Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Sermon of John of Capistrano at Bamberg's cathedral square
  • Creator: Bopp, Sebald, painter (attributed)
  • Description:

    John of Capistrano (1386-1456, canonized in 1690) was a Franciscan who had a widespread reputation for preaching. He was known to draw crowds, bring about miracles, and convert sinners. He was invited by rulers and high Church officials to give sermons in different regions including his tour north of the Alps from 1451 to 1456. He began by preaching in churches and then gave further sermons in city squares or cemeteries to accommodate the crowds. As a representative of the Franciscan Observant movement and the papacy, John had to counter disbelief and criticism among his listeners. One argument was his ascetic appearance. The author Hartmann Schedel described John as he made his ceremonial entrance into a new city: “We saw him in Nuremberg as [a man]of very small stature, of old age, in his sixty-fifth year of life, dry, arid, exhausted, nothing but skin, nerves, and bones, but cheerful and vigorously active.” John also used exaggerated gestures and exclamations as well as material objects, including a human skull and a trigram (a sign with the initials IHS referring to the holy name of Jesus), to convey his passionate exhortations. In German cities he preached in Latin and had local clerics as translators.

    The panel painting commemorates the moment in Bamberg between May 15 and 20, 1452 when John preached on the city square. His listeners, women in one line and men in another, come to commit their vices to the flames. These bonfires of vanities were a feature of the practice of Italian charismatic preachers in the fifteenth century. Here the richly dressed woman at the front of the line has pulled off her headdress and is adding it to the flames which already consume high-heeled shoes, false hair, decorated pins, dice, a game board and tokens, and playing cards. The young man opposite has his hat ready for the fire as well. Some of the gaming items may have belonged to women as records for John’s preaching in Vienna in 1451 note the queen as the first to consign her gaming table and headdress to the flames. Nicholas of Fara, one of Capistrano's near contemporary biographers, records a miraculous punishment in Regensburg. A "lascivious woman" and a "licentious priest" were opposed to the friar's preaching against ornaments and games of chance because they saw them as "the consolation of life and the whetstone of intellect." Both died suddenly that night and caused many more people to repent of their vices.

    In the left corner of the picture, two young men (one wearing a sword) lead an older man (marked by a pointed “Jew’s cap”) toward the penitent crowd. John addressed Jews in his sermons while in Germany and Austria, warning against usury, discouraging Christian-Jewish contact, and calling for all Jews to convert. There is evidence that Jews were compelled to attend his sermons in Vienna and Nuremberg where they served as evidence of the prophecies of Christ’s coming.

    The painter to whom the panel is usually attributed, Sebald Bopp (or Popp), was a native of Bamberg and was relatively early in his career when he received the commission for the Capistrano panel. After 1480 Bopp was in Nuremberg and became a citizen of Nördlingen in 1485. His work is notable for the originality of his portraits and for the development of an East Franconian style in contrast to Netherlandish painting.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Bonfires of Vanities Headdresses John of Capistrano Franciscan Preacher Penance Preaching Sermons Vices
  • Geographic Area: Germany
  • Century: 15
  • Date: 1470- 1475
  • Related Work: Closeup of the objects in the bonfire: http://tarvos.imareal.oeaw.ac.at/server/images/7006287.JPG. Sebald Bopp's Portrait of a Lady Wearing the Order of the Swan: http://www.museothyssen.org/en/thyssen/zoom_obra/812.
  • Current Location: Bamberg, Germany, Historisches Museum
  • Original Location: Bamberg, Germany
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Oil on wood panel
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 152/73/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Andric, Stanko. The Miracles of St. John Capistran. Central European University Press, 2000. Pages 198-203;
    Elm, Kaspar. "John of Capistrano's Preaching Tour North of the Alps (1451-1456)." IN Religious Life between Jerusalem, the Desert, and the World: Selected Essays by Kaspar Elm. Translated by James D. Mixson. Brill, 2016. Pages 255-276;
    Gecser, Otto Sandor. “Preaching and Publicness: St. John of Capestrano and the Making of His Charisma North of the Alps.” IN Charisma and Religious Authority: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Preaching, 1200-1500. Edited by Katherine L. Jansen and Miri Rubin. Brepols, 2010. Pages 145-159;
    Izbicki, Thomas. “Pyres of Vanities: Mendicant Preaching on the Vanity of Women and Its Lay Audience.” IN De Ore Domini: Preacher and Word in the Middle Ages. Edited by Thomas Leslie Amos, Eugene Green, and Beverly Mayne Kienzle. Medieval Institute Publications, 1989. Pages 211 – 234;
    Loewen, Peter V. “Mary Magdalene Converts Her Vanities through Song: Signs of Franciscan Spirituality and Preaching in Late-Medieval German Drama.” IN Mary Magdalene in Medieval Culture: Conflicted Roles. Edited by Peter V. Loewen and Robin Waugh. Routledge, 2014. Pages 181-207.