Versions of Cranach’s Seal

As an update to the post on tweaks to this blog, let me show you some different versions of Cranach’s Seal, as we try to interpret what it means.  (I thought it is an image of redemption; Tom Hering suggested it was alchemical symbolism, so I’ve asked Dr. Montgomery; it could also be some kind of conventional heraldry symbolism–someone who knows something about heraldry, please chime in.)    Special thanks to Abby for alerting me to the final version here, which is the most expressive, detailed, and dragon-like.  Should we use that one for our logo, or is it too disturbing?

The Museum of Broken Relationships

Art of our times, from the University of Houston:

For two weeks this May, Blaffer Art Museum presents an exhibition from the permanent collection of the Museum of Broken Relationships. In collaboration with the American Association of Museum’s 2011 Annual Meeting, which is being held in Houston May 22 – 25, 2011, the exhibition will feature detritus from failed relationships – be it a wedding dress, an “I Love You” teddy bear, or a set of fluffy handcuffs – donated to the museum by people from around the world. Objects from the permanent collection will be on view alongside ephemera offered by Houstonians looking to exhibit their own love legacy. Conceptualized in Zagreb, Croatia, by Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić, after the couple ended their own romantic relationship in 2006, the Museum of Broken Relationships was established by the two to create a space of protected remembrance where the material and nonmaterial heritage of broken relationships can be witnessed, and where these experiences can move beyond the individual into a universal understanding.

via Blaffer Art Museum :: Exhibitions :: Museum of Broken Relationships.

Then follows a description of how people can donate their souvenirs from failed relationships–fluffy handcuffs?–to the museum.  This reminds me of T. S. Eliot and his poems on love in the wasteland.

Happy belated Cranach day!

I can’t believe I missed blogging about this yesterday, April 6 being the Commemoration of Lucas Cranach and Albrecht Dürer: Christian Artists | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

Go to that link to celebrate by looking at some of their paintings and what they mean.

Relics

Some people go to Cancun on their Spring Break; others go to Myrtle Beach.  We went to Baltimore.   My wife and I are both interested in medieval art, and the Walter Art Museum there is featuring a big exhibit of medieval reliquaries.  That is, containers for relics, bones and other remains of saints that played a big part in medieval spirituality, and, indeed, in Roman Catholicism to this day.

The containers ranged from mini-tombs to realistic statuary.  (The arm and hand pictured below used to contain an arm bone of a saint.  The priest would wield it to touch the sick and other worshippers, who considered that it was the equivalent of being touched by the late saint.)  They were quite well-crafted and beautiful, considered as works of art.  But the show made me intrigued with the whole practice of the veneration of relics.

What surprised me is that some of the reliquaries still contained relics!  I saw the tooth of John the Baptist!  Another tooth of Mary Magdalene!  And splinters from the True Cross displayed behind glass that was worked into an elaborate gold cross.  Other relics were tiny bits of bone that were wrapped in colored cloth, with a label identifying the saint they belonged to.   Even today Roman Catholic altars have to contain some relic of a saint, if not a fragment of his or her body, a “contact relic,” which is something that once touched the saint.  (A scrap of cloth from the saint’s clothing, or the like.)

Now a good many of these relics are obviously fake.  For example, I saw the sindarion, a cloth that supposedly wiped the face of Christ, leaving a miraculous image.   At the museum it was displayed in an ornate frame behind cloudy glass, and one could indeed see the face of Jesus, but instead of looking like a photograph, it was an image that conformed–surprise, surprise–to the style of late medieval paintings.  I learned that the sindarion was a very popular kind of icon, which meant that there must have been quite a few of them.  One question of my Catholic friends:  If an altar requires an icon, if the icon is spurious, does that invalidate the altar and its sacraments?  Surely not.  But why not?

According to the exhibit, the value of a relic is not just as a historical artifact to encourage one’s faith–as in, “wow, that saint really lived, and all this stuff really happened”–but rather, it is thought that these objects have some sort of spiritual power.  So surely an object that is not actually a relic cannot have that power.

