Thursday, October 2, 2014

Why Beauty in Church? Why Art?

Interior of St. Jean Baptiste, New York, NY
During a recent concert
Nicholas Serracino, Italian, 1910-1914
Altar 1925-1930
Photo:  New York Times
A roundabout series of links from another blog (The Deacon's Bench) brought me to a recent article about the return of a number of Catholic churches in the United States to a more traditional "church" look following a period of time in which they had been stripped of all ornament and imagery.  You can read the article here: http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/lovely-thy-dwelling-place

Jose Rafael Moneo, Cathedral of the Angels
American, 1998-2002
Los Angeles, CA















That all too many churches were nearly destroyed in this way is a sad fact of recent history, though it has happened before.  Historically, the idea behind it has come from those who feel that there is no room in the church for the visual, that all must be oriented toward the verbal.  This was true in the Byzantine Empire in the seventh century and it was true of the Reformers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as well as of the "enlightened" French Revolutionists.  Our recent encounter with iconoclasm was driven by the call to simplicity and poverty -- to identify the church with the poor in spirit by getting rid of anything ornate or beautiful, although ironically, the cost of doing a really good minimalist interior may far exceed that of a more traditional one, due to the high cost of such favorite materials as marble or alabaster clad walls.

Comparison between the post-Vatican II Church of the Holy Trinity in Brainard, NE
with a recent renovation of the same church
Now, granted, some of what existed before Vatican II in the US may have been in poor taste, but by no means all.  That was not true, however, in other, older places, where the same iconoclasm also occurred during the 1970s and 1980s.  I experienced it particularly badly in Ireland, where real iconoclastic crimes were perpetrated.  My own parish in New York's Manhattan escaped fairly lightly, but not without some damage.  The beautiful two-step marble altar railing, with gorgeous mosaic inserts of flowers and other symbols set against a gold background, was ripped out and partly replaced by modernist wooden rails.  In addition, some of the splendid altar furnishings were removed (but happily stored) and rather cheap looking modern furnishings substituted.   However, much of that damage was repaired during the 1997 renovation, when the elaborately carved marble railing from the former lower church was substituted for those destroyed and the original altar furnishings were brought back from storage.

Henri Matisse, Chapel of the Rosary, exterior view
French, 1949-1951
Ronchamp, Alpes Maritimes, France
At the time the post-Vatican II iconoclasm occurred there was also a desire on the part of churchmen to identify with the avant garde in architecture, which at that time was resolutely minimalist, possibly in a misguided belief that this would make the church "relevant".  (To whom, one may ask.)
Henri Matisse, Chapel of the Rosary, interior view

It was the era shortly after Matisse's chapel at Vence and LeCorbusier's at Ronchamp (both in France). Whatever one may say about the architecture of these two buildings I don't think that one could call them warm worship spaces.  (And, interestingly, both men were agnostics who looked upon their work on these buildings as a challenge and exercise in form, not Christians looking to create a space for worship.)  Sadly, these buildings now have a tendency to look very much of their period and thoroughly outdated.









Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeannerat)
Swiss, 1950-195
Chapel of Notre-Dame du Haut, exterior view
Ronchamp, Haute Soane, France

















Le Corbusier, Chapel of Notre-Dame du Haut, interior view













The impulse to adapt churches to this pattern was akin to that which spurred so much copycat architecture in the secular world as well, as architects for business fell all over themselves trying to imitate the post-war work of LeCorbusier or Mies van der Rohe.
Le Corbusier, UN Headquarters
Swiss, 1948-1952
New York

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Seagram Building, exterior view
German, 1958
New York




















Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Seagram Building, lobby view
New York
The result can be seen in any fairly large American city today, street after street of nearly identical vertical flat roofed boxes, well meant, but intensely boring.

Recent skyscrapers constructed in London
It is hardly surprising then that in the secular world a revolt occurred, beginning in the 1980s, that has given us buildings with shape, either just at the top (as it had with the classical skyscrapers of the 1920s and 30s) or that play with the shape of the entire building, most notably an ensemble of recent buildings in London.  However, the interiors of these buildings are usually just as minimalist as those of their predecessors and sometimes not even as functional.  So, it is even less surprising that, after decades of enduring minimalist worship spaces, ordinary parishioners might yearn for the return of something on which their eyes can rest as their hearts are touched.

Abbey of St. Denis, Choir
French, 1144


Which brings me to the questions which form the title for this essay, why should churches be beautiful, why should there be art that is readable, didactic or affective?

