Monday, June 29, 2009

A True Icon

Icon of SS Peter and Paul
First third of the 13th century
139 × 90 cm
The Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia

The word “Icon” is an overworked word these days. Whenever a celebrity dies, it is usual to identify them as an “an icon”.

It is an attempt to make sacred something human. It blurs the distinction between the secular and the divine.

Icons are devotional images—windows through which viewer and holy subject make contact.

Icons depict a holy and infinite presence, not the temporal physical world

In A catalogue of the Russian icons in the British Museum by Yury Bobrov, the author writes:

““The icon in its artistic form embodies that ascetic ideal, which, the Church Fathers considered neither intellectual, nor even moral, but artistic labour. The main goal of such art is a specific, non-formalized, ‘contemplative’ knowledge. Paradoxically, it is precisely this fundamental property of the icon which gives grounds to the contemporary philosophers who define the icon as ‘not art’ in the traditional European sense of the term

He goes on:

““[The icon`s] purpose being to depict, through pigments on a flat surface, the likeness of a real prototype. ... ‘The main function of the image’, in the words of V. Bychkov, ‘became one of worship; that is, they saw in the icon, first and foremost, a holy object of veneration’ The Kievan Metropolitan Ilarion (mid-11th century) believed that a person contemplating an icon penetrates by his ‘interior gaze’ beyond the representation, and thus gains the possibility of spiritual intercourse with the prototype. And this, he writes in the Sermon on Law and Grace, ‘fills his soul with joy’

He concludes:

“What is such an ‘icon’ then, wherein lies its meaning? The icon has been described as an archaeological item; the icon has been analysed as a work of art. The Church understands the icon as a sacred image of a higher, divine reality, as a visible reflection of the invisible. The uniqueness of the phenomenon of the icon is that all these qualities are simultaneously present. But the most important thing that distinguishes an icon from a painting is its manmade incarnation of the invisible prototype, of ‘alternative reality’.

In order to understand the language of the icon one needs to find in oneself the desire to meet with this reality, to ‘enter’ into it, one needs to learn to ‘read’ the icon. It is not accidental that in Russian the creation of an icon signifies not pisat’ kraskami ‘to write with colours’ (to paint) but pisat’ perom ‘to write with a pen’ (to write). The art of iconography is not ‘icon painting’, but ‘icon writing’.

Moreover, the icon must never be regarded as a simple illustration to the Gospels or other theological texts. Visual form and Word are here fused together, and the artistic language of icon painting directly embodies spiritual phenomena.

Thus the highlights on an icon are not in the least depictions of gleams of light, invoked to create the illusion of rounded form, but a strict system of ‘highlights’ invoking the symbolic incarnation of the emanation of divine energy, which is poured into the world and gives life and meaning to all the created world.

In its spiritual symbolism the ancient icon is equal to the contemporary, bearing in mind the differences in strength of the artistic incarnation. The icon painter, layering with colours or gold ‘light’, does not adorn the representation, does not create the illusion of three-dimensionality, but embodies the radiance of the ‘Light of Mount Tabor’.”

In the United Kingdom, some of the most beautiful Russian icons are found in The British Museum in London.

There is also a beautiful and significant collection in Blackburn, in the North of England. The Icon Collection at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery comprises 61 icons.

Twenty-seven were seized by Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise from a Russian boat trying to smuggle them into England for sale, and given to Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery.

For the collection and an interesting and informative commentary on icons, see The Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery website

A Day of St Paul

The Telegraph reports that archaeologists have uncovered a 1,600 year old image of St Paul, the oldest one known of, in a Roman catacomb.

A photograph of the icon shows the thin face of a bearded man with large eyes, sunken nose and face on a red background surrounded with a yellow circle – the classic image of St Paul.

The image was found in the Catacomb of St Thekla, close to the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, which is said to be built on the site where he was buried.

In a further development, the Pope announced that scientific tests confirmed that shards found in the underground chamber at the church of St Paul's-Outside-the-Walls in Rome were someone who lived in the first or second century.

The scientists found "traces of a precious linen cloth, purple in colour, laminated with pure gold, and a blue coloured textile with filaments of linen," Benedict said.

"It also revealed the presence of grains of red incense and traces of protein and limestone. There were also tiny fragments of bone, which, when subjected to Carbon 14 tests by experts, turned out to belong to someone who lived in the first or second century."

The Pope said that "This seems to confirm the unanimous and undisputed tradition that these are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul,"

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Saints Peter and Paul

Michelangelo Buonarroti, (1475 –1564)
La crocifissione di S.Pietro The Crucixion of St Peter 1546-1550
Fresco 625 × 662 cm
The Cappella Paolina, Vatican Palace, The Vatican

Michelangelo Buonarroti, (1475 –1564)
Conversione di Paolo The Conversion of St Paul 1542-1545
Fresco 625 × 661 cm
The Cappella Paolina, Vatican Palace, The Vatican

Pope Paul III requested Michelangel to paint two great frescoes for the new chapel which he was building for the Vatican Palace: The Cappella Paolina. These works were his last ever frescos.

The Chapel has been closed for seven years for restoration.

