Monthly Archives: December 2012

An Advent Theme

Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, 1573

There are two recognised themes in Advent, the first in the earlier part concerned with the Second Coming of the Lord, and the latter part concerned with the First Coming in the Nativity. However, there is another theme in the middle Sundays and in the weekdays in the Lectionary, which links Advent into the everyday life and experience of the Christian. This is the coming of the Christ into the lives of men and women in his ministry, bringing precisely the freedom to captives he proclaims in the Nazareth Synagogue from the scroll of  the prophet Isaiah, as described in Luke chapter 4. It is linked to the First Coming and is an extension of it, but it is distinct, too. The Middle Sundays are devoted to announcing this in-between coming, when we hear John the Baptist proclaiming the Messiah. The coming of Jesus into everyday lives is also theme of the weekday Gospels,  healing the centurion’s servant at Capernaum, (Monday Week 1, Matt 8:5-11); multiplying the loaves (Wednesday week 1, Matt 15:29-37); healing the two blind men (Friday Week 1 Matt 9:27-31), preaching, healing and forgiving sins (Saturday Week 1 Matt: 9:35-10:1,6-8, Monday Week 2 Luke 5:17-26).

The Jesus who comes “eating and drinking, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Friday Week 2 Matt:11:16-19), is the one who called Levi and who ate at his house, as in this scene by Paolo Veronese. Originally, the commission was for a Last Supper for the refectory of the Dominicans of SS Giovanni e Paolo to replace one by Titian destroyed by fire in 1571. However, Veronese’s work was considered to have far too many figures for such a scene by the Holy Office of the time, so the title was changed to the Feast in the House of Levi. The decorative splendour is a fitting expression of the joy of Christ’s coming into the lives of those who have never experienced him before, one which each person may have in season and out of it, also identified by St Bernard in his ‘5th Sermon on Advent’ as the ‘intermediary coming’ of ‘rest and consolation’

3rd Sunday of Advent Luke: 3:10-18

The Winnower, by Jean-Francois Millet, National Gallery, London. 1848

Jean Francois Millet, who painted The Winnower, was a founder of the Barbizon school along with Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot and Theodore Rousseau, so named on account of the area in France where they worked. His paintings and etchings were mainly of peasants at work in the countryside. Amongst the most famous are The Gleaners (1857), The Angelus 1859-60 and The Sower 1850. It is possible to read Millet’s work in terms of the social and political situation of the time. In 1848, when this particular work was painted, there was a revolution. Could the winnower be sifting the contents of society of that day? Actually, Millet himself seems to seek out subjects detached from political commentary. Instead his focus is on rural life, its dignity and hardships expressed in particular figures. Indeed, the gleaners in the painting of the same name are literally cut off pictorially from the background scene of social stratification with agricultural labourers and those overseeing them. The language he uses seems to be biblical, which is what critics often wrote about at the time, referring to the story of Ruth in the case of the Gleaners, though Millet himself  tended to understate the connection in his works. The Sower also seems to be invested with powerful symbolism from the parable of Jesus. This might be because anyone who comes from the Biblical text or with Jesus’ parables and teaching foremost in mind will be struck by the connections. It is a perspective shared with Millet’s first viewers in 19th century France, for whom the bible was so familiar and the countryside an even more living reality.

Looking at the winnower in this painting is a way in to the theme of the third Sunday of Advent. In John the Baptist’s description of the coming Jesus, fire is mentioned twice, in the sense of the Spirit and of the burning of the chaff. It is a dramatic picture of the Messiah’s coming. But, actually, in reality, Jesus surprised John. Jesus the Winnower is more like the figure in this painting, someone earthy, of quiet intent, who toils carefully, slowly and patiently to sift the precious wheat and ensure none is lost.

Yale University Art Gallery Reopens

figures in procession from the Dura Europos baptistery, in Yale University Gallery

Yale University Art Gallery reopened last Wednesday with a number of other events held over the weekend to favourable review in The New York Times. The collection containing a number of Renaissance masterpieces includes a fine painting of St John the Baptist by Orcagna, as well as significant archeological collections. One of the most notable, of liturgical and artistic interest, is a number of items from Dura Europos on the Euphrates in Syria, including the baptistery, which came to the museum in the 1930’s. These parts of the collection have been in storage since the 1970s apart from display in New York earlier this year. It is the earliest example of a baptistery complete with murals of Jesus, the Good Shepherd and another of a procession of white-robed figures towards the font. Michael Peppard of Fordham University, who reviews the opening of the museum in Commonweal, haswritten extensively of these murals arguing for re-identification and interpretation, and in particular on the figures in procession.

Sr Wendy Beckett on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs

Sr Wendy Beckett

Sr Wendy Beckett, the hermit nun who lives in the grounds of Quidenham Carmelite priory, Norfolk was featured on the Desert Island Discs programme with Kirsty Young on the BBC on Sunday. It will be repeated later this week and available to download as a podcast. Guests select the music choices they would take with them to listen to on a desert island, and tell the stories behind their choices. Sr Wendy chose Brahms’ ‘Lullaby’ and Schubert’s ‘Serenade’ but also a piano piece by Chopin and plainchant, as well as St Thomas Aquinas’ eucharistic hymn. She speaks about religious life, her childhood and adolescence and about working on television programmes, as well as about art’s capacity to bring one closer to God. Her most recent publication this last August is Sr Wendy’s Bible Treasury. Stories and Wisdom through the Eyes of Great Painters published by Orbis books.

