Thursday, April 17, 2014


Cornelis van Poelenburgh ca.1586-1667
Christ Carrying the Cross
early 1620s
Oil on copper
44.2 x 62.3 cm
The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Cornelis van Poelenburgh ca.1586-1667
The Crucifixion, with the Fall of the Rebel Angels
c 1627
Oil on oak panel
57.5 x 50.7 cm
English Heritage, The Wellington Collection, Apsley House, London

Poelenburgh was a Roman Catholic and (like many Italianate painters) a native of Utrecht, the most Catholic of Dutch cities. He was in Rome from 1617 until 1627. 

Poelenburgh enjoyed an international reputation during his lifetime: working for Cosimo II de’ Medici in Florence in 1620–21 and for Charles I in London off and on from 1637 to 1641. 

The rest of his career was spent in Utrecht, where he received important commissions from local aristocrats and from Prince Fredrick Henry of Orange.

The first work was  painted in Rome, and we see an Italianate landscape with soft light

Christ is leaving behind the city of Jerusalem to make his way to Golgotha

He is being pulled forward by a rope, like a beast of burden, like a lamb to the slaughter

We recall Isaiah 53:7:
 "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth" 
And we also recall Jeremiah 11:19 
"I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter..."
In his Gospel, St Luke mentions that the two thieves were also in the group walking out to Golgotha. We see them too but they do not carry their crosses

Jerusalem in this case is represented by the Tomb of Cecilia Metella on the Appian Way built about 50 BC. We see it not as it would have been in Christ`s time but a ruin as in the seventeenth century

There is an irony. The Roman regime at the time of Christ  killed and tried to destroy Christ. They were Christ`s accusers. Their works are but ruins

It is an updating of the Procession to Golgotha

Veronica holds a cloth to wipe his face

Besides  his persecutors are his relatives and friends: the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, John the Evangelist, Simon of Cyrene, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea

The artist painted the figures first, then the landscape

It is useful to compare this work with two  similar works by Poelenburgh`s great hero, Raphael. One is now in the National Gallery in London. The Procession to Calvary is here (c. 1504)

Also see Raphael`s later work Caída en el camino del Calvario, or El Pasmo de Sicilia (c. 1515) in the Prado for which see here

The second work is an usual depiction of the Crucifixion

We see Jerusalem in outline in the distance

The action takes place well outside the city walls

The scene is dark and sombre, depressingly so. A complete contrast to the scene in the first work

Mary Magdalen embraces the Cross while John and Mary stand together on the right.

The Cross is not face on but on the diagonal, a rare feature but for a while in the seventeenth century it was quite popular

Men are drawing lots for the clothes and possessions of Christ

At the point of death we see on the right the Fall of the Rebel Angels, the Archangel St Michael, flogging a sinner beneath whom is a snake and skull and in pursuit of the fallen

The Archangel Michael and his angels are shown in the act of driving the rebel angels from Heaven.

In Hebrew, the name Michael means “Who can compare with God?”

The two scenes, The Crucifixion and The Fall of the Rebel Angels, are in counterpoint

We see the Fall and Salvation and the Triumph of Good through Christ over Evil

The scene is apocalyptic. There is a sense of the Final Judgment

It is a message in tune with the Baroque Catholic Reform in which Poelenburgh was a participant

The work recalls to mind Revelation, Chapter 12 which speaks of the conquering of Satan, which means "the accuser":

"7 Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, 
8 but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 
9 The huge dragon, the ancient serpent,who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it. 
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have salvation and power come,
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Anointed.
For the accuser  of our brothers is cast out,
who accuses them before our God day and night. 
11 They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
love for life did not deter them from death. 
12 Therefore, rejoice, you heavens,
and you who dwell in them.
But woe to you, earth and sea,
for the Devil has come down to you in great fury,
for he knows he has but a short time.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fractio Panis

Fractio Panis (The Breaking of Bread)
AD 100 - 150
The Greek Chapel (Capella Graeca), The Catacomb of Priscilla,  Via Salaria Nova, Rome
From Father Joseph Wilpert SJ, Die Malereien der Katakomben Roms (Tafeln) (1903) (plate xv, vol. I)

The fresco is the earliest depiction of the celebration of the Eucharist

It was only discovered by Fr Joseph Wilpert SJ, the noted archaeologist and religious art historian in 1893

The Eucharistic feast is depicted at the moment that the President or Bishop breaks the bread

There are seven persons at the table, six men and one woman

Except for the President, the others are reclining as the Romans did in classical times

Beside the bread there is a two handled cup

There are two large plates: one has bread (five loaves), the other fish (two)

On the ground there are seven baskets filled with bread

The depictions in art of the celebration of the Eucharist have varied in time dependent on the state of knowledge and theology at the time

In a six-part lecture series entitled Past Belief: Visions of Early Christianity in Renaissance and Reformation Europe at The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, Professor of History  Anthony Grafton of Princeton University focuses on the efforts of artists and scholars to recreate the early history of Christianity in a period of crisis in the church from the 15th to the 17th century. 

