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The Immaculate Conception Window in Santa Croce and the Catholic Revival in Nineteenth-Century Florence
by Nancy M. Thompson
Fig. 1, Giuseppe Abbati, Chiostro, ca. 1861-62. Oil on board. Gallery of Modern Art in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence. Photo: Wikimedia Commons:

Fig. 2, Ulisse De Matteis, The Virgin Immaculate, Jesus of the Sacred Heart, St. Jerome, St. Germanus, St. Tarasius and St. Sophronios, 1869. Stained-glass window. Spinelli-Sloan chapel, Santa Croce, Florence. Photo: author.

Both Giuseppe Abbati’s 1861–62 small oil painting of the cloister of Santa Croce (fig. 1) and Ulisse De Matteis’s 1869 stained-glass window of the Immaculate Conception (fig. 2) highlight the political and artistic importance of the medieval Franciscan church of Santa Croce in 19th-century Florence.[1] As Albert Boime explains in his monograph on the Tuscan Macchiaioli painters, Abbati’s simple study of a worker at rest in Santa Croce’s cloister captures the artist’s hope that, through restoration of the urban fabric, Florence and the Italian nation will be made modern.[2] When Abbati painted the cloister, the interior of Santa Croce was undergoing a major restoration to return the church to what many 19th-century Florentines believed was its original medieval state.[3] De Matteis’s window, which depicts an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus next to the Virgin Immaculate above four standing saints whose writings act as the theological underpinnings of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, was commissioned by English expatriate Francis Sloane for his private chapel (fig. 3), which he purchased and restored as part of the larger restoration of Santa Croce. The contrast between Abbati’s secular painting of the cloister, which modernizes the church by imaging it as a place of peaceful contemplation and potential renewal, and the theological nature of De Matteis’s Immaculate Conception window celebrating papal dogma, is quite striking. While Abbati and his fellow Macchiaioli intended to create a new art not constrained by academic or church traditions, De Matteis constructed a window that through its imagery explicitly supports the concept of papal infallibility. Interpreters of Abbati’s work can draw from a large body of art historical scholarship on the Macchiaioli;[4] however, there is not much written about explicitly Catholic works of art created in 19th-century Florence.[5] What, then, do we make of the Immaculate Conception window and of its patron, Francis Sloane? Following an investigation of the religious and political context surrounding the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, I argue that the Sloane window was a conservative Catholic, or ultramontane, response to the modern and secular world embraced by artists and thinkers like the Macchiaioli and by the new liberal Tuscan and Italian national governments that came into being after Leopold II, the last of the Habsburg Grand Dukes to rule Tuscany, left Florence peacefully in 1859.

Pius IX, the Immaculate Conception, and Papal Infallibility
When he became pope in 1846, Pius IX hoped to modernize the papacy and reconcile the Holy See to some of the demands of liberal reformers. In particular, he gave financial assistance to the working poor and amnesty to political prisoners.[6] These acts of benevolence and tolerance caused European social activists, most notably Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807–82), to herald Pius IX as a great reformer. However, Pius could not meet many of the key demands of the more radical republicans in Rome, and he was unwilling to oust foreign powers and declare war on the nations occupying the peninsula because he viewed himself as a religious leader rather than as a secular head of state.[7] Unrest in Rome led to an outright revolution on November 16–17, 1848, and Pius IX left for Naples on November 27, declaring that “Rome had become 'a den of wild beasts’ of 'apostates’ and 'heretics’ who threatened his temporal and spiritual power.”[8] When he retook the papal throne in 1850, Pius IX completely renounced his pre-1848 conciliatory tone and began to view Italian nationalism, constitutionalism, and liberalism as threats to the institution of the Church.[9] Pius’s return was commanded by the French, who jockeyed for a balance of power in the peninsula, and by the Austrians, who sought to restore antinational powers in Italy and maintain their control over northern regions such as Tuscany.[10]

Although Catholic and generally aligned with the Church, the Austrians in Tuscany governed with some Enlightenment ideals that proved problematic for Pius IX and caused the pope to push for Tuscan conformity with papal demands. In 1848, Grand Duke Leopold II issued the Statute of Rights, which guaranteed Tuscans certain freedoms, including the freedom of the press. However, upon Pius’s restoration and his increasing conservatism, Leopold, who had been recently reinstated himself following an exile due to the 1848–49 revolutions, caved to the Pope’s demands that he rescind the Statute. In April 1851, Leopold signed a concordat with Rome that repealed the Statute of Rights and denied freedoms to non-Catholics. Following the concordat, Protestants—and Catholics who studied the Bible in private—were arrested and imprisoned despite much local and international protest.[11]

Pius’s strict intolerance of other faiths and his insistence on clerical intermediaries for scriptural interpretation are indicative of his campaign to re-establish papal authority in a time of increasing secularization by focusing much of his attention on spiritual matters.[12] Pius IX canonized more saints than any pope preceding him, re-established the Catholic church hierarchy in England, entered the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus into the liturgical calendar in 1856 and, most notably for this essay, declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception with Ineffabilis Deus in 1854. The central tenet of Ineffabilis Deus, the main subject of the Sloane window, is that “the Blessed Virgin Mary . . . in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”[13]

Ineffabilis Deus also unabashedly declared papal sovereignty in matters of faith and a rejection of secular modernity.[14] Pius considered attaching a statement on the errors of the modern world to the bull, “but this was deemed inappropriate,” presumably by Pius’s cardinals and advisors.[15] However, following the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, Pius had no trouble critiquing and condemning King Victor Emanuel II’s increasingly liberal and secular government. In an 1861 parliamentary debate, the supporters of moderately liberal prime minister Camillo Cavour (1810–61) argued that the papacy should give up its temporal power to the kingdom but remain sovereign in religious matters. Consequently Pius IX cut off all negotiations with the liberals in the government in 1861 and declared Roman independence.[16] And on December 8, 1864, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the papacy published the Syllabus of Errors that Pius had intended to append to Ineffabilis Deus in 1854.[17] The Syllabus condemned most modern political movements (including socialism, communism, and liberalism), the government’s attempts to provide a secular education to Italian children, and the private reading of the Bible in the vernacular, something that had become more prevalent in Florence in particular, with the influx of Protestants into the city in the 1850s.[18] Spurred on by the controversies created by the Syllabus of Errors, Pius called a meeting of the Vatican Council, the first ecumenical council since the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century, which began in 1869. In the following year, the Vatican Council approved the doctrine of papal infallibility, which states that when the pope “speaks ex-cathedra and defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal church, [he] is infallible.”[19] When Pius issued Ineffabilis Deus in 1854, he did so ex-cathedra and papal infallibility was implied; however, with the explicit declaration in 1870, the Vatican Council proclaimed a dogma that gave the pope the last word on all doctrinal matters at a time when the papacy’s power to control both spiritual matters and its own territory was challenged by the new Italian national government.

