Victorian Avant-Garde

Tate Britain

12 September 2012–13 January 2013 Admission £14, concessions available

DO WE need another exhibition of the PRB (Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood)? There was Millais at the Tate in 2007/8. Most of this exhibition is on permanent display at the Tate or in Liverpool or Birmingham or Manchester. There has to be a reason for another show.

One reason is to see the few paintings which aren’t in our major galleries. The preeminent two in this show are works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti; the Delaware Art Museum’s Lady Lilith and Lord Lloyd Webber’s A Vision of Fiammetta.

Another reason for the show is to promote the PRB. The Brotherhood began in 1848 and was over by 1853. This exhibition contains 175 works but no more than forty date from within that period and that compromises the show. Late Holman Hunt has many of the elements of PRB but the same doesn’t go for Millais or the aestheticism of Rossetti, let alone Burne -Jones.

The upfront reason for the show is to claim the title ‘Avant-Garde’ for the PRB. What could be more critically respectable, cutting edge and influential than to share the same label as the early twentieth century Avant-Garde? But compare Burne -Jones’ The Golden Stairs and with two works which it influenced, Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase nos. 1 or 2, and just see how many differences can you find between the two movements. The modern Avant-Garde was anti art and anti craftsman. It requires just as much input from the viewer as the artist or it may have no settled viewpoint. It was often anti gallery, anti story and anti design. Its women have no erotic charge. The modern Avant-Garde shares no family likeness with the PRB.

But perhaps we do not need a reason to see the PRB again. The show is already very popular and even if by room six you might feel the queasiness which otherwise comes from eating too many Creme Eggs, there are some good pictures. One of the best and certainly the archetypal PRB picture is John Everett Millais’ first serious work, Isabella (1848–9). It illustrates a story from Boccaccio and in this one scene Millais has caught the essence of the story. The characters are drawn from friends of the artist. They are set in a brilliant if unconventional design. The paint is carefully and minutely applied with rather flat colours but to hyper-realistic effect. And dominating the whole there is the most evil leg in Western art.

None of Millais’ other works quite live up to it. His The Carpenter’s Shop (1849–50) with what Dickens called its ‘gin-shop’ Mary is a religious variant of Isabella. Sophie Gray of 1857 and Mariana (1850–1) are very fine paintings, though more conventional.

Both are highly sensitive pictures of women and of female sexuality. Against the claim that the PRB found a new type of female beauty the young Sophie Gray is no heavy jawed, dull muse but the kind of middle-class teenager as produced by what were once called our top schools – regular features, stroppy look and fashionably red lips. Mariana by contrast is a strong-hipped woman – those hips sheathed in blue draw the eyes into the composition – not much interested in the religion around her.

The other painters on show diverge to either extreme of Millais. William Holman Hunt does paint religion. The show gives us the Keble Light of the World and other highlights such as The Shadow of Death (1870–3) and The Scapegoat (1854–6). Holman Hunt was admirably strong on the ‘carnis’ side of incarnation which led on to the spot of painting in the Holy Land. His theme was Victorian Protestant morality rather than the presence of God. Unsurprisingly the interest in morality became an interest in Annie Miller, the model of The Awakening Conscience (1853– 4), a painting which expertly combines sex and morality.

Conscience was, of course, more for the women than the artists. The arch-practitioner of that was Rossetti. Luxurious ginger tresses, bee stung lips, the fuller figure, if his models had been sportier they would have been the Angelina Jolies of their day. Rossetti’s iconography often suggests the superiority of the spiritual, but it is a spirituality accompanied by some very sensual charms. The exceptions are his Marys, especially in the Ecce Ancilla Domini! (1849–50). This poor matchgirl was panned by the critics. She is in stark contrast to another biblical woman, The Beloved (1865–6) whom Rossetti derived from the ‘Song of Songs’, a text more in tune with his sensibility.

