Saint Bonaventure: The Iconography

St. Bonaventure, of the Order of Friars Minor, Cardinal Bishop of Albano Part of the diocese of Rome, Italy , Confessor and Doctor of the Church. He went to the Lord on the following day [i.e., he died on July 15]. – Roman Martyrology for July 14

St. Bonaventure is usually 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 second 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. In a Mexican nun's badge of the 18th century the Holy Ghost is represented by a dove at the saint's ear.

Prepared in 2016 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University


Crivelli, St. Bonaventure, late 15th century. (See the description page for an explanation of the symbols.)

Zurbarán, St. Bonaventure Visited by Thomas Aquinas, 1629. (See the description page for the narrative on which the image is based.)


  • Statue in Ravenna's Sant'Apollinare Nuovo.


  • St. Bonaventure's feast day, originally July 14, has been moved to July 15 in the Roman Catholic church.
  • Lived 1218-74.


  • He is Bonaventura in Latin and Italian, and some English reference sources will use this form.