The Cappella della Purità in San Paolo Maggiore

(University of Bonn/ Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome)
The Cappella della Purità in San Paolo Maggiore
– Imprese sacre and allegorical virtues as petrified preaching –
The topic of my presentation is the Cappella della Purità in the church of San Paolo
Maggiore in the very centre of Naples. It is the main church of the congregation of clerics regular of the Divine Providence or Theatines. They became one of the most important orders
of the so called ‘counter-reformation’ or ‘catholic revival’.
This Chapel is dedicated to Mary. The piers are decorated with emblems and allegorical
elements. It is exactly this chapel that was the centre and initial point of a new Marian
devotion, promoted mainly by images, liturgical practice and preaching.
This paper, presented at the Kiel Conference, is an excursus of my doctoral research project, working on the
personifications of virtues (“Skulpturale Allegorie des italienischen Barock: Rhetorische Funktionalisierung und
ästhetischer Eigenwert – Rom und Neapel –“). This paper is a first tentative approach, so I would appreciate any
comments and suggestions.
In the course of my lecture I will try to connect the programme of the chapel with the practice
of the so called concetto-preaching, a widespread mode of mass homily in Spain and within
the Spanish dominated south of Italy, the vice-reign of Napels.
First of all I will briefly present the history of the chapel and its construction. Then I will concentrate on the iconography and the allegorical charging of the chapel with images and
statues. I will concentrate on the emblematics and allegories, by deferring rather than focussing on the paintings in the chapel or a stylistic analysis. Finally I’ll discuss the preaching
style of this period in the south of Italy, which works with similar rhetorical devices.
Naples was the largest city in Italy and a major cultural centre during the Baroque era in the
Mediterranean. With the arrival of the Aragonese kings in the middle of the 15th century
Naples became a Spanish dominated city and in 1503 it became part of the Spanish empire as
an vice-reign. (It was a kind of melting-pot of Italian and Spanish culture). This historical setting is essential for the city’s special position within the history of Italian art.
The Theatine church of San Paolo Maggiore was built upon an ancient temple and reconstructed at the end of the 16th century by the architect Francesco Grimaldi.1
Cf. Fulvio LENZO: Architettura e antichità a Napoli dal XV al XVIII secolo. Le colonne del Tempio dei
Dioscuri e la Chiesa di San Paolo Maggiore, Rome 2011.
The Marian Chapel is located in the right side-aisle of the basilica – it actually is the last
chapel before the transept. The trave of the aisle, vaulted with a dome, accompanies the
chapel and functions as a kind of vestibule or antechamber.
The interior of the chapel is notable for its polychrome marble revetment in pietra dura, a
technique adapted from Florence and the papal Rome and brought to perfection in the
Kingdom of Naples.
Above the altar there is inserted the icon of the Virgin Mary in the heavily-decorated wall.2
Other canvases on the walls by the painter Massimo Stanzione show scenes from the life of
Mary, which I, for reasons of time restraints, have to omit in this lecture.3
The four piers of the antechamber are decorated in the same manner. The niches encarved in
the piers contain statues of the four Cardinal virtues, made of Carrara marble, accompanied by
huge emblem cartouches. We’ll have a first glance at these piers.
Cf. Jesús HERNÁNDEZ PERRERA: La “Madonna della Purità” y Luis De Morales, in: Regnum Dei. Collectanea
Theatina a Clericis Regularibus edita in Curia Generalitia 14 (1958), pp. 3-12.
Cf. Sebastian SCHÜTZE, Thomas C. WILETTE: Massimo Stanzione. L’opera completa, Naples 1992: catalogue
nr. A 82: Due scene della vita della Vergine, pp. 230-231, 362.
Later we will enjoy a more detailed look at this antechamber.
