Lady Wisdom, Lady Love (Artful Devotion)

Sophia by Lyuba Yatskiv
Lyuba Yatskiv (Ukrainian, 1977–), Sophia (Holy Wisdom), 2015. Design for the apse of the Church of Sophia, Wisdom of God, Ukrainian Catholic University, Lviv, Ukraine.

Wisdom has built her house;
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine;
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her young women to call
from the highest places in the town,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
To him who lacks sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”

—Proverbs 9:1–6

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Lady Wisdom, or Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia), is a female allegorical figure from the book of Proverbs (1:20–33, 2:13–18, 8:1–36, 9:1–6). I enjoyed searching for songs about her; the pool is ampler than I expected. I found a few that directly reference Sunday’s lectionary passage—“Wisdom (Has Built Her House)” by Angela Lashley, “Wisdom’s Table” by John L. Bell and Doug Gay, and “God’s Wisdom Spreads Her Table Well” by Kevin Keil—but didn’t find them as compelling as the two I settled on, below.

LATIN JAZZ INSTRUMENTAL: “Lady Wisdom” by Lannie Battistini, on Nomenclatura (2014)

FOLK ROCK: “Lady Wisdom” by PureFusion, on Elegy (2010)

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In Divine Wisdom: The Wisdom Writings of Vladimir Solovyov, Judith Deutsch Kornblatt writes,

The symbolism of icons of the Divine Sophia is far from standardized and is decidedly ambiguous. . . . Images of wisdom remain the most abstract of all holy pictures, for the Divine Sophia never existed as a real being. Even the gender of Sophia in Russian icons is ambiguous, as in different centuries and locations the personified figure is sometimes associated with Christ or Mary or depicted as an androgynous angel with “feminized” features otherwise attributed to Gabriel. (56)

In 2015 contemporary Ukrainian Catholic iconographer Lyuba Yatskiv secured a major commission to decorate the interior of the newly built Church of Sophia, Wisdom of God, on the campus of Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. Her design for the apse (the semicircular recess behind the church’s main altar), reproduced above, shows Wisdom as a winged bishop holding a cross-shaped crozier in her left hand while raising her right hand in a gesture of blessing. At her table are the wine and bread of the Eucharist, which she invites all to come and eat. The chi-rho monogram above her, with an alpha and omega on either side, is a reference to Christ, while the seven pillars bear symbols of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the bright star of the Father sheds light from above. Below Wisdom, there blossoms the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, with its four rivers flowing, and flanking her are personifications of the seven virtues.

To learn more about the project, including design proposals from other artists, click here.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.

Roundup: Jewish mosaics; New Psalm Contest; revising hymns; tree-inspired chapel; and more

I will be going on vacation soon and will be mostly unplugged, so you will notice less frequent blog posts for a few weeks. I’ll cue up some Artful Devotions to correspond with a select lectionary reading for each week while I’m gone but probably won’t be posting the links to the blog’s Twitter and Facebook pages as I usually do—so be sure to check the site instead! (Or subscribe by email by clicking the “Follow” link, located in the sidebar if viewing from your computer or at the bottom if viewing from your phone.) My regular publishing schedule will resume in September.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL FIND: “Discovery of Jewish Mosaics in Israel Bring Color to Biblical Accounts” by Sarah E. Bond: “At the ancient site of Huqoq, near the Sea of Galilee in modern Israel, a number of stunning mosaics depicting biblical, astrological, and historical narratives have been uncovered in a Jewish village that flourished during the late Roman empire. The colorful and large number of mosaics found in a synagogue challenge traditional views about Jewish art of the period as symbolic rather than representational of biblical texts, bland, and in decline during the period.”

Fish swallowing Pharoah's soldier
A giant Red Sea fish swallows one of Pharaoh’s soldiers in this mosaic detail from the late Roman (ca. 5th century) synagogue at Huqoq, Israel. Photo: Jim Haberman, via UNC-Chapel Hill.

