Holy Thursday Art

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:

By anonimous master – Basilica di San Marco, turistic book, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4274743

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:

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“The Last Supper” by Jaume Huguet (c. 1450)Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona

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.

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The Last Supper, Fra Angelico, 1422

Meanwhile, back in Italy at roughly the same time, Blessed Fra Angelico painted this Last Supper in San Marco – the Florentine Dominican monastery, not the Venetian Basilica.

Giotto, Last Supper, 1305. Awkward seating, odd dark halos, which everyone gets. Giotto was working out this whole realism stuff within the context of the Byzantine style of the time. It works better some times than others.

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.

1,000.

So this here is blog post 1,000. First off, thanks to my regular readers, who seem to number somewhere in the 30-40 range, for stopping by, reading my humble ramblings, and thus encouraging me to continue. Lots of great comments over the years.

I’ve been at this for 7 years; at it more or less seriously for 4, since November of 2012 – that’s when I started consistently posting 10 – 20 times a month.  100,000 page views seemed in reach as well, but for unknown reasons the number of views is lower this year than last, after years of a steady upward trend. I’ll hit that milestone, such as it is, early next year.

Top posts:

2016-top-posts

One post remain one of the Internet’s preferred sources of analysis on John Donne’s Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day. The humble write-up assembles in one place a bunch of factoids and conjectures on this poem I’ve never seen assembled in one place before, and which one is unlikely to come across or put together just casually reading. So, perhaps this is my one small service. (1)

Iconography – started out posting quite a bit on this topic, but stopped, because anyone could find out anything I might say on the subject reading any decent book on the topic. I want to be value add in some sense, however little that value might be. I do have vivid memories of the two times I’ve managed to make it to Europe in my life, time I spent gawking at great art. Maybe I should resume, but focus on stuff I saw in person?  That ‘Fra Angelico: Annunciation‘ is one such as that.

Both those top posts got that way without benefit of incoming traffic from links posted elsewhere. The next batch show up because somebody much more widely read than I linked to them:

The World is Made of Styrofoam Balls and Pipe Cleaners  got linked by some grade school science education program somewhere. This is the oddest link, seems to me.

I’d prefer to forget about Vaccines and Autism: This is Starting to Get Really Weird because I mortally offended a Catholic science writer who by all accounts is a perfectly wonderful human being who under any other circumstances I’d have gone to great lengths not to offend. But if I’m going to call out fake/bad science in general, I have an even greater duty to call it out when it’s from one of our own, as it were. Sigh. Got linked from several directions.

Is Adolescence Even Real? was linked by Jen Fullwiler. ‘Nuff said.

My Sagan Obsession has gotten linked to by John C. Wright.

LCWR and Me was also linked to by Jen Fullwiler.

In Memoriam is a page about our son Andrew’s life and death. There is talk among people here who knew him best to present his case to the bishop for being declared a ‘Servant of God’ – we just recently heard about this, as 2017 will be the 5-year anniversary of his death, the earliest this process can begin. All I can say is: wow. God only knows if these efforts will amount to anything or go anywhere, but I’m touched and a bit awed that people are even thinking of it. So, if you feel inclined to pray about this, please do, that God’s will be done.

And so on. After these posts, all time hits drop below 500 on any individual piece. The top post on education history is The Higher Education Mish-Mash. I suppose one of the things I ended up wanting this blog to do was to incite a little interest in the roots of our current educational system. So far, I’m mostly preaching to the choir, it seems, but have had some much-appreciated push-back by a few intrepid souls. As I am wont to say to people: I don’t want you to believe me, I want you to look into it yourselves! I may try to push a little harder (whatever that means) to get more eyeballs on some of the education stuff I hope to be posting on in the upcoming year.

Again, thanks to everyone for reading and encouraging me, commenting and correcting me. I don’t know how close I am to 1 million words on this blog, but I can’t be too far off by now. I’m expecting magic: 1 million words tossed out there, and *boom* – I’m a great blogger.

