How To Choose a Painting for Catechesis

poussin99 Poussin

The following article is written by Dr Caroline Farey and John Casey and of the Maryvale Institute and first appeared in The Sower, which is published by the Maryvale institute and distributed in both the UK and the UK. It is available online at www.thesowerreview.com.

This is written about paintings of the Annunciation, but through it they describe very clearly the principles by which one can choose a painting for catachetical purposes. This is something that is very important, but additional to its appropriateness for a liturgical setting or for devotional prayer.

Caroline and myself will be teaching the summer residential weekends for the diploma offered by the Maryvale Institute, Art Beauty and Inspiration from a Catholic Perspective. The goal of this course is to understanding of the place of beauty in Catholic culture with a special focus on visual art; by this we hope to contribute to the formation of future artists and patrons who serve the church. The course is offered in the US through the Maryvale Mid-America Center at the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas . It is design with  for working adults (and that means stay-at-home mums as well) living in any location, provided they can get to the first residential weekend. The dates of the first residential weekend are July 12-15 (Friday-Monday).   Even if you don’t wish to do the written work for the diploma, you would learn a lot if you chose to audit the course – attending the residential weekend and then working through the accompanying material at home at your leisure.

The Annunciation and Catechesis

A picture of the annunciation is a resource par excellence for catechesis because it can illustrate so many interconnecting doctrines of the faith. Having said this, not all artists have the same degree of ecclesial depth and so some pictures will be of greater catechetical value than others. At this point it is also good to be aware that one might look at a painting of a great artist,r a very beautiful painting, or one that speaks very personally, or one helpful for prayer or meditation – none of these criteria, however, makes the painting necessarily the most appropriate to use catechetically. What, then, do we need to look for as catechists in order to choose the best art of the annunciation for our purposes?

The Blessed Trinity

Where there is nothing at all to indicate the Trinity, the value of the painting for catechesis is greatly reduced because, as we know, the Trinity is the ‘light that enlightens’ every dogma, every mystery of the faith (CCC 234). Most annunciation scenes, however, will depict the presence of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity in some way. The icon by Aidan Hart reproduced here gives us an explicit indication. Many older scenes show God the Father and the dove of the Holy Spirit very explicitly, with these and the lamp; angel Gabriel all oriented or pointing towards Our Lady to indicate the presence of the divine Son. Other versions work more subtly but equally effectively. Nicolas Poussin, uses light sources, one from off the painting indicating God the Father, the light shining around the Holy Spirit and the light of the angel as the messenger of the Word. Fra Angelico uses triple rounded arches to embrace the whole scene as though holding it in the stillness of eternity, so great is this moment.

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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