views, reviews and previews

HENRI MATISSE

The Cut-Outs

Tate Modern

17 April-7 September

Admission £18, concessions available

This is the best show of Matisse's cut outs we are ever likely to see. It covers his use of cut-outs first to plan paintings and as the originals for printed books. Then, after the Second World War and as Matisse's health declined, cut-outs became the basis of the designs for the Rosary Chapel at Vence and took on an independent life as wall decorations. Though the designs are often very simple the choice of colour from Matisse's gouache palette and the precise placing of the cut-outs required the highest skill. They are not the children's collage any of us could knock up.

Great claims have been made for these works but the show is worthwhile even if those claims need to be toned down. The excellent book which accompanies the show suggests technical reasons why this is. In the first place it is very difficult to get a handle on what Matisse actually created. He largely stopped making designs for books after 'Jazz because even the best prints could not do justice to his originals. The exhibition has brought together those originals with the printed copies and the originals are better; the printed versions do not have the same verve or sharpness of colour. So at a purely technical level of producing good quality prints unlike Picasso, Matisse's colleague and a great printmaker, Matisse's printed works do not quite succeed even if the originals have a wonderful sense of cheap theatre and strong Fauvist colour.

The second problem is an inevitable result of the form. Paper cut-outs are not resilient. At the Villa La Reve in Vence, Matisse carefully covered a wall with cut-outs. One wall at Tate Britain repeats this, but it cannot reproduce the effect Matisse achieved. The cut-outs are now framed and mounted. They had to be so they could be preserved and sold. But part of the charm of these works is that they could flutter slightly and they had no borders. To move those cutouts was in a sense to destroy them, something which Matisse was very much aware of. So, though it is a curatorial triumph to have united these leaves and algae and doves and dancers, they no longer quite make sense.

A similar problem applies even to great wall high sequences such as The Parakeet and the Mermaid. These were designed for quite specific settings and grew organically all over the walls of Matisse's studio. Since Matisse's work is so spatially precise, it follows that out of the studio their full impact is lost.

But, these serious caveats aside, it is still possible to be caught up in the way Matisse brought his beloved gardens into the home when he was too frail to go outside himself. It is quite difficult to carry in the mind quite what these murals look like. But they are not just very arty wallpaper. They do have a sense of Mediterranean light and plant life. They don't run wild. They are not ripe and organic but the garden has come into the studio. This is something real and finer than the Vence Chapel which Matisse considered to be the culmination of his work.

The Chapel is a curate's oeuf. In the first place the collages are preparatory drafts or maquettes for the stained glass so they are not directly part of the chapel. Some of the designs — such as the vibrant, abstract bees — were rejected by Matisse as the project developed and they only live as cut-outs. A number of the cutouts which provided the final templates are in the show, though not the glass itself, and they have that created light which Matisse associated with his own god-like role as a maker of art.

Another and deeper theme throughout Matisse's whole work is the female body. There are two large cut outs which revel in the body, Zulma and Creole Dancer. The latter takes a very old-fashioned view of a black dancer. The former, a large picture, harks back to Matisse's monumental bronze female figures and is both technically and artistically one of the stars of the show.

There are real bronze figures, small ones, alongside the four Blue Nudes, and these are the best of his cut-outs. They are over-familiar from cheap reproductions, but they need to be looked at carefully. We can see that Matisse took time and perhaps the odd mistake to get them right. At first they were four-square but they became twisted, the legs curled under one another so that though there is a solid base to the nudes they are fluid too. These pictures are also physically fragile which takes away the slight heaviness and flatness of reproductions. They are not as great as Matisse's early works —the Hermitage's Dancers or the Red Room — but if the crowds permit, give them a good, long look.

Owen Higgs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANOTHER COUNTRY

Julian Mitchell

The Trafalgar Studio

Until 21 June

On the day I went to see this fine revival I had been reading Anthony Seldon and David Walsh's fine new book Public Schools and the Great War. This new and important study explains just how our Public Schools were dominated by the Great War and indeed continue to be so.

