19 April 2017

SYMBOLISM of the NATURAL WORLD

This is an excerpt from my Lecture Heavenly Outlook.



Not only sacred history and secular history, but even natural history is allegorical. To quote Emile Mâle again:
As the idea of his work is in the mind of the artist, so the universe was in the thought of God from the beginning. God created, but he created through His Word, that is, through His Son. The thought of the Father was realized in the Son through whom it passed from potentiality to act.... The world therefore may be defined as a thought of God realized through his Word. If this be so then in each being is hidden a divine thought; the world is a book written by the hand of God in which every creature is a word charged with meaning.... True knowledge, then, consists not in the study of things in themselves (the outward forms) but in penetrating to the inner meaning intended by God for our instruction, for in the words of Honorius of Autun, every creature is a shadow of truth and life. All being holds in its depths the reflection of the sacrifice of Christ, the image of the Church and of the virtues and vices.
Medieval authors produced books called bestiaries, herbals and lapidaries, in which the symbolism of the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms are explained. It is from the bestiary that I know to surround a scene of the Resurrection with a whale, a phoenix, a pelican and a lion. According to one bestiary:
If the pelican has brought offspring into the world, when these grow up they strike their parents in the face. The parents strike back and kill them. After three days, their mother opens her own breast and side, and lies on her young, pouring all her blood over the dead bodies, and thus her love brings them back to life. So Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the author and originator of all creatures, begot us, and, when we did not exist, He made us. But we struck Him in the face; as Isaiah said: I have begotten sons and raised them up, but they have despised me. Christ ascended the Cross and was struck in the side; blood and water came forth for our salvation, to give us eternal life.
Of the lion, it says:
When the lioness brings forth her cubs, they come into the world dead. She watches over them for three days, until on the third day the father comes, blows in their faces, and awakens them to life. In the same way the Almighty Father awoke Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead on the third day, as Jacob says: He couched as a lion; who shall rouse him up?
The temptation, for a modern man, is simply to snicker at the zoological naïvety of these words; admittedly, no one has observed these behaviors in pelicans or lions in a very long time. But the authors of the bestiaries were working with the best knowledge they had, and their being mistaken in the details does not prove that their method of interpretation was fallacious. If we no longer find symbols of Christ in the behavior of pelicans and lions, is it because they are not there, or is it because we have ceased to look for them? Were we to embrace again a theophanic worldview, might not our current knowledge yield even more profound symbols?

At least one sacred artist of the twentieth century thought so. In 1911, the Spanish priest Felix Granda wrote:
Through the microscope we can see the infinitely varied microörganisms; more powerful images have never come to the imagination of the artist. Should we not take advantage of this immense arsenal of scientific data that they provide to us, to make richer and more varied our decorations, and to teach the truth contained in the verse of the Kingly Prophet: O Lord, Thy thoughts are exceeding deep!?
When I first read these words, they were especially resonant because I had already begun to incorporate microbiological forms in my ornament, and to consider their symbolic possibilities.



Works quoted:

Emile Mâle, The Gothic Image: Religious Art in France of the Thirteenth Century, translated by Dora Nussey, (New York: Icon Editions, 1972).

Bestiary, translated by Richard Barber, (London: The Folio Society, 1992).

Felix Granda, Mi Propósito, (Madrid: Talleres de Arte, 1911).

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www.danielmitsui.com

18 April 2017

COLORING SHEETS: RESURRECTION

These are detail images from my drawing and letterpress print of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Click on the thumbnail images to download the files; these are formatted as 300dpi bitmap images on 8 1/2" × 11" pages that can be printed and photocopied.

 

More coloring sheets are available here.
I hold the copyright to these images, and I permit them to be downloaded, printed and copied only for use as coloring sheets. Printed copies must be distributed for free. If you want to use them in any other way, you must first receive my permission. Posting the images to a web log or sharing them on a social medium is encouraged so long as it links back to my web page.

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www.danielmitsui.com

17 April 2017

RESURRECTION



This broadside of the Resurrection measures 7" × 10". It is based on one of my ink drawings on paper. A scan of my drawing, slightly enlarged and modified, was used to create the plate for letterpress printing.

Christ steps from the open tomb with His right foot and raises His right hand in blessing; the right hand of Christ, in medieval art, represents divine mercy. As in most medieval depictions of the Resurrection, two chronologically distinct events (Christ’s rising from the tomb and the stone’s removal) are shown together; this was done to emphasize the stone’s signification of the Old Testament. Two angels assist in removing the stone, and another swings a thurible. Two soldiers sleep in the foreground.

I formatted the picture like a recto book leaf. The words RESURRECTIO DOMINI and ALLELUIA appear in the border, as do several ornamental plants and four animals that are traditional symbols of the Resurrection. According to the medieval bestiaries, the phoenix rises from its own ashes, the pelican revives its dead chicks by feeding them blood from a self-inflicted wound and the lion revives its dead cubs with its breath. The whale is from the story of Jonah, which was named as a prefigurement of the Resurrection by Christ Himself: For as Jonah was in the whale’s belly three days and three nights: so shall the Son of man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.

In the bas-de-page I drew an emblem of the Harrowing of Hell. Christ descends to the Limbo of the Pariarchs bearing His triumphal banner; He subdues Satan and assists Adam and Eve out of the Hellmouth.

Read more here.

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www.danielmitsui.com

08 April 2017

MASS MEDIA and SACRED WORSHIP

I have heard many times the claim that the Catholic Church should have great success in her New Evangelization, because Catholicism is a visual religion and contemporary society is also visual. But to call Catholicism a visual religion is a meager assertion; it is no more visual than any of a thousand kinds of paganism. It would be more accurate simply to say that human beings are visual animals. The visuality of Catholicism is only remarkable because the religion’s most obvious alternatives are rather inhuman. 



And contemporary society, judging by (for example) its reductive architecture, is not very visual at all. Its interest in visual things is almost entirely concentrated on television and computer screens; it is not any pictures, but specifically motion pictures, that interest contemporary man. Even the static pictures now ubiquitous (advertisements, posters, billboards) are meant to be seen while walking or driving or rapidly flipping pages in a magazine; they may not move, but their frame of reference does, which gives the same subjective result. In contrast, a study taken in 1980 indicated that most visitors look at a painting hanging in an art museum for about ten seconds. The same study, taken in 1997, lowered the time to three seconds. Contemporary man does not love pictures; he loves motion. 



Live-action motion pictures create the most convincing false reality yet devised by technology. The intensity of the imagery, the sophistication of the editing and the ever-more impressive special effects fill the modern mind with an inventory of powerful, nearly unforgettable images. Regardless of his life experience, every man now knows what a cavalry charge looks like. He knows what a dinosaur in the flesh looks like. He knows what an exploding planet looks like, even though no man has ever seen a planet explode. These images become the references for his visual imagination; when he pictures death, judgment, heaven or hell, he pictures something resembling a cinematic special effect he has seen. 



Traditional sacred art and traditional sacred liturgy are symbolic; to appreciate them, a man must recognize that his senses are unworthy of the greatest realities, and that hieratic and canonized types, arrangements and gestures are needed to suggest them. It is a logic entirely contrary to that of live-action motion pictures, which attempt to show anything and everything as it really (supposedly) looks. 


***

I believe that the influence of live-action motion pictures has contributed enormously to the iconoclasm of recent decades. I also believe that any lasting restoration of traditional sacred art and traditional sacred liturgy will only be possible if Catholics seriously consider and seriously restrict their use of the media of mass entertainment. This would entail removing televisions from our homes; and seldom (if ever) patronizing the cinema, thus reclaiming our imaginations from Hollywood. But it also would entail resisting the intrusion of this technology into new places, most importantly our places of worship.

This, of course, is an unpopular idea; the prevailing strategy of evangelization, even among traditional Catholics, demands that every important or impressive liturgical celebration be photographed, recorded, and displayed to as many as possible. And challenges to this strategy, like most discussions about technology, are quickly derailed by faulty analogies.

Whenever one man raises an objection to the application of a specific technology in a specific context, another inevitably will try to justify it by bringing up a beneficial application of a different technology in a different context. He will point out that there was opposition to this other, positive development; the first objection is thereby lumped together with every foolish dismissal in history.

But one situation does not always justify another. Introducing a television camera into the sanctuary is not the same as introducing a stained glass window or a pipe organ. These have their own properties and their own justifications. Using a television camera to broadcast a Mass is not the same as using it to monitor hallways for security.

