When I was studying portrait painting in Florence, several years ago, I was struck by the charm of the old street shrines that can be seen built into the walls of the buildings that line the narrow streets. Many date back to the time of the building itself.
Not all are still obviously the focus for prayer, many seemed to unnoticed in a city in which Renaissance art abounds and much of the population has fallen away from the Faith.
Since then I have wondered, from time to time, if this is something we could do today, in a time and in places where Catholicism is not the dominant faith and the driving force the culture?
My feeling is we might, in many instances, struggle to persuade local government to go along with such a thing. However, perhaps if done tastefully and discretely on private property that is visible from the public street it might be possible.
I suggest that if what is done is truly beautiful, even non-believers would want it and it would, to a large degree, disarm potential critics by removing their desire to be offended by outward signs of the Faith. I have a friend who runs a menswear shop in the UK and he always places a small icon of the face of Christ, a Mandylion, which is just 6′ x 4′ in size, low down on the wall behind the counter. While it is not an obviously bold statement of faith, he deliberately places in such a position that when people pay for their clothes, they will see it on the wall behind the till in such a way that it gives the impression that they are peeking into his personal space and seeing an image that is their for his private devotion. He says that nobody ever objected, and many asked about it.
Non-Christians (and for that matter many Christians too) are much more likely to be irritated if the art is ugly or sentimental. I have often wondered, for example, if the militant secularists are in fact doing us a favor by objecting to the kitsch shopping mall nativity scenes that seem to be standard issue for retailers nowadays. Perhaps they are the unwitting agents of the Holy Spirit? Before my conversion in my early thirties, piped carol music and brightly-colored plastic McChristmasses gave me the impression that Christianity was for saddoes who didn’t (Read More)
“We are made in the image and likeness of the Creator of all things and as such, we share in His creative power. Man is, in effect, as J.R.R. Tolkien put it, a sub-creator.”
The Parable of the Painter
There was once an artist, a painter of consummate skill who conceived a great work. He first spent weeks sketching and refining his inspiration. His studies for the various elements were works of art in themselves. When he was satisfied that he had captured his vision he began the task of preparing his support.
He spent days searching for the finest canvas, and days more stretching and preparing the canvas for paint. He sealed the surface with a foundation of gesso, sanding and reapplying until the ground held the perfect tension upon which to paint.
The paints he mixed himself, grinding the pigments and mixing them with a medium of his own invention. Finally, after many weeks, he was prepared to begin the painting.
He worked with skill and confidence. His brush never hesitating or erring. His composition was perfect, it held the eye and the imagination to such an extent that the viewer lost all track of time, gazing in endless wonder at the arrangement of the elements. The colors showed a harmony seldom seen, vibrant and luminous, echoing the music of the cosmos.
When at last he laid down his brush, the painter stepped back and saw the great beauty of his work. Exhausted from the effort, he then took his rest.
But the painter had an enemy, one who, out of envy, sought to disrupt all that the painter created. While the painter slept the enemy came into the studio and introduced a flaw into the foundation of the work. This flaw grew, spreading over the work threatening to destroy its beauty.
When the painter awoke and saw the damage done to the work, he thought first to destroy the painting and begin the long process again. But the work was precious to him, a child of his imagination, and he could not bear the thought of destroying it. He considered correcting the flaw but feared that it would simply reappear as it now had become part of the work itself.
Finally he concluded there was only one way to save the work. He painted himself into the work and taught the work how to correct itself.
