Two Flemish masterpieces of the Annunciation

Today, March 25, is the Feast of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel appeared unto Mary and she assented to God’s plan for her that she be the mother of the Savior.

This episode has been a major theme of artists for centuries.  Today we’ll consider two versions of the Annunciation, both Flemish, and painted within a few years of each other in the 15th century.  Both are in collections of major American museums.

The first Annunciation is at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and was painted by Jan Van Eyck:

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Richard Cork wrote a column about this Van Eyck Annunciation in the Wall Street Journal a year ago:

…in a tall, narrow painting made about 1435, executed with mesmerizing precision and a wealth of meanings, [Jan van Eyck] removes the setting from the Virgin’s home. Instead, “The Annunciation” now occurs in a richly detailed church. By breaking away from the domestic context favored in so many other treatments of the subject, van Eyck creates an image packed with coded messages about the triumph of the new faith over the old scriptures.

…As for the Angel, van Eyck has transformed this divine messenger into a magnificent apparition….

…there is nothing remotely alarming about this radiant messenger, and the words that issue, in Latin, from his parted lips confirm his innate gentleness: “Hail, full of grace.” Although Mary seems hesitant, she responds by declaring: “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord.” Yet her words are not addressed simply to the Angel. Van Eyck paints them upside-down and back to front, so that God may read them more easily from his heavenly vantage.

As well as evoking a God of Love rather than a stern God of Judgment, this inexhaustible painting is packed with references to the old Scriptures and the victory of the new faith, Christianity. Why did van Eyck set his “Annunciation” in a church? As our eyes travel over this superbly convincing location, we realize that he is telling us a great deal about the larger meaning of the dramatic event occurring here. At the top, God stands isolated in a stained-glass window and personifies the ancient Jewish belief that He was alone. But gradually, as we move down the church, the old insistence on a solitary deity is replaced by the Christian Trinity. Symbolically ranged behind Mary’s face are three windows, announcing the triple identity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost.

read the whole piece here

for more about the Richard Cork’s column, read a post from 2013 on the blog Supremacy and Survival

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The second painting of the Annunciation is the Merode Altarpiece, painted by Robert Campin around the year 1430, so roughly contemporary with the Van Eyck, above. 

Due to some technical difficulties with my blog today, I haven’t been able to load a photo of the altarpiece, but I will do so as soon as that issue is resolved.  In the meantime, you can see the Merode Altarpiece by clicking here.  If you find yourself in New York you can see the painting in person at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Here’s an excerpt from a 2006 Essay by Chet Raymo on the Merode Altarpiece:

This quietly unfolding drama is set in a typical 15th-century Flemish household. Beyond the open door of the courtyard and the window of Joseph’s shop we glimpse of the busy life of the town, Europe coming alive with commerce and technical innovation. What is most striking about the painting is the artist’s keen eye for “things,” for the mechanical accouterments of the rising middle class, and for the ways in which material goods are used to reinforce and symbolize the spiritual message.

The year is about 1430. It is the same time that Fra Angelico was painting another "Annunciation," one that is medieval in its simple, ethereal setting. It is also the time that Gutenburg was beginning his experiments with movable type. In the Merode Altarpiece we are poised on a cusp of history between the Middle Ages and modern times, between a world of spirit and a world of matter. The angel announces a message of otherworldliness and detachment. The “things” in the painting presage the scientific and technological revolution that is about to transform Western culture.

The master of the Merode Altarpiece is much taken by the textures of wood, metal, cloth, and stone. Here is the carefully crafted wrought iron of the candle holders and fire irons, the gleaming brass of the hanging wash basin, and the sharp-edged steel of Joseph’s tools. Here are things the well-to-do Flemish burgher would be proud to have in his household: the fine iron lock, the lacquered wood and metal towel rack, the fine porcelain vase, the splendid carved oak settle. Two lovingly protected books, one of them in Mary’s hands. The garments of the angel and the Virgin are rich and trimmed with gold.