Pope Benedict XVI will oversee an opening ceremony on July 4th.

The frescoes in the Cappella Paolina are unlike the other frescoes in the nearby Sistine Chapel.

The art historian Sydney Freedberg wrote of these frescoes:

"The human body is the earthen shell, the carcer terreno of a spirit that seems not to possess a private will or even specified identity. This is an abjuring of a whole life's history, and of the aspirations of the time in which it had been made: in the deepest possible sense an anti-classicism, and a negation of the Renaissance."

The composition and narrative of the two frescoes, the Conversion of St Paul and the Crucifixion of St Peter, are highly formalised, the rhetorical gestures of the protagonists and the settings deliberately abstracted from reality. They are deeply spiritual, and almost visionary.

The face of Paul fallen and in awe of the divine light has the face of an old and idealised Michelangelo himself.

The face of St Peter on the cross nails the viewer to the spot. This was the Pope`s private chapel. Michelangelo was not averse to speaking on the same level as Popes.

Michelangelo originally envisioned Peter’s body completely nude. However the figure was censured by being repainted with a loincloth

After he finished the last fresco, Michelangelo wrote a sonnet . In it he announces the end of his life and renounces art. The translation is by Creighton Gilbert:

My course of life already has attained,
Through stormy seas, and in a flimsy vessel,
The common port, at which we land to tell
All conduct's cause and warrant, good or bad,
So that the passionate fantasy, which made
Of art a monarch for me and an idol,
Was laden down with sin, now I know well,
Like what all men against their will desired.
What will become, now, of my amorous thoughts,
Once gay and vain, as towards two deaths I move,
One known for sure, the other ominous?
There's no painting or sculpture now that quiet
The soul that's pointed toward that holy Love
That on the cross opened its arms to take us

See also Cappella Paolina, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Léonard Limousin (c.1505 - 1575-1577)
Plaque: Triumph of the Eucharist and of the Catholic Faith, c.1561
enamel on copper
7 9/16 in. x 9 7/8 in. (19.21 cm x 25.08 cm)
Henry Clay Frick Bequest.
The Frick Collection

Jean I Pénicaud (1490 - after 1543)
Plaque: Martyrdom of a Saint, 1480-1541
enamel on copper
6 1/2 in. x 6 1/8 in. (16.51 cm x 15.56 cm)
Henry Clay Frick Bequest.
The Frick Collection

The Year For Priests

Fr. Mark Kirby of Vultus Christi has excellent suggestions for The Year For Priests.

1. You can ask your Parish Priest to offer the Votive Mass of Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest on the First Thursday of the Month. Suggest that he use the parish bulletin and the Sunday homily to invite the faithful to participate in this monthly Mass for the sanctification of all priests.

2. Study the Holy Father's Letter for the Year of Priests in a small group. Make copies. Mark them up. Take the message to heart. So much of what the Holy Father writes never reaches ordinary Catholics! Get the word out!

3. You can offer all your sufferings -- physical, emotional, and spiritual -- for the sanctification of all priests.

4. Considering the damage done to the priesthood by sins of calumny, detraction, and tale-bearing, resolve to refrain from all critical, unkind, and judgmental speech (and blogging) concerning priests, and also resolve never to repeat disedifying comments, anecdotes, or gossip concerning priests, their sins, and their failings.

5. Don't forget the souls of priests in purgatory. You may want to join with others in having Masses offered for the happy repose of the souls of departed priests.

6. Resolve to show all priests a supernaturally motivated respect and reverence. Reclaim the beautiful Catholic custom of asking for a priest's blessing whenever you encounter him. And brother priests, don't hesitate to offer your priestly blessing on every occasion!

7. "And He said to them, "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting" (Mk 9:32). In reparation for the sins of priests and to obtain for them graces of conversion, deliverance from patterns of habitual sin, and fortitude in spiritual combat, you can fast, abstain, or offer some other mortification for priests every Wednesday. (Spy Wednesday was the day of Judas' plotting against Our Lord.)

8. On Thursday (the day of the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist and of the Priesthood) you can spend one hour before the Blessed Sacrament in thanksgiving for the gift and mystery of the priesthood, and in confident supplication for the sanctification of all priests.

9. On Friday (the day of Our Lord's Blessed Passion) make the Way of the Cross for priests or pray the Litany of the Precious Blood or the Litany of the Sacred Heart for them.

10. Every Saturday (Our Blessed Lady's day) offer for priests five decades of the Rosary or the Ave, Maris Stella, a most suitable liturgical hymn for interceding for priests

Friday, June 26, 2009

Father Paolo Abbona

Colesworthy Grant (1813-1880)
Father Paolo Abbona 1855
From 'A Series of Views in Burmah taken during Major Phayre’s Mission to the Court of Ava in 1855'
Watercolour with pen and ink
316 x 222mm
The British Library, London

Father Paolo Abbona (1806-1874) was a Roman Catholic Oblate missionary priest from Piedmont. Two of his brothers were also priests.

At the time of this drawing he was the priest at the Roman Catholic chapel at Umeerapoora in Burma. He had also established a school there.

He was in Burma from 1839 to 1873

He had the confidence of the King of Burma (King Mindon) and acted for the King in delicate diplomatic matters.

