Religious art roundup: Ekphrastic poem; artist interview; Biola chapel renovations; public Jesus sculpture; bestiaries

Here are some recently published articles on religious art that I enjoyed, and I hope you do too:

“Shouldering the ‘Yoke of Love’: The Shared Passion of Simon and Jesus in Stone and Verse” by Victoria Emily Jones, Literary Life: Like Jonathan Stockland, I remember visiting Nicholas Mynheer’s home and seeing his Simon and Jesus sculpture and being moved by it. Stockland wrote a poem in response to his encounter, one that fits nicely within the tradition of ekphrastic poetry (poems about a visual work of art). Jump on over to LiteraryLife.org to read my reflection on it, from Sunday. As I was writing this essay, lines like “borders of despair” and “tents of desperation” rang out especially loudly, reminding me of the cross being borne by Latin American immigrants seeking entry into the United States, many of them fleeing violence in their home countries.

Simon and Jesus by Nicholas Mynheer
Nicholas Mynheer (British, 1958–), Simon and Jesus, 2010. Limestone, 36 cm tall.

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“Theology, Arts, and Culture Series: An Interview with Penny Warden” (+ Part 2), Transpositions: The British artist Penny Warden is best known for her fifteen Stations of the Cross paintings at Blackburn Cathedral. In this excellent two-part interview, she answers questions such as: What does “Christian art” mean in today’s culture? Is there a place for the didactic in religious art? What contemporary artists are making compelling art of theological relevance? Warden also discusses the challenges and advantages of making permanent art for a worship space, how theology informs her practice, the role of tradition versus innovation, and more.

Station 9 by Penny Warden
Penny Warden (British, 1956–), Station 9: Jesus Falls for the Third Time, 2005. Oil on canvas, 6 × 3 ft. Blackburn Cathedral, Lancashire, England.

For more on Warden’s Stations set in particular, see http://www.artway.eu/artway.php?id=896&action=show&lang=en.

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“Creating Sacred Space through Art and Light: The Vision of the Calvary Chapel Sacred Art Renovation”: Aesthetic renovations are underway at Biola University’s chapel in Southern California. Not only are significant changes in flooring, walls, seating, and lighting being made, but new permanent art installations have been commissioned by Danish artists Maja Lisa Engelhardt and Peter Brandes: Engelhardt is making an abstract, gilded Resurrection altarpiece for the west wall and a gilded bronze cross for the wooden entry doors, while Brandes is creating thirty-two hand-blown stained glass windows depicting biblical narratives. This is the first time the husband and wife have collaborated this closely on an art project.

Calvary Chapel (Biola University) renovations

The impetus for this revitalization was a concern that the sacred function and experience of the chapel and its interior architectural space had gradually become disassociated as a result of the increased multipurpose demands put upon the space. “The new artwork and proposed renovations seek to restore the chapel’s sacredness through creating a greater architectural and artistic balance between the interior space and the worship experience,” the Biola news article states. Click on the link to learn more or to contribute to the renovation fund.

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“A Model for All Humanity: Mark Wallinger’s Ecce Homo by Nigel Halliday, ArtWay: The marbleized plastic sculpture Ecce Homo by Mark Wallinger is one of my favorite works of contemporary religious art, and Halliday introduces it beautifully. The artist created it in 1999 to top the empty Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square—where the plinths in the three other corners display sculptures of British royals and military commanders. Though the sculpture has since been removed (and shown elsewhere) to allow for the rotation of other new public artworks, Halliday shows how its original location is key to interpreting its meaning, which has to do with worldly power and glory versus spiritual power and glory.

Ecce Homo by Mark Wallinger
Mark Wallinger (British, 1959–), Ecce Homo, 1999. Polyester resin, life-size. Temporary installation, Trafalgar Square, London.

