Tag Archives: Art

Congratulations to Naomi!

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Naomi Billingsley, who writes for Agnellus Mirror sometimes as NAIB, has just had her book published. We haven’t yet had time to read it properly but thought we’d tell you about it at once, in case it sells out before you get chance to buy it.

Our friendly Jehovah’s Witnesses often point out to me what they see as ‘design’ in Creation. My reply has always been to say, yes, but designer is just too inadequate a word. It conjures up a drawing board and ruler  and compasses, whereas Blake, according to Naomi, sees God as an artist, a being bursting with loving imagination.

WT.

Here follows the review on the publisher’s website:

William Blake (1757-1827) is considered one of the most singular and brilliant talents that England has ever produced. Celebrated now for the originality of his thinking, painting and verse, he shocked contemporaries by rejecting all forms of organized worship even while adhering to the truth of the Bible.

But how did he come to equate Christianity with art? How did he use images and paint to express those radical and prophetic ideas about religion which he came in time to believe? And why did he conceive of Christ himself as an artist: in fact, as the artist, par excellence?

These are among the questions which Naomi Billingsley explores in her subtle and wide-ranging new study in art, religion and the history of ideas. Suggesting that Blake expresses through his representations of Jesus a truly distinctive theology of art, and offering detailed readings of Blake’s paintings and biblical commentary, she argues that her subject thought of Christ as an artist-archetype. Blake’s is thus a distinctively ‘Romantic’ vision of art in which both the artist and his saviour fundamentally change the way that the world is perceived.

From King’s College London, where Naomi completed her MA:

Naomi Billingsley is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the John Rylands Research Institute at the University of Manchester. Her research is at the intersection of the histories of Christianity and art in Britain, especially in the Romantic period. Her current project ‘The Formation and Reception of the Macklin Bible’ examines an important illustrated Bible, published between 1791 and 1800.

Naomi completed her PhD at the University of Manchester (2012-2015) on the figure of Christ in William Blake’s pictorial works. She was then Bishop Otter Scholar for Theology and the Arts in the Diocese of Chichester, and taught Art History at Birkbeck, University of London.

Naomi is a graduate of the MA in Christianity and the Arts (2011) and holds a BA in Theology and Religious Studies from the University of Cambridge (Magdalene, 2010). 

The Visionary Art of William Blake: Christianity, Romanticism and the Pictorial Imagination
Naomi Billingsley

I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2018.

 

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June 3: Corpus Christi – what a waste!

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Janet had been watching a documentary about life in the Himalayas. Amid the fierce natural beauties the programme visited a Buddhist monastery, where the monks ground rock crystals into powder which they dyed into bright colours. They used the sand to create religious symbols which would be displayed for a while, then swept away. Life is passing was the truth they held before themselves in this exercise.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, I might have said, but didn’t. Instead my mind went back to school days, when preparations for Corpus Christi included the enjoyable task of dying sawdust to make pictures to decorate the route of the Blessed Sacrament procession. The top picture from 1956 shows students at Saint Augustine’s College in Blacklion, Ireland, decorating the drive. The other shows the culmination of the Corpus Christi procession at the Priory, my school in Hampshire, but before my time, in 1948. The first is by Anthony Whelan, the second by Robert Clyde, both come from the website of the friends of the Missionaries of Africa: the pelicans.

Anthony’s photograph shows how these designs will be trampled underfoot. Sic transit – so many labours of love, think of wedding cakes or fireworks, are made to serve for a moment in time. Think, too, of the woman anointing the Lord’s feet with precious oil (Luke7:36-50). Or the oil the other women took to the tomb: an extravagant waste of effort/time/money, says the utilitarian.

But isn’t all we have, see, touch, taste an extravagant gift? Let’s be grateful on this day of the Eucharist, of thanksgiving. If we no longer have processions, we can celebrate with a shared meal, or even eating alone, thank God for the food and raise a glass to absent friends.

And Laudato Si!

