Friday, December 21, 2012

La Virgen del caballero de Montesa

Paolo de San Leocadio (10 September 1447 - c. 1520)
La Virgen del caballero de Montesa (The Virgin of the Knights of Montesa )
1472 - 1476
Oil on canvas
102 cm x 96 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Born in Italy, Paolo de San Leocadio spent a large part of his professional life in Spain His training was in Ferrara

The Virgin and Child are flanked by Saint Bernard and St Benedict, patrons of the Order of Montesa

The small figure is probably  Luis Despuig, the Grand Master of the Order between 1472 and 1482 

A merry and peaceful Christmas and New Year to you all

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The London Hours of William Lord Hastings

Master of the First Prayer book of Maximilian
Image of The Nativity and Prime
From The London Hours of William Lord Hastings
Late 1470s
Pigments and gold on vellum
165 x 125 mm
MS 54782, ff. 106v-107
The British Library, London

Master of the First Prayer book of Maximilian
Adoration of Kings and Largesse
From The London Hours of William Lord Hastings
Late 1470s
Pigments and gold on vellum
165 x 125 mm
MS 54782,  ff. 42v-43
The British Library, London

William Hastings, 1st Baron Hastings (c. 1431 – 13 June 1483) was Lord Chamberlain to King Edward IV

During his reign he was recognized by the greatest peer in the realm, 

He was executed for treason by Edward's brother and ultimate successor, Richard III

He was buried in St George's Chapel, Windsor, near  Edward IV

He is one of the main characters in Shakespeare`s Richard III

Hastings commissioned the Book of Hours from the south Netherlands

As the British Library website makes clear there is some irony in the scene of the Adoration of the Kings who are sent on by King Herod to find the Messiah

Hastings was a staunch protector of Prince Edward and his brother - the young 'princes in the Tower' 

He and the two princes stood between Richard  Duke of Gloucester and his kingly ambitions

For more on this manuscript see Bodo Brinkmann The Hastings Hours and the Master of 1499

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Wellcome Trust

Tommaso Alghisi, 1669 - 1713
Pope Innocent XI's kidneys containing massive stones
From: Litotomia
Wellcome Library, London

The Wellcome Foundation in London is a fascinating institution in the heart of London

It aims to improve human and animal health

Amongst other methods to do this it explores medicine in historical and cultural contexts

The above picture throws new light on a virtually unknown side of the Papacy

Blessed Pope Innocent XI (1611 - 1689) was a martyr to the "stone" - that terrible and extremely painful affliction.

The picture above makes it clear that the poor man must have been in agony. He died from the stone.

This was in addition to all his other troubles with France, Louis XIV, and his putting down of Quietism

He was one of the most remarkable and vigorous Pontiffs in a very turbulent age. His liberation of the Church from Gallicanism led to a revival of his reputation in the late 19th century through the efforts of the Dominican Joachim Joseph Berthier

A copy of the revised life of Innocent XI is available here: Vita di papa Innocenzo XI (1889)

Alghisi was Professor of surgery at the Hospital of St. Maria Nuova in Florence. He acquired great prowess in the surgical treatment of bladder and kidney stones ("the stone")

He had many famous patients including Pope Clement XI

His most famous work was Lithotomy (Extraction of the stone) which was a work dedicated to the Pope, Clement XI

But the links between Catholicism and medecine go back centuries before Innocent XI and Clement XI

P. Hispanus (Pope John XXI)
From Annals of Medical History 1923
Wellcome Library, London

Petrus Juliani or Petrus Hispanus (Pope John XXI (XX)) (c . 1210 - 1277)   was a medical man who pursued his medical studies even while Pope

Ernest Board 1877–1934
Guy de Chauliac bandaging the leg of Pope Clement VI at Avignon, while Petrarch, his enemy, jealous of his influence, watches him, ca. 1348.
Oil on canvas 61.4 x 91.5 cm.
Wellcome Library, London

This painting is one of over 26 paintings by the historical painter Ernest Board that were commissioned by Henry S. Wellcome in around 1912 of episodes relating to the history of medicine and science.

Others can be viewed here

Pope Clement VI (1291 – 6 December 1352), was Pope during the Black Death (1348–1350  He himself did not catch it

One of his physicians was Guy de Chauliac or Guigonis de Caulhaco (ca. 1300 – 25 July 1368) the author of Chirurgia Magna.

This treatise on surgery was translated into many other languages and was the standard text for centuries in Europe

He was also physician to Pope Innocent VI (1352–1362), and then to Pope Urban V (1362–1370).

