In the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence is a group of four saints in Andrea’s most perfect style. The saints are Michael the Arch-angel, Giovanni Gualberto, John the Baptist and Bernard of Uberto. St. John Gualberto appears only in Florentine pictures. He was the founder of the Order of Vallambrosa. He was born in Florence of rich and noble parents. When he was a young man, his only brother, Hugo, was killed in a quarrel with a nobleman. Gualberto, whose grief and fury were stimulated by the rage of his father and the anguish of his mother, vowed to kill the man who had murdered his brother. His opportunity came on a Good Friday evening. As he was on his way to his father’s villa, about half way between Florence and the church of San Miniato, at the point where the road turns to the right, he met his man ; with a gesture of fury he drew his sword. The murderer seeing no escape fell on his knees, stretched out his arms in the form of a cross, and begged Gualberto to have mercy in the name of Him who that day suffered on the cross. Gualberto, struck by the appeal, and remembering that Christ as he hung on the cross prayed for his murderers, stayed his uplifted hand, sheathed his sword, lifted up his brother’s murderer, and bade him go in peace. He went on to the church of San Miniato, entered and kneeling before the crucifix, wept and prayed for mercy, and he believed that the image bowed its head. He should have mercy because he had shown mercy. Ever after he carried a crucifix. From that moment the world and all its vanities had no hold upon him. He entered the Benedictine order in the convent of San Miniato; after a time he left this convent and went to Vallambrosa, about twenty miles from Florence, renowned for its poetical associations; here he built himself a little hut in company with two other hermits. Others, attracted by his sanctity, collected around him. They took the rule of St. Benedict with some new obligations. The Pope confirmed the new order and St. John Gualberto lived to see twelve houses of his order spring up around him. The most celebrated after the parent house was the con-vent of San Salvi, about two miles from Florence. It is now in ruin. The church of the Trinita in Florence belongs to the monks of Vallambrosa. The crucifix before which St. John Gualberto kneeled was removed from San Miniato and placed in the church of San Trinita. Guido Aretino of Arezzo, the greatest musician of his time, and the inventor of the modern system of notation, was a monk of Vallambrosa. It was for the Vallambrosans that Andrea del Sarto painted a “Last Supper,” which is still to be seen in the ruined convent of San Salvi; also for them he painted the picture of “The Four Saints.” St. Michael the Archangel comes first. He was the celestial patron and protector of the community. St. John Gualberto stands next and he wears the gray habit of his order and holds a cross. The other two figures are St. John the Baptist, and St. Bernard, a cardinal and Bishop of Uberto, not St. Bernard of Clairveaux. This picture is considered one of Andrea’s best. It is faultless in line, color, and all that goes to make up the technique of art.
( Originally Published 1912 )
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