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European Paintings - French

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Saint Bernard

circa 1470
15th century
49.7 cm x 36 cm (19 9/16 in. x 14 3/16 in.)

Anonymous Primary

Object Type: painting
Artist Nationality: Europe, French
Medium and Support: Oil, tempera, and gold leaf on wood panel
Credit Line: Gift of Charles and Loretta Marsh, 1984
            
               Accession Number:                1984.105             
            
Object Description: This painting presents an unflattering, naturalistic portrayal of an elderly man through the artist's meticulous depiction of wrinkles, veins, warts, and graying hair. The figure has been considered to be Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who led the reform of the Cistercian Order in twelfth-century France. He wears a white habit, which is usually associated with the Order, and holds an abbot's crozier. The inscription on the ribbonlike banderole reads, “Monstra te esse matrem (Show thyself to be a mother),” the words that Bernard used in his prayer before a statue of Mary. According to legend, the statue came to life and spouted milk from her breast in response to his plea. It is unclear, however, if the present work was originally meant to be an image of Bernard. A close examination of the paint layers has recently revealed that the banderole and the upper half of the crozier, along with the blue clouds in the top corners, are later additions. It is possible that the painting was modified to represent the saint, sometime after its creation.

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