Thursday, January 31, 2013

St Mary of the Candles

Luis de Morales (1512 - 9 May 1586) ("El Divino")
La Presentación de Jesús en el Templo
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
Oil on panel
146 cm x 114 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

"El Divino" painted almost exclusively religious works. Although Morales created altarpieces and large scale religious narratives, he was and is most celebrated for his work as a devotional painter.

He and his work reflect the fervent spirituality of Spanish society of his time. His art is that inspired by the Council of Trent

The key is his desire to seek emotional involvement of the viewer with the figures being depicted and the actions the figures are seen performing in the works. 

The viewer is invited into the painting. We are invited not merely to spectate but participate and meditate

His works were often meant to be aids to meditation. He gives pictorial form to the written works of the Spanish mystics

A frequent topic of his compositions is the Virgin and Child. In this case the subject is the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, what is still a major Feast of the Church although in times gone by one of the great Feasts properly and earnestly commemorated

It was known as Candlemas, literally St Mary of the Candles, a  quarter day, a legal term day, a day for the beginning of term in the Universities

In France it was and is known as Chandeleur, in Italy Candelora and in Spain Candelaria.

The event it depicts is described in Luke 2: 22 - 39
22 When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord,  
23 just as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,"  
24 and to offer the sacrifice of "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons," in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.  
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the holy Spirit was upon him.  
26 It had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord.  
27 He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,  
28 he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:  
29 "Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word,  
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,  
31 which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,  
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel." 
33 The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;  
34 and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, 
"Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted  
35 (and you yourself a sword will pierce)  so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." 
36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,  
37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.  
38 And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.  
39 When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. "

Joseph and Mary act in accordance with the Law. Mary goes to the Temple to seek Purification in terms of the Law. Mary brings two pigeons to be offered in sacrifice. It is the offering allowed to the poor. The ransom is paid. The child is redeemed. Simeon prophesies a future sacrifice, Christ, who will pay the ransom so that Israel can be redeemed

Mary is the Mother who  presents her Son to the Father at the Temple

Simeon describes the infant Christ as the “Light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Lk 2:32). Thus the light, thus the candles, thus the pure white linen on which the child is laid  in the painting 

Simeon is a man of the Old Testament, the Old Covenant, a priest of the Temple. The Old recognises the New Dispensation. 

Luke`s narrative suggests that not only Simeon and Anna have been waiting long for this moment, but even the very Temple itself. The arrival of the Redeemer and to see the very face of God himself

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Beware the Jesuit Philanthropist

"Father Arthur Scott S.J."

Alessandra Ram in The Atlantic reports on an  art philanthropist
"A connoisseur of art, Father Arthur Scott dresses in all black, his ensemble complete with a clerical collar and Jesuit pin on his lapel. Collector Steven Gardiner has been applauded for his museum donations in the name of deceased family members. But it is Mark Landis, the 57-year-old Mississippi native behind both of these nonexistent personalities, who refers to himself as a “philanthropist.” 
Directed by Terri Timely and produced by Brady Welch and Sophie Harris, the documentary below profiles an ingenious oddity, a man who has managed to dupe nearly 50 regional art institutions into accepting forged artwork (there are several museums that remain unaware that they have been tricked)"

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Festival Book: Cardinal Morosini returns Home

Hand coloured frontispiece


The Arch of Brescia: one of the six triumphal arches on the processional route

From the Festival Book depicting the Entry and Return into Brescia of Cardinal Giovanni Francesco Morosini, Bishop of Brescia. (Brescia: 1591)
(Italian title: Il sontuoso apparato, fatto dalla magnifica citta di Brescia nel felice ritorno dell' ill[ustrissimo] ... vescovo suo il cardinale Morosini)

Nowadays if a bishop, archbishop or even cardinal returns from a trip abroad, he is lucky if his assistant is waiting for him at the train station or airport with a trolley for his luggage to take to the car. After crawling through rush hour traffic, he will arrive at his home. If he is late, he might be lucky to find a note telling him how he should prepare his supper

Things appear to have been very different during the Renaissance

Cardinal Gianfrancesco Morosini (1537-1596) was a distinguished Papal diplomat and churchman, a close friend of St Philip Neri

He had many postings in the Venetian diplomatic service including to the Court of Sultan Amurat III of Constantinople. The Sultan once seriously threatened the diplomat Morosini with decapitation after a Venetian raid on Corfu. Like a true diplomat he talked his way out of that situation 

In September 1585 he was ordained and elected Bishop of Brescia. In 1588 Pope Sixtus V appointed him a cardinal

After service in the diplomatic service of the Pope he returned to Brescia in 1591 and thereafter left for a conclave in Rome

As bishop he did not neglect his religious duties. He is buried in the Cathedral at Brescia. In his wil he left all his property to be divided amongst the Hospital and the poor of Brescia

The Festival Book depicting his entry into Brescia in 1591 is indeed a sumptuous work in the style of the Festival Books of the period which celebrated great events

Included in the Book are: a detailed description of the election of those responsible for the festivities and the process of designing and building the six triumphal arches designated for the triumphal parade; celebratory poems; poems of the various arches and symbols specially built for the parade and a description of their meaning

The British LIbrary website has a fascinating section on its website about Festival Books during the Renaissance

There are over 2,000 such books  in the British Library's collection. 