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SONGWRITING CONTEST: “In an effort to encourage Psalm-singing, Church of the Servant [in Grand Rapids, Michigan] invites congregational songwriters to submit a Psalm-based song to its 2018 COS New Psalm Contest. The winner will receive a $500 award. There is no entry fee and the contest is open to all. Submissions must be emailed or postmarked by October 1, 2018. The song will be premiered in worship on January 27, 2019. Church of the Servant is a Christian Reformed Church with a rich history of encouraging the arts in worship. Its worship is Reformed, liturgical, participatory, eclectic, and open to creative new worship expressions.”   Continue reading “Roundup: Jewish mosaics; New Psalm Contest; revising hymns; tree-inspired chapel; and more”

An On-Time God (Artful Devotion)

Waiting by Susanne Mitchell
Susanne Mitchell (American, 1973–), Waiting (from the series Silence of the Ordinary), 2015. Oil and mixed media on canvas, 162.6 × 149.9 cm (64 × 59 in.).

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope.

—Psalm 130:5

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SONG: “Wait on the Lord” by Ben Keyes, on Were You There? Are You Here? (2007)

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O Master, my desires to work, to know,
To be aware that I do live and grow—
All restless wish for anything not thee
I yield, and on thy altar offer me.
Let me no more from out thy presence go,
But keep me waiting watchful for thy will—
Even while I do it, waiting watchful still.

—George MacDonald, from A Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul (1880)


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.

Book Review: The Faithful Artist: A Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts by Cameron J. Anderson

The Faithful Artist
296 pp. | 5 color plates, 38 halftones | Trim: 6 × 9 | Published 11/10/2016 | InterVarsity Press

“I write fully persuaded that art, in its most exalted form, can be used by God to transform women and men, to extend his common grace to the world and to lead the church to worship,” writes Cameron J. Anderson in the introduction to his book The Faithful Artist: A Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts, the second in IVP Academic’s Studies in Theology and the Arts series. Based on the title, I wasn’t sure whether the book was meant for me, a nonartist, but I found that it speaks to the evangelical church at large, whose ambivalent and sometimes hostile attitude toward art is kindheartedly challenged by this insider to both worlds. How Christian artists can faithfully pursue their vocational calling in contemporary culture is a major concern of the book, but so is how Christians of any professional background can pursue art as worship.

Since 2009 Anderson has served as executive director of Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA), a North American organization founded in 1979 with the mission of weaving serious art and serious faith into whole cloth. (It was recently announced that at the end of the year he will be retiring from this position, while continuing to be active in the organization.) Born and raised in the postwar evangelical subculture, Anderson encountered tall barriers to his vocational pursuit of the visual arts. First was his church’s utter disregard for art—their ignorance of art history and palpable disdain for modern art—which left him without a mentor. But just as formidable was the art world’s hostility to sincere, conservative religious belief.

In chapter 1, “A Double-Consciousness,” Anderson describes his dual identity as both an evangelical and an artist and the alienation he felt from both communities while attending art school in the 1970s. He says it seemed his only two options at the time were to either privatize his religious identity in the art world or produce sentimentalized art for the church—neither of which were tenable to him. Why the impasse? Part of it is due to competing stances: while evangelicalism embraces absolutes and is determined to safeguard tradition, modern art aggressively dismisses absolutes and is given to renouncing tradition. But an even bigger factor is the stereotypes each world perpetuates about the other: artists are narcissistic, profane, rebellious, elitist, while evangelicals are unsophisticated, superstitious, naive, irrelevant. Rather than seeking to interact with or understand each other, the art world and the church simply characterize each other as ridiculous.

Combating the assumption that modern art is completely devoid of any signs of faith, Anderson discusses Wassily Kandinsky, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, and other canonical artists who regularly probed spiritual reality (including, in some cases, the Christian story) in their work.

Stations of the Cross by Barnett Newman
Barnett Newman (American, 1905–1970), Stations of the Cross panoramic view (stations 3–13), 1965. Acrylic on canvases. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Photo: Hillary Kelly.

In chapter 2, “The Body They May Kill,” Anderson explores the theological significance of our embodiment, challenging the assumption held by some Christians that the spirit is good and the body is evil. “A biblical understanding of the self,” Anderson writes, “must regard physical being as an essential component of true spirituality. . . . Corporeality is not the enemy of one’s spirit but rather the stage on which moral goodness and evil are both acted out and acted on” (69, 77). He looks at how the clothed and unclothed body has been treated in the visual arts over time and in popular culture. He also reflects on the ongoing discord between faculty and administrators at Christian colleges and universities over whether art students should be allowed to draw unclothed models (figure drawing is a fundamental building block of art education), and whether such works should be displayed on campus.

