On the north side of our house is a little concreted in area where we keep our trashcans (or, more accurately, this being California and all, our recycling bin, our yard waste bin and our landfill bin). There are a couple small areas up against the house, no more than a couple square feet each, where the soil is exposed. Why those little areas were not paved I have no idea.
We’ve lived here for over 20 years. In an exhibition of hope triumphing over reason, one of previous owners planted calla lilies in those areas. Somehow, they are still there. To recap: no sun, no care, poor clay soil. The only way they ever get watered is by rain or maybe when I wash off the patio in the back and the water accidentally makes into the beds. Note that I don’t wash off the the patio often, pretty much never when we’re having a ‘drought’, so called. So, for the past 5 years, those flowers have gotten by on only a tiny amount of water at highly irregular intervals. Yet, they will not die.
As you may have heard, it has rained a freaking lot (technical term, that) this year out here in California. It’s raining now. We’ve received well over a foot more rain than is typical, almost 200% of average.
The calla lilies liked it:
Mrs Yardsale of the Mind cut a bunch for Easter and put them on the table, where I snapped these pictures. Over the spring so far, there have been maybe a couple dozen beautiful flowers, totally unearned and unexpected.
Blessed Fra Angelico has got what you need. First, we have the women at the tomb greeted by an angel:
The Risen Christ hovers in the background, as it simply would not do to show merely an empty tomb. This fresco is in cell 8 upstairs at San Marco’s Dominican Convent in Florence, so Fra Angelico paints St. Dominic kneeling to the left – in the brother’s cell, he (almost) always puts a Dominican in the scene, to remind the viewer that he is not just looking at a pretty fresco, but is to see himself in the events portrayed.
I love the way the angel sits rather casually and seems to be caught mid-lecture: He is risen as he said!
Ye sons and daughters of the Lord,
the King of glory, King adored,
this day Himself from death restored.
All in the early morning gray
went holy women on their way,
to see the tomb where Jesus lay.
Of spices pure a precious store
in their pure hands these women bore,
to anoint the sacred Body o’er.
The straightaway one in white they see,
who saith, “seek the Lord: but He
is risen and gone to Galilee.”
Next, from cell #1, is the “Do not cling to Me” scene from the Gospel of John:
The lack of a Dominican is a little unusual – a quick skim spotted only 3 or 4 others cell frescoes out of 36(?) or so cells that do not feature one. I could make up a story about how the text being illustrated – Mary Magdalene, confused and desperate, looking for her Lord, is enough of an Every Person for the artist’s purpose. But I don’t know.
Love the hoe on Christ’s shoulder – mistaken for the gardener, indeed. Here and in his Annunciations, where man’s fall and salvation are front and center, Fra Angelico sets them in a garden and adds much details to the plants and trees. Man’s proper place is, after all, in a garden, a place restored and then some by Christ’s Resurrection. Ave fit ex Eva, after all.
We’ll end for this year with Piero della Francesca’s awesome Resurrection:
Aldous Huxley, of all people, describes this fresco thus: “It stands there before us in entire and actual splendour, the greatest picture in the world.” Like most masterpieces, photos do it no justice. Piero captured the grandeur of the Risen Lord, and his realistic portrayal of the guards as contemporary Italian men at arms who dropped asleep where they sat is wonderful.
One last distraction: count the guards’ legs. Piero was painting the Resurrection, not guards’ legs, so if he needed to leave out a few…
Got some Bouguereau lined up for tomorrow. He’s a pretty good cautionary tale against accepting the opinions of your age, one with, possibly, a happy ending. During his lifetime, he was considered the greatest painter in the world, for very good reason:
One may reasonably dispute about choice of subject matter, for example, or simply prefer other great artists. I’m partial to Fra Angelico and Botticelli, personally. But as far as skill and technique goes, he’s one of the very greatest painters ever, and he used all those painting chops to create always beautiful and often profound art. The accusations made against him and other Academic painters – that they were dull, lifeless, and cared only about technique – are disproven by a glance at just the 3 examples above.
But Bouguereau, who died in 1905, was forcibly consigned to the dustbin of history, and stayed there, his painting put into storage and dismissed in art schools for over 80 years. Only the work of some dedicated people has brought him back to life over the last couple decades.
When hung in museums, these are the painting the young and old alike linger over. It’s not because of bad taste. Preferring modern art to Bouguereau is a willful act of insanity. It is to choose ugly and shallow over beautiful and deep.
Anyway, yesterday, was wasting time on Twitter – but I repeat myself – when Daddy Warpig, self-proclaimed geek and trenchant social critic, tweeted:
To which I replied:
And, 10,000 or so impressions (whatever they are), dozens of retweets and likes and replies later – I’ve introduced Bouguereau to Mr. Warpig’s Twitterverse. You know, gamer geeks and Odds and all that. I do not understand Twitter at all. In about 12 hours, there was more Twitter activity around this tweet than the total from inception to that point. People thanked me for introducing them to Bouguereau, who (of course) they’d never heard of.