Father Abbona told Grant that he occasionally received royal pecuniary aid and that he was convinced that if the King were once brought to believe in the truths of Christianity, he would not hesitate to become a Christian

The artist Grant was part of a British mission to Burma after the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852 and the annexation by the British of the Burmese province of Pegu (Bago). The mission was to attempt to persuade the King to sign a Treaty acknowledging the extension of British rule over the province.

In his long time in the Far East, Father Abbona built many schools and churches, factories and hospitals. He even helped to draw up the Treaty of Friendship between Burma and The Kingdom of Italy

He introduced the cultivation of the vine into the country.

As an explorer and geographer he helped open the Bammò Road between Tibet and China.

He has been described as the greatest Oblate missionary.

Before setting out for Burma, he was received in private audience by the Pope in Rome. The Pope was Gregory XVI. The audience lasted less than 30 minutes. He questioned Abbona about his vocation. He spoke of the persecution in Tonkin and asked the priest if he was ready to be martyred. The Pope said that they must accept whatever God should mete out.

He gave him a silver medallion, the triple blessing and the faculty of indulgence.

Father Abbona only returned to Italy in December 1873 to take back some Burmese students to study in Italy. He was also in Rome to defend himself against charges levelled against him by the Catholic Bishop of South Burma of going outwith his authority.

He saw the Prefect of Propaganda and had a private audience with Pope Pius IX on 18th December 1873. Interestingly one of the subjects which they discussed was the Most Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary. In his Note of the meeting Father Abbona wrote:

“Speaking about the Most Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary, I recalled that some add “and of St. Joseph”. Today – 18 December 1873 – the Pope said to me that this is an abuse; one should not depict the Heart of St. Joseph; devotion to the Heart of Saint Joseph is not approved by the Church. The Pope himself told me this today.”

He returned home for what he thought was to be a short visit. However in his home area he became seriously ill and died. He is buried in Boves.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Golden Calves

Emil Nolde (1867-1956)
Dance Around the Golden Calf
Oil on canvas
88 x 105.5 cm
Staatsgalerie moderner Kunst, Munich

Jan Steen (Dutch, 1626-1679)
The Worship of the Golden Calf, about 1673-77
Oil on canvas, 70 1/4 x 61 1/4 in. (178.4 x 155.6 cm.)
The North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC

Ignatius Taschner (1871-1913)
Illustration for Heinrich Heine`s poem Das Goldene Kalb
Print engraving
New York Public Library, New York

Carnaval de Nice: La Folie Veau d`Or 1903-20

When Moses went up onto Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19:20), he left the Israelites for forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:18)

At the request of the Israelites, Aaron collected and melted down gold objects and constructed the golden calf. Aaron also built an altar before the calf. The next day, the Israelites made offerings and celebrated. (Exodus 32:4)

God has just delivered the Ten Commandments to the Israelites, which included the Second Commandment regarding the prohibition against idolatry

The Holy Father went to the University of Notre Dame's Sacred Heart chapel in Darlinghurst (Sydney) where he met young people with histories of drug addiction and other problems. They are following the "Alive" rehabilitation program.

The Pope recalled Moses' words in the Old Testament: "'I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live in the love of the Lord your God, [...] for in this your life consists."

"It was clear what they had to do," the Pope explained, "they had to turn away from other gods and worship the true God Who had revealed himself to Moses -- and they had to obey His commandments.

You might think that in today's world, people are unlikely to start worshipping other gods. But sometimes people worship 'other gods' without realizing it. False 'gods' [...] are nearly always associated with the worship of three things: material possessions, possessive love, or power."

"Authentic love is obviously something good," the Pope continued. "When we love, we become most fully ourselves, most fully human.

But [...] people often think they are being loving when actually they are being possessive or manipulative.

People sometimes treat others as objects to satisfy their own needs. [...] How easy it is to be deceived by the many voices in our society that advocate a permissive approach to sexuality, without regard for modesty, self-respect or the moral values that bring quality to human relationships!"

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Libro d’Arabeschi

Pages from the Libro d’Arabeschi compiled by Sebastiano Resta (b. Milan 1635 – d. Rome 1714)

Francesco Salviati (Firenze 1513 – 1563)
Studio di calice /Study of a Chalice
Black pencil and pen, brown wash on light brown paper, squared off and pen on the left
mm. 327×182
From Libro d’Arabeschi, Palermo compiled by Sebastiano Resta (b. Milan 1635 – d. Rome 1714)

Etienne Du Pérac (1520 ca. – 1604?)
Roman Forum with the Campidoglio
Pen, dark metal on washed,
mm. 242×392
From Libro d’Arabeschi, Palermo compiled by Sebastiano Resta (b. Milan 1635 – d. Rome 1714)

Federico Zuccari (Sant’Angelo in Vado 1540/1541 – Ancona 1609)
View of the palazzo del Podestà ad Orvieto
Black and red pencil on white paper
mm. 247×355
From Libro d’Arabeschi, Palermo compiled by Sebastiano Resta (b. Milan 1635 – d. Rome 1714)

It was probably not by accident that Father Sebastiano Resta (b. Milan 1635 – d. Rome 1714)became involved in the collection of art works. (see post below)

He was born into a noble Milanese family in 1635. His father Filippo was a painter of some reputation.