Up and down the country our Public Schools have Combined Cadet Forces which parade on Remembrance Sunday or on Armistice Day. Indeed many boys and girls will worship each and every day in Chapels built as war memorials or at the very least containing memorials of fallen old members.

In a way this understanding of the Public School system is important in coming to see Another Country, set 12 years after the end of the First World War in the summer term of 1930 and yet still dominated by it. The visit of a conscientious objector to the school and the obsession with The Corps and indeed the Empire are all treated as major things by the boys. In the play we never meet any of the masters — they are figures of fun and at times fear, but it is quite clear the school is run by the boys and the Twenty Two, a self propagating group of senior boys.

 

The play opens powerfully with the boys singing the first verse of vow to thee my Country'. Whilst this hymn isn't very popular, I thought it a powerful way to begin as it reminds us yet more of the ethos of such schools and indeed the feel of national surety in the 1930s. I am pleased to say that even during the interval my companions did not try to dissuade me of my love for this hymn, although I suspect they were more sceptical than I.

The play centres on two boys, each in their own way conforming to the system and fighting against it. Tommy Judd, played by the brilliant Will Attenborough, is an ardent school boy Marxist, whilst Guy Bennett, portrayed energetically and at times whimsically by Rob Callender, is dealing with the fact he is homosexual and his affections for other men are not the same as the experimentation of other boys. They are friends who at times frustrate one another but who have a bond of loyalty that is touchingly displayed. The play opens with the suicide of a boy and ends in a political stalemate which might have been worthy of any politician trying to maintain power. At times the play can seem a little slow but these young actors are clearly the cream of a new crop worth watching. Only one adult appears on stage, the aesthete from London played wonderfully by Julian Wadham. He seems very sweet but then in the way he flirts with the prettiest of the boys rather made the skin crawl.

This is a funny and witty play about the way people interact and relate to each other and captures wonderfully how teenage boys do so in public schools. It is also poignantly moving: Judd leaning over to tuck in a junior boy who is scared is touching and reminds us that even in great adversity kindness shines through.

 

Bede Wear

 

ST CUTHBERT'S CORPSE

A Life after Death
David Willem

Sacristy Press, 112pp, pbk

978 1908381156, £8.99

BUILDING ST CUTHBERT'S SHRINE
Durham Cathedral and the Life of Prior Turgot

Lionel Green,
edited by Peter Hopkins

Sacristy Press, 164pp, pbk

978 1908381125, £12.99

I clearly remember the first time I stood in front of St Cuthbert's coffin in the crypt of Durham Cathedral. It wasn't the wood of the coffin, nor the pectoral cross that fascinated me. It was Cuthbert's comb! A comb is such a personal possession. My mind went back to the Sixties when, as a seminarian, I had gone to see the exhibition in London of artefacts from the excavations at Masada — King Herod's great desert fortress that had been the scene of the last stand of Jewish rebels against the Roman legions. There among all the valuable and `important' exhibits was a small showcase with a couple of combs in it. They hadbelonged to two Jewish women, who, like nearly all of the others, had committed suicide the night before the Romans made their final successful assault on the fortress. Again, I was overwhelmed by the sense of being in touch over the centuries with something very human, private and personal.

These two books help us to rediscover the life after Death' that was the story of the body of St Cuthbert. David Willem originally intended his book to be a travel book. It would trace the journey taken by the monks who had fled Lindisfarne, following the deadly raids by the Vikings, in order to protect the miraculously uncorrupt corpse of their former bishop. Their journey ended at what we now know as Durham.

However, as he read of the six occasions when the coffin was opened between 698 and 1899, this book took on a new form. Every time the coffin was opened at least one account of what was found was written down. Not all of them are sympathetic. Protestant detractors of veneration of the saints give their own slant on the subject!

For the first time this volume brings into a single set of covers these records. Willem starts his book with an account of the last months of the life and the death of Cuthbert. He has an engaging and easy-to-read style that is almost that of a novel in parts. As my mother would have said, He paints good pictures with words!' I commend this book to those who are new to the story of Cuthbert, both before and after his death, as well as those who are familiar with the material, but would welcome a chance to see it presented in a concise and dynamic manner.

