Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Pontificals of S. Charles Borromeo

S' Charles Borromeo as
Archbishop of Milan.
A painting of c. 1578.
In the Museum of the Archbishop's Sanctuary of the Beata Vergine dei Miracoli in Corbetta (Archdiocese of Milan) is a little known portrait of S. Charles Borromeo by the artist Lattuado.  It is thought that this portrait - which is about half life-size and housed in an ornate baroque frame - was painted around the year 1578, but certainly during the saint's time as Archbishop of Milan.

Although not a felicitous likeness of Saint Charles, it is a clear depiction of him vested in the pontificals of a late 16th century bishop.  We are pleased to describe this in detail.

S. Charles is shewn wearing a white dalmatic and tunicle beneath his chasuble.  The sleeves of these are long and closed around the arm, where they are ornamented with a narrow golden galloon.

The chasuble is silver in colour, but ornamented with gold embroideries.  A large TAU can be seen on the chasuble, formed from narrow galloons.  The decorative scheme is entirely of stylised scroll-work.

Interestingly, the chasuble itself, reaching only to the elbows, is not as wide as S. Charles had regulated himself for use in the Archdiocese of Milan.  But it is typical of chasubles found in Italy in the 16th century.  Over the chasuble, S. Charles is wearing his pallium as Archbishop of Milan.  It is small in size and shaped so that it sits around the shoulders of the wearer.

S. Charles is wearing a liturgical glove, embroidered in gold with a Cross.  That portion of the glove which extends beyond the hand itself and onto the arm terminates in a small tassel. But otherwise the glove is free of ornament.  In his left hand he is holding a crozier of silver and gold but ornamented quite simply. 

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this portrait is the mitre worn by S. Charles.  Although the detail of the painting in this reproduction is far from clear,  the mitre is seen to be ornamented with traditional circulus and titulus , with the addition of embroidered medallions on either side.  What is striking is the
shape of the mitre, which is quite unlike other examples from the period : indeed, it is quite like our modern mitres in its shape.  Elsewhere in Italy and Europe throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, mitres had become increasingly more lofty, until they reached their most exaggerated and unattractive form in the 17th and 18th centuries.  S. Charles' mitre is in contrast with these excesses and has much more to do with the ancient traditions of the mitre.

Comparing this painting with the image of S. Peter Damian discussed in our previous post, we can see continuity between the early 15th century and the late 16th century, but also several differences.  One difference is the rule that all the vestments were to be of the same liturgical colour - quite unlike the practice beforehand.  The decoration and shape of chasubles, moreover, had changed considerably, chasubles being narrower and less flowing and their ornamentation being more stylised and less pictorial.