He was the greatest surgeon of the Middle Ages and is called "The Father of Surgery" (at least by the French)

It is likely that Guy was a priest or other cleric

One of the main recommendations of Guy was for plasters and bandages for the treatment of wounds as can be seen from the painting.

Unfortunately he also thought that pus was good for the treatment of wounds and the wounds were bound up along with the pus

Petrarch and Guy were at the Court of Avignon at the same time. It would appear that they were enemies.

It would appear that amongst his ministrations for Clement Guy performed a trepanation on the Pope

One of the scenes depicted by Board for Wellcome involves that great doctor of the Church Albertus Magnus or St Albert the Great (1193/1206 – November 15, 1280)

Ernest Board 1877–1934
Albertus Magnus Expounding His Doctrines of Physical Science in the Streets of Paris, c.1245 .
Oil on canvas 92.4 x 62 cm
Wellcome Library, London

Albert has been described as the greatest German philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages.

He is the patron saint of natural scientists

Pope Benedict XVI devoted one of his catechesis on the life of St Albert

He said of him:
"He still has a lot to teach us.

Above all, St Albert shows that there is no opposition between faith and science, despite certain episodes of misunderstanding that have been recorded in history.

A man of faith and prayer, as was St Albert the Great, can serenely foster the study of the natural sciences and progress in knowledge of the micro- and macrocosm, discovering the laws proper to the subject, since all this contributes to fostering thirst for and love of God.

The Bible speaks to us of creation as of the first language through which God who is supreme intelligence, who is the Logos reveals to us something of himself.

The Book of Wisdom, for example, says that the phenomena of nature, endowed with greatness and beauty, is like the works of an artist through which, by analogy, we may know the Author of creation (cf. Wis 13: 5). 
With a classical similitude in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance one can compare the natural world to a book written by God that we read according to the different approaches of the sciences (cf. Address to the participants in the Plenary Meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 31 October 2008; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 5 November 2008, p. 6).

How many scientists, in fact, in the wake of St Albert the Great, have carried on their research inspired by wonder at and gratitude for a world which, to their eyes as scholars and believers, appeared and appears as the good work of a wise and loving Creator!

Scientific study is then transformed into a hymn of praise. ...

St Albert the Great reminds us that there is friendship between science and faith and that through their vocation to the study of nature, scientists can take an authentic and fascinating path of holiness.

His extraordinary openmindedness is also revealed in a cultural feat which he carried out successfully, that is, the acceptance and appreciation of Aristotle's thought.

In St Albert's time, in fact, knowledge was spreading of numerous works by this great Greek philosopher, who lived a quarter of a century before Christ, especially in the sphere of ethics and metaphysics.

They showed the power of reason, explained lucidly and clearly the meaning and structure of reality, its intelligibility and the value and purpose of human actions.

St Albert the Great opened the door to the complete acceptance in medieval philosophy and theology of Aristotle's philosophy, which was subsequently given a definitive form by St Thomas.

This reception of a pagan pre-Christian philosophy, let us say, was an authentic cultural revolution in that epoch.

Yet many Christian thinkers feared Aristotle's philosophy, a non-Christian philosophy, especially because, presented by his Arab commentators, it had been interpreted in such a way, at least in certain points, as to appear completely irreconcilable with the Christian faith.

Hence a dilemma arose: are faith and reason in conflict with each other or not?

This is one of the great merits of St Albert: with scientific rigour he studied Aristotle's works, convinced that all that is truly rational is compatible with the faith revealed in the Sacred Scriptures.

In other words, St Albert the Great thus contributed to the formation of an autonomous philosophy, distinct from theology and united with it only by the unity of the truth.

So it was that in the 13th century a clear distinction came into being between these two branches of knowledge, philosophy and theology, which, in conversing with each other, cooperate harmoniously in the discovery of the authentic vocation of man, thirsting for truth and happiness: and it is above all theology, that St Albert defined as "emotional knowledge", which points out to human beings their vocation to eternal joy, a joy that flows from full adherence to the truth."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Glory to God in the highest

Nicolaes Pietersz Berchem  1620–1683
The Annunciation to the Shepherds
Oil on canvas, 107 x 144 cm 
Bristol Museum and Art Gallery 

Berchem was one of the artists of the Dutch Golden Age

A prolific artist, he and his circle are known to have painted at least 700 works

He was much influenced by the Italian style of the seventeenth century ("the Italianate painters") 

He was always fascinated with the effects of light

Many of his pictures are of landscapes, peasant and animals and an earthly Arcady

