Painting as an aid to religion
Surviving firsthand accounts attest to the use of paintings to facilitate meditation and prayer during devotional exercises. In a personal memoir, the wealthy Florentine merchant Giovanni Morelli (1371–1444) described his reliance on a representation of the Crucifixion while commemorating the anniversary of the death of his young son, Alberto:
I knelt with bare knees before the figure of the crucified son of God to which [Alberto] had commended his bodily health during his illness…. And when I considered with what harsh, acerbic and dark torment Jesus Christ [was] crucified, whose figure I gazed upon, had brought [us] back from eternal pain, I could not bear to look upon him with indifferent eyes. Rather, my heart and all my senses heightened to the greatest tenderness through, I believe, a pious gift He gave me, [and] my face was bathed in tears from my eyes.*
During prayer, Morelli said, he was “gazing continually at the image and figure of the devout Crucified [and] fixing my eyes on his precious wounds.”* The searing imagery of the Crucifixion served as an emotional catalyst, cultivating the penitent emotional state that Morelli believed would recommend his prayers to God.
* Giovanni Morelli, Ricordi, in Evelyn Welch, Art and Society in Italy 1350–1500 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 309.