Whitworth came to my home studio and made a video about the Nativity illumination! They asked great questions and really captured everything I wanted to express with this piece. Thank you, everybody!
I’ve been waiting for the video to drop before putting the piece itself up on my website. It will be featured on Whitworth’s Christmas card this year.
"'If he is still the Priest when he puts on his mask; perhaps he becomes a god while he wears it.'"
from Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
In my previous post, I noted how the medieval convention of depicting everybody with tilted, humble heads made executing contemporary ideas and themes difficult. Different art styles come with different grammar, and you can only break so many rules.
Because of the history of this medium, I depict the Virgin Mary fairly often. I decided that if I was so sure that she was a goddess-like figure that achieves apotheosis, I should probably make illuminations of some regular goddesses first. It was springtime, and I was growing an in-ground garden for the first time. I was anxious about the earth, climate change, and crops in general, so I made a Ceres, in the scene in The Metamorphoses when she destroys the crops in her grief and anger.
The cloth over the goddess' head made me think of C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces, and the idea that inhumanly beautiful gods would have to obscure themselves before appearing to mortals. So for the next piece, when Ceres restores the crops, I replaced her face with an orchid mask.
Nonhuman heads and masks are hardly new ideas for gods and goddesses, but this was my first time really working with the concept. Obscured or partially obscured faces are scary and cool; Alexander McQueen used it in some of my favorite designs.
So the solution for the medieval face problem turned out to be a sort of conceptual stew of "obscurity," "mystery," "masks," and "hey, this might be something to try." I'm looking forward to continuing the Greek Mythology series. See you then!
Guess what! The Vulgate Bible is online. You might have known this already, but I'm always looking for primary sources to illuminate.
In many ways the history of illuminated manuscripts in the West is the history of Christian illuminated manuscripts. The time and expense that the art form required meant that only the subjects deemed most important be illuminated, and at the time that largely meant Bibles and the attendant prayer books and breviaries.
That was part of what attracted me to this art form as a young, confused Christian artist. To me, this was proof that the history of my faith was long and complicated, that it had both influenced and been influenced by culture, and that its preservation had relied on beautiful images.
Most of my work has been based on the 13th century Morgan Crusader Bible, one of the most beautiful manuscripts ever made, and pretty indisputably a piece of pro-Crusade propaganda. Still, the book was so beautiful it eventually became a diplomatic gift to a Shah, and acquired annotations in Latin, Persian, and Judeo-Persian.
So when I started on a series based on the Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary, I was excited. I had never encountered the practice of the Rosary before, and found it very beautiful. Having recently read Christine de Pizan's The Book of the City of Ladies, I was excited to see the Virgin Mary, the "Queen of Heaven" and Pizan's main argument for the the inherent goodness in women in an age where women were seen as corrupting and evil.
But when I showed the project to some friends who had actually spent time in the Catholic church, they were less excited. For them, the Rosary was not fun, and Mary was not empowering. After all, she is often depicted as opposed to Eve. Clothed and naked, obedient and disobedient, passive and active, virgin and mother, and, as it was and is extrapolated, Knew Her Place and Didn't.
Of course, Christian interpretations of the Virgin Mary have roots in powerful pagan goddesses. She has the same signature color (blue) and title ("Queen of Heaven") as the Sumerian Inanna, and if she is the woman "clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars" in Revelation, well, that's a powerful image of a powerful woman. The final Mystery is the Crowning of the Virgin, Mary's triumphant apotheosis.
That would require a straightforward gaze, a proud posture, a strength and resolve that would be a joy to paint. There would be fire and stars and blue! Except...
OH GOD THEIR NECKS. WHY WILL NO ONE STAND UP STRAIGHT.
How can I paint a powerful woman in this style?
Inktober Day 3: Poison. Wooooo! Based on an illumination of the prophet Samuel annointing King Saul. Now it's a wizard? The clothing folds are super fun at any rate.
Inktober Day 2: "Divided" is a dandy reason to do Till We Have Faces fanart.
I'm in the middle of moving across the city, and as always, medieval depictions of elephants come in handy for expressing what that's like. Luckily all my towers are in storage. Have a lovely week!
Because most of my work is based on myths, legends, and scriptures, I wanted to expand my references a bit, and picked up The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, by Barbara G. Walker. It's been a great resource and a fun read, and inspired a little Morgan le Fay illumination. It was a bit more difficult than the illuminations based on saints, which have convenient symbols, colors, and attributes to use. For Morgan le Fay, I went with some symbols typically associated with darkness, nature, and the feminine: a crescent halo, a raven, and a green dress. A clumsy effort on my part, maybe, but her varying roles as a goddess, antagonist, witch, and queen are all fascinating.
The text is a mishmash of nonsense words, inspired by the stirring (but meaningless) theme song to the first Berserk film.
"The man or woman in whom resides greater virtue is the higher; neither the loftiness nor the lowliness of a person lies in the body according to the sex, but in the perfection of conduct and virtues."
Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies, 1405
Recently got some new watercolors, and are trying them out on some Bosch copies (that's a link to a Bosch virtual tour, complete with eerie music!). I really liked it when Bosch came up in medieval and renaissance art courses, just because the papers we had to read on his work always seemed to come from art historians who were just as baffled as we were. What does the man carrying a fish mean? Why is the bird man pooping bubble humans? The Hell portion of the triptych is fascinating and appears on lots of psychology textbooks, but my favorite is The Garden of Earthly Delights. Is this meant to be Eden? Earth? Millennial Earth? Who knows! The fact that a single artist managed to have and execute such a wildly imaginative, original vision makes me very happy.
Based on a St. Dorothy woodcut, from Staaliche Graphische Sammlung, c. 1420. St. Dorothy is fun! She is the patron saint of florists, thus the roses, but...I'm not sure about the kid.