That is how it works, right?  😉

  1. But seriously, if anyone has figured out what “wither, as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk, dead and interred’ means, I’m all ears. One can just speculate that Donne had some weird image of all the bedding shoved toward the end of the bed and onto the floor by a restless sleeper, but that makes no sense. I’m betting that ‘bed’s feet’ is some slang or euphemism. Other than that, I think I understand the poem as well as anyone can.  Oh – here’s an idea: does bed’s feet refer to a footlocker or blanket chest, typically kept at the foot of the bed? Then, as winter rolls in, and as all the blankets come out, the things of summer – and love – are packed away – ‘dead, and interred’ – until next spring. This fits nicely with the imagery and thrust of rest of the poem. Maybe I’ll have to update that analysis…

Can’t Complain…

Perhaps I should even be *thankful*?

For years, the family has gone down to visit extended family in Southern California for a few days before Thanksgiving. This year, a friend of my little brother cut us a deal on a beach rental. This beach rental:

That’s the view off the balcony. It’s a two-bedroom apartment above an ancient snack shack right on the pier in Newport Beach. Way Cool. This fine Sunday morning, I grabbed a cup ‘o Joe at an establishment for that purpose a 45 second walk away, and am watching some surfers and paddle boarders do their things to the south of the pier.  Last night, after a dinner of homemade pastrami sandwiches with my brother and his wife, we walked out on the pier and watched 5 seals swimming down below. Our theory: the lights on the pier perhaps attract fish the seals eat? The seals were very active(1).

We’re a 12 minute walk along the beach from the local Catholic Church. They even have daily Mass. The high yesterday was 82; today it’s forecast to be 79. Flip-flops and t-shirts. Insanely beautiful. In late November. There are reasons 20+ million people live in SoCal.

Wednesday morning, we leave to go back north. On the way, we’ll grab Son #2 and a couple of his friends from Thomas Aquinas College, drop them off at their families, and have Thanksgiving proper with the extended in-laws in San Francisco. The only insane part: We’ll bomb down next Sunday to return said college students to their school – a 10 hour round trip under good conditions, but on the most insane traffic day of the year. But hey, c’mon, all in all, small price to pay.

Only downside so far: my beloved wife has a cold! She from whom germs flee in despair! Praying for a quick recovery.

If I’m ever so tragically stupid as to complain about my life, you could, right after smacking me upside the head, remind me of Thanksgiving, 2015.

  1. One of the little shops at the base of the pier has mounted on the wall a 600 lbs Great White – caught off the pier back in the ’60s. So, seeing both those seals (which I never saw here as a kid – but don’t forget, we are Destroying the Planet(tm)) and surfers in the water is a little bracing. Seals are to Great Whites as Deer are to Mountain Lions – if there is a supply of one, you’re will eventually find a supply of the other.

500th Post, Malta, Thanks, Recap

A well-weathered fence post
The number of this post is unknown.
© Copyright Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

So, almost 4 years since I started, here is my 500th post.

Heartfelt thanks to any and all who have stopped by and read any of my scribblings. I hope you found them informative, or at least entertaining.

Recap: There have been about 30,000 views, almost all of which occurred in the last 2 years – didn’t write much the first 2. I’ve done nothing to publicize this blog apart from linking back to it in the profiles I use to comment on other blogs. A couple much better bloggers have linked back to here – Mike Flynn, Jen Fulweiler, John C. Wright and Renee Lin (hope I’m not forgetting anybody!) which has driven traffic my way – thanks!

The most common things people come here for are, evidently, information on Christian iconography and John Donne’s Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day.  Which is cool, but a descent library would serve them better. (In fact, I stopped writing about iconography once I reached the point where I was simply regurgitating stuff I’d read, with nothing to add – seemed I should provide a bibliography at that point and be done with it. On Donne, I took a seminar on that poem decades ago, got infatuated with it, memorized it, and just kept collecting information on it. So, maybe I am the go-to guy on that. A scary thought.)

I’ve evidently got a reader in Malta – I get a single hit from there regularly. Which is cool, because Malta is one place I’d love to visit.  So, hi, whoever you are.

Almost filled the card on Country Bingo – the only major place lacking is China. Wonder why that is? Otherwise, it’s central African countries, a couple holdouts in South America, Greenland, a couple Stans – that sort of thing.

