Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Renaissance Siena: Art for a City

Neroccio di Bartolomeo Landi (Siena 1447 - 1500)
Saint Catherine of Siena (15th century)
Description: Polychrome wood, detail.
Oratorio di Santa Caterina, Siena

Renaissance Siena: Art for a City is at the National Gallery, London WC2

In a brilliant review in The Times Rachel Campbell-Johnston explains why Siena and Sienese art are important enough subjects to merit a special exhibition at The National Gallery in London.

"This distinct Sienese style, so expressive of spirituality, is the artistic equivalent of a dialect. It remains at the root of the city’s aesthetic throughout the period that this show covers. We may see it adapted and altered as such Renaissance advances as perspective and modelling are introduced; as Siena, in what must have been seen as a great propaganda coup, lures Florence's most famous sculptor, Donatello, to work within its walls; or, under the auspices of the powerful Piccolomini family (who produced not just one but two Popes) plays host to such trophy talents as Raphael. But again and again that innate lyrical elegance, that light dancing touch that sets solid figures swaying, saints leaping on tiptoe, patterned draperies swirling and spidery fingers pointing, infuses these images with an almost frolicsome levity that brings them to what feels more like a spiritual than a physical life. "

Five of the exhibits are:

"Saint Catherine of Siena

As this painted wooden statue of the city’s patron by Neroccio di Bartolomeo leaves Siena for the first time, the spectator can hardly help but be touched by its aura of delicate melancholy

Saint Dorothy and the Infant Christ, by Giorgio Martini

The elegant line and exquisite gilding that convey a spiritual aura merge with the tender observation that watches a woman take the hand of a little toddling child

The Asciano Altarpiece, by Matteo di Giovanni

The dismembered parts of one of the great visionary works of the Quattrocento are brought back together to recapture its atmosphere of otherworldly splendour

The Story of Patient Griselda

The delightfully evocative images of Boccaccio’s story of the exemplary wife Griselda are reunited at the National Gallery for the first time in two centuries

The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Earthly Paradise, by Benvenuto di Giovanni

This tiny but compelling panel captures a powerful and disturbing sense of drama "

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Borders and Margins

Grey Fitpayn Hours,MS 242, fol 29
14th Century
Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

The Grey-Fitzpayn hours are so-called because, on the basis of the heraldry in the MS, it is believed to have been made in honour of the wedding of Richard Grey and Joan Fitzpayn which probably took place in the period 1300-1308.

The margins are filled with a profusion of creatures, often juxtaposed without any narrative or logical, or natural scale relationship. There are also frequent representations of Joan Ftizpayn and Richard Grey kneeling in prayer.

In this image, in the initial, Joan Fitzpayn kneels in prayer before the enthroned Christ who is holding an orb.

The borders show a marvellous collection of animals, birds, and heraldry, including (clockwise from the left of the initial): a squirrel, dogs chasing a rabbit, a dozing lion, a boar, a goat nibbling leaves, a seated rabbit, two dogs harrying a stag. In the bottom margin there is a lively hunting scene.

The arrow of the bowman to the right has found its mark in the neck of the stag who is bounding over a rabbit as it is chased rightwards by the two dogs to the left.

Between the archer and the stag, a lion and a fox eye each other closely.

Genesis: a Manuscript

Manuscript MS 330.ii
14th Century
Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

One of seven extant full-page miniatures from a lost psalter associated with William de Brailes, an artist working in Oxford, 1238-52.

This leaf depicts six scenes from Genesis:

God clothing Adam and Eve (a rarely depicted subject);

Adam digging and Eve spinning;

the offerings of Cain and Abel;

Cain slaying Abel:

God rebuking Cain:

Lamech slaying Cain.

The medallions in the frame show: God rebuking Adam, and Eve (above): Adam and Eve, each clothed and dejected after the Fall (both sides); and their sons, Enoch and Seth (below).

Saturday, October 27, 2007

40 years of the Abortion Act

Today is the fortieth anniversary of the Abortion Act 1967 which legalised abortion on a wide scale in the United Kingdom.

To mark this, there was a Prayer service in Westminster Cathedral, London led by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. The hour long service had a full attendance.

In his talk, the Cardinal compared the campaign against abortion to the long struggle in Britain to outlaw the slave trade.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Pope Benedict: Evangelisation and culture reports that today (October 26th, 2007) Pope Benedict XVI preached after a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, (with Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, the prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, presiding) to hundreds of students at the pontifical universities gathered there.

He emphasised to the students that "all culture of modern man must be permeated by the Gospel."