They describe the magnificent festivals and ceremonies that took place in Europe between 1475 and 1700 - marriages and funerals of royalty and nobility, coronations, stately entries into cities and other grand events

Events described on the website of the British Library include

the Joust held in the Vatican for the wedding of Jacopo Annibale Altemps and Ortensia Borromeo in 1565;
the Entry into Rome of Marc'Antonio Colonna, commander of the Christian forces at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571; and
the Visit  to Pope Gregory XIII by four Christian Japanese princes: Ito Mancio, Chijiwa Miguel, Nakamura Julian and Hara Martinho in March, 1585 

There are also over 500 such books in the National Art LIbrary at the V and A

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Leo X: The forthcoming anniversary

Unknown Florentine sculptor
Bust of Pope Leo X
16th century
Height 66cm
Private collection, Florence

Unknown Florentine manufacturer
Coat of Arms of Pope Leo XIII
16th century
Museo delle Cappelle Medicee, Florence

Michelangelo di Viviano da Gaiole (1459-1528)
Detail of Crozier of Leo X
16th century
Museo delle Cappelle Medicee, Florence

Giorgio Vasari (1511- 1574) and Jan Van der Straet (called Giovanni Stradano or Stradanus) (1523 – 11 February 1605)
L’ingresso di papa Leone X a Firenze nel 1515
The Entrance of Pope Leo X into Florence in 1515
The Study of Leo X in The Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Giorgio Vasari (1511- 1574)
Pope Leo X Appointing Cardinals
Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest

2013 will mark a number of anniversaries. One will be the five hundredth anniversary of the election of Pope Leo X on 11th March

Exhibitions are planned especially in Florence and other places to mark this event

But as far as the Church is concerned, I suspect that the anniversary will be a rather quiet affair.

Löffler, K. (1910) in his article  Pope Leo X. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved January 26, 2013 from New Advent sums up his pontificate:
"The only possible verdict on the pontificate of Leo X is that it was unfortunate for the Church.  
Sigismondo Tizio, whose devotion to the Holy See is undoubted, writes truthfully:  
"In the general opinion it was injurious to the Church that her Head should delight in plays, music, the chase and nonsense, instead of paying serious attention to the needs of his flock and mourning over their misfortunes".  
Von Reumont says pertinently— 
"Leo X is in great measure to blame for the fact that faith in the integrity and merit of the papacy, in its moral and regenerating powers, and even in its good intentions, should have sunk so low that men could declare extinct the old true spirit of the Church." "

At the time of his pontificate, the Medici spin was that his pontificate was a new "età dell'oro" , a Golden Age. There was certainly a lot of gold and bling

One of the "highlights" of his papacy was his Entrance into Florence on the Feast of St Andrew 30th November 1515

After the downfall of Savonarola, the then Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici took control of the city in September 1512. He then became Pope in 1513. Shortly after was his triumphal visit to Florence.

The classic work on the Entrata into Florence is Ilaria Ciseri, L'ingresso trionfale di Leone X in Firenze nel 1515, Florence: Olschki, 1990, viii+330 pp.

She writes of the Entrance and Leo  "non era solo íl pastore accolto dal suo gregge. [...] Il suo era anche l'ingresso del conquistatore nella cíttà sottomessa." 

On 4 November 1515, Leo X officially assigned his sister-in-law Alfonsina Orsini the planning of his ingresso

There is a short description of the Entrata and other related matters in Appropriating the instruments of worship: the 1512 Medici restoration and the Florentine cathedral choirbooks by Marica S Tacconi in Renaissance Quarterly  June 22, 2003

"It may be helpful here to consider the issue as it relates to the production of another body of civically and politically inspired art, the ephemeral structures created for the Florentine entry of Giovanni de' Medici 
His sumptuous ingresso on 30 November 1515, feast day of St. Andrew, was an event of spectacular proportions and of great symbolic significance. 
Aimed at honouring the pope but, at the same time, at manifesting a solid political relationship between Florence and Rome,  the streets and squares of Florence were punctuated by grandiose and elaborate temporary structures--twelve triumphal arches and five symbolic monuments--each carrying a vivid allegorical painting of Victory leading an army. and political message.  
In her thorough study of Leo X's ingresso, Ilaria Ciseri addresses the complex and crucial issue of the commission and design of these structures. While she considers the role played by some individuals and by several civic and administrative institutions--the pope's sister-in-law (Alfonsina Orsini) and the Opera del Duomo, among them--she ultimately concludes that the iconographic programs displayed by the ephemeral structures were in great part the direct creative product of the most experienced artists. 
[Ciseri, 40-42. Among others, Ciseri cites Domenico and Ridolfo Ghirlandaio Andrea del Sarto, Baccio Bandinelli, and Iacopo Sansovino as some of these artists. Shearman, 1975, proposes Jacopo Nardi as the possible iconographer ]
 One of the triumphal arches marking the path of his Florentine ingresso included an image of Leo's father Lorenzo and was inscribed with the words pronounced by God at the baptism of His Son--"Hic est filius meus dilectus"  One contemporary writer reports that, upon viewing the arch with the image of his father and the Latin inscription, the pope was moved to tears: 
"Then he [Leo X] came to San Felice. in Piazza, where he found the second arch, where there was the image of Lorenzo his father with a motto that read Hic est filius meus dilectus, which, having been viewed and read by His Holiness he was seen crying a good deal."  
Entering the city on the day of St. Andrew, the beginning of the liturgical year, may have been carefully planned and aimed at underscoring the theme of renewal: a new Golden Age for the Medici dynasty and a new beginning for the city of Florence ... 
On the 24th December Leo X came to Vespers in Santa Maria del Fiore, and here he celebrated a solemn Vespers. Torches of white wax, each weighing three libre were lit throughout the church and remained lit from the beginning to the end of Vespers. It is estimated that there were a thousand or more torches. The whole church was full of these torches, that is the galleries that are inside this church . . . and also the entire choir was full of torches. The church was also decked with hangings and adorned in the same way it was when the Pope entered Florence the first time. 
And later, on the 25th, which was the morning of Christmas, the Pontiff came again to Santa Maria del Fiore and here celebrated the last Mass, since on that  morning it was customary in all churches to celebrate three Masses. . . . The Pontiff himself celebrated this last Mass; and there were all the cardinals and all the archbishops and bishops; and at this Mass all the above mentioned torches were lit, as they were the day before at Vespers."

