Saint Bernardino of Siena and Art: Preaching and Baptism in Tuscany

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This paper deals with the views of the Franciscan preacher Saint Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444) on baptism and civic peace and the associations he created between art and baptism and preaching. The widespread building and decoration of baptisteries in Italy points to the civic importance of that ritual in Italian cities. There was a close connection between baptism and the sense of civitas: The sacrament of Christian initiation also served to introduce an individual into the Christian society of the city. Bernardino's emphasis on the relationship between baptism and civic peace followed a long-standing tradition in mendicant preaching. The present study has two major sections: It introduces Bernardino's views on the arts and then suggests correlations between his ideas on baptism and the artistic program of the fifteenth- century baptismal font in the Siena baptistery created by Lorenzo Ghiberti, Jacopo della Quercia, Donatello, and others. The central issues concern the way Bernardino referred to works of art as a way of making his sermons more approachable and graphic for his illiterate listeners and how his sermons may have influenced the decorative program for the baptismal font in the Sienese baptistery.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)165-190
Number of pages26
JournalCatholic Historical Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Baptism
  • Fonts
  • Preaching
  • Saint Bernardino of Siena
  • Sermons

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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