Friday, March 27, 2015

The Birth of St. John The Baptist

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – c. 1656)
The Birth of St. John The Baptist
Oil on canvas
1.84m by 2.58m
Museo del Prado, Madrid.

In 1630 Artemisia moved to Naples, then Europe's second largest city – second only to Paris – and the largest European Mediterranean city, with around 250,000 inhabitants

It was a major cultural centre during the Baroque era, being home to artists such as Caravaggio, Salvator Rosa and Bernini

For the first time Artemisia started working on paintings in a cathedral, dedicated to San Gennaro nell'anfiteatro di Pozzuoli (Saint Januarius in the amphitheater of Pozzuoli) in Pozzuoli. 

It was during this period she painted Nascita di San Giovanni Battista (Birth of Saint John the Baptist)

It is thought that she may have died in the devastating plague that swept Naples in 1656 which killed about half of Naples' 300,000 inhabitants

The work was one of six paintings commissioned representing the History of St. John the Baptist made ​​for  the Cason del Buen Retiro, the Madrid residence of the Viceroy of Naples 

It is an important work

The feast of The Nativity of St. John the Baptist anticipates the feast of Christmas.

The Nativity of St John the Baptist is one of the oldest festivals of the Christian church, being listed by the Council of Agde in 506 as one of that region's principal festivals, where it was a day of rest and, like Christmas, was celebrated with three Masses: a vigil, at dawn, and at midday

It follows the narrative in Luke 1

Elizabeth is in bed, after giving birth, assisted by a servant, and Zechariah, in front of them, is writing something. 

All the relatives and neighbours are saying that the name of the newborn should be Zechariah, after his father

Struck dumb nine months previously for doubting the message of Gabriel,  Zechariah pens the final judgment on a tablet, "His name is John." in accordance with what he was told

He regains his speech

The name "John" is derived from the Hebrew name Yohanan (יוֹחָנָן), "Graced by God", or Yehohanan (יְהוֹחָנָן), "God is Gracious".

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Zachariah prclaims a prayer now known as the Benedictus (also Song of Zechariah or Canticle of Zachary):

"The Canticle of Zechariah
67 Then Zechariah his father, filled with the holy Spirit, prophesied, saying:
68 “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.
69 He has raised up a horn for our salvation within the house of David his servant,
70 even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old:
71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us,
72 to show mercy to our fathers and to be mindful of his holy covenant
73 and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father, and to grant us that,
74 rescued from the hand of enemies, without fear we might worship him
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us
79 to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel." 
(Luke 1: 67 - 80)

Like Mary’s canticle, it is largely composed of phrases taken from the Greek Old Testament and may have been a Jewish Christian hymn of praise that Luke adapted

Saint John Paul II on 1st October 2003 devoted one of his more lengthy talks to the Canticle

He said:
"The text is solemn and, in the original Greek, is composed of only two sentences (cf. 68-75; 76-79). 
After the introduction, marked by the benediction of praise, we can identify in the body of the Canticle, as it were, three strophes that exalt the same number of themes, destined to mark the whole history of salvation:  the covenant with David (cf. vv. 68-71), the covenant with Abraham (cf. vv. 72-75) and the Baptist who brings us into the new Covenant in Christ (cf. vv. 76-79). 
Indeed, the tension of the whole prayer is a yearning for the goal that David and Abraham indicate with their presence. 
It culminates in one of the last lines: "The day shall dawn upon us from on high..." (v. 78). 
This phrase, which at first sight seems paradoxical with its association of "dawn" and "on high", is actually full of meaning."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Annunciation: Gabriel to Zacharias

Niccolo di Giacomo (c. 1325 – c. 1403) (known also as Niccolò da Bologna)
Gabriel announces to Zacharias
From Missal said to be of Clément VII and Urban V
Tempera, gold, and ink on parchment
c. 1370
Avignon - BM - ms. 0136, f. 245

This is the miniature in the initial "N" in the Introit for the Vigil for the Birth of St John the Baptist in a Missal for Pope Urban V and which then came into the possession of the antipope Clement VII

The Introit is an extract of Luke 1: 13

The work is that of the Italian miniaturist Niccolo di Giacomo (c. 1325 – c. 1403) (known also as Niccolò da Bologna)

The same subject is seen in the following works:

Gabriel announces to Zacharias from the initial "F" in the Gospel of Luke 
From Walafrid  Strabo Gloss on the Gospel of Luke 
Ink on parchment
c. Middle 12th century
Cambrai - BM - ms. 0344, f. 003

Walafrid Strabo (or Strabus, i.e. "squint-eyed") (c. 808 – 18 August 849), was a Frankish monk poet and theological writer.