Fig. 3, View of the Spinelli-Sloane chapel, the high altar chapel, and the Bardi chapel of Santa Croce, Florence. The Spinelli-Sloane chapel is just to the left of the high altar. The window above the chapel, at the top left of the photograph, preserves the Spinelli coat of arms in the top roundel. Photo:

Fig. 4, The Spinelli-Sloane chapel in Santa Croce, Florence. Photo: author.

The Restoration of the Sloane Chapel and the Immaculate Conception Window
In the same year that the Vatican Council began its meeting that led to the codification of the dogma of papal infallibility, Francis Sloane commissioned Ulisse De Matteis to create a window of the Immaculate Conception as part of Sloane’s restoration of his private chapel located just to the left of Santa Croce’s high altar chapel (figs. 3, 4). Earlier in 1869, the Opera of Santa Croce, the board that oversaw the restoration of the church, gave Francis Sloane permission to purchase the Spinelli chapel, with the agreement that Sloane keep the Spinelli coat-of-arms in the chapel window and restore the chapel at his own expense.[20] While the Spinelli coat-of-arms is preserved in the window above the chapel (fig. 3), Sloane placed his own arms in the roundel at the top of the window inside the chapel (figs. 2, 5). According to Filippo Moisè, the chapel was originally dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin and decorated by Giotto. A heavily-restored, 14th-century fresco of the Assumption remains above the chapel (visible in fig. 3), remnants of which were visible not long before Moisè wrote his book in 1845.[21] The window atop the chapel depicting an abbreviated Tree of Jesse (with the Spinelli coat-of-arms in the top roundel) also dates from the early 14th century (fig. 3).[22] In 1837, a member of the religious community, identified as Padre Savino Bachechi, provided a small sum for the restoration of the chapel.[23] At this time, the chapel was re-dedicated to the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, and the neo-classical painter Gaspare Martellini painted an altarpiece of the Virgin Immaculate (visible in fig. 4) and frescoed the walls with images of the Virgin.[24] The Martellini frescoes were preserved in Sloane’s restoration “for the history of painting,” according to an 1869 inscription located on the left wall of the chapel.

The inscription in the chapel also indicates the larger goal of the artists and restorers who worked in Santa Croce in the late 1860s. It states that “this chapel, which once belonged to the Tolosini, then to the Spinelli and then to the Sloanes, which from 1560 forward suffered damages from the decadence of the arts, was in 1869 returned to its ancient form following the traces of the original construction of 1295.”[25] In an article published in La Nazione on October 5, 1869, an anonymous author notes that the entire church of Santa Croce, a “stupendous monument,” was damaged by the “decadence of the arts” in the 16th through 18th centuries. The author urged the destruction and removal of all elements that were not medieval, particularly those associated with Vasari and Cosimo I from the 1560s that altered and hid the beautiful antique (bello antico), original parts of the church.[26] After the restoration of the entire church and the restoration and decoration of the Sloane chapel was complete, the Sienese academic painter Luigi Mussini (1813–88) declared in an 1870 speech that the restorers successfully rid the church of the bad taste of the past two centuries, the period corresponding with the later Medici and Austrian rule, to reveal Santa Croce’s medieval state.[27]According to the Sloane chapel’s restorers, Mussini, and the La Nazione reporter, the restoration of Santa Croce and the removal of non-medieval, or what were perceived to be non-native Florentine elements, symbolized the Florentine emergence from centuries of despotic rule.[28]

Fig. 5, Ulisse De Matteis, The Virgin Immaculate and Jesus of the Sacred Heart, 1869. Stained-glass window. Spinelli-Sloan chapel, Santa Croce, Florence. Photo: author.

While the restoration of Sloane’s chapel was in keeping with the political ideals that guided the restoration of the church, the window’s iconography upholds the Catholic church’s primacy in theological matters by illustrating two recently canonized popular pieties: devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Conception. The image of the Virgin at the top left of the Sloane window (fig. 5) conforms to the new guidelines for the image of the Virgin Immaculate, written by Jean Baptiste Malou, the Bishop of Bruges, in his 1856 Iconographie de l'immaculée conception de la très-Sainte vierge Marie. De Matteis’s Virgin, with her downcast eyes, her arms crossed across her chest, and her white and blue robes, conforms very closely to Malou’s ideal, indicating the conformity of the artist and patron to the church’s new standards.[29] The addition of Jesus of the Sacred Heart, who stands to the Virgin’s left (fig. 5), further reinforces the ultramontane message of the window. Dedication to the Sacred Heart of Jesus rose in the 19th century as the Catholic revival movement encouraged worshippers to practice a specific set of private devotions.[30] Although there was devotion to Christ’s sacred heart in certain locations already in the 13th century, the feast had been celebrated with episcopal approval only since the 17th century. Dedication to the Catholic cult of the sacred heart grew in France with the revelations to the Visitationist nun Marguerite-Marie Alacoque in the 1680s. In these revelations, Christ “recommended the devotion of the Sacred Heart to her and commanded her to make it widely known.”[31] The revealed devotions specified ways that the faithful could be delivered from eternal damnation, and 17th-century theologians interpreted her visions and writings with particular attention to their salvific meanings.[32] Her visions also played a part in the politics of the French monarchy; her cult was specifically celebrated at points when the monarchy was in trouble, and the sacred heart “was adopted by militant Catholics as their symbol of a Catholic, as opposed to a Republican, vision of the [French] nation.”[33] In 19th-century Germany and Spain as well, dedication to the Sacred Heart was often associated with ultramontane Catholicism.[34] Thus, when Pius IX, upon the urging of the French clergy, declared the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as obligatory for all Catholics in 1856, just two years after Ineffabilis Deus, he once again asserted his solidarity with conservative politics and religion. Together, the Virgin Immaculate and Jesus of the Sacred Heart at the top of the Sloane window join forces to deliver a strong ultramontane devotional message.

