St. Augustine

17th century
Oil on canvas
Museum of the Church of San Paio, Santiago de Compostela, Spain

The pierced heart entered Augustininian iconography in the 17th century, owing to a passage in The Confessions: "Thou hadst pierced our heart with thy love, and we carried thy words, as it were, thrust through our vitals. The examples of thy servants whom thou hadst changed from black to shining white, and from death to life, crowded into the bosom of our thoughts and burned and consumed our sluggish temper, that we might not topple back into the abyss" (IX:3).

If Augustine speaks of conversion as a change from black to white, the artist seems to emphasize the reverse. The saint has set aside his splendid white mitre (the pointed hat in the background, signifying his status as bishop of Hippo) and is dressed in the dark garb of a contemplative. The skull and crucifix are common symbols of contemplation, as in many portraits of St. Mary Magdalene.

More of the St. Augustine

Photographed at the museum by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.