He said that effective evangelisation involves making the Gospel "penetrate deeply into the way people think."

For young people spending a few formative years in Rome, the Pope said, the city offers "eloquent Christian testimony" in the works of art, architecture, and institutions built up over the centuries. The pontifical universities have their own rich history, he added, noting that in those schools "entire generations of priests and pastoral workers were formed, including many great saints and illustrious men of the Church."

Encourging the students to diligence in both their studies and their spiritual lives, Pope Benedict told them that they should recognize their academic work as preparation for their priestly mission. The Gospel must be proclaimed in new ways to a new culture, he said, and the ability to state ancient truths in new ways is "more pressing than ever in our post-modern age, in which the need is felt for a new evangelization, and which needs masters of faith and appropriately trained heralds and witnesses of the Gospel."

Saint Ambrose

DYCK, Sir Anthony Van (b. 1599, Antwerpen, d. 1641, London)
Emperor Theodosius Forbidden by St Ambrose To Enter Milan Cathedral
Oil on canvas, 149 x 113 cm
National Gallery, London

St Ambrose, the fearsome fourth-century Archbishop of Milan, is said to have refused Theodosius entry into the cathedral because of the emperor's vengeful massacre of the inhabitants of Thessalonica. Theodosius impetuously thrusts his face upwards towards the saint. Ambrose's sturdy vigour has been transferred to the crozier as if the priest who holds it for the saint were ready to bring it crashing down on the emperor.

GOZZOLI, Benozzo (b. ca. 1420, Firenze, d. 1497, Pistoia)
Scenes with St Ambrose (scene 9, north wall)
Fresco, 220 x 230 cm
Apsidal chapel, Sant'Agostino, San Gimignano

The fresco showing the Scenes with St Ambrose depicts St Augustine hearing the bishop preaching in Milan. Here, too, St Augustine is depicted twice: on the left he is talking with the seated St Ambrose. On the right side St Augustine has taken his seat at the edge of the picture before a niche. At this point the fresco is unfortunately severely damaged. The two scenes are clearly separated from each other by the construction of the picture. The preaching of St Ambrose made it possible for St Augustine to overcome the Manichaeist criticism of the Bible by means of allegorical biblical exegesis and Neoplatonic intellectuality. St Ambrose caused Augustine finally to convert to Christianity.

Here is a translation of the address Pope Benedict XVI delivered on 24th October 2007 at the general audience in St. Peter's Square on St. Ambrose of Milan.

On St. Ambrose of Milan
"Catechesis Is Inseparable From the Testimony of Life"

Dear brothers and sisters:

The saintly Bishop Ambrose, of whom I will speak to you today, died during the night in Milan between April 3-4, 397. It was the dawn of Holy Saturday. The day before, toward 5 p.m., he began to pray as he was lying in bed with his arms open in the form of the cross. That is how he participated in the solemn Easter triduum, in the death and resurrection of Our Lord. "We saw him moving his lips," testified Paulinus, the faithful deacon who was invited by Augustine to write Ambrose's biography entitled "Vita," "but his voice could not be heard."

Suddenly, the situation seemed to come to an end. Honoratus, bishop of Vercelli, who helped Ambrose and who slept upstairs from him, was awakened by a voice that repeated: "Get up, quick! Ambrose is approaching death." Honoratus immediately went downstairs, Paulinus recounted, "and offered the saint the Body of the Lord. After having taken it, Ambrose surrendered his spirit, carrying with him viaticum. Thus, his soul, strengthened by virtue of that food, now enjoys the company of angels" ("Vita," 47).

On that Good Friday of 397, the open arms of the dying Ambrose expressed his mystical participation in the death and resurrection of Our Lord. This was his last catechesis: Without speaking a word, he spoke with the testimony of life.

Ambrose was not old when he died. He was not even 60, for he was born around 340 in Trier, where his father was prefect of the Gauls. The family was Christian. When his father died, and he was still a boy, his mother brought him to Rome to prepare him for a civil career, giving him a solid rhetorical and juridical education. Around 370, he was sent to govern the provinces of Emilia and Liguria, with headquarters in Milan. It was precisely there where the struggle between orthodox Christians and Arians was seething, especially after the death of Auxentius, the Arian bishop. Ambrose intervened to pacify those of both factions, and his authority was such that, despite the fact that he was nothing more than a simple catechumen, he was acclaimed by the people as bishop of Milan.