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Meet the animals of the medieval bestiary, a Christian compendium of real and imagined beasts, The Iris: The blog of the J. Paul Getty Trust recently ran a series of features interpreting the symbolism of various animals from medieval bestiaries. (“A bestiary is a collection of stories about animals—including land creatures, fish, birds, and serpents [some real, some fantastical]—whose properties and behaviors were interpreted as symbols for God’s divine order.”) The phoenix, for example, is a mythical bird who sets himself on fire but on the third day rises again from the ashes of his pyre—a symbol of Christ. Another common symbol of Christ cemented by bestiaries and found in much medieval Crucifixion art is the pelican, who was said to peck at her breast until it bleeds, and then the blood feeds (or, in another variation, revives from the dead) her young. To learn more about this medieval literature genre, visit http://bestiary.ca.

Pelican Feeding Her Young
A Pelican Feeding Her Young, from a Franco-Flemish bestiary (Ms. Ludwig XV 4, fol. 75), 13th century. Tempera, pen and ink, and gold leaf on parchment, 23.3 × 16.4 cm (9 3/16 × 6 7/16 in.) (full leaf). J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
Crucifixion by Masolino
Masolino da Panicale (Italian, ca. 1383–ca. 1447), Crucifixion, ca. 1424. Tempera on wood. Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome. The pinnacle of this altarpiece shows a “pelican in her piety,” a symbol of Christ’s self-sacrifice.

Lent devotionals with arts component

Next Wednesday, February 14, is the first day of Lent—a season of focused prayer and simple living. During this time I will continue publishing weekly “Artful Devotion” posts based on scripture readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, plus I have a few other posts planned. I’m especially excited about what I’ll be publishing this Sunday—the fruits of many months of labor; I hope you’ll check back!

If you are looking for daily devotional content during Lent that incorporates the arts, check out some of these resources. See also last year’s list: https://artandtheology.org/2017/03/07/art-resources-for-lent/.

“The Lent Project V” by Biola University: From Ash Wednesday through the first week of Easter, Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts will be publishing daily “aesthetic meditations” on Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. The scripture texts, art images, music, and poetry are curated by a CCCA team, and staff are invited to contribute written reflections that respond to them. “The mood of Lent can be beautifully captured through the arts, which are often cathartic expressions of longing, suffering, loneliness, love, death and rebirth,” says university president Barry H. Corey. “Art is a great chronicler both of the drama of human history and the aches of the human heart.” Here are some artworks Biola has featured in previous years; click on each to experience the full devotion:

The Bread by Michael Borremans
Michaël Borremans (Belgian, 1963–), The Bread, 2012. Oil on canvas, 29 × 23 cm.
Lamb of God by Arcabas
Arcabas (French, 1926–), Lamb of God. Stained glass, Notre-Dame des Neiges Church, Alpe d’Huez, France.
Deposition and Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary (Palestinian Museum)
The Deposition & Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary, 2014. Collage, from “The Presence of the Holy See” project at the Palestinian Museum. Photographs by Alexandra Boulat (French, 1962–2007); paintings by Raphael.
Jesus on the Shore by Maja Lisa Engelhardt
Maja Lisa Engelhardt (Danish, 1956–), Jesus on the Shore. Altarpiece, Turup Church, Assens, Denmark.

Lenten Readings 2018 by Kevin Greene: For the seventh year in a row, Kevin Greene, a teaching elder at West End Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia, is publishing short daily devotions, each one containing an art image and a piece of music. (Last year I learned of lots of new artists through him!) For the prayer component he has used various resources in the past—the Revised Common Lectionary, sermons on the cross of Christ across the centuries, Wesley’s Scripture Hymns, and excerpts from the early church fathers—but this year he will be using collects (pronounced COL-lects) from the Book of Common Prayer. Unfamiliar with the term? Click here to read how a collect works.   Continue reading “Lent devotionals with arts component”

Advent 2017 online arts devotional by Biola University

The Advent Project published yearly by Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts (CCCA) is an online devotional that brings together daily scripture readings, visual art, music, poetry, and written reflections for the seasons of Advent and Christmas (which this year is December 3–January 6). Introduced in 2013, it is the only recurrently published art-forward Advent/Christmas devotional I know of, and I recommend it highly. It is in large part what inspired my year-round “Artful Devotion” series and the Advent art booklet I e-published last year.

Click here to view and/or subscribe to Biola’s Advent Project 2017.

