St. Ignatius of Loyola once said: “He who goes about to reform the world must begin with himself, or he loses his labor.” This quote sums up St. Ignatius’s work for the Christian faith. He was the founder of the Jesuit order and popularized the true meanings of Jesus’s teachings. Ignatius worked tirelessly to better the lives of the poor and his Christian brothers as soon as he decided to become a devout follower of Christ. In addition to inspiring schools across the world to follow his mission of faith, St. Ignatius has also been immortalized in many Christian art pieces around the world.
The Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens took a twist on St. Ignatius’s mission when he painted the founder of the Jesuits in the early seventeenth century. A reliquary medallion at the St. Louis University Museum of Art bears remarkable likeness to the Rubens portrait. It depicts St. Ignatius on one side and the Virgin Mary on the other. The piece of work at SLUMA presents St. Ignatius in a new light that popularizes both the founder of the Jesuit order and his teachings. Since SLUMA is open to the public, more people can learn and interpret St. Ignatius’s teachings through the museum's collections of Jesuit artifacts and artworks. In short, invoking Rubens's portrait, the medallion reaches broader audiences in the St. Louis area and invites them to be more like St. Ignatius of Loyola by presenting his teaching through visual art.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola was born on October 23, 1491, in the Basque region of Gipuzkoa, Loyola, Spain. As a boy, Ignatius (a Latinized version of his given name) became involved with the military by becoming a page, which is an assistant to a knight. He fell in love with the military and he grew to enjoy the exercises. He was known to be a constant brawler and was popular amongst women. He was not a pious man at first. During the Battle of Pamplona in 1521 he was hospitalized after getting hit by a cannonball, ultimately ending his military career. He underwent a spiritual epiphany after reading De Vita Christi by Ludolph of Saxony, and he decided that he wanted to devote his life to Christ. From there, he set out on a spiritual pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Saint Ignatius was the founder of the Society of Jesus or the Jesuits which is a Catholic society dedicated to Jesus. They are specifically known for creating missionaries to promote the spread of Catholicism and for educational purposes by establishing academic institutions. Without Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Saint Louis University would have never existed.
In addition to its other collections, the museum showcases how Jesuit art and artifacts have had a great influence on education at Saint Louis University (SLU). The Society of Jesus has focused on education of the whole person. According to the Saint Louis Museum of Art’s website, this collection “comments on the fundamental role that art has played in the foundations of Jesuit formation and development.” As a Catholic, Jesuit university, SLU focuses on not only liberal arts education, but also the teaching of service. Ignatius was a firm believer that you can find God in all things. He believed that art enriches society. And that education and spirituality can be enhanced with art and music. The third floor of SLUMA is dedicated to the history of Jesuits in the St. Louis region and on display are bibles, altar pieces, and other religious objects. The art there showcases the university's mission statement which is that you can find God in all things. Using the art there, God is seen through symbolic pieces that are associated with Christianity.
One significant piece on display at SLUMA is the reliquary medallion bearing the portrait of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The artwork is done in watercolor and housed in a silver and crystal medallion. The medallion has two sides, one bearing the portrait of St. Ignatius and the other the virgin Mary who is most known as the mother of Jesus Christ. The fact that the virgin Mary is on the backside equalizes the influence both figures made on the Christian faith. Mary began the faith when she gave birth to Jesus and Saint Ignatius Loyola began a new chapter in the faith when he founded the Jesuit order. The materials for the reliquary (silver and crystal) are quite costly. The use of these materials convey how respected and loved both Mary and Ignatius are within the Christian community. Only the finest and most important figures can be given such expensive materials. Both Ignatius and Mary never had wealth and this only goes to show how much Christians respect and worship both figures. Since the piece is located at SLUMA it gives the residents of St. Louis (and specifically the SLU community) the chance to observe how others show the respect towards these figures, especially Christians. The piece’s profound showcase of the figures will resound with many people, especially those who are of the Christian faith. Both figures in the piece teach humility, love, respect, and kindness. Many Christians try to exemplify these qualities. Such an artwork, in turn, can resonate throughout the St. Louis area by making residents kinder and over all better when they identify with Loyola’s teachings.
The teachings of Saint Ignatius have directly impacted the St. Louis region through the efforts of the Society of Jesus. The influence of Saint Ignatius still extends to modern times which can be found in institutions, art, and many other aspects of life. Without his hard work and spirituality, Saint Louis University would not be the Jesuit institution it is today and would not be able to support the arts through places like SLUMA. This bring Jesuit practices and history to SLU’s campus through its representations of the Jesuit founder and similar artifacts of the religious tradition.
Researched and written by Cassandra Opena, Grayson Chamberlain, Kaitlyn Faulkner, Nicole Medina, and Nicole Morais.
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