Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Pius XI Art Historian

Fra Antonio da Monza (active 1492/1503 ) 
1492 - 1503
Miniature on Parchment
33,5 x 27,7 cm
Albertina Museum, Vienna, Austria

Pope Pius XI (Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti) (31 May 1857 – 10 February 1939), was Pope from 6 February 1922 to his death in 1939.

Before he became a diplomat, he was a scholar of no mean repute

He was at the Ambrosian Library (the Biblioteca Ambrosiana) in Milan, from 1888 to 1911. He was made Prefect in 1907

In 1911, at Pope Pius X's invitation, he moved to the Vatican to become Vice-Prefect of the Vatican Library, and in 1914 was promoted to Prefect.

While in Milan, he  transcribed and published codices and rare archival documents. He reordered the Library of the Certosa di Pavia, the Library and the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana,as well as  the Museo Settala

He recovered and restored the codices and manuscripts of the Chapter of Milan Cathedral which had been damaged by fire

As Pope he founded the new Vatican Pinacoteca, in a special building near the new entrance to the Museums. He also founded the Missionary-Ethnological Museum in 1926, arranged on the upper floors of the Lateran Palace before it was moved elsewhere

Occasionally one comes across articles and works from his early period in Milan

There was an interesting debate in which he took part concerning the Lombard miniaturist and Franciscan Fra Antonio da Monza (active about 1480 - 1505)

His Pentecost (above)  is now in the Albertina

It was for a  Festmissale for the then  Pope Alexander VI, the Borgia Pope whose features also adorn the work. The choir books were a gift by the Pope for Santa Maria in Aracoeli and  the Observant Franciscans within the Church

Fra Antonio appears to have been a member of the Observant Franciscans

Antonio's artistic style was influenced by the art of Leonardo da Vinci. Scholars have attributed several liturgical books, as well as some miniatures in the Sforza Hours and in Antonio Minuti's Life of Muzio Attendolo Sforza, to him. Minuti was a notary and chancellor to the Sforza family

Here are some works where positive attributions to him have been made

Antonio da Monza (active about 1480 - 1505)
Initial R: The Resurrection
From Introit for Easter, Gradual:  Ms. Ludwig VI 3 (the Ludwig Aracoeli Manuscript,)
late 15th or early 16th century
Tempera colours, gold leaf, and ink on parchment bound between original wood boards covered with brown leather
64.1 x 43.5 cm (25 1/4 x 17 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Antonio da Monza (active about 1480 - 1505)
The Crucifixion
c. 1492 - 4
From The Christmas Missal of Pope Alexander VI Ms. Borg. Lat. 425, folio 38v
Missa in Nativitate Domini Nostri Iesu Christi, hora tertiarum Pontifice Maximo celebrante
 Gouache, ink, and gold on vellum,
46.5 x 32.4 cm
Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. Vatican

The work and identity of Fra Antonio da Monza was only revived by researchers in the late nineteenth century, but little is known about his life or career

He is a mysterious figure

Art historians have attempted to piece together the oeuvre of Fra Antonio da Monza or cited individual works as successful examples of hybrid compositions 

One of these historians was the great German art historian Paul Kristeller (1863 - 1931) not to be confused with the great Columbia University scholar of the Italian renaissance, Paul Oskar Kristeller (1905-1999). {But of course they often are and the works of the earlier are often shown as works of the latter)

Kristeller as one of the leading art historians of the Italian Renaissance became interested in Fra Antonio

In 1901 he published a monograph Fra Antonio da Monza, incisore  in  Rassegna d'arte I (1901), pp 161-164 and wondered whether on the basis of two hitherto unattributed prints he discovered in Milan whether Fra Antonio had also been an engraver and printer

The evidence he adduced was slight and unconvincing but his view was taken up by some art establishment figures such as S. Arthur Strong, Librarian to the House of Lords and at Chatsworth, Sir Sidney Colvin (Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum) and Arthur Mayger Hind (later Keeper of the Department of Prints, British Museum) 

They also prayed in aid the views of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana and Monsignor Ratti

This seems to have been the final straw

He poured cold water on the idea, demolished the reasons given for the attribution and clinically advanced reasons why on the basis of the existing evidence Fra Antonio could not have been the engraver

Why the bother ?

