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  • Prints for Canonization (and 'Verae Effigies') The History and Meanings of Printed Images Depicting Giovanni of Capestrano
  • Luca Pezzuto (bio)

From the second half of the fifteenth century onwards, the use of printed images in the context of devotion and celebration (understood in the broadest sense of the word) enjoyed a prominent role in the visual strategies of the cult of the saints in general, and in those of the Franciscan Observants in particular.1 The case of Giovanni of Capestrano, by way of those repeatedly 'broken paths'2 that characterizes his tortured path to canonization (1690), makes for both a privileged vantage point and an interesting case study, however late chronologically. In fact, while we must wait for the seventeenth century for etchings of the 'Blessed Father' that were intended and destined for serial circulation (one always confined, however, within the walls of convents and monasteries), here we are also concerned with very rare exempla of earlier depictions, images initially connected to the publication of hagiography, collections of sermons, or volumes dedicated to the history of the Order. Attention has mainly been placed on the reference models used in the construction of these figures, and on the design of the features that characterize them. The chronological arc taken into consideration here reaches from the death of the friar to the time of his canonization (1456-1690), the latter an occasion that inspired a series of celebrative prints tied to the production [End Page 209] of ephemeral displays which for reasons of conciseness cannot be treated here;3 with respect to geography, however, we must take into account the whole Cismontane province, with a general division between Italy and the rest of Europe.

This is not the proper place to take up a discussion of the birth of the iconography of Giovanni of Capestrano in the fifteenth century, but we must note that the salient aspects of that iconography are closely tied to the principal events of his erratic life: in the German lands in his capacity as a preacher of penance; in Italy and in the area of what was then Hungary as a promoter of crusade.4 From these characterizations two parallel and independent iconological interpretations initially emerge, of which the second begins to assert itself vigorously over time - that which forever after identified Giovanni as the saint with the banner.5 In that sense, the episode which came to enjoy an independent fortune was precisely that scene which became so famous in the West: the battle of Belgrade in 1456, when according to his biographers Capestrano sought martyrdom on the battlefield by grabbing the crusading standard bearing the monogram of the Name of Jesus on one side and the image of Bernardino of Siena on the other: attributes which from that point forward would constitute the official logo of the Observants, and which from a visual point of view would establish a true and proper 'Brand'.6 [End Page 210]

Images in Print from the Fifteenth Century

Printed images of Giovanni first emerged in the sixteenth century, anticipated in an almost entirely accidental way by the Liber chronicarum of Hartmann Schedel, published in Nuremberg in 1493 (fig. 1).7 Here the timid appearance of the friar as a half-bust figure in the volume's apparatus of images corresponds to his presence in the German city, where he held an intense cycle of preaching from 17 July to 13 August, 1452. It is a generic representation that depicts him already as a saint with a halo, relatively young, almost as an alter Franciscus clothed in a brown habit and holding in his hand that single significant attribute: the crucifix used during his sermons.

More interesting, and not independent from this first example, is the image placed on the frontispiece of the Vita Johannis Capistrani sermones eiusdem (fig. 2), a text compiled at Maihingen by the Bridgettine monk Bernardinus and published in Augsburg by Johann Miller in 1519, around two years after Luther's posting of his 95 Theses.8 Giovanni is shown as an aging figure with a crucifix in his hand and occupied with one of his anti-sumptuary sermons, thus reiterating the customary Bavarian iconographical...


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