Thursday, January 31, 2008


MOREAU, GUSTAVE (1826-1898)
Salomé Dancing before Herod
Oil on canvas
56 5/8 x 40 5/8 inches (144 x 103.5 cm)
Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Centre, Los Angeles,

A small but select group of writers expressed their great admiration for Moreau, among them the French novelist J.-K. Huysmans, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust and André Breton.

Wilde was inspired to write his play Salome in part as a result of viewing of Moreau's painting (1874-76) of the princess who, in exchange for agreeing to dance before her stepfather, King Herod, demands the head of John the Baptist.

Marcel Proust devoted a 10-page meditative essay to Moreau. He makes reference to a number of the paintings, most prominently to Bathsheba (c. 1886 and 1890), based on the biblical story.

André Breton was another Moreau admirer. In his biography of the inventor of Surrealism, Mark Polizzotti writes:

“But the artistic discovery that had by far the greatest impact [on Breton] was the Gustave Moreau museum.... The fact that the museum was seldom frequented made it all the more mysterious and attractive in Breton's eyes, ‘the ideal image of what a temple should be,' and he dreamed of being locked in it for the night, free to roam the halls at will. "
In Communicating Vessels (1932), years later, Breton was to write about encountering a woman who reminded him of “those eyes that have never ceased to fascinate me for the last fifteen years, the Delilah of the little watercolour by Gustave Moreau which I have gone to see so often in the Luxembourg museum.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Song of Songs

Gustave Moreau (April 6, 1826 – April 18, 1898)
Song of Songs 1853
Oil on Canvas
Musée des Beaux Arts Diogione

Gustave Moreau (April 6, 1826 – April 18, 1898) was a French Symbolist painter.

Moreau's main focus was the illustration of biblical and mythological figures. As a painter of literary ideas rather than visual images, he appealed to the imaginations of some Symbolist writers and artists, who saw him as a precursor to their movement.

He defined his art as a "passionate silence"

He taught at the Ecole des Beaux Arts from 1892 until his death. He was a teacher of students such as Roualt and Matisse

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Still falls the Rain.

Clive Branson 1907-1944
Blitz: Plane Flying 1940
Oil on canvas
support: 610 x 509 x 20 mm frame: 750 x 650 x 50 mm
Tate Britain, London

Edith Louisa Sitwell DBE (7 September 1887 – 9 December 1964) was a British poet and critic

She had two younger brothers, Osbert (1892-1969) and Sacheverell Sitwell (1897-1988) both distinguished authors, well-known literary figures in their own right, and long-term collaborators.

The poems she wrote during the war brought her back before a public. They include Street Songs (1942), The Song of the Cold (1945) and The Shadow of Cain (1947), all of which were much praised. Still Falls the Rain, about the London blitz, remains perhaps her best-known poem (it was set to music by Benjamin Britten as Canticle III: Still Falls the Rain).

In 1955, Sitwell converted to Roman Catholicism

Still Falls the Rain

The Raids, 1940. Night and Dawn.

Still falls the Rain---
Dark as the world of man, black as our loss---
Blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails
Upon the Cross.

Still falls the Rain
With a sound like the pulse of the heart that is changed to the hammer-beat
In the Potter's Field, and the sound of the impious feet
On the Tomb:

Still falls the Rain

In the Field of Blood where the small hopes breed and the human brain
Nurtures its greed, that worm with the brow of Cain.

Still falls the Rain
At the feet of the Starved Man hung upon the Cross.
Christ that each day, each night, nails there, have mercy on us---
On Dives and on Lazarus:
Under the Rain the sore and the gold are as one.

Still falls the Rain---
Still falls the Blood from the Starved Man's wounded Side:
He bears in His Heart all wounds,---those of the light that died,
The last faint spark
In the self-murdered heart, the wounds of the sad uncomprehending dark,
The wounds of the baited bear---
The blind and weeping bear whom the keepers beat
On his helpless flesh... the tears of the hunted hare.

Still falls the Rain---
Then--- O Ile leape up to my God: who pulles me doune---
See, see where Christ's blood streames in the firmament:
It flows from the Brow we nailed upon the tree

Deep to the dying, to the thirsting heart
That holds the fires of the world,---dark-smirched with pain
As Caesar's laurel crown.

Then sounds the voice of One who like the heart of man
Was once a child who among beasts has lain---
"Still do I love, still shed my innocent light, my Blood, for thee."

One can hear an original recording of Dame Edith Sitwell reciting the poem at The Poetry Archive

The Blitz in London was the genesis of the poem. This is Sitwell`s powerful response to the events in 1940.

Sitwell described this poem in a letter to Benjamin Britten as one of the proudest achievements of her life.

The poem is dark, full of the disillusions of war. It speaks of the failure of man, and contrasts this with the unconditional love of God.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Pauline Anniversary

Angelos Akotantos (active 1436 - 1450):
Icon of The Embrace of the Apostles Peter and Paul
Oil on canvas on panel; 46.4 x 37 cm.
Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Maria Vassilaki, in ‘A Cretan Icon in the Ashmolean: The Embrace of Peter and Paul’, Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik, 40 writes:

"The Embrace of the Apostles Peter and Paul, whose names are inscribed in Latin, belongs to a series of nearly identical icons by the Veneto-Cretan painter Angelos Akotantos, two of which are signed.

The subject is seen as symbolic of oecumenical peace.

More specifically, these icons have been linked to hopes raised at the Council of Ferrara/Florence (1438-9) which unsuccessfully aimed at the union of the eastern and western churches."

At 5.30 p.m. on June 28, 2008 on the eve of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, Pope Benedict XVI will preside at the celebration of first Vespers in the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside-the- Walls.

During the ceremony, the Pope will proclaim a year especially dedicated to St. Paul, to mark the 2000th anniversary of the birth of the "Apostle of the Gentiles."

According to the Vatican Radio Calendar, the year will run from June 29, 2008, to June 29, 2009.

Akotantos probably came from Constantinople and was the founder of the Cretan school of icon painting which flourished from the second half of the 15th century until the 17th century.

Of him, Dimitrios Konstantios writes in Greece, Hearth of Art and Culture after the Fall of Constantinople in “Post-Byzantium: The Greek Renaissance 15th-18th Century Treasures from the Byzantine & Christian Museum, Athens” Edit. Hellenic Ministry of Culture, Athens 2002:

"Angelos Akotantos was one of the most significant painters in the first half of the fifteenth century, associated in particular with the dependency (metochiori) of Mount Sinai in Candia - the church of Saint Catherine of the Sinaites - and with the hegumen of the Valsamonero monastery, the man of letters Jonah Palamas. Angelos' oeuvre is distinguished by his sensitive use of colour and his love of detail, while he also created new iconographic subjects...His reputation lived on into the sixteenth century, and he was still dubbed pitore famosissimo in the seventeenth."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Vision of Ezekiel

David Bomberg 1890-1957
Vision of Ezekiel 1912
Oil on canvas
support: 1143 x 1372 mm frame: 1203 x 1435 x 68 mm
Tate Gallery, London

Bomberg was closely associated with the Vorticist group in London but was never officially a member of the Vorticist Group. Indeed he resisted attempts to enlist him as a member of the movement

The subject is taken from the Old Testament and illustrates the occasion when God guided the prophet to a valley full of bones and commanded him to speak. 'There was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together.'

