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19 September 2010


David Clayton is a painter and teacher, who is the artist-in-residence at St. Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, NH. More of his artwork and writing can be found on his web log, The Way of Beauty, and its essay archive. His television program, also called The Way of Beauty, can be watched here.

His biography can be read here.


DM: Few Catholic religious artists would deny the importance of tradition, precedent and history in their work. Yet their interpretations of Catholic art history vary. What people, artworks, events or ideas from the past are especially important to your understanding of what Catholic religious art is, and what it ought to be?
DC: If I wanted to summarise it as best I can, it would be as follows. First, all Catholic visual art is rooted in the liturgy. So at the core of her artistic traditions are her liturgical art traditions. These are, according to Pope Benedict the iconographic, the Gothic and the Baroque at its best. They are different styles because reveal different aspects of man. I would characterise these as follows: the iconographic tradition, portrays redeemed or Eschatological Man; the Baroque portrays Historical Man - that is, fallen man; and the Gothic portrays the transition between the two by degrees – it is the art of pilgrimage. So in the dynamic of prayer Eschatological (iconographic) art, takes directly to heaven, it starts and finishes there, as it were. The Baroque on the other hand starts in a fallen world, but from there directs our thoughts to heaven. While the starting point may be different in each case, but what all three traditions have in common is their goal: the contemplation of heavenly things.

Catholic religious art, which we may categorise more broadly as that which has a specifically religious purpose, that may be devotional prayer as well as liturgical, is rooted in these traditions.

This does not rule out the possibility of a new tradition developing. There is, to my knowledge, no tradition that has a style modelled on Original Man - that is, man before the Fall.

I should say also that iconographic art is not just the Eastern styles that we are accustomed to seeing today. There is a strong tradition of Western styles that conform to the prototype, such as Celtic art, Carolingian, Ottonian and Romanesque.
DM: What Catholic religious art of the past is most worthy of imitation for a Catholic religious artist today?
DC: Pick the great artists from these styles. This would be a matter of personal choice but for the Baroque I would choose Velazquez or George de la Tour maybe. For the Gothic I would choose Fra Angelico and Duccio. For the iconographic, I love the Romanesque illuminated manuscript style, or the style of Mt Sinai in the 11th century.

There is a saying that is apropos: all the great art movements began on the altar. So if we think of the Baroque, it began as the art of the Catholic Counter-Reformation and as liturgical art form. But from this foundation, it became the style that characterised all art, sacred and profane (e.g. landscapes and portraits) for the era.
DM: What is least worthy of imitation?
DC:Well the quick answer is any that doesn't correspond to these traditions, such as much 20th century art. However, I would avoid also as models for imitation and for different reasons: 19th century naturalistic art, such as Bougeureau or the Pre-Raphaelites; and the work of the Mannerists and High Renaissance artists such as Michaelangelo or Raphael (I mention these because that might surprise some people). I don't rate the 19th century stuff at all, and I would keep clear of the High Renaissance stuff because this was still forming the styles that reached their culmination in the Baroque, a hundred years later - and unless you understand how they are different, it might cause difficulties.
DM: You speak of three praiseworthy liturgical art traditions: iconographic, Gothic and Baroque, and you have been trained in both the Byzantine iconographic and the Baroque painterly traditions. Do you think that artists should attempt to combine any of these traditions with each other, or ought they remain distinct?
DC: If one remembers that the path between heaven and earth, if I can put it that way, is a continuum, it is possible for us to be raised to the heavenly state, i.e. to partake of the divine nature, by degrees here on earth, although it cannot happen fully until we die, by God's grace. This suggests that it is legitimate to use some aspects of the Baroque and the iconographic. This is precisely what we see in the Gothic. As the level of naturalism increased the new visual vocabulary was being developed. Gothic artists such as Fra Angelico used these features selectively depending upon what theological point they wanted to communicate. Sometimes, for example, he would use single point perspective, which we are accustomed to seeing in Western naturalistic, non-iconographic, art; sometimes he used the multiview perspective that we see in icons. However, as this suggests, this combination of styles, should be done with discernment. It is not simply a matter of taste. The visual vocabularies of each tradition are not mutually exclusive; they are complementary. So there is room for combination, but it will only work to produce coherent sentences, if I can extend the metaphor, if the syntax and vocabulary of each tradition is fully understood.