Lionel Green, whose material for Building St Cuthbert's Shrine has been edited, following his death, by Peter Hopkins and other friends, comes at the subject of Cuthbert from quite another angle. He concentrates on the construction of the saints shrine and the cathedral that houses it.

His main task is to bring to light the role of Prior Turgot, Prior of Durham. Without his tenacity and skills it might well have never been completed. Many of us are familiar with the role of Bishop Elambard and other luminaries involved in the story of Durham, but I, for one, was unaware of the importance of Prior Turgot in the story. What made this a tremendous read for me was the way in which Lionel Green takes us back to Anglo-Saxon England to put Cuthbert in context. Then he reminds us of the dramatic effect the Norman Conquest had on the Church as well as the nation. He also helps us see the influence the Scandinavian churches had on English Christianity.

By painting this bigger picture Green helps us to fit the construction of the shrine and cathedral into the wider life of Church and people in our land Told through the life or one man, whose personal history is so fascinating (for starters, he ended up at Durham after being shipwrecked while returning from Norway!), the centuries are spanned and what could be dry history is brought to life.

Again, I heartily commend this book to anyone interested in Cuthbert and Durham.

The two read together are a feast! George Nairn-Briggs

 

 

A SILENT MELODY

An Experience of Contemporary

Spiritual life

Shirley du Boulay

DLT, 228pp, pbk

978 0232530742, £12.99

This personal memoir of spiritual formation stretching back to the Sixties served for me as aide memoire so I found something of a reflection of my own soul in its mirror. The last half-century has seen the decline of Christianity in our land, a greater sense of the other faiths alongside which it stands, and the rise of many movements in spirituality. Through her production of religious programmes for the BBC Shirley du Boulay has chronicled much of this, notably through encounter with the Beatles when they met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, through her own struggle to be a Roman Catholic and the commitment to interfaith engagement that has served her spiritual development.

I valued her story despite its conclusion — she is no longer a church member — and the insight she provides in a well-written book. This insight came to me especially from her expanding on Christian figures of whom she has written biographies: Cicely Saunders, Teresa of Avila, Desmond Tutu, Bede Griffiths and Abhishikthananda. From these and many others she provides inspiration as she recounts her spiritual journey. This journey has a key stage post in her marriage to former Roman Catholic priest and devout Christian John Harriott.

The author starts by dismissing what she calls Anglican vague broadmindedness but ends with a position that is very much broader! Her main struggle is with the variety of faiths, their evident spiritual fruitfulness and how that challenges obedience to one of them. cannot give myself heart and soul to one tradition to the exclusion of others'. In arriving for now at that conclusion, Shirley du Boulay sounds typical of many thoughtful folk whose drawing in of wisdom across spiritual traditions erodes their original rooting. Zen meditation remains her spiritual base, building from her earlier sense that meditation is the most direct route to God', a phrase that challenged me in its subjectivity.

A Silent Melody contains quotations from Gregory of Nazianzen, Thomas Traherne and others on the ultimate unknowability of God and how spiritual seekers can be united in such 'faith'. Though I am committed to what I would call the other side of this — Gods knowability in Jesus Christ and his Church — this was a book that blessed and humbled me, though it also saddened me by the erosion of Christian commitment that it documents.

John Twisleton

 

 

ON THE LEFT BANK OF THE TIBER

Gerald O'Collins sj
Gracewing, 320pp, pbk

978 085211/J 835 9, £12.99

Here we are introduced to a drama with a cast of thousands spanning centuries in its scope. Presented as the story of Gerald O'Collin's 32-year sojourn at the Gregorian University in Rome and celebrating his period as Dean of the Faculty of Theology, it is a fascinating and enjoyable study of the eternal city itself. It is obvious that the author loved his time in Rome and because of that his genial style brings us into contact with the excitement of living at the heart of the most influential Church in the world. We are introduced to relatives and students, academics and theologians, bishops and cardinals, Curia and the Congregation for the Defence of the Faith (CDF). In each case we get a warm appreciation of the person, whether it be a niece of the author or his pontiff. In each case the encounter leads us into a larger landscape of history or theology or controversy. So when he tells us of the visit of Oscar Romero in 1980 he introduces us to Liberation Theology, the part played by Jesuits and others, and the responses of popes and the CDR

