The Annunciation with Saint Emidius – Carlo Crivelli

The Annunciation with Saint Emidius – Carlo Crivelli

I was in London for a client meeting recently and Charlotte surprised me with a visit after I was finished. It goes without saying that the depths of my delight as this surprise are quite indescribable. One of our activities was to visit the National Gallery. One of the first pieces of transcendent religious art which we saw was The Annunciation by Carlo Crivelli. This masterpiece was completed in 1486 and is an example of the late Gothic Italian style.

Born in Venice, he absorbed the influences of the Vivarini, the Bellini, and Andrea Mantegna to create an elegant, profuse, effusive, and extreme style, dominated by strong outlines and clear, crisp colors—perhaps incorporating just a whiff of early Netherlandish manuscript style. Smart History

The Annunciation is a very important moment in the Gospel and indeed is foundational to the Christian faith. It is the moment the angel Gabriel came down from heaven and announced to the Virgin Mary that she was going to be the mother of Jesus. It is also the moment Gabriel announces that Mary’s cousin, who is a lot older, will also conceive a child (John the Baptist). I have included the full reading and the full painting below:

Luke 1:26-38

26 The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,

27 to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.

28 And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”

29 But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.

31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.

32 He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,

33 and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”

34 But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”

35 And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

36 And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;

37 for nothing will be impossible for God.”

38 Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

The below is the upper part of the painting which was the first to transfix me. The way the Holy Spirit comes down from heaven through a swirling vortex and passes through a small golden arched aperture was very moving to me. The strands of light surrounding it look like the strands surrounding the vortex look like the decorations around the host in a monstrance. The gold detailing around the fascia are absolutely incredible to me. Again this is a painting from 1486. The way Crivelli brought out the detailing in this painting astonishes me. Every square centimetre has been considered and rendered with such mastery that I am lost for words. Look at the draped carpet in the top right corner and the colours on it.

Below is the lower part of the painting. I love how the frame of the painting matches the render on the room. On the bottom left we have the angel Gabriel and St Emidius with the Italian town of Ascoli Piceno, of which he is patron Saint. It also shows the beam of the Holy Spirit entering the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit represented as a bird. The detailing in this is exquisite, the folded fabric of Gabriel, St Emidius and Mary’s clothing, the grille and plant on the window sill, the gold and red thread of Mary’s bedding, the items on the shelving and the book holder where Mary is reading scripture paint a beautiful picture. Libertas Ecclesiatica is written under this scene:

The inscription along the base of the painting reads “Libertas Ecclesiastica” (church liberty), and refers to Ascoli’s right to self-government, free from the interference of the Pope, a right granted to the town by Sixtus IV in 1482. The news reached Ascoli on 25 March, the Feast of the Annunciation, which is probably the message the official in black is reading. Smart History

Emidius is the patron saint of the town of Ascoli Piceno, and Crivelli painted this altarpiece for the city’s church of the Santissima Annunciazione (the Holy Annunciation). A proud citizen, Emidius seems to have hurried to catch up to Gabriel to proudly show off his detailed model of the town, which he holds rather gingerly, as though the paint hasn’t quite dried. Ibidem

It is unusual to see Gabriel and Mary separate but the message is just as striking: the beautiful joyful mystery of the annunciation. Mary has been chosen to carry the saviour of the world and will forever be called blessed. This painting is an absolute joy and likely was part of the inspiration of the Pre-Raphaelite works which Charlotte and I so love.

48 From now on, all generations will call me blessed.

A Hidden Life – Blessed Franz Jägerstätter’s Story

A Hidden Life – Blessed Franz Jägerstätter’s Story

During the July heatwave, I yielded to the badgering recommendation of a good friend and invited Cedric and Nick to join me in watching A Hidden Life. Sitting in the stifling heat in stunned silence after the film, we all agreed that it was a devastatingly beautiful work of art that would stay with us for the rest of our lives.

A Hidden Life takes its title from George Eliot’s Middlemarch: …for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. Eliot in turn derived the phrase from St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians: Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:2). Both Eliot and St Paul are saying that being a disciple of Christ is not merely about “being nice”; it ushers in a new life and transforms us, calling us to live not for fame or recognition, but for God. Encountering Christ and living in his light means that while we have a duty to share that light with others, we also live a ‘hidden life’ with him that is often contrary to the life that the world tells us we ought to live.

