Friday, February 29, 2008

Sacred Art, Religious Art and Art

"Some art is directly ordered to the glorification of God and the sanctification of man. [23] If this ordering to religion is what the Schoolmen call the finis operis the purpose of the work of art itself, then the art is sacred art, liturgical art: for example, the paintings of Andrei Rublev and Fra Angelico, the Masses of Byrd and Palestrina, and the hymns of St John Damascene and St Thomas Aquinas.

This kind of art has been defined very beautifully by the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

`Sacred art is true and beautiful when its form corresponds to its particular vocation: evoking and glorifying, in faith and adoration, the transcendent mystery of God—the surpassing invisible beauty of truth and love visible in Christ, who 'reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature' (cf. Heb 1:3), in whom 'the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily' (cf. Col 2:9). This spiritual beauty of God is reflected in the most holy Virgin Mother of God, the angels, and saints. Genuine sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God, Creator and Savior, the Holy One and Sanctifier. [24]`

In other cases, the ordering of the art to the glory of God is the end of the artist, the finis operantis. In other words, his motive is to glorify God, even though the work of art itself is not destined for the beautification of church and liturgy. This is religious art, art shaped and pervaded by faith and prayer. Examples here would be the painting of Rouault, the music of Messiaen, and the poetry of St John of the Cross, George Herbert, and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

The great French Catholic poet and dramatist Paul Claudel argued that great art, even when it is not explicitly religious, can achieve good spiritual effects in others, if not in the artist himself. He gives as an example the poetry of Rimbaud. Its haunting beauty, its sense of eternity and the transcendent mystery of human life, helped to liberate Claudel from the positivistic scepticism of his youth—the sickening servile worship of science to be found in Ernest Renan.

`I shall always remember that morning in June 1886 when I bought the little copy of Vogue containing the first part of Illuminations. It really was an illumination for me. At last I came out of that hideous world of Taine, of Renan and the other Molochs of the nineteenth century, that penal colony, that appalling machine governed by laws that were completely inflexible and, horror of horrors, knowable and teachable .... I had the revelation of the supernatural.` [25]

Positivism, materialism, atheism—these are the deadly enemies of art, for they blind a man to the wealth and wonder of being It was from all such rude reductions of reality that William Blake asked to be delivered when he prayed, 'May God us keep/ From single vision and Newton's sleep.'[26]

For a Comte or a Marx, for a Renan or a Taine the world is a machine, a closed system. But the great artists, even when they lack explicit faith, reveal the marvel of what is, in all its transcendental richness. The lovely Muse of Poetry may not always be a Christian, but, as Gertrud von Le Fort suggested, 'in her deepest impulses, unconsciously yet irresistibly, [she is) ordered towards what is Christian and is flooded with a gentle Advent-like light.' [27]"


[23] Cf. Sacrosanctum concilium, no. 112, on sacred music.

[24] CCC 2502.

[25] Jacques Rivière and Paul Claudel, Correspondance 1907-1914 (Paris, 1926), 142f. Newman said something similar about the influence of Sir Walter Scott's literary art on the Oxford Movement: he helped to 'prepare men for some closer and more practical approximation to Catholic truth' ('Prospects of the Anglican Church', in Essays and Sketches, vol. 1, new ed. [New York, 1948], 337).

[26] Letter to Thomas Butts (November 22, 1802); Selected Poetry and Prose of William Blake (New York, 1953), 420.

[27] Gertrud von Le Fort, 'Vom Wesen christlicher Dichtung', in Aufzeich-nungen und Erinnerungen (Zurich, 1958), 47.

From The Virtue of Art and the Virtue of Religion by John Saward From The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty: Art, Sanctity and The Truth of Catholicism

From Ignatius Insight (February 2008)

Benedict on the Baroque

In the two articles mentioned in the post below, Pope Benedict XVI passes comment on the Baroque. It seems to be his favourite. The language is certainly poetic.

"The Baroque

Baroque art, which follows the Renaissance, has many different aspects and modes of expression. In its best form it is based on the reform of the Church set in motion by the Council of Trent.

In line with the tradition of the West, the Council again emphasised the didactic and pedagogical character of art, but, as a fresh start toward interior renewal, it led once more to a new kind of seeing that comes from and returns within.

The altarpiece is like a window through which the world of God comes out to us. The curtain of temporality is raised, and we are allowed a glimpse into the inner life of the world of God. This art is intended to insert us into the liturgy of heaven.

Again and again, we experience a Baroque church as a unique kind of fortissimo of joy, an Alleluia in visual form. "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 10). These words from the Old Testament express the basic emotion that animates this iconography."

Benedict on Art

In February and March 2002, ADOREMUS, the Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy published two articles by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Their subject was "Sacred Art". The two articles were:

Art and Liturgy - The Question of Images

Art, Image and Artists: Sacred art, inspired by faith, both reflects and informs the culture Part II

The articles are wide-ranging and worth reading in their entirety

He discusses the history of sacred and religious art going back to early Christian times and the history of the Icon. He discusses the Iconoclastic controversies which affected the early Church and then subsequently (first at the Reformation and then later after the Second Vatican Council).

He makes the important distinction between "religious art" and "sacred art", the latter being said to be almost equivalent in importance to liturgy.

He discusses the rules set down by the Magisterium regarding sacred and religious images and how they have been interpreted in history, and how they are compatible with artistic freedom.

In particular, he discusses what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for images of Christ.

"Again we must ask: Where do we go from here? Let us try to sum up what we have said so far and to identify the fundamental principles of an art ordered to divine worship.

1. The complete absence of images is incompatible with faith in the Incarnation of God. God has acted in history and entered into our sensible world, so that it may become transparent to Him.

Images of beauty, in which the mystery of the invisible God becomes visible, are an essential part of Christian worship. There will always be ups and downs in the history of iconography, upsurge and decline, and therefore periods when images are somewhat sparse. But they can never be totally lacking.

Iconoclasm is not a Christian option.

2. Sacred art finds its subjects in the images of salvation history, beginning with creation and continuing all the way from the first day to the eighth day, the day of the resurrection and Second Coming, in which the line of human history will come full circle.

The images of biblical history have pride of place in sacred art, but the latter also includes the history of the saints, which is an unfolding of the history of Jesus Christ, the fruit borne throughout history by the dead grain wheat.

"You are not struggling against icons", said Saint John Damascene to the iconoclastic emperor Leo III, "but against the saints". In the same period, and with the same view in mind, Pope Saint Gregory III instituted in Rome the feast of All Saints (cf. Evdokimov, p. 164).

3. The images of the history of God in relation to man do not merely illustrate the succession of past events but display the inner unity of God's action. In this way they have a reference to the sacraments, above all, to Baptism and the Eucharist, and, in pointing to the sacraments, they are contained within them.

Images thus point to a presence; they are essentially connected with what happens in the Liturgy. Now history becomes sacrament in Christ, who is the source of the Sacraments. Therefore, the icon of Christ is the center of sacred iconography. The center of the icon of Christ is the Paschal Mystery: Christ is presented as the Crucified, the risen Lord, the One who will come again and who here and now, though hidden, reigns over all.

Every image of Christ must contain these three essential aspects of the mystery of Christ and, in this sense, must be an image of Easter.

