Portrayal of Street Beggars in 'Madonna dei Sartori'

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Bonifacio painted another earlier work known as Madonna dei Sartori, 1533, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice. In this altarpiece, there is a cripple shown in the corner. St Homobono is one of the patrons of the Scuola and is giving alms to the beggar. He puts down his tool of trade in order to do this, nonetheless, he keeps his hand constantly in his purse. He was representing the scholar’s participation in charity but this particular way he is performing it was soon to be impossible due to the abolishment of beggars on the streets. This was an institutional form of charity rather than indiscriminate almsgiving which was emphasized by the government as a way to manage the disease. The scuole had responsibilities and they were meant to enact charitable beings.

St Roch was another saint who appeared in paintings. He was the anti-plague saint and his popularity grew with the founding of the Scuola di San Rocco in 1478 when the epidemic was particularly bad. He was usually dressed in a cloak and had a pilgrim cap on him. He can be seen loosening his trousers to check for signs of disease. Here one can see a bubo on his inner thing. One can see this scene in Saints Sebastien, Vincent Ferrer, Roch and Peter Martyr, 1475-80, Gallerie dell’Accademia by Andrea da Murano (1462-1512). On the lower right-hand side, the angel figure is looking at the saint’s plague bubo while making the sign of benediction. Another painting with this saint in it is St. Roch, 1477-80, S. Eufemia, Venice by Bartolomeo Vivarini (1432-1499). He is shown again with an open wound and an angel acting as a paramedic trying to help him. It is thought that these wounds became a representation of stigmata. This led to the idea that although these diseased people were in purgatory now, they would be going to heaven when they die. The relevance of St Roch showing his wound was so that the people who were diseased could be diagnosed. The visible marks such as buboes, and scabrous sores all were symptoms of infection. Mutilated limbs and faces were a common indication of leprosy. It is also possible that having St Roch reveal his plague bubo reminds the viewers that some of the symptoms can be hidden. This led to suspicion of all itinerants and legislative action against them. In 1506 it was made illegal for beggars to hide their faces in order to be able to identify who was diseased and to protect against the spread of the plague epidemic.

Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti, 1518-1594) created numerous works in San Rocco that included this theme of vagrancy and disease. One particular painting is St Roch Healing the Plague-Stricken, 1549, San Rocco, Venice. There are direct motifs of the lame and sick in this painting. The principles of faith and charity also appear. It was that that the key to Saint Roch’s appeal was that not only was he a healer, but he was also a victim of the plague himself. He cured plague sufferers throughout Italy on his pilgrimage to Rome. He was always shown as a traveler, it is possible that he became the patron saint of anti-plague because it was through that leprosy and bubonic plague originated from the East and spread among pilgrims. Venice claimed this saint’s body and used his popularity to its advantage. His mass worship came from the fast need for a saintly representative for the plague. Saint Roch became the connection between hospitality and hospitalization.

The imagery of Saint Roch was used to draw attention to this fatal condition and his miraculous recovery but it also may have been utilized to represent the contemporary medicine of the time. The boils had to be punctured and drained in order to remove the toxins and restore the body to its natural health. The positioning of the plague bubo also adds to the horror and shock factor. It was placed near the sex organs, instead of near the armpit or behind the ear. This feeling of fear along with the impending threat of syphilis that was spreading around the city lead to the increased portrayal of diseased and vagrant figures.

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Another painting by Tintoretto, known as his masterpiece, was The Last Supper, 1576, in San Stefano, Venice. He did many versions of this painting, however, his rearranging allowed for this version to really portray the humility of the scene. The approach is a lot simpler with the twelve Apostles depicted barefoot and in handmade, patchy clothing. They are either kneeling or sitting on stools around the table. It is set in a simple local interior with a view of a kitchen in the background. The beggars in the foreground are located at the two main visual points of entry into the composition. Christ is then positioned at the vanishing point, creating an undeviating contact with the beggars who patiently await their charity. This triangular correspondence forces the viewer to connect with the beggars and form a link between them and Christ. This is also the moment that Christ gives the wafer to Peter initiation the sacrament of the Eucharist which is an illustration of the supreme act of charity. Another common motif in these paintings that appears here is the dog that leans in curiously towards the middle ground of the painting.

To conclude, in this type of art, the poor were allowed to enter into new topics within the pictorial realm and interact with the viewer. the way they featured was through the act of almsgiving which can be seen in the examples discussed above. This action was carried out in order to satisfy the holy duty of the rich man and to provide vagrants with the materials they needed. This transaction showed the gap between the rich and poor but was also a necessary one due to the new legislation that was enforced. Venetians were proud of their city of luxury which was why measures were taken in order to help counteract this spread of disease and the existence of the poor homeless. New diseases were able to spread by touch and contact so it was important to try and control this before it got out of hand. This was difficult due to the layout of Venice and its tight spaces.

The main message of these paintings of poverty was to keep people aware of this charitable act. The rise of almsgiving in Venetian painting promoted the benign activities of the state and was to compensate for the new veiling of the poor in the city. The usage of Saints Lazarus and Roch in the imagery legitimizes the state’s emphasis on moral citizenship, systematized philanthropy, and enforced quarantining. They became emblematic charitable figures in all their depictions. Due to the fact that this particular subject rarely appeared in Italian painting before this period, one can deduce that its sudden appearance must be linked to the widespread charitable reform that was taking place.

The particular beliefs associated with the motifs shown in these paintings were also another message that was being conveyed by the artists of this time. The display of such horrific wounds and infections was to make sure that people were aware of what they were to look out for. Due to the religious element within the images though, the wounds created an association with Christ and led to the belief that although the vagrants were in purgatory now they would not have to suffer once they died possibly giving some sort of relief to them.

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Portrayal of Street Beggars in ‘Madonna dei Sartori’. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/portrayal-of-street-beggars-in-madonna-dei-sartori/
“Portrayal of Street Beggars in ‘Madonna dei Sartori’.” Edubirdie, 21 Apr. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/portrayal-of-street-beggars-in-madonna-dei-sartori/
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