Well, one explanation was given by Abbot Suger of St. Denis, back in the twelfth century "The dull mind rises to the truth through material things" and even more fully, in answering some of his own minimalist contemporaries (they had them then too) "To be sure, those who criticize us argue that holy mind, pure heart and faithful intention should suffice ... These are, we agree, the things that matter most; yet we profess that we should also serve God with the external ornaments of sacred vessels, in all internal purity and in all external nobility, and nowhere is this to be done as much as in the service of the holy sacrifice.
Master of St. Gilles, Mass of St. Gilles
French, ca. 1500
London, National Gallery
This painting shows the interior of St. Denis
before most of the furnishings left by Suger
were destroyed in the iconoclasm of the French
Revolution.
For it is incumbent upon us in every case to serve our redeemer in the most fitting way for in all things, without exception, he has not refused to provide for us, has united our nature with his in a single, admirable individual, and "setting us on his right hand" he has promised "that we will truly possess his kingdom" (Mtt. 25:33f.)."
1  It is to Suger, incidentally, that we owe the impetus for the birth of the Gothic style.


Another, contemporary, person who has spoken about the value of art in raising human consciousness to contemplation of the divine was Pope Benedict XVI:  "...some expressions are real highways to God, the supreme Beauty; indeed they help us to grow in our relationship with him, in prayer. These are works that were born from faith and express faith."2








In my own life I see the effects that art and beauty can have on the majority of people.  
Hendrick Terbrugghen, Crucifixion with
the Virgin and St. John the Evangelist
Dutch, 1624-1625
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Wandering through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I volunteer, I observe that even the most secular of individuals, even those from non-Western cultures, tend to pause before a work like Terbrugghen's Crucifixion and ponder.  I don't really know what is in their minds, but something about the quality of the piece, 
stark yet not without beauty, pulls them up short, stops them for a moment, makes them think.  

Finally, we live in a world where the idea of the sacred has receded far from our daily lives and where education en masse has failed to introduce the young to Western culture or has introduced it in a negative way.  Therefore, many, many people today have no idea what the image they are seeing is actually about.  I have noticed this too at the Met, where the descriptions on the wall cards have been expanded recently to describe the action taking place in a painting or statue, be it a Christian scene or a mythological one, because the title can no longer be presumed to bring with it the necessary subject recognition.  

In this new world it seems a good idea for Catholics, whether adults or children, to be exposed to the images of their faith as often as possible so that it can become the ground of their psyche, which is more easily reached by art or music than it is by words alone. So, bring on the readable paintings, the Stations of the Cross, the stained glass windows, the marble altars, the gilding and the jeweled sacred vessels.  Let us see the scenes we hear about in the Gospels, let us touch a little bit of heaven on earth.  We need flesh on the words and food for our imaginations as much, if not more, than our medieval ancestors did.  


© M. Duffy, 2014

10/4/2014 Addendum:  In visiting the website of Magnificat, the small monthly prayer book that always features beautifully reproduced art on its cover and inside, for an updated image of its front cover to post in the right hand column of this blog I came across an address given by its American editor that deals with some of the same issues I have touched on here.  It makes interesting reading here.
_________________________________________________________
1.  Suger of St. Denis, On Administration (Translation by David Burr), from The Internet Medieval Sourcebook (© Paul Halsall January 1996 - July 2006), Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies, 
(http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/sugar.html).  For more on Suger see:  Abbot Suger and St. Denis:  A Symposiumedited by Paula Lieber Gerson, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986 available online at 
http://www.metmuseum.org/research/metpublications/Abbot_Suger_and_Saint_Denis
2.  Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience on Art and Prayer, August 31, 2011 quoted in  Duncan Stroik, "Benedictus XVI et Via Pulchritudinis", Sacred Architecture, Issue 23, 2013, p. 2.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Charles Lorin Stained Glass Windows at St. Jean Baptiste Church, New York


Signature of Charles Lorin, Chartres
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
The stained glass windows of my parish church are among the most interesting in New York City.  The church is located at Lexington Avenue and East 76th Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (www.stjeanbaptiseny.org).  The parish was founded in 1882 as a national church for the French-Canadian community in Manhattan and named in honor of the patron saint of Quebec.  In 1900 it was placed in the care of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, a religious order founded in France in 1857 by St. Peter Julian Eymard (see my article about him here), and dedicated to spreading awareness of the great mystery of the Eucharist (www.blessedsacrament.com).  By 1910 the original church was bursting at the seams and a new church became necessary.

The splendid new Beaux-Arts Baroque church was built through the exemplary generosity of the financier and art patron, Thomas Fortune Ryan, who paid all the costs of construction.  Construction began in 1911 and was completed by the end of 1913.  The church was dedicated by John Cardinal Farley (a distant cousin of my paternal grandmother) in January 1914.  The interior decoration, financed by members of the parish, was planned specifically to give visual form to aspects of Eucharistic theology and to complement the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament which is one of the long standing traditions of this religious congregation and of the parish.  The interior contains many Eucharistic symbols and features multiple adoring angels, but the crown jewels of the interior are the windows.


History of the Windows
The principal stained glass windows in Saint Jean Baptiste were crafted by the atelier of Charles Lorin in Chartres, France between 1912 and 1914.

