12 March–5 June
Admission £11.50; concessions available
‘WHAT-O! WHAT-O!’ as the boulevardier and aesthete Bertram Wooster might have put it. Two Watteau shows are currently running in London. One at the Wallace Collection divides between upstairs and the Wallaces’ own eight paintings by the artist plus two others, and the basement with works from the period collected by Jean de Julienne, Watteau’s dealer and one of his most important patrons. The other show, the main item really, is at the Royal Academy.
Bertie Wooster didn’t go to Burlington House too often, the next door Burlington Arcade was more his milieu, and with the recent run of duff shows at the Academy who could blame him for spending his time with the Ladurée macaroons and the vintage Rolexes. But Bertie’s creator might have seen the point of Watteau. One of the painter’s earliest jobs was in scene painting and the paintings, especially the fêtes and the backstage clowns and musicians, belong to the aame stage tradition as Wodehouse’s novels and work in musical theatre. And Watteau, the great draftsman of the coquettish neck or turned ankle, no more searches for psychological depth than Wodehouse.
Yet there is a difference in attitude, the difference between French wit and English humour. The scenes of gallant men and elegant ladies in Watteau’s rococo parks have a hint of menace about them. We are not so far from the world of Laclos and Les Liaisons dangereuses.
Jean-Antoine Watteau has been treated as the great artist of an unserious age, the man who became the scene painter for a Japanese youth cult celebrated in the delicious film Kamikaze Girls. The Academy’s exhibition shows what a great artist Watteau actually is. The collection of eighty-eight drawings might be overwhelming but persevere. The excellent catalogue will help the viewer see the wood for the trees and gain some sense of his immense achievement as a draftsman.
Watteau’s earliest drawings are in red chalk, his later ones in the so-called ‘three chalk’ technique – the combination of red, black and white which he invented. By means of just these different chalks, and cross-hatchings and blurring of edges, Watteau gives us marvels of line and shape and suggestion. There is great precision here along with sweet suggestions of flesh tints.
But, not only did Watteau invent a new drawing technique, he created a new occasion for drawing. Other artists had usually made sketches with a particular purpose in mind, say, a picture they intended to work up. Watteau more than anybody else simply drew what he wanted, making the individual drawings on a sheet an interesting though not necessarily related whole, and then binding them into books to be used as patterns if required in some later painting. He was the real thing, an avant-gardiste who was genuinely revolutionary unlike the enfants terribles of Brit Art.
The show gives a little more than a tenth of what remains of Watteau’s graphic output. In his day, at a time when connoisseurs were more and more interested in drawings, he was considered a finer draftsman than painter. And because his paintings have suffered from poor restoration the drawings represent the best we have of what he intended. Those at the Academy are amongst his finest and they show a wonderful range of methods for rendering light and colour and tone. And all achieved with a virtuoso speed and freedom.
The subject matter is almost entirely people. Socially the grandest come from copies of other artists’ work. Left to his own devices, Watteau’s subjects are more often servants, musicians, soldiers, street performers and fashionable women. There are studies of hands and necks, but not much of the heroic academic formalism of the seventeenth century. Nor are there many nudes, possibly because Watteau destroyed most of his nudes shortly before his death. The one nude which the catalogue especially highlights for its erotic content shows the administration of an enema. It is one of the few extant examples of that subject from this or any other time.
It is interesting to compare Watteau and his younger contemporary, William Hogarth. Hogarth would have none of Watteau’s fancily dressed harlequins and sensitive clowns. His world is altogether ruder and grosser. He is the finer painter but he shares a humanity in his treatment of the serving classes. His famous painting in Tate Britain of his servants may have greater character than the numerous drawings of heads which fell into place with such facility on Watteau’s sheets of paper, yet both artists herald equality and fraternity long before the philosophes. And their young women are very attractive.
