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9 Visual Representation as Real Presence Otto van Veen’s Naples Vision of Saint Thomas Aquinas RALPH DEKONINCK In 1610, an illustrated life of Thomas Aquinas was published in Brussels’ in the form of a series of thirty plates engraved by Cornelis Boel and Egbert van Panderen, with the collaboration of Willem Swanenburg and Cornelis Galle,’ after designs by Otto van Veen, alias Vaenius (1556-1629), the well- known teacher of Rubens but also the prolific emblematist best known, at the time the book was published, for his neo-stoic Emblemata Horatiana of 1607' and his Amorum emblemata of 1608", two bestsellers of the first half of the seventeenth century. Within this series, one engraving deserves a closer look as it offers an intriguing visual interpretation of the miracle that occurred in Naples, a miracle that takes the form in the engraving of a painted Crucifix becoming alive through a kind of a leap out of the pic- torial surface. This contribution aims to show that this display constitutes a fascinating visual exegesis of the hagiographical sources as well as a fig- urative comment on Thomas Aquinas’s image conception and Vaenius’s image theory. This contribution takes as its subject the famous vision of St Thomas, in which a crucifix became the living Christ, who moved from the Cross and spoke with Thomas about his account of the Eucharist. It is cen- tral to theological exegesis of the real presence of Christ in his image and thus one of the founding accounts in Christianity of the living presence of a divine being in its image. Visual Representation as Real Presence 179 Presentation of the Series The Vita D. Thomae Aquinatis was presumably ordered and conceived by Michael Ophovius (Michiel van Ophoven),’ the prior of the Antwerp Dominican cloister and a close friend of Rubens, who painted his portrait in 1615-1617 (Mauritshuis, Den Haag). After a dedication to Inacho de Briziiela, the confessor of the archduke Albrecht, the volume opens with three introductory poems composed by Maximus Vrientius (1559-1614), the Jesuit Andreas Frusius (d. 1556) and another author who signed with the initials ‘I.D.T’, and who may be identified, according to Manuel Insol- era and Lydia Salviucci Insolera,* as the Jesuit ‘Johannes David from Tour- nai’ (1545-1613), another prolific Jesuit emblematist of this time. If we agree with this hypothesis, then this Jesuit involvement might appear to be a surprising choice by the publisher, if we take into account the ten- sions between the Jesuit and Dominican orders, in particular at the time of the debate about the role of Grace and Free Will.’ Does this mean that Vaenius and Ophovius had a conciliatory purpose in mind as seems to be confirmed by other works by Vaenius? Let us put this issue aside provi- sionally in order to present the book. Ophovius appears to have supplied the title and the accompanying text (five or six lines summing up each episode of the vita) at the bottom of each engraving. Those inscriptions are inspired by the three main biogra- phies of the saint: Tocco, Guidonis and Calo.’ But the name of the author of the captions beneath each engraving does not appear on the title page, which mentions only the name of the image designer, Vaenius himself, whose ‘wit and hand have delineated this Vita’ (ingenio et manu delineata). Nevertheless, it seems very plausible that the programme was conceived by the Dominicans as it has a very clear objective: to emphasise the virtues of the saint (perseverance, humility, strength of mind, obedience...) under his three main qualities: oratio, studium and contemplatio whose person- ifications are figured on the frontispiece. More than a great theologian (Thomas was proclaimed Doctor of the Church in 1567 by the Dominican. Pope Pius V), he is presented as a model of sanctity and as an example for emulation and edification addressed to the Dominicans, but also toa larger public. This last aspect became a central issue in the seventeenth-century literature devoted to this saint by the Dominicans who wanted to spread its spiritual message and his virtuous life. Now, the engraving in which this convergence between study, prayer and contemplation is most explicit 180 THE SECRET LIVES OF ARTWORKS 94 Corneille Boel after Otto van Veen, Bene scripsisti de ‘me Thoma, in Vita D. Thomae Aquinatis, Othonis Vaenii ingenio et manu delineata, Anvers, 1610, 17.8 x 15 cm, Brussels, Royal Library of Belgium, Print Room. is the one devoted to the vision of Thomas Aquinas in Naples in front of a crucifix (Figure 9.1). Hagiographical sources Thomas was forty-nine years old and had been asked by the doctors of the Sorbonne to solve a very difficult matter regarding the Eucharist, the one concerning the coherence between objective observation and faith value. On 6 December 1273, while staying in the convent of San Domenico in Naples, he laid his manuscript about this topic (the third part of the Summa Theologiae) on the altar of the chapel of St Nicholas, in the Church of San Domenico. William of Tocco, the first biographer of Thomas Aquinas (1323), recounts the story, which he heard from Friar Dominic of Caserta, the sacristan of San Domenico.” Friar Dominic, apparently, became curious about Thomas's frequent visits to the chapel of St Nich- olas before matins. One night he concealed himself to watch Thomas in prayer. He saw Thomas elevated ‘almost two cubits in the air’ and heard Visual Representation as Real Presence 181