Possibly a number of reasons can be envisaged

He wanted the truth to come out and be established according to the hard facts and evidence and be established in a positive rational way and not on the basis of pure subjective opinion and reverie

The thesis which he attacked ignored the possibility or even probability that around 1500 there was in his beloved Milan, his beloved Lombardy a mature and thriving market for art filled with mature and sophisticated artists and their customers

For Kristeller was firmly of the view that the peak of Italian woodcut was to be found in Venice and Florence and that outwith Rome and Naples there were no local schools of woodcut in Italy

Of course he also wished to guard the academic reputation of the highly regarded Biblioteca Ambrosiana

Here is his article with the illustrations:

A work of great erudition and scholarship but both are lightly worn by the very learned author

This was written before the time when academics had research assistants and students who did first or second drafts

One notes the pointed ending with the Classical allusion

The reply came from Kristeller in his Die Lombardische Graphik der Renaissance. Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1913.  - in a large passage and a footnote:

The First World War put an end to the debate

However in the 1940s and beyond Father Ratti`s view held sway and Kristeller`s was overruled

Sunday, April 19, 2015

St Teresa de Jesús 2015

Canonisation of St Teresa in Rome 1622 
17th century
Oil on canvas
165 x 211 cm
Museo Carmelitano Teresa de Jesús. Monasterio de la Anunciación de Nuestra Señora. MM. Carmelitas Descalzas. Alba de Tormes, Salamanca, Spain

The ceremony of canonisation took place on March 12, 1622 in the presence of Pope Gregory XV

In front of the Pope is depicted  his nephew Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi  who was the promoter of the cause of canonisation

Gregorio Fernández 1576 - 1636
Saint Teresa de Jesús 
Circa 1615
Polychrome statue
160 x 74 x 75 cm
Santuario de Nuestra Señora del Carmen  Extramuros. Valladolid

Gregorio Fernández (1576 – 22 January 1636) was a Spanish Baroque sculptor of the Castilian school of sculpture

The most important collection of his work is in the National Sculpture Museum in Valladolid 

He moved to Valladolid which was then the court of the Kings of Spain , between 1601 and 1606 

Another sculpture of the saint by the sculptor is preserved in the Museum:(below)

Gregorio Fernández 1576 - 1636
Saint Teresa de Jesús 
Circa 1625
Polychrome statue
172 x 103 x 85 cm
Museo Nacional de Escultura, Valladolid

The work was commissioned by the Convento de Nuestra Señora del Carmen (Carmelitas Calzados), Valladolid around the time of the canonisation of the saint

In her left hand she  holds an open book inscribed, in which the name of her confessor, Pedro de Alcántara is included. 

Here we see the dynamic saint but also one who meditates and writes

Luca Giordano (1634 – 12 January 1705)
The Transverberation of Saint Teresa
Circa 1664 
Oil on canvas 
202 x 157 cm
MM. Discalced Carmelites. Penaranda de Bracamonte, Salamanca

This work was commissioned by the Spanish diplomat Don Gaspar de Bracamonte 3rd Count of Peñaranda (c.1595 – December 14, 1676) for the Convent of the Incarnation of Discalced Carmelites of Penaranda de Bracamonte (Salamanca)  where the work still  resides

The Neapolitan Giordano was nicknamed 'Luca fa Presto' (Do it quick, Luke) by his contemporaries because of his enormous output and versatility. 

He studied in Naples, Rome, Florence and Venice where he copied works by Tintoretto and Veronese whose style clearly influenced this composition.

The work commemorates the famous event which  happened to the saint in 1559 at the Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila

All images (except from the Museum) are from a websie of an important Spanish exhibition to celebrate the the 500th anniversary of the birth of Mother Teresa of Jesús: "Teresa de Jesús, maestra de oración" Teresa of Jesus - Master of Prayer

The exhibition is organised  by the Foundation of The Ages of Man, the Castilla y León and the Discalced Carmelite Order, in collaboration with other institutions and organizations who have carefully prepared for this important  year in the cities of Avila and Alba de Tormes: the places where she was born to earthly life and eternal life.

