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, as seen in the second picture at right.
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, as seen in the third picture at right. Thus a crucifix is one of the saint's attributes, as in the top right picture and in her portrait with two other Dominican saints (bottom picture at right).
Simple crosses are also used as attributes. In the image of the fetched crucifix (third picture at right), crosses adorn the saint's habit; in the Christ Child image (second at right), one cross hangs from the Child's neck and another adorns the border.
The statue in the top right picture 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's 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 in the first and fourth pictures at right, but otherwise she wears the usual Dominican black cape and veil.
Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Georgia Regents University, revised 2015-07-25.