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Some Epiphany Customs

A man dressed as one of the Three Kings greets people during the Epiphany parade in Gijon, Spain, on Jan. 5, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Eloy Alonso

A baby in the cake, shoes left out for candy (or coal), a polar bear dip to retrieve a cross: these are a few of the customs explained in a Religion News Service (RNS) “‘Splainer.” Epiphany was celebrated on January 6th, but the RNS post “What is Epiphany?” is still timely. Enjoy the read.

You thought the holidays were over. Technically, no — not until Jan. 6, when Christians all over the world celebrate Epiphany. In some places, the day is known as “Three Kings Day” after the wise men, or Magi, who, the Bible says, brought the infant gifts and proclaimed him the Son of God. In other places, the day is known for giving gifts, for extremely cold baths and for biting into babies. Let us ’splain …

Read “What is Epiphany?” on RNS

Photo from the RNS article

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Marriage of Sts Mary and Joseph | Art for Advent 4A

Matthew 1:20…an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife”…

Marriage of Sts Mary and Joseph
TORRETTI, Giuseppe
(b. 1664, Asolo, d. 1743, Venezia)
Marriage of Sts Mary and Joseph
Marble
Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice
Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Marriage of Sts. Mary and Joseph, marble, 18th century, Giuseppe Torretti, 1664-1743

At the beginning of the eighteenth century the Baroque period in art was ebbing as patrons favored lighter surroundings. From this a decorative trend emerged in a style that is called Rococo; a name derived from ornamental sea shells used as embellishments in architecture. Giuseppe Torretti (also spelled Torretto), from a family of artists, was active during this period but while working with other sculptors in Rome, classicism influenced his work. In the “Marriage of Sts. Mary and Joseph” shown here, Torretti presents relief figures in a Baroque-like theatrical setting yet the robes being worn are in a classical style.

The subject of the marriage of Mary and Joseph has been included regularly in scenes of the Life of the Virgin but the story is not from accounts found in the Bible. It is mentioned in apocryphal sources which were compiled and included in a fourteenth century volume called the “Golden Legend.” In this account, Mary was living in the Temple and when she turned fourteen years old the priests decided it was time for her to marry. Young unmarried male descendents of David were sought to be her husband; Joseph, though older than the others, was included. All the men who qualified were asked to bring a branch and place it on the altar. The person bringing the branch that brought forth blossoms would be Mary’s husband. After the men placed their branches on the altar, the Holy Spirit descended as a dove and the one brought by Joseph burst immediately into flowers.

Torretti places Mary and Joseph in the foreground kneeling at the altar and facing each other in front of a priest in a traditional Jewish ceremony. The bride and groom are barefooted as are the witnesses. Joseph is depicted as a bald headed man with a beard; he is holding a branch with blossoms in his left hand and Mary’s head is covered with a shawl. Because of damage from a fire several parts of the sculpture are missing; among them are the hands of the priest and those of Mary and Joseph. From a maquette (a small terra cotta preparatory sketch made by Torretti before carving this piece in marble) [click to view]  we know Mary and Joseph were reaching across to each other and holding hands. The priest’s right hand was extended in a blessing.

This relief carving of the “Marriage of Sts. Mary and Joseph” is in the dado of the Chapel of our Lady of the Rosary, in the Basilica dei Giovanni e Paolo (Basilica of John and Paul), Venice, Italy. A fire destroyed the Chapel in 1867 and the sculpture was discolored and damaged. Torretti’s maquette for this piece is in the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

The darkness shall not overcome it.

“What a gift to read a hopeful, confident passage like Isaiah 35, and to feel seen in the simple acknowledgement of those who are “cowardly.” Those who have weak hands and shaking knees are not judged or chastised for their lack of faith. Or for their lack of hope. The community around them, the prophet himself, is told to encourage those who are hope-less or even faith-less. Reassure them. Have faith on their behalf. Remind them of God’s saving power.”

WIT

Yesterday was Gaudete Sunday, traditionally a joyful interruption in the midst of an advent season otherwise characterized by somber waiting and postures of penance. Being at a non-lectionary church, we read and our pastor preached on John 1.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Our pastor spoke of getting lost at a campground once, with utter darkness surrounding them in an unfamiliar place, and then seeing one small light in the distance, the flashlight of fellow campers. We know from multiple human experiences that the darkness cannot overshadow the smallest of lights: the brilliance of the first star peeking out as daytime turns to night; the comfort of a candle when our otherwise predictable lives are interrupted by a power outage; the difference even a small flashlight makes as we navigate dark paths. Indeed, the deeper the darkness, the more brightly such small…

