Alonso del Arco, Saint John of Capistrano, oil on canvas, 222 x 140 cm., circa 1670, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons).

This dark, almost sinister canvas depicts St John of Capistrano (1386-1456), a friar, theologian and inquisitor, who preached a crusade for the defence of Europe after the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453. The Saint is dressed in a brown Franciscan cassock with a red cross on it and stands beneath a shining star. In his left hand he holds a standard borne upon a pike with a cross like a pin-wheel at the top, suggesting Christ’s crucifixion. On the standard is the IHS christogram. Though IHS can stand for “Iesus Hominem Salvator” (Jesus, Savior of Mankind), it is also often interpreted as “In hoc signo [crucis] vinces” (in this sign of the cross you shall conquer). This motto belonged to the dream of Constantine, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, who established what became Constantinople. The reference would be particularly apt for del Arco’s call to arms, where rallying the military forces of Europe to repel the Turk could be boosted by appeal to the provident vision of Constantine. Below John of Capistrano, Del Arco depicts an Ottoman, who recalls his ardent sermon against the Turks, which is likely to have contributed to their defeat at the Battle of Belgrade in 1456. With the pike, he pierces the eye of the Ottoman, as if to affirm that all brutality is called for in defence of the faith.