Monday, June 29, 2009

New Illustration: The St. Bernard Triptych, Part I

I recently completed a large commission for an original piece of art for a client in New York City, a series of three interrelated illustrations of scenes from the life of St. Bernard. I hope to share each of the three panels with our readers over the next few days, concluding with the three placed together in context.

Matthew Alderman. S. Bernard Healed by the Virgin.
Ink. June 2009. Private Collection, New York City.

This image is derived from an event described in St. Bernard of Clairvaux: Oracle of the Twelfth Century by the Abbé Maria Theodor Ratisbonne, a convert and the brother of the more famous fellow-convert Alphonse Ratisbonne:

One day, however, his [St. Bernard's] sufferings became so excessive that, no longer able to bear up against them, he called two of his brethren and begged them to go to the church and ask some relief of God. The brethren, touched with compassion, prostrated themselves before the altar, and prayed with great abundance of tears. During this time, Bernard had a vision which ravished him with delight. The Virgin Mary, accompanied by St. Lawrence and St. Benedict, under whose invocation he had consecrated the two side altars of his church, appeared to the sick man. "The serenity of their faces," says William of St. Thierry, "seemed the expression of the perfect peace which surrounds them in Heaven." They manifested themselves so distinctly to the servant of God that he recognized them as soon as they entered his cell. The Virgin Mary, as well as the two saints, touched with their sacred hands the parts of Bernard's body where the pain was most acute; and, by this holy touch, he was immediately delivered from his malady; and the saliva which till then had been flowing from his mouth in a continuous stream ceased at the same time.
I used this commission, in part, to experiment with some stylistic elements derived from the work of the Irish stained glass designer Harry Clarke, whose work has appeared here in the past. The edging of sea-shells along the Virgin's cloak is partially inspired by Clarke's work, and also refers specifically to St. Bernard's devotion to the Virgin as Star of the Sea; the saint is thought to be the first to have invoked the Virgin under this title. The star motif on the Virgin's morse also recalls this. St. Bernard and St. Lawrence are visible in the background, with the ill saint curled up at the bottom of the panel.

Tomorrow, I will post an image of the central panel, showing the saint surrounded by his attributes.

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