Saturday, July 31, 2010

St Ignatius of Loyola

Pierre Paul Rubens 1577 - 1640
St Ignatius Loyola exorcising 1619
Oil on wood
73.7 x 50.2 cm
Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

Daniel Seghers 1590 - 1661
St Ignatius of Loyola
Oil on canvas
43.5 x 37.4 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Bayrische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich

Portrait of St Ignatius of Loyola
Oil on wood
Musée de Port-Royal des Champs, Magny-les-Hameaux

Erasmus Quellin II (1607-1678), Daniel Seghers (1590-1661)
Cartouche representing The Virgin and Child with St Ignatius of Loyola
Oil on canvas
95.8 x 71.9 cm
Kunsthalle, Hamburg

Juan de Valdes Leal (1622-1690)
St Ignatius of Loyola receiving the Name of Jesus 1676
Oil on canvas
207 x 145 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Seville

Matisse and the Chapel of the Rosary at Vence .... agaiin

I have posted on a number of occasions about the Chapel of the Rosary at Vence (La Chapelle du Rosaire, Vence) in the South of France


Here are some of the drawings and studies which Matisse executed for the project (apart from the first)

Henri Matisse 1869 - 1954
Interior view of the Chapel of the Rosary at Vence: Stained glass at the entrance door
Stained glass: 19.8 x 41 cm
Chapelle du Rosaire, Vence

Henri Matisse 1869 - 1954
Seven studies (2nd stage) for the Stained glass windows at the Chapel of the Rosary at Vence
November 1948 - January 1949
509.8 x 252.3 cm
Musée national d'Art moderne - Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Henri Matisse 1869 - 1954
Drawing of a Stained glass window at the Chapel of the Rosary at Vence
24.4 x 42.7
Musée national Message biblique Marc Chagall, Nice

Henri Matisse 1869 - 1954
Drawing of a Stained glass window at the Chapel of the Rosary at Vence II
24 x 43.2 cm
Musée national Message biblique Marc Chagall, Nice

Henri Matisse 1869 - 1954
Study for the Chapel of the Rosary at Vence: Christ
63 x 47 cm
Château de Villeneuve, Vence

Henri Matisse 1869 - 1954
Study for the Chapel of the Rosary at Vence: Study of the front view of a tunic 1949
65 x 48 cm
Château de Villeneuve, Vence

Henri Matisse 1869 - 1954
Study for the Chapel of the Rosary at Vence: Study of the front view of a tunic II 1949
65 x 48 cm
Château de Villeneuve, Vence

Henri Matisse 1869 - 1954
Study for the Chapel of the Rosary at Vence: Study of the rear view of a tunic 1949
63 x 50 cm
Château de Villeneuve, Vence

Henri Matisse 1869 - 1954
Study for the Fourth Station of the Cross: Christ meets his mother 1949
63 x 48.5 cm
Château de Villeneuve, Vence

Henri Matisse 1869 - 1954
Study for the Fifth Station of the Cross: Simon the Cyrenian 1949
63 x 47 cm
Château de Villeneuve, Vence

Henri Matisse 1869 - 1954
Study for the Sixth Station of the Cross: Saint Veronica 1949
63 x 48 cm
Château de Villeneuve, Vence

Henri Matisse 1869 - 1954
Drawing of La Chapelle de Vence 1955
Drawing: Pencil and China ink
32 x 28.5 cm
Musée national Message biblique Marc Chagall, Nice

Henri Matisse 1869 - 1954
Study for the Door of a Confessional 1950
240 x 109 cm
Musée Matisse, Nice

Henri Matisse 1869 - 1954
Black Chasuble 1950-2
126 x 197.5 cm
Musée Matisse, Le Câteau-Cambrésis

Henri Matisse 1869 - 1954
Black Chasuble 1950
132.6 x 197 cm
Musée Matisse, Le Câteau-Cambrésis

Friday, July 30, 2010

Van Gogh in London: Happiness and then the Long Decline

The young Vincent

Vincent van Gogh moved to London in May 1873 as the result of a posting for his job in the same firm (Goupil) as his brother Theo worked.

He lived intermittently in the city until 1876.

From August 1873 to August 1874, he had lodgings at 87 Hackford Road, in the then very fashionable London suburb of Brixton. His landlady was Ursula Loyer and her daughter Eugenie. They ran a small school at their home. Theo's wife later remarked that this was the happiest year of Vincent's life.

87 Hackford Road, Brixton

He walked daily to Goupil's office in Covent Garden in an astonishing 45 minutes.

He spent Christmas 1873 with the Loyer family. He became attached to Eugenie. In early August 1874 he declared his love to Eugenie but unfortunately he was rejected. She was already secretly engaged to a former lodger, He moved. However the romantic rejection by his landlady’s daughter shook Vincent’s trust in the world and helped to turn him towards religion as a form of consolation. (In fact it was at a church in Richmond that he delivered his first sermon)

To his credit he still maintained his connection with the Loyers family. On 25th November 1876, Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo that he visited Mrs Moyer for her 61st birthday:

"then to Clapham to visit Mrs Loyer again, her birthday was the day before. She is indeed a widow in whose heart the psalms of David and the chapters of Isaiah are not dead but sleeping. Her name is written in the book of life."

While in London he read a great deal of English literature. He read novels by Charles Dickens (1812–1870) and George Eliot (1819–1880) with increasing enthusiasm. Millais became an enthusiasm.