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Parable of the Faithful Steward | Art for Proper 14C

Art to illustrate the parable of Jesus found in Luke 12:35-37

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

As Jesus talked to his disciples, he spoke about values and how their lives should be conducted.  They were told to sell their possessions and instead, lay-up treasures in heaven where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  It is here that we have Jesus’ much-quoted statement, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus continued with a parable about waiting, watching, and being both patient and prepared.  [This is known as the Parable of the Faithful Servant or Parable of the Door Keeper.]  “Be prepared for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet so they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those…whom the master finds alert when he comes.”  Jesus ends the parable with, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”   

When Peter asked, “Lord are you telling this parable to us, or to everybody?”  Jesus continued with the need for responsibility and ended with another much-quoted statement, “To whomever much is given, of him will much be required, and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked.”  This message was spoken to the disciples but also is a lesson for everyone in leadership roles.  It has been interpreted as being applicable particularly to religious leaders.

Dutch artist, Jan Luyken (also spelled, Luiken) was of the generation of artists that followed Rembrandt.  Early in his career, he became attracted to etching and engraving, and the making of prints occupied him throughout his life.  He wrote poetry as well and often they were published with his prints.  Among Luyken’s publications was Martyrs Mirror which included 104 engravings depicting religious persecution.  He was well aware of persecution even in his own time.  At the age of twenty-six, he had an “awakening” experience and accepted Anabaptist teachings.  Ana Baptists were regarded to be a threat to Catholics as well as Protestants and they were persecuted by both,

In Luyken’s The Faithful and Wise Steward, the master of the house – who was away attending a wedding banquet – has just arrived home by horseback.  Through the doorway,T a servant is seen tending the horse and the master is being greeted with a warm welcome as he comes through the door.  The steward gestures toward the other servants who are seated and standing around a dinner table awaiting their master’s return. The master is pleased as he smiles and places a hand on the shoulder of the steward who greeted him.   

Two dogs add a symbolic note to this etching.  Dogs have long been a symbol of loyal devotion and love.  Their presence gives a sense of warmth to the scene and re-enforces the theme of the parable.  The dog in the doorway seems happy to see his master again while the other one has found something to sniff.

Hovak Najarian © 2019

Image: Parable of the Faithful Steward on Wikipedia

The Prodigal Son | Art for Lent 4C

The Prodigal Son, oil on canvas, 1949, Max Beckmann, 1884-1950

At the time artist, Max Beckmann volunteered to serve in the German army’s medical corps during World War I (1914-1818), the nations of Europe had not been in an all-encompassing conflict for almost a century. During those years the industrial revolution changed not only the way people lived but it changed the way wars would be fought. Humans were up against tanks, machine guns, mortar shells, and airplanes. As a member of the medical corps, Beckmann was unnerved completely by the carnage he saw. This led to a breakdown and subsequent discharge from the military.

After its defeat, Germany was in disarray and the aftermath of war left people without direction or purpose. An uncertain future and relaxed social values during the Weimar Republic aided the onset of moral decay, and many Germans were living for the moment. Entertainment and self-indulgence was available in popular cabarets that offered escape into a world of drinking, dancing and shows featuring lewd performances, nudity and bawdy songs. Prostitution was commonplace and to Beckman, this was all a continuation of an abhorrent world.

Despite social conditions, Beckmann’s reputation in the art world grew immensely during the 1920s and many awards were received. He also was awarded a teaching position at the Frankfort School of Art. With the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, however, Hitler determined that modern trends in art and music were unacceptable and Beckmann was dismissed from his teaching assignment. In his youth, Hitler himself sought a career in art and believed he was an excellent judge of value.   Beckmann’s art was among works that he called, “degenerate.” When World War II appeared to be inevitable, Beckmann left Germany to live in Amsterdam. A degree of peace finally came to him when he arrived in America in 1947 and taught at George Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

The parable of The Prodigal Son was given by Jesus and recorded in the Gospel of Luke but when Beckmann depicted a portion of the story, his imagery was based on conditions he witnessed in Weimar during the 1920s. The parable’s older son’s complaint that his wastrel brother had been living among harlots was a description that brought up images of a seamy reality that Beckmann knew.

In Beckmann’s painting, the prodigal son is in a brothel surrounded by three coarse, tawdry and partially clad women with claw-like hands; all are under the watchful eye of a Madam. The unsmiling bare-breasted blonde has wrapped her arms around the prodigal son while the woman wearing a blue hat and blue-corset is holding a drink and looking on with a vacant smile. None of the figures seem to be enjoying themselves and the young man looks “wasted.” His hands prop up his head as he remains without expression. Perhaps he is realizing the attractive fantasies of his youth were not based on reality.