He graduated in philosophy from the University of Milan and then earned further degrees in both canon and civil law from the University of Pavia, where he served as a professor

In Rome he developed friendly relationships with many artists, notably Carlo Maratti.

In 1999, his Libro d’Arabeschi was rediscovered in the Biblioteca Comunale di Palermo, a collection that he had assembled in the 1600s and given to Giuseppe del Voglia: 292 drawings and 15 prints that provide an illustrated history of the arts of ornamentation and decoration in Italy from the late 1400s to the 1600s.

Monday, June 22, 2009

One part of The Resta Collection

Niccolò Circignani (earliest record of activity 1564, d. Città della Pieve, c. 1598.)
The martyrdom of St Ebba c.1591
Pen and brown ink, with brown wash, over black chalk, on discoloured light brown paper, with lines indented
188 millimetres x 180 millimetres
The British Museum, London

Much of Father Resta`s collection (see post below) ended up in the collection of John Somers, Baron Somers and from there into The British Museum, London

The writing beside the drawing is in the hand of Father Resta. He writes:

“di NICOLO POMARANCI M[aestr]o del Cav[aliere] Christoforo e P[ad]re d'Antonio.

L'opera stà dipinta in S. Tom[m]aso degl'Inglesi e và in stampa in un libro intitolato Anglicana Trophea intagliati poco bene da Gio. Batt[ist]a de Cavalieri l'anno 1584 con privilegio di Papa Gregorio XIII.

La prima Santa è S[ant]a Ebba del sangue Regio d'Inghilterra Abbadessa del Monasterio Colinganiense, che per non essere oggetto d'impurità à gl'Infedeli invasori sì tagliò il naso et il labro superiore; esempio imitato subbito dalle altre Monache.

Il Vescovo è S. Licfardo che ritornato Pellegrino da Roma fù da qu[ell]i Infedeli martirizato in Camerace l'altro martirio finto in lontananza è dì S. Eugulo pur Vescovo, e la Chiesa e Monastero fù messo à fuoco.

Per il disegno e p[er] la pittura non è gran fare, ma per memoria d'un maestro, che ne suoi tempi hebbe fama, e d'un opera, che si demolirà tra poco, quando i Giesuiti fabricaranno la nova chiesa, si può tenere, e poi questi erano li Pittori nominati nel secolo, che comprende questo Tomo terzo del secolo Prattico".

The drawing is connected with a painting by Niccolò Circignani in S. Tommaso degli Inglesi (or di Canterbury) in Rome which still exists as part of the English College in Rome, though rebuilt in the later nineteenth century.

The representation, is of St Ebba and the nuns of her convent cutting off their lips and noses in order to discourage the Danish invaders from raping them

A Great Collector

Pier Leone Ghezzi (28 June 1674 – March 1755)
Padre Sebastiano Resta
Biblioteca Vallicelliana, Rome

Ghezzi was an Italian Rococo painter and caricaturist active in Rome.

The caricature above is one of many which he made of priests and religious in the Rome of his day.

The sitter is Padre Sebastiano Resta (1653 –1714). He was born in Milan but transferred to Rome in 1655. He remained there until his death. He was an Oratorian at S. Maria in Vallicella in Rome.

He was one of the great collectors of artists' drawings. He intended to sell his albums at a profit and donate the proceeds to charity. He solicited gifts of drawings through his wide network of correspondence.

The English architect and agent John Talman described his work as follows:

“I have lately seen a collection of Drawings the finest without doubt in Europe, for the method and number of rare designs . . . they are books that ought to be in the Q[uee]n's Library. . . . They were at first collected by the famous Father Resta, a Milanese, of the oratory of Philippo Neri at Rome; a person so well known in Rome, and all over Italy, for his skill in drawings, that it would be needless to say any more of him, than that these collections were made by him.”

Saints Cyril and Methodius

Mikhail Vrubel. March 17, 1856 - April 14, 1910,
St. Cyril. 1885.
Zinc panel.
Church of St. Cyril, Kiev, Ukraine

On Wednesday, 17 June 2009 Pope Benedict XVI gave a talk in General Audience on the theme of Saints Cyril and Methodius

Not a very long speech but just enough to cover the salient points:

“As we continue our catechesis on the early Christian writers of the East and the West, we now turn to the brothers Saints Cyril and Methodius. They were born in Thessalonica in the early ninth century.

Cyril, whose baptismal name was Constantine, was educated at the Byzantine Court, ordained a priest, and became an acclaimed teacher of sacred and profane sciences.

When his brother Michael became a monk, taking the name of Methodius, Cyril also decided to embrace the monastic life.

Having retrieved the relics of Pope Clement I during a mission in Crimea, the brothers successfully preached Christianity to the people of Moravia. Inventing an alphabet for the Slavonic language, they together with their disciples translated the Liturgy, the Bible and texts of the Fathers, shaping the culture of the Slav peoples and leaving an outstanding example of inculturation.

