Sunday Gospels (Year A)

 

Each week, the Gospel for that coming Sunday will appear here along with an image to which it relates, previous years can be found in the ‘Faith’ menu at the top.

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The Sunday Gospel

Fourth Sunday of Lent (A)

John 9: 1 – 41

 

As Jesus went along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, for him to have been born blind?’ ‘Neither he nor his parents sinned,’ Jesus answered, ‘he was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

‘As long as the day lasts

I must carry out the work of the one who sent me;

the night will soon be here when no one can work.

As long as I am in the world

I am the light of the world.’

Having said this, he spat on the ground, made a paste with the spittle, put this over the eyes of the blind man and said to him, ‘Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (a name that means ‘sent’). So the blind man went off and washed himself, and came away with his sight restored.

His neighbours and people who earlier had seen him begging said, ‘Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some said, ‘Yes, it is the same one.’ Others said, ‘No, he only looks like him.’ The man himself said, ‘I am the man.’ So they said to him, ‘Then how do your eyes come to be open?’ ‘The man called Jesus’ he answered ‘made a paste, daubed my eyes with it and said to me, “Go and wash at Siloam”; so I went, and when I washed I could see.’ They asked, ‘Where is he?’ ‘I don’t know’ he answered.

They brought the man who had been blind to the Pharisees. It had been a Sabbath day when Jesus made the paste and opened the man’s eyes, so when the Pharisees asked him how he had come to see, he said, ‘He put a paste on my eyes, and I washed, and I can see.’ Then some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man cannot be from God: he does not keep the Sabbath.’ Others said, ‘How could a sinner produce signs like this?’ And there was disagreement among them. So they spoke to the blind man again, ‘What have you to say about him yourself, now that he has opened your eyes?’ ‘He is a prophet’ replied the man.

However, the Jews would not believe that the man had been blind and had gained his sight, without first sending for his parents and asking them, ‘Is this man really your son who you say was born blind? If so, how is it that he is now able to see?’ His parents answered, ‘We know he is our son and we know he was born blind, but we don’t know how it is that he can see now, or who opened his eyes. He is old enough: let him speak for himself.’ His parents spoke like this out of fear of the Jews, who had already agreed to expel from the synagogue anyone who should acknowledge Jesus as the Christ. This was why his parents said, ‘He is old enough; ask him.’

So the Jews again sent for the man and said to him, ‘Give glory to God! For our part, we know that this man is a sinner.’ The man answered, ‘I don’t know if he is a sinner; I only know that I was blind and now I can see.’ They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He replied, ‘I have told you once and you wouldn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it all again? Do you want to become his disciples too?’ At this they hurled abuse at him: ‘You can be his disciple,’ they said ‘we are disciples of Moses: we know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this man, we don’t know where he comes from.’ The man replied, ‘Now here is an astonishing thing! He has opened my eyes, and you don’t know where he comes from! We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but God does listen to men who are devout and do his will. Ever since the world began it is unheard of for anyone to open the eyes of a man who was born blind; if this man were not from God, he couldn’t do a thing.’ ‘Are you trying to teach us,’ they replied ‘and you a sinner through and through, since you were born!’ And they drove him away.

Jesus heard they had driven him away, and when he found him he said to him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied ‘tell me who he is so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said, ‘You are looking at him; he is speaking to you.’ The man said, ‘Lord, I believe’, and worshipped him.

Jesus said:

‘It is for judgement

that I have come into this world,

so that those without sight may see

and those with sight turn blind.’

Hearing this, some Pharisees who were present said to him, ‘We are not blind, surely?’ Jesus replied:

‘Blind? If you were,

you would not be guilty,

but since you say, “We see”,

your guilt remains.’

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

 

Picture: Christ Healing the Blind man, painted by Nicolas Colombel, 1682. Oil on canvas, the size is 120 x 89cm and is located at the Saint Louis Art Museum, USA.

 Nicolas Colombel (c.1644–1717) was a French painter, much influenced by Poussin.

 Colombel was born at Sotteville, near Rouen, in about 1644. He went to Rome when quite young, and remained there until 1692, forming his style by a study of the works of Raphael and Nicolas Poussin. His pictures met with considerable success, but most later critics dismissed him as a mere imitator of Poussin.

 He was admitted into the Academy of St Luke at Rome in 1686, and in 1694 into that of Paris. The Louvre possesses the Mars and Rhea Sylvia, which he painted for his reception to the Academy, and a work representing the Saint Hyacinth Saving the Statue of the Virgin from the Enemies of the Name of Christ. He was employed by Louis XIV at both Versailles and Meudon. Many of his works were engraved by Dufloc, and by Michel Dossier. He died in Paris in 1717.

Sir Edmund Head, writing in 1848, described Colombel as “in some sense a master who stood alone among his contemporaries in dignity of feeling, and in the solid character of his art.” More recently, Didier Rykner has described his work as “generally easy to recognise”, adding “[Colombel] does indeed have his own style, consisting in a gentle Classicism, at times a bit affected, a fondness for subtle and porcelain-like colors, deep blues (close to Sassoferrato).” A considerable number of paintings have been attributed to Colombel in recent years, including an altarpiece, Saint Dominic Presenting the Dominican Order to Christ, in the collection of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Grenoble, identified in 2000. An exhibition of Colombel’s work was held between November 2012 and February 2013 at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen.

 

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Third Sunday of Lent (A)

John 4: 5 – 42

 

Jesus came to the Samaritan town called Sychar, near the land that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well is there and Jesus, tired by the journey, sat straight down by the well.  It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘What? You are a Jew and you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?’ – Jews, in fact, do not associate with Samaritans. Jesus replied:

‘If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you: Give me a drink, you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water.’

‘You have no bucket, sir,’ she answered ‘and the well is deep: how could you get this living water? Are you a greater man than our father Jacob who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his sons and his cattle?’ Jesus replied:

‘Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again: but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life.’

‘Sir,’ said the woman, ‘give me some of that water, so that I may never get thirsty and never have to come here again to draw water.’ ‘Go and call your husband’ said Jesus to her ‘and come back here.’ The woman answered, ‘I have no husband.’ He said to her, ‘You are right to say, “I have no husband”; for although you have had five, the one you have now is not your husband. You spoke the truth there.’ > ‘I see you are a prophet, sir’ said the woman. ‘Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, while you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’ Jesus said:

‘Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know; for salvation comes from the Jews. But the hour will come – in fact it is here already – when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth:  that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants. God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth.’

The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah – that is, Christ – is coming; and when he comes he will tell us everything.’ ‘I who am speaking to you,’ said Jesus ‘I am he.’

At this point his disciples returned, and were surprised to find him speaking to a woman, though none of them asked, ‘What do you want from her?’ or, ‘Why are you talking to her?’ The woman put down her water jar and hurried back to the town to tell the people, ‘Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did; I wonder if he is the Christ?’ This brought people out of the town and they started walking towards him.

Meanwhile, the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, do have something to eat’; but he said, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples asked one another, ‘Has someone been bringing him food?’ But Jesus said:

‘My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to complete his work. Have you not got a saying: Four months and then the harvest? Well, I tell you: Look around you, look at the fields; already they are white, ready for harvest!  Already the reaper is being paid his wages, already he is bringing in the grain for eternal life, and thus sower and reaper rejoice together. For here the proverb holds good: one sows, another reaps; I sent you to reap a harvest you had not worked for. Others worked for it; and you have come into the rewards of their trouble.’

Many Samaritans of that town had believed in him on the strength of the woman’s testimony when she said, ‘He told me all I have ever done’, so, when the Samaritans came up to him, they begged him to stay with them. He stayed for two days, and when he spoke to them many more came to believe; and they said to the woman, ‘Now we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the world.’   

