Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Tale of Two Tombs

Gian Lorenzo Bernini ((b. 1598, d. 1680)
Bust of Monsignor Pedro de Foix Montoya
c. 1621
Marble, life-size
Santa Maria di Monserrato, Rome

According to both of Bernini's biographers, when a group of cardinals went to see the bust, one wittily proclaimed that the bust was "Montoya petrified."

When Montoya himself arrived, Cardinal Maffeo Barberini (later Pope Urban VIII) went to greet him, "and, touching him, said, 'This is the portrait of Monsignor Montoya,' and turning toward the statue, 'and this is Monsignor Montoya'"

Pedro de Foix Montoya (1556-1630) was a Spanish cleric and lawyer who worked in the Curia. This was not the first work that he had commissioned from a young Bernini.

In 1619 he commissioned Bernini to execute two companion busts Damned Soul and Blessed Soul. Both are in white marble and still in the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican. Both are an elaboration of the "good death" propounded in Catholic doctrine especially in the counter-Reformation.

The bust became the central feature of a cenotaph for the prelate who died in 1630. The cenotaph was completed in 1632. The bust and the niche in the cenotaph are perfect complements

Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli (Saint Mary of Montserrat of the Spaniards) is the Spanish National church in Rome. The present church was formed in 1803-1807, by the fusion of the 15th century church of San Giacomo degli Spagnoli in Piazza Navona, and that of Santa Maria in Monferrato, which from medieval times had served and housed mainly indigent Spanish pilgrims to Rome. The late Monsignor was a benefactor of the Spanish church. That is why his tomb is there.

The bust is of course the work of a genius.

Montoya lives. His presence is overwhelming. Austere and perhaps aloof but his piercing eyes focus our attention. The figure leans forward slightly. It is as if he has been caught "mid-motion". The hair has been modelled in fine parallel waves, shadow creates colour and there is an effect of lightness. Notice the folds in the clothing, slighlty suggesting motion as well as the quality of the material being depicted. Note also the momentary inntensity of expression achieved by slight inclination of the head accompanied by a downward glance from half closed eyes.

Funeral monuments are a rather morbid subject of study. They are studied in art history. Besides being of significance in the history of art, they do shed light on the contemporary attitudes to death and also, by implication, life itself.

This is a completely different conception of a funerary monument from that of Dean John Donne in St Paul`s see below: Last Days and Last Words

Behind both lie completely different visions of Death, and by implication, life itself. The monsignor`s tomb seems to cry out "Remember me!" John Donne`s monument is a sermon and lesson on Death and the life which comes thereafter.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Andrea Mantegna

Andrea Mantegna. A welcome distraction from all the bad news coming from every direction.

Andrea Mantegna (Isola di Carturo, circa 1431 - Mantua, 1506)
Virgin and Child with Saints Jerome and Louis of Toulouse circa 1455
Wood H. 69.4 cm W. 44.5 cm
Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris

Andrea Mantegna (Isola di Carturo, circa 1431 - Mantua, 1506)
Death of the Virgin 1460 - circa 1464
Wood H. 54 cm W. 42 cm
Prado Museum, Madrid

Andrea Mantegna (Isola di Carturo, circa 1431 - Mantua, 1506)
The Man of Sorrows with a Seraph and a Cherub circa 1485-1490
Wood H. 78 cm W. 48 cm
Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Andrea Mantegna (Isola di Carturo, circa 1431 - Mantua, 1506)
The Infant Jesus - 1450 -
Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana,Venice

Last Days and Last Words

Nicholas Stone the Elder (1586-1647)
Monument to the Poet John Donne (1631)
St Paul`s Cathedral, London

The Dean of St Paul`s, London and poet, Dr John Donne (1572-1631), poet had a presentiment of his death. He started making preparations.

He announced the last sermon at St Paul`s. He preached his last sermon - Death's Duel - on the 1st Friday of Lent 1631 in the presence of King Charles I He drew up his own Will.

The closing words of the peroration were:

"Towards noon Pilate gave judgment, and they made such haste to execution as that by noon he was upon the cross. There now hangs that sacred body upon the cross, rebaptized in his own tears, and sweat, and embalmed in his own blood alive. There are those bowels of compassion which are so conspicuous, so manifested, as that you may see them through his wounds. There those glorious eyes grew faint in their sight, so as the sun, ashamed to survive them, departed with his light too.

And then that Son of God, who was never from us, and yet had now come a new way unto us in assuming our nature, delivers that soul (which was never out of his Father's hands) by a new way, a voluntary emission of it into his Father's hands; for though to this God our Lord belonged these issues of death, so that considered in his own contract, he must necessarily die, yet at no breach or battery which they had made upon his sacred body issued his soul; but emisit, he gave up the ghost; and as God breathed a soul into the first Adam, so this second Adam breathed his soul into God, into the hands of God.

There we leave you in that blessed dependency, to hang upon him that hangs upon the cross, there bathe in his tears, there suck at his wounds, and lie down in peace in his grave, till he vouchsafe you a resurrection, and an ascension into that kingdom which He hath prepared for you with the inestimable price of his incorruptible blood. Amen."

He went home and prepared for death.

In his biography, Izaak Walton, one of his parishoners wrote and described some more of his preparations:

"Dr. Donne sent for a Carver to make for him in wood the figure of an Vrn, giving him directions for the compass and height of it.; and to bring with it a board of the just height of his body.

These being got: then without delay a choice Painter was got to be in a readiness to draw his Picture, which was taken as followeth. Several Charcole fires being first made in his Large Study, he brought with him into that place his winding-sheet in his hand, and, having put off all of his cloths, had this sheet put on him, and so tyed with knots at his head and feet, and his hands so placed as dead bodies are usually fitted to be shrowded and put into their Coffin, or grave.