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Technologies are not moral or immoral per se, but neither are they without built-in biases and culturally bound assumptions; they are invented and developed by men according to their own ideas about the world. As Neil Postman, An articulate technological critic, wrote:
Embedded in every technology there is a powerful idea, sometimes two or three powerful ideas. These ideas are often hidden from our view because they are of a somewhat abstract nature. But this should not be taken to mean that they do not have practical consequences.

Perhaps you are familiar with the old adage that says: To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We may extend that truism... To a man with a television camera, everything looks like an image. To a man with a computer, everything looks like data. I do not think we need to take these aphorisms literally. But what they call to our attention is that every technology has a prejudice. Like language itself, it predisposes us to favor and value certain perspectives and accomplishments... The television person values immediacy, not history. And computer people, what shall we say of them? Perhaps we can say that the computer person values information, not knowledge, certainly not wisdom. Indeed, in the computer age, the concept of wisdom may vanish altogether.

Every technology has a philosophy, which is given expression in how the technology makes people use their minds, in what it makes us do with our bodies, in how it codifies the world, in which of our senses it amplifies, in which of our emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards. This idea is the sum and substance of what the great Catholic prophet Marshall McLuhan meant when he coined the famous sentence: The medium is the message.
What, then, are the ideas that a television camera and the live-action motion pictures that it produces suggest?

***

One is that every man is entitled to a privileged view of events. The technology’s purpose is to make things visible and audible to a man who otherwise would not be able to see or hear them, to bring him to the action via the camera and the microphone, which stand in place for him and act as his eyes and ears.

Watching motion pictures creates a sense of entitlement in the spectator. He feels cheated if obstacles remain to his seeing or hearing what is happening - trees blocking the camera’s field of vision, for example. He expects the directors and editors and cameramen to avoid or remove these sorts of things, to give him unobstructed views, zoomed-in shots of important actions and clearly enunciated speech.

The more he watches motion pictures, the more accustomed he is to these production values; when this same man attends Mass, the expectation to observe and understand everything very often comes with him. When it does, the silent Canon, untranslated Latin, ceremonial veiling, a priest with his back to the people, the idea that there are important things he is not supposed to see or hear, all become offensive. Motion picture technology creates a cult of accessibility, and this even more than ideology has caused liturgical tradition to be despised.

Marshall McLuhan perspicaciously blamed the loss of Latin liturgical language on the introduction of the microphone into the sanctuary. After resisting for five centuries the Reformational idea that Mass was something to be heard, Catholics at last embraced the all-hearing principle as a result of expectations changed by technology. A century earlier, in his Treatise on Chancel Screens and Rood Lofts, AWN Pugin predicted the eventual end of traditional church architecture due to the rise of an all-seeing principle:
If religious ceremonies are to be regarded as spectacles they should be celebrated in regular theatres, which have been expressly intended for the purpose of accommodating great assemblages of persons to hear and see well. It has been most justly said, that there is no legitimate halting-place between Catholic doctrine and positive infidelity, and I am quite certain that there is none between a church built on Christian tradition and symbolism and Covent Garden Theatre with its pit, boxes and gallery.
Nothing has done more to entrench the all-hearing, all seeing, all-understanding principle in the modern mind that the media of mass entertainment. Watching live-action motion pictures also trains men to observe phenomena in a specific way; the important things to notice are those that move, and move within a defined, rectangular area; anything else is ignored. Minds so formed, when taken to Mass, do not see statues or icons as things themselves revelatory, but regard them like potted plants to the side of the television set. They are apart from the action, so they are unimportant. If they are noticed at all, they are distractions that ought to be removed.

I remember once watching a Mass, celebrated ad orientem on an elaborate Baroque altar, on television. I noticed that the consecration was filmed from the very front of a loft in the church’s south transept; it was obvious that efforts were made to find an angle from which the cameraman could get an unobstructed, zoomed-in shot of the host on the high altar. To show the consecration from a privileged angle negates the entire purpose of ad orientem celebration. Without touching a thing, the television camera turned around the altar and pushed aside the priest, making visible everything that tradition saw fit to hide. The dissonance was jarring.

***

Psychologically, men relate to live-action motion pictures differently than to other media; the combination of sound, image and movement so effectively engages our two most powerful senses that we attribute a greater sort of reality to it. This is revealed in the way we talk about television. A man will say that he saw the World Series, or the Vice Presidential Debate, when he actually just saw a television broadcast of it. He would not speak this way had he seen a drawing or a painting or a theatrical reenactment of the World Series, or the Vice Presidential Debate.

Even the rhetoric surrounding the televising of the Mass is revealing. How wonderful, someone says, that people who live in remote areas, who are sick or homebound, now have access to the Mass! But no, no they do not. There is no legitimate halting-place between attending Mass and not attending Mass. Watching television is not attending Mass. At best, it is an aid to devotion, something like reading a hand missal at home; at worst it is mistaken for the real thing.

Live-action motion pictures suggest the idea of a virtual reality: that experience, understanding and communion can be achieved by means of a technological approximation. It suggests that to see a thing is merely to receive through the eyes a certain arrangement of light waves, and that to hear a thing is merely to receive through the ears a certain arrangement of sound waves; and that these can be provided by a machine as well as by the thing itself.

I can think of few ideas more damaging to the important distinctions between substance and form that underlie traditional Catholic philosophy and theology, and few ideas that do more to inculcate the error of Descartes, by which the physicists’ model of the universe (an abstraction of hurrying quantities and extensions) is mistaken for primary reality itself.

***

The costs of introducing a new technology are not easy to predict or measure, and they may be irreversible by the time they are noticed. They may even go unnoticed, and for that reason, go untallied against the benefits. But they have the potential to alter the way we think, to redefine the very meaning of the words we use to express our most important beliefs.

By saying this, I am not arguing against all innovation; I readily acknowledge that television cameras and live-action motion pictures have fruitful applications that give real benefits. But sanctuaries must be allowed to remain, places and times where the innovation is not welcome, so that the wisdom and worldview reflected in the displaced ways, and the skills and habits fostered by them, are not forgotten. We may not realize just how important these are until they are forever lost. As we allow the technologies of mass entertainment to intrude into more and more aspects of our lives, we cease to remember what it was like to inhabit a world without them, and our bonds with that world, the world of our spiritual forefathers the saints and apostles, are weakened.

When St. John wrote the beginning of his Gospel, he had an idea of what a word was. It was something spoken, or something written, or something thought. Now, centuries later, our basic idea of a word is just as likely to be something on a computer screen that can be clicked on and dragged about a document, or erased with a keystroke. How can we understand what St. John meant when he said that in the beginning was the Word, when our idea of a word is something that St. John never knew? If motion pictures create in us different habits of seeing, and different definitions of seeing, how can we understand what he meant when he said that we saw His glory? We live in a semantic anarchy where words have ceased to have commonly agreed upon meanings. In such a world, an ordered and traditional context is needed for assertions of belief to have any meaning at all.

Because of this, there is no more important place and time of sanctuary than the literal sanctuaries of our churches, for it is here that the stakes are highest. Here, if nowhere else, we must reject those things that estrange us from the experience we share with the saints, in our common rituals of worship. If we introduce something that they would have found incomprehensible, we may soon find that the estrangement is mutual, that we no longer understand them either.

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www.danielmitsui.com

07 April 2017

UPCOMING EVENTS: APRIL 20 & MAY 7

At 7:00 in the evening of 20 April 2017, I shall deliver a lecture at Hope College in Holland, MI, as a guest of the St. Benedict Institute. More details can be read here.

The official description of the lecture:
Gold out of Egypt: Christian Art and International Influences

The Apostles of Jesus were instructed to go teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. In every nation, Christianity has encountered a different culture, and worked to establish its own belief with it. Catholic artist Daniel Mitsui will discuss the ways in which the conflicts and concords between religions, cultures and nations are expressed in Christian religious art.

Mitsui also will examine the ways, historically, in which Christian artists have claimed elements of Classical and Islamic art as their own; will argue the necessity of their continuing to seek inspiration from foreign art; and will discuss the dangers of treating the art of a single nation or culture as the basis of Christian æsthetic identity.
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At 2:00 in the afternoon of 7 May 2017, I shall speak at the Komechak Art Gallery of Benedictine University in Lisle, IL, to open an exhibit of my work that will run from 8 May to 29 July 2017. More details can be read here.

06 April 2017

PILGRIMAGE and PRINTING

Part 10 of 10 of the Lecture Invention and Exaltation, which I first delivered on 14 September 2015, to open an exhibit of my artwork at Franciscan University of Steubenville.