At the same time, it goes without saying that different emphases are possible.

The image may give more prominence to the Cross, the Passion, and in the Passion to the anguish of our own life today, or again it may bring the Resurrection or the Second Coming to the fore.

But whatever happens, one aspect can never be completely isolated from another, and in the different emphases the Paschal Mystery as a whole must be plainly evident. An image of the Crucifixion no longer transparent to Easter would be just as deficient as an Easter image forgetful of the wounds and the suffering of the present moment.

And, centered as it is on the Paschal Mystery, the image of Christ is always an icon of the Eucharist, that is it points to the sacramental presence of the Easter Mystery.

4. The image of Christ and the images of the saints are not photographs.

Their whole point is to lead us beyond what can be apprehended at the merely material level, to awaken new senses in us, and to teach us a new kind of seeing, which perceives the Invisible in the visible.

The sacredness of the image consists precisely in the fact that it comes from an interior vision and thus leads us to such an interior vision.

It must be a fruit of contemplation, of an encounter in faith with the new reality of the risen Christ, and so it leads us in turn into an interior gazing, an encounter in prayer with the Lord. The image is at the service of the Liturgy. The prayer and contemplation in which the images are formed must, therefore, be a praying and seeing undertaken in communion with the seeing faith of the Church.

The ecclesial dimension is essential to sacred art and thus has an essential connection with the history of the faith, with Scripture and Tradition.

5. The Church in the West does not need to disown the specific path she has followed since about the thirteenth century. But she must achieve a real reception of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicaea II, which affirmed the fundamental importance and theological status of the image in the Church.

The Western Church does not need to subject herself to all the individual norms concerning images that were developed at the councils and synods of the East, coming to some kind of conclusion in 1551 at the Council of Moscow, the Council of the Hundred Canons. Nevertheless, she should regard the fundamental lines of this theology of the image in the Church as normative for her.

There must, of course, be no rigid norms. Freshly received intuitions and the ever-new experiences of piety must find a place in the Church. But still there is a difference between sacred art (which is related to the liturgy and belongs to the ecclesial sphere) and religious art in general.

There cannot be completely free expression in sacred art. Forms of art that deny the logos of things and imprison man within what appears to the senses are incompatible with the Church's understanding of the image.

No sacred art can come from an isolated subjectivity. No, it presupposes that there is a subject who has been inwardly formed by the Church and opened up to the "we". Only thus does art make the Church's common faith visible and speak again to the believing heart.

The freedom of art, which is also necessary in the more narrowly circumscribed realm of sacred art, is not a matter of do-as-you-please.

It unfolds according to the measure indicated by the first four points in these concluding reflections, which are an attempt to sum up what is constant in the iconographic tradition of faith.

Without faith there is no art commensurate with the liturgy. Sacred art stands beneath the imperative stated in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Gazing at the Lord, we are "changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (3:18).

But what does all this mean practically? Art cannot be "produced", as one contracts out and produces technical equipment. It is always a gift.

Inspiration is not something one can choose for oneself. It has to be received, otherwise it is not there. One cannot bring about a renewal of art in faith by money or through commissions.

Before all things it requires the gift of a new kind of seeing. And so it would be worth our while to regain a faith that sees. Wherever that exists, art finds its proper expressions."

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Banning of the Stations of the Cross

Albert Servaes (1883-1966)
Charcoal on paper
Abdij “Koningshoeven” Berkel-Enschot, Netherlands

Albert Servaes (1883-1966)
Charcoal on paper
Museum voor Religieuze Kunst

Albert Servaes (b Ghent, 4 April 1883; d Lucerne, 19 April 1966). was a Belgian painter. He was mainly self-taught.

Servaes was responsible for a renewed interest in ecclesiastical art in Belgium.

His Stations of the Cross of Luithagen (1919; Tilburg, Abbey of Onze-Lieve-Vrouw) consists of 14 charcoal drawings on white paper; the skeleton-like figures are boldly sketched and harrowing in their expressiveness.

Yet this Expressionist style was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church in 1921, and as a result most of Servaes’s religious works were removed from Belgian churches.

These meditations on the passion stand wholly in this tradition of the vivid use of the imagination in order to evoke the reality of Jesus' sufferings. The details of his thoughts are underscored by the artist's black on sepia drawings

The grim expressionist statement of the theme brought home with extra force the horrific nature of the crucifixion.

Servaes was also an important landscape painter, notably of harvest and snow scenes, which were widely imitated in the first half of the 20th century.

In 1944 he moved to Switzerland, where he produced numerous mountain scenes, as well as portraits and religious subjects, executed primarily in pastel and in an Expressionist style.

In the following passage written in 1924, Jacques Maritain discussed the banning of the Stations of the Cross by the Church:

"Sacred art is in absolute dependence upon theological wisdom.

In the signs it presents to our eyes something infinitely superior to all our human art is manifested, divine Truth itself, the treasure of light that was purchased for us by the blood of Christ. It is above all for this reason, because the sovereign interests of the Faith are at stake in the matter, that the Church exercises her authority and magisterium over sacred art.

I recalled a moment ago the decree of Urban VIII of March 15, 1642, and the prescript of the 25th session of the Council of Trent. There are other instances. On June 11, 1623, the Congregation of Rites proscribed crucifixes representing Christ with arms updrawn. On September 11, 1670, a decree of the Holy Office forbade the making of crucifixes "in a form so coarse and artless, in an attitude so indecent, with features so distorted by grief that they provoke disgust rather than pious attention."

And you know that in March, 1921, the Holy Office forbade the exhibition in churches of certain works of the Flemish painter Servaes.

Here is a point that merits all our attention. Servaes is a painter of great talent, a Christian full of faith, and one can only speak of his person with respect and affection; I am happy to bear testimony to him here. The Stations of the Cross which raised such violent commotion in Belgium gave birth to deep religious emotions in certain souls, nay more, brought about conversions. Nevertheless the Church condemned it, and it is never difficult, even when the appearances and the human procedures disconcert us, to understand the wisdom and justice of the Church's decisions.

In spite of himself, assuredly, and not in his soul but in his work, the painter, fascinated by the Ego sum vermis et non homo of Isaias and conceiving his Stations as a pure vertigo of grief, happened to be false to certain theological truths of capital importance -- above all the truth that the sufferings as well as the death of Our Lord were essentially voluntary, and that it was a divine Person who suffered the most appalling human suffering: the pain and agony of His Humanity were handled by the Word as the tool with which He performed His great work.

At the same time, for those who cannot harmonize the poor figurations that art places before their eyes and the pure image living in our hearts of the most beautiful of the children of men (in Him, as in His Mother, as Cajetan reminds us in his treatise De Spasmo beatae Virginis, the supreme torments of Calvary, though piercing the mind still more cruelly than the body, left reason intact under the Cross, in full exercise of its dominion over the sensitive part) -- for these, I say, certain plastic deformations, a certain degenerate aspect of the contour, take on the value of an offense against the Humanity of the Saviour, and, as it were, of a doctrinal misapprehension of the sovereign dignity of His soul and body.

At a time when the truth of the Faith is threatened on all sides, why be surprised that the Church is more concerned than ever about the doctrinal distortions that can be implied in certain works of art intended for the faithful, whatever may be in other respects their aesthetic value and the salutary emotions they may here or there excite, and whatever may be the piety, faith, depth of spiritual life, and uprightness of intention of the artist who produced them?