Certainly some of the relics are authentic, particularly the remains of contemporary people who had been canonized.  Apparently, the practice is to dig up the grave of a person who has been named a saint, and to break up the body or the bones, distributing them as relics.  At the end of the exhibit we saw a modern reliquary containing the brown, desiccated finger of Elizabeth Seton, the 19th century American who was canonized not long ago.  I found that macabre.  Another question to my Catholic friends:  Why is it wrong to desecrate bodies in general, but that it is all right to do that to saints?  Is that what is in store for the body of Pope John Paul II?  It has been announced that it will be disinterred for the canonization ceremony.

Another modern relic on display was a bone from Francis X. Seelos, a 19th century priest with local ties, who served in the Baltimore area.  He has been beatified and awaits full canonization from the Pope, which is pretty much a done deal since two miracles have been attributed to him.  As I was marveling at this relic, an elderly woman with a European accent who was standing beside me asked if I were Catholic.  I said, no.  She said that she had prayed to Father Seelos, and he healed her son of cancer.  Then she caught herself and said, well, God healed him, but Father Seelos interceded for him.

I know quite a few evangelicals and Lutherans and others who have converted to Roman Catholicism.  I understand the appeal of the great intellectual tradition, the scholastic theology, the aesthetics, the ceremony, the history, and the like.  What I don’t get, though, is the popular piety.  Again, any of you Catholic readers, please explain it to me.

In the meantime, I have to say that the exhibit, fascinating as it was, brought out even more the Lutheran in me.

Treasures of Heaven · The Walters Art Museum.

Good writing

World Magazine is planning to set up regional online bureaus to provide local and regional news coverage.  The first one is for Virginia and is making use of journalism students at the school where I work, Patrick Henry College.  One of my former students, Hannah Mitchell, has written a feature story on a big Picasso exhibit at a Richmond art museum.  It struck me as just a very, very good piece of writing.  See for yourself:  WORLD Magazine | Picasso’s tragedy | Hannah Mitchell | Mar 01, 11.

What I’d like us to do is discuss what is good about this particular piece of writing.  Let’s not talk about Picasso, as such.  Let’s talk about how Hannah approaches him, how she sets up her article, her style, and her good lines.

For example, I like the sentence where she describes a professor speculating about Picasso’s art.  She describes him as “wondering through the exhibit.”  Get it?  wandering/wondering?  A wordplay that shows genuine wit.

What else?  What’s good about this article in the way it’s written?

‘Huck Finn’ without the N-word

A new edition of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn will leave out all of the N-words, which have caused some people to charge the novel with racism, even though the point of the book is to combat racism.  From a CNN report:

What is a word worth? According to Publishers Weekly, NewSouth Books’ upcoming edition of Mark Twain’s seminal novel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” will remove all instances of the N-word — I’ll give you a hint, it’s not nonesuch — present in the text and replace it with slave.

The new book will also remove usage of the word Injun. The effort is spearheaded by Twain expert Alan Gribben, who says his PC-ified version is not an attempt to neuter the classic but rather to update it.

“Race matters in these books,” Gribben told PW. “It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”

Unsurprisingly, there are already those who are yelling “Censorship!” as well as others with thesauruses yelling “Bowdlerization!” and “Comstockery!”

Their position is understandable: Twain’s book has been one of the most often misunderstood novels of all time, continuously being accused of perpetuating the prejudiced attitudes it is criticizing, and it’s a little disheartening to see a cave-in to those who would ban a book simply because it requires context.

On the other hand, if this puts the book into the hands of kids who would not otherwise be allowed to read it due to forces beyond their control (overprotective parents and the school boards they frighten), then maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

via New edition of ‘Huckleberry Finn’ to lose the N-word – CNN.com.

So I wonder if those who support this bowdlerization would also support cutting out the profanity and the sex scenes from the modern novels taught in schools.  At any rate, what do you think about this?  Should a work of literary art be altered away from the author’s own words and intentions, if that work could thus be made palatable to more readers?


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