The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1600-1700
Wednesday May 26, 2010 I was in Washington, DC visiting an old friend I haven't seen in two years. We met at a college ministry conference called Epic East Coast Conference 2008 in Washington DC, since God had work through us incredible ways. While he joined the workforce, I find myself still finishing my undergraduate as a super senior fifth year student at George Mason studying fine arts and concentrating in painting. I caught up with him and listen to his story about ministering to a minority group in China last summer. It was interesting to hear during his lunch break. Afterwards since I was already in DC, I stopped by the National Gallery of Art to see if there was any new exhibit. There is an on-going exhibit February 28-May 31, 2010 exhibit of Baroque Spain's remarkable painted sculptures along with 17th-century spanish religious paintings curated by Xavier Bray. Before viewing the showcase, I had a quiet moment with the documentary of the project (Making a Spanish Polychrome Sculpture produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum) in Spain of the Semana Santa de Sevilla festival parading religious statues through Calle Campana Street on Good Friday. These polychromed sculptures showed the tradition of Jesuit's commitment to iconology of Christianity. Walking into the showcase was remarkable with the dimmed studio lighting setting a mood that reflects the spiritual element of the lifelike depiction of Christ. The hyperrealistic approach of these sculptures using real human eye lashes and hair deem uncanny that I felt being watched by the statues, especially of Christ on the Cross by Juan de Mesa.
The purpose of these Christian icons as I study reading the catalogue was attempt by artists to recreate stories from the Bible since most people are illiterate. I find it relation to my artistic pursuit because these painters Diego Velazquez and Francisco de Zurbaran are well known still today but their counterpart sculptors Juan Martinez Montanes and Pedro de Mena are unheard of. I had always find an appreciation to sculptors and their skill in recreating physical form as well as a painter I'm advise to work from observation and Diego Velazquez and other spanish painters in the exhibit best friends who helped them recreate realistic paintings were from these sculputures. Typically sculptures we see are Classical Greek white marble which are not painted like the Spanish tradition which painters are to work with sculptures to paint 'flesh' on to the carved wood. This collaboration interest me as two disciplines in the arts cross into each other worlds and learn from each other.
What else interest me is the 'trueness' these paintings speak into the souls of their time. The realism was stake with emotional gripping gory intend to shock the senses and stir the devoted into a fibrillate fear of God. Questions I asked myself are about the truthfulness of the artist expression. Is the artwork true to the artist? Is the art true to reality? Does it fit the human condition and that, as finally defined in biblical narrative? Is the artwork reflective of the God who is the center of absolute truth? The term truth in Scriptures is evaluated by God's own nature and standards. The Bible establish a framework that helps holistically decide the truthfulness and spiritual significance of an artwork, which allows for a vast diversity of genre and styles amidst different generations and cultures. The Spaniards at the time were held from a Catholic tradition which art were of upmost importance in telling stories of Christ. Devotee come to these shrines to pray and commune with the divine through these imagery. How important artist are during the 1700s acting as equal to priest who communicate on your behalf to God the Father.
While thinking about this as a history buff, I cannot say enough how contemporary artists are still priest of our days. We are the communicator of our contemporary world. We are the visionaries of our days, prophets with lyrics and brushes. So there is a place for the artist... stay tune for more thoughts about the need of Christian view of art in a contemporary modern world.