The mural and the fresco

Editor’s Note: Hovak Najarian, Art History Professor Emeritus from College of the Desert, will begin to help us understand the art that informs our faith and understand the faith that informs our art. In our lectionary on Sunday we read from Numbers 21:4-9. Michelangelo’s fresco the Brazen Serpent, from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, opens up this scene from the Exodus. Enjoy the art, enjoy this background to the art. Keep learning.

Become more familiar with often encountered terms:

Mural:  A mural is a large work of art that is usually created directly on a large architectural surface.  The murals on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel often are referred to as “ceiling frescos” because the fresco process was used to paint them.  In the same manner, critics often refer to an oil painting simply by its medium, “oil,” but all paintings are not oils and all murals are not frescos  The terms mural and fresco are not synonymous.  Mural identifies a work’s category (the type of work that it is) and fresco refers to its medium (the material that is used to make it).

Fresco: In the fresco process, an artist paints directly on wet plaster with water based pigments.  Before painting begins, a plasterer covers an area of a wall (or ceiling) according to an estimate of how much the artist believes can be painted before the plaster sets.  While the plaster is still moist, the pigment is absorbed into its surface and when it is set the pigment becomes an integral part of it.  The pigment is not on the wall or ceiling, it is within its surface.

If a plastered area has set before it can be painted it is no longer capable of absorbing pigment and must be chipped off.  A fresh area of plaster is spread on the wall before work continues.  The removal of plaster is done along a contour of a figure in order that a seam is not apparent.  This procedure is repeated until the mural is completed.  It is a time consuming and messy process and is seldom used now unless a particular effect is desired.  Michelangelo worked on the ceiling frescos of the Sistine Chapel from 1508 to 1512 AD.

Sistine Chapel: This chapel is named “Sistine” because it was Pope Sixtus who had it restored in the latter part of the fifteenth century.

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© 2012 Hovak Najarian

Expanding and refining our vision

Earlier this month I introduced you to Hovak Najarian who will expand our vision as we view Stan’s offerings in art each week. Not only will Hovak expand our vision but he will offer an experienced and educated eye to help us refine our vision as we enter the world of art. On the Third Sunday in Lent Stan directed our eyes to Rembrandt’s painting of Christ driving the Money-Changers out of the Temple. Hovak presents this additional information to help us into the art. ~dan

Comments on Rembrandt’s Christ Driving the Money-Changers from the Temple by Hovak Najarian

Rembrandt’s painting, Christ Driving the Money-Changers from the Temple was painted only a year after his earliest dated work but it already shows his interest and ability to create paintings of emotional depth.  Like his teacher, Pieter Lastman, Rembrandt was particularly interested in faces and in “Money-Changers,” each face, figure, and gesture is a focal point of deep expression.

The art of the Italian Renaissance grew out of a rebirth of classicism (the art of the Greeks in particular). The Greek gods were sculpted with idealized human proportions and this idealization and refinement carried over into Renaissance painting and into the works commissioned by the Roman Catholic Church and wealthy families.  The art of Protestant Northern Europe of the seventeenth century, however, did not reflect the classic ideal and their paintings were less likely to be of Mary and child, the crucifixion, or one of the saints. Their figures were more like everyday people, not idealized images.

Dutch businesses thrived during Rembrandts time and he earned a very good income from painting portraits of his patrons.  Rembrandt also painted Biblical subjects of deep emotional content. There is realism in the faces of the people in “Money-Changers.” They are not men with classic profiles set in place for a lovely picture.  The money-changers’ faces show furrowed brows, mouths agape, and surprised reactions as Jesus moves into action. Jesus is not centrally located in the scene as is often the case but rather he is at the upper left side as though he just entered the scene and caused the money-changers to scramble.  He is not a handsome man with a sweet beatific expression.  He looks tough, serious, and his eyes are focused and intense.  The money-changers seem like real people in a real situation; the painting does not give the effect of a scene that is staged.

The facial expressions and sense of activity of the figures seen in Rembrandt’s earlier paintings gradually changed in focus as he became older.  Instead of movement, his figures tend to remain still with a sense of heavy emotional weight and feeling concentrated in facial expressions.

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© 2012 Hovak Najarian

He wrote a letter to Jesus (or did he?)

Having introduced Hovak Najarian I share his first post as an author. For those who pray the “Way of the Cross” also known as the “Stations of the Cross” the legend/tradition presented here is preserved in Station 6: “A woman wipes the face of Jesus.” Growing up Roman Catholic I KNEW the name of this woman: Veronica. But did I know the truth? Decide for yourself. Leave a comment. ~dan rondeau

Image of a face from the Shroud of Turin
The image of a face from the Shroud of Turin

King Abgar V of Edessa 

In the early part of the first century AD, a time when the Romans and the Parthians were dominant powers in Asia Minor and the Near East, Abgar V, a nephew to Tigranes the Great, was the king of Armenia.  In order to stay out of the way of both major powers, he moved his court to the Mesopotamian city of Edessa where he could remain on good terms with both nations.  Edessa prospered during this time but while Abgar was away on a trip to settle a dispute between the Armenians and Persians, he became ill.  He remained ill after he returned home.  Having heard reports of Jesus’ miracles of healing, he decided to invite him to Edessa.

