Tag Archives: art

Art outside museums

Throughout my travels in France, I visited several art museums, and I also noticed art in some unexpected places. The main street in Barbizon, for example, featured mosaic reproductions of works by artists who lived and woked in Barbizon in the 19th century.

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Barbizon-Art-France

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Honfleur sits along the northern end of the Seine River and this outdoor wall art is representative of the nautical feel of the town.

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In Angers, this artistic garden in what had been the moat around the castle drew my attention.

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This mural in Lyon covered an entire building.

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I was in Lyon during Holy Week and came upon these Stations of the Cross. The juxtaposition of this modern interpretation of the Passion of Jesus on the ancient pillars was striking.

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Lyon-France-travel

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French doors

I often notice doors when I travel, the color or size or ornamentation. Here are some I noticed while traveling around France on my Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) tour.

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This door in Barbizon caught my eye because it was set back into the building and because of the carvings.
Neighbors in LeMans
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LeMans door with elaborate carving.
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A wide, squat door in Angers

In Lyon, sometimes the door caught my eye, but more often it was the decorative work above the door that entranced me.

Red doors on churches often catch my eye. The one on the left is in Paris and the one on the right is in Bayeux.

Purple is my favorite color, so the doors to this church in Sarlat won my heart.

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French Churches

It seemed that most every town we visited had a beautiful church or cathedral. Some dated from medieval times and others were relatively new (19th century).

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Eglise Notre Dame de la Persévérence (St. Mary of Perseverance), Barbizon, France
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Bayeux Cathedral, built between the 12th and 16th centuries.
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Stained glass window on the Bayeux Cathedral
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St. Cecelia Cathedral in Albi was built in the 13th century. The outside looks more like a fort than a church, while the inside is full of ornate paintings, sculptures and carvings.
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Side altars inside the Albi Cathedral
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The Cathedral in Le Mans

A message from art

I love to travel, and last week, I visited friends in Ireland. When I travel, I try to be especially mindful of my surroundings and pay attention to what I notice.

My friend and I visited the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin and there we saw, among other great works of art, The Taking of Christ by Caravaggio, which had apparently been hiding in plain sight above a mantle in a Jesuit house in Dublin for many years.

The Taking of Christ is full of emotion, and I stood looking at it for a while. What caught my attention, though, were Jesus’ hands, which were clasped loosely in front of him and looked like a sign of acceptance or surrender. His face had an air of resignation; his hands confirmed it. Jesus was not going to put up a fight; he would be led to his execution.

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‘The Taking of Christ’ by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

Later, I came upon The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes by Giovanni Lanfranco, and I again noticed the hands in the painting more than anything else. There are hands raised in supplication, hands being used as support and hands pointing. Most of the hands are empty and outstretched, waiting for bread.

I wondered why the hands in these paintings were grabbing my attention. Is there something in the position of the hands that might hold some meaning for me? Am I being invited to a deeper level of surrender? How am I like the people in The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes? Am I grasping for some nourishment?

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“The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, ” Giovanni Lanfranco, Italian, 1582-1647

I also wondered what my hands might be saying about me—do they convey a message about what is going on in my life? Is there something in the way I position my hands that reveals something about me?

My friend did not notice the hands in these paintings. She noticed the expressions on the faces in The Taking of Christ and the people more generally in The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, so I know there is some invitation or message specifically for me in my noticing the hands in these paintings.

Last month, I saw an exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Art called By Her Hand: Artemisia Gentileschi and Women Artists in Italy, 1500-1800. Perhaps that set off some sort of fascination with hands in art, although I don’t remember being particularly drawn to hands in any of the paintings at that exhibit.

As I walked through the National Gallery, pondering the possible message of the hands in those two paintings, the words of St. Theresa of Avila came to mind: “Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet but yours…” How am I using my hands? How might I use them to benefit others?

My spiritual director recently reminded me that God speaks to us through all sorts of channels—prayer, scripture, people, rituals, events, art, etc. These two works of art spoke to me, inviting me to pay attention and to be open.

Art and spirituality

Art is an important part of my prayer life, and my prayer space reflects my love of art. Two pictures hang on the wall, icons sit on shelves, and I change out other pieces for different seasons or because of some movement in my spiritual life.

At the beginning of Advent, my spiritual director gave me a print of The Road to Bethlehem by Fritz von Uhde. I framed it and placed it by my Advent candles. Throughout Advent, this picture invited me to imagine the challenges of Mary and Joseph’s trek and reminded me of people on difficult journeys today. The picture invited me to reflect on these questions: What journey am I on? What path am I following? How am I helping others who are on difficult journeys?