The brilliant colours emphasise the exultation associated with resurrection.

Note the sense of struggle between the figures

Bomberg may have chosen this text after the sudden death of his mother.

Bomberg painted a series of complex geometric compositions combining the influences of cubism and futurism in the years immediately preceding World War I

His faith in the machine age shaken by the trauma of serving on the Western Front as a sapper in the trenches, Bomberg moved to a more representational style in the 1920s and his work became increasingly dominated by portraits and landscapes drawn from nature

Bomberg was an influential teacher at the Borough Polytechnic, London. His students included Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff.

His last years were darkened by the realisation that his art remained overlooked and even belittled in Britain. Bomberg always avoided groups and movements but at the same time persisted in developing ''a form of painting that lay far outside the mainstream of British art."

The Tomb of St Thomas Aquinas

The Tomb of St Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225 – 7 March 1274)
Le couvent des Jacobins
Toulouse, France

The saint`s remains were placed in the Church of the Jacobins in Toulouse in 1369.

Between 1789 and 1974, they were held in Saint Sernin basilica of Toulouse.

In 1974, they were returned to the Church of the Jacobins, where they have remained ever since.

From Pope Leo XIII - Aeterni Patris (August 4, 1879)

"17. Among the Scholastic Doctors, the chief and master of all towers Thomas Aquinas, who, as Cajetan observes, because "he most venerated the ancient Doctors of the Church, in a certain way seems to have inherited the intellect of all."

The doctrines of those illustrious men, like the scattered members of a body, Thomas collected together and cemented, distributed in wonderful order, and so increased with important additions that he is rightly and deservedly esteemed the special bulwark and glory of the Catholic faith.

With his spirit at once humble and swift, his memory ready and tenacious, his life spotless throughout, a lover of truth for its own sake, richly endowed with human and divine science, like the sun he heated the world with the warmth of his virtues and filled it with the splendor of his teaching.

Philosophy has no part which he did not touch finely at once and thoroughly; on the laws of reasoning, on God and incorporeal substances, on man and other sensible things, on human actions and their principles, he reasoned in such a manner that in him there is wanting neither a full array of questions, nor an apt disposal of the various parts, nor the best method of proceeding, nor soundness of principles or strength of argument, nor clearness and elegance of style, nor a facility for explaining what is abstruse.

18. Moreover, the Angelic Doctor pushed his philosophic inquiry into the reasons and principles of things, which because they are most comprehensive and contain in their bosom, so to say, the seeds of almost infinite truths, were to be unfolded in good time by later masters and with a goodly yield.

And as he also used this philosophic method in the refutation of error, he won this title to distinction for himself: that, single-handed, he victoriously combated the errors of former times, and supplied invincible arms to put those to rout which might in after-times spring up.

Again, clearly distinguishing, as is fitting, reason from faith, while happily associating the one with the other, he both preserved the rights and had regard for the dignity of each; so much so, indeed, that reason. borne on the wings of Thomas to its human height, can scarcely rise higher, while faith could scarcely expect more or stronger aids from reason than those which she has already obtained through Thomas.

19. For these reasons most learned men, in former ages especially, of the highest repute in theology and philosophy, after mastering with infinite pains the immortal works of Thomas, gave themselves up not so much to be instructed in his angelic wisdom as to be nourished upon it.

It is known that nearly all the founders and lawgivers of the religious orders commanded their members to study and religiously adhere to the teachings of St. Thomas, fearful least any of them should swerve even in the slightest degree from the footsteps of so great a man. To say nothing of the family of St. Dominic, which rightly claims this great teacher for its own glory, the statutes of the Benedictines, the Carmelites, the Augustinians, the Society of Jesus, and many others all testify that they are bound by this law. "

Saturday, January 26, 2008


George Frederic Watts 1817-1904
Mammon 1884-5
Oil on canvas
support: 1829 x 1060 mm
Tate Britain, London

This is a powerful picture with powerful social comment.

Mammon, the god of money, is represented as a tyrant on a throne. Note the small skulls on either side on the back of the throne.

He nurses money bags in his lap and two youthful figures (one female ?, the other male) are crushed by his monstrous power. They are deprived of life.

Mammon is surounded by the accoutrements of wealth: the crown or diadem, the fine clothes, the elegant suroundings.

This is one of a series of paintings in which George Frederick Watts criticised modern commerce and its de-humanising effect on the nation.

Watts subtitled the picture Dedicated to his Worshippers, as if inscribing a monument.

He apparently had plans to commission a sculpture of Mammon for Hyde Park where he hoped the god’s followers ‘would be at least honest enough to bow the knee publicly to him’.

The Temptation on the Pinnacle

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
The Temptation on the Pinnacle circa 1834
Pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper
support: 212 x 160 mm
on paper, unique
Tate Britain, London

The Temptation on the Pinnacle, engraved by F. Bacon published 1835
Engraving on paper
on paper, print
Tate Britain, London

Turner contributed three designs for 'Paradise Lost' and two episodes from 'Paradise Regained' for Macrone's 1835 edition of Milton's 'Poetical Works'.

This vignette shows the third and final temptation endured by Christ in the wilderness, when challenged by Satan to throw himself down from the highest pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Turner depicts the moment of Christ's triumph over Satan who can be seen hurling himself away from the scene in anger and frustration.

Friday, January 25, 2008

New Mosaics in Westminster Cathedral

What the chapel in Westminster Cathedral will look like when finished

In The word made mosaic, Apollo Magazine has a feature on the artist Tom Phillips who has been commissioned to prepare a series of designs for new mosaics for a chapel in Westminster Cathedral, London.

Phillips works from his house in Peckham, South London.

"Six years ago he presented a ‘Summary Treatise on the Nature of Ornament’ to the Architecture Forum at the Royal Academy, a critique of modern Western practices that gives a nod to Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Discourses on Art. Like so much that he does, it is an assimilated work, fusing academic theory and personal concerns, part generated, perhaps, by the Westminster commissions.

It provides a vehicle with which to castigate the demotion of the term ‘craft’, and assert the spiritual significance of calligraphic ornament, ‘where form embodies truth directly’. These concerns inform his mosaic designs.

Designing for the chapel cannot have been easy because this little space already enshrines a great deal of art, emotion and polemic, an altarpiece by Eric Gill, polychrome marble and a memorial to Catholics killed in World War 1.

He concedes that it wasn’t straightforward, ‘I went quite often to the cathedral. And sat there and thought, “What would be right? What was it all about, these martyrs?” And they were sparks of faith spanning a dark period, and that was in fact what I did.’

While the saints’ names take flight across the ceiling on little tongues of lambent flame , St George is represented by a frieze of dragon-scales and his red cross (‘but if he was a saint he was almost certainly an Arab, which is how you would have to depict him now’).

The altarpiece he adjudges a late work and not really all that good, but Gill still remains the best artist to have worked in the cathedral.

‘The other artists they have used inhabited the twilight world of religious artists, and they represented little stubby people enacting various events, as if people still can’t read now,’ he opines. This would come under his definition of false ornament, ‘a use of literal illustration or unassimilated narrative’.