FATIMA: THE 13TH DAY
A story of hope
13th Day Films Ltd, 85 minutes
AT ONE time Sunday afternoon, after the ‘traditional’ roast lunch, consisted of a walk to my Aunt and Uncle’s home to eat ham sandwiches, tinned fruit cocktail, and jelly and cream with whichever members of the family had gathered there. There followed the great family tradition of watching a film, frequently in black and white, and then all falling asleep.
Often the film would have a religious theme such as Ben Hur or Franz Werfel’s much acclaimed Song of Bernadette. These sorts of films often get a bad press, but many actually are worth revisiting again. Recently there has been resurgence in the making of ‘good’ religious themed films.
One such film is Fatima: The 13th Day. This film is a powerful presentation of the events surrounding Our Lady’s apparitions. It especially shows the sufferings that the three shepherd children endured as God’s messengers of Our Lady’s messages of peace for the whole world. There was much hype in certain circles about this film and it certainly lives up to expectations.
It combines a certain dramatic intensity with an attractive and innovative artistic presentation, without the syrupy sweetness of many of the older films about Fatima. The writers show a good catholic understanding of the message of Our Lady, and draw frequently on the writings of Sr Lucia Dos Santos. It shows not only the demands made on the three young seers, but also the demand made on their families and the people of Fatima.
Don’t expect to hear the whole story of Fatima, however: the film is not long and does not move at a great speed. It is highly stylized, moving from black and white to colour, which gives it balance between the ordinary of this world and the wonder of the heavenly.
This film has a broad appeal, and will appeal especially to a younger audience, who can relate to the three seers. It also prompts those who are familiar with Fatima and its message to go back and fill in the gaps that the film does not cover.
There have been several other films about Fatima, The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima from 1952 among the more well known; but this film stands well in our generation, adhering more accurately to the facts as well as being a more spiritually provoking film than the rest. It deserves to be promoted from the Sunday afternoon snooze slot.
HAIL, MOTHER OF THE REDEEMER
Thomas Luis de Victoria
The Sixteen, Harry Christophers
THOMAS LUIS de Victoria wrote some of the most sublime sacred music ever committed to paper. The Sixteen have, in recent years, earned a reputation as one of the most accomplished choral ensembles of the age. This is thus a CD that promises plenty, and delivers it all. Victoria lived and worked through the decades of the Counter-Reformation, in and for a Church that was hungry for the emotional intensity which characterizes his music. As Harry Christophers, The Sixteen’s founder and conductor, writes in the preface to notes (and translations of the texts) which are as generous as the music itself, Victoria was a ‘scholar, mystic, priest, singer, organist and composer – six persons all rolled into one’, and ultimately a ‘towering genius’. He was also a deeply devout man who, incidentally, was ordained priest in 1575 by Bishop Thomas Goldwell, the last surviving member of the pre-Reformation English hierarchy.
There is in his music an underlying joyfulness which does not characterize the work of all of his contemporaries. This is particularly true of much of the music in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary featured on this CD, not least the Missa Alma Redemptoris Mater for two four-part choirs which forms its backbone, and the five-voice motet on which parts of the Mass are based. The Salve Regina with which the CD begins sends shivers down the spine, whilst the Regina Caeli is as exuberant as the text demands. Throughout the CD, The Sixteen show the combination of professional preciseness and emotional understanding which has become their trademark.
Victoria died in 1611, near the convent of enclosed nuns in Madrid which he had served first as chaplain and then as organist, having left the bright lights of Rome to contemplate God. This anniversary CD, produced to complement The Sixteen’s ‘Choral Pilgrimage’ which takes them to venues across the UK this year, is a fine tribute to a man who himself used his musical talents to pay worthy homage to the Mother of God.