Chapter 3, “Secular Sirens,” highlights how “the biblical narrative accredits substantial virtue to our sensate being” (88)—our ability to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. We know the world through our senses, and yet evangelicalism too often bypasses a role for them, save for music, in many cases fearing that the senses can enflame sexual desire. While acknowledging that an unrestrained indulgence of the senses can lead to vice, Anderson also warns that hard-and-fast resistance tempers our ability to enjoy God and his good creation. He insists on the need to hold ascetic discipline (the denial of one’s senses for some greater spiritual good) in concert with aesthetic delight (the stimulation of one’s senses through the arts).

In chapter 4, “Be Careful Little Eyes What You See,” Anderson discusses the place and meaning of religious images in biblical history onward into Protestant culture. He examines God’s commands to tear down idols against those to construct an image-filled tabernacle, a bronze serpent, and stone memorials, and Christ’s command to remember him through bread and wine.   Continue reading “Book Review: The Faithful Artist: A Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts by Cameron J. Anderson”

You Are There (Artful Devotion)

Nimbus II by Berndnaut Smilde
Berndnaut Smilde (Dutch, 1978–), Nimbus II, 2012. Lambda print, 125 × 186 cm. Saatchi Gallery, London.

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.’”

And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.

—Exodus 16:9–10

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SONG: “I Cry Out” by a ship at Sea, on Awake, Awake (2012)

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This is one of several passages in the Old Testament in which God appears to Israel in a cloud during their desert journey to the Promised Land, signifying both his aboveness and beyondness and his withness. Here he shows up in response to the Israelites’ groans of hunger, showering down quail and manna (see earlier Artful Devotion, “Open Your Mouth”).

Dovetailing with this divine manifestation described in Exodus is Berndnaut Smilde’s photograph Nimbus II, which shows a cloud hovering inside the sixteenth-century Lady Chapel (Mariakapel) in Hoorn, the Netherlands. Smilde created the cloud by misting the area with water vapor and pumping smoke from a machine; the water particles then stuck to the smoke to form a fleeting installation, lasting only about thirty seconds. The photograph plays with the idea of presence and absence: the Lady Chapel has been vacant since 1968, and yet filling the emptiness is this sign of God’s glorious presence. Like us sometimes, the ancient Israelites had trouble seeing God in their wilderness wanderings. But he was overshadowing them in his protective care the whole time. When they truly looked (per Aaron’s instruction), they saw. When they cried out, God answered.

Nimbus II is one of many photographs from Smilde’s Nimbus series, shot in a variety of locations, from museums and factories to castles and dungeons. The title is a play on words, as a nimbus is both a type of cloud and another word for halo, the divine radiance that encircles the head of Christ and the saints in religious art. For more on this series, see “An artist creates miniature clouds in spaces around the world” by Jim Martin or the book Builded Remnants. You can also take a glimpse behind the scenes in this short video, and this one.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.

How Measureless (Artful Devotion)

Breadth by Stephen Watson
Stephen Watson (American), Breadth, 2013. Tape-measure shards. From the solo exhibition “Slapdash and Sacred” at the Arnold Art Gallery, Shorter University, Rome, Georgia.

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

—Ephesians 3:18–19

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SONG: “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” | Words by Samuel Trevor Francis, 1875 | Music by Thomas J. Williams, 1890 (Tune: Ebenezer) | Performed by the John Brown University Cathedral Choir, 1997

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free,
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me,
Is the current of Thy love;
Leading onward, leading homeward
To my glorious rest above.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus—
Spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth,
Changeth never, nevermore!
How He watcheth o’er His loved ones,
Died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth,
Watcheth o’er them from the throne.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Love of ev’ry love the best;
’Tis an ocean vast of blessing,
’Tis a haven sweet of rest.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
’Tis a heav’n of heav’ns to me;
And it lifts me up to glory
For it lifts me up to Thee.

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SONG: “The Love of God” | Words and music by Frederick M. Lehman, 1917, with third verse by Rabbi Meir ben Isaac Nehorai, ca. 1050 | Performed by Jonathon Strauss Brenner, 2018

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

When hoary time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Frederick M. Lehman, the writer of this hymn, says it was inspired by lines scrawled on the walls of a psychiatric hospital cell (the third stanza), which as it turns out are from an eleventh-century Jewish liturgical poem by Rabbi Meir ben Isaac Nehorai, a cantor (Heb. hazzan) in Worms, Germany. Written in Aramaic, the ninety-line Akdamut (Prologue [to the Ten Commandments]) is chanted in Ashkenazic services on the first day of Shavuot (Pentecost) before the reading of Exodus 19–20, the revelation on Mount Sinai.