On Joseph’s bench there is a clever mechanical mousetrap that gives the work its popular title, “The Madonna of the Mousetrap.” It is a “better” mousetrap, perhaps, that perennial symbol of progress and invention. With this one delightful image the artist has captured the spirit of his time: mechanical, inventive, forward-looking, preoccupied with matter and force. In the century that followed the painting of the Merode Altarpiece, science and technology consolidated a new alliance that led directly to the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, and to a new era of material well-being for a large part of humankind.

The altarpiece evokes a harmony of material and spiritual concerns. In this simple household scene, rendered on a cusp of history, the Flemish master has given us a vision of two worlds in perfect balance.

read the whole essay here:

Science Musings: Two Worlds in Perfect Balance

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More about the Feast of the Annunciation:

- my post from 2013 with many links

- my post from 2012 with images of the Annunciation in art

Tags: annunciation

Quick Takes: Mostly Lent

We are now coming to the end of the first full week in Lent.  At this point you might have an idea of how your chosen Lenten practices are working and might want to add a little more.  Or maybe you are looking for a renewed focus for Lent? 

To supplement my Lenten post from earlier in the month, this week’s takes will provide more links and resources for Lent.

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1.

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A couple of days ago I discovered the “Lenten Reflections With Cardinal Dolan” app from EWTN.  I downloaded the free app for my android phone at the Google Play Store and it might be available via iTunes as well.  The reflections are delivered with Cardinal Dolan’s usual verve and insight, and are each about one minute in length.

If the app isn’t your speed, you can also find each current day’s video reflection here.  Additionally, the same reflections are also available via dvd:

"A Lenten Journey with Timothy Cardinal Dolan" is available on DVD through the EWTN Religious Catalogue.

 This DVD includes all 47 segments for each day of Lent, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.

 To get your copy, log on to our website, www.ewtnreligiouscatalogue.com 24 hours a day, 7days a week or call 1-800-854-6316.

For more Lenten apps, read Sarah Reinhard’s piece.
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more daily reflections:
Last week I mentioned the Lenten reflections offered by Father Robert Barron, which are delivered each day via email.  You can still sign up to receive the reflections.  I have found reading these reflections to be a fruitful Lenten practice.  Here is an example from Lent Day 6, "5 simple ways to deepen your prayer life during Lent":
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For anyone who wonders what to give up for Lent:

Does it come down to this every year? Waiting until the last minute to decide what to give up for Lent? Lucky for you, we understand that Lent tends to creep up on us and that it’s hard to figure out what’s the best thing (or things) to give up for Lent. Don’t let this Lenten season pass you by without deciding what to give up, what to add on, or what to pray about for the next 40 days.
You can follow @WhatToGiveUp on Twitter and receive a daily tweet suggesting a simple Lenten activity. 
read more on the What to Give Up website
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The Aggie Catholics blog, part of the website of St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M University, is a wonderful resource year-round for all things Catholic, but especially in Lent.  Every year, Aggie Catholics puts out a mega-Lenten post filled with information and links.  You can find the huge Lent 2014 post here.

Also, you can check the site daily to find a short Lenten reflection.
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Three years ago I posted images from each of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary on 5 successive Fridays in Lent.  I find the images helpful when I’m meditating on the mysteries as I pray the rosary, and I hope they will help you also. Here are the links:

The Agony in the Garden

The Scourging at the Pillar

The Crowning with Thorns

The Carrying of the Cross

The Crucifixion

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In case you were wondering, Catholics are free to eat alligator on Fridays in Lent.  The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has ruled that alligators are not meat, and can be consumed on days of abstinence from meat (Fridays in Lent and Ash Wednesday):

Abstinence laws consider that meat comes only from animals such as chickens, cows, sheep or pigs – all of which live on land. Birds are also considered meat… Fish are a different category of animal. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, (cold-blooded animals) and shellfish are permitted.

read more:

Catholic Herald article

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And finally, I can’t let the post go by without mentioning that yesterday, March 13, was the one-year anniversary of the announcement that the conclave had chosen Pope Francis.  There are tons of articles and links; here are few that caught my eye:

- The Vatican Internet office has put together a 70-page online picture book of the first year of Pope Francis. The cover is shown, above.