More than 200 works of art and literature from all over Spain will be sent for the exhibition 

The 91st General Chapter of her Order  will also begin in Ávila on May 3

Here are two more images from what will prove a landmark exhibition:

Doménico Theotocópuli “El Greco” (1541-1614) (attributed to)
The Holy Face
Circa 1577-1580 / circa 1600
Oil on canvas
46 x 86 cm
Convento de las MM. Carmelitas Descalzas de Jesús Crucificado (antiguas Capuchinas del convento de la Purísima Concepción),  Toledo

Alonso Cano (1601 – 3 September 1667)
St John of God
Oil on canvas
140 x 110 cm.
Archivo-Museo San Juan de Dios. Granada

The saint, dressed in the black habit of the Order, kneeling in profile, holds a crucifix 

His head is tilted and illuminated with pallor mortis

He is on the point of human death and on the threshold of eternal life

The scene is a Transitus

He died on March 8, 1550, his 55th birthday, in Granada. 

John was canonized by Pope Alexander VIII on October 16, 1690,

In a letter John wrote:

"If we kept before us the mercy of God, we would never be deficient in doing good, while strength was in us. For, when we make over to the poor, out of the love of God, what he himself has given us, his promise is that we shall receive a hundredfold in eternal happiness. That indeed is a fortunate and happy way of gaining a profit! 
Who will not give over whatever he has to this best of merchants! He administers our business himself, and begs us with outstretched arms to turn to him and weep for our sins, and become servants in love, first for ourselves, and then for our neighbour. 
For just as water extinguishes a fire, just so does charity blot out our sins. 
So many people come here that I very often wonder how they can possibly be provided for. But Jesus Christ provides all things and feeds everyone. Many of the poor come into this house of God because the city of Granada is large and very cold, especially now in winter. 
There are now more than one hundred and ten people living in this house, including the sick, the healthy, the servants and pilgrims. Because the house is open to everyone, it takes in all manner of sick people. There are people with useless limbs, the maimed, the lepers, the dumb, the insane, paralytics, and some who are suffering from cancer. Others are afflicted with senility, and there are many children, as well as the innumerable travellers and pilgrims who arrive here, and whom we provide with fire, salt and water, as well as pots to cook their food. 
There is no charge made for all this, but Christ is our provider. 
So, I am working here in debt, and I am a captive for the sake of Jesus Christ. 
Often I owe so much that I dare not go out, in case I am seized for my debts. And when I see so many of my brethren in poverty, and my neighbours suffering beyond their strength, and oppressed in mind or body by so many cares, and am unable to help them, it causes me exceeding sorrow. 
But I trust in Christ who knows my heart. 
Then I say, ‘Accursed is the man who puts his trust in men, and not in Christ alone.’ You will be separated from men, whether you like it or not. But Christ is faithful and is with us always, and he provides all things. We are right to give him thanks. Amen." 
St John of God  Cartas y Escritos 18-19; 48-50

Friday, April 17, 2015

Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat (1833-1922)

Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat (1833-1922)
Oil on canvas
161  x 129 cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Renowned as a portrait painter, the great academician Bonnat also was responsible for a number of powerful religious works of which Job is but one

As a child he lived in Madrid and  under the tutelage of Charles Sarvy, his maternal uncle, he developed an appreciation for the Spanish Old Master paintings by Velázquez, Murillo and Zurbarán

He spent three years in Rome from 1858 after winning Second in the Prix de Rome. Here he seems to have been profoundly influenced by Michelangelo

Some of his finest religious works are from this period

In 1868 he embarked on a voyage to the East with Gérôme and acquired a reputation as an Orientalist

The theme of Bonnat`s work in the painting above is the terrible and distressing Complaint of Job in Job 3

"1   After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed his day.
2    Job spoke out and said:
3    Perish the day on which I was born, the night when they said, “The child is a boy!”
4    May that day be darkness: may God above not care for it, may light not shine upon it!
5    May darkness and gloom claim it, clouds settle upon it, blackness of day affright it!
6    May obscurity seize that night; may it not be counted among the days of the year, nor enter into the number of the months!
7    May that night be barren; let no joyful outcry greet it!
8    Let them curse it who curse the Sea, those skilled at disturbing Leviathan!
9    May the stars of its twilight be darkened; may it look for daylight, but have none, nor gaze on the eyes of the dawn,
10   Because it did not keep shut the doors of the womb to shield my eyes from trouble!
11   Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?
12   Why did knees receive me, or breasts nurse me?
13   For then I should have lain down and been tranquil; had I slept, I should then have been at rest
14   With kings and counsellors of the earth who rebuilt what were ruins
15   Or with princes who had gold and filled their houses with silver.
16   Or why was I not buried away like a stillborn child, like babies that have never seen the light?"

