views, reviews and previews
JOHAN ZOFFANY RA
10 March–10 June
Admission £9, concessions available
ONCE HISportraits were the height of fashion. Now the crowds queue in the Academy’s courtyard for another Academician, and for a landscape show. David Hockney has eclipsed Johan Zoffany, as doubtless in two hundred years’ time Hockney will be eclipsed by some artist not yet a twinkle in the milkman’s eye. In his day Zoffany was The Society painter. He was chief painter to George III and Queen Charlotte, until The Tribuna of the Uffzi offended the Queen who had commissioned it. This painting, graciously lent by Her Majesty, sums up this exhibition and Zoffany’s work as a whole.
First of all there is its subject matter. The picture is of a collection of wealthy Britons arranged in four groups around revered paintings and sculptures. Among them is the servile, dark-skinned artist himself. This kind of conversation piece had been popular in the earlier part of the eighteenth century and Zoffany’s choice of the genre shows the independent streak in the royal painter. Zoffany’s other crowd scenes also look backwards and share a sensibility with Hogarth, though it is a Hogarth crossed with Goya when in two of his last pictures Zoffany paints the massacre of the Swiss Guards by the Revolutionary mob. In his other paintings his mood is lighter. The artist’s own temperament fitted in with the boisterous, debauched mobof Colonel Mordaunt’s Cockfight in which he paints a boozy, gambling Anglo-Indian culture before Evangelical missionaries replaced cock-fighting with cricket and kept sexy Indian women out of sight.
Zoffany was not strait-laced. This is clear from the Tribuna in the way most of the men portrayed are lookingearliest works is a portrait of a well buffed David nestling Goliath’s head close to his crotch. And a later self-portrait shows the artist in friar’s habit, presumably for a fancy dress ball, with a couple of condoms hanging from a hook. He looks like a man who would have been at home with one of his Indian sitters, the Nawab Asaf-ad-Daulah, described in the catalogue as indolent, self-indulgent, profligate and undiscriminating in his tastes. And the Nawab could be any of equally big-boned, indolent Britons whom Zoffany also painted.
The Tribuna also raises questions about how Zoffany composed his pictures. The pictures of famous individuals like Warren Hastings – one of the few thin people on show – are perfectly decent but not very exciting. There is technical facility in making a likeness but no integration of background and sitter, none of Velasquez’ living browns or blacks. That is important because when backgrounds are just filled in by the artist’s assistant the structure of the painting, especially the dynamics of a conversation piece, become crucial to the painting’s success.
And Zoffany’s pictorial construction is eccentric. The key picture here is of the Sharp family piled up high on a barge as they go down the Thames past Fulham parish church. It is a bizarre set up with musical instruments, including a serpent and a clavichord, dogs and a twirling flag which are in counterpoint to the large family. Some of the likenesses have greater life than others. The children are doll-like and hark back to Zoffany’s earlier stage portraits. But the picture is held together by a strong pyramid shape, clear, stratified and given great dynamism by a curveof greys which arabesque through it. By contrast the architecture of the Tribuna painting is less successful.
Here Zoffany uses a bright royal red grid reinforced with the repeated dull gilt of picture frames echoed in the floor and yellow tones of the sculpture. The effect is like a Turkish carpet – and there is a Turkish carpet in the right hand corner – but the abstract pattern is at odds with picture’s intention to memorialize individuals and specific great works of art. The earlier, calmer and less royal group picture,The Portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy, makes a contrast which is less overbearing and more coherent.
The Tribuna is at the heart of this exhibition because it is quintessential Zoffany. It shows he is more than a Society painter. He does not always convince, but there is plenty to think about and store away.
Deadlines have prevented a write-up of the National Gallery’s ‘Turner inspired: in the light of Claude’ which ends 5 June. Neither Claude nor Turner could paint figures – Claude famously said his were a freebie thrown in to his paintings – which goes to show Zoffany’s achievement with likenesses. But in colour and construction both Claude and Turner are greats. The majority of the pictures on show are Turners and from out of London galleries, so it is good to see them all together. Most wonderful of all is Turner’sKeelmen Heaving in Coals by Night from Washington DC. The subject matter, the balance, the striking blues and whites make this one of Turner’s greatest works. See it while you can.
