arts, books, other reviews

 

BOUCHER AND CHARDIN

Masters of Modern Manners The Wallace Collection 12 June - 7 September Admission free

This is another in the Wallace's series of small, but select, exhibitions which complement its own collection with important small-scale loans from other galleries. Here the key loans are Char din's Lady Taking Tea of 1735 from the Hunterian in Glasgow and Bouchers Lady on a Day Bed of 1743 from the Frick Collection in New York.

The Wallace's grand staircase is graced with perhaps the finest examples of Bouchers work in the country. These pictures are too big to fit in its basement exhibition rooms but the one work of Boucher that it does have on show is illuminating. It is a copy of The Milliner, one of a never completed set which the Queen of Sweden commissioned from the artist. The copy is turgid, poorly executed and heavy. Next to it Bouchers original is light of palette and beautifully balanced.

Beauty is what Boucher is about. Beautiful clothes, beautiful interiors, beautiful women. He was not a man for intellectual speculation. He painted what the public wanted and he was extremely good at it. To modern tastes his women are just too simpering, but they have their successors today, not so much in the arts but in the world of fashion photography. The exposed flesh, the not so subtle deshabillee, the sometimes louche surrounding, it's all in Vogue.

The Lady on a Day Bed illustrates this perfectly. The title itself is a cue for a slight re-working of the old music hall punchline - 'that's no lady, that's my mistress.'

The come-hither look, the yellow wall hanging which is coming away, and the sideways glance of a fat pottery Chinaman are clues enough to understand this picture of slightly cheap sex and down-at-heel luxury.

The contrast with the neighbouring Chardin could hardly be greater. True, both are genre works which feature women indoors with tea. In fact, the show makes some play of tea with exhibits of eighteenth-century teapots. Those who are interested can also follow a tea trail around the Gallery, or have a cuppa upstairs. Ironically for all that emphasis on the physical 

artefact, Chardin's brown betty teapot is one of those items which this most skilled of painters distorted for the overall balance of his picture. The picture itself is an odd size, and hangs beside its possible pendant, The House of Cards, a much duller work.

The woman taking tea we know to be Madame Chardin, who would have been in the early stages of consumption in 1735. Knowing this adds to the quiet, restrained, almost sadness of this piece. It is decent, ordered, refined, both in subject and in handling. The steam from the pot may be a suggestion to the viewer that life is insubstantial and transitory.

And maybe that, rather than tea, is really what these genre paintings are about - the capture of a moment and how different people react to the passing of time and human futility. In the beginning of the exhibition we can see this with some crudely handled works by Hogarth which

express the satirist's response to human folly. A Lancret shows a young woman giving a surprised and possibly gratified clergyman something of an eyeful. Char-din and Boucher in their different ways also give us a take on the human condition. The priest in me wants to point out that neither can find lasting happiness through beauty, but they achieve some great painting in the attempt.

Owen Higgs

 

books

CONQUEST

How Societies Overwhelm Others

David Day

OUP, 304pp, hbk

978 0 19 923934 4, £14.99

David Day's study of Conquest is only partly about the military defeat of one society by another. There is the business of claiming. On arriving at the Pacific, Vasco de Balboa walked into the ocean up to his waist and opened his arms in a great circular gesture to claim the lands, as yet unexplored, bordering the great ocean. He certainly thought big. Then there are maps. A couple of centuries later George Washington's actions as a British Officer of surveying and marking out the borders of the farms and homesteads to give legal claim (in the eyes of the Europeans anyway) to their new owners did more to make America, suggests Day, than the war of independence.

Forts and farms are considered as means of cementing ownership. Day looks at the genocidal imperative' and is robust in refusing to get caught up in the niceties which befuddle so much discussion of the horrors of displacement of one people by another. He notes that the use of the term holocaust has 'claimed for that dreadful act a uniqueness which it does not warrant'. Far from being a holocaust denier, Day is pointing out that wholesale destruction of peoples is depressingly common in human history. Day notes that all societies create a story to account for their hold on the land. When I was at school I learnt a narrative involving Bouddica and Romans; Alfred and Cakes; Angles, Saxons and Vikings; Wars and Roses; Wales and Scotland; a national church which served a great Empire, graciously given back to its peoples together with plumbing and parliamentary democracy. Today, at the age of eight, children learn about the Vikings, and that immigration has been going on forever.

While we might legitimately worry at the passing of our shared narrative, in the end we are indeed all children of invaders. In our time the movements of peoples are continuing as they always have. In the 1930s it was suggested that Australia should accept large numbers of European Jews in order to prevent Japanese expansion into the Northern Territories. A leading politician, unlikely to have been more than two generations separated from England, asked, Are we to have Jews or Japs?'

