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Call for artists for juried art exhibition in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, November 2016

Artists are being asked to submit work for the 6th Nationwide Juried Catholic Arts Competition and Exhibition at Saint Vincent Gallery, Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, PA.

This year the juror is Dr. Denis McNamara. Denis, who will be known to many NLM readers is an architectural historian specializing in the theology of liturgical art and architecture, classicism, and sacramental aesthetics. His book Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy has become a standard for any wishing to understand the theological underpinning of sacred architecture and art.

Given that Denis is the juror, I suggest it might be worth artists who are considering submitting reading his book and watching his videos on church art and architecture, especially the seventh, which is about sacred art in particular.


The Catholic Arts competition/exhibition was established in 2001 by the late Br. Nathan Cochran, O.S.B. (1957-2014). Br. Nathan set out to support artists who engage Catholic subject matter by providing a committed venue, notable jurors, a color illustrated catalog and prizes that include monetary awards as well as exhibition display.

Artworks submitted must be iconographically recognizable and appropriate for liturgical use, public devotion or private devotion.

The juried competition will be held this summer and artwork submissions should be postmarked by Monday, August 1, 2016. The exhibition will run from November 1 through December 2, 2016 at the The Saint Vincent Gallery on the campus of Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Cash prizes to be awarded include the $1,000 The Brother Nathan Cochran Award in Sacred Arts, $750 Second Place Award, $500 Third Place Award, and four Juror Mentions of $250 each. In addition, there will be a $250 People’s Choice Award presented at the conclusion of the exhibition.

For competition/exhibition details along with the submission form/guidelines, visit:

Baroque Art Exemplified

The Form of Baroque Art is Governed by Theology and Philosophy as Much as Iconographic Art

In a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston a painting by an artist I had never heard of before caught my eye as an excellent example of baroque liturgical art. The Scourging of Christ is by an artist I had never heard of before, Giulio Cesare Procaccini (1574-1625) an Italian who was based in Milan. This has all the classic features of baroque art and was an excellent example for me to talk about to the students. Here are the features that caught my eye:

Most of the painting is shrouded in shadow. Baroque art seeks to portray the world after the Fall (in contrast to iconographic art which portrays the heavenly realm). The shadow represents the presence of evil and suffering in the world, which is then contrasted with the lights, which represent the Light overcoming the darkness.

The light runs up and down the full figure of Christ. This is exactly what I was told when I was studying the acdemic method (which would have been used by baroque artists) at a school in Florence, Italy. I was told that this was reflecting a Christian humanism. (If you look at Velazquez’s famous crucifixion, you see the same effect, for example.) Accordingly, the features of the face are not emphasized by the artist more than the figure itself. This interest in the general at the expense of the particular, is very different from portraiture, in which the face is the most important aspect. It is one of the things that distinguishes 17th century sacred art from 19th century and much modern naturalistic sacred art, as discussed in a previous article, here.

When we look at anything in the world around us, those areas that are in peripheral vision, because of the structure of the eye, are always depleted of colour and out of focus. The baroque artists understood this and only put full natural colour and sharp detail in those areas that are of primary interest in the painting. Notice how muted the colour is, for example, in the rendering of the sleeve of the soldier on the left.

The assumption behind this is that the natural world is made by God for us, so that through its beauty we can know its Creator. Then, so the idea goes, if we paint a painting so that it gives visual information in the way that we naturally take it in, we will perceive it as beautiful also and it will raise our souls to contemplation of heavenly things.

When the defining edge of an object is painted so that it is blurred, the effect of blurriness is reduced if you retreat from the canvas to view the picture from further away and it will appear to sharpen. This means that even those areas that are intended to seen as detailed and sharp, should be painted so that they are soft and blurred to some degree when seen from nearby. The ideal distance to see a baroque painting was taken to be three times the greatest dimension. This is a difficult process to control well. Procaccini’s is a large painting perhaps 12ft high and we had to retreat to the far side of the gallery in order to see it properly. Everything popped into place as I retreated at that point when the reduction in the angle of vision was such that it allowed the painting as a whole to be taken in, as far as possible, with a single impression (this is about 15 degrees). It was noticeable how at this point, the colour and the focus all seemed balanced and natural. Things look different at a distance, for example, what seemed barely discernable close-to seems a properly coloured and detailed from afar.