The history of the Marian chapel began in 1641. The Neapolitan nobleman and priest Don
Diego di Bernaudo Mendoza4 donated an image of the Virgin Mary, which had been
venerated in his family for a long time, to the congregation of San Paolo Maggiore. This
painting was considered by his family as a miraculous image. The documents of this time
reveal that Mendoza donates the painting on two conditions. Number one: that the Theatines
provide or construct a chapel within their church and number two: that they make every effort
to propagate the veneration of this image. Both conditions have been fulfilled with great
Veneration of the Purità
The congregation decided to install the image in the chapel in the side-aisle, at this time still
undecorated. It was decided to call the image Maria della Purità, which became the name of
the new Marian veneration. The cult of the Maria della Purità rapidly developed. The Purità
was named patroness of the whole congregation and also in Rome, in Sant’Andrea della
Valle, the general seat for the religious order, they installed a copy of the Neapolitan image
and dedicated a chapel to the Madonna.5 All over the South of Italy can be found copies of the
In the documents his family is sometimes also called Bernando di Mendoza.
Often he gets confused – even in the recent literature – with his namesake Don Diego di Mendoza, Conte di
Villamediana, a famous poet.
Giuseppe Silos, the annalist of the theatine order, describes these events, cf. Giuseppe SILOS: Historiarum
Clericorum Regularium pars tertia, Palermo 1666, pp. 234-338. Also most of the guide of Napels at least
mention the installation of the Marian Image in the chapel, for example Carlo DE LELLIS: Parte seconda o' vero
Purità-image. It was only in the 18th-century with the decline of the Theatine order when this
special veneration lost its importance.
Looking for reasons behind this successful implementation of an ex novo created veneration,
we have to take a closer look at the religious policies of the 1640s. Just in the years of the “invention” of the veneration of the Madonna della Purità another Marian cult was banned – that
of the Immaculate Conception. The belief that Mary was sinless, i.e. conceived immaculate,
was widely held - particularly by the Spanish kings who began to press for a definition as a
dogma. But (after the Council of Trent) papal politics opposed the struggle of the Spanish
kings to proclaim the Immaculate Conception as a dogma and banned this teaching for a short
time (in the 1640s).6 Some of the aspects of the veneration of the Purità are similar to that of
the Immaculate. So it is most likely that the Purità-Veneration was from its inception a kind
of variant of the cult of the Immaculate. As a vice-reign of the Spanish Empire cultural and
religious policies in Naples were always linked with Spanish interests.
The cult of the Maria della Purità works with different aspect of purity, e.g. purity in the
sense that Mary is free of any moral defect and that she was destined by god from eternity to
bear his son. The cult emphasises her role in the Divine plan of creation.7
Interior decoration of the chapel
Thanks to a huge number of documents (contracts and also letters) preserved in the Archivio
dello Stato di Napoli and in the Biblioteca Nazionale we are informed that Don Diego di Bernaudo Mendoza had a particularly active interest in the decoration of the chapel.8 He held preparatory sketches for the marble revetment of the piers of the chapel (which unfortunately are
lost). He continuously contributed money and collected donations to finish the interior decoration. (He went even so far that in his last will he nominated the chapel as his only heir).
But anyway it took about 40 years to complete the revetment of all walls and piers. Mendoza
also organised that homilies were delivered especially in Rome to introduce and explain the
Veneration of the Purità.
In addition, the documents reveal his interest in allegories and emblems. The documents mention for example donations of altar clothes with embroidered emblems.
Furthermore, some members of the congregation of San Paolo Maggiore were active members
in the city’s Accademia degli oziosi, an academy in which the Spanish and Italian high born
intellectuals of the city met. One of their occupations (what they called a leisure and otium)
was to create perfect emblems and imprese.9
But let’s turn our attention now back to the decoration of the chapel.
supplimento a Napoli Sacra (…) Oue si aggiungono le fondationi di tutte le chiese, Monasterii, & altri luoghi
Sacri della Città di Napoli (…), Napels 1654, p. 62s ff.