Upon this Vrn he thus stood with his eyes shut, and with so much of the sheet turned aside as might shew his lean, pale, and death-like face, which was purposely turned toward the East from whence he expected the second coming of his and our Saviour Jesus.

In this posture he was drawn at his just height; and when the Picture was fully finished, he caused it to be set by his bed-side, where it continued, and became his hourly object till his death: and, was given to his dearest friend and Executor Doctor Henry King then chief Residentiary of St. Paul's, who caused him to be thus carved in one entire piece of white Marble, as it now stands in that Church."

The painting no longer survives although engravings of it do.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

St Jerome

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) 1541 - 1614
Saint Jerome, c. 1610/1614
Oil on canvas
Overall: 168 x 110.5 cm (66 1/8 x 43 1/2 in.) framed: 194.3 x 137.2 x 6.4 cm (76 1/2 x 54 x 2 1/2 in.)
The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

St Jerome (ca. 347 – September 30, 420) whose real name in Latin was Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, also known as Hieronymus Stridonensis) amongst other things is known for translating the Vulgate, a widely popular Latin edition of the Bible

He is a Doctor of the Church, and his version of the Bible is still an important text in Catholicism. He is also recognized as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church, where he is known as St. Jerome of Stridonium or Blessed Jerome

Jerome died near Bethlehem on September 30, 420.

On 21st May 1907, The Times wrote a major article on the decision of Pope Pius X to revise the whole of the Vulgate. The task was to be entrusted to a group of Benedictine monks. The decsion in those days at least was regarded as being of major importance and significance and not only in the Catholic world. One wonders if a similar decision today would attract such press coverage in the secular press. The Times explained the significance of the decision.

Of the Vulgate, The Times said:

"There is no book which has exercised so wide and so powerful an influence in moulding the faith, the morals, the thonght, traditions, and literature of the European world as the Latin version of the Scriptures which we know as the Vulgate.

It was to the whole world down to the Reformation in many respects what the Authorized Version has since been to the English-speaking races, and it still remains for all Latin peoples the accepted rendering of the Scriptures.

For 1,500 years it has been setting its impress upon the lives and upon the whole mental heritage of countless millions of men.

It has formed the larger part of the daily offices of the Roman Catholic Church wherever her rites have been celebrated, and it has inspired all that is noblest and most elevated in the rest.

It has been the basis of the writings of her theologians from the days of Augustine.It has been quoted by her Pontiffs sinee Gregory the Great sat upon the Throne of Peter and sent out his missionaries to the heathen Saxon of England.

It has informed the whole of medieval art and literature, which are very imperfectly intelligible without some knowledge of its text.

It cast its spell over many of the greatest minds of the Renaissance ; and long after it has ceased to hold its old supreme position, it remains interwoven, consciously and unconsciously, in innumerable subtle ways, with the thoughts and the sentiments of all sorts and conditions of men....

The work of St Jerome is a marvel of erudition and of industry and well deserves the tribute paid to it by the translators of our own Authorized Version when they affirm that he performed it ` with that evidence of great learning, judgment, industry and faithfulness, that he hath for ever bound the Church unto him in a debt of special remembrance and thankfulness`.

With regard to the decision by the Pope, The Times went on to say:

"The Pope has taken a bold step in ordering a revision of the consecrated text of the Scriptures as received for so many hundreds of years by the Roman Church. It will be hailed with satisfaction by many without as well as within his own communion, and will be regarded by some as an indication that in this great department of Biblical studies he may be disposed to carry out the progressive policy ascribed to his predecessor."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Father Reginald Fuller

Recently Fr Reginald Fuller celebrated his 100th birthday.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O`Connor with other bishops and diocesan clergy concelebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving for Fr Fuller's 77 years of priesthood.

Ad multos annos.

For the full story, see We spend our years as a tale that is told

Euthanasia in Colombia

Colombia is the latest state to propose a draft law allowing euthanasia and assisted suicide

Zenit reports on a commentary on the new draft law by Legionary of Christ Father Ramón Lucas Lucas, professor of bioethics at Rome's European University and founding member of the Bioethics Observatory of the Catholic University of Colombia.

"According to the bioethicist, the Colombian draft law "is legal murder and a juridical contradiction," as it allows the elimination of "'useless old people,' terminal patients and, in certain cases, the appropriation of their goods."

In a reflection shared with ZENIT, Father Lucas Lucas explained that "even if masked with pretty words -- 'dignified death,' 'gentle death,' 'no suffering,' 'respect of dignity' -- it is a real crime."

He explained: "There is no doubt in the scientific, moral, political and religious realms about the fact that when medicine cannot offer a cure, what it must do is alleviate the suffering and pain of patients, not do away with them. The remedy for sickness is not to kill the patient, not even if he requests it."

"The patient does not desire death, what he desires is an end to suffering. That is why one can and must administer all kinds of palliatives of pain, including those that can indirectly accelerate death, but without the intention of killing the patient, as are those whose primary action is analgesic, and the secondary and unwanted effect is to accelerate death. Opposed to this, the voluntary and direct elimination of the patient is euthanasia.""

Ten Blogging Commandments

Domenico Beccafumi 1486-. 1551
Moses and the Golden Calf
Oil on wood, 197 x 139 cm
Duomo, Pisa

Ruth Gledhill at The Times reports on the drawing up of a new set of the Ten Commandments aimed at delivering “God bloggers” from the temptations of the blogosphere.