All of these aspects of his work can be seen in the above picture

The Theme of the painting is of course from Luke`s account of the Nativity:
13 And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: 
14  “Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”

Recently the international press had some sport over Pope Benedict`s new book. They feigned shock and surprise at a number of comments by the Pope about the Nativity. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Christianity could have put them right

One of the points made by the Pope was that according to the strict rendering of Scripture the angels did not sing but said “Glory to God in the highest” . This was twisted by some to make out there were no angels at the Nativity 

Not withstanding the Pope went on to say that angels were there and they did sing

If they had done some research they have seen that the Pope had already made the same point about two years before at his Midnight Mass homily in 2010  It was part of his peroration

"At the end of the Christmas Gospel, we are told that a great heavenly host of angels praised God and said: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Lk 2:14).  
The Church, in the Gloria, has extended this song of praise, which the angels sang in response to the event of the holy night, into a hymn of joy at God’s glory – “we praise you for your glory”. ... 
Saint Luke does not say that the angels sang.  
He states quite soberly: the heavenly host praised God and said: “Glory to God in the highest” (Lk 2:13f.).  
But men have always known that the speech of angels is different from human speech, and that above all on this night of joyful proclamation it was in song that they extolled God’s heavenly glory.  
So this angelic song has been recognized from the earliest days as music proceeding from God, indeed, as an invitation to join in the singing with hearts filled with joy at the fact that we are loved by God.  
Cantare amantis est, says Saint Augustine: singing belongs to one who loves. Thus, down the centuries, the angels’ song has again and again become a song of love and joy, a song of those who love.  
At this hour, full of thankfulness, we join in the singing of all the centuries, singing that unites heaven and earth, angels and men. Yes, indeed, we praise you for your glory. 
We praise you for your love. Grant that we may join with you in love more and more and thus become people of peace. Amen"

Unfortunately the Pope`s subtle points about Divine praise, joy, peace and goodwill were drowned out by the cackling and brayiing  cacophony who prefer a cheap joke to the Gospel message

An Exemplary Marriage

Stanley Spencer
1891 – 1959
The Nativity 
Oil on canvas stuck onto plywood panel
101.2 x 152.4 cm 
UCL Art Museum, London

This is one of the UCL Art Museum`s "Top Ten Objects". Spencer later explained the composition of this painting:
"The couple occupy the centre of the picture, Joseph who is to the extreme right doing something to the chestnut tree and Mary who stands by the manger; they appear in their relationship with the elements generally, so that Mary to the couple in contact with one another seems like some preonderating element of life, just another big fact of nature such as a tree or a waterfall or a field or a river. Joseph is only related to Mary in this picture by some sacramental ordinance... This relationship has always interested me and in those early works I contemplated a lot of those unbearable relationships between men and women. (Tate Gallery Archive, 733.2.85)"

We see the vision of an idealistic 21 year old with his whole life ahead of him

Sadly both marriages of Spencer collapsed. They were sources of unhappiness and disenchantment

Yet he did not lose his Christian vision which prevailed

In most representations of the Nativity, the focus is on the child, then secondly on Mother and child, and possibly on Mother, child and putative father

Spencer`s composition is therefore an unusual one: to focus on the relationship between Mother (Mary) and putative father (St Joseph)

Mary and Joseph were betrothed. In that context Jesus was conceived

She was asked by God. She consented. Christ was conceived.

The fact that Mary had become pregnant during the engagement was  important in Jewish Law

Perhaps its significance has now been lost through time. We do not understand the greatness of the decision of Joseph.

A flavour of the dilemma faced by St Joseph can be gleaned from the Catholic Encyclopedia`s entry on Betrothal , the Wikipedia entry on Breach of promise ("Heart balm") and the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906) on Marriage Laws

It is this relationship between Joseph and Mary which formed the basis of Blessed Pope John Paul`s meditation on the Life and Work of St Joseph: the Apostolic Exhortation  Redemptoris Custos ("the Guardian of the Redeemer")

He wrote:
"Analyzing the nature of marriage, both St. Augustine and St. Thomas always identify it with an "indivisible union of souls," a "union of hearts," with "consent." 
 These elements are found in an exemplary manner in the marriage of Mary and Joseph. 
At the culmination of the history of salvation, when God reveals his love for humanity through the gift of the Word, it is precisely the marriage of Mary and Joseph that brings to realization in full "freedom" the "spousal gift of self" in receiving and expressing such a love.
 "In this great undertaking which is the renewal of all things in Christ, marriage-it too purified and renewed-becomes a new reality, a sacrament of the New Covenant. We see that at the beginning of the New Testament, as at the beginning of the Old, there is a married couple. But whereas Adam and Eve were the source of evil which was unleashed on the world, Joseph and Mary arc the summit from which holiness spreads all over the earth. The Saviour began the work of salvation by this virginal and holy union, wherein is manifested his all-powerful will to purify and sanctify the family - that sanctuary of love and cradle of life.""