So it can be done badly. If you look at many (not all) of the icons produced in Russia and Greece that were produced after Peter the Great and Catherine the Great brought in the values of the Enlightenment, you see degenerate forms due to a poorly understood combination of these traditions. Iconography in the East didn't really find its way again until the mid-twentieth century incidentally.
DM: You write that iconographic art is not exclusively Eastern. In your own work as an iconographer and teacher, it seems that you mostly use Eastern styles. What do you think is the proper place of this Eastern iconography within the Latin Church?
DC: A point to remember before I answer this is that it is that all the iconographic styles contain the elements that make it an icon. Because the icon is identified with the East today, we tend to assume that many features that are iconographic are also restricted to the Eastern form. Also, there is the problem that exists in all discussion of art that as soon as you classify any artistic form and give it a name, e.g. Gothic, then it gives the impression that people at the time consciously worked within the bounds of the classification. This is sometimes the case, but more often it is not. Usually there the edges are blurred between styles. So within the bounds of iconographic art (i.e. Eschatological art), for which there are clear boundaries, there are subdivisions of style and form where the edges are blurred. So Romanesque art developed from contact with the Greek-style icons, which are more naturalistic than the Ottonian styles that existed in the West previously. This immediately blurs the picture. Does this make Romanesque an Eastern form? Most art historians would say not. It is very characteristic of the West. So historically within the Church, there has always been a lot of cross-pollination of styles historically and although regional styles are recognisable, they have more in common than they have things that differentiate them.

Now, finally, to answer your questions. In my own work I was trained by an English iconographer called Aidan Hart (who in my opinion is producing the best icons around today). He is self-taught and his style is most influenced, I would say, by the naturalistic iconographic style of the Greeks of about 1000 years ago, but he studies the whole tradition deeply and in his methods draws on Russian aspects as well. Living in England, he has also been keen to develop an English iconographic style, so he draws also, though more selectively, on those styles that were English and iconographic, and is keen to paint English saints, especially the early Celtic ones, such as St. Winifred (whose well at Holywell - the British Lourdes - is under 10 miles from where I grew up).

Naturally, being English myself and having Aidan as a teacher, I will draw heavily on his style. However, I have incorporated even more than Aidan those forms that are Western. So for example, I will use a lot geometric pattern in the border (which is something that interests me greatly anyway). Also, I have done a lot of work based upon Romanesque illuminated manuscripts, which are thoroughly Western. Having said that, I like the icons of Gregory Kroug, a 20th century Russian iconographer, as well as some of the classic Russian icons from 1400-1700 a great deal and quite often will just copy one of those, or aspects of them if it suits what I am required to do.

Also, when I do commissions, I am bound also by the requirements of the patron, and this will influence strongly what I produce. If we look at the commissions I have done, the St. Luigi Scrosoppi at the London Oratory was naturalistic and Western in style (and not iconographic). The Pluscarden crucifixion was based upon the San Damiano in Italy, which I have heard described as Romanesque in style, but also I have been told that it was painted in Syria, so I'm not sure where that sits. The Maryvale Sacred Heart is, like the London Oratory painting, Western in style and not iconographic in the sense that it is not representing Eschatological Man. The Sacred Heart in the chapel at Thomas More College is based upon a Russian Blessing Christ, but I have naturalised the form slightly, and added a lot of geometric pattern, as well as a Sacred Heart, which is not in the Russian lexicon. The Madonna and Child in the Thomas More College chapel is based upon a 13th century Sienese image, which would be considered Gothic in period (although really could as easily be considered as a Western iconographic variant, if you look only at the form). The crucifixion at the Thomas More College chapel, which is 6 feet long and hangs above the altar, is based upon a Gothic Franciscan cross and has a lot of Western patterning, and a greater degree of suffering that one would normally see in the iconographic styles. It would be considered Gothic, I think.
DM: In the creation of religious art, how important are a) the artist: his intentions, prayers, beliefs &c; b) the subject, content and arrangement of the artwork; and c) the materials and the artistic methods used to create it?
DC:To answer this I need to consider two things - first how important are these to the artist in order to produce a work of art; and second, once the work of art has been produced, do we take these things into consideration in trying to judge whether or not it is good or bad?

First: if you are giving advice to artist, then you would say that all these things are very important because you are always likely to increase the chances of producing good work if you take these things into account. In this sense the artist is no different from any of us in pursuing any activity. You use reason and experience and knowledge and the best materials to produce the most beautiful object possible, most suited to its purpose; and pray for guidance in all of these activities.