 

MMB

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19 May: Saint Dunstan, Bishop and Blacksmith. Relics XI

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It’s comforting to learn that a bishop has a hinterland, that he has not been born and bred in a purple cassock. Eric Treacy of Wakefield with his steam trains or the poet Archbishop Rowan Williams in more modern times, Peter the fisherman  and Paul the tentmaker at the beginning. But halfway between them we find Dunstan of Canterbury, bishop, blacksmith, harpist and illuminator of manuscripts. Who mentioned Dark Ages?

Back in September, Janet and I visited Canterbury Cathedral for their annual Open House day. There was a stall for the archaeologists, who had a dish of slag, the product of smelting iron from rock, just like that to be found around the tips of Merthyr Tydfil. In another dish alongside it were magnetic black chippings, typically 3mm long: these were shards of iron thrown off when a piece of hot iron was hammered on the anvil. ‘Is this from Saint Dunstan’s workshop?’ I joked. ‘Perhaps’, they said, ‘it’s certainly Saxon.’

It seems that Saxon Canterbury was a centre for fine ironwork. As that fact sank in, suddenly the portly monk was there beside us, just a few steps from his grave, wearing his leather apron, hammer in hand. Of course that was my fond imagination, though I had seen the self-portait of Dunstan kneeling before Christ when it was exhibited here and so knew what he looked like.

But those relics of manual work – maybe of Dunstan’s labour, but probably other monks’ really – said more to me than any bone in gold and crystal reliquary.

MMB.

Public Domain, Wikipedia.

 

 

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13 May: The one who was lost.

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Father Daniel Weatherley was saying that today was, he thought, the only time that poor Judas is mentioned twice in the Scripture readings, in Acts 1: 15-26 and John 17:11-19.

Judas is described as the one who chose to be lost; we read elsewhere how he hanged himself. Father Daniel described him as refusing Christ’s – God’s – love and so getting into a dark place. Fair comment, but the sculptor of Strasbourg Cathedral doesn’t expect the Lamb of God to be merely fair. Here he is shown, determinedly untying the former apostle, right at Hell’s mouth.

Even before Jesus descended into Hell, this artist has  him rescuing his friend.

Thank God the Church is more merciful to suicides these days; but we still have much to learn about mercy.

MMB

 

 

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18 April : A comforting doctrine: telling the truth in art. (Telling truth II)

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Edward Ardizzone was employed as an official War Artist during World War II, serving in North Africa, including El Alamein, then the invasion of Italy and the Normandy Landings. How does an artist convey the horrors and humanity of War? Ardizzone’s soldiers and civilians are human, drawn with a loving understanding of our fallen but persistently rising nature. This picture shows a scene on the beaches during the Normandy Landings and is from the Imperial War Museum, released on the public domain.

A couple of months before he had confided in his diary:

[I] have a feeling that painters should not be interested in metaphysics – should be simple people entirely absorbed in what they do. If they are big themselves, what they do is big – if little, little; but only a matter of degree like major and minor poets and not to be bothered about. A comforting doctrine for me who am feeling incredibly small at the moment.

Let us pray that sometime today we may experience the grace of being entirely absorbed in what we do: loving what we do, as Ardizzone loved his work and the humans he was painting.

MMB.

Diary of a War Artist, Edward Ardizzone, Bodley Head, 1974. Worth seeking out.

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16 March: Stone Angel

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Stone Angel
Peacefully residing within the enclaves of Worcester Cathedral:
the Stone Angel wrapped in white, marble, marzipan folds
centring and guiding rivers flowing towards clasped hands
grasped earnestly together
holding onto prayer
and contemplation
of mysteries beyond
rational thinking.
An inanimate idol?
Or a reminder of the joy
And peace to be found in
transendance.
A nexus of matter:
hinting, suggesting, reminding
us
to save a place in our day
to consider the inconsiderable.
Constantina Alexander
19 February, 2018
Thank you Constantina, for reminding us to consider the inconsiderable, the infinity in a grain of sand or piece of stone.
This stone angel is in York Minster, a little dusty when its photo was taken, but still a reminder.

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March 12: Art and L’Arche.

