La Visitacion

Yesterday I took my daughter to the museum at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown. It’s privately funded and thus was not affected by the (recently concluded) government shutdown.
The museum is small, but it features a wonderful collection from the Byzantine Empire and an impressive exhibit of pre-Columbian American artifacts. It also has, tucked away in the corner of one of the rooms, this marvelous painting by El Greco:


What struck me was that the painting manages to convey great emotion even though both Mary’s and Elizabeth’s faces are almost totally obscured. Well worth the schlep to Georgetown if you live in or are visiting the D.C. area.

The Lord God made them all

Bertram of Minden, "Creation of the Animals," from the Grabow altarpiece (1383)

Bertram of Minden, “Creation of the Animals,” from the Grabow altarpiece (1383)

Pre-Christmas odds and ends

The ATR household is off to visit family for the better part of the next week, so blogging will be light–well, even lighter than usual.

Here’s a sampling of what I’ve been reading ’round the Web lately:

Christopher has several posts on l’affaire Rick Warren that are, as usual, very much worth your time. (See here, here, and here.)

Congrats to John Schwenkler, whose blog Upturned Earth has been absorbed into the ever-expanding conservative media empire that is Culture 11.

Lynn reflects on the movie Milk and how different the atmosphere for gay rights in California has changed since the 70’s (n.b.: a couple of f-bombs).

I thought this article on St. Joseph at Slate was neat.

Jennifer reminds us that it’s T-minus one month till the Lost season premiere! (And don’t forget Battlestar Galactica on January 18th!)

Alan Jacobs and Noah Millman discuss intereligious dialogue at the American Scene. This is something I haven’t given as much thought to as I’d like. (See here, here, and here.)

Tom Engelhardt writes on publishing and reading during a downturn. Also see this: “The Tyranny of the ‘To-Read’ Pile”

George Monbiot on peak oil.

This is interesting: Meat Consumption and CO2 Emissions

Not surprisingly, beef has the highest CO2 emissions per pound, but surprisingly high also are cheese and shrimp. I wonder if transportation was included in the figuring.

This talk
from the E.F. Schumahcer Institute was delivered in May, but it still seems entirely relevant to our current predicament.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring you Christmas wishes from Ronnie James Dio (along with the rest of the Dio-era Black Sabbath line-up).

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

 Conrad von Soest, Nativity (1404)
Conrad von Soest, Nativity (1404)

Blogs of Christmas past

Since content will likely be light this coming week, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to offer up some representative posts from the previous four Decembers since I started blogging, as a kind of retrospective.

(Note: some of these originally appeared on my first blog, “Verbum Ipsum,” but have been imported to WP; consequently, there may be some broken links here and there.)


“A Final Word…on the Great Sectarian Debate”

Part of an ongoing discussion with Jennifer of Scandal of Particularity about Christian social ethics

“What Makes a Christian?”
I propose a definition

“How to think about the Bible” and “Revelation, inspiration, and interpretation”
Thoughts on the authority and inspiration of the Bible


“Critique of Pure (Jedi) Reason”

Excessively geeky analysis of the ethical philosophy of Star Wars

“Jesus – New and Improved”
The quest for new, heretofore “hidden” Jesuses as a way of avoiding the challenge of the Jesus we already know

“The Land Question”
A discussion of land reform by way of Tolstoy, Henry George, and Catholicism


“Barack Obama: Where’s the Beef?”
Some skepticism about all the hype surrounding some Senator from Illinois

“Jesus the Jew and Christian Practice”
A post that led to me being called out by Jason Byassee of the Christian Century as a crypto-Marcionite (Follow up post here)

“Animal Cloning and ‘Granting things their space'”
Against animal cloning

“Stephen R.L. Clark’s ‘anarcho-conservatism'”
A discussion of Clark’s political philosophy


A review of Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy

“The Virgin Birth: Does it matter?”
“A further argument for the Virgin Birth,” and
“Faith and factuality”
A series on the Virgin Birth and the broader question of the relation between faith and history

“Paul Zahl’s Theology of Grace”
A review of Paul Zahl’s Grace in Practice

“The Case for McCain”
I maintain that McCain is the least bad of the Republican candidates

Rediscovering Correggio

The Post had an article this weekend on the nearly forgotten Renaissance master Correggio (a.k.a. Antonio Allegri) who at one time ranked up there with the likes of Michelangelo and Leonardo.