Until that moment, Ambrose had been the highest magistrate of the Roman Empire in northern Italy. Highly prepared culturally, but deficient in knowledge of Scriptures, the new bishop began to study them energetically. He learned to study and comment on the Bible from the works of Origen, the undisputed master of the school of Alexandria. In this way, Ambrose brought to the Latin environment the practice of meditating on Scriptures initiated by Origen, beginning the practice of "lectio divina" in the West.

The method of "lectio" soon guided the preaching and writing of Ambrose, which emerged precisely from prayerful listening to the word of God. A famous opening from one Ambrosian catechesis distinctly demonstrates how the holy bishop applied the Old Testament to Christian life: "When we read the histories of the patriarchs and the maxims of Proverbs, we come face to face with morality," the bishop of Milan told his catechumens and neophytes, "in order that, educated by these, you can then accustom yourselves to enter into the life of the fathers and to follow the path of obedience to the divine precepts" ("I misteri," 1,1).

In other words, neophytes and catechumens, in the opinion of the bishop, after having learned the art of living morally, could then consider themselves prepared for the great mysteries of Christ. In this way, the preaching of Ambrose, which represents the heart of his prodigious literary work, originates from the reading of sacred books ("The Patriarchs," the historical books, and "Proverbs," the sapiential books), to live in conformity with divine revelation.

It is evident that the personal testimony of the preacher, and the exemplarity of the Christian community, conditions the efficacy of any preaching. From this point of view a passage from St. Augustine's "Confessions" is significant. Augustine had come to Milan as a professor of rhetoric; he was a skeptic, not a Christian. He was looking, but he wasn't able to truly encounter the Christian truth. For the young African rhetorician, skeptical and desperate, it was not the beautiful homilies of Ambrose that converted him -- despite the fact that he appreciated them immensely. Rather, it was the testimony of the bishop and the Church in Milan, which prayed and sang, united as a single body. It was a Church capable of resisting the bullying of the emperor and his mother, who had demanded again the expropriation of a Church building for Arian ceremonies in early 386.

In the building that was to be expropriated, Augustine wrote, "the devout people of Milan stayed put, ready to die with their own bishop." This testimony in the "Confessions" is invaluable, because it shows that something was moving deep within Augustine. He continued, "Despite the fact that we were still spiritually lukewarm, we participated as well in the fervor of the entire population" ("Confessions" 9, 7).

From the life and example of Bishop Ambrose, Augustine learned to believe and to preach. We can refer to a famous sermon of the African, which deserved to be cited many centuries later in No. 25 of the dogmatic constitution "Dei Verbum": "All the clergy must hold fast to the sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study, especially the priests of Christ and others, such as deacons and catechists who are legitimately active in the ministry of the word. This is to be done so that none of them will become," and here is where Augustine is quoted, "'an empty preacher of the word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly.'" He had learned precisely from Ambrose this "to listen inwardly," this diligence in reading sacred Scripture in a prayerful attitude, in order to truly receive it in one's heart, and to assimilate the word of God.

Dear brothers and sisters: I would like to present to you a type of "patristic icon" that, seen in the light of what we have just said, effectively represents the heart of Ambrosian doctrine. In the same book of "Confessions," Augustine recounts his meeting with Ambrose, certainly a meeting of great importance for the history of the Church. He writes in the text that when he came to see the bishop of Milan, the latter was always surrounded by hordes of people with problems, whom he tried to help. There was always a long line of people waiting to speak to Ambrose, looking for comfort and hope. When Ambrose was not with these people -- and this only happened for short periods of time -- he was either filling his body with the food necessary to live, or filling his spirit with reading. In this respect Augustine praises Ambrose, because Ambrose read Scriptures with his mouth closed, and only with his eyes (cf. "Confessions," 6,3).

In the early centuries of Christianity, reading Scripture was thought of strictly in terms of being proclaimed, and reading aloud facilitated understanding, even for the one who was reading it. The fact that Ambrose could read through the pages only with his eyes was for Augustine a singular capacity for reading and being familiar with Scripture. In this reading -- in which the heart seeks to understand the word of God -- this is the "icon" we are talking about. Here one can see the method of Ambrosian catechesis: Scripture itself, profoundly assimilated, suggests the content of what one must announce in order to achieve conversion of hearts.

Thus, according to the teachings of Ambrose and Augustine, catechesis is inseparable from the testimony of life. The catechist may also avail himself of what I wrote in "Introduction to Christianity" about theologians. Educators of the faith cannot run the risk of looking like some sort of clown, who is simply playing a role. Rather, using an image from Origen, a writer who was particularly appreciated by Ambrose, he should be like the beloved disciple, who rested his head on the Master's heart and there learned how to think, speak and act. In the end, the true disciple is he who proclaims the Gospel in the most credible and effective manner.

