Thursday, November 15, 2012

American Sublime

Frederic Edwin Church 1826 -1900 
Oil on canvas 28 x 42 in. (71.1 x 106.8 cm)

Frederic Edwin Church 1826 -1900  
Cotopaxi 1862. 
Oil on canvas, 48 x 85 inches. 
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit

Frederic Edwin Church 1826 -1900  
Eruption at Cotopaxi, ca. 1865. 
Oil on canvas, 9-9/16 x 17-1/16 inches. 
Private collection.

Frederic Edwin Church 1826 -1900 
Aurora Borealis
Oil on canvas 56 x 83 1/2 in. (142.3 x 212.2 cm) 

Ten years ago the Tate Gallery in Britain had a wonderful exhibition entitled American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States 1820-1880

It featured revelatory, epic landscapes painted in nineteenth-century America

The works of these American artists were shown in nineteenth-century London and admired by Queen Victoria. However in present day Britain the works of the Hudson River School have been scarcely seen outside the United States and therefore not largely known about outside the US and not properly appreciated

One of the American artists celebrated was Frederic Edwin Church (May 4, 1826 – April 7, 1900)

While committed to the natural sciences, he was "always concerned with including a spiritual dimension in his works"  See William H. Gerdts The Worlds of Frederic Edwin Church

What they celebrate are what Turner and the early English Romantics tried to capture in their works and what Hopkins called “God`s grandeur” or Man`s response to the great works of creation

At the heart was the popularisation of Burke`s philosophy of the sublime

It was this response which Pope Benedict XVI referred to in his recent catechesis on Faith when he said:
“St. Augustine, who during his life long sought the Truth and was seized by it, has a beautiful and famous page, in which he states: 
"Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air, amply spread out everywhere, question the beauty of the sky... question all these things. They all answer you: 'Here we are, look; we're beautiful'. Their beauty is their confession. Who made these beautiful changeable things, if not one who is beautiful and unchangeable? "(Sermons, 241, 2: PL 38, 1134). 

I think we need to recover and help our contemporaries recover the ability to contemplate creation, its beauty, its structure. 
The world is not a shapeless magma; rather the more we know about it, the more we discover its amazing mechanisms, the more we see a design, we see that there is a creating intelligence. 
Albert Einstein said that in the laws of nature "a mind so superior is revealed that in comparison, our minds are like a totally insignificant reflection" (Il Mondo come lo vedo io, 'The World as I See It', Rome 2005).  
Thus, a first way leading to the discovery of God is the careful contemplation of creation.”