At first blush this Job  could be a portrait of St Jerome or of Saint Antony in the Desert

But here, Job no longer blesses God or pretends to accept his fate without complaint. 

Job insists that he has done no wrong, and yet, "The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison; God's terrors are marshalled against me." (Job 6:4)

Pope Benedict XVI ended his encyclical Deus Caritas Est with a reflection on Job`s situation and plight:
"38. Certainly Job could complain before God about the presence of incomprehensible and apparently unjustified suffering in the world. In his pain he cried out:
“Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! ... I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? ... Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me” (23:3, 5-6, 15-16). 
Often we cannot understand why God refrains from intervening. Yet he does not prevent us from crying out, like Jesus on the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46).  
We should continue asking this question in prayerful dialogue before his face: “Lord, holy and true, how long will it be?” (Rev 6:10). It is Saint Augustine who gives us faith's answer to our sufferings: 
“Si comprehendis, non est Deus”—”if you understand him, he is not God.” 
Our protest is not meant to challenge God, or to suggest that error, weakness or indifference can be found in him. For the believer, it is impossible to imagine that God is powerless or that “perhaps he is asleep” (cf. 1 Kg 18:27). Instead, our crying out is, as it was for Jesus on the Cross, the deepest and most radical way of affirming our faith in his sovereign power. Even in their bewilderment and failure to understand the world around them, Christians continue to believe in the “goodness and loving kindness of God” (Tit 3:4). 
Immersed like everyone else in the dramatic complexity of historical events, they remain unshakably certain that God is our Father and loves us, even when his silence remains incomprehensible. 
39. Faith, hope and charity go together. Hope is practised through the virtue of patience, which continues to do good even in the face of apparent failure, and through the virtue of humility, which accepts God's mystery and trusts him even at times of darkness. Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love!  
It thus transforms our impatience and our doubts into the sure hope that God holds the world in his hands and that, as the dramatic imagery of the end of the Book of Revelation points out, in spite of all darkness he ultimately triumphs in glory.  
Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love. Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. 
Love is possible, and we are able to practise it because we are created in the image of God. To experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world—this is the invitation I would like to extend with the present Encyclical."

Perhaps another famous German put it more succinctly when he combined the words of Job (Job 19:25) and St Paul (1 Corinthians 15:20): 
" I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.
And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.
For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first-fruits of them that sleep." 
(Handel, Messiah, Part III, 45)

Here are some more of Bonnat`s works on Old and New Testament themes  with some of them on dark themes of human despair and grief but also on faith, hope and love triumphant

Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat (1833-1922)
Adam and Eve Finding the Body of their Son Abel
c 1861
Oil on canvas
173  x 250 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille

Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat (1833-1922)
Samson's Youth 
Oil on canvas 
210.8 x 252.7 cm
Private collection

Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat (1833-1922)
The Resurrection of Lazarus
Oil on canvas
112 cm  x  145 cm
 Musée Bonnat, Bayonne

Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat (1833-1922)
The Good Samaritan
Oil on canvas
247 x 172 cm
Musée Bonnat, Bayonne

Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat (1833-1922)
Christ on the Cross
Oil on canvas
227 x  159 cm
Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Paris

(Note. The last painting has an interesting history. The work was commissioned in 1874 for one of the court rooms of the Cour d’assise du palais de Justice de Paris. However with laïcité in 1904/5  it was taken down and put into a store room of the Museums of the City of Paris

Human justice was to supplant divine justice and mercy.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

An Armenian Monk Teaching His Pupil

Grigor Khlat'etsi (1349-1425)
Grigor of Khlat (Akhlat) Instructing his Pupil, Self-portrait 
From The Four Gospels Illuminated 
Vellum; 23.5 x 16 cm
Inv. Nr 3714 Fol. 14v 
Matenadaran, Erevan

The 1700th anniversary of Armenian Christianity in 2001 was a notable milestone in the history of the Christian Church.