The result of all of this is that the artist sets up the baroque dynamic of prayer between observer and painting; the aim is to create the sense that God is present with us in this fallen world. It says to us, in effect, ‘You stay where you are, I am coming to you’; (see here for more detail about this).

I have attached some photographs below which were taken in a drawing class teaching the academic method that I was involved in (taught by the well known Catholic artist, Henry Wingate). I should point out that none of these students have drawn using this method before, so you can see how effective this systematic method of drawing is. They are using charcoal to draw white plaster casts of sculptures. The method requires them to walk backwards to a marked point several feet away and compare the drawing with the cast and the image. Then they walk forward to the easel and draw from memory, before retreating again to compare what is newly drawn with the cast. This is the process whereby the image is created to be viewed at some distance. It’s hard work. Aside from being a way to create accurate drawings, I found being on your feet for six hours a day for any number of days is a great way to lose weight! Everybody I knew left Florence thinner than when they arrived.

The Two Michelangelos: Part 1

Michelangelo Buonarotti and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio that is.

By Marthino Correia

Caravaggio, like any master, understood art history and was able to play with the language of art to make complex theological statements. A continual source for him was Michelangelo and we find Caravaggio quoting the great master in many of his paintings.

In the Contarelli Chapel (1599 – 1600) in San Luigi Francesi in Rome, Caravaggio was granted his first major commission. On his death in 1585 the French cardinal, Matthieu Cointerel (Contarelli in Italian) had left a large sum of money and instructions for a chapel to be dedicated to his patron saint, St. Matthew. Caravaggio completed the commissions on canvas, something unheard of for large murals at that time which were usually executed in fresco. Three large painting were finished in 8 months.

In the first painting, “The Calling Of St Matthew”, we see Christ calling Matthew, aka Levi, as described in Matthew 9.9: “And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, follow me. And he arose, and followed him.”


Caravaggio gives Christ the hand of Adam from the Sistine Chapel’s “Creation of Man”, signalling the similarity between God and man and the human nature of Christ: Christ is the new Adam. Notice also how Peter, the first pope, echoes the gesture, describing how the Church continues the work of Christ.



Matthew and his colleagues are dressed in clothing contemporary to Caravaggio, from the early 17th C, while Christ and Peter are dressed in what would be early 1st C wear. This emphasizes that Christ’s call is eternal, for all people of all ages.

Caravaggio was the perfect counter-reformation painter. A complicated individual but entirely professional and profound in his work. In the next post we will look at the complex and interesting theology presented by Caravaggio in a second painting in the chapel, “The Martyrdom of St. Matthew”.

M. Correia

A Beautiful Icon of the Mother of God

I was trawling the net and saw this in Google images.

I don’t know what you think of it, but I love it. The expressions on the faces show the love between Our Lady and  Our Lord without straying into sentimentalism; the grace, pattern and flow of line in the design is exquisitely handled and in harmonic rhythm, and the color harmony is perfect – bright and attractive, without ever looking like a fluorescent print on a nylon T-shirt.

It took some work and help from others but eventually I found out that it was painted by a Roumanian iconographer called Monica Vasiloaia, you can see her work here.

roumanian icon


A Pattern for Catholic Education that Places the Liturgy at Its Heart


When I decided I wanted to be an artist, I started to investigate the training that was given traditionally to artists in the past. This involved the study of a number of things: how the skills of the art, painting and drawing for example, were transmitted; the great works of Catholic culture so that the artists understands the tradition in which he is working; and a formation of the person, so that he is open to inspiration, and can apprehend beauty and work beautifully.