- In honor of the papal anniversary, the Jesuit Post created a “Playlist 4 Pontifex”

- If you want to send Pope Francis a message on his anniversary, you can do so via Facebook, Twitter or direct message using the hashtag #ThankYouFrancis. Messages with that hashtag are being posted on the site www.graziefrancesco.com and delivered to Pope Francis in person.

- On his anniversary, Pope Francis tweeted, simply, “Please pray for me.”

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Jen of Conversion Diary hosts Quick Takes Friday each week; head over to her post to check out the many, many Quick Takes posts by bloggers near and far.

Lenten Resources

The penitential season of Lent is coming up quickly; Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of 6+ weeks on praying, fasting and giving in preparation for Easter.  Here are some wonderful resources to help you have a more fruitful Lent.  I’ll add more as I come across them in the coming days.

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The website Busted Halo has put together a Lenten calendar called “Fast, Pray, Give”:

Traditionally, Lent was a time for personal conversion leading up to Easter, during which Christians practiced the spiritual disciplines of fasting, praying and almsgiving to strip away all that is unnecessary and become more mindful of their ultimate dependence on God. Let’s recapture the true meaning of Lent in ways that are actually relevant to your life. Each day throughout Lent, starting on Ash Wednesday, the calendar’s link for that day will become active, revealing a Daily Jolt for spiritual contemplation relating to Lent, and new and practical ideas for fasting, prayer and almsgiving. - source

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From the wonderful Fr. Robert Barron of Word on Fire: You can sign up for free for daily Lenten meditations.

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Also from Word on Fire, a Tre Ore CD set featuring Fr. Barron’s reflections on the Seven Last Words:

"The Three Hours’ Agony" or Tre Ore is a liturgical service held on Good Friday from noon until 3 o’clock to commemorate the Passion of Christ. Specifically, it refers to the three hours that Jesus hung on the Cross and includes a series of homilies on the seven last words spoken by Christ. Father Barron was invited by Timothy Cardinal Dolan to preside over the Tre Ore service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, and the content of his presentation is featured here. - source

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Are you wondering what on earth to do for Lent?  Catholic All Year’s post “Outside the box: 66 things to give up or take up for Lent (in beginner, intermediate, and advanced)" can give you some ideas.

If those are not enough, the blog Held By His Pierced Hands suggests “100 things to do for Lent.”

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And if it’s books you seek this season, see Simcha Fisher’s Reading Suggestions for Lent.

Additionally, Amy Welborn posted a list of Lenten resources; books written by her and/or he husband Michael Dubriel.

updated to add:

Here’s a wonderful list of Lenten links, "Lent for the Perpetually Late (a collection of resources)" posted by the blog Surviving Our Blessings

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This post is the last of seven posts that I’ve written in seven days. To check out other bloggers who did the same, see the list here.

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Tags: lent

The Roman Station Churches

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- ceiling of the St Zenon chapel of St. Praxedes church, one of the Lenten station churches of Rome - source

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For 17 centuries Christians in Rome have observed the Lenten practice of visiting 40 different churches - the “Station Churches” - during Lent.

Here’s a Rome Reports video about the Station Churches:

The Pontifical North American College in Rome has a wonderful webpage with detailed information about the station churches

Audio guides to the Roman Station Churches can be downloaded through The PNAC Station Church Podcast.

In an interview with the Inside EWTN blog, Cardinal Dolan recounted that his most memorable Lenten practice was visiting the station churches:

“Those Lenten station churches for me provided an extraordinarily memorable Lent, fulfilling each of those three mandates we have from Jesus himself for a good Lent: prayer, sacrifice, and service to others.”