This stained glass atelier was founded in 1863 by Nicholas Lorin and continued from 1882 by his son, Charles. It remains in business to this day, as the firm of Lorin-Hermet-Juteau (www.lorin-hermet-juteau.com), and is considered the oldest continuously operating stained glass workshop in Chartres. It is still producing important new windows and renovating older ones.

Finished in 1914 the installation of the windows was delayed until 1920 due to the outbreak of World War I. Considered too fragile and valuable to risk delivery by sea during the war, they were stored underground until after the Armistice that ended the war. In the late 1990s they were removed from their settings for the first time since their installation and restored and reset by the firm of Sunlites Stained Glass of New York (www.sunlitesstainedglass.com).  This year marks the 100th anniversary of their completion.

Only one other set of Lorin windows exist in New York City, at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and they are an earlier work in the Gothic style by Nicholas Lorin.

Style of the Windows
Nicolas Poussin, The Eucharist
From the Louvre Seven Sacraments series
French, 1640
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Stylistically, the windows are traditional in design and classical in tone.  They emanate from the great tradition of classicizing French painting that stretches from Poussin and his followers in the 17th century, through Ingres and his followers in the 19th century, right up to the moment in 1912 when they were commissioned. At that point, Impressionism was a recent phenomenon and Cubism was in its very earliest infancy. The windows are a perfect reflection of their period. They tell their stories with calm, serene confidence. Space is realistically depicted and each of the stories is set in a classically depicted building or landscape. Figures are realistic and appear to be solidly placed in their surrounding.

It may be noted that the Old Testament scenes in the upper story have more deep color saturation than those in the lower story. This is probably due to the fact that they are so much higher above the viewer’s head than those in the lower story. In addition, the sunlight at the upper level is stronger than at the lower level, although this has probably become less true as the construction of taller buildings than those which surrounded the church at their installation has resulted in blocking some of the light that once reached them. For the same reason the windows of the lower story now receive even less light than they originally did. So, we are fortunate that they were prepared using lighter colors.

Furthermore, the windows of the upper level present their scenes in a taller format than in the lower level.  That is, the scenic portion of each of the upper windows occupies more space within the window than the scenic element does in the lower window.  In the lower window, the framing element is larger.  This is doubtless because the upper windows are designed to compensate for the distance between them and the viewer.  Seen from the ground level, the windows appear to be the same size.    This disparity and the color balance difference already noted, suggest that the entire effect of the windows was carefully planned in advance, as does the carefully chosen iconographic program, which is described below.

Outline
For the purpose of this guide the windows are broken into four groups:
1. Those in the nave,
2. Those in the crossing and transepts,
3. The lunettes in the transepts and
3. The Saint John the Baptist lunette above the central entrance of the nave.

However, the windows of the nave and the crossing and transepts form one continuous and interlocked narrative of the history of salvation, with particular emphasis on the Eucharist, in keeping with the charism of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament.

1. NAVE Windows

Layout
The layout of the nave windows is diagrammed below. It begins at the entrance doors on the north side of the building, moves toward the altar, and then reads back from the altar to the doors on the south side of the building.

The windows are arranged on two levels, with scenes taken from the Old Testament on the upper level and related scenes from the New Testament, from the life of Jesus, or from later church history on the lower level.

The windows of the Crossing and Transept areas is diagrammed later, but the windows in that area form part of a continuous narrative with the windows of the nave and should be “read” as part of a whole.

Narrative
“Reading” the subjects of the windows from the doors to the altar area and back around the entire nave, including the crossings and transepts, can be done on two distinct levels of meaning.

On the most basic level, the simple horizontal, one can read two separate, chronological, depictions of events from both the Old Testament (upper story) and the New Testament (lower story). The New Testament scenes are followed by three scenes from church history from the Middle Ages to 1910 (lower level).

However, on another “deeper” level of meaning, the stories in the upper and lower levels can be read both horizontally and vertically, since the upper scenes can be read as foreshadowing those in the lower story. This kind of reading, called “typology” was common in earlier centuries. Its origins can be found in the very first years of the growth of the Church, shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus, within the books of the New Testament itself.

Section of the Klosterneuburg Altarpiece showing
several of the sets of images.  The events Before the Law
are shown in the top row, those Under the Law in the
bottom row and those Under Grace are in the middle row.
By the 11th century there was a fully developed schema of subjects from the Old Testament that were linked to events in the New Testament.  In the arts these events were generally presented as “sets” of three images, two from the Old Testament and one from the New. The Old Testament scenes were further divided into those occurring Before the Law (i.e., events from the Book of Genesis) and those Under the Law (i.e., events from the Book of Exodus and later texts). The New Testament scenes were thought of as occurring Under Grace (i.e., events from the Life of Christ or the Acts of the Apostles).

