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Posts Tagged ‘religious art’

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

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Crucifix

I had wandered away from the conference during an official break and found myself in, what I realized later, was the village square of Dolni Brezany. One of the square’s most startling features is a large stone sculpture of Jesus on the cross. This Calvary sculpture dates to the 18th century and is a replica with the original apparently relocated to the National Museum.

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Like his big brother Phillips Brooks in Boston, the Reverend Frederick Brooks was making a name for himself inside and outside of the pulpit doing good works in Cleveland, Ohio.  In 1874 he returned to the Boston area to find a teacher for a school that he had founded. In the course of his travels, on a stormy night on September 15, he left a disabled train in East Cambridge and decided to walk along the bridge. As his father recounted, “The night being dark, he fell through the draw and was drowned. He was thirty-two years of age. The body was not found until the 20th in the Charles River. Funeral services were held September 24 …” In Cleveland, Frederick Brooks had served as rector of St. Paul’s, a prominent church.  And that may be why Trinity Church vestryman Charles J. Morrill. if he had a hand in the selection of theme, chose to honor the memory of Frederick Brooks by funding a memorial window depicting Three Scenes in St. Paul’s Life. The window is located on the northern wall of the nave, designed by Henry Holiday of London, 1878.

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The story begins with a young Saul sitting with his teacher Gamaliel.

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The center picture represents Saul’s conversion to Christianity.

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The final image is of Saul, now Saint Paul, preaching to the people of Athens. As a whole the window is almost overwhelming … which makes sense given that it tries to capture one of the most complicated life stories in “just” three scenes. What is it I always say? See for yourself when you have the opportunity.

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https://trinitychurchboston.org/visit/tours

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It wasn’t quite one of my “the door was open and I peeked in” adventures. It was more, it was a Sunday, the church doors were open and we were welcomed in and allowed to take pictures before the service began. Very inviting airy place with bright sun shining through colorful windows.

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http://firstchurchberkeley.org/

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Last year I had the pleasure of seeing firsthand the interior of Temple Sinai, home to a reform Jewish congregation in Sumter, South Carolina. Construction was completed in 1913 with the installation of a unique series of stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Tanakh. Along the walls, in beautiful drapery glass, you will find the stories of David, Moses, Elijah and more. At the time, the future of the temple was unclear. The congregation had dwindled over time.

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But one year later I am happy to share that through the hard work of members of the congregation, and of others, the temple will be preserved as an active place of worship. In addition, in partnership with the Sumter County Museum, a permanent exhibit is being developed onsite to share the Jewish history of Sumter and South Carolina. The past is being preserved even as a new path is being charted for a congregation that may indeed grow. All are welcome! Learn more about the temple, its activities and plans for the exhibit in this FAQ page by Elizabeth Moses, Museum Outreach and Education Coordinator.

http://www.sumtercountymuseum.org/templesinai/

You can support the development of the museum exhibit by donation in two ways:

  • Make checks payable to the Sumter County Museum, 122 N. Washington St., P.O. Box 1456, Sumter, SC, 29151, making note that the donation is for the temple museum exhibit, or give online at: www.sumtercountymuseum.org.
  • Make checks payable directly to Temple Sinai, P.O. Box 1763, Sumter, SC, 29151, making note that the donation is for the temple museum exhibit.

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When walking toward St. Paul Church, the exterior conveys a sense of simplicity as well as sturdiness, which makes sense given that the building’s design is romanesque in style. Its red brick facade blends into the surrounding historic landscape of Cambridge, MA. As it is an active Catholic church, I knew I had a short window of time to take photos before the midday mass. I felt like I had prepared myself to be focused in my photography by reading the in-depth online building tour found on the church website. Still, reading the words can never really prepare one for the actual firsthand experience of stepping into a sacred space.

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As noted on the website, “An oblong hall is divided by matching rows of columns, surmounted by a barrel-vaulted ceiling and rounded arches. Since the weight is supported by the walls, the windows are small. St. Paul’s, designed by architect Edward Graham, is modeled after the Church of San Zeno Maggiore in Verona, Italy.

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I was ready to deal with “small windows.” I was caught off guard by the beauty of the encompassing friezes and statues.

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Eventually my attention did return to the windows, of course. There are three stained glass windows near the choir stalls including John the Baptist, St. Elizabeth (his mother) and St. John the Evangelist.

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John the Baptist

 

The windows are narrow but their content looms large like these windows tucked in an alcove.

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There are 10 windows in the lower part of the nave patterned after Renaissance images of the saints …

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St. Jerome

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… and windows up high. Way up high.

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These upper story windows were hardest to see but they glowed in the late morning light.

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The church is an unexpected riot of color softened by the surrounding wood and marble. I’ve passed by the church for many years without ever stepping inside. I’m grateful to the staff for allowing me entry to photograph this very special place. You can read more about the interior of this historic building and find links for more information about its parish activities here: http://stpaulparish.org/building-tour/ 

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Coming soon I will share words and images from my brief journey inside St. Paul Church in Cambridge, MA. These are photos of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist.

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