To Phillips the presence of the word is the key. ‘Here is a place where art with the word is appropriate, it is art of the word. To me what’s really happened is, in old churches, nobody could read, so you had to tell them the story in pictures. Now everybody sees pictures all the time, and they can read, so what they need is the word. To me, that short line [of text] in my work is important.’...

Westminster Cathedral has provided Phillips with a strong sense of purpose and fulfilment; it is, he says, really what he would be content to do for the rest of his life.

But since he is temperamentally programmed to treat his work as a progress, the slowness and long pauses of the commissioning process leave him frustrated.

Now he is making another design for the cathedral, for a panel of St David, his own patron saint, ‘because I’m Welsh’. I suggest that he makes a self-portrait of it. ‘Oh, I have, he’s halfway between [the opera singer] Bryn Terfel and me.’ "

Martinique 1848 and a Baptism

French, Martinique, summer 1848
4 3/8 x 5 13/16 in.
J Paul Getty Museum

This photograph records the baptismal ceremony for the slaves of the West Indian island of Martinique in 1848.

The sacrament represented affirmation from the church of their recent emancipation from slavery.

Britain captured the island during the Seven Years' War, holding it from 1762 to 1763. Between 1794 and 1815, there was a strong British interest in Martinique, with Britain controlling the island during the French Revolutionary Wars from 1794 to 1802; and again during the Napoleonic wars from 1809 to 1814.

Slavery was abolished under the earlier period of British rule, but reinstated after 1802, when the Treaty of Amiens gave Martinique back to France, and Napoléon Bonaparte allowed slavery again.

Abolishing slavery in all its colonies was one of the goals declared by the new French provisional government in early 1848. Although news of this objective reached Martinique in late March, it was only on April 27, 1848 that the French government decreed that slavery was abolished in all of its colonies.

Freedom was not formally granted until 22nd May of that year but then only after there was a rebellion.

Within the densely packed throng, a white-robed group at lower center dissolves into a spectral blur, their exuberant movement uncontainable by the camera.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (March 6, 1475 – February 18, 1564),
Crucifixion (c. 1530s)
Drawing in black chalk
368.000 mm x 268.000 mm
The British Museum, London

Michelangelo made this devotional image for his friend Vittoria Colonna (April, 1490 - February, 1547). They wrote sonnets for each other and were in regular contact until she died.

The widow of Francesco Ferrante D'Avalos, son of the marquis of Pescara , an aristocratic poet and religious reformer, she became Michelangelo`s confidante around 1537 when he was in his sixties.

She was the friend of and esteemed by Cardinals Reginald Pole and Contarini. Pietro Bembo, Luigi Alamanni and Baldassare Castiglione were among her literary friends.

Colonna wrote the following letter to Michelangelo to thank him:

"Unique master Michelangelo and my most particular friend, I have received your letter and seen the Crucifix which has certainly crucified itself in my memory more than any other picture that I have ever seen.

No image better made, more alive, or finished could be seen.

Certainly, I could never explain how subtly and marvellously it is made, and for this reason I am resolved that I don't wish it to be in the hands of anyone else …

I've looked at it closely using a lamp, a magnifying glass and a mirror: never did I see anything more finely executed."

For being of Jewish ancestry

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, (1746-1828)
Por linage de ebros, (‘For being of Jewish ancestry') 1814-24
Brush drawing in brown ink and wash
205.000 mm x 142.000 mm
The British Museum, London

Goya (1746-1828) had become Principal Painter to the King of Spain and a successful society portrait painter. However personal illness and later the horrors of the Peninsular War (1808-14) turned him away from conventional subjects and to observe the darker side of Spanish life.

This is a scene from the despotic reign of Ferdinand VII (1808-1833) who, in 1814, had restored the Inquisition

These 'penitents' are identified by their paper tunics and tall hats.

Their only crime is 'for being of Jewish ancestry', as Goya's brief inscription makes clear.

The composition seems to be derived from traditional depictions of Christ presented bound and robed, with a crown of thorns, to the people of Jerusalem.

This association further emphasises the true innocence and dignity of the accused.

Goya himself came before the Tribunal of the Inquisition in 1815 for depicting female nudes.

Bishop Juan Gerardi: The Art of Political Murder

Bishop Juan Gerardi

The Times is publishing extracts from The Art of Political Murder by Francisco Goldman.(Atlantic, £16.99 )

On April 26, 1998, days after publishing a damning indictment of the Guatemalan Government's human rights record, Bishop Juan Gerardi was bludgeoned to death at the Church of San Sebastian.

As official explanations became increasingly bizarre, the novelist Francisco Goldman turned investigator.

The Guatemalan Bishops' Conference described the investigation of the murder as "totally inadequate." and that the murder was "a premeditated blow to the Guatemalan Catholic Church" designed to "limit our pastoral action and remind us that the most fearful forces in the country are still intact and possess enormous power."

After the murder a Vatican spokesman, Father Pedro Freites, expressed shock over the murder of the Bishop, who he described as "one of the new martyrs of the Latin American Catholic Church."

Goldman worked assiduously for seven years on the book. He tried to find the parish pet, Baloo, after the dog was impounded by the government in a veterinary hospital, accused of following orders shouted in German to kill the bishop.

After a laborious legal process, during which several witnesses were killed or fled for their lives, three military officers and Father Orantes (a housemate of Bishop Gerardi's) were found guilty of the murder.

The courts also ordered an investigation into the role of several unindicted co-conspirators, including top military officials, but the investigator charged with that task has no staff and no budget for that investigation.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Eliot Weinberger in The London Review of Books reviews The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter. The review is entitled Praise Yah

"New translations of a classic text are either done as a criticism of the old translations (correcting mistakes, finding an equivalent that is somehow closer to the original, writing in the language as it is now spoken) or they are a springboard for trying something new in the translation-language, inspired by certain facets of the original (such as Pound’s Chinese or Anglo-Saxon versions, Paul Blackburn’s Provençal, Louis Zukofsky’s Latin).

Alter, whose concern is Biblical Hebrew and not contemporary poetry, is in the former camp.

As he explains in the introduction, his project is to strip away the Christian interpretations implicit in the King James and later versions and restore the context of the archaic Judaism of the half-millennium (roughly 1000-500 BCE) in which the Psalms were written.

His poetics is an attempt to reproduce the compression and concreteness of the Hebrew, ‘emulating its rhythms’ and ‘making more palpable the force of parallelism that is at the heart of biblical poetry’. As for mistakes, it is surprising that the King James apparently has so few. Alter corrects very little, sometimes unconvincingly, though he is more specific on flora and fauna."

The review also discusses notable translations of The Psalms into English: the 1611 King James Authorised Version; and those by Wyatt, Sidney, the Countess of Pembroke, Campion, Milton, Crashaw, Vaughan, Smart, and Clare; and the Jerusalem Bible.

The Golden Cell

Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
La Cellule d'Or 1892
"A rendering of the invisible"
Drawing in oil and metallic paint
301.000 mm x 247.000 mm
British Museum, London

In 1894 it was seen by Tatiana Tolstoy, the daughter of the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, who noted in her diary: 'One of them whose name I could not make out-something like Redon-had painted a face in blue profile. On the whole face there is only this blue tone, with white-of-lead.'