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

Picture: Christ and the Samaritan woman at the well, oil on canvas, painted 1796 by Angelika Kauffman. 124 x 159cm, it is located at Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Germany. 

Maria Anna Angelika Kauffmann (30 October 1741 – 5 November 1807), was a Swiss Neoclassical painter who had a successful career in London and Rome. Remembered primarily as an history painter, Kauffmann was a skilled portraitist, landscape and decoration painter. She was one of the two female founding members of the Royal Academy in London in 1768.

Kauffman was born at Chur in Graubünden, Switzerland, where her father was working for the local bishop but grew up in Austria where her family originated. Her father, Joseph Johann Kauffmann, was a relatively poor man but a skilled painter, who was often traveling for his work. It was he who taught his precocious daughter. Angelica, a child prodigy, rapidly acquired several languages from her mother, Cleophea Lutz, read incessantly and showed talent as a musician, but her greatest progress was in painting, and by her twelfth year she had become known as a painter, with bishops and nobles being her sitters.

In 1754 her father took her to Milan. Later visits to Italy of long duration followed. She became a member of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze in 1762. In 1763 she visited Rome, returning again in 1764. From Rome she passed to Bologna and Venice, everywhere feted for her talents and charm.

While Kauffman produced many types of art, she identified herself primarily as a history painter, an unusual designation for a woman artist in the 18th century. History painting was considered the most elite and lucrative category in academic painting during this time period and, under the direction of Sir Joshua Reynolds, the Royal Academy made a strong effort to promote it to a native audience more interested in commissioning and buying portraits and landscapes. Despite the popularity that Kauffman enjoyed in British society, and her success there as an artist, she was disappointed by the relative apathy of the British towards history painting. Ultimately she left Britain for the continent, where history painting was better established, held in higher esteem and patronized.

History painting, as defined in academic art theory, was classified as the most elevated category. Its subject matter was the representation of human actions based on themes from history, mythology, literature, and scripture. This required extensive learning in biblical and Classical literature, knowledge of art theory and a practical training that included the study of anatomy from the male nude. Most women were denied access to such training, especially the opportunity to draw from nude models; yet Kauffman managed to cross the gender boundary to acquire the necessary skill to build a reputation as a successful history painter who was admired by colleagues and eagerly sought by patrons.

Harmonious and powerful colours and the soft-brushed, multi-layered style of English portraitists, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, are typical for Kauffmann’s paintings.

In 1781, after her first husband’s death (she had been long separated from him), she married Antonio Zucchi (1728–1795), a Venetian artist then resident in Britain. Shortly thereafter she retired to Rome, where she befriended, among others, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who said she worked harder and accomplished more than any artist he knew; yet, always restive, she wanted to do more and lived for 25 years with much of her old prestige.

In 1782, Kauffman’s father died, as did her husband in 1795. She continued at intervals to contribute to the Royal Academy in London, her last exhibit being in 1797. After this she produced little, and in 1807 she died in Rome, being honoured by a splendid funeral under the direction of Canova. The entire Academy of St Luke, with numerous ecclesiastics and virtuosi, followed her to her tomb in Sant’Andrea delle Fratte, and, as at the burial of Raphael, two of her best pictures were carried in procession.

 

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Second Sunday of Lent (A)

Matt 17: 1 – 9

 

Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone. There in their presence he was transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them; they were talking with him. Then Peter spoke to Jesus. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud covered them with shadow, and from the cloud there came a voice which said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.’ When they heard this, the disciples fell on their faces, overcome with fear. But Jesus came up and touched them. ‘Stand up,’ he said ‘do not be afraid.’ And when they raised their eyes they saw no one but only Jesus.

As they came down from the mountain Jesus gave them this order, ‘Tell no one about the vision until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.’

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

Picture: The Transfiguration of Christ, Fresco, 226 x 229cm, located at Collegio del Cambio, Perugia.

Pietro Perugino (1446 – 1523), born Pietro Vannucci, was an Italian Renaissance painter of the Umbrian school, who developed some of the qualities that found classic expression in the High RenaissanceRaphael was his most famous pupil.

He was born Pietro Vannucci in Città della PieveUmbria, the son of Cristoforo Marie Vannucci; his nickname characterises him as from Perugia, the chief city of Umbria. He most likely began to study painting in Perugia, in local workshops such as those of Bartolomeo Caporali or Fiorenzo di Lorenzo. Perugino was one of the earliest Italian practitioners of oil painting. Some of his early works were extensive frescoes for the convent of the Ingessati fathers, destroyed during the siege of Florence; he produced for them also many cartoons, which they executed with brilliant effect in stained glass. A good specimen of his early style in tempera is the tondo (circular picture) in the Musée du Louvre of the Virgin and Child Enthroned between Saints.

Perugino returned from Florence to Perugia, where his Florentine training showed in the Adoration of the Magi for the church of Santa Maria dei Servi of Perugia (c. 1476). In about 1480, he was called to Rome by Sixtus IV to paint fresco panels for the Sistine Chapel walls. The frescoes he executed there included Moses and Zipporah (often attributed to Luca Signorelli), the Baptism of Christ, and Delivery of the KeysPinturicchio accompanied Perugino to Rome, and was made his partner, receiving a third of the profits. He may have done some of the Zipporah subject. The Sistine frescoes were the major high Renaissance commission in Rome. The altar wall was also painted with the Assumption, the Nativity, and Moses in the Bulrushes. These works were later destroyed to make a space for Michelangelo‘s Last Judgement,

Between 1486 and 1499 Perugino worked mostly in Florence, making one journey to Rome and several to Perugia, where he may have maintained a second studio. He had an established studio in Florence, and received a great number of commissions. His Pietà (1483–1493) in the Uffizi is an uncharacteristically stark work that avoids Perugino’s sometimes too easy sentimental piety.

In 1499 the guild of the cambio (money-changers or bankers) of Perugia asked him to decorate their audience-hall, the Sala delle Udienze del Collegio del Cambio. The humanist Francesco Maturanzio acted as his consultant. This extensive scheme, which may have been finished by 1500, comprised the painting of the vault, showing the seven planets and the signs of the zodiac (Perugino being responsible for the designs and his pupils most probably for the execution), and the representation on the walls of two sacred subjects: the Nativity and Transfiguration; in addition, the Eternal Father, the cardinal virtues of Justice, Prudence, Temperance and Fortitude, Cato as the emblem of wisdom, and numerous life-sized figures of classic worthies, prophets and sibyls figured in the program. On the mid-pilaster of the hall Perugino placed his own portrait in bust-form. It is probable that Raphael, who in boyhood, towards 1496, had been placed by his uncles under the tuition of Perugino, bore a hand in the work of the vaulting.

Perugino’s last frescoes were painted for the church of the Madonna delle Lacrime in Trevi (1521, signed and dated), the monastery of Sant’Agnese in Perugia, and in 1522 for the church of Castello di Fortignano. Both series have disappeared from their places, the second being now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. He was still at Fontignano in 1523 when he died of the plague. Like other plague victims, he was hastily buried in an unconsecrated field, the precise spot now unknown..

Among his pupils were Raphael, upon whose early work Perugino’s influence is most noticeable, Eusebio da San GiorgioMariano di Eusterio ,and Giovanni di Pietro (lo Spagna).

 

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First Sunday of Lent (A)

Matt 4: 1 – 11

 

Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, after which he was very hungry, and the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves.’ But he replied, ‘Scripture says:

Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

The devil then took him to the holy city and made him stand on the parapet of the Temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down; for scripture says:

He will put you in his angels’ charge, and they will support you on their hands in case you hurt your foot against a stone.’

