Painting the Word: Christian Pictures and Their Meanings (National Gallery of London)
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ISBN/ASIN : 0300092946
Manufacturer : Yale University Press|
Release data : 01 February, 2002
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Glorious images, beautiful ideas
This book is without doubt one of the more beautifully prepared and printed books in my collection. Done by the Yale University Press in association with the National Gallery of London, virtually every page is a treasure. There are nearly two hundred full-colour-process reproductions of artworks throughout the text, and every page (not just the colour plates) are heavy bond, high-gloss stock that shows the ink and colour with vibrancy and depth.
John Drury spent a career at both Cambridge and Oxford dealing in matters of theology, ecclesiology, liturgy, and art. I discovered Drury's book while attending a course at my own seminary on the church and the arts, and kept finding myself frustrated at the rapid pace we would go through topics (a frustration I know the professor teaching the course shared - how does one do justice to 2000 years of music, architecture, and art in a mere 15 sessions?). I sought out supplemental materials to help fill out the outline, and Drury's text serves the purpose in many ways.
Drury states his purpose early in the text. `This is a book about how Christian paintings convey their messages. It takes on whole paintings. It is not content with just picking symbols out of them for identification. Composition, colour, contents (including architecture and landscape as well as figures) and the ways in which the paint itself is handled - all are treated as part and parcel of their religious meanings.' This is a holy and holistic approach.
Drury adopts a kind of picture-describing approach (one that he terms `historically iconographical'). This involves absorbing details while understanding context and material. This is the same kind of attention that worship requires (and indeed, the Eastern church has always had this kind of physical artistic interplay with the tradition of use of icons for prayer, meditation and worship purposes) - it requires an openness to experience and feeling while also benefitting from understanding and guidance.
Major artists and works studied in detail in this text include the work of Tiepolo (c. 1750s), the Wilton Diptych (anonymous, c. 1390s), Titian (c. 1510-40s), Duccio (c. 1310s), Filippo Lippi (c. 1450s), Poussin (c. 1630-50s), Rembrandt (c. 1640s), Piero della Francesca (c. 1450-70s), Caravaggio (c. 1600s), Rubens (c. 1630s), Velazquez (c. 1610s), Cezanne (c. 1900s), and others. Most presentations begin by showing the whole work, then proceeding to look at individual characteristics or highlights often pulled aside in side images or isolated for greater emphasis. The text and artwork is arranged in good pattern throughout the text.
Throughout his text, Drury makes a repeated call for care, meditation and attention to be given to the artwork as well as the response to the artwork. He makes that statement that we should stay in front of the images `longer than people usually do' - noticing in museums, art shops, churches and other places that people tend to shuffle past rather than give attention to the most stunning and sublime works of art. Drury draws in history, theology, philosophy, literature, biblical references and images, and other cultural and contextual references to make the experience of these works a full and profound one. This is not a book to be read quickly or glanced over lightly.
Drury includes a narrative annotated bibliography rather than a simple list; he provides both a general bibliography for the entire text as well as a selected bibliography for each chapter/topic.
This is a wonderful book, a great gift for oneself or for others. It is particularly good for those who want a deeper experience and understanding of the way in which art has and can interact and enhance one's relationship with Christianity and its message.