So, here’s to the next 500. Heck, if I’d just finish all the drafts I’ve piled up so far, I’d have big head start! Of course, the dark side of the economic recovery (such as it is) is that I’m so busy I don’t have the energy to write very often. Yea, yea, cry me river…

Shoot, all this means I may have *3* regular readers by now!   Thanks again, team!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m grateful I have a job which allows me to take care of my family in a style pretty easy to get accustomed to. However, still looking at one more week (at least) of stupid-busy (heavy on the stupid – when you consult, the customer can be unconsciously rude and demanding, and there’s not a lot you can do about it. I took this week off – not that you could tell from the billable hours. And for anyone of a technical bent who imagines that if only companies could be run by engineers rather than by pushy sales types, life would be good – I have some counter-examples.)

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It’s not as bad as all that. Someday, I get to die! As the Little Flower might say: Woo Hoo!

I could whine, but, hey, I’ve got a job, that would be extremely disrespectful of those who don’t. So, here’s the plan as soon as I get some time:

1. Post thoughts on Orestes Brownson’s “The American Republic” written at the conclusion of the Civil War. To whet your interest: Brownson’s thoughts are almost eerie  in the way they straddle a transition between two epochs – he’s a man totally engaged in the intellectual life of America who came of age before the Civil War, and saw the great working out of the ideas in the Declaration and the Constitution, and asks the quasi-metaphysical question: what has to be true for the positions taken in these documents to be true? Yet, after the Civil War, things have changed, paths have been chosen, and other forever closed off. The result is that Brownson sounds one moment like a throwback and the next like a prophet, discussing today’s problems 150 years ago.

When he wrote this, he’d already converted to Catholicism, after having been a minister or preacher in various flavors of Protestantism. He does not hesitate to pull from Church teachings to clarify political issues. It’s bracing, really.

2. Then will plow through the 3 books on American education history and politics that I recently acquired. Collectively, they’re not too long. And hey, they’re not Hegel or Pestalozzi – should be almost fun!

3. Then, I’ve got a pile of books that I’m part way through reading or rereading: Tacitus, education in the ancient world, Aristotle’s Prior Analytics and I’d have to clean up the mess  by my bed to see what else.

So, the plan is get back to posting about Important Things here, which, apart from the poor lost souls who fall into this here abyss by Googling iconography, John Donne, Vittoria or Styrofoam ball molecules, seems to be what attracts both my regular readers.

And I’m really grateful for the regular readers – thanks, guys! It’s frankly a quirk in the Cosmos that there are good souls willing to read anything I write – I really appreciate it.

Education: The Example of Our Fathers

Through no virtue of my own and entirely as a result of either luck or divine intervention,* I have had for years a very nice, well compensated job.  Strangely enough, I am also the embodiment of exactly the feature set most loathed in today’s youth: lazy, undisciplined, unfocused, hedonistic. 

So, how does that work? Shouldn’t I be stocking shelves somewhere, or out of work entirely? Aren’t focus, drive, and hard work the formula for success?

Here’s a story about my father. I believe such stories are common among successful people, however success is counted. Such stories are also common among tragically sad people. This particular story is shared among me and my brothers and sisters, each of whom can be successful and tragically sad, often at the same time.

My father grew up on a huge farm in Oklahoma as one of the younger of 14 children. When he was 13, the Great Depression bankrupted his father, they lost almost all the farm, keeping only a few acres around the family home.

My grandfather had a mean streak which, in his despair, was unleashed against his wife my grandmother. My father, who at the time was probably the oldest son still at home, was able to throw his father out of the house for the sake (and physical safety) of his mother.  This story was told only once in my dad’s old age to one of my older brothers.

So, here was young man with shattered dreams and more sadness than a kid ought to have. Before the Great Depression, he would ride a horse out on the several thousand acres of his father’s farm. Some of his older brothers and sisters went to college – in the 1920’s!  He dreamed how he was going to do the same and escape the farm.

Then, after all was lost, he found himself digging coal to make a few bucks – some of which was used to pay down debts rung up by older siblings. He did finally manage to escape home and farm via the CCC. He toured the West over the next few years as a camp clerk – he had somehow managed to learn office skill in his desperation to escape farming.

So, he meets my mom in California, gets married, converts to Catholicism (mom was a cradle Catholic of East Texas Czech stock – that’s another story) and raises a family of 5 boys and 4 girls.

