Art, Art & Archives, 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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      A Brief History of the Fleur-de-lis in Art

      The fleur-de-lis, a familiar symbol with varied meanings and a rather obscure origin.

      If you read the labels of objects in museums bearing the fleur-de-lis (in French, fleur de lys, pronounced with the final “s”), you might notice that they were all made in France before the French Revolution of 1789. 

      What’s less apparent is that the fleur-de-lis marks objects that bear witness to a dramatic history of monarchy, democracy, and war: they speak to the inherent power of trappings commissioned for and by France’s pre-revolutionary kings.

      Adopted as a royal emblem in France by the 1100s, the fleur-de-lis can be traced to early Frankish monarchs including Clovis I, who converted to Christianity in 496, and the renowned Charlemagne. 

      A French word, fleur-de-lis translates literally to “lily flower.” This is appropriate given the association of lilies with purity (and the Virgin Mary) and given that France has long been known as the “Eldest Daughter of the Church.” In truth, the stylized flower most closely resembles a yellow iris. 

      As a heraldic symbol used in the arms of the French monarchy, the fleur-de-lis often appears in yellow or gold tones and set on a blue shield. 

      Given its intimate royal associations, the fleur-de-lis invoked the ire of revolutionaries even before the fall of the monarchy in 1792. In addition to toppling royal statues, vandals chipped away at crowns and fleurs-de-lis adorning the façades of buildings.

      Full blog post on the Getty Iris here.

      04/28/16

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