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