Music for Holy Week and Easter
The Choir of Pusey House, Oxford Available from Pusey House, St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3PG
WHEN IT comes to gems in the crown of Anglo- Catholicism there can be few that shine brighter in these dark days than Pusey House. It has at the centre of its vocation the role of bringing young men and women to the fullness of the Catholic faith and to serve the wider Catholic movement. In producing this CD they have delved into the mine of music for Holy Week and Easter and brought together an inspiring and uplifting range of styles. The singing is of the highest standard as one might expect from a choir gathered from the finest choral institutions in Oxford. The music was all used for the celebration of the Triduum at Ascot Priory in 2007 and if this CD is anything to go by it must have been a wonderful few days combining the highest liturgical standards with the highest musical standards. The settings recorded are in both English and Latin and represent some of the finest works of Continental and English music. Gibbons’ ‘Drop, Drop, Slow Tears’ might be placed at the centre of Anglican Patrimony. The CD also has on it a recording of the sung Passion used on Good Friday. Sung in traditional language the crowd parts are sung to the setting by Victoria. Rarely sung in parishes now, this version of the Passion is both moving and meditative. The peak of the CD comes with the singing of Palestrina’s Missa Regina Coeli. The joy in the cadences of the music is palpable and speaks truly of the joy of the Resurrection, the joy we share with Our Lady crowned Queen of Heaven. Using the music for his setting of the Marian anthem Regina Coeli, Palestrina has created a wonderful exposition on the Resurrection and throughout the setting you can hear the echo of the final triumphant ‘Alleluia’. The final item on this CD is a premier recording of Sydney Watson’s ‘Haec Dies’. Commissioned for Pusey House, Watson is recorded as having declared that his composition had two merits: that it was short and was very easy. It is also wonderful to listen to and is not to be missed (at just under a minute in length you do have to listen carefully!). Finally, no review would be complete without mention of the CD cover and booklet. The images used are exquisite and serve to encourage the listener, if encouragement was needed, to seek out Pusey House for themselves. The text is interesting and relevant and offers an insight into the history and daily life of this house of ‘piety and learning’. This CD will make an excellent addition to any collection.
COMMON WORSHIP: HOLY WEEK AND EASTER
Church House Publishing, 464pp, hbk
978 0715121719, £100
THE LITURGY for Holy Week and Easter – the ‘Week of weeks’ – preserves some of the oldest liturgical texts still in current use, and rehearses the most fundamental Christian memories.
Thankfully, Common Worship has gathered together some exquisitely crafted texts and liturgies, mostly reflecting what would have happened in the early Christian communities and that which is still practised in the Western Church today. In the Church of England nowadays, we have a user-friendly and adaptable resource which I believe has preserved the best of the Vatican II revisions of the Roman Liturgy forty years on. Some of my Roman Catholic friends are very impressed with the whole of the Common Worship series, especially Daily Prayer, Times and Seasons, Festivals, and now this Holy Week and Easter volume. Purchase them and use them. You will find them a rich treasure store.
I find the present Anglican provisions fresh, upbeat and contemporary even as they use all the ancient texts. As the Preface to Holy Week and Easter says, ‘This volume presents a part of the Times and Seasons material from Passiontide to Easter. It combines the order for Holy Communion in modern language, the Passion Gospels, music for the Easter Liturgy and the Eucharistic Prayers.’ All these texts are in a large clear format suitable for use at the President’s chair and on the Altar. Lots of silk ribbons enable places to be marked and ease forward and backward movement throughout the book, which is tastefully bound in Passiontide red. Helpful material for a mid-morning Eucharist on Easter Day is provided together with Stations of the Cross (in the modern version) and Stations of the Resurrection.
The first part of the book has material for the celebration of Holy Week in chronological order day by day with texts for the Passion Gospels in both continuous and dramatic forms. Then come the texts for the Eucharist helpfully placed in the centre of the book. This allows the book to lie open easily on the Altar (an Anglican custom based on the position of the Holy Communion rite in the Book of Common Prayer). These are followed by the Easter Liturgy in two forms, with Vigil readings, psalms and prayers and full musical settings of the Exsultet and Prayer over the Water. Musical resources follow in the traditional Sarum tones for prefaces and Eucharistic prayers.