Without resorting to dialogue, Diehl conveys untapped reservoirs of doubt and torment over what his principles mean for his family. When, in the second half, Malick leans into the Christ parallels in the story, Diehl always keeps Franz human and grounded. Empire

The film follows the extraordinary choice made by Blessed Franz Jägerstätter as a result of this ‘hidden life’ with Christ. Franz was an Austrian farmer who worked the land in the small village of St Radegund to support his wife Franziska (or Fani) and their three daughters. When war broke out, Franz refused to swear allegiance to Hitler or fight for him, and as a result was arrested, imprisoned, and eventually executed. His family faced hardship without him, both because they had lost a husband and a father and because the villagers saw Franz as a traitor and refused to help his family. Scenes are cut between Franz’ imprisonment and Fani’s constant struggle on the farm, narrated by their letters to each other. Their love for God and each other is the burning link between Franz’ bleak, solitary cell and the sublimity of the mountainside farm in St Radegund. A question asked repeatedly throughout the film is, ‘what is the point of Franz’ refusal to fight?’ Brought up before various officials, Franz is repeatedly asked what he thinks he will achieve by objecting to the Nazi regime.

Every shot of the film is made of magic

Fani’s sister, who lives with them, asks how he can desert his duty to his family, who are left helpless without him, for the sake of his principles. One memorable exchange occurs near the end of the film, when Franz is talking to a judge who, like Pontius Pilate, seems to have the inkling that the man in his charge is in fact just and should be set free. The judge asks, ‘do you judge me?’, a question Christians are often asked. Franz replies that he does not, and explains humbly, ‘I don’t know everything. A man may do wrong, and he can’t get out of it to make his life clear. Maybe he’d like to go back, but he can’t. But I have this feeling inside me, that I can’t do what I believe is wrong. The judge asks, ‘Do you have a right to do this?’, to which Franz replies, ‘Do I have a right not to?’ The “results” in an earthly sense of Franz’ refusal to co-operate with evil are beside the point.

“Do you judge me?”

The right thing is the right thing; it is not necessarily helpful to think of what we will “achieve” by following our consciences, but simply to follow them. This radical choice is presented to us not always on the scale of the decision that Franz faces, but in the everyday fight within ourselves. As Eliot writes, faithfulness in things that seem, and often are, insignificant in a worldly sense, really does count for the flourishing of goodness in the world. Naturally, we were all in awe of this film, which was beautiful in every way possible. Every scene merited a closer look and immersed us in the Jägerstätter’s inner scenery.

But this is the filmmaker on sublime form, putting his artistry and obsessions at the service of something frighteningly relevant. Empire

The questions posed by this story are not comfortable ones, but they are necessary. Cedric and I were particularly moved by the love of husband and wife for each other, and their knowledge that their love for each other is a reflection of and a means to love God. Real love often looks more like crucifixion than a walk in a meadow, and A Hidden Life offers a stark reminder of the call to love, even unto death.

 

Bliss Release – Cloud Control – AOTM July 2022

Bliss Release – Cloud Control – AOTM July 2022

A question has been intriguing me rather: what are the factors for choosing AOTM? Is it the album I have listened to the most all month (which would be Confident Music for Confident People by Confidence Man)? Or is it the best album I have heard all month (Probably Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds, the more modern recording)? In the end, I have chosen Bliss Release by Cloud Control as it is the most suitable to describe my July. I wanted to play this at a dinner during the hottest day of the year but was constrained to listening to Andrew (Andrwho?) Bird. This would have been my choice and is one of my favourite summer albums. It was introduced to me by my father, whose taste in music is a strong redeeming quality for other nefarious aspects of his character with which one has to put up. I am sure he feels the same about me.

There’s an appealing open-heartedness about the debut from Australian psychedelic poppers Cloud Control, a sense of wide-eyed, slightly fried wonder. You might even pin down their entire worldview to a single line in the song Ghost Story: “I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.” Singer Alister Wright sounds so amazed by everything that one suspects he could conjure awe out of a parking permit renewal reminder. Guardian

There’s Nothing In the Water is very much in keeping with the Cloud Control theme, it is a cool, well produced slick piece of Australian psychedelic pop.

