arts, books, other reviews
HOCKNEY ON TURNER WATERCOLOURS
11 June 2007 - 3 February 2008 Admission free
Never speak ill of your predecessor - except that opposite the sacristy hangs a water-colour by our first vicar. It is green and brown and quite detailed and it is why David Hockney doesn't do water-colours. Watercolour seems to have a magnetic attraction for the ungifted amateur. No wonder an artist who painted the beau monde of California and engraved louche young men should have no interest in this beige medium. But then there are always exceptions and Hockney's exception is one of watercolour s greatest technicians and arguably the greatest artist to work in this way J.M.W. Turner.
The watercolours on show at Tate Britain are a mix of those picked out by Hockney himself plus five rooms chosen by the gallery's curators to give a comprehensive review of Turner's developing art from the earliest, detailed draughtsman's works through to the final great landscapes. So rich is the collection of drafts and sketches it is easy to overlook how weak the Tate's holdings are in the finished works, especially the late Swiss and German landscapes. In fact, the recently saved Blue Rigi is the only example of those great works at the Tate.
We should be thankful for what we have got. Turner's bequest to the nation was made in the hope that a Turner Gallery would be set up within the National Gallery. At that time the National only took oil paintings, so it is probable that all Turner intended to bequeath was his remaining oils. Indeed, John Ruskin, one of his executors, hoped to pick up the left-behind watercolours at knock-down prices. The Court of Chancery, though, showed great foresight and nifty legal footwork to rule that the huge collection of watercolours left by the artist should go to the nation.
The way different intentions can be read into Turner's bequest illustrates an ambiguity about these works. Since at least the seventeenth century, connoisseurs had valued the zest and inspiration of the artist's sketch above the final, polished work. And sketches were usually cheap, which made it easier for the aesthete with limited funds to build up his collection.
According to Ruskin, Turner painted many sketches 'for his own pleasure,' though it is not always clear which these are, since he produced different kinds of sketches at different stages on the way to a finished work. He even produced sketches with which he could negotiate with patrons about how the finished work might look.
For Hockney what all these sketches mean is 'you see Turner working and that's a terrific pleasure.' It is a pity we do not get more of a commentary from Hockney because what he writes is illuminating. As he says, the pictures he has chosen 'come direct from the heart, down the arm. They are stunningly beautiful and very fresh because you can see how [Turner] made them.'
So the beauty is in the making. And that is a very modern way to enjoy the sketches. Yet it does not do justice to Turner's finished works. In the final room there are some of those immediate sketches Hockney commends and they are all Hockney says they are. There is also the Blue Rigi and this commands the room. Here a painterly sensibility of genius uses the finest technique in a demanding medium to produce a truly great work of art. It is worth going to Milbank for this picture alone, and there's not a hint of green or brown in it.
House of God, Gate of Heaven Edited by Philip North and John North Continuum, 156pp, pbk 9780 8264 9477 1, £14-99
The essays in this excellent collection began life as lectures given around the country to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the re-foundation of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, one of the glories of the Catholic Revival. England's Nazareth was a place of pilgrimage, a sacred space, long before then. In 1061, the Lady Richeldis de Faverche was graced with a vision of the Holy House of Nazareth, the place of the Annunciation of Our Lord to Our Lady. The replica that she built in response to that divine prompting was the focus of devotion and pilgrimage until the depredations of the Protestant Reformation and its suppression. The Shrines revival and its continued growth and success were recognized when it was voted by Radio 4 listeners to the Sunday programme the nations favourite spiritual place. The absurdity of such a poll ought not to blind us to Walsingham's significance. This book is a far more valuable testimony to the Shrines enduring importance.