Fig. 6, Ulisse De Matteis, St. Jerome and St. Germanus, 1869. Stained-glass window. Spinelli-Sloan chapel, Santa Croce, Florence. Photo: author.

Fig. 7, Ulisse De Matteis, St. Tarasius, 1869. Stained-glass window. Spinelli-Sloan chapel, Santa Croce, Florence. Photo: author.

Fig. 8, Ulisse De Matteis, St. Sophronios, 1869. Stained-glass window. Spinelli-Sloan chapel, Santa Croce, Florence. Photo: author.

The four saints below the Virgin Immaculate and Jesus of the Sacred Heart—Jerome, Tarasius, Sophronios, and Germanus (figs. 6, 7, 8)—reinforce the legitimacy of Ineffabilis Deus by illustrating the theological underpinnings of the dogma and the liturgy for the Immaculate Conception published first in 1854 and revised in 1863. Given that there was no direct justification for the Immaculate Conception in scripture, theologians who supported the doctrine looked to early Christian writings for support. And 19th-century theologians in particular, writing just before and after Ineffabilis Deus, often traced the idea of the Immaculate Conception to the work of Jerome, Tarasius, Sophronios, and Germanus. For example Luigi Lambruschini (1776–1854), a particularly conservative Italian cardinal and an ally of Pius IX, cites Jerome’s (d. 420) interpretation of the 77th Psalm as evidence of the Virgin’s complete purity and freedom from original sin.[35] Jerome’s fierce defense of Mary’s purity in the early fifth century, a period when her continued virginity after Christ’s birth was a subject of great debate, was often cited by 19th-century scholars in defense of the dogma.[36] The last three saints belong to a group of Greek theologians known as the philotheotokoi (lovers of the God-bearer), “who wrote the innumerable sermons in honor of the Blessed Virgin from which many a lesson in the Roman Breviary has been borrowed.”[37] Sophronios (fig. 8), the Patriarch of Jerusalem in the 630s, wrote in a letter that in order to save humankind, God chose a holy Virgin, who was “pure, chaste and immaculate,” and “able to serve in the Incarnation of the Creator.”[38] Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople in the eighth century, referred to Mary as the Lily among thorns, an image that suggested to 19th-century theologians that Germanus believed Mary to be singularly without sin in a fallen world.[39] Tarasius (fig. 7), Germanus’s successor, proclaimed the Virgin to be “the Reparatrix of the whole world,” as Leo XIII declared in a later (1895) encyclical on the rosary.[40] Carlo Passaglia (1812–87), a revolutionary Jesuit who agreed with Pius IX on very little except the Virgin’s immaculate nature, cites the verses of the philotheotokoi in his 1854–55 treatise on the Immaculate Conception as evidence of the early dedication to the immaculate nature of the Virgin in Greek theology.[41] Passaglia’s chosen verses by Tarasius, Germanus, and Sophronios, were included in his 1854 breviary for the feast and in the new liturgy composed in 1863. In particular, Sophronios’s homily on the Annunciation and Tarasius’s homily on the Presentation of the Mother of God were included in the celebratory services.[42] Likely influenced by Passaglia’s text, William Ullathorne (1806–89), the first Bishop of Birmingham following Pius IX’s re-establishment of the hierarchy in England, composed a treatise on the Virgin Immaculate in 1855. In it, Ullathorne cites the philotheotokoi and includes Germanus as evidence of a continuous belief in Christian theology that “Mary was truly elect and superior to all not by the altitude of lofty structures but as excelling all in the greatness and purity of sublime and divine virtues and having no affinity with sin whatever.”[43]

Because the Franciscans at Santa Croce designed the iconography of the Sloane window to complement the new liturgy and give a face to the philotheotokoi, who, while integral to the theological conception of the dogma, were mostly unknown to the general worshipping audience, the window is not related to earlier images of the subject. The history of images of the Immaculate Conception is intimately tied, however, to the Franciscans. Mirella Levi D’Ancona, in her study of the iconography of the Immaculate Conception, dates the earliest images pertaining to the Virgin’s immaculate nature to 11th-century England.[44] Although there was no standard iconography for it, the Immaculate Conception became increasingly popular in the later Middle Ages, when Franciscans and Dominicans carried on heated theological debates about the Virgin’s immaculate nature. Thomas Aquinas (1225–74), the leading Dominican theologian of the Middle Ages, argued against the Virgin’s immaculate nature, while the Franciscan John Duns Scotus (c. 1265–1308) argued in favor of the dogma.[45] According to art historian Michelle Erhardt, Scotus’s treatise gave rise to a new tradition of Virgin imagery that emphasized her miraculous conception and her infancy.[46] Following the creation of the new office for her feast by Sixtus IV in 1474, a specific tradition of altarpieces representing the Immaculate Conception developed in Italy, and Franciscan communities and those loyal to the Franciscans were the most common patrons of these altarpieces.[47] Vivarini’s 1475 altarpiece for Santa Maria Formosa in Venice includes images of the meeting of the Virgin’s parents Joachim and Anna, the Virgin of Mercy floating above supplicants, and the Birth of the Virgin.[48] While not created for Franciscan patrons, the scenes from the Virgin’s life are the same that Erhardt finds in early Franciscan images related to Scotus’s ideas. Later 16th-century Sienese images of the Virgin Immaculate, where the Virgin hovers in a heavenly, starry realm above her devotees, are much closer to the Baroque image of the Virgin Immaculate, which quickly became the standard image of the doctrine and influenced Martellini’s treatment of the subject in 1837 (see fig. 4).[49] The Sloane window differs radically from Martellini’s traditional image of the Virgin Immaculate because the window does not include any narrative of the Virgin’s life nor does it spotlight the Virgin herself. Instead, the window’s concept is theological because it was designed to illustrate the doctrinal justification for the dogma included in the new liturgy.