Alongside from the three big Brothers, the show gives us a selection from some of the lesser lights. Ford Madox Brown, grandfather of TV’s Ford Madox Ford, was the oldest member. His pictures seem to work best if they are odd shapes. The Coat of Many Colours (1864–6) and Cromwell on His Farm (1875) are dull, but the circular The Last of England (1852–5) and an oval view over Hampstead have wonderful, tight designs. Another unusually shaped canvas is the famous Work (1852–63). Here Brown shows a range of male and female workers benignly supported from the sidelines by Thomas Carlyle and the Revd F.D. Maurice. Hung nearby is another famous example of political painting, Henry Wallis’ The Stonebreaker (1857). Not a great painting but a powerful message to the kind of people who buy paintings.

Socialism and beauty are joined by myth in the collaborations of William Morris and Edward BurneJones. Burne -Jones really isn’t a Pre-Raphaelite and the final room where his work hangs beside late Holman Hunt shows why. Holman Hunt’s The Lady of Shalott (1888–1095) is a work which with reworking became progressively harder to disentangle or even concentrate on. It maintains his characteristic high colour and minute detail. By contrast Burne -Jones paints women – pale, interesting and usually naked. He represents the sickly unwholesomeness of an Aestheticism which had nothing to say in the face of mechanized warfare. The real Avant-Garde did and the rest is the history of art in the twentieth century.

The reproductions in the catalogue are disappointing.

Owen Higgs


David Adam

SPCK, 144pp, pbk

978 0281065776, £8.99

LIKE COUNTLESS others, I have enjoyed and learnt a tremendous amount about Celtic spirituality from David Adam’s writings over the years. Not only does he write about spirituality, but he also crafts beautiful prayers in the Celtic tradition.

His new book keeps up his previous high standards. His prayer life is rooted in both the practical experience of the life of a parish priest and also a life nourished in the literature of both our own age and the past. This book is sprinkled with quotations from authors from A.N. Wilson to Antoine de SaintExupéry, via the Desert Fathers and the Scriptures.

The author’s deep understanding of the need to ground his spiritual guidance in ways that will appeal to the ordinary reader and parish study group is shown in the layout of this book. Ten short chapters succinctly examine a way in which the Christian can come closer to God. Each one ends with a few simple exercises and prayers for the individual or group. These are designed so that the ideas and thoughts explored in that chapter can be put into practice in the reader’s daily life.

In common with his earlier books, David Adam starts with a simple idea and then puts flesh on the bones. He does this by helping us explore how this basic idea might be worked out in our daily lives.

The basic idea for Occasions for Alleluia came to Fr Adam one Holy Week, as he was reading A.N. Wilson’s novel, A Bottle in the Smoke. He describes coming across the passage where Julian Ramsey, the main character in the novel, finds himself falling in love for the first time. He realizes that being in love has made him see that the world around him, mundane and ordinary before, is now shot through with a new intensity of colour and perception. His world is transformed by the experience of loving. Even a bike ride becomes an ‘occasion for alleluias!’

Father Adam uses that quotation to urge us to take time ‘to get off our bikes’ (a lovely phrase for those of us who remember Norman Tebbit) and have ‘time to stand and stare’. He reminds us that we can ‘fail to see the extraordinaryness of the ordinary things we deal with every day, and if a sense of wonder goes out of our lives, we will find few occasions for saying ‘Alleluia’

or for praising or being aware of God’.

Readers will be aware of this quest to find ‘Heaven in Ordinary’ in George Herbert, Philip Sheldrake and Angela Ashwin among others. However, Fr Adam does not duplicate their work, but rather helps us to see ways in which we can attune ourselves to achieve it.

His first chapter, entitled ‘Unbending the Bow’, uses the simple illustration of how a bow which is left tightly strung, in time, is unable to function properly. This picture reminds us of the need we have, to find times to relax and stop being distracted by ‘busyness’. In other words, the proper use of ‘resting’ so that we become open to God in the ordinary things, and situations, we encounter every day.

Further chapters explore how we use our ability to see, know, love and enjoy our lives through our surroundings and so deepen our relationship with God.

Although this is a short book, (167 pages), it actually took me a long time to read, though not because it is difficult to take in. Indeed the clarity of writing and simplicity of style make it extremely accessible. It is rather because Fr Adam uses quotations from so many other authors to illustrate his points, that I found that I was constantly having to stop and either ponder on what those quotations that were already known to me meant in my life, or to look up ones I did not know in order to find out more about the context in which the short extracts used by Fr Adam were set. Those of us who were fortunate to have sat at the feet of good biblical tutors will know of the danger of taking quotations out of context!