May I be permitted however to add that from this same point of view of dogma the base sentimentality of so many commercial products must equally vex sound theology, and is doubtless tolerated only as one of those abuses to which we resign ourselves for a time, considering human weakness and what may be called, adapting a phrase of Holy Writ, "the infinite number of Christians with bad taste."

This ultimate control by theology that I just mentioned, and which presupposes in the artist a true theological culture, clearly does not impose on sacred art any aesthetic genre, any style, any particular technique.

We must, however, realize that it communicates to it, as it were spontaneously, certain general directions. Thus the intrinsic characteristics of the object represented have assuredly for sacred art a very special importance: not, certainly, from the point of view of the naturalist imitation of material detail and picturesque appearance, which is more out of place and execrable here than elsewhere, but from the point of view of the laws of intellectual signification.

If one reflects on the essential deficiency of the means of expression of human art in relation to the divine mysteries to which these means are applied, on the terrible difficulty of expressing in a sensible matter truths that bridge heaven and earth and unite the most opposite realities, one is even led to think that sacred art, however rich it ought to be in sensibility and humanity, in order to attain to a certain spiritual fullness will doubtless always have to retain something of the hieratic and, so to speak, ideographic symbolism, and, in any event, of the sturdy intellectuality of its primitive traditions."

Jacques Maritain: Talk to the Journées d'Art religieux, February 23, 1924

Maurice Denis 3

DENIS, Maurice
The Crown of Daisies, c. 1905-1906
Oil on canvas
73 x 54,5 cm
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

As the chief theorist of the Nabis, and later on as a distinguished art critic and theorist in his own right, what were Denis` views on painting ?

Some of the following quotations may give some idea but you would have to look at his substantial literary output to gain a full view of his opinions and attitudes. In any event his views and attitudes developed over time. So did his painting style.

"Se rappeler qu'un tableau - avant d'être un cheval de bataille, une femme nue, ou une quelconque anecdote – est essentiellement une surface plane recouverte de couleurs en un certain ordre assemblées.

Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a nude, or some anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order."

- Maurice Denis: 'Definition du neo-traditionism', Art et Critique, August 23, 1890

In Nouvelles Théories, Maurice Denis wrote:

"Symbolism ... is the art of translating and inducing states of soul by means of relations of colours and forms. These relations, invented or borrowed from Nature, become signs or symbols of these states of soul: they have the power to suggest them. . . . The Symbol claims to give rise straightway in the soul of the spectator to the whole gamut of human emotions by means of the gamut of colours and forms, or let us say, of sensations, which corresponds to them. . . ."

He then quotes with approval from Bergson:

"The object of art is to put to sleep the active, or rather, resistant powers of our personality, and thus to lead us to a state of perfect docility in which we realize the idea suggested to us and sympathise with the feeling expressed".

Maurice Denis adds:

"All our confused memories having been thus revivified, all our subconscious energies having been thus set in motion, the work of art worthy of the name creates in us a mystical state, or at least a state analoguous to the mystical vision, and, in certain degree, makes God sensible to the heart."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Maurice Denis 2

Maurice Denis (1870 - 1943)
The Road to Calvary/Montée au calvaire ou Le Calvaire. 1889.
Oil on canvas. 41 x 32.5 cm.
Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France

Maurice Denis (1870 - 1943)
The Visitation. 1894.
Oil on canvas. 103 x 93 cm.
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia

At the age of 15 Denis wrote in his journal:

"Oui, il faut que je sois peintre chrétien, que je célèbre tous ces miracles du Christianism, je sens qu'il faut."

"Yes, it's necessary that I am a Christian painter, that I celebrate all the miracles of Christianity, I feel it's necessary. "

- Connaissance des Arts: Maurice Denis, page 29.

Denis and Marthe Meunier met in 1890, the year Les Nabis formed.

Religion and love were to combine in the form of Marthe.

A deeply religious man, Denis believed Marthe was choisie par Dieu, chosen by God, to guide and inspire him in his artistry. They had many children.

After many years of illness, Marthe died in 1919, but she continued to inspire him through memory. Her husband painted a chapel in her honour in the Chapelle du Prieuré.

In 1919, Denis attempted to revive the teaching of religious art.

He co-founded the Ateliers d'Art Sacré, Studios of Sacred Art, which would paint many murals for churches.

He also created stained glass windows for churches including those at the Église Notre-Dame-des-Missions in Paris and the Église Saint-Louis in Vincennes.

His writings on religious art include Théories (2 vol; 1920, 1922) and Histoire de l'art religieux (1939).

Denis saw art as a means of celebrating the divine. He wrote in his journal:

"Je veux surtout n'avoir jamais a regretter dans ma vie d'artiste un manqué a ma dignitie de chrétien.

I want, above all else, to never have to regret in my life as an artist, any lack in my dignity as a Christian."

- Connaissance des Arts: Maurice Denis, P4.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Maurice Denis

Maurice Denis (1870 - 1943)
Pilgrims at Emmaus 1895
Oil on canvas
177 x 278 cm
Musée Départemental Maurice Denis, Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Maurice Denis (1870 - 1943)
The Annunciation under the Arch with Lilies 1913
Painting - oil on canvas
Height: 74.6 cm (29.37 in.), Width: 48.2 cm (18.98 in.)
Private Collection

Maurice Denis (1870 - 1943)
Nazareth, 1905,
Oil on canvas,
Collection of Modern Religious Art, Vatican Museums, Vatican City.

Maurice Denis (November 25, 1870 – November 1943) was a French painter and writer and a member of the Symbolist and Les Nabis movements. He was part of the Pont-Aven artist's colony centred around Gauguin and Serusier.

Denis’s work was influenced by Gauguin, but differed in its religious subject matter. His most famous painting was Homage to Cezanne that depicted Denis and some of Cezanne’s other followers including Redon, Serusier, Vuillard, and Bonnard.

His theories contributed to the foundations of cubism, fauvism, and abstract art.

The subjects of his paintings included landscapes and figure studies, particularly of mother and child. But his primary interest was in painting religious subjects.

See also the following website

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Émile Bernard

Émile Bernard (April 28, 1868 – April 16, 1941)
Virgin and Saints 1895.
Hand-colored lithograph. 615 x 410 mm

Émile Bernard (April 28, 1868 – April 16, 1941)
The Way of the Cross 1895.

Émile Bernard (April 28, 1868 – April 16, 1941)
The Passion: The Way of the Cross 1895

Émile Bernard (April 28, 1868 – April 16, 1941)
The Annunciation 1890
Oil on canvas
34.9 x 47 cm
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid.

Émile Bernard (April 28, 1868 – April 16, 1941)
Crucifixion 1894.
353 x 150 mm.
Museum of Fine Art, San Francisco

Émile Bernard (April 28, 1868 – April 16, 1941) is best known as a Post-Impressionist painter who maintained close relations to Van Gogh and Gauguin, and, at a later time, to Cézanne.

Symbolism and religious motifs appear in both Bernard`s work.

During the summer of 1889, Bernard was alone in Le Pouldu and began to paint many religious canvasses. He was upset that he had to do commercial work at the same time that he wanted to create these pieces.

