The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

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Art of the Redemption 10: The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt

Thursday, June 30, 2011
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).

In a contemporary review, the nineteenth century preacher and social reformer George Dawson described The Light of the World, as a sermon on canvas and stated; “Such a picture explains the true uses which art had in the Middle Ages. With many people, nowadays, paintings are only the last touch of ornament given to their houses; but in the Middle Ages the painter occupied the place preachers would occupy now.” In viewing this painting one is inclined to agree with Dawson’s enthusiastic pronouncement on Holman Hunt’s work. It is no mere ornamentation but a beautiful sermon on the mission of Christ.

Thus, central to the painting is the patient figure of the risen Lord, lantern in hand, knocking upon and waiting without, the tightly shut door. A door long closed with rusting hinges, surrounded by brambles and ivy. This door represents the firmly closed door of the soul. There is no handle on Christ’s side, for the door must be opened from within. Christ holds in his hand the lantern of the Church which illuminates the way and which is bound tightly to his wrist with cords. Upon his head are two crowns; one of thorns the other of gold. The former symbolises his Passion and the latter his heavenly glory; interestingly the thorns have begun to bud showing the new life flowing from Christ’s sacrifice. The face of Christ shows a measure of sadness as he continues to knock and to wait, but it is also patient and full of kindness. Christ knows the night may be long but he is not about to walk away.

There are numerous other fascinating details, rich in religious significance, which deserve closer inspection and which make it well worth the journey to see the original if possible. In particular pay attention to the bat, the robe, the apples, and the jewelled clasp – see what you will make of them! The work is open to the public at Keble College, Oxford. Later versions painted by the artist are to be found in St Pau'ls, London and the Manchester Art Gallery.
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Art of the Redemption 9: Verdi's 'Jerusalem'

Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Giuseppe Verdi's less well known opera I Lombardi (sometimes called Jerusalem) is set in the Holy Land at the time of the Crusades. Act III opens with this beautiful song in honour of Jerusalem. It is sung by crusader knights, women, and other pilgrims as they get their first view of the Holy City. They are overcome with emotion as they see their destination which means not just the end of an earthly journey but somehow also their eternal destination.

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Art of the Redemption 8: Altarpiece Mural, Courtfield

Monday, June 06, 2011
This rather striking piece by Joanna Jamieson, former Abbess of Stambrook can be found in Courtfield, the former retreat house of the Mill Hill Missionaries in Hertfordshire. At the center we see the risen Christ. His glory spreads out to the scenes surrounding him The scenes depicted include the sacraments of baptism and the anointing of the sick; they show people praying (the figure in the bottom left is Eliza Vaughan mother of the Mill Hill Missionary Herbert, later Cardinal, Vaughan) and there is a scene from the Easter Vigil, but there are also less 'churchy' scenes showing people working, eating, teaching, and relaxing. At the bottom the tabernacle-doors are incorporated into the Alpha and Omega banners.  Read more

Art of the Redemption 7 - Icon of the Resurrection

Tuesday, May 31, 2011
In the Byzantine tradition, it is the custom to put out an icon of the feast of the day in the middle of the church, depicting the saint or the event being celebrated. So it is interesting to see what image is used in this tradition for Easter Day (and indeed on all Sundays throughout the year) when Christ’s Resurrection is the particular focus of our celebration. The icon is entitled ‘The Resurrection’, sometimes even ‘The Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ’, but what we see is not a scene at the tomb in the garden where the body of Jesus had been laid. It is possible, as we see in the West, to depict the risen Christ, the result of that moment of Resurrection, but the event itself, not witnessed by any human eye, is considered impossible to depict. Read more

Art of Redemption 6 - Handel's Anthem for the Foundling Hospital

Friday, May 27, 2011
God created you without you, but he does not redeem you without you. Read more

Art of the Redemption 5: The Mosaic of San Clemente

Thursday, May 19, 2011
One of the best-known representations of the Cross as the 'Tree of Life' is the 12th century mosiac in the Basilica of San Clemente, Rome. Where the Cross penetrates the earth a luxuriant tree bursts forth and sends its branches far and wide, covering the entire expanse of the apse. In doing so it reaches and enfolds all categories of people: teachers and preachers, chaplains and farmers, ladies and hunters, nobles and shepherds. All of human life is brought into contact with the life that flows from the Cross (John 12:32). Read more

Art of the Redemption 4: Christ of St John of the Cross by Salvador Dali

Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Christ of Saint John of the Cross was painted by the Spanish Surrealist painter, Salvador Dali in 1951 at a time when he was emerging from the strong anti-religious atheism of his youth and was re-embracing the Catholic faith. In my view it contains a lot of religious depth, but space will confine me to offer just a few reflections on how it explores and articulates the redemption. Read more

Art of the Redemption 3:Josef Žáček, Resurrection

Saturday, May 07, 2011
No artistic representation of the resurrection will ever display the depth and vastness of this central mystery of the faith. As it is impossible to reproduce an illusion of the visible reality of the resurrection, many artists have turned towards an abstract portrayal of Jesus’ victory. Some have argued that the freedom found in abstract art allows them to more fully display the message of the resurrection. Read more

Art of Redemption 2: Henri Matisse, The Way of the Cross

Friday, April 29, 2011
Henri Matisse's 'The Way of the Cross' is in the Rosary Chapel, Vence, France. The chapel was solemnly consecrated on 25 June 1951. It belongs to the Dominican sisters who run a home of convalescence in Vence which is in the hills high above the city of Nice. The architect and decorator of the chapel was Henri Matisse. On the day of its consecration a crowd consisting of religious, clergy, and a great number of journalists was waiting impatiently outside the door. Finally, the local bishop opened the doors, and the crowd entered. The ones who entered were amazed by the light flowing in through the stained glass windows in yellow, green, and blue. On the right hand side, a beautiful painting covering the whole wall showed Mary and the Child surrounded by clouds. It was painted with black ink on white tiles, and the colours from the windows added life to the image. At the far end stood the altar in sand stone, and behind this, another stained glass window called “The Tree of Life”. To the left they could admire the choir for the sisters, and on the right, another enormous painting, this one of Saint Dominic. Everything was made by Matisse, not only the paintings and the windows, but also the altar, the choir, and the crucifix. Even the volume and shape of the chapel were designed by the artist, nothing had escaped his hand, and all who entered the place were touched by its beauty. Until they turned and saw the Way of the Cross! Read more

Art of the Redemption 1: Hæc dies

Wednesday, April 27, 2011
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