Fig. 9, Maso di Banco and unknown stained-glass artists, Holy Confessors window, ca. 1320. Stained-glass window. Bardi di Vernio chapel, Santa Croce, Florence. Photo: author.

While the iconography of De Matteis’s Immaculate Conception window illustrates 19th-century devotional subjects, the medium and formal elements of the window are closely related to the 14th-century models located in other private chapels in the apse of Santa Croce. De Matteis was the first Italian stained-glass artist to created medieval revival stained glass according to Adolphe Napoléon Didron’s (1806–67) principle of the vitrail archéologique.[50] What this means is that instead of simply painting his whole design on colorless glass with colored enameled pigments as earlier 19th-century Italian glaziers had done, De Matteis cut pieces of colored pot-metal glass (glass that’s colored while in molten form), pieced them together with lead cames, and painted almost exclusively with grisaille (a greyish or brownish vitreous pigment) on the glass surface. With this technique, De Matteis closely mimicked that of the glaziers who furnished Santa Croce’s apse chapels with stained glass in the 14th century. In the Sloane window, De Matteis used the medieval compositional device of framing the figures in geometric, polylobed borders found also in many windows in Santa Croce from the 1320s; the Bardi Holy Confessors chapel (fig. 9), the Pulci Holy Martyrs chapel, and the Old Testament figure windows in the center of the high altar windows are just three examples. This type of composition was relatively common in the Rhine region in the 12th and 13th centuries and was brought to Italy by glaziers from Cologne, who worked in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi in the 13th century.[51] On the model of the Bardi Holy Confessors window in particular, De Matteis formed the geometric borders with thin strips of white glass decorated with a dot pattern, although De Matteis modified the traditional medieval circular dot pattern to a series of quatrefoil dots. Also in emulation of his medieval predecessors, De Matteis created some of the intricate patterns with the medieval technique of stick lighting, which involves the laying down of a thick layer of pigment and then removing the pigment with a stick (usually the end of a paintbrush) to allow the glass to show through. For example, the decorative, colored patterns on the figures’ garments, both in the De Matteis window and in the 14th-century examples, were created in large part with stick lighting (figs. 6, 9). The external border of the Sloane window is composed of a foliate design, also popular in the 14th-century glass of Santa Croce, made up of large green leaves separated by alternating, smaller yellow and white leaves on a red ground. De Matteis loosely based his design on the border decoration of the Bardi window (fig. 9) composed of alternating green, yellow, and white leaves, although the green and yellow leaves in the 14th-century window are much fuller than their 19th-century counterparts. De Matteis also simplified the ground of the foliate pattern by making it only red, rather than the alternating red and blue grounds found in the Bardi Holy Confessors window. The figures in the Sloane window float on a background of vivid blue glass, a characteristic of a great majority of the 14th-century stained glass in Florence.[52] Recommended by Antonio da Pisa in his late 14th-century treatise on making stained-glass windows, the blue ground helps to make the colors of the figures in the foreground pop out towards the viewer.[53]

Even though there was no tradition of imaging Tarasius and his fellow philotheotokoi in Italian art, the imaging of the saints in the framework of seemingly authentic medieval stained glass creates the impression that their ideas were part of a medieval liturgy. The Immaculate Conception was in fact embraced and celebrated by medieval Franciscans thanks in large part to Scotus’s arguments, but the dogma and liturgy containing references to the philotheotokoi were written only decades before the window’s creation. By placing the new dogma in a medieval framework, De Matteis and Sloane made the Middle Ages present for 19th-century Catholics worshipping in Santa Croce. The presence of the medieval was made even stronger by the removal of the “excesses” of the Medici and Habsburgs during the restoration of the 1860s. And with the supposed return of Santa Croce to its pre-Reformation state, the church recalled the Middle Ages, a time when many 19th-century Tuscans believed that the institution of the church went unchallenged by an ever-faithful and devoted laity.[54] The new liturgy of the Immaculate Conception was more medieval, perhaps, than medieval liturgy itself.

Francis Joseph Sloane and the English Ultramontane Movement
This artistic and spiritual return to the Middle Ages appealed to ultramontane Catholic Francis Sloane, the patron of the chapel who paid for its restoration and for De Matteis’s window with his own funds.[55] Sloane approved the restoration plan outlined in the documents, and with this, presumably, he also approved a sketch of the stained-glass window.[56] His patronage of the Immaculate Conception window demonstrates his personal dedication to the dogma and to the institution of the Church itself. Sloane’s ultramontanism was part of his upbringing and schooling; however, his specific dedication to the Immaculate Conception likely arose from his associations with the English Cardinal Patrick Wiseman, who was at the forefront of the Catholic revival in England and among English expatriates living in Italy.[57]

Francis Joseph Sloane was born in 1794 to an English mother and Scottish father, most likely in Rome or Civitavecchia, where his wealthy father had banking interests.[58] His parents sent him to England both for grammar and secondary school. After completion of his studies at Catholic St. Cuthbert College in Ushaw in 1815, the Russian Boutourline family hired him as a tutor for their children and took him first to Russia and then to Florence in November 1817. While he maintained a close relationship with the Boutourlines throughout his life, he began to pursue his own interests in mineralogy and mining in the 1830s. With the help of the Habsburgs, who encouraged scientific exploration and mining in Tuscany, Sloane amassed the great fortune that allowed him to, among other things, purchase and restore the Medici Villa Careggi in 1848, fund the completion of Santa Croce’s façade in 1862, and purchase his private chapel in Santa Croce.[59]