The idea of a sacred space is not an invention of Christianity. The editors, in their fine introduction, remind us that in the ancient pre-Christian world there were sacred groves, temples, wells, springs, rivers, trees. Of the ancient civilizations, the Romans, especially, had a strong sense of place and of places made sacred by divine action, by the intervention of the gods. As was not uncommon, Christianity colonized such places. Pilgrimage, however, is more, if not entirely, a Christian idea which mirrors the human beings journey through life, the journey of the soul. As Sarah Jane Boss has it in her contribution, 'pilgrimage is a microcosm of the soul's journey towards Heaven.'
There is a paradox to be confronted between the omnipresence of God in creation, and the location of the divine in a particular place within that creation. It is the tension between the particular and the universal that Jeremy Sheehy tackles immediately and engagingly in his
piece when he asks, how can the Catholic answer the Protestant assertion that holiness is grounded in people; and how can it be said that some place is holier than another? Dr Sheehy is right to say that these are important theological arguments that need to be addressed and Catholic Christians can neither ignore them, nor summarily dismiss them. His answer lies in the Incarnation, whereby the whole of creation and the whole of human nature is brought within the sphere of the divine: the particular is universalized. He says, 'The particular conveys the universal, and what is universal is located in what is particular.' The Incarnation is about making visible the invisible and making particular the eternal. The nature of the Incarnation is that God had a mother and that God had a house, two facts to which Walsingham vividly bears witness.
Where I marginally part company with Dr Sheehy is in his suggestion that we live in an age and in a society that distrusts particularity and which prizes the general. Rather, it seems to me, that we are still grappling with Mrs Thatcher's legacy that there is no such thing as society (the universal) but only individuals (the particular) and that much of modern culture and political and social mores is posited on the importance and the autonomy of the individual and individual self-gratification. But this is a relatively minor quibble of analysis rather than a dispute over conclusions.
Fr Timothy Radcliffe, in a charmingly self-deprecating, dryly amusing and well-written piece full of insight and powerfully argued themes about language as sacred space, reinforces Dr Sheehy's conclusions. With an elegant side-swipe at the 'misguided promise' of the Good News Bible to provide 'a clear, simple and unambiguous translation,' he reminds us that the beauty and the power of sacred Scripture is precisely that it is not clear, simple, nor unambiguous. Rather, in reading the Bible we enter into a conversation which, like all good conversations, is allusive, suggestive and puzzling, but through which we come to terms with ideas, precepts, values, truths, and ways of being human. Through that ■ conversation we encounter the Christ who is both universal and unique and the 'movement of the text is not just earthward, towards incarnation; it is outwards towards universality'
Whereas Fr Radcliffe explores novels, Michelle P. Brown considers the sacred calligraphy and illustrations of medieval scriptural manuscripts. In an essay both learned and accessible, she guides us through vividly illuminated, complex geometric patterns. Margaret Barker and Eamon Duffy contribute two specifically historical papers on periods in which they are acknowledged experts. The former writes with a wealth of Old Testament evidence about the Holy of Holies, the House within the House of the Temple and draws out fruitful parallels with the Holy House. Professor Duffy, with a similar wealth of evidence which survived the Reformation, not least the Eton College choir-book compiled between 1490 and 1502 which, although no longer complete, contains Marian riches in sufficient abundance, guides us with characteristic clarity through that fascinating period. Both these pieces sketch the effects of reforms in the Temple and Church which resulted in a loss of the feminine in worship.
Sarah Jane Boss is a familiar Marian scholar and here she makes another in a distinguished line of excellent contributions where she combines patristic learning, popular piety and personal history in taking us through the labyrinth of pilgrimage to our destination in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Michael Tavinor, Dean of Hereford, who once had the incomparable Tewkesbury Abbey in his charge, looks at the medieval space which he rightly says is the period which, through the great cathedrals and parish churches, defines our understanding of the nature of the sacred space. He deals eloquently with the beauty of geometry and spatial relationships and points out that what the scholastic theologians of the Middle Ages tried to do, to construct a schemata of faith, was also what builders tried to do in the cathedral. The scholastics used language to make the invisible visible, to make the mystery approachable in language that was understandable. Builders did the same in the language of stone. But, of course, our words and our architectural language can only take us so far, can only ever hint at the mystery of the Trinity.
