Cleansing Fire

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A Beautiful Marian Image

October 11th, 2010, Promulgated by Bernie

"The All Holy Virgin," Sacrament Chapel, St. John of Rochester, Fairport

Here is what I think is a beautiful liturgical image of the Blessed Virgin. It is located in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at St. John of Rochester Church in Fairport.

What makes it beautiful in my eyes -and most appropriate for use as a liturgical image- is the very careful abstract and stylizing interpretation employed by the artist. (I regret that I did not get the name of the artist.) The artist’s rendering has resulted in an image suggestive of a peaceful and serene being. In liturgical art terms that means to me that it expresses a redeemed and therefore transfigured person; it represents a Christian image and a Christian concept. The figure exudes a harmonious feeling -within itself and in relation to the world.

You will recall that in some previous posts and comments I suggested that art in the service of the liturgy should be required to express our longing for future glory, and eternal joy and peace with God. Such images are encouraging to the faithful. Images that are too realistic leave us stuck in this world and images that are too abstract or distorted seem to me to be anti-incarnation and dehumanizing.

The artist in this image has created a very pleasing harmonious feeling by repeating elongated forms, flat planes, and angular changes in linear directions. That is one way artists attain harmony in their work -they will repeat several times one or more visual elements in a design. They will compose the image so that they can repeat the chosen element. If an image, then, strikes you as peaceful, calm or harmonious look for repeated elements. It is not the only way to create those feelings but it is one of the more basic.

Too much harmony/repetition, however, can be boring. But eternal happiness with God in heaven cannot be boring. In this world, things that are interesting have a certain tension caused by the mixing together of contrasting elements. Such things and environments are lively; they keep our interest. Too much tension, of course is a bad thing and can result in open conflict or make us physically sick. For artists, success comes with striking a balance.

(Left) elongated forms (center left) angular directional changes (center right) flat planes (right) plaster sculpture

The very same elements in this sculpture that create harmony also create interest by their opposing juxtaposition. The elongation of forms is generally suggestive of gracefulness and even elegance and, of course, also calmness, harmony, peace. But flat planes and lines at sharp angles to each other usually convey the opposite feeling. But the careful use of these opposites in this sculpture provides just the right amount of tension to maintain interest.  Color is also manipulated in this sculpture to achieve a harmonious and yet lively feeling. The colors blue and yellow (tan) are both sitting at approximately the same tonal (or pastel) level creating a harmony through similarity or repetition. Blue, however, is opposite yellow in ‘temperature’ being a cool color while yellow is a warm color –contrast.

Unfortunately, many of our churches -often of a conservative or orthodox bent- are decorated with plaster statues that do not utilize the elements and principles of design in such a way as to represent a transfigured reality. They remain lifeless, reflecting a trite literalism.

The St. John of Rochester Marian image is exactly as it should be as a liturgical work of art.

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7 Responses to “A Beautiful Marian Image”

  1. avatar Ink says:

    I really like this image! It is simplified but still beautiful… beautiful in its simplicity. While the colour scheme is a little more muted than that which I usually choose, I do like this one very much. It keeps with Mary’s traditional colour of blue but does not make it obnoxious and overwhelming.

  2. Agreed. She looks pensive, transcendent, and yet humanly beautiful. Thanks, Bernie.

  3. avatar Pater Ignotus says:

    Couldn’t disagree with you more! The old statues were much more beautiful and made one want to gaze upon them more and made one think more of heaven than these Italian carvings (and I can criticize because I’m Italian). The old statues had color, beauty and a depth that these new statues just do not seem to have. However, if that statue leads you to pray and to love Our Lady more, then that’s a good thing, but I think you need to have a “culture check” at the tabernacle where the grace of Christ can help you, and I’m serious about that.

  4. avatar Dr. K says:

    I guess where we’re at is that it’s better than much of what’s out there in the modern Church, but not as good as it could be.

  5. avatar Bernie says:

    Pater Ignotus; Well, thank you for that suggestion!

  6. avatar Bernie says:

    Pater Ignotus: Try to keep in mind that I draw a distinction between liturgical art (art in the service of the liturgy) and devotional art (art to aid private devotion). I admire the St. John of Rochester sculpture as a liturgical work. I believe certain standards should apply to liturgical art that private devotional art need not be held to, not the least of which is that liturgical works should be “‘one of a kind’ originals.

  7. avatar Devan says:

    We have this same statue in my parish in massachusetts, She is simply beautiful I didnt think there was another statue out there just like her.


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