While there is little record of the specifics of Sloane’s Catholic devotion, his purchase of the Immaculate Conception chapel and his placement of small altars to the Virgin, accompanied by Della Robbia-inspired terra cotta sculptures of the Virgin and Child, on his various properties in Tuscany,[60] indicate a special devotion to the Virgin that was surely influenced by Cardinal Wiseman, an old friend of Sloane’s from St. Cuthbert. Sloane was Wiseman’s tutor at St. Cuthbert beginning in 1810, and the two men evidently maintained close contact following their school days, with Sloane receiving Wiseman at the Boutourline family’s villas during the summers. In a letter dated October 17, 1850, Wiseman reports that he was staying in the house of “an old kind friend, my tutor at Ushaw, now a very rich man, living in great splendour, Mr. Sloane.”[61] Biographies of both men, especially that by Ward on Wiseman and that by Salvatori on Sloane, indicate that they were similarly intensely devout, introspective, and greatly concerned with the cause of Catholicism in England.[62]

While the specifics of Sloane’s devotions can only be gleaned from his acts of patronage, Wiseman’s life and theology are very well documented through published sermons and letters. In his sermon entitled “Devotion to the Blessed Virgin,” which he preached most likely in England soon after the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was declared in 1854, Wiseman urged his lay audience to embrace a Catholic understanding of Mary’s sanctity and of her immaculate nature by arguing that believers should not attempt to understand the theological arguments supporting the dogma.[63] Instead, Wiseman argued, Catholics should embrace it based on a simple understanding of the closeness that Christ felt to his mother and on the idea that God would not have allowed such closeness if Mary was tainted with original sin. Wiseman and Pius IX had a mutually supportive relationship: Pius IX appointed Wiseman as cardinal in 1850 when the pope reestablished the Catholic hierarchy in England,[64] and Wiseman traveled to Rome to support Pius IX’s proclamation of Ineffibilus Deus in 1854.[65] Wiseman’s dedication to the Virgin and to the papacy, we well as his firm belief in the Immaculate Conception, are indicative of the English ultramontane viewpoint, shared by Francis Sloane, which upheld the supremacy and infallibility of the Roman church in theological matters at a time when the papacy was losing both political and religious power.

When viewed in the context of 19th-century papal politics and Sloane’s ultramontane beliefs, the reactionary nature of De Matteis’s Immaculate Conception window becomes clear. The window celebrated the declaration of Ineffabilis Deus and promoted the dogma among the laity by illustrating the relatively obscure Greek theologians whose work formed the backbone of the argument for the Virgin’s immaculate nature. Sloane’s patronage of the window adds another layer of meaning to the window because of his personal politics and faith. His close associations with the Catholic Habsburgs, who gave him access to the mineral deposits in Tuscany and allowed him to amass great wealth, and his devotion to the Virgin Immaculate and Pius IX’s spiritual agenda, indicate that Sloane himself was likely resistant to the secularization promoted by the new Italian state. The medium of the Sloane window also reinforces its ultramontane message. De Matteis’s exceptional skill in recreating the technique and style of medieval stained glass creates the impression that the Virgin’s immaculate conception was always a part of Catholic belief and that it was part of God’s eternal plan for the redemption of humankind. Pius IX’s dogma simply clarified the fact of the Immaculate Conception, and the Sloane window illustrates the long tradition of belief in it.

Through a medieval medium, De Matteis’s window images a world where the Catholic Church reigned supreme on theological matters. Through a relatively new, expressive medium, Abbati’s oil painting of Santa Croce’s cloister (fig. 1) imagines a world, an Italian nation, that will be made better through human endeavors. Francis Sloane, and perhaps also the Franciscans of Santa Croce, resisted that secular future and longed for the religious, economic, and political stability envisioned in the Immaculate Conception window. The window encapsulates the ultramontane viewpoint that flourished among Catholics in the midst of the birth of the new liberal state of Italy. The Virgin Immaculate, Jesus with his Sacred Heart, and the philotheotokoi sing a swan song for the loss of an imagined past in which the Roman church held forth with little resistance in secular and spiritual realms.


I would like to thank Lauren Lessing for her insightful comments on an earlier version of this essay, the journal’s reviewers and editors for their ideas and suggestions, and Gregory Luce for his help with the images.

[1] Ulisse De Matteis (Florence 1828–1910) founded his stained-glass workshop in Florence in 1859. He created stained-glass windows for many of the major religious and civic monuments in Florence and Siena. For more on his life and career, see Nancy Thompson, “Stained Glass in Nineteenth-Century Florence: Medieval Reproductions by the Atelier De Matteis,” in Interpreting the Middle Ages: Essays on Medievalism, ed. Susan Ridyard, Sewanee Medieval Studies 13 (2005): 59–81; and Nancy Thompson, “The State of Stained Glass in 19th-Century Italy: Ulisse De Matteis and the vitrail archéologique,” Journal of Glass Studies 52 (2010): 217–31.

[2] Albert Boime, The Art of the Macchia and the Risorgimento: Representing Culture and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Italy (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 248–50.

[3] See the essays in Monica Maffioli, ed., Santa Croce nell’800,exh. cat. Florence, Santa Croce (Florence: Fratelli Alinari, 1986) for more on the restoration of Santa Croce in the 1860s. For more on the culture of restoration in 19th-Florence, see Nancy Thompson, “Reviving 'the past greatness of the Florentine people’: Restoring Medieval Florence in the Nineteenth Century,” in Medieval Art and Architecture After the Middle Ages, ed. Alyce Jordan and Janet Marquart (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2009), 171–94.

[4] In addition to Boime’s 1993 book, see Piero Dini, Dal caffè Michelangiolo al caffè nouvelle athènes: I macchiaioli tra Firenze e Parigi (Turin: Allemandi, 1986); Edith Tonell and Katherine Hart, The Macchiaioli: Painters of Italian life, 1850–1900, exh. cat. (Los Angeles: Frederick S. Wight Art Gallery, UCLA, 1986); Norma Broude, The Macchaioli: Italian Painters of the Nineteenth Century (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1987); Eugenia Paulicelli, “Art in Modern Italy: From the Macchiaioli to the Transavanguardia” in the Cambridge Companion to Modern Italian Culture, ed. Zygmunt Barański and Rebecca West (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001) 243–64; and Fernando Mazzocco and Carlo Sisi, I macchiaioli prima dell'impressionismo, exh. cat. Padua, Palazzo Zabarella (Venice: Marsilio, 2003).