Probably the best known example is the Klosterneuburg Altarpiece, the work of the Mosan metal artist, Nicholas of Verdun, which was completed in 1181 for the abbey of Klosterneuburg in Austria, where it remains to this day.

Rambures Master, Joseph, Jonah and the
Burial of Jesus
From a Biblia pauperum
Northern French or Flemish, ca. 1470
The Hague, Musuem Moormano-Westentrianum
MS MMW 10 A 15, fol. 33r 

In the later Middle Ages this kind of typology was a feature of such popular lay picture Bibles as the Biblia pauperum and the Speculum humanae salvationis. An example from a 15th-century Biblia pauperum illustrates how these documents looked. The central New Testament (or Under Grace) image was flanked by the two Old Testament images (Before the Law and Under the Law).

In this example, the dead Christ is laid to rest in the tomb by His Mother and disciples, flanked on the left by the images of Joseph being placed in the well by his jealous brothers and on the right by Jonah being thrown overboard. (Biblia pauperum, attributed to the Rambures Master. The manuscript is dated circa 1470 and is in the collection of the Museum Moormano-Westentrianum at the Hague (MS MMW 10 A 15, fol. 33r).

Our windows share in this venerable history.


Nave Windows
The correlation for the nave windows of our church is as follows:
Upper Story (Old Testament, Before the Law)                   Lower Story (New Testament, Life of Jesus)
The Tree of Life                                                                 The Annunciation
Sacrifice of Cain and Abel                                                  The Nativity
Sacrifice of Melchisedech                                                   The Marriage Feast at Cana
Sacrifice of Abraham                                                          Promise of the Eucharist (Feeding of the Five                                                                                               Thousand)


The Tree of Life and The Annunciation of Our Lord
Atelier Charles Lorin
The Tree of Life
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Upper level
Atelier Charles Lorin
The Annunciation
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Lower level

























 The focus of this pair of windows is obedience to God. In the upper level window Adam and Eve are shown hiding from God after their disobedience in eating the fruit of the Tree of Life. In the lower window Mary accepts the Holy Spirit.

The disobedience of Adam and Eve was healed through the Incarnation of Jesus, made possible by Mary’s obedient response to the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. In addition, long-standing Christian tradition, going back to the first years of Christianity, have identified Jesus as the new Adam and Mary as the new Eve in a redeemed, renewed creation. St. Paul makes the connection between Jesus and Adam in 1 Corinthians 15. The Fathers of the Church picked this up and began to write about Mary as the New Eve as early as the 2nd century (Irenaeus of Lyons).


The Sacrifice of Cain and Abel and The Nativity of Our Lord 
Atelier Charles Lorin
The Sacrifice of Cain and Abel
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Upper level
Atelier Charles Lorin
The Nativity
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Lower level

























The focus here is on sacrifice, purity and peace. In the top window Cain is shown in the background reacting angrily to God’s more favorable reception of the sacrifice of a pure lamb by his brother, Abel. In his jealousy and rage Cain killed Abel, committing the first murder.
In the Nativity of Jesus, shown in the lower window, the true Lamb of God and perfect sacrifice was born to reconcile man with God and to bring peace on earth, the message of the angels above His manger cradle.

The next two pairs of windows should probably be read together, as they represent different aspects of the promise of the Eucharist as sacrifice and gift.

The Sacrifice of Melchisedech and The Marriage Feast at Cana 
Atelier Charles Lorin
Sacrifice of Melchisedech
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Upper level
Atelier Charles Lorin
Marriage Feast at Cana
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Lower level

























Melchisedech, a somewhat mysterious Old Testament figure, was king and priest of Salem (which later was known as Jerusalem) and was considered a “type” of Christ, the eternal high priest as well as the perfect sacrifice.
In the upper window Melchisedech offers a sacrifice of bread and wine, seen as a prefiguration of the Eucharist. The lower window depicts the Marriage Feast of Cana, at which Jesus performed the first of his miracles, changing water to wine, also seen as a foretaste of the Eucharist.

The Sacrifice of Abraham and The Promise of the Eucharist (Feeding of the Five Thousand)
Atelier Charles Lorin
Sacrifice of  Abraham
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Upper level
Atelier Charles Lorin
Promise of the Eucharist
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Lower level

























In the upper window we see Abraham, obedient to God’s command, preparing to sacrifice his son, Isaac. He is being stopped at the last moment by an angel who provided a ram as substitute.
Jesus, the Son of God and the perfect Lamb of God, foreshadowed the creation of the Eucharist when he multiplied a few loaves of bread into enough food to feed 5,000 people, a scene depicted in the lower window. The Eucharist is both a daily sharing in His passion and death and His persistent Presence in the world, in a sense a physical substitute for His everlasting Presence in heaven.

FOR THE WINDOWS IN THE CROSSING AND TRANSEPT AREA, PLEASE SEE SECTION 2.