Hard questions are asked in this contribution. How does the artistic expression of the grandeur, perfection and inaccessibility of God speak to an age and a people that is fragmented, discordant and religiously diverse? How can space be challenging as well as awe-inspiring? How do the custodians of these great sacred spaces deal with the practicalities of the age, of the use and abuse of sacred space? How can we find a way to work out the meaning and the use of the space, manage the interaction of the sacred and the secular? How can we reconcile the theory of space with the reality of tourists and the untutored?
My conviction is that the not the ubiquitous visitor centre which is likely to alter the very nature of the space to which people are to be drawn. If Walsingham thinks that its own centre presently under construction will turn visitors into pilgrims, I fear they will be sadly disappointed and that the visitors will turn Walsingham into but another 'attraction' on the tourist trail of north Norfolk rather than maintain it as a haven of peace and refreshment for the pilgrim. There is more to be gained from standing out against the insistent demands of the age and having the self-confidence to assert values contra mundum. There is an irony that this book points to the house of God and the gate of heaven while builders' excavators, drills and hammers point to something very different.
I declare an interest: Fr Philip North is a good friend but I do not know his father, John North, and as it was he, I suspect, who was the more responsible for this impeccably edited and presented book, I have no hesitation in warmly and enthusiastically commending it.
William Davage is Priest Librarian of Pusey House, Oxford
RELIGION IN PUBLIC LIFE
Must Faith be Privatized? Roger Trigg OUP, 264pp, hbk 978 0 19 927980 7, £30
Would that more teachers and commentators had the clarity of thought and expression of Professor Trigg from Warwick University. Reading this sane and measured book, one longs to see in the hands of politicians and community leaders, and yet that of which it speaks is a whole realm of measured, rational thought we no longer associate with public life.
The utter confusion surrounding the whole notion of multiculturalism, and the fear of ordinary people to get involved in any reasoned debate on the subject, is a genuine danger to our common life (and indeed to religious tolerance). Which makes such a book as this all the more valuable.
It is a commonplace presumption of contemporary thinking that all 'religion must be kept securely in the private realm and not be allowed to have any place, let alone any influence, in the public realm. We may object, quite rightly, that this is unreasonably biased towards a secularist agenda (that just happens to be rather popular with the established political class).
All this Professor Trigg's argues clearly and convincingly, but the more valuable lesson is his exposition of the danger to secular society of this secularist crusade to privatize religion. If any religion, with its convictions and practice, is to be enclosed in its private sphere, on a par with all other religions, under the benign banner of multiculturalism, which prevents any one dominating another, then it follows that it has been effectively removed from any public analysis or criticism.
The exclusion of religion from the public sphere means that there is no shared means of judgement, no common structure of weighing its merits, for any religious creed
that maybe put forward. If religion cannot be discussed in the social and political world, then Islamists, or any other fundamentalist grouping, cannot properly be discussed: their ideas and claims cannot be criticized. Condemned perhaps, but that may not be quite as effective.
Careful unravelling of the difficulties, and often confusions, behind recent debates, court decisions and parliamentary legislation in Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia and the US leave one a good deal wiser, but not entirely sanguine about the future.
A HISTORY OF MODERN BRITAIN
Macmillan, 500pp, hbk 978 1405005388,£25
Andrew Marr was an absurd figure when, as political editor of the BBC, he appeared on our screens. Gaunt, bulging eyes, arms whirling, he reported and commented on the political machinations of the Westminster Village. His reports were rarely revelatory and spun in the worn fabric of journalistic cliche. You lost count of the times when Mr Major or Mr Blair was having 'the worst week of his premiership.'
When he departed, largely unlamented, from that role, he ousted Sir David Frost from his benign reign on Sunday morning television and also took over Start the Week on Radio 4 where, at least on his first programme, he spent three-quarters of an hour shouting hysterically, panic and incompetence audible in his voice, to his woebegone guests. It was a broadcasting disaster but there was no question of ditching him and he seems to have quietened down somewhat of late. He is passed off to us by the BBC as an intellectual presence.