Second: once the art has been produced, however, then a) becomes irrelevant in the consideration of whether or not it is good. You judge it on its merits as an object. God can inspire whomsoever he pleases and there's no accounting for who that might be and also who might respond. Sometimes it can be people who have no faith, and little apparent virtue in all areas of their lives. But a good painting is a good painting, whoever produces it and however they did it.

b) remains important in the judgement of whether or not art is good and true and beautiful

c) remains important too, in the sense that what it is made of will contribute to the aesthetic appeal, but apart from that the greatest consideration is whether or not it is going to last any length of time. To use an extreme example, an image made out of ice cream could, in principle, be just as good by virtue of its appearance as in image made out of wood, paint and gold. However, I wouldn't choose the ice cream one because it has no durability and would melt in 5 minutes. But the fact that it is made out of ice cream doesn't in itself mitigate against the possibility of it being a holy image worthy of veneration (while it is still solid!).

[I thank David Clayton for his thoughtful answers to my questions and for his time. This is part of a series of interviews that I am conducting on the subject of Catholic religious art. The images that accompany these interviews remain copyright their creators, and are used here with permission. As goes without saying, I do not necessarily share the opinions that the subjects of these interviews express.]

18 September 2010


Thomas L. Hankins & Robert J. Silverman:
Athanasius Kircher first wrote about it in his great Musurgia Universalis of 1650, and it has reappeared occasionally since. In order to raise the spirits of an Italian prince burdened by the cares of his position, a musician created for him a cat piano. The musician selected cats whose natural voices were at different pitches and arranged them in cages side by side, so that when a key on the piano was depressed, a mechanism drove a sharp spike into the appropriate cat's tail. The result was a melody of meows that became more vigorous as the cats became more desperate. Who could not help but laugh at such music? Thus the prince was raised from his melancholy. The cat piano... illustrates Kircher's fascination with the relationship between the art of music and the natural production of animal sounds...

The cat piano did appear once during the 18th century in a place prominent enought to attract notice. Louis-Bertrand Castel described it in 1725 in an article announcing his famous clavecin oculaire or ocular harpsichord.
[Instruments of the Imagination by Thomas L. Hankins & Robert J. Silverman. Princeton University Press, 1995]

16 September 2010


Jed Gibbons is an illustrator based in Chicago, IL who specializes in illuminated miniatures.

He can be contacted via jed [dot] gibbons [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.



DM: Few Catholic religious artists would deny the importance of tradition, precedent and history in their work. Yet their interpretations of Catholic art history vary. What people, artworks, events or ideas from the past are especially important to your understanding of what Catholic religious art is, and what it ought to be?
JG: Giotto is one person who comes to mind. From an intellectual and artistic perspective, his incredible iconographic cycle he did in the Arena Chapel in Padua is remarkable. He crafted frontal, side and oblique images with foreshortening that he received little help on from the science of optics of his time. The colors are beautiful and vibrant and his work in the Arena Chapel with his theological knowledge shines through in laying out the iconographic cycle. His work displays two of the requirements of objective beauty spoken of by Thomas Aquinas: radiance (claritas) and harmony (consonantia). Like Fra Angelico he was immersed in the scriptures and theology similar perhaps to the early Church Fathers in which they were able to build this vast resource in themselves and be able to call upon it when needed to tell a story through symbolism, or analogy. Both Giotto and Fra Angelico lived the art of Holy Living. Many of the mediaeval artists and craftsmen did exemplary work as their faith played a roll in it.

The great mediaeval period, which was Christianitas - the Age of Christianity - was when man transcended his being and the cosmos. This is the period that developed the Churches rich visual vocabulary. Many of the illuminators did works of beauty in the area of devotional art in the Books of Hours, the mediaeval persons prayer book. Brilliant illuminators like Simon Bening, Gerard David, Simon Marmian, Bartelemy van Eyck and Jean Fouquet brought the pages to life for the lay person who at the time did not always have daily Mass, images that they could put on the wall or in their pockets, or other devotions that we take for granted that formed after the mediaeval period, so their work was very important in fueling the mediaeval piety and the mediaeval piety fueled their work. Beautifully crafted and highly symbolic, they were very effective with lectio divina in the daily personal prayer life of the mediaeval person.