The reference to all the seas being ink and all the reeds pens is found also in Christian and Muslim traditions, as well as in earlier midrashic writings. It is unknown who originated the expression—for Jews, its ultimate formulation is the opening of Rabbi Meir’s Akdamut; Christians know it best from the hymn “The Love of God” (though it is also present in medieval Christian literature); and Muslims have it enshrined in the Koran (Surah Al-Kahf 18:109 and Surah Luqman 31:27).

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Stephen Watson is a multidisciplinary artist and an assistant professor of art at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. Many of his artworks originated as accompaniments to the Sunday services at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where they would be temporarily displayed throughout the year in the church foyer. “My art is my contribution to the church body,” says Watson, “and I aim to meaningfully expand the worship experience for the congregation with each artwork I share.” His liturgical installations are fantastic, and I plan to feature more of them in a future post. In the meantime, you can follow Watson on Instagram @stewatson.art.

Inspired by Ephesians 3:18–19, Breadth emphasizes the absurdity of trying to measure God or put limits on his love, a love that, as one of our songwriters puts it, is “vast, unmeasured, boundless, free.” The Breadth installation shown above, consisting of tape-measure shards arranged in a zigzag pattern, is from a gallery setting, but the concept has also been iterated in sacred spaces—for example, as a twisting, tangled mess of tape measures descending from the ceiling like a beam of light, or as a series of looped-tape sunbursts gradually opening from the niches along the north and south walls of a sanctuary.

Breadth by Stephen Watson
Stephen Watson (American), Breadth and Length and Height and Depth, 2012. Temporary installation at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Breadth by Stephen Watson
Stephen Watson (American), Breadth (detail), 2014. Site-specific installation of tape measures, Sojourn Community Church, Louisville, Kentucky.
Breadth by Stephen Watson
Stephen Watson (American), Breadth (detail), 2014. Site-specific installation of tape measures, Sojourn Community Church, Louisville, Kentucky.

When I was little, my mom and I would try to outdo each other in expressing with the extent of our arm span how vast was our love: “I love you THIS much!” “Well, I love you THIS much!” How much more immeasurably does God, whose arms are infinitely wide, love us.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.

Roundup: New acquisitions; prison psalms; “Sacred Noise”; the spiritual in contemporary art

ACQUISITION: Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Artemisia Gentileschi, National Gallery, London: This month the National Gallery in London announced its acquisition of a self-portrait by Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi posed as the fourth-century Christian martyr Catherine of Alexandria. For centuries it has been in the private collection of a French family, hidden from public view; now it is undergoing restoration and framing before being permanently hung in 2019 alongside other Baroque masters like Caravaggio.

Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Artemisia Gentileschi
Artemisia Gentileschi (Italian, 1593–1653), Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria, ca. 1615–17. Oil on canvas, 71.1 × 71.1 cm (28 × 28 in.). National Gallery, London.

Gentileschi is best known for her dramatic paintings of strong female heroines, biblical and extrabiblical, and this painting is no exception. In her left hand she holds a spiked wheel, a torture device used on St. Catherine, and in the right she holds a palm branch, symbol of victory through martyrdom. The painting has biographical resonance, as just a few years earlier, when she was eighteen, Gentileschi was raped by one of her father’s artist colleagues, Agostino Tassi. During the highly publicized trial in 1612, she was subjected to a thumbscrew-like torture called the sibille to test the veracity of her testimony. Although Tassi was convicted, his sentence of five years of exile from Rome was not enforced, and he continued painting frescoes for Pope Paul V. To learn more about the challenges and successes Gentileschi faced as a female artist in the seventeenth century, see Jonathan Jones’s recent Guardian article.