Bernard wrote about his relationship with this the style of symbolism in many letters, articles, and statements. He said that it was of a Christian essence, divine language. Bernard believed that it “It is the invisible expressed by the visible,” and those previous attempts of religious symbolism failed.

He met painters like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and van Gogh, made friends with Paul Gauguin and caused a stir among fellow painters with his pictures.

After his first pointillist experiments Emile Bernard developed his own new pictorial idiom, which was later called Cloisonnism. In contrast to the delimitation of the impressionists, Emile Bernard clearly framed his subjects and colours with dark contours.

This approach to pictures evoked interest from both van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, in 1888 and 1889 Emile Bernard and Gauguin worked closely together, though not without conflict.

After van Gogh's death and the public's focus on Paul Gauguin as the founder of Symbolism, a confrontation arose between the former friends.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Netherlandish Painter (possibly Goswijn van der Weyden, active by 1491, died after 1538), ca. 1515–20
The Fifteen Mysteries and the Virgin of the Rosary
Oil on wood; (a) 9 7/8 x 21 in. (25.1 x 53.3 cm); (b–p) each 5 x 4 1/8 in. (12.7 x 10.5 cm)
Metropolitan Museum, New York

Depicted in this miniature altarpiece are the fifteen mysteries associated with the Virgin's life: five joyful, five sorrowful, and five glorious.

The scene at the base seems related to a legend of a miracle that saved a man from his captors: the Christ Child, held by the Virgin, unfurls a rosary of white and red roses made from blossoms that issue from the man's mouth each time he recites a Hail Mary.

The picture includes a topographical view of the park and Coudenberg Palace of the dukes of Brabant in Brussels and must have been commissioned for a member of the Habsburg court

"The Rosary beads

The traditional aid used for the recitation of the Rosary is the set of beads. At the most superficial level, the beads often become a simple counting mechanism to mark the succession of Hail Marys. Yet they can also take on a symbolism which can give added depth to contemplation.

Here the first thing to note is the way the beads converge upon the Crucifix, which both opens and closes the unfolding sequence of prayer. The life and prayer of believers is centred upon Christ. Everything begins from him, everything leads towards him, everything, through him, in the Holy Spirit, attains to the Father.

As a counting mechanism, marking the progress of the prayer, the beads evoke the unending path of contemplation and of Christian perfection.

Blessed Bartolo Longo saw them also as a “chain” which links us to God. A chain, yes, but a sweet chain; for sweet indeed is the bond to God who is also our Father. A “filial” chain which puts us in tune with Mary, the “handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38) and, most of all, with Christ himself, who, though he was in the form of God, made himself a “servant” out of love for us (Phil 2:7).

A fine way to expand the symbolism of the beads is to let them remind us of our many relationships, of the bond of communion and fraternity which unites us all in Christ."

Pope John Paul II: Rosarium Virginis Mariae (16th October 2002)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Volto Santo

"Volto Santo:

(Italian: ‘Sacred Face’). A large wooden Crucifix in Lucca Cathedral, on which Christ is shown fully robed. According to an early medieval tradition this Crucifix was an actual portrait of Christ made by Nicodemus, who had helped to bury him. It is said to have been in Lucca from the 8th century, but the present Volto Santo is perhaps a 13th-century copy of an 8th-century original. The commercial importance of Lucca in the Middle Ages helps to explain the appearance of a number of 12th-–15th-century copies of the Volto Santo throughout Europe."

From The Oxford Dictionary of Art

"To recite the Rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ....

The Gospel scene of Christ's transfiguration, in which the three Apostles Peter, James and John appear entranced by the beauty of the Redeemer, can be seen as an icon of Christian contemplation.

To look upon the face of Christ, to recognize its mystery amid the daily events and the sufferings of his human life, and then to grasp the divine splendour definitively revealed in the Risen Lord, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father: this is the task of every follower of Christ and therefore the task of each one of us.

In contemplating Christ's face we become open to receiving the mystery of Trinitarian life, experiencing ever anew the love of the Father and delighting in the joy of the Holy Spirit.

Saint Paul's words can then be applied to us: “Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18)."

From Pope John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae (16th October 2002)

Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni

Francesco Trevisani (1656-1746)
Portrait of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni [1700]
Oil on canvas 134.3 cm x 98.5 cm
Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, Durham

The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, Durham has a collection of paintings which presents a comprehensive survey of European art from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries

It possesses one of the largest collections of Spanish paintings in Britain. The collection of French paintings is also the largest in the country.

One of its fine portraits is that of Pietro Ottoboni, who became a cardinal in 1689 (above).

He was a mecenas of the arts in early 18th century Rome, gathering about him the most prominent musicians (including the young Handel, Arcàngelo Corelli, Antonio Vivaldi and Antonio Caldara), writers and artists (Sebastiano Conca, Sebastiano Ricci and Francesco Trevisani) of his day.

He was the grandnephew of Pope Alexander VIII. Ottoboni was the last person to hold the curial office of Cardinal Nephew, which was abolished by Alexander VIII's successor, Pope Innocent XII, in 1692.

He held the office of vice-chancellor of the Holy Roman Church from November 14, 1689 until February 29, 1740.

He entered the conclave of 1740 but became ill and left the conclave on February 25, 1740. He died of fever four days later.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Exhibition of the Inquisition

Joseph Nicolas Robert-Fleury (1797 - 1890),
Galileo before the Holy Office 1847,
Oil on Canvas
Musée du Louvre , Paris

Secret documents from Holy Inquisition revealed is the title of an article in The Times.

Secret documents from the archives of the Holy Inquisition went on public show for the first time in Rome

Sixty documents are on display at the Vittoriano Museum on Piazza Venezia in the centre of Rome included a collection of maps of Jewish settlements across Italy, "the oldest evidence we have of the ghettos''.

There are also decrees from the Inquisition's Index of Forbidden Books, including a ban on the Renaissance poet and writer Ludovico Ariosto, with detailed comments by the censor on why Arisoto's work was unacceptable.

Vatican officials said the exhibition would run for only a month because of the "fragile nature" of the documents.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Harder rules to become a saint

Paul Delaroche [French, 1797-1856]
Young Christian Martyr
Oil on canvas, 171 x 148 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

What does it take to be a saint ?

It is to be harder to become a saint. Or at least declared to be one.

Pope Benedict XVI has instructed Vatican and diocesan officials to use stricter criteria when assessing candidates for sainthood and beatification.

Richard Owen of The Times reports that a document made public in the Vatican calls on bishops to show ''greater sobriety and rigour'' when accepting requests to begin the first phase of proceedings.

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, head of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said "certain aspects" of investigating miracles required for canonisation and beatification had proved "problematic'' over the past two decades.

He said that during the pontificate of John Paul II, prospective saints from countries the Pope was about to visit or which lacked a local saint had sometimes been "fast-tracked".

The new instructions encourage "meticulous" medical investigation of miraculous cures, and urge those investigating the life of a prospective saint to act objectively and not gloss over or ignore personal faults or defects or other "contrary findings".

The rules lay down that the holiness of candidates for sainthood must be shown to have been "stable, continuous and widespread among people of faith and present in a significant part of the people of God".