Jesus said to him, ‘Scripture also says: You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’

Next, taking him to a very high mountain, the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘I will give you all these’, he said, ‘if you fall at my feet and worship me.’ Then Jesus replied, ‘Be off, Satan! For scripture says:

You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.’

Then the devil left him, and angels appeared and looked after him.

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

Picture: Fresco of the Temptation of Christ, Sistine Chapel, painted 1481 by Sandro Botticelli (1445 – 1510).

Botticelli is credited for three frescos in the Sistine Chapel, along with seven papal portraits (paintings of previous popes). The images in the Sistine Chapel were of the Old and New Testament. The New Testament paintings were on the North side of the building and the Old Testament paintings were on the South side. The images always followed the same pattern. The main part of the biblical story or theme was portrayed in the front or foreground of the picture and in the middle and background parts of the picture there were additional scenes that related to the subject. The background was especially evident on the sides of the frescos so the next picture in the sequence could appear as a continuation of the landscape line.

Botticelli’s painting Adoration, his reputation, and his ability to work with frescos is what caught the attention of Pope Sixtus IV. Botticelli was then asked to paint a trial fresco on the North wall; his Temptation of Christ painting. The four trial paintings done by Botticelli, Perugino, Ghirlandaio and Rosselli were used to determine their pay. Painting began in October 1481 and was completed by March 1482. This short time indicated that the original 16 commissioned frescos were finished very quickly. The efficiency was due to the help of other painters working under the masters as the projects moved to completion.

Botticelli painted three major frescos in the Sistine Chapel: The Temptation of Moses and The Punishment of Korah were on the South wall and the Temptation of Christ on the North wall. He also painted at least seven of the papal portraits that were in the window zone of the chapel. As far as the content of the pictures, Botticelli was not one of the decision makers. He was told what subjects to portray and then to portray their stories. Just being able to be part of the project in the Sistine Chapel was a great honour for any artist during that time period.

The Temptation of Christ was Botticelli’s trial fresco for the Sistine Chapel. It was according to this work that his pay scale was set up. The landscape of The Temptation of Christ was one used by most artists of the Sistine Chapel. There is a rocky landscape that frames the picture, yet allows for the artist of the picture placed right next to it to continue the same kind of landscape to create a unified look.

There are three temptations shown in this picture. The one on the far left is when the devil, dressed as a monk, tried to convince Christ to turn the rocks into bread proving that he was the true Son of God. The middle one is on the top if the building where the devil, again disguised as a monk, tempts Christ to cast himself down. The last temptation, on the far right, was when the devil offers Christ all the kingdoms of the world but instead, Christ cast him down into the depths. Christ, the one true God, resists all temptations and evil loses every time.

In the foreground or front of the picture stands Nehemiah. Nehemiah stood for leadership and was known for continuing the traditional religious rites. He was also an architectural developer. Nehemiah represents Pope Sixtus, who was also a builder. The building in the middle ground of the picture resembles a church renovation project that Pope Sixtus worked on.

There are two oak trees in the background. One is flourishing the other is not. The oak trees are symbolic of Giuliano della Rovere, who was eventually elected pope, and alo are symbolic of Sixtus IV. The less developed oak tree symbolizes Giuliano who had large potential for growth and the more developed tree symbolized the older, more experienced Pope Sixtus IV.

Botticelli had many requirements in his Sistine Chapel paintings, but his style remained. He incorporated the facial detail that he used so many times in his portraits on the left side of the image. On the right side he used actual people as subjects and used a realistic style to their faces. The two female subjects in this image are painted in the same way as Botticelli’s painted female subjects in some of his other works.

 

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Eighth Sunday of the Year (A)

Matt 7: 21 – 27

 

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord”, who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. When the day comes many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?” Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me, you evil men!

‘Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall: it was founded on rock. But everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and struck that house, and it fell; and what a fall it had!’

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

Picture: Jesus with the Apostles, painted approx. 1311, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, tempera on wood. Height: 36.5 cm x Width: 47.5 cm. Duccio (1260 -1319) was an Italian painter, active in the city of Siena in Tuscany, where he was born. He is considered to be the father of Sienese painting and along with a few others the founder of Western art. He was hired throughout his life to complete many important works in government and religious buildings around Italy. Duccio is credited with creating the painting style of Trecento and the Sienese school, and contributed significantly to the Sienese Gothic style.

Only two of Duccio’s surviving works can be securely dated. Both were major public commissions: the “Rucellai Madonna” (Galleria degli Uffizi), commissioned in April 1285 by the Compagnia del Laudesi di Maria Vergine for a chapel in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, and the Maestà commissioned for the high altar of Siena Cathedral in 1308 and completed by June 1311.

Duccio known works are on wood panel, painted in egg tempera and embellished with gold leaf. Different from his contemporaries and artists before him, Duccio was a master of tempera and managed to conquer the medium with delicacy and precision. Duccio’s style was similar to Byzantine art in some ways, with its gold backgrounds and familiar religious scenes but also different and more experimental. Duccio’s paintings are warm with colour, and inviting. His pieces held a high level of beauty with delicate details, sometimes inlaid with jewels and almost ornamental fabrics. Duccio was also noted for his complex organisation of space. Characters were organized specifically and purposefully. Duccio began to break down the sharp lines of Byzantine art, and soften the figures. He used modelling (playing with light and dark colours) to reveal the figures underneath the heavy drapery; hands, faces, and feet became more rounded and three-dimensional.

Duccio was also one of the first painters to put figures in architectural settings. He began to explore and investigate depth and space. He also had a refined attention to emotion, not seen in other painters at this time. The characters interact tenderly, and softly with each other, it is no longer Christ and the Virgin, it is mother and child. With this he flirts with naturalism but his paintings are still awe inspiring. Duccio’s figures seem to be out of this world and heavenly; existing elsewhere with beautiful colours, soft hair, gracefulness and draped in textures not available to mere humans. His influence can be seen in the work of many other painters, including Simone Martini and the brothers Ambrogio and Pietro Lorenzetti.

 

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Seventh Sunday of the Year (A)

Matt 5: 38 – 48

 

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.

‘You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike. For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not? You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

Picture: Christ the Saviour (Pantokrator), a 6th-century encaustic icon from Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai.

Saint Catherine’s Monastery, officially “Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai” lies on the Sinai Peninsula, at the mouth of a gorge at the foot of Mount Sinai, in the city of Saint Catherine, Egypt in the South Sinai Governorate. The monastery is controlled by the autocephalous Church of Sinai, part of the wider Eastern Orthodox Church, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Built between 548 and 565, the monastery is one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world. The site contains the world’s oldest continually operating library, possessing many unique books including the Syriac Sinaiticus and, until 1859, the Codex Sinaiticus. A small town with hotels and swimming pools, called Saint Katherine City, has grown around the monastery.

According to tradition, Catherine of Alexandria was a Christian martyr sentenced to death on the wheel. When this failed to kill her, she was beheaded. According to tradition, angels took her remains to Mount Sinai. Around the year 800, monks from the Sinai Monastery found her remains.

Although it is commonly known as Saint Catherine’s, the monastery’s full official name is the Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai. The patronal feast of the monastery is the Transfiguration. The monastery has become a favourite site of pilgrimage.

The oldest record of monastic life at Sinai comes from the travel journal written in Latin by a woman named Egeria about 381-384. She visited many places around the Holy Land and Mount Sinai, where, according to the Hebrew Bible, Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.