In His Image and likeness
In the story of the fall of (Read More)
Joyce Rupp’s Reflection – February 2018
“Come to the root of the root of your Self.”~ Jalaluddin Rumi (Divani Shamsi Tabriz, #120)ComeEvery moment of every day the Holy One extends an open invitation to come closer, to enter further into an lasting relationship. Now is the time to shake off the interior and exterior clutter that prevents this communication and clear seeing, to release what causes us to stumble on the path of loving and blocks our ability to be our truest self. Now is the moment to accept the invitation to be more completely transformed into Christ-like virtues, to heed the summons by ceasing worthless endeavors and distracting trivialities that keep us from an in-depth way of living.to the rootSink into a quiet space for a restorative time each day. Anchor yourself there. Let your roots of faith be strengthened by a graced encounter with Enduring Love. Assimilate the wise insights and inspiring aspirations found in the soil of prayer. Receive this spiritual nourishment so your ability to be a conduit of genuine goodness does not topple over from weakness, like a tree with a failing root system.of the rootGo even deeper in relationship with the Beloved. Accept the storehouse of spiritual nutrients found in connection with this Primary Root. Allow the relationship to energize your life. Like a vigorous root feeding and keeping the tree flourishing, absorb the spiritually enlivening qualities found in the life and teachings of Jesus. Read a Gospel slowly. Let the life-giving messages you find there flow with dynamic energy into each part of your day.of your SelfThere, at the core of your being—the true Self where the divine and the human meet in undivided union—rest in the rootedness of a Love too large and unconditional to fully comprehend with the human mind. Set aside egoic demands, nursed grudges, endless discouragement, leftover regrets, and stale excuses. Receive this love with the intuitive heart. Become one with the Divine Root, a source of what best serves to restore the neglected and famished parts of the soul. Then go forth and exhale this Love like a healthily-rooted tree breathing oxygen into the lungs of creation.My hope for each of us in the coming liturgical season of Lent is that we will “return to the root of the root of the Self.”Abundant peace,Joyce Rupp
Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall on the same day this year. But it’s not a matter of celebrating one or the other. How about focusing on giving an extra portion of love to all those around you this Lent?
The habit provides us with a freedom which to the world seems a restriction.
The anonymous Sister who wrote these words is currently a student at www.Pontifex.University and she wrote them for an essay set for a class Final. She is one of the sisters of a community in Santa Rosa, California, called the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa, and is a seamstress for the community. Her duties include making the community’s habits. I asked her to describe why she felt this work was important, before going on to describe (in the next essay) how this informs her work in making the habits for the other Sisters.
The essay is entitled A Visible Witness; what struck me about it particularly were her anecdotes of personal reactions to the habit. She writes that it was seeing nuns wearing habits when she was a little girl that spoke to her of this “alternative” lifestyle (if I can use that phrase!) I found her accounts of the positive responses of ordinary people to her when they see the habit especially charming. For ease of reading, I have removed the footnotes and references from the original essay. The photograph below is taken from the community’s website.
Early in the Church, those who dedicated their lives to God wore some form of identifiable clothing that distinguished them from the world. The purpose was to visibly set them apart from the world for God’s service. Through the centuries this type of clothing, namely the religious habit, has taken many shapes and forms in the diverse communities that God has called into being. During the past sixty years, the value, relevance, and need of the habit has been disputed. However, many young people with vocations to religious life are being drawn to communities that do wear the habit. It is my opinion that in our world today, this visible witness of the religious habit is still needed to silently but eloquently proclaim the reality, presence, and primacy of God.
One of the first references of any sort of garb for those who gave their lives to God is in the writings of St Pachomius, who founded the cenobitic way of life in the fourth century. In his Rule, he requires all those who pass the initial tests for entrance into the monastery to be stripped of their secular clothing and be clothed in the monastic habit. St (Read More)
I am appearing on Annunciation Radio – annunciatioradio.com – interviewed by Patricia Ode-Murray for the Virtuous Life show. It will be aired on Monday 4pm EST and posted on the website after that as a podcast, here.
The topic is beauty and the culture, with a special interest in a formation in beauty as outlined in my book, the Way of Beauty and which is offered in the Pontifex University Master of Sacred Arts program
“One characteristic of a Christian Artist is his love for God which motivates him to put his gifts and talents at the service of the community. “
What is the true vocation of a Christian Artist?
A vocation is a calling, for the Christian artist it is a calling to beauty. But it is also a vocation of service.