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ACQUISITION: Rothschild Pentateuch, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles: “This is the most spectacular medieval Hebrew manuscript that’s come to market in over a century,” says Getty Museum Director Timothy Potts of the Rothschild Pentateuch, a thirteenth-century illuminated manuscript that the museum acquired last month—its first Jewish manuscript, consisting of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The extent and vibrancy of the illuminations, which feature fantastical beasts, humanoid figures, temple accoutrements, and foliate designs, set the manuscript apart from other Jewish Bibles, which are typically image-lite. Starting next month, the Rothschild Pentateuch will be featured in a small Getty exhibition, “Art of Three Faiths: A Torah, a Bible, and a Qur’an,” on view from August 7 through February 3, 2019.

Menorah of the Tabernacle
Menorah of the Tabernacle (Book of Leviticus) from the Rothschild Pentateuch, France and/or Germany, 1296. Leaf: 27.5 × 21 cm (10 7/8 × 8 1/4 in.). Ms. 116 (2018.43), fol. 226v. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

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BLOG SERIES: “Monasticism in Lockdown America” by Chris Hoke, Good Letters: In this nine-part series, prison chaplain Chris Hoke, author of Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders (HarperOne, 2015), shares conversations and encounters he’s had with men whose lives are marked by gangs, addiction, violence, and mental illness. He encourages the newly sentenced to use prison as a spiritual retreat center, a monastery, reminding them that “some men choose to live out their days in all-male places wearing the same clothing, eating plain food, growing out their beards, leaving the ‘normal’ world behind, and spending much of their time in rooms called cells, walking deeper into the mystery of God’s heart.” And Hoke walks with them. I am impressed by his ability to reveal the depths of Christian theology in contextually appropriate ways, and to stoke enthusiasm for spiritual practice—praying, reading, fasting. Some of the teachings that have resonated with prisoners are on the darkened mind and the image of God. Revelations abound for both parties.

Christ the Prisoner by Nikolai Tsai
Icon by Nikolai Tsai

My favorite installments are the last two, on the Psalms, a book that Hoke describes as “the mess of our shared condition, in all its forms, being welcomed into God.” Like many contemporary rap lyrics, the Psalms express uncensored emotion, not, necessarily, good, clean theology. And yet they are part of the church’s sacred tradition. “What’s in you? What’s your psalm?” Hoke asks. One of the responses, by a juvenile detainee, made me cry.

Part 1: Cloister
Part 2: Prostration
Part 3: Exercises
Part 4: Asceticism
Part 5: Holy Elders
Part 6: Icons
Part 7: Holy Fool
Part 8: Psalms in the Beginning
Part 9: Psalms, in the End

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EXHIBITION: “Sacred Noise,” June 25–July 21, 2018, Christie’s London (8 King St., St. James’s): I didn’t realize Christie’s auction house also mounts exhibitions! Curated by Cristian Albu, “Sacred Noise” aims to show the impact of the European legacy of Christian painting on postwar and contemporary artists. Each room is anchored by an Old Master painting. For example, a Crucifixion by Francisco de Zurbarán is displayed alongside Marlene Dumas’s Magdalena (one of the biblical characters in the Crucifixion scene) and Gerhard Richter’s Candle (picturing what would have been the Crucifixion’s original illumination source). I love this staged conversation between works and periods! A beautifully designed, 183-page catalog is available for free viewing and download.

I will say that “Modern Art and the Death of God,” the subtitle the catalog’s main essay and of the trailer, is misleading in that it seems to promote a one-sided narrative of modern art history. It appears that the exhibition does try to subvert the notion that God is absent from modern art (and this is just a case of poor titling), but I can’t say for sure, since I haven’t seen it; I have only the catalog and trailer to go on. Religious traditions were indeed “offset” in many ways by twentieth-century artists, some of whom were atheist but others of whom were devoutly Christian. One can still challenge tradition from a place of faith, and of course people of no faith can “open new interpretive horizons” that we would do well to consider. Jonathan Evens, who did see the show, says in some places it lacks nuanced readings of artists and their work; he also reminds us that a different selection of canonical artists would tell a different story, one of how Christianity can weather quite well (and has) the storms of the modern era.

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NEW BOOK + LECTURE: “Encountering the Spiritual in Contemporary Art” by Leesa Fanning: Dr. Leesa Fanning is Curator of Contemporary Art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, and this week a new major book she edited, Encountering the Spiritual Contemporary Art, was released by Yale University Press. While books have been published before on the topic, this one

significantly broadens the scope of previous studies to include new media and non-Western and Indigenous art (in addition to that of the West), presents art from diverse cultures with equal status, promotes cultural specificity, and moves beyond notions of “center and periphery,” celebrating the plurality and global nature of contemporary art today.