He also read the poetry of John Keats

Pictures and books were the young man`s meat and drink

In the following letter written by him to Willem and Caroline van Stockum-Haanebeek. on Thursday, 7 August 1873, Vincent shows his cultural enthusiasms:

"London, 7 August 1873

My dear friends,

It was a very pleasant surprise for me to receive Caroline’s letter. Thank you.

I sincerely hope that she’s now completely better; fortunately, it’s past. When you write again sometime I must hear more about that last piece you made. I was truly astounded by it; for 10 people, that’s surely the biggest you’ve done.

The last few days I’ve enjoyed reading the poems of John Keats; he’s a poet who isn’t very well known in Holland, I believe. He’s the favourite of the painters here, and that’s how I came to be reading him. Herewith something by him. His most famous piece is ‘St Agnes’ eve’, but it’s rather too long to copy out.

I haven’t yet been to the Crystal Palace and the Tower, nor to Tussauds; I’m not at all in a hurry to go and see everything. For the time being I have enough with the museums, parks, &c., which attract me more.

I had a nice day last Monday. The first Monday in Aug. is a holiday here. I went with one of the Germans to Dulwich, an hour and a half outside L., to see the museum there, and afterwards we walked to a village about an hour further on.

The countryside here is so beautiful; many people who have their business in L. live in some village or other outside L. and come to the city every day by train. Perhaps I’ll soon be doing that as well, if I can find a cheap room somewhere. But I find moving so terrible that I’ll stay here as long as possible, though things aren’t as nice here as they seemed at first. Perhaps this is my fault, so I’ll wait a little longer.

...Yours truly,
Cheer me up soon with a letter if you can find the time."

The Dulwich Picture Gallery is Britain’s oldest public gallery with a famous collection of seventeenth-century paintings. It houses one of the world's most important collections of European old master paintings of the 1600s and 1700s. On Monday, 4 August, 1873 Vincent wrote his signature ‘VWvanGogh the Hague’ in the visitor’s book. The Gallery  is one of London`s hidden treasures.

Camille Pissarro (10 July 1830 – 13 November 1903), the French Impressionist painter had to flee France after the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. He and his family found refuge in London and settled at 77a Westow Hill in Upper Norwood (today better known as Crystal Palace).

Through the paintings Pissarro completed at this time, he records Sydenham and the Norwoods and the surrounding areas at a time when they were just recently connected by railways, but prior to the expansion of suburbia. Some of the areas painted by Pissarro are the areas which Vincent explored in his walks. See below

Camille Pissarro, (1830–1903)
Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich 1871
Oil on canvas
Height: 44.5 cm (canvas); width: 72.5 cm (canvas); height: 67.5 cm (frame); width: 96.5 cm (frame); depth: 10.3 cm (frame)
The Courtauld Gallery, London

Camille Pissarro, (1830–1903)
Near Sydenham Hill 1871
Oil on canvas
17 x 21 in. (43.5 x 53.5 cm)
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
The vantage point is just north of Sydenham Hill Station, looking toward West Norwood Cemetery

Camille Pissarro, (1830–1903)
The Avenue, Sydenham (Crystal Palace)1871
Gouache on pencil
15 x 24.6 cm
Musée du Louvre département des Arts graphiques, Paris

Camille Pissarro, (1830–1903)
The Avenue, Sydenham 1871
Oil on canvas
48 x 73 cm
The National Gallery, London

Camille Pissarro, (1830–1903)
Fox Hill, Upper Norwood 1870
Oil on canvas
35.3 x 45.7 cm
The National Gallery, London

With the letter to Willem and Caroline van Stockum-Haanebeek Vincent had copied out in his own hand two poems by Keats including :

"John Keats (1818)

The imagination may be compared to Adam’s dream; ‘he awoke and found it truth’.


Season of mist, and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend to the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’erbrimm’d their clammy cells.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft.
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies."

In his transcription, Vincent omitted the middle stanza of the original (11 lines of verse, a personification of Autumn).

English painters – especially the Pre-Raphaelites – regularly depicted themes from the works of Keats

The following painting brings to mind Keats` depiction of Autumn. Perhaps the stanzas of Keats flitted through Vincent`s mind as he painted

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)
Wheat Field with Reaper at Sunrise
September 1889
Oil on canvas
74 × 92 cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

But on further examination, it appears that sadly Keats` optimistic and tranquil celebration of Autumn has become distorted through the prism of a tragic illness. Of this painting Vincent wrote to his brother Theo:

‘A reaper, the study is all yellow, terribly thickly impasted, but the subject was beautiful and simple. I then saw in this reaper … the image of death … in this sense that humanity would be the wheat being reaped. … But in this death nothing sad, it takes place in broad daylight with a sun that floods everything with a light of fine gold.’
Vincent to Theo, 5–6 September 1889

In 1875, his family spoke of him as being ‘different’ and were worried about his religious fanaticism, which would continue for a few years yet.

In the period when he still wanted to become a clergyman, his father did not know what to make of the endless epistles riddled with quotations from the Bible. They used the word ‘worry’ a great deal when speaking of their eldest son.

In 1876, he was dismissed from his employment.

