Monday, December 31, 2007

Feast Day

Morbelli, Angelo (Italian, 1853-1919)
Feast Day at the Hospice Trivulzio in Milan
Oil on canvas 78cm x 1.22m
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

At the 1900 World Exposition at Paris, Morbelli was awarded first prize and gold medal for this painting.

Morbelli was part of the Italian school known as "divisionismo " amongst whose practitioners was Giovanni Segantini.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Glorious Rosary

Ernst Fuchs (born February 13, 1930)
Egg tempera, watercolor and gold leaf on parchment, 300x300cm

Ernst Fuchs (born February 13, 1930) is an Austrian visionary painter, draftsman, printmaker, sculptor, architect, stage designer, composer, poet, singer and one of the founders of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism.

In 1956 he converted to Roman Catholicism (his mother had had him baptised during the war in order to save him from being sent to a concentration camp).

In 1957 he entered the Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion where he began work on his monumental Last Supper and devoted himself to producing small sized paintings on religious themes such as Moses and the Burning Bush, culminating in a commission to paint three altar paintings on parchment, the cycle of the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary (1958-61), for the Rosenkranzkirche in Hetzendorf, Vienna.

He also deals with contemporary issues in his masterpiece of this period, Psalm 69 (1949-60).

See also

The Ernst Fuchs Official website

An Interview with Fuchs in 2001


David Jones 1895-1974
Sanctus Christus de Capel-y-ffin 1925
Gouache and drawing on paper
support: 193 x 133 mm
on paper, unique
Tate Gallery, London

Capel-y-ffin was the former monastery in the Monmouthshire Black Mountains where Eric Gill and his family moved in August 1924.

David Jones first visited them there the following December, and the building at the left of this drawing loosely resembles the monastery, in its winter landscape.

It is similar to a wall painting of the Crucifixion made by David Jones at Capel-y-ffin in the same winter.

David Jones CH (1 November 1895 – 28 October 1974) was both an artist and one of the most important first generation British modernist poets.

His work was formed by his Welsh heritage and his Catholicism.

For more information about Jones and his output, seeWikipedia article and the links referred to in the article

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christ healing a blind man

Pennington and Bridgen
Christ healing a blind man 1886
Rectangular terracotta panel of seven figures
189 cm high x 305 cm long approx
Royal Eye Hospital, Manchester

The gabled wings of the Hospital at each end of the main façade on Oxford Road were decorated with relief panels depicting Christ restoring the sight of a blind man.

For some reason I much prefer the above treatment of the subject over that in the Italian Lectionary below

The new Italian Lectionary

Since December 2, the first Sunday of Advent, a new liturgical Lectionary has been in use in Italy, with a new translation of the Old and New Testaments approved by the Holy See, intended to be more faithful to the original biblical text and at the same time more comprehensible to the man of today.

But the novelty of the Lectionary is not only in the translation.

Even more than this, it is in the images that accompany the texts.

Eighty-seven full-page images in the three volumes that make up the new Lectionary for Sundays and feast days, one for each annual cycle. All the images were painted by living Italian artists, like Angelo Casciello, the artist who illustrated the healing of the man born blind (above).

Sandro Magister reports fully on the new Lectionary and the philosophy behind the imagery and the varied reactions to the Lectionary.

Unfortunately the Lectionary has been plagued by mis-translations and typographical errors. Recourse has been had to separate self-sticking errata slips because of the number of errors.

Friday, December 28, 2007


Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (July 15, 1606 – October 4, 1669)
The Return of the Prodigal Son
Oil on canvas, 262 x 206 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

In a review of the book, FORGIVENESS: A philosophical exploration by Charles Griswold (272pp. Cambridge University Press) in the TLS Roger Scruton, Research Professor at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, Arlington, Virginia asks the question, "What is forgiveness?"

"What is forgiveness, and what good does it do? How are we helped by offering forgiveness and how are we helped by receiving it? Can forgiveness be offered on behalf of another or must it always come from the victim? And is there always a victim?

The crimes of the twentieth century, now receding from human memory with the rapidity that guilt alone can generate, ought to have put those, and similar questions, firmly on the syllabus of anglophone moral philosophy. ...

Christ taught that those who ask forgiveness must also grant it, and enshrined this maxim in the prayer that his disciples repeat each day.

The love-one’s-neighbour idea, which Jews and Christians believe to be the core of morality, is unintelligible without the context of mutual forgiveness. ...

Turning to the world in which we find ourselves, Griswold argues that forgiveness is both a process, whereby two people cope with an injury inflicted by one upon the other, and a virtue. He understands virtue in the Aristotelian way, as a disposition, turned towards the good, and promoting the fulfilment of the person who possesses it.

Virtues are the goal of moral education, and to this extent, Griswold implies, forgiveness can be learned and taught. But some things will remain unforgiven, and in all its occurrences forgiveness should be distinguished from forgetting, condoning or turning away in defeat.

Forgiveness is not achieved unilaterally: it is the result of a dialogue, which may be tacit, but which involves reciprocal communication of an extended and delicate kind. The one who forgives goes out to the one who has injured him, and his gesture involves a changed state of mind, a reorientation towards the other, and a setting aside of resentment.

Such an existential transformation is not always or easily attained, and can only be achieved, Griswold suggests, through an effort of cooperation and sympathy, in which each person strives to set his own interests aside and look on the other from the posture of the “impartial spectator”, as [Adam]Smith described it.

