March 2013

He Is Risen

All our worship, through every season of our lives, is one unbroken celebration of this day. Easter is the ground of our hope, the pasch on which all else rests. Today we exult in the promise at the heart of the Christian mystery: a declaration that death does not have the last word. Matthias Grünewald. The Resurrection (1515), Panel Of The Isenheim Altarpiece This is not a day for art history. We can circle back to that another time. Still, this painting on a reverse panel of Grünewald’s Isenheim altarpiece, is like none other. Continue Reading
Calvary

No depiction of the Crucifixion in all of Western art is as stark an image of abject suffering as Matthias Grünewald’s. Canons of beauty were never the object here. Its seeming modernity lies in its refusal to veil the grotesque. The corpus is appalling; it repels aestheticization. Christ does not appear to sleep or transcend the agony of his ordeal. No hint of ultimate tranquility shields us from suffering the sight of a body broken and torn by torment. It is the single, most harrowing image of the Crucifixion, one that implies an executioner who knew his trade. Continue Reading
Madder Eggs

No, no, the eggs are not mad. I only mean the color. Madder red is the older term for alizarin crimson, known to the pharaohs and the residents of Pompeii. A crucial coloring agent for textiles during the Industrial Revolution, it was also the first plant-derived pigment to be produced synthetically in the nineteenth century. As splendid as it was ubiquitous, it became the most popular color for Easter eggs in European folk traditions. Madder was cherished throughout the Czech regions, in Hungary, even into northwest England where eggs were dyed by being wrapped directly in the plant leaves. Continue Reading
Love stamp

Are you tired of the word love ? Worn down by all the mawkish purposes that lay claim to it? Does Valentine’s Day give you a headache that lasts until Guy Fawkes Day? All those simpering red hearts (e.g. I heart New York)! Do they set you to chanting: “Remember, remember the fifth of November/ Gunpowder, treason and plot.” Do you refuse to buy any postage stamp with the L-word on it? Does the greeting card rack in your local Rite Aid give you a runny nose? Continue Reading
The Church Suffering

This past November, Cardinal Ravasi posed in New Statesman as the Vatican’s impresario of contemporary art. At the same time, a continent away, Bishop Johnson Mutek Akio of South Sudan stood with his people under genocidal assault by the al-Bashir regime. The cardinal’s ambition to get the Church back into the contemporary art business was hailed as “a bold move.” Silence greeted the bishop’s valor in risking his life to sustain a persecuted diocese. Heroic endurance in the face of Islamic terror does not conform to the sensibility—or insensibility—that understands culture as a kind of sauce poured like hollandaise over daily living, over thought and action. Continue Reading