Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Day

Title: The Infant Christ on the Orb of the World
Artist: Joos van Cleve
Medium: Oil on panel
Size: 37 x 26 cm
Date: ca. 1530
Location: Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Luke 2:14 Give glory to God in heaven, and on earth let there be peace and goodwill among people.

In this image the artist combined Italian and Flemish elements. The Child, depicted full-length in elegant contrapposto on a crystal sphere, holds a slim cross in one hand and blesses with the other. His body maintains a delicate balance on the sphere but his legs and feet are securely positioned. The image evokes the idea of the Passion of Christ and that of the Christ Child as Saviour of mankind. The antecedents for such a figure are to be found in Italian art, while the landscape in the sphere with its four wings is Flemish in origin. Italian influence is again evident in the slight sfumato of the figure, derived from Leonardo da Vinci.

Joos van Cleve (c. 1458 - 1541) was a Netherlandish painter, mentioned in various documents in Antwerp as Joos van der Beke, nicknamed Van Cleve. He is known mostly for his religious works and portraits of royalty. He trained with the painter Jan Joest, with whom he worked on the wings of the altarpiece in the church of San Nikolai in Kalkar. Van Cleve moved to Antwerp where he is recorded as a master in the painters’ guild in 1511. From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, the name of Joos van Cleve as an artist was lost. The paintings now attributed to him were, at that time, known as the works of “the Master of the Death of the Virgin,” after the triptych currently in the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. In 1894 it was discovered that the monogram on the back of the triptych was that of Joos van der Beke, an alias of Joos van Cleve. As a skilled technician, his art shows sensitivity to color and a unique solidarity of figures. His last paintings reveal a profound interest in the Italian Renaissance although there is no concrete evidence that he made a trip to Italy. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Title: The Presentation in the Temple
Artist: Jean Bourdichon
Medium: Tempera and gold on parchment
Size: 24 x 17 cm
Date: 1499
Location: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Luke 2:22-32: After the days required by Moses’ Teachings to make a mother clean had passed, Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem. They took Jesus to present him to the Lord. They did exactly what was written in the Lord’s Teachings: “Every firstborn boy is to be set apart as holy to the Lord.” They also offered a sacrifice as required by the Lord’s Teachings: “a pair of mourning doves or two young pigeons.” A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He lived an honorable and devout life. He was waiting for the one who would comfort Israel. The Holy Spirit was with Simeon and had told him that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Messiah, whom the Lord would send. Moved by the Spirit, Simeon went into the temple courtyard. Mary and Joseph were bringing the child Jesus into the courtyard at the same time. They brought him so that they could do for him what Moses’ Teachings required. Then Simeon took the child in his arms and praised God by saying, “Now, Lord, you are allowing your servant to leave in peace as you promised. My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people to see. He is a light that will reveal salvation to the nations and bring glory to your people Israel.”

This leaf depicting the Presentation in the Temple originally comes from a manuscript known as the Hours of Louis XII, so-called after its patron King Louis XII of France, and was one of the greatest French manuscripts of its time. Here Mary is seen in half-length, situated at the front of the space, close to the viewer who seems to peer over her shoulder at the scene of the presentation of her infant son at the altar of the priest Simeon. The purpose of compositions such as this one - which were increasingly popular in the second half of the 15th century - was to bring viewers physically closer to the narrative and actively engage them in the event being portrayed.

Jean Bourdichon (c.1457 – 1521) was a French miniature painter and manuscript illuminator at the court of France with a career that lasted nearly forty years during the reigns of Louis XI, Charles VIII, Louis XII and Francis I of France. As court painter, he designed stained glass windows, coins, gold plate, illuminated manuscripts, and executed independent paintings. Charles VIII set up a workshop for him in his castle at Plessis-lès-Tours and gave large dowries to Bourdichon's daughters, and Bourdichon himself became a wealthy landowner. Today, only one of his panel paintings is known to survive and he is therefore known primarily from his work in manuscripts. He is last recorded in 1520, receiving payment for the decoration of tents for the opulent encounter of Henry VIII and Francis I at the Field of the Cloth of Gold.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Third Sunday of Advent

Title: Adoration of the Shepherds
Artist: Agnolo Bronzino
Medium: Oil on wood
Size: 65 x 47 cm
Date: 1540
Location: Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest

Luke 2:16-20: And they came, having hasted, and found both Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger, and having seen, they made known abroad concerning the saying spoken to them concerning the child. And all who heard, did wonder concerning the things spoken by the shepherds unto them; and Mary was preserving all these things, pondering in her heart; and the shepherds turned back, glorifying and praising God, for all those things they heard and saw, as it was spoken unto them.