There an old story about a man who sought to understand the Law, the Torah, in a concise simple way. He went to his Rabbi and asked the teacher to explain all of the Law while standing on one foot. The Rabbi dismissed the request as foolish. The Law was extensive and covered many different circumstances, how could it be explained in the brief time you would be able to stand on one foot?
But the young man did not give up so easily. He went from rabbi to rabbi, asking each of them the same question. He was met with ridicule, scorn, and sometimes outright anger and hostility. But finally he came to Rabbi Hillel.
“Rabbi,” can you explain the whole of the Torah to me while standing on one foot?”
Hillel thought for a moment, stood, slowly raised one foot and said, “what you yourself despise, do not do to another. The rest is commentary, go and learn.”
A somewhat similar story is recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew
A Pharisee, a doctor of the Law, challenged Jesus, “which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Mt 22:36) He was not referring specifically to the ten commandments, but rather to the Torah, the Law of Moses. In other words, out of all the commands, rules, precepts and instruction that make up the body of the Law for the ancient Israelites, which is the greatest?
Jesus answers by paraphrasing an ancient prayer, the Shema, “”You shall love the Lord your God from all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37)
But then Jesus takes it a step further by referring to the second great commandment, “the second is similar to it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (22:39)
Jesus tells us that our love for God is reflected in how we love our neighbor.
Before His Ascension into heaven, Jesus gave His followers a new commandment, to love one another as He has loved us. No longer are we called to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, now we are to love (Read More)
To say that I am made in the image of God
is to say that Love is the reason for my existence…
Love is my true identity…
Love is my true character.
Love is my name.
Today is the feast day of another of saints of the Roman Canon about whom we know very little beyond the fact of her existence and her martyrdom. Nevertheless, St Agatha is one of the most highly venerated virgin martyrs. By tradition, she died in the persecution of Decius in 251 AD.
According to tradition she suffered cruel torture, her breasts were pierced with pincers and she was healed by St Peter. Then she was then subjected to torture by hot coals and shards of glass until this was interrupted by the eruption of Mt Etna. Finally, she was sent back to prison where she died of starvation.
It is this gruesome death and the grace with which she faced it, that is reflected in the iconography of her. She is a young woman who carries severed breasts on a plate or has pincers. She sometimes displays a candle or flame, a symbol of her power against fire; a unicorn’s horn – a symbol of her virginity; or a palm branch or cross – symbols of martyrdom. Many of the images from the Renaissance and Baroque periods graphically focus on some of these details in ways that might not appeal to modern sensibilities (or mine at any rate!).
The last painting is by Zurburan and the one before that by Piero Della Francesca – which is in my opinion very poor. This heartens me as it shows that even an artist as great as he was can have an off day!
This early Baroque painting, from 1614 by Giovanni Lanfranco is more tasteful, I feel, showing St Peter healing her injuries.
In the Eastern Church, she is known as St Agatha of Palermo and icons of her tend to show the generic symbols of martyrdom, the palm branch or cross.
This is one of a series of articles written to highlight the great feasts and the saints of the Roman Canon. All are connected to a single opening essay, in which I set out principles by which we might create a canon of art for Roman Rite churches, and a schema that would guide the placement of such images in a church. (Read it here.) In these, I plan to cover the key elements of images of the Saints of the Roman Canon – Eucharistic Prayer I – and the major feasts of the year. (Read More)
The Jesuit Post, by Colten Biro, SJ on Jan 23, 2018
With two simple questions, Google’s Arts and Culture App sparked a fascinating trend:
“Is your portrait in a museum?”
“Take a selfie and search thousands of artworks to see if any look like you.”
The 2-year-old App began as an attempt to offer tours and artwork from over 1,000 museums, but the recent feature immediately made it one of the most popular Apps in both iOS App Store and Google Play. But, why?
The Face Match feature invites users to take a selfie of themselves, then it compiles a list of artworks similar to your face—offering percentages of how similar the artwork is to the selfie. These side-by-side comparisons have gone viral often because they capture so striking a resemblance or because App’s limitations make the comparison at times so comically wrong.