Page from a 42-Line Bible printed by Johann Gutenberg, illustrated by hand

In the fourth century, St. Paulinus of Nola recorded that the portion of the True Cross kept in Jerusalem had a miraculous property; no matter how many pieces were broken from it, its size did not diminish. St. Cyril of Jerusalem compared it to the loaves and fishes that fed multitudes and left over basketfuls. John Calvin famously scoffed that if all the pieces of wood venerated as fragments of the True Cross were collected together, they would make a big shipload. There are studies refuting this claim, but if the old Catholic tradition is to be believed, it might be correct! I doubt that the explanation would satisfy Calvin, a man determined to see fraud; but even he must admit on Biblical evidence that we live in a world in which these sort of things happen.

In another way, relics are inexhaustible even when the Law of Conservation is not miraculously suspended. Catholic tradition maintains that their virtue can imparted through contact. Things that touch the relics of Our Lord’s Passion or the mortal remains of the saints become relics themselves, although of a lower class. When I speak of the virtue of a relic, I do not mean a magical property that works independently of the will of God (for the working of miracles is proper to God alone), but rather the quality that sets it apart from an ordinary piece of wood or bone or cloth. That distinction is real enough to terrify demons.

In the Middle Ages, the faithful believed that this virtue could also be transferred optically; where the relics were inaccessible to touch, pilgrims held up mirrors to reflect them. The mirrors were then carried homeward, and treated as relics of a lower class.

***


The Cathedral of Aachen is home to four relics of particular distinction: the dress worn by the Blessed Virgin Mary on the night of the Nativity, the Holy Infant’s swaddling cloths, the fabric used to wrap the head of St. John the Baptist and the loincloth worn by Jesus Christ on the cross. Since the fourteenth century, these have been displayed at septennial jubilees, unfurled from the gallery connecting the cathedral’s belfry to its octagonal dome.

In anticipation of the jubilee of 1439, a clever silversmith began to manufacture quantities of pilgrim mirrors, convex ones that could reflect a panorama. He had partners in this enterprise; all were disappointed when the jubilee was postponed due to plague. At a loss for money, the silversmith offered to share with two of his partners another idea, one that he had been developing in secret. They listened, doubled their investments, and set to work on the confidential endeavor. That endeavor involved the making of tiny metal letters that could be arranged into text; a viscous oil-based ink; and a press like that used by vintners and bookbinders, but adapted to the purpose of printing on paper, an art that previously had been done through manual pressure. The silversmith’s name was Johann Gutenberg.

Indirectly, the cult of relics gave Gutenberg his funding. I think that it gave him also the idea for the printing press itself. Consider the mechanism of a printing press: a matrix - which might be a wooden block with a holy picture carved in its surface, or a Biblical text set in forty-two lines of metal type - is inked, and touched to a different object, a piece of paper. Through touch, the matrix makes the paper into something like itself. The process can be repeated with practically no exhaustion of the matrix. Every printer knows that typeset text must run backwards; when printed, images are reversed, just like things reflected in a mirror.

Gutenberg believed that relics can impart their virtue through contact and reflection. In the years when he conceived his printing press, this was at the forefront of his mind, as was the problem of sharing this virtue among great multitudes; we know this as a fact of history. What Gutenberg invented was a technological metaphor for pilgrimage.

In fact, many printed sheets of the fifteenth century were distributed as pilgrim souvenirs; they served the same purpose that pilgrim mirrors did. They served the same purpose served earlier by holy oil flasks and stamps for eulogia bread dough - stamps that were themselves, in fact, tiny manual printing presses. Later scholars gave to the printed books of the fifteenth century the name incunabula; how fitting this is! Incunabula is the Latin word for swaddling cloths, and the Holy Infant’s swaddling cloths were among the relics exhibited at the Aachen jubilee.

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www.danielmitsui.com

05 April 2017

FOREIGN INFLUENCE

Part 9 of 10 of the Lecture Invention and Exaltation, which I first delivered on 14 September 2015, to open an exhibit of my artwork at Franciscan University of Steubenville.



Detail from the Adoration of the Magi, painting by Gentile da Fabriano

I consider myself a revivalist, but I do not think of Gothic as a mere historical style; that would make it a very boring thing. A farsighted and generous consideration of beautiful forms is in the true spirit of this art. Its artists may have deferred to the fathers in the arrangement and disposition of the pictures, but in the art that belonged to them, in the exaltation of subject, they withheld not their treasures but offered whatever was most excellent.

The Flemish painters hung Oriental damasks behind their Virgins, and laid Oriental carpets beneath their feet. The Italians copied ornament from art that arrived by trade from Mamluk Egypt. Their saints wear garments bordered with Kufic letters (spelling gibberish) and radiate haloes that resemble platters made by Egyptian goldsmiths.

I consider it a sad mischance that the spirit of Gothic art was expelled from Catholic Europe just as the Age of Exploration began. A few treasures of the Aztecs crossed the Atlantic Ocean in time to be admired by Albrecht Dürer, an artist who stood astride the end of the Middle Ages. Most of the treasures arrived too late. Medieval artists never saw the art of the Safavids or of the Khmers. Just imagine what they would have done, had they seen it!

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I imagine this myself; literally, I make images of it, both by importing foreign art into the traditional compositions and by exporting the traditional compositions into foreign art. The style of Japanese woodblock prints has proven especially popular among my patrons, but my interest is not confined to it; Chinese painting, Indian and Persian manuscript illumination also have my curiosity. The affinity between Gothic art and the art of these other cultures was noted by the scholar Martin Lings:
The reason why medieval art can bear comparison with Oriental art as no other Western art can is undoubtedly because the medieval outlook, like that of the Oriental civilizations, was intellectual. It considered this world above all as the shadow or symbol of the next, man as the shadow or symbol of God.... A medieval portrait is above all a portrait of the Spirit shining from behind a human veil. In other words, it is as a window opening from the earthly on to the heavenly, and while being enshrined in its own age and civilization as eminently typical of a particular period and place, it has the same time, in virtue of this opening, something that is neither of the East nor of the West, nor of any one age more than another.
I do not consider my artwork an exercise in reënactment. When I draw, I pretend no ignorance of those real facts unknown to artists of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries: the existence of Japan, for example, or of microörganisms, or of platypodes. I accept the principles of medieval art not because they are medieval, but because they are true - true in any time, any place, any culture.

SECOND DREAM of ST. JOSEPH

I believe that the art called Gothic answers the challenges of invention and exaltation like no other. I draw my own art from it, and find it an inexhaustible source, like the life-giving cross.

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Works quoted:

Martin Lings, The Sacred Art of Shakespeare, (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1998).

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www.danielmitsui.com

04 April 2017

BEGINNING of GOTHIC ART

Part 8 of 10 of the Lecture Invention and Exaltation, which I first delivered on 14 September 2015, to open an exhibit of my artwork at Franciscan University of Steubenville.







Stained Glass Windows from the Abbey Church of St. Denis

St. Vincent’s metaphor of the body makes true progress a matter of integrity, rather than of slowness. During the greatest eras of Christian art, tradition grew and developed with astonishing rapidity. The thriving that followed the Invention of the Holy Cross might be considered the toddlerhood of Christian art; the era of the early Gothic might be considered its adolescence.

Here again, relics of Our Lord’s Passion were the catalyst. Annual fairs held in honor of relics housed at the Abbey of St. Denis, near Paris, were so popular by 1137 that Suger, the abbot, noted:
The crowded multitude offered so much resistance to those who strove to flock in to worship and kiss the holy relics, the Nail and Crown of the Lord, that no one among the countless thousands of people because of their very density could move a foot; that no one, because of their very congestion, could do anything but stand like a marble statue, stay benumbed or, as a last resort, scream.... Moreover the brethren who were showing the tokens of the Passion of Our Lord to the visitors had to yield to their anger and rioting and many a time, having no place to turn, escaped with the relics through the windows.
Abbot Suger resolved to enlarge and to rebuild substantially the abbey church; his artistic and architectural project proved epochal. Here, cross-ribbed vaults, pointed arches and flying buttresses were first combined in a new kind of architecture, the framework upon which the arts of monumental sculpture and stained glass climbed and flourished. In the windows of the abbey church, the theology of light expounded by the author of The Celestial Hierarchy, called Dionysius, was given sensible form.

The great crucifix of St. Denis stood more than thirty feet tall in the new abbey church; its pedestal was adorned with figures of the four Evangelists, its pillar with enamel panels illustrating events in the life of Jesus Christ and their prefigurements in the Old Testament, its cross with gemstone cabochons, large pearls and a corpus worked in gold.

The art here begun inspired the great cathedrals of Sens, Chartres, Laon, Paris, Bourges, Rheims and Amiens. It spread beyond France, throughout Catholic Europe. This art is as exact and encyclopedic as medieval theology. A Gothic cathedral is a Summa Iconographica, a codification and perfection of ancient tradition.