The first lecture (30th March 2014) How Jesus Celebrated Passover: The Jewish Origins of Christianity in podcast form is here

He explores how the pictorial form of the Last Supper, a central theme in art, was radically transformed after the beginning of the Reformation in 1517. 

He shows how writers with great archaeological and historical learning delved into Roman antiquities and Jewish texts from the time of the origins of Christianity in order to bring back the world in which the Last Supper actually took place.  

One of the works that the learned Professor cites and discusses is the Annales Ecclesiastici (full title Annales ecclesiastici a Christo nato ad annum 1198; "Ecclesiastical annals from Christ's nativity to 1198"), consisting of twelve folio volumes, a history of the first 12 centuries of the Christian Church, written by Caesar Cardinal Baronius (1538 – June 30, 1607)

It is the official answer to the anti-Catholic history, the Magdeburg Centuries.

It was a time of dispute about the nature of the sacrament of the Eucharist and whether it was a sacrament  at all

Interestingly it would appear that Baronius made a number of "discoveries" (or rather recovered what had already been known)

He consulted Jewish scholars, a very radical approach for those times

It was a time of great interest in the Classics (Greek and Latin) and the rediscovery of the Classics and of Roman customs and way of life

It was also the time of the rediscovery of the catacombs and the churches and tombs and works of early Christian art discovered therein

Baronius  showed that the roots of the Sacrament were in the Passover Seder from all of these sources and thus set off new ways of depicting Holy Thursday and the Last Supper and the sacrifice at the heart of the Catholic religion

It is noteworthy that his conclusions appear only to be vindicated by the discovery of this fresco more than four hundred years after his death

An extremely interesting lecture which is recommended for this time of Passiontide

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Maundy Thursday: The Washing of the Feet

Maestro de San Esteve de Andorra
The Washing of the Feet
1200 - 1215
Mural fresco
241.5 cm  x  202 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

This work originally was from the central apse of the Church of Sant` Esteve in Andorra la Vella, which lies between France and Spain

Christ is beckoning to Peter to allow him to wash his feet at the Last Supper

Four apostles look on

Another apostle is holding a towel to dry the feet

The setting is of course The Upper Room and we see an arch with curtains

The cycle of the Passion of which this formed part began with the illustration of The Washing of the Feet

This looks like Romanesque but one can see an attempt to show emotion in the features of the participants in the scene. One sees the influence of Byzantine art

The episode is narrated in John 13: 1 - 20

Modern society does not really appreciate the significance of the ceremony

At best it is seen as a public and partly theatrical and quaint act of humility and self abasement

The act of washing another’s feet was one that could not be required of the lowliest Jewish slave. It is an allusion to the humiliating death of the crucifixion.

The word translated as "laid aside [his garments]" is tithemin, a word which is used repeatedly in St. John's Gospel with one particular meaning: to lay down one's life

Jesus requires that Peter undergo this ritual for two reasons. First, unless he accepts this, "You will have no part in me." Second, when completed, Peter will be "wholly clean." 

It was an ordnance of God himself

For a full discussion please see Jerome H. Neyrey, S.J. "The Foot Washing in John 13:6-11; Transformation Ritual or Ceremony?" 

Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John has no account of the Last Supper meal just the foot washing ceremony and Jesus’ farewell discourse. 

But such was the importance of the practice that The Rule of St Benedict  provided that that it should be performed every Saturday for all the community by him who exercised the office of cook for the week. 

It also provided  that the abbot and the brethren were to wash the feet of those who were received as guests.

It can also be seen by the fact that in 694 the Seventeenth Synod of Toledo commanded all bishops and priests in a position of superiority under pain of excommunication to wash the feet of those subject to them. 

