The Arc of St. Dominic

Yesterday, I intended to post about the tomb of St. Dominic, but I was too busy. This morning, I awoke very early (3:36 AM) and couldn't get back to sleep.

After my Morning Prayer, I decided to post.  First, I googled "Arc of St. Dominic."  It is also called the Tomb of St. Dominic.  Wikipedia's article was very interesting.

Yesterday, I would have just told you about the Ark, but today I can embellish.

When St. Dominic died, people wanted to dress the corpse in fine silks and talked of elaborate head stones.  But the friars insisted that Dominic's wishes be adhered to, i.e., bury him under the feet of his brethren.

And so Dominic's body was placed in a simple wooden coffin and put in the ground.  But in 1267, a beautiful tomb, so large that it was called an "Ark," was begun.  The Ark was added to by various artists over the centuries, so that it wasn't completed until 1768.  You can visit and see it in the Basilica of San Domenico in Bologna, Italy. 

The sarcophagus

The sarcophagus is the middle part and also the oldest part of the shrine. It contains the remains of Saint Dominic in a cypress coffin, with the exception of his head (which is preserved in the reliquary at the back of the monument). Nicola Pisano, already famous for his pulpit in the Pisa Baptistery, was asked in 1264 to construct this sarcophagus. He was certainly responsible for the design, but left the brunt of the work to his workshop, since in 1265 he was already at work on a new commission (the pulpit for the Siena Cathedral).
The front side was done in his workshop, partially by Nicola Pisano himself but mostly by his assistant Lapo di Ricevuto. and another famous sculptorArnolfo di Cambio. The Dominican brother fra Guglielmo da Pisa (who also designed in 1270 a pulpit in San Giovanni Fuorcivitas in Pistoia) made a small contribution. According to Gnudi (see ref.) an anonymous Fifth Master was also involved. A collaboration of several sculptors on a such a large commission was normal practice in medieval sculpture.
"St. Dominic resurrects the young Napoleone Orsini" (detail).
The sarcophagus recounts the life and miracles of Saint Dominic in a series of six carved panels. The compositions are neatly filled with figures in organized rows, giving a single approach to space. The sarcophagus is flanked on each corner by statues in high-relief of the Four Doctors of the Church.
The scenes are arranged in following sequence from left to right and counterclockwise:
  • On the left corner stands Paul the Apostle.
  • St. Dominic resurrects the young Napoleone Orsini, after a fatal fall from his horse. The expressive face of Saint Dominic, so different from the blander faces in this front panel, is attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio.
  • In the middle: a high-relief of A Virgin and Child.
  • The Miracle of the Book rejected by Fire, acting out a story of Dominic’s preaching in Fanjeaux, southern France, against the Albigensian heresy.
  • on the right corner St. Dominic with the Book and the Scourge.
  • The Angels bring Bread to the Friars thanks to Dominic’s Intercession, representing one of the first miracles of the saint.
  • The back of the tomb gives two scenes (each with three episodes), divided by a statue of Christ the Redeemer.
    • On the left a scene of the life of Blessed Reginald of Orléans, founder of the monastery in Bologna; the Blessed promises St Dominic to enter the Orderthe Blessed falls illthe Virgin heals him and gives him the habit of the Preaching Friars
    • on the right: St. Dominic asks pope Innocent III to approve the Orderthe pope dreams of the Saint supporting the basilica of the Lateranthe pope approves the foundation of the Order.
  • In the corner on the right: a high-relief of St. Augustine, author of the Dominican Rule.
  • The last relief gives two more episodes: The Apostles Peter and Paul appear to Saint Dominic, while he was praying in the basilica of St. Peter, and give him the staff and the Book (symbols of the Apostolic mission); the Saint sends his followers out on their mission to preach in the world.
Work on the sarcophagus was finished in 1267. This sarcophagus, originally with its caryatid supports, was taken as model for other tombs: the shrine of St Peter Martyr in the basilica of San Eustorgio in Milan, the shrine of St Luke (1316) in the basilica of San Giustina in Padua and the tomb of Beato Bertrando (c. 1334-1350) in Udine.

The crowning

The elaborate spire.
The ambitious addition of a crowning to the sarcophagus was commissioned in 1469 to Niccolò da Bari to complete this funeral monument. Work at this elaborate spire continued till 1473. But it is not clear why Niccolò did not complete his contract, even if he did continue intermittently at it until his 1494.
On top of a candelabrum, rising from the cyma, stands the impressive statue of the Eternal Father. The candelabrum is held by two putti, symbols of the sky, and four dolphins, symbols of the sea, all covered with festoons with fruit, symbols of the earth.
On the cornice at its base is in the middle a small Pietà, flanked by two winged angels (the Angel of the Annunciation and the Angel of the Passion), while on the four corners stand the four Evangelists in oriental robes. The lower part of the cyma is surrounded by several free-standing figures, the Patron Saints of Bologna: Saint Francis of AssisiSan Petronio (began by Niccolò but finished by young Michelangelo in 1494), Saint Dominic andSaint Florian. On the back stand the statues St Anne, St John the Baptist (sculpted by Girolamo Cortellini in 1539), San Vitale and San Procolo (Michelangelo, 1494 – the resemblance and the posture of this statue shows that he had already his "David" in mind at that time).
San Proculo (by Michelangelo).
Niccolò also added the delicate Candlestick-holding Angel on the left side of the altar slab, below the sarcophagus, while the one on the right side with its youthful strength is by Michelangelo. Michelangelo was paid thirty ducats by his patron Francesco Aldovrandi.
Because of the admiration he received for this splendid masterpiece, he was renamed Niccolò dell'Arca. Art critics perceive in this masterpiece a blend of influences: Burgundian, Florentine and non-Tuscan (such as details in clothing). The way these statuettes express their emotions and the patterns in their dresses and hair evoke the style of Jacopo della Quercia

[edit]The step

The step, between the sarcophagus and the altar slab, was the third addition to the monument. It was sculpted in 1532 by Alfonso Lombardi (1497–1547). Again it depicts a number of episodes form the life of Saint Dominic.
  • front: (left) St Dominic’s birth; the young Dominic sleeping on the floor as a penanceSaint Dominic shows his charity by selling his valuable hand-glossed parchments to help the poor (while he was studying in Palencia)
  • front (middle part) The Adoration of the Magi (with the inscription: Alphonsus de Lombardis Ferraniensis F(ecit))
  • front (right) The Saint is taken to Heaven on a ladder supported by Christ and the Virgin.

[edit]The altar

The marble altar was the last addition to the Arca. It was designed by Mauro Tesi (1730–1766) and later built by Alessandro Salviolini in 1768. On the altar slab stand the two statuettes of the angels holding a candlestick; on the left by Niccolò dell'Arca, on the right by Michelangelo.
The reliquary.
The frontal was sculpted in G. Battista Boudard's workshop in Parma in 1768. It represents St. Dominic's Burial, as designed by Carlo Bianconi (1732–1802).

[edit]The reliquary

Behind the altar, under the sarcophagus is a small chapel, protected by a bronze grill, containing the precious reliquary with the head of Saint Dominic. This masterpiece of gold and silver is the work of the goldsmith Jacopo Roseto da Bologna (1383). Its octagonal base is adorned with elaborate enamelled panels, related to events in the life of the saint. The shaft consists of three levels. It stands in the middle of a circle with winged angels. The shaft supports an octagonal temple, containing the head. It is adorned with Gothic windows and small statuettes in niches. The silver bust of the Saint crowns the whole, but it was added in a later stage.

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