Saint Agnes of Montepulciano, Prioress (1268-1317): The Iconography

St. Agnes entered the convent at Montepulciano at the age of nine, then at fifteen founded another convent in nearby Proceno, and finally established a second convent back in Montepulciano several years later. She was canonized in 1726.

Raymond of Capua's life of St. Agnes relates a number of miracles that are later illustrated in the art. In one, she was brought Communion by an angel (image). In another she was invited by the Virgin Mary to hold the Christ Child (image).

Two miracles related in Raymond's Life are important in the iconography of St. Agnes. Early in her life as a religious in Montepulciano she was praying before the crucifix that hung high above the convent's altar. She prayed so fervently that she was lifted up to the level of the crucifix and was able to embrace and kiss it.

The other miracle occurred at the end of her life, when she asked the sisters in the Proceno convent to send her the crucifix before which she had prayed there. When the sisters refused, an angel fetched the crucifix for her (image). Thus a crucifix is one of the saint's attributes, as at left and in this portrait with two other Dominican saints.

Simple crosses are also used as attributes. In the image of the fetched crucifix, crosses adorn the saint's habit; in the Christ Child image, one cross hangs from the Child's neck and another adorns the border.

The statuary at left uses lilies and a lamb, two of the saint's other attributes. The lilies symbolize purity.1 The lamb (in Latin, agnus) is a punning reference to Agnes' name. It also links her to her namesake, the martyred St. Agnes of ancient times, whose portraits are typically accompanied by a lamb.

St. Agnes' habit is sometimes all white, as at left and in the group portrait, but otherwise she wears the usual Dominican black cape and veil.

Feast day: April 20

At left, an 18th-century statue of the saint.

Hagiography:

Raymond of Capua, Vita Sanctae Agnetis de Monte-Politiano (in Latin). In Acta Sanctorum April vol. 2, 790-810.
For an English-language life based on Raymond, see Butler II, 135-137.

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1Sill 52.