The Inside EWTN post continues:

Wow! Outside of moving to Rome for Lent, how can we make this idea relevant for those of us who live elsewhere? - source

The blog provides some concrete suggestions for how we might make a similar Lenten pilgrimage even if we can’t get to Rome in person to visit the station churches.  

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One recommendation is to read Roman Pilgrimage, George Weigel’s book on the Station Churches.  It gives information about each of the churches and provides a Lenten meditation for each one.

Weigel was interviewed by NPR about his book:

"Pilgrimage is something built into the human condition," says George Weigel, author of Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches. "There seems to be something hardwired into us, spiritually, that the idea of a journey from A to B becomes part of the rhythm of the spiritual life."

"I discovered the station church pilgrimage 20 years ago, but I did the whole thing for the first time in 2011. … It secures one’s understanding that Christianity is not a pious myth, a nice "narrative," to use the word of the day. It’s grounded in the experience of real people who lived real lives, often under very difficult circumstances, at a time we can know and in places that we can still touch." - source

Read

- the post in Inside EWTN

- NPR interview with George Weigel

- The Roman Station Liturgy, Pontifcal North American College

- Vatican Website, Lenten Stations

Find George Weigel’s Roman Pilgrimage book here

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I’m writing seven posts in seven days this week. To check out other bloggers who are doing the same, see the list here.

Quick Takes: Modern Icons and Byzantine Mosaics

This week’s quick takes are all related to icons and Byzantine mosaics.

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1.

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The icon above is a beautiful modern icon of St. Michael, made by Jonathan Pageau in the opus sectile style (stone joined with stone)

Read more about this icon in an article Pageau wrote on the Orthodox Arts Journal site, including lots of process photos.

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If you hang around the icon world, especially in America, invariably you’ll hear the phrase “to write an icon.”  This stems from the Russian language (mirroring the Greek) word for creating an icon, which is the same as writing.  Additionally, icons are thought to be a form of scripture in image form which further justifies the term.  The usage has always seemed a bit awkward to me, and I was interested to read a lively discussion of the terminology on the Orthodox Arts Journal.  Mary Lowell wrote a piece, "Is Write Wrong? A Discussion of Iconology Lingo":

For starters, being purposely odd serves no honest purpose. Saying that one “writes” an icon can be, and sometimes is, “affected jargon” – a kind of NEON Orthodox-speak of the cognoscenti who insist upon the verbiage as the only proper way to refer to the process and the product. As has been demonstrated, Russian use of the term “to write” is a part of their fine arts vocabulary and is used “to describe the process of making a painting – any painting, not just an icon”.

The English language has none of the imbedded linguistic references that my Russian respondents have noted which would indicate a preference for the use of “write” over “paint”. A surface filled with theologically didactic-delivery can be spoken of as being either painted or written without suffering diminishment. There are no canons requiring or restricting this verbiage in English derived from Russian via Greek and possibly Italian influences (see footnote 4). As one respondent said, “In English, I prefer ‘to paint icons’ and ‘write letters’.”

At the same time, those who police the verbiage to exclude the use of “write, writing, written” in English can be equally totalitarian to the point of correcting Russians. Used metaphorically the adopted terminology (albeit having a specific Russian linguistic basis) can be revelatory to English-speakers as to the particular purpose of icons, that is to articulate through images the textual content to which icons refer. In this sense an icon can be said to be “written” for the right reasons.

The greater risk of implementing derivative iconology-lingo is in harkening to Russian/Greek imports as an opportunity for Gnostic invention. Again, one of my respondents: “The use of the word ‘write’ has absolutely no extra or esoteric connotation. That’s simply the way things are spoken in Russian, and in our language and culture it all makes sense. But when transplanted into English, such direct translations may come across as having some additional hidden meaning.”