Yet, this doesn’t quite explain the popularity of the trend—unless it’s about something more than just a selfie game. Perhaps, this is about appreciating our own beauty. Maybe we are fascinated by this side-by-side image of a selfie and a work of art, because we all want to believe deep down in our very bones: each of us is a work of art.
This isn’t just something similar to the #nofilter movement offering a raw glimpse into a moment, but the side-by-side comparison of selfie-vs-artwork makes a value statement: we stand beside art, or stated differently—we are more than the selfie; we are works of art.
In the same way, the artwork in the Google Arts and Culture App seeks to inspire a deeper appreciation of the power that art and beauty have to move us. It reminds us that “art” does not contain some sort of simple quantifiable value; it is a matter of appreciation, wonder, and awe. And perhaps, that is the most amazing thing about this trend: it invites the us to look at ourselves and others as more than objects or portraits, but to see ourselves and others in comparison to artwork.
Despite our minor flaws, smudges, and even our shortcomings, we are more than just the images we post to Instagram. The very act of creating a pairing or comparison between ourselves and works of art, reminds us of something that we don’t often think or hear enough: we are beautiful and we are loved.
In some way, this trend might even invite us into a small understanding of the way in which God views us. As Anthony de Mello, SJ once encouraged: “Behold God beholding you… and smiling.” Imagine if we loved ourselves and others as much as God loves us, as wonderful works of art.
So, we can laugh at the comparisons. We can pause at the resemblances. We can giggle at the percentages. But hopefully, the trend invites us into a deeper understanding of the art of creation encapsulated not just in a museum but within ourselves.
I am often asked for recommendations of classes that would be good for Catholics to learn traditional iconography. One place to consider is Hexaemeron.org which has just announced the first of its icon painting and icon carving courses for 2018. They are now taking students for their ‘Six Days of Creation’ integrated series of workshops for different levels of experience. Go to their site for more details.
Furthermore, you can earn credit on these classes from Pontifex University that would be recognized as part of studio requirement of their Master of Sacred Arts degree. Again, details can be found at Hexaemeron.org and www.Pontifex.University.
Hexaemeron.org a non-profit based in the US which was founded in 2003 which offers short courses and workshops in a variety of locations around the world but has its main focus in North America. It is founded by Orthodox Christians and is welcoming and respectful to Roman and Byzantine Catholics.
All their classes in painting, carving and embroidery are always of the highest quality and the work of two of their teachers has been featured in the past on this site. Some readers will be familiar with painter Marek Czarnecki, who is Catholic. I wrote about two icons of Western saints that he painted for Our Lady of the Mountains, in Jasper Georgia, here.
Here is his Saint Cecilia:
Another teacher that readers may be familiar with is the Canadian icon carver, Jonathan Pageau. Here is his icon of Jonah.
“Geometric pattern is the abstract art of Christianity.”
We tend to think of abstract as something that has come about only within the last one hundred years. But liturgical artists have had their own form of abstract art for nearly two thousand years. Geometric pattern is the abstract art of Christianity.
God made all of creation, visible and invisible, to teach us about Himself. When we perceive the order and pattern that is inherent in creation, the numbers that underlie all of creation, we see the thumbprint of God.
Geometrical forms, built up from mathematical (numerical) forms, are a symbolic expression of Christian Truth. They represent the thoughts of God.
In the Christian world, numbers have both a quantitative meaning and a qualitative meaning. They tell us the amount of some thing (quantity) but they also tell us about the thing itself. (qualitative.)
A carton of a dozen eggs, for example, holds a quantity of 12 eggs. But the number 12 also has a symbolic meaning. it may represent the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 apostles, 12 signs of the zodiac, or 12 months of the year. Which of these symbols the number represents will depend on the context in which it is used.
In the context of a work of sacred art, depending on the other elements of the work, 12 eggs could represent the New Covenant, a new Church emerging from the “sealed tomb” of the old Law, resting on the foundation of the twelve apostles.