But just when you felt safe to venture back to television without him grinning and whirling, here he comes again with a television history, just ended, of post-War Britain. And now the book. It is not the book of the short series, we are told, but it is difficult to see how that is the case. The series was long on superficial comment and snappy-enough one-liners, but woefully short on analysis, or the rigorous application of an historical intelligence, or of any new insights or sharp new interpretations. Before the BBC dumbed itself down so that the airwaves are cluttered with meretricious dross (I except the television channel BBC 4), Marr may have reasonably expected a series such as his to be ten or twelve episodes to do the period and the themes justice. But now to accommodate the attention span of a teenage gnat, there is no time for reflection, nuance or developed argument. The pace of the series was hectic and the book is no better.
The book looks good and feels weighty but its content is lightweight. It may pass as good enough journalism but it hardly deserves to be preserved between hard covers. Compare it with the masterly book The Pendulum Years by Bernard Levin and Marr is simply not in the same class. Compare it with an ever greater triumph than Levins, The Strange Death of Liberal England by George Dan-gerfield, and Marr is not even approaching the foothills of the greatness of that book. Both Levin and Dan-gerfield brought an acute intelligence and a waspish and witty pen to their task, and had a distinct point of view and an individual voice that had the confi-d e n c e | and the effrontery to challenge and change the shallow consensus of received opinion and popular perspective.
Nowhere does Marr disturb or ruffle those easy, lazy conclusions that have been established by the imperium of the liberal consensus. Attlee: terse, good thing. Churchill: bullish, great man, past his prime. Eden: disaster. Macmillan: actorly, patsy of the satireboom. Wilson: tricky, devious. And so it goes on its bland, superficial way. Nothing he says makes you want to stop in your tracks and cheer a new insight or quarrel with a distinctive assertion.
As an exercise in daily journalism, it might pass muster; as a history, a chronicle, even an informed perspective of post-war Britain it is little short of hopeless. And it is hopeless because it is full of lazy, left-leaning assumptions, second-hand opinions and a feeble narrowness of vision. It is a story of Westminster politics, the lobby journalists' perspective, the Westminster village gossip, Marr's home turf. It is the immediate response, the inflexible caricature, the cartoon character, the Sunday supplement profile, with as much depth as a shiny surface. There is hardly any significant social or economic context, precious little considered cultural context.
The literary critic ER. Leavis refused to read books he thought were trash because to read them would be to condone them. He also once magisterially dismissed the novelist, scientist and public servant C.R Snow during the debate on the two cultures as 'portentously ignorant.' Oh that Leavis were living at this hour. Mr Marr should consider himself lucky not to have been scrutinized by Leavis and that a poor notice in this journal can only be regarded as a feather in his cap by those who populate the liberal cultural elite of which he is such a shining and prominent, indeed, glittering member.
LOVE, HEALING & HAPPINESS
Spiritual Wisdom for Secular Times
O Books, 292pp, pbk
978 190504791 8 £10-99
This is a book with the potential to both sow seeds of faith and coach evangelists. It honours Jesus Christ as spiritual teacher, whilst being open to other religious traditions and their wisdom for spiritual seekers.
Dr Larry Culliford is a committed Anglican who works as a psychiatrist in Sussex. Under the pen-name Patrick Whiteside, he has written several hugely successful self-help books including The Little Book of Happiness and The Little Book of Bliss.
In Love, Healing & Happiness, the author writes boldly about overcoming self-destructive elements in our make up and about how we can grow deeper in spirit. He presents a vision of the universe that awaits this deepening as a sacred unity. In this presentation, the writer is influenced by the later writings of Thomas Merton.