Here are some other depictions of the same scene from John`s Gospel

f  5r Christ washing Peter's feet
1200 - c 1220
Miniature in colours and gold on parchment 
Royal MS 1 D X, f 5r
The British Library, London

Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1255-1260 - c. 1318-1319)
Washing of the Feet
From Maestà (back, central panel: Scenes of Christ`s Passion
Tempera on wood
50 x 53 cm
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lithographs of Victorian Catholic Churches in North America

Church of the Holy Trinity, Columbia, Pennsylvania.

Website is here

The church was founded by the then Bishop Saint John Neumann

St. Vincent de Paul's Church, Germantown, Pa.

The church was built 1849-1851 and enlarged 1857 and was part of a complex which included a seminary and chapel completed in 1879

The church was the first parish named after St. Vincent de Paul

Website is here 

Eglise du Precieux Sang, Woonsocket, Rhode Island (The Church of the Precious Blood of Woonsocket, RI)

Woonsocket, Rhode Island, was the fourth largest Franco-American town. Besides having a beautiful name, it also had one of the highest percentage of French Canadian population in all of New England (60%). There were five French-Canadian parishes in the city by the 1920’s.

The church was founded in 1828 and the building was constructed in 1873 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Contact details are here 

The Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, now known as Santísimo Redentor, 161-165 East 3rd Street, the East Village, Manhattan

It was once the most important in Manhattan's  Kleindeutschland "Little Germany" 

The Wikipedia entry is here

The parish website is here

The Favey Library at Villanova University  has put on line a collection of Catholic church lithographs by the Philadelphia lithography firm of Packard and Butler (later Packard, Butler and Partridge), 

There are over 400 prints of interior or exterior views of Catholic churches throughout the United States and parts of Canada during the nineteenth century

The prints seem to have been produced for a variety of uses. There are a number of prints that were used as certificates commemorating First Holy Communion and Confirmation.

There are also a few portraits of priests:

Reverend B.F. McLoughlin, Pastor of St Mary`s Church, Cortland, New York

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Brescia and the Eucharist

Alessandro Bonvicino ("il Moretto") (1498 circa – 1554)
Il Cristo eucaristico con i santi Cosma e Damiano
Christ in the Eucharist with Saints Cosmo and Damian
c. 1540
Oil on canvas
261 x 160 cm
Chiesa parrocchiale dei Santi Cosma e Damiano, Marmentino (Brescia)

The inscription on the altar in the above painting reads:
"Panem Angelorum Manducavit Homo"

Alessandro Bonvicino ("il Moretto") (1498 circa – 1554)
Il Cristo eucaristico con i santi Bartolomeo e Rocco
Christ in the Eucharist with Saints Bartholomew and Rocco
c. 1545
Oil on canvas
254 x 175 cm
Chiesa parrocchiale di San Bartolomeo, Castenedolo (Brescia)

It is often forgotten that the Reform or Renewal  of the Catholic Church did not begin with the Council of Trent (1545–1563), Saint Pope Pius V and St Charles Borromeo

Unlike Luther and his followers, reformers stayed within the Church and reformed from within

These reformers did not change doctrine but reformed morals and acts, starting with themselves

They started their work before Luther issued his 95 Theses in 1517

One of these centres of reform or renewal  before Trent was Brescia in Northern Italy

The great impetus of this conservative   reform came from the bottom up and was not top down and in particular came from lay confraternities aided and encouraged by sympathetic clergy

Unlike in Germany and unlike Luther and the reformers there, these conservative reformers were not clergy and not academics 

They also kept out of the secular politics of the time and did not seek secular power

One of the great figures in this reform based in Brescia was St Angela Merici  (21 March 1474 – 27 January 1540) who in 1535 with twenty eight companions founded the Company of St Ursula  on 25 November

But this was part of a wider movement for renewal

Along with other Brescian painters, Moretto strove to interpret sacred themes in light of the fervent desire for church reform and renewed piety on the part of the lay community that swept through northern Italy from the 1520s

Moretto himself participated in this movement by his involvement in confraternities, such as that of the Santissimo Sacramento based in Brescia's cathedral of which Moretto was himself consigliere. He is also buried in the common tomb of the Confratelli della Scuola del Santissimo Sacramento in San Clemente

The thirteenth session of the Council of Trent was held on 11 October, 1551; it promulgated a comprehensive decree on the Sacrament of the Eucharist (in eight chapters and eleven canons)