The "Commandments"are

1 You shall not put your blog before your integrity

2 You shall not make an idol of your blog

3 You shall not misuse your screen name by using your anonymity to sin

4 Remember the Sabbath day by taking one day off a week from your blog

5 Honour your fellow-bloggers above yourselves and do not give undue significance to their mistakes

6 You shall not murder someone else's honour, reputation or feelings

7 You shall not use the web to commit or permit adultery in your mind

8 You shall not steal another person's content

9 You shall not give false testimony against your fellow-blogger

10 You shall not covet your neighbour's blog ranking. Be content with your own content

Friday, September 26, 2008


Ottavio Mario Leoni 1578 - 1630
Portrait of Cardinal Scipione Borghese
Oil on canvas 1.24m x 0.93m
Musée Fesch, Ajaccio

Ottavio Mario Leoni 1578 - 1630
Portrait of Giovanni Baglioni, Painter and Art Critic/Historian 1625
Print Engraving
Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow

«E ritrassi non solo li Sommi Pontefici de' suoi tempi, ma li Principi cardinali, e Signori titolati, e d'ogni altra qualità, pur che famosi fussero, sì religiosi, come regolari, in diversi tempi da lui fatti». Giovanni Baglioni Vite de' Pittori Scultori et Architetti (1642)

"Not only did he draw the Pontiffs of his time but also the Cardinal Princes, and those of other high rank and title, and not only those who were celebrated or religious, but also those of private rank at various times."

The drawings of Leoni were a faithful reflection of Roman society in the 1600s: the cosmopolitanites and the peansant, the rich and the poor.

His most important patron, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, began to amass Leoni's work, both paintings and drawings, from around 1607.

After the artist's death in 1630, Cardinal Borghese purchased the bulk of his studio from Leoni's heir and stepson, Hippolito, striking the deal within six days of his death for the enormous sum of 500 scudi.

The cardinal was the son of Ortensia Borghese - Paul V's sister - and of Francesco Caffarelli

In the eighteenth century, the Borghese collection was sold and its contents scattered.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Film and La Civiltà Cattolica

La Civiltà Cattolica (Italian for Catholic Civilization) is an Italian biweekly periodical printed by the Jesuits.

It has a prestigious history. The first issue came out on April 6, 1850

Its content is vetted by the Office of the Secretary of State in the Vatican. It has the attention and favour of the Popes.

It has a circulation of only about 18000 but worldwide. Its readership is clergy, religious, seminaries, universities, libraries and other Catholic institutions.

And film directors, and others involved in the film and TV industry and media studies.

Father Virgilio Fantuzzi S.J. provides commentary and criticism on film and TV for very many years.His articles are always original and well considered.

Paolo Benvenuti, an Italian film director, has said, "Many directors who would never read Civiltà Cattolica buy it just to read one of his reviews.''

In A Priest Who Prays 'With Cinema in My Head' (2nd November 2002), the New York Times did a feature on the celebrated Jesuit.

He was called on to advise Pasolini, Roberto Rossellini and Bernardo Bertolucci.

His reviews sometimes do not always find favour.

In 1974, he praised to the hilt Robert Bresson`s ''Lancelot of the Lake' (Lancelot du Lac). Bresson was a French film director known for his spiritual, ascetic style.

It was an unglamorous depiction of the Middle Ages, emphasising blood and grime (and adultery) over fantasy.

Civiltà Cattolica received a very critical letter from a Vatican official who had not seen the movie but had noticed an advertisement for it, which showed a naked woman's back.

Thankfully for Fr Fantuzzi the "official" had not seen the movie. (For an extract, follow the YouTube link

Father Fantuzzi never found out who the official was until many years later. "The Official" ? Pope Paul VI.

Portrait of Caravaggio

Ottavio Leoni (Rome 1578-1630)
Portrait of Michelangelo Merisi known as Caravaggio c. 1621
Colored chalk on paper
Biblioteca Marucelliana, Florence

Leoni was part of Caravaggio`s circle and thus a friend of Caravaggio. The portrait was executed sometime after Caravaggio`s death in 1610

However in a libel action brought by Baglione against Caravaggio, Caravaggio admitted knowing Leoni, but denied having ever spoken to him.Caravaggio was perhaps a stranger to the truth in some of his statements even those sworn under oath.

The portrait by Leoni of Caravaggio (above) defines Caravaggio primarily through his dark curly hair, beard, and eyebrows.

Caravaggio did paint himself in some of his paintings most notably in The Martyrdom of St Matthew (1599-1600) in the Contarelli Chapel in The Church of St Louis of the French in Rome.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ottavio Leoni

Ottavio Leoni (1578-1630)
Portrait of a Franciscan Monk of the Monastery of Santa Maria in Aracoeli
Black chalk, heightened with white chalk - 22.7 x 16.2 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons

Ottavio Leoni (1578-1630),
Galileo Galilei florentino 1624
Drawing:Pierre noire, sanguine, white chalk, fawn paper
23,3 x 15,5 cm,
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Ottavio Leoni (1578-1630)
His Eminence Cardinal Orsini
paper-grey/fawn; black chalk; white chalk
0.229m x 0.157m
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Ottavio Leoni (1578-1630) was one of the most fashionable and successful portraitist working in Rome during the first thirty years of the seventeenth century. He favoured black, red and white chalk on tinted paper, for numerous portrait drawings

His portraits exude the vivid sense of an individual personality, comfortable with himself and at ease with the artist observing him.

He was of the early-Baroque, active mainly in Rome

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Viergè et Enfant Sur Fond de Fleurs et d'Étoiles

Henri Matisse 1869-1954
Viergè et Enfant Sur Fond de Fleurs et d'Étoiles 1950-1951
Lithograph sur chine applique on Arches watermark paper
12 x 9 in. (image)
19.63 x 14.63 (sheet)

The anti-Jewish racial laws in Italy of 1938

"La Civiltà Cattolica" recently published an article by the distinguished Jesuit historian Giovanni Sale on the promulgation of the anti-Jewish racial laws in Italy in 1938 when the Fascists were in power.