When questioning witnesses, Vatican investigators must not ask "leading questions" or "suggest an answer".

Those testifying to the holiness of a candidate should be eyewitnesses who had direct knowledge of the person in question and can provide "specific examples", not second-hand impressions.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (again)

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill has just completed its passage through the House of Lords and will be debated in the House of Commons in the next few weeks.

There are amendments to the Bill which would limit embryo research, recognise the need for children to have knowledge of their biological father, and which would reduce rather than increase the numbers of abortions. The Bill even allows the creation of animal and human hybrid embryos for research.

However the Labour Government will not allow its MPs in the House of Commons a free vote on matters relating to the Bill other than in relation to abortion.

If you are a British citizen, you can sign a petition on-line requesting that the Government allow all its members a free vote on all matters in the Bill which have caused great concern.

Here, you can sign the petition.

Re-discovering Batoni

Pompeo Batoni (Lucca 1708 - Rome 1787)
Pius VI 1775
Oil on Canvas
cm. 98x135
Palazzo Braschi, Museum of Rome

Artists achieve the heights of popularity. Then often they are forgotten quickly and plunge the depths of oblivion. Maybe many years later, they are "re-discovered".

Pompeo Batoni (Lucca 1708 - Rome 1787) is one such artist.

The National Gallery in London has an exhibition of some of his works until May 2008.

He was an Italian painter whose style incorporated elements of the French Rococo, Bolognese classicism, and nascent Neoclassicism.

He specialized in portraits, for which he achieved international fame. He countedseveral popes among his patrons as well as Frederick the Great and Catherine of Russia. Members of the British nobility on the "Grand Tour" made a pont of having their portrait by him.

He was also a well established painter of religious and mythological pictures.

Amongst the important personages of his time who wished to be portrayed by him was Pius VI (pontiff from 1775 to 1799), who contacted Batoni immediately after his papal election. The above painting in the Museum of Rome is his "offiial portrait".

The pontiff is shown seated on his throne. In his left hand he holds a sheet of paper on which is written "To the Holiness of Our Lord Pope Pius VI for P. Batoni Pinxit 1775"

Throughout the 19th and for most of the 20th centuries few artists were more completely forgotten - or, if remembered, more thoroughly despised.

When the National Gallery of Wales bought one of his most impressive group portraits in 1947, it paid £200 - and that was mostly for the frame.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

La Mi-Carême

Fritz Zuber-Buhler (1822-1896)
La Mi-Carême [The Third Thursday in Lent]
Oil on canvas
49 x 67 1/2 inches (124.5 x 171.5 cm)
Private collection

La Mi-Carême was an ancient festival in Francophone countries: still celebrated in certain villages in France and in some Francophone areas of Canada. The celebration closely resembled that of Mardi Gras in Louisiana.

It falls half-way in the Lenten season: the Thursday of the third entire week of Lent.


Peter Howson (b.1958)
Legion 2005
Oil on canvas
183 x 235 cm / 72 x 92½ in

Monday, February 18, 2008

Newman and Westmacott

"Go: and sin no more" 1849
Richard Westmacott, the Younger, (III)R.A. 1799 - 1872
Marble relief 997 X 689 mm
Royal Academy of Arts, London

Richard Westmacott (the younger) (1799 - 19 April 1872) - also sometimes described as Richard Westmacott III (to distinguish him from his father and grandfather - both sculptors bearing the same name) - was a prominent English sculptor of the early- and mid-19th century.

He succeeded his father to serve as the RA's professor of sculpture (1857-1868). However he is eclipsed by his father Sir Richard Westmacott (1775-1856) who was a student of Canova and whose output was prodigious.

He was at Ealing School with Newman and remained a close friend of Newman`s at least until his conversion.

Newman commissioned Westmacott to execute a memorial for Mrs Jemina Newman at Littlemore when she died in 1836. The memorial was executed about 1837.

He also executed a bust of Newman see below.

China and the Vatican

Under the over-optimistic title China repents and seeks to woo Pope The Sunday Times reports on further confidential discussions between The Vatican and China regarding the nomalisation of relations.

"TEMPTED by the prize of a historic visit to China by Pope Benedict XVI, the nation’s leaders have authorised a renewed effort in confidential discussions with the Vatican to heal their rift and inaugurate diplomatic ties.

The talks have intensified over recent months, leading some diplomatic observers in Beijing to believe the Chinese may be seeking to announce a deal before the Olympic Games in August.

Liu Bainian, the de facto head of Beijing’s official Patriotic Church, has said on several occasions that he would like to welcome the Pope to China once an agreement has been reached.

While the Vatican says it has received no formal invitation, observers say Liu’s words would have been uttered only with approval from the highest levels.

The announcement of mutual recognition and a papal visit would be a propaganda coup for China. It would counter the negative publicity that has stunned Beijing recently, culminating in the decision by Steven Spiel-berg, the film director, to end his involvement with the Olympics over China’s policies in Sudan.

“The contacts are going ahead and we are somewhat optimistic,” a senior Vatican official said.

Both sides have maintained the utmost discretion, but sources close to the discussions, held in government buildings in Beijing, said they had reached a detailed and businesslike stage.

The senior Vatican official said any idea of a papal visit before the Games start on August 8 was “very unrealistic.” However, diplomats say the mere announcement of an agreement and a future visit would be enough to hand a public relations gift to China’s leaders.

The scene for a potential reconciliation between the Roman Catholic Church and the world’s largest officially atheist state has been set by a series of carefully managed moves.

There are at least 10m Catholics in China but their congregations are divided between the official Patriotic Association and an underground church whose members have endured martyrdom and imprisonment since the communist revolution in 1949.

Last June the Pope addressed a letter to Chinese Catholics in which he praised the devotion of the clandestine church but also urged reconciliation and unity among Christians.

The letter reiterated the need for obedience to the Vatican, which some officials in Beijing interpreted favourably as a sign that the Pope wanted to bring the underground clergy into line for a change in policy.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

John Paul II and Stabat Mater

Stabat Mater
June 2007
The Chapel of the University Clinic King Umberto I
Viale Regina Elena, 324

The Committee which instructed the work for the Chapel for the University Clinic Umberto I in Rome wanted a work to represent the Servant of God Pope John Paul II because of his many years of illness and the way in which he bore his afflictions.

Here we see the late Pope taking the place of the Apostle John in the scene of the Stabat Mater.

For more about the Centro Aletti, see here for the website. (Some of the pages are in English).

Transfiguration 2

Centro Aletti
The Transfiguration
December 2007
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes
Basilica of the Rosary

Elijah and Moses are the two larger figures on the right standing behind the three Apostles.

Moses represents the Law and Elijah the Prophets of the Old Testament. Without the Old Testament, there would not be the New Testament.

Christ represents the true Light

According to the Fathers, the eyes of the Apostles opened and saw the Light which never dims on the face of Christ. Later those eyes would see the Saviour tortured and put to death.