This article is an attempt to articulate concisely what I discovered (and describe in greater length in the book the Way of Beauty) – that a formation in beauty, was not only part of a general Catholic education, but in fact was identical with what a general Catholic education ought to be, and so rarely is.

The only difference between an artist’s education and any good general education was the vocational element, in this case painting. It occurred to me that this could change according to the particular calling of each person. Then the  rest would benefit every person, regardless of his precise calling in life and could complement all other study and human activity.

I believe also, incidentally, that this is a program that could be also a formation of people as evangelists who can participate in the New Evangelization, shining with the Light of Christ as they go about their daily business.

The content of the syllabus, which I do not describe in detail here is superficially similar to many humanities and liberal arts educations. However, in contrast to many of these existing educations (the ones that I have looked at, at least), it emphasizes in its pedagogical method more strongly what I see as an essential element, that of praxis – putting into practice what is learnt and so developing the faculty of the creativity by creating beautiful things..

The other key element – perhaps the most important – is that of consciously ordering of everything to man’s ultimate end and relating it to the highest form of praxis – the worship of God.

Teachers and students alike should be able to make the connection between any element of study and our purpose in life. Then the teachers know the answer to the question, why teach? And students know the answer to the question, why learn? And each will be motivated all the more to fulfill their role.

I will outline the pedagogical method first, and then articulate my understanding of what a Catholic education is. Finally I will list some quotations from Church documents that emphasize the points that I am making in regard to the goal of a Catholic education:

Pedagogical method

1. Wonder – the appreciation of divine beauty The first stage is to inspire in the student a natural and personal response to the divine beauty which is present in creation and in the beautiful works of man in both the culture of faith and the wider culture. This response should be a natural and joyful experience.

2. Intellectual Illumination – imparting knowledge and understanding This aspect examines how the good, the true and the beautiful participate in all that exists and are personified in God. As much as communicating the subjects taught – eg the liberal arts, philosophy and theology – a goal is to train people to think both analytically and synthetically so that we set them on a path of lifelong learning which they can direct themselves. By ‘analytically’ I mean examining the parts of the subject; by synthetically I mean understanding the whole in the light of what we know about the parts. The broadest synthetic thought is that which places all that we know in the context of our whole human life and its purpose.

3. Praxis 1 – creating a culture of beauty. First by imitating the most beautiful parts of the culture – eg the works of masters, with understanding. Second, by creating original works in art, music, literature etc. and so contributing to the culture.

4. Praxis 2 – participatio actuosa – active participation in the sacred liturgy: the realization of ‘liturgical man’. Teaching people the practice of the worship of God and all it entails. When students take these lessons to heart, participation in the liturgy becomes the ultimate act of creativity, by which they enter into the mystery of the Trinity and by grace participate in the creative love of God.

What is a Catholic education?

The aim of all Catholic education is to offer students a formation that might lead to supernatural transformation in Christ that each might be capable, by God’s grace, of movement towards their ultimate end, and of contribution to the good of each society of which each is a member.

All other stated ends in education, for example, the re-ordering of society’s culture, of bearing witness to Christ in their surroundings and the training of skills to enable the student to earn a living, while necessary are nevertheless ordered to this ultimate end and achieved in their fullest measure by this supernatural transformation.

It is common in the field of Catholic education to cite the creation of the virtuous person as a goal. This is true, and it is in effect another way of saying the same thing, for the highest virtue is a cardinal virtue, the virtue of religion. According to St Thomas (ST II-II, Q.lxxxi) it is a virtue whose purpose is to render God the worship due to Him as the source of all being and the principle of all government of things. It is a distinct virtue, not merely an aspect of another.

This supernatural transformation, made possible by baptism, is made real by an encounter with the living God. This encounter can happen in many ways but occurs most profoundly and most powerfully in the Eucharist and by it we are made capable in a new way, through God’s grace, of loving Him and our fellow man. Love of our fellow man in all its forms is inseparably bound up with love of God: the encounter with God in the Eucharist renews our capacity for love of neighbor; and love of neighbor tends to deepen our participation in the worship of God in the Eucharist.