Read:

- the entire article by Mary Lowell

- and follow up thoughts by Andrew Gould.  

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The Graphic Arts Collection of Princeton University’s Firestone Library has recently acquired a group of “paper icons,” woodcuts and engravings made in Poland for the Monastery of Saint Catherine in the Sinai:

…the graphic arts collection has acquired sixteen early religious woodcuts and engravings made for the Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sinai. The prints, which have been dated from 1688 to the early 18th century, are among the earliest known religious prints produced for circulation in the Orthodox East.

The woodcuts were printed mainly in Lwow, Poland, under the patronage and at the expense of the Greek trader Hatzikyriakis Vourliotis. This collection is unique in many ways, not the least of which is the very presence of such early prints from wood, a technique abandoned in the early 18th century and replaced by copper engraving.  As Deluga notes, “Few have survived to our day, and they are generally considered a rarity; many are known in a unique impression.” - source

read more on Princeton’s Graphic Arts site.

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The Redemptorist nuns in Dublin, describe themselves as:

an enclosed contemplative community of religious women. Our life is centered around the Liturgy of the Hours, the Eucharist, personal prayer and contemplation.

These nuns have a thriving practice of iconology. Click over to see photos of many individual icons, quite lovely.

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I came across a fascinating article about Thomas Whittemore, who restored the great Hagia Sophia in the 1930s. Here are the opening sentences:

On a summer night in June 1929, the 12th to be exact, the American Thomas Whittemore, English professor, Egyptian archaeologist, Russian relief worker and restorer of the mosque of Ayasofya, the former church of Haghia Sophia in Istanbul, dined with eight friends at the city’s finest hotel. This was the Hotel Tokatlian, located on the Grande Rue de Péra, now İstiklâl Caddesi, next to the Cité de Péra, today the Çiçek Pasajı. - source

Read the entire article on Cornucopia, a site about Turkish culture.

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Earlier this week I wrote a post about the Heaven and Earth Byzantine exhibit that is finishing its run at the National Gallery in Washington DC and will be at the Getty in LA this summer.  To complement the exhibit The National Gallery produced a short film, Five Byzantine Churches:

This film presents still and original moving footage of historically significant Byzantine churches in Greece. Set to the music of Byzantine hymns and chants, the film evokes the original context of many works of art in the exhibition Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections at the National Gallery of Art, October 6, 2013–March 2, 2014. - source

You can view the film on the NGA site, here.

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For the entire month of February, 2014 Lichfield Cathedral in England has hosted a display of the icons of Ian Knowles, Director of the Bethlehem Icon School.  In conjunction with the exhibit, Knowles has presented related lectures, a workshop, and has been artist in residence at the cathedral this week:

more:

- on the Lichfield Cathedral site, here and here.

- To see icons painted by Ian Knowles, visit his website:

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Tags: icons

Fence with Crosses

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My favorite Mexican restaurant has a fence that is quite distinctive, not just because of its vibrant red color but because of the cross cutouts that are regularly spaced along the entire length of the fence. 

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I love visiting this restaurant and seeing this gesture of faith.

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The restaurant also has a collection of Our Lady of Guadalupe statues in the women’s restroom but I don’t have any photographs of that.

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I’m writing seven posts in seven days this week. To check out other bloggers who are doing the same, see the list here. I’m adding this post to the linkup Theme Thursday: Fences at Cari’s. (I think I might be cheating because I didn’t take the fence pictures this week, but when I saw the theme I just had to share my favorite fence.)

Five Favorites: images of the Madonna and Child

One of the most beautiful and most common themes in Christian sacred art is that of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus.  There are countless variations on the Madonna and Child theme; I’ve chosen five favorites with similar poses but differing styles.