Crucial in this process are the “narratives” which the parties recount to themselves, and Griswold draws interestingly on recent work in “narratology” in his search for the crucial factor in the process of psychic repair. This is the factor that permits a voiding of resentment in the one soul, and a self-giving through contrition in the other.

Each party’s narrative is both an account of the injury, and an allocation of blame; ideal and reality, exoneration and fault, are all woven together, and forgiveness can be seen as in part an attempt to harmonize the narratives, so that the story comes to an end in a new beginning. ...

Those who ask God to forgive them their trespasses are not petitioning an injured party: God cannot be injured. Yet he can forgive us, in the same way that “we forgive those who trespass against us”. We ask God to forgive us in order to restore our relationship with him, and the process may be arduous and long.

Here again, Griswold might have fruitfully studied what has been said about this process in the Catholic tradition – in particular concerning the need for confession, contrition, penitence and atonement, in order to attain that final homecoming into the place of love. Much that Griswold says tracks that process without explicitly acknowledging it. As a result he tends to overlook the enormous part played by penitence in restoring and deepening our affections. ...

But he does not ask the question: what kind of a being is it that can forgive?

Dogs don’t forgive, because dogs don’t resent. Forgiveness is unique to rational beings, and is a gift of metaphysical freedom. Only the accountable being, able to take responsibility for his own actions and mental states, can forgive or be forgiven, and this way of overcoming conflict has next to nothing in common with the peace of the “pecking order”, or the territorial settlements among badgers and bears.

Of course, Griswold is aware of this, and insists on the place of responsibility in the logic of resentment. But at a time when the evolutionary biologists are producing one phoney account after another, designed to show that human societies are constructed from the same ingredients as the tribes of apes, and that “altruism” in people is just a later manifestation of the self-sacrificing instincts of the soldier ant, it is surely a duty of philosophers to point out that interpersonal harmony is achieved through attitudes and virtues that only a free and accountable being could ever exemplify, and that this means that no theory of animal society could ever be generalized to cover us.

The study of forgiveness would be a good starting point from which to roll back the tide of debunking, and show the distinctness and the spiritual richness of the human condition. Of course, that would probably lead away from the “secular” approach that Griswold adheres to. But it would lead in a truthful direction. "

Mourning for the Innocent

Oskar Kokoschka (Born March 1, 1886 Pöchlarn, Austria; Died February 22, 1980, Montreux, Switzerland)
Knight Errant (Der Irrende ritter),
Oil on canvas, 35 1/4 x 70 7/8 inches.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

An abortion is not a usual subject for a painting or work of art.

For obvious reasons, it is not the sort of subject which might be the subject of a commission or if painted would attracted many buyers.

Kokoschka`s first solo show was held at the Galerie Paul Cassirer, Berlin, in 1910, followed later that year by another at the Museum Folkwang Essen.

In 1910, he also began to contribute to Herwarth Walden’s periodical Der Sturm.
Kokoschka concentrated on portraiture, dividing his time between Berlin and Vienna from 1910 to 1914.

In 1915, shortly after the outbreak of World War I, he volunteered to serve on the eastern front, where he was seriously wounded.

Still recuperating in 1917, he settled in Dresden and in 1919 accepted a professorship at the Akademie there.

In 1913-14, Kokoschka had an affair in Vienna with Alma Mahler. She was the widow of the famous composer.

Unwed, she was carrying on two love affairs simultaneously: with Kokoschka and another. She became pregnant. She had an abortion.

The agonised knight errant of the painting is to this day read as an expression of the artist’s pain over the death of an unborn child and the crumbling of his relationship with the fascinating, and quite unrepentant, Alma Mahler.

The central figure is a self-portrait of Kokoschka, in the armour of a medieval knight. He is lost, in a stormy landscape.

The bird-man has been interpreted either as the figure of death or another self-portrait.

The sphinx-woman has been seen as a stand-in for Mahler.

A funereal sky reflects Kokoschka’s spiritual discomfort.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Our Lady- Tenderness of Cruel Hearts

Kozma Petrov-Vodkin (Russian, 1878-1939)
Our Lady- Tenderness of Cruel Hearts
Oil on canvas 98 x 109 cm
Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

In the 1910s the creative search of Petrov-Vodkin was very wide. Beside monumental-decorative works, there are works devoted to the First World War, and works devoted to motherhood

In the late 1910s he developed and wrote about a new theory concerning the depiction of space. His so-called ‘spherical perspective’ differs from the traditional ‘Italian’ perspective.

The artist creates different spaces on the canvas, connected by gravity; bent axes of bodies make up a ‘fan’, which is opening from within the picture. Paintings with such compositional structure should be viewed by a moving spectator from different points,

The work of Petrov-Vodkin did not fit with the Soviet ideology of the Stalin's period and after his death in 1939 the painter was quickly ‘forgotten’, happily not for long.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

St Stephen

Follower of: Carlo Saraceni, Italian (Venetian), about 1579–1620
Saint Stephen Mourned by Gamaliel and Nicodemus
about 1615
Oil on canvas
113.1 x 155.3 cm (44 1/2 x 61 1/8 in.)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The painting was originally commissioned by Cardinal Giacomo Sannesi, (1551-1621) possibly for Sannesi chapel in San Silvestro al Quirinale where the cardinal is buried.

