(doc. 1431–after 1486)
Oil, tempera, and gold on panel
75 5/8 x 40 3/4 in. (192.1 x 103.5 cm)
Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas. Museum purchase with matching funds from The Meadows Foundation and various other sources, MM.04.01
Hear a reading of the object label (1:14 minutes)
Trained in the workshop of Jaime Jacomart (c. 1413–1461), Reixach was a master of the Valencian School and one of the principal proponents of the so-called Hispano-Flemish style. This life-size image is one of the earliest representations of the recently canonized (1455) Vincent Ferrer and probably is based on another work painted during the saint’s lifetime (c. 1350–1419). The panel may have originally been the central panel of an altarpiece, perhaps for the Chapel of the Kings in the Convent of Santo Domingo (Valencia), where the artist was employed between 1463 and 1469; the impressive work later decorated the Casa de Dios in Madrid as the property of the Pio di Savoia family, Marquis of Castel Rodrigo. The painting is in splendid condition and exhibits extraordinary refinements: in the realistic portrayal of the preacher-saint (the patron saint of Valencia), the pattern of the brocade cloth that lies at his feet, the marquetry on which the saint stands, and the curvilinear banderole surrounding the saint which reads in Latin: Fear God and give glory to him; for the hour of judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven and earth… (Revelation 14:7).
Listen to Jessica Boon, associate professor of medieval/early modern Christianity at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill discuss this work (2:39 minutes)
Juan Reixach (Spanish, doc. 1431–1486)
San Vicente Ferrer, c. 1468
by Jessica Boon, associate professor of medieval/early modern Christianity at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
In Reixach’s depiction of Saint Vincent Ferrer, it is notable that Ferrer is given almost none of the attributes that would later mark him as a saint—no pulpit, tongue of fire, or wings. Only the banderole towards which Ferrer points with his upraised left hand would distinguish him from any other Dominican, for it is inscribed with the apocalyptic wording of Revelation 14:7: “…Fear God and give glory to him; for the hour of judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven and earth….” It is clear from this detail that Reixach presented Ferrer as he would have wished to be remembered—as a preacher who fervently believed that the world would end in the next few decades, ushering in the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment. This is a view of Ferrer which relies on the last two decades of his life rather than his earlier career.
Vowed as a Dominican at the age of eighteen, for many decades Ferrer focused on ecclesial and regional political issues. For example, he was famed (and excoriated) for his roles in determining dynastic succession in Aragon and in ending the papal schism. The latter part of his life was quite different, however, as a feverish vision in 1398 led him to leave ecclesial politics behind in favor of a preaching tour against heresy and warning of the dangers of the Anti-Christ, whom he eventually believed had already been born. In his preaching, heard by crowds of hundreds and even thousands across Spain and southern France, Ferrer focused on the need for moral reform while living in the last decades before the Last Judgment, and he equally strongly urged the conversion of the Jews as part of the process to bring about the Second Coming. His fervent warnings led many to begin penitential practices such as self-flagellation to atone for their sins.
On a more structural level, however, Ferrer was particularly interested in reforms concerning prostitution, gambling, and blasphemy. Yet, the most effective changes in city life after his preaching tours developed from the anti-Semitism of his teachings. As part of his apocalyptic warnings, Ferrer falsely accused Jews of anti-Christian violence (such as poisoning meat sold to Christians at markets) and insisted on the necessity of their conversion. As a result, town councils in cities such as Murcia and Valladolid established segregation orders that separated Jews from Christians and recent converts to Christianity and prohibited the two groups from trade, hiring, and sexual interactions. Thus, the quoted “hour of judgment” with which Reixach associates Ferrer in this altarpiece, although spiritually intended to bring about the moral reform of Christians, in reality, was a judgment that enflamed Christian hatred of neighbor.