Gold Canary is the standout track on the album. The riffs, drum line and catchy lyrics add up for a real toe-tapping winner of a track. In a way it is about freedom and being released from one’s cage.

 

Just For Now is another perfect summer tune, which allows us to cruise along a mountain highway, or sip tea through a sunny Saturday morning without a care in the world.

This Is What I Said recalls Paul Simon’s Graceland with its African-inflected guitar line and Wright’s conversational but oddly stilted lyric: “She said, ‘Can you feel the tangible chill in the air?'” One half expects the next line to reveal the speaker is nine years old and the child of his first marriage. Guardian

This album has, in various comment sections of the sources I consult for making these posts, been described as ‘criminally underrated’. I am minded to agree. This is close to a perfect album and is certainly a very high quality summer album with ‘good vibes’ as the youth of today would say.

 

London Bridge on the Night of the Marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales – Holman Hunt

London Bridge on the Night of the Marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales – Holman Hunt

By the kindness of my good friend Colin, Charlotte and I managed to go to Oxford ostensibly to see Grace Jones at the Kite Festival. We did not want to spend the day in a field for the one artist we wanted to see, so we spent most of the day in Oxford. Among our wonderful and unforgettable dalliances, we visited the Ashmolian. Heading straight for the art after having seen a beautiful sculpture of Antinous and Hadrian (Memoirs of Hadrian was by Marguerite Yourcenar was one of the first books we shared), we happened upon a Pre-Raphaelite room. My interest in them was non-existent prior to meeting Charlotte but, as with many now sacrosanct parts of my life, they have brought me tremendous joy. The below represents the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Some historical context below:

Holman Hunt was among the crowd on London Bridge on the night of 10 March 1863, celebrating the marriage of Princess Alexandra of Denmark to the future Edward VII. He made sketches of it, but did not complete this painting until 16 May 1864, retouching it in 1866. He was fascinated by the contrasts of natural and artificial light and by the ‘Hogarthian humour’ of the crowds. He introduced portraits of several friends and acquaintances, including Thomas Combe in a top hat on the extreme left, arm in arm with the artist himself; and Mrs Combe with Millais’s father and brother and the artist Robert Braithwaite Martineau. The frame was designed by Hunt to combine emblems appropriate to a wedding and the arms of the royal families of Denmark and England. Art UK

Hunt, William Holman; London Bridge on the Night of the Marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales; The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

This painting transfixed me in Oxford. I stood in front of it for many minutes in awe. The colours and lighting is so vivid. The smoke, fire, clothing and even the cloth on the flags all add up to a splendid procession of movement and celebration. Charlotte is right to label this as a man’s painting. It has a brooding, dark and smokey atmosphere. In fact on second review, it appears almost haunting.

I am glad to have brought this painting to your attention. This is yet another of the innumerable examples of wondrous beautiful things which Charlotte and I enjoy together. Thank you, my dearest, as ever for having introduced me to Holman Hunt.

Topokki – Excellent Peaceful Korean, Chinese Quarter, Birmingham

Topokki – Excellent Peaceful Korean, Chinese Quarter, Birmingham

I should put out there that my darling Charlotte has the most excellent taste in restaurants, among other things, and this suggestion of hers was no exception. In a city suffused with bars serving food and tinnitus, actual restaurants are a rarity. This is one such place. Spacious, not too loud, with no silly music pounding in your ears, Topokki was a winner for me.

Beef Noodles

In keeping with her excellent taste, Charlotte ordered the star dish of the evening, the beef noodles. The beef was enhanced with soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, pepper among other secret ingredients. The sum of this chewy beef with the fondant noodles and crunchy bean sprouts was hearty and scrumptious. I will most assuredly be ordering these on our next visit.

Bulgogi Ramen

My dish was good but did not reach the snow capped summit heights of Charlotte’s. This also contained beef, but in the bulgogi style, which is a gui (grilled dish) made of thin, marinated slices of meat, most commonly beef, grilled on a barbecue or on a stove-top griddle. Sirloin, rib-eye and brisket are used for this dish. I loved this in the ramen. There were pieces of tofu floating around along with what the restaurant describes as fried egg. Regrettably I am not as good a food critic as I appear so I was unable to catalogue the swirling member of my stew, below. Overall, however, this was a potent and completely flavourful dish which quite floored me.