For other accounts of the Entrata see

John Shearman The Florentine Entrata of Leo X, 1515 in the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes  Vol. 38, (1975), pp. 136-154

The Church of Santa Chiara in Florence

Santa Chiara in Florence now

The monastery and church was founded in 1356 with support from the Albizi family. Maria di Maso degli Albizzi was the first abbess here

The convent was suppressed in 1808 

In 1860 J. C. Robinson bought the chapel on behalf of the V&A, and it was dismantled and shipped to London

Other precious works of art went to various museums: Lorenzo di Credi`s Adoration of the Shepherds is in the Uffizi, and Perugino`s The Lamentation over the Dead Christ is in the Galleria Palatina at the Pitti Palace in Florence

The building itself  is now the Galleria Pio Fedi used for temporary exhibitions

We are extremely fortunate in London to have the V and A where one of the attractions is a reconstruction of the Interior of the Chapel (where the website has a special microsite devoted to the Chapel alone)

Detail of chancel chapel from Santa Chiara, about 1493–1500
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In this section of the V and A website on Renaissance Music  1400 - 1600 we can hear and download a rendition of the hymn Jesu Corona Virginum

The hymn praises a virgin, revelling in her spiritual marriage to Jesus and praying for her continued guidance. It is dedicated to virgin martyrs. The recording is performed as it would have been in the Santa Chiara chapel many many years ago before it was destroyed by the forces of an alien and brutal ideology

The website provides a beautiful and faithful English translation of the hymn:

Jesus the Virgin's crown
conceived by her, His Mother,
as the only begotten Son,
from whom alone we accept mercy.
Thou who dwells among the lilies
And with the seven Virgin choirs
with glory decked and pledged
the rewards of a bride.
Those virgins who still attend
and follow Thee with praises
and songs, sing well
sweet hymns resounding.
We therefore Beseech thee
To make us sensitive to
Thy grace so we may be pure
of all trace of corruption.
Praise, honour, virtue, and glory
God the father, and the Son
And also the Holy Spirit,
World without end, Amen

It is of course very sad to think that for nearly five hundred years the building which echoed continually with the Divine Praises is now silent and empty and that now the only Divine Praise to the Trinity is from an .mp3 file on the website of a historical museum situated over a thousand miles away.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Before the Mass at Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles ?

Open Culture writes:

"Pope John Paul II had a mixed legacy. Some good, some bad. But whatever your take on him, you have to give him this — the Pontiff could swing a good bat. Visiting California in 1987, the 67 year-old Pope headed to the batting cages and started lining singles and doubles, maybe even a few triples.  
As the video proceeds, we discover that the switch-hitting Pope had previously honed his batting skills in the Vatican Softball League. The clip concludes with the gracious hosts giving the Pope the royal treatment, treating him to a nice 1980s-style energy drink in a styrofoam cup. Pretty posh. h/t Metafilter  "

Note.  I think that after a few minutes most people realise that the video is a clever fake. But it does have that touch of plausability which makes for a good fake.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Museums of Sacred Art

Christ the King and the Enthroned Madonna amongst Angels
12th century
Gray alabaster
Museum of the Cathedral of San Cerbone, Massa Marittima 

Pietro di Sano (1406 - 1481)
Detail of altarpiece of The Presentation in the Temple 
Tempera on wood
Museum of the Cathedral of San Cerbone, Massa Marittima 

In Italy most dioceses have museums of sacred art

The Tuscan dioceses of Massa Marittima and Piombino have five remarkable museums at Massa Marittima, Piombino, Campiglia Marittima, Suvereto and Castagneto Carducci 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne

Frank Brangwyn 1867 – 11 June 1956
The  Brangwyn Mosaic
1910 - 1916
St Aidan`s Church, Leeds

Frank Brangwyn 1867 – 11 June 1956
The  Brangwyn Mosaic: St Aidan in Lindisfarne
1910 - 1916
St Aidan`s Church, Leeds

Frank Brangwyn 1867 – 11 June 1956
The  Brangwyn Mosaic: St Aidan preaching
1910 - 1916
St Aidan`s Church, Leeds

Frank Brangwyn 1867 – 11 June 1956
The  Brangwyn Mosaic: St Aidan on his deathbed
1910 - 1916
St Aidan`s Church, Leeds

All the above images are from the informative website of St Aidan`s Church in Leeds

The mosaic shows four periods in St Aidan’s life: feeding the poor, his arrival at Lindisfarne, preaching and on his deathbed.

