Dominicans, Franciscans, and the art of political rivalry: two drawings and a fresco by Giovanni Battista della Rovere
The old rivalry between Dominicans and Franciscans took on a new dimension in late sixteenth-century Milan as the two largest mendicant orders sought to proclaim their relevance in the years following the Council of Trent. Two drawings by Giovanni Battista della Rovere in the Fogg Museum underscore the ways in which these groups used visual images to clarify their roles within the Catholic community and steer public opinion in their favour. The Franciscans responded to the growing popularity of Dominican rosary confraternities by resurrecting the story of St Francis receiving the Porziuncola Indulgence from the Virgin, which made her gift of the rosary to Dominic seem almost trivial by comparison. The Dominicans, meanwhile, sought to reinforce the authenticity of the rosary legend, which came under attack in the late sixteenth century, by commissioning images that placed Dominic's use of the rosary in historical context, such as the scene of Dominic preaching with the rosary before the Fourth Lateran Council, depicted in one of the drawings at the Fogg. In these commissions the artist reveals a sensitivity to changing religious attitudes, as well as an ability to work with patrons to forge new iconographies responsive to Counter-Reformation concerns.