But this qualitative and quantitative language of numbers can also be used to construct abstract, i.e. non-representational, patterns that can lead us to contemplate heavenly things. Medieval manuscript paintings often have a geometric pattern serving as the background as a symbol of the order of heaven.
The work above is a design for a church floor, completed as part of the Masters of Sacred arts program at Pontifex University. It incorporates a specific type of scrolling pattern known as a guilloche. This is a meditation on Christ in the form of a geometric pattern.
Down the middle axis of the design are three shapes. The first shape at the top contains the symbol for “alpha,” the first letter of the Greek Alphabet, The bottom shape holds the symbol for “omega,” the last letter. Alpha and omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end, come together in the middle in a “Christogram” a symbol (Read More)
Will you engage this moment
with kindness or with cruelty,
with love or with fear,
with generosity or scarcity,
with a joyous heart or an embittered one?
This is your choice
and no one can make it for you.
If you choose kindness, love, generosity, and joy,
then you will discover in that choice
the Kingdom of God,
It is your choice
just where you will reside.
Rabbi Rami Shapiro, The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness: Preparing to Practice
“We cannot let rejection settle into our hearts, for then we will allow ourselves to be content with less than we are capable of. Rejection is simply a way to let us know we still have work to do.”
Rejection and failure are facts of our existence. When an artist’s work is rejected or negatively critiqued, he or she is often told “don’t take it personally, they are not rejecting you, just your work.” This is a reflection of post-enlightenment thinking that considers art an end unto itself. It considers art in a vacuum, unrelated to the context in which it was created or the purpose it serves because to our modern way of thinking, those considerations are irrelevant.
I don’t think any artist of any genre has ever been consoled by the thought that “they are not rejecting you, just your work.”
Why is that?
If our work is less than what we are capable of, then it should be critiqued. Negative criticism should spur us on to better the quality of our work. But first we have to understand the proper use of our gifts.
As Christians we have been sent out into the world to preach the message of the Gospel, the message of Christ. We have each been given different gifts to accomplish this. These gifts are unique to each one of us, they are part of who we are, part of our identity. Whether we are painters designers, actors, writers, engineers, or accountants, our gifts are part of what makes us unique individuals. To criticize an expression of our gifts is to criticize a part of our identity.
In order to spread the Word with our gifts, we are taught that we are to become the Word to such a degree that it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. A properly formed Christian will preach Christ in all his words and actions using the gifts God has given him.
This means that the properly formed Christian artist will always produce work that reflects that message whether it is a portrait that shows us the light of God shining on and emanating from an individual, or a cartoon that brings us joy which is also from God. To a Christian artist who has discovered his true vocation there is no separation between himself, his work, and his mission.
So when we do encounter rejection we have to (Read More)
This, past Sunday, January 21st,
Early and Eastern images portray Agnes without attributes (example), and even as late as this 9th-century Roman mosaic she is pictured as simply a generic virgin martyr. But as early as the sixth century she begins to be portrayed with a lamb, as in the second picture at right. The lamb becomes the attribute most commonly used to identify her. This is because her name is so close to the Latin agnus, “lamb,” which is additionally a reference to Christ, the Agnus Dei or “Lamb of God” of the Christian liturgy and John 1:29-31.
To emphasize this symbolism some portraits even give the lamb a halo (example). Besides the lamb and the palm branch, Agnes may be portrayed with the sword of her martyrdom (example) or standing on the flames that parted in her story (example). In the first picture on the right, the whole martyrdom episode is added in a small area in the lower left of the canvas. Additionally, her portraits sometimes add an open book, as in the third picture at right. Usually, in western images, her hair is long and blond, as in the first and third pictures at right and this example. Ercole Ferrata The Death of St. Agnes 1660-64 Marble, over the life-size High altar of Sant’Agnese in Agone, Rome This is not exactly St. Agnes’s death because in the legend the fire is miraculously quenched and the saint dies later. More of St. Agnes
6th century Mosaic, above and below, detail from the procession of female saints on the left wall of the nave in Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna from the same period
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Without realizing it, we fill
important places in each others’ lives.