The book is divided into ten chapters, each of which reads like a short book. Some of these cover his friendships with local people, his family, visitors and his students. Others dealing with visitors to the Gregorian read like a catalogue of the most important and influential Christians of the past fifty years. 'Sooner or later the great, the good and the ugly fetch up in Rome', he says as he introduces us to Gadamer, Lohse and Heaney. Anglican Archbishops, German theologians (Catholic and Reformed) and leaders of the great non-Christian faiths follow in the footsteps of those who have made their way to Rome since the days of Peter and Paul, Tertullian, Valentinus and Augustine.

Two chapters are outstanding. The chapter called 'Three Popes' records his memories of Paul VI, John Paul I and John Pauli'. His admiration and love of the last named is evident and is a valuable testimony to a man often (perhaps deliberately) misunderstood by our media. O'Collins presents us with an appreciation of the intellectual power, the pastoral motivation and utter dedication to Christ of a man who loves the people of God. But this is not hagiography. We see under the title 'Three Shadows' an honest appraisal of the Pope's dealings with Fr Arupe, the Jesuit General and of his failure to appreciate the contribution of Liberation Theology.

The longest chapter (40 pages), 'The Dupuis Case', is different in character from the rest of the book and perhaps for that reason is the most fascinating. Throughout the book O'Collins comes over as genial and friendly, generous to all and fair minded to those with whom he differs. It therefore comes as a surprise when in this chapter we see his appraisal of the CDF. Here his style is indignant, reasoned, logical and diplomatic but his passion at the obvious injustice is evident. Fr Dupuis, a respected theologian, received notification from the CDF that his highly acclaimed book Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism contained 'certain errors or doctrinal ambiguities' regarding truths concerned with the Kingdom of God, the Church and the inspiration of the Bible. Fr Dupuis (a priest in his late seventies) is called upon to answer accusations made in fourteen theses and is given three months to do so.

O'Collins takes up his defence and exposes the loose, inaccurate and illogical document to a rigorous examination, showing it to be selective in its use of Scripture, contradictory to the teachings of Vatican II and at variance with the writings and sermons of John Paul II. The document is shown to accuse Fr Dupuis of holding views that he has never held. O'Collins' most serious argument is that the CDF has been cold and heartless, lacking in pastoral concern.

I think that this is an important chapter for a study of papal ecclesiology. Fr O'Collins does not deny the need for a body to advise the Teacher and Shepherd of all Christians but that body must not be seen as infallible. One might be a good papalist, one might accept the teaching of Vatican I concerning infallibility and still find much to criticise in the CDF. In fact this chapter shows the danger of such a body undermining both the teaching and the pastoral offices of the pope.

This is not the most a as active chapter
of a delightful book but I think that it is one that will be very welcome to the ears of Roman Catholic theologians and pastors. I commend On the Left Bank of the Tiber as a very good read.

John Gribben CR

 

THE TAMING OF CANAANITE WOMAN

Constructions of Christian Identity in

the Afterlife of Matthew 15. 21-28

Nancy Klancher

De Gruyter, 320pp, hbk

978 31103210G7, €99.95

Reception criticism is too often a deception, being little more than a collection of excerpts from commentaries upon a particular text from the earliest Christian centuries to our own. All credit to Klancher: this is much more interesting; she is fully engaged with the analysis and critique of the changing approaches.

The Syro-Phoenician woman (as she is more often called) was she who came to Jesus asking him to heal her daughter possessed of a demon; who when seemingly ignored and then rebuffed with the cruel, `It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs; replies with the great cry of faith, `Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table; which wins her what she sought.

A brief note — and this is the fault of the publisher — Klancher opens her text by merely summarizing the
dynamic of this striking encounter. Despite the fact that she shows herself to be a good translator of both Latin and Greek, she nowhere gives us the text itself, short as it is. I know this studied contempt of the actual biblical word is common among academics, but I still find it inexcusably offensive, and in this instance especially so.