In this one volume, the presiding priest has all he wishes for an elegant, modern English Catholic celebration of the Great Week with his people gathered together around Lectern, Altar and Font. We all know how deeply powerful and moving these ancient liturgies can be and their capacity to touch and change and affect individuals and whole communities. They present in the best possible way the kerygma of the Faith – the Good News that the Lord who died on the Cross now lives and reigns and wants to fill us all with his Easter life and energy. Buy and use this excellent book and you will see the Church of England at its very best. Here we have a liturgy we can be proud of: used creatively and imaginatively, it will give glory to God and help move his people on the Way of Salvation.
England’s National Shrine of Our Lady
John Rayne-Davis and Peter Rollings St Pauls Publishing, 96pp, pbk
978 0854397969, £5.95
I HAVE been wondering for many months why the statute of Our Lady of Walsingham in my parish church includes an image of a frog on its base. I now know, thanks to this wonderful little book, that the frog is in fact a toad, and that a ‘toadstone’ is an East Anglian symbol of the devil. Its position at the base of the statue thus reflects God’s power to overcome evil.
This is just one of the ways in which this introduction to the history and charism of Walsingham achieves that difficult goal of being at once accessible to those with little knowledge of the place or of pilgrimage in general, and at the same time interesting and informative to seasoned pilgrims. Rayne-Davis tells with some style the history of the foundation of the Shrine, its medieval glory days as one of the four greatest shrines in the world (along with Jerusalem, Rome and Compostella), and its record of royal patronage. His account of the wanton destruction of the Shrine, in the name of a king who had once been one of its greatest devotees, is both simple and moving. Only in the chapter on the rebirth of Walsingham does the fact that this is a book produced by and (primarily) for Roman Catholics intrude on the consciousness of an Anglican reader. Even here, though, there is a generosity of spirit which befits the nature of Walsingham itself: ‘It is important to acknowledge that the Anglican contribution to restoring Walsingham as a centre of pilgrimage is immense and on-going.’
The main text of the book concludes with a spiritual reflection by Peter Rollings, after which an appendix includes the full text of the late medieval Pynson Ballad, upon which much of our understanding of the early days of the Shrine is based; the Address given by Cardinal Griffin on the occasion of the Consecration of England and Wales to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1948; and a number of prayers and devotions, including the Community of Our Lady of Walsingham’s Act of Entrustment to Our Lady of Walsingham, Mother of Vocation. This is a prayer of which Catholic Anglicans should make much use in our current distress.
In short, this is a fine introduction to the history and character of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, of equal value to newcomers and old hands alike.
CHRIST ALIVE AND AT LARGE
Unpublished writings of C.F.D. Moule Edited by Robert Morgan
and Patrick Moule
Canterbury Press Norwich, 192pp, pbk
978 1848250185, £19.99
PROFESSOR C.F.D. Moule, known to generations of theology undergraduates (and I suspect his fellow clerics and academics) as Charlie, was one of the great English New Testament scholars. I knew Charlie as a Selwyn College theology student in the Sixties, and his lectures (which began with a prayer) were always crowded and inspiring. Owen Chadwick persuaded Charlie to conduct the annual Selwyn retreat to Launde Abbey in 1968, and his learned conservatism, evident piety and remarkable independence of spirit were stimulating and enlightening to all who had the privilege of meeting him and listening to him.
Charlie was a remarkable teacher and he said himself that he ‘read the Bible as a scholar, though always as a scholar on his knees’, and this is most characteristic of his learning and beliefs. Although initially slow to publish, he was prolific in his later years, and one of his obituaries names him as ‘probably the most influential British New Testament scholar of his time.’ He was a fastidious academic who combined a passion for exact truth in the Gospels and Epistles with genuine modesty as to his achievements. He was also extremely tolerant and kind (I am speaking here from personal experience) towards students who did not have the same level of intellectual or spiritual understanding as himself.
