The Way of Beauty
The good life is the joyful life
Here are some images selected, at least initially, with Palm Sunday in mind. They have three things in common: they are of the same subject – the Entry into Jerusalem; they are both relief carvings; and they are both by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Ghiberti, who worked in the first half of the 15th century, is famous for creating the bronze doors of the Baptistry in Florence. The first is wood polychrome, that is painted wood, and the second is from the north doors of the Baptistry, cast into bronze.
Relief carving commonly seen in the sacred art of the Eastern church (I have written about this here…). Its limited three-dimensionality ensures a flatness that suits the intention of the iconographic style to portray the heavenly realm, which is outside time and space. I would love to see artists from the Roman Church following the example of their Eastern brethren and producing relief carvings in Western forms. The most obvious place to start would be to develop the Western iconographic forms, such as the Romanesque as there are close parallels with what the East has done. However there is relief carving in more naturalistic forms too. Ghiberti worked in the period when the Renaissance and the gothic overlapped and to my eye, the polychrome reminds me of a gothic carving, while the bronze relief seems to have aspects of a classical naturalism that points forward the masters of a hundred years later.
Once again, Dr Caroline Farey and myself will be teaching the summer residential weekends for the diploma offered by the Maryvale Institute. There will be a five-day icon painting class afterwards taught by myself.
It is offered in the US through the Maryvale Centre at the Diocese of Kansas City, Kansas. The dates of the first residential weekend are July 12-15 (Friday-Monday). The link for courses are here. Contact Kimberly Rode from the archdiocese for information about both. The icon painting class will be in the week days afterwards, and will be focussing on Western gothic style, as seen, for example in the illuminate manuscripts such as the Westminster Psalter. Below I have shown an example of work done myself based upon this.
For those who are interested in doing the diploma through the UK, this year the residential weekend will be at beautiful Buckfast Abbey in Devon from Thursday 15th August to Sunday 18th. For me details contact Dr Caroline Farey in England at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Maryvale Institute is the only Higher Institute of Religious Sciences – graduate and post-graduate level educational institution – with pontifical status in the English speaking world. It is good news that itss courses are now offered in the US via the Diocese of Kansas City, Kansas. This is not your standard online course – the Maryvale Institute has developed its own method of teaching at a distance through use of expertly designed coursebooks and attendance periodically at residential weekends.…
Here is small video of sculptor Andrew Wilson Smith who is currently working at Clear Creek monastery. I enjoyed seeing him work and the hints we got of the process by which he actually works. I also enjoyed the views of the monastery. I would have loved to have seen a little of more of him working and little less of the human interest aspects (such as scenes of him wet shaving), but that’s just me I guess. I wrote a piece, here, last year about his methods and his work at the monastery. He had described this to me over the phone, but I found it interesting to seem him doing it on film.
Readers may remember my writing about a small group of us making the commitment to sing Vespers and Compline at the Veterans hospital in Manchester, NH. We have been singing there fortnightly now since September last year. One of the things that I stress to those students from Thomas More College who go with me is that all are benefiting from this even if no one is able to come. Sometimes it has been down to Fr Boucher, myself and Dr Tom Larson and just a couple of others with no one else from the hospital in attendance. Most patients are so ill and incapacitated that they cannot make it without help and sometimes for very good reasons that help just isn’t there at that time in the evening. Undaunted we had kept the commitment going; and we always take care to sing well. The prayers on these occasions are often directed towards the souls of those who had died that day and for their families.
Slowly things have begun to develop. Gene, who heads the team of chaplains (and who is not Catholic) has been very supportive and has moved the times around slightly so that a regular prayer group that visits, does so when we sing Vespers. Because this is, for the most part, just singing the psalms and canticles from scripture, this is a genuinely ecumenical form of prayer. This dedicated group of visitors are then able to bring a small number, in wheelchairs, into the chapel and this has happened the last couple of times.…
Recently a reader contacted me with a question about Fra Angelico’s fresco of the Last Supper. Is there a particular reason why some of the figures are kneeling and others not? And who is the female figure present? In answer to the first, I assumed that he was emphasising that the Last Supper is the Mass I don’t know if there is any tradition that governs who knelt and who sat. (I find it interesting that Judas, with the black halo is kneeling in line.) I guessed that the lady present is Our Lady (or perhaps Mary Magdalene) but didn’t really know. Ordinarily the names would be present (in accordance with the theology of Theodore the Studite from the 9th century). So this is an additional question: does anybody know who she is and also, do you know if Fra Angelico put the names of those portrayed somewhere as part of this painting? If not I would be interested to know why not as names are necessary to make an image worthy of veneration.
I posed these questions on the New Liturgical Movement blog also, so I am curious to see how the answers of the two readerships varies!
I have been carrying out a little journey of investigation into the free economy and its compatibility with Catholic social teaching. I have concluded that the two are wholly compatible and despite the strongly held objections from some readers (this seems to be a subject that provokes strong reaction). The next question one might ask is how well does it work? In seeking and answer to this I looked to John Zmirak’s excellent book about the Swiss economist Wilhelm Ropke ‘perhaps one of the most unjustly neglected economists of the 20th century’.