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Gentile da Fabriano, Madonna and Child, 1424, Yale Art Gallery

I was captivated the first time I saw this painting, nearly 40 years ago, and wrote a paper about this work for my one of my undergraduate art history classes, since lost to the mists of time.  Typical of medieval and Renaissance religious art, each element of the painting has symbolic meaning: “The figures are surrounded with red and white roses (called blooms of Paradise) as symbols of the Virgin’s purity, as well as pomegranates, signifying immortality and the Resurrection.” - source

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Virgin and Child mosaic, 12th century, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

This stunning mosaic is found in the church of Hagia Sophia, later turned a mosque. When the building was made into a museum, the original mosaics were uncovered and restored.

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Mikhail Vrubel, Madonna and Child, 1884

Vrubel was a Russian artist active in the late 1800’s, and is considered the father of Russian Art Nouveau.  In this Madonna he was somewhat influenced by Russian icons which is reflected in the overall setup of this painting but his faces are much more expressive.

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Cranach, Virgin and Child under an Apple Tree, 1520, oil on canvas, transferred from panel, Hermitage Museum, Russia

The apples in the painting are symbolic of the sin and fall of Adam and Eve.  Christ, the new Adam, will redeem mankind and conquer sin.

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Maurice Denis, Madonna of the Lilies, woodcut

Maurice Denis was a French Roman Catholic painter who was dedicated to creating sacred art of beauty in the early 20th century.  The lily is often associated with Mary, because it is a symbol of purity.

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For more of my favorite paintings of the Madonna and Child, see this post from 2011

Linking this with Hallie’s Five Favorites post this week.

I’m writing seven posts in seven days this week. To check out other bloggers who are doing the same, see the list here.

Tuesday Tour: Church of Our Lady, “Obere Pfarre,” Bamberg, Germany

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Today’s Tuesday Tour takes us to the Pfarrkirche zu Unserer Lieben Frau, a very old parish church up on a steep hill in Bamberg, Germany.  Although the name of this church is usually translated as Church of Our Lady, the way I read German (admittedly not very good) it seems Church of Our Beloved Lady would be more accurate, and more endearing also.

The church has the nickname of "Ober Pfarre" or Upper Church, reflecting its hillside site on the steep Kaulberg.  The photo below was taken from downhill and shows beautiful Gothic choir on the eastern end of the church, which was constructed at a somewhat later date than the plainer western end of the church.

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We saw - and photographed - this church on a March 2008 visit to Germany.  The day we arrived in Bamberg it was snowing but by the next day the sun came out and we were rewarded with different views of the buildings we had seen under gray skies the day before.  I took photos of this church on both days.

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The current church is located on the site of two earlier churches.  The present structure was built over the course of two hundred or more years, beginning in the 14th century.  The church has retained its Gothic exterior, but the interior was redecorated in Baroque style in 1711.

In the intervening time since I visited, the church has been in the process of significant renovation work, beginning in 2011.

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In the photo above, you can see the Baroque elements of the nave, notably the ceiling.

The photo below is of the famous “Brides portal” showing the 7 wise and 7 foolish virgins from the Bible story found in of the Gospel of Matthew.

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Here’s a late Gothic sculptural grouping of the Agony in the Garden on the west side of the church:

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more:

click here for a lovely photograph showing the exterior of the choir and the brides portal, and here for a photo of the Baroque ceiling of the nave.

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I’m writing seven posts in seven days this week. To check out other bloggers who are doing the same, see the list here.

Museum Monday: Between Heaven and Earth Byzantine exhibit

Today I’m starting a blog feature that I’ve been thinking about for a long time.  It’s called Museum Monday and will provide information about museums, their exhibits, programs, publications and the like.  While I cannot promise a museum post every single Monday, this week brings an exhibit that has lots of personal interest for me. 