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saint Catherine of Siena before Pope Gregory XI

Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini (attributed to) (1675–1741)
Saint Catherine of Siena before Pope Gregory XI 
Oil on canvas
28 x 38.7 cm 
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

A Venetian, Pellegrini travelled to England (where he stayed between 1708 and 1713) and extensively on the Continent

By tradition he is said to have been Christopher Wren's favoured painter.

(In 1710 Sir James Thornhill and Pellegrini were asked to produce a painted model for the decoration of the inside of the dome of St Paul's Cathedral with subjects from the Acts of the Apostles.but Thornhill was the favoured painter)

George Vertue (1683-1756), the English engraver and antiquary described him as  'A talle, proper man of a great deal of fire and vivacity'

He was part of the international Rococo movement. 

In June 1376 Saint  Catherine went to Avignon herself as ambassador of Florence to make peace with the Papal States. She also tried to convince Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome 

She impressed the Pope so much that he returned his administration to Rome in January 1377

In this extract of a letter which St Catherine sent to Pope Gregory XI in June - September 1376 we get some idea of how and what she said to him in person to persuade him to return:

"Oh what joy, if we were to see the Christian people giving the seasoning of faith to the unbelievers!  
For once these had received the light they would become perfect, like a new plant. And once the Holy Spirit's warmth and light had, through holy faith, displaced the chill of unbelief, they would produce the flowers and fruits of virtue in the mystic body of holy Church.  
So by the fragrance of their virtue they would help eliminate the vice and sin, the pride and filth that are rampant among the Christian people—especially among the prelates, pastors, and administrators of holy Church who have turned to eating and devouring souls, not converting them but devouring them!  
And it all comes from their selfish love for themselves, from which pride is born, and greed and avarice and spiritual and bodily impurity. They see the infernal wolves carrying off their charges and it seems they don't care. Their care has been absorbed in piling up worldly pleasures and enjoyment, approval and praise. 
And all this comes from their selfish love for themselves. For if they loved themselves for God instead of selfishly, they would be concerned only about God's honour and not their own, for their neighbours' good and not their own self indulgence.  
Ah, my dear babbo, see that you attend to these things!  
Look for good virtuous men, and put them in charge of the little sheep. Such men will feed in the mystic body of holy Church not as wolves but as lambs. It will be for our good and for your peace and consolation, and they will help you to carry the great burdens I know are yours.  
It seems to me, gracious father, that you are like a lamb among wolves. 
But take heart and don't be afraid, for God's providential help will always be with you. 
Don't be surprised even though you see a great deal of opposition, and see that human help is failing us, and that those who should be helping us most disappoint us and act against us. Don't be afraid, but even more self-confident; don't give up or restrain your sweet holy desire, but let it be more enkindled with each day that passes. 
Up, father! Put into effect the resolution you have made concerning your return and the crusade  
You can see that the unbelievers are challenging you to this by coming as close as they can to take what is yours. 
Up, to give your life for Christ! Isn't our body the only thing we have? 
Why not give your life a thousand times, if necessary, for God's honour and the salvation of his creatures? That is what he did, and you, his vicar, ought to be carrying on his work. It is to be expected that as long as you are his vicar you will follow your Lord's ways and example". 

In another letter to the Pope she warned him:
"Don't make it necessary for me to complain about you to Christ." 

Nativity Polyptych

Nativity Polyptych
Oil on canvas
90 x 120 cm 
The Methodist Church Collection of Modern Christian Art at  Oxford Brookes University 

For more about the fascinating collection, see The Methodist Church Collection of Modern Christian Art 

The artist said of this work:
"Every scene was more or less wrung out of me by experience. It was as if the subject matter imposed itself on me. My wife, my father, my mother, my sister, my friends and children all come into these little paintings, as did my spiritual life and my horror of war."