The present volume is one of the titles in the ‘Canterbury Studies in Spiritual Theology’ series, and over a third of the book is an introduction to Charlie’s life and work. His life was ‘apparently simple, but [one] in which so much happened’, and the introduction indicates clearly Charlie’s views on the main theological issues of the day. I found the section on history and the Gospels particularly useful here; it clarified Charlie’s contribution to this area of debate. The bulk of the book is concerned with Charlie’s later writings, the majority written when he was over eighty years of age, and typically he does not shirk from addressing some of the most difficult issues relating to Christian belief. The sections on Judas Iscariot, ‘After death, what?’ and the Christian doctrine of the Trinity are especially thought-provoking. The book concludes with seven sermons relating to the Church’s year. The style is, as always, clear and uncomplicated, and the insights profound.
I would recommend this book without reservation to anyone with an interest in New Testament study and the development of Christian thought. To those who are not already familiar with Charlie’s work, the book offers an excellent introduction to his thought, and a real incentive to move on to his more substantial writings. To those already familiar with Charlie in his prime, the book serves as a fitting epilogue and tribute to one of the giants of modern New Testament scholarship.
Reflections on Our Lady
Pope Benedict XVI Family Publications, 224pp, pbk
978 1907380051, £11.95
THE VISIT of Pope Benedict to these isles last year helped break down many ill-founded preconceptions of the man by which people who knew little about him had been seduced. In some cases these were based simply on prejudice; in others they were the views of academics and theological students who knew rather more about Joseph Ratzinger the theologian than they did about Benedict the shepherd and pastor. This collection of the Pope’s reflections on Our Lady between 2005 and 2010 will help to continue this feeling of getting to know the man, since the overwhelming impression the reader is left with is that of the author as a humble and simple servant of God. The text – sermons, speeches and writings – is as theologically rigorous as one would expect, but at the same time infused with a directness and clarity which brings home the importance of the Blessed Virgin Mary to our faith. This book should be read by those who love Our Lady; but perhaps it should be read even more by those who continue to harbour suspicions about her role in our salvation. For such people, Benedict is a persuasive advocate of Mary’s proper place.
The book is arranged into chapters based on Our Lady’s titles, events in her life, and the words of some Marian prayers. Throughout them all, however, certain themes emerge. The first is the simplicity of the Pope’s message. One homily is based on the simple fact that the Angel’s greeting to Mary at the Annunciation which we translate as ‘Hail, Mary’ is more literally translated as ‘be glad’, or ‘rejoice’. A sermon for the Solemnity of the Assumption begins with the proclamation, ‘The Feast of the Assumption is a day of joy. God has won. Love has won. It has won life.’ Joy is a recurring theme throughout this book, as is the sheer goodness of existing: the words of the angel, ‘Rejoice, because God is with you,’ proclaim the fact that it is good to be, because God is alongside us. The closeness of God to the people he has created and redeemed is another fact close to Benedict’s heart. This closeness is made possible by Our Lady’s joyful obedience, through which she also comes close to each one of us. ‘While she lived on this earth she could only be close to a few people. Being in God, who is close to us, actually, ‘within’ all of us, Mary shares in this closeness of God. Being in God and with God, she is close to each one of us, knows our hearts, can hear our prayers, can help us with her motherly kindness and has been given to us, as the Lord said, precisely as a ‘mother’ to whom we can turn at every moment.’
Book reviews are not normally meant simply to quote large chunks of the text under review. The purpose of doing so here is to highlight another revealing quality of this book: the fact that Benedict (aided by excellent translation) has a beautiful turn of phrase, which brings to infectious life the good news of the message he is proclaiming. ‘The narrative of the Annunciation illustrates God’s extraordinary courtesy. He does not impose himself … he first seeks her consent.’ Simple, direct, and immensely moving.