"La Civiltà Cattolica" `s articles are reviewed line by line by the Vatican secretariat of state before they are printed. And this supervision has been even more stringent since Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone became secretary of state.

An English translation of the article has been published in Chiesa on line.

The laws were promulgated when Pope Pius XI was Pope and Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, ( later Pope Pius XII) was Secretary of State.

Sale attributes to Pacelli in 1938 – the year of the promulgation of the anti-Jewish racial laws in Italy – a diplomatic prudence that "today it is embarrassing to defend."

The article "highlights Pius XI's desire to defend the Jews more energetically and condemn the racial laws more drastically. Pius XI, nonetheless, found himself muzzled twice over. His most incisive words and writings never saw the light of day, both because of the censorship of the Fascist regime, which banned the Italian Catholic press from publishing the pope's speeches against racism, and because of the caution of the secretariat of state, which prevented "L'Osservatore Romano" itself – the newspaper of the Holy See – from printing any papal texts that were believed to be too imprudent."

Sale concludes:

"It now appears embarrassing for the Catholic historian, especially after the openness of Vatican Council II in this matter, to defend this kind of viewpoint and manner of proceeding in moral or religious categories. But the task of the historian is to reconstruct, as much as objectively possible, the historical narrative, seeking to understand the mentality and culture of the subject in question, without ideological bias.

According to the Catholic culture of the time, although not everyone agreed with this principle, it seemed that the Church's duty was to protect its own faithful first of all, but without neglecting the sense of justice and charity due to all human beings....In the light of this principle, one can better understand the later interventions by Church authorities in this matter."

The Duty to Die: Part 2

In The Duty to Die, there was a comment on the article and interview of Helen Mary Warnock, Baroness Warnock, DBE, FBA when on 17th and 18th September 2008, she was reported to have called for elderly people suffering from dementia should consider ending their lives because they are a burden on the NHS and their families.

It seemed rather strange and to come out of the blue.

Then I noticed today that on 17th September 2008, the Ministry of Justice Press Office issued a news release that the law on assisting suicide is to be simplified to increase public understanding and reassure people that it applies as much on the internet as it does off-line.

"Following a review of the Suicide Act 1961, the government has decided to reframe it in new, modern language that will make it easier for individual internet users and internet-based businesses, such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to understand. "

In England and Wales, suicide ceased to be a crime in 1961 but under section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961, it remains an offence to 'aid, abet, counsel or procure' a suicide or a suicide attempt. The law applies equally to online and off-line actions.

In a small footnote to the press release it is stated that "The precise proposals on how to update the language of the legislation will be published a soon as parliamentary time allows. The scope of the law will remain unchanged."

If you look at the Suicide Act 1961 you will see that it is not a very complicated piece of legislation. On the face of it, the Act especially section 2, would appear to be a model of brevity and clarity.

The Law Commission in July 2006 produced a Report Inchoate Liability for Assisting and Encouraging Crime

In Schedule B of the Report (pages 170 and following), the Law Commission said that the existing law was perfecly adequate to deal with the cases of suicide websites.

"B.26 Therefore, the contemporary problems posed by suicide websites and other involvements in the suicide of another could adequately be addressed without reform to section 2 of the Suicide Act." (emphasis added)

If the present law has been deemed perfectly adequate to deal with the case of suicide websites, why does it need to reform the law to simply make clear what is already the position?

Can the Ministry of Justice not simply write/e-mail ISPs and make clear the position by advertising ?

Or is there going to be another attempt to alter the substance of the existing law and make it easier for the provision of euthanasia ?

One hopes that legislators and peers who feel strongly about the right to life are vigilant about this legislation coming from the fag end of this Government.

And that the Baroness Warnock was simply flying a kite on her own initiative, without any encouragement or support from the Government.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Jackie Nickerson
Washing Eucharist Vessels, Poor Clare Monastery, Belfast (2006)
Photograph: Fuji crystal archive print
H: 99 x w: 79 cm / h: 39 x w: 31.1 in

Jackie Nickerson
Green Room, Perpetual Adoration Sisters, Perpetual Adoration Convent, Wexford (2005)
Photograph: Fuji crystal archive print
H: 99 x w: 79 cm / h: 39 x w: 31.1 in

The age of faith is not dead.

Depictions of faith and believers take new forms.

Jackie Nickerson first came to prominence in the 1990s as a fashion photographer working in Milan, Paris and New York, and featured in Elle, Marie Claire, Wallpaper, German Vogue, Arena, Interview and other publications.

For two-and-a-half years Nickerson photographed inside the churches, convents and abbeys of Ireland. The result is a series entited "Faith": the inside of Irish convents and monasteries.

Of these communities, Nickerson said:

“These are individuals and communities which are steeped in an interiority, which they have discovered is not their own but something wider and deeper than themselves, of which they are a part.”

Her work is represented in many important public and private collections, including the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, the Santa Monica Museum in California, and the Margulies Collection in Miami.

In May 2008, she won the prestigious AIB prize for artists of promise in Ireland.

There have been exhibitions of “Faith” in New York, and Ireland.

Presently the exhibition is in Rome at the Brancolini Grimaldi Arte Contemporanea, Rome (VIA DEI TRE OROLOGI 6A, ROME, 00197, ) from September 18 - November 16, 2008.

Later it will be shown at the Centre Culturel Irlandais as part of the Mois de la Photo in Paris.