His father wrote in a letter to Theo:

‘In London he paid a visit to a minister whose services he used to attend, thereby attempting to secure a situation in the church (albeit not as a preacher). There was talk of missionary work in London amongst the poor, but that fell through because he doesn’t meet the minimum age requirement. There was also talk of missionary work in South America. I cannot perceive from his letter any true desire for it on his part. When this is not paramount, I should call it great folly. And in the end a very costly undertaking, which would surely come to nothing for want of proper training, and mean returning home at great expense’

The sense of drift, hopelessness, false sentiment based on literary romanticism is evident from Vincent`s letters at the time. At the same time one is aware of a great and acute intelligence, paralysed and unable to convert his thought and faith into true and proper action. Was this someone who needed proper spiritual direction ? Or was it someone bobbing amongst a myriad of separate and unconnected Protestant churches and societies believing he had a religious vocation and without any insight that he was in the grip of a severe mental affliction ? The latter is the more likely.

The depression is palpable. His family must have been distressed at seeing how such a great and talented man appeared to be torturing himself.

Here is one letter by Vincent to his brother, Theo dated 4 July 1876 and written when Vincent was in Isleworth:

"My dear Theo,

There may well come a time when I look back with a certain nostalgia on the ‘excesses of Egypt’` connected with other situations, namely earning more money and being in many respects of more consequence in the world – this I foresee. There is however ‘bread enough and to spare’` in the houses I’ll be visiting as I continue down the road I’ve taken, but not money to spare.

And yet I so clearly see light in the distance, and if that light disappears now and then it’s mostly my own fault.

It’s very questionable whether I’ll go far in this profession, whether those 6 years spent in the firm of Messrs Goupil & Co., during which I should have been training for this situation, won’t always be a thorn in my flesh, as it were.

I believe, however, that on no account can I turn back now, even if part of me should wish to (later, this isn’t the case now). These days it seems to me that there are no situations in the world other than those ranging from schoolmaster to clergyman and everything in between: missionary, ‘London missionary’ and so on

Being a London missionary is rather special, I believe; one has to go around among the workers and the poor spreading God’s word and, if one has some experience, speak to them, track down and seek to help foreigners looking for work, or other people who are in some sort of difficulty, etc. etc. Last week I was in London a couple of times to find out if there’s a possibility of my becoming one. Because I speak various languages and have tended to associate, especially in Paris and London, with people from the poorer classes and foreigners, and being a foreigner myself, I may well be suited to this, and could become so more and more.

To do this, however, one has to be at least 24 years old, and so in any case I still have a year to wait.

Mr Stokes says he definitely cannot give me a salary, for he can get plenty of people who’ll work for board and lodging alone, which is certainly true. But can that be kept up for long? I’m afraid not; it will be decided soon enough.

But, old boy, no matter what the case, I think I can tell you this again, that these couple of months have bound me so closely to the sphere ranging from schoolmaster to clergyman, both through satisfactions associated with those situations and through thorns that have pricked me, that I can no longer turn back.

Onward, then! But I can assure you that very distinct difficulties will present themselves very soon, and others are visible on the horizon, and as if one is in a different world from the firm of Messrs Goupil & Co.

Will I be getting the small engravings (like those Pa and Ma have) of Christus Consolator and Remunerator that you promised me? Write soon if you can find a moment, but send your letter to Pa and Ma, because my address may change soon and Pa and Ma will be the first to know.

Last week I was at Hampton Court to see the splendid gardens and long avenues of chestnut and lime trees where masses of crows and rooks have their nests, and also to see the palace and the paintings. There are, among other things, many portraits by Holbein which are very beautiful, and two beautiful Rembrandts (the portrait of his wife and one of a rabbi), and also beautiful Italian portraits by Bellini, Titian, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, cartoons by Mantegna, a beautiful painting by S. Ruysdael, fruit by Cuyp and so on and so forth.

I rather wished that you could have been there too; it was a pleasure to see paintings again.

And I couldn’t help thinking vividly of the people who have lived at Hampton Court, of Charles I and his wife (she was the one who said ‘I thank Thee, God, for having made me Queen, though an unhappy Queen’, and at whose graveside Bossuet spoke from the abundance of his heart. Do you have ‘Bossuet, Oraisons funèbres’, you’ll find that eulogy there, there’s a very cheap edition, 50 centimes, I think), and also of Lord and Lady Russell, who would certainly have gone there often. (Guizot described their life in L’amour dans le mariage. Read that sometime if you can get hold of it.) Herewith a feather from one of the rooks there.

Do write soon if you can, I’m longing to hear from you, and believe me, after a handshake in thought

Your loving brother

Despite my feeling that I am inadequate and that in many respects I lack the qualifications necessary for the situation I have and for the related situation I have my eye on, I nevertheless have at the same time such a feeling of thankfulness, of hope and of something like deliverance! and freedom! despite all kinds of bonds, and the thought of God – despite new shortcomings that occur to me – stays with me more strongly and longer."


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary

On the Feast of St Martha of Bethany, Fr Z has a lengthy meditation, St. Martha: pulling apart a painting on one of Diego Velasquez`s most celebrated paintings: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (below)

It is in The National Gallery in London and clearly holds a fascination for the Father.

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

We all have our own interpretations of certain paintings and this one is no exception.

One question about the painting is: how many characters are represented in the painting ? Obviously there are the two servants in the foreground. The artist although not visible intrudes into the composition. Are the three figures in the background figures in a painting hanging in the kitchen, or are they "real people" in another room or part of the house ? Also, where is the brother, Lazarus ?

Like a number of paintings in The National Gallery, this one has had a vast literature written on it. As well as fictional works.