In addition you might like to read his interesting comments on the works contained in The Methodist Art Collection which is in the form of a .pdf file here

We are apparently entering the season of peace and goodwill, two overworked words which in the commercial run up to Christmas are in danger of losing their proper meaning in the general confusion and hubbub

Pope Benedict XVI in his Post Synodal Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente spoke of the meaning of the word peace while on his recent trip to the Middle East:

"9. For the sacred Scriptures, peace is not simply a pact or a treaty which ensures a tranquil life, nor can its definition be reduced to the mere absence of war.  
According to its Hebrew etymology, peace means being complete and intact, restored to wholeness.  
It is the state of those who live in harmony with God and with themselves, with others and with nature. Before appearing outwardly, peace is interior. It is blessing. It is the yearning for a reality.  
Peace is something so desirable that it has become a greeting in the Middle East (cf. Jn 20:19; 1 Pet 5:14).  
Peace is justice (cf. Is 32:17); Saint James in his Letter adds that “the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (3:18). The struggle of the Prophets and the reflections of the Wisdom authors were inspired by the hope of eschatological peace.  
It is towards this authentic peace in God that Christ leads us. He alone is its gate (Jn 10:9). This is the sole gate that Christians wish to enter. 
10. Only by beginning with conversion to God, and by showing forgiveness to those close at hand and in the wider community, will the just respond to Christ’s invitation to become “children of God” (cf. Mt 5:9).  
Only the meek will delight in boundless peace (cf. Ps 37:11). In offering us a life of communion with God, Jesus creates true fraternity, not the fraternity marred by sin 
. “For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14). 
Christians know that the earthly politics of peace will only be effective if justice in God and justice among men and women are its authentic basis, and if this same justice battles against the sin which is at the origin of division. 
For this reason, the Church wishes to overcome every difference of race, sex and social condition (cf. Gal 3:28 and Col 3:11) in the knowledge that all are one in Christ, who is all in all "

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Thomas Tallis

Print made by Gerard van der Gucht 1696 - 1776
After Nicola Francesco Haym 1679 - 1729
Portrait of Thomas Tallis , half length, writing music
199 millimetres x 128 millimetres 
The British Museum, London

The British Library still has a book owned by Thomas Tallis (c. 1505 – 23 November 1585)
the English Catholic composer at the time of the Reformation

Ownership Inscription Of Thomas Tallis, In John Wylde's Musical Compilation
Ink and pigments on vellum
Lansdowne MS 763  f.124v
25.9 x 16.6 cm
The British Library, London

The British Library says of this exhibit:
"This volume contains a collection of miscellaneous musical treatises, compiled probably in the second quarter of the 15th century by John Wylde, who seems to have been the choirmaster at the Abbey of Holy Cross, Waltham, a few miles due north of London, between Enfield and Epping.  
He wrote it himself, and gave it to the Abbey.  
It was later owned by his more famous successor, Thomas Tallis (d.1585). On what was originally the final page of the book is the signature 'Thomas tallys' above the same name in large capital letters
Here is Thomas Tallis's magnificent 40-part motet Spem in Alium.written for Queen Elizabeth I

as well as a rendition of Lamentation

and finally Gaude Gloriosa Dei Mater (Rejoice, O glorious Mother of God)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Song of Songs

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828‑1882) 
The Beloved ('The Bride') 
Oil paint on canvas 
Support: 825 x 762 mm frame: 1220 x 1110 x 83 mm 
Tate Britain, London

Rossetti`s picture is in the Tate in London . It is being used for a poster on a major exhibition on the pre-Raphaelites

Just so that you would not miss the point, Rossetti inscribed the frame with lines from The Song of Solomon and Psalm 45:
My beloved is mine and I am his. (The Song of Solomon 2:16).  
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine. (The Song of Solomon 1:2).  
She shall be brought unto the King in raiment of needlework: the virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee. (Psalms 45:14)

This was not an isolated example of the inspiration by The Song of Songs in the nineteenth century

Gustave Moreau produced a series of works on the theme of  "the Shulamite", the woman from Shulem, the female protagonist in The Song of Songs

Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)
La Sulamite (le Cantique des Cantiques)
Oil on canvas
1.150 m. x 1.040 m
Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris

"At his leaving, my soul sank.
I sought him, but I did not find him;
I called out after him, but he did not answer me.
7 The watchmen found me,
as they made their rounds in the city;
They beat me, they wounded me,
they tore off my mantle,
the watchmen of the walls. 
8 I adjure you, Daughters of Jerusalem,
if you find my lover
What shall you tell him ?
that I am sick with love."
(Song of Songs 5: 6 - 8)

In the twentieth century, Chagall often treated of the Canticle of the Canticles

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Le Cantique des Cantiques V 
Oil on paper
0.490 m.  x 0.605 m. 
Musée national Marc Chagall, Nice

The Song of Songs has three characters: the woman, the man, or the “Daughters of Jerusalem.” 

