Thursday, August 23, 2007

Catholic Art at the Museum

I RECENTLY VISITED the Saint Louis Art Museum, in Forest Park, in the City of Saint Louis, Missouri, to look at its extensive Catholic art collection. This is a comprehensive art museum, and so has a wide variety of art of many eras and places, but Catholic art makes up a good fraction of the permanent collection on display in the main galleries.

Click here for more photos.

The words 'museum', 'music', 'mosaic', and 'amusement' all derive their names from the Muses, the nine spirits of the arts in ancient Greek mythology, who inspired (breathed in) divine graces on the artist.

We still recognize that every artist is totally dependent on grace, and so the Muses are just false names for Christ, the Logos or Word of God thorough whom the world was created "All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made," (John 1).

'Muse' may derive from an Indo-European word meaning 'to direct one's mind to something', and that is appropriate, for in its loftiest sense, making or contemplating art ought to direct your mind to higher, intellectual, spiritual, and divine things.

The modern museum is a child of the Enlightenment, designed to elevate the minds of the new wage-laboring urban masses created by the Industrial Revolution. A Catholic peasant of ages past had no need for museums: just going on pilgrimage to Compostela, Rome, or Jerusalem (on foot!) exposed him to an extraordinary variety of culture and arts, and as a farmer, he was very close to nature. Ultimately, the great cathedrals and shrines are far better places for inspiration. However, I still enjoy visiting this excellent museum!

Click any photo for a larger version.

Painting of Saint Lawrence distributing material wealth to the poor, who are the the true wealth of the Church.

Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. This painting has been a favorite of mine since childhood.

Gothic stained glass window of the Crucifixion.

Romanesque column capital depicting lions. In this era, much of the art in churches did not have iconic value, but was merely decorative.

Head of Christ, crowned with thorns; "the Man of Sorrows".

The marriage of Joseph and Mary.

A wax model.

Ecce Homo — Behold the Man

Ivory diptych.

A reliquary, in the shape of an arm; we may hope that it no longer contains a relic of a saint.

Judith slaying Holofernes

Adoration of the Magi

Aquinas defeats Averroës

A Cardinal.

A corpus from a crucifix.

These photos were taken without a tripod or flash, under harsh nighttime lighting conditions: most of these galleries have much better indirect natural daytime lighting.

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