The main painting, surrounded by a fine, gold frame, portrays a bishop standing in a meadow with a nimbus, mitre, cape, liturgical garments and gloves. In his right hand is a closed book with the Virgin upon it holding a fruit in her left hand, like the new Eve, and the Child in her arms. The bishop’s staff is in his left hand. Behind him is a path disappearing into a wood with a man, seen from the back, walking along it with a sword and a long rod upon his shoulder. On the right is a plain church crowned by a spire on the crossing. Depicted in the historiated frame around the main image is a hunting scene showing a boar in a ford fleeing from two mastiffs. A huntsman on the left draws his bow to shoot an arrow at it whilst one of the assistants, with a knife in his belt, brandishes a spear, and the other on the right, with a spear on his shoulder and a knife in his belt, sounds a horn.
The image of the theologian bishop originated in the countless portraits of writers and philosophers in Antiquity. It must be remembered that since suffrages contain an episode characteristic of the life of the saints, they are a sort of collection of biographies, a literary genre which had been highly popular since the Hellenistic period. These collections of the lives of important people were illustrated with portraits, as in the case of the Hebdomades or Lives of famous men by Marcus Varro, who had the idea of inserting the portraits of seven hundred people which he sent around the world, according to Pliny the Elder in Naturalis Historia (xxxv, 2). One of the different ways used in Antiquity to depict famous people and, particularly, writers was to show them on foot reading an unrolled scroll, an iconographical type well known in classical art. When Christians began to add portraits to certain biblical books, they adapted the type showing the author standing. Prophets in particular are depicted in two ways: holding a rolled up scroll in their left hand, as in the famous statue of Demosthenes, or reading an unrolled scroll, as in the representations of Euripides and Virgil at the beginning of their writings. However, although the model of the standing author was not abandoned, once the codex format became firmly established, the predominant type was that of the seated figure. Many opportunities to add decorative frames or other human figures to author portraits arose in the course of the Middle Ages.
In the case of the theologian bishop, the portrait covers virtually the entire folio – and full-page images were probably also used for the other saints depicted – and he is set in a landscape with a closed codex instead of a rolled up scroll. Furthermore, the vestments are no longer classical in style but rather in keeping with the sixteenth-century social standing of the person in the portrait. Although it is difficult to identify this theological bishop by the attribute of the Virgin and Child upon the codex alone, he was undoubtedly a Marian, and this attribute suggests that he might be St Boniface of Lausanne, whose feast day is February 19th. He was born in Brussels and educated by the Cistercian nuns of La Cambra (Camera Sanctae Mariae). He studied in Paris and taught dogma there, coming to be known as one of the university’s finest lecturers. He left during a students’ strike when his students refused to return to their classes, and transferred his chair to the University of Cologne. He was appointed bishop of Lausanne in about 1230, a post he held for nine years because his zeal and openness were interpreted as disdain and resentment. Having awoken Emperor Frederick II’s hostility for publicly denouncing the corruption of the emperor and the local clergy, Boniface was attacked and seriously wounded in 1239. In his conviction that he was not apt for the post of bishop, he requested the pope to relieve him of his duties, which he did. Boniface lived in the Cistercian convent of La Cambra as its chaplain where he died in 1265. Although his beatification did not occur until 1702, he was deemed to be a saint by popular acclaim by dint of the virtues showed in his lifetime, and was included in the suffrage of the saints as a special devotion of the patron, even though the Church had not yet announced its decision: an indication of the utterly personal nature that characterises books of hours. He is usually portrayed as a Cistercian bishop with an image of the Virgin and Child upon a book. He is venerated in Brussels, Cologne, Lausanne and Paris.
Carlos Miranda García-Tejedor
Doctor in History