The placement of saints in images should not lead to questions about their position in heaven
Year mention: 1617
Saints ; The position of saints in paintings
Not corresponding with Church teaching/dogma
Visual tradition/Artistic model vs. written Tradition/History

One should not worry too much about the depiction of saints whether their position in the painting corresponds to their position in heaven

Molanus, Johannes
Frostispiece of Molanus, De historia sanctarum imaginum et picturarum (1617), Antwerp, Gasparus Bellerus
Frontispiece of Molanus, De historia sanctarum imaginum et picturarum (1617), Antwerp, Gasparus Bellerus
Augsburg, Staats- und Stadtbibliothek — Th H 1475. Digital Reproduction: München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, 2015.

In book 2 chapter 46, Molanus discusses the position of saints in paints and how this should be interpreted. The bottom line of Molanus’ argumentation in this chapter is that the position of saints in painting does not reflect their position in heaven and neither does it say anything about the relation between different saints. Therefore, one should not give too much weight to these matters and that it is not worth quarrelling about.
The first matter Molanus discusses is the question of the placement of a saint in an artwork and the assumed correspondence to its position in heaven, but he argues that one should not worry too much about this. He says that it sometimes can happen that the circumstances lead to depicting saints in a hierarchy that is not in line with the teaching of the Church, but there is no need to spend attention to it.

“But taking into account the nature of the place, as we have said, should not lead to undue anxiety when it comes to respecting the exposition of the paintings the order which one imagines in one’s mind to be that which is found in heaven. Too much anxiety to avoid this abuse would be excessive, and sometimes it happens by a just combination of circumstances that an image of a saint of high dignity is placed on the left. I believe that such a thing has happened in the image of a crucified person seen in chapter 6 of the book of the miracles of Cyr and John, where the Precursor of the Lord is presented on the right, while the Mother of God is on the left; so that there is no need to wring one’s mind over whether John the Baptist is the greatest in heaven or John the Evangelist; or whether Barbara precedes Catherine in glory; or the contrary. And so with other similar cases.”

“Quia vero loci rationem habendam esse diximus, nemo proptera multum anxius sit, ut in picturis statuendis eum ordinem observet quem ipse sua imaginatione concipit esse in coelo. Nimia anxietas est hac in re vitanda et aliquando accidit per iustam occasionem quod dignioris imago a sinistris collocetur. Quale quid accidisse credo in ea crucifixi imagine de qua capire secto huius libri ex libro miraculorum Cyri et Ionnis, ubi praecursir Domini a dextris, Dei para autem a sinistris repraesentatur. Sicut ergo non est contendendum an Ioannes Baptista maior sit in coelo, an Ioannes Evangelista; utrum Barbara praecedat in gloria coeliesti Catharinam an contra, ac de similbus.”

Date mention

Historical Location

Molanus, De historia sanctarum imaginum et picturarum (1617), book 2, ch. 46, 162

Molanus 1996, 259.

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