So profound is this connection between love of God and love of neighbor that there is no authentically human activity – thought or deed, sacred or mundane – that cannot be formed by and ordered to the Eucharist for the better of each person, society and the Church. In this sense the Eucharist is the form (as in guiding principle) of every aspect of the Christian life including all those pertaining to a Catholic school.

Any school or educational institution therefore should ensure that all that goes on is in accord with the end of all education. Accordingly, it should ensure that students are aware that their capacity to be educated and that every aspect of their lives as Christians, whatever their personal goals, will be enhanced when they participate actively in the Eucharist and live a liturgically formed life. This knowledge will help to motivate students in their studies and order all their activities to their personal goals in life, which in turn are ordered to their ultimate end.

Each student should be clearly aware of the profound desirability of a supernatural Christian transformation and, therefore, the need for grace in their education, as in all human activity; and that the Sacred Liturgy is the optimal encounter with Christ in this life that provides for this need. There are many ways that Christ can be encountered, and every activity of a school should be such an encounter of one form or another. However, each encounter, if it is real, points to and is derived from that optimal encounter in Sacred Liturgy. Students should be aware that the fruits of such a transformed Christian life, which are promised to us, are precisely those that a Christian education aims to provide in the ideal.

As well as imparting an understanding of the primary importance of the Sacred Liturgy as the form of their everyday lives and in their education, students need to be given religious instruction so that each, in accordance with his personal situation, might develop a sacramental life that will make the transformation possible. This religious instruction includes principles by which they can develop a harmonious balance of liturgical prayer, both the Mass and the Divine Office, devotional and personal prayer in which the non-liturgical elements are derived from and point to participation in Sacred Liturgy. By this instruction they will know, in theory at least, what is necessary continually to deepen their participation in the sacramental life, with the Eucharist at its heart; and continually to renew and increase their capacity for love of neighbor.

While it may be appropriate for the instruction of what is just described to be given to all in the classroom, the actual participation in the liturgically centered sacramental life must always be one that is voluntary. We must respect each person’s God-given freedom to choose. Transformation itself can neither be taught nor enforced: it is derived from a personal and free response to God’s love for us. The participation therefore, should be encouraged. Accordingly, the role of the school is to increase the freedom of each person to choose well by enhancing their knowledge of what is good in this regard and giving them, where humanly possible, the power and opportunity do to do so. In accord with this the college should make it a priority to make beautiful and appropriately celebrated Sacred Liturgy available to the students in a beautiful place of worship. Ideally the faculty will lead by example, so that their actions speak of the centrality of the Eucharist in a life well lived.

All subjects included in the curriculum, while not all relating directly to the subject of the Sacred Liturgy, must nevertheless be consistent with these twofold and inter-connected aims of love of God and love of man, consummated in a freely chosen liturgically oriented piety. Each faculty member should be able to explain the reason for the inclusion of the subject taught in the light of these principles and willingly direct the students to its liturgical end.

Moreover, beyond the classroom the college should strive to encourage a culture in which any aspect of community life is in accord with and reinforces its ultimate goals for the students.

Quotations from documents on education:

‘A school is a privileged place in which, through a living encounter with a cultural inheritance, integral formation occurs.’ (The Catholic School, 26; pub The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1977)

‘The proper and immediate end of Christian education is to cooperate with divine grace in forming the true and perfect Christian, that is, to form Christ Himself in those regenerated by Baptism…For precisely this reason, Christian education takes in the whole aggregate of human life, physical and spiritual, intellectual and moral, individual, domestic and social, not with a view of reducing it in any way, but in order to elevate, regulate and perfect it, in accordance with the example and teaching of Christ. Hence the true Christian, product of Christian education, is the supernatural man who thinks, judges and acts constantly and consistently in accordance with right reason illumined by the supernatural light of the example and teaching of Christ; in other words, to use the current term, the true and finished man of character.’ (Pius XI, Divini Illius Magistri, 60; Encyclical on Christian Education, 1929, 94, 95, 96)