More of the studies can be viewed online at the following websites:


Brancolini Grimaldi Arte Contemporanea

Of the book of the exhibition "Faith"

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Quiet Coronation

The Conclave of 1914 took place in the initial months of the First World War.

Cardinals from the various combatant countries assembled in conclave to elect a new Pope as successor to Pope Pius X.

The successor, Cardinal Della Chiesa, Archbishop of Bologna, (Pope Benedict XV) had only been a cardinal for three months.

The accounts of the conclave make it clear that he was the front runner from the start, notwithstanding that for the outside world (and for many of the cardinals), he was a complete unknown.

Benedict XV declined a grand coronation in St Peter`s Basilica. The coronation took place in a reduced ceremony in the Sistine Chapel.

He was prompted by the fact that the First World War had started and already people in Europe especially Belgium were suffering greatly.

Even this gesture was twisted by those involved in the conflict.

Some claimed that he was following the precedent of Pope Leo XIII in 1878. His coronation ceremony was curtailed due to the fact that the Holy See was still precarious after the Unification of Italy and capture of Rome in 1870. Leo XIII had intended an implied protest against the Roman Government.

Saint Anthony the Abbot in the Wilderness

Master of the Osservanza [active ca.1430-1450]
Saint Anthony the Abbot in the Wilderness, ca. 1435
Tempera and gold on wood; Overall 18 3/4 x 13 5/8 in. (47.6 x 34.6 cm); painted surface 18 1/2 x 13 1/4 in. (47 x 33.7 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum, New York

This panel belongs to a cycle of eight panels representing scenes from the life of Saint Anthony Abbot

In the lower left of the picture there was depicted a pot of gold. That detail was deleted/overpainted early on in the painting`s history.

Thus, the painting`s original and alternative title "Saint Anthony Abbot Tempted by a Heap of Gold"

That is why the sainly St Anthony is shown recoiling from something on the left hand side.

He is not afraid of the rabbit on the left hand side. This is not a forerunner of a Monty Python sketch.

He has resisted the temptation of worldly goods, Greed.

The eight panels, originally part of an altarpiece of uncertain provenance, are now divided between museums in New York, Washington, and Berlin, and the Yale University Art Gallery

Compared to the depictions by Bosch, Grünewald, Ensor and Beckmann, this depiction must rank as one of the most phantasmagorical on the theme of St Anthony and his temptations.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wartime Pope 'spared no effort' to save Jews says Benedict XVI

From The Times 1939

Richard Owen in The Times (September 19, 2008) reports that Pope Benedict XVI has defended the actions of predecessor Pius XII during World War II, saying the pontiff spared no effort to try to save Jews

Pope Benedict said that Pius had intervened directly and indirectly but often had to be "secret and silent" given the circumstances.

Pope Benedict said he wanted prejudice against Pius to be overcome.

Analysts say this was one of the strongest Vatican defences yet of Pius's role.

Pope Benedict was speaking at a meeting with the US-based interfaith group, the Pave the Way Foundation, at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.

He said Pius showed "courageous and paternal dedication" in trying to save Jews.

Pope Benedict said: "Wherever possible he spared no effort in intervening in their favour either directly or through instructions given to other individuals or to institutions of the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict said the interventions were "made secretly and silently, precisely because, given the concrete situation of that difficult historical moment, only in this way was it possible to avoid the worst and save the greatest number of Jews".

He said that he hopes the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII this year will offer an occasion to get to the historical truth about him, overcoming prejudices that hide the facts.

"So much has been written and said of [Pius XII] during these last five decades and not all of the genuine facets of his diverse pastoral activity have been examined in a just light," the Holy Father noted. "The aim of your symposium has been precisely to address some of these deficiencies, conducting a careful and documented examination of many of his interventions, especially those in favor of the Jews who in those years were being targeted all over Europe, in accordance with the criminal plan of those who wanted to eliminate them from the face of the earth.

"When one draws close to this noble Pope, free from ideological prejudices, in addition to being struck by his lofty spiritual and human character one is also captivated by the example of his life and the extraordinary richness of his teaching. One can also come to appreciate the human wisdom and pastoral intensity which guided him in his long years of ministry, especially in providing organized assistance to the Jewish people."

However in a dissenting note Civilta Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal — whose contents are vetted by the Vatican —- said that the position taken by the Holy See towards the race laws introduced by Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator, in 1938 had been so weak as to be "embarrassing".

Writing in the latest issue Father Giovanni Sale said that the Vatican, then under Pope Pius XI, with Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli — the future Pius XII — as his Secretary of State, had criticised the race laws in diplomatic notes to the Mussolini regime, but only on religious rather than "biological-racial" grounds.

He said that the Vatican had been more concerned to draw the Fascist government's attention to the need to save Jews who had converted to Catholicism from persecution than to "defend Jews as a whole". Father Sale said that there was historical evidence that Pius XI had wanted to take a stronger line than Cardinal Pacelli, who became Pope a year later.

Mary and the Eucharist

Fra' Filippo Lippi (1406 – October 8, 1469)
Madonna in the Forest (also called L' Adorazione del Bambino con san Bernardo e san Giovannino, as well as Adorazione di Palazzo Medici )
c. 1458-1460
Oil on panel, 129.5 x 118.5 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Christ was born in the womb of the Virgin Mary. His body was offered on the Cross. It is present in the Eucharist.

There has always been a link between Mary and the Eucharist

It has been a theme in art as well.

In the altarpiece by Filippo Lippi for the private chapel of the Medici Chapel in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence, Mary is shown adoring her Son beneath the Father and the Holy Spirit with the figures of Saint John the Baptist (the Patron Saint of Florence) and Saint Bernard (or is it St Romauld). The picture was the physical and spiritual centre of the chapel.