I believe that all the above are worthy of imitation both from a physical execution and creative strategy and faith standpoint. I don't mean literally copying it, but applying materials, techniques and creative thought to your own work. I also see Tradition as living and organic (it is after all the mystical body of Christ at work here) so that it can adapt to new technologies of the times and the high visual expectations of today's viewers. By keeping within scripture and Tradition something new will always come about. It is Christ and His Church that takes something old and makes it new. Also Michaelangelo and Bernini who came about in the late mediaeval or Renaissance period are important to me as well and were the ones whom I became most familiar with earlier on.
DM:You speak with great admiration of Books of Hours, and much of your own work is in the style of illuminated manuscripts. The illuminated manuscript was one of the most important media for Roman Catholic sacred art for a thousand years or more, yet mostly disappeared in the past five centuries. Do you think that it could ever become a popular medium again, and if so, what would be necessary to bring this about?
JG: There will always be a place for the art of illumination in the Church. Illumination entails many disciplines: calligraphy, gilding, painting and bookbinding, just to name a few. Generally speaking there were scribes and there were illuminators. People were usually one or the other. Illuminators did the illuminated miniatures, the small sparkling paintings found in the Books of Hours. I am a painter. I come from an illustration background and that is what I am referring to here. While I have done a small amount of calligraphy, I'm not a calligrapher. That's left to the experts.

As a form of sacred art within the Church structure itself, illumination is appropriate for use in Missals, or at times can be removed from the context of a book to be used as sacred art on walls. I designed and executed the Stations of the Cross for Our Lady of the Assumption Chapel on Enders Island in the form of illuminated miniatures. These are stations that are prayed with all year during retreats on the island. People who pray them walk around the chapel to each one. The relatively small size creates an intimacy with the viewer in a way that a large painting cannot. They light up and become interactive for the viewer and are available during all the nocturnal hours when it is very quite in the chapel.

Illumination has a place in the home as devotional art, which can be used in books or as images on a wall or placed on in-home shrines. I am not talking about replicating or merely copying what was done in the past. Again I do not consider myself a mediaevalist, but I find their thinking and design and execution as valid today as it was 500 years ago. This is because they knew the rich visual vocabulary of the Church, they knew how to incorporate and balance the narrative image with the symbolism. There was no abstract symbolism left on its own and the imagery was narrative to the text or prayers. The 15th century illuminators were the designers and illustrators of their day using complex design strategies in the individual illuminations and over an entire cycle of illumination in a given Book of Hours. They would graft anti-narrative elements onto historical subjects and cycles of illumination to guide viewers to leaps of thought and imagination deemed necessary to achieve a deeper appreciation and character of the sacred. They did this while remaining within scripture and Tradition.

The invention of the printing press gradually replaced all the hand-written and hand-painted pages allowing for mass production of the scriptures, Missals and the Books of Hours in the 14th century. Some of the finest Books of Hours, however were produced in the late 14th & 15th century as a result of the printing press which forced the illuminators to push their craft in new ways in order to stay in business. Many of the books were painted by panel painters who did illumination between large church commissions.

The illuminations in the Books of Hours became perhaps less ornate, and had less gold as some of the more typical borders and other elements that the printing press copied were dropped and replaced with magnificent, naturalistic styles and atmospheric perspective which developed. The focus was now on the conception, design and high quality of the painting, which the printing press at the time could not do. The miniatures in the books of hours became as highly evolved and painstakingly done as large panel paintings in churches because they were done by panel painters such as Gerard David who developed techniques of painting in books with gum tempera, the illuminator's paint which later came to be called gouache.
He used this water-based medium to simulate what he did on large altar panels using egg tempera or oil. When he did altar panels he had a comfortable viewing distance for the art to be seen by the viewer who sat out in the pews. However, with book painting the viewer sees the art at the distance that the book is held so he and other panel painters who became illuminators had to develop techniques of painting with gouache, a medium which dries almost instantly and does not blend like oils or egg tempera. They did this by laying very fine strokes of color next to one another and on top of one another so that the eye blended the color creating the varying transitions of color. They also did fine glazing with delicate washes. They used strong lenses so that the tiny brush strokes were hardly visible to the naked eye.

Today an illustrator is able to work at a larger size than the art will be printed and it is then mechanically or digitally reduced which sharpens the image because the painting techniques are less obvious. Many of the techniques of the illuminator are hidden techniques in that they are not obvious so as to not compete or interfere with the sacred image.