Like John the Apostle, Bishop Ambrose, who never tired of repeating "Omnia Christus est nobis!" -- Christ is everything for us! -- remained an authentic witness for the Lord. With these same words, full of love for Jesus, we will conclude our catechesis: "Omnia Christus est nobis! If you want to heal a wound, he is the physician; is you burn with fever, he is the fountain; if you are oppressed by iniquity, he is justice; if you need help, he is strength; if you fear death, he is life; if you desire heaven, he is the way; if you are in darkness, he is the light. ... Taste and see how good the Lord is. Blessed is the man who hopes in him!" ("De virginitate," 16,99). We also hope in Christ. In this way we will be blessed and will live in peace.

Thieves in Brazil

Andrew Downie in Time reports on the growing theft of religious art in Brazil.

"Brazil is a particularly rich source of religious art, because during the 17th and 18th centuries it was the only art form encouraged by the country's devoutly Catholic rulers. In the states of Bahia and Pernambuco in the northeast, and Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro in the south, Portuguese settlers built baroque churches dripping with gold, silver and art. But today, much of that art is gone. "The last time I checked, we had registered 188 works of art stolen — that's since 2000," says Vanessa de Souza, a Brazilian police chief and delegate to Interpol. "We think there are a lot more that haven't been reported to us. Sometimes we see reports of thefts in the newspaper and we haven't been told officially."

Souza says some of the robberies are the work of gangs who traffic the pieces to Europe and beyond. Most, though, are done by small time crooks who fence their swag to local antique dealers, who then sell them on to private collectors. "

Christ Carrying the Cross

LISBOA, Antonio Francisco (o Aleijadinho)
(b. ca. 1738, Vila Rica, d. 1814, Vila Rica)
Christ Carrying the Cross
Polychromed wood
Sanctuary of Congonhas do Campo, Brazil

At the end of the Baroque era, in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, the greatest artist was a mulatto architect and sculptor. A strange disease that caused the shriveling of his hands and feet earned him the nickname of o Aleijadinho (the little cripple). He built churches, carved altarpieces, and created wood and stone sculptures. The polychromed wood Stations of the Cross in the sanctuary of Congonhas do Campo were carved between 1796 and 1799.

The Prophet Daniel

LISBOA, Antonio Francisco (Aleijadinho)
(b. ca. 1738, Vila Rica, d. 1814, Vila Rica)
The Prophet Daniel
Sanctuary of Congonhas do Campo, Brazil

Between 1800 and 1805, Aleijadinho executed twelve stone statues of prophets, just over life-size, for the terrace in front of the Congonhas do Campo sanctuary. He took up the old theme of the Dispute of the Prophets, revivifying the exhausted topic by infusing into it an expressionistic force reminiscent of the Middle Ages. For the costumes and figure types he found inspiration in a series of Florentine copper engravings from about 1470, which retained some flavour of the oriental dress worn by the Byzantine contingent to the Council of Florence between 1439 and 1442.

Church of the Third Order of St Francis in Ouro Preto

Church of the Third Order of St Francis in Ouro Preto. The façade is the work of Aleijadinho.

St. Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata, façade of the St Francis church of Ouro Preto.

Aleijadinho (b. Antônio Francisco Lisboa; 1730 or 1738 – November 18, 1814) first appears as a day laborer working on the Church of Our Lady of Carmel in the town of Ouro Preto, a church designed by his father.

Within a very short time he had become a noted architect himself and had designed and constructed the Chapel of the Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi in Ouro Preto. He had also executed the carvings on the building, the most notable being a round bas-relief depicting St. Francis receiving the stigmata.

It was shortly thereafter that the signs of a debilitating disease, probably leprosy, began to show and not long after that Antonio received the name by which he has come down through history, O Aleijadinho, "Little Cripple."

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The First Mourning

William Bouguereau (1825-1905)
Premier Deuil [The First Mourning]
Oil on canvas, 1888
79 7/8 x 99 1/8 inches (203 x 252 cm)
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires

A Problem of Image ?

Time Magazine under Christianity's Image Problem reports on a poll conducted in the United States about the "image" of Christianity.

"It used to be, says David Kinnaman, that Christianity was both big and beloved in the U.S. — even among its non-adherents. Back in 1996, a poll taken by Kinnaman's organization, the Barna Group, found that 83% of Americans identified themselves as Christians, and that fewer than 20% of non-Christians held an unfavorable view of Christianity. But, as Kinnaman puts it in his new book (co-authored with Gabe Lyons) UnChristian, "That was then."

