Trinity Sunday Year A

Art and Faith on Trinity Sunday

The Creation of Adam

The Creation of Adam (detail from the Sistine Chapel ceiling),
fresco, 1508-12, Michelangelo, 1475-1564

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” is a much-quoted statement that sometimes is attributed to Confucius, but this observation is neither completely true nor oriental in origin. The quote originated in America and gained attention from commercial advertising in the 1920s. In some instances a picture or schematic image may be clearer than a complex verbal description, but there are times also when ideas found in words are impossible to illustrate by means of art. The creation story in the Book of Geneses is far less than a thousand words, yet a single painting cannot depict adequately all of the events contained in the narrative.

When artists depict subject matter from the creation, they tend to select the more dramatic events. Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel excludes the third day when grass, herbs and trees were created, and omits the fish and fowl that were created on the fifth day. The frescos begin with God separating light from darkness and is followed by the separation of water from the land. In the third panel God is shown creating the sun, moon and planets. The well-known fourth panel depicts the moment God gave life to Adam.

In, The Creation of Adam, Adam is reclining on the earth in the relaxed manner of Roman river gods. His left forearm is resting on a knee and his hand is extended as God reaches into the empty space that separates them. They do not touch but there is a sense that in the small space between their fingers, the spark of life, like an electrical arc, has been passed from God to Adam.

An oval shaped cloak serves as a backdrop for God and he is surrounded by figures. It is in our nature as humans to make connections and project meaning onto things we see. A long-standing belief is that the woman in the crook of God’s left arm is Eve. Because God’s hand is touching a child that is next to the woman, however, it has been suggested recently that she may be the future Virgin Mary and the child is Jesus.

Much has been written about what Michelangelo was attempting to communicate in this painting and most of it is speculation. When an imaginative medical student saw, The Creation of Adam, the cloak and figures around God, brought to mind the shape of a human brain. From this, he thought it was possible that Michelangelo was intending to indicate symbolically that while life was being given to Adam, the gift of intellect also was being bestowed. This interpretation has captured the fancy of people who look for secret meanings. The suggestion that intellect was being given to Adam is repeated now even by tour guides at the Sistine Chapel. There is no incontrovertible evidence that a cryptic message was placed in this painting.

Hovak Najarian © 2017

Retabla of the Trinity | Art for B Trinity Sunday

Canticle 13, Song of the Three Young Men, 34
Glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; * we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

Retabla of the Trinity
Retabla of the Trinity
watercolor, colored pencil, and graphite on paper
overall: 36.1 x 28.2 cm (14 3/16 x 11 1/8 in.) Original IAD Object: 40 1/2″ x 22″
Rendered by E. Boyd (artist), c. 1936Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Post from June 3, 2012

When some forms of creative work became valued more than others the concept of art was established and a hierarchy of categories came into being. Painting and sculpture now are called “high arts” and often the crafts and decorative arts are relegated collectively to the category “minor arts.” Today, other creative works are acknowledged only rarely by the art establishment. Folk, naïve, outsider, and visionary are terms used to describe various art forms that are seldom displayed in galleries or museums except for an occasional special exhibition. These works are made typically by people who have had no formal training in art and lack technical sophistication. It is an art that often fulfills personal needs and at times is the result of emotions related to religious beliefs.

During The Great Depression of the 1930s, millions of Americans were out of work but opportunities for jobs in public works projects were made available under the Work Progress Administration (WPA). Among these workers were artists who were employed to paint murals in Post Offices, transportation stations and public buildings. Artists, writers, and photographers also were employed to document our American cultural heritage. [Dorothea Lange’s well known and stirring photographic images now give us a sense of the hardships of migrant workers during the Great Depression.]

One of the artists working for the Federal Arts Project during this era was Elizabeth Boyd. She was enamored by the Southwest after a childhood visit and following the study of art in Paris as a young adult she returned to seek work in New Mexico. The coming of the Depression led her to a government sponsored project that documented a form of folk art called, retablos which were found in churches throughout New Mexico. Retablo is the Spanish term for a shelf behind the altar on which objects are placed; hence, small paintings displayed on it are known as “retablos.” In the Episcopal Church the term for this shelf (on altars placed against a wall) is retable and sometimes candles or flowers are placed there.

When churches were established by Franciscan monks in the American Southwest, materials were in short supply. There was a shortage of art supplies as well and the images that were created tended to be small and personal. Wood was used for painting surfaces and pigments were derived locally from whatever natural sources were available. In subject matter, they represented usually Christ, the Virgin Mary, or one of the many saints. Boyd travelled to churches in remote villages and often her work was in adverse conditions as she drew the retablos and then remained as true as possible to the originals when she painted them with watercolors. With the aid of two assistants, woodblock prints were made of her work and published as New Mexico’s contribution to the Index of American Design.

The Retabla of the Trinity differs from familiar depictions of the Father, Son, and dove representing the Holy Spirit. Instead, the Trinty image rendered by Boyd is of Byzantine origin and is based on an account in Genesis (18:2) that told of three men coming to Abraham. Early portrayals included Abraham as well but later only the three men were pictured. The depiction of the Trinity in this form was carried over into European art but after an edict by the pope in the eighteenth century it was no longer used. It remained in use, however, in the American Southwest and in other parts of the Americas that were settled by Spain.

