Saint Dominic: 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 reconquered territories. From Spain it also spread to the Americas, again emphasizing preaching and conversion.1

Because of the wide reach of the order, images of St. Dominic are very common in Latin countries. Sometimes if it is clear who the figure is the saint's only attributes will be his book, tonsure, and Dominican habit. Otherwise he will be identified by one or more of these attributes:


Perhaps the most common attribute is a stalk of lilies, as at right. The lilies refer to the saint's notable chastity. (For example, see this passage in the Golden Legend.)


In the Golden Legend St. Dominic's mother while pregnant dreams that she will give birth to a dog who will hold a torch in its mouth and "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 in the second picture at right.


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).


From the 15th century onward St. Dominic was credited with receiving the Rosary from the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child (example. In many images Mary and the Child dispense two rosaries, one to Dominic and one to St. Catherine of Siena (example). Tiepolo has a grand ceiling fresco in which Dominic passes on the rosary to the multitudes. At the base of the image he places the souls in Purgatory, for whom the faithful are especially encouraged to pray the Rosary. Other images of the institution of the Rosary also emphasize the importance of this prayer for the souls in Purgatory (example).


Although Dominic's innovation was to found an order dedicated to preaching in the world, the legends still attribute to him the virtues of a contemplative. Thus Fra Angelico painted a fresco of the saint embracing the Cross in the manner of St. Mary Magdalene, and Tarchiani's painting mentioned above illustrates the Golden Legend's passage on his nightly penitence.

The 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 historiated capital in the Metropolitan Museum.

Prepared in March, 2015 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University, revised 2015-10-25.


Crivelli, St. Dominic, circa 1472 (See the description page)

Statue of St. Dominic outside a church in Com­po­ste­la, Spain (Photo­graph by Richard Stracke, shared under At­tri­bu­tion-Non­Com­mercial-Share­Alike li­cense.)

Catalonian altarpiece with episodes from St. Dominic's life (See the description page)


  • Lived 1170-1221
  • In 1970 the Roman Catholic Church changed St. Dominic's feast day from August 4 to August 8.




1 Farmer, 123-24. Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Order of Preachers."