The monastery was built by order of Emperor Justinian I (reigned 527-565), enclosing the Chapel of the Burning Bush (also known as “Saint Helen’s Chapel”) ordered to be built by Empress Consort Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, at the site where Moses is supposed to have seen the burning bush. The living bush on the grounds is purportedly the one seen by Moses. Structurally the monastery’s king post truss is the oldest known surviving roof truss in the world. The site is sacred to Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

In May 1844 and February 1859, Constantin von Tischendorf visited the monastery for research and discovered the Codex Sinaiticus, dating from the 4th Century, at the time the oldest almost completely preserved manuscript of the Bible. The finding from 1859 left the monastery in the 19th century for Russia, in circumstances that had been long disputed. But in 2003 Russian scholars discovered the donation act for the manuscript signed by the Council of Cairo Metochion and Archbishop Callistratus on 13 November 1869. The monastery received 9000 rubles as a gift from Tsar Alexander II of Russia. The Codex was sold by Stalin in 1933 to the British Museum and is now in the British Library, London, where it is on public display. Prior to September 1, 2009, a previously unseen fragment of Codex Sinaiticus was discovered in the monastery’s library.

In February 1892, Agnes Smith Lewis identified a palimpsest in St Catherine’s library that became known as the Syriac Sinaiticus and is still in the Monastery’s possession. Agnes and her sister Margaret Dunlop Gibson returned with a team of scholars that included J. Rendel Harris, to photograph and transcribe the work in its entirety. As the manuscript predates the Codex Sinaiticus, it became crucial in understanding the history of the New Testament.

The Monastery also has a copy of the Ashtiname of Muhammad, in which the Islamic prophet Muhammad is claimed to have bestowed his protection upon the monastery.

The most important manuscripts have since been filmed or digitised, and so are accessible to scholars. A team of imaging scientists and scholars from the USA and Europe is using spectral imaging techniques developed for imaging the Archimedes Palimpsest to study more than one hundred palimpsests in the monastery library. The library will be extensively renovated for some time.

The complex houses irreplaceable works of art: mosaics, the best collection of early icons in the world, many in encaustic, as well as liturgical objects, chalices and reliquaries, and church buildings. The large icon collection begins with a few dating to the 5th (possibly) and 6th centuries, which are unique survivals, the monastery having been untouched by Byzantine iconoclasm, and never sacked. The oldest icon on an Old Testament theme is also preserved there. A project to catalogue the collections has been ongoing since the 1960s. The monastery was an important centre for the development of the hybrid style of Crusader art, and still retains over 120 icons created in the style, by far the largest collection in existence. Many were evidently created by Latins, probably monks, based in or around the monastery in the 13th century.

 

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Sixth Sunday of the Year (A)

Matt 5: 17 – 37

 

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘ Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish them but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved. Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.

‘For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.

‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother “Fool” he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him “Renegade” he will answer for it in hell fire. So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.

‘You have learnt how it was said: You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should cause you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body go to hell.

‘It has also been said: Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a writ of dismissal. But I say this to you: everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of fornication, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

‘Again, you have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord. But I say this to you: do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God’s throne; or by the earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great king. Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black. All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.’            

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

Picture: Christ as the Redeemer is a painting by Andrea Mantegna, painted in 1495. It is tempera on wood, is 78cm x 48cm in dimension and is currently located at the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Andrea Mantegna, 1431 – 1506, was an Italian painter, a student of Romanarcheology, and son-in-law of Jacopo Bellini. Like other artists of the time, Mantegna experimented with perspective, e.g., by lowering the horizon in order to create a sense of greater monumentality. His flinty, metallic landscapes and somewhat stony figures give evidence of a fundamentally sculptural approach to painting. He also led a workshop that was the leading producer of prints in Venice before 1500.

Mantegna was born in Isola di Carturo, Republic of Venice close to Padua (now Italy), second son of a carpenter, Biagio. At the age of eleven he became the apprentice of Francesco SquarcionePaduan painter. As many as 137 painters and pictorial students passed through Squarcione’s school, which had been established towards 1440 and which became famous all over Italy. Padua was attractive for artists coming not only from Veneto but also from Tuscany, such as Paolo UccelloFilippo Lippi and Donatello. Mantegna’s early career was shaped indeed by impressions of Florentine works. Mantegna never changed the manner which he had adopted in Padua, though his colouring—at first neutral and undecided—strengthened and matured. Throughout his works there is more balancing of colour than fineness of tone. One of his great aims was optical illusion, carried out by a mastery of perspective which, though not always mathematically correct, attained an astonishing effect in those times.

In 1488 Mantegna was called by Pope Innocent VIII to paint frescos in a chapel Belvedere in the Vatican. This series of frescos, including a noted Baptism of Christ, was destroyed by Pius VI in 1780. The pope treated Mantegna with less liberality than he had been used to at the Mantuan court; but all things considered their connection, which ceased in 1500, was not unsatisfactory to either party. Mantegna also met the famous Turkish hostage Jem and studied with attention the ancient monuments, but his impression of the city was a disappointing one as a whole. Returned to Mantua in 1490, he embraced again his more literary and bitter vision of antiquity, and entered in strong connection with the new marquise, the cultured and intelligent Isabella d’Este.

In what was now his city he went on with the nine tempera pictures of the Triumphs of Caesar, which he had probably begun before his leaving for Rome, and which he finished around 1492. These superbly invented and designed compositions are gorgeous with the splendour of their subject-matter, and with the classical learning and enthusiasm of one of the master-spirits of the age.

In spite of declining health, Mantegna continued to be active. Other works of this period include the Madonna of the Caves, the St. Sebastian and the famous Lamentation over the Dead Christ, probably painted for his personal funerary chapel. Another work of Mantegna’s later years was the so-called Madonna della Vittoria, now in the Louvre. It was painted in tempera about 1495, in commemoration of the Battle of Fornovo, whose disputable outcome Francesco Gonzaga was eager to show as an Italian League victory; the church which originally housed the picture was built from Mantegna’s own design. The Madonna is depicted with various saints, the archangel Michael and St. Maurice holding her mantle, which is extended over the kneeling Francesco Gonzaga, amid a profusion of rich festooning and other accessory. Though not in all respects of his highest order of execution, this counts among the most obviously beautiful and attractive of Mantegna’s works from which the qualities of beauty and attraction are often excluded, in the stringent pursuit of those other excellences more germane to his severe genius, tense energy passing into haggard passion.

 

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Fifth Sunday of the Year (A)

Matt 5: 13 – 16

 

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.

‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.’

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

Picture: The Light of the World is an allegorical painting by the English Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt (1827–1910) representing the figure of Jesus. It was painted between 1851 and 1853, painted oil on canvas and is 50cm x 27cm. The original is variously said to have been painted at night in a makeshift hut at Worcester Park Farm in Surrey and in the garden of the Oxford University Press while it is suggested that Hunt found the dawn light he needed outside Bethlehem on one of his visits to the Holy Land. The painting was begun around 1849/50, completed in 1853, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1854 and is now in a side room off the large chapel at Keble College, Oxford. The painting was donated to the college by the widow of Thomas Combe, Printer to the University of Oxford, Tractarian and a patron of the Pre-Raphaelites, in the year following his death in 1872 on the understanding that it would hang in the chapel (constructed 1873–6) but the building’s architect William Butterfield was opposed to this and made no provision in his design. When the college’s library opened in 1878 it was placed there, and was moved to its present position only after the construction in 1892–5 by another architect, J. T. Micklethwaite, of the side chapel to accommodate it.