Moving back up the nave the windows should be read beginning with those nearest the altar and ending with those nearest the doors. These are:

Upper Story (Old Testament, Under the Law)              Lower Story (New Testament, Church History)
The Bread of Proposition                                              The Disciples at Emmaus
The Sword of Gideon                                                   The Vision of St. Juliana of Liege
The Bread of Elijah                                                       A Procession of the Blessed Sacrament at Lourdes
The Archangel Raphael and Tobias                                Pius X and Frequent Communion

The Bread of Proposition and The Disciples at Emmaus
Atelier Charles Lorin
The Bread of Proposition
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Upper level
Atelier Charles Lorin
The Disciples at Emmaus
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Lower level

























The Old Testament scene at the top is drawn from the instructions for the treatment of the Ark in the Book of Exodus. Each Sabbath twelve blessed loaves of unleavened bread, known as the “Bread of the Presence” were to be placed on a table in the Holy of Holies, near the Ark of the Covenant. Each week the previous Sabbath’s loaves were consumed by the priests of the Temple.
In the lower window we see an event from New Testament. On the evening of the first Easter, the Risen Christ is recognized by two of his disciples, who had walked for several hours in His presence without recognizing Him. The recognition occurs in the breaking of bread. “The Breaking of the Bread” is the name given by the earliest Christians to the Eucharistic meal and this window is intended to commemorate that first post-Resurrection Eucharist, presided over by Christ Himself. It is easy to see in the Old Testament sacred bread, which stood in the presence of the Ark, as a foreshadowing of the Eucharist, which is the abiding earthly form of the presence of God, the Body of Christ.

The Sword of Gideon and The Vision of St. Juliana of Liege
Atelier Charles Lorin
The Sword of Gideon
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Upper level
Atelier Charles Lorin
Vision of St. Juliana of Liege
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Lower level

























Both of these windows commemorate visionary experiences. In the upper window we see an event from the Old Testament Book of Judges. Gideon, the Jewish hero, has disguised himself and infiltrated the camp of the enemy Midionites. In his disguised state he overhears one of the enemy soldiers telling another of a dream in which he saw a loaf of bread roll through the Midionite camp, destroying it. His fellow soldier interprets the dream as “the sword of Gideon”. Gideon returns to his own troops and does indeed lead a successful attack. The form which the visionary “sword” takes, a loaf of bread, has obvious Eucharistic significance.
The lower window depicts one of the visions of St. Juliana of Liege (also known as Juliana of Mont Cornillon), a 13th-century nun, in which she sees a procession of angels bearing the Body of Christ in the form of the Host in a monstrance. Her visions lead her to propose a special feast in honor of the Blessed Sacrament.  Within a few years of her death Pope Urban IV declared this feast, the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ for the universal Church. To this day it is celebrated with processions of the Eucharist in the monstrance through city streets.

The Bread of Elijah and A Procession of the Blessed Sacrament at Lourdes
Atelier Charles Lorin
The Bread of Elijah
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Upper level
Atelier Charles Lorin
Procession of the Blessed Sacrament
at Lourdes
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Lower level

























These two windows depict scenes of the intervention of God in restoring the health of individuals and providing sustenance for their journeys of faith. In the upper window Elijah, having fled from the vengeance of Queen Jezebel and having prayed to be delivered by death, has lain down under a tree and fallen asleep. An angel, sent by God, awakens him and insists that he eat the hearth cake and jug of water that the angel had brought. Strengthened by this food for his journey Elijah walks to Mount Horeb where he has a direct encounter with God.
In the lower window, we see a modern event, set at the grotto of the shrine of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes, in France. The basilica of Lourdes can be seen in the distance, while the statue of the Virgin Mary in the grotto occupies the right side of the composition. In the central foreground an invalid, lying on a stretcher encounters Christ directly in the monstrance held above him by a priest. Strengthened by his encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, the ill person is prepared for whatever may come. It may be one of the miraculous healings for which Lourdes is famous or it may be his final journey to God.

The Archangel Raphael and Tobias and Pius X and Frequent Communion
Atelier Charles Lorin
The Archangel Raphael and Tobias
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Upper level
Atelier Charles Lorin
Pius X and Frequent Communion
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Lower level
























