Art News Roundup: Merry Valentine’s Day Edition

Today is the first day of Winter, and it doesn’t look as though we’re going to have a white Christmas here in the Nation’s Capital, given that it’s currently about 63 degrees. Yet be that as it may, as we approach the 4th Sunday of Advent, I was rather appalled to drop into my local CVS on Tuesday evening and find that Christmas-related items were already being removed. The emptied shelves were in the process of being filled with items for Valentine’s Day.

You can see the photographic evidence of this here, and quite frankly I find this utterly appalling, for many reasons. What message does this send to children, for example? That they cannot even be satisfied with the gifts they will receive on Christmas in a few days’ time, because they have to be salivating over chocolates that they will be eating two months from now?

A follower on Instagram commented that at her local Giant Supermarket, she could not find any peppermint candy canes, and asked the clerk if they would be getting any more before Christmas. “No,” he replied, “Christmas is over.” Well, Christmas is most emphatically NOT over, because it hasn’t even begun yet. So whatever it is that the powers that be at places like CVS, Giant, and the like are celebrating at the moment, it certainly isn’t Christmas.

I happen to be someone who *does* celebrate Christmas, as it happens, since I may be a great sinner, but I’m one who believes in the veracity of the Christian faith. I will definitely, therefore, be celebrating all twelve days of Christmas when they arrive. Therefore, I’m going to use my prerogative as the lord of this virtual manor to share some interesting art stories involving the restoration of works that represent three types of sacred art: sculpture, painting, and musical instruments.

Pisano’s Pistoia Pulpit
One of the most important sculptural works of art of the Early Renaissance is about to go under tarps and scaffolding for the next two years. Giovanni Pisano (lived about 1245-1315) was an architect and sculptor, son of the more famous Nicola Pisano (lived about 1210-1278), who executed major commissions for churches throughout Italy and possibly elsewhere [there is currently an art history theory that the magnificent alabaster tomb of St. Eulalia, in the Cathedral of Barcelona, is by a member of their studio.] Giovanni created the pulpit for the church of Sant’Andrea (St. Andrew) in Pistoia, a city about 20 miles from Florence; the piece is stylistically related to other pulpits by the Pisanos, including those in the Cathedrals of Pisa and Siena, but shows how the Gothic was coming to an end and what we would consider “Modern” sculpture was born. Thanks to a grant from the American charitable foundation Friends of Florence, and the cooperation of government officials along with expertise from the University of Florence, structural analysis of the entire sculpture is currently underway, and as cleaning begins visitors to the church will be able to see live camera images of the restorers at work on monitors.

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Bononi’s Beautiful Biohazard
Staying in Italy for the moment, Italian scientists have discovered that some works of art may be changing over time for the same reason why milk turns into cheese, or why your kid comes home from school with strep throat: microscopic organisms. The expert team analyzed a painting of the “Coronation of the Virgin” by Carlo Bononi (1569-1632) which hangs in a church in the Italian city of Ferrara, and found that the entire piece, front and back, was covered with microscopic colonies of fungi and other microbial organisms, including Staphylococcus(!), Penicillium, and others. Interestingly enough, different pigments and materials used in creating the painting attracted different populations, since one type of fungus might prefer to live in or snack on certain environments more than others. This research may well have long-term implications for how restorers go about treating and conserving works of art in the future.

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Bodet’s Blessed Bells
An interesting and heart-warming story from Art Daily, on the efforts of one company to restore the sounds that once marked the daily rhythm of life throughout France. Bodet is one of the only companies in Europe that specializes in the repair of church bells, and since 1991 has brought back well over one thousand church bells into working order. While it’s a pity that hardly anyone in France goes to church anymore, at least the call to Mass, the marking of the hours of the Angelus, and the commemoration of baptisms, weddings, and funerals will provide a regular opportunity for these revived bell towers to do their job and remind listeners that they are in a country shaped by two millennia of Christianity.

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The Courtier Recommends: Help The Spirit Of The Season Take Root In West Africa

As we approach Christmastide, people’s thoughts always turn to helping others. I’ve been fortunate over the last several years to see how a spirit of generosity in this country can directly impact for good the lives of people far away, and change the world for the better. So I’m taking a step back from the usual art world chatter to ask you to consider a group of people who really need your help, where you be able to actually see the good that you do as it quite literally takes root.

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Over the past dozen years, Father Bill Ryan has done unbelievable work on behalf of the people in a remote part of Togo in West Africa, both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet him several times, when he comes to my parish of St. Stephen’s in DC to ask for our support. In addition to providing for their spiritual needs, Father Bill and those helping at the mission have created the area’s first primary health care clinic; dug eleven fresh water wells in the local villages (where previously only muddy and bacteria-ridden river water was available); opened six primary schools and one middle school; obtained farming equipment for the local subsistence farmers to process their own flour and oil; and much more.

You can read all about this on the mission’s website, which includes written reports, photos, video, and links showing the remarkable changes that have been wrought for these very poor people. I mean, these grade school kids who had never been able to attend school before are really, really cute. And when is the last time that you were filled with such joy because you had clean water to drink?

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I hope you’ll join me this Christmas in supporting a new project that the mission is undertaking to provide a sustainable source of income for the local people. They’re seeking to plant a teak tree farm, which will provide renewable resources in the form of teak lumber: that super-hard, durable wood used to build quality outdoor furniture or that you see covering the floors and walls of high-end homes and hotels. A single teak tree seedling costs only $1, but a farm full of teak trees – which regrow from their roots after the trunks are harvested – should help to sustain these people for generations, whatever may happen to their other crops.

For more information and to donate, please visit this site.  If you aren’t in a position to help out financially yourself, please do me a favor and share this post via social media and email with anyone whom you think may be interested in lending a hand. And above all, please keep the mission in your prayers. Thank You!

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The Courtier in Chicago: Video from the Catholic Art Guild Annual Conference

Apologies for the lack of posts last week; I was rather ill and otherwise overwhelmed with other duties. Instead of an overly long essay today, I’d like to share with you this video from my recent stint moderating the closing discussion panel at the annual conference of the Catholic Art Guild, held at the Drake Hotel in Chicago on November 4th. I think you’ll find this discussion with sculptor Alexander Stoddart, painter Juliette Aristides, composer and theologian Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, and architect Ethan Anthony deeply interesting, sometimes surprising, and very thought-provoking. Plus, as you’ll see, there was quite a bit of laughter as well.

My special thanks to Catholic Art Guild President Kathleen Carr, Father Joshua Caswell, S.J.C., and everyone at the Guild for inviting me, and for putting on such a stimulating, well-planned conference. And for your advance planning purposes, the Guild has very graciously asked me to return to moderate the closing panel discussion at NEXT year’s conference, so I hope to see many of you in the Windy City next autumn. In the meantime, keep an eye out for my upcoming piece in The Federalist, in which I interview this year’s conference key note speaker, Alexander Stoddart, Sculptor in Ordinary to Queen Elizabeth II.

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