The legend:

King Abgar sent his archivist and court painter, Hannan, with a letter asking Jesus to come to Edessa to heal his illness.  Hannan also was asked to paint a portrait of Jesus in order that Abgar could see his image.  A return letter from Jesus stated he was unable to come to Edessa but later would send one of his disciples.  Hannan made a portrait and returned to Edessa with the letter and painting.  In his Historia Ecclesiastica (AD 325), Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea wrote of the correspondence between Abgar and Jesus and included a text of the two letters.  There may have been letters exchanged but both letters published by Bishop Eusebius have been proven to be fabrications.  A painted image of Jesus (known as The Holy Face) is of questionable origin as well.  Several early icons depicting the face of Jesus are known but there is no evidence to confirm that any of them were painted from life or if one of them was painted by Hannan.  A few centuries later it was said Jesus produced The Holy Face himself by pressing a wet cloth to his face and causing the image to appear miraculously.

After the death of Jesus, his disciple, Thaddeus, came to Edessa and gave Abgar a cloth on which there was an image of Jesus (known as the Image of Edessa) – as a result of the visit and the power of the cloth, according to the legend, Abgar was converted and healed.  The cloth was folded in such a manner that only the face could be seen.  In 942 AD, under the threat of being overrun, the Image of Edessa was turned over to the Byzantines as part of a bargain to maintain peace.  When it was taken to Byzantium (later called Constantinople and now Istanbul) and unfolded, the full figure of a man was revealed.  It is believed this is the cloth that now is known as the Shroud of Turin (a linen cloth with an unexplained imprinted image of a man who had been crucified).  It has been suggested this may have been the actual cloth placed on Jesus at the time of his burial.

Inasmuch as the cloth remained folded for many years and only the face was seen, it is speculated the legend of Veronica’s veil also is based on this shroud.  According to a story that has no scriptural bases, a woman used her veil to wipe the sweat off Jesus’ face while he was carrying his cross to Golgotha.  Afterward, a miraculous image of his face appeared on the cloth.  Church fathers accepted this story as fact and gave this mythical woman the name Veronica; a name derived from vera icon (Latin for true image).  The story has become part of Roman Catholic Church legend.

In ancient times it was not unusual for myths, legends, and partial facts to be blended, modified and embellished; later they would be recounted as “tradition” or even reported as fact.  If a tradition were of a religious nature, often it would be incorporated into church worship services and festival days.

The current status of these legends:

The Armenian Apostolic Church:

In the Armenian Church, Abgar is regarded to be a saint and his story continues to be told as tradition.  The Church calendar honors “St. Abgar” in a worship service in December of every year and the name Abgar continues as an Armenian given name.   It also is the root of the surname Abgarian (also spelled Abkarian, or Abcarian); from the family of Abgar.

The Roman Catholic Church:

Despite an absence of Biblical reference or historical evidence that a person given the name Veronica ever existed, canonization took place and now “St. Veronica” is celebrated on special church festival days.  The whereabouts of the veil is obscure; it is said to be in the Vatican archives but other locations have been suggested.   A great number of churches and schools are named in honor of Veronica and it is a popular given name.

The Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin underwent radiocarbon testing in 1988 and the result of the test indicated the cloth was made during the Middle Ages approximately 1300 years after the death of Jesus.  Unanswered questions remain, however, and the test result neither satisfied nor was accepted by people who believe the Shroud is, in fact, the actual cloth used to cover the body of Jesus.  The tested portion, they believe, was from a section that was a restoration and not part of the original cloth.  It has not been tested again.

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ARMENIAN CONNECTIONS
Hovak Najarian © 2008

Introducing Hovak Najarian

Updated: June 6, 2017

Many of you know Hovak Najarian as a regular worshipper at St. Margaret’s. I am pleased to introduce you to (Dr.) Hovak Najarian. From 2011 Hovak has introduced us to artists, art techniques, and art history in an effort to keep us growing in the knowledge and love of the Lord.

After receiving his MA in Art at Columbia University Hovak and his wife, Margie, spent 3 years in Normal, IL on the art faculty of Illinois State University. In his own words, “We soon found that natives of Florida and California were no match for winters in Illinois.”

In 1966 Hovak and Margie relocated to Southern California when Hovak accepted a teaching position at College of the Desert in Palm Desert. He retired in 1994 and was honored with the title Professor Emeritus from College of the Desert. Again, Hovak: “During that time [1966-1994], I was Chair of the Art Department for many years, returned to Columbia University and completed my doctorate, and with Margie, raised three wonderful sons.”

In his retirement Hovak continues his own creative work, and, has been an active participant in the Sunday Morning Forum and a regular contributor to this blog. Hovak is active in St. Margaret’s and in the Armenian community in the desert which gives him a unique perspective to share. As we journey together I expect to learn more about art, art history, art as an expression of faith and art as a shaper of faith. Let us hear what the Spirit is saying. ~Fr. Dan