Domenico Tintoretto
The Coronation of the Virgin

Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice

Above, the Virgin is crowned by the three persons of the Trinity. The disposition of the three resembles that in the type of Trinity portrait that puts the dove between the Father and Son as if "proceeding" from both.

A guide provided by the church identifies the figures in the lower scene as "Benedict, Gregory, Maurice [Italian Mauro, French Maur] and Placid and other Benedictine Saints." Benedict is recognized by the Benedictine Rule in his right hand and by the mitre and crozier.

St. Placidus would be the martyr between Benedict and the pope, holding a martyr's palm branch and with a metal spike in his head. Placidus was among Benedict's first followers. He was not a martyr, but a fictitious vita from the 12th century said that Benedict sent him to Sicily, where he was killed along with St. Donatus and others by Saracen pirates on October 5. On this basis the Roman church celebrated his feast on that day from 1588 until 1962.1 The fictitious vita and a later, shorter version both specify that Placidus was killed by beheading – that is, his head was severed from his body. Nowhere among the many tortures described does either vita mention a spike. The spike in the Tintoretto may be due to the way the death of Donatus was expressed in an early version of the Roman Martyrology for October 5. That text says Donatus gladio percussus est, which can mean either "was struck with a sword" or "was pierced by a sword."3 Conceivably some other text may also have put in circulation the notion that the saints' heads were "pierced" rather than cut off. There is a statue in Austria, for example, in which blood flows from a dark lesion in Placidus's bald head. Every other image of the saint that I have examined, however, either shows him being beheaded or uses a sword as his attribute.

St. Maurus the Abbot would then be the young man on the right in the mitre, whom Benedict sent to found a monastery in France. "Gregory" should be St. Gregory the Great, the 6th-century pope who wrote of a miracle involving Placidus and Maurus.

Because this work was painted so soon after 1588, it may be that the five clergy at the bottom are Placidus' companions. In any case, their contemporary Roman collars (and that of Placidus) could be a way of comparing their martyrdom to that of the contemporary English Benedictines whose case for canonization was taken up by Gregory XIII in 1580-85.3

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Read more about images of St. Benedict, St. Gregory the Great, St. Maurus the Abbot, and the Coronation of the Virgin.

Source of date and attribution: Leaflet guide provided by the church
Photographed at the site by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

1 Butler IV, 35.
2 Acta Sanctorum, October vol. 3, 135, 147; 99.
3 Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "English Confessors and Martyrs (1534-1729).