Pope Adrian II received them in Rome and encouraged their missionary work.

When Cyril died in Rome in 869, Methodius continued the mission in spite of persecution.

After his death in 885, some of his disciples, providentially released from slavery, spread the Gospel in Bulgaria and in “the Land of the Rus”.

In recognition of the brothers’ vast influence, they were named Co-Patrons of Europe by Pope John Paul II.

May we imitate their strong faith and their Christian wisdom as we bear witness to the Gospel in our daily lives!”

More about Saints Cyril and Methodius can be found in
(1)The Encyclical of Pope John Paul II on the Eleventh Centenary of the two saints entitled Slavorum Apostoli (2nd June 1985) and

(2) the Encyclical of Pope Leo XII on the two saints entitled Grande Munus (September 30, 1880)

Saint Cyril’s Church was built ca 1146.

In 1881–4 marble choir parapets and a new marble iconostasis (designed by Adrian Prakhov) were installed in the church.

Its medieval frescoes were restored, Mikhail Vrubel, painted new murals in the vaults and narthex and the four icons of the iconostasis.

In 1929 it was turned into a State Museum.

Vrubel visited Venice to study early church art as part of the project. His paintings sometimes had a mosaic-like quality where paint was applied in different-shaped blocks varying in size by a factor of about two. Vrobel was the leading Russian Symbolist painter

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Leonardo Alenza y Nieto 1807-1845
El viático/ The Viaticum
Oil on canvas 77 x 63.5cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Leonardo Alenza y Nieto was a Spanish painter and illustrator, a follower of Goya.

He was inspired by scenes of every day Madrid. He depicted numerous scenes showing the customs and landscapes and of the lower classes at play and work.

Despite his talent and some recognition while he was alive, he died penniless.

As regards the Viaticum of the title of the painting, it is explained in paragraph 1524 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

"1524 In addition to the Anointing of the Sick, the Church offers those who are about to leave this life the Eucharist as viaticum. Communion in the body and blood of Christ, received at this moment of "passing over" to the Father, has a particular significance and importance. It is the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection, according to the words of the Lord: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." The sacrament of Christ once dead and now risen, the Eucharist is here the sacrament of passing over from death to life, from this world to the Father."

Friday, June 19, 2009


Arnulf Rainer (b.1929)
Weinkruzifix / Wine Crucifix 1957/78
Oil on canvas
Support: 1680 x 1030 mm frame: 1685 x 1035 x 40 mm
Tate Modern, London

In the 1960s, a number of Austrian artists called The Vienna Actionists were influenced by international developments in painting in the 1950s and by artists such as Jackson Pollock.

They took painting as their starting point but they extended their gestural, material and often violent outpourings beyond the canvas. They wanted to break taboos.

Arnulf Rainer was not an “Actionist” but shared some of the Actionists’ interests and tendencies, particularly the desire to shock the viewer

Wine-Crucifix was originally painted as an altar-piece for the Student Chapel of the Catholic University in Graz, Austria at the instigation of Monsignor Otto Mauer.

In the late 1960s the work somehow disappeared from the Chapel (no one is quite sure how or why) and reappeared on the art market. The artist re-acquired and re-worked it.

The Wein part of its title in German, Weinkreuzifix, is a play on the German words for 'weep' and 'wine'

Originally the work hung loosely, without a frame, across a large window. Light shining through the cloth would reveal the shape of a cross beneath layers of paint.

In an interview in 1971, the artist said:

“There have been men and women in the church whose lives and thoughts touched me deeply. I myself still go through phases when I paint religious pictures”

Monsignor Otto Mause was a priest at St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, and who also founded the Galerie nächst St Stephen. The Monsignor who commissioned the work was someone who impressed the artist. Of him, Rainer said:

“I had many discussions with him at that time and it was he who made it clear to me that connections between religion and artistic creativity, as I saw them, weren't as peculiar as they seemed. ...

I was amazed how spiritually involved Mauer was; as far as he was concerned, there was no difficulty in relating religion to modern art, which was prevalent at that time in Christian circles. By contrast Mauer seemed shaped by his contact with this form of art. He certainly wasn't a ‘progressive' priest. Theologically he was more traditionally orientated. But he was an incredibly intelligent and articulate man with an extraordinary wide horizon. He was capable of relating things to each other, which was certainly not an everyday achievement. ...

As far as we [artists] were concerned he emanated great spirituality as well as being a totally charismatic person. He used to preach sermons which were real works of art. And he gave himself up so utterly to his theme that he literally swayed in ecstasy in the pulpit. He fascinated all of us, just as great artists fascinate.”

(From ‘Elf Antworten auf Elf Fragen' in Otto Breicha (ed.), Arnulf Rainer Hirndrang, Salzburg 1980, pp.92-3)

In the same book above but in another interview, Rainer discussed what Christ means to him and goes on to describe his first picture of Christ:

“It started as a black figural-structure. I attempted to make a crucified figure. At the start it was a kind of cubic stretch-figure. But it wasn't successful. It was a stylistic platitude. So I went on painting and the figure of Christ became a cross. And finally, this cross became veiled by a dark cloud. But I am quite satisfied that something is still perceptible. It doesn't even have to be consciously perceptible. He [Christ] withdraws when we attempt to represent him. Perhaps he is there in an intimation, in an extinguished, fragmentary way. In certain signs. And yet he even withdraws there. As soon as one thoughtlessly repeats it “

Three Fifteenth Century Chasubles

Chasuble with orphreys
Woven silk velvet, with embroidery in silk, silver-gilt and silver thread
Height 120 cm x Width 86 cm (maximum)
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The original owner was the Duke of Warwick (d.1445) who can be identified by the heraldic devices on the coats of arms applied to the orphreys.

