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  • Giovanni of Capestrano as novus Bernardinus. An Attempt in Iconography and Relics
  • Pavla Langer (bio)

Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444) and Giovanni of Capestrano (1386-1456), both preachers and among the most relevant figures of the Observance, shaped that branch of the Franciscan Order during the first half of the fifteenth century. After Bernardino's death in 1444 Giovanni zealously promoted his friend's canonization, which occurred in 1450. The Observants' first sanctified friar signaled the official legitimacy of this branch of the Order and Giovanni subsequently tried to establish L'Aquila, Bernardino's place of death, as the center of the Franciscan reform movement.

By exploring the visual impact of Giovanni of Capestrano's mission and preaching north of the Alps (1451 to 1456), this contribution analyzes Central European iconographical manifestations of the Observance's protagonists in the second half of the fifteenth century, considering written sources as well as material culture. Firstly, this article investigates how Capestrano used the monogram of the Name of Jesus, 'IHS' in a golden glory of rays, a formula invented by Bernardino that became vital to his iconography. During his sojourn in Central Europe Giovanni further promoted the cult of Bernardino. Consequently, representations of the Sienese saint, the monogram and Giovanni proliferated in regions where the latter had preached and operated.

The article's second focus aims at shedding light on the relation of material culture and pictorial representation in the Observant milieu. Giovanni's walking stick, his crucifix, and presumably also his pax – all objects that were venerated as contact relics – can be found depicted together with his effigy. This strategy went along with a general tendency of increasing importance of secondary relics during the Quattrocento. Furthermore, these objects were employed in the process of visual amalgamations between the depictions of Observant friars.

Based on, but also looking beyond the recent monograph on Giovanni of Capestrano's iconography and a handful of transcultural analyses of the pictorial representations of Bernardino and Giovanni in Central and [End Page 175] Northern Europe,1 this study intends to be an initial approach to and a basis for discussion of connections between relics and their depiction in Observant circles. It seeks to provide an insight into the iconographic conjunction between different geographical territories and the dynamics of pictorial representations.

Giovanni and Bernardino

While it is not sure whether Bernardino taught Giovanni theology and introduced him to the preaching profession, Giovanni certainly learned from his confrere, who was only six years older and whom he had accompanied for some time during his preaching career. Their rapport must have developed into a relationship among equals, and also an affectionate one, since Bernardino, general vicar and commissioner of the Cismontane Observants from 1438 to 1442, had appointed Giovanni his coadjutor, who collaborated for the so-called Constitutiones Bernardini that supplemented the Order's Rule.2 Apart from the bond of friendship, Observant hagiographers fashioned the two eminent figures of the Order [End Page 176] as allied by using similar metaphors of light and referring to them as 'alter Paul' (Bernardino) and 'alter Petrus' (Giovanni), new Princes of the Observant apostolate.3

Upon Bernardino's death in 1444 at L'Aquila, the second most important town in the Kingdom of Naples and close to Capestrano's native city, the latter tirelessly promoted his Sienese friend's canonization. Giovanni collected material for the process, presumably encouraged a systematic analysis on the causa Bernardini, participated in most of the process sessions (1445-49) and also fostered images of Bernardino to support the sanctification.4 The earliest representations of Bernardino originate in his hometown of Siena, typically showing the full-length figure of the friar with a portrait-like physiognomy characterized by haggard features and a long nose. He usually grips a tablet with the monogram of the Name of Jesus in front of his chest or holds a monogram-disc in the right hand and an open book in the left.

Moreover, Giovanni's Vita S. Bernardini (1449) was destined to be the official biography as well as a quarry for sermons, and he supposedly coordinated the Observant general chapter of 1450 in Rome to coincide [End Page 177] with the canonization...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 175-208
Launched on MUSE
2017-11-17
Open Access
No
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