Baroque’s festive nature was definitely supportive of military
victory and exposure of wealth, as is manifest in the corpus.
Although the tombstones at St John’s do have an element of
mourning in them, they are at the same time a celebration of
life and a grand display of victory over death. In Baroque
art, the great masters are without exception outstanding in
dynamically stirring the emotions of the onlooker, while the
lesser artists are straining after effect, which might be
classified as sensationalism.
The artistic styles of the tombstones at St John's is divided
into various typologies. The example here is classified as a
Late Baroque pictorial typology. The upper part of the
artwork is taken up by a pictorial treatment, often including a
wider range of military paraphernalia and allegorical figures.
The lower part will have retained its distinctive Late Baroque
monumental characteristics, with the escutcheon, pedestal
and architectural ornaments.
Skeletons, as symbols of death, appear frequently in the
iconography of St John’s tombstones, alone or together with
attributes such as a scythe, hourglass, book, quill or axe.
Since Dante (1265-1321), who in his “Divina Commedia”
had the reading public warmed up for Death personified,
and after the illustrations in Petrarch’s (1304-1374) work
“Trionfi”, especially the Triumph of Death (“Trionfo della
Morte”), the popularity of the skeleton as an image of Death
personified is undiminished. Skeletons and skulls represent
the Baroque macabre in these tombstones. Death is the
great equaliser, as it strips the wealthy of their possessions,
and cures the despondent of their suffering.
A window offers a view to Heaven and an arched
arrangement, here represented either as a stone arch,
garland arch or an opened set of draperies, symbolises the
heavens or Heaven. It also can mean the transition of the
soul from earth to Heaven, that is eternity, especially when
cherubs hold open the folds of the draperies.
Angels are the messengers of the gods, who appear both in
Classical mythology and in Christianity. In the context of
funerary art also called Putti or Cherubs. In the Roman
polytheism they were called genii, guardian spirits, who
accompanied the deceased’s soul to heaven. On the
tombstones the angels are often represented hovering in
the upper part of the tombstone, holding the escutcheon in
mid-air. The escutcheon represents here the soul of the
deceased, while the coat of arms refers to his glorious
Fama, or the Angel of Fame, heralds one's reputation into
the four winds, bringing forth great splendour and praise,
and gestures at someone praiseworthy (here she points to
the name of the deceased knight, inscribed in the
cartouche. The cartouche contains the inscribed text, here
incorporated in the pedestal.
Winged effigies are commonly used to signify the soul in
transition. Wings are an attribute of Celerity and the desire
of a soul for God.
The crown is the symbol of the ruler or sovereign, and it
proclaims power, victory and honour. Here, most
escutcheons are set over the eight-pointed cross of the
Order and surmounted by an open crown.
The escutcheon is a shield embellished with the arms and/or
other insigna, symbols or heraldic devices. It is here often
displayed as fallen at an angle, which symbolises the death
of the holder of the shield, who is no longer there to hold it
Scythes are the mowing instrument of a farmer and of the
Grim Reaper, who cuts short one’s life and severs one from
one’s root with one easy movement.
The rosette is often used as a decorative motif on a
tombstone’s frame. In Christianity a rosette is an attribute of
the Virgin Mary.
The clepsydra or hour-glass stands for mortality, transience
of earthly life, and passing time. It also represents the cycle
of life and death, and heaven and earth, because it needs
to be turned over to function. More often then not, the
hourglass has a pair of wings, to show that time really flies
(tempus fugit). In Christian art it is an attribute of Father
Time and Death.
Death is also represented by Father Time, a grey-bearded
winged figure. Father Time is also known as Chronos.
Tombstones are like parted curtains, allowing a view of a
deceased’s life and death. Open curtains have also the
same significance as an arched arrangement, namely
Heaven. In the theatrics of Baroque, closed curtains mean
that one’s life is over.
The Latin text of the tombstone of Frà.Giuliuo Bovio:
opprimit lapis mortales exuvias / fr(atris) Iulij Bovij Bonon
(iensis), angliae prioris./ hic pietatem, iustitiam, prudentiam /
habuit, comites et duces./5 unius pontificiae triremis,/
tercentum peditum dux in urbe avenionensi, / communis
aerarij per XXIII annos secretarius,/ ad s(anctissimum) Pontif
(icem) Clementem XIorator / extraordinarius./10 fidem erga
suum principem, / obsequium erga suum ordinem / aeque
probavit, / ad maiora natus, nisi mors obstitisset. / abbas
Guido Bovius, fratri germano,/15 doloris et grati animi
monumentum/ posuit anno sal(utis) MDCCVI.
This slab covers the mortal remains of Frà. Giulio Giulio
Bovio of Bologna, Prior of England. He possessed
compassion, righteousness, prudence, comrades-in-arms
and leaders. Captain of a Pontifical Galley, Commander of
three hundred foot-soldiers in the city of Avignon, for 23
years Secretary of the Common Treasury, Ambassador
Extraordinary to His Sanctity Pope Clemens XI. He proved
his credibility towards his Prince, equally his allegiance
towards his Order, destined for greater things, if Death had
not stood in the way. The abbot Guido Bovio placed, in
mourning, this as monument of his grateful memory for his
brother, in the Year of Salvation 1706.
|Scroll down the page for an explanation of some elements of
the iconography and symbols.
|For further details regarding the art, iconography and
symbols employed in the tombstones and sepulchral
monuments at St John's Co-Cathedral, please refer to
"Memento Mori, a companion to the most beautiful floor in
the world" by Dane Munro. Photography by Maurizio Urso.
Available on line.