In the thirteenth century appeared its finest specimens of architecture, sculpture and stained glass. Because I specialize in small, two-dimensional works of art, I more often look to the following two centuries, in which the arts of manuscript illumination, panel painting, tapestry and printmaking culminated. It is in these later expressions of Gothic that I most often seek inspiration.

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Works quoted:

Suger of St. Denis, On the Abbey Church of St. Denis and its Art Treasures, translated by Erwin Panofsky, (Princeton University Press, 1979).

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www.danielmitsui.com

03 April 2017

PERMANENT CONTENT

Part 7 of 10 of the Lecture Invention and Exaltation, which I first delivered on 14 September 2015, to open an exhibit of my artwork at Franciscan University of Steubenville.



A similar lesson is taught in this image of the Resurrection. Before the thirteenth century, the Resurrection rarely appeared in sacred art. The older practice was to depict the holy women visiting the tomb, for this is the story of the Gospel in the Mass of Easter Sunday. This composition might be denounced as a novelty did it not illustrate an ancient exegetical tradition. A curious detail reveals its allegory. Emile Mâle explains:
In contrast to the Gospel narrative which tells how, after the Resurrection, the stone was rolled away by an angel on the morning after the sabbath, Christ is almost invariably shown rising from a tomb from which the stone has already been removed. The old masters, ordinarily so scrupulous and so faithful to the letter, had a reason for thus uniting two distinct events. There is not the least doubt that they wished to recall the deep significance which was attached by the fathers to the removal of the stone. The stone before the tomb was in fact a symbol. It is, says the Glossa Ordinaria, the table of stone on which was written the Ancient Law - it is the Ancient Law itself. As in the Old Testament the spirit was hidden beneath the letter, so Christ was hidden beneath the stone.
***


When sacred art is considered symbolically, in light of the church fathers, in light of the law of worship, its permanent content appears. At least through the Middle Ages, religious artists followed the true and legitimate rule of progress articulated by St. Vincent: mature age ever develops in the man those parts and forms which the wisdom of the Creator had already framed beforehand in the infant. Its changes were changes of clothing, not changes of anatomy.

Those who indeed set out to alter the anatomy, to spurn the traditions of the Church and to invent some novelty, to forbid all of a sudden and to consider harmful what earlier generations held as sacred, were proud enough to leave a written record of their intentions. That is convenient for me, because I thus know exactly whose influence to stanch and reverse.

I allude here to the more extreme humanists, whose determination to recreate the culture of Classical antiquity led them to despise and replace the greatest art of the Middle Ages; also to the censors of the late sixteenth century who took the brief and unspecific words of the Council of Trent regarding art as instructions to subject the whole tradition to their critical judgment. The most influential of these, Jean Molanus, was blind to the symbolic order in medieval art; he condemned and forbade every traditional composition that he did not understand, which amounts to nearly all of them. In modern times, many artists have made violence to tradition the very premise of their art.

My task, as a religious artist working in the present day, is to heal those injuries done, to restore the impaired and enfeebled body to strength. It is a difficult and seemingly impossible task, but I know that the touch of God, the touch of His cross, the touch even of the hem of His garment, can make a body whole in an instant.

***

Works quoted:

Emile Mâle, The Gothic Image: Religious Art in France of the Thirteenth Century, translated by Dora Nussey, (New York: Icon Editions, 1972).

***

www.danielmitsui.com

01 April 2017

SYMBOLIC LANGUAGE

Part 6 of 10 of the Lecture Invention and Exaltation, which I first delivered on 14 September 2015, to open an exhibit of my artwork at Franciscan University of Steubenville.



The arrangement and disposition of sacred art belong to the fathers because they say the same things as the fathers, in the same manner. Patristic language, whether written or painted, bears more meaning in its symbolic senses than in its literal sense.

The four winged creatures that surround Jesus Christ in so many holy images are those that appeared to the prophet Ezekiel and later to St. John. They are symbols of the four Evangelists. The man represents St. Matthew, whose book begins with a genealogy, a record of men. The ox is a sacrificial animal, and the Gospel of St. Luke opens with St. Zachary offering sacrifice at the Temple. The lion represents St. Mark, whose book begins with a voice crying, or roaring like a lion, in the wilderness. The eagle was believed to gaze directly into the sun, and the Gospel of St. John opens with insight into impossibly dazzling truths. In art, the man and the eagle are often given higher position, for the Evangelists they represent received their knowledge from direct witness rather than hearsay.

The apocalyptic beasts are polysemic; they represent also the life of Jesus Christ, respectively His Incarnation, His sacrificial death, His Resurrection (He couched as a lion; who shall rouse him up?) and His Ascension. Furthermore, they are symbols of Christian virtues: rationality, self-sacrifice, courage and contemplation.

The church fathers saw everywhere in the Old Testament prefigurements of the New. I included the Sacrifice of Isaac as a marginal picture to this Crucifixion; the association of the two sacrifices is made again and again in liturgical texts and theological writings. The death of Eleazar Maccabee beneath a war elephant I drew also; as far as I can tell, this prefigurement was first noted in the Speculum Humanæ Salvationis, an book of typologies from the early fourteenth century. But the Speculum’s author did not alter the ancient tradition; rather, he progressed it according to the established and most beautiful order of growth. The symbol was latent in the event from its occurrence; the manner of thought that reveals it was taught by Jesus Christ Himself: As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.

The Crucifixion scene, as traditionally arranged, is itself full of symbolic meaning. Jesus Christ is the new Adam, whose death on the cross redeems the original sin. Just as Eve, the bride of the first Adam, came forth from his side while he slept, so the Church, the bride of Christ, came forth from his side while he slept in death on the cross; I here paraphrase St. Augustine. The blood and water that pour from the opening in the new Adam’s side represent the two most important sacraments: Eucharist and Baptism. The wound is almost invariably depicted on Christ’s right side, for it was from the right side that Adam’s rib was taken. To the right side of the cross (from Christ’s perspective) appear the symbols of the new covenant: the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Good Thief and the sun. The moon, whose indirect light represents the old covenant, is to the left. This is a theological lesson, not a record of the day’s astronomy.

***

www.danielmitsui.com

31 March 2017

SOURCES of CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE

Part 5 of 10 of the Lecture Invention and Exaltation, which I first delivered on 14 September 2015, to open an exhibit of my artwork at Franciscan University of Steubenville.



This is a recent drawing of mine. Its central image depicts a miraculous vision of Christ surrounded by the instruments of His Passion that St. Gregory the Great saw while celebrating Mass. More broadly, the drawing is about Christian knowledge: how and whence it is received.

St. Gregory was the Bishop of Rome, and thus the inheritor of the authority of Saints Peter and Paul (whom I drew in the bottom corners). He is one of the four great Latin church fathers. He was the codifier of the Roman Mass and its music (which is why I wrote the words Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus in the bas-de-page, together with the chant neumes from the Missa Kyrie Fons Bonitatis). Shown here, St. Gregory is the recipient of a mystical vision, one of those divine reminders of a holy truth: in this event, the selfsameness of the Man of Sorrows and the Sacrament of the Altar.

But this drawing is not meant to suggest that Christian knowledge is altogether dependent on persons so great as St. Gregory; so great a pastor, theologian, liturgist and visionary may never again walk the earth until the resurrection of the flesh. Nor is to meant to suggest that Christian knowledge is dependent on a privileged communication between Christ and His vicar on earth; events such as the Miraculous Mass of St. Gregory are worthy of artistic treatment precisely because they are extraordinary.

Fundamentally, the reason we know anything about Jesus Christ - that He was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, descended into hell, rose again on the third day and ascended into heaven - is because these things actually happened, and someone saw or heard them happen. Before they were written as scriptures, before they were declared as doctrines, they were kept as memories.

If the Blessed Virgin Mary had told nobody what the Archangel Gabriel had said to her at the Annunciation, we would not know it. If Jesus Christ had told nobody that His sweat became as blood while He prayed in Gethsemane, we would not know it. Even St. Luke, writing with divine inspiration, knew about these events according as they have delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word. Our tradition identifies witnesses even of the Descent into Hell: those saints that had slept, who rose from their tombs after the Resurrection of Christ, came into the holy city and appeared to many.

In the upper corners of the St. Gregory picture, I drew two theologians of the fifth century, St. Prosper of Aquitaine and St. Vincent of Lerins. During their earthly lives, these men were theological opponents, more so even that Saints Peter and Paul. I consider it a mark of providence that from their disputations, two beautifully complementary ideas emerged.