IN THE HEART OF THINGS Choral Music of Francis Pott Commotio / Matthew Berry
THOUGH HISConcerto for Cor Anglais and Orchestra may be somewhat underappreciated as an artistic offering, the choral music of Francis Pott (b.1957) is not an unknown quantity. Indeed, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin has recorded some of his sacred music while Schola Cantorum of Oxford features some of his secular music on a disc alongside Tippett and Britten. However, it is very apt that another Oxford chamber choir, Commotio, should be engaging with Pott’s choral music in such an exclusive way.
For Commotio is a choir dedicated to the performance of contemporary music. Such a focus can be dangerous for many choirs (not least due to the difficult nature of what the purist might regard as contemporary music) but, fortunately for the listener, under the baton of Matthew Berry, Commotio are truly experts in this field.
The music itself is glorious too. And, most pleasingly, does not – in the cliche sense – try to be too contemporary. Perhaps this is because the composer himself is firmly rooted in the (Anglican) choral tradition? As a chorister at New College and regular fixture of the Winchester Cathedral choir during the Nineties, Pott reveals an innate understanding of the sound world we are all so familiar with. Indeed, in his sleeve notes, he sets out how ‘the ex-chorister in me wanted to attempt something that could stand unabashed beside the touchstones of the sixteenth century’.
Specifically here, Pott is referring to the Mass for eight voices that Commotio commissioned him to write in 2011. An extensive setting (the Gloria and Agnus Dei are 12 minutes each), this is a work rich in colour and harmonic language. The colours stem from a wide variety of dynamics and textures, with Pott employing traditional double choir structures but also two-three voices in counterpoint over accompanying vocals, usually in the lower parts.
Such textual variety shows strong resemblances to the now oft-performed Frank MartinMass, but also Vaughan Wiliams’ Mass in G Minor. Indeed, the qui tolis section of the Gloria has a particularly strong echo of Vaughan Williams. That might also just be the‘Englishness’ of Pott’s music creeping through too. This is a setting that we can only hope becomes as established as the Martin and Vaughan Williams.
Elsewhere on the disc, there are four pieces of a Christmas bent, a setting of Ubi Caritas and a poem by Wilfred Wilson Gibson, ‘Lament’. Of the Christmas pieces, ‘Mary’s Carol’ is the most overtly angular (albeit still rooted in a strong tonality), while A‘ Hymn to the Virgin’ immediately calls to mind the now famous Britten setting in its first verse, with a similar call and response texture. However, unlike the Britten, the music moves away from this and is even at times contrapuntal. ‘I Sing of a Maiden’ takes this technique further, with rich part writing that builds a complex web of subtle harmonic shifts and frequent suspensions, before the end fades away in a section that must be markedpppp.
In all this, Commotio presents a sound that exudes maturity and cohesion. Indeed, the choir is relentlessly tight in ensemble and harmony, with the only regret being the occasional loss of the lower voices amidst the very impressive sound of the upper parts. But this is a minor quibble for a choir that should be lauded for championing such a fine contemporary composer. Indeed, the excellent singing certainly does justice to Francis Pott, whoseMass, in particular, is a welcome addition to the choral repertory.
HABITS OF CHANGE
An Oral History of American Nuns
Carole Garibaldi Rogers
Oxford University Press, 352pp, pbk 978-0199757060, £17.99
THIS ISa fascinating and challenging book. Sometimes inspiring, sometimes frustrating, it tells the stories of dozens of professed female religious of the Roman Catholic Church in America. As the subtitle of the book indicates, this is oral history, so the majority of
But for all that, this book is well worth reading, not least because many of the life stories narrated within it are genuinely inspiring and in some cases heroic. The book also offers an intriguing glimpse into the state and nature of American Roman Catholicism, and left me wishing that a similar project could be undertaken and published from within a more conservative part of the Roman Church.
Whatever one might think of some of their socio-political views, there can be little doubt that these women have dedicated their lives to serving God and his people in the best ways that they believe possible. It also offers some important perspectives on the value of the Religious Life, which is, the conclusion states, ‘supposed to be an icon – a window onto the sacred’. The conclusion of most of the protagonists here seems to be that although the forms of religious life will soon change – possibly almost beyond recognition – the genius and vocation behind it will not.