Day points out in his last chapter that the old nations of Europe are already subjects of huge immigration and this looks set, simply as a matter of demographics, to continue. He ends by challenging his readers 'to recognize that we all share a common past and that we will share a common future in a relatively small and inter-dependent world. The challenge for the future is not to confine peoples to their current places of habitation or to some imagined homeland, but to manage the inevitable movements of peoples.'

Surely this catholic vision, looking over and beyond the walls of stereotype and nationalism, is akin to the vision of those first Christians who from the day of Pentecost went out speaking many languages, proclaiming the kingdom of God and asserting that here we have no abiding city.

Luke Miller is vicar of St Mary, Tottenham

 

PELICAN IN THE WILDERNESS

Ivan Clutterbuck

Grace wing, 160pp, pbk 978 0 85244 621 8, £7.99

Fr Clutterbuck has been a priest for nearly 70 years; many will have encountered his writing in Marginal Catholics, The Church in Miniature or his commentary on Luke; or known him earlier from his time as Church Union secretary; and before that his work as a chaplain and teacher; and perhaps, if you are as old as he is, from his time as an army and naval chaplain.

One of many Anglo-Catholic clergy who would no longer be in the Church of England were it not for Forward in Faith, his autobiography will resonate with many who have followed the same path, from a solid Catholic upbringing to the present uncertainties. As we move to the next stage, over women bishops, similar questions will return with greater urgency.

Nigel Anthony

 

THE VENERABLE ENGLISH COLLEGE, ROME

A History

Michael E. Williams

Gracewing, 343pp, hbk 978 0 85244 048 3, £14.99

This is the second edition of Michael Williams' history of the Venerabile, and it updates the 1979 original with expanded notes and appendices. There is also a new chapter on the College post-War to post-Vatican II, a period when ministerial formation was profoundly affected by changes in liturgy, in the intellectual life of the Church, and in how the priesthood itself is understood. It would have been interesting to know how the seminary which has produced the elite of the secular Roman clergy in England responded to those changes. But, for whatever reason, Dr Williams holds back. As a loyal son of the Church he tells us that the Council was a good thing though how good it is too early to say. Nor does he discuss any of the financial problems or the crisis in vocations which happened over this period, though they must have had a profound impact on the College.

In other words, this book is a celebration and, like many celebrations of clubs and societies, it tends to assume knowledge on the part of the reader - perhaps most tan-talisingly, we are told that there is a particular form of speech associated with the College, but no examples are given. Of course the records of societies are not always that interesting, but the Venerabile has been more than a spectator in important moments in ecclesiastical history. It claims to be the oldest English institution outside of England, tracing its origins to a hospice for English pilgrims to Rome founded in 1362 (following through the logic there makes you wonder why its alumni have had such problems with the continuity of Anglican orders).

In fact, the Venerabile is better understood as the overspill college to Douai. It was founded for the mission to Protestant England and its first members prepared for martyrdom with frescoes of martyrdom painted on the chapel walls and annual St Stephen's Day sermons glorifying martyrdom preached before the Pope. And when a member of College was martyred, the community gathered in church to sing a Te Deum.

It is extraordinary material, but unfortunately one of the constraints Dr Williams I works within is the avoidance of ground covered more amply elsewhere. So it is that we read about the College's personnel and organization as a reflection of the politicking which so divided the mission to England, but the story of the forty martyrs is left largely untold.

That is chapter 1. Chapter 2 includes the heading, 'Decline or stability' That sums up the next two hundred years, i.e. nothing much happens, until Nicholas Wiseman becomes Rector in 1828. At this point we see what an interesting and entertaining book Williams can write when he throws off his self-imposed limits and really enjoys himself with one of the Church's most exotic characters. The portrait of Wiseman drawn up for us by Williams is of a slightly epicene contemporary of Rossini. A brilliant polyglot and an arch-net-worker, Wiseman's personal religious life is something of a closed book, though he was a friend of the author of 'The practice 

of kissing the Popes foot antecedently to the embroidering of the cross on his shoe.' As Rector, Wiseman had little day-to-day contact with the College, but his influence was considerable. Under his direction the Venerabile grounded the future English hierarchy in 'Romanitas', and in Wisemans love of Italian peasant religion. No wonder that at the end of the century, the Venerabile was the last college in Rome to abandon the tricorn hat.