That the college at that time charged to view it persuaded Hunt toward the end of his life to paint a larger, life-size, version, begun about 1900 and completed in 1904, which was purchased by shipowner and social reformer Charles Booth and hung in St Paul’s CathedralLondon, where it was dedicated in 1908 after a 1905–7 world tour where the picture drew large crowds. It was claimed that four-fifths of Australia’s population viewed it. Due to Hunt’s increasing infirmity and glaucoma, he was assisted in the completion of this version by English painter Edward Robert Hughes (who also assisted with Hunt’s version of The Lady of Shalott). Hunt was buried in St Paul’s.

A third smaller version of the painting, painted by Hunt in oils between 1851 and 1856, is on display at Manchester City Art Gallery, England, which purchased it in 1912.

This painting inspired much popular devotion in the late Victorian period and inspired several musical works, including Arthur Sullivan‘s 1873 oratorio The Light of the World. Engraved reproductions were widely hung in nurseries, infant schools and church buildings.

 

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Fourth Sunday of the Year (A)

Matt 5: 1 – 12

 

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the hill. There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:

‘How happy are the poor in spirit:

theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Happy the gentle:

they shall have the earth for their heritage.

Happy those who mourn:

they shall be comforted.

Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right:

they shall be satisfied.

Happy the merciful:

they shall have mercy shown them.

Happy the pure in heart:

they shall see God.

Happy the peacemakers:

they shall be called sons of God.

Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right:

theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.’                

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

Picture: The Sermon on the Mount was painted by Carl Bloch in 1877. It is 104cm x 92cm and is located at the Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle, Denmark.

Bloch was born in Copenhagen, Denmark and studied with Wilhelm Marstrand at the Royal Danish Academy of Art (Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi) there. Bloch’s parents wanted their son to enter a respectable profession – an officer in the Navy. This, however, was not what Carl wanted. His only interest was drawing and painting, and he was consumed by the idea of becoming an artist. He went to Italy to study art, passing through the Netherlands, where he became acquainted with the work of Rembrandt, which became a major influence on him. Carl Bloch met his wife, Alma Trepka, in Rome, where he married her on May 31, 1868. They were happily married until her early death in 1886.

His early work featured rural scenes from everyday life. From 1859 to 1866, Bloch lived in Italy, and this period was important for the development of his historical style.

His first great success was the exhibition of his “Prometheus Unbound” in Copenhagen in 1865. After the death of Marstrand, he finished the decoration of the ceremonial hall at the University of Copenhagen. The sorrow over losing his wife weighed heavily on Bloch, and being left alone with their eight children after her death was very difficult for him.

In a New Year’s letter from 1866 to Bloch, H. C. Andersen wrote the following: “What God has arched on solid rock will not be swept away!” Another letter from Andersen declared “Through your art you add a new step to your Jacob-ladder into immortality.”

In a final ode, from a famous author to a famous artist, H.C. Andersen said “Write on the canvas; write your seal on immortality. Then you will become noble here on earth.”

He was then commissioned to produce 23 paintings for the Chapel at Frederiksborg Palace. These were all scenes from the life of Christ which have become very popular as illustrations. The originals, painted between 1865 and 1879, are still at Frederiksborg Palace. The altarpieces can be found at Holbaek, Odense, Ugerloese and Copenhagen in Denmark, as well as Loederup, Hoerup, and Landskrona in Sweden.

Through the assistance of Danish-born artist Soren Edsberg, the acquisition of Christ healing at the pool of Bethesda, [formerly owned by Indre Mission, Copenhagen, Denmark], was made possible for The Museum of ArtBrigham Young University (BYU), Provo, Utah, United States. A second work by Bloch, an 1880 grisaille version of The Mocking of Christ, was purchased by BYU in June 2015.

Carl Bloch died on February 22, 1890. His death came as “an abrupt blow for Nordic art” according to an article by Sophus Michaelis. Michaelis stated that “Denmark has lost the artist that indisputably was the greatest among the living.” Kyhn stated in his eulogy at Carl Bloch’s funeral that “Bloch stays and lives.”

 

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Third Sunday of the Year (A)

Matt 4: 12-23

 

Hearing that John had been arrested Jesus went back to Galilee, and leaving Nazareth he went and settled in Capernaum, a lakeside town on the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali. In this way the prophecy of Isaiah was to be fulfilled:

Land of Zebulun! Land of Naphtali! Way of the sea on the far side of Jordan, Galilee of the nations!

The people that lived in darkness has seen a great light; on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death a light has dawned.

From that moment Jesus began his preaching with the message, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew; they were making a cast in the lake with their net, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ And they left their nets at once and followed him.

Going on from there he saw another pair of brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they were in their boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. At once, leaving the boat and their father, they followed him.

He went round the whole of Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness among the people

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

Picture: ‘The first disciples’ was painted by Adam Brenner, 1839. It is an oil painting on canvas and is 63cm x 79cm. It is located at the New Walk Museum, Leicester.

Adam Brenner was born in Vienna in 1800 and died 22 April 1891 in Austria. Adam Brenner studied under Kupelwieser and Waldmüller at the Vienna academy of fine art. He travelled in France, Switzerland and Germany.

The Academy of Fine Arts Vienna was founded in 1692 as a private academy modelled on the Accademia di San Luca and the Parisien Académie de peinture et de sculpture by the court-painter Peter Strudel, who became the Praefectus Academiae Nostrae. In 1701 he was ennobled by Emperor Joseph I as Freiherr (Baron) of the Empire. With his death in 1714, the academy temporarily closed.

On 20 January 1725, Emperor Charles VI appointed the Frenchman Jacob van Schuppen as Prefect and Director of the Academy, which was refounded as the k.k. Hofakademie der Maler, Bildhauer und Baukunst (Imperial and Royal Court Academy of painters, sculptors and architecture). Upon Charles’ death in 1740, the academy at first declined, however during the rule of his daughter Empress Maria Theresa, a new statute reformed the academy in 1751. The prestige of the academy grew during the deanships of Michelangelo Unterberger and Paul Troger, and in 1767 the archduchesses Maria Anna and Maria Carolina were made the first Honorary Members. In 1772, there were further reforms to the organisational structure. Chancellor Wenzel Anton Kaunitz integrated all existing art schools into the k.k. vereinigten Akademie der bildenden Künste (Imperial and Royal Unified Academy of Fine Arts). The word “vereinigten” (unified) was later dropped. In 1822 the art cabinet grew significantly with the bequest of honorary member Anton Franz de Paula Graf Lamberg-Sprinzenstein. His collection still forms the backbone of the art on display.

In 1872 Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria approved a statute making the academy the supreme government authority for the arts. A new building was constructed according to plans designed by the faculty Theophil Hansen in the course of the layout of the Ringstraße boulevard. On 3 April 1877, the present-day building on Schillerplatz in the Innere Stadt district was inaugurated, the interior works, including ceiling frescos by Anselm Feuerbach, continued until 1892. In 1907 and 1908, young Adolf Hitler, who had come from Linz, was twice denied admission to the drawing class. He stayed in Vienna, subsisting on his orphan allowance, and tried unsuccessfully to continue his profession as an artist. Soon he had withdrawn into poverty and started selling amateur paintings, mostly watercolours, for meagre sustenance until he left Vienna for Munich in May 1913.

During the Austrian Anschluss to Germany from 1938–1945, the academy was forced to heavily reduce its number of Jewish staff. After World War II, the academy was reconstituted in 1955 and its autonomy reconfirmed. It has had university status since 1998, but retained its original name. It is currently the only Austrian university that doesn’t have the word “university” in its name.