The challenge this book presents to religious enthusiasts is in its core themes of integration and the disowning of dual -istic thinking so basic to western culture. Nevertheless, Dr Culliford offers encouragement that does not duck away from addressing self-seeking as the enemy of sound spirituality.
Particularly valuable is the books wisdom drawn from the East on building one's capacity for sympathy with one's fellows, which is so essential both to living a good life and also to the work of spreading faith in God.
John F Twisleton
A EUCHARISTIC VISION AND THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST FRANCIS OF ASSISI
Gracewing, 85pp, pbk 978 0 85244 663 8, £6-99
The frivolous might assume Mark of Whitstable is a minor character in 'Robin Hood', last seen breaking staves with Errol Flynn. Maybe this is not so frivolous when his other books include Cardinals and Heraldry, Catholic Trivia and Gospel Chivalry. Only his Towards a People's Liturgy is the kind of title we might expect of a Franciscan brother.
And that is Brother Mark's point. He believes that St Francis' eucharistic spirituality has been neglected - you have only to visit a Franciscan website and chances are the Eucharist will not feature. So these lightly edited talks seek to rebalance the common understanding of what Francis was about. To do this, Brother Mark takes a eucharistic theme - renewal, memorial, light - and relates it to Francis' life or writings.
One of the strengths of this approach is that it takes seriously the times in which Francis lived. The early 1300s were the beginning of the great medieval flowering of eucharistic devotion. Only forty years after Francis' death, St Thomas Aquinas was asked to draw up the office for Corpus Christi. Of course, Francis did not have a direct influence on Aquinas, but he did help create the conditions in which Blessed Juliana of Liege petitioned for the feast.
We sense this, according to Brother Mark, right at the beginning of Francis' mission. One reason why the saint's earliest work was to rebuild churches was not, as contemporary Franciscans sometimes suggest, that he had mistaken Our Lord's call from the crucifix of San Damiano. Rather it was to ensure the Sacrament was decently and securely cared for. This care for the Sacrament was officially promoted by the Fourth Lateran Council. The dating of Francis' writings is too imprecise to say whether he anticipated the Council. But it was in the spirit of the Council that Francis advocated that aumbries made from good quality materials be set in prominent positions, with a light beside them for devotions. Indeed, the first aumbry is sometimes credited to the Poor Clares at San Damiano. Maybe the pictures of St Clare holding the ciborium with which we are told she drove away Muslim mercenaries derive from this early and careful devotion to the Sacrament.
Francis also was known in his lifetime for his devotion to the Sacrament. This was not just in private prayers - one often-ignored detail from Francis' first crib service is that he wore the 'splendid vestments of the deacon.' Who would associate Francis with fine vestments?
It is, though, difficult to know what Francis' eucharistic practice was. The early lives do not mention it much, but it is prominent in Francis' writings. These are usually short and to the point, which makes it significant that his longest letter is 'On the respect due to the body of the Lord and on the cleanliness of the Altars.' It is equally significant that his first admonition should be De Corpore Christi. Here Francis uses John 14.6, 'He who has seen me has seen the Father,' as the biblical grounding for his sacramental teaching - we see Jesus in the Sacrament and therefore we see God in the Sacrament, and this provides the template for God's presence in creation. Hence, Brother Mark concludes, the Eucharist is at the heart of Francis' teaching.
This is a thought-provoking book, containing much in a short space. A true returning to the sources.
DEAD OR ALIVE
The Truth and Relevance of Jesus' Resurrection
IVP, 224pp, pbk
18447 4156 7, £6-99
Muslims believe Jesus was rescued from earth before the crucifixion. They know their own prophet is dead. The perception that Islam gives priority to Jesus as ever alive was life-and faith-changing for Abdullah, a Muslim convert to Christ. His is one of several forceful testimonies in a book that centres on the evidence for the resurrection of Christ.
Another forceful witness is lawyer Charles Colson, imprisoned for his part in the Watergate scandal. Having been party to that great cover-up, Colson is quoted on the vulnerability of covered-up lies and the unlikelihood of anyone dying for them in the way the early Christians died for their risen Lord.