At the end of this book Fr Adam sums up his thesis by reminding us that we will understand each situation as an opportunity to meet God when we: build times of rest into our day, and as a part of that rest make space for God; teach ourselves to look with the eyes of our heart, i.e. give undivided attention to the people we are with (isn’t it irritating when we are talking to someone and they are constantly looking over our shoulders at someone or something else?); develop that knowledge that is more than book knowledge by knowing God rather than knowing about him; give thanks for all the people who have given their love to us, knowing that, before you ever loved you were and are loved. And finally, this book reminds us that we should come into God’s presence with thanksgiving, giving thanks for both the Creator and his creation. In other words, we are to make all of our lives an occasion for Alleluias!

Beautifully illustrated by Monica Capoferri, this is a book I would strongly recommend for individuals and groups to use to refresh their spiritual lives.

George Nairn-Briggs


Georg Ratzinger

Ignatius, 270pp, hbk

978 1586177041, £15.50

ALAS, IN this instance Ignatius Press fails to deliver on the success of Peter Seewald’s Benedict XVI: Light of the World (2010). The formula and the format are similar: verbatim reports interspersed with (italicized) editorial comment, analysis and information. However, the material from Michael Hesemann – with whom Msgr Ratzinger, ‘Herr Domkapellmeister’, was in conversation – moves without proper clarity between the strictly factual and informative and moments of (often trite) subjective observation. There are occasional factual inaccuracies: the title relates how, ‘[s]hortly after the end of the war, on November 9th, 1945, our parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary… with my brother the celebrant’, when in fact the future Benedict XVI was only ordained priest in 1951. The idiom in which Georg Ratzinger’s recollections are recorded strikes one as awkwardly formal, although it is not clear whether this is the result of the translation (by Michael J. Miller) or simply the manner of speech to which the octogenarian Bavarian is accustomed. For instance, although moving and evidently impassioned, the account of their mother Maria’s death jars somewhat: ‘She died around noon on a rather cold day.’ George Weigel, who wrote a foreword to Light of the World, describes this volume as ‘[an] evocative portrait that sheds new light on the experiences that shaped some of the thinking of Pope Benedict XVI’, and this is to an extent accurate, particularly in terms of correcting some of the caricatures of the Supreme Pontiff to which the contemporary media are susceptible. Nine chapters, easily digestible, cover the joint experiences of the Ratzinger brothers from their childhood in Bavaria through to Joseph Ratzinger’s election as the 265th Pope, during which period Georg, a musician, pursued a successful professional career as director of the Regensburg Domspatzen cathedral choir. Unlike Light of the World, this work focuses less on the genesis and development of Benedict’s thinking as upon the influence on that thinking of his personal relationships, whether within his family or those he developed through his academic pursuits. My Brother, the Pope helps humanize a Holy Father ill at ease with celebrity and publicity, painting a warm – and, one feels, deeply faithful – portrait of Pope Benedict XVI. There is a certain nobility to this book, which is far from any attempt to ‘cash in’ on Georg’s fraternal connections: on the contrary, one readily senses both the affection and the profound respect he feels for his (younger) brother – and, whether only with hindsight or as was evident at the time, Georg Ratzinger is able to discern in their earlier years his brother’s vocation to the awesome office he came to assume. My Brother, the Pope is pleasingly punctuated by black-and-white and colour photographs from throughout the brothers’ lives. The book begins with a quotation from Pope Benedict in which he pays tribute to the brother who has helped him ‘to accept with serenity, with humility, and with courage the weight of each day.’ This is but one reason to believe that Georg Ratzinger’s memoir is fundamentally an honest and heartfelt tribute to our Pope.

Richard Norman


An Archaeology of the Oath Giorgio Agamben

Polity, 80pp, pbk

978 0745649719, £12.99

IT IS a commonplace to suggest that language is what makes us human and distinguishes us from the animals. But if language is about conveying information, are not bees equally capable? And if language is performative, cannot lions roar and birds sing so as to warn potential rivals? It is not language in general that sets us apart, but the oath.