It was commemorated by an Apostolic Letter by Saint John Paul II

He wrote:
"Seventeen centuries ago, dear brothers and sisters of the Armenian people, this shared conversion to Christ took place for you. It is an event that has deeply marked your identity, not only personally but as a community, so that we are entitled to speak of the "Baptism" of your nation, even though Christianity actually reached your land much earlier. 
Tradition attributes its origins to the preaching and work of the holy Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew. 
With the "Baptism" of the Armenian community, first received by the civil and military authorities, the people acquired a new identity that was to become a constitutive and inseparable part of Armenian life. 
It would no longer be possible to think that faith did not figure as an essential element among the components of this identity. For Armenian culture itself would receive an extraordinarily powerful impetus from the proclamation of the Gospel:  its Armenian aspect would give a profoundly characteristic note to this proclamation, which would eventually be a driving force for an unprecedented development of the national culture. 
The invention of the Armenian alphabet, a decisive factor for the stability and definition of the people's cultural identity, would be closely associated with the Baptism of Armenia, and would be desired and conceived as a true and proper vehicle of evangelization, even more than as a way to communicate concepts and information. 
The new alphabet, the work of St Mesrop-Masthoc", in collaboration with the holy Catholicos Sahak, would enable Armenians to receive the best features of Syrian and Greek spirituality, theology and culture, and blend them all in an original way with the specific contribution of their own genius. 
The conversion of Armenia, which occurred at the dawn of the fourth century and is traditionally dated to the year 301, made your ancestors realize that they were the first officially Christian people, well before Christianity was recognized as the religion of the Roman Empire."

There were many exhibitions commemorating the event including one entitled Treasures From The Ark: 1700 Years of Armenian Christian Art

The fascinating catalogue of the exhibition can be as a .pdf file from downloaded from the website of The Getty Publications Virtual Library

The catalogue has many interesting essays, images and entries

Of the above image, we read:
"Provenance: Copied in the Monastery of Tsipnay, under the shelter of the Church of Holy Nshan and St Stephen by the weary and thoughtless scribe Grigorvardapet in the Armenian era 868 (1419) ,during the catholicate of Poghos (II Garnetsi, 1418-30) and reign of Kara Yusuf (d. 1420), for the priest Yohannes. 
Grigor was born around 1340—5 in Khlat, son of Dser, hence his nickname Dserents.  
Grigor of Khlat (Akhlat) was one of the leading teachers of the late fourteenth and first decade of the fifteenth century. The devastating raids of Timur [ Tamerlane] that started in 1386 continued until 1426, the year when Grigor was martyred for not denouncing his Christian faith.  
The scribes of Armenian manuscripts copied in the Akhlat record: 
'He [Tamerlane] made the Armenian homeland like a desert bishops and vardapets [celibate priests], monks, priests — took to flight and wandered about in foreign lands and became strangers.' 
In 1427 a monk from the Monastery of Medsop' complained that Mass had not been celebrated for six years.  
A large collection of Armenian manuscripts was destroyed. For the first time since the ninth century there was a decline in the number of manuscripts produced.  
T'ovma Metsop'etsi (1378-1446) in his History of Tamerlane and His Successors twice mentions Grigor, who in spite of having to move from monastery to monastery, for 55 years copied manuscripts, 'day and night with restless vigilance'. 
Arak'el Baghishetsi (c. 1340 - 1454) confirms this observation by adding that: 
'he copied every hour,summer and winter, autumn and spring, night and day, at home and outside, in the monastery, in the village and in town. And thus not only when he was young but also in ripe old age, until the day of his martyrdom.' 
And what was his purpose? 
' He copied and sold [manuscripts] and gave the proceeds to the poor', and    'encourged all vardapets and monks to do the same'.
Grigor started copying manuscripts at an early age. In 1415 in a manuscript he copied in Jerusalem he states, 
'I am sixty-six years old and a monk for forty-eight years and these sermons [Yachakhapatumchark', attributed to Saint Gregory the Illuminator] I have not come across in my country' [Mat. mss. no. 8775, fol. 315r]. ...
The miniature exhibited is unique in Armenian iconography.  
Grigor, having been the founder and instructor in the primary monastic schools at Medsop'ay, Tsip'navank' and Tat'ew (1409- 10), is here represented seated on a high chair. 
He has in his left hand a rod, and a small black board in his right hand on which is inscribed the words 
'Blessed is the man who [never follows the advice of the wicked or loiters and does not take the path of sinners]' (Psalms 1: 1). 
In front of the monk stands a student, hands folded close to his chest like a sinner; and behind him slightly to the right sits, cross-legged on the floor, another figure, holding fresh rods, which the master would require for punishment.  
Another interpretation would be that the novice standing in front of the monk has strayed from the 'right path' and the teacher is reminding him of the famous words of the Psalmist: 'Blessed is the man...'.  
The role of the Gospel was to guide Christians away from wickedness by accepting the virtuous precepts of the Gospels.  
This interpretation is supported by the next miniature on fol. 15r, which presents the sponsors of the manuscript sitting facing each other.  
The sponsor Yovhannes holds the Gospel while his father, the priest Daniel, is preparing himself with open arms to receive the manuscript, a source of 'light and salvation'."