 

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Second Sunday of the Year (A)

John 1: 29-34

 

Seeing Jesus coming towards him, John said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I spoke of when I said: A man is coming after me who ranks before me because he existed before me. I did not know him myself, and yet it was to reveal him to Israel that I came baptising with water.’ John also declared, ‘I saw the Spirit coming down on him from heaven like a dove and resting on him. I did not know him myself, but he who sent me to baptise with water had said to me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is going to baptise with the Holy Spirit.” Yes, I have seen and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God.’

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

Picture: Baptism of Christ is painted by Cima da Conegliano in 1493. It is oil on panel and ins 350cm x 210cm. It is currently located in Church of San Giovanni in Bragora Venice.

The painting portrays Christ at the center of the scene, standing with joined hands. His attitude is that of humble submission to baptism, which is being given him by St. John the Baptist, who appears on the right.

At the left are three angels with Christ’s garments, in red and blue colours, which he will use after the baptism. The scene is completed by an angelic choir in the sky, and a generic oriental city on a spur in the left, behind the angels, while another one is visible in the far background.

Giovanni Battista Cima, also called Cima da Conegliano (c. 1459 – c. 1517), was an Italian Renaissance painter, who mostly worked in Venice. He can be considered part of the Venetian school, though he was also influenced by Antonello da Messina, in the emphasis he gives to landscape backgrounds and the tranquil atmosphere of his works. Once formed his style did not change greatly. He mostly painted religious subjects, often on a small scale for homes rather than churches, but also a few, mostly small, mythological ones.

He often repeated popular subjects in different versions with slight variations, including his Madonnas and Saint Jerome in a Landscape. His paintings of the Madonna and Child include several variations of a composition that have a standing infant Jesus, which in turn are repeated several times.

Giovanni Battista Cima was born at Conegliano, now part of the province of Treviso, in 1459 or 1460. His father, who died in 1484, was a cloth-shearer (cimator), hence the family surname.

In 1488 the young painter was at work at Vicenza; in 1492 he established himself at Venice, but by the summer of 1516 he had returned to his native place. Cima married twice, his first wife, Corona, bore him two sons, the older of whom took Holy orders at Padua. By Joanna, his second wife, he had six children, three being daughters.

His oldest painting inscribed with a date is the Madonna of the Arbour (1489; now in Museum of Vicenza). This picture is done in distemper and savours so much of the style of Bartolomeo Montagna, who lived at Vicenza from 1480, as to make it highly probable that Cima was his pupil. Even in this early production Cima gave evidence of the serious calm, and almost passionless spirit that so eminently characterized him. Later he fell under the influence of Giovanni Bellini and became one of his ablest successors, forming a happy, if not indispensable link between this master and Titian.

According to the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia: at first his figures were somewhat crude, but they gradually lost their harshness and gained in grace while still preserving the dignity. In the background of his facile, harmonious compositions the mountains of his country are invested with new importance. Cima was one of the first Italians to assign a place for landscape depiction, and to formulate the laws of atmosphere and of the distribution of light and shade. His Baptism of Christ in the church of San Giovanni in Bragora, in Venice (1492), gives striking evidence of this. The colouring is rich and right with a certain silvery tone peculiar to Cima, but which in his later works merges into a delicate gold. His conceptions are usually calm and undramatic, and he has painted scarcely any scenes (having depicted religious ones almost exclusively) that are not suggestive of “sante conversazioni”. His Incredulity of St. Thomas (National GalleryLondon) and his beautiful Nativity (Venice, Santa Maria dei Carmini, 1509) are hardly aught else. But most of his paintings represent Madonnas enthroned among the elect, and in these subjects he observes a gently animated symmetry. The groupings of these sainted figures, even though they may not have a definitely pious character, and the impression of unspeakable peace.

Among his pupils were his son, Carlo da Conegliano, and Vittore Belliniano. It is unclear if Francesco Beccaruzzi, who was born in Conegliano in 1492, received direct training from Cima.

 

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Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord – Year A

Matt 2:1-12

year-a-1st-sunday-epiphany-el-greco

 

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him, ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah, for out of you will come a leader who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

Picture: Adoración de los Reyes Magos was painted by El Greco, in 1568. It is currently located in Museo SoumayaMexico City. It is 43cm x 51cm and is oil on panel.

The Museo Soumaya, designed by the Mexican architect Fernando Romero, is a private museum in Mexico City. It is a non-profit cultural institution with two museum buildings in Mexico City – Plaza Carso and Plaza Loreto. It has over 66,000 works from 30 centuries of art including sculptures from Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, 19th- and 20th-century Mexican art and an extensive repertoire of works by European old masters and masters of modern western art such as Auguste RodinSalvador DalíBartolomé Esteban Murillo and Tintoretto. It is considered one of the most complete collections of its kind. The museum is named after Soumaya Domit, who died in 1999, and was the wife of the founder of the museum Carlos Slim. The museum received an attendance of 1,095,000 in 2013, making it the most visited art museum in Mexico and the 56th in the world that year. In October 2015, the museum welcomed its five millionth visitor.

Doménikos Theotokópoulos 1541 – 1614, most widely known as El Greco, was a painter, sculptor and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. “El Greco” (“The Greek”) was a nickname a reference to his Greek origin. El Greco was born in Crete, which was at that time part of the Republic of Venice, and the center of Post-Byzantine art. He trained and became a master within that tradition before traveling at age 26 to Venice, as other Greek artists had done. In 1570 he moved to Rome, where he opened a workshop and executed a series of works. During his stay in Italy, El Greco enriched his style with elements of Mannerism and of the Venetian Renaissance. In 1577, he moved to Toledo, Spain, where he lived and worked until his death. In Toledo, El Greco received several major commissions and produced his best-known paintings.

El Greco’s dramatic and expressionistic style was met with puzzlement by his contemporaries but found appreciation in the 20th century. El Greco is regarded as a precursor of both Expressionism and Cubism, while his personality and works were a source of inspiration for poets and writers such as Rainer Maria Rilke and Nikos Kazantzakis. El Greco has been characterized by modern scholars as an artist so individual that he belongs to no conventional school. He is best known for tortuously elongated figures and often fantastic or phantasmagorical pigmentation, marrying Byzantine traditions with those of Western painting.

  

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Solemnity of Mary, The Holy Mother (Christmas week two) – Year A

Luke 2: 16-21

year-a-christmas-week-2-shepherds-el-greco

 

The shepherds hurried away to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told.

When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception.

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

Picture: The Adoration of the Shepherds is a painting by El Greco, 1612. The original artwork was 319cm x 180cm and is oil on canvas.  It is currently located in the Prado Museum, Madrid.

