CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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ARAKI, Fumika
Absent Monogram and Repressed Memory: The Disputed Legitimacy of Saint Bernardino of Siena in Late Fifteenth-Century Rome

Session 8 Art and Taboo

Keio University


Niccolo di Manno Bufalini commissioned the Umbrian painter Bernardo Pintoricchio to decorate his family chapel in Santa Maria in Ara Coel in Rome. From 1482 to 1484, the painter executed in it a fresco cycle of the life of saint Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444). My study aims to explain why saint Bernardino’s main attribute, the IHS monogram with rays emanating from it, which had been invented by the saint himself and utilized in his sermons, was not depicted on the altar wall of the Bufalini Chapel. Daniel Arasse already pointed out in 1974 that the IHS monogram was intentionally omitted from the depiction of saint Bernardino’s Glory on this wall, although it was commonly part of the subject at that time, and suggested that it would have evoked to contemporary viewers, especially in Rome, accusations of heresy that had been constantly leveled against the saint.

My presentation aims at supporting Arasse’s theory by two means. Firstly, it will be shown that during the process of the saint’s canonization campaign, the IHS monogram was not mentioned at all, as if it was a “taboo”. Secondly, an examination of the subjects depicted on the other walls of the chapel will show that saint Bernardino received attributes associated with other holy figures, such as the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist, whose legitimacy was indisputable. In conclusion, I will argue that the “heretic” memory of the saint was hidden and that his standing as an orthodox Catholic saint was emphasized by omitting the IHS monogram and by surrounding him with unusual attributes.

ARAKI, Fumika

Fumika Araki is assistant professor at Keio University in Japan from April 2015. She specialized in Italian Renaissance art. She completed her Ph. D. at Università di Roma  La Sapienza in 2012. The title of her Ph. D dissertation is La cappella Bufalini di Bernardo Pintoricchio e la cappella Carafa di Filippino Lippi nel contesto romano di fine Quattrocento: una nuova lettura iconografica. Her latest publication is “L’elogio di San Bernardino da Siena nella cappella Bufalini in Aracoeli a Roma: il vero tema di San Bernardino eremita,” in Amusante et poétique, studi per Enzo Bilardello (a cura di Laura Fanti, Raffaella Perna e Claudio Zambianchi), Roma, 2015, pp. 47-56.