It was Brangwyn`s genius that he could bring this shadowy but great figure to life. In this work as in other works about the early saints, he shines bright light into the Dark Ages

Here is another work by Brangwyn on the life of St Aidan

Frank Brangwyn 1867 – 11 June 1956 
St Aidan, Bishop of North Cumbria, AD 635 Training Boys at Lindisfarne
Tempera on canvas, 228 x 405.5 cm 
Christ's Hospital Foundation, Horsham, Sussex 

The Anglican bishop, Bishop Lightfoot of Durham said of St Aidan (died 651):
"Augustine was the Apostle of Kent, but Aidan was the Apostle of the English."
He is certainly the Apostle of Northumbria

Aidan arrived in Northumbria from Iona about AD 635 at the invitation of King Oswald of Northumbria. 

In this Year of Faith it is perhaps suitable to recollect Bede`s description of the evangelisation conducted by St Aidan and King Oswald

The Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation (Volume III), while criticising Aidan for not following the Roman way of calculating Easter, makes it clear that his saintly character and activities were never in doubt:

"I have written thus much concerning the person and works of the aforesaid Aidan, in no way commending or approving what he imperfectly understood in relation to the observance of Easter; nay, very much detesting the same, as I have most manifestly proved in the book I have written, "De Temporibus"; 
but, like an impartial historian, relating what was done by or with him, and commending such things as are praiseworthy in his actions, and preserving the memory thereof for the benefit of the readers; 
viz. his love of peace and charity; his continence and humility; his mind superior to anger and avarice, and despising pride and vainglory; his industry in keeping and teaching the heavenly commandments; his diligence in reading and watching; his authority becoming a priest in reproving the haughty and powerful, and at the same time his tenderness in comforting the afflicted, and relieving or defending the poor. 
To say all in a few words, as near as I could be informed by those that knew him, he took care to omit none of those things which he found in the apostolic or prophetical writings, but to the utmost of his power endeavoured to perform them all."

Sunday, January 20, 2013

St Columba Landing at Iona

Frank Brangwyn 1867 – 11 June 1956
St Columba Landing at Iona
Tempera on canvas, 228 x 227 cm (estimated)
Christ's Hospital Foundation, Horsham, Sussex 

In his later years he mainly devoted himself to religious art

Brangwyn was brought up in the Roman Catholic faith and he seems to have never deserted it

He created a number of Stations of the Cross

The art historian Libby Horner and leading  expert on Brangwyn writes of the above painting of St Columba:
"Brangwyn probably gained the commission through his friend, the architect, Sir Aston Webb, who, with his partner E Ingress Bell, was the architect for the school.  
The murals, on the subject of the Mission and Expansion of Christianity, beginning with the Acts of the Apostles and leading to the Conversion of our own Islands, and Foreign Missionary Work are placed in the school chapel"
In 1908, Edmonds in The Catholic Encyclopedia entry for St Columba (7 December 521 – 9 June 597) wrote:
"As far as can be ascertained no proper symbolical representation of St. Columba exists. The few attempts that have been made are for the most part mistaken. A suitable pictorial representation would exhibit him, clothed in the habit and cowl usually worn by the Basilian or Benedictine monks, with Celtic tonsure and crosier. His identity could be best determined by showing him standing near the shell-strewn shore, with currach hard by, and the Celtic cross and ruins of Iona in the background."
It would appear that it was only in 1920 that Brangwyn corrected this omission

The main source of information about Columba's life is the Vita Columbae by Adomnán (also known as Eunan), the ninth Abbot of Iona, who died in 704.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Demons of William Cowper

George Romney (1734-1802), 
Portrait of William Cowper 1792
22 1/2 in. x 18 1/2 in. (572 mm x 470 mm)
The National Portrait Gallery, London

A sign of success in Eighteenth century England was to have one`s portrait painted by one of the most distinguished of London portrait painters

Romeny`s only rival was Joshua Reynolds

The portrait of the English poet William Cowper (1731-1800), (above) was executed at the house of the poet William Hayley, who was a friend of the artist Romney. Hayley later went on to write a posthumous biography of Cowper

His talent as a poet was recognised by his contemporaries. He is said to be the pre-cursor of the English Romantics. He is said to have pioneered a new movement in the history of English poetry

A sensitive soul, he became an Evangelical Christian which led to the writing of many hymns still popular today

It was not always so. Success was not easy. He had to overcome a melancholy temperament and cast of mind. 

Driven by despair he made at least four serious attempts at suicide.

