The Cortona Tryptych: The predella

  The predella comes in three sections, showing saints, and scenes of the life and miracles of St Dominic.


On the left is the noted Dominican, St Peter Martyr. The central scene is an interesting one. In the background, Innocent III is aseep. To his right we see his dream. Dominic is holding up the wall of a church, about to fall down. To his right is what is claimed as a real event: Dominic meets a beggar in Rome, who turns out to be Francis of Assisi. They embrace, then travel together to see the Pope who remembers his dream, and declares that "The orders of these two great men will be like columns which would save the church from falling apart."
  It is interesting to compare this image with one painted for the Franciscans, such as the one below in the Upper Church of San Francesco in Assisi. In this version, it is Francis holding up the church, and Dominic doesn't get a mention. The Franciscans and Dominicans didn't always get on: in Italy their churches were usually sited on opposite sides of town, though, to be fair, in Cortona they are not that far apart.

The other image shows what is sometimes described as a miraculous event, and sometimes as a dream of Dominic. In St Peter's church, in Rome, Saints Peter and Paul are giving Dominic the symbols of his mission, a book of the letters of Paul, and a staff, representing preaching and travelling. The image of the figure leaving the room is somewhat mysterious: The best guess would be St Dominic heading off on his mission, but the nimbus is missing. This may be a restoration issue.

 The second panel shows St Michael on the left, and St Vincent on the right. Between them are two scenes of miracles.
  The sene on the left shows the miraculous healing of Napoleone Orsini, which is said to have happened on Ash Wednesday, 1218. Dominic and various cardinal were meeting in the Convent of San Sisto, (St Sixtus) mentioned above. Someone rushed in and reported that Napoleone Orsini, the nephew of one of the Cardinals present, had fallen from his horse and had died, as shown in the background.  The Cardinal uncle, Stephen, wept; Dominic asked for the corpse to be brought in. He performed a Mass over the body and, as the cross was elevated, he said 'Napoleone, I say to thee in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, arise.' The corpse was brought back to life.
  One version of the legend says that Dominic was lifted into the air by 'one cubit' as he spoke.
  The legend is a clear reference to the raising of Lazarus: there are similar legends attached to St Francis. 
   The scene on the right refers to Dominic's mission to convert to Albigensians in France. He is pleading his case before judges, but getting nowhere. In the end, ordeal by fire is decided upon. Dominic throws his sacred book on to the fire: three times it came out unharmed. The Albigensians were shown the error of their ways.
 
The final panel shows St Thomas Aquinas on the right. The first scene shows a group of Dominicans, with St Dominic at the centre, being fed by two angels.  This scene also takes place at San Sisto. The poor friars have been out in Rome all day, begging for food, but had received nothing. On ther return to the convent, Dominic interceded, and two angels appeared, bringing bread for the hungry friars.
  The final scene shows the death of St Dominic, on August 6, 1221. He died, aged 51, at the Convent of St Nicholas in Bologna, the site of the present church of San Domenico.  His last words were "These are, beloved ones, the inheritance that I leave you as my sons: Have charity among you; hold to humility; possess voluntary poverty."  Whether Dominic would have approved of his magnificent tomb in San Domenico is a matter for debate: nevertheless, it is a wonderful artwork, and perhaps is a posting to come.

                                                        
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