This night scene is set in a narrow, irregular space -a sort of grotto with a gabled opening in the back, consisting of two semi-circular arches. Mary holds her newborn Son, naked on her lap, while Saint Joseph and three shepherds surround them, expressing their fervent devotion to the child. A kneeling ox also contemplates the baby. The compositional ellipse is closed at the top by a group of angels very close to the holy family. They express Heaven’s pleasure at the birth of the Redeemer, bearing a banner that reads GLORIA IN EXCEL[SIS DEO E]T IN TERRA PAX [HOMINIBUS]. This Nativity scene can be considered El Greco’s last work before his death on April 7, 1614. It was intended to adorn the burial place of the Theotocopuli family at the convent of Santo Domingo del Antiguo (Toledo), where El Greco had received his first commission in Spain, in 1557. In August 1612, that religious community reached an agreement with El Greco’s son, Jorge Manuel, in which the convent ceded a slab in the church of that monastery, which is the one bordering the main door of said church. That space was to serve as the burial area for the Theotocopuli, who promised to pay for the conditioning and decoration of the family tomb. In fact, besides El Greco, his son’s wife, Alfonsa de Morales, was also buried there. However, a disagreement between the two parties led to the cancelation of their agreement in 1618, just four years after El Greco’s death. The Cistercian nuns demanded that Jorge Manuel exhume the remains, but the large canvas conceived and painted by El Greco remained in the church until its sale to the Spanish State in 1954. This canvas marks the culmination of the formal refinement of the composition with which the painter had depicted this subject in his last versions, from between 1597 and 1605, for the altarpieces of Doña María de Aragón (now at the Muzeul National de artà, Bucharest), the Colegio del Patriarca in Valencia, and the Hospital de la Caridad in Illescas (Toledo). The Christ Child emits an intense light that bathes the small group contemplating him: the Virgin, Saint Joseph, three shepherds and a group of angels that form a sort of celestial vault. These figures constitute an excellent selection of this artist’s highly characteristic creations. The Metropolitan Museum of New York has a workshop version with slight variations, which was apparently made around the same time as the original canvas.

 

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Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas week one) – Year A

John 1: 1-18

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In the beginning was the Word:
the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things came to be,
not one thing had its being but through him.
All that came to be had life in him
and that life was the light of men,
a light that shines in the dark,
a light that darkness could not overpower.
A man came, sent by God.
His name was John.
He came as a witness,
as a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness to speak for the light.
The Word was the true light
that enlightens all men;
and he was coming into the world.
He was in the world
that had its being through him,
and the world did not know him.
He came to his own domain
and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to all who believe in the name of him
who was born not out of human stock
or urge of the flesh
or will of man
but of God himself.
The Word was made flesh,
he lived among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father,
full of grace and truth.
John appears as his witness. He proclaims:
‘This is the one of whom I said:
He who comes after me
ranks before me
because he existed before me.’
Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received –
yes, grace in return for grace,
since, though the Law was given through Moses,
grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God;
it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart,
who has made him known.

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

Picture: Saint John painted by Diego Velázquez, 1619. Oil on canvas, 136cm x 103cm, this painting is located in Room 30 at the National Gallery, London.

Saint John the Evangelist is shown writing the Book of Revelation, the final book of the New Testament, with his symbol, an eagle, at his side.

Saint John looks up at his vision of the woman of the Apocalypse (Revelation 12), which was the source for much of the imagery associated with the Immaculate Conception. This provides the thematic link between this work and its companion piece, ‘The Immaculate Conception’.

As in all Velázquez’s early work, the central figures in both works are painted from models. The Saint John here is less idealised than the Virgin depicted in ‘The Immaculate Conception’.

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez was baptised on June 6, 1599, and died August 6, 1660.  Velázquez was a Spanish painter, the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV, and one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age. He was an individualistic artist of the contemporary Baroque period, important as a portrait artist. In addition to numerous renditions of scenes of historical and cultural significance, he painted scores of portraits of the Spanish royal family, other notable European figures, and commoners, culminating in the production of his masterpiece Las Meninas (1656).

From the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Velázquez’s artwork was a model for the realist and impressionist painters, in particular Édouard Manet. Since that time, famous modern artists, including Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Francis Bacon, have paid tribute to Velázquez by recreating several of his most famous works.

 

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Fourth Sunday of Advent – Year A

Matthew 1: 18- 25

year-a-advent-week-4-nativity-van-hontorst

 

This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us’. When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home.

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

Picture: Adoration of the Child painted by Gerard van Honthorst, dated 1620. Oil on canvas, 96cm x 131cm, it is located in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.

Anyone familiar with the work of Caravaggio immediately recognizes his influence on the work of Van Honthorst. The artist plays with light. Irrelevant parts of the canvas are left in the dark.

The source of the light on the child is not shown, which suggests some mystic origin. The light is reflected on the faces of the other figures.

Gerard van Honthorst (Gerrit van Honthorst) (4 November 1592 – 27 April 1656) was a Dutch Golden Age painter who became especially noted for his depiction of artificially lit scenes, eventually receiving the nickname Gherardo delle Notti (“Gerard of the nights”). Early in his career he visited Rome, where he had great success painting in a style influenced by Caravaggio. Following his return to the Netherlands he became a leading portrait painter.

Honthorst was born in Utrecht, the son of a decorative painter, and trained under his father, and then under Abraham Bloemaert.

Having completed his education, Honthorst went to Italy, where he is first recorded in 1616. He was one the artists from Utrecht who went to Rome at around this time, all of whom were to be deeply influenced by the recent art they encountered there. They were named the Utrecht caravaggisti. Honthorst returned to Utrecht in 1620, and went on to build a considerable reputation both in the Dutch Republic and abroad. In 1623, the year of his marriage, he was president of the Guild of St. Luke in Utrecht. He soon became so fashionable that Sir Dudley Carleton, then English envoy at The Hague, recommended his works to the Earl of Arundel and Lord Dorchester. In 1626 Honthorst hosted a dinner for Rubens, and painted him as the honest man sought for and found by Diogenes.

His popularity in the Netherlands was such that he opened a second studio in the Hague, where he painted portraits of members of the court, and taught drawing. These large studios, where the work included making replicas of Honthorst’s royal portraits, employed a large number of pupils and assistants; according to one pupil, Joachim von Sandrart, describing his experiences in the mid-1620s, Honthorst would have about 24 students at any one time, each paying 100 guilders a year for their education.

Honthorst is often referred to as “Gherardo delle notti” (“Gerrit of the Nights”) by modern Italians. Honthorst was a prolific artist. His most attractive pieces are those in which he cultivates the style of Caravaggio, often tavern scenes with musicians, gamblers and people eating. He had great skill at chiaroscuro, often painting scenes illuminated by a single candle.

Some of his most notable pieces were portraits of the Duke of Buckingham and his family (Hampton Court), the King and Queen of Bohemia (Hanover and Combe Abbey), Marie de Medici (Amsterdam Stadthuis), 1628, the Stadtholders and their Wives (Amsterdam and The Hague), Charles Louis and Rupert, Charles I’s nephews (Musée du Louvre, St Petersburg, Combe Abbey and Willin), and Baron Craven (National Portrait Gallery, London). His early style can be seen in the Lute-player (1614) in the Louvre, the Martyrdom of St John in Santa Maria della Scala at Rome, or the Liberation of Peter in the Berlin Museum.

 

 

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Third Sunday of Advent – Year A

Matthew 11: 2- 11

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John in his prison had heard what Christ was doing and he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?’ Jesus answered, ‘Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.’

As the messengers were leaving, Jesus began to talk to the people about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the breeze? No? Then what did you go out to see? A man wearing fine clothes? Oh no, those who wear fine clothes are to be found in palaces. Then what did you go out for? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet: he is the one of whom scripture says: Look, I am going to send my messenger before you; he will prepare your way before you. I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.’

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

Picture: St John in the Wilderness painted by Anton Raphael Mengs, 1760. Oil on canvas, 215cm x 148cm, it is located at the Museum of Fine Art, Houston, USA.

Anton Raphael Mengs (March 22, 1728 – June 29, 1779) was a German Bohemian painter, active in Rome, Madrid and Saxony, who became one of the precursors to Neoclassical painting.

Mengs was born in 1728 at Aussig in Bohemia, the son of Ismael Mengs, a Danish painter who eventually established himself at Dresden. In 1741 Mengs’s father took him from Dresden to Rome.