About the dogma of the Immaculate Conception as an important issue of Spanish royal politics cf. Sebastian
SCHÜTZE: The politics of counter-reformation iconography and a quest for the Spanishness of Neapolitan art, in:
Thomas James DANDELET, John A. MARINO (ed.): Spain in Italy. Politics, society, and religion 1500-1700,
Leiden-Boston 2007, pp. 555-568.
Cf. Girolamo COPPOLA: La Purità di Maria Madre di Dio spiegata con Discorsi (…), Napels 1651. The book
explains the crucial issues of the new Marian cult. The author seems to have been in personal contact with Don
Diego di Bernaudo Mendoza.
Documents containing contracts and account books can be found in the Archivio di Stato di Napoli (ASNa
Fondo Monasteri Soppressi, fasc. 1082, 1100, 1151). A collection of letters of Don Diego, copies of his last will
and further documents (from the 1630es to the 1730es) concerning the Marian chapel and the cult of the Purità is
saved in the Biblioteca Nazionale (BN, Fondo San Martino, ms. 388).
Cf. Girolamo DE MIRANDA: Una quiete operosa. Forma e pratiche dell’Accademia Napoletana degli Oziosi.
1611-1645, Napels 2000. For example, the Oziosi were responsible for the creation of new imprese for the
funeral decoration of Margherita d’Austria in Naples (1611), pp. 95-105.
The statues
We’ll start with the four statues of the Cardinal virtues.
They are designed according to the common standard, which was codified with Cesare Ripa’s
Iconologia by the Neapolitan artist Andrea Falcone (c. 1630-1675).10 He was commissioned
by the Theatines around 1670.11 Some of the symbolic items they hold in their hands were
damaged in the past or even get lost, so we’ll have to work with historical photographs.12
The statue of the Justice is mentioned in the contract with the artist as a presentation of
Giustizia Divina, the divine Justice. She is holding a sword and a balance. Her head is decorated by a crown. The dove above her head is an attribute of the holy spirit. By adding this
attribute to the statue of Justice it is specified as divine Justice. With her eyes she fixes the balance in her left hand – which underlines the considerateness requested for a righteous
The virtue of Temperance is symbolised by a baroque bracket clock in her arms. It’s a rather
uncommon attribute (also it is listed in the Iconologia there aren’t other examples in the
Italian sculpture of the baroque). The symbol of time measurement characterizes the Temperance as self-control or self-restraint. She’s raising her head up – a gesture, which emphasises
her orientation towards the divine.
Cf. Riccardo LATTUADA: Andrea Falcone, scultore a Napoli tra classicismo e barocco, in: Storia dell’Arte 54
(1985), pp. 158-182.
The first documents, which are intending niches in the pillars, date 20 years back.
Naples, Soprintendenza BAPSAE, Archivio fotografico, B 2024-B 2027, the photos were taken before
the 1940es.
The Prudence is represented with the classical attribution: a helmet and a serpent. The last
one is not the original from the 17th century but the result of a hardly felicitous restoration of
the 19th century. And finally we have the Fortitude or Courage with her well-fortified
appearance: a suit of armour, a lance, helmet and a shield by her side.
The presentation of the set of four cardinal virtues as statues in the sides or piers of a chapel is
a common feature in the architecture of the baroque era. It’s usually based on an either simple
topos: the four Cardinal virtues as the cardinal points in life and a man’s main support. In this
case the general cardinal virtues are applied to the specific cult of the Maria della Purità.
The emblems
The emblem cartouches under the niches and above them specify the semantic content of the
allegories.13 They function as a kind of connotation.14 It’s a typical feature of architectural
emblematics in the 17th century that they have a reduced form. Without a subscriptio they
seem to be imprese or devices. “But they fulfil the role of visual synthesis of a universal
An exact dating of the marble revetment and the cartouches is quite complex. A contract, which commissioned
some marmorari for the decoration of the first piers next to the sanctuary, is dating from the year 1656 (BN. 388,
fol. 175 r -176r). It mentions the models and sketches for the marble revetment and the niches, which are in the
property of Diego di Mendoza. The final consecration of the chapel by the cardinal Innigo Caracciolo in 1672
seems to mark the terminus ante quem (despite this late consecration liturgical services have been held in the
chapel just from the beginning in 1641.)
The book of COPPOLA (mentioned above) also names the virtues of Mary – the cardinal virtues as well as the
theological ones. But it’s rather a listing of prerogatives than a definition. The chapters of his work reflect the
main aspects of the veneration of the Purità: “Discorso della Purità dell’Anima di Maria”, “Purità di Maria
come Figlia”, “Purità di Maria come Sposa”, “Purità di Maria come Madre”, “Purità della Vita di Maria”.
moral precept” like emblems.15 The different genera of symbolic art diverge. In the Italian
treatises this specific form was called imprese sacre. I would assume that the overall context,
the dedication of the chapel with its whole imagery serves as subscriptio of the emblems.
In general the emblems are of high quality.16 The inscriptions work with alliterations and
other rhetorical devices. I’ll briefly present the single emblems, but I think we won’t have the
time neither to analyse all schemes and tropes, nor to reveal all allusions and theological
The Fortitude is accompanied by emblems, which are either popular, since they are also
published in several emblem books. Above the niche there’s the pictura of an oak blown by
the winds. The inscription reads Valido cum robore (‘with potent strength’).
The second picture shows a diamond lying on an anvil. Nullo violabilis ictu – ‘can‘t be
destroyed by any stroke’. As a contrastive complement there is a piece of coal, which will be
reduced to ashes by the hammer.
I think the meaning is quite obvious. The virtue of Fortitude is characterised as unbreakable in
any circumstance – even in the most adverse conditions.
Guido ARBIZZONI: Imprese as Emblems: the European Reputation of an ‚Italian‘ Genre, in: Donato
MANSUETO, Elena Laura CALOGERO (ed.): The Italian Emblem. A Collection of Essays, Glasgow Emblem
Studien 12, Glasgow 2007, pp. 1-31: “They were no longer merely a message communicating a project of
individual life, but could fulfil the role of visual synthesis of a universal moral precept, a truth of faith”, p. 20.
They are executed at least by two different artists, since the style and technique vary.
The most of the other emblems of the chapel seem to be without a model, since there are no
examples in the popular emblem-books of that time. But if we consider the cultural backdrop
of the congregation of San Paolo Maggiore and Don Diego di Bernaudo Mendoza, we can
assume, that these emblems (the particular combination of picture and inscription) are genuine
The Divine Justice is accompanied by two emblems. Above her, there’s the picture of a balance with the inscription Inviolata fides (‘intact faith’). The second emblem is more cryptic: a
rising sun behind a hill. Dividens orbi diem. The literally meaning is ‘partitioning the day for
the world’. It seems to be a play with some citations from the Genesis.17 The meaning seems
to be: Distributing the light on earth. The picture also alludes to some Marian litanies and
Gregorian chants, which refer to Christ as the sol iustitiae, the Sun of Justice, who enlightens
the world.18
The significance of this all is to praise the Divine Justice, which elected Mary to bring the sun
of Justice, i.e. Christ into the world.
Gen. 1- 1,19
For example: O-Antiphons in the time of advent: “O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et
illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis” (21. December), basing on Malachi 4,2: “Orietur vobis
timentibus nomen meum sol iustitiae (…)”. COPPOLA, op. cit. p. 23, mentions that beside the Vulgata the rare
translation as sol puritatis instead of sol iustitiae can be found.
In the pier with the statue of Prudence is inserted a cartouche showing the phoenix in the fire,
before rising into new life: Purius ut gignam (‘that I may bear something purer’ or ‘that I may
more purely beget’).19 The phoenix is a traditional symbol of the rising of Christ but also a
symbol of virginity. In this case the tertium comparationis is the fire as the purest element.
