Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Light and shade: Saint Mary Magdalene

Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo (active about 1480 - after 1548)
Saint Mary Magdalen 
about 1535-40
Oil on canvas
 89.1 x 82.4 cm
The National Gallery, London

The heavily draped woman is Saint Mary Magdalene. She seems to be in hiding, under cover.

The clues are there however as to her identity.

Underneath the heavy grey satin veil is a red dress which can just be glimpsed

There is a pot of ointment with which she anointed Christ's body. The pot of ointment is the clincher

The story is in John 20

It is different from Mt 28:8–10 and Mk 16:9–11.

No gardener here

After the Resurrection Mary goes to the tomb to anoint the body of Christ. She does not know He has Risen.  The tomb  is empty. She alerts the others. After they have come and gone she stays at the tomb weeping. 

Two angels ask her why she is weeping. She explains. She turns round. Christ appears. 

She is the first to see the Risen Christ

She is the first to bring the Good News to the Apostles. The Apostle  to the Apostles
"16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.
17 Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
This painting is full of beautiful lighting effects. There are at least four light sources. Christ and the two angels with the rising sun are four sources of light

The lights are reflected in the silver grey satin veil which with its folds is a work of  beauty itself

The background appears to be Venice  seen from one of the islands (possibly the cemetery island of San Michele)

A number of versions and copies were made and one is in The Getty Museum in Los Angeles (below)

But here the veil is brown gold satin not the expensive silver grey above

Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo (active about 1480 - after 1548)
Saint Mary Magdalen at the Sepulchre
About 1530s
Oil on canvas
92.7 x 79.4 cm (36 1/2 x 31 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

In both cases the figure of Mary Magdalene addresses the viewer through eye contact and gesture

She is staring. But is it at us ? Or is it at Christ whose light of the Risen Body reflects on her?

More is always implied or suggested than actually depicted

Savoldo was from Brescia but his work is firmly of the Venetian school

Unlike Romanino and Moretto, Savoldo did not settle in his native city. He traveled early on to Parma (1506) and Florence (1508) and was living in Venice by 1521 (and perhaps well before then). 

Savoldo had students in Venice, notably the painter and author Paolo Pino, and his work was well known there. 

Pino wrote in praise of him but mentioned that his works were few.

Savoldo was known in his time for  themes di notte, and it is clear that they were always considered to be extraordinary

Views of the Venetian lagoon and other landscapes such as the mountains around Brescia and Parma (see the Getty Museum painting) are to be  found in his works

Light was one the means he employed to study and describe visual reality. With shade and shadow he along with other artists of his generation could create among others three dimensional effects

His landscapes were called "even more real" than those by the Flemings whose work was well known in the Venice of his time (See Pino, Paolo (1548). Dialogo di Pittura di Messer Paolo Pino Nuovamente Dato in Luce)

He was a slow and meticulous artist, and unfortunately  few works of his survive

Those that do include evening or night scenes. They are painted in deep, vivid colours with subtle light effects. They have a wonderful sense of atmosphere and mystery

In The National Gallery painting, the striking silver of Mary's cloak  was created from lead white paint and soot. But it is his use of light and shade which makes this an outstanding work

The complexity of this work of faith can be seen from reading  the First Encyclical of Pope Francis entitled Lumen Fidei:

"30. The bond between seeing and hearing in faith-knowledge is most clearly evident in John’s Gospel. 
For the Fourth Gospel, to believe is both to hear and to see. 
Faith’s hearing emerges as a form of knowing proper to love: it is a personal hearing, one which recognizes the voice of the Good Shepherd (cf. Jn 10:3-5); it is a hearing which calls for discipleship, as was the case with the first disciples: 
      "Hearing him say these things, they followed Jesus" (Jn 1:37). 
But faith is also tied to sight. 
Seeing the signs which Jesus worked leads at times to faith, as in the case of the Jews who, following the raising of Lazarus, "having seen what he did, believed in him" (Jn 11:45). At other times, faith itself leads to deeper vision: 
      "If you believe, you will see the glory of God" (Jn 11:40). 
In the end, belief and sight intersect: 
      "Whoever believes in me believes in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me" (Jn 12:44-45). 
Joined to hearing, seeing then becomes a form of following Christ, and faith appears as a process of gazing, in which our eyes grow accustomed to peering into the depths. 
Easter morning thus passes from John who, standing in the early morning darkness before the empty tomb, "saw and believed" (Jn 20:8), to Mary Magdalene who, after seeing Jesus (cf. Jn 20:14) and wanting to cling to him, is asked to contemplate him as he ascends to the Father, and finally to her full confession before the disciples: 
      "I have seen the Lord!" (Jn 20:18)."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Visions of St Bernard of Clairvaux

Fra' Filippo Lippi, O.Carm. (c. 1406 – 8 October 1469)
Saint Bernard's Vision of the Virgin
Egg tempera on wood
94.3 x 106 cm
The National Gallery, London

The work depicts the dialogue between the Virgin and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 - 1153) about Christ's Passion. 
 "You offer your Son, Holy Virgin, and you present to the Lord the blessed fruit of your womb. You offer the holy victim, pleasing to God, for the reconciliation of us all" (St Bernard)
Mary is depicted after the Annunciation and prior to the Nativity of Christ

St Bernard wrote much about Mary

Of the Annunciation and Pentecost, St Bernard wrote:
""Coming to her the Holy Spirit filled her with grace for herself; when the same Spirit pervaded her again she became superabundant and redounding in grace for us also." (Second homily Super Missus est, n. 2: PL 183, 64.)
He reminds us that Mary "believes, trusts and accepts" (Homily, IV, 8)

In this image we see Saint Bernard's Vision of the Virgin and the Infant Child Jesus

Simon Marmion (about 1425 -1489)
Saint Bernard's Vision of the Virgin and Child
French, probably Valenciennes, about 1475 - 1480 
Tempera colors and gold on parchment 
4 9/16 x 2 1/2 in. 
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

One day, kneeling before a statue of the Virgin, Saint Bernard (1090-1153) prayed, "Show yourself to be a mother."