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“Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium From Greek Collections” has been at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. for the past few months and runs through March 2, 2014.  After a month for travel and installation the exhibit will be on view April 9 through Aug. 25 at the Villa location of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

The National Gallery’s press release describes the exhibit:

In the first exhibition devoted to Byzantine art at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, some 170 rare and important works, drawn exclusively from Greek collections, will offer a fascinating glimpse of the soul and splendor of the mysterious Byzantine Empire. On view in the West Building from October 6, 2013, through March 2, 2014, Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections will trace the development of Byzantine visual culture from the fourth to the 15th century, beginning with the ancient pagan world of the late Roman Empire and continuing to the opulent and deeply spiritual world of the new Christian Byzantine Empire. - source

Reviews of the exhibit have been quite favorable.  Here are a few:

-The ByzBets site’s review, “My kind of heaven: Byzantium at the National Gallery of Art, DC”

The show boasts 170 works from both public and private collections in Greece. I am particularly excited that of the over 1,000 years of art represented in the exhibition, the art from the Palaiologan dynasty forms one of the five thematic sections. That means there will be more attention to the inter-influence between Byzantine and Western artists, crusaders, and patrons. The press release from the NGA indicates there will also be a companion volume to the show with essays on archaeology and important cites within Byzantium.

- from the New York Times, “Social Media, the Spiritual Version”

it’s ambushingly resplendent, like a somber cloud with a fire inside.  With around 170 objects — icons, mosaics, frescoes, jewelry and embroideries, illuminated books — all on loan, the show takes a processional sweep through Byzantine art from its Greco-Roman beginnings to its multicultural late phase in the 15th century, with an emphasis on its development in Greece itself.

How Byzantine icons worked can be difficult to convey to modern Western viewers raised on the arm’s-length, quasi-objective ethic of art appreciation.

Icons weren’t just objects, nor were they art, as we understand the term. They were living, interactive entities wired into the world. In a way, they functioned as a spiritual version of social media, connecting and channeling energies among scattered, friendly and largely invisible parties, earthly and celestial.

Relationships with icons could also be hands-on personal. Approached with an ardent, trusting spirit, they listened to you, looked at you, took you in. Because they had invigorating properties, you touched them, kissed them, coddled them. You asked favors of them: please give this, protect me from that. And if the favors weren’t granted, you could scold them, temporarily unfriend them. That was allowed. They were companions, guardians and courts of last resort.

That they were often beautiful contributed to their charisma, and there are extremely beautiful images in this show. And that beauty, although framed by stylistic conventions, is surprisingly varied. - source

- Washington Post article “National Gallery’s ‘Heaven and Earth’ showcaes Byzantium’s artistic riches”:

Throughout the more than 1,000 years of culture surveyed in the National Gallery of Art exhibition “Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections,” Western Europe was a provincial backwater, a land of grubby kings, shifting borders and fractious states. Byzantium, the empire that dominated what was once the East of the Roman world, enjoyed by contrast relatively high literacy, a stable political, religious and bureaucratic culture, and, for those at the top, great luxury, articulated in glass, metal, stone and fine parchment.

The challenge of the exhibition is the perennial challenge of making sense of Eastern culture within a Western context: It requires first of all humility, then self-discipline and finally an acceptance of confusion, bafflement and wonder. Byzantium roughly corresponds to what students in the West grow up to believe were the Dark Ages, the long millennium and more between the decay of an aesthetic we can appreciate, derived from Rome and Greece, and the emergence of another aesthetic we adore, called the Renaissance. This in-between time seems static, naïve, unpolished, even inept.

It does us no good, however, to condescend to anything in this exhibition. And the power of its art and craft is felt only when you can unmoor yourself from both the classical world and the intimations of 15th-century Italy felt in its later chapters. - source

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If you can’t catch the exhibit in person, you can order the sumptuous exhibition catalog (pictured above).

more:

- explore the National Gallery’s exhibition page

- The National Gallery’s exhibit press release

- Washington Post article

- New York Times, “Social Media, the Spiritual Version”

- see a photo tweeted by the National Gallery of the exhibit installation

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I’m writing seven posts in seven days this week. To check out other bloggers who are doing the same, see the list here.

