22 July 2017



This Millefleur Press broadside of the Sacred Heart 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.

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 I drew.

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 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 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. On the cope worn by Jesus Christ is a pattern composed of the words JESUS CHRISTUS DEUS HOMO in orthogonal letters and a labyrinth that once decorated the floor of the Basilica of St. Bertin at St. Omer.


Read more here.