These words are written in Latin and in gold on the parchment above the Virgin`s head

The artist depicts the vision of the saint showing the Virgin and Child coming to life

We are reminded, as the Second Vatican Council said, that  the bond between Mary and Jesus is "intimate and indissoluble." 

Christianity is the religion of the 
"Word" of God, a word which is "not a written and mute word, but the Word is incarnate and living" (St. Bernard, Super Missus est Hom. 4,11:PL 183,86.)
In his search for God, the Mystical St Bernard said of the soul who searches for God:
 "it is not for liberty that she asks, nor for an award, not for an inheritance nor even knowledge, but for a kiss [of God]. It is obviously the request of a bride who is chaste, who breathes forth a love that is holy, a love whose ardor she cannot entirely disguise" (Bernard, Super cantica canticorum, 7,2; Song of Songs I, p. 39, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, Michigan 1981). 

Juan Correa de Vivar (1510 - 16 April 1566)
Death of St Bernard
Oil on panel
138 cm x 97 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

On his deathbed, St Bernard is visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary

In attendance are St Lawrence and St Benedict along with two Cistercian monks

The normal rules of time and space are suspended

The work was commissioned for the Cistercian monastery of Santa María la Real de Valdeiglesias in Madrid which contained many of the artist`s works before the confiscation took place in 1836

Two quinces are on a boook on the table. Water and hyssop are on the floor

The scene is simple and perhaps austere

One sees the monastery garden in the near distance

His last year was marred by greatly failing health

When it was clear that the end was near, his monks prayed for his recovery. However he told them  " Why do you thus detain a miserable man? Spare me. Spare me, and let me depart." 

He died August 20, 1153, shortly after his disciple Pope Eugenius III.

The work below is thought to be the first European altarpiece to employ the iconographic style for St Bernard. The style is medieval Majorcan. The lactation scene is the first time  the scene was reproduced in graphic form

It is thought that the work was commissioned by the Commander of the Order of the Temple in Mallorca 

Unknown artist
Retablo de San Bernardo
c. 1285 - 1290
Tempera on wood
153 cm x 225 cm
Museu de Mallorca, Palma, Majorca, Balearic Islands

To finish here is a beautiful miniature portrait of the saint by the Ferrara artist Taddeo Crivelli from The Gualenghi-d'Este Hours

Taddeo Crivelli (Died about 1479, active about 1451 - 1479)
Saint Bernard
About 1469
Tempera colours, gold paint, gold leaf, and ink on parchment
10.8 x 7.9 cm (4 1/4 x 3 1/8 in.)
Ms. Ludwig IX 13, fol. 183v (The Gualenghi-d'Este Hours)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

In one of his homilies he recites the beautiful invocation to Mary which has been repeated over the generations:
"In danger, in distress, in uncertainty ... think of Mary, call upon Mary. She never leaves your lips, she never departs from your heart; and so that you may obtain the help of her prayers, never forget the example of her life. If you follow her, you cannot falter; if you pray to her, you cannot despair; if you think of her, you cannot err. If she sustains you, you will not stumble; if she protects you, you have nothing to fear; if she guides you, you will never flag; if she is favourable to you, you will attain your goal..." (Hom. II Super Missus est, 17: PL 183, 70-71).

In another Homily he recites another beautiful prayer to the Lord extolling constancy and serenity in the darkness of the night and of trial, and in the light of day and of joy:
" I will bless the Lord at all times, namely from morning until evening, as I have learned to do, and not like those who only praise you when you do good to them, nor like those who believe for a certain time, but in the hour of temptation give way; but with the saints I will say:  If we received good things from the hand of God, should we not also accept evil things? ... Thus both these moments of the day will be a time of service to God, because at night there will be weeping, and in the morning, joy. I will submerge myself in suffering at night so that I can then enjoy the happiness of the morning" (Scriptorium Claravallense, Sermo III, n. 6, Milan 2000, pp. 59-60).

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Religion and the First World War

The Imperial War Museum (London) is now open again after being closed for refurbishment

There are ground-breaking First World War Galleries which tell the story of the First World War 

One section deals with War Posters

In Total War, the State used religious imagery and sentiments in its fight against the enemy

Such imagery could never have been used in times of peace

The Irish War Recruitment poster came after Ireland had nearly descended into Civil War over the question of Irish Home Rule

It was a strange War

"Christian" nations were fighting against "Christian" nations: England (Protestant), France (Catholic), Italy (Catholic), Russia (Orthodox), Balkans (mainly Orthodox) against Germany (Protestant/Catholic), Austria-Hungary (Catholic and Orthodox)

But at the end of 1914 came the step which according to the memoirs of German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg lengthened the conflict by at least two years: the German alliance with Turkey and the Ottoman Empire which led to the Declaration of War by the Ottoman Empire on the Entente as well as the infamous Jihad

Thus Gallipoli and the Mid-Eastern conflict

However it was Abraham Lincoln who set out the proper and moral approach

During the American Civil War, when asked by some one whether he did not believe that  God was on his side, he replied, "I am much more concerned to know whether I am on God's side."