Marko Ivan Rupnik S.J.(b. 1954) and the Atelier del Centro Aletti, Rome
The Transfiguration on Mount Tabor (December 2002)
The Church of Saints James and John

Christ of the Transfiguration (detail) from The Transfiguration on Mount Tabor (December 2002)
The Church of Saints James and John

Left side: the Apostles Peter and John (detail) from The Transfiguration on Mount Tabor (December 2002)
The Church of Saints James and John

Right side: the Apostle John (detail) from The Transfiguration on Mount Tabor (December 2002)
The Church of Saints James and John

"Awestruck at the sight of the transfigured Lord who was speaking with Moses and Elijah, Peter, James and John were suddenly overshadowed by a cloud, out of which came a voice which proclaimed: "This is my beloved Son on whom my favour rests; listen to him" (Mk 9: 7).

When one has the grace to live a strong experience of God, it is as if one is living an experience similar to that of the disciples during the Transfiguration: a momentary foretaste of what will constitute the happiness of Paradise.

These are usually brief experiences that are sometimes granted by God, especially prior to difficult trials.

No one, however, is permitted to live "on Tabor" while on earth.

Indeed, human existence is a journey of faith and as such, moves ahead more in shadows than in full light, and is no stranger to moments of obscurity and also of complete darkness.

While we are on this earth, our relationship with God takes place more by listening than by seeing; and the same contemplation comes about, so to speak, with closed eyes, thanks to the interior light that is kindled in us by the Word of God. "

(Pope Benedict XVI: ANGELUS
Second Sunday of Lent, 12 March 2006)

"All that was mysteriously foreshadowed in the Transfiguration on Tabor becomes a reality in the Resurrection. At that time the Saviour revealed to Peter, James and John the miracle of glory and light sealed by the voice of the Father: "This is my beloved Son!" (Mk 9: 7).

On the feast of Easter these words appear to us in the fullness of their truth. The Father's beloved Son, Christ who was crucified and died, is raised for our sake.

In his brightness we believers see the light and, "raised by the Spirit", as the liturgy of the Eastern Church says, "we praise the consubstantial Trinity for ever and ever" (Great Vespers of the Transfiguration of Christ).

Our hearts filled with the joy of Easter, today we spiritually climb the holy mountain that dominates the plain of Galilee to contemplate the event that took place on its summit, in anticipation of the Easter events.

2. Christ is the centre of the Transfiguration. Two witnesses of the Old Covenant appear with him: Moses, mediator of the law, and Elijah, a prophet of the living God.

The divinity of Christ, proclaimed by the Father's voice, is also revealed by the symbols which Mark describes with picturesque touches. Indeed, there is light and whiteness, which represent eternity and transcendence: "His garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them" (Mk 9: 3).

Then there is the cloud, a sign of God's presence during Israel's Exodus and over the tent of the Covenant (cf. Ex 13: 21-22; 14: 19, 24; 40: 34, 38).

At Matins for the Transfiguration the Eastern liturgy again sings: "Immutable brightness of the Father's light, O Word, in your shining light on Tabor we have seen today the light that is the Father and the light that is the Spirit, a light that illumines all creation".

3. This liturgical text emphasizes the Trinitarian dimension of Christ's Transfiguration on the mountain.

In fact, the Father's presence with his revealing voice is explicit.

Christian tradition catches an implicit glimpse of the Holy Spirit's presence based on the parallel event of the Baptism in the Jordan, when the Spirit descended upon Christ like a dove (cf. Mk 1: 10).

Indeed, the Father's command: "Listen to him" (Mk 9: 7) presupposes that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit so that his words would be "spirit and life" (Jn 6: 63; cf. 3: 34-35).

It is possible, then, to climb the mountain in order to pause, to contemplate and to be immersed in the mystery of God's light.

Tabor represents all the mountains that lead us to God, according to an image dear to mystics.

Another text of the Eastern Church invites us to make this ascent to the summit and the light: "Come, peoples, follow me! Let us climb the holy and heavenly mountain; let us spiritually pause in the city of the living God and contemplate in spirit the divinity of the Father and the Holy Spirit which is resplendent in the Only-begotten Son" (troparion at the conclusion of the Canon of St John Damascene).

4. In the Transfiguration we not only contemplate the mystery of God, passing from light to light (cf. Ps 36: 10), but we are also invited to listen to the divine word that is addressed to us.

Above the word of the Law in Moses and of the prophecy in Elijah, the voice of the Father can be heard referring to the voice of the Son, as I have just mentioned. In presenting his "beloved Son", the Father adds the invitation to listen to him (cf. Mk 9: 7).

In commenting on the Transfiguration scene, the Second Letter of Peter emphasizes the divine voice. Jesus Christ "received honour and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the majestic glory: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'; we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" (2 Pt 1: 17-19).

5. Seeing and hearing, contemplating and obeying are therefore the ways that lead us to the holy mountain on which the Trinity is revealed in the glory of the Son.

"The Transfiguration gives us a forestaste of Christ's glorious coming, when he "will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body' (Phil 3: 21).

But it also recalls that "it is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God' (Acts 14: 22)" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 556).

The liturgy of the Transfiguration, as the spirituality of the Eastern Church suggests, presents a human "triad" in the three Apostles Peter, James and John, who contemplate the divine Trinity.

Like the three young men in the fiery furnace of the Book of Daniel (3: 51: 90), the liturgy "blesses God, the Father and Creator, praises the Word who comes down to help them and changes the fire into dew, and exalts the Holy Spirit who gives life to all for ever" (Matins of the Feast of the Transfiguration). "

Wednesday 26 April 2000

Monet painting exposed as a fake

The Times reports on a painting that the Wallraf-Richartz Museum and Foundation Corboud in Cologne has displayed as a Monet original is a fake

Researchers used X-rays, infrared technology and paint tests to examine the work, along with 70 others.

It was noted that the painter's name was retraced so that it would be darker. “This does not happen with an original. The artist just throws his signature on to the canvas. Also, the painting was made over a drawing that was clearly not in Monet's style,” a spokesman said.

He added that a colourless substance had been added to the canvas, to make it appear older. The original was produced in 1894.

The painting will remain on display, although the museum said that it would be clearly marked as a fake.

Pope Benedict XVI and St Bonaventure

Bagnoregio: Birthplace of St Bonaventure, and where his last remaining relics lie

Zenit has an article on the Doctoral Thesis of Pope Benedict XVI written in 1957.

Its subject was: St. Bonaventure's theology of history

Father Pietro Messa, director of the Antonian Pontifical University `s faculty of medieval and Franciscan studies states that to understand the papacy of Benedict XVI, one should become familiar with his formation as a theologian

Regarding the role of Father Ratzinger's thesis in Benedict XVI's pontificate, Father Messa said, "There are many elements in this study that could have a correspondence in the magisterium of the Pontiff," such as the centrality of Christ, supported by St. Bonaventure and fully present in the papal magisterium.

The priest referred further to words from well known Dominican theologian Father Yves Congar.

"Beginning from this study and the issue of the relationship between the local Churches and the universal Church, which played such a big role in postconciliar ecclesial debate, and of which one of the protagonists was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Father Congar wrote: 'Joseph Ratzinger, who has noted, we believe justly, some differences between Bonaventure and Thomas, gives a lot of importance to the role that the pope plays in Bonaventurian mysticism due to the Franciscan influence.'"

Taking that into account, Father Messa affirmed: "The question of if and in what way this Franciscan aspect characterizes his conception and exercise of the papacy is more than legitimate.