Describing her, memorably, as 'the only person in the entire New Testament who could be described as winning an argument with Jesus', Klancher plots the range of responses to her combative dialogue. She is universally seen as a model of Christian faith and behaviour; nevertheless the explanations vary considerably. For some, she stands as the model Gentile against the unworthy Jews, and far too many commentators show themselves unpleasantly anti-semitic.

Bishop Qudvultdeus, fifth century bishop of Carthage, has this wonderful picture, 'From her attachment to wild dogs, the Canaanite woman was purified by means of her faith, and her humble and pious barking was worth her obtaining grace for herself, health for her daughter, both without any prior merit'.

She wins the argument, and gains what she prayed for. That we all accept. But how do we explain what Jesus was thinking? On the one hand a certain John Hutton DD), in a Glasgow University lecture of 1919, takes what she calls `a gallant and chivalrous pose' refusing even to accept that Jesus was testing the woman when he refused to answer, let alone being actually prepared to refuse her desperate request entirely. He is rather testing and implicitly accusing his other hearers (fellow Jews). `Hutton even suggests that when Jesus finally praises her faith, he in actuality saying, "Woman, forgive me".

At the other end of the spectrum, she cites Clay Nelson, a priest from a `progressive Anglican church' in New Zealand, who sees Jesus as suffering from culturally conditioned racism and sexism. `He doesn't welcome her, she just makes herself at home... She is declaring the reality of her presence not unlike women seeking their rightful place in the church today or cheeky gays who point out, "I'm here, I'm queer, get used to it".

Did I come away from this book with far greater appreciation of this biblical narrative? Absolutely. It is not only a conflict between two cultures, it is also a tale of spiritual transformation, it is about the soul's `conversion, repentance, faith, tenacity, humiliation, correction, discipline, and healing'. It is a narrative of the soul encountering Christ, and moving from outside the fold into the life and salvation of his flock.

Anthony Saville

 

HANDMAIDS OF THE LORD

Women Deacons in the Catholic Church

Jane Coll

Gracewing, 448pp, pbk

978 0852II )17727, £15.99

Certainly I appreciate thoroughness. But the exhaustiveness of Jane Coll's handbook Handmaids quickly threatens becoming exhausting. It is long — nearly 450 pages — and comes with no fewer than seven appendices (including one split into Sections A to E). There is a dizzying division into subsections, requiring four styles of chapter heading. Twenty-four passages are marked `Summary', with four major 'Conclusions' and four minor ones in a separate chapter — 'Gathering Together' — the twenty-first of twenty-four numbered chapters. I came quickly to the opinion that Handmaids of the Lord lacks a certain coherence of thought, or clarity of argument, which manifests in an over-elaborate presentation of the material. This need not have been so much of a problem had Coll decided to produce a compendium of resources concerning the issue of the ordination of women as deacons: however, Handmaids is billed as a thesis, the persuasive force of which is dulled by the superfluity of material.

A practising Roman Catholic and parish catechist, Coll upholds the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that women cannot be ordained as priests. However, she suggests that the exposition of this teaching is sometimes inadequate, and proposes that the debate is often misdirected. In very much the role of a critical friend, she also argues that traditional Catholic teaching on the equality-in-difference of men and women is not always put properly into practice, and is concerned to promote ways in which the contribution of women to the ministry of the Church can be better enabled and enriched. There is in this approach an appealing balance of fidelity to the Tradition with a sense of the urgency of the Church's mission.

While interesting and useful to the debate, some of Coll's excursuses are either tangential (and thus distracting), or — in providing too great a weight of background or preliminary explanation — slow the pace of the book. It is not clear for what sort of audience this work was intended. Potentially of particular interest to readers of NEW DIRECTIONS, the (two-page) section on Anglican Arguments has one sentence on the dialogue between the denominations when the ordination of women was proposed in the Church of England: the other seven paragraphs appear to be based upon 'a conversation with a female priest from an Anglican background, evidently thus qualified to represent and articulate the Anglican mind on such matters. There is no mention here or in the bibliography of Consecrated Women? (ed. J. Baker).

I could go on — but, in the interest of brevity, I shan't.

Richard Norman

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