The cardinal participated in the conclaves of 1605 (the latter of which elected Pope Paul V) and 1621.He was protonotary apostolic and also was Camerlengo of the Sacred College of Cardinals, January 13, 1620 to January 11, 1621.

The Cardinal was a noted collector and purchased Caravaggio's Conversion of St Paul after it was rejected for the Cerasi Chapel.

Feast of St Stephen

Fra Angelico 'Beato Angelico' (b. ca. 1400, d. 1455)
St Peter Consecrates Stephen as Deacon 1447-49
Cappella Niccolina, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican

Stephen was a deacon in the early Christian Church. The apostles had found that they needed helpers to look after the care of the widows and the poor. So they ordained seven deacons, and Stephen is the most famous of these

He was the first Christian martyr.

Stoned outside Jerusalem, he died praying for his executioners. The mob was encouraged by Saul of Tarsus, the future Saint Paul: "And Saul entirely approved of putting him to death".

The only first hand source of information on the life and death of St. Stephen is the Acts of the Apostles (6:1-8:2).

The above scene comes from Fra Angelico`s last important works, frescoes for the chapel of Pope Nicholas in the Vatican. The Scenes from the Lives of Saints Stephen and Lawrence (1447-1449), are probably partly painted from his designs by assistants.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

God debates

In the TLS, John Habgood formerly Archbishop of York, discusses four new books:


All four books are answers to the questions posed by the "new Atheists".

Habgood writes:

"The so-called new atheism turns out to be little more than a step backwards to the old-fashioned atheism, which used to make great play with the idea of an unbridgeable gulf between religion and science.

Supporting this claim was, and to some extent still is, a simplistic appeal to the contrast between faith and reason, as if they had no need of each other.

The main difference between the old and the new is a drastic change of tone.

The new version has a sharper tongue, is gleefully aggressive rather than solemnly regretful, and makes much use of ridicule. It might be argued that the contempt shown towards religion and religious sensibilities is a necessary part of the impact the authors want to make, and no doubt it also helps to sell their books.

The downside of this strategy is that people are not likely to be converted by being ridiculed, nor by point-scoring which does not touch their real concerns. Minds are changed only when those criticized are convinced that their concerns have been judged fairly – a less entertaining and much more demanding exercise.

Intolerance is not restricted to new atheism. The same might be said of various forms of fundamentalist religion, and there is a sense in which the two extremes deserve each other.

The consequences of this mutual contempt and abuse are tragic, because there is much to be learnt from the creative encounter between an evolutionary science, conscious of its own limits, and a self-critical theology, rooted in an awareness of the ultimate mystery of its subject matter. ...

As the debate about God has become more vicious, Beattie has found herself more and more exasperated by its shallowness, and by the danger that it will only succeed in further stoking the fires of religious extremism.

She is convinced that Christianity needs the insights of secularism, and needs to recognize what lies at the heart of the present obsession with postmodernism. “The hidden face of postmodern culture”, she writes,

"is a form of despair, for our multicultural jamboree conceals an abyss of meanings and values. In the twentieth century, faith in God became an impossibility for many people, not because science or reason had provided answers to the mystery of life, but because the scale of humanity’s suffering and capacity for violence had outstripped any possibility of believing in a just and loving God. If postmodernism challenges the thoroughly modern scientific faith of the new atheists, it also provides a nurturing habitat for other more profound forms of atheism."

Nevertheless, she adds, there remains a hunger for God, and it is in literature and art and music that we may have to look for the hunger to be satisfied. “At its most profound, faith is not an answer to life’s questions but a willingness to inhabit the darkness of knowing that there are some things we cannot know.”

Beattie’s passionate survey of this complex scene entails a constant plea for mutual understanding and for an end to cheap point-scoring. She is a good guide and well worth reading. ...

Hans Küng, the eminent Roman Catholic theologian, has written what he describes as “a short book on the meaning of the universe”, and much of what he writes echoes the views just described, albeit from a somewhat different perspective. He also draws an interesting parallel between cosmology and Gödel’s famous incompleteness theorem. The latter is a mathematical proof that no system of axioms can prove itself as being free from contradiction. Nor, says Küng, can a theory of the universe. The point was originally made by Stephen Hawking, who admitted that he had given up his quest for a “grand unified theory of everything” on the grounds that we are part of it. Any explanation which tries to include the observer doing the explaining must necessarily be incomplete.

Add to this Popper’s dictum about the tentativeness of all scientific statements as being falsifiable but not ultimately provable, and the limitations of our knowledge become all too apparent. Both scientists and theologians, in other words, and even popes, need to accept their fallibility.

Apart from a passing reference, this is a Richard Dawkins-free book. It also provides a useful reminder that there was a scientifically and theologically based tradition of atheism in European culture long before Darwin. Küng comments, “Beyond question, the critique of religion offered by these ‘new materialists’ has not remotely reached the depth of their classical predecessors”.

Feuerbach, Marx, Freud and Nietzsche, where are you now?

Science”, Küng continues, “does not have to ‘prove’ the existence or superfluity of God. Rather, it has to advance the explicability of our universe by physics as far as possible and at the same time leave room for what in principle cannot be explained by physics.”