From the interaction of the three voices we hear, see, touch,  smell and taste the tension, the passion, the longing, the excitement

"2 (Man)  How beautiful are your feet in sandals,
O noble daughter!
Your curving thighs like jewels,
the product of skilled hands. 
3 Your valley, a round bowl
that should never lack mixed wine.
Your belly, a mound of wheat,
encircled with lilies. 
4 Your breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle. 
5 Your neck like a tower of ivory;
your eyes, pools in Heshbon
by the gate of Bath-rabbim.
Your nose like the tower of Lebanon
that looks toward Damascus. 
6 Your head rises upon you like Carmel;
your hair is like purple;
a king is caught in its locks. 
7 How beautiful you are, how fair,
my love, daughter of delights! 
8 Your very form resembles a date-palm,
and your breasts, clusters. 
9  I thought, “Let me climb the date-palm!
Let me take hold of its branches!
Let your breasts be like clusters of the vine
and the fragrance of your breath like apples, 
10 And your mouth like the best wine— 
(Woman)  that flows down smoothly for my lover,
gliding over my lips and teeth. 
11 I belong to my lover,
his yearning is for me. 
12 Come, my lover! Let us go out to the fields,
let us pass the night among the henna. 
13 Let us go early to the vineyards, and see
if the vines are in bloom,
If the buds have opened,
if the pomegranates have blossomed;
There will I give you my love. 
14 The mandrakes give forth fragrance,
and over our doors are all choice fruits;
Fruits both fresh and dried, my lover,
have I kept in store for you." 
(Song of Songs  Chapter 7)

Since written this Book has inspired and still continues to inspire: both secular and divine

He said:
"Around the age of twenty, I stared reading the Bible and I found in the brutal prose of the Old Testament, in the feel of its words and its imagery, an endless source of inspiration.  
The Song of Solomon, perhaps the greatest love song ever written, had a massive impact upon me.  
Its openly erotic nature, the metaphoric journey taken around the lovers bodies – breasts compared to bunches of grapes and young deer, hair and teeth compared to flocks of goats and sheep, legs like pillars of marble, the navel- a round goblet, the belly- a heap of wheat – its staggering imagery rockets us into the world of pure imagination.  
Although the two lovers are physically separate – Solomon is excluded from the garden where his beloved sings – it is the wild, obsessive projections of one lover onto another that dissolve them into a single being, constructed from a series of rapturous love-metaphors. ... 
The love song must be born into the realm of the irrational, absurd, the distracted, the melancholic, the obsessive, the insane for the love song is the noise of love itself and love is, of course, a form of madness.  
Whether it be the love of God, or romantic, erotic love – these are manifestations of our need to be torn away from the rational, to take leave of our senses, so to speak. 
Love songs come in many guises and are seemingly written for many reasons – as declarations or to wound – I have written songs for all of these reasons – but ultimately the love songs exist to fill, with language, the silence between ourselves and God, to decrease the distance between the temporal and the divine. ... 
What I found, time and time again, in the Bible, especially the Old Testament, was that verses of rapture, of ecstasy and love could hold within them apparently opposite sentiments – hate, revenge, bloody mindedness etc. that they were not mutually exclusive. This idea has left an enduring impression on my songwriting.  
Within the world of modern pop music, a world that deals ostensibly with the Love Song, but in actuality does little more that hurl dollops of warm, custard-coloured baby-vomit down the air waves, true sorrow is not welcome."
To finish here is Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci conducting Palestrina`s motet Veni dilecte mi (from  Cantico dei Cantici)
Veni dilecte mi, egrediamur in agrum,
commoremur in villis. Mane surgamus ad vineas,
videamus si floruit vinea, si flores fructus parturiunt,
si floruerunt mala punica: ibi dabo tibi ubera mea

Saturday, December 08, 2012

A Procession to Calvary

Pieter Bruegel the Elder c. 1525 – 9 September 1569
The Procession to Calvary 
Oil on panel 
124 cm × 170 cm (49 in × 67 in) 
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Famous paintings often occur  in films

Girl with a Pearl Earring was a film of the book based on the famous painting by Johannes Vermeer 

The Mill and the Cross directed by Lech Majewski  is inspired by Pieter Bruegel the Elder's  painting The Procession to Calvary. The film is based on Michael Francis Gibson's book The Mill and the Cross. 
Lech Majewski said of the painting which inspired the film:

"Bruegel was, and still is, the wisest philosopher among the painters. In most of his works he took pains to hide the obvious by planting distractions somewhere else. The hidden should be palpable - that was his stratagem for showing the quintessence of suffering. Namely, that nobody cares about it. The sufferer is left alone, abandoned, forgotten... The others have to live their lives and somehow make the most out of it 
There are other themes in The Mill and the Cross as well: That only an artist can stop time, capture the moment and immortalise it. Or that the elements that build a single image hanging in a museum can be plentiful... But nothing is more important than that the hidden is the essence of Truth."

