Saint Vincent Ferrer in the painting by Francesco del Cossa (Erwin Panofsky Method)
De Pintura Sancti Vincentii Ferrerii εκ Πολυπτυχου Griffoni Pintoris Francisci del Cossa 
The artwork this article will be discussing is the painting of Saint Vincent Ferrer by Francesco del Cossa (figures 1 and 2). This painting is the middle panel of a polyptych altarpiece, which consists of 16 panels, commissioned by Floriano Griffoni for his family’s chapel in the church of San Petronio (“Griffoni Polyptych”). Hence, it is called the Griffoni Polyptych (figures 3 and 4). The painting of Saint Vincent Ferrer, along with the polyptych, is considered one of the masterpieces of Cossa.
According to the National Gallery, an original document regarding payment to the frame maker was believed to dates back to the early 1470s. Its medium is egg tempera and gold leaf on poplar panel. The different panels of this altarpiece are now held at nine different museums and collections across Europe and North America. This painting of Saint Vincent Ferrer is now located at the National Gallery in London, England. Is dimension is 153×60 cm. As the middle panel, it is the largest among the other panels of the polyptych. The surrounding panels depict Saint Peter, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, and so on .
This article will now attempt to briefly analyze this painting of Saint Vincent Ferrer using the iconological method as described by Erwin Panofski.
The main figure of the panel is a male with a Dominican habit. He has a tonsured head and a clean-shaved face. He has a gold halo above his head. His eyes are directed upward. His right hand is also pointing upward, but his left hand is holding a book. The book is open and the pages face outward, toward the direction of the audience. The figure is standing on a pulpit covered with some type of red fabric. Behind him, there is a white column of classical style. There are also some alternating series of red beads with single clear beads in between hanging on either side of him. Above his head, there are multiple anthropomorphic figures with wings and halos. Each of these figures is holding something different, some of which are a cross, a spear, and a column. In their midst, there is another male figure clothed in a reddish robe who has a halo with a crucifix. This central figure is sitting on a throne inside an almond-shaped aureole. Besides, he has some wounds on his hands and under his chest. In the background, there are some buildings of classical style blending in with the rocky landscape. Some buildings appear to be in ruins. Some human figures are seen in the background as well. The sky is painted using atmospheric perspective: it looks blurrier near the horizon.
The main figure in the middle is, understandably, Saint Vincent Ferrer of Valencia. He can be identified with some of his attributes that are usually found in art, such as his Dominican habit, his clean-shaved face, or his hand pointing toward heaven or God (Stracke). His right hand is pointing upward because he wants to direct people to God. His other hand is holding the Gospel, which he preaches. In many other artworks, he is often depicted showing the verse from the book of Apocalypse: “Timete Deum et date illi honorem quia venit hora iudicii eius”(Fear God and give him honor for His hour of judgment is coming) . The beads can be a symbol of the rosary. The red color of the beads resemble the color of roses. Besides, the Dominicans are known for their diligent praying of the rosary. The figures above his head are angels and Jesus in the heavenly realm. The angels are painted with wings and halos. They are holding instruments of the Passion of Christ: the spear, the sponge, the nails, and so on. Jesus Christ is the one sitting in the mandorla , as commonly seen in Christian iconography. Indeed, Saint Vincent is directing his look to heaven, where he wants penitents to go to.
Saint Vincent Ferrer was an important figure in Catholic Spain during the Middle Age. To be exact, Spain as a country did not exist at his time. He was a citizen of Valencia, which was a kingdom within the Crown of Aragon (Nguyen). As a Dominican, he spent a lot of effort preaching. In Latin, the Dominican Order is called Ordo Praedicatorum, which literally translates to “the Order of the Preachers”. Therefore, in most of his representations in art, he is having his right hand pointing upward, a gesture that signifies preaching. The Gospel in his left hand is what he is preaching about. The architecture in ruins can be a symbol of the Church. During his times, the Church was in a hard time when there were more than one person claiming to be the true Pope. Saint Vincent spent most of his life serving the Pope of Avignon. However, he did everything he could to save the Church from the crisis. Furthermore, another reason why this piece was so significant at that time is because Saint Vincent was canonized not too long before that .
