Art for Lent 1A

A look at Genesis Chapter 3 in bronze.

God accuses Adam and Eve,
[Panel from the Doors of St. Michael’s Cathedral, Hildesheim, Germany],
bronze, 1015. Commissioned by Bishop Bernward, c. 960 – 1022.
Expulsion from the Garden
[Panel from the Doors of St. Michael’s Cathedral, Hildesheim, Germany],
bronze, 1015. Commissioned by Bishop Bernward, c. 960 – 1022.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And then the Lord commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:15-17

Often in the past, the period after the fall of the Roman Empire was referred to as the “Dark Ages.” This assessment was based on a mistaken belief that without a central government, civilization was at a standstill. After the fall, there was a period of uncertainty initially, nevertheless, monasteries continued to function as centers of learning. When Charlemagne became king of the Franks, he initiated a cultural revival that was continued after he unified Europe and formed the Holy Roman Empire in AD 800. Two centuries later, the spirit of the Carolingian Renaissance remained a presence in Europe. When Otto III went to Rome in AD 996 to be crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim was there and attended the coronation. While in Rome, Bernward was impressed with several large doors that he saw on churches, and upon his return to Hildesheim, he commissioned doors for St. Michael’s Cathedral.

The fourth panel from the top of the left door is a depiction of God arriving to accuse Adam and Eve of eating the forbidden fruit, prior to their expulsion from the Garden of Eden (Panel 5 on the left side of the door) after they ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The forward-leaning figure of God seems angry as He points to Adam and accuses him of disobeying God. In a familiar human reaction, both Adam and Eve try to shift the blame. Adam is embarrassed, is feeling guilt, and senses that he is without clothes. He tries to cover himself and points to Eve in an effort to blame her. Eve, in turn, tries to cover herself and points to the serpent to blame it.

Instead of casting separate panels for each scene, Bishop Bernward’s artists chose to cast each door as one unified piece. First, relief figures of each panel – eight on each door – were created in wax. Sprues of wax were added; after burnout they would serve as funnels into which the molten bronze would be poured. Also wax rods were attached; they would become vents through which gases would escape when the piece was being cast. After the wax pattern – with sprues and vents attached – was completed, foundry workers encased it in a plaster-like substance called investment and placed it in a furnace where the wax was melted and burned out completely (hence the term, “lost wax process”). This burnout created a clean hollow space into which molten bronze was poured to replace everything that was at one time, wax. When the bronze was cool, the investment was chipped off to reveal the doors. Sprues and vents were removed and the doors of St. Michael’s were cleaned and installed.

The panels on the left door depict images from the Book of Genesis and the panels on the right show events from the life of Christ.

The figures in these doors are not anatomically correct and the perspective is not accurate yet, the images are direct and intense. It was not until the Italian Renaissance of the fifteenth century that perspective and foreshortening became known. The figures on the doors at Hildesheim are primitive by Renaissance standards, yet they are expressive and filled with emotional depth.

Hovak Najarian © 2017

An informative look at the bronze doors, Saint Michael’s, Hildesheim:

Last Sunday After Epiphany

Every year, the Last Sunday After Epiphany is also the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. Glory and the Cross for our contemplation.

Transfiguration, fresco, 11th Century, unknown artist of Cappadocia

“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking to him.” (Matt. 17:1-3)

When the western part of the Roman Empire collapsed the eastern portion thrived and in time became the Byzantine Empire which extended eastward from Constantinople into Asia Minor. In a region known as Cappadocia, Greek-speaking Orthodox Christians often required protection from invaders and found it in rock formations created by volcanic eruptions. By carving into the soft rock, Christians created spaces that gave them shelter from the elements and made invasions by outside forces difficult.

In this setting, a monastic compound known as the “Dark Church,” was carved and its interior walls and ceilings were covered with frescos. Among the paintings is The Transfiguration. In it, Moses and Elijah are with Jesus in an event interpreted as a revelation that Christ is the fulfillment of the law and prophets. Moses represents the law and in paintings he often is shown holding the Torah or a stone tablet. Elijah represents the prophets. In this fresco, neither Moses nor Elijah has been given an identifying symbol but we can assume the gray-haired bearded man on the right is Moses and the un-bearded figure on the left is Elijah.

Mt. Tabor is the traditional site of the transfiguration but other places have been proposed. One of the sites that have been suggested is Mt. Hermon which has three distinct peaks. Often in paintings of the transfiguration, as in this painting from the Dark Church, three peaks are shown. In this painting,, Christ is standing on the center peak. Moses is standing on the right peak and Elijah is on the left. Below them are the disciples kneeling and crouching. At the bottom left is Peter with white hair and a beard. He is pointing upward toward Christ. The disciple John is depicted in the center as a beardless youth (his face is partially obscured by damage) and James is to the right with brown hair and a beard. Linear rays indicate there is a direct connection between Jesus and each of the disciples.

Note: The “Dark Church” is so named because it has only a small opening (oculus) for light, thus the interior is dim.

Dark Church is at the left side of photo.

Among the various people of ancient Cappadocia were the Armenians who were known then as being horse breeders. “Cappadocia,” the historic name for this region is believed to have been derived from “Kapatuka,” an Old Persian term meaning, “Land of beautiful horses.” The Crusaders referred to the region as Terra Hermeniorum: “Land of the Armenians.”

According to tradition, Byzas, a Greek colonist founded the ancient city, Byzantium, in BC 667. Later, Byzantium, along with eastward lands became part of the Roman Empire. In AD 330, when Constantine moved the capital of Rome to Byzantium, the city’s name was changed to Constantinople. After the city was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, its name was changed to Istambol (Turkish: “City of Islam”), and in 1930 it was changed again and is now, Istanbul.

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…

View original post 1,057 more words

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