Wisemans successors, even Hinsley and Godfrey, would never have the Holy Fathers ear in quite the same way but their story is rather more revealing about life in the College. We read about their continual problems with money and buildings and whether the English dioceses were going to cover the costs. Then there is the importance of having the ear of the right people in the Curia and equally there is pressure from the English hierarchy to make sure the men they have paid come back to England.

The personal qualities of the Rector were also important. Hinsley's time sounds fun. It had an 'Englishman abroad' quality, with affection for the natives leavened by cricket against the Embassy and regular performances of Gilbert and Sullivan. By contrast, a visitation in Godfreys time noted the lack of warmth and kindness in the Rector, though that doesn't seem to have held back the future Cardinal Archbishop's career -he was soon off to England as part of the papal suite at George VI's coronation.

So there is much entertainment to be found in this book, and that makes it a greater pity that Dr Williams was not able to employ his considerable talents to give an ampler and more spirited history of what Benedict XVI calls this great college'.

Owen Higgs

 

TWENTY QUESTIONS JESUS ASKED

What is he asking you? Elizabeth Rundle

BRF, 120pp, pbk

978 184101 568 2, £6.99

A presentation of twenty gospel encounters, with the text and comment presented in a simple and challenging manner - a simple book of gospel evangelism by a Methodist minister. All the same, it was the format more than the content that spoke to me. Could not more have been made of the questions themselves? They are much more than mere tags on which the incident can be hung.

Some are elements of a heuristic teaching. And why do you worry about clothes?' is only one of seven questions from this short section of the Sermon on the Mount. Others are rather less likely to be rhetorical: 'Do you want to leave too?' spoken to his disciples. Others encapsulate the core challenge of the Gospel, 'Who do you say that I am?'

Just as interesting were the questions of Jesus not included here. The post-resurrection 'Whom do you seek?' is a surprising one. If the limit was twenty, why these and not others? A fascinating presentation, and a book to recommend for young Christians, but not the challenge and stimulus I had been hoping for. But it has got me started.

John Turnbull

 

HIROSHIMA

The World's Bomb Andrew J. Rotter

OUP, 370pp, hbk

978 0 19 280437 2, £16.99

When, on a hot August morning in 1945 a US pilot dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, it was both an ending and a beginning. It ended the Pacific war, and began the new L^^^^^^_ era of nuclear proliferation. Andrew Rotter's well-written and thoughtful book is one of a series by different authors from the same publisher: The Making of the Modern World. It deserves to be the flagship volume of the series both because of its subject matter and because of the way in which Rotter treats it.

Though we are right to save a particular revulsion for the effects on a civilian population of that first bomb, Rotter is also right to remind his readers that it was, in one sense, nothing new. The British had already well established the principle of using overwhelming air power to destroy and demoralise a civilian population, in the hope of breaking national resistance. Nothing at Hiroshima was necessarily more tragic or more repellent than the fire-storms of Hamburg and Dresden.

The bomb, moreover, was not either an American invention or an American initiative. The idea of the bomb was first dreamed in an England full of central European refugees, by scientists of very different backgrounds who were acutely aware of their own moral responsibilities and of the ethical arguments both for and against the use of such overwhelming power. Behind the scientists and the strategic planners loomed the visionary figure of H.G. Wells whose 'The World Set Free' (1914) foretold on the eve of the First World War the triumphs and dilemmas in which the second war would end. Andrew Rotter reveals both the Japanese and German interests in nuclear fission, and details the separate ways in which, under pressure, they shelved the project till later. He deals sensitively with the politics, both national and personal, which made the American use of the bomb almost inevitable. But perhaps the most fascinating part of the book is the sequel to Hiroshima.

Rotter calls his final section: The World's Bomb. Proliferation, he shows, had differing motives in different situations. The Soviet Union, with an inevitablist ideology to feed; Britain, which had lost an Empire and not yet found a role; France smarting with the humiliation of two wars; Israel, tiny, threatened and insecure; South Africa which went to the brink and pulled back; China sensing a role as the alternative to Russian Communism; India in desperate rivalry with Pakistan. Those of us who lived through the cold war have almost now forgotten the daily apprehension which fuelled the

Aldermaston marches and the early days of CND. Rotter brings those days back with searing clarity. One wonders why we have allowed those very rational fears to die.

This book is a remarkable meeting place of scientific, strategic, social and military history. Its main achievement is to show that the bomb is the responsibilty of us all. No nation in the mid-nineteen forties which could have produced such a weapon would have held from using it. No nation, from its own scientific resources could have produced such a weapon. It was the 'Worlds Bomb', and the world still to a remarkable extent lives under the shadow of its very distinctive mushroom cloud.