As originally situated, the Child was just above the point where the priest consecrated the bread and wine

The remaining walls of the Chapel show Gozzoli`s celebrated frescoes of the Journey of the Magi. The picture by Lippi is the beginning and end of the journey depicted by Gozzoli. In the wall above the altar there is a circular window which is the "Star": the end of the Magi`s journey. The scene depicted in Lippi`s altarpiece is the destination of the Journey.

Father, Son and Holy Ghost form a central vertical axis immediately above the point of consecration by the priest at Mass.

Above this central point of action, God the Father is seen pouring forth the Holy Spirit.

Mary is the largest figure in the scene. She is kneeling on bare earth to contemplate and to adore her child. The Child who at and after the moment of consecration is again present on the altar

She is meant to indicate the right way to participate at Mass: to contemplate and adore the Christ.

Stuck in a Museum and not properly placed in a Church, the altar piece loses much of its meaning and significance.

As well as a contemplation on the role of Mary, the picture is also a contemplation on the Trinity.

The Council of Ferrara-Florence in 1439 reached agreement in principle (subsequently rejected) on the healing of the schism between the Western and Orthodox churches. One of the major differences was on the nature of the Trinity. The Western Church held that the Holy Spirit emanates from the Father and Son. This contrasts with the view held by the Orthodox Church, in which the Holy Spirit emanates from God the Father alone.

St Vincent de Paul

Shrine of St Vincent de Paul, Paris

St Vincent died at the Lazarus institution in Saint Denis, France on 27th September 1660 and was buried in the choir of the church.

During the French Revolution, over 100 years later, St Lazarus was looted and turned into a prison.

The remains of St Vincent were returned to the Lazarists (Vincentian Fathers) in 1795 - and kept in the chapel of the mother-house of the Daughters of Charity until 1830.

On the request of the Archbishop of Paris his remains were transferred to the chapel of the "Maison-Mère" at 95 Rue de Sèvres in Paris. The body rests above the main altar in a solid silver shrine covered by the goldsmith 'Odiot'.

The heart of St Vincent de Paul is kept in the Miraculous Medal Chapel in Paris.

Ways to donate in the USA, see here

Friday, September 19, 2008

Abbott Handerson Thayer

Abbott Handerson Thayer 1849 - 1921
The Virgin 1893
Oil on canvas H: 229.7 W: 182.5 cm (2.3m x 1.8m)
Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Abbott Handerson Thayer (August 12, 1849 – May 29, 1921) was an American artist, naturalist and teacher

In the early 1880s, tragedy came to Thayer and his wife when two of their small children died unexpectedly, just one year apart.

In 1901, he and his wife settled permanently in Dublin, New Hampshire. Thayer’s wife lapsed into an irreversible depression, which led to her confinement in an asylum, the decline of her health, and eventual death, on May 3, 1891.

He married for a second time.

Thayer suffered from a condition that today is called bipolar disorder, as well as from anxiety.

He often painted ideal figures such as Angels.

The above painting depicts his children in an idealised setting. His daughter Margaret is the central figure who exudes innocence, purity, freshness and vitality. A father`s pride and joy.

Another conceptualisation of Latria ?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Duty to Die

A little old lady of 84 years of age has recently made clear that it is her opinion that if one is suffering from dementia, you are wasting the resources of relatives and carers and further are wasting the resources of the National Health Service in the United Kingdom.

They are under a duty to die.

So what ?

Unfortunately the little old lady is Baroness Warnock.

Helen Mary Warnock, Baroness Warnock, DBE, FBA (born 14 April 1924) is a British philosopher of morality, education and mind, and writer on existentialism. She is an "Establishment" figure: a guide on ethics in the public sphere in the United Kingdom.

She is amongst other things the author of The Warnock Report (1984): Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology. This has led to legislation in the United Kingdom. Her influence is pervasive. Her comments are not to be disregarded lightly.

Surely some mistake ? No. Check out the Director of SPUC`s blog ("Baroness Warnock and a "duty to die") and the Daily Telegraph ("Elderly people suffering from dementia should consider ending their lives because they are a burden on the NHS and their families, according to the influential medical ethics expert Baroness Warnock")

And if you still don`t believe it check out BBC Radio 4` PM Programme blog where you can listen to the interview with the Baroness.

In the interview she makes clear that the economic argument of caring for someone who has no useful economic potential outweighs any argument about "the sanctity of life". In Britain this is a very dangerous proposition.

We have the National Health Service. It is supposed to look after the health of citizens of the United Kingdom from cradle to grave. It is a monopoly.

The private medical sector is extremely small and is only available to the very rich. Citizens are compelled by law to pay for the very costly and inefficient service through heavy taxation and other imposts.

Bureaucrats already impose rationing on services and resources through the backdoor and are not publicly accountable except in theory to Ministers who, of course, are not particularly bothered or involved in the minutiae of such important decisions.

Not that the service for non-disabled people is that great. Ask an American citizen here in the United Kingdom what he would do if he got ill here. He will tell you that he has been warned by his employers and his own doctors in the States not to use the Service here. In an emergency only he should go to a hospital which is attached to a University and insist on seeing a consultant privately, and then only after checking out the consultant carefully.

Anyone who has ever visited a hospital where long term Alzheimer patients are kept (assuming that they have not been kept home or shunted into a private nursing home) will know that these people are helpless. If the argument that there is a duty to die and economic factors are material in making that decision is accepted, the consequences will be appalling.

