Friday, February 29, 2008

Debating the merits of the new Italian Lectionary

~from Chiesa, Timothy Verdun and Pietro DeMarco discuss the pros and cons of the new drawings for the Italian Lectionary. Here's a sample:

From Fr. Verdun:
The hostile reactions seen almost everywhere to the art of the new Lectionary concern, in fact, these choices, this overall approach to the visual appearance of the volumes.

That is to say, they reflect a discomfort that is not in the first place aesthetic, but conceptual, a difficulty with the idea of a word that requires a docile form of listening, open to "metanoia," to the conversion of the mind. Despite understanding that the readings proclaimed in the liturgy call us to an interior reconfiguration that is open to the overturning of our certainties, we demand that the art that accompanies this journey present an invariable form: instead of the risk of a laborious search, we want the illusory but comfortable safety of what has already been approved, forgetting that even Giotto and Michelangelo represented, at their time, moments of rupture with the past...

...This type of allusive iconography is offered as an analogy of the process of interiorizing the Scriptures themselves, the meaning of which emerges from the patient piecing together of irresistibly fascinating partial fragments. In any case, abstraction cannot frighten the Christian if Christ himself, the Word made man, although in the concreteness of his body taken from Mary, did not hesitate to present himself in terms far from any possibility of figurative representation, like way, truth, life, and the light of men.

Above all in the liturgical context, where art accompanies rites that press beyond the external appearance of things, contemporary languages, including abstraction, are suited to the vital mystery that we celebrate. This, I believe, is the meaning of the iconographic program of the Lectionary.
From Professor DeMarco
An outworn twentieth-century view is out of place in a liturgy in which the highly real realities of the Incarnation and Sacrifice are celebrated. It seems that the empty image by Vago (in the volume for year B) has raised perplexity among the patrons. In effect, it can be defended in itself, but not as an illustration to accompany any sort of liturgical text. It would have been more pertinent, if at all, for Easter, as the light of the empty tomb, than for Christmas, which is not only light but a real Body, the human determination of the Son.

The weakly iconic solutions, made up of general and allusive outlines and vague crucifixes – as in Amodei, Marchese, Paladino, Raciti, Ceccobelli, and others – are the most numerous in the Lectionary. They represent the modern style most widespread in the art of our churches, a moderate and academic form of modernism.

But although it is easy to multiply such results, their significance for piety, spirituality, and worship remains extremely limited. It is limited because of their excessively predictable and affected simplification of the narrative or symbolic event to which they refer. The effect of a solely decorative ornamentation is impressive. A valuable paradox comes to mind: while the conventional, "nineteenth century" iconography of our churches – with their alcoves for Our Lady of Lourdes, the altars of the Virgin Mary and the saints, the images of the Sacred Heart, etc. – can be and is a valid point of reference for prayer and devotion, this stylized and abbreviated modern production can never be. Addressing oneself to Mary or to a saint requires a complete and plausible image....

...A step backward should be taken in the relationship between the Church and artists. Both non-figurative artists and those capable of attempting figurative representations of Christian subject matter should again be guided, as in the past, by a patron who is a theologian and a biblicist.

As Edgar Wind explains in "Art and Anarchy," for the artist it is an act of artistic discipline and a religious value to conform to the "sensus fidei" and to the theological-liturgical disciplinary framework.

But the theologian, in turn, must not cultivate a latecomer's fascination with the "Negative." This would mean subjecting himself to a hackneyed form of "modernism," almost as if the artist, in his anarchic and unruly activity, were the bearer of a particular revelation. By giving in to this modernity, as I fear happens often, it would be the theologian first of all who would reactivate this taste for the figurative poverty of the sacred to which we have all somewhat fallen prey.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's sacriligious to portray Jesus as a gingerbread cookie. Thoroughly repulsive cover on that Italian lectionary.