Christian Figures in the Renaissance

by Dave

Explore the role of Christian figures in the Renaissance. This article examines the tension between divine and civilian authority in two contexts. Works of art that Pope Pius II commissioned for his hometown, Corsignano, reflect the humanist school of thought. The coronation painting of Robert of Anjou shows the newly canonized Saint Louis placing the crown on Robert’s head.

Mack: From Corsignano to Pienza

Corsignano was the birthplace of Pope Pius II. As an older medieval modest town, this could be a fitting larger allegory for the origins of a famous humanist writer of Christian figures. Very little of this medieval town exists today. Continuing the metaphor, Pius II rebuilt Corsignano as Pienza in order to reverse the trend of economic decline. Mack lays out the details as they are known for Pope Pius’s actions and the actions of his influential contemporaries.

Eventually in his Christian career, Pope-to-be Pius II met a lot of scholarly humanists. He did this especially around the staff of Cardinal Niccolo Albergati, where he met the future-Pope Nicolas V. When the papal throne ordained Nicolas V, future-Pius II also rose through the clerical ranks. He also witnessed the changes in Rome cause by Pope Nicolas’s influence. However, Nicolas died before he could validate many of his plans. When Pius II ascended to the papal throne, he brought Nicolas’s Rome to Pienza.

Unfortunately, Pope Pius II could not devote his entire attention to the humanist crusade. Instead he focused on the more bloody Christian crusade begun by his predecessor. Even so, he managed to further the humanist school of thought through his writings and patronage. After a rather lackluster visit to his hometown, Pius decides to remake Corsignano in the image of his values, and, as a humanist, those are many and varied. He included Gothic, medieval, and cutting-edge Renaissance styles into the new buildings of Pienza.

Pius’ Affect – Was it Long Lasting?

Many other humanists and craftsmen who had worked on Nicolas’s elusive program for Rome used the experience they gained from the company in future projects. For example, his work in Nicolas’s court led Bernardo Rossellino to great importance in Florence. This led him to lead the main project in Pius’s new Pienza. Also involved, unsurprisingly, was Leon Battista Alberti, who had rejoined the papal entourage recently after Pius’s ascension. Surely Pius would have sought advice from a celebrated architect so near to him to sculpt Christian figures. Surely, so argues Mack, Alberti would have recommended Rossellino, a Florentine, for the job.

Pius’s plans incuded a palace, for himself and his family naturally, and a new Christian church for Corsignano. Instead of remaking the existing medieval church, he chose to build a completely new glorious building at the site of the old Santa Maria, presumed burned down some years before. Pius made preparations to create taxes, build battlements, and erect a chapel.

The quick starting of progress and purchasing of properties and household both by the Vatican and by private owners shows how unusual this project was. Also the plans for Corsignano were growing. In June 1462, records in the Vatican speak of Corsignano, and a month later speak of Pienza. With this Pius spearheaded the movement for Corsignano to become the city-state of Pienza. This effectively liberated the territory from the Sienese. However there were no official complaints from that quarter. For the Sienese knew, as Mack points out, that the power of the Pope is substantial, but also temporary.

Julian Gardner: “Saint Louis of Toulouse, Robert of Anjou, and Simone Martini”

Julian Gardner examines, in this article, the painting of Saint Louis of Toulouse Crowning Robert of Anjou by Simone Martini and its sources. Garner argues the painting is not as simple as it may seem at first glance, that of a simple scene of peaceful power transition between a dead saint and his younger brother. But that strain in the beginnings of the reign of Robert of Anjou appear as underlying themes in the painting in the Christian figures.

As a coronation piece, the painting is said to have a third unseen person, the dynasty of the ruler, and so characterization of the figures is important. The heraldry presented by the extravagant fleur-de-lis is not out of place in a painting for a king like Robert of Anjou. The remainders of inset pearls and gems on Saint Louis’s rings and cape lead us to try to imagine how brightly this work must have shown when it was first completed.

Complicated politics led prince Louis of Toulouse, Robert’s older brother, to go into the Franciscan order and become a bishop. After his death, his family was intent on his canonization, led by newly crowned Robert, King of Naples. Right around the official canonization of Saint Louis of Toulouse by the papacy, Simone Martini is believed to have painted the work with Robert of Anjou as his client.

Mysterious Reasoning – Glorious Output

Clearly seen from the painting, Robert is kneeling at St. Louis’s feet as he is crowned. However there are complex meanings laying underneath these Christian figures. The carpets surrounding St. Louis could represent a divine setting befitting his place as a canonized saint. Enthroned bishops are unusual in religious iconography. However St. Louis’ posture, Gardner argues, is reminiscent of the statue of Charles of Anjou by Arnolfo di Cambio. Of Robert’s position, Gardner notices that he is kneeling similarly to the traditional position of a patron. This is also because it is common for kings to kneel in the presence of the divine.

Past Italian crowning works often show the hand of the divine as a part of the crowning. This, Gardner argues, determines the image of the missing pinnacle of Martini’s work: a figure of Christ. Also clear in the symbolism is the lack of modesty in the figure of St. Louis, a Franciscan. Gardner argues that was not Simone Martini’s focus. Instead it was of divine coronation, regality, and a continuation of the dynasty. In Sicily, Robert obsessed over the legitimacy of ruling and the iconography of coronation of Christian figures. Gardner argues the conflict between Simone Martini’s Sienese style and the required topologies of the propaganda detracted from the subjective artistic qualities of the painting.

Tensions of Glorious Style

The purpose of the painting was an altarpiece, as suggested by the predella, but Gardner argues the contents suggest a chapel altarpiece, if an unusually extravagant one. However there are no precedents for a work of this kind, so any evidence of its intentioned whereabouts or function are lost. The tension and mystery surrounding this painting greatly reflect the themes within it, of tensions between divine and regal, Franciscan and splendorous, which in turn reflect the tensions in the court of Robert of Anjou.