At the age of 45, after 25 years of experience in the sheet metal fabrication field, he started his own company – and here’s where I enter the story. I was 5 at the time. Dad was a maniac worker by all accounts. 70 or 80 hour weeks were the norm. He early on established his marketing strategy: we’re not the cheapest, just the best. It’s right the first time, and delivered on schedule.  This requires a high level of planning, discipline and focus. These were my dad’s strengths.

Working for my dad was no fun. My older brothers both had to work for him. In his mind, he wasn’t asking much – it’s not like they had dig coal in an Oklahoma winter or anything. In my brothers’ minds, dad had these incredible expectations, while at the same time showing very little appreciation of their efforts. And dad’s bitterness and yes, violence, sometimes boiled over on his sons.  Great damage was done.

By the time I’d gotten old enough to help out – at 12, I started sweeping floors and cleaning up on weekends – dad had mellowed considerably. But he was still not much fun to work for.

And here’s the point of all this: from my father, I learned a few things about work:

– the amount of time you spend cleaning up is trivial compared to the time you’ll spend looking for stuff and climbing over stuff if you don’t. Not cleaning up is not an option.

– Whenever you put something down, put it where it will next be needed. Making someone else move something because you were too lazy or clueless to put it where the next guy would need it is unacceptable.

– you’ll always make more money thinking than with physical labor, but don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.

– the guy doing work always has the right of way – get out of his way.

– when the horn sounds, you are at your station ready to work, or you are late. You’re done with your cup of coffee.  Late is unacceptable.

– measure twice, cut once.

– From the customer’s point of view, having what they need when they need it is worth a lot of money. Do that, and charge for it.

– always ask: is there money in it? This isn’t a charity, here.

I have discovered that even the semi-random and intermittent application of these principles by a lazy smart guy yields fabulous results in the world of business.  If I were not a philosophically inclined introvert and had a little ambition, I’d be running something by now.

My older brothers, who in the normal course of things could have inherited and run the business, both fled at their earliest opportunity. In my senior year of high school, dad had a massive heart attack, underwent quadruple bypass surgery and was told by the doctor to sell his company and retire – at age 59 – or die. It took him a couple years, but he complied.

The doctor was right. The heart attack was all but inevitable. The day before, some welder had (incompetently) warped an expensive electrical cabinet – if you’re not careful, the welding process will heat the entire piece and twist it and ruin it. My father knew all the tricks – in a fury, he worked late into the evening with a blow torch, a bucket of water and a sledge hammer, artfully straightening the cabinet back out, salvaging thousands of dollars of work.

He then went home and almost died.

I went away to college. My older brothers moved far away, as did my 4 sisters and one younger brother. (score: one brother, the youngest, never moved far away.) A coupe eventually moved back to Southern California. All but a couple eventually made peace/called a truce with mom and dad, who lived into their late 80s.

So, I balance gratitude with an abiding sense of deep sadness, mostly for the sake of my siblings, who each have their own sad and even tragic tales to tell.  I got it easy, and got a wonderful spouse and beautiful children. Most didn’t get that.

A couple more things I learned that dad probably didn’t even know he was teaching: do not fear doing things yourself. Fix something? Build something? Dad always assumed we could just do it. He built a house and ran a grocery store and learned meat cutting – and that seemed normal to us. He always let us use his tools so long as we put them back when finished. He showed us how to use them. I started using hammers and saws when I was 5.

These lessons dwarf anything I learned in school. I suspect this is true of most people.

(This post is the current leader in the ‘start one place, end up someplace completely different’ sweepstakes. But hey, it’s just a blog.)

* I choose the latter – God gave me wonderful children, saw that I would most likely stress myself into a permanent state of clinical depression if I had to scramble for money my whole life, and so He found me a job where my talents can shine and my many flaws can be hidden. There are miracles involved, here.

A sheepish welcome…

…to anyone who recklessly clicked on over to this humble blog from the generous souls (I recognize John C Wright and Jennifer Fulwiler among the linkers. I’ll have to get to know the couple others) who somewhat inexplicable linked here. Now I’m feeling obliged to post something entertaining and maybe even, if possible, insightful.

Ya, like that’s gonna happen.  But hey, maybe it’ll be fun anyway, in a slow-mo car crash sort of way…