An oath is, in its essence, neither telling us something nor doing something, but creating something. A word creates a fact. This is, if you like to use theological language, God’s great gift to man. For it is really only God who can guarantee an oath, who has the power to create facts by his word alone. ‘And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.’

However, as we know and affirm, the Word became flesh. Made in the image of God, humankind can share this creative power of God’s word here on earth. Information – think science and technology – may be useful, as are performative utterances of warning, appreciation, attraction or rejection. But the oath goes much further than either of these forms of language. It involves the speaker directly in the first person singular, it fixes itself to a specific place and time, and establishes a fact – of promise, service, obedience, protection, obligation… The entire social and political life of man derives from this unique quality of the oath. It is because you and I can bind and commit ourselves, by and to a word alone, that we are able to live together, and so create and establish our common life.

Agamben, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Venice, presents the oath as the crucial event of anthropogenesis – the process by which mankind became humanity, or the point where apes became men. And from this foundational vision of the oath as all- encompassing, he shows how it then solidified into institutions, and how it has fragmented. Religion and law have become two distinct disciplines, each with a slightly different grasp of the nature and structure of an oath.

Do we not – falsely, as he asserts – think of oaths either as promises and undertakings (as in a marriage contract) or as statements of fact (as in a court of law)? And have we not also lost our proper sense of horror at the breaking of the Third Commandment – the use of the divine name, in all its sacred power, cut off from its word, as it were an oath without an oath.

Though he focuses most strongly on Greece and Rome, there is much of interest for the Judaeo-Christian tradition. For example, he reads the famous statement of faith in Romans 10.9 – ‘If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved’ – as in essence an oath. The affirmation of faith binds

me as believer to the Lord Jesus, and creates the fact of my salvation: by word I can make real the promise of the Word to me. Not surprisingly, therefore, he has little time for the Creeds, with their tendency to present faith as a statement of doctrine.

Anthropogenesis is, sadly, not well regarded in Anglo-Saxon scholarship, but it thrives in Continental Europe. This bookis dense and at times difficult, but it is also exhilarating and demanding. It is a work of vigorous imagination, and has left me with the strong sense that we, as traditional Christians, must do more work on this great treasure we have been called to nurture – the creative power of the Word, which turns speech into facts.

Agamben quotes a fellow Italian scholar, the brother of the country’s Prime Minister no less, ‘We are today the first generation who live our collective life without the oath as a solemn and total, sacredly anchored bond to the body politic.’ There is work to be done.

Anthony Saville


Constructing the Story of a Medieval Masterpiece Malcolm Hislop

Bloomsbury, 222pp, hbk

978 1408171776, £24.99

WHAT A lovely book. A large picture book for adults. Definitely one to be considered for Christmas, to give or be given. The awesome quality of medieval gothic cathedrals is generally acknowledged, but not necessarily appreciated in an age when we can so easily build stadia and other large structures for public gatherings and celebration. Is it that we have too many of these glorious buildings, so that we have become blasé? Or is that, in our ignorance, we do not fully appreciate the richness of the architectural forms, nor the manner in which they solved the engineering problems of their vision? If it is the latter, this book offers an exciting and not too demanding run through all the elements that go to make up the cathedrals we travel to.

Hislop is an academic, well versed in his subject, with a full range of resources to call upon. The emphasis is on England, from the start of the construction of Durham Cathedral (1093) to that of Henry VII’s chapel at the east end of Westminster Abbey (1509); but he does not neglect the rest of Europe.

The illustrations are for the most part architectural drawings, which makes for clear and easy understanding of the different stages in the building; but there is also a surprising number of useful and detailed medieval pictures; as well as potted summaries of the key personnel involved. I would have liked more text, more thorough explanation of the different developments – flying buttresses especially. But I suspect that is because I enjoyed his explanations so much I wanted more.

