When challenged by one of my patrons to create a new image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I determined to reconnect this devotion to its early expressions in the visions of St. Gertrude, and to create an image with the vigor and precision of late medieval art. The 1467 Sanctus Salvator engraving by the Master E.S. is the most obvious artistic influence on the figure of Christ in my drawing.
The Sacred Heart itself, in its oldest depictions, is flat, simple and symmetrical. Later artists gave it more dimension and detail, but without making it accurate anatomically. Their result, I think, is artistically disastrous: something like a dripping strawberry with a tube projecting from its top. Here, I have done the opposite: I started with the shape of a realistic heart, and reduced that to a stylized emblem.
I placed the emblem within a frame shaped as an ogee trefoil intersecting with an equilateral triangle. This is meant to suggest the triple invocations to the Holy Trinity and the triple petitions in the Kyrie Eleison that begin the Litany of the Sacred Heart. The Crown of Thorns fills the entire space beteween the edge of the heart and the frame.
The drawing’s coloration is based somewhat on Italian white vine illumination: everything is either left white, or colored with black ink or very dark shades of blue, green, red or purple ink. Although I did not reference any specific works of Chinese, Persian or Mamluk art while making this drawing, the ornament reveals my growing interest in these. For years, I have both worked in the style of late Gothic art and transposed traditional compositions into foreign styles; my ultimate desire, however, is to integrate these approaches, as I have done here.
The animals that appear in the halo include sea horses, embryonic dogfish in their tendrilous egg cases, platypodes, chameleons, lyrebirds and a pangolin. Here, I further another of my long-term artistic projects: the application of the vision of God in nature (one of the most important principles of medieval art) to contemporary knowledge of nature. As I wrote in 2013:
The temptation, for a modern man, is simply to snicker at the authors of the bestiaries for their zoological naïvety. But they 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?In the animals chosen here, I see symbols of universality; they represent all of creation worshipping its God. Chameleons are creatures that seem to contain within themselves all colors, and lyrebirds are creatures that seem to contain within themselves all sounds. Platypodes and pangolins are beasts so peculiar in their anatomy that they resemble animals of every class. Dogfish and sea horses (as their names suggest) are aquatic creatures that resemble terrestrial ones.
The Latin inscription that runs around the perimeter of the drawing is the versicle and response that end the Litany of the Sacred Heart: Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our heart like unto Thine. The letters are based on those in 15th century tapestries, and are surrounded by vines.
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I drew several versions of this image, including one in full color on Japanese washi: