Saint Dominic in Penitence,
Painting by Filippo Tarchiani (1576–1645),
Painted in 1607,
Oil on canvas
© Metropolitan Museum, New York
Feast of Saint Dominic
Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he would send the crowds away. After sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, while the boat, by now far out on the lake, was battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind. In the fourth watch of the night he went towards them, walking on the lake, and when the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost’ they said, and cried out in fear. But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’ It was Peter who answered. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’ ‘Come’ said Jesus. Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water, but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink. ‘Lord! Save me!’ he cried. Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. ‘Man of little faith,’ he said ‘why did you doubt?’ And as they got into the boat the wind dropped. The men in the boat bowed down before him and said, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’
Having made the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret. When the local people recognised him they spread the news through the whole neighbourhood and took all that were sick to him, begging him just to let them touch the fringe of his cloak. And all those who touched it were completely cured.
Reflection on the painting
Our painting by Filippo Tarchiani, from 1607, depicts Saint Dominic in penitence. Tarchiani transforms a troubling subject—the thirteenth-century founder of the Dominican order flagellating himself—into a serene, meditative composition. Whilst this is a portrait, it almost feels more like a still life painting. With the attention typical of a still-life painter, he isolates a series of captivating elects such as the bouquet of Thorne roses at the foot of the cross or the hour glass behind Saint Dominic.
Everything is very linear, including the altarpiece and table. This is in stark contrast to the soft folds of Dominic’s robes, which have been partially discarded. Although trained in the academic tradition of late-sixteenth-century Florentine art, Tarchiani made two prolonged visits to Rome, where he studied the work of Caravaggio and Orazio Gentileschi. In fact, between 1615 and 1616 he was employed on the same project as Orazio’s famous daughter, Artemisia Gentileschi. We can feel in this painting the Roman, Caravagesque dramatic use of light.
Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Dominic. Born in 1170 to a family of Spanish nobility, he was well educated and studied for 10 years at the University of Palencia. Already during that period it was reported how concerned he was with the well-being of others, especially the poor, rather than his own needs. He once sold his books (which were considered to be items of luxury, before the printing press), to generate money for the poor. But God had even bigger plans for Dominic: founding a new religious order with the mission to combat the many heresies that were around at the time and to help spread the true doctrine of the Church. Saint Dominic's cheerfulness and joyousness are characteristics remarked upon by a number of people who knew him.The vivacity of his spirit in founding a new order must have drawn the early friars to the congregation.
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