Anglican Pilgrimage to Lourdes

Rocco Palmo in The Spring Is For... Rowan? reports on a historic pilgrimage of ten Church of England bishops, 60 Anglican priests and 400 Anglican lay worshippers to Lourdes. It will be led by Dr Williams, the Anglican Primate.

It is the first visit by any Anglican Primate to the shrine.

Quaerere Deum

Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867)
La Vierge adorant l'hostie/ The Virgin adoring the Host 1854
Oil on canvas 113 cm x 113 cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

At the weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall the Pope summarized his trip last weekend to Paris and Lourdes on. 12-15 September 2008. Zenit`s report went on to say:

"Commenting on his address to the world of culture, the Pontiff said his address at the Collège des Bernardins began with "a reflection on monasticism, whose objective was to seek God, 'quaerere Deum.'"

"In an age of profound crisis of the ancient civilization," Benedict XVI continued, "the monks, guided by the light of faith, chose the 'via maestra': the way of listening to the word of God. They were, therefore, the great cultivators of sacred Scripture, and monasteries became schools of wisdom and schools of 'dominici servitii, 'of the service of the Lord,' as St. Benedict called them."

The Pope said the search for God led the monks to learning and knowledge "that made the formation of culture possible." He added that even today the search for God continues to be the "foundation of all true culture."

He said he urged priests, deacons, men and women religious and seminarians "who had come from all parts of France, to give priority to the religious listening of the divine word, looking at the Virgin Mary as sublime model.""

Ingres painted this theme of Mary and the Host many times. This version in the d`Orsay was painted in 1854, the year of the declaration of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It was commissioned by the State under Louis Napoleon III. It was very popular. It is still a popular and well-known image.

Ingres painted his first version of this theme in 1841 for the Crown Prince of Russia (the future Alexandre II). It is still in the Pouchkine Museum in Moscow.

It is a circular painting. It is like the tondo of many Renaissance paintings.

Mary is worshipping the flesh of her Son and is in meditation before the Host.

The composition brings the viewer into the action being portrayed.

At the same time, Mary is shown as a regal figure in her own right, a central point of fascination and interest in the painting.

Unlike the 18th Century, the 19th Century was a century of great Marian devotion: it was encouraged by the great apparitions in France of the Virgin to Catherine Labouré (1830), the young shepherds at La Salette (1846), to Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes (1858) and to the four children at Pontmain (1871). In 1854, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was declared.

Ingres’ sole teaching model was the ideal of classical beauty which could only be attained by the painstaking study and copying of Antique sources. All Antique statuary was considered to be the quintessential embodiment of the concept of Beauty. This Mary is the epitome of classical Beauty, perfection.

After 1824, Ingres produced many images of the Virgin: half length, without the Child, but in a prayerful pose, her hands in prayer and placed on her chest. Some criticised Ingres at the time for only producing one image of the Virgin which was simply repeated time after time in different poses.

This particular image of Mary with the Host is claimed by some to be a particular invention of Ingres, linked to the rise of the Ultramontane Movement in France which placed particular emphasis on the Eucharist. However this view is probably mistaken. The depiction of the Virgin`s relationship to the Eucharist has a long history and should not be seen as a mark of an alleged ideological movement.

Not all at the time particularly liked the paintings by Ingres of the Virgin with the Host. For example, one critic in 1841 said of the earlier version: "one senses a woman who poses in order that she be admired." L`Univers in 1841 commented on the rather disdainful expression of the Virgin. In 1865, Proudhon said: : "An imperceptible smile of satisfaction was spread over this charming figure who seemed to be saying softly to herself at the moment she took the Holy Sacrament: `It is I, however, that made you O great blessed Lord...` "

However many contemporary critics were not as critical of Ingres` images of the Virgin.

In 1844 Drach dedicated Volume II of De L`Harmonie entre L`Eglise et la Synagogue ou Perpetuite et Catholicite de la Religion chretienne to Ingres. In particular he praised La Vierge adorant l'hostie as "the most beautiful painting that has been consecrated in modern times to the glory of the Holy Virgin of Bethlehem."

Adrien Egron described that "all the genius of painting in representations of the Virgin is captured in the work of M. Ingres."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Banality of Evil

For some reason the following quotation came to mind when I became rather depressed by the undernoted entries in some of the blogs I came across recently.

"The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together, for it implied — as had been said at Nuremberg over and over again by the defendants and their counsels — that this new type of criminal, who is in actual fact hostis generis humani, commits his crimes under circumstances that make it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he is doing wrong. "

Hannah Arendt (October 14, 1906 – December 4, 1975) Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Lamb of God

The firm of Castellani
Micromosaic brooch with the Lamb of God,
Rome, Italy, around AD 1860
Diameter: 5.300 cm
The British Museum, London

The Museum Catalogue describes this beautiful work in this way:

"The brooch is made of glass and gold mosaic, set in enamelled gold. The central medallion is made up of minute cubes of glass, or tesserae, of differing shades of colours. The halo of the Lamb (symbolizing Jesus Christ) is made of real gold tesserae, not glass. The outer border is decorated with enamel set within a pattern of gold cells. As the enamel does not fill the entire depth of the cells, the pattern stands out in relief.

Pio Fortunato Castellani (1794-1865) pioneered the revival of jewellery techniques from the ancient world. His firm, carried on by his sons Alessandro (1823-83) and Augusto (1829-1914), became the most original and prolific producer of jewellery in the 'archaeological' style, so called because most of their work was based on actual Etruscan, Greek or Roman jewellery. This followed the excavation of Etruscan tombs in the area around Rome in the 1830s."

The design of the Lamb is based on the large-scale mosaic in the apse of the Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Rome. See below.