I live up north, in Yorkshire wool country, where the architecture is dominated by sixteenth- and seventeen-century stone houses. This great flourish of private building was the indirect result of the dissolution of the monasteries and the transfer of capital from the Church to the gentry. I wouldn’t be without it, for it sets the framework and tone of hundreds of little market towns and villages across the north of England. This democratizing of architecture, which continued at least until the twentieth century, has much to commend it, not least for our own comfort.

All the same, we can still marvel at the creation of the gothic cathedrals – an achievement that would be inconceivable in our own generation. There is a grandeur of vision, a concentration of capital and resources, and the acceptance of risk, that is now almost unimaginable. Which is one of the reasons Liverpool Cathedral has such a powerful hold, as the final exemplar of an age of giants. Or should we perhaps add the tower at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, as the last, last cry of a lost culture. Who knows whether the Church of England will be able to continue to look after this heritage. But while it does, let us enjoy these triumphs of civilization. And understand them better.

John Turnbull


Fuel, Faith and the Energy Crisis Andy Mellen and Neil Hollow DLT, 266pp, pbk

978 0232529449, £12.99

IT IS pleasing that these authors, writing from a Christian standpoint and hoping to demonstrate that their subject is of moment to Christians, have chosen a title which is a scriptural allusion and a subtitle that is Trinitarian in form. If the title suggests an imperfect parallel, as it did to me, the reader who perseveres to the end of the book will find that this is both acknowledged and explained.

The three thematic elements of the subtitle are not rigidly separated, but for this reader the particularly useful one is the first. When I was a little boy I was taught to be clean and tidy, to eat what I was given without being what my Mother called a ‘glutton’, and to avoid waste. This still seems a good physical and moral basis for a life led along what are now called ‘green’ principles.

What, then, is the fuel crisis? Is crisis too extreme a word? Not at all according to these authors: it should be a self-evident fact that supplies of all fossil fuels are finite and will eventually be exhausted; and they provide plenty of well-documented evidence that this will not be in some remote geological era but in the foreseeable future. Yet we are so accustomed to an oil, gas and coal based economy that we cannot believe that the warnings are anything but scaremongering.

The book contains brief but surprisingly detailed histories of the use of fossil fuels, before then going on to consider various forms of renewable energy, some of which would make a contribution to the solving or mitigating of our difficulties. Ways of conserving energy are also examined in detail. But time has been lost; people are not convinced or, understandably, have little confidence in firms and governments. Nothing in sight at present would fill the gap that will be left by the fossil fuels – and we are not concerned here with just Britain.

Or at least we ought not to be, and this is where faith and morality come in. A Christian should consider mankind not as being free to take whatever he likes from the environment and to use it as he pleases, but as the steward of it, as suggested in Genesis. Much is made in No Oil in the Lamp of the needs of the animal and vegetable creation and, indeed, of the peoples of other lands, whose cultures and livelihoods are adversely affected by money-driven depredations; and of our descendants in a future that looks increasingly bleak. I would enlarge on this and say that we will seem to them to have been worshippers not of God but of Mammon and Moloch.

The only ultimate answer to our difficulties is the acceptance – the joyful embracing – of a far more modest style of life of genuine discipleship and a kindly use of God’s wonderful creation. Organic farming is seen in the book as a decent sustainable venture (one of the authors is a smallholder – the other has a doctorate in Environmental Biotechnology!), linking neighbour to neighbour. Indeed, there is so much in what is a fact- and idea-filled book that it should be commended to a wide readership to study closely, for its understanding and advice about things that can be, and are being, done by families, community groups and churches. The authors give a selection of examples, and forecast that churches, including house-groups, may become smaller and more accessible as travel becomes more difficult. There is also an attempt to describe a more spiritual life in accordance with Christian teaching.

There are things in the book with which I take issue: some of the author’s attempts to interpret (as opposed to reading faithfully) the Bible; their discussion of the second coming of Christ; their assumption that ‘work’ equals ‘paid employment’; and their discussion of property. And though they might already feel that they have bitten off more than they can chew (and are frank about their shortcomings), I would add that in my view certain questions should be given more careful consideration: What is money? How is it created? To whom does it rightfully belong? How should it be distributed? There are, I believe, Christian answers to these questions. The answers would take us a good way along our road, but without them we shall not get very far at all.

