Saturday, 20 July 2019

Papal Liturgies of the Sixteenth Century

At an old post the blog Idle Speculations, we found the adjacent image of a fresco and a description of the Coronation of the Spanish King Charles as Holy Roman Emperor at Bologna.

The Coronation was performed by Pope Clement VII in the Cathedral of San Petronio, Bologna on 24th February 1530.

The fresco is not painted onto a wall, but on the ceiling of the office of the Mayor of Florence in the Palazzo Vecchio.  It was painted by the artist Giorgio Vasari after 1555.

Vasari's depiction of the Coronation is quite interesting for students of the history of sacred vestments because, since it is painted in the middle of the 16th century, a transitional point from mediaeval to baroque styles is illustrated.

A detail of Vasari's 16th century fresco.
In the detail shewn above, Pope Clement is placing the crown upon the head of the Emperor. We find the Pope vested in a linen albe, with close fitting sleeves and whose skirt is ornamented with an embroidered apparel. It would appear that the cuffs of the albe are enriched in some way. Notice, however, that there is no sign of lace in the Pope's albe. Over the albe, the Pope is wearing an ample golden chasuble. The chasuble is very flowing and partly folded back at the arms. Not unusually, we find the painting does not represent the Pope dressed in full pontificals, since he lacks the tunicle and dalmatic, but most importantly, he is lacking the pallium. An extremely short and narrow maniple is upon the left forearm of the Pope. This is a far-cry from the exaggerated spade-ended maniples of the High Baroque.

Assisting the Pope are two deacons, vested in matching dalmatics which are also quite ample. The dalmatic are ornamented with the clavi, but also an apparel at the upper back (presumably also upon the breast). A roundel upon the apparel appears to be embroidered with IHS. Pendants of tassels hanging from the shoulders of the dalmatic are also depicted, a feature of late mediaeval / early baroque ornamentation. It is believed that such tassels were originally an elaboration of the lacing used to tie together the front and back of the dalmatic at the shoulders. Subsequently, they became purely decorative.

Another detail of Vasari's fresco.

Another detail of Vasari's fresco is shewn above, which depicts some of the bishops present at the Coronation. These bishops are all depicted wearing Mass vestments: amice, albe, cincture, stole, maniple and chasuble. In each case, the amice of the bishops is ornamented with an apparel: a survival of mediaeval usage. Although their albes are unornamented, the close-fitting cuffs appear to be decorated. The four bishops are wearing chasubles which are less ample than the one the Pope is depicted as wearing, but nevertheless appear to be gathered away from the elbows and are long and flowing. Each of the chasubles is decorated with the TAU Cross, which was the usual form of ornament in Italy. The bishop in the centre, with hand raised, also wears a diminutive maniple.

We might also comment on the mitres worn by these bishops, which are more or less identical to each other. They are the simplex mitres worn by non-officiating or concelebrating bishops, just as happens today. These mitres are also in the style of the 15th century (which differed little from that of the 14th century) being neither excessively tall (these ones are approximately 12" tall) nor with rounded sides (a style which became fashionable in Rome in the 16th century and persists to this day).

Although the scene depicted by Vasari is probably not very accurate as a presentation of a Papal Liturgy, nevertheless it undoubtedly depicts the style of vestments used throughout Italy in the 16th century. Those who believe lace albes, 18 inch tall mitres and "fiddleback" chasubles are the touchstone of Tradition would do well to examine such works of art as this to gain a broader appreciation of tradition.

Click on the images for an enlarged view.