With so many different elements, design matters a lot, and I’m super-impressed by what Biola has come up with. The homepage is laid out as a gridded calendar with thumbnail images; click on a date, and you’re brought to a new viewing mode in which a large image and a music player are set in a fixed position on the left while the right sidebar contains scrollable text, separated into two tabs—the main content, and biographical information about the artists. This design enables the image to remain before your eyes so that you can continue to reference it as you read on (something that, frustratingly, I cannot achieve with Art & Theology’s long-scrolling format), and it also relegates the bios to “back matter.” It’s all very organized and easily navigable.

This initiative is an outworking of the CCCA’s mission to explore the rich interrelationships between contemporary art making, theology, and religious tradition. Be sure to check out the other sections of their website; they offer plenty of free resources, including an archive of past Advent (and Lent!) devotionals, and a calendar of events, such as lectures, workshops, symposia, art exhibitions, concerts, film screenings, and more.

Below is one of my favorite Advent Project entries from last year, reproduced by kind permission of the CCCA. Centered on Mary’s Magnificat, it brings together the work of an Italian Renaissance painter, a contemporary British video artist (who I’ve written about before), a modern Bohemian Austrian poet, and a minimalist composer working with Spanish, Latin, and English texts. Adjunct professor of philosophy Evan Rosa (who is a superb writer!) reflects on how scandalous Mary’s humility is for power-hungry Western Christians—just as it would have been for the Greco-Roman world in which she lived. He concludes with a prayer that invites us to move from self-magnification to the magnification of God.

Due to this blog’s design limitations, I had to adapt the following content from its original format. To view the devotion on the Biola website, click here. I have excluded biographical information for the song performers and poet.

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ARTWORKS: The Visitation by Pontormo; The Greeting by Bill Viola

The Greeting by Bill Viola
LEFT: Jacopo da Pontormo, The Visitation, 1528. Oil on canvas. Church of San Francesco de Michele, Carmignano, Italy. RIGHT: Bill Viola, The Greeting, 1995. Still image from a large-screen video installation.

About the Artist and Artwork #1:

Jacopo Carucci (1494–1557), usually known as Pontormo, was an Italian Mannerist painter and portraitist from the Florentine School. His work represents a profound stylistic shift from the calm perspectival regularity that characterized the art of the Florentine Renaissance. He is famous for his use of twining poses, coupled with ambiguous perspective; his figures often seem to float in an uncertain environment, unhampered by the forces of gravity. Pontormo’s painting The Visitation, completed in 1528, now adorns the altar of a side chapel in a small church called the Pieve di San Michele in Carmignano, a town west of Florence, Italy. The setting for this painting is the visitation of the Virgin Mary on her older pregnant cousin Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharias. Elizabeth and Mary, who are painted in profile, gracefully embrace each other as they exchange glances of mutual affection and share in the news of Mary’s pregnancy. They dominate the canvas as they stand on the threshold of Zacharias’s house.

About the Artist and Artwork #2:

Bill Viola (b. 1951) is internationally recognized as one of today’s leading artists. He has been instrumental in the establishment of video as a vital form of contemporary art, and in so doing has helped to greatly expand its scope in terms of technology, content, and historical reach. His works focus on universal human experiences—birth, death, the unfolding of consciousness—and have roots in both Eastern and Western art as well as spiritual traditions.

Bill Viola’s large-screen video installation The Greeting was inspired by The Visitation, painted by Italian Mannerist artist Jacopo Pontormo. Viola’s video sequence echoes the drama of Pontormo’s Visitation, but transforms the moment into an enigmatic contemporary narrative. In this still frame, three women are dressed in long, flowing garments and stand in an Italianate architectural setting similar to that in Pontormo’s painting. The woman in the orange dress, her stomach visibly swollen, has just entered the scene from the left, interrupting a conversation and perhaps whispering to the older woman the news of her pregnancy. This encounter was filmed in less than a minute, but Viola has slowed the video down to ten minutes. The use of extreme slow motion draws attention to the nuances of the women’s gestures and glances, and intensifies the psychological dynamic of the exchange.   Continue reading “Advent 2017 online arts devotional by Biola University”