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Good People, Bad Paintings

The sacristy of the church of S. Francesco in Leonessa is a rather austerely functional medium-sized room; the only decoration I remember is, at one end, a Crucifixion with S. Francesco and S. Chiara (dated 1574), and running along the long sides of the room, two series of 4 lunettes each, depicting Franciscan saints. So far so good, except when I was in the room, I only recognized six of them: St. Bonaventure was among them, and St. Louis of Toulouse, the only ones I can recall. Being me, I photographed the guys I didn't know; here they are:

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Back home with books and Web, I'm embarrassed about the first: S. Giacomo della Marca (1393‑1476; beatified in 1624, canonized in 1726) is considered a fairly important saint: a good biographical sketch can be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia; and as a non-Catholic who loves old books, I'm delighted to see that his hometown of Monteprandone still preserves his library, although they had to fight for it: text and photos at the official site, which also links to another good biography of the saint (in Italian).

In the case of the blessed Domenico of Leonessa, I feel less bad about my ignorance; my guide, a savvy young woman who is a native of Leonessa, had no idea who he was either, and in fact he's pretty obscure. His usual claim to what fame he has is that he set up one of the earliest pawnshops in central Italy: this is before pawnshops got a bad name; they were an invention meant to help the poor raise cash, and were not originally usurious. Interestingly, though, he was also involved in preserving St. Giacomo's library that I just sent you to: Giacomo wrote Pope Pius II — himself one of the more erudite, bookish pontiffs to grace the See — asking that Domenico and others be authorized to take charge of his books.

There is a Domenico da Leonessa, of exactly the same period, who worked as a painter. So far I've been unable to discover whether this is the same man; a fresco of the Trinity in this same church of S. Francesco is attributed to him.

And the paintings on this page? (Notice I'm avoiding calling them frescoes, which would mean they were painted on wet plaster so that the pigments bind with the plaster: for all I know, these are painted on a dry wall surface.) Mid-20th century is my guess. That doesn't automatically condemn them: 20c can be good — but not this stuff.

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Page updated: 6 Jul 04