I am not sure this is a wise way of putting things, being all too redolent of the “God of the gaps”. Nevertheless, like all of Küng’s work, this is a learned book, full of interesting insights, drawing heavily on European philosophy and theology, and frequently critical of his own Church. To those who know his other works, it may seem strange to suggest that this one would have been better if it had been longer. Too much is assumed too quickly. In the section “How Did Life Arise?”, for instance, he slides over all the scientific difficulties to which Lennox draws attention, and implies that all the theological problems are solved simply by interpreting evolution as creation.

John Polkinghorne is a safer guide...

[Polkinghorne`s] autobiography, From Physicist to Priest, is as charming and humble as the man himself.

A scholarship in mathematics to Trinity College, Cambridge, set him on course; a post-doctoral fellowship took him to California, where he was a member of the team working on particle physics at a crucial stage in the development of the so-called Standard Model of the physical structure of matter; and at the age of thirty-eight he was back in Cambridge as the first holder of the newly established chair of Mathematical Physics.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society at the age of forty-four, and, three years later, offered himself for ordination in the Church of England. After training for the ministry in Cambridge, he was ordained in 1981, served as a curate in Bristol, and for a few years was a country vicar in Kent.

The call to return to Cambridge as Dean of Trinity Hall, and eventually as President of Queens’ College, gave him the leisure to write, since when he has been a prolific author, at times producing several books a year on various aspects of science and religion. He is better placed than most people to write about the nature of created reality and its relation to the human (mathematical) mind, but this book is purely about his own remarkable life.

Evolution is not his primary concern, yet his profound mathematical insights into the nature of created reality endorse Tina Beattie’s distinction between creativity and design. In his book Science and Creation he writes that

". . . the order and disorder which intertwine in the process of the world show that the universe upheld by the divine Word is not a clear cold cosmos whose history is the inevitable unfolding of an invulnerable plan. It is a world kept in being by the divine Juggler rather than by the divine Structural Engineer, a world whose precarious process speaks of the free gift of Love. We are accustomed to think of the vulnerability accepted by the Word in the incarnation, a vulnerability potentially present in the baby lying in the manger and realized to the full in the man hanging on the cross. What is there revealed of the divine in the human life of Jesus is also to be discerned in the cosmic story of creation."

The fact that there are those who go to great lengths to resist this interpretation is a back-handed tribute to the divine gift of freedom which it presupposes."

Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy (1837–1887)

Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy (1837–1887)
Christ in the Wilderness, 1872.
Oil on canvas.
State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

A heated debate developed regarding Kramskoy's Christ in the Wilderness, a work that resolutely eschews all divine attributes.

This painting was the uncontested crowd-puller at the second Peredvizhniki ("Itinerants") exhibition in 1872, held in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and various other Russian cities.

At daybreak in a stony wilderness, an overtired, slightly hunched Christ squats on a boulder, his sinewy hands pressed tightly together in prayer. His puffy eyes gaze blankly at the ground in front of him. Outwardly, this wanderer-in-the-wilderness has a faintly wild look about him. His hair is unkempt, his thin beard frayed. His shabby clothes, a wine-red tunic with blue wrap, seem already faded and worn. The sombre form of Christ, anything but a glowing presence, sits with his back to the sunrise. This brooding figure appears fossilised, like a boulder in the landscape. A cold, pinkish morning light, accompanied by pale blue bands of cloud, appears at the horizon.

The young writer Vsevolod Garshin observed in the figure of Christ an inner composure: "the expression of enormous moral strength, the hatred of evil, and a radical determination to declare war on it."

The artist repeatedly stressed the impulse that led to his Christ in the Wilderness. "The image had stood before me continually for five years. I had to paint it, in order to be rid of it. During work on the painting, I mused, prayed, and suffered a great deal (to put it rather pompously)." Kramskoy confessed to his friend, the landscape painter Fedor Vasiliev, that he repeatedly asked himself whether he was at all capable of depicting Christ: "I have perhaps committed sacrilege, but I couldn't help but paint him. I couldn't, if you like, not do it. I can say that I painted him with blood and tears."

Kramskoy described his Christ in a letter to Vasilev in his own words: "At daybreak he sits tired, tormented, and careworn amongst the stones, cold stones. His hands are convulsive and pressed together tightly, very tightly; the fingers press into the flesh, the feet are sore, the head bowed. He has been deep in thought and has been praying for a long time, so long that his lips are as if stuck together…."

Kramskoy later reported to the critic Alexander Chirkin, one day he had seen the figure in his painting in real life before him: "I suddenly stumbled upon him, just like that at daybreak; just like that he sat there, the hands clasped together, with bowed head, his mouth almost faded away from long remaining silent. He did not notice me." Kramskoy was so struck by this figure that he felt compelled to paint it. He wrote in the same letter to Chirkin: "Nothing in the painting is contrived. I saw everything together just like that. By chance the whole scene was exactly the same."

A few years later, the artist returned once more to this encounter. In a letter to the writer Garshin, he again described this extraordinary experience. He claimed to have seen in the stranger who appeared before him an uncanny physical force, "the force to smash everything to pieces," as well as a character capable of "subduing the entire world," but having "decided not to do so."

The artist never broke with the Russian Orthodox Church. He collaborated on a number of commissions for the church, such as the decoration of the Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer in Moscow, which he worked on sporadically from 1863 to 1873.

Homily of the Holy Father (Pope Benedict XVI) during Midnight Mass

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

“The time came for Mary to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk 2:6f.).

These words touch our hearts every time we hear them. This was the moment that the angel had foretold at Nazareth: “you will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Lk 1:31).