St. Prosper articulated the well-known maxim: The law of worship establishes the law of belief. Worship was the first way by which the memories of those who saw, heard and touched Jesus Christ were carried forward. Because the law of worship predates such things as the settlement of the canon of scripture and the definitions of the ecumenical councils, it is the first criterion of orthodoxy. Thus it is the first criterion of sacred art as well. Sacred liturgy and sacred art must be concordant, for they are records of the same memories.

St. Vincent wrote in his Commonitoria: We hold to what has been believed always, everywhere and by all. Universality, antiquity and consensus are the marks by which a true tradition can be told from a false. Now St. Vincent makes clear that this principle is not to be taken so literally that a single counterexample would suffice for disproof; all, or at least almost all, he wrote. Elsewhere in the same book, he described the true development of tradition, which he compared to the growth of a body:
Men when full grown have the same number of joints that they had when children; and if there be any to which maturer age has given birth these were already present in embryo, so that nothing new is produced in them when old which was not already latent in them when children. This, then, is undoubtedly the true and legitimate rule of progress, this the established and most beautiful order of growth, that mature age ever develops in the man those parts and forms which the wisdom of the Creator had already framed beforehand in the infant. Whereas, if the human form were changed into some shape belonging to another kind, or at any rate, if the number of its limbs were increased or diminished, the result would be that the whole body would become either a wreck or a monster, or at the least would be impaired and enfeebled.
Catholic tradition is based on real memories of real events. Something either is part of that tradition or it is not, just as something either is part of a body or is not. If it is part of that tradition, this is evident in the law of worship and the agreement of the church fathers; these are the epistemic bridges between the age of the eyewitnesses and our own.

As Catholics we have the benefit of the Magisterium exercised by the successors of the Apostles, our bishops. They have been given the authority to judge disputes over tradition and to bind the faithful to assent. But they do not create tradition themselves. They receive their knowledge from existing sources, and these are sources that anyone can seek and find.

By looking to liturgical and patristic sources, a religious artist can draw a more complete picture, he can dig deeper, than by looking to magisterial documents only. He may unearth something wonderful. Discovering a tradition that has been lost is thrilling; it is like knocking the dirt from a buried piece of lumber and finding that it can yet raise the dead.

***

Works quoted:

St. Vincent of Lerins, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Volume XI, translated by C. A. Heurtley, (New York: Cosimo, 2007).

***

www.danielmitsui.com

30 March 2017

TOUCHING GOD

Part 4 of 10 of the Lecture Invention and Exaltation, which I first delivered on 14 September 2015, to open an exhibit of my artwork at Franciscan University of Steubenville.



St. Veronica of the Veil, painting by the Master of the St. Ursula Legend

Few ever have understood the power of touching God so well as that woman afflicted for twelve years by an issue of blood, who but touched the hem of His garment and was made whole. This woman, traditionally called St. Veronica, is an important figure in the history of sacred art. Early ecclesiastical historians attest that she erected a statue in her home city of Paneas commemorating the miraculous cure. Eusebius of Cesarea recounted:
There stood on a lofty stone at the gates of her house a bronze figure of a woman, bending on her knee and stretching forth her hands like a suppliant, while opposite to this there was another of the same material, an upright figure of a man, clothed in comely fashion in a double cloak and stretching out his hand to the woman.... This statue, they said, bore the likeness of the Lord Jesus. And it was in existence even to our day, so that we saw it with our own eyes when we stayed in the city.
The statue was mutilated during the reign of Julian the Apostate; the whereabouts of its remains are unknown.

Veronica means true image. The name is shared with another woman who touched God. This St. Veronica pressed a cloth to the face of Christ as he walked to Calvary; a true image was left upon it. I am amused to know that, even though monumental sculpture fell out of practice in the Catholic Church until the early Gothic era, and even though printmaking did not flourish as a sacred art until the late Middle Ages, both forms of art were present at the very beginning of Christianity.

As was painting; numerous works are attributed to the Evangelist Luke, including ones still venerated in Rome, Smolensk and Czestochowa. Now skepticism about some of these attributions is justified; analysis of materials does not always indicate a first-century origin. However, it certainly is plausible that holy images venerated today are copies of a Lucan original, or copies of copies. The conviction of the faithful in patristic and medieval times was that Christian art is as old as the Church. This conviction does not depend on any specific painting’s authenticity.

***


I sometimes say that I am a Spirit of Nicea II Catholic. That is a joke, its point being that I keep that ecumenical council at the forefront of my mind, living as I do in a time similar to the iconoclastic crises. I do not seek to interpret its doctrine regarding art and tradition beyond what its words actually say; indeed, what they actually say is bold enough. Its dogmatic decree, among other things, commanded:
Those, therefore who dare to think or teach otherwise, or as wicked heretics to spurn the traditions of the Church and to invent some novelty, or else to reject some of those things which the Church has received (the Book of the Gospels, or the image of the cross, or the pictorial icons, or the holy relics of a martyr), or evilly and sharply to devise anything subversive of the lawful traditions of the Catholic Church ... if they be bishops or clerics, we command that they be deposed; if religious or laics, that they be cut off from communion.
I do not think that anyone can honestly interpret those words that refer to the image of the cross, or the pictorial icons, or the holy relics of a martyr in an abstract sense. They refer to cults of devotion, to traditions that exist in fact. These may not be inerrant or infallible, but they nonetheless have a permanent content that endures through the centuries. They cannot be insulted, discarded or remade entirely without ruinous effect.

***

Works quoted:

Eusebius, The Ecclesiatical History, translated by J.E.L. Oulton, (Harvard University Press, 1932).

Second Council of Nicea, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Volume XIV, translated by Henry Percival, (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing, 1900).

***

www.danielmitsui.com

29 March 2017

DUTIES of the RELIGIOUS ARTIST

Part 3 of 10 of the Lecture Invention and Exaltation, which I first delivered on 14 September 2015, to open an exhibit of my artwork at Franciscan University of Steubenville.



In our time, invention and exaltation describe well the duties of a religious artist. Invention here has the older definition of the word; it does not mean creating from nothing, but rather finding. If the artistic traditions have been buried, his task is to discover them; if they have been stolen, his task is to retake them. Once they are found or retaken, his task is to bring them to their proper place and give them honor as high as his abilities make possible; that is, to exalt them. This is like carrying the stolen relics back to Jerusalem, as Heraclius once did.

The Golden Legend recounts:
Heraclius rode down the Mount of Olives, mounted on his royal palfrey and arrayed in imperial regalia, intending to enter the city by the gate through which Christ had passed on His way to Crucifixion. But suddenly the stones of the gateway fell down and locked together, forming an unbroken wall. To the amazement of everyone, an angel of the Lord, carrying a cross in his hands, appeared above the wall and said: When the King of heaven passed through this gate to suffer death, there was no royal pomp; he rode a lowly ass, to leave an example of humility to his worshippers.... With those words the angel vanished. The emperor shed tears, took off his boots and stripped down to his shirt, received the cross of the Lord into his hands, and humbly carried it toward the gate. The hardness of the stones felt the force of a command from heaven, and the gateway raised itself from the ground and opened wide to allow passage to those entering.
Here is a lesson for those who seek, as I do, to reintroduce the traditions; no project, even a righteous one, will meet divine favor unless it is undertaken with humility. It is not the artist that is to be arrayed, celebrated and exalted. God would rather brick him out of the Holy City than admit him to the ruin of his soul.

I often quote the fathers of the Second Council of Nicea, which was convoked in the year 787 to end the first iconoclast crisis. They said: The tradition does not belong to the painter; the art alone is his. True arrangement and disposition belong to the holy fathers. I consider the arrangement and disposition that belong to the fathers to be something like a relic, and the art that belongs to the painter to be something like the making of a reliquary. Artistry without tradition is like an empty reliquary; beautiful perhaps, but unworthy of veneration. Tradition without artistry is like a relic kept in a cardboard box; worthy of veneration, but deserving of better treatment.

I believe that the traditions of sacred art deserve exaltation for the very same reason the relics of Our Lord’s Passion deserve it - because they touched God.

***

Works quoted:

Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, translated by William Granger Ryan, (Princeton University Press, 1993).

***

www.danielmitsui.com

28 March 2017

HOLDING FAST

Part 2 of 10 of the Lecture Invention and Exaltation, which I first delivered on 14 September 2015, to open an exhibit of my artwork at Franciscan University of Steubenville.



The Apostle Paul commands all Christians to stand fast, and hold to the traditions they have learned. But where is a religious artist to stand when he has learned, in one sense, nothing at all? There is not now any tradition of sacred art that is handed down with a simple and ingenuous faith. There is not now any common mind and spirit among the faithful that might move them to build together, over centuries, a great cathedral. It is difficult enough to gather two or three who agree.