There are two main reasons why I choose to write about Saint Vincent Ferrer and this painting. First of all, he is my patron and I enjoy learning everything about him, be it history or politics. Second, I love his effort for the sake of saving souls for God and helping to save the Church during hard times.
I would like to briefly share a personal story. My parents and I always believe that it was a miracle of Saint Vincent that I was conceived. My mother was barren for many years, and she was not able to become pregnant until she prayed to Saint Vincent Ferrer before a shrine of him. Therefore, they chose Saint Vincent Ferrer as my patron. Attached below is an icon of him painted by me (figure 5). I love him so much that I even learned the Valencian language . Moreover, he was also involved in the politics of the Crown of Aragon. For example, he and his brother, Bonifaci Ferrer, were two of the principal figures that had a decisive intervention in the Compromise of Casper (Nguyen). Another interesting point is that his brother was one of the first to translate the Vulgate Bible into a Roman language: the Valencian language, the native language of the Saint which he used when he traveled around Europe to preach the Gospel.
Saint Vincent Ferrer is a Saint that tried his best to save souls and help restore the Catholic Church during the Western Schism. There is an apostolate based in Texas named after Saint Vincent Ferrer. They share that the reason why they chose Saint Vincent Ferrer as the patron is because the Church now is also in a hard time: “We see a striking parallel between our own days and those of St. Vincent Ferrer.” As a traditional Catholic, I am also concerned with the degeneracy and attacks on the Church that we have to encounter today.
The panel of Saint Vincent Ferrer by Francesco del Cassa is a masterpiece that is rich in Christian iconography. It shows physical attributes commonly found in art of Saint Vincent as well as other elements that carry deeper meanings. Apart from having achieved the successful depiction of the Saint and meanings behind details, this artwork is also significant because of the subject matter. Saint Vincent Ferrer is relevant to Catholics even today because he dedicated his life to bringing sinners back to God and helping to save the Church.
1. De Pintura Sancti Vincentii Ferrerii εκ Πολυπτυχου Griffoni Pintoris Francisci del Cossa: Latin and Greek, meaning: On the painting of Saint Vincent Ferrer from the polyptych Griffoni by the painter Franceso del Cossa.
2. The main panels were painted by Francesco del Cossa, but some small ones were painted by Ercole de Roberti (Krén and Marx).
3. Apocalypse 14:7. Saint Vincent Ferrer is also known as the Angel of the Apocalypse (Apocalypsis angelus). It is one of his titled, mentioned in the Oratio ad Sanctum Vincentium Ferrerium.
4. My translation.
5. Mandorla is an Italian word that means “almond”.
6. It is believed that it was a miracle that Saint Vincent was understood by everybody, although he preached using his native Valencian language.
7. He was canonized in 1455, and the painting was finished in the early 1470s. This means the panel was painted after no more and 20 years since his canonization.
“Biografía De San Vicente Ferrer.” Parroquia San Vicente Ferrer Castellón, 21 Apr. 2019, parroquiasanvicenteferrer.com/biografia-san-vicente-ferrer/.
Cossa, Franceso. Saint Vincent Ferrer. 1473-5. National Gallery, London. The National Gallery,
Krén, Emil, and Daniel Marx. “Panels from the Griffoni Polyptych.” Web Gallery of Art,
“Mandorla.” Britannica, 27 May 1999, Britannica. www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/the-tragically-hip-emc. Accessed 24 Jun. 2016.
Nguyen, Thien D. “Văn Bản Cổ Còn Sót Lại Của Cuốn Kinh Thánh Của Bonifaci Ferrer.” Vincentius Annamensis Nguyễn-Đinh Duy Thiên 阮丁唯天, WordPress, 21 Feb. 2018, nguyendinhduythien.wordpress.com/2018/02/21/van-ban-co-con-sot-lai-cua-cuon-kinh-thanh-cua-bonifaci-ferrer/.
“Recording and Re-Materialisation of the Griffoni Polyptych.” Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation, Factum Foundation,
Stracke, Richard. “St. Vincent Ferrer in Art.” Christian Iconography, 2015,
“Why St. Vincent Ferrer Is Our Patron Saint.” Saint Vincent Ferrer Foundation, 2013, svfonline.org/why-we-chose-him-as-our-patron/.
Here's the link to my original post on Wordpress