"Reading some of his writings and speeches, the hypothesis of a 'yes' answer is reinforced. Thus it is not surprising, rather it is fully understandable, that according to Benedict XVI, in order to understand the Petrine ministry, one has to return to St. Francis."

Cardinal Ratzinger himself discussed his thesis in a Nov. 13, 2000, address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, saying his study of the 13th century theologian uncovered untold aspects about the relationship of the saint "with a new idea of history."

In that discourse, Cardinal Ratzinger explained that in the 12th century, Joachim of Flora offered a hypothesis of history "as a progression from the period of the Father -- a difficult time for human beings under the law -- to a second period, that of the Son -- with a greater freedom, more frankness, more brotherhood -- to a third, the definitive period of history, the time of the Holy Spirit."

"According to Joachim," added Cardinal Ratzinger, "this should be a time of universal reconciliation, of reconciliation between the East and the West, between Christians and Jews, a time without laws -- in the Pauline sense -- a time of true brotherhood in the world.

The interesting idea I discovered was that a significant current of the Franciscans were convinced that St. Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan Order marked the beginning of this third period of history, and it was their aspiration to make it a reality. Bonaventure maintained a critical dialogue with this current."

Father Ratzinger's work, emphasized Father Messa, "has been resumed by numerous studies regarding the theology of St. Bonaventure, as the bibliographical references included at the end of this publication indicate, and this certainly shows its importance in Bonaventurian studies."

"Thanks also to this text," he added, "the research has been able to advance and some conclusions have been outdated, both because of the progress in the research and because currently we can benefit from many more critical works than those used by Ratzinger in 1957."

For more about St Bonaventure, see:

The St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio website

part of The Franciscan Archive which has sections on Biographies, Articles on his life and works, his Writings and on Works of Art relating to the Saint.

See also:

Noone, Tim and R. E. Houser, "Saint Bonaventure", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2005 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Jewel off Leicester Square

Jean Cocteau (5 July 1889 – 11 October 1963)
The Angel of the Annunciation: Detail from The Annunciation 1959
The Church of Notre Dame de France, off Leicester Square, London

Off Leicester Square in London, next door to the Prince Charles Cinema and close to China Town is a little jewel of a Church. Unfortunately the throngs of tourists in the area are probably blissfully unaware of its existence. Which is a pity.

It is a beautiful church. More importantly, the services are a delight. Lively, friendly, welcoming and enthusiastic are adjectives which spring to mind.

Some of the masses are in French. Don`t let that put you off. Even someone like me with only schoolboy French can get by.

Even if you cannot make a service, the church is worth a visit. Many architects and sculptors as well as artists like Boris Anrep , Jean Cocteau, Robert de Chaunac and Charlotte Cochrane have contributed to the visual enhancement of the church.

Of the murals by Jean Cocteau, (the Annunciation and the Crucifixion, two scenes taken from the gospels and also the Assumption ) the Church`s website states:

"It was Monsieur René Varin, the French cultural advisor in London who conceived the idea of asking Cocteau to take part in the decoration work of the new church of Notre Dame de France which was then being rebuilt. Indeed the first church had been very badly bombed during World War II.

Cocteau spent slightly more than a week on this work between the 3rd and the 11th November 1959. His films were enjoying a huge success in London at that time and the artist had to be protected from the invasion of reporters by a high wooden scaffolding all around the chapel !

According to eye witness, he arrived each morning at about ten and always began by lighting a candle before the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. It was quite surprising to hear him talk to his characters while he worked on the drawings, colours and nuances. He engaged in a real dialogue with the wall of the chapel. His joy was manifest when he was painting the virgin of the Annunciation. He told her for instance :

O you, most beautiful of women, loveliest of God’s creatures, you were the best loved. So I want you to be my best piece of work too… I am drawing you with light strokes… You are the yet unfinished work of Grace”…

Once he had finished his task, Jean Cocteau was sad to leave : “ I am sorry to go, as if the wall of the chapel had drawn me into another world…

He went on to comment :

“I shall never forget that wide open heart of Notre Dame de France, and the place you allowed me to take within it." "

The Church is at 5 Leicester Place • London WC2H 7BX; Phone: 0207 437 9363 • Fax: 0207 440 2645

Thinking Faith

Thinking Faith is a new site launched on 18th January 2008 by the Company of Jesus. Very professional with articles on religious themes of a very high quality.

Worth more than just a visit.

Two articles in particular caught my attention.

Dawkins: what he, and we, need to learn by Gerard J Hughes SJ

Oxford philosopher, Gerard J Hughes SJ, takes a critical look at the views of the 'arch-enemy of religion', Richard Dawkins, but also notes how the attitudes and behaviour of some Christians play into his hands.

On Christian Hope: The New Encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI by James Corkery SJ

James Corkery SJ, of Dublin's Milltown Institute analyses the message of the Pope's latest encyclical, Spe Salvi.

Lenten Roses

Anne Redpath 1895-1965
Lenten Roses 1960
Watercolour on board
584 x 787 mm
Tate Gallery, London

Lenten roses flower in early spring, around the period of Lent.

Despite their name, they are not roses but hellebores.

Hellebores are widely grown in gardens for decorative purposes, as well as for their purported medicinal abilities.

Anne Redpath (1895–1965) was a Scottish artist whose vivid domestic still-lifes are among her best-known works.

In the 1950s and early 1960s she also travelled in Europe, painting in Spain, the Canary Islands, Corsica, Brittany, Venice and elsewhere.

A Scottish Protestant, she discovered the richness of Catholic imagery and this is explored in her later work.

Some later works reflect religious influences, especially paintings of altars in The Chapel of St Jean - Treboul (1954) and Venetian Altar.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Laborare est orare

John Rogers Herbert (1810-1890)
Laborare est Orare (1862)
Oil on canvas
support: 972 x 1759 mm
Tate Gallery, London

Cistercian monks are shown working in a stone-walled Leicestershire field, and harvesting crops.

The title (part of one of the famous sayings of St Benedict) suggests the strict rule of life at Mount Saint Bernard Abbey. The Abbey in Coalville, Leicestershire is shown in the distance, the first male only abbey to have been built in England since the Reformation. It was founded in 1835 as a continuation of the dissolved Garendon Abbey, which provided a spiritual sanctuary between 1133-1538.

Like Augustus Pugin, the architect of the abbey, Herbert was a Roman Catholic. It was through Pugin`s influence that Herbert converted to Roman Catholicism sometime around 1840. From then on he painted religious subjects.

Herbert shows himself drawing piously in the foreground alongside the Trappist monks.

The artist described his work as:

"And some fell upon the rock: and as soon as it was sprung up it withered away because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns growing up with it choked. And some fell upon good ground: and sprung up and yielded fruit a hundred fold. Gospel of St. Luke.

The monks of St. Bernard's Abbey, Leicester, gathering the harvest of 1861.

The boys in the adjoining field are from the Reformatory under the care of these Religious."

The scene pictured above is one of a rural Arcadia.

Unfortunately, the Reformatory School at the Abbey was not a great success. The story is described in Whitwick Reformatory at Whitwick online

“Part of the Abbey was transformed into the Whitwick Reformatory, more properly known as Mount St Bernard Reformatory or the St Mary Agricultural Colony. It was opened in 1856 for `delinquent' Catholic boys and quickly became the largest in the country with up to 250 boys being held there. There were many riots and the boys often intruded on the monks` peaceful way of life. With such large numbers and lack of funds, and as many of the boys were already hardened criminals from the back streets of Liverpool, several riots and mutinies took place.