At a time when Anglican religious life is even more in crisis than the American Roman Catholic situation depicted here, this is an important, as well as intriguing, study.
LESS IS MORE
Spirituality for Busy Lives
Lion Hudson, 172pp, pbkrV.-,.-1. 978 0745955513, £7.99
LIFE ISto be spent, not ought or earned or oarded. There is a battle etween the ego which (would possess the world and the soul or spirit which would take us to what is deep and lasting. ess Is More is a resource to help cultivate that (world of the spirit.
Brian Draper asks questions such as: How can we disrupt our deadening routines? How can we loosen our grip on what we possess (and what possesses us)? How can morepresent when we are so distracted? How can we make the difference that we alone were put on earth to make? He also gives practical, applicable answers to these and other questions that arise in increasingly busy lives.
In profiling the unhurried perseverance and presence of a monk Draper illustrates the significance of living a life literally going nowhere.
It is better to travel within in the spirit than to ego trip towards ‘more, bigger and faster’. The book’s trenchantanalysis sees possessions, work, social status, physical appearance, and so on, as fashioning a superficial identity. We need to struggle for a true sense of self.
Ploys for getting our minds more into our bodies are presented, like stopping to breathe and take in the natural world. We need poise before pose. Poise is about balance and composure in striking contrast to striking a pose to survive as a successful businessperson or busy parent. Filling less diary time in advance is another recommended ploy that can help regain significance for spending our lives hour by hour. Thinking about the way people’s lives are recorded at their funeral can help us aim at being someone who has time for others.
This is not a Christian book but it draws on the author’s Christianity in its counsel about spiritual intelligence. There is one telling Scripture reference, with advice about using fewer words being more effective in communication: ‘Many words rush along like rivers in flood, but deep wisdom flows up from artesian springs’ (Proverbs 18.4).
Less Is Moreis a good book to lend a stressed friend who is gaining the courage to do something about their admitted superficial living. I found it a helpful aid to self-examination, especially its optimism about the triumph of the human spirit ‘endlessly calling, pushing up like a flower through the cracks in the concrete pavement of our lives’ (Bill Plotkin).
MAKING THE MOST OF THE LECTIONARY
SPCK, 176pp, pbk
978 0281065875, £12.99
I HAVEalways considered it axiomatic that when a preacher begins by delving into the depths and explaining the intricacies of the Lectionary, it follows that he has very little to say about the readings. So I must confess to being slightly sniffy about this book when I first received it; thinking that perhaps it was intended primarily for those with little or no practical experience of using a lectionary, or for those poor souls who are bewildered by the complexity of the provision allowed by the contemporary Church of England and who do not know the soothing balm of the simplicity which is the Roman provision.
I am pleased to say that my arrogant suppositions were entirely unfounded. Both of the aforementioned groups of people would benefit from reading this book, but so would almost everybodyelse with an interest in the history and contemporary usage of the Lectionary. After some preliminary examination of why we read Scriptures in church, what is a Gospel, and what is a Lectionary, the author launches into a surprisingly enjoyable analysis of how the current Lectionary works, and how the Roman Lectionary (1969), the Revised Common Lectionary, and The Common Worship Lectionary are at times both similar to and different from each other. However, it is in the following chapter, ‘Appreciating the Lectionary’, that the passion of the author for his subject really becomes apparent. He launches a staunch defence of the value of the Lectionary for liturgical, catechetical and ecumenical purposes. He points out that the current arrangements (i.e. those which have developed since the Second Vatican Council) have ushered in ‘the possibility of a formal paralleling of liturgy and catechesis such as had not existed in Western Latin Christianity since the fifth or sixth centuries’. He also rather dryly notes that this opportunity deserves and requires a level of training and skill for and among the clergy which is rarely found. He tells the story of one Anglican cleric who ‘liked the idea of a lectionary because she thought it was a convenient way of allowing everyone involved in the liturgy to know what was going to be read’, and who left decisions about which track of readings to follow (a Common Worship quirk) up to the lady who drew up the readers’ rota. Well, who doesn’t?!
