Friday, February 16, 2007

What`s the pigeon for ?

Piero della Francesca (c. 1420 - October 12, 1492)
The Baptism of Christ, 1450
Egg tempera on poplar
167 x 116 cm
National Gallery, London

The late Peter Murray FSA and his widow Linda Murray FSA are well known art historians with well over 30 years` teaching experience. Peter Murray was Professor of the History of Art at Birkbeck College, University of London. Linda Murray also taught art history at the University of London.

In the Preface to A Dictionary of Christian Art (1996, 2004) (Oxford University Press), they explained their purpose in writing the book:

"More than thirty years` experience in teaching the History of Art and Architecture have taught us that simple lack of knowledge of the Bible, and of Christian doctrine, as well as something of Church history and ritual, frequently prevents people from understanding - and even more, from appreciating - much of the greatest art which has ever been created.

Younger colleagues have told us that the problem is getting worse, and the same is true of English literature...

One of us, standing in London`s National Gallery in front of Piero della Francesca`s Baptism of Christ, heard someone ask of his companion, `What`s the pigeon for ?`

The other caps this with the assertion that she heard an English couple, in front of Leonardo da Vinci`s Last Supper in Milan - surely one of the most famous images ever created - say `I don`t know what they are doing, but they seem to be having some sort of meal.`

The whole book is intended to demonstrate the inspiration and creative drive provided by the Christian religion [to art] from its beginings to the present century....

[O]ne should bear in mind that the first works of Christian art began in the Roman catacombs as early as possibly AD 290... and that until about the end of the 17th century - that is, a timespan of roughly thirteen centuries - the Christian Church in the West was a stimulus to the building of churches and the commissioning of works of art."


The National Gallery, London website with image of The Baptism of Christ and commentary