In May 1863, eight constables from Loughborough stayed on the site for two weeks quelling a riot. A constable was seriously injured.

A year later, another riot took place and police from Loughborough, Shepshed and Leicester were drafted in to restore order. The Chief Constable of Leicestershire personally conducted the operation and the incident was the subject of a debate in the House of Commons.

In 1881 after sixty boys escaped, a decision was made to close the reformatory. It opened again briefly in 1884 when boys from the Liverpool reformatory destroyed the ship on which they lived and were sent to Whitwick while alternative accommodation in Liverpool was organised.”

The abbey continued after 1884.

About a hundred years after the artist painted the painting, some seed arrived at the Abbey and was seen to fall “upon good ground: and sprung up and yielded fruit a hundred fold.” Or more than a hundred-fold.

Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi (1903 – 1964) lived at the Abbey from 1950 until his death in 1964. He was buried at Mount St Bernard on 22 January.

Present for the funeral liturgy were several Nigerian priests living in London, including his spiritual son, Fr Francis Arinze, the future Archbishop of Onitsha, Cardinal and President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.

His body was exhumed in 1988 and reburied in the priests' cemetery near the cathedral of Onitsha, where he had been ordained a priest 51 years earlier.

The abbey`s website is here.

Monday, February 04, 2008

A Rosary Bead

Rosary bead, carved in boxwood
The Netherlands, around AD 1500-30
The British Museum, London

The Crucifixion

Open full view

The Annunciation

Of this precious exhibit in The British Museum, London, C.H. Read, in The Waddesdon Bequest: Catalog (1902) wrote:

"A rosary bead (sometimes referred to as a 'prayer nut' or 'paternoster bead') is characteristic of the minutely detailed, small-scale boxwood carvings used for private devotion.

These types of delicate and complex objects were owned by members of the nobility or wealthy merchant classes in northern Europe, and were highly prized as masterpieces of carving and invention.

A complete rosary, bearing the arms of England and probably dating to the first third of the sixteenth century, survives in the collections of the Dukes of Devonshire.

This spherical bead is carved on the outside with Gothic architectural detail, while the interiors are carved variously with scenes from the Old Testament and the New Testament.

The upper half is fitted with two doors, carved on both the inner and outer panels, which open to reveal the Crucifixion, crowded with miniscule figures in high relief.

The lower half is fitted with one door, carved on both sides and opening to reveal a complex scene showing the Bearing of the Cross.

The achievement of these perspectives in both low relief and in high relief attests to the great skill of the craftsman, who probably had to work using a magnifying glass."

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist

PUVIS de CHAVANNES, Pierre-Cécile [1824 - 1898]
The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist [about 1869]
Oil on canvas 240 x 316.2 cm
The National Gallery, London

Puvis de Chavannes was widely admired in his day for the grandeur and decorative subtlety of his large-scale, multi-figure compositions of allegorical subjects. But it was not always so.

In 1852 and in the two following years Puvis's pictures were rejected by the Salon. The public laughed at his work as loudly as at that of Courbet but the young painter was none the less warmly defended by Théophile Gautier and Théodore de Banville. For nine years he was excluded from the Salons.

Salome's features are thought to be based on those of the Princess Cantacuzène, who married Puvis de Chavannes in 1897.

The figure of Herod standing on the right may be based on the novelist Anatole France.

The cross which Saint John the Baptist holds as the executioner prepares to strike is the focus of the composition.

The composition emphasises the Baptist's absorption in the spiritual world at the supreme moment of death. Dressed only in the 'raiment of camel hair' (Matthew 3: 4) that he wore in the wilderness of Judaea he is oblivious to executioner and spectators alike, concentrating upon the visionary cross that rises reed-like from his hand.

His spiritual and inner peace balance the violence of the executioner and the turbulent emotions of the watching figures.

Behind him, a bare fig tree recalls the Garden of Eden and Original Sin, one fallen leaf symbolising Salome's desire.

Probably unfinished, this painting remained with the painter until the time of his death. It remained unexhibited until after the painter had died.

It is one of the largest compositions in the possession of the National Gallery in London.

The artist returned to this theme constantly during his career.

Of Puvis de Chavannes, Louis Gilet wrote in the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1911:

"He upheld the rights of the ideal in the modern world, making it known and detaching it from dreams, art, and poetry. He always had an unshakable faith in the holiness of the spiritual side of humanity and in the supreme importance of continuous search, aspiration, and unrest which form the moral capital of our race. As an artist he did much to maintain religion among men."

Art of Light

Esau gives up his birthright in exchange for a meal of pottage.

Art of Light: German Renaissance Stained Glass is one of the National Gallery's latest exhibitions [in London] running to 17 February 2008.

The climax of the exhibition is a full-sized recreation of a magnificent stained glass window from the Abbey of Mariawald.

The window shows beautiful landscapes and biblical scenes including a representation of Genesis 25:29-34 wherein Esau, desperately hungry, gives up his birthright in exchange for a meal of pottage.

The window is considered by many to represent the finest work of glass painters of the early 16th century

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Bacon Priest

Father Werenfried van Straaten (1913-2003) founded the charity Aid to the Church in Need in 1947.

Zenit reports on the dedication of a lecture hall named after him at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

Father Van Straaten, a Dutch Norbertine priest and religious, was described by his contemporaries as a "giant of charity" and as "the greatest beggar in the Church's history."

The charity he founded supports pastoral projects in some 140 countries.

In 1947, he started his appeal to aid the hungry and destitute in post-war Germany. So much bacon was collected that Father Werenfried was given his nickname of "The Bacon Priest".

A short biography is given here.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Calvary and Death

LEGROS Alphonse 1837-1911
Le Calvaire c.1874
Oil on canvas
91.5,x. 72.5 cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

LEGROS Alphonse 1837-1911
Le Christ mort 1888
Oil on canvas
2.5, .x 1.51 m
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Clerical Subjects

Alphonse Legros 1837-1911
Rehearsing the Service circa 1870
Oil on canvas
support: 914 x 1168 mm
Tate Gallery, London

Alphonse Legros 1837-1911
Interior of a Church with Kneeling Figures c.1865
oil on canvas; 84 x 71 cm
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Alphonse Legros (May 8, 1837 - December 8, 1911), painter and etcher, was born in Dijon.

In 1859 Legros's Angelus was exhibited, the first of those quiet church interiors, with kneeling figures of patient women, by which he is best known as a painter.

Ex Voto (1861), a work of great power and insight, now in the museum at Dijon, was received by his friends with enthusiasm, but it only obtained a mention at the Salon.

He moved to London in 1863, and from then exhibited both at the Royal Academy and the Paris Salon. At first he had followed the example of Courbet in style, but in the later 1860s came to admire Ingres and the Italian old masters, and emphasised outline and local colour in his paintings. He was also interested in Spanish painters in this period. He painted a series of subjects in church, so recording an attitude to modern piety.

He was naturalised as an Englishman in 1881, and remained at University College, London where he was Slade Professor of Drawing.

He died in Watford, Hertfordshire