Also Coppola refers to the maternity of Mary as a prerogative.20
The second emblem shows a dove dominating a serpent: Prudentior quia simplicior (‘more
prudent because more simple’). A paraphrasis of bible verses.21 The dove is a common
symbol of meekness and purity. The exegetical typology parallelised the dove to Mary. 22
Furthermore, this picture alludes to Gen. 3, 15 (“ipsa conteret caput tuum”): Mary (the dove)
who crushes the head of the serpent – a common iconography of the Immaculate.
The grammatical structure is plurivalent.
COPPOLA, op. cit. p. 203.
Mt. 10,16: “(…) estote ergo prudentes sicut serpentes et simplices sicut columbae”.
Also verses from the Song of Salomon depicting a dove, were used in typology. See also COPPOLA, op. cit. p.
182. He cites “Columba mea, formosa mea,”, “Columba mea in foraminibus petrae: Una est columba mea“
(Cant. Cantc. 6,8; 2,14) and similar verses.
Finally we’ll consider the emblems related to the Temperance. First, the picture of a golden
dove, which is picking drops of dew from some flowers. Rore coeli contenta – ‘filled with
heaven’s dew’. Again alluding to scenes from the Old Testament23 and alluding to Gregorian
chant (the rorate coeli desuper), parallelising the coming of Christ to the dew in the
morning.24 Once again the dew is a common symbol of purity and the same time an allusion
to the Song of Solomon and the psalms.25 Also the golden or dazzling dove is depicted in the
The last emblem presented is also the most exotic one. It shows lily flower stems and a silk
worm moth (the bombyx mori). The inscription reads: Sat mihi flores (‘I’m satisfied with
flowers’). This emblem is based on a widespread allegoresis of nature in the Renaissance and
Baroque ages.26 According to this, the silk worm nourishes itself just on the flowery scent,
which was understood as a symbol of temperate behaviour. The silk was held as a symbol of
purity. Generally, emblems with the cocoon of the silk worm allude to the pregnancy of Mary
and virgin birth.
Most of the cartouches of the chapel are highly skilled exegetical emblems. They connect
verses from the Holy Scripture, sacred tradition and the teachings of the church on Mary.
Book of Judges, 6,32 (6,1-8,35). The picture of Gideon’s fleece was often used in the typology as a
prefigurative symbol of Mary.
Antiphon in the time of advent: “Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant iustum”.
Cant. cantic. 5,2 “(…) aperi mihi soror mea amica mea columba mea inmaculata mea quia caput meum
plenum est rore (…)”, 6,9 “quae est ista quae progreditur quasi aurora consurgens pulchra ut luna electa ut sol
(…)” and ps. 68, 13 (67, 14) “si dormieritis inter medios terminos pinnae columbae deargentatae et posteriora
eius in virore auri”
In this case it might be inspired by Filippo PICINELLI: Mondo simbolico, Milan 1653, sub voce „Baco,
bombice, verme da seta“ (Libro ottavo, animali imperfetti, c. 2), pp. 259-261.
The homilies
The room of the chapel functions as a multifunctional system of meditation (multifunktionales
Meditationssystem).27 The different genera of allegories and symbols are mutually replenished. Each element gains additional significance and a multi-layered system is built up
through this complex and suggestive symbolism. But as we can trace from the documents, an
important part of the promulgation of the new Marian cult were the homilies, which enabled
the common public to find access to the beliefs. Unfortunately the sermons held in these
occasions in Naples or Rome never were printed. In the archives there are just some reports,
telling that these homilies have been experiencing always faster growing numbers of followers. We also have records, which at least list the topics of each homily.28
But the numerous treatises on preaching of this time can help us in reconstructing how these
homilies could have been. One style of preaching was of particular importance in the viceroyalty of Naples: the so called concetto-homilies: The most famous treatise on tropes, figurative language and rhetorical devices is the Cannochiale aristotelico (Aristotelian telescope)
of Emanuele Tesauro, which was first published in 1654 but in a second edition extended by
two additional chapters.29 In one of these chapters he mentions a style of preaching coming
from the South of Italy, which he condemns as decadent, full of rhetorical artifice and exuberant in their using of sophisticated citations.
