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Coleridge: Against False beauty, Raphael’s Inner Gentleness, and the First Poet-priestess

By Ben Lima

Coleridge is a regular survey of artistic efforts to engage with the beauty of truth and splendor of form, and of the church’s reception and interpretation of these artworks (See yesterday’s introduction). New this month:

In Art and Architecture

Ecumenical conversations: Matthew Milliner lectures on “The Tao of Mary: Images of the Virgin in the Church of the East” (Oxford Interfaith Forum, Zoom, June 15), and David Laskin interprets Rome: “Christianity is just one chapter in the Eternal City’s rich spiritual history. Judaism, Islam and ancient Roman religions are also a big part of the picture” (The New York Times). Anna Somers Cocks on The Visual Commentary on Scripture: “Theology is making a comeback as an important tool for interpreting art” (The Art Newspaper).

Thinking about art and beauty, Elizabeth Lev recalls Pope Benedict XVI’s warning against the false and illusory: “It is a seductive but hypocritical beauty that rekindles desire, the will to power, to possess, and to dominate others … a beauty which soon turns into its opposite, taking on the guise of indecency, transgression or gratuitous provocation” (“Doctor Pulchritudinis,” Sacred Architecture). And Sarah Christine George reviews The Wounds of Beauty, a collection of dialogues with Margarita Mooney Suarez (Law & Liberty), Jess Sweeney reviews Makoto Fujimura’s Art and Faith: A Theology of Making (Humanum), and Ella Nixon considers the death of art, AI, and what comes next (The Critic).

On Renaissance and Baroque Italy, José Maria J. Yulo writes, “Raphael’s inner gentleness translated to the beauty in his art, in the form of a gift to his friend Lorenzo Nasi. On the occasion of Lorenzo’s wedding, Raphael presented him with a painting that came to be known as the Madonna of the Goldfinch” (The Imaginative Conservative). There are reviews of Saint Francis of Assisi at the National Gallery, London, by Christopher Howse (The Telegraph), Jonathan Jones (The Guardian), Laura Cumming (The Observer), David Trigg (Religion Unplugged), and Melanie McDonagh (Evening Standard). Lisa Hilton reviews Carpaccio, “Venice’s forgotten herald of joy” (The Critic) and Menachem Wecker reviews Caravaggio and the Chanukah heroine Judith (Jewish News Syndicate).

In contemporary art, Michael Stevens talks about his painting The Pentecost (Word on Fire), artists Vicente Telles and Brandon Maldonado discuss the living tradition of New Mexican santos (MOCRA Voices podcast), and John Herreid introduces his new book, The Catholic Home Gallery: Eighteen Works of Art by Contemporary Catholic Artists (Cultural Debris podcast). And Ed West praises the King’s support for traditional architecture: “Let us call him ‘King Charles the Builder’” (Wrong Side of History, Substack).

In Music

Blanton Alspaugh writes: “I’ve seen an explosion of interest in sacred music in recent years. Every month I learn of a composer or choir creating extraordinary sacred music and winning plaudits for doing so” (The Wall Street Journal). Catholic composer Mark Nowakowski introduces his newest work, Metanoia: “Music itself points towards transcendent striving and the music most fully realized is one which engages our contemplative nature” (Benedict XVI Institute). Joshua Kosman reports on Konstantin Shvedov’s 1913 setting of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which premiered last month in Berkeley, California, after having been kept hidden throughout the Soviet years: “The chords move in ways that you don’t necessarily expect, and the way the individual voices operate gives the music a shimmering quality” (San Francisco Chronicle).

Also, Barton Swaim reviews Why Beethoven: “Beethoven began working on ‘Christ on the Mount of Olives,’ which relates the emotional strife experienced by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, in late 1802, after the composer realized that his hearing was completely gone” (The Wall Street Journal). There is a conversation with Kevin Faulkner on Charles Tournemire as liturgical organist, composer, and improviser (Square Notes: The Sacred Music Podcast), and Victoria Emily Jones writes on “Ascension: ‘A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing’ by the Venerable Bede (with two tunes)” (Art and Theology).