In a review of amongst others, Paul Seaver et al, editors  THE HISTORY OF SUICIDE IN ENGLAND, 1650–1850  Eight volumes, 1,584pp. Pickering and Chatto. £350, Freya Johnston of St Anne’s College, Oxford in the Times Literary Supplement describes the dreadful situation of Cowper: (in a review of remarkable perspicacity and sensitivity on a whole range of matters attaching to the subject of suicide)
"Human beings are created by and dependent on a non-human maker.  
The Christian virtue of prudence therefore involves guarding the life that does not belong to you, and cannot be yours to dispose of.  
Voluntarily severing the bond that joins soul with body is to sever a tie with God.  
As for oysters, 
“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10.29–31)
Numerous believers have made themselves desperate by nursing a sense of their own unique culpability.  
This kind of suicidal despair – convincing oneself that one is permanently cast out from the possibility of forgiveness – is terrible to read about.  
Take William Cowper.  
He was destined for the law, a profession for which, due to his morbid fear of public speaking, he was wholly unsuited.  
The prospect of being examined in 1763 at the bar of the House of Lords drove him to a series of frantic measures.  
About a week before the examination he bought a half-ounce of laudanum. Unable to consume the fatal dose, he thought of escaping to France. He resolved to drown himself, then tried to stab himself with his penknife, and finally hanged himself with a scarlet garter which broke just as he lost consciousness. On coming to, he heard the sound of his own groans and assumed he was in hell. A period of bitter misery ensued; Cowper attempted suicide on at least one further occasion.  
But conversations with his brother and chance readings in the Bible began to chip away at his certainty that he was the helpless prey of a furious, vengeful God.  
On July 26, 1764 he picked up a Bible and opened it, randomly, at Romans 3.25:  
“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God”. 
In an instant, Cowper found strength to believe in the redeeming power of Christ, and was lost in tears of grateful ecstasy.  
Cowper regretted his birth “in a country where melancholy is the national characteristic”, and admitted he had often wished himself a Frenchman.  
The French themselves apparently referred to suicide as death “à l’Anglaise – according to the English fashion”. The World’s John Tristman was one of many writers at home and abroad to link the English temperament with suicidal tendencies. ... 
Where, then, can we find comfort?  
What can we do to escape ourselves?  
Robert Burton recommended in the closing lines of his Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) that we should “Be not solitary; be not idle”, advice which Samuel Johnson carefully adapted for “disordered” men such as James Boswell: 
“If you are idle, be not solitary; if you are solitary, be not idle”. 
The end of the Samaritans’ information page on self-harm urgently communicates the same message as that of the first full-length treatise on suicide published in English, John Sym’s Lifes Preservative Against Self-Killing (1637), and it can’t be said often enough:
 “There is always hope. There is always help”. ”. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Petrobelli Fragment

Paolo Veronese (Caliari) (1528 – 19 April 1588)
Saint Anthony Abbot as Patron of a Kneeling Donor (Probably after 1570)
Oil on canvas
198.50 x 117.80 cm
The Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh

Of this work which appears to be a fragment of what was originally a much larger work, the Gallery says in its website:
“This fragment once formed the lower left part of an arched altarpiece painted by Veronese around 1563 for the Petrobelli family chapel in the church of San Francesco in Lendinara, near Rovigo. … 
Two other large fragments survive, showing the Dead Christ with Angels (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa) and St Jerome with the Donor, Girolamo Petrobelli (Dulwich Picture Gallery, London).  
Parts of a wing, an arm with a spear, and a devil visible at the right of this canvas originally belonged to a central figure of the Archangel Michael, to whom the chapel was dedicated.  
The head of this figure has recently been identified in the Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas.”

Lendinara is a town and comune in the province of Rovigo, Veneto, northern Italy

A wealthy city in medieval times, it declined economically in the nineteenth century with many of its inhabitants emigrating to Brazil in the nineteenth century

It is now a small town of about 12000 people but with still many historical and cultural sights (as can be seen from the link with the Wikipedia Italian website)

The National Gallery of Canada has a large section on its website about The Petrobelli Altarpiece

It is quite fascinating.

The work was commissioned by two cousins Antonio and Girolamo Petrobelli. Antonio is the figure kneeling in the work in the Scottish National Gallery

The family came to Lendinara in the 1500s and became wealthy.  The work was meant to hang in the family`s funeral chapel, again specially commissioned.

The family`s wills are instructive of the cousin`s intentions in commissioning the works :
“The little information available regarding the two Petrobelli patrons comes from their wills. The first concern of these wills, with their specific rules, was to ensure that the family name is perpetuated and its possessions be passed down to future generations via the first-born males. Should Antonio and Girolamo have no legitimate heirs; the family estate would be bequeathed by drawing lots among the male descendents of Giovanni Petrobelli. Of these descendants, those possessing a doctorate in law or medicine, or holding a certain rank in the Venetian army could put their name in twice. In the event the family had no heir, the possessions would be converted into a charitable trust in honour of Saint Anthony.”
What happened to the family?
“Antonio Petrobelli died on December 26, 1569, four days after completing his will. Without heir, he named Girolamo as the inheritor of his possessions. Girolamo passed away 18 years later, on March 12, 1587. Petrobello, his illegitimate but recognized son, inherited the family legacy. Upon Petrobello’s death in 1635, the estate was bequeathed to distant relatives according to the rules established by Antonio and Girolamo in their respective wills. With no descendants left in Lendinara, the history of the commission was forgotten.”

