Tue, 05 Oct 2021
Some traditional miracles ascribed to saints and other holy people are better than others. Jesus walking on water and quieting the storm are impressive and showy, but essentially unhelpful. Contrasting this kind of show-magic with the miracles of the Buddha, Jorge Luis Borges describes “a miracle of courtesy”:
(It's Borges, so it's also possible he just made it up.)
My favorites of the Christian miracles are the miracles of the loaves and fishes, which are miracles of generosity and compassion. A multitude of people have come to see Jesus heal the sick:
Much better than walking on water.
Anyway, that is peripheral to what I wanted to write about. Lately I learned that there is a painting by Il Sodoma (1477–1549, original name Giovanni Antonio Bazzi) titled St Benedict repairs a Broken Colander through Prayer.
A broken what now? Colander? Like, the thing I use to drain my tortellini?
I looked in the Big Dictionary to find out if maybe “colander” might sometimes mean something more impressive than the kitchen utensil, maybe some expensive and specialized piece of church equipment. Nope:
There doesn't appear to be any such thing in the painting:
St. Benedict is kneeling in prayer, second from left, wearing a halo. The colander, it turns out, is the two rectangular brown things by his knees. As you see, one piece is visibly cracked. I don't know what is the red schmutz on the other piece.
(The long-haired guy in the middle, with the expensive gloves, is Il Sodoma himself. He is known to have kept pet badgers, which also make an appearance here.)
Google searches for
I then wondered if maybe “colander” was a mistranslation. The Italian title for this painting is Come Benedetto risalda lo capistero che si era rotto. The Goog translates this as “How Benedict heals the broken master”, which was quite confusing. Google further confused me by glossing risalda as “rises”, which made me wonder if the repair of the broken colander (risalda lo capistero) was somehow a metaphor for the rising of Jesus. The idea seems rather silly, but Renaissance thinking does not always make sense to me, so I did not rule it out immediately. But no, risalda is repair, and capistero is a colander, or more precisely a sieve. The Goog's translation was simply wrong. (Fair enough, Google Translate is not intended to translate early-renaissance Italian.)
So “colander” isn't quite right, but it's not too far off. The implement is probably made of wood, not metal. But it is indeed a perforated kitchen utensil. The suntanned lady on the left of the painting is the nurse, gazing ruefully at the table.
The colander is a tray for sifting wheat. The upper part (at left, with the big crack in it) has some sort of perforations or screen, which don't show up well in the painting. The lower part (at right) is a tray in which the sifted material is caught.
The right side of the painting depicts a later time after the colander has been repaired. The miraculous sieve has been hung up on a column (top center) for the wonderment of a crowd of admiring visitors.
Saint Anthony could command animals and was such an arresting speaker that even fish came to hear him preach. Some saints invoke the power of God to heal the blind and paralyzed, the drowned, the leprous, and the epileptic. St. Benedict healed a broken colander.