So, today I think illumination - particularly the illuminated paintings - have a place in the role of art in the Church both in the context of the book and outside of the book. We are moving quickly from the culture of the written word into the culture of the image. People are conditioned to read images rather than just see them as pictures. They are accustomed to seeing the very small and grasping it quickly. You see this in the advertising and marketing arena. Small icons are everywhere: on your computer, on your iPod, on vending machines and other places. Living in a more global environment the image crosses over barriers that the written word cannot. The Church always took the secular and sanctified it thus making it Her own. When the image is crafted in such a way that the image contains all the elements of objective beauty, and is conceptualized within scripture and Tradition something new always comes about. Its how the Holy Spirit works and it is Christ's behold, I make all things new, which takes this ancient media and makes it part of today.
DM: In the creation of religious art, how important is the artist: his intentions, prayers, beliefs &c?
JG: I believe the intention is only as good as the artist's execution of it. This is assuming that the intention is that of a Catholic artist. Sacred or religious art has come to mean many things to people and falls into various religious beliefs that are often contrary to the Catholic Faith. I think prayer is an important part of the work so that the work itself becomes a prayer, meaning that the work will lead the person into the mysteries of the faith. I often pray the Veni Creator Spiritus; at other times it's as simple as a plea, God help me. I believe that adoration of the Eucharist is important. In order to do this kind of work a certain amount of knowledge of the faith is required. By a certain amount I mean that it is impossible for us to know it all and it takes research and constant learning about the faith to complete each project as each project often reflects a different aspect of the faith. At times art fuels my faith and at other times in my life faith fuels my art. I believe being a Catholic plays a large roll in how the faith is portrayed as we have seen in the recent past when the Church veered away from this when its sought non-Catholic artists and architects. Without faith and prayer, this becomes an absurd way to make a living. With all that, I do believe that the Holy Spirit can work through anybody to achieve His will. We can all be His instruments, His brush or chisel.
DM: How important are the subject, content and arrangement of the images?
JG: These are what leads one into the mysteries of the faith. What leads one to Christ, what makes the invisible visible and parts the veil for the viewer. Sacred art is visual communication and its purpose is to evangelize, to teach. Its content must be theologically accurate and its arrangement pleasing to the eye so that that it leads people into the particular facet of the faith it is trying to impart.

The subject, content and arrangement comes from a formula that may not sound very spiritual and is one that is borrowed from the secular world: Objective + Strategy + Creative = Result. This was used by many mediaeval craftsmen although it was not defined as such. This is taking the client's objectives (what is the art for? whom is it for? how is it to be used and where? who is the audience? what is the charism of the religious order requesting it? who is the patron saint,? &c) and devising a strategy to make present the desired subject, (putting all the former together in a way that makes the work meaningful), to which the creative [abilities of the artist respond] (the concept and execution), in order to produce the result: the education and elevation of the mind to heavenly realities and into the particular mysteries of the faith.
DM:How important are the materials and the artistic methods used to create it?
JG: The materials used in crafting a Scared work should be the best available and affordable to the craftsman and the client. Although I do not consider myself as a medievalist I do see value in medieval art and the materials it was crafted with. Using beautiful materials while building an intrinsic value adds spiritual value to the work through symbolism of color which is heightened for the viewer through materials such as paint made from semi-precious stones, gold and silver because all of these reflect the light in different ways and intensities and are part of what I call transforming the mystery of color into the color of mystery. It adds radiance and suggests the heavenly light that fills the space of heaven. Of course this can also be achieved by different means and materials. Sacred art in a sense should at first be attractive, like eye candy to lead the viewer in. It should be able to connect with them first at the material level, through the beautiful colors, materials and craftsmanship. Then as the detail keeps drawing the person in farther they become emotionally connected as the work begins to unfold a story which leads them farther to begin asking What does this mean? and What does that mean? and they arrive at the spiritual level where they are inquiring and learning about the mysteries of the Faith.
DM: Your own work is done using some very precious materials and traditional processes. Can you describe some of the specific things you use to create your art, and their significance?
JG: Today, building an intrinsic worth into the art has been lost. In the mediaeval period the Church always used the best materials it could to produce sacred art. Gold, which represents the heavenly light that fills the space of heaven, and genuine ultramarine blue made from Lapis Lazuli were the highest expressions of color used in the Middle Ages. The materials play an important role in sacred art because the role of sacred art is to evangelize - and in order to do that, the work must speak to the viewers on the material level, in order to get them to the emotional and spiritual levels of the work. Brilliant beautiful colors were dry-ground, made from gold, silver, semi-precious stones, earth, plants and insects. These colors each had their own characteristic and were able to reflect light in different ways that manufactured paint in tubes today cannot. Genuine ultramarine blue, being made of a semi-precious stone, had a crystalline structure to it that reflected the light and gave a depth and dimension. The name ultramarine comes from the Latin, ultramarinus, which means from across the sea as it came from Persia. In the 13th century, Cennnino Cennini developed his recipe for taking the stone and making the beautiful, sparkling blue. His recipe can be found in his Il Libro dell' Arte. In the Middle Ages, the Virgin came to wear blue and this costly color which represented the firmament as well as truth and beauty was the blue designated for her.