Here are the trailer and clips  Here is the website of the film

It is not fanciful to think of the film as being a reflection on Romans 8
The Procession to Calvary.(German, Kreuztragung Christi -  Christ Carrying the Cross) was painted in 1564

Here is an interview in English of  Michael Francis Gibson talking about the painting. 

The plot of the film is shortly told. 

Bruegel the Elder, the great 16th-century Flemish artist, chats with his patron Nicholas Jonghelinck while he sketches studies for a large work he is preparing. Then the camera pulls back, blending scores of actors and animals with computer-generated effects, painted backdrops and location shots to restage Bruegel’s 1564 masterpiece

Bruegel is played by Rutger Hauer, Michael York plays  Nicolaes Jonghelinck and Charlotte Rampling is Mary

Early Netherlandish painting was stimulated by a vibrant national economy and international trade. Bruges was the favoured residence of the Dukes of Burgundy in the fifteenth century, and Antwerp was the commercial hub of Europe in the sixteenth

But it was not to last. Reformation, Counter-Reformation,and Habsburg power politics led to tragedy on a colossal scale

It was the eve of The Eighty Years' War, or Dutch War of Independence, (1568–1648) which began as a revolt of the Seventeen Provinces against Philip II of Spain, the Catholic  sovereign of the Habsburg Netherlands

But the figures in the painting wear contemporary dress, and there can be no doubts that Bruegel meant his representation of the scene to have a particular reference to his own day where disputes between Catholics, Lutherans, Anabaptists and Calvinists were violent and bloody

At first one cannot distinguish the figures. There are over 500 figures. 

There are countless scenes all individually depicted and all separate 

One perhaps sees them as God sees them. Or from  on high, at a distance, as a child would look at an army of ants

Gradually one can distinguish a number of highlights: the Mill on the great rock; at the forefront right Mary being comforted by St John and others on a rocky ledge; the scene where the crucifixion is to be carried out

In the same way as Christ was executed by the Romans when they occupied Palestine two thousand years ago, the painting depicts Christ, in the heart of humanity and in the historical course of time. 

This time Christ is crucified within the crucible of sixteenth-century life in Flanders under the Spanish occupation of King Philip II, 

But Man fails continually to recognise Christ in his own time

"41 Then he will say to those on his left, Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 
42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 
43 a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ 
44  Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ 
45 He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ 
46 And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" 
(Matthew 25: 41 - 46)

How little the world notices, recognises or acknowledges the central truths of the Christian faith

We may not have public executions these days. But many are  the occasions in modern life when we rush to condemn an innocent man of horrible crimes which he did not commit simply out of sense of a terrible holy joy

We may not have the feelings or motives of a young St Augustine destroying a pear tree or maybe we just do not recognise evil when we see it anymore

Everyday there is at least one procession to Calvary somewhere in the world. Probably more than one

Like Sisyphus, man is condemned to contnually repeat the mistakes of the past. Absent grace and love, original sin and pride make man oblivious to the absurdity of human power and force designed to compel our fellow man to our will

We can all recognise the activities in the various scenes. They are played out each day in every day life

Some of the individual scenes can be examined in greater detail on the website of the  Gemäldegalerie Kunsthistorisches Museum  

On their raised promontory, Mary, John and the three Maries and others are in attendance. They know what is happening and from their elevated position above the ordinary elements of humanity, they represent Man`s hope that the dreadful cycle of depravity can be broken

Why did they not hide like the Apostles ? They have hope in the face of suffering. Spe Salvi Facti Sumus - In Hope we were saved (Romans 8: 24).

"Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey." (Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi)

The other notable feature of the painting is the mill which stands upon the high rock

As this dominates the picture, so it dominates the film

It is a very strange image

It is situated in the place where in Crucifixion scenes one would as a matter of tradition expect to see God the Father

The mill is powered by sails which when stretched out resemble the Cross 

The wind moves the sails to turn the millstones, Between the millstones the grain is crushed into flour to make bread

The mill is built on a Rock. 

There is a church like quality to the mill

Apart from the miller, the mill and the rock appear to be deserted. 