Brocaded silk lampas, with embroidery in silk and silver-gilt thread
Length 148.5 cm (back of chasuble) Width 76.8 cm (back of chasuble at widest point)
Length 148.5 cm (orphrey on back) Width 41.3 cm (width of ophrey on back at widest point)
Length 112 cm (chasuble front) Width 56.5 cm (chasuble front at widest point)
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The chasuble has two shields or coats of arms bearing the personal devices of Sir Thomas Erpingham: an eagle rising and the red rose of Lancaster.

Erpingham (about 1375–1428) was a close associate of Henry IV and Henry V and a veteran of the Battle of Agincourt (1415).

The chasuble may have been for his personal chaplain, or for a church with which he was connected.

late 15th century
Woven silk velvet ground, with orphrey of linen embroidered with silver, silver-gilt and silks (metal threads couched; silks in split stitch; glass)
Height 95 cm x Width 72 cm
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Having A Priest in the Family

Virginia Hendrickson Irvin (1904–1992)
Father Charles E. Irvin, Jr. (1967)
Watercolor on ivory in gilded wood frame 3 in. diam. (7.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Not many of us are fortunate to have our portrait painted. Even fewer I would suspect would have our portrait hung or in a collection of a distinguished and prestigious Museum or Art Gallery.

Father Charles Irvin is therefore one of the few.

He was ordained in 1967 and is now in “active retirement”. He was founding editor of Faith magazine, published by the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan.

His very interesting website is at

The portrait in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York was on the occasion of the ordination of Father Irvin on 3rd June 1967. It was painted by Father Irvin`s mother. It came into the ownership of Father Irvin who then gifted it to the Museum in memory of his mother.

Mrs Irvin was a distinguished miniatuarist. As well as having some other works accepted for the Metropolitan, her works are also in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The Year of the Priest

As we start The Year of the Priest, some lesser known paintings from some museums and galleries in the United Kingdom.

Jan Swerts 1820-1879
A Priest Giving a Child her First Lesson 1849
Oil on canvas 76.1 x 86 cm
Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum, Stirling

Dumée (French artist, active early 19th century)
An Open Air Altar 1839 (Celebration of an Open Air Mass)
Oil on canvas 32.5 x 58.5 cm
The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, Co. Durham

Vincent Chevilliard 1841-1904
Conversation c.1861
Oil on panel (hardwood {mahogany}) 18.2 x 14.9 cm
Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums, Aberdeen

James Tissot 1836-1902
Leaving the Confessional
1865 (dated)
Oil on canvas 115.4 x 69.2 cm
Southampton City Art Gallery, Southampton

French School
Religious Procession (c. 1675-1725)
Oil on canvas 50 x 65 cm
The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, Co. Durham

Attributed to circle of Piazzetta, Giovanni Battista (Italian painter and printmaker, 1682-1754)
The Death of Saint Andrew Avellino c. 1712-1754
Oil on canvas 65.6 x 48.5 cm
Holburne Museum of Art, Bath
(Saint Andrew Avellino (1521-1608) was a reforming priest of the Order of Theatines who suffered a fatal stroke at the altar, while saying Mass. The two men on the right are probably St Cajetan, the founder of the Theatines, and Saint Andrew's spiritual director, Blessed Giovanni Marinonio.)

An Early Devotee of the Sacred Heart

Jacinto Vieria
(Active 1720s in Portugal)
St Gertrude
c. 1725
Painted wood
Monastery church, Arouca, Portugal

Jacinto Vieira came from Braga in Portugal. That is as much as we know about him

This beautiful wooden statute has been painted so as to resemble stone.

It is a different type of painted wooden statuary from that mentioned in the previous post.

Why St Gertrude (January 6, 1256 – November 17, 1302) ? Also known as St Gertrude the Great or St Saint Gertrude of Helfta ?

She was a Benedictine and mystic writer. On the feast of St. John the Evangelist, she had a vision.

In her vision, she was allowed to rest her head near the wound in the Saviour's side.

She heard the beating of the Divine Heart and asked John if, on the night of the Last Supper, he too had felt the beating, why he had never spoken of the fact.

She reported that John replied that this revelation had been reserved for subsequent ages when the world, having grown cold, would have need of it to rekindle its love .

This recounting of the vision was an important stimulus to the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus at that time and subsequently.

Her writings were warmly received especially in Spain, and in particular by St Teresa of Avila who chose her as a model and a guide.