O’Loughlin tackles the tricky subject of which translation is best to use in church, and ultimately comes down in favour of a pick’n’mix approach, while acknowledging the disadvantages of such a system (ASB 1980, anyone?). He also wades into the inclusive language debate, offering a fair and balanced guide to the views of both sides of the argument, while ultimately concluding that we must use the Lectionary as provided, ‘with good grace’.
The book ends with several tabular appendices, including a comparison of the Tridentine Missal and the Book of Common Prayer lectionaries. The tables are interesting and informative, though not themselves entirely easy to use at first glance. There is also a limited but very useful bibliography, to which reference is made throughout the text when further reading may be appropriate.
Against all the odds, this is an enjoyable and important book. Highly recommended for all with an interest in liturgy – as well as for those who ought to be interested in liturgy!
DOM AUGUSTINE BAKER
Edited by Geoffrey Scott
Gracewing, 224pp, pbk
978 0852447741, £12.99
AUGUSTINE BAKER was a mystic and writer on ascetical theology and history. One flaw in this fascinating book is the lack of straightforward biographical note on Baker. One must gather what one can from dates and from more or less incidental hints in the text. He was a Benedictine; he had some legal training; he was at Douai and Cambrai; he was well read in contemporary and earlier authors; he seems to have rather freely adapted Julian of Norwich to make her Revelation appropriate for female readers; he did not get on with the Jesuit, Hull; and he died, it seems of the plague, in a lodging in London. One could wish to know more. Baker was accused by Hull of unorthodoxy – a charge that was investigated and rejected.
It may be inevitable that when a learned work is a compilation of writings there will be some contradictions in it, and perhaps it is not a bad thing that this should be so. All twelve of the writers of these papers are deeply versed in their own disciplines, and all contrive to make their contributions interesting to readers who are capable of reading them. That is to say that the book is hardly one for the common reader: it requires close attention all the way through.
There is a paradox in the insistence in Baker’s writing that the ‘mystical’ or ‘secret’ works are by no means suitable for everyone to read, while his followers in this book (and the many other studies that are said to be appearing) are making them readily available for anyone to read. I wonder whether I should have been reading it at all.
It may be supposed that the secretiveness of the original writings is due to their being composed for use within the confines of an enclosed order, and under the guidance of a superior. Perhaps these conditions were considered impossible for the merely curious reader to replicate – or even for one outside this circle truly desirous of achieving a direct and spiritual union with God, which Baker insisted was the necessary end of contemplation: his work is not intended as a do-it-yourself guide.
A deeper paradox lies in the guidance itself. The interior, mental private prayer, meditation and contemplation must take place within the continuous round, throughout the monastery’s or convent’s day, of liturgical prayer, worship. How does the monk or nun manage what might be described, and not irreverently, as a spiritual juggling act? One of the authors here suggests that Baker understood, and knew the value of, mantra. He also insisted on ‘mortification’ of self and of desire for things of worldly concern. As a balance to this we may note that he was not greatly impressed by routine sacrificial practices.
There is an interesting chapter on Ludovicius Blosius’ influence on Baker and, most impressive, a paragraph by Blosius describing the joy of mystical union with God; and another discussing the influence of Descartes, who was Baker’s contemporary and, contrary to general perception, a lifelong Catholic. The argument that Cogito ergo sum heretically places the individual thinker at the centre of things is well contested here.
It should be noted that Baker had, and has, his critics. His explicated method of prayer is described by one as ‘anarchic; it places its persevering practitioners [i.e. private readers] in direct relationship with God, without benefit of clergy’. On the other hand one of the writers in this book suggests that there may be many Christians today increasingly desirous of such a relationship: a desire that in today’s ecclesiastical climate – with liberal reason too often displacing the warmth of personal faith – it would be difficult, I believe, to censure.
Other critical stances over the centuries since Baker lived have sought to show the Church of England to be more rational than the Church of Rome or, in other cases, the Roman Catholic to be more orthodox and legitimate than the Church of England. Subsequent to the French Revolution one stream of opinion held that reason ruled out mysticism, while another saw mysticism as a less pressing need than keeping the monastic system in existence. Quite obviously to Baker this would have seemed a nonsensical dichotomy.