At the twenty-second session, which was not held until 17 September, 1562, four decrees were promulgated: the first contained the dogma of the Church on the Sacrifice of the Mass (in nine chapters and nine canons); the second directed the suppression of abuses in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice; a third (in eleven chapters) treated reform, especially in regard to the morals of the clergy

As can be seen Moretto`s works with his own great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament anticipate the conclusions of the Council of Trent which did not publish its conclusions until well after his death

These conclusions at Trent were not in reaction to the Lutheran reformers but reflected the understanding of the faith prior to the break with the Lutherans and others

The works by Moretto were commissioned by Donato Savallo, the archpriest of the Cathedral in Brescia

Savallo had been in Brescia since 1524 and also had tied benefits to parishes in the region around Brescia including Marmentino and Castenedolo

It would appear that there was a strong and close connection between Savallo and Morettp since 1530 when Savallo corresponded with  Moretto about the construction of the organ for the church at Salo at Lago di Garda

It should be noted that Aurelio Durante and Donato Savallo, archdeacon and archpriest of the Cathedral of Brescia were given papal authority to  execute the Bull Regimini Universalis Ecclesiae (5th June 1544) confirming the Order of Ursulines after the death of St Angela Merici

It would be good to know more about the life of this rather unknown priest Donato Savallo who appears to have been one of the major figures in the renewal at Brescia

Moretto also had close connections with Vincenzo Stella and Agostino Gallo both closely associated with the Oratory of Divine Love in Brescia as well as St Angela Merici herself

The legacy of the reformers lasted well after they had passed to another life and their influence reverberated for centuries

Both works were for  Chapels of the Blessed Sacrament and were built by the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament of which Moretto was a distinguished member

At Marmentino the work is still in situ but not in the Chapel but above the High Altar and it is a wonderful work. It can be seen on this website Itinerari Brescia from where the following photographs by Laura Gatti were taken:

On the website of the Parish of S Bartolomeo in Castenedolo, we learn that the picture of Saint Bartholomew  can not be seen in the original chapel of the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament again built by the Confraternity of which Moretto was a member. 

Unfortunately, the original church was destroyed by an earthquake in 1799 

It would appear from the website that the Confraternity there at the time was called the ‘Disciplina di San Rocco e San Sebastiano’ which explains the presence of San Rocco

Here is  a picture of the work in its present setting:

Four hundred years later,  it was that great citizen of Brescia, Pope Paul VI with his Encyclical Mysterium Fidei (3rd September 1965) who had to step in and set out clearly concisely and precisely the dogmas on the Eucharist and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the face of misguided calls (again mainly from Germany and Northern Europe especially the Netherlands) to undermine and change the Dogmas at the Second Vatican Council

"3. In order to make the indissoluble bond that exists between faith and devotion perfectly clear, the Fathers of the Council decided, in the course of reaffirming the doctrine that the Church has always held and taught and that was solemnly defined by the Council of Trent, to offer the following compendium of truths as an introduction to their treatment of the Most Holy Mystery of the Eucharist: 
4. "At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the Sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of His Death and Resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.''
5. These words highlight both the sacrifice, which pertains to the essence of the Mass that is celebrated daily, and the sacrament in which those who participate in it through holy Communion eat the flesh of Christ and drink the blood of Christ, and thus receive grace, which is the beginning of eternal life, and the "medicine of immortality" according to Our Lord's words: "The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood enjoys eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."

Both the paintings depict Eucharistic Adoration.

56. The Catholic Church has always displayed and still displays this latria that ought to be paid to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, both during Mass and outside of it, by taking the greatest possible care of consecrated Hosts, by exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and by carrying them about in processions to the joy of great numbers of the people. 
57. The ancient documents of the Church offer many evidences of this veneration. The bishops of the Church always urged the faithful to take the greatest possible care of the Eucharist that they had in their homes. "The Body of Christ is meant to be eaten by the faithful, not to be treated with irreverence," is the serious warning of St. Hippolytus.  
58. In fact, the faithful regarded themselves as guilty, and rightly so as Origen recalls, if, after they had received the body of the Lord and kept it with all reverence and caution, some part of it were to fall to the ground through negligence.  
59. These same bishops were severe in reproving any lack of due reverence that might occur. We have evidence of this from the words of Novatian, whose testimony is trustworthy in this matter; He felt that anybody deserved to be condemned who "came out after Sunday service bringing the Eucharist with him, as was the custom, . . . and carried the holy body of the Lord around with him," going off to places of amusement instead of going home.  
60. In fact, St. Cyril of Alexandria denounced as mad the opinion that the Eucharist was of no use to sanctification if some of it were left over for another day. "For Christ is not altered," he says, "and His holy body is not changed; instead the power and force and life-giving grace of the blessing remain in it forever."  
61. Nor should we forget that in ancient times the faithful—whether being harassed by violent persecutions or living in solitude out of love for monastic life—nourished themselves even daily on the Eucharist, by receiving Holy Communion from their own hands when there was no priest or deacon present.  
62. We are not saying this with any thought of effecting a change in the manner of keeping the Eucharist and of receiving Holy Communion that has been laid down by subsequent ecclesiastical laws still in force; Our intention is that we may rejoice over the faith of the Church which is always one and the same."