What makes Correggio stand out is that his work is unconventional, even at times chaotic, by the standards of the day:

Correggio’s paintings are so idiosyncratic and so subtle that they don’t yield the sound bites history prefers, as with Titian (“Brushstroke Guy”) or Michelangelo (“Mr. Classic Nude”). Correggio’s art seems all about resisting simple views, of art or of the worlds it shows. We can’t get an easy handle on Correggio’s pictures, because they’re dedicated to flux, indirection and obliquity. He may have used that combination to stand out from the crowd in talent-packed Renaissance Italy. But, like most artistic choices, it must mostly have depended on this painter’s view of the world.

The ultimate example of Correggio’s unique vision is the huge fresco he unveiled in the dome of Parma cathedral, in 1530, after years and years of work. This is Correggio’s most innovative project, and his most influential. It seems to open up the dome to let us see a teeming host of angels in the sky beyond. (Many Catholic churches now have similar ceilings, probably without knowing that they owe them to Correggio.) And yet, despite the cupola’s stunning special effects, this is also the least legible of paintings. Correggio has taken a standard Christian story — of the Virgin Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven at the moment of her death — and painted it as something so complex, it’s hardly graspable. It may be the perfect picture for a dome: Its floating figures aren’t tied down to a single view, so worshipers below can take it in from any spot. And yet that also means that there’s no stable order to hang on to, no single take-home message you can pull out of its turmoil.

For Correggio, this is heaven: a place where nothing ever settles down and there’s no one way to look at things.

Be sure to check out the accompanying video of the Parma dome here. It’s really spectacular.

Jan Lievens – “Forgotten Dutch Master”

I recently saw this exhibit at the National Gallery. Lievens was a contemporary and friend of Rembrandt who became somewhat overshadowed, partly because some of his work was later mis-attributed to Rembrandt. The exhibit is an attempt to give him his proper due. I thought that his “Raising of Lazarus” was particularly striking. (This image is reversed from the actual painting where Christ is on the left and the onlooking crowd is on the right, but it gives the idea. Note the ghostly hands rising out of the crypt in the lower right.)


Very cool and worth checking out if you’re in DC. (And you can’t beat the price!)

Simple music, simple faith?

I came across this in yesterday’s NY Times: Does Simple Music Form Simple Faith?

I’m not really sure what to make of it, but I thought I’d pass it along. Essentially, the author asks if beautiful complex music (and other art) can actually be a hindrance to faith:

The church has reason to fear great beauty, hence the effort to rescue our attention, through plainspoken and deliberately flat-footed modern texts, from the mesmerizing graces of the Latin Mass or the splendid poetry of the Anglican Church’s Book of Common Prayer. I am one small example, having spent the Sunday mornings of my youth in the Episcopal Church allowing Thomas Cranmer’s magical imagery and liquid liturgical responses to roll off my tongue without a thought to God at all.

It’s not always easy to distinguish the aesthetic and religious impulses, and I’ve met a fair number of Christians who identify refined spirituality with good taste. So, I wonder if he’s not on to something here.

Christ the center

As I had the day off yesterday with nothing much to do, I decided to spend a couple of hours at the National Gallery of Art, just a 15 minute or so walk from our place. It’s always been one of my favorite places in DC, going back to when I used to come here on trips during college.

One painting that particularly struck me this time around was “The Baptism of Christ” by “The Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altar,” sometimes referred to as the last Gothic painter of Cologne.

As the informative web page for this painting says, the Master “combined the naturalism of artists in the Netherlands with the abstract, otherworldly qualities of earlier German painting.”

One thing I love about this painting is the motley assortment of saints that surrounds the central image. You’ve got St. George perched on the corpse of his dragon, some monk-looking guy with a knife plunged into his back, some bearded ogre-looking dude with another weird little guy sitting on his shoulders. A nice reminder that the church truly is “catholic,” or “it takes all kinds.” Not to mention that the communion of saints is properly oriented around Christ as its center.