Monet and Architecture
until 29th July, 2018
Americans were some of the most devoted purchasers of the works of Claude Monet (1840-1926) and outside of France the U.S.A. has some of the best collections of Monet’s paintings. Thanks to the National Gallery you currently do not have to travel across the pond to see those US-domiciled works by Monet which feature buildings. Which is good because even though Monet painted a hundred views of London, only one is normally in London, and it’s not one of the nineteen famous views of the Houses of Parliament (sic).
Monet and architecture is not an obvious combination. Monet and lilies, Monet and poplars or haystacks is just as representative without raising the question whether Monet was an architectural painter. He wasn’t, at least not in the sense of someone who wanted to give a photographic record of a building or the kind of detail found in Ruskin or even Turner. As it happens Monet the tourist unintentionally followed in the footsteps of those great Britons and one of the show’s themes is how Monet the painter chose subject matter which Monet the tourist was visiting.
But Monet’s subject matter is more varied than the tourist label implies. He painted different kinds of townscape, such as Rouen Cathedral, the new railway bridge at Argenteuil or the Gare St-Lazare. And he painted man’s contribution to the countryside such as a customs house at Varengeville on the Normandy coast. Monet put into his pictures old buildings and new developments, picturesque bridges and dirty coal-heavers. The question which the show wrestles with is what role do those different kinds of building play in his work? And what was Monet actually painting?
Monet himself didn’t say much on the subject but we can guess from the critics he favoured that the atmosphere around certain objects was the prime concern of his later works. Indeed, one thing he did mention in his letters was effets of light at different times of day as they were related to atmospheric conditions. This becomes clear in the later works which feature effets of light as created by the famous London fogs or the reflections on the waters around Venice.
To get the effets right Monet would work minutely for weeks over a number of canvasses each set at different times of day and in different conditions but with the same viewpoint. This work was intense and time consuming. The late London paintings in particular were difficult because of the changeable weather and the different kinds of smog (weekday industrial smog was different from weekend domestic smog). After that series Monet changed over to make quick impressionistic sketches which he worked up at home in Giverny. That was both easier to achieve and truer to the effet of a momentary impression. In this way technique was at the command of the effets. Likewise, though subject matter was sometimes chosen because it would sell, hence the tourist locations, at most buildings were the bones on which the effets were fleshed out or which they played over.
And the effets are realistic even when, as in the Venice paintings, the subject matter goes astray. They are conveyed both precisely and freely which makes Monet hard to copy (at least the copyist who had taken up residence in the Gallery when I visited was struggling). The splendid ‘Le Boulevard des Capucines, Paris,’ is an excellent example of this. It’s also an example of the way the structure of the paintings often repeats the structure of newspaper prints or that of his own compositions. This shows the pressure Monet was under to make works to sell, but it also suggests that the placement of objects was not his main concern. Indeed, it can be a little disconcerting to recognise how often paintings have the same structure but different subjects.
However, questions like ‘What was Monet really up to?’ shouldn’t get in the way of enjoying the show. What does get in the way are the crowds, especially those who reckon Monet is best viewed close up – Frank should book and go early in the day. And then enjoy. At his best Monet is able to help us to see with his own powerful imagination and with great clarity. He makes the viewer feel alive with a farmhouse in the fog, a cool, blustery day on the beach, the cold of a cliff shadow and the cold of a cathedral shadow.
The show is well put together with an excellent catalogue, though it could be clearer as to which paintings are in the exhibition. The Gallery is also screening a free video about Monet. It shows the artist in Venice with a pigeon on his head.
THE DICTATOR POPE
The Inside Story of the Francis Papacy
Marcantonio Colonna (Henry Sire)
Regnery Publishing, pp 232, £20
Not long after the last Papal Conclave, a friend who is still in the Anglican Ministry said to me “You know, I don’t think I’m as Papalist as I thought I was”. I understood how he felt. Benedict XVI seemed so familiar, so safe, so almost Anglican. You could imagine him scuttling across the High in Oxford from Bodley back to his rooms in Tom Quad, for Tea, Evensong in the Cathedral, Hall, and Common Room. But Pope Francis? Perhaps a feverish imagination might cast him rather as the Chief Villain in a 1970s Bond movie, presiding over the prescriptive ritual torture of 007: “You may comfort yourself, Mr Bond, with the thought that at the very moment of your demise I shall absolve you … or perhaps not …”.
