Christian Geometric Art in an Arabic Gospel

Christian carpet page.14th.century.palestinianLast week I featured the first work produced by my students at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in their sacred geometry class. They did eight sided figures based upon an Islamic design. Just in case anyone has been wondering if this is an over adventurous pushing back the envelope of what appropriate in the context of sacred illumination, I thought that it would be interesting to show these images that I discovered on the British Library website (which is wonderful resource for images of ancient manuscripts). These are from a 14th century Palestinian gospel of St Luke.

I have no additional information as to why this particular design was chosen. All I can say is that I would have been very happy to see this in my bible because of the four-fold and eight-fold symmetry that exists in this. Four symbolises the world and four gospels were chosen by the Church so that the Word was carried to the four corners of the world by the four evangelists, each evangelists is symbolised by the four figures described as sitting around the throne of Christ in the book of the Apocalypse.

Regular readers will be familiar also with the symbolism of eight: it corresponds to the eighth day of Creation that ushers in the new covenant: the incarnation, death, resurrection of Christ. Sunday is the eighth day of the week. In the basic repeat unit, which is repeated like floor tiles, we have, geometrically portrayed, four versions of the Word in the gospels (four small octagons) spinning out of one large one, the Creator himself, enthroned and in glory. Pictorially, this would be Christ in Majesty surrounded by the Angel, the Lion, the Ox, and the Eagle. When you have four of the repeat units combined, there is long-range order which has a fourfold symmetry in which four large octagons surround the central, which is the broad design of this ‘carpet page’. There is a beautiful harmony to this, and it seems to me to reinforce the superabundant truth of Eucharist: that through the propagation of his gospel in a literary description of his life, Christ in Majesty is really made present in the world in the liturgy of His Holy Church.

I repeat, this is my personal reaction to this design, a meditation upon what I am seeing, so I could be reading more into this than the artist intended. However, as an artist, I would happily reproduce this design with the intention of incorporating this symbolism into my work. There is such a beautiful harmony to it, it seems.

Images: below the images of the 14th century gospel, I have given the Thomas More College, Christ in Majesty to illustrate the point, painted by myself.

Arabic_Gospel

David Clayton

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David is an Englishman living in New Hampshire, USA. He is an artist, teacher, published writer and broadcaster who holds a permanent post as Artist-in-Residence and Lecturer in Liberal Arts at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. The Way of Beauty program, which is offered at TMC, focuses on the link between Catholic culture, with a special emphasis on art, and the liturgy. David was received into the Church in London in 1993. Visit the Way of Beauty blog at thewayofbeauty.org.

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