Sunday, April 01, 2012

El Greco: Art, Faith and Reason

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) 1541 - 1614
Christ carrying the Cros
Oil on canvas, unframed 
39 7/8 x 34 in. (101.3 x 86.4 cm.
Private collection

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) 1541 - 1614
Christ on the Cross
Oil on canvas, 
95.5 x 61 cm 
The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

Rodolfo Papa's 'Discorsi sull'arte sacra' (Discourses on Sacred Art)  is a modern work which attempts to explain the necessity of a proper sacred art

In Zenit (Italian) there has been a series of extracts from the work

Antonio Cardinal Cañizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments wrote the forward for the book and recently Zenit (English) published a Commentary by the Cardinal on the book. The commentary is entitled "Sacred Art and Its Most Intimate Essence"

In the article, the Cardinal makes it clear that Papa`s work is consistent with the ideas of the present Pope.

As an Archbishop of Toledo and Primate of Spain, he is also known as "Little Ratzinger"

In his recent commentary, as befits someone from Toledo, he provided a meditation on the works of another former resident of Toledo: El Greco, whose religious art had a deep impression on the spiritual life of Toledo and far beyond:

" I think of the many men of art that are faithful reflections and testimonies to the truth of this relationship between art and faith, which the author of this book magnificently expresses, and of the artists and works of art themselves to whom in the course of the book, he likewise makes reference. I think, for example, of the brilliant universal painter of the Spanish “Golden Age,” El Greco, in the proximity of the celebration of his fourth centenary.  
Neither the person, nor the consequences of the work of El Greco can be separated from their religious dimensions, from the Christian faith. Everything in them reflects the greatness of a man of spirit with a special “divine touch”, capable of perceiving and molding, in the great features and impression of the colors of his unique painting, the supreme beauty, the infinite abyss of perfection, incomparable and sovereign.  
All his works, great and unique, reflect the profoundness of his soul, image of his Creator who molded it with the delicate touch of His “divine brush.”  
In all the work of El Greco the sublime spirit always appears, that spirit that contemplated and penetrated the “Mystery,” led to its density, and expressed it with all the elevation of art that emerges from the depth of a being illuminated by this experience, that transcends the superficial glance incapable of raising itself towards the high summit of the spirit.  
El Greco immerses himself in the profundity of the Gospel, in the mystery of the Incarnation - of God made man for men and for their handing Him over to the Cross, in the victory over death - that enemy of man; with such great beauty and drama as El Greco knew how to express in his work. 
Like this, with the deep roots of a Christian faith, well-formed and capable of giving reason for its truth, El Greco, in all of his pictorial work, shows the fundamental reality of this faith, teaches and speaks of the most profound mysteries to the uncouth and simple, catechizes, elevates, leads to contemplation, to wonder, to veneration, to the prayer of petition and of praise; gives reason to faith, shows the symphony and harmony of her beauty, and its emission and its expression in the most alive and genuine human spirit.  
There were particular circumstances of the historical time in which he worked, yet his art continues to speak today, as it did yesterday, with a most living actuality, because they are not works of the ephemeral circumstance and moment that quickly pass; but rather express a reality that does not die, and which he does so with the language of the “height of the soul”, as the mystics would say.  
He speaks with the brushes and colors from “this profound center of the soul” where every man knows and senses himself comprehended, being from any generation, any time in history.
As a man of firm “Christianity” as well as a son of his time, El Greco reflects man, for whom he manifests a living and singular passion.  
Who among us cannot see this passion in The Entierro de Duca de Orgaz or in the Expolio or in the Apostolado in the Sacristy of the Cathedral of Toledo or in the San Jose in the same Cathedral?  
The hands, the eyes, the faces, the movements of the bodies of their characters, everything, all of his work is an expression of how man sees and of man’s drama: the man that suffers and that loves, who lives this drama of existence and his desire for happiness, loved by God, the man who is from God, loved and elevated, the man saved and called to participate in His glory: the truth of man, as He is before God. Well reflected in his art is that “the glory of God is a living man” (S. Irenaeus of Lyon). 
All his work manifests man, expresses man as he penetrates to the profundity of the human being, but not as the pagan or mere humanist would see; rather, there is a notable difference: that which permits the vision of faith and leads to it with a particular glance, the glance of truth which is inseparable from beauty. 
 Behind the faces or the bodies, the hands or the eyes, the colors and the folds of the cloths or the movement of the bodies, there is the truth that professes his faith concerning man. 
This faith, decisively Christian and Christocentric, is, equally, profoundly anthropological, human and is the fundamental key to enter and immerse oneself in the richness and greatness of El Greco, as in the most authentic occidental art.  
His works, as all others born of the Christian faith, are works that are not stripped- and cannot be stripped- of their aura, of the aura of beauty. 
 Likewise they are not – and we do not want and cannot permit them to become – pure and simple objects of pleasure for their formal, aesthetic quality, pure and simple objects of learning for the connoisseur, pure and simple objects of distracted curiosity of visitors in exhibits and museums.  
His art is where the saint and the believer encounter each other, beauty is the splendor of grace. Here the beauty turns our attention to “another” we cannot simply dispose of, but that nevertheless attracts us, calming and pacifying us.  
Here, through the beauty, emanates a force that neither crushes nor makes subservient, but that sustains. Here diffuses a freedom which emanates incessantly from the depths and from the center of our being frees us: freedom surges from truth and beauty.  
Here, above all, opened to us is the communication of the divine gift and love which communicates itself to us; here hope appears, and here the future of a new humanity and of a humanity with a future paints itself."

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) 1541 - 1614
Christ on the Cross Adored by Two Donors
Oil on canvas
 2,48 m x  1,80 m.
The Louvre, Paris

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) 1541 - 1614
Saint Francis in Prayer before the Crucifix
Oil on canvas
105.5 x 86.5 cm 
Fine Arts Museum, Bilbao