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Saint Grigor Narekats‘i (Gregory of Narek) : Doctor of the Church

Grigor Narekats‘i (Gregory of Narek). 
Գիրք աղօթից (Book of Prayers). 
Constantinople: Tparan Astuatsatrean, 1763. 
Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress 

Scenes from the Life of Grigor Narekats‘i 
Hakob, Armenian Patriarch of Constaninople. Մեկնութիւն աղօթից եւ երբողինաց սրբոյն Գրիգորի Նարեկացւոյ հրեշտակական վարդապետ (Commentary on the Prayers and Lamentations of Grigor Narekats‘i Divine Vardapet)
Constantinople: Norakazm Tparan, 1745. 
Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress 

Grigor Mlichetsi also called Skevratsi (c. 1150-1215) 
Grigor Narekatsi Prostrate before Christ 
From Grigor Narekatsi Matean Oghbergut'ean (The Book of Lamentations) 
15.4 x 11.5 cm
Fol. 177v Inv. Nr 1568
Matenadaran Institute of. Ancient Armenian Manuscripts, Erevan,

Saint Grigor Narekatsi, (950 - 1003) (Armenian: Գրիգոր Նարեկացի) Doctor of the Church, was a member of the Monastery of Narek on the shores of Lake Van, wrote his Book of Lamentations, commonly known as the Book of Prayers or Narek, in 1002. 

It comprises 95 elegiac poems each beginning with the words 'From the depths of the heart a conversation with God', and it gives expression to the mystical meditations of a deeply religious and fervent man, endowed with rare poetic gifts. 

The third image above is from a manuscript which  is the earliest dated copy of his work, which also includes the Life of St Grigor, compiled by Archbishop Nerses Lambronatsi (1153-98) 

Grigor Mlichetsi, the scribe, is known to have copied five manuscripts between 1173 and 1215, of which four were done in the scriptorium at the Monastery of Skevra under the hospitality of Nerses Lambronatsi 

Armenia was the first country to recognise Christianity as the official state religion in 301 AD, twelve years before Constantine's decree granting tolerance to Christianity within the Roman Empire. Ever since, Armenia has claimed the privilege of being the first Christian nation

Pope Francis formally proclaimed St Gregory as a Doctor of the Church at the same time as commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

