Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Death and Purgatory

Michel François Dandré-Bardon (1700-1783)
Saint Jacques intercédant auprès de la Vierge en faveur des âmes du Purgatoire
Saint James interceding through the Virgin in favour of the Souls of Purgatory
Oil on canvas
47 cm x 31.5 cm
Musée Magnin, Dijon

The oeuvre of Michel François Dandré-Bardon has only been rediscovered in the last twenty years. A pupil of both Jean-Baptiste van Loo and Jean-François de Troy, he spent five years in Rome and a further six months in Venice before returning to Paris where he was entered the Académie in 1735. He became its Director in 1778

In the course of his career he concentrated primarily on religious and mythological themes and, to a somewhat lesser extent, allegories and historical subjects.

But why few modern works of art on the subject of Purgatory ?

Why is Purgatory often ridiculed ? Perhaps the ridicule of and the avoidance of the subject is something to do with the fact that modern society feels it difficult to deal with the idea of death.

"259. "Hiding death and its signs" is widespread in contemporary society and prone to the difficulties arising from doctrinal and pastoral error.

Doctors, nurses, and relatives frequently believe that they have a duty to hide the fact of imminent death from the sick who, because of increasing hospitalization, almost always die outside of the home.

It has been frequently said that the great cities of the living have no place for the dead: buildings containing tiny flats cannot house a space in which to hold a vigil for the dead; traffic congestion prevents funeral corteges because they block the traffic; cemeteries, which once surrounded the local church and were truly "holy ground" and indicated the link between Christ and the dead, are now located at some distance outside of the towns and cities, since urban planning no longer includes the provision of cemeteries.

Modern society refuses to accept the "visibility of death", and hence tries to conceal its presence.

In some places, recourse is even made to conserving the bodies of the dead by chemical means in an effort to prolong the appearance of life.

The Christian, who must be conscious of and familiar with the idea of death, cannot interiorly accept the phenomenon of the "intolerance of the dead", which deprives the dead of all acceptance in the city of the living.

Neither can he refuse to acknowledge the signs of death, especially when intolerance and rejection encourage a flight from reality, or a materialist cosmology, devoid of hope and alien to belief in the death and resurrection of Christ.

The Christian is obliged to oppose all forms of "commercialisation of the dead", which exploit the emotions of the faithful in pursuit of unbridled and shameful commercial profit."