Sunday, November 21, 2004

London Day 5

Okay, now back to the London trip. Being a specialist in foreign languages, my skills enabled Denise, Susie and I to move about freely in the city, communicate fluently with the natives, and see many more sites than would have the average tourist.

First we headed to St. Paul's Cathedral, where Holman Hunt's The Light of the World was still knocking away. Though I expected this classic Pre-Raphelite painting to be a gagger, it won me over. In a peculiarly numinous way it's a reminder that Christ truly is ever knocking to access deeper parts of our inner sanctum. If ever there was an "Evangelical" painting that was worth looking at, this would be it. The rest, frankly, is not.

More DAY 5
What struck me about St. Paul's was that essentially one man pulled it off. One man. Considering it took generations to build most Gothic Cathedrals, and that St. Paul's is somewhat as impressive, that is saying a lot. But it must also be said that the high altar canopy complete with corkscrew pillars is a total Bernini rip-off. Come on Anglicans. Be original. On second thought... nevermind.

The construction of the great Dome is not only structurally, but theologically sound. As you look up you first see the prophets. On top of them stand the four Gospel writers. Then stand the Church fathers, leading finally to the images of Paul making the Gospel known in the language of his day in Athens... a task for each generation of Christians.

After this it was off to meet a gal. The "The National Gal" that is (you can blame Rick for that). I'll limit myself to commentary on only four paintings:

1. If ever there was a painting capable of clarifying the ever-misunderstood concept of God's wrath, El Greco's Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple would be it. Meditating on the faces left me with a bizarre impression: Christ is punishing the sinners... he knows it's right and yet doesn't seem to be enjoying himself. Alternately, the sinners are being punished... they too know it's right, but strangely seem to be enjoying themselves.

Could it be that the deeper parts of our being will actually be strangely relieved when God sets right the wrong that we've secretly known all along? Might this be what it will be like on that final day? Might even the greatest of sinners, like El Greco's traders, be secretly longing not for escape, but for wrath?

2. I recieved a similar impression from Guercino's The Incredulity of St. Thomas. One could perhaps suggest that the entire enterprise of Christianity is to not look stupid on Judgement Day. Standing before this painting for a while, contrasting the light, matter-of-fact Jesus with the hardened no-nonsense Thomas left me feeling that a lot of us might look pretty silly when it all comes around.

3. Contrast Joseph Wright of Derby's Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump, and his The Blacksmith's Shop. In each one humans are gathered around new kinds of light, scientific and industrial. In both men look proudly on, while children shield their eyes in fear. Now, try this for contrast. Perhaps Wright was trying to tell us something. Thanks to my sister for tipping me off to that illuminating comparison.

4. And finally, there is Constable's Salisbury Cathedral. If ever there was a painting of a Church capable of approximating the emotional and spiritual energy contained within a Susan Howatch novel, this is it. I guess someone at Random House knows what they're doing.