‘The integral formation of the human person, which is the purpose of education, includes the development of all the human faculties of the students, together with preparation for professional life, formation of ethical and social awareness, becoming aware of the transcendental, and religious education. Every school, and every educator in the school, ought to be striving to form strong and responsible individuals, who are capable of making free and correct choices .’ (Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith, 17; pub Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1982)

‘No less than other schools does the Catholic school pursue cultural goals and the human formation of youth. But its proper function is to create for the school community a special atmosphere animated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity, to help youth grow according to the new creatures they were made through baptism as they develop their own personalities, and finally to order the whole of human culture to the news of salvation so that the knowledge the students gradually acquire of the world, life and man is illumined by faith.’ (Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, 8)

‘For a true education aims at the formation of the human person in the pursuit of his ultimate end and of the good of the societies of which, as man, he is a member, and in whose obligations, as an adult, he will share.’ (Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, 1)

‘First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth’ (Benedict XVI, Meeting with Catholic Educators, Catholic University of America, Washington DC, April 2008)

‘The true Christian does not renounce the activities of this life, he does not stunt his natural faculties; but he develops and perfects them, by coordinating them with the supernatural. He thus ennobles what is merely natural in life and secures for it new strength in the material and temporal order, no less than in the spiritual and eternal.’ (Pius XI, Divini Illius Magistri, 60; Encyclical on Christian Education, 1929, 98)

‘Since all Christians have become by rebirth of water and the Holy Spirit a new creature so that they should be called and should be children of God, they have a right to a Christian education. A Christian education does not merely strive for the maturing of a human person as just now described, but has as its principal purpose this goal: that the baptized, while they are gradually introduced to knowledge of the mystery of salvation, become ever more aware of the gift of Faith they have received, and that they learn in addition how to worship God the Father in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23) especially in liturgical action, and be conformed in their personal lives according to the new man created in justice and holiness of truth (Eph. 4:22-24); also that they develop into perfect manhood, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:13) and strive for the growth of the Mystical Body; moreover, that aware of their calling, they learn not only how to bear witness to the hope that is in them (cf. Peter 3:15) but also how to help in the Christian formation of the world that takes place when natural powers viewed in the full consideration of man redeemed by Christ contribute to the good of the whole society.’ (Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, 2)

‘Every form of catechesis would do well to attend to the ‘way of beauty’ (via pulchritudinis). Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful.’ (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium)

From documents on the liturgy:

‘Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s supper.’ (Sacrosanctum Consilium, 10)

‘A mystagogical catechesis must be concerned with bringing out the significance of the rites for the Christian life in all its dimensions – work and responsibility, thoughts and emotions, activity and repose. Part of the mystagogical process is to demonstrate how the mysteries celebrated in the rite are linked to the missionary responsibility of the faithful. The mature fruit of mystagogy is an awareness that one’s life is being progressively transformed by the holy mysteries being celebrated. The aim of all Christian education, moreover, is to train the believer in an adult faith that can make him a “new creation”, capable of bearing witness in his surroundings to the Christian hope that inspires him.’ (Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 64)

“The Sacred Liturgy is not a hobby for specialists. It is central to all our endeavors as disciples of Jesus Christ. This profound reality cannot be over emphasized. We must recognize the primacy of grace in our Christian life and work, and we must respect the reality that in this life the optimal encounter with Christ is in the Sacred Liturgy.” (Sacra Liturgia 2013 conference, Rome. Opening address by Bishop Dominique Rey of Frejus-Toulon, France, published in the proceedings of the conference, p15, pub Ignatius, 2013)