What happened to the work and the Church ?
“In 1769, the Conventual Friar Minor order was suppressed by the Venetian government. Less than a decade later the church and property were sold to a private owner, eventually falling into disrepair. In 1785 the church was finally demolished and many of its possessions were put up for auction. By 1789, the Petrobelli Altarpiece was in the hands of a Venetian art dealer, who cut it into fragments and sold the pieces.”

It is of course impossible to peer into men`s actions, hearts and souls as one can peer through a window. That, only God can do

But one cannot help but recall that St Anthony Abbot (ca. 251–356), the founder of Christian monasticism,  was moved by listening to Christ's words: 
"If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Mt 19: 21) (cf. Vita Antonii, 2, 4). 
Anthony listened to these words. He felt as if they were addressed to him personally by Christ. He felt impelled to obey them to the letter. And did.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Miss Helen Keller

Unfortunately in Europe we did not and do not have Helen Keller

The story of her life used to be well known but sadly here is no longer remembered

Thankfully her story is still celebrated in the United States. Her statue was recently unveiled at the U S Capitol

Perhaps it is the classic example of the American "Get up and Go" which at the moment in Europe (especially in the Netherlands and in Belgium) looks as if it has long got up and went. Perhaps it is  the American optimism in the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. Or perhaps something else

Miss Keller  was Christian but she was not a Catholic

But her story should still be feted by all Christians of every denomination

"A favorite story about Helen Keller concerns her first introduction to the gospel. When Helen, who was both blind and deaf, learned to communicate, Anne Sullivan, her teacher, decided that it was time for her to hear about Jesus Christ. Anne called for Phillips Brooks, the most famous preacher in Boston. With Sullivan interpreting for him, he talked to Helen Keller about Christ. It wasn't long until a smile lighted up her face. Through her teacher she said, "Mr. Brooks, I have always known about God, but until now I didn't know His name."" 
From Harold E. Helms. God's Final Answer

Death: Belgian style

Marc and Eddy Verbessem

LifeSiteNews has published  the full tragic story of the euthanasia of two Belgian male twins aged 45 years

It is not a pleasant story. Frankly it defies belief how such an event can happen in a society which claims to be civilised

"Twin brothers, 45, who were born deaf, were euthanized in Belgium last month after they learned that they would soon go blind.
The two men, identified as Marc and Eddy Verbessem, were otherwise not seriously ill, but reportedly told doctors that the thought of not being able to see each other again was unbearable.
Euthanasia is legal in Belgium, but only technically in cases of unbearable suffering
The pair was reportedly originally denied the euthanasia by a local doctor who said, "I do not think this was what the legislation meant by 'unbearable suffering'."
However, David Dufour, a doctor at Brussels University Hospital, agreed to kill the men by lethal injection. He told RTL television that they “were very happy.”
“It was a relief to see the end of their suffering,” he said. “They had a cup of coffee in the hall, it went well and a rich conversation. The separation from their parents and brother was very serene and beautiful.
“At the last there was a little wave of their hands and then they were gone.”

Marc and Eddy’s older brother, Dirk, explained that the pair, who both worked as cobblers, lived together, and that blindness “would have made them completely dependent.”

“They did not want to be in an institution," he said."

Monday, January 14, 2013

St John the Baptiser and the Baptism of the Lord

Domenico Robusti, il Tintoretto (1560 - 17 May 1635)
The Baptism of Christ
c. 1585
Oil on canvas
137 cm x 105 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Domenico was the son of the more  renowned painter Jacopo Tintoretto. He was the main collaborator of his father

Not as dynamic or as vital as his father, he nevertheless excelled at portraiture and came out of his father`s shadow at the early age of 17 years when he was admitted to the Confraternity of St Luke

This work was originally and erroneously attributed to Jacopo

It is  unsurprising that his work be mistaken for that of Jacopo. He trained in his father's workshop and emulated his style in his early career

The work  was part of the estate in 1630 of Leonardo Ottoboni, chancellor of the Republic of Venice. It is likely that it was commissioned as a work of private devotion and contemplation possibly in a private chapel

Until his public ministry, St John the Baptist had led in the desert the life of an anchorite.

The Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Baptist describes him at this time by reference to Scripture:
 "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar..the word of the Lord was made unto John, the son of Zachary, in the desert. And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching" (Luke 3:1-3), clothed not in the soft garments of a courtier (Matthew 11:8; Luke 7:24), but in those "of camel's hair, and a leather girdle about his loins"; and "his meat" — he looked as if he came neither eating nor drinking (Matthew 11:18; Luke 7:33) — "was locusts and wild honey" (Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:6); his whole countenance, far from suggesting the idea of a reed shaken by the wind (Matthew 11:7; Luke 7:24), manifested undaunted constancy".

