The Golden Legend Jacobus de Voragine was one of the most popular books in the Middle Ages. Although historically questionable, the Golden Legen is one of the most important sources for the analysis of Christian iconography and for the analysis of works of art.
By: Yolanda Silva, author of the online course Iconography of the Saints.
Jacobus de Voragine
Jacobus di Voragine was born in Genoa (Ligura), circa 1226-1230. In 1244, he joined a Dominican convent. Well recognized throughout the northern region of Ital, he took several important positions, which culminated in his appointment as Archbishop of Genoa in 1292, a position he maintained until his death in 1298.
He played an important role in the process of pacification between the Guelphs and the Ghibelins, which later, in 1816, was recognized by Pope Pius VII, who beatified him.
Jacobus de Voragine works| The Golden Legend
Throughout his religious life, he wrote several sermons and reflections about the saints and the Virgin Mary. He was the author of the Chronicle of Genoa and, in his final years, the Legenda Aurea (also known as Lombardica Historia). The latter is a compilation of stories of the lives of saints and martyrs, of episodes of the lives of Jesus and the Virgin and diverse information concerning the holy days according to the liturgical year.
Beyond these aspects the Golden Legend has an originality that comes from thinking the time, this great question of all civilizations and religions. Read more about this.
The book became immensely popular in the Mediaeval Ages and it was translated into several languages, all over Europe. One of the first translations was made for the English language, by William Caxton, in 1483.
You can consult or download copies of the works of Jacobus de Voragine at Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal.
The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine in art
The book had several additions made to it gradually over the years. It was the basis for several Mediaeval artists, who saw in the descriptions of the episodes the inspiration for their illustrations and art. The book lost popularity during the time of the Protestant Reformation. The lack of historicism o the narrations was considered unacceptable and thus the book was regarded as obsolete.
In fact, the book is mainly a reading about the important and inspiring points that serve as basis for the Christian and Catholic ideal. The Latin word Legenda, translates into Reading, in the sense of something that must be read. Thus, and as the German historian Heinrich Gunter explains, the Legenda does include some facts that are historically genuine, but side by side with a narrative whose function comes down to the commemoration of the Holy Names in a pedagogical sense.
The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine as an Iconographic Source
Although considered historically questionable, the reading of the episodes of the Saints' lives continued to serve as a basis for artists, who did not dismiss the narratives for their illustrations and the creation of great works of art.
Want to know more about iconography? Read the post.
In the context of Iconography and studies related to Christian Iconography, the work cannot be ignored as one of the most important sources.
Get to know the online courses about art history and art analysis
PART 1 – First Notions
1. First notions: Icon, Iconography and Iconology
2. The evolution and definition of the Iconography as an area of study
3. The Panofsky method
PART 2 – Christian Iconography
1 – Art and Christianity – the image as a vehicle for a message
2 – Graphic and written sources
3 – The first symbols of Christianity
PART 3 – Iconography of the Saints
1. Saints and martyrs: General aspects
2. Clerical vestments
3. Most veneered Saints: symbols and attributes
What is the importance of iconographic and symbolic analysis in the study and reading of works of art?