The Way of Beauty
The good life is the joyful life
Here is a book worth considering for students of traditional patterned art. The series is the Library of Design and the title is Treasury of Ornament – Pattern in the Decorative Arts by Heinrich Dolmetsch. This and a number of similar books by the author are available here. I came to it by way of one of the freshman students at Thomas More College, Meg Berger, who has a personal interest in these traditions. It is a recent publication of a book first produced around the turn of the last century in Germany, the first English edition coming out in 1908. Each plate is an arrangement of up to 15 or so different patterns from different original sources in each classification discussed. He covers both ‘hard’ geometric patterns and ‘soft’, more calligraphic forms in ancient non-Christian and Christian traditions, East and West. Particular examples are numerous plates in each category of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Chinese, Japanese, Arabian, Turkish, Persian and Indian. Two thirds of 85 plates are Christian covering Celtic, Western ‘medieval’, Byzantine, and Renaissance styles.
This will be of interest, I think, to those who are seeking to re-establish (or perhaps one might say at the very least reinvigourate) the Christian tradition of geometric and patterned art. While one does not want to look exclusively at Christian traditions now any more than those who formed these traditions in the first place did, one must look discerningly at the art of non-Christian cultures.…
Is a bird reserve created by heavy industry a natural or an unnatural landscape? I grew up in a place called Neston, within a mile from my home there is the old seaside resort of Parkgate. It is on the estuary of the River Dee on the border between northwest England and north Wales. (Directly over the estuary on the Welsh side is the town of Holywell feartured last week.) I took these photographs during the visit earlier this year. I thought that readers will find the elegant Victorian seafront buildings interesting, but would be puzzled as to why they would build it on a marsh? This is an interesting story I think.
A hundred years ago this was a thriving seaside resort with a promenade with a wall and railings and stone steps, made out of the local red sandstone, going down to the beach. The estuary here was tidal and the waters came up to the sea wall at high tide and then retreat miles at low tide, revealing a huge expanse of sand. When my family came to live closeby in the 1960s it was still there and Parkgate was known in the wider area for a shop that sells homemade ice cream. There was even a tide-filled seawater swimming pool open to the public. Then gradually the beach began to be overgrown with a natural hybrid grass called spartina. One of the things that allowed this grass to grow was that a steel company, some miles further down the estuary, took the river waters for its industrial processes.…
Here are some pictures of 13th century tiles from Cleeve Abbey in England. They are a combination of geometric and pictorial designs. The latter employing heraldic and literary themes rather than scriptural. The form will be familiar to some through the Victorian neo-gothic tiles that are more common today, and which were based on designs from this period. I am admirer of the later forms as well, incidentally. I view as an authentic re-establishment of a past tradition and worth looking at not only for the architecture and tiles of the period, but also as case study on how to look to the past in a constructive way.
Here are some pictures of an ancient pilgrimage site in Britain. It dates back to the miraculous healing of St Winefride at the waters of the spring at this site in the 6th century. It is at the town of Holywell (appropriately named) in North Wales. I grew up just about 10 miles from here, over the border in England. I was aware of the place and the reason it had been named, vaguely, when growing up, but had no idea that it was and active pilgrimage site until long after I converted. I used to go and listen to Vespers at a convent in nearby Chester and a nun told me that there were many cures and conversions as a result of St Winefrides well. (The same nun told, me incidentally, that an Irish mystic has been told in a vision that Freddie Mercury, the late singer from the rock group Queen, is in purgatory. I would certainly like to believe that it’s true!) People could drink the water or immerse themselves in the pool. Around the same time a group of Bridgetine nuns moved there to set up a new retreat centre. I had about this because they had previously been members of the community at the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham. So I decided to make a visit. It is unusual in that
As you can see it is a well preserved medieval structure (dating from the 15th century).…
The model of loving compassion for others who are suffering. September the 15th was the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. I found the liturgy of the Church on this day very instructive and inspirational. The message I get from this is for me, powerful, vigorous and inspiring. The writing of St Paul and St Bernard on the matter speaks of virtue in the fullest sense of the word.
It is interesting to me that so much modern devotional art of Our Lady of Sorrows – Mater Dolorosa – is, to my eye, almost all sentimental and weak. The Spanish baroque and the Flemish gothic masters are for me the model of portraying negative emotion transcended with joy that is powerful yet calm.
One of the most difficult things to deal with in life is the grief we feel when someone whom we love is suffering and we are powerless to do anything about it.
My experience tells me that this can have two components. That born of self-centredness, which is a bad feeling; and one born of love, which is opens the door to intense joy. It is this latter point that has come home to me through the liturgy on this feast day by pointing to the model of Our Lady.
When I am driven by self-centredness, I look at the person who is suffering and I feel sorry for myself. This self-pity can be intense and almost unbearable as long as I see the other’s suffering as the cause of my anguish, rather than my response it.…
A Curriculum that Incorporates Pope Benedict XVI’s thoughts from his book The Spirit of the Liturgy. I have featured before work by the Canadian Orthodox sculptor Jonathan Pageau. I admire Jonathan’s work and what is useful for a blogger like me, he talks interestingly and eloquently about his work, and is happy to supply lots of photographs. Some time ago he contacted me and asked for some help in designing an art curriculum for a Catholic school in Ottowa. I gave him a summary of my idea:
Copying, with understanding, works of Masters in the great liturgical traditions of the Church – the baroque, the gothic and the iconographic. These are the three described in his chapter on art in the book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, by Pope Benedict XVI. Students are taught how theology relates to form as they copy great works. Studying geometry and traditional proportion
Studying nature direct.