The novelist and poet, A. S. Byatt (b. 1936) wrote a celebrated short story about the work: ‘Christ in the House of Martha and Mary’ in “Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice” (1998). The story first appeared in You magazine, Mail on Sunday, and on the BBC Radio 3 programme Word Pictures.

The lead character of the story is the woman in the painting (called Dolores) who is looking right at us. She is the drudge in a house where a “painter” has come to stay for a while. She is resentful of her life, of having to cook, clean, of being ugly. The elderly servant is called "Concepción". They are both servants in the house of Doña Conchita.

The story has a number of Byatt themes: Art, artistic creativity, food, the power of anger, action and contemplation, myth and reality

Here is an excerpt:

"The young artist was a friend of Concepción’s. He borrowed things, a pitcher, a bowl, a ladle, to sketch them over and over. He borrowed Concepción, too, sitting quietly in a corner, under the hooked hams and the plaits of onions and garlic, drawing her face. He made Concepción look, if not ideally beautiful, then wise and graceful. She had good bones, a fine mouth, a wonderful pattern of lines on her brow, and etched beside her nose, which Dolores had not been interested in until she saw the shapes he made from them. His sketches of Concepción increased her own knowledge that she was not beautiful. She never spoke to him, but worked away in a kind of fury in his presence, grinding the garlic in the mortar, filleting the fish with concentrated skill, slapping dough, making a tattoo of sounds with the chopper, like hailstones, reducing onions to fine specks of translucent light. She felt herself to be a heavy space of unregarded darkness, a weight of miserable shadow in the corners of the room he was abstractedly recording. He had given Concepción an oil painting he had made, of shining fish and white solid eggs, on a chipped earthenware dish. Dolores did not know why this painting moved her. It was silly that oil paint on board should make eggs and fish more real, when they were less so. But it did. She never spoke to him, though she partly knew that if she did, he might in the end give her some small similar patch of light in darkness to treasure.

Sunday was the worst day. On Sunday, after Mass, the family entertained. They entertained family and friends, the priest and sometimes the bishop and his secretary, they sat and conversed, and Doña Conchita turned her dark eyes and her pale, long face to listen to the Fathers, as they made kindly jokes and severe pronouncements on the state of the nation, and of Christendom. There were not enough servants to keep up the flow of sweetmeats and pasties, syllabubs and jellies, quails and tartlets, so that Dolores was sometimes needed to fetch and carry as well as serve, which she did with an ill grace.

She did not cast her eyes modestly down, as was expected, but stared around her angrily, watching the convolutions of Doña Conchita’s neck with its pretty necklace, the tapping of her pretty foot, directed not at the padre whose words she was demurely attending to, but at young Don José on the other side of the room.

Dolores put a hot dish of peppers in oil down on the table with such force that the pottery burst apart, and oil and spices ran into the damask cloth. Doña Ana, Doña Conchita’s governess, berated Dolores for a whole minute, threatening dismissal, docking of wages, not only for clumsiness but for insolence.

Dolores strode back into the kitchen, not slinking, but moving her large legs like walking oak trees, and began to shout. There was no need to dismiss her, she was off. This was no life for a human being. She was no worse than they were, and more of use. She was off.

The painter was in his corner, eating her dish of elvers and alioli. He addressed her directly for the first time, remarking that he was much in her debt, over these last weeks, for her good nose for herbs, for her tact with sugar and spice, for her command of sweet and sour, rich and delicate. You are a true artist, said the painter, gesturing with his fork.

Dolores turned on him. He had no right to mock her, she said. He was a true artist, he could reveal light and beauty in eggs and fishes that no one had seen, and which they would then always see. She made pastries and dishes that went out of the kitchen beautiful and came back mangled and mashed – they don’t notice what they’re eating, they’re so busy talking, and they don’t eat most of it, in case they grow fat, apart from the priests, who have no other pleasures. They order it all for show, for show, and it lasts a minute only until they put the knife to it, or push it around their plate elegantly with a fork.

The painter put his head on one side, and considered her red face, as he considered the copper jugs, or the glassware, narrowing his eyes to a slit. He asked her if she knew the story St Luke told, of Christ in the house of Martha and Mary. No, she said, she did not. She knew her catechism, and what would happen to sinners at the Last Judgment, which was on the wall of the church. And about butchered martyrs, who were also on the walls of the church.

They were sisters, the painter told her, who lived in Bethany. Jesus visited them, from time to time, and rested there. And Mary sat at his feet and listened to his words, and Martha was cumbered with much serving, as St Luke put it, and complained. She said to the Lord, ‘Dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall nto be taken away from her.’

Dolores considered this, drawing her brows together in an angry frown. She said, ‘There speaks a man, for certain. There will always be serving, and someone will always be doomed to serving, and will have no choice or chance about the better part. Our Lord could make loaves and fishes from the air for the listeners, but mere mortals cannot. So we – Concepción and I – serve them whilse they have the better part they have chosen.’

And Concepción said that Dolores should be careful, or she would be in danger of blaspheming. She should learn to accept the station the Lord had given her. And she appealed to the painter, should Dolores not learn to be content, to be patient? Hot tears sprang in Dolores’ eyes. The painter said:

‘By no means. It is not a question of accepting our station in the world as men have ordered it, but of learning not to be careful and troubled. Dolores here has her way to that better part, even as I have, and, like mine, it begins in attention to loaves and fishes.

