||This painting by 16th-century artist Allessandro Allori, titled The Grieving Madonna with the Symbols of Christ’s Passion, is one of the pieces of art currently on exhibition at the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, on loan from the Uffizi Gallery in Italy. (Uffizi Gallery/Courtesy Chazen Museum of Art)
MADISON -- In his speech delivered at the closing of the Second Vatican Council on December 8, 1965, Pope Paul VI said, “It is beauty, like truth, which brings joy to the heart of man and is that precious fruit which resists the wear and tear of time, which unites generations and makes them share things in admiration.”
Here in Madison, an exhibit of 45 rarely seen religious paintings and tapestries at the Chazen Museum of Art has offered us an opportunity to experience truth and beauty. This exhibit is especially timely as we are beginning the Year of Faith in the Catholic Church.
The “Offering of the Angels” exhibit features works from the renowned Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. The exhibit remains at the Chazen until Sunday, Nov. 25. The gallery will be open the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, Nov. 23, offering people a chance to view the original works of art by such masters as Sandro Botticelli,Lorenzo Monaco, Jacopo Tintoretto, and Titian.
About the exhibition
The exhibition highlights the theme of the Eucharist in art from the Creation of Adam and Eve to the Resurrection.
Spanning approximately three centuries from the late 14th to the early 18th century, these works were executed by some of the leading painters working in Italy, principally in Florence, during the rule of the Medici dynasty.
The exhibition is organized into six sections: Old Testament; Original Sin and the Fall; New Testament; Mother and Son; The Last Supper, the Passion, and the Cross; the Resurrection; and the Eucharist.
||To see the exhibit
||The “Offering of the Angels” exhibit featuring 45 works can be viewed at the Chazen Museum of Art, 750 University Ave., Madison.
Admission is free.
The exhibit is held in the Pleasant T. Rowland Gallery through Sunday, Nov. 25.
• Museum Hours:
Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tuesday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Wednesday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thursday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
*closed on Thanksgiving, Thursday, Nov. 24.
• Audio tour guides are available.
•Public parking is available at carparks in the area, and the museum is easily accessible by bus. For more information on this or on handicapped accessible parking, visit the Chazen Web site, www.chazen.wisc.edu and click “Plan Your Visit.”
Every Christmas, the Uffizi Gallery and the Amici degli Uffizi present a temporary exhibition of rarely seen artworks from the museum’s extensive collections as a gift to the citizens of Florence. The 2007 exhibition, “Offering of the Angels,” was so well received that it traveled successfully to a few European cities.
Subsequently, four American museums -- the Museum of Art| Fort Lauderdale, the Michener Art Museum, the Chazen Museum of Art, and the Telfair Museum of Art -- partnered to bring the exhibition to the United States. The Chazen is the only Midwestern museum that is exhibiting these works from one of Europe’s oldest and most famous museums.
Lecture, tour at museum
On November 3, a lecture and tour of the exhibit were co-sponsored by the Diocese of Madison and the Chazen Museum. (For those who haven’t yet seen the exhibit, it is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed; the paintings are spectacular.)
Giving the lecture was David Clayton, a fellow and artist-in-residence at Thomas More College in Merrimack, N.H. Clayton moved to the United States from his native England in 2009. He is the designer of the Way of Beauty program, which focuses on the link between Catholic culture and the liturgy.
He also wrote, co-produced, and presented the 13-part TV series The Way of Beauty, shown by Catholic TV in 2010 and 2011.
In his lecture, “Form and Truth,” Clayton discussed the Chazen exhibit, which he called a “wonderful collection.” He said that in religious art, there is a way of communicating what is true “through the style as much as through the content.”
In looking at works of art with religious themes, he said we should ask three questions: Does the content conform to the truth? Does the form reveal the truth? Is it beautiful? He said only after asking these three questions, should we ask, “Do I like it?”
Clayton does not agree with the adage that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” He said it’s not to deny that there are different opinions, but we should look for standards and tradition, for a “consensus that exists for a long period of time,” in judging the quality of a work of art.
This is similar to considering the value of food, he said. Whether we like a food or not -- he likes “cheesy whats-its,” for example -- doesn’t mean that it’s nutritious and we should eat it at every meal.
Traditions in liturgical art
Clayton pointed to several Catholic traditions in liturgical art that nourish prayer:
• The iconographic. These are icons that appeared up to the year 1,100 in the East and West. He showed an icon portraying the glory of Christ in heaven, joined with the saints in union with God. The icon style has an absence of cast shadows, with hard edges and precise details, Clayton noted. Light emanates from the icon, encouraging the viewer to believe that he, too, can attain heaven.
• The gothic. This art developed in the West after the year 1,000. From the “Offering of the Angels” exhibit, Clayton pointed to Lorenzo Monaco’s “Christ Crucified and the Grieving Virgin, Saint John, and Mary Magdalene.” Gothic art has “more emphasis on life on earth,” said Clayton. We see more suffering on the face of Christ in Monaco’s piece. Clayton also noted that there is geometric patterned art around the frame in this piece.
• The baroque. The Catholic Church decided at the time of the Council of Trent (1545 to 1563), in response to the Protestant Reformation, that art should communicate religious themes with direct and emotional involvement. Baroque art has shadows, showing the presence of evil and suffering. The main figures in a baroque painting are in color, but the rest of the figures and background are painted roughly, often “out of focus and indistinct,” said Clayton.
For example, in one of the exhibit’s works, Allessandro Bonvicino’s “Nativity with the Shepherds,” the artist wanted the viewer to focus on the figures of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph with more color used in painting them. The artist painted the background in more dull colors.
The place of tradition
“There are different styles governed by tradition and a set of principles,” said Clayton. “When they are done well, the art will be beautiful.”
He said the art form of these traditions was created “by a dialogue between the liturgists, the theologians, the philosophers of the Church, and the artists.”
Today, Clayton said artists are trying to recreate past traditions. In a question and answer session, he was asked about innovation in art, if traditional styles are used.
“With every application of these principles, there is lots and lots of room to maneuver,” he said. “Individuality comes out in different ways. It’s vital for a tradition to be a living tradition and to speak to today. It’s very important that artists do reinvent tradition in each generation.”
More from David Clayton
Clayton writes a weekly blog (www.thewayofbeauty.org), which has an archive of his articles, streaming of his TV work, and a gallery of his art. He also writes for the New Liturgical Movement Web site, www.newliturgicalmovement.org