Buy two copies of this book: one to keep yourself, and one to give to someone who would not think of buying it themselves.
THE FUTURE OF CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY
Wiley-Blackwell, 254pp, pbk
978 1405142731, £19.99
WHAT IS the point of atheists? What do they offer the rest of the world? In the days before the professionals (Dawkins et al.) began to make serious money out of the non-believing creed, English atheists were generally few in number and with a high degree of theological literacy. Why did God create them? Perhaps, it was to keep the rest of us honest, to criticize, question and mock the easy presumptions of the God-fearing majority.
Now that militant secularism holds centre stage, and we realize both that it has been around for longer than we thought and that it is likely to grow more powerful not less, it may be that the roles are reversed. Who but a theologian could puncture the dull laziness of the Neo-Darwinians? The mere declaration of a superior creed will achieve little: only the subtlety and richness of theology may slowly open up a larger world.
Professor Ford would, I think, commend theology on such lines for, as he keeps insisting, it has a vocation and a capacity for wisdom, beyond mere knowledge, a power to enlighten. I say ‘I think’ because I am not sure I fully understood what he was saying in this manifesto. I had asked to review the book because of the challenge of the title, only to find (parish priest that I am) that the complexity of contemporary university culture is far beyond me. This is a manifesto for academics. Theology here means academic, university study.
Don’t get me wrong. I found nearly every page stimulating and challenging. It was only when I asked myself at the end of each chapter what it all meant that I realized I no longer have the concentration for the minutiae of academic methodology (one of the reasons I find Dr Williams so hard to follow). If you intend to teach in a university faculty, this book will be required reading. If you plan to take theology as a second degree, it will help to explain and may even justify the ever-increasing influence of religious studies in English faculties. If you plan to read for a first degree, just learn your Greek.
How can theology put forward its case in a fragmented, mildly hostile environment? By presenting the drama of God, man, Church and society. By drawing believers and non-believers into a richer (and more dramatic) world. By its fruits it will justify itself.
Ford’s manifesto for a confident theology, that can hold its own in a pluralist academic environment, carries conviction by its depth. This is no new science among other new sciences, but an ancient discipline, based upon drama, with centuries of tradition behind it, and above all the sheer depth and power of Holy Scripture itself.
OUT OF THE SHADOWS
A Workbook on the Life of Blessed John Henry Newman Dora Nash
St Pauls Publishing, 40pp, pbk
IT IS good to know that when one is struggling for ideas of how to teach young people about the lives of the Saints there are resources as good as this one available. Dora Nash has done many of us a great service in setting out, in six easy to use sessions, teaching ideas and materials that are intended for use with Key Stage 3 pupils; but could just as profitably be used with parish groups preparing to make pilgrimage to Newman’s Shrine at the Birmingham Oratory or perhaps to Littlemore. We are not all natural communicators or able to gather the material together for such a course, but Nash sets this all out clearly and in a user-friendly format. She takes the student on a journey through Newman’s early life, his time at Oxford and then on to his conversion and work with the Oratory. Each section concludes with activities, some of which are written whilst others are more practical, such as writing a play about Newman’s conversion. A favourite question, which I am not sure many could answer, is ‘what are the Thirty-Nine Articles?’
Throughout the entire course Nash points the student to the role of God in Newman’s life and to his sanctity. What comes through clearly is that in the darkest moments of Newman’s life the light of God shone through with deep clarity and peace. Each section ends with prayer which could be used perhaps whilst on pilgrimage. If I have one suggestion it is that this book could do with being accompanied by material for use in a PowerPoint presentation. The book is well illustrated and it would be a shame in teaching the course not to be able to use the images. I heartily recommend this book to priests, teachers and youth catechists; it points us, in all that it sets out and teaches, to the message of Newman for today. That is that ‘we should always follow our conscience; that we should love and defend the Church and that we should know and understand our Faith so we can explain it to others’. This book does all of this.
Petra Robinson ND