What matters is not that silly girls push her work about their plates with a fork, but that the work is good, that she understands what the wise understand, the nature of garlic and onions, butter and oil, eggs and fish, peppers, aubergines, pumpkins and corn. The cook, as much as the painter, looks into the essence of the creation, not, as I do, in light and on surfaces, but with all the other senses, with taste, and smell, and touch, which God also made in us for purposes.

You may come at the better part by understanding emulsions, Dolores, by studying freshness and the edges of decay in leaves and flesh, by mixing wine and blood and sugar into sauces, as well as I may, and likely better than fine ladies twisting their pretty necks so that the light may catch their pretty pearls.

You are very young, Dolores, and very strong, and very angry. You must learn now, that the important lesson – is that the divide is not between the servants and the served, between the leisured and the workers, but between those who are interested in the world and its multiplicity of forms and forces, and those who merely subsist, worrying or yawning.

When I paint eggs and fishes and onions, I am painting the godhead – not only because eggs have been taken as an emblem of the Resurrection, as have dormant roots with green shoots, not only because the letters of Christ’s name make up the Greek word for fish, but because the world is full of light and life, and the true crime is not to be interested in it.

You have a way in. Take it. It may incidentally be a way out, too, as all skills are. The Church teaches that Mary is the contemplative life, which is higher than Martha’s way, which is the active way. But any painter must question, which is which? And a cook also contemplates mysteries.’

‘I don’t know,’ said Dolores, frowning. He tilted his head the other way. Her head was briefly full of images of the skeleton of fishes, of the whirlpool of golden egg-and-oil in the bowl, of the pattern of muscles in the shoulder of a goat. She said, ‘It is nothing, what I know. It is past in a flash. It is cooked and eating, or it is gone bad and fed to the dogs or thrown out.’

‘Like life,’ said the painter. ‘We eat and are eaten, and we are very lucky if we reach our three score years and ten, which is less than a flash in the eyes of an angel. The understanding persists, for a time. In your craft and mine.’

He said, ‘Your frown is a powerful force in itself. I have an idea for a painting of Christ in the house of Martha and Mary. Would you let me draw you? I have noticed that you are unwilling.’

‘I am not beautiful.’

‘No. But you have power. Your anger has power, and you have power yourself, beyond that.’...

In an interview, Byatt also referred to the feminist element in her story based on the painting:

"JLC: And when [a woman] became a widow she went to the house of her children. They never had any house.

ASB: They never had any autonomy, which is the word that came to mind when I read, not so much Jane Austen, who I think was reasonably happy within that structure even if it annoyed her, but George Eliot, who obviously fought against it, without disliking it. The thing about George Eliot was that she was generous. She saw the good things in things as well as the…

JLC: But surely the place which we build in ourselves, as Rilke says, is an autonomous place, even for women.

ASB: Yes, and Jane Austen built a very autonomous place, but when women couldn’t move and couldn’t act, they built a different kind of autonomous place, and there’s been a lot of recent feminist criticism that suggests that women built romantic, gothic, unreal places.

JLC: Or they dressed as men.

ASB: Or they dressed as men and travelled, like the heroine of Patricia Duncker’s new novel, James Miranda Barry. Or I suppose they built a place by glorifying domestic detail, claiming that if it was observed closely and beautifully enough it was as wonderful as any other thing. I wrote about that painting of Velázquez, “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary,” because I think he knew that. He knew that anything was as beautiful as any other thing, and the fishes and the eggs...

JLC: Were objects of beauty…

ASB: Were objects of beauty, but I really didn’t myself personally wish to live in a world of fishes and eggs exclusively." (From Sources, Autumn 1999)"

The painting dates from about 1618, when Velázquez was about 19 and newly married to the daughter of his master, Francisco Pacheco. The artist knew what it was to be a servant and to be working. He was the servant/pupil of Pacheco. In the painting his sympathies are with the young plain angry servant girl who is hard at work.

But he has also painted the scene from the New Testament which to the cook might only be cold consolation

Martha is of course one of the most important figures in the New Testament. The Church has a memorial to her but not to her more famous brother Lazarus or to her sister Mary

After this meeting/conversation with Christ when she was rebuked by him, as depicted in the picture by Velázquez, she underwent a profound change.

We come across her again after the death of Lazarus but before the Resurrection of Christ in a passage which the late Pope John Paul II (the Great) described as "one of the most important in the Gospel"

In Mulieris Dignitatis (Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Women, paragraph 15) (15th August 1988) he wrote:

"On another occasion - after the death of Lazarus - Martha is the one who talks to Christ, and the conversation concerns the most profound truths of revelation and faith: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died". "Your brother will rise again". "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day". Jesus said to her: "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world" (Jn 11:21-27).

After this profession of faith Jesus raises Lazarus.

This conversation with Martha is one of the most important in the Gospel."

See Martha of Bethany (below)

Was Cardinal Newman a saint?

Anthony Kenny in The Times Literary Supplement in reviewing John Cornwell NEWMAN’S UNQUIET GRAVE: The reluctant saint 256pp. Continuum. £18.99. 978 1 4411 5084 4 provides a useful and balanced summary of Cardinal Newman`s Life, achievements and significance.

His review is entitled: ""Was Cardinal Newman a saint?"

"Was Cardinal Newman a saint?

To be declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, a person should be proved to have exercised, during his or her life on earth, a level of virtue described as “heroic”. No doubt, once Pope Benedict XVI has performed the beatification (a last staging post on the path to sainthood) of John Henry Newman in September, much energy will be devoted to debating whether the Cardinal’s virtues did or did not reach that high standard.

