Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt (1833 - 1898)
Love and the Pilgrim
Oil paint on canvas
1575 x 3048 mm
Tate Britain, London
A pupil of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and a protégé of John Ruskin, Burne-Jones belonged to the second generation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
He is now again considered one of the greatest British painters of the nineteenth century—after only perhaps Turner and Constable.
He was a medievalist
He thought that Italian art from 1470 to 1520 was simply "the Art of the Masters". He read Dante avidly but he seems to have preferred Chaucer
The work is loosely based on Chaucer`s The Romaunt of the Rose itself based on the French allegory Roman de la Rose
The work is part of a series of works on The Romaunt of the Rose which includes The Pilgrim at the Gate of Idleness and The Heart of the Rose
In this picture, the young pilgrim is entranced by Love depicted as an angel surrounded by a large retinue of nightingales. He is following Love and does not seem to realise the vicissitudes he is being led through, in this case the thick bushes of thorns. He does not seem to feel the pain.
The young pilgrim has been entranced by by the promise of the spirit of Love and the song of the nightingales in the night and in the darkness has become ensnared by the thorn bushes. He continues his pursuit of Love
Burne-Jones dedicated the work to the poet Swinburne and in the catalogue quoted the following lines by the poet:
"Love that is first and last of all things made,The light that moving has man`s life for shade."
Originally the pilgrim had a beard as it was based on an Italian model called Giacinto. The figure was to be made definitively masculine. But the beard was later removed.
From classical times the nightingale has been a favourite image for poets. For some the song of the nightingale was poetry, even the highest form of poetrry
The song of the nightingale has been described as one of the most beautiful sounds in nature. The bird is reputed to sing at night as well as during the day
The very word "nightingale" means "night songstress"
In Chaucer`s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, the Knight`s son, the Squire is described as:
"So hoote he lovede, that by nyghtertaleHe slepte namoore than dooth a nyghtyngale."
Unlike his father, the Squire is a novice warrior and lover with more enthusiasm than experience. He is not yet as his Father, the courtly Knight
Love is portrayed as an angel, a messenger of God and the spirit of Love
It is erotic Love that impels the young pilgrim on.
Christianity did not poison or destroy eros notwithstanding what Friedrich Nietzsche, Freud and others thought
Chaucer`s work includes a debate between Love and Reason. This work shows the state of the young man before this debate or synthesis
For modern minds, the angel has become a utterly fantastic figure, a figure which invokes incredulity and disbelief. A sign that religion and reason are not reconciliable.
Yet they occur in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.
In the early Church and medieval times, they were regarded as real creatures. They were and are a sign of God`s intervention in human history and revelation.
As such they are now dismissed and rank along with Santa Claus, pixies and other fictional mythological creatures. In the same way for many does Scripture.
What therefore is an angel?
Benedict XVI in a lengthy homily on the three Archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael explained in a way more attuned to modern ideas and idiom:
" But what is an Angel?
Sacred Scripture and the Church's tradition enable us to discern two aspects.
On the one hand, the Angel is a creature who stands before God, oriented to God with his whole being. All three names of the Archangels end with the word "El", which means "God". God is inscribed in their names, in their nature.
Their true nature is existing in his sight and for him.
In this very way the second aspect that characterizes Angels is also explained: they are God's messengers.
They bring God to men, they open heaven and thus open earth. Precisely because they are with God, they can also be very close to man. Indeed, God is closer to each one of us than we ourselves are.
The Angels speak to man of what constitutes his true being, of what in his life is so often concealed and buried. They bring him back to himself, touching him on God's behalf.
In this sense, we human beings must also always return to being angels to one another - angels who turn people away from erroneous ways and direct them always, ever anew, to God.
If the ancient Church called Bishops "Angels" of their Church, she meant precisely this: Bishops themselves must be men of God, they must live oriented to God. "Multum orat pro populo" - "Let them say many prayers for the people", the Breviary of the Church says of holy Bishops.
The Bishop must be a man of prayer, one who intercedes with God for human beings. The more he does so, the more he also understands the people who are entrusted to him and can become an angel for them - a messenger of God who helps them to find their true nature by themselves, and to live the idea that God has of them.
Angels were not "abolished" by the Second Vatican Council. They are there in Lumen Gentium if you look hard enough