Saint Gregory of Narek, a monk of the tenth century, knew how to express the sentiments of your people more than anyone. He gave voice to the cry, which became a prayer, of a sinful and sorrowful humanity, oppressed by the anguish of its powerlessness, but illuminated by the splendour of God’s love and open to the hope of his salvific intervention, which is capable of transforming all things. 
“Through his strength I wait with certain expectation believing with unwavering hope that… I shall be saved by the Lord’s mighty hand and… that I will see the Lord himself in his mercy and compassion and receive the legacy of heaven” (Saint Gregory of Narek, Book of Lamentations, XII).
Your Christian identity is indeed ancient, dating from the year 301, when Saint Gregory the Illuminator guided Armenia to conversion and baptism. You were the first among nations in the course of the centuries to embrace the Gospel of Christ.   
That spiritual event indelibly marked the Armenian people, as well as its culture and history, in which martyrdom holds a preeminent place, as attested to symbolically by the sacrificial witness of Saint Vardan and his companions in the fifth century. 
Your people, illuminated by Christ’s light and by his grace, have overcome many trials and sufferings, animated by the hope which comes from the Cross (cf. Rom 8:31-39). As Saint John Paul II said to you, 
“Your history of suffering and martyrdom is a precious pearl, of which the universal Church is proud. Faith in Christ, man’s Redeemer, infused you with an admirable courage on your path, so often like that of the Cross, on which you have advanced with determination, intent on preserving your identity as a people and as believers” (Homily, 21 November 1987).
This faith also accompanied and sustained your people during the tragic experience one hundred years ago “in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the twentieth century” (John Paul II and Karekin II, Common Declaration, Etchmiadzin, 27 September 2001). 
Pope Benedict XV, who condemned the First World War as a “senseless slaughter” (AAS, IX [1917], 429), did everything in his power until the very end to stop it, continuing the efforts at mediation already begun by Pope Leo XIII when confronted with the “deadly events” of 1894-96. 
For this reason, Pope Benedict XV wrote to Sultan Mehmed V, pleading that the many innocents be saved (cf. Letter of 10 September 1915) and, in the Secret Consistory of 6 December 1915, he declared with great dismay, 
“Miserrima Armenorum gens ad interitum prope ducitur” (AAS, VII [1915], 510).

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Byron and the Armenians

John Constantine Aivazovsky
(1817 - 1900)
Byron visit the monks of the Mekhitarist Congregation . The Island of San Lazzaro, Venice  (1899)
Oil on canvas 
133 x 218 cm
National Gallery of Armenia, Yerevan

On 26th August 1717, the Venetian Senate, having examined the terms of the offering of the Order of Mendicant Friars, (the Mekhitarists) granted the island of San Lazzaro to Mekhitar of Sebastia and his monks in perpetuity

It is one of the world's prominent centres of Armenian culture and Armenian studies

It has been described as "one of the Armenian diaspora's richest enclaves of culture"

Byron retired there to study the Armenian language and culture during his visit to San Lazzaro between 1816 and 1817. 

On 2 January 1817 he wrote to his publisher:

To Mr Murray, Venice Jan 2, 1817 
“The English reader will probably be surprised to find my name associated with a work of the present description [The Armenian Grammar] , and inclined to give me more credit for my attainments as a linguist than they deserve. 
“As I would not willingly be guilty of a deception, I will state, as shortly as I can, my own share in the compilation, with the motives which led to it. On my arrival at Venice in the year 1816, I found my mind in a state which required study, and study of a nature which should leave little scope for the imagination, and furnish some difficulty in the pursuit. 
“At this period I was much struck—in common, I believe, with every other traveller—with the society of the Convent of St. Lazarus, which appears to unite all the advantages of the monastic institution, without any of its vices. 
“The neatness, the comfort, the gentleness, the unaffected devotion, the accomplishments, and the virtues of the brethren of the order, are well fitted to strike the man of the world with the conviction that ‘there is another and a better’ even in this life. (…)"

Thursday, April 09, 2015

A Taste of Franciscan Art

Bartolomeo della Gatta ( born Pietro di Antonio Dei) (1448 - 1502)
San Francesco riceve le stimmate; St Francis receives the stigmata
Tempera on panel
186 cm  x 162 cm.

In 1468 Pietro di Antonio Dei of a good Florentine family took holy orders, probably in the Camaldolese monastery of S Maria degli Angeli, Florence, in which his brother Nicolo had already entered. 

In 1470 he was in Arezzo at the convent of S Maria in Gradi (not Santa Maria degli Angeli as reported by Vasari) and had the adopted name of Bartolomeo ('della Gatta' apparently refers to his fondness for a female cat). 

He spent most of the rest of his life in Arezzo, where he became abbot of S Clemente in Arezzo

The building of Santissima Annunziata in Arezzo was directed by Bartolomeo della Gatta and, after his death, by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder. 