Mark Stevens

 

ST MARY MAGDALEN IN PROVENCE

The Coffin and the Cave Michael Donley

Gracewing, 220pp, pbk 978 0 85244 177 0, £12.99

 

Catholic travel writing, for those with a love of southern Provence, and an attractive subject well told. The author is theologically literate without being a professional, and discusses the legends and history in an easy manner as his journey unfolds, and often in relation to the people he encounters.

It is not a pilgrimage guide - there are no maps nor details of services - but it conveys an engaging sense of why one might wish to make a pilgrimage there, to climb up to the cave and then to the chapel above it, to offer prayer and to be touched by the divine. At a place that has gradually fallen into disfavour. You will need a map and a gazetteer, but the names you want are La Sainte-Baume and Saint-Maximin.

As Mr Donley recognizes, Mary Magdalen is in the some ways the saint of the moment, standard bearer for women bishops, super-apostle and much more besides; but she is not the same person as the early and medieval saint. He makes a persuasive case for that older unified-Magdalen tradition, on which the shrines depend - Mary, sister of Martha, the woman who was a sinner, the first to see the risen Lord - one person not three.

As one who has travelled to the south of France many times, I am surprised I never knew about these two shrines, dedicated after all to a saint we are all familiar with, 

but having read his engaging account I am now keen to do so. I would have appreciated more practical help to getting there, but was grateful for his unfashionable commitment to an older tradition: a shrine once visited by a succession of kings now largely forgotten.

Nigel Anthony

 

 

FEAST

Why Humans Share Food Martin Jones

OUP, 354pp, pbk

978 0 19 953352 7, £12.99

Caveat emptor: this book is not what it seems. 'Fascinating and illuminating', says the Daily Telegraph. 'Entertaining as well as illuminating, satisfying as well as stimulating', says Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, whose own book Food: a History is certainly all those things. 'This is a mould-cracker of a book, as readable as any thriller', claims Elizabeth Luard, whose recipe for guinea fowl with cream, walnuts and brandy I have made my own. But what book had they read when they wrote those reviews? Not this one, I think. You can't tell a book by its cover; and certainly not this one. I took one look at the colourful Brueghel on the front and settled down to a congenial read about eating in early modern Europe -from peasant feasts to royal banquets. But no such luck. A mere glance at the illustrations was enough to disabuse one of so rosy an expectation. 'Imagined scene of a wild horse kill at Boxgrove'; 'Recent excavations at the Abric Romani rock shelter'; 'First century drinking equipment from Goeblingen-Norspelt'. Enough said. This is a book which is strong on the sort of learned conjectures by which archaeologists earn a living, and short on real information. There are no recipes nor anything like them.

All that said Martin James has his moments. His analysis of modern eating habits and food distribution is something of an eye-opener. But even then the initial gambit ('Let us first consider the TV dinner') is enough to shrivel the taste-buds of the most dedicated omnivore. His menu for a dinner with Trimalchio certainly whets the appetite (dormice sprinkled with honey and poppy-seeds, followed by a Zodiacal arrangement of chickpeas, beef steak, testicles, kidneys, figs, cheesecake, sea scorpions, sea bream and lobster) but fails to satisfy. I once observed a lady in Las Vegas consume a plate of rare roast beef, langoustines and chocolate mousse -but that is another story.

If you are into recherché books on the food and eating habits of past generations, the market is full of good and interesting ones: try A Mediterranean Feast by Clifford Wright, or even the Early English Text Society's Two Fifteenth Century Cookbooks. They will get you salivating; this one will not.

Geoffrey Kirk

 

A GUIDE TO THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND

Martin Davie

Mowbray, 260pp, pbk 978 1906286 13 2, £9.99

In 1894 the civil functions of parish vestries were taken over by a system of parish councils, with the result that in 1919 parochial church councils were established as part of a Church Assembly system to give (or restore to) the laity a share in the government of the Church of England at the parochial level. As this book points out, parish councils and PCCs are still widely confused, as The Vicar of Dibley shows.

The detail, and the clarity of that detail, in this book is impressive. It presents a picture of the CofE as an organization that appears odd even disconcerting to the habitual member. Viewed from outside, it is a complicated institution that has only become more so over the centuries.

Every director of ordinands and not a few incumbents should remember this book when dealing with the increasing number of (usually evangelical) men and women who feel a call to the church's ministry and yet have little or no experience or understanding of the Church of England. Give them this to study.

John Turnbull

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