A happy, holy and blessed Holy Thursday to all who read this blog and their loved ones.
Let’s look at some nearly randomly chosen Last Supper art:
Along the east coast of Italy, facing what used to be the Eastern Roman Empire across the Adriatic Sea, there are a number of churches that look east for their architecture and style. San Marco, in Venice, is the most outstanding. Above is a mosaic of the Last Supper, from sometime after the 10th century, capturing the moment in St. John’s Gospel where, at Peter’s urging, John lays his head on Jesus’s chest and asks who it is who will betray Him. Typically of iconography, little attempt is made at realism – feature, not a bug, as the point of all such art is to raise our minds to contemplation of the Truth, not artistic realism.
An oddity: all 12 apostles are shown – and each has a halo. Since, at this point in the narrative, Judas has not yet left to lead the soldiers to Christ, is the artist trying to tell us he is still an Apostle, still counted among the holy?
Here, for example, from a few centuries later:
Note that John still had his head on Christ’s chest, even though at this point Christ is shown consecrating the bread and wine. Judas, front center left, does not have a halo. He is depicted as having already abandoned himself to treachery and the devil. There’s a long history of northern Europeans – largely, the Germanic tribes – having a very legalistic view of things which the missionaries from Italy had a devilish time trying to convert them from, such as compiling books of exactly what penalty each carefully-defined sin would get them in the confessional. The Eastern artist wanted to convey that even Judas was chosen by Christ for holiness and salvation. Huguet wants us to know who the bad guy is.
Fra Angelico wanted to be realistic, after the fashion of Giotto, with real figures shown doing real things. He’s also working with the existing architecture – he’s fitting this fresco on a wall under an arch, which intrudes in the upper left. He takes these considerations, and makes them strengths. He can’t hang his Apostles suspended in mid-air behind a table whose surface is in another plane from wherever it is the Apostles are located, so he wraps the table around under the arch, gives the three Apostles sitting there a higher built-in bench to sit on so that they line up nicely heightwise with the Apostles along the other stretch of table.
But there’s not enough room to show all 12 in this manner. Our Byzantine artist in Venice would have just packed them in, and that’s what Huguet did – nobody is eating dinner in his picture, they’re practically sitting on top of each other. Fra Angelico instead shows 4 empty seats that, had the Apostles been sitting on those benches, would have put them awkwardly with their backs to us, and instead has them kneeling – a nice reference to the way people would have received Communion in the churches in Italy in his day. These four Apostles obscure each other – unlike the other 8, they are not individuals, but a crowd. I think Fra Angelico did this on purpose, to have those 4 represent us, the people not at the table at the Last Supper, kneeling to receive Him today nonetheless. Also, he sticks Judas in that crowd, compromising on the halo question by giving him a dark one – Judas is still among the chosen Apostles, but he is losing the gift of grace as he embraces treachery.
Unlike the other paintings, here the table is cleared of dinner. “When supper had ended” we are told in Scripture, Christ consecrated the bread and wine. The other artists wanted to emphasize the Passover meal, and so showed it still on the table. Fra Angelico wants to emphasize the connection between what went on at the Last Supper and what goes on today at Mass, so the table is cleared. It is the Lamb of God distributing Himself Who is portrayed, Who completes and supersedes the pascal lamb of the Israelites.
Christ comes around the table to distribute Communion, just as the priest at Mass comes down to the railing. Assuming Christ was sitting in the middle, he’s starting with John, who would have been next to him according to John’s Gospel, and, as the youngest would be a beardless Apostle. But there’s also a clean-shaven Apostle on the end, so can’t be sure.
Finally, he puts Mary (I’m pretty sure) kneeling in lower left. Some tradition place her at the Last Supper, although she is not mentioned there in the Gospels. It serves Fra Angelico’s purposes to show her there – she is also us, in a way, the woman who said yes and for whom the Almighty has done great things. That yes and use by God for great things is what we aspire to. Judas is in a kneeling crowd, a crowd of those aspiring to what Mary has achieved – total surrender to the will of God. He could have chosen otherwise.
There are hundreds of other wonderful representations of the Last Supper. Maybe in future years we’ll get to a few more.
1. At 6:00 A.M. in February, Houston is merely warm and insanely humid.
2. Houston is home to the beautiful Annunciation Parish, a mere 10 minute muggy walk from the hotel:
Three interesting things:
Most of the people there were a) men and b) younger than me. Some were obviously people with jobs downtown catching Mass before work – something a lot of people used to do, but now few parishes in my experience offer Mass early enough for that to work.
They used the altar rail – kneeling for communion under both species.
Second sighting of the Ignatius Pew Missal in the wild (after Our Lady of Peace in Santa Clara)
Which means: Reading! A few pages from the end of Captive Dreams by Mike Flynn, which deserves praise and a thoughtful review, which, given there’s nothing on the schedule for this afternoon (but you know how that goes) I might get to sooner rather than later. And a read! Get your copy now, and wallow in philosophy, math, and genetics while you enjoy excellent ScFi.
4. Now, two slots east of my native time zone – I need coffee!!