Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Taking Up the Cross

Francois Duquesnoy, St. Andrew
French, 1629-1633
Vatican City, St. Peter's Basilica
Then he said to all,
"If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
yet lose or forfeit himself?"
Luke 9:23-25

It's never easy to take up the cross, nor should it be. Sometimes it will lead you to laying down your own life for the sake of the Name.

St. Andrew by Francois Duquesnoy (at right).
Duquesnoy was one of three other sculptors employed by Bernini to create the colossal statues that stand in the niches built into the gigantic piers at the crossing (where nave and transepts intersect) of St. Peter's Basilica.
According to tradition, after preaching the Gospel in what is today Turkey and the Balkans, St. Andrew, brother of St. Peter, was crucified on an X-shaped cross during the reign of Nero.
As with the other three piers and their related statues, they are part of an amazing statement of the faith which Bernini developed in his designs for the furnishing of the crossing area. One of the greatest art history teachers I ever had, Irving Lavin, has written extensively on this design. Some of his work may be found at this link . For the specific information on the crossing, its niches and statues, follow this path (for some reason the precise link can't be copied): click on "Library" from the links at the left side of the page, then on the image of the cover of "St. Peter's in the Vatican" (red cover with circular image of the basilica, second from the right in the second row), then "The Crossing Piers" hyperlink.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

In the Divine Image He Created Them

Michelangelo, Creation of Adam
Italian, 1508-1512
Vatican City, Sistine Chapel
God created man in his image;
(Et creavit Deus hominem ad imaginem suam)

in the divine image He created him;
(ad imaginem Dei creavit illum)

male and female He created them.
(masculum et feminam creavit eos.)
Genesis 1:27 in the New American Bible and Latin Vulgate translations.

High above the heads of those who stand or sit in the Sistine Chapel (Rome, Vatican), be they tourists craning upward with open mouths, the cardinals in solemn conclave to elect a Pope or the Pope celebrating Mass, fly the great ceiling frescos of Michelangelo. Painted between 1508 and 1512, by commission of Pope Julius II, these paintings are one of the great monuments of Western art.

Detail showing Eve in God's left arm
In those four years, Michelangelo took a bland, early Renaissance ceiling, painted dark blue with silver stars, and transformed it into a ceiling of majesty, with central scenic panels, divided by illusory architecture and telling the story of salvation from the Creation of Light to the Flood. In the areas between the vaults he also presented the prophets of the Old Testament, the sibyls of the ancient pagan world and the ancestors of Christ.

Probably the most familiar of all the images from the ceiling is the one that illustrates the passage of Genesis 1:27 from today’s readings (reproduced above right). Usually called the “Creation of Adam”, it actually shows something more complex. Yes, God is reaching out to the reclining (and not yet fully alive) Adam to animate him. But look further. As He animates Adam with His right hand, the left arm of God is wrapped around the shoulders of the already created Eve. She for her part grasps His arm and looks with evident interest at the about to be animated Adam.

Michelangelo, Creation of Eve
Italian, 1508-1512
Vatican City, Sistine Chapel

There is another account in Genesis, also familiar to us, of the creation of Eve from one of Adam’s ribs. Michelangelo also painted that story on the Sistine ceiling.  This is the more traditional artistic view of the Creation of Eve but it lacks much of the energy, the grace and the mystery of Michelangelo's first image.