The Prodigal Son is not painted in a “realistic” style but it reflects a reality that Beckmann observed. The painting’s style, like its subject matter is raw, harsh, and visually abrupt. It is not “pretty.” The black smudges throughout its surface add to an effect of something unclean. Though some would prefer art to be an escape to a lovely place, this painting’s subject matter and style reflects Beckmann’s thoughts and experiences during difficult times.

Hovak Najarian © 2019

The Vision of the Lord directing Abraham to Count the Stars

Envisioning a turning point in Salvation History.

The Vision of the Lord Directing Abraham to Count the Stars, wood engraving, 1860, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

The Book of Genesis gives an account of Abram being visited by God. Abram was notified of God’s covenant and that he (Abram) would be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. Abram was told, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them” and God said, “So shall your descendants be.” Abram was ninety-nine years old when his name was changed to Abraham (“father of many” in Hebrew) and a covenant with God was made.

In nineteenth-century Europe during the lifetime of German artist, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, there was renewed interest in classicism. This interest in Greek and Roman art was due partly to the discovery of the Roman cities, Pompeii and Herculaneum during the eighteenth century. In AD 79, these two cities were buried by the volcanic ash of Mt. Vesuvius. Cultural changes also brought conditions that favored a return to classicism. Artists who worked in this “neoclassic” style tended to take a formal and intellectual approach to art. Their contemporaries, the Romanticists led by Eugene Delacroix, however, believed art should come from the heart and reflect emotions. When Schnorr first studied in Rome, he admired the art of the late middle ages and Early Renaissance. Later, he was influenced by artists of the High Renaissance, but by mid-nineteenth century, at the time he engraved, The Vision of the Lord Directing Abraham to Count the Stars, there was dramatic action (a characteristic of Romanticism) in his work.

Schnorr first studied engraving with his father and then attended the Vienna Academy in Austria. From there he went to Rome and joined a brotherhood of likeminded artist who sought a return of spiritual content in art. The artists that were part of this fervent group affected biblical manners in their clothes and hair and were soon called, “The Nazarenes.” After ten years in Rome, Schnorr returned to Germany and settled in Munich where he established a successful career painting frescos and designing windows for churches.

While on a visit to London in 1851, Schnorr was commissioned to create a Picture Bible. During the next eight years, he completed more than two hundred wood engravings in which he interpreted biblical stories and events. Schnorr’s Bible contains the dramatic engraving that depicts God calling Abraham’s attention to the heavens. When Abraham looked at the stars, he was awed and fell to kneel on one knee. God is there before him pointing to the stars. As in Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel, God is shown surrounded by figures symbolizing unborn generations that are to come to earth when it is their time.

Hovak Najarian © 2018

Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Flood

Imagining the moment before the covenant with Noah is made.

 

God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “I am now setting up my covenant with you, with your descendants, and with every living being with you-with the birds, with the large animals, and with all the animals of the earth, leaving the ark with you.” ~Genesis 9:8-10 CEB

The Flood by Abaquesne

The Flood, ceramic tile, 1550, Masséot Abaquesne, c.1500-1564

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Clay often is regarded to be a lowly substance. It is formed by decomposed rock and organic matter and is used to make bricks and drainpipes. It is underfoot as pavers, and in art it is a material associated with pottery and the crafts. It is not used regularly by artists as a surface on which to paint. Masséot Abaquesne’s “The Flood,” depicting the landing of the ark, is an example of the problem with categories when art is shoe-horned into being either “fine arts” or “crafts.” Abaquesne used tiles, glaze, and metal oxides to create a painting on clay; not on wood panels or canvas.

Abaquesne had a successful ceramics business in Rouen, France. His studio specialized in majolica (muh-JAHL-i-kuh) and faience (pronounced fay-AHNS – French for Faenza, a major ceramic center in Italy), and he was influenced generally by Italian art. For The Flood, Abaquesne used a tiled surface instead of a large single flat piece because clay shrinks when it is fired and in the process, large pieces tend to warp and not remain flat.

To make “The Flood,” a majolica technique was used. The earthenware tiles were fired at a low temperature then covered entirely with a white glaze but not fired again until after Abaquesne created his painting (on the unfired white surface) using coloring pastes made with oxides: cobalt for blue, iron for dark reddish brown and antimony for yellow. It was then fired in the kiln a second time. The work shown here is one of three created by Abaquesne on the subject of the flood. [Building the ark and boarding it are the subjects of the other two works.] This scene depicts the flood after the water has subsided and the ark has landed. In a dramatic depiction of the aftermath of the event, drowned figures are strewn about and a carrion-eating bird is dining on a dead horse. On the right side of the sky, a dove is returning to the ark with an olive branch and God is in a cloud on the left side observing everything below.

