Saint Thomas and Bishop Fantino of Padua (Siglo XVII) by Baltazar Vargas de Figueroa (attributed)Santa Clara Museum
The idea of the immaculate conception of the Virgin generated great discussions between different sectors of the Church throughout the history of Christianity. It referred to the fact that the Virgin was free from the stain of original sin from her conception.
This painting portrays two characters who played an essential role in the dispute: Saint Thomas Aquinas, doctor of the Church, and Fantino Dandolo, who held the position of Bishop of Padua between 1448 and 1459.
In the lower part of the composition, we see the Venetian bishop kneeling and dressed up with a pontifical cape. In front of him, there is a table with an open book, the bishop’s miter, and the staff, elements that evidence the position that Fantino held in the Church. With his arms open, the bishop looks up.
In the upper right corner, seated on a cumulus of clouds, we see Saint Thomas Aquinas, that appears before Dandolo wearing a white habit and black cloak, characteristic attire of the Dominican order, to which this saint belonged in the 13th century. A gold chain hangs from his neck, and a sun shines on his chest. With his left hand, he holds a book on which a church, symbol of his rank as doctor, can be seen.
Saint Thomas points to his right, where we see a figure of the Virgin, represented in her dedication of Immaculate Conception. Following the iconographic model with which she was usually represented, here the Immaculate is shown standing on a silver moon wearing a white habit and a blue cape. Some cherubim stand at his feet.
Saint Thomas played a crucial role in the debate on the figure of the Immaculate Conception, as after a complex dissertation in his Summa Theologica, he concluded that the Virgin contracted original sin at the moment of her conception, but was purified before of his birth.
For his part, Fantino Dandolo strongly influenced Pope Sixtus IV, the first pontiff to speak publicly about the Immaculate Conception in his constitution Cum prae excelsa of February 27th, 1477. Sixtus IV, inspired by the prayers that Bishop Fantino composed based on the Summa Theologica of Saint Thomas Aquinas, sought to have a peaceful debate around the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin.
At the foot of the table the following text is read on a cartouche: “Revelacion Del glorioso S. THOMAS de aquino Al obispo de padua Fantino en que le Declara el Mist. De la immaculada CON y le exorta ce celebre la fiesta en su yglesia: aprobada por mas de 100 grandes antiguos y modernos y examinada en el Sagdo. Tribunal de la suprema ynquisicion”. Thus, the text explains the scene presented in the image and defends the belief in the Immaculate supporting it by Saint Thomas and Bishop Fantino.
The debate on the Immaculate reached the territory of New Granada. It was resolved in 1854 when Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
This image and its presence in the Santa Clara Museum can be considered, then, as a defense by the Poor Clares of the invocation of the Immaculate Conception. A similar version of this painting can be found in the Chapel of La Bordadita at the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá, an institution originally linked to the Dominican order.
María Constanza Toquica Clavijo
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