentin was martyred toward the year 300 at the site where the city that bears his name now stands, in the northern French region of Picardy. He is renowned for the horrible tortures he suffered when condemned by the prefect of Amiens, Rictiovar. After...
As the third archangel in Scripture, along with Gabriel and Michael, Raphael is mentioned only in the book of Tobit, the biblical equivalent of an adventure novel. This book appears in the Greek Septuagint, but its Hebrew original is not extant, except...
While baptizing Clovis and about 3,000 of his warriors on Christmas Day in 498, Remigius, or Remi, bishop of Rheims, was no doubt aware that he was gaining a powerful defender for the church, and that as a consequence, the Arian heresy embraced by other...
Representations of Saint Rock can be jarring if his story is not known. Most often as a statue, and at times in paintings, he appears entirely dressed except for his thigh, which is uncovered up to his groin so as to better show his pestilent lymph node!...
Rose of Lima
She was the first saint of the New World. In 1586, less than a century after Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the Americas, Isabel Flores was born in the Spanish colony of Peru. At a very young age she consecrated herself to Christ, and later joined...
The sadomasochistic image of a handsome young man, his body pierced with arrows, has so dominated Saint Sebastian’s iconography since the early Renaissance that one hardly recognizes Saint Sebastian when he appears dressed, armed, and bearded in scenes other than his famous martyrdom....
At one time it was customary to wear over one’s breast, from cradle to grave, a small square piece of fabric decorated with pious embroidery. This was a symbolic representation of the scapular, a garment that monks wear over their shoulders when doing manual labor. The tradition was launched by an...
He was the very first martyr of the nascent church. A Jew of the Diaspora, Stephen was chosen, along with six companions, to assist the apostles with material tasks, which makes him the first deacon. But he did not limit his activities to supplying...
Sylvester was elected pope in 314, and thus had the joy of witnessing the end of the empire’s persecution of Christians, for it was under his reign that emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan proclaiming religious toleration....
Sanctity can be contagious, as evidenced in the 1560s in the small village of Avila, in Old Castile. Some 25 years earlier, Teresa, a daughter of the local nobility, had entered the Carmel of Avila, which followed the mitigated form of the Carmelite rule, comfortably mingling worldliness with the cloistered life. She...
A military saint, Theodore brought the sense of hierarchy to a new level: there is a Theodore who was a simple soldier, saint protector of troops, and there is Theodore, a general, patron of officers. The Orthodox churches celebrate the soldier on February 7, and the general on the following day....
This apostle was not only a skeptic, he was also bold. Thomas voluntarily set off to accompany Christ when he was called to Lazarus’s tomb, though the apostle knew it was dangerous: “Let us go with him, so that we may die with him” was his summons to the others....
The Summa Theologica of Saint Thomas Aquinas is well known, at least by name, as is the extraordinary revolution it triggered in the history of ideas by seeking to reconcile the Reason of antiquity with the Revelation of Scripture. But...
The University of Paris has all but forgotten its patroness Saint Ursula, leaving it to Cologne — where her relics are kept — and the surrounding Rhineland to perpetuate the enthusiastic devotion that she inspired throughout the Middle Ages....
Neither Rome nor the martyrology (an official listing of all the saints of the church) has ever recognized Veronica. Nonetheless, she is present in every church, since she appears in the sixth station of the Way of the Cross, wiping the face of Christ with her veil.
Vincent de Paul
No legendary saint can have had a life as eventful, as adventurous, and as full of the unexpected as did the very real Vincent, born in 1581 of a peasant family in the village of Pouy, in Gascony, France. A few years after being ordained a priest, he was captured by Turks and sold as a slave in Tunis. His master...
Gratitude is not a virtue to be found among the royalty, as is demonstrated by the behavior of Emperor Diocletian in the beginning of the fourth century. To heal his son from epilepsy, he summoned a young Christian whose reputation as a miracle...
This patron saint of judges and lawyers is well known thanks to a legal process: his own canonization. His was one of the first canonization processes to be preserved on record and, as it took place in 1330, less than 30 years after his death, it was possible to include the testimony of over 50 people who had known him personally....
Honored on the same feast day as his wife Elizabeth, Zachariah was a priest of the Temple of Jerusalem. One day, while he was fulfilling his charge to burn incense in the Holy of Holies, the angel Gabriel appeared to him to announce...
Page Count: 234
Illustrations: 100 paintings
Publication Year: 2011
OCLC Number: 830023693
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