Indeed, the affable figure, the embodiment of Mercy who embraces cripples and kisses babies to camera, appears to inspire fear and dislike among those we might think of as his professional associates. Talking with fellow clergy returned from Rome, again and again one hears the same account of the bitterly toxic atmosphere among those who serve in the City upon the Seven Hills. In the book under Review, we have one layman’s interpretation of what has happened since Jorge Bergoglio attained the Chair of St Peter. But Henry Sire is an Oxford historian, who has spent the years of this pontificate in Rome working in the archives of the Order of Malta – and talking and listening. So this mature and well-considered book will give you both an account of what has been happening … and also a historian’s sober assessment of background and context. Its account could have been made more lurid; on his first page, Sire briefly refers to Pope Francis as “prodigal with bad language”. A less restrained writer might have made much of such public outbursts as his accusations of ‘coprophagy’. And a historian more inclined to run ahead of his evidence might have wondered about the mental balance of a senior ecclesiastic given to revealing such curiously indecent obsessions. Sire has preferred to be meticulous and factual.
The book is timely in as far as it comes at the exact moment when the Media have started to become uneasy about the pope they so long pigeon-holed and hailed as a ‘liberal’ and a ‘reformer’. Change has not been easy for them; many of them had made a considerable investment in the picture of Francis as a genuine populist and reformer determined to sweep away the cobwebs and the vested interests in a hide-bound Vatican bureaucracy. Two episodes have made them stop in their tracks and think. Both episodes related directly to their own profession. A letter from Pope Emeritus Benedict, publicised by the Vatican Media Office, sounded very positive about his successor … until it transpired that a paragraph had been omitted from the text made publicly available, which put a rather different complexion upon things. But this was followed by the revelation that there was yet another concealed paragraph, which intimated that Benedict was in fact not a little irritated by a crude attempt to manipulate both himself and the Press. The functionary concerned resigned, but was immediately reappointed to be second in command of the Office. Even journalists with a history of criticising Pope Benedict, such as Robert Mickens formerly of The Tablet, were unimpressed.
And secondly: Pope Francis gave way to his temper and angrily turned upon journalists who questioned him about a Chilean bishop involved in sexual allegations. He used the word ‘calumny’ and said that, if he were provided with evidence, he would act. It transpired that a very long written account of the sexual misbehaviour had indeed been handed to a Cardinal, who had passed it on to the Pope himself.
Sire’s researches demonstrate that, so far from being a reformer, Papa Bergoglio has been quite the opposite. He has been far less focussed than was Benedict on the hideous problem of the sexual abuse of children by clergy; if a priest has a friend in the inner circle of Francis’s cronies, he might be given a second chance … with catastrophic consequences. The ‘Zero Tolerance’ once so impressively promised has proved to be illusory. Another area concerns the Vatican’s finances. To sort these out, Francis appointed Cardinal Pell, who soon discovered a remarkable amount of money stuffed down the backs of curial sofas. The finances of all Vatican departments were put under external audit … except that the more significant departments were soon able to claw back, by special papal intervention, their financial autonomy; and the external auditors were sent packing.
The hitherto puzzling events concerning the Order of Malta are elucidated by Henry Sire, who is himself a member of the Order. He deals also with the Franciscans of the Immaculate, a vibrant young Order mercilessly attacked by the Francis machine, and its seminaries dispersed. Indeed, Pope Francis has explicitly expressed suspicion of seminaries which are full; few things appear more likely to arouse the pope’s suspicions of a bishop or an organisation than the misdemeanour of attracting seminarians. And, not least, the successive ‘Synods on the Family’, and their manipulation by the Pope, leading up to the deliberate ambiguities of his ‘Apostolic Exhortation’ Amoris laetitia, are carefully but vividly narrated. These are all important topics. But I would particularly commend to thoughtful readers Sire’s careful analysis of the Holy Father’s Argentinian background, together with his judgement that, in political terms, Bergoglio functions as Peronist. And, together with this, there is the breaking news concerning scandals in the diocese of Cardinal Maradiaga, the pope’s right hand man; and concerning the finances of a particular Roman hospital.
So, am I, like my Anglican friend, “not as papalist as I thought I was”? Quite the opposite. The frankly dysfunctional pontificate portrayed by Henry Sire has sent me back to the lucid accounts given by Pope Benedict of the limitations of the powers of the Papal Office. And, behind him, to Cardinal Newman, whose views were honed during his years of study of the Arian crisis when the ‘Teaching Church’, including a pope, failed in its duties. There is a robust and immemorially ancient groundedness in the life of the Roman Catholic Church which reassures me about the hard realities behind ephemeral squabbles, and suggests to me the joy of being in the right place to join in the fighting of the right battles. To me, now, those years of conflict in the Church of England seem rather like times spent rearranging toy soldiers.
Reflections of Glory
Rowan Williams, Chris Chivers,
David Neuberger and Jonathan Freeman-Atwood
St Mary’s Bourne Street, £10
975 0 9508516 7 9
Some years ago the slum parish of St Mary, Pimlico published a series of books where eminent scholars engaged with theological, pastoral, liturgical and political issues. In 2016 this tradition of intellectual engagement was renewed in a series of lectures given in memory of four significant individuals in its history: Lord Halifax, churchwarden for fifty years, Dr Eric Mascall, Honorary Assistant Priest, resident in the Presbytery, Fr John Gilling, former Vicar, and David Trendall, a recent Director of Music who died suddenly at too young an age. They are published in this elegant, smartly-designed book and are as worth reading as they were hearing.
