Friday, April 23, 2010

The Icons of Sr Petra Clare

When Pope Benedict XVI spoke recently to assembled artists (in the broadest sense of the term) in Rome, he was echoing John Paul II and Paul VI in calling for a new culture of beauty. Benedict emphasised particularly strongly, perhaps even more strongly than his predecessors, the importance of the evangelization of the whole culture and how beauty is a principle that can inform even the most mundane human activity as well as worship. When we work (or play) beautifully, we work gracefully ie with God’s grace, and we place ourselves on the ‘via pulchritudinis’ - the Way of Beauty - which leads us ultimately to God and attracts others to Him. It is also the path that enables our word to be the most creative and productive possible. I have described, in my blog devoted to discussion of this broader aspect of the evangelisation of the culture here how, for example, knowledge of the patterns of the natural order upon which the liturgy is based might enhance creativity in scientific research.

If this broader evangelization of the culture is to happen, it must begin with orthodox, dignified and beautiful liturgy. I am expecting that most visitors to this site will agree with that. It must, in my opinion be closely followed by the art, architecture and music that is united to it. This will set the form that becomes the model upon which all aspects of the culture are based.

At the moment, the re-establishment of iconography is slightly further ahead than that of naturalistic Western art (as a sacred art form) and our Eastern brethren are setting the pace in this respect. Like Western art, iconography (even in the East), had degenerated under the influence of the Enlightenment. Its resurgence began first in the Eastern Church in the mid 20th century, with figures such as the Greek artist Photius Kontoglou and the Russian émigré based in France, Gregory Kroug. Under their influence, the next generations of iconographers have come through. The Western Church has lagged behind slightly in this respect, perhaps 50 years (maybe hampered by the difficulties in its liturgy). However, just as we see light at the end of the liturgical tunnel, as this website testifies daily, we do now see Catholic iconographers are beginning to emerge. One is Sr Petra Clare, who is a Benedictine nun based in a skete in the Scottish Highlands. It is a bus ride northwest of Inverness in a village called Cannich, a truly beautiful spot to visit if you get a chance. Here are some examples of her work. I first became aware of her work through visits to Pluscarden Abbey, also in northern Scotland. She had been commissioned by the abbey to paint two large icons, a John the Baptist (or John the Forerunner) and a St Andrew (seen below). The finished icons are about 5ft long and face the monks in the choir. Visitors sitting in the transcepts have to strain their necks slightly to see them, but it’s worth the effort.

St Joseph

St Luke, left; Mother of God, centre; St Andrew, right.

Below, St Andrew (again), with detail, right

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