St. Gregory the Great
Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963
Pope Gregory wears a papal tiara and holds a cross-staff and a book. His trompe-l'oeil border consists of twenty-five gold or silver coins, a possible allusion to a fanciful story surrounding his birth from a union of brother and sister. Gregory's mother ordered her newborn cast into the sea in his cradle, where she hid gold and silver coins to pay for the baptism and education of her unholy offspring. The coins in the borders are painted with such accuracy that most have been identified. Many represent contemporaneous currency from Utrecht, Holland, Guelders, and Cleves. Three of them—such as the fourth one down on the left—are stamped Arnold, the name of Catherine's husband.
Suffrages are short prayers to individual saints. As protectors of medieval people, saints were their doctor in plague, their midwife at childbirth, their guardian when traveling, and their nurse during toothache. If the Virgin was the figure to whom one addressed the all-important petition for eternal salvation, it was from saints that one sought more basic or temporal kinds of help. While the Virgin became, as the Mother of God, almost a goddess herself, saints retained more of their humanity and thus their approachability.
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern