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Padova,_cappella_degli_scrovegni,_esterno

Exterior of the Scrovegni Chapel, also known as the Arena Chapel, in Padua, Italy

This particular walk (or ramble) through history began after reading a footnote by stained glass historian Virginia Raguin. In her online history of stained glass in America, there is a footnote that reads, “Client and patron intermingled intellectually and socially; Brooks, H. H. Richardson, and La Farge had viewed Giotto’s Arena Chapel in Padua together. See John La Farge, The Gospel Story in Art (New York, 1913, repr. 1926), 279. ” I first learned of Reverend Phillips Brooks, architect H. H. Richardson and painter and stained glass designer John La Farge through their creative collaboration that produced the National Historic Landmark Trinity Church in the City of Boston. But what were they doing hanging out socially? What was The Gospel Story in Art that, if indeed it was published in 1913, it was done so after La Farge’s death? Who was Giotto and was there something special about his Arena Chapel?

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Phillips Brooks (1835-1893), Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886), John La Farge (1835-1910)

The first question is easy to answer. Born in the 1830’s, these gentlemen were of a generation. Though ostensibly from very different backgrounds, they were each members of a larger social class that would have socialized in the U.S. and abroad. With earned and/or inherited family wealth, they were expected to travel … the oceans were no barrier to lengthy tours of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The men were also connected by their attendance and/or connection to elite schools like Harvard, Yale and Princeton. They would have attended the same literary and art salons in Boston, New York and elsewhere. Richardson and Brooks were friends long before Richardson entered the competition to build the new Trinity Church in Copley Square. And Richardson and La Farge were well-acquainted long before La Farge was asked to orchestrate the interior decoration of the new church. It would not be unheard of for these three men to be meandering about Europe and somehow meet up at a church. As for the second question …

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Painting of Mary Caldawader Jones, and self-portrait of John La Farge

Apparently, The Gospel Story in Art, was a labor of love for La Farge that he never completed. Today La Farge is most well-known for his stained glass windows but he began his career as a painter and muralist. Throughout his life he studied art (even when he thought he was to become a lawyer), and eventually he would become a prolific writer and lecturer on the subject. La Farge died in 1910 but his friend New York socialite and philanthropist Mary Caldawader Jones compiled his work, with the illustrations that he used as reference for his text, and had the book published in 1913.  In the preface she explains that La Farge “had cherished the wish to write a book on the representation of the Christian story in art, a work for which few men were so well-fitted. Born and educated in the older faith of Christendom, he brought to his task not only the reverence of a believer, but also full knowledge of the widely different forms through which the life of Christ has been expressed by artists.”

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I found the reference on Page 297 referred to in the footnote, and, if I do the math correctly based on some other information I know, the three men likely stood in that chapel in 1882. Yet I know from other letters, memoirs, etc. that at least Brooks and La Farge had visited the chapel earlier in their lives, La Farge in 1856 just as he was beginning his artistic studies in Europe, and Brooks possibly in 1865 as he took a respite from preaching in Philadelphia. The young La Farge was so moved by what he saw that, once back in the U.S., he purchased etchings of Giotto’s paintings.

By 1872, Brooks was Rector of Trinity Church in Boston. His friend Richardson was overseeing construction of the new church. They’d discuss wanting the interior to be colorful, atypical of a traditional Episcopal church. When, in 1876, they commissioned John La Farge to decorate, did they reference Giotto and the chapel in Padua?

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decorative detail of wall inside Trinity Church

H. H. Richardson died in 1886, and his friend Phillips Brooks passed away in 1893. Whenever the two men had stood in the Padua chapel with La Farge, this is what La Farge remembered of the moment in The Gospel of Art. “Let us turn once more to Giotto, as the greatest of all those who represent the history of Our Lord. … 

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In his book, La Farge references Giotto (c. 1267-1337), an Italian painter and architect, at least 49 times. He includes excerpts by Leonardo about Giotto as a leading figure in resurrecting art“…it was in truth a great marvel that from so rude and inapt an age Giotto should have had strength to elicit so much that the art of design, of which the men of those days had very little, if any, knowledge, was, by his means, effectually recalled into life.” A noted painter during his day, Giotto’s work in the Scrovengi Chapel, also known as the Arena Chapel, is considered his masterpiece. Frescoes depict the life of Mary and Jesus.