This was the moment that Israel had been awaiting for centuries, through many dark hours – the moment that all mankind was somehow awaiting, in terms as yet ill-defined: when God would take care of us, when he would step outside his concealment, when the world would be saved and God would renew all things.

We can imagine the kind of interior preparation, the kind of love with which Mary approached that hour. The brief phrase: “She wrapped him in swaddling clothes” allows us to glimpse something of the holy joy and the silent zeal of that preparation. The swaddling clothes were ready, so that the child could be given a fitting welcome. Yet there is no room at the inn. In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near.

But when the moment comes, there is no room for him. Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others – for his neighbour, for the poor, for God. And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves. And the less room there is for others.

Saint John, in his Gospel, went to the heart of the matter, giving added depth to Saint Luke’s brief account of the situation in Bethlehem: “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (Jn 1:11). This refers first and foremost to Bethlehem: the Son of David comes to his own city, but has to be born in a stable, because there is no room for him at the inn. Then it refers to Israel: the one who is sent comes among his own, but they do not want him. And truly, it refers to all mankind: he through whom the world was made, the primordial Creator-Word, enters into the world, but he is not listened to, he is not received.

These words refer ultimately to us, to each individual and to society as a whole. Do we have time for our neighbour who is in need of a word from us, from me, or in need of my affection? For the sufferer who is in need of help? For the fugitive or the refugee who is seeking asylum? Do we have time and space for God? Can he enter into our lives? Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions, our lives for ourselves?

Thank God, this negative detail is not the only one, nor the last one that we find in the Gospel.

Just as in Luke we encounter the maternal love of Mary and the fidelity of Saint Joseph, the vigilance of the shepherds and their great joy, just as in Matthew we encounter the visit of the wise men, come from afar, so too John says to us: “To all who received him, he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12).

There are those who receive him, and thus, beginning with the stable, with the outside, there grows silently the new house, the new city, the new world. The message of Christmas makes us recognize the darkness of a closed world, and thereby no doubt illustrates a reality that we see daily. Yet it also tells us that God does not allow himself to be shut out. He finds a space, even if it means entering through the stable; there are people who see his light and pass it on.

Through the word of the Gospel, the angel also speaks to us, and in the sacred liturgy the light of the Redeemer enters our lives. Whether we are shepherds or “wise men” – the light and its message call us to set out, to leave the narrow circle of our desires and interests, to go out to meet the Lord and worship him. We worship him by opening the world to truth, to good, to Christ, to the service of those who are marginalized and in whom he awaits us.

In some Christmas scenes from the late Middle Ages and the early modern period, the stable is depicted as a crumbling palace. It is still possible to recognize its former splendour, but now it has become a ruin, the walls are falling down – in fact, it has become a stable. Although it lacks any historical basis, this metaphorical interpretation nevertheless expresses something of the truth that is hidden in the mystery of Christmas. David’s throne, which had been promised to last for ever, stands empty. Others rule over the Holy Land. Joseph, the descendant of David, is a simple artisan; the palace, in fact, has become a hovel.

David himself had begun life as a shepherd. When Samuel sought him out in order to anoint him, it seemed impossible and absurd that a shepherd-boy such as he could become the bearer of the promise of Israel. In the stable of Bethlehem, the very town where it had all begun, the Davidic kingship started again in a new way – in that child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The new throne from which this David will draw the world to himself is the Cross. The new throne – the Cross – corresponds to the new beginning in the stable. Yet this is exactly how the true Davidic palace, the true kingship is being built.

This new palace is so different from what people imagine a palace and royal power ought to be like. It is the community of those who allow themselves to be drawn by Christ’s love and so become one body with him, a new humanity. The power that comes from the Cross, the power of self-giving goodness – this is the true kingship. The stable becomes a palace – and setting out from this starting-point, Jesus builds the great new community, whose key-word the angels sing at the hour of his birth: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those whom he loves” – those who place their will in his, in this way becoming men of God, new men, a new world.

Gregory of Nyssa, in his Christmas homilies, developed the same vision setting out from the Christmas message in the Gospel of John: “He pitched his tent among us” (Jn 1:14). Gregory applies this passage about the tent to the tent of our body, which has become worn out and weak, exposed everywhere to pain and suffering. And he applies it to the whole universe, torn and disfigured by sin.

What would he say if he could see the state of the world today, through the abuse of energy and its selfish and reckless exploitation? Anselm of Canterbury, in an almost prophetic way, once described a vision of what we witness today in a polluted world whose future is at risk: “Everything was as if dead, and had lost its dignity, having been made for the service of those who praise God. The elements of the world were oppressed, they had lost their splendour because of the abuse of those who enslaved them for their idols, for whom they had not been created” (PL 158, 955f.).

Thus, according to Gregory’s vision, the stable in the Christmas message represents the ill-treated world. What Christ rebuilds is no ordinary palace. He came to restore beauty and dignity to creation, to the universe: this is what began at Christmas and makes the angels rejoice. The Earth is restored to good order by virtue of the fact that it is opened up to God, it obtains its true light anew, and in the harmony between human will and divine will, in the unification of height and depth, it regains its beauty and dignity.