______________

Commentary © 2012 Hovak Najarian

The Trinity

We’re now a Sunday past Trinity Sunday (2013). However, finding this YouTube video warrants a revisit to the doctrine of the Trinity. Thanks to the folks at The Lutheran Satire for this short course on the Trinity:

What do we believe about the Trinity? Listen, “Holy, holy, holy …”

Singing is praying (actually, praying twice according to many). If you want to know what we believe listen to how we pray. No, it isn’t a theological treatise, a confessional statement, or a magisterial teaching, Nonetheless, our prayer is a powerful and wonderful shaper of belief and action. Episcopalians pray. In our prayer we shape our belief and our beliefs shape our actions (at least when we are at our best).

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty was composed by Reginald Heber and published in 1826:

Reginald Heber was born in 1783 into a wealthy, educated family. He was a bright youth, translating a Latin classic into English verse by the time he was seven, entering Oxford at 17, and winning two awards for his poetry during his time there. After his graduation he became rector of his father’s church in the village of Hodnet near Shrewsbury in the west of England where he remained for 16 years. He was appointed Bishop of Calcutta in 1823 and worked tirelessly for three years until the weather and travel took its toll on his health and he died of a stroke. Most of his 57 hymns, which include “Holy, Holy, Holy,” are still in use today. — Greg Scheer, 1995 on Hymnary.org

Listen …

Please continue the conversation, we would like to hear from you

To the Trinity be praise!

To the Trinity be praise!
God is music, God is life
that nurtures every creature in its kind.
Our God is the song of the angel throng
and the splendor of secret ways
hid from all humankind,
But God, our life is the life of all.

–Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)

B Trinity Sunday (Pentecost 1), Art for June 3, 2012


Rendered by E. Boyd (artist), c. 1936
Click to open National Gallery of Art Artist Information and to explore other works by this artist.

Retabla of the Trinity
watercolor, colored pencil, and graphite on paper
overall: 36.1 x 28.2 cm (14 3/16 x 11 1/8 in.) Original IAD Object: 40 1/2″ x 22″
Click to open National Gallery of Art information page. Click image for large view.

Related art commentary by Hovak Najarian.

Retabla of the Trinity, ca. 1936, Watercolor Copy of an Altarpiece, E. (Elizabeth) Boyd, 1903-1974

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Related post B Trinity Sunday (Pentecost 1), Art for June 3, 2012

When some forms of creative work became valued more than others the concept of art was established and a hierarchy of categories came into being. Painting and sculpture now are called “high arts” and often the crafts and decorative arts are relegated collectively to the category “minor arts.” Today, other creative works are acknowledged only rarely by the art establishment. Folk, naïve, outsider, and visionary are terms used to describe various art forms that are seldom displayed in galleries or museums except for an occasional special exhibition. These works are made typically by people who have had no formal training in art and lack technical sophistication. It is an art that often fulfills personal needs and at times is the result of emotions related to religious beliefs.

During The Great Depression of the 1930s, millions of Americans were out of work but opportunities for jobs in public works projects were made available under the Work Progress Administration (WPA). Among these workers were artists who were employed to paint murals in Post Offices, transportation stations and public buildings. Artists, writers, and photographers also were employed to document our American cultural heritage. [Dorothea Lange’s well known and stirring photographic images now give us a sense of the hardships of migrant workers during the Great Depression.]

One of the artists working for the Federal Arts Project during this era was Elizabeth Boyd. She was enamored by the Southwest after a childhood visit and following the study of art in Paris as a young adult she returned to seek work in New Mexico. The coming of the Depression led her to a government sponsored project that documented a form of folk art called, retablos which were found in churches throughout New Mexico. Retablo is the Spanish term for a shelf behind the altar on which objects are placed; hence, small paintings displayed on it are known as “retablos.” In the Episcopal Church the term for this shelf (on altars placed against a wall) is retable and sometimes candles or flowers are placed there.

When churches were established by Franciscan monks in the American Southwest, materials were in short supply. There was a shortage of art supplies as well and the images that were created tended to be small and personal. Wood was used for painting surfaces and pigments were derived locally from whatever natural sources were available. In subject matter, they represented usually Christ, the Virgin Mary, or one of the many saints. Boyd travelled to churches in remote villages and often her work was in adverse conditions as she drew the retablos and then remained as true as possible to the originals when she painted them with watercolors. With the aid of two assistants, woodblock prints were made of her work and published as New Mexico’s contribution to the Index of American Design.

The Retabla of the Trinity differs from familiar depictions of the Father, Son, and dove representing the Holy Spirit. Instead, the Trinty image rendered by Boyd is of Byzantine origin and is based on an account in Genesis (18:2) that told of three men coming to Abraham. Early portrayals included Abraham as well but later only the three men were pictured. The depiction of the Trinity in this form was carried over into European art but after an edict by the pope in the eighteenth century it was no longer used. It remained in use, however, in the American Southwest and in other parts of the Americas that were settled by Spain.

______________

© 2012 Hovak Najarian