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Redeemer and the Cross

Alessandro Bonvicino  (c. 1498 – December 22, 1554) ("Il Moretto da Brescia")
Il Redentore con la croce e un devoto
The Redeemer with the Cross and a Worshipper
Oil on panel
78 x 62 cm
Accademia Carrara, Bergamo

At first they thought the painting was by Titian. It was certainly Northern Italian

Then they attributed it to Il Moretto from Brescia who in his early years certainly was influenced by Titian and the Venetians

This is an early work

Alexis-François Rio (20 May 1797 - 17 June 1874),  in his revised and extensively expanded 1861 edition of De l`art chretien described Moretto as "one of Italy's greatest painters."' and saw in him a "hint of sadness which when it appears in his paintings lends them an inexpressible charm."

Rio also noted Moretto's "calm and noble imagination, a spirit at once tender and serene, and a greater aptitude for meditation than for the intuition of sublime things."'

Moretto was the dominant artist active in Brescia in the 1530s and 1540s.

He was a very active member of the Scuola del Santissimo Sacramento attached to the cathedral in Brescia and painted a group of pictures for the confraternity

He and the Brescian school at the time were intent on depicting humble and natural reality

It is a puzzling and complex work

Outside a fortified town or fortress, the man - a solitary -  has been reading a book

It seems a dull and oppressive day

It is a sombre work

The landscape is dark and strange and it has been noted that it is similar to the landscape depicted by Giorgione in his Tempest

The work is Christian allegory and the artist is obviously familiar with Titian`s Noli me Tangere  (now in The National Gallery, London)

In his reading, the man has come to a part of the text from the Psalms (Psalm 31, verses 17 - 18):
"17 Illustra faciem tuam super servum tuum;
salvum me fac in misericordia tua.
18 Domine, non confundar, quoniam invocavi te.
Erubescant impii, et deducantur in infernum"
"17 Make thy face to shine upon thy servant; save me in thy mercy.
18 Let me not be confounded, O Lord, for I have called upon thee. Let the wicked be ashamed, and be brought down to hell."
He drops the book and we see what he has been reading

We see what he sees now: Christ standing before him. A risen Christ but carrying his Cross which he is just about to plant in the ground

Psalm 31 is one of the keys to understanding the painting

It is a lament. The man is alone and isolated and being hounded by all, his enemies. He is in distress

What has gone before in the narrative of the painting is in the first sixteen verses, the ones before we see written in the book

In full the Psalm reads:

"For the leader. A psalm of David.
2 In you, LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me; 
3 incline your ear to me;
make haste to rescue me!
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to save me. 
4 For you are my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake lead me and guide me. 
5 Free me from the net they have set for me,
for you are my refuge. 
6 Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, LORD, God of truth. 
7 You hate those who serve worthless idols,
but I trust in the LORD. 
8 I will rejoice and be glad in your mercy,
once you have seen my misery,
[and] gotten to know the distress of my soul. 
9 You will not abandon me into enemy hands,
but will set my feet in a free and open space. 
10 Be gracious to me, LORD, for I am in distress;
affliction is wearing down my eyes,
my throat and my insides. 
11 My life is worn out by sorrow,
and my years by sighing.
My strength fails in my affliction;
my bones are wearing down. 
12 To all my foes I am a thing of scorn,
and especially to my neighbours
a horror to my friends.
When they see me in public,
they quickly shy away. 
3 I am forgotten, out of mind like the dead;
I am like a worn-out tool. 
14 I hear the whispers of the crowd;
terrors are all around me.
They conspire together against me;
they plot to take my life. 
15 But I trust in you, LORD;
I say, “You are my God.” 
16 My destiny is in your hands;
rescue me from my enemies,
from the hands of my pursuers. 
17 Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your mercy. 
18 Do not let me be put to shame,
for I have called to you, LORD.
Put the wicked to shame;
reduce them to silence in Sheol. 
19 Strike dumb their lying lips,
which speak arrogantly against the righteous
in contempt and scorn. 
20 How great is your goodness, Lord,
stored up for those who fear you.
You display it for those who trust you,
in the sight of the children of Adam. 
21 You hide them in the shelter of your presence,
safe from scheming enemies.
You conceal them in your tent,
away from the strife of tongues. 
22 Blessed be the LORD,
marvelously he showed to me
his mercy in a fortified city. 
23 Though I had said in my alarm,
“I am cut off from your eyes.”
Yet you heard my voice, my cry for mercy,
when I pleaded with you for help. 
24 Love the LORD, all you who are faithful to him.
The LORD protects the loyal,
but repays the arrogant in full. 
25 Be strong and take heart,
all who hope in the LORD."