Tesauro states that this type of homily – “Pensieri de’ Sacri Oratori, che vulgarmente
chiamar si sogliono, Concetti Predicabili”30 – is based on conceits, called in his time concetti
napoletani, which have their origins in Spain and the conceptos predicables.31
Emanuele Tesauro gives a definition of the concetto predicabile:
„Due cose adunque principalmente compongono questo sacro parte dell’Ingegno: cioè
la Materia sacra, fondata nella Divina Autorità. & la Forma Arguta, fondata in qualche
Cf. Éva KNAPP, Gábor TÜSKÉS: Rhetorisches Konzept und ikonographisches Programm des Freskenzyklus in
der Prunkstiege des Raaber Jesuitenkollegs, in: Wolfgang HARMS, Dietmar PEIL (ed.): Polyvalenz und Multifunktionalität der Emblematik, Frankfurt/ Main 2002, pp. 949-975.
Naples, BN, Fondo San Martino, ms. 388, fol. 76: Rome, 30.03.1647, The roman priest Giovanni Battista
Giustiniani to Don Diego di Bernardo. “Nel Primo parlerai della Purità del Corpo Virgineo, nel Secondo della
Purità della mente, nel Terzo dell’affetto, et amore, ch’ella portò alla Purità, nel Quarto che sara mercordi
mostravò che nel Parto s’accrebbe e radoppio la Purità, nell’ultimo parlerò della Purità dell’Anima lontana da
ogni macchia di colpe, et in quanto à me mi sono offerto di continuare detti sermoni sino a Pentecoste”. The
topics seem to be identical with the central issues of Coppola’s later book.
Emanuele TESAURO: Il Cannocchiale Aristotelico, o‘ sia, Idéa dell’arguta et igeniosa elocutione, che serve à
tutta l’arte oratoria, lapidaria, et simbolica. Esaminata co’ principii del divino aristotele (…), seconda
impressione accresciuta dall’autore di due nuovi Trattati, cioè, de’ concetti predicabili, et degli emblemi (…),
Venice 1663. See also Benedetto CROCE: I predicatori Italiani del seicento e il gusto spagnuolo, in: Saggi sulla
letteratura Italiana del seicento, Bari 1911, pp. 161-193.
TESAURO, op. cit. p. 59.
TESAURO, op. cit. pp. 459/460: “ (…) alcuni Ingegni Spagnuoli naturalmente arguti; & nelle Scolastiche
Dottrine perspicacissimi; trovarono (…) questa novella maniera d’insegnar dilettando, & dilettare insegnando,
per mezzo di questi Argomenti ingeniosi, detti vulgarmente Concetti Predicabili; che con mirabili, & nuove, &
metaforiche riflessioni sopra la Scrittura Sacra, & sopra i Santi Padri; abbassando le dottrine difficili alla
capacità degl’Idioti; & inalzando le base & piane, alla sfera de Dotti […]
Così ancora Salomone, con figurati Emblemi adornò tutto il Tempio di Dio, per allettare il Popolo
all’adoratione con la maraviglia. Così Mosè con ceremoniali Misteri, insegnò documenti morali. Così Iddio con
Simboli arguti rivelò i suoi secreti nella Scrittura. Così il Verbo Divino, con paraboliche Figure predicò il Verbo
Debbesi dunque agli Spagnuoli la gloria di queste nouvelle merci; le quali per cagion dell’Hispano comercio
per terra e mare, di colà parimente sbarcano à Napoli; ondi in Italia, che non ancor non le conosceva, fur
chiamate Concetti Napolitani: e tosto ritrovarono spaccio apresso à molti, che copiosamente ne fornirono le
officine delle lor Prediche. Ma finalmente il troppo è troppo; insegnando il nostro Autore agli Oratori etiamdio
profani, che le Metafore si vogliono adoperar per confetti, non per vivanda. […]”
metafora formante un senso Tropologico, o Allegorico, ò Anagogico, differente da
quello che di primo incontro le parole del sacro Testo letteralmente offeriscono.”32
“Altro dunque non è il Concetto predicabile, che un’Argutia leggiermente accennata
dall’ingegno Divino: leggiadramente svelata dall’ingegno humano e rifermata con
l’autorità di alcun Sacro Scrittore.”33
It’s an argument, concerning a truth of faith, merely foreshadowed by divine inspiration, uncovered by the human genius and confirmed by the Holy Scriptures and/or doctors of the
According to Emanuele Tesauro, the ideal concetto-homily should always serve to explain
divine mysteries, praise the virtues, and explain the life of Christ or the life of Saints (Mary,
of course, included).35 To explain this topic to the believers the speaker should use numerous
tropes to create a vivid and picturesque language imbued by wordplays and imagery. 36 The
speaker should make use of symbols and allegories of nature.37 He also should use typologies,
especially prefigurations from the Old Testament, which are thought to be explicitly or implicitly linked to the topic. He always should ensure his arguments by references to the bible,
saints and church fathers.