[5] There is a body of literature on Luigi Mussini and the Italian Purists (i puristi), who were often devoutly Catholic. The art-historical language surrounding their work is, however, mostly formal and political. See Luigi Mussini, In memoria di Luigi Mussini pittore (Siena: S. Bernardino, 1888); Cesare Guasti, “Del purismo nell’arte a proposito di un quadro di Luigi Mussini,” in Scritti d’arte di Cesare Guasti (Prato: Successori Vestri, 1897); and Bernardina Sani, ed., Siena tra purismo e liberty (Milan: Mondadori, 1988). Essays in Maffioli, Santa Croce nell’800 chronicle some of the 19th-century religious art in the church, including the 1837 restoration of the Immaculate Conception chapel.

[6] Frank J. Coppa, Politics and the Papacy in the Modern World (Westport CT and London: Praeger, 2008), 26–27.

[7] Frank Coppa, “Italy: The Church and the Risorgimento,” in World Christianities, c. 1815–c. 1914, The Cambridge History of Christianity 8, ed. Sheridan Gilley and Brian Stanley (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 238–39.

[8] Coppa, Politics and the Papacy, 29.

[9] Italian nationalism was perceived by conservatives in Pius’s administration even before 1848. See Coppa, “Italy: The Church and the Risorgimento,” 236–39.

[10] Coppa, Politics and the Papacy, 31.

[11] Penny Mittler, “Only Connect: A Case Study of the Influence of the English Church and the Non-Catholic Cults in the Florence of the Risorgimento,” in The Religious Roots of Contemporary European Identity, ed. Lucia Faltin and Melanie Wright (New York and London: Continuum, 2007), 45.

[12] Frank Coppa, “Italy: The Church and the Risorgimento,” 245–55; and Coppa, Politics and the Papacy, 35. Lucy Riall characterizes the rise in martyr cults in 19th-century Italy as part of Pius IX’s attempts to reinvigorate popular devotion in Europe. See Riall, “Martyr Cults in Nineteenth-Century Italy,” in The Persistence of Religion in Modern Europe,special issue,The Journal of Modern History 82, no. 2 (June 2010): 255–87.

[13]Catholic Encyclopedia online, “Immaculate Conception,” last accessed June 18, 2012, Because the Franciscans upheld the truth of the Virgin’s immaculate nature already in the 13th century, Pius IX’s 1854 declaration was considered by many to be a gift to the order.

[14] See Sheridan Gilley’s introduction to World Christianities, c. 1815–c. 1914, 6, for the place of the bull within larger religious movements.

[15] Coppa, “Italy: The Church and the Risorgimento,” 245.

[16] Arturo Jemolo, Church and State in Italy 1850–1950, trans. David Moore (Philadephia: Dufour editions, 1961), 23–25. This is an English translation of Chiesa e Stato in Italia dal Risorgimento ad oggi (Turin: Einaudi, 1955), which is an abridgement of the longer volume Chiesa e Stato in Italia negliultimi cento anni (Turin: Einaudi, 1948).

[17] The entire syllabus can be found at: Papal Encyclicals Online, “The Syllabus of Errors Condemned by Pius IX,” last accessed June 18, 2012,

[18] Mittler, “Only Connect,” 44–46.

[19] Coppa, “Italy: The Church and the Risorgimento,” 247.

[20] A document in the archives of the Opera of Santa Croce contains the official decree of Sloane’s ownership of the chapel, as well as a list of the craftsmen who restored the chapel and the amount Sloane should pay each of them. The document was signed by the head architect of Santa Croce, Francesco Mazzei, on December 11, 1869. Affari 6, 1869 (13), Archivio dell’Opera di Santa Croce (AOSC), Florence. The Sloane chapel originally belonged to the Tolosini family, but by 1440 it was owned by the Spinelli. See Saturnino Mencherini, Santa Croce di Firenze: Memorie e documenti (Florence: Tip. Fiorenza, 1929), 22–33, for a transcription of the early inventories of Santa Croce’s chapels.

[21] Filippo Moisè, Santa Croce di Firenze: Illustrazione storico-artistica con note e copiosi documenti inediti (Florence: Self-published, 1845), 175–76, on the Spinelli chapel. Moisè likely echoed Vasari in attributing the chapel to Giotto. Giuseppe Marchini, in his essay on the stained glass of Santa Croce, in Complesso monumentale di Sta. Croce: la basilica, le capelle, i chiostri, ed. Umberto Baldini (Florence: Nardini, 1983), 312, attributes the fresco of the Assumption and the 14th-century window above the chapel to Giovanni di Bonino.

[22] See Nancy Thompson, “The Fourteenth-Century Stained Glass of Santa Croce in Florence,” (PhD diss., Indiana University, Bloomington, 1999) 52–56, 91–92, and 217–20 for more on the 14th-century window above the chapel.

[23] Isabella Lapi Ballerini, “Due episodi romantici in Santa Croce: Le Cappelle di Sant’Antonio da Padova e dell’Immacolata Concezione,” in Maffioli, Santa Croce nell’800, 179.

[24] Moisè, Santa Croce, 175–76. Martellini depicted the Coronation of the Virgin, the Militant Church with saints, and the event of 1633 when the Florentines voted to fast yearly on the feast of the Conception of the Virgin in thanks for the end of an outbreak of the plague. See also Lapi Ballerini, “Due episodi romantici in Santa Croce.”

[25]Questa cappella già dei Tolosini poi degli Spinelli e degli Sloane che nel 1560 e dopo parì i danni della decadenza dell’arte fù nel 1869 ritornata alla antica forma seguendo le tracce della prima costruzione del 1295. Si conservarono per la storia della pittura gli affreschi del Martellini dipinti nel 1837.