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detail from Last Judgment fresco

La Farge writes:

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scene from the life of Joachim

“Were we to stand before the painting of Giotto in Padua, we should find it difficult to realize, in our present habit of passing over legends, how important these legends once were …”

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detail from the Ascension

“If a movement of line can give the impression of sound, Giotto has done it … “

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In earlier essays in his life, La Farge describes how his youthful travels in France and Italy, and in England among the Pre-Raphaelites, influenced his understanding and use of color. But only in this book do I suspect that he rhapsodizes about Giotto in a book that is about art and perhaps about La Farge’s connecting with his faith. One can only wonder what lasting impressions were made when a 21-year old La Farge first walked into that church.

Sources & Additional Reading

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrovegni_Chapel

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giotto

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_La_Farge

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Hobson_Richardson

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phillips_Brooks

http://college.holycross.edu/RaguinStainedGlassInAmerica/Home/index.html

http://college.holycross.edu/RaguinStainedGlassInAmerica/Museum&Church/Museum&Church.html

Image Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mary Cadwalader Rawle Artist: William Oliver Stone (1830–1875) Date: 1868 Medium: Oil on canvas Dimensions: Oval: 12 x 10 1/2 in. (30.5 x 26.7 cm) Classification: Paintings Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Max Farrand and Mrs. Cadwalader Jones, 1953

The Gospel Story in Art by John La Farge page 297

The Gospel Story in Art (Archive.org)

Playful Padua by Rick Steves

Web Gallery of Art: Frescoes in the Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua

wait until morning

Over sixteen years ago, I made one of those haphazard, following one’s desires versus common sense, maneuvers. I walked away from the world of full-time employment, full-benefits, great office, etc and wandered with rose-colored glasses into a world of mostly self-employment, cobbling together different gigs, and sometimes having no benefits at all, done so that I could indulge in the world of creativity. I’d grown up in a family of storytellers and for a variety of reasons I reached a point in my life where I wanted to spend time writing. I thought I would write a great fantasy masterpiece but what flowed most naturally were stories of the people around me, and occasionally, stories about myself. This was long before I picked up a camera but I have always been visual and so I wielded the pen like a paintbrush, sketching the world around me. I had no idea what I was doing and so every little bit of encouragement was pivotal in keeping me from giving up. As I began to submit my work, one of the first magazines to accept a short piece was the New York-based magazine African Voices. The editors were so encouraging and so supportive, and as I watched videos on its current GoFundMe page, I hear writers and artists expressing that same sentiment today. As Giving Tuesday approaches, please consider giving to an organization like African Voices. You don’t have to wait until tomorrow morning. As you can see on the GoFundMe page, every little bit helps. And meanwhile … it’s dusty … could use some revision perhaps … but here is a variation of what I wrote so long ago …

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my parents in the 1950s

Wait Until Morning

She sits on the edge of the bed, gazing into a large bureau mirror.  She smokes a Pall Mall or perhaps a Winston Salem.  She’s not sure.  She can’t remember if she pulled the cigarette from her purse or his coat pocket.  She can usually taste the difference but not tonight. In her mind’s eye, she sees her youngest son frowning and wrinkling his nose at the smoke.  She shakes her head at his face, then sighs as the image fades to be replaced by the items on the bureau top.  Pictures mostly and pill bottles and knick knacks from her children.  Most of the pictures and their frames are fuzzy with dust.  She is too tired to clean proper.  Only one picture shines clear in the dim light of the lamp – her  mother.

The woman looks at the picture and then at herself in the mirror.  She glances quickly away – she never liked her face – but the image remains.  Hair gray like her mother’s now, wide-rimmed glasses, skin weathered and dry no matter how much lotion she rubs on.  The bed is also reflected.  She stares at the crisp clean covers.  For the first time in 40 years, only on one side are they folded back.  She squeezes her eyes shut and clutches her stomach.  He is gone.