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The other evening we had a Pilgrims’ shared prayer and meal evening, ten or so of us members of L’Arche Kent. We prayed:

Father in heaven,
May the holy season of Lent
bring us your blessing and your forgiveness
and the gift of your light.

We had hearts printed on card and filled them with light, and pictures and words to represent our homes and the people we wanted to share in God’s blessing and light. Art in L’Arche.

My reflection afterwards was more on the practical details (it’s important to get these right!) so it was good to be recalled to the joys of Art in L’Arche by someone hiding behind the name interwebconvos who has been writing about her/his experience of  art in L’Arche. S/he also shared these blogs:

Here you can read of an  encounter with an artist  at L’Arche Daybreak in Toronto, and here is Debra’s account of making pumpkin pies at L’Arche.

It was good to be reminded of these events, and to remember encounters and conversations in my own life with L’Arche. I won’t start now, I’ve given you enough reading material for one day!

The pebble heart was from another friend, one we ought to introduce to L’Arche some time!

MMB

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8 December, Aberdaron II: Be Still.

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This tapestry runner is on one of the benches in the church at Aberdaron. The words sound as though they are taken from a psalm but they are the opening words of a hymn, translated from the German of Dorothea von Schlegel. Dig a little further back (the internet is like that beach outside the church that we saw yesterday, full of treasures!) and yes, it is from Psalm 46:10-11:

Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

And that’s enough from me: be still, listen for the waves outside the church, be still.

(There’s always Matthew 13.44!)

MMB

 

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November 10, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: x – ‘Not reinvention but rediscovery.’

 

Dogma helps hold people together in faith communities – but it does not inspire or animate. Faith is in the heart rather than the head. We grow in faith through relationships with others whose fidelity to Christ is a living experience. If we judge each other by what we believe in, we are setting up in and out groups – responsible for so many -isms; blood has been shed through this, and witch-hunts become inevitable – in no way conducive to Jesus’ stark love your enemies. But if we are to let-go the way of dogma – what do we replace it with? The new Evangelisation that Pope Francis is calling for! To set Jesus and ourselves free from the captivity of absolute dogma.

All over Africa, where Christianity is preached, churches are adorned with a white Christ, bearded and robed like an ancient Roman. Both Jesus and Mary were ethnic Palestinian – dark-skinned, of non-European features. Jesus as white and male became indisputable facts. Biologically no one can dispute the gender of Jesus. This isn’t attempting to create a patchwork quilt making Jesus all things to all people. This is not reinvention but rediscovery. If Jesus is God-incarnate – then Creation tells us that there is something of God in being male and female.

Most of our story as God’s people [6 million years] belongs to Africa; yet the demonising of blackness still feeds cultures of racism. Darkened skin is a powerful symbol of what it means to be human; it is the primary pigmentation that humans have known for most of our time – created, blessed and loved by God. We need to honour Jesus who belongs, not to the land of Israel, and even less to Western Europe, but to the primary soil of East Africa – just as the earthly Jesus belonged to every creed, colour and cultural condition.

The heart of the problem is not that Jesus was a man, but that men are not like Jesus! For thousands of years before Jesus males alone were considered to be fully human. They possessed the seed through which new life would be procreated – a view endorsed by Aristotle, Aquinas and Luther – with male offspring more valued than female. This is why Jesus, to be Messiah, had to be seen as descending through a male line.

But Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom is clearly not male in the conventional sense. He adopts none of the typical male behaviour characteristics: dominance, control… he engages with people, especially with the powerless made so by Church and State. Instead of protecting power he gives it away; instead of reasoned argument he tells stories – he is inclusive in his relationships, especially at table.

AMcC

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An evening with Julian of Norwich at Minster Abbey.

 

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Good Evening Friends,

Back we come from Wales to find a note from our contributor Monica (MT), inviting us to an evening of music, dance, narration and art at Minster Abbey on Sunday November  12, interpreting the revelations of Julian of Norwich.

It sounds interesting! Minster Abbey is a short walk from Minster railway station with hourly trains from London, Ashford, Canterbury and Ramsgate.

Follow this link to see the poster:

Julian of Norwich at the Abbey 121117

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