Barna polls conducted between 2004 and this year, sampling 440 non-Christians (and a similar number of Christians) aged 16 to 29, found that 38% had a "bad impression" of present-day Christianity. "It's not a pretty picture" the authors write. Barna's clientele is made up primarily of evangelical groups.

Kinnaman says non-Christians' biggest complaints about the faith are not immediately theological: Jesus and the Bible get relatively good marks. Rather, he sees resentment as focused on perceived Christian attitudes. Nine out of ten outsiders found Christians too "anti-homosexual," and nearly as many perceived it as "hypocritical" and "judgmental." Seventy-five percent found it "too involved in politics."

Not only has the decline in non-Christians' regard for Christianity been severe, but Barna results also show a rapid increase in the number of people describing themselves as non-Christian. One reason may be that the study used a stricter definition of "Christian" that applied to only 73% of Americans. Still, Kinnaman claims that however defined, the number of non-Christians is growing with each succeeding generation: His study found that 23% of Americans over 61 were non-Christians; 27% among people ages 42-60; and 40% among 16-29 year olds. Younger Christians, he concludes, are therefore likely to live in an environment where two out of every five of their peers is not a Christian.

Churchgoers of the same age share several of the non-Christians' complaints about Christianity. For instance, 80% of the Christians polled picked "anti-homosexual" as a negative adjective describing Christianity today. And the view of 85% of non-Christians aged 16-29 that present day Christianity is "hypocritical — saying one thing doing another," was, in fact, shared by 52% of Christians of the same age. Fifty percent found their own faith "too involved in politics." Forty-four percent found it "confusing."

Christians have always been aware of image problems with non-believers. Says Kinnaman: "The question is whether to care." But given the increasing non-Christian population and the fact that many of the concerns raised by non-believers are shared by young Christians, he says, there really is no option but to address the crisis."

`To give her a better life’

The Times under "Mother wants disabled girl to have hysterectomy ‘to give her a better life’" reports on the English equivalent of the Ashley X case, where a 6 year old girl underwent surgery and hormone treatment to keep her at the size of a six-year-old child because her parents believed it would make her life more comfortable.

In this case, doctors are seeking legal approval to perform a hysterectomy on Katie Thorpe, 15, in a radical solution to her mother’s fears that the girl, who has cerebral palsy, will not be able to cope with the onset of adulthood.

Alison Thorpe wants the operation to go ahead at St John’s hospital in Chelmsford to protect Katie from the “pain, discomfort and indignity” of menstruation.

Legal guidance is being sought because Katie, who cannot walk or talk and is believed to understand little of what is said to her, is unable to give consent.

The sex secrets of Kennedy's Latin Primer

With the new Motu Proprio, the drive to learn Latin has started. Some of us were taught Latin with Kennedy's Latin Primer.

However according to Mary Beard, professor in classics at Cambridge and classics editor of the TLS, what we may have been learning was not entirely what we were led to believe, probably to the mirth of some Latin teachers.

Computer Problems

Apologies for the lack of posting. But since moving to Crystal Palace, the computer has been playing up considerably. Problems galore ! And that does not include the internet connection problems. ....

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Portrait of a seated cardinal

Lewis, John Frederick (July 14, 1805 – August 15, 1876)
Portrait of a seated cardinal
Graphite, chalk (black and white), pastel (red), brush and ink (red and black) on paper (buff card)
Height: 37.2 cm; Width: 26.3 cm
Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London

John Frederick Lewis (July 14, 1805 – August 15, 1876) was an English painter. Lewis began his career as a painter of animal subjects. His career began in the studio of Painter in Ordinary to King George IV, Sir Thomas Lawrence.

For many years he worked exclusively in watercolour. His unique technique combined graphite, bodycolor, and watercolour as a single medium with the graphite used as primer, the watercolour for tone, and the bodycolour/watercolour for fine detail such as faces and instruments.

He travelled extensively in Spain and Northern Europe. Lewis lived in Spain between 1832 and 1834. The ten years spent living in Cairo from 1841 had a huge influence on his work. He made numerous sketches that he turned into paintings even after his return to England in 1851. He specialized in Oriental and Mediterranean scenes and often worked in oil and also in watercolour.

Lewis' art can be placed into three distinct categories: the animal paintings of his youth; the scenes of Spanish life from his adulthood; and from his middle and old age, the scenes of "Oriental" life inspired by travels to Constantinople and a decade living in Cairo

He lived in The Holme at Walton-on-Thames, Surrey until his death.
But who is the cardinal ?