Art, Exhibitions and Installations, Manuscripts and Books

They That Go Down To The Sea In Ships

The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew / Master of the Brussels Initials

The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew (detail), about 1389–1404, Master of the Brussels Initials. Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold paint, and ink on parchment, 13 x 9 7/16 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 34, fol. 172

Today, November 30, marked the end of the church (liturgical) year. The Advent season leading up to Christmas begins December 1. The liturgical year culminates with the Feast of Saint Andrew and I am fortunate to have celebrated the day at Canterbury Cathedral, where my thoughts were directed both to the wonders of the majestic, medieval ecclesiastic structure but also to the Getty exhibitions Canterbury and St. Albans: Treasures from Church and Cloister and Miracles and Martyrs: Saints in the Middle Ages. In the Quire of the great cathedral, I attended evensong, where Herbert Sumsion’s anthem They That Go Down To The Sea In Ships was sung in commemoration of Saint Andrew’s feast day. The words to Sumsion’s song come from Psalm 107:23–30 and speak of those who “do great business on the waters,” like fishermen, recalling the profession of Andrew and his brother Peter.

The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew / Master of the Brussels Initials

The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew (full folio), about 1389–1404, Master of the Brussels Initials. Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold paint, and ink on parchment, 13 x 9 7/16 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 34, fol. 172

The Getty’s manuscripts collection contains a spectacular illumination representing The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew from a missal commissioned by Bishop Cosimo de’ Migliorati of Bologna around 1389–1404. The page with the text for the vigil of the Feast of Saint Andrew teems with fantastical creatures in the margins, radiant golden orbs and multi-colored acanthus leaves, the bishop’s coat of arms, a grey bear, historiated initials with portraits of the two saints, and a resplendent scene of the fishermen gazing intently upon Christ, who calls them to leave their nets and follow him. This image filled my mind as I listened to Sumsion’s words and music this evening in Canterbury Cathedral.

Noah, Lamech, and Thara from the Ancestors of Christ Windows / Canterbury Cathedral

Noah, Lamech, and Thara, 1178–1180, from the Ancestors of Christ Windows, Canterbury Cathedral, England. Colored glass and vitreous paint; lead came. Images © Robert Greshoff Photography, courtesy Dean and Chapter of Canterbury

Looking down from the Quire’s clerestory windows are copies of the Ancestors of Christ windows, six of which are on view in the exhibition Canterbury and St. Albans (the suite of ancestors was originally installed in the eastern end of the cathedral). An appropriate biblical complement to Andrew and Peter on the water is the figure of Noah, who spent time on the sea in the great ark. Noah is joined at the Getty by Jared, Lamech, Thara, Abraham, and Phalec.

As we prepare for the Christmas season, I am thankful to Canterbury for sharing their glorious windows with the Getty and with all of Los Angeles, and for opening their cathedral to me over this Thanksgiving weekend.

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