All the people are moving from left to right towards the scene of the Crucifixion

We should at least recall the words of the Our Father:
 Give us this day our daily bread. —Matthew 6:9–13
We recall the testimony of St John of the words of Jesus in The Bread of Life Discourse
 (John 6)
"Amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 
48 I am the bread of life. 
49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; 
50 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die 
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”,,, 
53 Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. 
54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. 
55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink 
.56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. 
57 Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me 
58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
This work is the Crucifixion according to the testimony of John. Just as many rejected Christ`s words spoken in the Synagogue at Capernaum and deserted him so many have done since then, still do and will do until the end of time

Here is the film

Friday, December 07, 2012

A Brescian Immaculate Conception

Luca Mombello (1518-1520/ 1588-1596)
Immacolata Concezione con Dio Padre / The Immaculate Conception with God the Father
post 1550 - ante 1574
Oil on canvas
87 x 79.3 cm
Musei Civici di Arte e Storia. Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo, Brescia

Nowadays this is a rather unusual representation of The Immaculate Conception

We are more used to the Spanish iconography of the 16th and 17th centuries following the Jesuit based Francisco Pacheco. and then Bartolomé Murillo, Diego Velázquez, and Francisco Zurbarán

Here we see the Immaculate Conception with child. It was not an unusual sight to see the Immaculate Conception with her son - before the Spanish iconography took over

It is the Spanish iconography which is firmly in the ascendant today as seen in the image below:

Immacolata concezione
c. 1950
Oil on panel
110 cm x 233 cm 
Raccolte d'Arte dell'Ospedale Maggiore, Milan

Not much is known about the artist Mombello who was part of the Brescian school. He seems to have both been born and have died in the town of Orzivecchi in the province of Brescia

We do know that he obtained a number of commissions from religious confraternities, third orders
and other religious iinstitutions in the area around Brescia. 

Many of them were associated with the Franciscan order which had a particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and they were devotees of  the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception against the doubts or reservations of the Dominican order

Many of these works by Mombello were on a Marian theme

The setting of the work is the Garden of Eden: the Terrestrial Paradise. It is not as in the more modern treatment somewhere in outer space. Mary`s feet are firmly on terra firma

The Scriptural reference is to Genesis 3: 15  God`s words to the snake after Adam and Eve had succumbed to temptation
"15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
They will strike at your head,
while you strike at their heel."

The painting depicts what is a historical event shortly after the beginning of the creation of Mankind. It is anchored in Time but outwith Time

It is not a scholarly abstraction that is being depicted

The snake is suitably terrified by the Divine words. 

To emphasise his words God the Father is pointing at Mary, the new Eve who is holding the Saviour, She has been singled out by God from all mankind at the Dawn of Time

God has revealed the source of Man`s salvation at the Time of the Fall of Man: His Son through Mary

At the time of the Annunciation this was revealed to Mary herself "the favoured one":
"26 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, 
27 to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. 
28 And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favoured one! The Lord is with you" 
(Luke 1: 26 - 28)

Slightly later when the pregnant Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, we read again in Luke 1 that Mary is "blessed among all woman"
"41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, 
42 cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 
43 And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord* should come to me 
44 For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. 
45 Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

In the picture Mary is clothed in blue with stars of gold. This is no ordinary cloak. Like God the Father, Mary is dressed regally. She has no crown or the regalia of God the Father. She is subservient to the Father

The cloak is similar to the cloak which Israel made for his beloved son Joseph. It was Joseph who had the dream of "the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to" him (See Genesis 37)

To the right is the angelic figure of St Michael clutching his sword and advancing towards the four figures in the centre

The commentary on the picture states that it is St Michael coming towards Adam and Eve to expel them from Paradise

But there is no Adam to expel. Adam is dust.  But we now have the New Adam being held by the Virgin in the centre of the picture. We also have the new Eve

One is reminded of Revelation, Chapter 12  and the only mention of St Michael in the New Testament
"7 Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, 
8 but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven"

The Garden - the hortus conclusus - reminds us of the garden of the Lover described in Song of Songs chapter 4 with the Well of Living Water on the right hand side of the painting

It is the same garden  which we see in depictions of the Annunciation and other scenes in the Life of Mary

"12 A garden enclosed, my sister, my bride,
a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed! 
13 Your branches are a grove of pomegranates,
with fruits of choicest yield:
Henna with spikenard, 
14 spikenard and saffron,
Sweet cane and cinnamon,
with all kinds of frankincense;
Myrrh and aloes,
with all the finest spices 
15 A garden fountain, a well of living water,
streams flowing from Lebanon. 
16 Awake, north wind!
Come, south wind!
Blow upon my garden
that its perfumes may spread abroad. 
Let my lover come to his garden
and eat its fruits of choicest yield"