In his misery and distress the man repeats the words of Christ on Calvary:
"6 Into your hands I commend my spirit"
They are the last words of Compline, the last prayer of the night

In the painting we see God`s face shining on his servant, saving and redeeming through his infinite mercy and love. The servant sees the face of God

On the column there is another inscription

The abbreviated inscription reads:
The text is from St Paul`s First Letter to Timothy (1 Tim. ii. 5):
 "Unus enim Deus, unus et mediator Dei et hominum homo Christus Jesus"
" There is one God, and one Mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus."
The theme is individual salvation

The devotee calls and looks on the face of Christ.

Christ beckons him forward but is looking at the top right of the painting: angels ascending into Heaven

On the far left one can just see the shepherd with his flock of sheep. There is a sheep around his shoulders as he carries it to safety,  a symbol of the Good Shepherd and the mercy of God

We recall the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15: 1 - 7 and in particular verse 5:
"And when he does find it [the lost sheep], he sets it on his shoulders with great joy"

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Last Supper by Pourbus the Younger

Frans Pourbus the Younger (1569–1622)
The Last Supper
Oil on canvas
287 x 370 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Frans Pourbus the Younger (1569–1622)
The Last Supper
Black stone, black and brown ink on paper
33 cm x 52.1 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The Last Supper was painted for the high altar of the church of Saint-Leu-Saint-Gilles in Paris, which dates back to the 13th century

Apparently Poussin admired the work and praised it greatly

It was considered to be Pourbus` masterpiece

It had a considerable influence on French painting

The work appears to have been commissioned when Cardinal Henri de Gandi, Archbishop of Paris, (« cardinal de Retz »)  made it into a parish church in its own right in 1617 after the erection of the choir of the church in 1611

Flemish by birth and training, Pourbus was court painter of Archduke Albert in Brussels when in 1600 he went to Italy at the invitation of Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua

In 1611 he became Maria de' Medici's court painter in Paris as well as that of Louis XIII

He is renowned now mainly for his portraits and for his historical scenes

His religious art is often overlooked

Late Mannerist, he was the son and grandson of artists

It has been said of the artist that he inherited from them "an incredibly ornate, decorative style, and the ability to depict the various textures of skin, hair, fabric, lace and pearl with admirable precision"

In his portraits he followed the international style where the portrayal of character was less important than the meticulous reproduction of sumptuous costumes and jewellery.

Image was more important than the reality

But here in this religious work we see the intelligent characterisation and dramatisation of an historical event which  was to change the history of mankind

We see a Christ who is majestic yet human, humble and of common stock

He is seated not lying down on a couch

His authority is evident and natural

His hands are in a tender embrace towards his apostles

Each apostle is differeniated

Judas rises from the table, with his purse, the sole object of his attention

In the standard work on the artist, Blaise Ducos, Frans Pourbus le Jeune (1569-1622): Le Portrait d’apparat à l’aube du Grand Siècle entre Habsbourg, Médicis, et Bourbons. Paris : Faton, 2011. 399 pp. ISBN: 978-2-87844-151-2,  Ducos (curator of Dutch and Flemish Painting at the Louvre) argues that the artist`s key to success was his ability to adjust his pictorial style subtly to suit the particular needs and tastes of the court for which he was working 

This was the age of Rubens, a man Pourbus knew very well. It was a time when  the artist was expected to serve and advance the interests of his patrons as players in a highly theatricalised court culture. 

But in this work there is no flattery and no advancement of human patrons

It is simply a prayer and a statement of an article of the artist`s faith