Of his prose-works the most famous is the "Glossa ordinaria," a commentary on the Scriptures, compiled from various sources. The work enjoyed the highest repute throughout the Middle Ages.

Andrea Pisano c 1290 - post 1348
Annuncio della nascita di San Giovanni Battista a Zaccaria
c. 1316
From The South Doors, Florence Baptistry
Gilded bronze panel, 
60 x 54 cm
The Baptistry of the Duomo, Florence

Of the three world-famed bronze doors of the Baptistery in Florence, the earliest one that on the south side was Pisano's work; he started it in 1330, finishing in 1336. 

In 1340 he succeeded Giotto as Master of the Works of Florence Cathedral

Hubert Cailleau (c. 1526–1590)
Gabriel announces to Zacharias from the initial "I" in the Nativity of St John the Baptist in the Gospel of Luke 
From Antiphonaire à l'usage de l'abbaye Sainte-Rictrude de Marchiennes
Douai - BM - ms. 0121, f. 204

Hubert Cailleau (c. 1526–1590), was a French historical and miniature painter and stage designer, who flourished at Valenciennes.

Cailleau produced a number of rich works for the Abbey Saint-Rictrude

On one of the books he produced he wrote:
« Ce livre que fit faire don Jacques le Grandt, abbé de Mânes (Marchiennes), fut illuminé à Valenciennes par moi, Hubert Cailleau, au dernier an de mon adolescence»

Chapter 1 of Luke presents parallel scenes (diptychs) of angelic announcements of the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus, and of the birth, circumcision, and presentation of John and Jesus. 

In this parallelism, the ascendency of Jesus over John is stressed: John is prophet of the Most High (Lk 1:76); Jesus is Son of the Most High (Lk 1:32). John is great in the sight of the Lord (Lk 1:15); Jesus will be Great (an attribute, used absolutely, of God) (Lk 1:32). John will go before the Lord (Lk 1:16–17); Jesus will be Lord (Lk 1:43; 2:11).

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The London Carthusian Martyrs

Vicente Carducho (c. 1576-1638)
Martirio de los priores de las cartujas inglesas de Londres, Nottingham y Axholme
1626 - 1632
Oil on canvas
337 cm x 298 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Vicente Carducho (c. 1576-1638)
Martirio de los padres John Rochester y James Walworth
1626 - 1632
Oil on canvas
337,5 cm x 298 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Vicente Carducho (c. 1576-1638)
El martirio de tres cartujos en la cartuja de Londres
1626 - 1632
Oil on canvas
338 cm x 297,5 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Vicente Carducho (c. 1576-1638)
Prisión y muerte de los diez miembros de la cartuja de Londres
Oil on canvas
337 cm x 297,5 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

On August 29, 1626, Vicente Carducho (c. 1576-1638), painter to King Philip IV of Spain signed the contract for which it undertook to make the cycle of paintings celebrating the foundation of the Order of the Carthusians by St. Bruno and its leading members

He was the most respected and prestigious of Madrid's court painters at that time

His Diálogos de la Pintura of 1633 championed Michelangelo and the Italian classical tradition while defending painting as a noble pursuit. The artist, wrote Carducho is a learned humanist, not just a craftsman; painters should uplift people morally.

The work was for the Cloister of the Cartuja de Santa María de El Paular, Rascafría, Madrid

It was for a series of fifty-four large canvases and two more, smaller, representing the shields of the king and the Order. 

The cycle closes with a group of heroic scenes depicting episodes of persecution and martyrdom suffered by some Carthusian communities in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, 

The work was supervised by the prior of the monastery, Father Juan de Baeza (died 1641),  who closely monitored compliance with the principles of the Order. Juan de Baeza gave the painter episodes to be included in the series, many of them unpublished or little known and for which there was no previous representations in Spain. 

The London Charterhouse is a historic complex of buildings in Smithfield, London dating back to the 14th century. 

It occupies land to the north of Charterhouse Square. The Charterhouse began as (and takes its name from) a Carthusian priory, founded in 1371 and dissolved in 1537. Substantial fragments remain from this monastic period, but the site was largely rebuilt after 1545 as a large courtyard house. 

In 1537 during the English Reformation the London Charterhouse was dissolved and its members imprisoned and later executed.