Daniel Clark fills over 200 pages, engaging with what he sees as the pivotal issue for anyone commending Christianity. If the resurrection is true, what happened in Jesus has God's signature. Rejecting or neglecting the work of Jesus is therefore foolishness.
The New Testament records are defended (minor factual disagreements lend a ring
of truth) and ancient authors like Josephus and Pliny are quoted, as are the arguments of historians and lawyers to date. There is less philosophical discussion than helpful empirical examination of historical evidence and that of changed lives, albeit with a Pauline bias.
The writer sees Jesus more in Damascus Road terms than Emmaus Road terms. He brings the book to a conclusion with a challenge to the reader: are you dead or alive? There is an uneasy section indicating that those who are not born again are spiritually dead - here the evangelist takes over!
The resurrection can never be captured in prose. We need the anthems of Eastern Orthodoxy and the poetry of theologians. For Karl Rahner, Jesus' resurrection was like the first eruption of a volcano, God's fire, burning in the innermost depths of reality, bringing everything to a holy glow in his light. A whole new creation with cosmic implications is revealed to us, something that pervades Christian liturgy on the Lord's Day.
Daniel Clark has performed a useful service in assembling information geared, among other things, towards countering the disinformation of the other Daniel (Brown)'s Da Vinci Code with its denial of Christ's divinity. The graphics in the book keep your attention, like the one of a pack of card-like tombstones in line with someone pushing at the first one labelled 'resurrection. If that truth falls, all the others in Christianity will most certainly collapse.
John F Twisleton
1400 Years of Scribes and Scripture Scott McKendrick & Kathleen Doyle
British Library, 160pp, hbk 9780 7123 4922 2, £20
Which would I prefer to give to a potential ordinands, or some other young person seeking to deepen their understanding of the Bible - a commentary or this book, essentially a picture book of examples of biblical manuscripts? This one every time. There are plenty of commentaries, and plenty of people to commend them, but if the student-beginner cannot gain a feel for the importance of the texts themselves, for the care expended by the Church over the centuries in transmitting them and protecting every word within them, all such commentaries are lost.
Old manuscripts are not the most appealing objects, not least because in the case of the Scriptures they will always be in a foreign language - even Wycliffe's English is hard-going. Inevitably there are here more of the initial pictures and illumination than of the plain text, but it is the transmission that is explained and revealed.
With computer programmes, my imaginary student will never use the Eusebian Canons, anymore than I did when I saw them written out in my Greek New Testament; but they are evidence of serious textual scholarship from the time before printing. The manner of their presentation a thousand years ago teaches us something about the place of Scripture in the life of the Church that a modern commentary cannot. If nothing else, it will encourage that delightfully modern virtue - respect.
REVERENCE MY SANCTUARY
Guide to St Katharine, Little Bardfield
50pp, £8 including postage from The Vicarage, Braintree Road, Great Bardfield, Braintree CM7 4RN
This is a guidebook to a parish church, notable for being a Saxon foundation and firmly Anglo-Catholic in its furnishings despite its rural setting in Essex. What
makes it a little different from most such guides is the confidence of its presentation and production. Here we have the fullness of church life (not merely the architecture of the building) laid out before us, with the sacraments portrayed in full colour, including one of Bishop Keith Newton confirming. This is a surprisingly self-assured portrayal of the comprehensiveness of rural Christian life - the multum in parvo vision of the ancient parish church, even in the bleakness of the twenty-first century.
As a bonus, it has a short history of a remarkable little Anglo-Catholic college that flourished nearly a century ago. From 1910-40, the then rector, Fr Edward Mears, with a generous stipend of £326 a year and only 238 souls in his care, set up The Brotherhood of St Paul, a theological college based around his substantial vicarage. More than 300 young men were trained for the priesthood, before its gentle demise on Fr Mears' retirement. A remarkable achievement, and well worth the telling.
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