Thursday, May 30, 2013
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Painting of the day
In his final lecture on Image and Word, Professor Wheeler discussed Blake and Holman Hunt, both of whom inscribed biblical texts around some of their religious paintings.
William Holman Hunt painted The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple in 1854-60 after a visit to the Holy Land. You remember the story: Joseph and Mary were travelling back from their celebration of the Passover in Jerusalem when they realised that Jesus, who was twelve years old, was not with them. They returned to Jerusalem and found him teaching the elders in the temple.
I apologise for the reproduction of the painting (whose original is in Birmingham). You can see the Jewish elders sitting on the left and Jesus, Mary and Joseph on the right. Holman Hunt's paintings often tell a story from left to right across the canvas.The blind elder, sitting second from the left, holds the Jewish Law which is wrapped in a red and gold cloth. Jesus' sash is painted in the same colours. On the extreme right, there is construction work. The old law is being transformed by Christ and a new temple is being built. Equally, the scaffolding resembles the cross which awaits Jesus and the beggar sitting on the steps may represent the suffering to come.
John Ruskin didn't like the painting because Jesus is looking away from his mother. Mary supports Jesus' left hand and has her arm around him but Jesus is stepping forward,symbolising the start of his mission.
Friday, May 24, 2013
The brutal murder of Drummer Lee Rigby of The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, on Wednesday outside Woolwich Barracks in London, was shocking and sickening. One of the terrorists was carrying a gun and was shot by police at the scene. Shot and wounded, not shot and killed.
Meanwhile, on the same day, a Chechen immigrant, friend of one of the Boston marathon bombers who was, as far as we know, innocent of any crime, was shot dead at his home in Florida by an FBI agent. The agent admitted he did not know if the man was armed.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Painting of the day
Last night was the second of Professor Wheeler's excellent talks on Word and Image. One of the paintings he discussed was this one by James Jacques Tissot who made a series of illustrations of the Bible after he returned to the Catholic faith in 1885. I apologise for the poor reproduction.
You can see the man with the palsy being lowered by his friends via the roof of the house as they couldn't get through the crowds around the front door. Christ, in white sitting on the left, holds out his arms to receive him for healing. The palsied man's legs hang down in the centre of the painting but his arms are outstretched. There is a vertical line from one of the supporting arms at the top of the painting, through the cloth, through the fold of the robe of the man in yellow and through the green patterned design of the rug. This vertical line and the horizontal line of the man's arms make a cross, symbolising the crucifixion. Usually God descends to man but here we have man descending to God. The man's left hand points towards gold plates on a shelf which may represent the riches of faith, whilst his right had points to darkness, which may represent unbelief. What do you think?
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Lateral questions of the day
Answer: Man overboard
Answer: I understand
So now try these:
Monday, May 20, 2013
Memories of Oxford
I went to a talk by Lord Gowrie about his time at Oxford (1959-62). He enjoyed lengthy discussions about art with one of his tutors. One day, his tutor asked him, "Have you seen that new shop on The Broad?" Gowrie confessed his ignorance. "It's the most extraordinary place!" his tutor proclaimed. "Everything in it has been given away by people and the sale proceeds go to charity. I found two statuettes by Inigo Jones there!"
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Painting of the day
Professor Michael Wheeler gave a fascinating lecture about some of the Italian paintings described by John Ruskin after his visits to that country in the 1840s. One was this depiction of the Marriage in Cana by Giotto in 1305. This is the first miracle in St John's Gospel and is not mentioned in the other gospels. The wine at the wedding (of persons unknown) had run out and when Mary pointed this out to Jesus, he instructed the servants to fill six amphorae to the brim with water and to take them to the governor of the feast. When the governor had tasted the contents, he expressed surprise that the family had kept the best wine until such a late stage at the wedding feast. You can see the servant pouring the water into the amphorae in the right corner, the comic figure of the governor drinking the wine next to her, with Mary looking on from behind.
There was some discussion about the other figures in the painting. Ruskin says the central figure in red is the bridegroom and that the way in which he and Mary are holding up their right hands is symbolic of the Eucharist. However, it seemed to some of us that the figure is a woman, not a man, from the way its robes are flowing and the fact that its hair is tied up in an ornament. From the left hand side of the table there's Christ, the bridegroom, a sacred figure in a halo, the bride and the person in red. Traditionally, the other sacred figure at the wedding was John. However, the figure in this painting is of an old man with a grey beard. Joseph was raised as a possibility but ruled out as he's not mentioned in the story nor in St John's Gospel. An interpretation that was raised was that the central figure in red is The Church, the bride of Christ, and the elderly man could be God, the father.
Above is an azure sky and what could be a holy vessel is positioned above the central figure: another symbol of the church. One could then say that to reach the azure heaven, you need to go through the dark doorway on the right. Christ faces that door: is it a foreshadow of his crucifixion?
Another interpretation put forward was that the central figure could simply be a portrait of the person who commissioned the painting.
What do you think?
Friday, May 10, 2013
Peace and war
It was very hot on Sunday and we went swimming at Samandag, a rustic resort on the Mediterranean. The local restaurant showed us an array of fish caught that morning and we ordered our selection for a late lunch. Fresh fish, salad with the most delicious dressing, huge juicy tomatoes, the sun glittering on the sea, excellent company: all was perfect until...we heard five bombs from over the Syrian border a few miles away.
Antakya is full of mercenaries: men with long beards and guns who disappear into Syria for a few skirmishes and then return. The locals are annoyed and worried.
Thursday, May 09, 2013
The strange story of Fatima
I saw my old friends in Antakya and revisited the Roman mosaics in the museum there which also has some handsome Hittite lions. They told me the strange story of their maid, Fatima. Aged 11, she was on a bus travelling from her village to Antakya when she spotted two men in their 50s walking along the road. She got off the bus and approached them, greeting each by his name. They had never seen her before and asked how she knew them. "You are my brothers!" she said. She told them about their family and said she was their sister. As their sister had died when she was 16, they were sceptical. She was their sister, now reincarnated, Fatima explained. She could prove her story, she insisted. In her previous life, she had hidden a box containing some very special things in their house. She described each object in the box. If they took her back to their house, she could tell them where the box was and that would prove it. They agreed and were amazed to find the box containing everything which she'd described. She was reunited with her first family and continues to be close friends with them. She's now 45.