The placement of St. Paul on the papal seal
Year mention: 1617
St. Paul
Figurative vs. literal reading
Judging art

The position of St. Paul on the papal seal should not give rise to quarrel and debate

Molanus, Johannes
Seal-Impression Pope Boniface VIII, 1292-1303
© The Trustees of the British Museum

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 third case presented in this chapter regards the Papal seal. Molanus argues that the placement of St. Paul on the Papal seal, which sometimes deviates from the teachings of the Church regarding his placement, should not give rise to quarrels and debate.

“This also applies to the seal of the Supreme Pontiff, and no one will accuse it of impropriety or imperiety because St. Paul is on the left of it, as in some images. In fact, this inverted and reversed arrangement is not recent and its antiquity recommends it to us for all kinds of reasons. This will be explained more fully later.”

“Quod autem attinet ad sigillum Pontificis, nemo illud imperitiae aut indecentiae arguat quia in eo, sicut et in quibusdam picturis: Petrus vero a sinistris. Innersa enim ista et praepostera ut apparet locatio non est recens, sed eam quoque antiquitas nobis variis de caussis commendat. Quod postea fuse explicabitur.”

Date mention

Historical Location

Iconclass Number

Molanus, De historia sanctarum imaginum et picturarum (1617), book 2, ch. 46, 163

Molanus 1996, 260.

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