Eighteen of these were beatified in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII; three of these (Augustine Webster, John Houghton and Robert Lawrence) were canonised in 1970 by Pope Paul VI with other English martyrs as the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales

In the first painting we see the imprisonment  of John Houghton, Robert Lawrence and Augustine Webster, priors of the Carthusian monasteries of London, Nottingham and Axholme respectively. 

The place of imprisonment and death was the Tower of London 

Saint John Houghton, O.Cart., (c. 1486-London, 4 May 1535) was a Carthusian hermit and Catholic priest and the first English Catholic martyr to die as a result of the Act of Supremacy by King Henry VIII of England. He was also the first member of his Order to die as a martyr.

Saint  Robert Lawrence (died 4 May 1535) was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn for also declining to sign the Oath of Supremacy. His feast day is 4 May

Saint Augustine Webster was the prior of Our Lady of Melwood, a Carthusian house at Epworth, on the Isle of Axholme, in north Lincolnshire, in 1531. 

In February 1535 he had been  on a visit to the London Charterhouse with his fellow prior, Robert Lawrence of Beauvale to consult the prior of London, John Houghton about the approach to be taken by the Carthusians with regard to the religious policies of Henry VIII when he was arrested by the King`s men

In the second painting, we see the hanging of the Carthusians Blessed  John Rochester and Blessed James Walworth both of the Charterhouse of London

They had been taken north as prisoners

They were brought from Hull to York and brought before the Lord President of the North, the Duke of Norfolk, on trumped up treason charges. Condemned to death, they provided the Tudor propaganda spectacle for the city when on 11 May 1537 both were hanged in chains from the city battlements until their bodies fell to pieces

In this work Carducho highlights the two characters in the foreground. To the left is a sort of soldier in colourful uniform colorful which n the painter repeated in various compositions. On the right a young somewhat strange character  introduces the viewer into the story 

In the third painting we see the death of Humphrey Middlemore, William Exmew and Sebastian Newdigate, three young men of proven training and belonging to the English aristocracy and all Carthusians

Humphrey Middlemore, O.Cart, (died 19 June 1535) was an English Catholic priest and Carthusian hermit, and was beatified by Pope Leo XIII on 9 December 1886.

William Exmew, O.Cart., (died Tyburn, 19 June 1535) was also  an English Catholic priest and Carthusian hermit who was also beatified by Pope Leo XIII on 9 December 1886.

Sebastian Newdigate, O.Cart., (7 September 1500 – 19 June 1535) was the seventh child of John Newdigate, Sergeant-at-law. He spent his early life at court and was a friend of King Henry VIII, and later became a Carthusian monk. He was also executed for treason on 19 June 1535 for his refusal to accept Henry VIII's assumption of supremacy over the Church in England and  was beatified by the Catholic Church

Newdigate`s story is interesting because of his friendship with the King

He  was visited in prison  by the King, who is said to have come in disguise, and to have offered to load Newdigate with riches and honours if he would conform. He was then brought before the Privy Council, and sent to the Tower of London, where Henry again visited him, but was unable to change his mind.

In the last painting we see the final moments of long imprisonment of members of the Carthusian community in London, chained and dying one by one through the long hot summer months by disease and starvation for refusing to abide by the Act of Supremacy. In the background, the death of the Carthusian Blessed William Horne 

Horne was the last London Carthusian executed. He was a lay Carthusian

He was executed at Tyburn with Edmund Brindholme, an English Catholic priest and chaplain to Lord Lisle in Calais, and Clement Philpot, a servant of Lord Lisle. Brindholme and Philpot had both been attainted for betraying England by offering assistance to Cardinal Reginald Pole

For more about the events at the London Charterhouse see Lawrence Hendriks, The London Charterhouse - Its Monks and Its Martyrs - With a Short Account of the English Carthusians After the Dissolution 1889

Saint John Houghton pray for us
Saint Robert Lawrence pray for us
Saint Augustine Webster pray for us
Blessed Humphrey Middlemore pray for us
Blessed William Exmew pray for us
Blessed Sebastian Newdigate pray for us
Blessed John Rochester pray for us
Blessed James Walworth pray for us
Blessed William Greenwood pray for us
Blessed John Davy pray for us
Blessed Robert Salt pray for us
Blessed Walter Pierson pray for us
Blessed Thomas Green pray for us
Blessed Thomas Scryven pray for us
Blessed Thomas Redyng pray for us
Blessed Richard Bere pray for us
Blessed Thomas Johnson pray for us
Blessed William Horne pray for us