In a medieval monastic scriptorium or lay painters’ guild, no artist needed to question what he was taught, or to defend it. In our time, tradition is not a thing that is handed down so much as a thing that must be excavated. And once an artist begins to dig, he finds, in a different sense, altogether too much.

The part of the Catholic Church’s artistic heritage that has survived the centuries, the rust and moth that consume, the ravages of iconoclasts and revolutionaries, has been studied, documented, photographed and, in the form of digital images, made accessible as never before. Art museums, rare book libraries and cathedral treasuries the world over now display their collections online.

This can be a help to education and research; I rarely begin a drawing without examining scans of manuscript miniatures displayed in the Digital Scriptorium and photographs of panel paintings displayed in the Wikimedia Commons. My drawing of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary borrows elements from paintings by Hans Holbein the Elder, Jan Polack, Hieronymus Bosch, Gerard David, Martin Schongauer, Rogier van der Weyden and Nikolaus Obilman; two decades ago, I would have found maybe half of these paintings reproduced in the art books available to me. Two centuries ago, I would have needed to cross an ocean to see a single one of them.

But in this superabundance of information, another problem emerges: the holy images are not lost, but reduced to triviality. Just about anyone in the world can download a high-quality digital photograph of the Chi-Rho page from the Lindisfarne Gospels, or the Incarnation Window at Chartres, or the Ghent Altarpiece. He can print it to hang on his wall; or he can print it on a t-shirt, a coffee mug or the case of his smart phone. He can ‘like’ it on Facebook or ‘tweet’ it or ‘pin’ it without even taking a good close look at it. He can crop it and type the name of his ‘blog’ over it to make a cute title banner.

The image thus becomes his means of constructing and projecting a persona, his means of saying: I am this sort of individual, this sort of Catholic, because I like this sort of art. What does selecting Fra Angelico say about him? Or Caravaggio? Or William Bouguereau? Does putting one painting by each in his screensaver prove his broadness of mind? Does adding one by Georges Rouault prove his boldness?

At that point, religious art ceases to be about God and His angels and His saints. It is not even about the artist who made it; it is about the person who chooses to like it. It is like a relic of the Holy Cross placed on a table to the right of a king’s throne: not destroyed, not forgotten, but not exalted either. It is set beside, rather than above, him.

***

www.danielmitsui.com

27 March 2017

INVENTION & EXALTATION

Part 1 of 10 of the Lecture Invention and Exaltation, which I first delivered on 14 September 2015, to open an exhibit of my artwork at Franciscan University of Steubenville.



Invention of the Holy Cross, painting by Ulrich Mair

I wish you a very happy feast. This is a special day dedicated to the Holy Cross, one of two in Catholic tradition. The Invention of the Holy Cross, which is celebrated on May third, commemorates events that occurred in the year 326.

St. Helen, the mother of the emperor Constantine, travelled to Jerusalem to seek the True Cross. One of the Jewish scholars of the city knew its location; this was a secret that had been passed down through his family since the time of the Passion. He revealed it to Helen after interrogation; there, three crosses were found. To distinguish the cross of Jesus Christ from the crosses of the two thieves, each was held over a corpse. The deceased came to life upon contact with the True Cross. This Helen divided into three parts. One she sent to Rome and one to Constantinople. The third remained in Jerusalem. The man who revealed the location professed his faith; he later became a bishop and martyr, known as St. Quiriacus.

The relics of Our Lord’s Passion occupy a place within Catholic tradition close to that of holy images. Comparable veneration is given to each, and their histories are tightly interwoven. The Invention of the Holy Cross inaugurated the first great era of Christian art; Christian art emerged from underground along with the sacred wood. As described by the art historian Emile Mâle:
The discovery of the Holy Sepulcher and the True Cross in 326 must be considered as one of the great events in the history of Christianity; it was seen as a genuine miracle. Constantine immediately had magnificent monuments built on the site of rediscovered Calvary.... On the exact spot where the cross had been planted - the sacred spot regarded as the center of the world - a great cross was erected, encased in gold and decorated with precious stones.... Countless pilgrims from the remotest parts of the world flocked to Jerusalem. It was not enough for them to venerate the Holy Sepulcher; they visited all of the places consecrated by the Gospels, and everywhere they found magnificent basilicas.... All of these buildings were decorated with mosaics.
Sacred art here is confident, dogmatic and grand; its figures no longer wear the disguises of Classical antiquity, as they did in the art of the catacombs. Pilgrims to Jerusalem collected holy oil from the shrines in tiny flasks of cast metal or painted glass and wore them around their necks. These were decorated with the same images seen in the mosaics. Wooden stamps for pressing the images into the dough for eulogia bread were also popular. Through portable objects such as these, the artistic traditions reached the ends of civilization.



Exaltation of the Holy Cross, painting by Martin Bernat

In the early seventh century, the army of the Persian king Chosroës took Jerusalem and carried away the relic of the True Cross. According to the Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine:
Chosroës wanted to be worshipped as God. He built a gold and silver tower studded with jewels, and placed within it images of the sun, the moon and the stars. Bringing water to the top of the tower through hidden pipes, he poured down water as God pours rain, and in an underground cave he had horses pulling chariots around in a circle to shake the tower and produce a noise like thunder.... He sat on a throne in the shrine as the Father, put the wood of the cross on his right in place of the Son, and a cock on his left in place of the Holy Spirit.
The emperor Heraclius led a crusade to recover the relic of the True Cross. Victory having been achieved, he personally restored the relic to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross commemorates these events.

I have a special devotion to both of these feasts. How beautiful that the Catholic Church celebrates the finding of things that have been lost, and the retaking of things that have been stolen. This seems especially relevant in our own age; at times I feel that most of my religion has been lost, or stolen from me.

***

Works quoted:

Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, translated by William Granger Ryan, (Princeton University Press, 1993).

Emile Mâle, Religious Art in France: The Twelfth Century, translated by Marthiel Matthews, (Princeton University Press, 1978).

***

www.danielmitsui.com

25 March 2017

MYSTICAL UNICORN HUNT

MYSTICAL UNICORN HUNT

This is an ink drawing on a 5" × 7" piece of calfskin vellum. I drew it using calligraphers’ inks applied with dip pens and brushes.

The original was created on private commission.

It is formatted as a verso page in an illuminated manuscript. The central image depicts a mystical unicorn hunt as an allegory of the Incarnation of Christ.

The unicorn is a long-established Christological symbol. The second century Physiologus, precursor to the medieval bestiaries, described the unicorn as
a small animal, but exceeding strong and fleet, with a single horn in the centre of its forehead. The only means of capturing it is by stratagem, namely, by decking a chaste virgin with beautiful ornaments and seating her in a solitary place in the forest frequented by the unicorn, which no sooner perceives her than it runs to her and, laying its head gently in her lap, falls asleep. Then the hunters come and take it captive to the king’s palace and receive for it much treasure.
The chaste virgin who captures the unicorn of course represents the Blessed Virgin Mary. Late medieval artists combined the iconography of the Annunciation with the imagery of the unicorn hunt, representing the Archangel Gabriel as the hunter. The most elaborate of their compositions included hunting dogs representing mercy, truth, justice and peace; Old Testament prefigurements of the Annunciation; and the Marian titles from the Canticle of Canticles.

In this drawing, I included the Enclosed Garden, the Closed Door, the Tower of Ivory and the Tower of David. Specific works of art that provided inspiration for the figures are a panel painting from the circle of Martin Schongauer and the Très Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry.

The ornamental border surrounding the central image contains branches of magnolia, dog rose and oak.

Read more here.

MYSTICAL UNICORN HUNT

I have also issued a letterpress print of this drawing, with a different border (containing branches of the plants that yield coffee, tea, cocoa and vanilla) and a pattern of orthogonal letters spelling the words AVE MARIA in the background sky. Read more here.

***

Works quoted:

Physiologus, quoted by Edward Payson Evans, Animal Symbolism in Ecclesiastical Architecture, (W. Heinemann, 1896).

***

www.danielmitsui.com

24 March 2017

UPDATE on the SUMMULA PICTORIA



A few weeks ago, I posted a description of the Summula Pictoria, a magnum opus that I hope to complete over the next fourteen years.

I have spent the last couple of weeks figuring my plans for the project in greater detail. I have revised the description of it on my web site, which you can read here.

After long consideration, I have settled on a complete list of drawings to include within its scope, 235 in total. I have decided to draw them at a larger scale that I originally intended (the smallest ones will measure 4.5" square rather than 3" square; this will allow me to include as much detail as I think they require). The full list can be read here.