Vermilion, cinnabar, caput mortuum, malachite, azurite, opirment and lead white, are all beautiful colors lending a very sublime character to the work which helps break through the clutter and elevates the work to new levels. The historic colors are very different in the way they work compared to manufactured pigments today. It takes practice and experimentation to learn how they work. Illumination is a very tactile medium. You have to know your materials because your materials often dictate the design. While I use a lot of these historic colors and various mordants upon which the gold is laid, I do not let them get in the way of the craftsmanship.

Every age sets new visual expectations that keep getting higher and higher. That is the craftsmanship and accuracy of what's being presented. Today the computer has trained the eye to expect many things like typography, shapes and so forth to be very accurate, where the early mediaevals were not concerned with perspective, correct ellipses, perfect lines. Their idea of perfection was different. So the importance of the materials is important to the work today to meet its demands. The illuminators were brilliant alchemists who knew their materials well and did ground work for us today. For me, the alchemy is taking the beautiful colors such as the gold and semi-precious stones and other materials hewn from the earth and sea and through the symbolic use of color and imagery transforming them into a beautiful work which elevates the mind to God.

[I thank Jed Gibbons for his thoughtful answers to my questions and for his time. This is part of a series of interviews that I am conducting on the subject of Catholic religious art. The images that accompany these interviews remain copyright their creators, and are used here with permission. As goes without saying, I do not necessarily share the opinions that the subjects of these interviews express.]

8 September 2010


Its significance, explained in the Golden Legend of James of Voragine, as Englished by William Caxton.

Sequence by Adam of St. Victor:

Lux advenit veneranda,
Lux in choris jubilanda
Luminosis cordibus!
Hujus lata lux dieï
Festum refert matris Dei
Dedicandum laudibus.

Vox exultet
Mens resultet
Ne sit laus inutilis!
Sic laus Deo
Ut in eo
Mater ejus nobilis

Compunctiva nomine,
Cum honore
Cum pudore
Nitet coeli cardine.

Rubus quondam exardebat
Et tunc ardor non urebat
Nec virori nocuit:
Sic ardore spiritali
Nec attactu conjugali
Virgo Deum genuit.

Haec est ille fons signatus,
Hortus clausus, fecundatus
Virtutum seminibus.
Haec est illa porta clausa,
Quam latente Deus causa
Clauserat hominibus.

Haec est vellus trahens rorem,
Plenus ager dans odorem,
Cunctis terrae finibus.
Haec est virga ferens florem,
Terra suum Salvatorem
Germinans fidelibus.

Haec est dicta per exemplum
Mons, castellum, aula, templum,
Thalamus et civitas:
Sic eidem aliorum
Assignatur electorum
Nominum sublimitas.

Cujus preces vitia,
Cujus nomen tristia,
Cujus odor lilia,
Cujus vincunt labia
Favum in dulcedine.
Super vinum sapida,
Super nivem candida,
Super rosam rosida,
Super lunam lucida
Veri Solis lumine.

Via coeli,
Spe fideli,
A te longe,
A te, junge
Tuorum collegio:
Mater bona
Quam rogamus,
Nobis dona
Quod optamus,
Nec sic spernas
Ut non cernas
Reos sibi
Tuos tibi
Tuo siste Filio! Amen.

Englished by Digby S. Wrangham:

Dawns a day for adoration,
Day, when in glad jubilation
Songs enlightened hearts should raise!
This day's joyous light another
Feast-day brings round of God's mother,
Dedicated to her praise!

Voice! now keep thou
Joyful measure;
Heart! now leap thou,
Filled wdth pleasure,
That your praise effective be!
Let God's glory
So be lauded,
That the story
Be applauded
Of his mother's dignity!

Great in splendour
Of her station;
Very tender
In compassion,
Sorrowful is she by name;
As child-bearing;
Still a maiden
Pure appearing,
Bright in heaven's height shines her fame!