I have so often complained about misprints in otherwise excellent books that I am glad to be able to comment that the standard of proof-reading in this instance is very high.
Columba Press, 80pp, pbk 978 1856077668, £5.99
IT WOULD be a pity if the readership of this splendid little book was limited to those for whom it is primarily intended. Ostensibly a handbook for those who administer Holy Communion at Mass and in people’s homes, this is in fact much more than that: it is a handbook full of useful facts and thoughts for anyone and everyone who takes seriously the challenge of living a Eucharistic life; that is to say those who seek to embody the deepest meaning of the Mass in every corner of daily life.
The book is presented as a series of very short chapters, each of which begins with a pithy title and ends with a question or challenge or suggested meditation. The chapters may be short, but they incorporate a wide range of sources and ideas, which qualify the book well to succeed in its author’s aim of being an aid to quiet, reflective thought and prayer for those who read it.
The chapters themselves cover a wide range of material, including what it means to be a minister (‘God does not call you to ministry because you are worthy’); an outline history of the Mass; the meaning and nature of liturgy; and practical details about being a minister of the Eucharist. Ironically, for an Anglican readership, it is this last (and relatively short) section of the book which will be least useful, since some of the practical things described here for a Roman Catholic audience will differ from Anglican usage. The most obvious example of this is in the suggestion that lay Eucharistic ministers might offer blessings to non-communicants – a practice with which most Anglicans would be deeply uncomfortable. But in a sense it is uncharitable to quibble over such details, since purpose of this book, and do not detract from that purpose, which is to make people think seriously about what it means to live a Eucharistic life in the widest sense. Many of the reflections offered here will help to achieve precisely that: from the insistence that ‘the fullness of joy is to ehold God in everything’ to the discussion of what it means to be chaste in all walks of life, via the repeated assertion that ‘the Mass is a love story’ (with explanations of the consequences of that statement), there is much here to make all Christians think seriously about how what we do in church relates to the way we live the rest of our lives.
Among the best material is the brief history of the Mass and the discussion of the meaning of liturgy today. Much of this reads like the text of a ‘Teaching Mass’, in which the different ceremonies of the liturgy are described and explained in turn. Liturgy as a whole is described as ‘the participation of the People of God in the work of God’, which seems to me to be as good a summary as any. Elsewhere, it is clear that the sympathies of the author lean towards a Vatican II understanding of the liturgy: there is little in sympathy with the reform of the reform here. However, that outlook is far from overpowering, and there is much here which will be of value to everyone. This is, above all, a reminder of the challenge of being faithful to Christ in the entirety of our lives. ‘When Jesus said ‘Do this…’ it is an invitation to live a Eucharistic lifestyle, not just a moment on a Sunday.’
SCM Press, 256pp, pbk 978 0334041993, £25
EDWARD DOWLER’STheological Ethics is, simply put, an excellent introduction to basic Christian approaches to ethics. The overall structure of the book, with its first section of key concepts which are then later expanded in sections two and three, makes the entire book very accessible. The first four chapters cover the very basics from Augustine and Pelagius on the nature of sin and grace, through Aquinas and natural law, to ideas of virtue and conscience. All of these concepts and controversies are explained lucidly and simply so as to be built on in later sections of the book. The explanations begin at a fairly basic level, making them accessible to anyone with a background outside of theology and philosophy. The only place where this clarity falls down slightly is found in the section on conscience, mostly because of the complexity of the issues covered.
Part two of the book covers controversies and contrasts between Catholic and Protestant approaches to ethics and modern understandings of ethics. This allows the reader unfamiliar with scholarship in the field of ethics to broaden out the issues covered in the first section. However, by far the most interesting part of the book comes with part three which provides further perspectives on natural law, conscience, virtue, and love and the moral life. The most interesting chapter of this last section considers virtue, and focuses on the scholarship of Stanley Hauerwas and other moral theologians and ethicists from a number of different denominational backgrounds, which seeks to place the focus on older concepts of happiness and beatitude over legalistic interpretations of ethics. This section places ethical issues and considerations within the context of the wider Christian community, seeing it as a ‘storied community’, where study and engagement with Scripture as well as participation in the sacraments are seen as the key to creating the ethical Christian. This section more than any other in the book would be of use for the preachers in parish context (there is, I’m sure, an excellent homily in the author’s analogy between Church attendance and gym membership).