What is already certain is that those who wish to write a successful Life of Newman must themselves be possessed of academic virtues of a heroic kind.

In the first place, the biographer must be prepared to read a prodigious amount of material. Newman’s own published works filled thirty-six volumes in the edition that he brought out in his own lifetime, and a further dozen volumes appeared after this death. He sent letters at the rate at which we dispatch emails, and since 1961, thirty-two copiously annotated volumes of correspondence and diaries have appeared, the best of them monuments of formidable scholarship in themselves.

Second, a writer today has to digest without regurgitating the work of a series of gifted biographers, beginning with Newman himself, whose Apologia pro Vita Sua has long been recognized as a classic of spiritual autobiography.

The earliest and still one of the best posthumous biographies was that of Wilfrid Ward, the son of Newman’s Anglican colleague and Catholic sparring partner W. G. Ward. In the twentieth century, distinguished scholars devoted their talents to writing Lives of Newman, whether, like Ian Ker, in a massive and magisterial tome, or, like Owen Chadwick, in a short but shrewd pamphlet.

Third, Newman’s own character is full of paradox. Here is a man who spent the first half of his life trying to persuade the Church of England to be more like the Church of Rome, and the second half of his life wishing that Roman Catholics were more like Anglicans.

Beyond other theologians, he exalted the episcopal office; yet he spent much of his life annoying the bishops of both his Churches. A Catholic of liberal bent, he repeatedly denounced liberalism as one of the greatest evils. Even his most obvious virtues provide obstacles for his biographer. Anyone who writes about him quickly discovers that he is such a gifted writer, and his style is so bewitching, and so superior to one’s own, that one hardly dares to paraphrase his thought, and ends up overloading one’s text with verbatim quotations.

Undeterred by these challenges, John Cornwell has taken on the task of writing a biography of Newman to make his life intelligible to the largely secular public which in a few weeks will watch on television the ceremony of his beatification. He has followed a via media between the hagiography of Meriol Trevor and the mockery of Lytton Strachey, and he has produced a Life which is readable, sympathetic and judicious. His quotations from Newman’s writings are always aptly chosen and are never too long. Altogether, he has succeeded in building up a vivid picture of Newman’s personality.

The title of the book alludes to the attempt made in October 2008 to translate Newman’s mortal remains from his Worcestershire grave to a place where they could be publicly venerated. The excavation recovered fragments of a coffin and an inscribed brass plate, but no trace of any bodily remains – either of Newman himself, or of the close friend beside whom he had been buried, Fr Ambrose St John. The upshot of the attempted exhumation was not to provide a shrine for a relic, but to trigger a media debate about whether Newman was gay.

The question is anachronistic.

Nineteenth-century Anglicans and Catholics did not classify themselves in accordance with forms of sexual orientation. According to the Christian moral code, sexual activity, whether solitary, homosexual or heterosexual, was sinful except in marriage. For men, therefore, who had given up matrimony and obliged themselves to celibacy, sexual activity with either male or female was forbidden, and sexual attraction whether to male or female could be nothing but a temptation. No doubt different people would find themselves beset by different kinds of temptation, but they did not see these temptations as in any way defining their personality.

I do not know whether those who wish to set up Newman as a gay icon believe that he was homosexually active, but any suggestion that he was is absurd.

A man so devout and conscientious would have recoiled from what his Church condemned as one of the worst of sins. Well into the twentieth century, the Catholic Catechism listed “the sin of Sodom” – along with wilful murder, and defrauding the poor of their wages – as a “sin crying out to heaven for vengeance”.

Partly because of this rigorous prohibition of homosexual activity, Victorian Christians felt free to express to members of the same sex affection in language which in our very different climate would appear ambiguous. Cornwell deals sensitively and temperately with this issue, comparing Newman’s attachments with the earlier literary intimacies between Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey. He goes on to show, by listing parallels, that the burial of friends side by side need have no erotic significance. He might have added to his list the recent case of the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, who at her request was buried beside the grave of Ludwig Wittgenstein.

While bringing out many aspects of Newman’s character and personal relationships, Cornwell wisely chooses to focus on his literary output. “Newman’s claim to eminence”, he writes, “consists not in his status as a prelate, not in claims for conventional piety, but his genius for creating new ways of imagining and writing about religion.” And not only, we might add, about religion – as Cornwell’s own treatment brings out.

By common consent, and in the considered judgement of Gerard Manley Hopkins and James Joyce, Newman was the greatest Victorian master of English prose. His extraordinary gifts first appeared in the sermons he gave in the University Church of St Mary in Oxford in the 1820s and 30s. They held his congregation spellbound, and still strike a reader with great force. These parochial and plain sermons are in general superior to the more famous set-pieces of later days, such as the Second Spring sermon of 1850 which celebrated the restoration of the English Catholic hierarchy.

Newman’s first published book was The Arians of the Fourth Century, the fruit of his deep reading of the Church Fathers. From his patristic learning he drew parallels from this period to rebuke the Anglican bishops for kowtowing to heretical governments, and, later, to rebuke the Catholic authorities for failing to consult the faithful in matters of doctrine.

Of the Anglican writings, the one to which Cornwell devotes most attention is The Development of Doctrine, written while Newman was thinking his way out of the Church of England into the Church of Rome. The Christian revelation was held, by Protestant and Catholic alike, to have ceased with the death of the last Apostle; and the Christian faith was proclaimed to be unchanging. How can that be reconciled with the manifest variation in the theological beliefs recorded during the long history of the Church? This was the problem that Newman hoped to solve by presenting a theory of the development of doctrine, and offering a set of criteria for distinguishing healthy from unhealthy growth.