That is the man we see  in the painting

John baptised in the waters of the Jordan. Baptism was the hallmark of his mission. He was called "the baptiser"

As the Encyclopedia makes clear
"This feature of his ministry, more than anything else, attracted public attention to such an extent that he was surnamed "the Baptist" (i.e. Baptizer) even during his lifetime (by Christ, Matthew 11:11; by his own disciples, Luke 7:20; by Herod, Matthew 14:2; by Herodias, Matthew 14:3)"

The Gospels of Mark, Matthew and (most clearly) Luke relate that Jesus came from Galilee to John in Judea and was baptized by him, John did not come to Jesus

.Who was John and what did he preach ?

In Frontline at pbs  three professors, L. Michael White:, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, John Dominic Crossan:, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies DePaul University and Harold W. Attridge:, The Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament Yale Divinity School gave their fascinating views. 

There is mystery about this encounter between Christ and John. This mystery is reflected in the painting The painting invites contemplation and it is likely that the work may have been commissioned for private devotion

Pope Benedict XVI has preached on St John the Baptist and the Baptism of Christ on a umber of occasions and reflected on the man, his mission and his significance. Here are some of his talks and homilies:

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Baptism of Christ: Divine Abasement

Maître de Philippe de Levis-Mirepoix (1466-1537)
The initial "D" showing the Baptism  of Christ
From a two volume antiphonary commissioned by Philippe de Lévis, Bishop of Mirepoix
0.265 m. x  0.219 m.
Musée du Louvre, D.A.G., Paris 

Giovanni-Andrea Donducci (1575-1655)  "Il Mastellatta" 
The Baptism of Christ
Oil on canvas
1.660 m.  x  1.950 m.
Musée des Beaux-Arts,  Palais Fesch, Ajaccio

If he was God, why was Christ baptised by John the Baptist ? The Pope considered the question.

In his homily on 13th January 2013, the Pope said of the Feast of the Baptism of Christ:

"We celebrate today the feast of the Baptism of Jesus: that Child, son of the Virgin, whom we contemplated in the mystery of his birth, we see today as an adult immersing himself in the waters of the Jordan River, and in this way sanctifying all water and the whole cosmos, as the Eastern tradition emphasizes. 
But why did Jesus, in whom there was no shadow of sin have himself baptized by John? 
Why did he wish to perform that gesture of repentance and conversion together with many others who wanted to prepare themselves for the coming of the Messiah? 
That gesture, which marks the beginning of Christ’s public life, is situated in the same line as the Incarnation, of God’s descent from the highest heaven to the abyss of hell (“inferi”). 
The meaning of this movement of divine abasement is summed up in a single word: love, which is the very name of God. 
The apostle John writes: “In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). 
This is why the first act of Jesus was to receive the baptism of John, who, when he saw him coming, said: “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29)."

Saturday, January 12, 2013


David Jacques  b.1964
Irish Emigrants Entering Liverpool 
Oil on canvas
212 x 350 cm
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Angelo Tommasi 1858 - 1923
Gli emigranti
Oil on canvas
262cm x :433cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome

Peter De Francia (1921‑2012)
The Emigrants 1964-6
Oil paint on canvas  
(left hand painting): 1823 x 1065 x 16 mm support 
(central painting): 1826 x 1061 x 16 mm support 
(right hand painting): 1823 x 1061 x 16 mm frame 
Tate Britain, London

There has always been movements of peoples across the globe. The Irish Diaspora and the Italian Diaspora after Re-unification in 1870 are probably the two best known in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Their effects are still felt today

De Francia`s triptych was prompted by a memory while travelling around Algeria in 1964. The full commentary is on the Tate website here

As a subject emigration has not greatly gripped art and artists. The Church tried its best to come to grips with the problem of emigration and the associated social and religious evils 

However in  the face of state encouragement of emigration for economic and political reasons, its efforts although useful could not be said to be all effective

Now emigration still goes on often encouraged by state policy. There are two types: internal and external

Internally there is movement of people within state boundaries from poorer regions to more affluent. 

Externally there is state encouragement within regional blocks of states such as the EU under the doctrine of the free movement of labour. When labour markets "overheat", there is a demand for labour from outside the market.

There are of course other reasons: war, fleeing from persecution, famine, natural disaster

But the weakening and breaking of families and communities in which Churches are based has a weakening effect on the Church and the emigrants themselves and their families

In 1905 Blessed Bishop John Baptist Scalabrini (1839–1905) analysed the problem of the Italian Diaspora in a memorandum to Saint Pope Pius X. He wrote:

The Catholic Church is called by its divine apostolate and by its age-old tradition to make its imprint on the great social movement of migration, whose goal is economic recovery and the merging of Christian peoples" 
(Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, Memorandum for the constitution of a pontifical commission Pro emigratis catholicis (4 May 1905))

In For the Love of Immigrants: Migration Writings and Letters of Bishop John Baptist Scalabrini,  edited with an introduction by Silvano M. Tomasi (1905) we can read first hand accounts of the difficulties faced by emigrants through economic circumstances being compelled to up sticks and break ties and travel thousands of miles in the hope of a new life

It could have been written today

The problems are the same. The people are different. Movement has become part of the "culture"

Now also we have other people on the move: refugees and internally displaced persons, international students, tourists, people who work in the airline and shipping industries, people who are seconded abroad and moved frequently in their employment. 