Tolstoy quoted this in his diatribe against contemporary art, 'What is Art?', first published in 1898, as irrefutable evidence of the degenerancy of modern art.

La Cellule d'Or ('The Golden Cell') suggests introspection.

The blue and gold halo are the traditional colours of the Virgin Mary, but no further religious message intrudes.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cardinal Manning: is it time for a re-assessment yet ?

Cardinal Manning`s reputation is not as high as his fellow Tractarian, Cardinal Newman. Newman`s present reputation certainly dwarfs that of Manning.

One reason for the decline in Manning`s reputation lies in the publication not long after his death in 1896 of his "authorised" biography.

The "official" life of Cardinal Manning was The Life of Cardinal Manning, Archbishop of Westminster (1896) by Edmund Sheridan Purcell [1824?-1899].

Professor Owen Chadwick described it in The Victorian Church as "Purcell`s famous but discreditable biography".

Possibly this is due to the fact that at the time it was published, it caused shock in some circles as perhaps the biographer was not selective enough in his use of the raw or primary materials and revealed what perhaps should not have been revealed or what Cardinal Manning would not have wanted to be revealed.

It comprises two volumes.

Volume 1 (Manning as an Anglican) and Volume 2 (Manning as a Catholic)

Both volumes can be downloaded on the links above.

The Encyclopedia of 1911 said of the biography:

"The publication in 1896 of Manning's Life, by Purcell, was the occasion for some controversy on the ethics of biography. Edward Purcell was an obscure Catholic journalist, to whom Manning, late in life, had entrusted, rather by way of charitable bequest, his private diaries and other confidential papers. It thus came to pass that in Purcell's voluminous biography much that was obviously never intended for the public eye was, perhaps inadvertently, printed, together with a good deal of ungenerous comment.

The facts disclosed which mainly attracted attention were: (1) that Manning, while yet formally an Anglican, and while publicly and privately dissuading others from joining the Roman Catholic Church, was yet within a little convinced that it was his own duty and destiny to take that step himself; (2) that he was continually intriguing at the back-stairs of the Vatican for the furtherance of his own views as to what was desirable in matters ecclesiastical; (3) that his relations with Newman were very unfriendly; and (4) that, while for the most part he exhibited towards his own clergy a frigid and masterful demeanour, he held privately very cordial relations with men of diverse religions or of no theological beliefs at all.

And certainly Manning does betray in these autobiographical fragments an unheroic sensitiveness to the verdict of posterity on his career. But independent critics (among whom may specially be named Francois de Pressense) held that Manning came well through the ordeal, and that Purcell's Life had great value as an unintentionally frank revelation of character.

A national bio-ethics commission ?

In an article in The Times entitled Following Dolly into the future Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, has called for the setting up of a national bio-ethics commission charged with pursuing serious ethical scrutiny of issues as a precondition of research and of the development of biomedical technologies.

The call comes within the context of The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which is presently wending its way though Parliament.

In the article, the Cardinal says:

"In the 10 years since Dolly the sheep briefly walked the Earth the pace of biomedical research has massively accelerated, with extraordinary prospects for serving the good of humanity. Yet science is running ever further ahead of society's ability to reflect and assess the wisdom of the latest technological advance. We cannot stop the tide of knowledge, and nor should we want to. But we can and must find better ways of deciding how that knowledge is used, or risk the profound social consequences of what we have unwittingly allowed.

The UK is already a leader in bio-ethical research. For all our sakes, it now urgently needs to become a world leader in the quality of sustained and continuous ethical reflection that must go with it. Today the House of Lords will have the chance to help to achieve this when it debates whether to set up a National Bio-ethics Commission.

Many other countries already have such a statutory body, bringing together a broad spectrum of experts with a clear mandate and an independent advisory role. Only by establishing such an authoritative and independent body can we ensure that serious ethical scrutiny is a precondition of research and of the development of biomedical technologies. The area of embryo research, for example, is fraught with deeply contested and profound ethical questions that go to the heart of what it means to be human.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill now in the Lords is seeking to come to terms with many of these questions. But the Bill cannot second-guess the future and for that reason it has to include some flexibility for change and development.

The scope given to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Health Secretary to make decisions will not necessarily ensure that essential ethical reflection and discussion take place. The HFEA is neither a directly elected body nor is its membership required to include a full range of ethical views. It is not, primarily, an ethics body; it is a regulator.

While technology provides new opportunities, it requires wisdom to know how and if we should apply them. That we can do something does not mean we should do it. A national bio-ethics commission would include a variety of perspectives and would be a forum for serious sustained reflection.

We need not only a knowledge-based economy, but also a knowledge-based democracy. I hope that the House of Lords seizes this opportunity not just to frame laws for today but to plan for the future by establishing this new framework for ethical consideration. A national bio-ethics commission is long overdue. We need one for the sake of the common good.

As one reads the debates on the Bill in the House of Lords, it is clear that the present Bill has not been properly thought through. The imperative of the Government and its sponsoring department is simply to advance the industry of biotechnology in the United Kingdom and maintain the UK`s lead in the field.

The field is extremely complex and jargon-laden. So is the legislation.

Moral argument about the important issues is not possible due to lack of time, lack of expertise and lack of transparency.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Feast of St Agnes, Martyr

Mosaic depicting Saint Agnes flanked by Popes Symmarchus and Honorius
Interior view, apse, S. Agnese fuori le Mura

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Westminster Cathedral: The Appeal

Solomon, I Have Surpassed Thee gives details of the urgent restoration appeal launched for Westminster Cathedral

This week Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor launched a £3 million appeal for Westminster Cathedral to fund a major programme of work including urgent repairs to the Cathedral's domes and the replacement of outdated electrical and heating systems.

The Cathedral does not charge an admission fee. It receives no financial aid from the Government, or from the Vatican, but is dependant on voluntary donations to pay for its running costs.

The blog of Mgr Mark Langham, the Administrator of Westminster Cathedral, gives more details and how to contribute.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Cardinal Manning and the "Social Question"

In Cardinal Manning and the Social Problem by D. J. Mc Dougall (a lecture given at Loyola College, Montreal, September 12, 1957), McDougall describes how Manning`s view of Catholic social theology and his influence had effects greater than simply in the United Kingdom

In the Spring of 1887, at a time when industrial strife was assuming dangerous proportions in many parts of the western world, the Holy See was called upon to adjudicate in a case concerning the status of an American trade union popularly known as the Knights of Labour.

The question in dispute was whether the practices and the objectives of this society were inimical to faith and morals, and whether it should he condemned by the Church, and Catholic working men forbidden to join it.

One of the strongest opponents of the society was Archbishop Taschereau of Montreal. Like many other American unions the Knights had spread into Canada. In the early 1880’s a number of branches had been formed in Toronto, Montreal andother industrial centres. The Archbishop of Quebec took an adverse view; and in May, 1884, he secured from the Congregation of the Propaganda an order proscribing the society in the province, and forbidding Catholic workers to have anything to do with it

Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore and some other American bishops, determined that no good and much harm could result from the continuance of the ban in Quebec, and even more from its extension to the United States. The judgment was in consequence reversed.