‘We can thus understand how agape also became a term for the Eucharist: there God’s own agape comes to us bodily, in order to continue his work in us and through us. Only by keeping in mind this Christological and sacramental basis can we correctly understand Jesus’ teaching on love. The transition which he makes from the Law and the Prophets to the twofold commandment of love of God and of neighbor, and his grounding the whole life of faith on this central precept, is not simply a matter of morality—something that could exist apart from and alongside faith in Christ and its sacramental re-actualization. Faith, worship and ethos are interwoven as a single reality which takes shape in our encounter with God’s agape. Here the usual contraposition between worship and ethics simply falls apart. Worship itself, Eucharistic communion, includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn. A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented.’ (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 14)

‘There is nothing authentically human – our thoughts and affections, our words and deeds – that does not find in the sacrament of the Eucharist the form it needs to be lived to the full.’ (Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 71)

‘The liturgy is a radiant expression of the paschal mystery, in which Christ draws us to himself and calls us to communion. As Saint Bonaventure would say, in Jesus we contemplate beauty and splendour at their source. (106) This is no mere aestheticism, but the concrete way in which the truth of God’s love in Christ encounters us, attracts us and delights us, enabling us to emerge from ourselves and drawing us towards our true vocation, which is love.” (Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 35)

‘Many manuals and programmes have not yet taken sufficiently into account the need for a mystagogical renewal, one which would assume very different forms based on each educational community’s discernment.’ (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 166)

All the photographs are from St Edmund Hall, Oxford. This was established in the 13th century and was named after St Edmund Rich, also known as St Edmund of Abingdon (a town in Oxfordshire), or St Edmund of Canterbury. The design of each building, the layout of the college and still, the rhythms and the patterns of the educational year are all in conformity with a principle that places the worship of God as the highest activity of the student (although I’m guessing that most who now attend are unaware of this). For more detail read the Way of Beauty book.

Beauty and the City – Architecture and Design

By Geoffrey Yovanovic

I have always been fascinated by cities.  While cities have always had a fundamental role in shaping culture, I was always more mesmerized by the towering skyscrapers and sinuous interstates which stretched to the horizon.  The physical form of the city was what captured my imagination.  I followed this natural interest into architecture where I focus primarily on traditional design.  My interest in tradition has grown as I have been able to see past the aesthetic surface of a building and uncover the beauty and truth within the designs.  Through my course on Pontifex, I hope to pass along these discoveries, and foster an appreciation of design that transcends the shock, sensation, and “originality” which passes for most architecture today.

My search for beauty started as an observation in my undergraduate architectural history survey course.  I have always been interested in history so it was natural for me to create a timeline of major historical events and currents in the art world.  It became clear to me that there would be a noticeable change in art during the decades preceding a cultural or political revolution.   In France before the French Revolution, the architecture scraped off the barnacles of the Baroque and substituted a more rational Classical style.  Prior to World War I in Europe, we find the introduction of International Style Modernism.

Hôtel Guimard_ Ledoux

The rational design of Hotel Guimard by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, 1770-73


These observations remained as interesting but unrelated historical currents until I began research for my undergraduate thesis.  I began studying whether architecture was used by the  founding fathers to support their personal political beliefs.  For example, was the Virginia Capitol designed by Thomas Jefferson as an aspiration to the ancient Roman Republic?  It was.  That was the easy question.  Instead, my advisor challenged me to explore a deeper understanding of the Enlightenment ideas that influenced Jefferson’s architecture.  He pressed me even further to look beyond the details and columns.  He taught me to observe how the rational Enlightenment ideas about man’s relationship to the cosmos was subtlety transforming the shape and space created by their architecture.  I first learned of beauty by recognizing its flight from Western art.  And in this recognition, I discovered a fundamental culture shift away from the ideas of the Classical and Catholic world with its inherent embrace of beauty; towards an embrace of the rational and secular world of the Enlightenment.

Viewing this change in architecture from the 21st century is difficult.  We see that the buildings of that era have columns.  They are built of stone, not glass.  They appear Classical to us.  It is difficult for us to understand how Adolf Loos’ Looshaus in Vienna could have so insulted the sentiments of Emperor Franz Joseph that he would block the windows of his palace in order not to see the building.  But, these buildings were only mile markers in the retreat from a Classical and Catholic view of the cosmos.  We are surrounded and live amidst the yield of this Enlightenment world view.