Dewi Hopkins


Edited by Sean Swayne The Columba Press, 80pp, pbk

978 1856077835, £5.99

Here is a useful thing: a pocket book that is genuinely small enough to fit into a large-sized pocket: certainly it would fit into a cassock pocket without difficulty. This is a reprint of a volume first published in 1991, published with the authority of the Irish Episcopal Commission for Liturgy, for interim use. The timing of this puzzles me somewhat, as the text seemingly fails to take account of the new translation of the Missal. The people are thus invited to respond ‘and also with you’ to liturgical greetings, whereas the instinctive reaction would now surely be ‘and with your spirit’.

However, this is my only quibble with what is otherwise an extremely useful volume, intended for those occasions when ‘a priest or deacon is called upon at short notice to give a blessing or lead people in prayer’. It will, however, also be of interest to all those who like liturgical books, but feel that they cannot justify the expenditure entailed in purchasing a copy of the full-scale Book of Blessings.

A wide variety of materia is provided: blessings for animals, cars, candles, children, farms, habits, holy water, houses, religious articles, shamrocks, shops, sporting events, wedding cakes and much else; along with graces for use before and after meals, the blessing of parents after a miscarriage, of a couple celebrating a wedding anniversary, of unbaptized children, and of those suffering bereavement. Thus one important purpose of this book, aside from the practical, is that it emphasizes the role of the Church – and specifically her priests – in every conceivable sphere in people’s lives, from the joyful to the tragic. Nothing is beyond the realm of God’s love, and there is no human situation which cannot be hallowed by the pronouncement of God’s blessing upon the individuals or things concerned. To that end, it is fitting that the book ends with the rite of anointing in emergencies.

The book is set out in a way which is both attractive and practical, and this combined with the modest price and the genuinely pocket-sized format will make this a useful addition to the libraries of priests and others.

Ben Tibbs


Jack Simmons, with additional chapters by Robert Thorne

Historical Publications, 182pp, hbk

978 1905286294, £22.50

IN RECENT months, this magazine has published reviews of at least two architects of central importance to the catholic faith in these lands.

This is an important book about the work of another architect of central importance to this cause. Yet this is a book not about a Christian building – at least by any ostensible reckoning – but about a structure built for and dedicated to that other great religion of the Victorian age: the railways.

George Gilbert Scott’s design for St Pancras Station and the Midland Grand Hotel would be of great historical interest if nothing of any import had happened to them in the years since their completion (and at one stage threatened demolition). The fact that St Pancras has been refurbished to become the London hub of the Eurostar enterprise (complete with champagne bar, implausibly lavish public house with prices to match, and a Carluccio’s restaurant which has proved indispensable to this reviewer when travelling north, despite the somewhat moody disposition of the staff and the limited availability of the facilities), and in the process, been redesigned and rediscovered as one of the architectural highlights of the London scene, merely adds contemporary relevance to the historical gems contained within this goldmine of a book.

The original chapters of this book were published in 1968, when the old St Pancras station appeared doomed to destruction. Robert Thorne has added two new chapters – ‘St Pancras Revived’ and ‘Fit for purpose again’. The chapter titles tell their own story, so there is not much left to say, beyond pointing out that Thorne writes with a wit and verve which well matches the original chapters of the book. The handsome illustrations – old and new – ensure that this is a book which contains something for everyone: from railway enthusiasts to architectural experts; from social historians to fans of old London; from those who wish to gawp at pictures of St Pancras as she used to be, to those who wish to gawp at St Pancras as she now is whilst sipping champagne at the longest bar designed for such purposes in Europe.

Truly, this was a cathedral for the railway age; yet the illustration of one of E.W. Godwin’s depiction of the Virtues at the apex of the grand staircase of the hotel reminds us that in the eyes of the great Christian architects, all buildings were designed to point God-wards. This is a fine book: buy it, read it, look at the pictures. Even better, go and catch a train from St Pancras, and gaze at the splendour which modern (and not so modern) architecture at its best can achieve. Better still, buy a lasagne, or a glass of champagne, and enjoy the splendour in style.

John B. Archibald ND