Tag Archives: Art

26 August: Behind these doors …

 

On January 23 I shared a picture of a garage door, the entrancing entrance to the Westminster diocesan archive in London. The archive is soon to be renovated, and sadly for the romantic researcher, the deceptive door will be no more. But really it is good news, as the new entrance will be on the flat without thresholds and steps.

Here is an archive that was built from underground up to be accessible. This is the British Library, home to the eighth century Lindisfarne Gospels as well as every book published in Britain in modern times, and much more besides, including hard to find works on Africa and those working there in the first half of last century, my reason for going there.

Under the courtyard are shelves where curators go to find the books readers request. In the courtyard is Sir Isaac Newton, based on a drawing by William Blake by the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi. Blake was not over impressed by Newton, who he felt turned his back on beauty to measure and record facts, reducing creation to what can be proved and tested. Not altogether fair on Newton, but the statue celebrates both men, and both streams of thought.

In the background can be seen the mid 19th century romantic brickwork of Saint Pancras railway station, my usual arrival point in London. The Library is in the same brick, though in a completely different style. On this site was once the goods (freight) depot for the Midland Railway, built in the same red brick. The crimson on the ventilators evokes the Midland Railway livery.

The goods that leave this spot today are ideas, not physical supplies for shops and trades. This is one of the most important buildings in the world, free to use for research, free to go in and see the displays of rare books. The Harry Potter exhibition was to be paid for and there were at least four parties of school children going in or out as I ate my sandwiches; I think one group had stayed too long eating their lunch as I heard their teacher complaining, ‘And now you’re wasting my time.’ I was off to the Underground, and that deceptive door!

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19 August. Telling the Truth X: Thanks to dedicated librarians.

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I could and should thank many librarians for their help in my research, including those in Canterbury and Folkestone who sourced books from elsewhere in Kent or other libraries in England. The small fee for interlibrary loans avoids my spending a couple of hours on trains to the British Library, and I can usually take the books home.

University libraries especially have scanned out-of-copyright works on the web. One such book Action this day by Archbishop Spellman, mentioned a Jesuit, Francis Anderson, as a connection of my subject Arthur Hughes MAfr, Internuncio to Egypt.

More search on the web led me to the Jesuit Archive in St Louis, where they hold letters from Hughes to Anderson, revealing something of himself. I know this because the good people there, Ann and Jeff, scanned them and emailed them to me.

No human can ever know or express the whole truth about anything, but we can help each other to come to a closer understanding. The paths of all genuine seekers after truth converge – scientist, historian, artist, philosopher, theologian. And the focal point of our searching is Truth itself.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.

MMB

photo from Jesuit Archives website.

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28 July: The Beating Heart of Strasbourg

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The Cathedral is a heart

The Cathedral is a heart.

The tower is a bud.

Have you counted the steps

that lead to the platform?

Every night they become more and more numerous.

They grow.

The tower turns turns

and turns about itself.

It turns, it grows,

it dances with its saints

and the saints dance with their hearts.
Will it fly away with the angels,

the tower of Strasbourg Cathedral?

Strasbourg Cathedral is a swallow.

The swallows

believe in the angels amid the clouds.

The swallows don’t believe in ladders

to climb in the air.

They let themselves fall into the air

into the air interwoven

with the blue of infinity.

Strasbourg Cathedral is a swallow.

She lets herself fall into the winged sky

into the air of the angels.

 

I don’t claim to know what the sculptor Jean Arp meant by this poem; it is a poem that he let fly away once written. I did see an interview where he spoke about the saints on Strasbourg Cathedral. ‘We cannot surpass the work of the old masters’, he said of the cathedral dominating his home town. I read it as a love song.

Mediæval Cathedrals are well-loved. One expression of this is the continuing schedules of works to preserve these treasures, Canterbury always has scaffolding somewhere about its sides. We were not tempted to launch into the air from the roof platform at Strasbourg, but to have built the place so high was an act of faith by the architects, a duc in alto, putting out into the depths of space.

We should imitate Our Lord at his temptations in not taking irresponsible risks to impress the devil in us or in other people, but we should also trust him to hold us safe as we fly, ever in danger of falling, ever seeking the infinite blue of heaven.

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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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