Thus Christmas is a feast of restored creation. It is in this context that the Fathers interpret the song of the angels on that holy night: it is an expression of joy over the fact that the height and the depth, Heaven and Earth, are once more united; that man is again united to God. According to the Fathers, part of the angels’ Christmas song is the fact that now angels and men can sing together and in this way the beauty of the universe is expressed in the beauty of the song of praise. Liturgical song – still according to the Fathers – possesses its own peculiar dignity through the fact that it is sung together with the celestial choirs.

It is the encounter with Jesus Christ that makes us capable of hearing the song of the angels, thus creating the real music that fades away when we lose this singing-with and hearing-with.

In the stable at Bethlehem, Heaven and Earth meet. Heaven has come down to Earth. For this reason, a light shines from the stable for all times; for this reason joy is enkindled there; for this reason song is born there.

At the end of our Christmas meditation I should like to quote a remarkable passage from Saint Augustine. Interpreting the invocation in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in Heaven”, he asks: what is this – Heaven? And where is Heaven? Then comes a surprising response: “… who art in Heaven – that means: in the saints and in the just. Yes, the heavens are the highest bodies in the universe, but they are still bodies, which cannot exist except in a given location.

Yet if we believe that God is located in the heavens, meaning in the highest parts of the world, then the birds would be more fortunate than we, since they would live closer to God. Yet it is not written: ‘The Lord is close to those who dwell on the heights or on the mountains’, but rather: ‘the Lord is close to the brokenhearted’ (Ps 34:18[33:19]), an expression which refers to humility. Just as the sinner is called ‘Earth’, so by contrast the just man can be called ‘Heaven’” (Sermo in monte II 5, 17).

Heaven does not belong to the geography of space, but to the geography of the heart. And the heart of God, during the Holy Night, stooped down to the stable: the humility of God is Heaven.
And if we approach this humility, then we touch Heaven. Then the Earth too is made new. With the humility of the shepherds, let us set out, during this Holy Night, towards the Child in the stable! Let us touch God’s humility, God’s heart! Then his joy will touch us and will make the world more radiant.


Monday, December 24, 2007

The Holy Family

Pavel Nikolayevich Filonov (January 8,1883–December 3, 1941)
The Holy Family 1914
Oil on canvas. 159x128 cm
The State Russian Museum. St Petersburg

In 1929, a large retrospective exhibition of Filonov art was planned at the Russian Museum; however, the Soviet government forbade the exhibition from going forward.

From 1932 onward, Filonov literally starved but still refused to sell his works to private collectors. He wanted to give all his works to the Russian Museum as a gift so as to start a Museum of Analytical Realism.

He died of starvation on December 3, 1941 during the Siege of Leningrad.

Most of Filonov's works were saved by his sister Yevdokiya Nikolayevna Glebova. She stored the paintings in the Russian Museum's archives and eventually donated them as a gift.

Exhibitions of Filonov's work were forbidden.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Giovanni Segantini

Giovanni Segantini (January 15, 1858 - September 28, 1899)
Choir of St Anthony 1879,
119x85 cm, Oil on Canvas,
Private Collection

Giovanni Segantini (January 15, 1858 - September 28, 1899)
Ave Maria a trasbordo (1st version) 1882
Oil on Canvas , cm 84x64,5
Private collection, Zurich

Giovanni Segantini (January 15, 1858 - September 28, 1899)
Frühmesse, 1885/86,
108x211cm, Oil on canvas
Kunstmuseum St. Gallen

Giovanni Segantini (Italian, 1858-1899)
L’amore alla fonte della vita (or La fonte della giovinezza, Gli amanti alla fonte della vita) 1896 Oil on canvas, cm 70x98
Civica Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan

Giovanni Segantini (Italian, 1858-1899)
L'angelo della vita (Angel of Life) 1896
cm 59,5x43
St.Moritz, Museum Segantini

Giovanni Segantini (Italian, 1858-1899)
The Punishment of Lust 1891
Oil on canvas, 99 x 172.8cm
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Giovanni Segantini (Italian, 1858-1899)
Il dolore confortato dalla Fede (Il conforto della Fede)
Oil canvas 85.5 x 132 cm;
Kunsthalle. Hamburg

Giovanni Segantini (Italian, 1858-1899)
The Fruits of Love 1889.
88.2 x 57.2cm.
Museum der bildenden Künste. Leipzig

Giovanni Segantini (Italian, 1858-1899)
Benedizione delle pecore (Blessing of the sheep)1884.
198 x 120 cm.
St.Moritz, Museum Segantini

Giovanni Segantini (January 15, 1858 - September 28, 1899) came from an old mountain family in Arco, near Lake Garda, Italy.

At age seven he ran away and was later found perishing of cold and hunger.He began to earn his bread by herding flocks in the hills and there he spent his long hours of solitude in drawing.

After more flights and more returns, Segantini finally settled in Milan to attend classes at the Brera. In Milan he was able to earn a living by teaching art and painting portraits.

His first picture, The Choir of Sant Antonio was noticed for its powerful quality. In it he used a technique, similar to Pointillism or Neo-Impressionism, that he had developed, apparently, simply by means of observing light and color at first hand.

He settled in Brianza, near Como. There he gave himself up to the study of mountain life, and became the painter of the Alps.

At this time he painted the Ave Maria, which took a gold medal at the Amsterdam Exhibition (1883),

Segantini died at Maloja in October 1899 while working on his famous piece Alpentriptychon.