In the campaign, Cardinal Gibbons sought and received great assistance from Cardinal Manning, Archbishop of Westminster.

Their victory had important consequences for the Church and for Catholic working men everywhere

Gibbons himself paid warm tribute to the English Cardinal for the help which he had given. “I cannot sufficiently express to you,” he said, “how much I have felt strengthened in my position by being able to refer in the document to your utterances on the claims of the working man to our sympathy and support.”

Glass Chalices

David Jones (1895-1974)
Glass Chalice with Flowers and Mug
about 1950 - 1955
Watercolour, gouache and pencil on paper
78.20 x 58.70 cm (framed: 117.00 x 86.80 x 3.00 cm)
The National Gallery of Scotland

Jones made a series of watercolour drawings which feature a glass goblet of flowers on a table surrounded by a variety of domestic objects.

This composition is centred around an eighteenth-century German glass chalice.

The Artist and the Archbishop

Wikipedia states that "Theological aesthetics is the interdisciplinary study of theology and aesthetics, and has been defined as being "concerned with questions about God and issues in theology in the light of and perceived through sense knowledge (sensation, feeling, imagination), through beauty, and the arts".

This field of study is broad and includes not only a theology of beauty, but also the dialogue between theology and the arts, such as dance, drama, film, literature, music, poetry, and the visual arts.

Notable theologians and philosophers that have dealt with this subject include Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, and Hans Urs von Balthasar, among others."

Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury, was born in Swansea, south Wales was Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford before becoming a Bishop.

He is acknowledged internationally as an outstanding theological writer, scholar and teacher.

In 2005, he delivered the Clark Lectures, at Trinity College, Cambridge. They were entitled Grace, Necessity and Imagination: Catholic Philosophy and the Twentieth Century Artist In Lecture 2 the theme was David Jones: Material Words

The main part of the lecture discussed the poems and art works of David Jones, the Catholic Welsh artist.

In the lecture (and the series of which it forms part), he explores some of the most original and creative minds in the recent Catholic tradition:Jacques Maritain, the artist Eric Gill and the poet and painter David Jones.

The sign or symbol, whether verbal or material, is a necessary vehicle of meaning and not an illustration of it, calling not for reduction or explanation but response.

In Dr Williams' development of his theme he discusses modern philosophy (Wittgenstein's aesthetics) but also examines modern art, the work of the American writer Flannery O'Connor and the writings of the poet and artist David Jones on art and sacrament and the underlying theology of artistic production.

According to Williams, Jones exemplifies the quest to bring pulsions of intuition to light through the exercise of artistic skill.

During the first half of his career, Jones focused on the visual media of pencil, watercolour, and etching.

Williams examines Jones’ effort to express the “being more” of things through the increasingly complex use of interweaving lines to produce overlapping images on a single plane.

Later in life, Jones tried to reconstruct that same complexity through poetry, which Williams calls “material words.”

In his poetry, according to Williams, Jones was attempting to correct Gill’s unfortunate distortion of Maritain’s distinction between art and morality.

Maritain, Williams reminds us, did not mean to suggest that the two realms are entirely unrelated. The good of art is the good of reality displayed in its super-effluence, and it is directed toward the good of human contemplation, which is inextricably linked to the moral life

Friday, January 18, 2008

Sunday Mass

David Jones (1895 - 1974)
Sunday Mass: In Homage to GM Hopkins, SJ. 1948
Pencil, watercolour, chalk & bodycolour on paper
55.5 x 37.5cm
John Creasey Museum, Salisbury

The work depicts two women attending Sunday Mass at Whitsun.

It was produced during or shortly after David Jones second illness.

The artist is concerned to capture the moment of Pentecost, with the dove resting between the women's head.

Jones idenitified with Hopkins (a poet like Jones) in a very personal way.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Pelican in Her Piety

David Jones 1895-1974
Pelican in Her Piety
From The Rime of the Ancient Mariner 1929
Published: Douglas Cleverdon, Bristol 1929

The text is :


Jones converted to Roman Catholicism in 1921, and throughout his life the symbols and liturgy of the church played an important part in his art.

When Jones became a Catholic, under the influence of Eric Gill he read Maritain's "Art et Scholastique". But his theology was poles apart from Gill's.

He developed an understanding of the Thomist definition of art, which he saw as intimately related to the meaning of sacrament.

In 1928 he engraved on copper the series of illustrations to Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner

For his last 20 years, until his death in 1974, he inhabited a single room in Harrow, welcoming visitors but otherwise pursuing his work in isolation. He called that room his "dug-out", but in truth it was almost a monastic cell.

The great religious poetry of the last century has been written at the cutting edge of faith and doubt, wrestling with the absence of God. But for Jones, religious convictions form the backbone of all his work: his poetry and his paintings.

Exiit Edictum

David Jones 1895-1974
Exiit Edictum 1949
Drawing and gouache on paper
support: 406 x 330 mm
on paper, unique
The Tate, London

Large painted inscriptions were an important part of Jones's later work, beginning around 1943.

The Latin texts that Jones has chosen here refer to Christmas.

'Exiit Edictum' comes from the account of Christ's birth in St Luke's Gospel, and the separate line of 'Iam Redit Apollo' comes from Virgil's Fourth Eclogue, which Christian writers believed prophesied Christ's birth.

Jones combines fragments from different texts, so as to give visual form to a complex of inter-related meaning.

George Herbert and Vikram Seth

George Herbert (April 3, 1593 – March 1, 1633), Rector of the parish of St. Andrew, Bemerton, near Salisbury. (1630-1633)

St. Andrew's Church dating from the 13th Century. One mile west of Salisbury Cathedral

Bemerton Rectory on the banks of the River Nadder (now part of Salisbury) [house dating from 1470 restored by George Herbert] / Medlar Tree That George Herbert Planted 1630

The poet and novelist, Vikram Seth, (author of The Golden Gate , A Suitable Boy, An Equal Music) has an interesting piece in The Times Literary Supplement

He is the present owner of the former Rectory attached to St Andrews, Bemerton in Somerset, where for three years the poet and Anglican priest, George Herbert (April 3, 1593 – March 1, 1633) lived and where he died.

Seth explains his early encounter with the works of George Herbert at school studying for `A` Level English.

Many years later, by chance, the Rectory came on the market and he bought it.

He explains how the house`s associations and his earlier readings of three poems of Herbert`s (below) led him to compose a number of poems (set out in the article).

The three poems of Herbert`s referred to in the article are:

Love (III)

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"

"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.


SWEET day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridall of the earth and skie :
The dew shall weep thy fall to-night ;
For thou must die.

Sweet rose, whose hue angrie and brave
Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye,
Thy root is ever in its grave,
And thou must die.

Sweet spring, full of sweet dayes and roses,
A box where sweets compacted lie,
My musick shows ye have your closes,
And all must die.

Onely a sweet and vertuous soul,
Like season'd timber, never gives ;
But though the whole world turn to coal,
Then chiefly lives.


