BERNARDINO DA SIENA, born at Massa-Marittima on September 8, 1380 (that is, the year of the death of St. Catherine of Siena) died on one of his missionary journeys on May 20, 1444, in the Franciscan monastery at Aquila in the Abruzzi.
Bernardino, of the old knightly family of the Albizecchi, in 1402 joined the Franciscan Order in Siena. He himself was strict in his observance of the rule; preaching peace and love and simplicity of life, he was the most popular and influential orator of Italy in the first half of the Quattrocento. In a sense he resembles Fra Angelico, and if we wish to have a complete picture of the early fifteenth century we must not overlook his presence in the humanist and Renaissance culture of Florence, just awakening in 1402 in the famous competition for the second door of the baptistry. His Latin sermons are a model of ecclesiastical eloquence, his sermons in the popular tongue are spiced with refreshingly blunt home truths, but are likewise irradiated with a gentle worldly wisdom, so that even to-day we can understand their direct and immense influence. The holy man invariably refused higher ecclesiastical honours. The sign of Jesus, I.H.S., created by him, was adopted later by the Jesuits.
Bernardino was canonised by Nicholas V. as early as 1450, and we have a detailed description of his funeral by an eye-witness. For our purpose it is especially interesting to learn that Bernardino’s corpse lay in state for twenty-six days in the cathedral at Aquila before it was committed to the earth. As this was in southern Italy in the month of May, we may perhaps assume that the body so exhibited was an effigy.
Such an assumption would explain without difficulty the existence and purpose of the wax mask, especially as it has found its way from the monastery where the saint ended his earthly course to the Provincial Museum at Aquila. The mask is astonishingly well preserved.
But it should be observed that it was also used as a model forstatues of the saint; the most characteristic of these statues, a terra-cotta full-face figure, the work ofNiccolo dell’ Area (about 1450), is in the private collection of Ruggero Schiff-Giorgini in Rome. (Casimir von Chledowsky: Siena, Berlin, 1923, vol. ii. pp. 108 ft.; Max Kirchstein: Siena, Munich, 1923, p. 456; Piero Misciatelli: La Maschera di S. Bernardino da Siena. Rassegna d’ Arte senese, Anno XVIII, 1925, fascicoli i.-ii.) The photographs are the gift of Baron G. B. Manieri, Director of the Museum at Aquila.
Black & White Photos and quotations from: Benkard, Ernst, & Green, Margaret (1927). Undying Faces, A Collection of Death Masks. New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.