For more see

The Segantini Museum (San Moritz)

For an interesting commentary on his life and one of his works see The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool: Artwork of the Month - March, 2000 'The Punishment of Lust, also known as The Punishment of Luxury, 1891', by Giovanni Segantini (1858-1899)

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Break From Blogging

I`ll be taking a break until after Christmas.

A very merry and happy Christmas to one and all

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Resting on the Flight to Egypt

Arnold Böcklin (Basle 16 October 1827 – Fiesole 16 January 1901)
Le Repos pendant la fuite en Égypte (Panneau de Gauche) 1868
Fresco 231 x 301.5 cm
Öffentliche Kunstsammlung.
Kunstmuseum. Bâle

Böcklin was a symbolist Swiss painter.

His allegorical and fantastical paintings, many based on mythical creatures, anticipated 20th-century surrealism

In 1848, when he was in Paris, he was caught up in the confusion of the February Revolution.

The following years he spent in Rome, and it was in the mid-1850s that the first mythological figures featured in his Roman landscape.

At the age of twenty-five, during one of his stays in Rome, he had married the daughter of a pontifical guard who bore him eleven children between 1855 and 1876

Böcklin was an energetic figure devoid of the languid melancholy of 'decadence'.

I heard a voice

King's College Choir Cambridge

And the Glory...

From The Messiah - The Choir of King's College, Cambridge

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pre-Raphaelite Nativities

Manufacturer William Morris
Designer Edward Burne-Jones
The Nativity
Ponsonby Church, Ponsonby, Cumbria, England

Manufacturer William Morris
Designer Edward Burne-Jones
The Nativity [detail]
Ponsonby Church, Ponsonby, Cumbria, England

Manufacturer William Morris
Designer Edward Burne-Jones
The Nativity [detail]
Ponsonby Church, Ponsonby, Cumbria, England

Manufacturer William Morris
Designer Edward Burne-Jones
Adoration of the Magi
Trinity Church, Saugerties, New York

Manufacturer William Morris
Designer Edward Burne-Jones
The Nativity
Trinity Church, Saugerties, New York

Manufacturer William Morris
Designer Edward Burne-Jones
Nativity windows,
Trinity Church, Boston

Manufacturer William Morris
Designer Edward Burne-Jones
Nativity windows, [detail]
Trinity Church, Boston

William Morris (March 24, 1834 – October 3, 1896) was an English artist, writer, and socialist.

He was one of the principal founders of the British Arts and Crafts movement, a pioneer of the socialist movement in Britain, and a writer of poetry and fiction.

He is perhaps best known as a designer of wallpaper and patterned fabrics

Morris was part of a group of friends and collaborators, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown and Philip Webb. These friends formed an artistic movement, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

In 1861, he founded the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. with Gabriel Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown and Philip Webb. In 1874 Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown decided to leave the firm, requiring a return on their shares which proved to be a costly business. Throughout his life, he continued to work in his own firm, although the firm changed names. Its most famous incarnation was as Morris and Company. The company encouraged the revival of traditional crafts such as stained glass painting.

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1st Baronet (28 August 1833–17 June 1898) was largely responsible for bringing the Pre-Raphaelites into the mainstream of the British art world, while at the same time executing some of the most exquisite and beautiful artwork of the time.

After leaving Oxford, from which he did not take a degree, he became closely involved in the rejuvenation of the tradition of stained glass art in England

He had intended to become a church minister, but under Morris's influence decided to become an artist and designer instead.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Saint John's Bible

Donald Jackson, with a contribution from Aidan Hart
'Vision of the Son of Man, Daniel 7:9-14'
Illuminated bible page
Hand ground ink, watercolour and gold leaf on calfskin vellum
Hill Museum & Manuscript Library Collection

Sally Mae Joseph
'Now the Word, Jeremiah 1:4-10'
Illuminated bible page
Colour hand-ground Japanese stick ink, shell (powder) gold on calfskin vellum
Hill Museum & Manuscript Library Collection

The production of The Saint John's Bible is a combination of the ancient and modern. It emulates the spirit of the great medieval Bibles, using animal skin, handmade quills and natural, hand-ground inks and pigments. Yet at the same time it incorporates the latest computer technology and contemporary texts (the New Revised Standard Version).

The seven volumes of the Bible will eventually be bound in 200-year-old Welsh oak boards and permanently housed in the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at Saint John's Abbey & University.

For many years Donald Jackson, Senior Illuminator to Her Majesty's Crown Office, had dreamed of creating a modern, illuminated Bible to celebrate the new millennium. Finally, in November 1995, he presented the idea to Saint John's Benedictine Abbey & University in Minnesota.

Work started in 2000 and is scheduled for completion in 2007, at a total cost of over £2 million. It is taking place in a scriptorium in Monmouth, Wales, under the artistic direction of Donald Jackson and his team of scribes and illuminators

For more information see The Saint John's Bible website

Monday, December 17, 2007

José Villegas Cordero

José Villegas Cordero (Seville, 1844 - Madrid, 1921)
La antesala de su Eminencia (The ante-room of his Eminence) 1890
68 x 100 cm.
Private collection, Barcelona

José Villegas Cordero (Seville, 1844 - Madrid, 1921)
Las dos potencias (The two powerbrokers) 1889
84 x 64 cm.
Colección Segundo Pérez. Seville

Swimming reindeer

Swimming reindeer
Length: 20.700 cm
Carved from the tip of a mammoth tusk
Late Magdalenian, around 12,500 years old.
From the rockshelter of Montastruc, Tarn et Garonne, France
British Museum, London

The British Museum website (Room 2) describes it so:

"This is one of the most beautiful pieces of Stone Age art ever found. It shows two reindeer, one behind the other. The figure in front is a female with smaller body and antlers. Her coat is delicately shaded. The larger male figure is not shaded but his strong body is clearly carved. On both animals the antlers are laid along the back and the legs are folded underneath, with the exception of the back left leg of the male which originally extended behind. The sex of each animal is clearly shown.