This pair of windows focuses attention on the guidance of the young and the need to provide them with support on their life journeys. The Old Testament Book of Tobit relates how the Archangel Raphael came to earth in disguise to assist the young Tobias on a difficult and dangerous journey. In the upper window we see an incident from the first night of that journey. After making camp on the banks of the river Tigris, Tobias slipped his feet into the water and was nudged by a large fish. The disguised archangel urged Tobias to catch the fish and then instructed him to save parts of it for future use. These preserved parts of the fish enabled him to overcome the perils of his journey, defeat demons and, eventually, to cure his father of blindness.
In the lower window we see another instance of guidance and support being given to the young. In 1910 Pope Saint Pius X ordered that the age of a child at First Communion should be reduced from the then-common age of about 12-14 to the age of the use of reason at about the age of 7. The reasoning behind this order was based on a study of the practices of the early church, which admitted young children to the Sacrament, and on the reflection that because of the restrictions that had been imposed in subsequent centuries “children in their innocence were forced away from the embrace of Christ and deprived of the food of their interior life; and from this it also happened that in their youth, destitute of this strong help, surrounded by so many temptations, they lost their innocence and fell into vicious habits even before tasting of the Sacred Mysteries” (Quam singulari – Decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Discipline of the Sacraments on First Communion, August 8, 1910).
This window also has a particular significance for the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. Following the example of St. Peter Julian Eymard, their founder, in guiding and teaching the destitute children of Paris, and instilling in them love and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, the fathers were among the leading proponents of lowering the age of First Communion. It is interesting to note that this window was commissioned in 1912, only two years after the decree was promulgated and long before the canonization of St. Pius X, which took place in 1954.


2. WINDOWS OF THE CROSSING AND TRANSEPTS
In the crossing/transept area the imagery becomes a bit more complex. The upper level windows (with the exceptions of the lunettes above the doors) primarily record events from the story of Exodus. In the lower windows of the transepts we see two events from the Last Supper, the Passover celebration on the final night before Jesus was crucified.


All these are taken from the Book of Exodus. In addition, there is an interloping scene, of the Feast of Ahasuerus, which comes from the Book of Esther.
Atelier Charles Lorin
The Burning Bush
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Upper level - North Transept west

Atelier Charles Lorin
Moses Striking the Rock
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Upper level - North Transept east


























Atelier Charles Lorin
Feast of Ahasuerus
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Upper level - North Apsidal Chapel of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament
Atelier Charles Lorin
The Ark of the Covenant
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Upper level - South Transept west

Atelier Charles Lorin
The Manna
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Upper level - South Transept east

























Atelier Charles Lorin
The Pasch of the Old Law
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Upper level - South Apsidal Chapel of St. Joseph
Taken together all these images illustrate the saving power of God in the Passover of both the Old and the New Testaments. The events of the Exodus freed the People of God from bondage in Egypt or, in the case of the scene from the Book of Esther, from persecution in Persia. The sacrifice of Christ is the second Passover, the Passover of the New Covalent, which freed all people from the oppression of sin.

In addition, the inclusions of such scenes as God revealing Himself to Moses in the burning bush, of the spreading of the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of the Hebrews, of the gathering of the mysterious, bread-like manna in the desert and of the Ark of the Covenant all relate to the revelation of God in Jesus, of his sacrifice of Himself, of His institution of the Eucharist, in which bread and wine become His Body and Blood, and of His continuing presence in the world as the Real Presence in the tabernacle of the altar.

In the lower level of the sanctuary area are two New Testament events from the Last Supper, the Washing of the Feet and the Institution of the Eucharist.
Atelier Charles Lorin
The Washing of the Feet
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Lower level - North Apsidal Chapel of Our Lady
of the Blessed Sacrament


Atelier Charles Lorin
The Last Supper
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Lowerlevel - South Apsidal Chapel of St. Joseph



























Each time Mass is celebrated on the altar, which is surrounded by these windows, that Mass becomes part of the story of salvation depicted in them and part of the eternal Sacrifice of Christ perpetuated in the Eucharist.

3. TRANSEPT LUNETTES

High above the doors in the transepts are two windows depicting events from church history related to the Eucharist, Saint Tarcisius Receiving the Eucharist and the Mass of Saint Gregory the Great.

North Transept - Saint Tarcisius
Atelier Charles Lorin
Saint Tarcisius
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
North Transept over door

Tarcisius was a Roman boy of about 12 who was what we would today call an “altar boy”. During one of the 3rd century Roman persecutions of Christians he was given the Blessed Sacrament to bring to a bedridden Christian. On his way he was challenged by a group of other boys to join them in their games and, when he refused, they attempted to see what he was carrying. His defense of the consecrated Body of Christ resulted in a savage attack, from which he died. He is the patron saint of altar servers and has long been regarded as a model for the devotion to and respect for the Eucharist which should be shown by every Christian.

South Transept - Mass of Saint Gregory
Atelier Charles Lorin
Mass of St. Gregory
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
South Transept over door
This was a frequent subject in medieval art. It depicts an event in the life of Pope Saint Gregory the Great. As Saint Gregory celebrated Mass one day he prayed fervently for a sign that would convince a doubter in the congregation about the reality of the change of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. At the consecration of the Mass, Christ appeared above the altar, crowned with thorns and bleeding. The doubter was converted and believed. The specific image of Christ which appeared to Gregory became known as the “Imago pietatis” and eventually as the “Man of Sorrows”. This image had a long life in late medieval and renaissance art as an independent iconographic subject.

