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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Quaerere Deum

Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867)
La Vierge adorant l'hostie/ The Virgin adoring the Host 1854
Oil on canvas 113 cm x 113 cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris



At the weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall the Pope summarized his trip last weekend to Paris and Lourdes on. 12-15 September 2008. Zenit`s report went on to say:

"Commenting on his address to the world of culture, the Pontiff said his address at the Collège des Bernardins began with "a reflection on monasticism, whose objective was to seek God, 'quaerere Deum.'"

"In an age of profound crisis of the ancient civilization," Benedict XVI continued, "the monks, guided by the light of faith, chose the 'via maestra': the way of listening to the word of God. They were, therefore, the great cultivators of sacred Scripture, and monasteries became schools of wisdom and schools of 'dominici servitii, 'of the service of the Lord,' as St. Benedict called them."

The Pope said the search for God led the monks to learning and knowledge "that made the formation of culture possible." He added that even today the search for God continues to be the "foundation of all true culture."

He said he urged priests, deacons, men and women religious and seminarians "who had come from all parts of France, to give priority to the religious listening of the divine word, looking at the Virgin Mary as sublime model.""


Ingres painted this theme of Mary and the Host many times. This version in the d`Orsay was painted in 1854, the year of the declaration of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It was commissioned by the State under Louis Napoleon III. It was very popular. It is still a popular and well-known image.

Ingres painted his first version of this theme in 1841 for the Crown Prince of Russia (the future Alexandre II). It is still in the Pouchkine Museum in Moscow.

It is a circular painting. It is like the tondo of many Renaissance paintings.

Mary is worshipping the flesh of her Son and is in meditation before the Host.

The composition brings the viewer into the action being portrayed.

At the same time, Mary is shown as a regal figure in her own right, a central point of fascination and interest in the painting.

Unlike the 18th Century, the 19th Century was a century of great Marian devotion: it was encouraged by the great apparitions in France of the Virgin to Catherine Labouré (1830), the young shepherds at La Salette (1846), to Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes (1858) and to the four children at Pontmain (1871). In 1854, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was declared.

Ingres’ sole teaching model was the ideal of classical beauty which could only be attained by the painstaking study and copying of Antique sources. All Antique statuary was considered to be the quintessential embodiment of the concept of Beauty. This Mary is the epitome of classical Beauty, perfection.

After 1824, Ingres produced many images of the Virgin: half length, without the Child, but in a prayerful pose, her hands in prayer and placed on her chest. Some criticised Ingres at the time for only producing one image of the Virgin which was simply repeated time after time in different poses.

This particular image of Mary with the Host is claimed by some to be a particular invention of Ingres, linked to the rise of the Ultramontane Movement in France which placed particular emphasis on the Eucharist. However this view is probably mistaken. The depiction of the Virgin`s relationship to the Eucharist has a long history and should not be seen as a mark of an alleged ideological movement.

Not all at the time particularly liked the paintings by Ingres of the Virgin with the Host. For example, one critic in 1841 said of the earlier version: "one senses a woman who poses in order that she be admired." L`Univers in 1841 commented on the rather disdainful expression of the Virgin. In 1865, Proudhon said: : "An imperceptible smile of satisfaction was spread over this charming figure who seemed to be saying softly to herself at the moment she took the Holy Sacrament: `It is I, however, that made you O great blessed Lord...` "

However many contemporary critics were not as critical of Ingres` images of the Virgin.

In 1844 Drach dedicated Volume II of De L`Harmonie entre L`Eglise et la Synagogue ou Perpetuite et Catholicite de la Religion chretienne to Ingres. In particular he praised La Vierge adorant l'hostie as "the most beautiful painting that has been consecrated in modern times to the glory of the Holy Virgin of Bethlehem."

Adrien Egron described that "all the genius of painting in representations of the Virgin is captured in the work of M. Ingres."