Note:

Majolica ware originated in Spain and during the Renaissance it became very popular throughout Europe. The name is believed to be derived from the Spanish island, Majorca.

In addition to a glazing technique,” faïence,” is a term given to a low fired non-clay material used in ancient Egypt for crafting objects such as small blue scarabs and hippopotami. When archeologists discovered these objects, the color reminded them of the blue glaze that was made famous in the town of Faenza, Italy. They referred to the material as “faience.” Although Egyptian faience is not glazed clay, the term has remained in use.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.

Image: “The Flood” on the Web Gallery of Art

The Race Track | Epiphany 5B

Light and life confronts darkness and death.

And [Jesus] cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.  ~Mark 1:34

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5f/Albert_Pinkham_Ryder_-_The_Race_Track_%28c.1896-1908%29.jpg

The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse)
oil on canvas, c.1886-1908
Albert Pinkham Ryder, 1847-1917

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

During the latter part of the nineteenth century, America was engaged in rapid growth in the areas of manufacturing, commerce, and the building of railroads. The arts were not a priority. Serious artists were likely to go to Paris to absorb the culture and milieu during an era that brought great changes in the arts of Europe. Artists who remained in America often studied in New York City and then lived there, or nearby, as they built careers and established reputations.

Like the bohemian life in Paris, artists in New York’s Greenwich Village lived in a place where they could work, socialize, and be unencumbered by the expectations and values of society at large. For most of his adult life, Albert Pinkham Ryder, lived in The Village and was dedicated to painting. He had no desire to pursue fame, or accumulate material wealth. While his contemporaries in France, the Impressionists, were going outside to paint the effects of sunlight, Ryder stayed indoors and most of his images developed from within himself. An exception was The Race Track that he painted as the result of a direct experience.

Ryder often dined at a hotel in The Village where his brother was the proprietor. In a conversation one evening, he learned that his waiter gambled on horses and was excited about a much publicized race that would be held the following day. The waiter was going to place his entire savings on a horse that he believed would win. On the day after the race, Ryder returned to the hotel but the waiter was not there. When he inquired, he was told the favored horse came in third and the man lost his entire savings. He was unable to cope with his loss and took his own life.

Ryder’s painting, The Race Track, also known as, Death on a Pale Horse, depicts a lone skeleton-like figure on horseback carrying a scythe and circling the race track in a reverse direction. The track’s fence is broken in two places and the landscape is barren except for a lone dead tree. The race track, a metaphor for life, circles endlessly. In the foreground, a snake represents symbolically Satan, temptation, and betrayal. The man that took his life was possessed with gambling and to Ryder, the race track was, in effect, his death. As in the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, Ryder has placed the figure of death on a pale horse.

Hovak Najarian © 2018

Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.

Collect: Andrei Rublev, Monk and Iconographer, 1430 (Jan 29)

Generally acknowledged as Russia’s greatest iconographer, Andrei Rublev was born around 1365 near Moscow. His “writing” persists to this day.

Holy Trinity. Icon. Andrei Rublev.

Generally acknowledged as Russia’s greatest iconographer, Andrei Rublev was born around 1365 near Moscow. While very young he entered the monastery of The Holy Trinity and in 1405, with the blessing of his igumen (the Orthodox equivalent of abbot), he transferred to the Spaso-Andronikov monastery where he received the tonsure and studied iconography with Theophanes the Greek and the monk Daniel. Among his most revered works are those in the Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir.

The icon (“image” in Greek) is central to Orthodox spirituality. It finds its place in liturgy and in personal devotion. An icon is two dimensional and despite being an image of someone it is not a physical portrait. Western art, especially since the Renaissance, has sought to represent figures or events so that the viewer  might better imagine them. A western crucifix seeks to enable us to imagine what Golgotha was like. Icons seek to  provide immediate access to the spiritual and the divine unmediated by the human, historical imagination. Read more

Holy Women, Holy Men

The Collect for the Commemoration

Holy God, we bless you for the gift of your monk and icon writer Andrei Rublev, who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, provided a window into heaven for generations to come, revealing the majesty and mystery of the holy and blessed Trinity; who lives and reigns through ages of ages. Amen.

Today’s Collect simply give thanks for “the gift of …monk and icon writer Andrei Rublev.” As we view his writing, and the writings of others in icons throughout the Church, let us always give thanks for the gift of individuals with a wonderful talent to open the heavens for us. ~Fr. Dan

Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.