Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Catechetical Significance of Christian Artwork

One of the first things I learned from my catechetics classes here at FUS and from my experience on the RCIA team is that the use of visual aids is an effective way to teach people. Classics of Christian artwork, clips from movies, PowerPoint presentations, and things like that are just interesting to people and when you can connect a teaching with an image then people seem more likely to remember it. Plus, it just mixes things up a bit and it keeps your audience from getting that glazed-over look on their eyes.

One of things I love the most about the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is that it has artwork mixed in throughout the book AND (this is the cool part) explanations on the next page that explain the catechetical significance of each piece. What a great idea! Usually when I look at a painting I can bring out a least a couple of the main themes, but I'm certainly no expert at it. Especially when it comes to ancient icons, I always have the sense that a lot more is going on than I am aware of.

Does anyone know of a website that has Christian artwork along with summaries of the meaning of the work and the significance of the various objects in the work? Something like that would be truly valuable. I haven't done an extensive search yet, but I thought I'd go ahead and see if my readers were aware of anything.

One thing I did happen upon was a free example from the Magnificat, which gives spirital insight on a masterpiece of sacred art in each issue. Here is a selection of the text, along with the work of art in question:
Her hands encapsulate his. That is symbolic. For as much as he tried to rebel against her, as far as he tried to run away from her, Augustine discovered that his mother, Monica, cast her net ever farther, inevitably snaring him with her prayers, her tears, and her love.
[. . .]
Ary Scheffer’s popular nineteenth-century painting captures a moment recorded in the Confessions when mother and son were making their way back home. They had taken a house in Ostia on the Tiber, just outside of Rome, resting from their long journey and waiting to set sail for Africa. Augustine recounts that they were alone, next to a window overlooking a garden. They were caught up in a “serene and joyful” conversation wherein they wondered what the promise of eternal life would be like for those who reached heaven. It was then that they were blessed with a mystical vision. They forgot themselves and the world around them and, for a moment no longer than a heartbeat, they advanced toward the very font of wisdom which was the source and subject of their conversation.

In the painting, Monica’s face and body shine with brightness for she was an example on earth of heavenly truth and virtue. She reflects that unseen mysterious source of light which radiates from above. One critic felt this was the artist’s best work where “one need not go far to see traces of the relation between Scheffer and his own mother… where the mother in the depth of spiritual foresight is almost transported to heaven while on earth; and the young ardent son hesitates between the nearly overwhelming influence of his mother’s convictions and his own tumultuous doubts and passions.” Here Monica and Augustine gaze upward in the stance assumed by mystics. The devoted and long-suffering mother has had, at last, her prayers answered. Her son has become a Christian. He has entered into the kingdom. Their shared vision is a promise of that reward.
If anyone finds a website that provides insight like this, please let me know. For more on St. Augustine, go here.

Pax Christi,


Amy Giglio said...

As long as you're asking about Christian art, I have always wondered why the Blessed Mother is often depicted in a red gown with a blue mantle. I've tried to find the answer, but I couldn't. Maybe another commenter can help us both out. Sorry if I'm hijacking the combox.

Unknown said...

Magister has some background

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