Cranach’s book of portraits

Thanks to Paul McCain for tipping me off to this remarkable book of portraits by Lucas Cranach (or possibly his son or his workshop), now made available in digital format online by the Dresden State Archives and Library.

It’s called Das Sächsische Stammbuch: Sammlung von Bildnissen sächsischer Fürsten, mit gereimtem Text; aus der Zeit von 1500 – 1546. That is, in my rough translation, The Saxon Family Album: A Compilation of Pictures of the Saxon Nobility with Rhymed Text, from 1500-1546. It consists of a hand-written manuscript with portraits of the Saxon Princes, Counts, and Electors and their families, virtually all of whom were key players during the Reformation.

Here is John the Steadfast, along with his wife Elizabeth. He is known as “the first Protestant”–the first “protester” of the Church of Rome to be called by that name–and without his forceful defense of Luther (even more so than his father Frederick the Wise) and his practical provision for the evangelical churches, the Reformation would have been crushed.

If anyone can make out and translate the accompanying verses (the larger page is here, he or she will receive the thanks and accolades of us all.

UPDATE: This portrait is Duke John of Saxony, not John the Steadfast. Thanks to Martin Winter who did make out and translate the German verses, so we heap on him the thanks and accolades that we promised. John the Steadfast is on p. 213 of the book, which you can easily find via the link. Martin translates the verses about him, and they are very inspiring. (Go to the comments.) I wonder who wrote those verses, if they too are by a Cranach.

A classical musician on heavy-metal singers

Claudia Friedlander is a classical musician and voice teacher.  She was asked her opinion of five different male heavy metal singers.  (The link also plays samples of the music that she was analyzing.)  Notice that classical aesthetics contains principles that apply to every kind of music, without necessarily demolishing the more popular genres:

On Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden:

I have nothing but admiration for this singer. Listen how he starts off with a soft growl, then moves seamlessly into a well-supported, sustained high full-voice sound that then evolves into an effortless long scream! His diction is easily intelligible, regardless of the range he’s singing in or the effect he’s going for. He achieves an intensely rhythmic delivery of the lyrics without losing legato and musical momentum, something a lot of classical singers struggle with, especially when interpreting the many staccato and accent markings that crowd scores by Bellini, Donizetti, etc.

On Ozzy Osbourne:

This is a singer with decent diction and good musical instincts but no command of vocal technique. He is massively over-adducting his vocal folds while driving enough air through them to get them to speak, but his throat is so tight that there is no flow or resonance. His rhythmic punctuation of the lyrics is very distracting, in contrast with Singer #1 [Dickinson] who delivered his text with rhythmic accents that served, rather than detracted from the flow of music and poetry. It hurt my throat so much to listen to him that I was tempted to ask Cosmo how long his career lasted before he either washed out or needed surgery. The entire range of his singing is contained within a single octave – with the exception of the moment when he yells “Oh Lord!” a little higher, in my opinion the only quasi-free vocal sound on the entire track.

HT:  Webmonk

Superman vs. Batman

The L.A. Times did an interesting interview with comic book writer Grant Morrison.  He points out the class distinction between the superheroes:

GM: Superman is very bright and optimistic. It’s all the simple things. He’s of the day and of the sunlight, and Batman is the creature of the night. I’m interested in the fact that they both believe in the same kind of things. But Batman is better. He’s screwed up. That what makes him cool. Even though he’s solved all his problems in his own head he is — as I see him — a man with a very dark sense of humor and a very dark view of the world. He has to overcome that constantly. He’s forever fighting to make the world better, which means it’s never good for Batman. The rest of us have good days. We don’t fight everyday. Batman fights every single day. He has that dark Plutonian side.

GB: The public personalities of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent don’t seem as polarized as their alter egos.

GM: Bruce Wayne is a rich man. He’s an artistocrat. Superman grew up as Clark Kent on a farm bailing hay, and he’s got a boss that shouts at him if he’s late to work. He’s actually more human; Batman is the fetish fantasy psyche of the aristocrat overlord who can do anything he wants, and that’s fascinating. The class difference between the two of them is important.

GB: I’ve never thought much about the class distinctions between the two.

Superman by Jim Lee GM: You’re an American; you live in Los Angeles! You don’t have to think of class distinction in the same way we Brits do. But there is very much a distinction between the two. People often forget Superman is very much a put-upon guy. Bruce has a butler, Clark has a boss …

GB: True, but Clark also owns real estate in the Arctic, flies for free and can crush coal into fist-sized diamonds. He doesn’t need to have a boss.

Batman by Jim Lee GM: Yeah, but he so wants to be like us. He pines after one girl while Batman has a whole host of fetish femmes fatale at his beck and call.

GB: The ladies love the car, I think.

GM: Of course. He’s got everything. I like that. He’s our kind of dream of the aristocrat. He’s even better than the Tony Stark/Iron Man thing; he’s got that as well as the dark side. That’s the difference between Superman and Batman. There both interesting to write, but Batman is the sexier one, definitely.

via Batman versus Superman as class warfare? Grant Morrison: ‘Bruce has a butler, Clark has a boss’ | Hero Complex | Los Angeles Times.