This small, jewel-like devotional painting, commissioned by Filippo di Averardo Salviati (1513-1572), was most likely destined for a private chapel in the Salviati villa. This painting displays extreme refinement of execution and luxury of materials characteristic of Florentine Mannerism, with 'disegno' (drawing), sculptural modelling of forms, and enamel-like finish apparent in every detail. The entire upper half of the composition is a deep landscape of lakes and hills, above which stretches a vast blue sky that Bronzino painted in expensive lapis lazuli. To the right, an angel announcing the birth of Christ to a single shepherd hovers in the sky, and in the foreground five putti fly in celebration directly over the Nativity scene.

Agnolo di Cosimo (1503 – 1572), more commonly known as Il Bronzino, or Agnolo Bronzino, was an Italian Mannerist painter from Florence. His sobriquet, Bronzino, in all probability refers to his auburn hair, or possibly derived from his having a dark complexion. He was court painter to Duke Cosimo I de Medici for most of his career, and his work influenced the course of European court portraiture for a century. Cold, cultured, and unemotionally analytical, his portraits convey a sense of almost insolent assurance. Perhaps it was these qualities which worked against him as a religious painter as his paintings have been accused of lacking real feeling leading to empty, elegant posturing.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Second Sunday of Advent

Title: Annunciation to the Shepherds
Artist: Taddeo Gaddi
Medium: Fresco
Size: tbd.
Date: c. 1330
Location: Cappella Baroncelli, Santa Croce, Florence

Luke 2:8-12: And there were in the same country shepherds watching, and keeping the night watches over their flock. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them; and they feared with a great fear. And the angel said to them: “Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people: For, this day, is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.”

The angel announces that the new born child is the Saviour, that He has come to save us from our sins, that the salvation Christ brings is offered “to all the people”. In the words of St. Paul’s in his letter to the Colossians (3:11): “Where there is neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free. But Christ is all, and in all.”

This fresco is located on the south wall among frescoes devoted to the Life of the Virgin in the Baroncelli Chapel. This nocturnal scene presented in a unique way: the golden yellow glow of the cloud that surrounds the hovering angel bathes the shepherds and their resting place in a bright light that even reaches the trees that crown the mountain peak, while the remainder of the pictorial space is filled with semidarkness. Although the light source is a supernatural one, it produces a natural effect.

Taddeo Gaddi (c. 1300 - c. 1366), a Florentine painter, was a pupil of Giotto's and one of his most inventive followers. He worked alongside the master for twenty-four years, and in 1347 he headed a list of the best living painters compiled for the purpose of choosing a master to paint a new high altarpiece for Pistoia Cathedral. Today, he is best known for the works painted for Santa Croce, Florence: notably the frescoes devoted to the Life of the Virgin in the Baroncelli Chapel (finished 1338).

Sunday, December 3, 2017

First Sunday of Advent

Title: Annunciation
Artist: Matthew Whitney
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 61 x 76 cm
Date: 2008
Location: Private Collection

Luke 1:26-31 -- And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.”

Mary, as captured by the frenetic brush of Matthew Whitney, looks more than just troubled, but rather terrified and utterly confused. Her bedroom is virtually invaded from both sides of the canvas. To the left Gabriel tries to delicately to bring her the message of the lord, his exhortation “Fear not” seeming to have little effect; to the right a menagerie of startling and grotesque animals force their way into the scene, although they, too, seem to hold Mary in reverence, prefiguring the animals in the manger.

Matthew Whitney is a multidisciplinary artist and educator who lives and works in Seattle, Washington. This painting was made as part of The Vancouver Project, a two week art residency at Regent College in Vancouver, BC. Selected Pacific Northwest-based artists created this visual art exhibition contemplating the beautiful, grotesque and sublime. The project provides a conduit for churches and other faith-based groups to support artists through project patronage, and hosting the art and artists in their community. More of Matthew’s art can be seen on his website

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Feast of St Andrew

Title: Crucifixion of Saint Andrew
Artist: Peter Howson
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: tbd
Date: 2007
Location: City Art Centre, Edinburgh.