[26] This campaign specifically involved the removal of the Vasarian altars along the side aisles and of the Vasarian additions to the high altar chapel, both of which were ordered by Grand Duke Cosimo I in the 1560s. While Vasari’s side aisle altars were never removed due to a lack of funding from the Kingdom and the city, restoration of the high altar to its pre-Vasarian state was begun in 1869, when the Opera was able to attain funding from the Alberti family, who had been the patrons of the high altar since 1348. See Marcia Hall, Renovation and Counter-Reformation: Vasari and Duke Cosimo in Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce 1565–1577 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 17–18 and 170–71; and Henk Th. van Veen, Cosimo I de’ Medici and his Self-Representation in Florentine Art and Culture, trans. Andrew P. McCormick (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 117–221.

[27] Luigi Mussini, “Les travaux de restauration de l’église de Santa Croce a Florence,” in Scritti d’arte(Florence: Le Monnier, 1880), 214. This paper was originally read at the French Institute on February 2, 1870 and published in L’art 18 (1879): 258–60. Mussini notes, at 204–5, that the gray, stone altar table (now visible on the church’s high altar) was reconstructed according to the traces of the original eighteen colonettes found when Vasari’s altar was dismantled and that a triptych in the style of Giotto was made to replace Ugolino da Siena’s 1320 altarpiece. On the dismantling of the Vasarian altar, see Litta Medri, “Fortuna e decadenza dell'altare vasariano in Santa Croce,” in Maffioli, Santa Croce nell'800, 250–63. The triptych, still on the altar today, is a pastiche of panels by Niccolò di Pietro Gerini and Giovanni del Biondo, among those of other 14th-century artists.

[28] The restoration of the Bargello (1859–65) was also conceived of as a political exorcism. See Thompson, “Reviving 'the past greatness of the Florentine people’; and Allie Terry, "Criminals and Tourists: Prison History and Museum Politics at the Bargello in Florence," Art History 33, no. 5 (December 2010) 836–55.

[29] Jean-Baptiste Malou, De l’Immaculée Conception de la très-sainte Vierge Marie: Ou de la meilleure manière de représenter ce mystère (Brussels: H. Goemaere, 1856), 31–45. Malou was also an important figure in the Gothic revival in Belgium. See Andrew Sanders, “Church Architecture and Religious Art,” in Gilley and Stanley, World Christianities c. 1815–c. 1914, 113.

[30] Mary Heiman, “Catholic Revivalism in Worship and Devotion,” in Gilley and Stanley, World Christianities c. 1815–c. 1914, 71.

[31] Raymond Jonas, France and the Cult of the Sacred Heart: An Epic Tale for Modern Times (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 2009), 14.

[32] Daniele Menozzi, Sacro Cuore: Un culto tra devozione interior e restaurazione Cristiana della società (Rome, Viella, 2001), 21–35.

[33] James F. McMillan, “Catholic Christianity in France from the Restoration to the Separation of Church and State, 1815–1905,” in Gilley and Stanley, World Christianities c. 1815–c. 1914, 220. Jonas, France and the Cult of the Sacred Heart, also makes connections between the cult of Marguerite-Marie and the monarchy in France. Menozzi, Sacro Cuore, 35–57, discusses the relationship between dedication to the Sacred Heart, the French Monarchy and eschatology.

[34] See Anthony J. Steinhoff, “Christianity and the Creation of Germany,” in Gilley and Stanley, World Christianities c. 1815–c. 1914, 291; and, on Spain, David M. Thompson, “Popular Religion and Irreligion in Countryside and Town,” in Gilley and Stanley, World Christianities c. 1815–c. 1914, 200.

[35] Cardinal Luigi Lambruschini, A Polemical Treatise on the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. To Which is Added a History of the Doctrine by Father Felix, S.J. (Sadlier: New York, 1855), 71–72. Lambruschini’s text was originally published in Italian as Sull’Immacolato Concepimento di Maria (Rome: Vatican, 1843). Lambruschini also makes several references to Sophronios’s theology and includes Sophronois’s verses in the prayers at the end of the text.

[36] Edward D. O’Connor, The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception: History and Significance (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1958), 68–69.

[37] Ibid., 116.

[38] Ibid., 92–93.

[39] Ibid., 95.

[40] See: “Adiutricem, Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on the Rosary, September 5, 1895,” Papal Encyclicals Online, last accessed June 18, 2012,

[41] O’Connor, Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, 157. For the full text of the treatise, see Carlo Passaglia, De Immaculato Deiparae semper Virginis Conceptu commentarius, 3 vols. (Rome: Vatican, 1854–55).

[42]The Roman Breviary Reformed, By Order of the Holy Oecumenical Council of Trent; Published by order of Pope St. Pius V and revised by Clement VIII and Urban VIII, Together with the Offices since granted, Trans. From Latin into English by John, Marquess of Bute, vol. 2 (London and Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1879). The office for the Immaculate Conception is appended onto the very end of volume two with separate pagination. For a history of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, see Heinrich Kellner, Heortology: A History of the Christian Festivals from their Origin to the Present Day, Trans. from 2nd German ed. by a Priest of the Diocese of Westminster (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., 1908), 239–64. Kellner criticizes Passaglia for conflating the Immaculate Conception with the Virgin’s conception of Christ in order to include ancient Christian texts in his argument for the veracity of the doctrine.

[43] William Bernard Ullathorne, The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God: An Exposition (London: Richardson and Sons, 1855), 125. Ullathorne, 112, also argues that the Immaculate nature of Mary’s conception was never doubted in the Greek east, and he cites numerous examples of theologians who describe Mary’s nature. Because the idea was not disputed, according to Ullathorne, the Immaculate Conception was not formulated or argued against in the early church.

[44] Mirella Levi D’Ancona, The Iconography of the Immaculate Conception in the Middle Ages and Early Renaissance (New York: College Art Association), 20. Levi D’Ancona disagrees with Montgomery Carmichael’s statement in his Francia’s Masterpiece: An Essay on the Beginnings of the Immaculate Conception in Art (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner and Co, 1909), xvii, that official images of the Immaculate Conception only appeared after Sixtus IV created the office of the Immaculate Conception.