He bought her the scanner that sits near the bed. Fifteen years ago?  Maybe more. She saw it on “Let’s Make a Deal.”  She wanted one and he bought it for her birthday.  He always did his best to get her what she wanted.  A female police dispatcher’s voice barks from the scanner.  Somewhere downtown a tall black male is being chased by the police.  Her stomach knots and the breath catches in her thin chest.  All her sons are tall black males.  She breaths again as she remembers that her sons are at work or with their girlfriends.

Wind blows and the old house creaks.  A draft kisses her bare ankles.  “A small wood frame house” was how the reporter from the local paper described the house in his article about her daughter, on her way to college, the first one.  Her stomach clenches again at the thought of her daughter so many miles away, unreachable if she gets into trouble.

She sighs and puffs more deeply on the cigarette.  The house creaks again, and she smiles.  A junk heap, yes it was.  Their junk heap for 45 years.  Raised four children in it.  Would’ve been five if times had been better.  Two girls instead of the one.

More creaking.  She thinks of grabbing the iron poker by her chair in the living room.  The poker went with the coal stove they had in the 1950’s.  Back then, it was only used to nudge glowing coals.  Now … the neighborhood’s getting bad.  But, as she always told her children, a person might get in, but he sure wouldn’t leave in the same condition.  Hands clench at that thought, hands that have wrung chicken necks on the farm, picked tobacco, cradled babies and caressed the skin of just one man.

She glances at the phone and then the digital clock on the bureau.  Twelve hours until the hospital allows phone calls.  Then she can hear his voice.  Patient, calming, distracted if the TV is on.  She rises briefly from the bed, unaware of the hollow that she’s worn into the mattress over the years.  She turns down the light to a warm glow and then puts out the cigarette.  Sliding into bed, she draws the covers up to her chin and closes her eyes to wait for morning.

###

 

blue has found a home

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I keep having an interesting conversation with a fellow in my life. He’s about the destination and I’m all about the journey. I race to destinations but when I journey I never know what I’ll discover like chancing upon this beautiful fungus with its lovely blue hue on a tree in the Middlesex Fells Reservation.  Because I am such a creative namer when it comes to labeling prints, I simply called the image “Blue.” A framed print has been selected by Metro Housing Boston, a nonprofit providing innovative and personalized services that lead families and individuals to housing stability, economic security, and an improved quality of life. This donation was made possible by The Art Connection, a wonderful institution connecting artists with nonprofits, and providing access to original works of visual art to underserved communities.

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I’ve been proud to donate works through this organization for several years. You can learn more about Metro Housing Boston and The Art Connection via the links below.

The Art Connection

Metro Housing Boston

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Use code CYBER30 for 30% off everything in my Redbubble shop. You know that I love the acrylic blocks which feature anything that catches my eye from nature to stained glass but there are also journals, stationery and much more. Fantastic quality all around. Take a peek! The clock is ticking. 🙂

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And if you’re looking for unique pieces to add to your wardrobe, check out the clothing.

RBCyberMonday5Screenshot of Serenity photograph digitally printed on a contrast tank. XS-2XL available.

my Redbubble shop

 

return to a woburn field

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And now that I am decidedly back in the U.S. for a bit, I am able to return to familiar haunts, like this Woburn field that I’ve been photographing over the years.

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at last, there is time

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The exterior of the National Technical Museum is austere but the interior is magical. The exhibits are well curated to appeal to the child of any age and background. There were at least 11 major exhibits, and my favorites were Astronomy and the Measurement of Time. Prague was home to astronomers Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) and Johannes Kepler (1571-1630). The Astronomy exhibit, and the Measurement of Time, with great reverence and artistry, highlight the Czech contribution in these fields. Easy to visit via public transportation. A lovely kid and adult friendly cafe in the basement.

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http://www.ntm.cz/en

patches of beauty

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Lunch breaks are for networking at conferences … and, depending upon the weather, a great time to wander away from the crowds and explore a place. You never know what you will discover, like this little autumn garden on the side of a hill still abloom.

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