Cornwell exaggerates the merits of The Development, apparently endorsing the astonishing claim that it is as important a work as Darwin’s Origin of Species. Newman’s book gives an interesting conspectus of the history of dogma, and it is full of powerful metaphors carefully worked out: doctrine is a plant growing from a seed, or a stream broadening to a river and becoming ever purer and truer to itself.

But the metaphorical criteria offered will not enable anyone to settle objectively whether the filioque (a clause reflecting differences in Trinitarian doctrine between the Eastern and Western Churches) was a legitimate addition to the creed, or whether Jean Calvin or Ignatius Loyola has a greater claim to be an authentic successor to St Augustine.

Before bringing The Development to a conclusion, Newman had entered the Catholic Church. Cornwell often reminds us that Newman maintained that religious conviction was not just a matter of logic, but also of imagination and emotion.

Nonetheless, Newman’s conversion was a remarkable example of a thinker following an argument wherever it leads. At the time of his conversion, Newman had no friends among English Catholics, found Italian Catholics dirty and superstitious, and disliked Catholic music and architecture. His tastes and emotions were bound up with the language of the English Bible and the traditions of Oxford. Yet he left the Church of England with hardly a backward glance, simply because his studies of church history had convinced him that, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, it was not continuous with the Church of the Apostles and the Fathers.

After his change of allegiance, Newman’s next important work was The Idea of a University. Asked to found a Catholic University in Dublin, Newman gave a set of lectures to lay down the notion of a University “viewed in itself and apart from the Catholic Church”. It is worth taking time to contrast Newman’s ideal with the typical university of today.

Whereas today all the leading world universities see themselves as research centres no less than teaching institutions, Newman thinks that research is not part of the function of a university and should be left to academies. Whereas modern universities encompass within themselves law schools, medical schools, business schools, and sometimes agricultural and engineering schools, Newman insists that a university must be quite distinct from a professional school. Its function is not to prepare students for the exercise of a profession of any kind, but rather to lay a foundation upon which professional training may build.

“That philosophical or liberal education, as I have called it, which is the proper function of a University, if it refuses the foremost place to professional interests, does but postpone them to the formation of the citizen.”

The purpose of a university, for Newman, was to ensure that those educated there had “a cultivated intellect, a delicate taste, a candid, equitable, dispassionate mind”. This, surely, is still the central aim of preprofessional undergraduate education. Whatever discipline an undergraduate pursues, or majors in, it is not so much the acquisition of that particular body of knowledge that is important, but the acquiring, through that discipline, of a sense of the aims and methods of science and scholarship.

It is the function of liberal education to make one aware of the boundaries of the domains of the sciences, and give one a grasp of which questions can and which cannot be settled by science. However, even those dons most impressed by Newman’s ideal are likely to disagree with his insistence on the separation of teaching from research. Many would claim that an academic who engages in research will make a better teacher, and that an academic who has pupils will make a better researcher.

The Idea of a University remains a classic; as Cornwell puts it, it has become “a master-class on the ideals of university education across many cultural and political divides”. But the book that established Newman’s reputation as a writer in his lifetime was the Apologia pro Vita Sua, written in response to charges brought against his integrity by the novelist Charles Kingsley.

It is to that work that Cornwell devotes his best chapter. He compares it, appropriately, with the Confessions of St Augustine. The spiritual autobiography of the greatest intellectual convert of the modern world does indeed resemble in many ways the spiritual autobiography of the greatest intellectual convert of the ancient world. Both conversions, as Gerard Manley Hopkins stressed, were slow, lingering processes, quite unlike anything on the Damascus road. Each writer uses a variety of artifices – and in the case of Newman, documentation – to recreate the mentality of former selves long left behind.

Newman resembled Augustine in other respects also. Both men re-edited, late in life, their early works; both were enormously concerned that their Nachlass should be passed on in the appropriate condition. Newman, indeed, went to great lengths to ensure that one kind of Nachlass would not survive: he gave orders that compost be sprinkled in his grave to ensure the rapid dissolution of his body.

His last major work was his Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, published in 1870, but drawing on ideas already to be found in his early university sermons.

This book centres on a question of primary importance in the philosophy of religion: how can religious belief be justified, given that the evidence for its conclusions seems so inadequate to the degree of its commitment?

Newman quotes Locke as giving, as the unerring mark of the love of truth, the not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built on will warrant. “Whoever goes beyond this measure of assent, it is plain, receives not truth in the love of it, loves not truth for truth-sake, but for some other by-end.”

Newman demolishes this doctrine of Locke’s by showing that there are many beliefs reasonably held which do not depend on evidence or proof. His favourite example of a firm belief on flimsy evidence is our conviction that Great Britain is an island. But there are many others.

"We laugh to scorn the idea that we had no parents though we have no memory of our birth; that we shall never depart this life, though we can have no experience of the future; that we are able to live without food, though we have never tried; that a world of men did not live before our time, or that that world has no history."