Wilhelm Ropke was advisor to Ludwig Erhard the West Germany finance minister who engineered the ‘economic miracle’ after the Second World War. What Erhard introduced through a series of reforms enacted in 1948 was a free market system infused with the social values of Catholic social teaching. Most of the allies and economic experts assumed that free markets and capitalism had had their day and were advocating government controlled economic systems that owed much, still, to Marx. Politically there was no natural free market constituency so in a stroke of political genius, Erhard developed the phrase ‘social market economy’ to sell what he was doing to the German people.
Nevertheless, the conventional wisdom was convinced that this wouldn’t succeed. As Zmirak reports: ‘The eminent John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in 1948 (just after Erhard made his reforms) “There has never been the slightest possibility of getting German recovery by this wholesale repeal and it is quite possible that its reiteration has delayed German recovery.…
St. Mary’s University College, which is an independent Catholic liberal arts university located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada is launching a Certificate in Sacred Arts. This is open to anyone. there are practical classes and lectures, but the emphasis appears to be learning through doing. Three of the teachers are known to me and cause me to recommend it. First Martinho Correia whom I met when I was studying in Florence is doing much of the organisation and is teaching the Western naturalistic tradition; second my own teacher Aidan Hart is teaching iconography and third Jed Gibbons who teaches illumination.
Students have the choice of either taking a single workshop or registering for a series of workshops to qualify for the newly-created Certificate in the Sacred Arts – Foundations. The first courses being offered in 2013 include:
Methods of the Masters of the Western Sacred Art Tradition taught by Martinho Isidro Correia
The Foundations of Calligraphy taught by Renate Worthington
Iconography taught by Aidan Hart
The Art of Manuscript Illumination taught by Jed Gibbons
Stained Glass for Beginners taught by Jody Martin
Gregorian Chant Workshop taught by Malcolm Edwards
For a more detailed description of the courses see: www.stmu.ca/sacredarts
It is uncanny how often this sort of thing happens: if you read the Fathers, Scripture or the Liturgy, I find that just when I’m thinking about something I discover a passage that has something to say about it. The psalms particularly are like this. The seem to speak to the human person wherever he is emotionally and offer thoughts on just about any aspect of life. I will read something I have read many times, but this time it is commenting on something in a way I had never noticed before.
This has just happened to me again. Some of you may remember a piece posted very recently in which I expressed surprise that Leo the Great should say that man is higher than the angels. Then just a few days ago I read a passage by St John of Damascus. I was reading the third of his three treatises On the Divine Images, which he wrote against iconoclasm in the 8th century. The general theme of these is to stress the importance of holy images in safeguarding the doctrine of the Incarnation. In this passage he is discussing the veneration of images of those who not God, the saints and angels.
He wants to make the point that all worship is due to God, but there are degrees of worship that are appropriate in different situations. So we adore God directly, but through veneration of images of his saints and angels, we bring worship and honour to God.…
Readers may remember that I have posted a couple of pieces recently featuring sacred images from the Russia that are statues (not relief carving, full 3-D images). As I mentioned, I had been under the impression that although they were not forbidden, that by tradition they were not produced and was surprised that the examples shown existed. I suggested that the reason they were discouraged was because it is difficult to produce a three-dimensional image that is consistent with the theology of sacred images as applied to the icon (for example, the deliberated elimination of space to suggest the heavenly realm). But I couldn’t give much more information about their existence and place in the tradition of the Eastern Church.
I was happy to receive responses from two Orthodox Christians in regard to the attitude to statues in the East which are helpful, I think, and I reproduce them here.
The first is from Bishop Jerome, Bishop of Manhattan of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and this seems to summarise the situation nicely. He says: “The reason that statues are avoided in the Orthodox Church (and in some of the Eastern Catholic Churches) is not that they were seen as “heretical”, but as part of the struggle to overcome the iconoclasts. Prior to the iconoclastic controversy, there were bas-relief representations of holy figures in the East, and in Russia the iconoclasts seem not to have been as virulent as they were in Constantinople.…
Every society’s culture is a reflection of its core beliefs and values. At the heart of this therefore is man’s attitude to God. The most powerful factor in influencing this is worship and this principle was articulated by the Church Fathers with the phrase lex orandi, lex credendi – rule of prayer, rule of faith. If we wish to achieve cultural reform, therefore, we should look first at our liturgy and strive for liturgical reform.
What this phrase of the Father is saying is that man is made to worship God and how he does it affects everything else he believes. If he does not worship God in the liturgy of the Church, then he will worship in another, lesser way; or else very likely he will worship something else. Even those who think of themselves of having no religion will submit to principles and ideals that at the deepest level are just assumed, accepted on faith so to speak, and through this the instinct for worship manifests itself somehow with customs and practices developing in accordance with them. Pope Benedict XVI discusses this in his book, so often referred to in this blog, the Spirit of the Liturgy. To the degree that this instinct for worship is repressed, and its repression is much less common than its misdirection, then man is trying to negate something fundamental to him and the result is despair and a culture of ugliness.…