[45] See John Duns Scotus, Four Questions on Mary,trans. Allan B. Wolter (St. Bonaventure, NY: The Franciscan Institute, 2000), 22–55. For a discussion of the Scholastics’ debates on the subject, see O’Connor, Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, 187–212.

[46] Michelle A. Erhardt, “The Immaculate Kiss Beneath the Golden Gate: The Influence of John Duns Scotus on Florentine Painting of the 14th Century,” Franciscan Studies 66 (2008): 269–80.

[47] In Francia’s Masterpiece, Carmichael places Francia’s altarpiece, created ca. 1517 for a now-destroyed chapel of the Conception in San Frediano, within the context of early Immaculate Conception imagery in Lucca, where the Franciscans led an early devotion to the doctrine.

[48] Susan Steer, “tota pulchra, et formosa es Maria et macula originalis non est in te: The Congregation of Clergy at Santa Maria Formosa, Venice, and their Altar of the Immaculate Conception,” Artibus et historiae 27, no. 53 (2006): 111–12.

[49] On the Sienese dedication to the Immaculata, see Mauro Mussolin, “The Rise of the New Civic Ritual of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin in Sixteenth-century Siena,” Renaissance Studies 20, no. 2 (April 2006): 253–75. See Suzanne Stratton, The Immaculate Conception in Spanish Art (New York and London: Cambridge University Press, 1994) for more on the Baroque imagery most closely associated with the Virgin Immaculate.

[50] I explore De Matteis’s adherence to Didron’s principles and his use of medieval technique in detail in “State of Stained Glass in 19th-Century Italy.” I have summarized his use of medieval technique here.

[51] See Eva Frodl-Kraft, “Die 'Figur im Langpaß’ in der österreicher Glasmalerie und die Naumburger Westchor-Verglasung,” in Kunst des Mittelalters in Sachsen, ed. Elisabeth Hütter (Weimar: Böhlau, 1967), 309–14; and Frank Martin, “Le vetrate gotiche di San Francesco in Assisi. Contributi renani alla decorazione iniziale della Chiesa Superiore,” in Il gotico europeo in Italia, ed. Valentino Pace and Martina Bagnoli (Naples: Electa, 1994), 181–93, esp. 182.

[52] Almost all of the 14th-century stained glass in Santa Croce and the late 14th-century windows in the Florentine Cathedral are composed of figures on a blue ground. For images of many of these windows, see: BIVI, Banca Ipermediale delle Vetrate Italiane, Italian Stained Glass Windows Database, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche Istituto per la Conservazione e la Valorizzazione dei Beni Culturali, last accessed December 26, 2012,

[53] Antonio da Pisa, “Memmoria del magisterio de fare fenestre de vetro,” in Vetrate: arte e restauro (Milan: Silvana, 1991), 56.

[54] I explore 19th-century concepts of medieval religiosity in my essay “Architectural Restoration and Stained Glass in Nineteenth-Century Siena: The Place of Light in Giuseppe Partini’s Purismo,” The Year’s Work in Medievalism, ed. Gwendolyn Morgan 19 (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock,2004): 41–53.

[55] Affari 6, 1869 (13), Archivio dell’Opera di Santa Croce (AOSC), Florence. Sloane also paid for the completion of the façade of Santa Croce by sculptor Niccola Matas. See See Oreste Raggi, La chiesa di Santa Croce e la sua facciata dell’architetto Cav. Niccola Matas (Florence: Cellini, 1863) for a contemporary account of the fundraising for the Santa Croce façade.

[56] Unfortunately, no drawings of De Matteis’s windows survive in the archives of Santa Croce.

[57] The most comprehensive biography of Wiseman is Wilfrid Ward’s The Life and Times of Cardinal Wiseman, 2 vols. (London, New York, Bombay and Calcutta: Longmans, Green, and Co.: 1912). Ward was a convert to Catholicism and a close friend of Wiseman, and Ward’s biography reflects the men’s shared ultramontane viewpoint. Later biographies of Wiseman discuss with a more critical eye Wiseman’s obedience to the Roman Church in the face of criticism from English Protestants and Catholics. See Brian Fothergill, Nicholas Wiseman (New York: Doubleday, 1965); and Richard Schiefen, Nicholas Wiseman and the Transformation of English Catholicism (Shepherdstown, WV: Patmos Press, 1984). Schiefen in particular discusses Wiseman’s role in the Catholic revival and in advocating ultramontanism among Catholics in Great Britain.

[58] Most of the details of Sloane’s life are outlined by Gianluca Salvatori in his self-published volume Spall: Vita e virtù di Francis Joseph Sloane (Florence, 2008). I thank Gianna Iandelli for sharing Salvatori’s text with me. Giancarlo Gentilini includes Sloane in his essay “Arti applicate, tradizione artistica fiorentina e committenti stranieri,” in L’idea di Firenze: Temi e interpretazioni nell'arte straniera dell'Ottocento, ed. Maurizio Bossi (Florence: Centro Dì, 1989), 159–61.

[59] Gianna Iandelli, “Francis Joseph Sloane: La villa di Careggi e il mito mediceo nell'Ottocento,” (Thesis, University of Florence, 1997), 17, 27. A copy of Iandelli’s thesis is in the Biblioteca Vieusseux in Florence.

[60] Ibid., 45.

[61] Ward, Life and Times of Cardinal Wiseman,1:531. Wiseman was at Sloane’s home in the city of Florence.

[62] Salvatori, Spall: Vita e virtù.

[63] Patrick J. Wiseman, Sermons on Our Lord Jesus Christ and on his Blessed Mother by his Eminence the Late Cardinal Wiseman (Dublin: James Duffay; London: Paternoster-Row, 1866), 289–306.

[64] On Wiseman’s elevation to cardinal, see chapter 17 of Ward, Life and Times of Cardinal Wiseman, 1:502–37. On the place of Catholicism in 19th-century Great Britain, see John Wolffe, “Anglicanism, Presbyterianism and the Religious Identities of the United Kingdom,” in Gilley and Stanley, World Christianities c. 1815–c. 1914, 301–22.

[65] Ward, Life and Times of Cardinal Wiseman, 2:108–10.