Our drinks consisted of crushed pear juice (very specific 238ml) and Korean citron tea. The latter was exactly the kind of drink I love. I have been a bit lemon obsessed over the last few months. This drink is the most delicious, hearty, warm, citrusy sweet drink. It is the sort of beverage which warms the soul.

Overall I must say this is one of the better economic restaurants I have visited in Birmingham. I am amazed at the consistency in Charlotte’s choices and look forward to her next pick.

 

Paolo and Francesca – The Wallace Collection, London

Paolo and Francesca – The Wallace Collection, London

On the first weekend in May, Cedric, Nick and I visited The Wallace Collection to round off a
happy weekend in London. Like many museums in London, The Wallace Collection is free and
very much worth a visit. Once again, I had the delight of finally seeing in person many paintings
I had admired for years, although I was sad that Fragonard’s playful rococo masterpiece Les
hasards heureux de l’escarpolette, commonly known in English as The Swing, was in a separate
exhibition at the time of our visit. The sumptuous collection of paintings, sculptures, exquisite
porcelain and much more is set in the former townhouse of the Seymour family, and the rooms
are just as much art as the works held within them.

Les hasards heureux de l’escarpolette, Jean-Honoré Fragonard

One of the paintings that stood out to me on our visit to The Wallace Collection was an
enormous and striking depiction of Paolo and Francesca observed by Dante and Virgil, taken
from Dante’s Inferno. The painter, Ary Scheffer, painted several versions of the picture with
various titles, and the one held in The Wallace Collection is simply called Francesca da Rimini.

I had wanted to see this painting for years, having grown fond of Dante during my two years of
Italian at university. It depicts Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, the lovers who end up
in the second circle of Hell as Dante imagines it in his Inferno. This second out of nine circles is
reserved for the lustful. Francesca, both in real life and in Dante’s Inferno, was married to
Giovanni Malatesta but had an illicit relationship with his younger brother, Paolo. Giovanni was
filled with rage on discovering them in flagrante delicto and murdered them both. Without the
opportunity to go to confession before dying, they are cut off from God for eternity.

Paolo and Francesca – Ary Scheffer

Dante’s couple has inspired many other works of art, and artists have chosen different moments
in Paolo and Francesca’s affair. Many paintings show their first wild abandon to passion while
reading the story of Lancelot and Guinevere:

‘We were reading one day for fun
How Lancelot was seized by love:
we were alone, but didn’t suspect.
Several times the book made us pale,
making us look in each other’s eyes,
But only once it became too much.
When we read of that adorable smile
And how the great lover kisses it,
This man, who’ll always be by me,
He kissed my mouth all quivering.
Both book and author were panders:
we didn’t read any more that day.’ (Inferno, V.III, ll. 127-138)

Scheffer, instead, has chosen the moment that Virgil shows Dante what has become of Paolo and
Francesca. Dante and his poet guide can be seen on the right of Scheffer’s painting, lingering in
the shadowy background. The chiaroscuro in the painting is ironic, given the moral overtones of
the poem and painting; Paolo and Francesca are milky white in contrast to the darkness of the
background. Francesca’s mouth is slack with sorrow, Paolo swoons as Francesca clings to him,
and they both bear stab wounds. Tangled in bedsheets, they are buffeted about by the wind, just
as they allowed themselves to be swept up by lust during their earthly lives; Dante describes
them as ‘like doves summoned by desire, [who] sweep across the sky on impulse, gliding
towards their happy nest’ (ll. 82-84).

I do not think the morality behind this painting’s story is the reason for my liking it and, indeed,
suggesting it. Its sensuality is infused with a delicate pathos, and its scale is impressive, too, like
the painting of Isabella and the Pot of Basil I discussed in a previous post. Scheffer’s painting
reminded me of my love of Dante, whose writing I have neglected for several years now. I highly
recommend London’s Wallace Collection, one of many (free!) gems in our great sprawling
capital, as I also recommend Dante’s Divine Comedy. Don’t be intimidated by its status as a
towering epic; Professor Steve Ellis’ translation (used in this post).