Newman’s treatment of the nature of belief makes the Grammar of Assent a classic of epistemology, unmatched in subtlety until Wittgenstein’s posthumous On Certainty. But the book is not adequate as a justification of religious faith in a secular age, since it is addressed only to those who already believe in God and in a final judgment. Faith can only be justified, it argues, from a basis of antecendent probability. Newman, who is often at his best when stating a position against which he intends to argue, states the difficulty candidly:

"Antecedent probabilities may be equally available for what is true and what pretends to be true, for a revelation and its counterfeit, for Paganism, or Mahometanism, or Christianity. They seem to supply no intelligible rule what is to be believed and what not; or how a man is to pass from a false belief to a true. If a claim of miracles is to be acknowledged because it happens to be advanced, why not for the miracles of India as well as for those of Palestine? If the abstract probability of a Revelation be the measure of genuineness in a given case, why not in the case of Mahomet as well as of the Apostles?"

But this means that there is not the parallel which Newman drew between the belief that Great Britain is an island and the religious faith of a Christian believer. For faith to be faith and not mere belief it has to be belief on the word of God. If that is so, then the fact of revelation has to be better known than the content of revelation. But this Newman does not even attempt to prove.

When the First Vatican Council proclaimed papal infallibility in 1870, Newman was distressed. The definition, he thought, was unfortunate and ill-advised, and the dogma had been imposed “very cruelly, tyrannically, and deceitfully”. In his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk he put the best face he could on the Council’s proceedings, concluding “if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts (which indeed does not seem quite the thing) I shall drink – to the Pope, if you please – still, to conscience first and to the Pope afterwards”.

In recent years, this famous remark has been quoted countless times by Catholics who wished to disobey the Pope without leaving the Roman Church.

Looking back on his life during the last years of Pius IX’s reign, Newman may well have felt that his life had been futile: all his projects, small and large, had ended in failure. He had tried and failed to reform the Oxford tutorial system, and he had not succeeded in bringing the Church of England into conformity with its Catholic past.

He had not been able to instil a spirit of brotherly love between the two Oratorian communities of priests that he had founded – indeed, what Cornwell calls the “acidulous piety” of his correspondence with the head of the London Oratory would provide ample ammunition to a Devil’s Advocate, if such an officer still existed.

The University in Dublin fell far short of incarnating the ideals he had spelt out in The Idea of a University. He had become editor of a liberal Catholic journal, the Rambler, but had been forced to resign. And he had been helpless to stem the tide of ultramontane fervour that had triumphed at Vatican I. It was no wonder that he suffered from bouts of depression, which devout biographers have christened “a dark night of the soul”.

The depression turned out not to be permanent, however. In 1877, Trinity, Newman’s old college, made him its first honorary fellow and he returned to his beloved Oxford in triumph. A year later, the new Pope, Leo XIII, made him a Cardinal. His last years were passed in the warmth of personal contentment and the glow of national and international regard. Edward Elgar’s 1900 setting of Newman’s great poem on death, “The Dream of Gerontius”, was a fitting final tribute to a great man.

Posthumously, Newman’s earlier disappointments were at least in part reversed. The colleges of Oxford adopted his model for the tutorial system and observe it to this day. One of his obituarists described him as “the founder, we might almost say, of the Church of England as we see it”, citing the changes resulting from the Oxford Movement. Within the Roman Catholic Church the theologians who steered the Second Vatican Council were all under his influence, so that Pope Paul VI could describe it as “Newman’s Council”. His writings have remained continuously in print and for many years now there has been a campaign to have him canonized.

John Cornwell does not decide for the reader whether Newman was or was not a saint. He stresses his subject’s devoutness and austerity, but he also lays emphasis on the touchy and egotistical element in Newman’s make-up. “My overarching purpose”, he says, “is to show that Newman’s unrelenting literary obsession was the story of his own life: he was the ultimate, self-absorbed autobiographer”.

Newman’s Unquiet Grave is a substantial achievement. Sadly, it bears marks of haste in the writing and editing: misspelt names, mistaken dates and misdescribed locations. Fortunately, it will not be at all difficult to correct these errors when the book is reprinted, as it surely will be many times. But one could wish that the author had had more time at his disposal, not just so that these blemishes could be removed, but because the text itself is that rare thing, a book that the reader wishes had gone on longer.

In an epilogue to the book, Cornwell tells the story of the Boston deacon Jack Sullivan, whose recovery from excruciating spinal deformities was accepted by the Vatican as a miracle, attributable to Newman, inexplicable by natural causes. Cornwell sets out the facts fairly, but his conclusion is that it is arguable that the relief of pain was a placebo effect, and that it was surgery, rather than prayer, that cured the underlying problem:

If Newman is to be canonized, a further miracle is required.

If there is any problem about this, Pope Benedict could appeal to an august precedent for downgrading the importance of miracles in the canonization of a holy scholar. The process of canonization of St Thomas Aquinas lasted from 1316 to 1323, in the pontificate of Pope John XXII.

Though there was no shortage of miracles attributed to him after his death, the devil’s advocate insisted that there were no convincing miracles attributed to him in his lifetime. One story, however, was attested by several eye-witnesses. When Thomas lay dying in the Abbey of Fossanova, they said, he had been unable to eat for days, when suddenly he expressed a wish for herrings. Herrings, his family explained, might be easy to come by in Paris, but were not to be found in the Italian seas. But to everyone's surprise, the next consignment of sardines from the local fishmonger was found to contain a consignment of herrings. The judges in the canonization process seem to have been sceptical whether their untravelled witnesses would be able to tell a herring when they saw one.

But the Pope overruled the devil’s advocate. “There are as many miracles as there are articles in the Summa” he is reputed to have said; and he declared Thomas a Saint."