The entire book has, as one would expect from a text book, a series of discussion points and case studies which help the reader to engage with what they have read in the previous section as well as apply the principles learnt to other situations. These case studies and examples, whilst essential in a book of this type, can feel slightly stilted but this is really rather inevitable with case studies.
This is an excellent book, and whilst not light reading it would provide anyone looking for a basic grounding in Christian ethics an extremely wide-ranging and clearly explained introduction, not only by explaining key terms, but also by encouraging people to expand and apply their new-found knowledge to given situations and issues.
COVENANT AND COMMUNION
The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI
DLT, 208pp, pbk 9780232528350, £12.95
PROFESSOR HAHN,who holds the Pope Benedict XVI Chair of Biblical Theology and Liturgical Proclamation at St Vincent Seminary, PA, is likely to become one of the darlings of contemporary Catholic thought. Certainly the author of previous titles such as The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth and The Kingdom of God as Liturgical Empire: A Theological Commentary on 1-2 Chronicles pushes all the right buttons for those who embrace the reform of the reform.
Covenant and Communion is a slim volume and, although robustly academic, yet written in a style sufficiently engaging as to make this the perfect companion during, for instance, time on retreat. Snappy chapter headings – ‘The Critique of Criticism’, or ‘The Authority of Mystery’ – only add to the appeal.
The Holy Father’s biblical theology was most powerfully brought to our attention in the two volumes of his beautifulJesus of Nazareth, but Hahn draws from the complete corpus of Benedict’s scholarly and pontifical writings to resource this excellent exposition of his subject. At the outset, Hahn admits he ‘had to resist the temptation to present a simple catena of [the Pope’s] thoughts... I have [nevertheless] tried to assist in the presentation of Benedict’s own ideas, not simply advance my own understandings of these issues.’ Certainly some quotations are extensive, covering whole pages at a time: but the resultant florilegium is testament not to editorial laziness but indeed to the contrary. The objective of Pope Benedict’s biblical theology is, argues Hahn, to synthesize ‘modern scientific methods with the theological hermeneutic of spiritual exegesis that began in the New Testament writers and patristic commentators and has continued through the Church’s tradition.’ The evidence he cites has a markedly patristic emphasis, which Aidan Nichols or, in his Afterword, aptly summarizes as the authority and use of ‘the three ‘C’s’: Canon, Creed, and Crozier.’ Hahn details Benedict’s concern that the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation ‘has resulted in a diminishment or reduction in the figure of Jesus, who is no longer believed to be the ‘Lord’ or the Son of God.’ In consequence, the Pope’s biblical theology attempts to ‘‘purify’ the historical-critical method...so it can serve its proper function in the search for the truth of the sacred page.’ This is to be achieved by the restoration of Scripture to an ecclesial and liturgical context, attended by a Christological hermeneutic: ‘without reference to the meaning these texts possess in the Church’s life and liturgy, the Scriptures become a kind of dead letter, an artifact [sic] from a long-extinct exotic culture. Biblical exegesis becomes an exercise in ‘antiquarianism’ or ‘archaeology’ or perhaps ‘necrophilia.’’ Benedict advocates a ‘hermeneutic of faith...less an interpretive ‘system’ than...a spiritual disposition toward e study of the sacred age...best described as a kind of loving and reverent listening.’ This is in fact a description of the practice of lectio divina, as Hahn recognizes towards the close of this book – ‘the loving contemplation of Scripture in which study is transformed into prayer.’
Scott Hahn makes clear that in the enedictine school of biblical theology we may as Catholics have confidence in approaching Scripture at the same time academically and devotionally. That quotations from the Pope’s own homilies feature significantly in this book is compellingproof of this. Covenant and Communion is elegantly presented in an attractive typeface. A first-class read.
Richard Norman ND
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