PRAYER the Churches banquet, Angels age,
Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth ;

Engine against th’ Almightie, sinner's towre,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six daies world-transposing in an houre,
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear ;

Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,
Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,

Church-bels beyond the stars heard, the souls bloud,
The land of spices, something understood.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

St Augustine: Do not despair

BOULLOGNE Louis le Jeune, [Paris, 1654 ; Paris, 1733]
Baptème de Saint Augustin c 1703
Oil on canvas
H. 160 ; L. 226 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux

CHASSERIAU Théodore [1819 - 1856]
Saint Augustine with Saint Monica at Ostia c.1840
(Chapter X of the Confessions: Discussion which St Augustine had with his mother on Eternal Life)
0,243m x 0,205 m
Lead on aquarelle
Département des Arts graphiques, Musée du Louvre, Paris

The Catholic News Agency carries a report on Pope Benedict`s catechesis on St. Augustine which he delivered today: St Augustine being a particular favourite of the pontiff.

The theme of the talk was Augustine`s deep love for God which has inspired countless people to reject despair and turn to help those in need.

"The [Pope] recalled the period in history just prior to St Augustine's death when North Africa was beset by division and threatened by Vandals.

After designating his successor as bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine wanted to dedicate the last four years of his life to a more intense study of Scripture.

In fact, Pope Benedict said, "The years that followed were four years of extraordinary intellectual activity."

Not only did the aged Augustine finish some important works, but he devoted himself to reconciling divided Christians and to bringing peace to the African provinces racked by division and threatened by Vandals.

Pope Benedict recalled how St. Augustine entertained public debates with heretics, but always looked to dialogue and prayer to bring about unity.

"Even when he was old and tired, Augustine remained all of his life in the breach, seeking solace for himself and others through prayer and meditation on God's providence."

Recalling the words of St. Augustine, the pope said, "even if the world itself is old, Christ is perpetually young. Don't refuse being made young again by being united to Christ. He says to us: Don't be afraid your youth will be renewed as that of an eagle."

Pope Benedict recalled St. Augustine’s words to his flock, "Christians must not become disheartened in difficult situations, but must themselves help others who are in need.”

And so, the great doctor suggests, in response to a bishop who asked him whether if under the invasion of the barbarians a bishop or priest or any man of the Church could flee to save his own life, Christian charity demands that man of the church, indeed all Christians, must attend to the needs of others as a father would attend to those of his own children.

"How many priests over the course of the centuries have accepted this message in deed and in fact?" Pope Benedict said.

Augustine's, who welcomed bishops and priests into his own home during the siege of Hippo in 431, devoted his last days to prayer and penance.

Pope Benedict concluded, "When I read the words of St. Augustine, he does not seem a man who has been dead more or less 1000 years, but he seems a contemporary, a friend who speaks to me, speak to us of his fresh and actual faith.

In St. Augustine, who speaks to us in his writings, we see the real faith that comes from Christ, the Eternal Word Incarnate, son of God and son of man, who is always the same, yesterday, today and forever."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Marriage of Convenience

Sir William Quiller Orchardson 1835-1910
Mariage de Convenance 1883
Oil on canvas
Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum, Kelvingrove, Glasgow

The "Mariage de convenance" was perhaps the most popular of all Orchardson's pictures.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Pope, The Cardinal and the Dockers

Banner of the Amalgamated Society of Watermen and Lightermen (Greenwich Branch no. 13).
National Maritime Museum, London

The Amalgamated Society of Watermen, Lightermen and Bargemen was established in 1872.

The banner shown belonged to a branch of the union from Greenwich and shows Cardinal Henry Manning (1808-92), Archbishop of Westminster.

The Cardinal was a supporter of the dockers during The Great Dock Strike of 1889. Manning was instrumental in settling the Strike.

Manning supported social reform. He appealed for unemployment relief and protested against the Poor Law.

Manning also campaigned for decent housing for the poor and supported the right of workers to join trade unions and go on strike.

These views are reflected in the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum issued by Leo XIII and on which Manning exercised great influence.

Manning's involvement in the Dock Strike made a major impression on Hilaire Belloc, 19 years old at the time - who was to become a major speaker for the Catholic Church during the early Twentieth Century

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Baptism

James Joseph Jacques Tissot (October 15, 1836 – August 8, 1902)
Baptism of Jesus Christ, 1886-1894.
Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Millais and the Parables

Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896
The Lost Sheep published 1864
from Illustrations to `The Parables of Our Lord', engraved by the Dalziel Brothers
Relief print on paper
image: 140 x 108 mm

Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896
The Rich Man and Lazarus published 1864
from Illustrations to `The Parables of Our Lord', engraved by the Dalziel Brothers
Relief print on paper
image: 140 x 108 mm

For these powerful designs in The Parables, Millais broke with tradition and relocated the timeless texts into native, and sometimes even his beloved Scottish, settings.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

In Our Time

In Our Time is a radio programme on BBC Radio 4.

It is presented by Melvyn Bragg and guests investigate the history of ideas.

Often the programmes are on Religious Themes

You can listen again to all the programmes.

Access is through this page on the BBC website.

Topics include:

The Nicene Creed - when Christ became God

""We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds."

Thus begins the Nicene Creed, a statement of essential faith spoken for over 1600 years in Christian Churches - Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant.

But what has become a universal statement was written for a very particular purpose - to defeat a 4th century theological heresy called Arianism and to establish that Jesus Christ was, indeed, God. The story of the Creed is in many ways the story of early Christianity – of delicate theology and robust politics. It changed the Church and it changed the Roman Empire, but that it has lasted for nearly 2000 years would seem extraordinary to those
who created it."

The Jesuits - the school masters of Europe

Founded in the 16th century by the soldier Ignatius Loyola, they became a major force throughout the world, from China to South America. “Give us a boy and we will return you a man, a citizen of his country and a child of God”, they declared. By the 17th century there were more than 500 schools established across Europe. Their ideas about a standardised curriculum and teaching became the basis for many education systems today.

They were also among the greatest patrons of art in early modern Europe, using murals and theatre to get their message across. However, their alleged influence over monarchs, their wealth and their adaptability to local customs abroad provoked suspicion, prompting their eventual suppression in the late 18th century. They were re-established in 1814 and now have more than twenty thousand members.

So why was education so important to the Jesuit movement? How much influence did they really have in the courts of Europe and in the colonies? And were they really at the heart of conspiracies to murder kings?

The Devil - a brief biography

In the Gospel according to John he is ‘a murderer from the beginning’, ‘a liar and the father of lies’, and Dante calls him ‘the ill Worm that pierces the world’s core’. But Milton’s description of him as a powerful rebel was so attractive that William Blake declared that Milton was ‘of the Devil’s party, without knowing it’. To ordinary folk the Devil has often been regarded as a trickster, a tempter, sometimes even a figure of fun rather than of fear.

How did this contradictory character come into being? Why did it take so long for him to become an established figure in Christianity? And if the Devil did not exist, would we have had to invent him?

The Apocalypse - was it a revelation?

George Bernard Shaw dismissed it as “the curious record of the visions of a drug addict” and if the Orthodox Christian Church had had its way, it would never have made it into the New Testament. But the Book of Revelation was included and its images of apocalypse, from the Four Horsemen to the Whore of Babylon, were fixed into the Christian imagination and its theology. As well as providing abundant imagery for artists from Durer to Blake, ideas of the end of the world have influenced the response to political, social and natural upheavals throughout history. Our understanding of history itself owes much to the apocalyptic way of thinking.

