Saint Dominic, Founder of the Order of Preachers (1170 - 1221): The Iconography

St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers (the "Dominicans") initially to preach against Albigensianism in Southern France and Italy. From there the order spread widely, especially in Spain, where it emphasized preaching to Moslems in the newly conquered territories. From Spain it also spread to the Americas, again emphasizing preaching and conversion.

Because of the wide reach of the order, images of St. Dominic are very common in Latin countries. Usually you will be able to identify them easily by these attributes:

Dog with Torch

According to the Golden Legend St. Dominic's mother while pregnant dreamed that she would give birth to a dog who would hold a torch in its mouth and would "burn the world." It has been suggested that the dog represents a pun on Dominicanus, the word for a Dominican friar, and domini canis, "dog of the Lord." At any rate, a dog is often shown at the saint's feet holding a torch in its mouth, as at left.

Star on Forehead

The Legend also relates that when St. Dominic was a baby his godmother saw a star on his forehead during the baptism, so another common attribute is a star either on the forehead  (example) or above the head (example).

Rosary

In the above example St. Dominic also carries a rosary, which a legend starting in the 15th century claimed had been given him by the Virgin Mary (example).

Lilies

Yet another attribute is a lily or stalk of lilies, referring to St. Dominic's notable chastity (example).

Book and Staff

Finally, we often see St. Dominic with a book and a staff (example), a reference to a vision recounted in the Golden Legend in which Peter and Paul give him these items and urge him to take them into the world and preach. (In the sculpture at left, the position of the outstretched right hand seems to suggest that originally it held a staff.)

A given image may use any combination of these six attributes, in addition to the saint's tonsure and black-and-white Dominican habit. Sometimes, when the context has established who the figure is, the habit and tonsure may be the only attributes.

St. Dominic was also renowned as a contemplative. One image emphasizing this aspect of his life is Fra Angelico's painting of St. Dominic embracing the cross in a manner suggestive of Mary Magdalene's.

The Golden Legend says that after receiving Dominic's request to establish the Order of Preachers the Pope had a dream in which the saint was protecting the church of St. John Lateran from falling down, and that the pope thereupon decided to honor Dominic's request. The dream is portrayed in a 15th-century manuscript illumination.

Feast day: August 4 or 8

At left, sculpture in Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Other images with Our Lady of the Rosary:

In "The Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary"
Baroque-era painting in Trastevere, Rome
Statue with Catherine of Siena
Painting with Catherine and other saints
Other images:
Spanish
                  altarpiece, 1300-2014th-century altarpiece
Crivelli painting, 15th century
Mateis painting, 18th century
Hagiography:
Golden Legend #113: html or pdf
Early South English Legendary 278-88
Internet Medieval Sourcebook, under "High Middle Ages"

Menu