IHS monogram ~ Capuchin art

PierGabriele Vangelli GalleryPierGabriele Vangelli Gallery

IHS monogram

Straw, fabric and thread coloured with natural pigments.

Anonymous artisan from the Italian regions of Tuscany and Liguria.

h 81 x 120 cm.

I750 ca.

It is a remarkable example of  Capuchin art. Due to their vow of poverty,  the Capuchins could not use materials of luxury such as gold or silver.

This masterful intertwined monogram of the “Holy Name of Jesus” refers to the theological and devotional use, in Christianity, of the name of Jesus. The reverence and affection with which Christians have regarded the “Holy Name of Jesus” goes back to the earliest days of Christianity. The devotions and venerations also extend to the IHS christogram (a monogram of the “Holy Name”), derived from the Greek word IHSOUS (ΙΗΣΟΥΣ) for Jesus, or referring to Iesus Hominum Salvator, Jesus saviour of mankind, representing the Holy Name. Devotions to the Holy Name of Jesus exist both in Eastern and Western Christianity. The feast day is celebrated either as the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus or as that of Circumcision of Jesus, in various Christian churches. The Gospel of Matthew provides a specific meaning and intention for the name Jesus (as the one who “saves his people from sin”) and indicates that it was selected by Heavenly guidance. For centuries, Christians have invoked the Holy Name, and have believed that there is intrinsic power in the name of Jesus. “In the 15th century, the Franciscan Bernardine of Siena actively promoted the devotion to the Holy Name. At the end of his sermons he usually displayed the trigram IHS on a tablet in gold letters.” (The Jesus Prayer, Lev Gillet, 1987)  “Bernardine would then ask the audience to “adore the Redeemer of mankind”. Given that this practice had an unorthodox air, he was brought before Pope Martin V, who instead of rebuking Bernardine, encouraged the practice and joined a procession for it in Rome.” (Catholic Encyclopedia)

This object was most probably a gift to a high prelate  of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (for his private chapel) form an unknown friary in Tuscany or Liguria.

It contains many interesting symbols:

Pears – they are a symbol of Pope Sixtus V (13 December 1521 – 27 August 1590), born Felice Peretti di Montalto, pope from 1585 to 1590. He came from the Order of Friars Minor Conventual.

Grapes – they represent Holy Communion and of the “blood shed by Jesus on the cross for the forgiveness of sin”. Grapes are also symbolic of the fruitfulness of the Christian life.

Pomegranates – a motif often found in Christian religious decoration. They are often woven into the fabric of vestments and liturgical hangings or wrought in metalwork. Pomegranates figure in many religious paintings by the likes of Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, often in the hands of the Virgin Mary or the infant Jesus. The fruit, broken or bursting open, is a symbol of the fullness of Jesus’ suffering and resurrection.

These “straw paintings” are craft objects made by shaping straw into patterns and representational images. It became widespread in the early modern era particularly among minor and  Mendicant orders, due to their vow of poverty.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe writes in his “Italian Journey”
In honour of St. Francis, St. Peter’s Capuchins have splendidly adorned a side altar. There was nothing to be seen of stone but the Corinthian capitals: all the rest seemed to be covered with tasteful but splendid embroidery in the arabesque style; and the effect was as pretty as could be desired. I particularly admired the broad tendrils and foliage, embroidered in gold. Going nearer, I discovered an ingenious deception. All that I had taken for gold was, in fact, straw pressed flat, and glued upon paper, according to some beautiful outlines; while the ground was painted with lively colours. This is done with such variety and tact, that the design, which was probably worked in the convent itself with a material that was worth nothing, must have cost several thousand dollars, if the material had been genuine. It might, on occasion, be advantageously imitated.” (translated by Alexander James William Morrison)


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