But how did this powerful narrative of judgement and retribution evolve, and how does it still shape our thinking on the deepest questions of morality and history?


Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Baronet, PRA (June 8, 1829 – August 13, 1896)
My First Sermon 1863
Oil on Canvas
92cms x 71cms
Guildhall Art Gallery, London

Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Baronet, PRA (June 8, 1829 – August 13, 1896)
My Second Sermon 1864
Oil on canvas
97cms x 74cms
Guildhall Art Gallery, London

The little girl was Millais’ five year old daughter Effie

She is sitting in one of the old high-backed pews in All Saints Church, Kingston-on-Thames, which Millais hurried to paint in December 1862 shortly before they moved from there.

Lewis Carroll mentioned the first painting in his diary, in an entry describing a visit to Millais.

It is thought that Sir John Tenniel`s drawing of Alice (of Alice in Wonderland) is a composition of ‘My First Sermon’ and ‘My Second Sermon’.

Millais and Newman

Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt (1829-1896),
John Henry Newman
Oil on canvas, 1881
47 3/4 in. x 37 1/2 in. (1213 mm x 953 mm)
National Portrait Gallery, London
On display at Arundel Castle, Arundel

The Cardinal came to Millais` studio in Palace Gate. He found the marble stairs difficult due to his age. The artist and the carinal met for the first time at the first siting.

The Cardinal was rather astonished by Millais` opening remark: "What a beautiful complexion you have, Mr Cardinal; I declare you`ve the complexion of a child."

The Cardinal was yet more astonished later by the artist.

"Oh, your eminence, on that eminence, if you please," Millais said, waving Cardinal Newman to a model's throne. "The attendant priests were somewhat scandalised when, seeing the cardinal hesitate, [Millais] added, 'Come, jump up, you dear old boy.' "

But Newman made no comment when the artist doing his portrait, whimsically offered to include Cardinal Manning’s head at no extra cost.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Temptation of Saint Anthony 2

In the 3rd Century, Saint Anthony the Egyptian renounced all worldly joys, went off into the Arabian Desert to live the life of a hermit.

He had a terrible time of it.

Often he would glance up from his prayers to see Satan hovering before him in the gloom of his abandoned fort. And Satan was hard to recognise. Usually he looked like the things Anthony missed most.

In The Temptation of Saint Anthony Flaubert portrays a man who tries to be a saint, but is pulled in the other direction by the devil because he is only a human. It is a clear example of good versus evil and how powerful evil can be.

The idea for the book was born in 1845 when Flaubert visited Italy with his family. He, his sister and his parents travelled there on his sister`s honeymoon. He saw a painting attributed to Breughel in the Palazzo Balbi (now the Palazzo Reale) in Genova that illustrated the seductions of a hermit.

When Flaubert presented The Temptation of Saint Anthony to Bouilhet and Du Camp in 1849 they are reputed to have advised him to throw such lyrical nonsense on the fire and write a realist novel instead.

In a letter written to a friend he confessed that he would like to "arrange the saints adventures for the theatre".

Flaubert said:

"It is the work of all my life, since the idea first came to me in 1845, in Genoa, in front of a [table] of Breughel, and since that time I have never stopped thinking about it and doing related readings."

It was a book which Gustave Flaubert spent practically his whole life fitfully working on, in three versions he completed in 1849, 1856 (extracts published at the same time) and 1872 before publishing the final version in 1874.

He had made previous attempts at this but this proved to be his best one. Books of this theme were not uncommon in his day.

As regards the painting Flaubert saw and which led to his lasting epiphany and inspiration, it is not at all clear what has happened to it. It would appear that it is no longer in Genova although it was probably there in 1946. Further, it has now been attributed not to Breughel but to Jan Mandyn. It is apparently now in a private collection in Rome.

The life of St. Antony exercised great influence upon the development of the ascetic life in the Church.

Its influence has been renewed as a parable on temptation especially sexual temptation.

For excellent articles on the theme of The Temptation of St Anthony in art, see Monsterbrains

Also Giornale Nuovo

For the Life of St Anthony by St Athanasius, see Athanasius of Alexandria:
VITA S. ANTONI [Life of St. Antony] (written between 356 and 362)

See also this blog for more modern examples of the treatment of the theme by Dali and others

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Saint Geneviève

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, (14 December 1824 – 24 October 1898)
Childhood of St. Geneviève.
The Panthéon, Paris

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898)
Saint Geneviève as a Child in Prayer, 1876
Oil on Canvas, 136.5 x 76.3
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
This painting is an oil study for the murals in the Panthéon, many metres high, on the theme of Geneviève’s childhood, which the artist produced around 1874-1878 The young Geneviève kneels in prayer in an Arcadian landscape dotted with sheep. She is watched by several Gauls, who would later become her protégés.

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898)
Saint Geneviève, solicitiously watches over the sleeping town (detail) 1898
The Panthéon, Paris

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, (14 December 1824 – 24 October 1898) was the foremost French mural painter of the second half of the 19th century. He decorated many public buildings in France (for example, the Panthéon)

His pale colours imitated the effect of fresco.

He went on to achieve an enormous reputation, and he was universally respected even by artists of very different aims and outlook from his own: Gauguin, Seurat, and Toulouse-Lautrec.

His painting appealed to both the Post-Impressionists and the Symbolists.

In a letter to J.J. Isaäcson, 25 May 1890, Vincent van Gogh wrote:

"I begin to feel more and more that one may look upon Puvis de Chavannes as having the same importance as Delacroix, at least that he is on a par with the fellows whose style constitutes a “hitherto, but no further,” comforting for evermore. ...

Among other pictures his canvas, now at the Champ de Mars, seems to contain an allusion to an equivalence, link to Saint Geneviève as a Child in Prayer a strange and providential meeting of very far-off antiquities and crude modernity. His canvases of the last few years are vaguer, more prophetic if possible than even Delacroix, before them one feels an emotion as if one were present at the continuation of all kinds of things, a benevolent renaissance ordained by fate...

Look here, there is another question that comes to mind. Who are the human beings that actually live among the olive, the orange, the lemon orchards?

The peasant there is different from the inhabitant of Millet’s wide wheat fields. But Millet has reawakened our thoughts so that we can see the dweller in nature. But until now no one has painted the real Southern Frenchman for us.

But when Chavannes or someone else shows us that human being, we shall be reminded of those words, ancient but with a blissfully new significance. Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the pure of heart, words that have such a wide purport that we, educated in the old, confused and battered cities of the North, are compelled to stop at a great distance from the threshold of those dwellings. "

The Panthéon was initially designed as a church, dedicated to Saint Geneviève, the patron saint of the city.

From 1874 twelve artists, including Puvis de Chavannes, were involved in the decoration of the Panthéon.

St. Genevieve was the patroness of Paris. She was born between 419 and 422 in Nanterre where she heard the preaching of St. Germain.

She later came to Paris where she led a life of piety, and in 451 when Attila approached the city, she encouraged the citizens not to flee but to do works of penance and the town would be spared.

Attila and his hordes did in fact spare the town.

When she died in 512 her body was buried in a small church she had built and miracles were performed there.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Benedict says... allows you to generate your own Benedict XVI comic.