In 1749 he was appointed first painter to Frederick Augustus, elector of Saxony, but this did not prevent him from continuing to spend much of his time in Rome. There he married Margarita Guazzi, who had sat for him as a model in 1748. He converted to Catholicism, and in 1754 he became director of the Vatican school of painting. His fresco painting of Parnassus at Villa Albani gained him a reputation as a master painter.

In 1749 Mengs accepted a commission from the Duke of Northumberland to make a copy, in oil on canvas, of Raphael’s fresco The School of Athens for his London home. Executed in 1752–5, Mengs’ painting is full-sized, but adapts the composition to a rectangular format, with some additional figures. It is now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Mengs died in Rome in June 1779 and was buried in the Roman Church of Santi Michele e Magno.

On two occasions he accepted invitations from Charles III of Spain to go to Madrid. There he produced some of his best work, most notably the ceiling of the banqueting hall of the Royal Palace of Madrid, the subject of which was the Triumph of Trajan and the Temple of Glory. After the completion of this work in 1777, Mengs returned to Rome, where he died two years later, in poor circumstances, leaving twenty children, seven of whom were pensioned by the king of Spain. His portraits and self-portraits recall an attention to detail and insight often lost in his grander paintings.

Mengs had a well-known rivalry with the contemporary Italian painter Pompeo Batoni. He was also a friend of Giacomo Casanova. Casanova provides accounts of his personality and contemporary reputation through anecdotes in his Histoire de Ma Vie.

Besides numerous paintings in Madrid, the Ascension and St Joseph at Dresden, Perseus and Andromeda at Saint Petersburg, and the ceiling of the Villa Albani are among his chief works. In 1911, Henry George Percy, 7th Duke of Northumberland, possessed Mengs’s work entitled Holy Family, and the colleges of All Souls and Magdalen, at Oxford, possessed altar-pieces by Mengs.

In his writings, in Spanish, Italian, and German, Mengs expressed an eclectic theory of art, seeing perfection as attainable by a well-schemed combination of diverse excellences: Greek design, with the expression of Raphael, the chiaroscuro of Correggio, and the colour of Titian.

 

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Second Sunday of Advent – Year A

Matthew 3: 1- 12

year-a-advent-week-2-st-john-the-baptist-paolo-veronese

 

In due course John the Baptist appeared; he preached in the wilderness of Judaea and this was his message: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand’. This was the man the prophet Isaiah spoke of when he said:

A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.

This man John wore a garment made of camel-hair with a leather belt round his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. But when he saw a number of Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming? But if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruit, and do not presume to tell yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father,” because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. Even now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees, so that any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire. I baptise you in water for repentance, but the one who follows me is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to carry his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand; he will clear his threshing-floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

Picture: St John the Baptist, painted by Paolo Veronese in 1562. Oil on canvas, it is 205cm x 169cm, and is located in the Galleria Borghese, Rome. The extraordinary beauty of the Venetian fabrics already to be found in the work of Palma il Vecchio is brought to unrivaled perfection by Paolo Veronese. In this painting which heralds the coming of Christ, the figures are wrapped in magnificent oriental silk robes and three are wearing turbans. Their differing reactions to the sermon are reflected in their facial expressions. The skillful composition of the painting creates a balance between the weight of the group of figures on the right and the perspective on the left.

Veronese was an Italian Renaissance painter based in Venice, most famous for large history paintings of religious subjects. With Titian, who was at least a generation older, and Tintoretto, ten years older, he was one of the “great trio that dominated Venetian painting of the cinquecento” or 16th-century late Renaissance. Veronese is known as a supreme colourist, and after an early period with Mannerist influence turned to a more naturalist style influenced by Titian. His most famous works are elaborate narrative cycles, executed in a dramatic and colourful style, full of majestic architectural settings and glittering pageantry. His large paintings of biblical feasts, crowded with figures, painted for the refectories of monasteries in Venice and Verona are especially famous, and he was also the leading Venetian painter of ceilings.

Veronese moved to Venice in 1553 after obtaining his first state commission, ceilings in fresco decorating the Sala dei Cosiglio dei Dieci (the Hall of the Council of Ten) and the adjoining Sala dei Tre Capi del Consiglio in the Doge’s Palace, in the new rooms replacing those lost in the fire of 1547. His panel of Jupiter Expelling the Vices for the former is now in the Louvre. He then painted a History of Esther in the ceiling for the church of San Sebastiano. It was these ceiling paintings and those of 1557 in the Marciana Library (for which he was awarded a prize judged by Titian and Sansovino) that established him as a master among his Venetian contemporaries. Already these works indicate Veronese’s mastery in reflecting both the subtle foreshortening of the figures of Correggio and the heroism of those by Michelangelo. He produced great works of naturalist paintings until his death in 1588.

 

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First Sunday of Advent – Year A

Matthew 24: 37 – 44

year-a-advent-week-1-noahs-ark-jan-brueghel-il-vecchio

 

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘As it was in Noah’s day, so will it be when the Son of Man comes. For in those days before the Flood people were eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark, and they suspected nothing till the Flood came and swept all away. It will be like this when the Son of Man comes. Then of two men in the fields one is taken, one left; of two women at the millstone grinding, one is taken, one left.

‘So stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming. You may be quite sure of this that if the householder had known at what time of the night the burglar would come, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed anyone to break through the wall of his house. Therefore, you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

Picture: The flood with Noah’s Ark, painted by Jan Brueghel the Elder in 1601. The painting is 28cm x 36cm, is oil on copper and was bought in London, Sotheby’s, December 6, 2007 for £78,500.

Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568 –1625) was a Flemish painter, son of Pieter Bruegel the Elder and father of Jan Brueghel the Younger. Nicknamed “Velvet” Brueghel, “Flower” Brueghel, and “Paradise” Brueghel, of which the latter two were derived from his floral still life and paradise landscapes, while the former may refer to the velveteen sheen of his colours.

Jan was born in Brussels. His father died in 1569, and then, following the death of his mother in 1578, Jan, along with his brother Pieter Brueghel the Younger and sister Marie, probably went to live with their grandmother Mayken Verhulst (widow of Pieter Coecke van Aelst). She was an artist in her own right, according to Carel van Mander and Guicciardini, and possibly served as the first teacher of the two boys although her sons (their uncles) were also painters. Jan Brueghel moved to Antwerp around 1583.

In about 1589 Jan traveled to Italy, probably via Cologne. There he resided first in Naples, where his patron was Francesco Carracciolo. Next he moved to Rome, working for several discerning cardinals including, most famously, Federico Borromeo. It was in the company of Borromeo that Brueghel left Rome and took up residence in Milan, where he was part of the Cardinal’s household. In the summer of 1596 he returned to Antwerp, where he remained for the rest of his life apart from short journeys to Prague and to the Dutch Republic.

While in Italy he applied himself principally to landscapes and history paintings, including Biblical narratives and scenes from mythology and ancient history. Back in Antwerp he continued these types of subject matter but also acquired considerable reputation by his flower paintings and allegories. He formed a style more independent of his father’s than did his brother Pieter the Younger.

Many of his paintings are collaborations in which figures by other painters were placed in landscapes painted by Jan Brueghel; in other cases, Brueghel painted the figures into another artist’s landscape or architectural interior. The most famous of his collaborators was Peter Paul Rubens: the two collaborated on about 25 paintings including a Battle of the Amazons (Potsdam), Mars Disarmed by Venus (Getty Museum), The Fall of Man (Mauritshuis), The Five Senses (Prado), and several images of the Madonna and Child within a Flower Garland (Munich, Paris, Madrid). Hendrick van Balen and Joos de Momper were also regular collaborators with Brueghel.

He had a studio in Antwerp, where he died from cholera on 13 January 1625.