Sunday, December 12, 2010

Saint Catherine of Bologna

Master of the Baroncelli Portraits
1440 - 1520: Flemish: flourished 1480-1490
Saint Catherine of Bologna with three donors
Circa 1480
Oil on panel
94.9 cm x 67.9 cm
The Courtauld Gallery, London

The donor in Italian dress is kneeling with his first and second wives

It is the earliest known painting of St Catherine of Bologna. She died in 1463 and was venerated locally in Bologna. She was not formally canonised until 1712

To the right in the painting is what appears to be another painting. It is not. It is a dead body placed in a little window pierced in the dividing wall of a church

The representation is of the dead figure of the saint whose body was exhumed shortly after her death and put on display. It is still on display in the convent, her Sanctuary and Convent of the Corpus Domini in Bologna

See below. The representation shows how the body was displayed and is now displayed.

The preserved body of St Catherine of Bologna in her convent of Corpus Domini in Bologna

To allow the faithful to see the body which was in the enclosed convent the body was placed on a wooden chair in which the saint was placed as if sitting. At the appropriate times it was taken to the window to be exhibited to the faithful outside.

Amongst her artistic works is a book entitled "The Seven Spiritual Weapons". In it she listed these:

"Whoever wishes to carry the cross for his sake must take up the proper weapons for the contest, especially those mentioned here. First, diligence; second, distrust of self; third, confidence in God; fourth, remembrance of Passion; fifth, mindfulness of one’s own death; sixth, remembrance of God’s glory; seventh, the injunctions of Sacred Scripture following the example of Jesus Christ in the desert." - Saint Catherine, from On the Seven Spiritual Weapons

The painting illustrates the saint taking up her Cross. One cannot help but read into the painting St Catherine`s "seven weapons"

Saint Catherine of Bologna, (8 September 1413 – 9 March 1463) also called Santa Caterina de' Vigri, was an abbess of a convent of Poor Clares, and an artist of repute

She was also a gifted musician (her beloved violin hangs on the wall to the right of her body), and is the Patron Saint of Artists and temptation.

Her artistic compositions have not stood the test of time. However her written religious works are being re-discovered. These include Le sette armi spirituali and her Sermons

Cardinal Giacomo Biffi recently wrote of her and her works:

"The works of Catherine of Bologna, many of which have long remained unknown, are now revealed in their surprising beauty. We can ascertain that she was not undeserving of her renown as a highly cultivated person, nor was it due to a complicated series of historical circumstances. We are now in a position to meditate on a veritable monument of theology which, after the Treatise on the Seven Spiritual Weapons, is made up of distinct and autonomous parts: The Twelve Gardens, a mystical work of her youth, Rosarium, a Latin poem on the life of Jesus, and The Sermons, i.e. Catherine's words to her religious sisters."- (I Sermoni, Ed. Barghigiani, Bologna 1999)