I heard three of them but not that of Lord Neuberger, given when President of the Supreme Court. It is part charming memoir of Fr Gilling as Chaplain of Christ Church, Oxford. He says, “As a Jew with very limited if any religious leanings, I was not an obvious candidate for an ordinary Anglican Chaplain’s intellectual interest or pastoral attention.” Yet, he soon appreciated Fr Gilling “was by no means an ordinary Anglican or an ordinary chaplain. He was virtuous and devout, without being priggish or preachy … and he was an excellent gossip – not only well informed and amusing but, unusually in my experience of gossips, neither malicious nor prurient.” It is a delightful pen-portrait.
Lord Neuberger does not neglect a wider purpose. He provides a reflection on the grace of courtesy. He reminds us of numerous rude and offensive remarks, Denis Healey”s dismissal of Geoffrey Howe as being “savaged by a dead sheep,” among them and considers how and when such robust invective oversteps the bounds into illegality. Given current angst at the lamentable level of discourse on social media, its linguistic violence and intemperance, this is a useful consideration.
Dr Chris Chivers, Principal of Westcott House, Cambridge surveys Dr Mascall’s writing and its Thomist roots as the theological underpinning of the modern priesthood. Theological education and priestly formation today seems to me evidence of a tension between the orientation of the priest and church towards Beatitude and the counter-valent institutional business model that scorns the sacred for the busted-flush of modern corporate practice. He wonders if we fail to re-orientate people from where they are to Beatitude “how we are being faithful to the revelation itself or to the tradition of understanding to which it has given birth.” As Fr Mascall wrote, “The end of man … is the vision of God.” If we forget that, we are lost.
Professor Freeman-Attwood, Principal of the Royal Academy of Music, in rich, sumptuously textured prose eulogises David Trendall and takes his multi-faceted gifts to outline music’s need to be informed and inspired by that Trendellian legacy.
Lord Williams, released from the constraints of archiepiscopal office, flourishes again and graces numerous platforms. Here he is at his best. The relaxed elegance of his prose is alert to subtleties of argument and expression. He revisits the Malines conversations instigated by Halifax and taken up by Cardinal Mercier. He is particularly good on Charles Gore’s contribution. He joined the conversations after the first statement agreed by the original participants resulted in a “controlled panic” in Lambeth. Lord Williams argues that “the legacy of Malines … is not a dead affair” but engagement with the issues of authority, papacy, liturgical and sacramental unity ought still to be profitable, even in the changed circumstances of today.
ST SILAS PENTONVILLE
The First 150 Years
Anglo Catholic History Society,
pp 82, £10, 978-0-95605-659-7
The Anglo-Catholic History Society’s latest publication is a history of the parish and church of St Silas, Pentonville, a joint venture between the ACHS and St Silas that was produced in conjunction with the parish’s 150th anniversary last year. It is a well researched and richly illustrated study by Michel Yelton, who charts the ups and downs of that history, and the colourful activities of its characterful parish priests over the past century and a half.
Originally named Christ Church, the St Silas dedication came in 1867 (four years after its original consecration). Father A. L. Courteney, Vicar of Saint James, Pentonville founded Saint Silas, buying the land and carving the site of the church out of his parish. Originally a temporary building of corrugated iron, the designs for a permanent structure were drawn up by S.S.Teulon, but the building was fraught with difficulties. Father Courteney later sued both the architect and the builder for using Kentish Rag stone, rather than a harder more durable building material less likely to degrade over time.
The church that opened in 1863, completed by E.P. Loftus Brock, was much altered from its original design, elements of which can still be glimpsed around the building. For example, corbels in the cloisters were put in place for the non-existent galleries and beams can be seen protruding from the walls, supporting nothing.
The church became famous for its Anglo-Catholic ‘Papalism’ after it took over the Mission chapel of All Saints Margaret Street on the nearby White Lion Street, under the tenure of Father Tiverton Preedy. Preedy, a keen boxer, was latterly remembered for founding Barnsley Football Club. The liturgy and life of the church embraced the ‘highest’ elements of the Anglo-Catholic faith, with frequent Latin Masses (a Mass in Latin was celebrated after the regular Sunday High Mass especially for lapsed Roman Catholics in the area). The dedications of the altars and chapels in the church also reflected this ethos.