Quick Takes: including some beautiful music

There’s no discernible theme to this week’s Quick Takes, but there are some clips of lovely music and some recent links I found interesting.

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One of my favorite finds this week is the Lego Alpine Village Church.  The little church is quite detailed, with interior and exterior details typical of a full size church.  There are many photos of the church details, complete with theological explanations.  For example, here’s the description of the main altar:

As you look through the doors of the Lego church, you can see the main altar. This is the table where the Eucharistic Sacrifice is offered. During Mass, the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus. It’s a miracle. Jesus only died once on the cross, but He continues to offer Himself back to the Father to atone for our sins.

Above the altar is a crucifix showing Jesus on the cross. The crucifix helps people remember that Jesus offered in the Eucharist is the same Jesus that was offered on the cross. At the foot of the crucifix is St. John and His mother Mary.

The church is part of an entire Lego castle and town, which you can explore here.

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In preparation for Lent, here are Archbishop Chaput’s "Ten Ways to Deepen Our Relationship with God":

Over the years I’ve heard from many good people who want a closer relationship with God.  But they’re stymied by what they perceive as God’s silence.  What they often mean, without knowing it, is that they’d like God to do something dramatic in their lives; something with a hint of Mt. Sinai that proves his credentials.

But God typically doesn’t work that way.  He’s not in the theater business.  God wants to be loved and even in a sense “courted” – which means that we can’t be passive partners in the relationship.  We need to pursue God as we would the persons we love.

So as we make our way through these last weeks of ordinary time before Lent, here a few steps – in no particular order – that can help us draw closer to God. - source

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-source

In 2011 bags containing thousands of documents from samurai-era Japan were discovered in the Vatican library.  The Vatican has announced a new project to edit the documents:

A trove of ancient documents unearthed at the Vatican could shed light on the brutal crackdown on Christianity in isolationist Japan under its samurai rulers, scholars say.

The hoard contains about 10,000 pieces of paper, collected by an Italian priest who lived in Japan last century, mostly dating from the “Edo” period (1603-1867), when the country shut itself off from the outside world and declared Western religion illegal.

The wide-ranging collection, including memos from their curator, Father Mario Marega, who died in 1978, offers a rare opportunity to study details of how people lived through the tense religious persecution of the time, said Professor Kazuo Otomo of the National Institute of Japanese Literature.

The records, which contain annual surveys of residents’ religious affiliations, could also provide a glimpse into population changes and other sociological dynamics of early modern Japan, scholars said.

"This unusually large volume of official records show policing and crackdowns and the deprivation of religious freedom," said Otomo, who will head the six-year project to analyze and catalogue the materials, due to begin in the next 18 months.

Unlike one-off finds of a few historical documents, the 21 bags of materials discovered in the Vatican Library in 2011 should allow scholars to study the minutiae of persecution and whether it differed over time or in specific communities, he said. - source


Read the whole article
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4.

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The illustration above is the letter “A” from an 1839 architectural alphabet by Antonio Basoli.  The entire alphabet can be found here.

[hat tip: Happy Catholic]

for more, see the landscape alphabet at the British Museum.

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5.

Ave Maria, an original composition by David Fawcett. Performed at the Small Choirs Festival in Bloomsbury Baptist Church, 8 February 2014. Organist: Philip Luke. Conductor: David Fawcett. Entered for the 2013 Small Choirs Composing Competition, and awarded the Singers Prize, having been voted the favourite work in the Festival by the participating singers. - source

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- source: news.va

In case you haven’t seen it, in December the  mosaic portrait of Pope Francis was completed.  It joins portraits of the Church’s other popes at the Roman church St. Paul Outside the Walls.  Check out the photo here and here and watch a short video on the Rome Reports site.

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7.

Boston’s St. Paul Choir School, the only Roman Catholic boy choir school in the United States is celebrating its 50th year in 2014:

see more on the choir school’s website

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