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The Road to Bethlehem, by Fritz von Uhde

Another painting in my prayer space is Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross. It is from a larger painting by Ludovico Brea called the Crucifixion.

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Crucifixion, by Ludovico Brea

Mary Magdalene is my patron saint; my name is the English version of hers, and she is the person in the Bible with whom I feel the strongest connection. She epitomizes for me what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

This picture of Mary Magdalene reminds that that even when others have fled, I am to remain.

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Contemplating Mary Magdalene hugging the cross, I am led to reflect on my own relationship with suffering. Am I faithful to those who suffer? Do I lean into the cross or do I back away? How do I relate to my own pain?

The Windsock Visitation, by Brother Mickey McGrath, depicts that moment when Mary visited Elizabeth and the infant leaped in Elizabeth’s womb.

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The Windsock Visitation, by Mickey McGrath, OSFS

I love the bright colors and the Jane de Chantal quote, “This is the place of our delight and rest.” I resonate with the swirls in the two women’s bellies—I am a gut person and make most of my decisions based on a gut reaction.

This print reminds me to pay attention to what swirls in my gut—to my reactions to people and events—and to be aware of new life being created.

The happiness evident in the two women’s faces suggests pure joy, and this picture asks me: Where do I see new life around me or within me? Whom do I embrace with sheer joy? To whom am I bringing hope? From whom am I receiving hope?

Art offers multiple entryways into the spiritual life. I can look at a picture for years, and then notice a small detail that had been hidden. The Windsock Visitation has hung on my wall for the past five years, but only recently have I noticed a picture in the upper left corner.

Art invites me to look again and again at what seems familiar and to see something new.

What stirs your spirit?

What stirs your spirit?

A sunrise or sunset?

The gentle lapping of waves?

A walk in the woods?

Art or dance or theater?

Giving a gift or receiving one?

Being present to someone in need?

What stirs your spirit?

In the silence of meditation, God speaks.

Inviting me to be open,

To be ready to let the breath of the Spirit softly brush against my soul,

Reminding me I am called to love.

God and art

In the early 1980’s, I frequently visited a friend in Washington, D.C. Most of those trips included time at the Smithsonian, and I grew to love the sculpture gardens at the Hirshhorn and one particular painting inside the museum—At the Window by Alfred Henry Maurer.

At the window, Alfred Maurer

At the Window

This piece of art drew me like a magnet. I found it mesmerizing and would sit in front of it for extended periods on each visit, writing in my journal the feelings this painting stirred. I came to think of it as my painting and renamed it Waiting at the window.

I spent hours discerning the message of this painting. Was the woman waiting for someone? Had something outside caught her attention? Was she watching someone walk away?

I didn’t know why it captured me as it did, but I never tired of seeing it, reflecting on it.

Then one day, I followed my usual path to my painting, only to find something else in its place. My painting was gone; my spirit sank. This piece of art had become an anchor for me, my starting place before I explored other parts of the museum. It was my touchstone—and then it was gone.

I went to the front desk to ask about the painting, and the staff person told me that it had probably been placed in storage. She was blasé. I was bereft. I fought back tears as I walked away.

Something in this painting had consoled me, and even after spending hours in its presence, I had not quite figured out its significance. Now it was gone.

When Sr. Wendy Beckett came on the scene in the 1990’s, talking about the connection between God and art, I remembered my time in front of At the Window. The details of the painting, the questions it evoked and the contemplation it inspired in me were all part of my spiritual journey.

The disappearance of the painting had interrupted a discernment process. I came to see that I was the woman waiting, peeking through the curtain. I was sitting in the dark, anticipating a message from God of the path I was to take.

Last night, during a new member reception and tour at the Detroit Institute of Arts, our docent pointed out a Henry Ossawa Tanner painting, Flight into Egypt, and I was transported to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and their Tanner painting, The Annunciation, a painting I have prayed with many times.

Flight into Egypt

Flight into Egypt

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

The Annunciation

God uses many means—Scripture, songs, nature, people, events, art—to invite me into relationship, into meditation and into deeper truths. As I reflected this morning on the role art plays in my spiritual life, I can recall a number of pieces that have helped me discern God’s will and have opened me up to a deeper relationship with God.

I am grateful for the artists who share their talents, grateful that God uses art to reach out to me and grateful for the museums and churches that make art so accessible.