He became one of the most original interpreters of Piero della Francesca. 

Most critics regard him as an eclectic and versatile  artist greatly influenced by artists of different styles from Perugino, Signorelli, Piero, Pollaiuolo and Verrocchio . But he had an absolute mastery of the technique of drawing

The work above was commissioned for the Franciscan church of San Francesco in Castiglion Fiorentino

Here we see the passionate religious feelings of the two friars -  St  Francis and his companion, Leone - totally immersed  in the vision of the Seraph and the Stigmata. The setting is La Verna on the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross in September 1223

We also note the broad backdrop of the  Apennine forest, described with realistic attention to the  rough rocks, the sparse vegetation and trees and of course the owl who appears to be looking away from the Vision

But above all we note the light and the exultation as if the whole of God`s Creation animate and inanimate had been transformed:
"in cui il Monte della Vernia parea ch’ardesse di fiamma isplendidissima, la quale risplendeva e illuminava tutti li monti e le valli d’intorno, come se fusse il sole sopra la terra"

The Galleria dell`Accademia in Florence presenly has an exhibition on Franciscan art. It is entitled L’arte di Francesco: Capolavori d’arte italiana e terre d’Asia dal XIII al XV secolo - Franciscan Art
Masterpieces of Italian art and Asian lands from the 13th to the 15th centuries

The exhibition illustrates the flowering of art – painting, sculpture and the sumptuary arts – directly related to the Franciscan movement between the 13th and 15th centuries.  

At the same time, it endeavours to highlight the Franciscans’ astonishing achievement in spreading the gospel throughout Asia, from the Holy Land to China 

The works of art were  commissioned either by Franciscan friars through their most prestigious churches and convents, or by private citizens who nurtured a special devotion for the saint and his immediate followers

Here are some of the other exhibits in the exhibition in Florence:

Maestro del dossale di San Giovanni Battista
San Francesco e quattro storie della sua vita : St Francis and four stories from his Life
c 1270
Tempera on wood panel with gold leaf
173 x 83 cm
Museo d’arte sacra, Orte

St Francis looks haggardly thin

He is holding a book. Either the Gospels or  his Rule

His hand rises in benediction as he looks out at the viewer

On the top left is the scene at La Verna

On the top right is the Sermon to the Birds

On the bottom left is his preaching in Alexandria when he met a rather bemused Sultan

On the bottom right is the recollection of a miracle wrought after his death

The Franciscans were given the Church of Sant`Angelo in Orte in 1259 and the work was commissioned for that church sometime in the 1270s

A century later (1366) it was transferred to the Franciscan church of San Tedoro alla Rocca in Orte

Neapolitan school
St Bernardine of Siena 
Oil on panel
Sala Capitolare, Monastero di Santa Chiara in via Vitellia, Rome

This work shows the passion of the man

What it was that communicated to the crowds who flocked to hear him preach

Images of the great Franciscan preacher and saint  Bernardine of Siena abound. Here , here and here

The price of his stock is low at the moment but will rebound

He  was canonised in 1450 scarcely six years after his death

Maestro di Figline (active 1315-1335 circa)
Madonna col Bambino in trono fra sei angeli, sant’Elisabetta d’Ungheria e san Ludovico di Tolosa
Madonna and Child enthroned with six angels, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and St Louis of Toulouse
1317 -  1320 
Tempera on wood panel with gold leaf 
298 cm. x 175.5 cm.
Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta, Figline Valdarno, 

The artist known as Maestro di Figline was active during the first half of the fourteenth century. He was one of the greatest painters of the time and was almost certainly a member of the Franciscan Order

Here we see a reminder of the great devotion of the Franciscan order to the Blessed Vurgin Mary in what seems to be an almost Sienese work

His works can be found in Tuscany and Umbria

His best known work is probably his Crucifixion of 1320 which hangs in Santa Croce, Florence and which has recently been restored. 

Figline Valdarno llies just outside Florence and it is thought that the Madonna and Child was commissioned for a Franciscan church in the town, the Chiesa di San Francesco

The Museum is extremely under-rated (as is the town itself)

It is one of the “piccoli grandi musei”