St. Bonaventure is always shown with one or more books, and in most cases wearing a Franciscan habit under the garb of a cardinal-bishop (red hat and red cape, or the hat with a bishop's cope and mitre as in the picture at right). The books refer to his substantial contributions to scholastic theology and the garb to his role as cardinal-bishop of Albano.
Another common feature of the portraits is a crucifix or cross, as in the picture at right. The 1482 petition for Bonaventure's canonization emphasized that his Office of the Holy Cross had been adopted for use throughout the Church, and his many writings exhorted the devout to "keep Christ's death on the cross ever before the eye of the heart" (Acta Sanctorum, July vol. III, 826; Sticca, 54).
Zurbarán's painting (second picture at right) ignores the cardinal business and presents Bonaventure simply in his Franciscan habit with pen in hand and a plenitude of books. The light shining through the window symbolizes divine inspiration: Sixtus IV wrote that he "uttered such things on sacred science that the Holy Ghost would seem to have spoken by his mouth" (Butler, III, 97). Zurbarán's work influenced a few later images (such as this one in Zadar's Franciscan Monastery and this painting from the 18th century.
Prepared in 2016 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University