Scalabrini`s analysis of the Italian situation at the beginning of the twentieth century is contained within his celebrated Memorandum. It has wider application

But it is in his observations written in  1887 of what he saw in the railway station at Milan which bing home to one in concrete and human terms why he was motivated to do something about the social evils that he saw all around him:

One can never walk through Milan railway station again without a profound feeling of sadness

But perhaps one can see similar sights in Victoria Bus station in London?

"In Milan a few years ago, I witnessed a scene that left me with a sense of profound sadness. 
As I walked through the station, I saw the vast waiting room, the porticoes at the side and the adjacent piazza filled with three or four hundred people, poorly dressed and separated into various groups. Their faces, bronzed by the sun and marked by premature wrinkles drawn by privation, reflected the turmoil agitating their hearts at that moment. There were old men bent with age and labor, young men in the flower of manhood, women leading or carrying their little ones, boys and girls – all united in a single thought, all heading to a common goal. 
They were emigrants. 
They belonged to the various provinces of northern Italy and were waiting with trepidation for the train that would take them to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, from where they would embark for the distant Americas where they hoped to find a less hostile destiny, a land less unresponsive to their labors. 
They were leaving, poor souls, some sent for by relatives who had preceded them in this voluntary exodus; others, without knowing where they were heading, drawn by that powerful instinct that impels the birds to migrate. They were going to America, where (they had heard many times), there was well paid work for anyone with strong arms and good will. 
It was not without tears that they had said good-bye to their native villages, to which so many tender memories still bound them. But they were getting ready to leave their country without regret, for they were familiar with only two of her hateful aspects, military duty and taxes, and because for the disinherited the fatherland is the country that gives them bread, and there, far, far away, they hoped to find bread less scarce even if it meant no less labor. 
I left there deeply moved. 
A host of melancholy thoughts pressed on my heart. Who knows what accumulation of misfortunes and privations makes so painful a step seem sweet to them, I thought! How many disappointments, how many new sufferings is an uncertain future preparing for them? How many will emerge victorious in the struggle for existence? How many will die amid the turmoil in the cities or the silence of some uninhabited plain? How many, though they find bread for their bodies, will have no bread for their souls, which is just as necessary, and in a totally material ambience lose the faith of their fathers? 
Ever since that day, my thoughts have often turned to those unfortunate people, and that scene always reminds me of another, no less desolate, which I have not seen but which it is possible to glimpse in the letters from friends and the reports of travelers. I see the poor wretches landing in a strange land, among people who speak a language they do not understand, easy victims of inhuman exploitation. 
I see them wet the unyielding ground with their sweat and their tears, ground that exudes disease-bearing miasmas. I see them, broken by labor, consumed with fever, sigh in vain for their distant fatherland and the old poverty of their native home, finally dying without the consolation of their dear ones, without the word of faith that points out the reward God has promised the good and the forlorn. 
And those who win out in the cruel struggle for existence, alas! Isolated, they forget all supernatural concepts, all precepts of Christian morality; day by day they lose all religious sense, for it is not nourished by pious practices; and they allow brute instincts to replace more noble aspirations. 
Faced with this lamentable situation, I have often asked myself: How can it be remedied? 
And every time I find in the papers some government circular warning the authorities and the public against certain speculators who carry out veritable slave raids of whites to propel these poor wretches, unsuspecting instruments of greed, far from their native land toward a mirage of large and easy profits. 
And whenever from letters of friends or travelers’ accounts I see that the pariahs among all emigrants are the Italians, that they do the meanest kinds of work – if indeed there be meanness in work – that the most abandoned and hence the least respected are our own countrymen, that thousands upon thousands of our brothers and sisters live without the protection of their distant motherland, without the comfort of a friendly word, objects of exploitation that often goes unpunished, then I confess that I blush with shame. I feel humiliated as a priest and as an Italian, and I ask myself again: What can be done to help them? 
Just a few days ago a distinguished young traveler brought me greetings from several families from the mountains of Piacenza, who are now living in camps on the banks of the Orinoco River: “Tell our Bishop that we are always mindful of his counsels, tell him to pray for us and to send us a priest, because here we live and die like animals . . .!” 
That message from my far-off children struck me as a rebuke. 
And the question I have often asked myself began to take shape in the following observations I am now publishing, observations I have jotted down just as my heart dictated them. 
I ask the Italian clergy, Catholic lay men and women, and all people of good will to give consideration to my observations. Charity, the veritable truce of God, knows no partisanship, and the Blood of Christ makes everyone brothers and sisters in one faith and one hope and makes them debtors to one another."

As a result of the Memorandum Saint Pope Pius X set up the Office for the Spiritual Care of Emigrants, now the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People 

Sadly Saint Pope Pius X more often known as the "Hammer of the Heretics" rather than the large hearted man he was, vitally concerned in social issues who did develop and push forward the social teaching of the Church

The work of the religious organisations involved in this area has been profound and not properly recognised. These include: the Salesians of St John Bosco in Argentina, the initiatives of St Frances Xavier Cabrini, especially in North America, the two religious Congregations founded by Blessed Bishop Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, the Bonomelli Work in Italy, the St. Raphaels-Verein in Germany and the Society of Christ for Emigrants founded by Card. August Hlond in Poland.