Together, these two images remind the viewer of the devotion that should be shown to the Blessed Sacrament, even to the point of giving ones life to protect it.

4. LUNETTE OVER THE ENTRANCE DOOR

Behold the Lamb of God
Atelier Charles Lorin, Behold the Lamb of God
French, 1912-1914
New York, Eglise St. Jean Baptiste
Above Entrance Door
The final Lorin window in the church is the lunette that crowns the central entrance doorway. This window depicts Saint John the Baptist, patron saint of French Canada and of this church, at a crucial moment of his mission. He stands, surrounded by people who have come to hear him preach, at the banks of the Jordan River and point to the approaching figure of Jesus, saying “Behold the Lamb of God”. Thus, this window, in a sense, sums up the entire decorative scheme of the church. John the Baptist, its patron, points the way toward the person of Jesus, the Lamb of Sacrifice, and encourages both his followers in the design of the window and we, the congregation of the parish, to remember, as they leave Who they came here to meet and adore.

We have not yet discovered how this program of subjects for the windows came into being. It appears to reflect a serious plan, drawn up by someone with intent, and not a random choice of subject matter. Research is ongoing.

©Margaret M. Duffy, M.A., Ph. D. (abd) October 2012

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Stricken City

Before this day, the thirteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington comes to an end I thought I would pass along the thoughts of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Their "Artwork of the Day" for today is Paul Klee's Stricken City from 1936.
Paul Klee, Sticken City
German, 1936
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art 






It seems a prescient image of the horror that was perpetrated on September 11, 2001.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Miraculous Miniatures

Master of Claude de France, Angels Holding the Crown of Thorns
and the Eucharistic Host
From Prayer Book of Claude de France
Frencg, ca. 1517
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1166, fol. 51v-52r
Photo:  Schecter Lee
Among the amazing feats of human endeavor two things have always fascinated me.  One is the fine detail frequently found in ancient jewelry, as for instance in Greek and Roman gold jewelry.  Another is the staggering detail that can be found in illuminated manuscripts, details that must be painted with brushes no bigger than a single hair.  And some of the most astounding documents of the miniature painter’s art that I have ever seen are currently on display at the Morgan Library.  I visited the exhibition, called appropriately “Miracles in Miniature:  The Art of the Master of Claude de France”, some time ago, but have not been able to prepare this review till now.  Unfortunately, the exhibition closes on September 14, so there are just a couple of weeks left for you to see it, if you are in the New York area. 

If you are not able to make it the Morgan Library website does provide digital facsimiled of two of the primary volumes in the exhibition.  However, I urge you to get to the Library if you can.  Digital images are great; they allow you to get very close to the page, closer than you could possibly get in person.  But, like all photographs, they can also be deceptive.  Unless you see the actual book on display you will not believe it.

The works on display are primarily the work of a miniature painter currently known as the Master of Claude de France, as his or her name is as yet unknown to us.  Indeed, it is not such a long time since the hand of this master was identified by the manuscript specialist, Charles Sterling. Two of the works on display were commissioned by Claude, who was the daughter of King Louis XII and Queen Anne of Brittany.  She was Duchess of Brittany by inheritance from her mother and was married, at the age of 14, to her cousin, Francois de Valois, count of Angouleme and heir to her father's crown, thus succeeding her mother as Queen of France and uniting the Duchy of Brittany to the crown of France.  She died at the age of 24, in 1524.

The primary manuscript, the Prayer Book
of Claude de France, is displayed along
This photo, taken at the exhibition, offers some scale for the size of
the books.  However, they are even smaller than they appear to be.
The book seen in this photo is the Book of Hours of Claude de France.
Photo:  Emon Hassan for The New York Times
with two other books.
  
All three books fit into a case that is approximately 6 inches square!  The Prayer Book of Claude de France is, in fact, only 2-3/4 inches by 2 inches, smaller than a credit card, and the other books are only slightly bigger.







A sense of the scale can be gained from the image of the book being held in someone’s hands that appeared on the Morgan’s website.  Yet, within these extremely small pages, the Claude Master managed to paint scenes that rival full scale panel painting.  Truly these are miraculous miniatures!


Photo of the Prayer Book of Claude de France being held.
Photo:  Schecter Lee


All but one of the illuminations in the Prayer Book are contained within the borders of one leaf.  One image, of the Trinity, spreads over two pages, one of which it fills completely.  