In Haurietis Aquas (15th May 1956), Pope Pius XII said:

“We can even assert - as the revelations made by Jesus Christ to St. Gertrude and to St. Margaret Mary clearly show - that no one really ever has a proper understanding of Christ crucified to whom the inner mysteries of His Heart have not been made known. Nor will it be easy to understand the strength of the love which moved Christ to give Himself to us as our spiritual food save by fostering in a special way the devotion to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, the purpose of which is - to use the words of Our predecessor of happy memory, Leo XIII - "to call to mind the act of supreme love whereby our Redeemer, pouring forth all the treasures of His Heart in order to remain with us till the end of time, instituted the adorable Sacrament of the Eucharist."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Painting and Sculpture

Pedro de Mena (1628–1688)
Christ as the Man of Sorrows, 1673
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Gregorio Fernández (about 1576–1636)
The Dead Christ, 1625–30
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Juan Martínez Montañés (1568–1649)
Saint Francis Borgia, 1624

In seventeenth century Spain, there flourished an artistic phenomenon: painted wooden statuary. It had flourished in other areas but had generally been rendered obsolete during the Italian Renaissance. The painted wooden statue continued to be a major form in Spanish art well into the 18th century and is still popular in folk art today

In October 2009, the National Gallery in London will host an exhibition entitled: “The Sacred Made Real Spanish Painting and Sculpture 1600 – 1700” 21 October 2009 – 24 January 2010

The exhibition will bring together paintings and painted wooden sculptures by the great Spanish realists of the 17th century. And it will provide a reappraisal of the crucial role of these hyper-realist sculptures in the development of Spanish art.

Providing a unique experience, sculpture and painting will be displayed side-by-side.

This will be the first major exhibition to explore this relationship.

Most Spanish sculptures from this time were dedicated to key Christian themes. ‘The Sacred Made Real’ will explore how painters and sculptors combined their skills to create arrestingly life-like depictions of the saints, the Immaculate Conception and the Passion of Christ.

The aim was to produce greater realism and appeal directly to the emotions: Baroque emotionalism.

Not every painter was allowed to colour sculptures. Only those painters who had passed the examinations of the polychromers` guild were allowed to do this work. Francisco Pacheco (1564-1644) was one of the painters who did such work. He was the author of the Arte de la pintura, published posthumously after his death. In Spanish painting he was influential in his time. Today he is perhaps better known as the master and father-in-law of Diego Velázquez.

In such work, painters and sculptors needed to cooperate. However it was not all plain sailing. Disputes arose as to status and money.

Francisco Pacheco wrote a paper on the comparative merits of painting and sculpture. As you might expect he came down on the side of painters.

The occasion of the paper was a law suit which arose between Juan Martinez Montañés (1568–1649), the sculptor (known as “el dios de la madera” or “The God of Wood” on account of his ability), and certain painters on the question of the division of profits.

Montañés carved a retablo for the high altar of the Nuns of Santa Clara and received 6,000 ducats for the completed work.

He paid the artist who painted it and gilded it only 1,500 ducats, a sum which appeared to the artist and his confreres less than what he was due.

Pacheco censured the conduct of the carvers who coloured their own works as an infringement of the rights of artists.

Pacheco`s position has always appeared absurd especially in a city (Seville) where both arts were frequently and lawfully practised by the same master.

In his Arte de la pintura (1649), he further extolled the role of the painter in society and over the status of that of the sculptor. In this he was continuing the debate of Paragone (Italian: paragone, meaning comparison). This was a debate from the Italian Renaissance in which one form of art (architecture, sculpture or painting) was championed as superior to all others.

Leonardo da Vinci's treatise on painting, Trattato, noted the difficulty of painting and supremacy of sight and preferred painting over sculpture. It is perhaps not surprising that in Arte de la pintura, Pacheco makes frequent reference to the Trattato.

Despite the erudite arguments advanced on both sides about which art form was supreme, one really does get the impression that the underlying reasons for the dispute were: status and money.

Hopefully the exhibition will show that rather than argument, cooperation between painting and sculpture was the desirable option.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Kitchen Scene

Joachim Beuckelaer (c. 1533–1574))
Fire: A Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Martha and Mary in the Background 1569
Oil on canvas
157.5 x 215.5 cm.
The National Gallery, London

This is one of a set of four pictures which were produced in Antwerp, probably for a patron in Italy.

The set of pictures take as their theme the four elements of 'Earth', 'Water', 'Air' and 'Fire'.

This painting represents “Fire”

Beyond the kitchen Christ is shown seated with Martha and Mary.

In the foreground a feast is being prepared in a busy kitchen where food is abundant. An important visitor has arrived. He must be entertained royally.

In the Gospel of Saint Luke, Martha then served supper to Jesus. Instead of helping her sister, Mary chose to sit at Christ's feet and listen to him speak.

When Martha complained to Jesus that Mary was not helping her serve the food, Jesus reproached Martha with the words: 'Mary has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her'.

Beuckelaer thus contrasts the physical and the spiritual worlds and thus emphasises a moral message about human behaviour which is similar to that of Jesus in the Gospel passage.

However perhaps the “message” is not as distinctive as it could be, swamped as it is by the sheer skill and artistry of the depiction of the action and the various objects in the foreground.