On June 7 Fanning gave a fifty-minute talk introducing some of the themes and artworks covered in the book. I’m sometimes turned off by discourse about vague, amorphous “spirituality,” but I found myself grabbed the whole way through. Though doctrinal specificity is avoided, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and various indigenous belief systems are represented, and as with the book, the reach is unprecedentedly global. Below the video is a breakdown of the artworks Fanning discusses.

I. SOURCES OF INSPIRATION
Johanna Bresnick and Michael Cloud Hirschfeld, From Mouth to Mouth
Bill Viola, Ascension
Anselm Kiefer, Maria
Thomas Struth, San Zaccaria
Y. Z. Kami, Daya’s Hands; White Dome IV; Konya
Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Ordibebesht (Convertible Series)
Yelimane Fall, Ocean of Generosity
Jim Chuchu, Pagans XII
Mariko Mori, Tom Na H-iu
Abie Loy Kemarre, Bush Hen Dreaming A12933
Maringka Baker, Ngura Kamanti
Kathleen Petyarr, Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming—Winter Storm
David Ruben Piqtoukun, Bear in shamanic transformation
Monty Claw, We Pray for Rain
Christi Belcourt, Water Song
Calvin Hunt, Thunderbird Mask and Regalia
Marianne Nicolson, The House of Ghosts
Aaron Taylor Kuffner, Gamelatron Empat Bunga (4 Flowers)

II. ARTIST’S BODY AS SIGNIFIER OF SPIRITUAL CONTENT
Kimsooja, A Needle Woman—Kitakyushu
Anselm Kiefer, Falling Stars
Ana Mendieta, Corazón de Roca con Sangre (Rock Heart with Blood)
Marina Abramović, The Artist Is Present
James Lee Byars, Autobiography alla veneziana; The Holy Ghost

III. MATERIALS/FORM/COLOR
James Lee Byars, Is; The Chair for the Philosophy of Question; The Rose Table of Perfect
Mierle Ukeles and Stephen Handel, I’m Talking to You: A Scent Garden
Sonam Dolma, My Father’s Death
Natvar Bhavsar, KETAK
Anish Kapoor, Shelter
Martin Puryear, A Distant Place
Anish Kapoor, Ascension

IV. ART MAKING AS SPIRITUAL PROCESS
Spinifex Women’s Collective, Minyma Tjuta
Meghann O’Brien, Sky Blanket
Lonnie Vigil, Jar
Shirazeh Houshiary, Echo
Wolfgang Laib, Pollen from Hazelnut; Milkstone; Ziggurat

Sheep May Safely Graze (Artful Devotion)

Landscape, Cornish, N.H. by John White Alexander
John White Alexander (American, 1856–1915), Landscape, Cornish, N.H., ca. 1890. Oil on canvas, 30 3/8 × 45 in. (77.2 × 114.2 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul . . .

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff,
they comfort me.

—Psalm 23:1–3a, 4

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MUSIC: “Sheep May Safely Graze,” from BWV 208 | Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1713) | Performed by London Symphony Orchestra, on Night in Berlin (2001)

The aria “Schafe können sicher weiden” (Sheep May Safely Graze) comprises the ninth movement of Bach’s Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd (The Lively Hunt Is All My Heart’s Desire)—known informally as the Hunting Cantata. Written for the thirty-first birthday of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels, the cantata was performed as a surprise at a banquet at the ducal hunting lodge, and it’s full of flattery. The text of “Sheep May Safely Graze,” written by Solomon Franck, praises Christian for his wise, protective leadership (in actuality, he was a lousy ruler):

Sheep may safely graze and pasture
In a watchful shepherd’s sight.

Those who rule, with wisdom guiding,
Bring to hearts a peace abiding,
Bless a land with joy made bright.

At 1:31 in the above recording, you can hear potential danger lurking nearby, but the attentive shepherd neutralizes the threat, keeping safe his flock.

Bach originally scored this piece for soprano with two recorders and continuo, but it has since been transcribed for orchestra and countless other combinations of instruments and is most popular without words. I enjoy playing Egon Petri’s transcription for solo piano, performed here by Alessio Bax:

Its pastoral mood, befitting Psalm 23, and its celebration of a good shepherd’s care have led it to be applied to the Good Shepherd and performed in church services. I’ve even come across some piano arrangements that interfuse it with “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us” (for an intermediate arrangement of such by Cindy Berry, see Classical Hymns).