The images surround the text on each page and the text is so small that it is amazing that the Queen of France was able to read the text of the prayers at all.  Surely, the painter did not do this work with the unaided eye!  He must have had access to artificial magnification.  One tends to forget that, although the microscope and the telescope were perfected during the seventeenth century, the simple magnifying lens was already known as early as the thirteenth century.   Magnifying spectacles must have been as essential to the Claude Master as were his brushes.  
Master of Claude de France
Angels Adoring the Trinity
From Prayer Book of Claude de France
French, ca. 1517
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1166, fol. 25r
Photo: Schecter Lee


The incredible detail is best seen on the Morgan’s own website, where there is an online exhibition that permits you to zoom to the highest resolution possible.  Check out the detail in the angels at the top right corner of page 25, for instance here














Although the three tiny books at the heart of this show may look like charming toys for a queen they were intended, as was every illuminated book of hours or prayer book, as aids to prayer.  

Master of Claude de France, Jesus Purges the Temple and
the Agony in the Garden
From Prayer Book of Claude de France
French, ca. 1517
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1166, fol. 6v-7r
Photo: Schecter Lee

They were a means of focusing the attention of the viewer on the stories they tell, whether from the Bible or from the lives of the saints.  The smallest book, the Prayer Book of Claude de France contains a complete illustration cycle for the Life of Christ and of the Life of the Virgin, including the tales of her conception and childhood, as well as illustrations from the lives of several of the Apostles.
  





Master of Claude de France, Assumption and Coronation of
the Blessed Virgin
From Prayer Book of Claude de France
French, ca. 1517
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1166, fol. 23v-24r
Photo:  Schecter Lee



















Some of the saints whose stories were included were of special importance to France and to the royal house of France.  These included:  St. Denis, St. Martin of Tours, St. Genevieve, St. Claude, St. Rene, St. Hubert and St. Louis.
Master of Claude de France, St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata
and St. Martin Preparing to St. Martin Preparing to Divide His Cloak
From Prayer Book of Claude de France
French, ca. 1517
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1166, fol. 37v-38r
Photo: Schecter Lee


















In addition, there are such popular saints as: Francis, Anthony of Padua, Anthony of Egypt, Gregory, Mary Magdalene, Veronica, Barbara, Catherine of Alexandria, Margaret of Alexandria, Helena and Ursula.
Master of Claude de France, St. Catherine of Alexandria
and St. Margaret of Alexandria
From Prayer Book of Claude de France
French, ca. 1517
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1166, fol. 43v-44r
Photo: Schecter Lee


















There are images of the mysteries of the Faith such as the Trinity and the Eucharist and the Communion of the Saints.
Master of Claude de France, All Saints
From Prayer Book of Claude de France
French, ca. 1517
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1166, fol. 48v-49r
Photo:  Schecter Lee





















In spite of its amazingly small size it is a powerhouse of assistance in prayerful meditation. 

The other books on display are also small masterpieces, though none are quite as tiny as the Prayer Book of Claude de France.  However, some of them are also intimately connected with her.
Master of Claude de France, Annunciation
From Hours of Claude de France
French, ca. 1517
Bibermuehle (Switzerland), Collection of Heribert Tenschert
Fol. 14v
Photo:  Ina Kettlehoven

 Her Book of Hours, on loan from a private collection, is on view, as is the prayer book of her mother, Anne de Bretagne, also Queen of France twice over, as the wife of first Charles VIII and then Louis XII.
Jean Poyer, Penitance
From Prayer Book of Anne de Bretagne
French, 1492-1495
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M50, fol. 10v
Here the penitent is Queen Anne herself.























Master of Claude de France, Pages from a Book of Hours
French, ca. 1515-17
Private Collection
Fol. 26v-27
It is suggested that this book may have been commissioned
for Renee de France, Claude's younger sister.
Other books and loose pages on display, some of them recently identified as the work of the Claude Master, are assembled together for the first time. 















The books in this exhibition stand at the very end of the great tradition of manuscript illumination that developed during the middle ages.  Beginning with occasional full page illustrations and smaller illustrations, sometimes single figures, sometimes whole scenes, in the capital letters and/or the margins, illumination had evolved by this time into a form that presented the natural world in very tiny scale.
Master of Claude de France, Agony in the Garden
Single Leaf from a Book of  Hours
French, ca. 1505-1520
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1143.001r
By the time these images were painted, the art of illumination had become a luxury profession, practiced by specialized artists and no longer a natural part of producing books by hand.  Book publication had already assumed most of its modern characteristics with mass production by presses and illustration by hand had already been replaced by woodcut and print illustration.  When produced these small gems were already luxury goods for a tiny group of royal and aristocratic individuals.  And this show surely reflects this.

Master of Claude de France, Exposition of the Eucharist
From Prayer Book of Claude de France
French, 1517
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1166, fol. 52v
Photo:  Schecter Lee
It would not be until the 19th century that such lavishly decorated picture books would appear again, following advances in color printing processes.  Today this kind of illustration is primarily found in books intended for children.  So, seeing these incredible masterpieces of miniature painting, intended to assist an adult in prayer, is both an enormous treat and a reminder of how much life has changed in 500 years.

© M. Duffy, 2014