With their noses up and antlers back the carving appears to show the reindeer swimming. Other swimming reindeer are known, for example in a painted frieze in the cave of Lascaux. The tapering shape of the mammoth tusk may also have decided the shape of the animals, which are perfectly modelled from all angles."

CSI Scotland: Six bodies identified as six bishops

Skull of Bishop Henry (d. 1293), Augustinian abbot and bishop, most notable for holding the positions of Abbot of Holyrood [1236 - 1253 or1255] and Bishop of Galloway [1253–1293].

Archaeologists have successfully identified the remains of six medieval bishops of Whithorn who died between 1200-1360.

The bones had been discovered during the 1957-67 excavation at Whithorn Priory but who they belonged to was a mystery.

The bishops were in an especially holy area between the high altar and the shrine of St Ninian – the man credited with bringing Christianity to what later became Scotland.

Radiocarbon dating helped identify the graves of bishops Walter (d. 1235), Henry (d. 1293), Michael (d. 1359) and Thomas (d. 1362).

Analysis also showed that Bishop Henry had been suffering from tooth abcesses.

Other bishops identified were Gilbert (d. 1253) and Michael (d. 1359).

One of the most impressive finds from the excavation was of a gilded and enamelled crozier head of a type that dates from around 1175.

The grave also contained brocade threads from vestments, gilded sequins from his headdress, and silver altar vessels. This has now been identified as the grave of bishop Simon (died 1355), meaning the crozier was an antique when buried.

The central grave was being used for a second time and had originally been the burial place of bishop John (d. 1209).

The bones had been discovered during the 1957-67 excavation at Whithorn Priory but who they belonged to was a mystery - until now.

Keeping the finds in storage, to minimise deterioration, kept them safe while research techniques advanced and may mean that future archaeologists will be able to learn even more from them.

However one does wonder if the remains of the bishops should now be buried or should they still be kept in storage ?

St. Ninian is a shadowy figure in history. He is acknowledged as Scotland's first saint with the date AD 397 celebrated as the beginning of his mission to his people.

Whithorn is the home of the earliest recorded Christian community in Scotland and was the episcopal seat of Bishop Ninian, the apostle of the southern Picts.

Northumbrians established a bishopric at Whithorn in about 730 AD and set about building this next, more substantial, church incorporating not only the pillars of the shrine, but also the steps leading to it.

Later the church was divided into two and the East part became a burial chapel. Evidence of stained glass indicates that it was an important building.

Whithorn became an ecclesiastical burgh in about 1307 and was totally re-built as a Cathedral.

The town grew in size and importance, especially around the 1500's.

During the reformation, in 1581, pilgrimage was banned in Scotland and Whithorn transformed from a centre of national importance into a small country town

For more details of the identification of the Bishops` remains, see Historic Scotland

For brief articles on what is known of the lives of the various bishops "re-discovered" see The Wikipeda article on Bishop of Galloway and follow the links for each of the bishops.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Annigoni and Social Realism: Sermon on the Mount

Pietro Annigoni [7 June 1910 - 28 October 1988]
Sermon on the Mount. 1953
Tempera on board
118 x 157 3/8 inches (300 x 400 cm)
Private collection


Pietro Annigoni 1910-1988
Anchorites in the Desert
Anacoreti nel Deserto

Tempera on board
Private collection

Anchorite (male)/anchoress (female), is someone who, for religious reasons, withdraws from secular society so as to be able to lead an intensely prayer-oriented, ascetic and, circumstances permitting, Eucharist-focused life.

As a result, anchorites are usually considered to be a type of religious hermit.

The anchoritic life is one of the earliest forms of Christian monastic living and originated before the religious life in community.


Ramón Pichot Gironés (Spanish, 1872-1925)
Offering 1898.
Oil on canvas. 165 x 120 cm.
Museu Nacional d'Arts de Catalunya. Barcelona. España

Gironès painted in an impressionist style.

He was a good friend of Pablo Picasso and an early mentor to the young Salvador Dalí.

Virgin and Child

Alfonso Ramil Garín 1864-1924
La Virgen con el niño


Rockwell Kent, (June 21, 1882–March 13, 1971)
Christian Graves. South Greenland 1929
Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Rockwell Kent, (June 21, 1882–March 13, 1971)
Greenlanders (Near Godhavn) 1932
Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia

A transcendentalist and mystic, Kent painted remote and austere lands, including Newfoundland (1914-15), Tierra del Fuego (1922-23), and Greenland (1929; 1931-32; 1934-35).

Kent's reputation in the United States declined in the 1950s and 1960s, and he became a target of McCarthyism. In 1960 Kent donated several hundred paintings and drawings to the Soviet people

In 2001, Kent was featured in a U.S. Post Office commemorative stamp series honoring American illustrators, including Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell, Frederic Remington, and 16 others