On Screen

Maggie MacFarland Phillips investigates the new financing model behind the success of Christian productions Jesus Revolution and The Chosen: “Can you offer stuff that is not perceived as faith market, and that is really well done, and it’s good, true, and beautiful, and it’s speaking to larger questions and it is aligned with your faith, but it is done so in a way that allows other people from outside the faith to engage and like that content?” (RealClearInvestigations). Alexander Larman weighs in on the same topic in “The Christian movie finally finds its niche” (The Spectator).

Michael Breidenbach on the allegory of the dinner party in Hitchcock’s Rope and Axel’s Babette’s Feast: “Animals feed, but only humans feast. … In the Christian heritage, the feast par excellence is the Eucharist” (Church Life Journal).

Also, Joseph Honescko on the aftermath of abuse and corruption in Women Talking: “The fact that this happened in a religious community creates a fracture in their spiritual selves and their understanding of God, prompting them to wrestle with theological ideas, possibly for the first time” (Mere Orthodoxy). Mark Eckel explores the moral universe of Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone: “Sheridan expects America to be answerable for her sins, showing the reverberations of consequence over the nation’s 400 years” (Law & Liberty). Steven Greydanus on The Little Mermaid, 1989 to 2023 (Catholic World Report).Barbara Nicolosi reflects on Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret: “I’ve been torn about recommending it, not because I am unsure of the merits of the movie, but because it’s based on a book by Judy Blume” (National Catholic Register). Hannah Long and Joseph Joyce review the 2022 film season (Angelus). And William Newton asks: “Why are there no paintings in Star Wars movies?” (The Spectator).

In Literature

In fiction, Lee Siegel on The Catcher in the Rye: “In its sorrow at the fallen state of humankind, characterized by the primal curse of death, and in its affirmation of unconditional, self-sacrificing love, agape, as the humanly attainable means of triumph over death, J.D. Salinger’s tale follows a Dantesque arc toward the submersion of self in eternity” (First Things). Nadya Williams on faith, hope and love in Eugene Vodolazkin’s Brisbane: “Vodolazkin shows in all of his writing a desire for God in the hearts of so many, even as they struggle to understand what to do with this desire” (Current). Patrick Callahan traces “The Influence of Virgil and St. Augustine on Brideshead Revisited” (Thomistic Institute Podcast). And Stephen Schmalhofer introduces the Catholic novelist Francis Marion Crawford (1854-1909), newly republished by Cluny Media: “Crawford’s Romantic novels show us the rightly ordered relations of men and women enlivened by magnanimous love” (First Things).

In poetry, Jessica Hooten Wilson reviews a new translation of the complete poems of Enheduana, the 23rd-century B.C. Sumerian priestess, and the first named poet in history. Including poems dedicated to Inana, goddess of love, beauty, war, and fertility, as well as 42 hymns dedicated to different temples and the gods they served, Enheduana’s work was used in Babylonian schools to teach hundreds of students ancient Sumerian. Wilson writes, “I did not find the poems themselves as lovely or riveting, as does the translator” (Law & Liberty). And Sarah Negri reviews Wilson’s Reading for the Love of God (Religion & Liberty Online).

Also, James Matthew Wilson recommends three collections as an introduction to the literary tradition: “Their religious dimension does not reduce them to a small niche of pious hymns or precious devotions at a remove from the great existential themes of the best literature” (Catholic World Report). Christian Wiman on Gwendolyn Brooks and the mystery of existence: “Poetry can reignite these dormancies of both language and life, sending a charge through reality that makes it real again” (Commonweal). Ethan McGuire on A.E. Stallings: “She loves, embodies, and expresses Greek mythology and the Western canon as experiences, not just distant observations” (Literary Matters). Casie Dodd interviews the poet Benjamin Myers: “‘Incarnational’ covers it well. I believe poetry should be grounded in observation and in the physical world” (“Form from Dust,” Whale Road Review). And Nick Ripatrazone on the literary lives of nuns in mid-century America: “More often than not, the poems were stylistic, satirical, and subversive” (The Millions).

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