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Crespi and Penance

Giuseppe Maria Crespi 1665 - 1747
Saint John of Nepomuk confesses the Queen of Bohemia
c. 1735
Oil on canvas
185 x 150 cm
Galleria Sabauda, Turin

According to tradition the saint was martyred in 1383 when he refused to reveal to King Wenceslas IV what the Queen of Bohemia had confessed in the Sacrament of Penance

The painting would have been commissioned about the time that the Saint was canonised in 1729

It can be compared to another work by Crespi on the Sacrament which was one of a series of seven depicting the Seven Sacraments

Giuseppe Maria Crespi 1665 - 1747
Oil on canvas
127 x 95 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

In 1739, while Crespi was still alive, the Bolognese Gianpietro Zanotti gave a thorough account of the origin of the series of the paintings: 

'One day Crespi saw a man in the confessional at San Benedetto's confessing his sins to the priest. A ray of sunlight fell on the man's head and shoulders, and was reflected inside the small chamber to produce the most beautiful contrast between light and dark that can be imagined. 
He [Crespi] studied it very carefully and, as soon as he was back home, did a small drawing of the scene. 
Then he sent two porters to fetch him a confessional, which he promptly installed in his room with staged lighting. He introduced Ludovico Mattioli, who chanced to be there, into the scene of the confession, and painted him so well that everyone recognised him, as they did the priest, who was the same person who had lent him the confessional.' 

Zanotti further recounts that Crespi made a gift of the painting to Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni in Rome, who was highly delighted and commissioned the remaining six paintings.

Pope Francis said of the Sacrament:

"[T]he protagonist of the ministry of Reconciliation is the Holy Spirit. 
The forgiveness which the Sacrament confers is the new life transmitted by the Risen Lord by means of his Spirit: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:22-23). 
Therefore, you are called always to be “men of the Holy Spirit”, joyous and strong witnesses and proclaimers of the Lord’s Resurrection. 
This witness is seen on the face, is heard in the voice of the priest who administers the Sacrament of Reconciliation with faith and “anointing”. 
He receives penitents not with the attitude of a judge, nor with that of a simple friend, but with the charity of God, with the love of a father who sees his son returning and goes out to meet him, of the shepherd who has found his lost sheep. 
The heart of a priest is a heart capable of being moved by compassion, not through sentimentalism or mere emotion, but through the “bowels of mercy” of the Lord! 
If it is true that Tradition points us to the dual role of physician and judge for confessors, let us never forget how the physician is called to heal and how the judge is called to absolve."

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Averroes and The Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas

Francesco Traini  (active 1320-65) or Lippo Memmi (active 1317-56)
The Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas, ca. 1332-40
Tempera on panel
375 x 258 cm 
Church of Santa Caterina d'Alessandria, Pisa
Museo nazionale di San Matteo, Pisa

The subject of this altarpiece is usually described as the Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas. In it the saint is depicted with open books in his hands and on his lap, receiving inspiration from above via Christ, Paul, Moses, and the Evangelists, and from below via Aristotle and Plato. However  Avarroës lies at his feet.

St Thomas had just been canonised in 1323

Santa Caterina was the Dominican Church in Pisa and was the Church of Archbishop Saltarelli

Giovanni di Paolo c.1399–1482
St. Thomas Aquinas Confounding Averroës
Tempera and gold leaf on panel
24.7 x 26.2 cm
Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri

Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 or 1227–1274) stands at the lectern flanked by Christian thinkers discussing the sleeping Muslim philosopher Averroës (1126–98). 

By placing Saint Thomas directly above the prone figure, the artist symbolically elevates Aquinas’s teachings over those of Averroës. 

Originally a cover for the Sienese treasury’s records, this panel included a lower half with the heraldic emblems of the treasury officers’ families

Benozzo Gozzoli (c. 1421 – 1497) 
The Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas
Tempera on panel
230 x 102 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The inscription beneath the glory containing Christ expresses his agreement with the theological writings of St Thomas Aquinas: BENE SCPSISTI DE ME, THOMMA ("You have written well about me, Thomas"). 

The saint is enthroned in the centre between Aristotle and Plato.

At his feet lies the Arabic scholar Averroes, whose writings he refuted. 

In the lower part of the picture a group of clergymen can be seen on either side of the pope, who according to Vasari is Sixtus IV.

