Thursday, February 24, 2011

Resurrection of a Painting

The overview of Christian art history and the survey of Resurrection images presented over the last few entries was a way to prepare myself to create a sacred image of the Resurrection. My goal is to take the best of the Oriental and Occidental art traditions and combine them into one painting, producing an image of the Resurrection that contains carnal force and spiritual fullness. Over the course of my research, I discovered a number of interesting points useful towards this end:

-Developments in theology have always been followed by developments in art. 

-The images of the dominant or secular world were always a source for Christian artists. The church has never been afraid to appropriate what it wanted and needed from the culture at large and invest it with Christian meaning. 

-The Anastasis is the original icon/image of the Resurrection. This icon continues to be at the heart of the eastern icon and feast cycle. While the dominant image of the crucifixion in the Western Church implies the Resurrection, there is still a place for the Resurrection in a cycle of liturgical images. 
-The work of Michelangelo represents the high point of the infusion of spiritual with the natural. Caravaggio fully expresses the carnality of Christ.

Today’s culture, no longer having an understanding of the cross needs to be spoken to with an explanation of its fullness. An expansion of the importance and clarity of liturgical art can do this. In this world of images, the right ordering of images can help to trigger a desire to understand more fully the heavenly realities. "Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day" (Jn 6,40).

Theology, ancient texts and art history have all provided wonderful sources for my development of an image that would proudly continue the tradition of Catholic art. Specifically, Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body played a huge roll in my theological understanding of the body. But to feel like I was truly carrying on this tradition I imagined myself an artist working on the walls of the catacombs. I looked extensively at the culture around me and undertook an inventory of the best figurative art of today. A lifelong exposure to pop culture has been useful in developing my picture.

From comic book heroes 
John Byrne

Alex Ross

to pop culture illustration

Drew Struzan

Michael Kormack

to contemporary figurative painting

Daniel Sprick

Shane Wolf

beautiful human figures litter the contemporary cultural landscape. Many of these interpretations of the human body have their origins in traditional art. It was an artistic tradition with Catholic origins. 

My painting of the Resurrection of the Son of God, called Anastasis, is a Harrowing of Hell painted in the Western style, using modern reference and designed to be a part of a larger pictorial cycle within a church. 

Below it is presented in situ at San Filipo Neri church in Florence, Italy.

In upcoming posts I will share how I developed this image.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reflections of Glory

Reflections of Glory is a very good short documentary about the development of Early Christian Art and how it lead to the icon. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Make a Fine Gesture (A Post of Few Words)

Look at how Bougureau interprets gesture from the model (Notice he is not using sight size):

The original painting: Le Jour

Now go back and take a look at the model he was using. 

To quote a former student, "Damn, he was good!"

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Iconic Developments

The history of the icon is the history of a unified church, of both the Catholic and Orthodox artistic traditions. The Orthodox however, cannot make claims to the Catholic tradition that developed after the Great Schism. By remaining rooted in one region and era, the icon has a rather limited artistic expression. Continually repeating canonic formulas carries with itself a certain amount of monotony. It is because of this shortcoming, the icon is easily mass produced without loss in its internal qualities.

Despite the Orthodox insistence that the icon arose independent of any influences,  it has its origins in Roman sculpture and Egyptian funerary painting combined with theological developments and local veneration traditions. The enormous amount of writing that has arisen around the icon tends to create a smokescreen insisting the viewer not take the image on face value but must bring with him a whole history of theology and encyclopedic rationalizations. The existence of such texts certainly does not guarantee validity. In order to qualify the icon we must put aside these rationalizations and place it aside western paintings to be appreciated and evaluated for what they are. The canonical models evident in the icon, elongated bodies, large eyes, small mouths, etc. are meant to represent spirituality and in the best models, they do. Fra Angelico, Michelangelo, Raphael, and many others employ similar artistic distortions to express the same concept. Certainly, both Monreale and the Sistine Chapel speak of a similar beauty. Icons are not great because of what is written about them. They are great when they are beautiful. Theological validity does not carry with it aesthetical validity.
From the 16th to 20th Centuries, while the West developed its own artistic tradition, the icon lost its appeal. Beginning in the seventeenth century, as the icon borrowed from Latin prototypes, it began to whither as a genre. In the 19th Century Russian academic artists use the artistic developments and forms of the Renaissance within the traditional arrangements of the iconic cycle. The beautiful integration that resulted is visible in two churches:

The Church of the Spilled Blood, 1883-1907 in St. Petersburg: 

And the Cathedral of St Vladimir, 1862-1882 in Kyiv, Ukraine 

The Russian artist Victor Vasnetsov worked on both churches but had a much greater roll in St. Vladimir's. Below are some of his murals, which show the combination of the Eastern and Western sacred art traditions, that the art critic Vladimir Stasov labelled "a sacrilegious play with religious feelings of the Russian people."

Alain Besancon, The Forbidden Image: An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm.
TimothyVerdon, Il Catechismo della Carne.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Two Andreis

Andrei Rublev is considered one of the greatest icon painters and his Trinity, ca. 1410, is one of the most well known icons. This icon was painted in memory of St. Sergius, whose whole life was dedicated to the Holy Trinity.  Andrei used to sit in front of the divine and venerable icons at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity and elevate his spirit to the immaterial and divine light. It was in this light that Andrei transmitted his icon.

In this icon we can distinguish three levels of reality/history. The first is the Biblical story of the three pilgrims to Abraham and Sarah (Gn 18: 1- 15) upon which this icon is based. The absence of Abraham and Sarah invites us to penetrate deeper into the icon passing into the second level, that of divine economy. The three heavenly pilgrims form the "Eternal Council". The landscape changes meaning as well. The tent of Abraham becomes the temple-palace and the oak becomes the tree of life. The cosmos is represented by the cup. 

The three angels with their wings and elongated bodies give the impression of being weightless. Inverse perspective abolishes distance and depth, bringing the figures to the fore and showing us God is everywhere. The third level, the intradivine, is hinted at. God is love himself, in his triune essence, and his love for the world is the reflection of his trinitarian love.1

The second Andrei, Tarkovsky, is one of the greatest film makers of the contemporary age.

"Tarkovsky for me is the greatest [director], the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream." - Ingmar Bergman
The films of the great Russian film maker  are now free to view on line. Included is his 1966 film of Andrei Rublev.   Do yourself a favour and spend a couple of hours with this masterpiece.  

1.Description of the Trinity icon taken from: The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty, p 243 - 248