I am considering Easter of 2017 to be the official beginning of my work on the Summula Pictoria; my initial tasks are research, training and practice in figure drawing, and designing the patterns that will appear on Haloes, Damask, Carpets and Tiles within the drawings. Later in 2017, I shall design and construct costumes for the figures. In 2018, I shall pose live models, design the architecture, and draft compositions for all of 235 pictures. I shall begin making the final drawings about two years from today, hoping to complete 4 or 5 large ones and about 15 small ones per year for 12 years.

I hope to secure advance patronage for most of the drawings. This is most important at the beginning of the project. Please contact me if you would be interested in commissioning any of these works. I can accept payments for them in advance, or in installments, or in smaller monthly amounts. Patrons will have the opportunity to purchase prints of completed drawings at a discount.

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www.danielmitsui.com

23 March 2017

GOLDEN LEGEND



There are a few books that are especially useful to anyone who wishes to understand or to make religious art; living in an time when its meaning has become obscure and its traditions have become neglected, they are essential.

The Bible, obviously, is foremost. After that, the book that I pull from the shelf most often is the Golden Legend, a thirteenth-century encyclopedia that collects, organizes and expands the contents of medieval martyrologies. Blessed James of Voragine is the author.

Although usually described as a compilation of saints’ lives, it contains also a wealth of information related to the feasts of the temporal cycle. As I wrote in my essay on Hagiography and the Benefit of Doubt, I consider the contents of the traditional martyrologies worthy of belief.

More commonly, they are treated with sneering condescenion. In the present day, the Golden Legend is often treated as an amusing curiosity, a collection of outlandish stories that cannot be taken seriously. That is partly because of an irrational bias against believing in certain kinds of miracles (as if omnipotence were in some way qualified), and partly because few have read the book in its entirety.

Blessed Jacobus was not irrationally credulous. In the Golden Legend, He readily admits when a story is based on a doubtful source. In several places, he writes that he is recording a story (such as that of the childhood of Pontus Pilate) for the record, but considers it unworthy of belief. In others, he acknowledges contradicting versions of a particular story, and presents both (sometimes passing judgment on which he considers correct, sometimes not). In others, he makes a theological criticism of a particular tradition (for example, in his entry on the Feast of the Circumcision, he argues that all of the divine body of Christ was assumed into Heaven, and that relics of the Christ Child’s foreskin iare therefore false).

The Golden Legend is a a work of erudition and insight, the work of a smart and holy man who yet had a healthy generosity in his consideraion of tradition. It contains none of that eager dismissiveness that is found throughout Alban Butler’s Lives of the Saints.

In the entire Golden Legend, I find fault only in perhaps a dozen sentences. There are some places where married life and the company of women are excessively (I believe) disparaged, which is common enough in medieval and patristic writings for monastic readers; a few infelicitious uses of the term Ethiopian to describe a pitch-black demon; and one occasion (in the legend of St. Margaret of Antioch) where Blessed Jacobus is more skeptical than I think necessary.

The Golden Legend is not altogether comprehensive: for example, many of the Irish saints are not included. Certain saints attained their widespread popularity after the thirteenth century, and are not included - St. Barbara and St. Roch are notably absent.

But the Golden Legend nevertheless summarizes, better than any other single book, the spirit of devotion to saints that spanned all of Christendom for nearly the first three-quarters of history under the New Covenant. The idea expressed therein of what a saint is, and what a saint does, is the only idea that can truly be called traditional, handed down from the time of the Fathers and the time of the Apostles. To adopt another, contradicting idea of what a saint is or what a saint does is to profess faith in a different thing altogether, even if the same word is used to name it, even if many of the old figures are grandfathered into the new definition.

The Golden Legend has not only enormous religious value, but enormous cultural value as well. Better than any other single book, it summarizes one of the major cycles of Western literature. These are the heroes and the stories that, for centuries, everyone knew. The art and thought and history and literature of those centuries are indecipherable without some knowledge of these heroes and stories. That knowledge gives content and context to other products of traditional Christian civilization such as Thomistic thought and Gothic architecture. Without it, they are like empty, nestless shells. I cannot take seriously any list of the great books of the Western world that does not include the Golden Legend near its top.

The Golden Legend was first translated into English in 1483, by William Caxton. Much of this translation can be found online, or reprinted. This is the translation that William Morris published at the Kelmscott Press in 1892. I enjoy reading 15th-century English, and so value this translation highly. It is, is places, more of a paraphrase of Blessed Jacobus than a direct translation, and it includes new material (such as the legend of St. Barbara and a long liturgiological treatise on the Mass).

William Granger Ryan translated the 13th-century text in its entirety into modern English. This is the version I have on my shelf, in two volumes. I have seen a one-volume edition of the same translation for sale. This is an exceptionally useful book, although the footnotes add an element of skepticism to it.

***

www.danielmitsui.com

22 March 2017

SACRED ART and CRYPTOZOOLOGY



I have written in defense of the traditional hagiographies of patristic and medieval times, the wonderful accounts of the miracles and martyrdoms of the saints. Most of them, I contend, are worthy of belief, and all of them deserve the benefit of doubt. The first objection that I expect to meet is that some - such as those of St. Martha, St. George, St. Margaret, St. Sylvester and St. Benedict - involve dragons and other creatures generally considered mythological. Surely we know that such things never really existed, and that any stories involving them must be fictitious, right?

At the risk of being mocked, I contend that these legends too ought to be given the benefit of the doubt.

Our knowledge of what animals exist on the earth, and when and were they live or have lived, is not perfect. Just about everyone agrees that enormous reptilian beasts - some agile predators sharp teeth and powerful jaws, some with wings spanning fifty feet - once roamed the land and filled the sea and the sky in great numbers. Conventional wisdom says that these were all extinct long before St. Martha or St. George lived. But really, conventional wisdom said the same thing about the cœlocanth before a fisherman hauled one into his boat. There are many examples of these so-called Lazarus taxa. And really, who knows with total certainty what sort of creatures were lingering in the wilderness in the time of St. Martha or St. George, or swimming in the River Ness in the time of St. Columba of Iona?

Creatures as fabulous as the half-ton, ten-foot tall elephant bird were still running about when the Council of Trent concluded. Creatures as fabulous as the giant squid and the colossal squid are still swimming the ocean depths; based on the contents of sperm whale stomachs, they are not even very rare, yet they evaded the prying eyes of mankind and all its cameras until a few years ago.

The bias against belief in stories of legendary creatures is so strong, that they probably would be dismissed even if evidence of their plausibility were made plain. My older son was for a time deeply interested in the deep ocean. In at least two of his books, I read some commentary that basically said: The giant oarfish may have inspired legends about sea serpents. Now look at a picture of an oarfish:



This creature grows to lengths of at least 36 feet (in the deep ocean, perhaps longer). Its head is covered with red spikes. It takes a practiced sort of scientistic myopia to look at it and say: This may have inspired legends about sea serpents instead of: Hey, look - a sea serpent. I mean, look at it; it’s a sea serpent. I expect that if small mammal resembling a white bearded horse were to prance up to a group of biologists and poke them with the long spiraling horn protruding from its forehead, the biologists would say: This heretofore unknown creature may possibly have inspired legends about unicorns.

Finally, I will note that the legend of St. George, as told in the old hagiographies and liturgical texts, is not the legend told by Edmund Spencer. St. George was never a dragonslayer. Rather, the dragon became tame, and was led into the city like a dog on a leash. The point, and it is an important one, is that a dragon, in the definition of these legends, is not merely a large reptile but specifically a demonically possessed large reptile.

Consider that the Gospels say plainly that demons can possess animals (like pigs). Consider what sort of behaviors have been documented (recently and reliably) in demonically possessed people: preternatural strength, levitation, spewing noxious liquids. Is there any traditional description of a dragon, in any part of the Golden Legend, that could not be satisfied by a demonically possessed crocodile? I know of none.

I will admit, however, that the heraldic type of dragon is more fun to draw.

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www.danielmitsui.com

21 March 2017

COLORING BOOK: The SAINTS



The Saints: An Adult Coloring Book was published by Ave Maria Press in 2016. It measures 8 1/2" × 11" and contains thirty coloring pages, each featuring a different saint. The pictures are details from my ink drawings; some of the decoration and lettering were taken from other drawings and rearranged new compositions, but all of the artwork originally came from own hand. The Blessed Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul are included, as are less familiar saints such as Gobnait and Drogo of Sebourg.

