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.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Luke for Lent - Part 7 of 7

Title: Friend of the Humble (Supper at Emmaus)
Artist: Léon-Augustin Lhermitte
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 156 x 223 cm
Date: 1892
Location: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Luke 24: 28-35 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread.

For these disciples, their faces downcast, hope had been buried in the tomb provided by Joseph. But despite their heavy hearts, these disciples do one thing right in this story — something so apparently insignificant it would be easy to miss. They offer hospitality to Jesus: “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening.” As Jesus sits at the table, takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them, their eyes were opened. Jesus blesses their small act of generosity with the revelation of his presence. It is in the intimacy of fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, that they at last recognise him, and their perplexity over recent events is removed. It is through sitting with Jesus and listening to him that we get to know him.

Léon Augustin Lhermitte (1844 – 1925) was a French realist painter and etcher whose primary subject matter was rural scenes depicting peasants at work. He was a student of Lecoq de Boisbaudran, and gained recognition after his show in the Paris Salon in 1864. Lhermitte’s innovative use of pastels won him the admiration of his contemporaries, including Vincent van Gogh, and his many awards include the French Legion of Honour (1884) and the Grand Prize at the Exposition Universelle in 1889.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Luke for Lent - Part 6 of 7

Title: The Three Crosses
Artist: Peter Paul Rubens
Medium: Oil on panel
Size: 60.5 x 96 cm
Date: ca. 1620
Location: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Luke 23:39-43 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The faith of the thief on the cross is often dismissed, for he has the equivalent of a deathbed conversion. But the testimony he gives in his last moments is a most eloquent evidence of faith. He addresses his colleague first, expresses the injustice of the entire crucifixion by exclaiming, "We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then, anticipating the restoration and resurrection, the thief turns to Jesus with words full of faith, and asks to be included. This man, despite a life full of sin, comes to Jesus, and seeks forgiveness in his last mortal moments. He confesses his guilt and casts himself on Jesus' mercy and saving power. Ironically, though dying amidst mocking, Jesus has saved while on the cross. The request of the taunts has been granted to one who learned to believe. Luke could not have painted a clearer portrait of God's grace…

Peter Paul Rubens (1577 – 1640) was a Flemish/Netherlandish draughtsman and painter, widely considered as the most notable artist of Flemish Baroque art school. A proponent of an extravagant Baroque style that emphasised movement, colour, and sensuality, Rubens is well known for his Counter-Reformation altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects. Art experts have pointed out that Rubens did not intend the three towering crosses in this painting to have such a dramatic impact. It was only later that his original panel was mounted in a larger one. However, the work was reproduced in its present form during his lifetime, so the idea of portraying Christ’s death so bleakly is certainly authentic and came from Rubens’s circle.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Luke for Lent - Part 5 of 7

Title: Christ before Herod Antipas
Artist: Nicolaus Knüpfer
Medium: Oil on Panel
Size: 46 x 61 cm
Date: tbd
Location: Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest

Luke 23:8-12: When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.

Christ being sent to Herod Antipas for judgement is an episode that occurs only in the Gospel of Luke. Herod would have had heard many things of Jesus in Galilee, where his miracles had for a great while been all the talk of the country; and he longed to see him, not for any affection he had for him or his doctrine like Zacchaeus, but purely out of curiosity. He hoped to see some miracle done by him, but Jesus would not gratify him with the performance of even a single miracle. The poorest beggar that asked a miracle for the relief of his necessity was never denied; but this proud prince, that asked a miracle merely for his own amusement, is denied. Herod thought, now that he had him in bonds, he might command a miracle, but to Jesus miracles must not be made cheap, nor Omnipotence be at the beck of any earthly potentate.

Nicolaus Knüpfer (ca. 1603 - 1655) was a Dutch painter of German origin. After initial training in Leipzig and elsewhere, in 1630 Knüpfer moved to Utrecht, where he studied with Mannerist painter Abraham Bloemaert. Knüpfer specialised in history paintings, producing works based on stories from the Bible, from Greek and Roman history and from mythology. In his own day, Knüpfer enjoyed considerable fame and was frequently commissioned by patrons. Typical of his style is the loose brushwork, the liveliness of the depictions and the rich palette, all of which can be seen in this painting of Christ before Herod Antipas. The wall with the low door, closing off the space, looks like a stage set. The curtains and the stage raised by three steps on the right and extending to the plane of the painting are theatrical. The king, leaning back on his throne, is shrieking with laughter and the soldier on one knee, dressing Jesus in a white mantle, has his back to us. His hulking comrade, leaning on his stave, calls through the door to recruit more spectators for Jesus' derision.