So which was or is your favorite, Batman or Superman?  (Me:  Superman.)  D. C. or Marvel?  (Me:  D.C.)  (Today, judging from a recent sampling of comic books today,  D.C. has become Marvel!  And both have become more so.  Everybody in the comic book world is angst-ridden, taking little pleasure in the cool things they can do.)

The Huguenot Cross

I learned that in France, Protestants–particularly Protestant women–can be identified by their wearing the Huguenot Cross. The Huguenots (the origins of the name are uncertain) were French followers of the Reformation. Sometimes they thrived, but other times they endured horrible persecution. In the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (August 24-October 3, 1572), as many as 25,000 were slaughtered. At any rate, this legacy has given them a certain defiant attitude. In Strasbourg, which has a strong Protestant heritage to this day, both Reformed and Lutheran, I noticed waitresses in cafes and others wearing this cross:

Huguenot Cross

As it was explained to me, the cross is Trinitarian.  The circle represents the Father; the cross represents the Son; and the dove is the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son.  It exists in different versions, with the French fleur de lis, as here, hearts, etc.  The cross itself is a Maltese Cross, which is the sign of the order of the Hospitillers, the Knights of Malta written about by Bo Giertz in the novel “The Knights of Rhodes” translated by our Bror Erickson.  (He’s got a new edition coming out!  More on that later!)  The reason is that the original patron of the Hugeuenots, King Henry IV, had a connection to that order.  I was told that it points to not just the crusading of that order but of their opening hospitals, and so it symbolizes works of mercy.  Actual Huguenots followed the theology of their fellow Frenchman Jean Calvin, but I saw Lutherans also wearing this cross.

At any rate, it’s a cool piece of jewelry.  I got my wife one.

Earliest portrait of St. Paul

Archaeologists using lasers to clear away centuries of mineral accretions have uncovered in a 4th century Roman catacomb the earliest paintings of Sts. Peter, Paul, Andrew, and John.   Here is the Apostle Paul:

Earliest portrait of St. Paul

Pictured: The ‘sensational’ 1,600-year-old icon of St Paul found in a Roman tomb | Mail Online.

A non-believer on Christian art

Aaron Rosen, in the atheist magazine New Humanist, acknowledges that much of Western art reflects Christianity.  The iconography, themes, and vocabulary of images derives not just from religion in general, but, very specifically, from the Christian faith.  Somehow, he says, the figure of Christ is just overwhelmingly powerful.

This is even true in modern art.  Even apparent attempts to subvert religion, such as the notorious “Piss Christ”–a photograph of a crucifix in a jar of urine–end up re-enforcing the power of the Christian message.

What better way to meditate on the torments and degradation of Christ than to see his form submerged in urine? Meanwhile, the beauty of the image, suffused in a hazy, golden light, invites us to consider a salvific message – the “good news” of Christ’s victory over death.

So this unbeliever urges his fellows to open themselves up to this uncanny quality of Christian art:

The supposed enmity between modern art and religion dissolves. The question of how to get the “godfearing” to appreciate modern art may still be a relevant one, but it isn’t necessarily the most interesting. In light of the religious roots and preoccupations of so much modern art, maybe we should start asking what the “god-less” can learn from modern art. Indeed, perhaps the gallery is uniquely poised to foster a productive encounter with religion for even the most avowed atheist. In the inoculating ambiance of the gallery, a modern Christ perched on a plinth, or framed along the wall, can commune with the same skeptic who would quickly scuttle by a church.

After looking at a crucifixion painting by the Jewish Marc Chagall–his response to the Holocaust–Rosen suggests that Christian art is intrinsically mind-blowing, which he tries to turn into an aesthetic quality.

This is not simply to say that all religious expressions are artistic. But what religious symbols can do, more powerfully than any other, is reveal a horizon of meaning towards which art aspires: the ability to make ontological claims about “the way things really are”. To come back to some philosophical language from Gadamer, religious symbols perfect the “intricate interplay of showing and concealing”. And among other things, it seems to be this tantalising capacity that has kept modern artists, even those with no doctrinal connection to Christianity, returning to fundamental religious images like the crucifixion.

For the non-believer, perhaps focusing on this “poetical teaching” can offer a way of engaging with religious art in a manner beyond merely cultural or aesthetic appreciation; one which begins to dance, albeit gingerly, along the perimeters of the theological. What we experience in religious art, ultimately, doesn’t have to lead us into heaven. In Botticini’s “Assumption”, the disciples gather around Mary’s tomb, only to discover an assortment of lilies has taken the place where her body should rest. Uncomprehending, they look around in bewilderment. If looking at religious art can leave us similarly stunned, perhaps for some that’s more than miracle enough.

via Aaron Rosen – Divine Image | New Humanist.

This supports what I have often said, that the way to reach today’s postmodern unbelievers is to emphasize the wild, ineffable, mind-blowing mysteries of Christianity (e.g., the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Sacraments).

HT:  Joe Carter

What a great painting! All of that spectacular spiritual reality going on above, and the people down below, while faced with an earthly manifestation, don’t see it, just looking around in incomprehension. That says it all about worldly unbelief.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X