Beuckelaer's skill as a still-life painter is demonstrated in this picture. Still-life painting in the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries focused on the beauty of physical things and strove to make their objects look as realistic as possible.

He started by working for his uncle, Pieter Aertsen. In his uncle's work-place he learnt to paint market scenes and kitchen tableaux combined with biblical themes.

The biographer Karel van Mander reports that Bueckelaer's paintings did not fetch very much. After his death his works became worth at least twelve times as much.

His work was popular in northern Italy and inspired Annibale Carracci to paint market and kitchen scenes.

The Prado also has an earlier painting by Beuckelaer on the same theme. See below. According to the catalogue entry in the Prado, Flemish painting had an influence on Diego Velázquez.

Perhaps it is then no coincidence that the National Gallery in London has another painting on the same theme with a similar composition by Velázquez . See further below. It is possible that Velázquez had access to an engraving of the work by Beuckelaer but the Prado work rather than The National Gallery work.

The painting by Beuckelaer in the Prado bears more similarity to that of Velázquez than the Beuckelaer in The National Gallery in London.

Joachim Beuckelaer (c. 1533–1574))
Cristo en casa de Marta y María 1568
Oil on canvas
126 cm x 243 cm
The Prado Museum, Madrid

Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (b. 1599, , d. 1660,)
Christ in the House of Mary and Martha
c. 1620
Oil on canvas, 60 x 103,5 cm
National Gallery, London

But overall Velázquez's Spanish kitchen scene is different from Beuckelaer's Netherlandish one.

The Spanish kitchen is frugal in comparison to the Dutch kitchen brimming with produce.

There is also another twist in the treatment by Velázquez over that of Beuckelaer: the figures in the foreground. In Velázquez`s painting a grumpy young woman is preparing a simple meal. At her shoulder an older woman seems to be reminding her of her work.

Perhaps the young Velázquez is trying to highlight a human difficulty with the story from the Gospel. The story of Martha and Mary would seem to promote the value of study and contemplation over menial work. Without the menial work there would be no feast for Christ, Martha and Mary. Further, the young cook has no choice. She must work and she does not want to.

Or is he hinting at a resolution of this tension which is only hinted at in the work by Beuckelaer? That the young cook`s role in life is as valid and necessary as any other. A popular teaching by Saint Theresa maintained that 'The Lord walks even among the kitchen pots, helping you in matter spiritual and material'.

Or is the resolution to be found in the poetry of John Milton 1608–1674 and in particular:

On His Blindness (c.1655)

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Island that Nurtures Saints

In the sixth century, Ennodus of Pavia called it « An island that nurtures saints. »

The island he was referring to was the Island of Saint-Honorat off the coast of Cannes in the South of France.

Between 400 and 410 the monk Saint Honoratus, along with Saint Caprais and a few other companions, settled on the island in search of solitude.

Apart from Saracen invasions, the island was continuously inhabited by monks in a monastery.

However in 1787 at the time of the French Revolution, the Isle of Saint-Honorat was confiscated, became property of the nation and sold to Marie-Blanche Alziary de Roquefort, an actress with the Comédie Française.

But in 1859. Saint-Honorat was purchased by Monsignor Jordany, Bishop of Fréjus, who shortly afterwards asked Dom Barnouin, who had reinstated the Cistercian community of Sénanque, to re-establish a religious community on the island. And in the 1870s . the Cistercian Congregation of the Immaculate Conception transferred to the island, which is today the property of the Congregation de Sénanque.

The celebrated photographer of the Pays Niçois , Jean Gilletta 1856-1933 took the above photograph. (date unfortunately unknown)

The picture comes from
Jean-Paul Potron.
Gilletta. Nice Matin.
ISBN. 2 915606 40 4

Credit to Gibbon which is a fascinating and utterly enthralling blog.

The Government Art Collection

The Government Art Collection (GAC) places works of art in major Government buildings in the UK and around the world to promote British art, culture and history.

Works are displayed in several hundred locations, including Downing Street, ministerial offices and reception areas in Whitehall, Regional Government Offices in the UK, and diplomatic posts in locations as diverse as Paris, Buenos Aires, Washington and Beijing.

The works can be viewed at

The GAC now holds approximately 13,000 works of art by British artists in a variety of media, including paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, photographs, textiles and video works, from the sixteenth century to the present day.

The majority of the Collection is on display in Government buildings.

A number of paintings in the Collection by the Victorian artist David Roberts are below.

Born in Edinburgh, he became a house painter then a painter of sets in the theatre.

From 1831 he travelled widely in Europe and the Mediterranean basin and made a fortune with his topographical views. He became a member of the Royal Academy

David Roberts
Interior of St. Peter's, Rome
Oil on canvas
113(H) x 89.5(W)
The British Government Art Collection

David Roberts
Interior of the Duomo, Milan 1857
Oil on canvas
167(H) x 131(W)
The British Government Art Collection

David Roberts
Chapel of the Annunciation, Nazareth c.1839
Watercolour and white heightening on paper
23.5(H) x 34(W)
The British Government Art Collection

David Roberts
The High Altar at Seville Cathedral 1837
Colour lithograph
52.2(H) x 36.6(W)
The British Government Art Collection