(Related post: “The evolution of ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring'”)


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.

The Psalter of Blanche of Castile

A masterpiece of French Gothic art, the Latin Psalter of Blanche of Castile was produced in Paris in the first third of the thirteenth century by an anonymous master using tempera, ink, and gold leaf on parchment. The book was most likely commissioned by or for Blanche of Castile (1188–1252), the mother of Louis IX, whom it passed to after her death (which is why it is sometimes referred to jointly as the Psalter of Saint Louis and Blanche of Castile—not to be confused with the even more lavish Paris Psalter of Saint Louis that followed it). Whoever the original owner was, she is depicted praying before an altar on page 122v.

[What is a psalter?]

Discussing the transition from Romanesque to Gothic art and the new structures surrounding it, an online Encyclopedia of Art History states,

It is no accident that this new style of Christian art was born in France. The University of Paris was the intellectual centre of Europe throughout the thirteenth century, and from the time of St Louis (1226-70) the French court became increasingly important. Students and scholars from all over the continent flocked to Paris to learn and to discuss scholarly matters. Knights returning from the Crusades introduced Eastern theory and science. [This partially explains the unusual frontispiece depicting three geometers in the Psalter of Blanche of Castile, below.] With the ascendancy of the university, the importance of monasteries as centres of book illustration and illumination declined. Commercial guilds were founded and books were produced for private ownership. Large ceremonial books, lavishly illuminated and ornamented with jewellery, became less common and we must follow the stylistic developments principally in Psalters, which the highborn laity made their own.

An alternate name for the manuscript is the Sainte-Chapelle Psalter, due to the fact that it was preserved in the Sainte-Chapelle treasury from 1335 to the end of the eighteenth century, when it was moved to the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, now part of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Louis IX built the Sainte-Chapelle (“Holy Chapel”) inside the royal palace complex between 1238 and 1248 to serve as a private devotional space and to house the thirty-plus relics of Christ he had bought, including what he believed to be the crown of thorns and a fragment of the cross.

Among the 192 pages of the Psalter of Blanche of Castile are twenty-seven full-page miniatures, twenty-two of which are divided into interlocking medallions containing distinct narrative episodes from the Old and New Testaments (mostly). All of them are reproduced below, sourced from https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b7100723j (Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal MS 1186 réserve). Folio numbers and subjects are provided as captions.

This is one of thousands of Christian illuminated manuscripts that have been digitized by libraries and museums around the world, enabling people like you and me to be nourished by their beauty. People often ask me how I incorporate visual art into my devotional practice, and one way is by simply paging (digitally) through painting cycles from old books, letting the medieval imagination be my guide through God’s story of redemption. My eyes do the reading, my soul rests. There’s no rigid program I follow, and no particular goal, but I find I am often led to respond in prayer. Try it!

Astronomers (Sainte-Chapelle Psalter)
Fol. 1v: An astronomer with a looking tube takes the bearings of a star with the alidade of an astrolabe. One assistant holds open a book with Arabic ciphers (a star chart?) while the other records the results in Latin.
Fall of the Rebel Angels (Sainte-Chapelle Psalter)
Fol. 9v: The Fall of the Rebel Angels
Creation of Eve (Sainte-Chapelle Psalter)
Fol. 10r: The Creation of Eve

Continue reading “The Psalter of Blanche of Castile”

No Other Fount (Artful Devotion)

Precious Blood of Christ (retablo)
La Preciosa Sangre de Cristo (The Precious Blood of Christ), Mexico, ca. 1875. Oil on tin, 10 × 7 in.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us . . .

—Ephesians 1:7–8a

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SONG: “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus” by Robert Lowry (1876), with “Power in the Blood” by Lewis E. Jones (1899) | Medley performed by Redeemer Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis, on Good News, Vol. 1 (2007)

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Blood that bled into a cry!
The elements
felt its touch and trembled,
heaven heard their woe.
O life-blood of the maker,
scarlet music, salve our wounds.

—“Antiphon for the Redeemer” by Hildegard of Bingen, translated from the Latin by Barbara Newman


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.