To render his sermon more effective and persuasive the speaker has to string together a
number of this ingenious concetti.38
The main point I’d like to emphasise here is that these characteristic principles of a concettohomily are also reflected in the decoration of the chapel and in its allegorical charging. The
different emblems took the task of the various concetti used in the homilies. They have to explain a complex theological belief. In this case the Purity of Mary. The emblems allude to
passages from the bible (like the two emblems depicting a dove), they quote texts from the
liturgy (like the emblem with the Sun of Justice) and they base on an allegoresis of nature
(like the moth of the silk worm). They work with wordplays and rhetorical devices. Like the
various concetti in a homily the emblems and allegories are linked together.
There are some homilies in the 17th century, especially in Spain, which took concrete
emblems as a departing point. The Italian art historian Giuseppina Ledda has published several studies on this matter. In the theory of preaching of the 17th it was called “predicar a los
ojos”, preaching to the eyes.39
The Cappella della Madonna della Purità allows us to make an approach from the other side:
the room with its complex decoration can be considered as a petrified preaching.
TESAURO, op. cit. p. 60.
TESAURO, op. cit. p. 70.
TESAURO, op. cit. p. 494: To find inspiration he recommends ”(…) leggendo in fonte la Scrittura Sacra, &
trovatovi qualche fatto, ò detto metaforico, & Arguto; vedere i Commentatori, e i Santi Padri sopra quel passo:
& anco la Catena Aurea, & la Selva delle Allegorie, che apunto è una vasta Selva da fabricar Concetti.”
TESAURO, op. cit. p. 494: “Circa la Tema, convien procurare che sia una novella, e curiosa riflession
Predicabile, cioè Sacra, ò Morale: ordinata à persuader qualche Virtù, ò fuggire il vitio; overo à spiegar
qualche mistero divino; ò lodar qualche fatto di Cristo, ò de’ Santi (…)”. He also suggests Spanish handbooks,
which list examples for themes. But of course there are also many Italian collections of homilies, for examples
by the Southern Italian bishop Cornelio Musso.
Tesauro mentions for example the picture of a balance. On one side there should be presented an image of a
virtue, on the other side a globe to show that one single virtue can countervail the whole world, op. cit. p. 479.
TESAURO, op. cit., for example p. 495: “(…) pellegrina Eruditione, ò Similitudine curiosa e vaga di cose
naturali, o Artificiali (…)”.
TESAURO, op. cit. p. 495: He suggests the example of “(…) quegli che tessono le sue prediche con un filo di
Concetti, che servono come Argomenti accumulati per provare l’istessa Tema.”
Cf. Giuseppina LEDDA: Predicar a los ojos, in: Edad de Oro 8 (1989), pp. 129-142, Giuseppina LEDDA: La
parola e l’immagine. Strategie della persuasione religiosa nella Spagna secentesca, Pisa 2003 and many others.
Furthermore, the Cappella della Purità can be understood as a prime example for the
didactical use of emblematic works in religious-political realms.