Saint Thomas Aquinas, fountain of wisdom

by Antoine NICOLAS (1648)

by Antoine NICOLAS (1648)

Gift of the Dominican convent of the Annunciation of the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, in 1974, on the occasion of the seventh centenary of the death of St. Thomas.


This table, most likely dating from 1648, is attributed to a langrois painter, Antoine Nicolas. It is not known for whom this painting was intended; However, the community of the Dominicans of Saint-Maur-des-distorted, to whom it belonged before arriving at the convent of the Annunciation around 1950, was established in Langres in 1621.  The search for the origin of the painting comes back to Pierre-Marie Auzas, "an unpublished French representation of St. Thomas Aquinas" in Bulletin of the society of the history of French art, 1974, pp. 35-42.

Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) sits on a pedestal at the center of the composition, dressed in the dress of the Dominican order, to which it belonged. It is identified by its title of doctor angelicus, "doctor Angelique", inscribed at his feet. He holds a crucifix with his right hand, the left hand is placed on an open book. Thomas wears a Sun held by a chain of gold and his screed is starry. It is with these ornaments that St. Thomas Aquinas appeared in vision to a Dominican in the 13Th century, Albert of Brescia: On his chest glowed a huge, Sun-shaped skirbuckle, throwing fires from all sides. His screed was studded of gems, his tunic and his hood had the whiteness of the snow. During this vision, St. Augustine himself commented to the religious the meaning of these ornaments: [Saint Thomas] enlightened of his teaching the Church of God. This is what the gemstones that serve as adornment mean. The one shining on her bosom, especially marks the righteousness of intent with which he defended and affirmed the faith; the others refer to the many books and writings of any kind that he composed Bollandists Vita Sanctorum, March 1668, chap. VII, pp. 708). Sun and golden chain became the iconographic attributes of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

On either side of the Saint, characters tend to drinking at the spring gushing at the foot of Dr. Angélique. An inscription at the bottom of the canvas invites you to come and drink it: Hi Puros promunt Divino e Fontes liquores, "These draw pure liqueurs from the divine fountain". So what is this source? This is the the fountain of wisdom de Thomas . His Theology is a spiritual "liquor" that dringers souls who thirst for knowledge of God. An engraving by Adrian Collaert (BnF, prints, RD 2) of 1615, representing this same subject, is more explicit: on the fountain is inscribed D.T. summa : we come to drink at the fountain of the Theological sum de saint Thomas .

The characters surrounding the Saint are mainly religious, not only Dominican, but also from other orders: one recognizes a Carmelite, a Franciscan and a Capuchin. The laity also have access to the fountain: they are evoked by the two young men elegantly dressed kneeling in the foreground. At a time when this painting is painted, the teaching of St. Thomas benefits the whole Church. Almost a century before, the fathers of the Council of Trent had consulted extensively with his works, in response to the doctrinal controversies raised by the Reformation. At the end of this, Saint Thomas was elevated to the title of doctor of the Church in 1567: his writings provide luminous answers to questions of faith, and we wish that they be better known to all Christians.


Thanks to this table, Saint Thomas Aquinas remains in the spotlight in a place that cannot forget the "angelic doctor", "Fountain of wisdom" : Paris remembers Thomas who Professa theology at the Sorbonne for three years, wrote several books including part of the sum at the convent of Santiago, and surely came to gather at the Cathedral, which he saw to build the transept at the time of St. Louis.


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Light a candle at Notre-Dame