After Father Archer established devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to Our Lady, Saint Silas and the All Saints Mission became famous for a form of what was considered by some to be extreme Anglo-Catholicism. In Father Archer’s incumbency Low Mass was frequently said in Latin, which together with the introduction of Benediction and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament rooted the devotional and liturgical practices of the parish in those of the rest of the contemporary Western Catholic Church. The Children of Mary would meet week by week to say the Rosary together and the May Marian processions were all accompanied by girls in white veils.
Seriousness of catholic teaching, practice and devotion went hand in hand with a truly universal commitment to the cure of souls: in the 1950’s, Fr Edwin Young became chaplain to a local strip club, extending the parish sphere of pastoral influence to unusual boundaries. A rich and interesting history indeed.
Book of the month
REIMAGINING BRITAIN: Foundations for Hope
Bloomsbury Contiuum, pp 320, £16.99
Nations were said by the political scientist Benedict Anderson to be “imagined communities”. By this he meant not that national identity is illusory or insubstantial but that it is a “cultural artefact”, rooted in the shared narratives and imaginations of its participants. It is the premise of Justin Welby’s second book, Reimagining Britain: Foundations for Hope, that in Britain we are today presented with the “opportunity, necessity and challenge” to “imagine ourselves afresh”. This is something which “requires redefining the deep stories”. He argues that the need for this reimagining has been accelerated by, but does not originate from, the decision to leave the European Union. The Archbishop’s principal point of comparison is invariably 1945 and the post-war settlement. Reimagining Britain is not intended to offer a political manifesto. Yet neither is it an abstract work of moral reasoning; indeed, such is the immediacy of its focus that the Archbishop is conscious that the book might be “dating as quickly as ice cream melts in the sun”.
At the core of Reimagining Britain is a series of interconnected essays. These cover eight areas of public policy – the family, education, health, housing, economics and finance, foreign policy, immigration and ecology. That the Archbishop of Canterbury has chosen to present such a wide-ranging analysis is to be welcomed. For the book has surely been written in the context (even if Justin Welby is too polite to suggest this himself) of a meagre national political conversation about what Britain’s future outside the EU might look like.
Sir Humphrey Appleby, or his ecclesiastical equivalent, would surely consider the Archbishop courageous to have written this book. On the one hand he faces the danger of saying too little, of articulating abstract values or tools for moral judgments, without ever descending to particulars, leaving the messy work of applying principles to those in public office. On the other lies the error to which the 1985 Faith in the City report testifies: at a time when the Church had much of value to say about our inner cities, there was a lack of humility in conflating the truths on which the Church could speak with authority and the contingent assumptions of Keynesian demand management on which the Church can offer no special insight. Generally, Justin Welby navigates these waters with care. The book avoids being platitudinous: there is plenty with which one can disagree. He concentrates upon diagnosing problems with the status quo, and then tentatively illustrating what the public policy implications might be.
The Archbishop argues that those statements of “British values” with which many of us will be familiar from our local schools – democracy, the rule of law, respect – are insufficiently rich fuel to fire our national reimagining. The alternative to which he turns is catholic social teaching. This provides the intellectual groundwork for the whole book. So it is through the prism of such familiar principles as subsidiarity, solidarity and the common good that Justin Welby analyses Britain today. He augments these with the values of courage (comprising aspiration, creativity and competition) and stability (under which belong reconciliation, resilience and sustainability). The analysis in many of the essays is reinforced by a biblical illustration. For example, the chapter on immigration looks at the story of Ruth.
Two themes recur across many of the essays: that “society as community requires a reasonable degree of equality” and that local government must have more responsibility and resources. The chapter on housing – where he considers “the most far-reaching reimagining is needed” – provides an illustration of Justin Welby’s policy approach. He argues that “the purpose of housing needs to be understood as creating communities and not merely building accommodation”. There follows an analysis of the changing patterns since 1945 of housing tenure and of regional differentials in affordability. He appears sceptical about the merits of owner-occupancy. In relation to social housing, the main proposal is that housing associations’ remits be expanded so that “community development and not mere building becomes the main aim”. In the private sector, the Archbishop suggests that local government should be responsible “for the management of social value and the creation of community”.
One question consistently intrigued me as I read the book: who does the Archbishop consider will primarily do this work of the reimagining? Justin Welby declares himself neutral as to whether the reimagining is top-down or bottom-up. The constant references back to 1945 – the economic liberalization of the 1980s and 1990s is apparently a mere “adjustment”, not a reimagining – and an underlying assumption that it is the state which creates, or at least choreographs, the common good, give the book a social democratic tenor. Nowhere is a distinction drawn (to use Oliver O’Donovan’s terms) between the political and public spheres. To have done so would have added rigour and allowed for a more dynamic, creative role for civil society. The danger is that this paternalistic reimagining will be done to or for the poor and the marginalized, rather than by them.
A special New Directions reader discount of 30% off the RRP is available – simply enter REIMAGINING at the checkout on Bloomsbury.com.