The mosaic dates from 527-530 AD. The dominating figure in the centre is that of Christ the Judge, who stands above the dramatically coloured clouds, clothed in a clasped toga and a stole signifying a learned man. To approach Christ, it is necessary to cross the Jordan River, symbol of Baptism and life giving grace.

The Apostle Peter presents Cosmas and the Apostle Paul presents Damian so that they may receive the crown of their martyrdom.

In the lower band, coming from the left and from the right, is a procession of sheep (symbol of the new humanity) moving from Bethlehem and Jerusalem towards the Divine Lamb from Whom springs up the rivers of life: the Geon, Fison, Tigris and Euphrates.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Charles Cottet [1863-1925]
Au pays de la mer.(Les victimes de la mer) Douleur [In the Land of the Sea (The Victims of the Sea.) Grief]
1908 et 1909
Oil on canvas H. 2.64 ; L. 3.45m
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

On a makeshift trestle on the shore is the body of a drowned man, a Breton fisherman. Over him bend his anguished wife and his weeping mother and one other (his sister ?). The serious faces of the men and the grief of the women are vivid and almost real.

Perhaps it is an appropriate picture on the day of commemoration of Our Lady of Sorrows.

The religious parallels of the tableau are obvious. They do not need to be spelled out. They are not coincidental.

It is a large painting with at least three titles. On one level it simply depicts as Cottet was wont to do, the harsh life of mariners and their families in the port of the Ile of Sein . But he transformed the event into something more universal.

In addition to grief and pity, there is also resignation: the utter helplessness of Man alone in the face of more powerful forces than himself.

Stormy seascape, scenes of bereavement, the ordinary lives of Breton people were the scenes which Collett often depicted. But in doing so, he attempted to address fundamental human issues

Collett was a pupil of Puvis de Chavannes. But it was his first visit to Brittany aged twenty three which set him on a course which lasted him for the rest of his life.

He was initially associated with Les Nabis, later becoming the leader of the Bande Noire, a group that formed after he met Lucien Simon and Andre Dauchez. Sometimes deignated as a post Impressionist but more probably belongs to the Realist school. In any event he is an original painter whose originality is still apparent today.

He painted with great tonal intensity, somber lighting, and directness.

This is the second version of the composition which he painted and exhibited in 1908 at the Salon de la Société National des Beaux-Arts, and refined in 1909 for the exhibition at Tokyo.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The 1903 Conclave

The result of the 1903 conclave was a surprise. Cardinal Rompolla had been expected to be declared Pope. His nomination was vetoed. Giuseppe Melchiorre Cardinal Sarto, Patriarch of Venice, had not been on the lists of likely successors.

At an audience in January 1959, Pope John XXIII recounted how, as a young seminarian in Rome, he had been present in St Peters Square when the white smoke had issued from the Conclave which elected Pope Pius X on 14th August 1903.

Special editions of newspapers were circulating within half a hour.

On his way back, he passed the Church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini quite near the Vatican. There he found an old woman studying the photographs of the new Pope. She said "I don`t know anything about this Pius X... but at least he`s handsome."

Some others at the time were not so enthusiatic about his election. The future Servant of God, Father Giovanni Semeria (Coldirodi, 26 September 1867 – Sparanise, 15 March 1931) and later co-founder of l’Opera per il Mezzogiorno d’Italia, on hearing of the result of the election, is reported to have said:

«Un reazionario! Siamo fritti» ("A reactionary ! We`re cooked !")

In this he was quite prophetic. In 1912, Pope Pius X exiled him from Genova to Belgium.

St Gemma Galgani

Passionist convent in Lucca: Saint Gemma Galgani

Last year I was fortunate to hear Mass at the Passionist Church in Lucca which houses the tomb of St Gemma Galgani. Near her tomb are the the tombs of her spiritual director Venerable Germanus and St. Gemma’s confessor Monsignor Volpi

The Church is outside the historic medieval city walls of Lucca but if any visit the city they will find the Church easily as it is not far by foot from the train station.

There is a new website dedicated to the saint. It is simply entitled Saint Gemma Galgani and is the work of one man with a special devotion to the saint.

Hattip to The Hermeneutic of Continuity

"To seek God and to let oneself be found by Him"

Chapel of the Patron Saints of Europe (Benedict, the father of western monasticism (5th-6th century), and the brothers SS. Cyril and Methodius, the evangelizers of the Slavonic peoples in the 9th century.)
Vatican Grottoes
St Peters Basilica

Tommaso Gismondi (1906-2003)
Altarpiece SS. Benedict, Cyril and Methodius (1980)
Bronze 3m x 1.8m
Chapel of the Patron Saints of Europe
St Peters Basilica

Sandro Magister provides the full text in English of Pope Benedict`s speech to the intellectual world in Paris, at the Collège des Bernardins, September 12, 2008

The theme of the talk was set out at the very beginning by the Pope:

"I would like to speak with you this evening of the origins of western theology and the roots of European culture. I began by recalling that the place in which we are gathered is in a certain way emblematic. It is in fact a placed tied to monastic culture, insofar as young monks came to live here in order to learn to understand their vocation more deeply and to be more faithful to their mission. We are in a place that is associated with the culture of monasticism.

Does this still have something to say to us today, or are we merely encountering the world of the past? In order to answer this question, we must consider for a moment the nature of Western monasticism itself. What was it about? From the perspective of monasticism’s historical influence, we could say that, amid the great cultural upheaval resulting from migrations of peoples and the emerging new political configurations, the monasteries were the places where the treasures of ancient culture survived, and where at the same time a new culture slowly took shape out of the old. But how did it happen?

What motivated men to come together to these places? What did they want? How did they live?"

Sandro Magister compares its importance to the speech of the Pope two years earlier at Regensburg.