It can be purchased through the following websites:

Ave Maria Press
Amazon

My introduction to the book is a condensed version of my essay on Hagiograhy and the Benfit of Doubt; in the summaries I wrote of the 30 saints&rsqup; lives, I was faithful to the traditional narratives.

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www.danielmitsui.com

20 March 2017

HAGIOGRAPHY and the BENEFIT of DOUBT

ST. LUCY

ST. FRANCIS

Emile Mâle:
It was no new departure when at the end of the thirteenth century Jacobus de Voragine wrote the famous Golden Legend, for in it he simply popularised the lectionary, preserving even its sequence. His compilation is in no sense original. He is content with completing the stories by recourse to the originals, and with adding new legends here and there. The Golden Legend became famous throughout Christendom, because it put into the hands of all men stories which until then had hardly been found outside the liturgical books. The baron in his castle, the merchant in his shop could now enjoy the beautiful tales at will.

The attack made on Jacobus de Voragine by scholars of the seventeenth century misses its mark. The Golden Legend, which they accused of being a legend of lead, was not the work of a man but of the whole of Christendom. The candour and the credulity of the writer belonged to his time. The stories of St. Thomas’s voyage to India or of St. James’s miraculous cloak ... though displeasing to the strict theologians trained in the school of the fathers of the Council of Trent, were universally accepted in the thirteenth century. They were read in public in the churches, and they were illustrated in the windows. To condemn Jacobus de Voragine is to condemn all the ancient lectionaries, and with them the clergy who read them and the faithful who listened.
The detractors of the hagiographical tradition which the Golden Legend summarized are legion - beginning with humanists such as Desiderius Erasmus and Lorenzo Valla, and including such churchmen as the Counter-Reformatonal iconoclast John Molanus, John of Launoy, Adrien Baillet and others whose skepticism triumphed in the great stripping of the calendars in 1969, on the instructions of Sacrosanctum Consilium to purge the liturgy of anything that smacks of mythology. 



I will always be a defender of the Golden Legend and the traditional hagiographies - and more than a defender of them, a believer in them. That is to say, I believe that they are holy, deserving of preservation, and usually true. To a modern skeptic, this belief seems foolish and romantic; the sort of thing that could only be maintained through deliberate ignorance.

But the Golden Legend does not require a suspension of disbelief, nor a double standard of truth (one for reason, one for faith), nor any particular hermeneutic to believe. All that is required is the benefit of doubt. That is to say, most of the stories recounted by the traditional hagiographies give us no reason, in themselves, to disbelieve them. 



A qualification must be made here. The hagiographies are not inerrant and I certainly make no claim to the contrary. They were compiled by human authors without divine inspiration. Some contain errors. On occasion, there are confused identities, or details disproved by real, ubstantial evidence. On occasion, there are contradictory versions of the same story, as with multiple claimants to the same relic. In such cases, someone must be wrong. When I first read the Golden Legend, I was impressed by the the intellectual seriousness with which its compiler approached his task. Blessed Jacobus readily admitted when a story was based on a doubtful source, or when different versions of it existed. Yet these are the exceptions, not the rule. They are rarities among the hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of hagiographies that have been quashed or edited beyond recognition in the name of historical accuracy.


The traditional accounts of nearly all of these lives of the saints become incredible only when they are read with a prejudice against the miraculous. And most of the proofs offered by scholars debunking the hagiographies and explaining what really happened are as baseless and arbitrary as the stories themselves are accused of being. 



For example, according to the Golden Legend:
Instantly the body of Saint Dionysius stood up, took his head in its arms, and, with an angel and a heavenly light leading the way, marched two miles, drom the place called Montmartre, the hill of martyrs, to the place where, by his own choice and by God’s providence, he rests in peace.
Modern scholars are unanimous in rejecting the story of St. Denis carrying his own head for two leagues. Nowadays, everybody knows this didn’t really happen - what really happened is that two rival churches claimed the honor of being the place of the saint’s martyrdom and death, and the story was invented as a compromise. Or, what really happened is that ignorant medieval peasants misunderstood the artistic convention of depicting a decapitated martyr holding his own head and invented a story to match. 



But there is no evidence whatsoever that the story is not true as recounted above. There is no evidence whatsoever that it was invented to pacify rival holy sites, or to explain the misinterpretations of cathedral statuary. All of this is is pure conjecture. The only reason that a man would accept the new explanations is that he gives the benefit of the doubt to the skeptic over the tradition; that he believes that a saint carrying his head two leagues is something that cannot - therefore did not - happen. 



And the most popular explanation - that of medieval peasants misinterpreting art - betrays a misunderstanding of the way hagiography, iconography and devotion related in the Middle Ages. (As a general rule, any explanation for anything that hinges on the idiocy of medieval people is a product of bigotry and little more.) This explanation assumes that medieval hagiographies were essentially the product of folk religion, generated by the ignorant peasantry and only later accepted by the official Church. This is simply untrue; in the Middle Ages, the theologically learned participated in the cults of devotion, and usually initiated them. The authors of the lives were among the most educated men of the day, popes and bishops and abbots, St. Gregory the Great and St. John of Damascus.

Blessed Jacobus of Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, was not a folklorist wandering the fields and writing down the fantastic bedtime stories of the unlettered. He merely collected, compared and expanded what was already written in the various liturgical martyrologies: what was read at Matins across Christendom. The legend of St. Denis was known and believed and chanted aloud by the very clergy who commissioned the cathedral sculptures. It was known and believed and chanted aloud by St. Thomas Aquinas and the scholastic theologians disputing at the University of Paris. They certainly had no reason to doubt it. 



For there is no evidence that St. Denis did not carry his head, or that St. Catherine did not destroy the wheel of her torture through prayer, or that St. Medard was not sheltered from the rain by an eagle, or that St. Cuthbert was not reverenced by otters after a night of penance in the cold sea. There is no evidence that St. Eustace did not witness the apparition of the Crucified Christ between the antlers of a stag, or that St. Hubert did not witness the same, or that the two men are really one (for who says that God cannot work a similar miracle twice?). There is no evidence that a giant of monstrous appearance did not ferry the Christ Child across a river, or that St. Genevieve’s candle was not snuffed by a demon - for giants and demons are real, and still exist today.

And even more importantly - we know that holy scripture, the inerrant Word of God, speaks of rods turning to serpents and rivers turning to blood. The miracles of Elijah are no less fantastic than the miracles of St. Nicholas. Balaam’s ass is no less fantastic than St. Rumwold. Jonah’s whale is no less fantastic than St. Brendan’s. The Old Testament - and the New - are no less fantastic at face than the Golden Legend. They smack no less of mythology to the modern mind. What could be stranger than the Resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Of course, the Resurrection is an article of faith, something that a Christian is simply not permitted to disbelieve, and the words of the Old and New Testaments are inerrant; hagiographies are not (as Blessed Jacobus would be the first to admit). But our attitude toward the legends of the saints reveals and affects our attitude toward God, toward His creation, toward His revelation. The Old and New Testaments are not just books of stories whose veracity we are not permitted to question; they are records of God’s actions among men and as man, a record of events that really occurred - and they speak of marvels. We either live in a world in which these sort of things happen, or we do not.

ST. SEBASTIAN

ST. SILVESTER

Works quoted:

Emile Mâle, The Gothic Image: Religious Art in France of the Thirteenth Century, translated by Dora Nussey, (New York: Icon Editions, 1972).

Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, translated by William Granger Ryan, (Princeton University Press, 1993).

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www.danielmitsui.com

18 March 2017

COLORING SHEETS: CRUCIFIXION

Here are two coloring sheets based on my drawing and letterpress print of the Crucifixion:

 

More coloring sheets are available here.
I hold the copyright to these images, and I permit them to be downloaded, printed and photocopied only for use as coloring sheets. Printed copies must be distributed for free. If you want to use them in any other way, you must first receive my permission. Posting the images to a web log or sharing them on a social medium is encouraged so long as it links back to my web page.

I do not charge for downloading the files. However, a donation is suggested. This should be proportionate to the number of files downloaded and the number of copies made of them.



If you are unable to make a donation, I ask that you at least subscribe to my newsletter by e-mailing danielmitsuiartist at gmail dot com.
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www.danielmitsui.com

17 March 2017

ST. PATRICK & the BLESSED VIRGIN MARY



I drew St. Patrick in the style of 6-9th century Northumbro-Irish art, surrounded by decorative knotwork, lacertine animals, geometric patterns and rune-like lettering. He wears a mitre and holds a cloverleaf representing the Holy Trinity.

Read more here.



This companion drawing of the Blessed Virgin Mary I executed in the same style, looking to manuscripts such as the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow for inspiration.

Read more here.

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www.danielmitsui.com