St. Andrew, the Apostle, son of Jonah, was born in Bethsaida of Galilee. He was brother of Simon Peter, and both were fishermen who, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, occupied the same house at Capernaum. Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History quoted Origen as saying that Andrew preached in Scythia, while the later Chronicle of Nestor adds that he preached along the Black Sea and the Dnieper River as far as Kiev, and on to Novgorod. He was crucified by order of the Roman Governor Aegeas, at Patrae in Achaia, on November 30, A.D. 60.

According to the Gospel of John 1:35-42, it was St. Andrew who was the first named disciple called by Jesus. In keeping with his role as “the first”, the feast of St. Andrew marks the beginning of a new liturgical year with the start of Advent the Sunday that falls nearest to St. Andrew’s feast day of November 30th.  Beginning today the Christmas Anticipatory Prayer, also known as the "Novena to St. Andrew" is traditionally recited fifteen times a day until Christmas. This meditative prayer is to help prepare oneself spiritually, and increase our awareness of the real focus of Christmas.

Peter Howson (b. 1958) is a London born Scottish painter. In 2005 he was approached by the City Art Centre (Edinburgh) with a proposal to complete a painting on the theme of Scotland’s patron Saint. This meeting led to the following exhibition, “Andrew: Portrait of a Saint”. In preparation, the artist travelled to Israel in order to immerse himself in the region where Andrew had lived. The resulting representation of the Saint’s crucifixion has been described as “monumental” and as having reenergized the traditional portrait of Andrew. With an expression of suffering painstakingly etched across the Saint’s face, Peter has visually depicted the strength and endurance of Scotland’s patron Saint, and added a new sense of life to this ecclesial hero. More of Peter’s work can be seen on his website

Saturday, May 13, 2017

100th Anniversary of the Appearance of Our Lady of Fatima

Title: The Immaculate Conception
Artist: Francisco de Zurbaran
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Size: 136.5 x 102.5cm
Date: 1661
Location: Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest.

May 13, 2017, marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the first apparition of the Virgin Mary to three shepherd children near Fatima, Portugal.

Mary’s oldest mention by name in the Biblical canon is in Gospel of Mark (6:1-6), when Jesus returns to his hometown to teach in the synagogue: When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offence at him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Since that first account, much more has been written about Mary. In the 2nd century, St. Irenaeus of Lyons called Mary the "second Eve", because through her, and her willing acceptance of God's choice, God undid the harm that was done through Eve's choice to eat the forbidden fruit. A few centuries later, the theological treatises of Ambrose of Milan (e.g. ‘De institutione virginis et sanctae Mariae virginitate perpetua ad Eusebium) would come to influence several Popes. Central to Ambrose is the virginity of Mary, and her role as Mother of God. In the 5th century, the Third Ecumenical Council debated this question, whether Mary should be referred to as Theotokos or Christotokos. Theotokos means "God-bearer" or "Mother of God"; its use implies that Jesus, to whom Mary gave birth, is truly God and man in one person. Ultimately, the council affirmed the use of the title Theotokos, and by doing so affirmed Jesus' undivided divinity and humanity. Thus, while the debate was over regarding the proper title for Mary, it was primarily a Christological question about the nature of Jesus (a question which would return at the Fourth Ecumenical Council).

Most recently, on May 13, 1981, on the 64th anniversary of the first Fatima apparition, Pope John Paul II survived an assassination attempt. By John Paul II's own assessment, "It was a mother's hand that guided the bullet's path," and permitted that "the dying Pope stopped on the threshold of death." As the assassination attempt had taken place on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, the pope had no doubt that his survival was due to the intervention of the Blessed Virgin. In gratitude, the Pope gave one of the bullets that struck him to the bishop in charge of the Fatima shrine and, to this day, that bullet remains in the crown of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary housed there.

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598 – 1664), was a Spanish painter born of Basque ancestry in Fuente de Cantos, Badajoz Province. His use of sharply defined colours, minute detail in simple compositions, and the strongly three-dimensional modelling of figures all give his paintings a solidity and dignity. His work at its best fuses two dominant tendencies in Spanish art, realism and mysticism. This painting is a late work of Zurbarán. The Virgin is a slender, delicate young girl with an exquisite oval face and golden hair falling to her shoulders, a vision in white and ultramarine seen against a golden sky peopled with cherubs. Though lacking in vigour, this late work has all the painterly qualities and expressive beauty of the great monumental paintings of Zurbarán's early period.