Looshaus, Vienna by Adolf Loos, 1910-12

I will begin to explore many of these themes in upcoming posts.  By highlighting individual examples of buildings and cities, my hope is that I will be able to communicate the truths in the built environment that we all inhabit.  Architecture is more than a style, and beauty is not captive to any specific style.

In my design work, I strive to recover what was discarded.  Like the other artists with Pontifex University, I do not believe that simply returning to the past is a way to transform culture.  I do believe that by learning the lessons of beauty and truth inherent in traditions we can advance our arts and culture.  Originality has become an idol in art and architecture today.  But while designing, I try to heed C.S. Lewis’ advice in the final paragraph of Mere Christianity:

“No man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” 

One of the things that I realised in my work is that no building ought to be considered in isolation. As soon as it is placed in its environment, it is in relation to it. This may be the countryside, it may be other buildings – as in a city center – but if we want a beautiful environment, then we must take the effect on the context into account when designing buildings. This does not mean, as some interpret this, that every building must be of the same era or the same style, but it does mean that the relationships between the building and its surrounding is as important a consideration as the beauty of the building itself.

It is truth and its sister beauty that I try to incorporate in my design work, and hope to communicate through my Pontifex course on architecture and intend to explore in a series of blog posts over the summer.
Geoff Yovanovic is based in Atlanta where he is a key member of the design team of the architecture firm Norman Davenport Askins, Architect. He is a graduate of the University of Miami and University of Notre Dame architecture schools and is a winner of the Addison Mizner Medal from the Florida Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art in recognition of excellence in classical design. He is also a graduate of my Way of Beauty Summer Atelier at Thomas More College!

Chinese Artist Converts Through Study of Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts

Some of you might already be aware of the conversion of a Chinese artist, Yan Zu, to Catholicism, as recounted on National Catholic Register and Catholic News Agency. A Dominican friar from the Western Province, who is from Taiwan originally, recently brought this story to my attention.

It was the study of European art history, and specifically medieval illuminated manuscripts that brought Yan to the Faith. She has a Chinese language blog, here, from which these images of her own work are taken.

This story is interesting to me for a couple of reasons. First, I am wondering if this is further indication of a natural affinity between Chinese and European figurative art, that allows for mutual influence to occur very easily. (I wrote about this in detail here.) The style of the traditional Chinese landscape, is formed by a Doaist worldview in which the material world directs us, through its beauty to heaven, which is a non-material realm of perfect order. Christian artists of the West might articulate just the same goal for their landscape painting, especially those painting in the baroque tradition. The difference is that for the Christian, heaven is occupied, so to speak, by God and his saints and angels.

Second, it seems to suggest that traditional Christian culture is as much universal as it is specific to particular times and places. If we were set the task in advance of dreaming up an art form that would convert Chinese people, many would say that we should adapt something that is of the Chinese culture into a form that speaks more directly of Christianity. I certainly think this approach has its place (when done with discernment). However, it is clear that this Christian art form with no Chinese connection at all, and which originated in Western Europe in the middle ages, spoke powerfully and eloquently to this Chinese lady.

While I do think that there are geographic and time-bound elements that characterize all aspects of the culture, I have never been of the view that these are the only influences. Christian culture reflects also the Faith, which is universal – that is, it is true for all people. So I would say that traditional Western European culture, for example, looks as it does because it is Christian and to a large degree would have looked the same if it had originated in the southern tip of Africa. This being so and to the degree that any art form is Christian, it will speak to people in all ages and places. This means, therefore, that exporting Western European culture (or Christian Eastern European culture, Christian Middle Eastern culture for that matter) to the rest of the world is not cultural imperialism as some might suggest. Nobody forced Yan down this route, she was attracted by it and chose to follow. She is responding to a gift, freely given. It is called evangelization!