It’s that way with the guy at the corner grocery, the mechanic at the local garage,
the family doctor, teachers, neighbors, coworkers. Good people who are always “there,”
who can be relied upon in small,
important ways. People who teach us,
bless us, encourage us, support us,
uplift us in the dailiness of life.
We never tell them.
I don’t know why, but we don’t.
And, of course, we fill that role ourselves. There are those who depend on us,
watch us, learn from us, take from us. And we never know.
You may never have proof of your importance,
but you are more important than you think.
There are always those who couldn’t do without you.
The rub is that you don’t always know who.
“He who does Christ’s work, must stay with Christ always.”
One of the greatest Christian artists is Giovanni Fiesole, better known to the world as Blessed Fra Angelico, the “Angelic Brother.” Fra Angelico is a patron saint for artists. His style of painting beautifully bridges the iconographic and gothic traditions. Giorgio Vasari, author of “Lives of the Artists,” referred to Angelico as a “rare and perfect talent.”
Very little of his writings have survived the centuries but one phrase still resonates, more than 400 years after his death. “He who does Christ’s work, must stay with Christ always.”
Saint Paul, in his letter to the Galatians said something similar. “I live; yet now, it is not I, but truly Christ, who lives in me. And though I live now in the flesh, I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and who delivered himself for me.” Galatians 2:20
What does it mean when Paul tells us it is no longer he who lives but Christ who lives in him? What does it mean to stay with Christ always?
In Paul’s time it was believed that the only way to have a right relationship with God was to follow the law, the Ten Commandments and all the thousands of rules that derive from them.
But Paul rejected this idea and preached that the only road to justification, to having that right relationship with God, is through faith in Jesus Christ.
It is not enough to simply “follow the rules” and stay out of trouble. If that is all we do then we are trying to achieve heaven by our own merits. God wants more from us than that.
God invites us into a relationship of friends and family, a relationship of love. This type of relationship is a living, dynamic one. To love Christ and to want to be near Him is to be crucified with Him.
It means standing up for the Truth even when it is unpopular. It means finding time to pray. It means that we stay faithful to the teachings of Jesus. And it means that when we fail, we humbly confess our sins as we would apologize to a friend we have hurt, so that that relationship can be restored.
It means that we must reflect Christ to the whole world, so that when people look at us they do not see us, they see Christ.
For the Artist this means we (Read More)
Try it for 30 days, and if you don’t like it, we’ll return you misery with interest!
Here’s a quick and simple exercise I have been doing daily for nearly 30 years and it has brought such spectacularly positive results in my life that have accumulated steadily and incrementally ever since I started.
Every day, I jot down on a scrap of paper a ‘gratitude list’.
The gratitude list is a list of good and beautiful things that have been given to me today for which I offer thanks to God. I put down the ‘essentials’ of life that are true for today, for example, I am alive, I have a bed to sleep in today, I have somewhere to live, food for today, clothes to wear and so on. I then put down all the little events specific to that day that go beyond what is necessary for life, you might call these ‘luxuries’, for example, sunshine on this January day (sorry New Hampshire), a kind word here, the relationships with others that I have and so on.
Actually writing the list is important – it forces me to crystallize the thought in my mind that much more concretely and makes the exercise more powerful. So nice thoughts in the shower, or on my morning walk don’t count. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that but it doesn’t work as well for this exercise. I reach for pen and paper.
Also, I don’t wait to feel grateful before I put them down – I write down what I ought to feel grateful for! The idea is that this exercise changes how we feel, and we grow in gratitude over time even if we don’t start out that way. So right now I am grateful for a huge cup of steaming coffee! Fantastic!
Then I go further, I write down the bad things happening in my day and thank God for those too.
It may sound perverse, but this is powerful for turning around my attitude to what is happening to me. I believe that all that is good comes from God and that once we hand ourselves over to his protection and care he will look after us. While it is undeniable that there is evil and suffering in the world, these things to do not come from God, for a God that is all good cannot be the creator of something bad. Rather, (Read More)
The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ (1881-1955)