As of old the bush to Moses
Seems in flames, yet never loses
Aught, by burning, of its green;
So by spiritual graces,
Not by conjugal embraces,
Hath a maid God's mother been.

She is that sealed fount, ne'er drying,
That walled garden, fructifying
By the good seed in it sown:
She is that close-fastened portal,
Shut by God 'gainst every mortal
For some secret cause unknown.

She that fleece is, which inviteth
Dew; that rich field that delighteth
With sweet scents all ends of earth:
She that rod is, blossoms bearing,
Soil for all, true faith declaring.
To a Saviour giving birth.

She is titled, for example,
"Mountain," "Castle," "Hall," and "Temple,"
"Bridal Chamber," "Citadel":
To her now hath there been given,
Of sublimest names in heaven,
That which doth the rest excel.

Whose petitions vices quell,
Whose name sorrow doth dispel.
Whose rare scents like lilies smell,
Whose sweet lips by far excel
Honey's nectar in delight.
Daintier than the wine-cup's flow.
Whiter than the driven snow,
Fresher than rose, washed but now,
Brighter with the true Sun's glow
Than the pale moon's orb by night.

Queen o'er glorious
Realms supernal,
And victorious
O'er infernal!
Path to heaven.
Whence unfailing
Faith's ne'er driven!
All those falling
From thee wholly,
Now recalling
From their folly,
With thine own once more unite!
O good Mother,
Whom we pray to!
Grant our other
Prayers to-day too;
Sinners, straying,
Ne'er so spurn thou,
As from praying
Hearts to turn now:
Sinners, wholly
With those, truly
Thine abiding,
Lead into thy dear Son's sight! Amen.

7 September 2010


Selected plates from Styles in Ornament by Alexander Speltz, published in 1906:

30 August 2010


19 August 2010


George Glazer Gallery:
Nature-printed ferns were created in Victorian England by pressing actual specimens in lead, transferring the image by electrotype to a copper plate and printing and hand-coloring each one. The process allowed the reproduction of the finest details down to the veins of the fronds. In a sense, nature itself provides the artistic detail as revealed through the nature printing medium. The original collection contained a scientific text, written by Thomas Moore, and 51 plates executed by Henry Bradbury, depicting the native ferns of Great Britain and Ireland . According to the noted botanical scholar Wilfred Blunt, this series is the crowning achievement of nature printing in terms of science and aesthetics.
More on Victorian pteridomania here.

18 August 2010


Antiques Council:
A superlative example of English Gothic Revival manuscript illumination... A gift to Lady Henrietta Frances, Baroness Grantham, circa 1834 (possibly on the occasion of her 50th birthday). The book was the work of her daughters, Lady Anne Weddell Florence who executed the illumination and calligraphy, and Lady Mary Gertrude Weddell who crafted the embroidered binding. According to a contemporary note tipped to the back endleaf: on the Baroness' meeting with Queen Victoria and the Queen's son, the Duke of Kent in 1839, Victoria herself prayed from the Psalter, and remarked upon the book's surpassing beauty.
I saw this book in person, for sale, at the Merchandise Mart International Antiques Fair earlier this year.

15 August 2010


The Labyrinth Builders:
The Abingdon Labyrinth is found in an early 11th century copy of Boëthius, produced at Abingdon Abbey. The Illustration of a six-path, seven-wall labyrinth, contains a poem, Assumpta est Maria ad Caelestia, Alleluia! (Mary is assumed into Heaven, Alleluia!), which can be read in either of two ways: by following the path of the labyrinth, which gives one arrangement of lines, or according to the circles, which gives a different combination.

14 August 2010


Art Institute of Chicago:
This tapestry may be interpreted as a commentary on the Christ Child’s predestined fate to shed his blood to redeem mankind. It depicts the Holy Family, with Christ in the center, flanked by the Virgin Mary on the right and Joseph on the left. Christ squeezes a bunch of grapes above a chalicelike vessel and holds another sprig of grapes in his left hand, which is reflected on a rock crystal globe, where it appears to point toward the cross surmounting the orb... Behind the figures, three golden cloths of honor hang from irregularly spaced coiled columns. The outermost column bears a parchment notice that references scripture. The columns, which are meant to resemble the screws of a wine press, allude to the crushed grapes that produce the wine that is transubstantiated into Christ’s blood during the Eucharist.

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