A liturgical life that incorporates prayer with visual imagery.
Jonathan’s curriculum is up and running and he has incorporated my suggestions with a lot of careful thought and many more good ideas of his own. I was thrilled to read recently of his work in an article posted on the New Liturgical Movement website. The quality of the work produced by the children is high and he describes how pleasing it is to see their progress. There seems to be one omission in his plan. I do hope you’re going to teach them relief sculpture Jonathan.…
Dr Caroline Farey of the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, has been appointed as a participant in the forthcoming Synod of Bishops, in Rome, dedicated to the ‘the new Evangelisation and the Transmission of the Faith’.
Caroline is a regular contributor to the Sower magazine writing on art (among other things) and she is a co-creator (along with yours truly) of the Maryvale Course, Art, Beauty and Inspiration from a Catholic Perspective. she and I teach this course in Kansas City each summer. Those who know The Way of Beauty well will be aware of her writing because she has guest written a number of my weekly postings. She offers a great deal more than her knowledge about art. She is in charge of catechetical formation at the Maryvale Institute with special interests and qualifications in philosophy as well as art. She received her doctorate from the Lateran Pontifical University in Rome.
It is heartening for me that someone whom I recognize as having a very deep and authentic knowledge of the Church’s artistic traditions and the connection with the liturgy has been asked to participate at such an event.
The world Synod of Bishops, dedicated to the new evangelisation meets at the Vatican, October 7-28.
Those who are interested in taking the Maryvale course, a one year diploma at degree level, should contact either the Maryvale Center at the Diocese of Kansas City, Kansas or the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, England.…
Laws designed to protect the environment, but which favour it by restricting man’s natural activity will inevitably lead to the demise of both. This is because man – even modern man – is an essential and natural component of the ecosystem.
I recently visited my friend and an old friend of Thomas More College Fr Roger Boucher on his farm up north of here deep in rural New Hampshire. I have written about his place before – Serving the Common Good in Rural New Hampshire.
Fr Boucher is a retired navy chaplain (he is Commander Boucher) and he lives on a farm on the top of a hill that has wide views (which even the government agrees are wonderful, for it taxes his property at a higher rate because of it) that include the White Mountains and lakes. Part of his income comes from the harvesting of Maine blueberries on his land. A company comes and harvests them and distributes them, and it pays Fr Boucher. The are naturally growing blueberries. They are smaller, but much sweeter than the usual blueberries. If the trees are cleared then the sunlight strikes the ground and the dormant root system of blueberries comes to life and starts to grow.
Fr Boucher has a turkey problem. A family of turkeys can clear a field in a week so he wants to scare them off. The traditional way of dealing with them would be this: shoot a turkey and leave it there.…
Going local is the way to change society The culture is a an expression of the core priorities, beliefs and values of a society. This expression is not so much articulated by a governing body that dictates it (the European Union is attempting to be an exception); it is more the aggregated effect of all the personal relationships and networks of personal engagements that comprise it. This means, I believe, that locally based networks of people should be a significant part of our thinking when we consider how to transform the culture. Not long ago I highlighted the Institute of Catholic Culture, which operates within a cluster of about 10 parishes in Virginia, as one model for such an organisation. Here is another locally based organisation. This one operates throughout a diocese under the approval of its bishop – the Fra Angelico Institute for Sacred Arts.
In 2010 the institute received approval from the Bishop of the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island. It operates through the parish of its founders, Deacon Paul and Jacqui Iacono. It offers lectures on all aspects of the culture and workshops in icon painting. It attracts from 40 – 100 people to its talks on a regular basis. It has a blog which is attracting interest. Although the organisational model is not identical (this has a much tighter focus on sacred art), it has certain things in common with the Institute in Virginia that seem to me to contribute to its success.…
Does the possible discovery of other earthlike planets undermine the premise of the film The Privileged Planet? Some time ago I wrote about a book and film called the Privileged Planet. In it I described how modern astrophysics suggests that so many physical conditions are necessary for life as we know it to flourish, that the chances of it occurring are negligible. Furthermore, these conditions are also those that allow for the universe to be observed. Given that all of these conditions have occurred simultaneously, what can we conclude about this? I suggested, going further than the authors, that this was consistent with the idea a Creator who made both us and universe, and that we were made by him to observe it so as to direct our praise and even order our liturgy.
I should make clear that this does not, in my mind constitute a scientific proof for the existence of God, nor does faith in God rest in the validity of these arguments. It is entirely possible that new evidence may force us to sit down again and recalculate the probabilities. This would not undermine my belief in the place of man in the universe because this belief is based in other things first. It is however an interesting, very interesting, piece of circumstantial evidence given that, as I put it ‘the mathematics says that the chance of a place existing that can support us is negligible – so low that it is almost certain that there is no other life in the universe at all’…and yet here we are.…