The Triumph of Saint Thomas over the Arabic scholar Averroes can also be seen in the Spanish Chapel of Santa Maria Novella, Florence,  in a panel now in the Lehman Collection, New York, some Quattrocento frescoes in S. Domenico, Spoleto, and the Carafa Chapel, S. Maria sopra Minerva, Rome

In the second half of the twelfth century and throughout most of the thirteenth century wide-ranging translation of texts both from Arabic and from Greek into Latin had made available to the Christian West a vast body of philosophical and scientific literature to which that world had previously not had access. 

The newly translated sources included practically all of Aristotle's works which are known to us, a series of classical commentaries on Aristotle, important pseudo-Aristotelian works such as the Liber de causis, philosophical writings originally written in Arabic by thinkers such as Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, Avicenna and Averroes 

Upon being faced so speedily with so much literature of non-Christian origins, Latin thinkers and Churchmen had to react quickly, and to try to determine how believing Christians should respond.

A council held in Paris in 1210 and new statutes for the Faculty of Arts at the University of Paris promulgated in 1215 by the Papal Legate prohibited "reading" Aristotle's libri naturales, his Metaphysics, and Commentaries or Summae of the same. The expression "reading" as used in these prohibitions is to be taken in the sense of lecturing.

In the late 1220s and early in the 1230s Pope Gregory IX cautioned masters of Theology at Paris against relying too heavily on philosophy in their teaching and continuing to prohibit Masters of Arts from using the libri naturales until they had been freed from every suspicion of error

St Thomas Aquinas served as Bachelor and then as Master of Theology at Paris from 1252-1259 and again as Master from 1269-1272 and was involved in spreading the teachings of Aristotle

During the 1260s, however, another form of Aristotelianism developed within the Arts Faculty, known as Latin Averroism or Radical Aristotelianism

In December 1270 the Bishop of Paris condemned thirteen propositions and excommunicated all who would knowingly defend or teach them.

Bonaventure's Collationes in Hexaemeron of 1273 shows his concern about various errors of Aristotle and those whom he calls the "Arabs."

On January 18, 1277, Pope John XXI, known to most today as Peter of Spain, wrote to Bishop Tempier and asked him to conduct an inquiry about dangerous doctrines which were reported to be circulating at the University.

On March 7, 1277, Stephen Tempier, Bishop of Paris, issued a massive condemnation of 219 propositions along with the threatened excommunication of all who taught or even heard these propositions being taught unless they presented themselves to him or to the Chancellor (of the University) within seven days.

It was a landmark in the history of medieval philosophy and theology. 

Pope Benedict XVI referred to this dispute in the University of Paris in a lecture which he intended to give during a Visit to La Sapienza University in Rome on Thursday, 17 January 2008 but which was cancelled due to ignorant protests. The lecture was published instead
"Theology and philosophy in this regard form a strange pair of twins, in which neither of the two can be totally separated from the other, and yet each must preserve its own task and its own identity. It is the historical merit of Saint Thomas Aquinas – in the face of the rather different answer offered by the Fathers, owing to their historical context – to have highlighted the autonomy of philosophy, and with it the laws and the responsibility proper to reason, which enquires on the basis of its own dynamic. 
Distancing themselves from neo-Platonic philosophies, in which religion and philosophy were inseparably interconnected, the Fathers had presented the Christian faith as the true philosophy, and had emphasized that this faith fulfils the demands of reason in search of truth; that faith is the “yes” to the truth, in comparison with the mythical religions that had become mere custom.  
By the time the university came to birth, though, those religions no longer existed in the West – there was only Christianity, and thus it was necessary to give new emphasis to the specific responsibility of reason, which is not absorbed by faith. 
Thomas was writing at a privileged moment: for the first time, the philosophical works of Aristotle were accessible in their entirety; the Jewish and Arab philosophies were available as specific appropriations and continuations of Greek philosophy.  
Christianity, in a new dialogue with the reasoning of the interlocutors it was now encountering, was thus obliged to argue a case for its own reasonableness. 
The faculty of philosophy, which as a so-called “arts faculty” had until then been no more than a preparation for theology, now became a faculty in its own right, an autonomous partner of theology and the faith on which theology reflected. We cannot digress to consider the fascinating consequences of this development.  
I would say that Saint Thomas’s idea concerning the relationship between philosophy and theology could be expressed using the formula that the Council of Chalcedon adopted for Christology: philosophy and theology must be interrelated “without confusion and without separation”. 
“Without confusion” means that each of the two must preserve its own identity. Philosophy must truly remain a quest conducted by reason with freedom and responsibility; it must recognize its limits and likewise its greatness and immensity."