What every self-respecting blogger MUST have.....

Sunday, January 06, 2008

A Modern Prodigal

James Joseph Jacques Tissot (October 15, 1836 – August 8, 1902)
The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: The Departure
Oil on canvas
Musee des Beaux-Arts - Nantes

James Joseph Jacques Tissot (October 15, 1836 – August 8, 1902)
The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: in Foreign Climes
Oil on canvas
Musee des Beaux-Arts - Nantes

James Joseph Jacques Tissot (October 15, 1836 – August 8, 1902)
The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: The Return (1882)
Oil on canvas
Musee des Beaux-Arts - Nantes

James Joseph Jacques Tissot (October 15, 1836 – August 8, 1902)
The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: The Fatted Calf
Oil on canvas
Musee des Beaux-Arts - Nantes

The Prodigal Son was a theme which Tissot interpreted three times

He chose to paint the subject in a series

The woman at the extreme left of The Departure and at the extreme right of The Return is Mrs Newton. These are among Tissot's last paintings of his lover who died of consumption on 9th November 1882. He felt her death keenly. He never really got over the loss.

The background in The Departure shows the Thames at Greenwich and that in The Return the river at Rotherhithe. These are also his last paintings of London and the Thames.

After Kathleen Newton's burial Tissot left for Paris.

For more about the life of Tissot, see the entry in The Catholic Encyclopedia

Behold, He Standeth behind Our Wall

James Tissot 1836 – 1902
Behold, He Standeth behind Our Wall
Gouache (214 × 124 cm) — 1886 - 1894
Brooklyn Museum, New York City

The title is derived from a verse in the book of Canticles (Canticles 2:9):

"My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice."

Saturday, January 05, 2008

From The Cross

James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902)
What Our Saviour Saw from the Cross
Gouache, 1886-1894
The Brooklyn Museum

Wise Men

James Joseph Jacques Tissot (October 15, 1836 – August 8, 1902)
The Journey of the Magi 1894
69.2 x 101.6 cm.
Minneapolis Institute of the Arts. Minneapolis

The chief labour of Tissot`s career was the production of a series of 700 water-color drawings to illustrate the life of Christ and the Old Testament.

The merits of Tissot's Bible illustrations lay rather in the care with which he studied the details of scenery than in any quality of religious emotion.

He seemed to aim, above all, at accuracy, and, in his figures, at a vivid realism, which was far removed from the conventional treatment of sacred types

The Wise Men

Step softly, under snow or rain,
To find the place where men can pray;
The way is all so very plain
That we may lose the way.

Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore
On tortured puzzles from our youth,
We know all the labyrinthine lore,
We are the three wise men of yore,
And we know all things but truth.

We have gone round and round the hill
And lost the wood among the trees,
And learnt long names for every ill,
And serve the made gods, naming still
The furies the Eumenides.

The gods of violence took the veil
Of vision and philosophy,
The Serpent that brought all men bale,
He bites his own accursed tail,
And calls himself Eternity.

Go humbly ... it has hailed and snowed...
With voices low and lanterns lit;
So very simple is the road,
That we may stray from it.

The world grows terrible and white,
And blinding white the breaking day;
We walk bewildered in the light,
For something is too large for sight,
And something much too plain to say.

The Child that was ere worlds begun
(... We need but walk a little way,
We need but see a latch undone...)
The Child that played with moon and sun
Is playing with a little hay.

The house from which the heavens are fed,
The old strange house that is our own,
Where trick of words are never said,
And Mercy is as plain as bread,
And Honour is as hard as stone.

Go humbly, humble are the skies,
And low and large and fierce the Star;
So very near the Manger lies
That we may travel far.

Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes
To roar to the resounding plain.
And the whole heaven shouts and shakes,
For God Himself is born again,
And we are little children walking
Through the snow and rain.

G. K. Chesterton

The Journey of the Magi

Possibly by the Master of the Holy Kindred (active about 1490 -1510)
Cologne, Germany
The Adoration of the Magi
Stained glass panel
About 1500
Clear and coloured glass, with paint and silver stain
Given by J.Pierpont Morgan, Jr
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The panels are closely related to stained and painted glass panels showing the same scene in the north aisle of the nave of Cologne Cathedral.

Journey of The Magi

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

T S Eliot

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Nun

Gwen John (1876 - 1939)
Mère Poussepin seated at a Table
Oil on canvas
88.3 x 65.4 cm
National Museum of Wales, Cardiff

Gwen John (1876 - 1939)
The Nun
Oil on board
Height (cm) : 56 x Width (cm) : 35.2
Swansea Museum, Swansea, Wales

John`s younger brother was the more famous artist, Augustus John.

Their mother died when Gwen was eight and Augustus six, leaving them in the care of an uncommunicative Welsh solicitor father who left them largely to their own devices.

Gwen John never heard such public praise in her lifetime. She lived much of it in painful seclusion in France, rarely showing her work, caring little for outside opinion.

Her subjects were simple ones: a woman holding a cat, an empty room, a vase of flowers. Her pale colors and still figures gave the pictures a quiet, reticent look. But there was nothing vague or misty about them. All had been drawn with a strong, accurate hand.

Outwardly, Gwen John was as reticent as her painting. Inwardly, her life was one of intense feeling, rebellion and search. She was a spinster who became the mistress of Sculptor Auguste Rodin, an agnostic who turned to the Roman Catholic Church.

With her brother, Gwen studied at the Slade School of Art (1895-98). She worked briefly in Paris with James Whistler and began to exhibit her work in London in 1899.

In 1910 she moved to a flat in Meudon outside Paris. She had a long and obsessive love affair with Rodin in Paris until his death. And even after she entered the Roman Catholic Church she clung to Rodin for love and comfort. "My heart is like a sea which has little sad waves," she wrote. "But every ninth wave is big and happy."

In October 1912 she began instruction in Roman Catholicism and was received into the Church the following year.

In 1913 a nearby convent (the Order of the Sisters of Charity of the Holy Virgin of Tours) commissioned Gwen to paint a portrait of their 17th century founder, Mère Poussepin (1653-1744) from a likeness on a prayer-card in turn, derived from an eighteenth-century oil painting.

She used as her models two nuns who adopted the posture of Mère Poussepin.

It was to be the first of several similar paintings, since the nuns decided they would like one for each room in the convent and it set a precedent for Gwen's habit of making several variants of the same subject.She worked on all the versions concurrently, tiring herself out over this for the next seven years

Gwen found the work difficult and did not complete the first painting for seven years.

About this time Gwen wrote: 'I don't live when I spend time without thought'.

Gwen used non-professional models in order to create archetypal images. That is to say that her interest lay in the condition of being a nun rather than in the personality of one specific nun. The emphasis is on quiet thoughtfulness and introspection. In them she expressed what she described to her friend Ursula Tyrwhitt as 'a more interior life'

In the 1920s Gwen John sought the spiritual counsel of the Maritains.

She had a correspondence with the Jesuit Father Martin D'Arcy. It was his book, The Mass and the Redemption which peaked her theological interest and moved her to write him. He reciprocated in two letters.

For more about Gwen John and her Catholicism, see James Sulllivan: Gwen John- Art and Faith in the Shadows CRISIS, Sep. 1995