ADVENT-urous

Joel Baker’s neon ‘Amen’ on show at Engedi Arts centre. Photo courtesy of Jonny Baker, with thanks.

ADVENT-urous is a really interesting open art exhibition happening again at Left bank, Leeds and also taking place at the Engedi arts centre , Colwyn Bay in Wales. Different artists are showing at each venue. Part of the Engedi exhibition travelled to the one day Greenbelt festival at the Union chapel, Islington earlier this month. The theme ADVENTurous seeks to explore the biblical story of ‘advent’, or ‘coming’. Artists were asked to channel their responses in the light of the following three ideas and their relevance to contemporary culture:-FAITH – where we are? -ECONOMY – where we are going?-ECOLOGY – How we get there? . In the brief the following themes were given: PROPHET – SILENCE – STAR – ZECHARIAH – ELIZABETH – MARY – GABRIEL – JOSEPH – DONKEY – BETHLEHEM – INN – STABLE – SHEPHERD – HEAVEN’S CHORUS – LAMB – MAGI (JOURNEY) –– MAGI (FOLLOWING) – MAGI (HEROD) – FRANKINCENSE – GOLD – MYRRH – JERUSALEM – HEROD – MANGER – JESUS.

The current exhibition at Left Bank is open to visit and there is a blog for the exhibition where the work of different artists, interviews and other material are regularly featured. The artists exhibiting are: Terry Mart, Sonja Benskin MesherAbbie HulsonSteve BroadwayRachel YatesRhys JonesRic Stott, Ewart Hulse, Lou Davis, Sally Owens, Sally Baker, Sara Heard, Susie Liddle, Kate Mounce, James Feraciour, Elizabeth Loren, Steven Morant, Alison HerbertRick BeerhorstWe Stitch Angry, Mike Maddox and Jeff AndersonSally JaneThompsonMike RadcliffeJay Gadhia

The works featured at the Engedi Arts centre can be viewed on the Engedi website. Artists exhibiting are:DEE RIVAZ, LAUREN NATASHA EASTWOOD ROBERTS, JENNIFER BELL, EILEEN HARRISSON, CLARRIE FLAVELL, JUDITH SAMUEL, SARA HEARD, PEA RESTALL, DAVE SHARP, RIC STOTT, ANTONIA DEWHURST, KURT FRANCIS, ALAN WHITFIELD, HARRY BAKER, STEVE BROADWAY, GREETJE BAARS, JOEL BAKER, KIM DEWSBURYSALLY OWENS, CERI LEEDER, ERNESTO, NICK ELPHICK, ABBIE HULSON, JEFF ANDERSONN AND MIKE MADDOX, RACHEL YATES, DAVE BYRNE, RHYS JONES, DEREK HILL, TRACY J HULSE, PHILL HOPKINS, TRISH BERMINHAM, SHAERON CATON-ROSE, SUSIE LIDDLE, ALISON HERBERT, LUCY SHERIDAN, TERRY MART, JAMES FERACIOUR, JAMES KESSELL, LOU DAVIS, SI SMITH, EWART HULSE, DEWI OWEN HUGHES, BEV BELSHAW, ELIZABETH LOREN, JELORIAN, SONJA BENKSIN-MESHER RCA.

There is an archive of work from the previous ADVENTurous exhibition at Left Bank back in 2009 which can still be viewed on the blog

2nd Sunday of Advent: Luke :1-6

St John the Baptist by Caravaggio c.1602, in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome

Caravaggio painted two versions of this painting of St John the Baptist and many others of the saint during the course of his lifetime, but particularly during this period around 1600 . They share some common features: the red robe, the camel fur, and the mullein plants at his feet gathered to ward off evil on his feast day.. and St John is always represented as a young man. Since the Counter Reformation, St John the Baptist in the desert was held as a model of penitence and renewal and was frequently portrayed by artists. However, in this particular painting, a private devotional image, Caravaggio dispenses with the cross, one of the normal attributes and the lamb has been exchanged for a ram so that some have disputed the subject. However, even in the 17th century the painting was copied as a St John with the additional missing parts, and it is clear it shares so much with other paintings by Caravaggio of St John such as the one in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas and another in the Galleria Nazionale, Rome that the subject of the painting is widely accepted.

It seems a profane image. Caravaggio has drawn on Michelangelo’s ignudi on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel and then introduced a further stark naturalism into the nakedness of the body and intensified the light. It is also very close to his profane painting Victorious Cupid of 1602-3 in the Berlin Gemaldegalerie in the way the figure engages and draws the viewer in . Here however, it is a point of departure, St John invites the viewer to look beyond, to the ram and like him, to embrace the ram- a reference to the one provided by the angel as a substitute in the story of Abraham and Isaac, a type of Christ and an image of God’s salvific grace which is at the heart of the Advent message.

Nativity Trail at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

 

Rest on the Flight into Egypt, c1620 by Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639)

Once again in 2012, now in its eighth year, the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery has put on a Nativity Trail telling the story of Christmas through 500 Years of Art. At the end of last month the exhibition was commended by RC Archbishop Bernard Longley,  Bishop David Urquhart, the Anglican Bishop of Birmingham, and the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, at an official launch.
The Archbishop of Birmingham described the Nativity Trail as: “A little sign of what it means to believe in Jesus in the market place”.The Nativity Trail is open to the public at Birmingham Museum & Art Galley until January 6, 2013. Admission is free.