Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Sacred Made Real

I went to London yesterday on our free day, and went in the afternoon to see the Sacred Made Real exhibition of Spanish religious statues and paintings in the National Gallery. It was well worth the visit. The Guardian wrote this about it:

"This is the most powerful show the National Gallery is ever likely to hold. One can say that without overstatement. It is not common for people to weep at a press view, nor to fall silent with awe, but both happened this week at the National Gallery."

I recognised a few of the paintings, like Velasquez's famous 'The Immaculate Conception' and 'Christ after the flagellation,' but what impressed me most were the scenes of Christ's Passion, particularly the two Ecce Homo's (by Mena and Fernandez). The body of Christ was beatifully carved down to the veins in his arms, and the suggestion of the hairs on his legs, and the painters had applied layers on layers of paint in order to give the realistic effect of bruising on Christ's back due to scourging. The paint was removed from certain areas and painted over in such a way that it gave the effects of peeling skin and flesh wounds.

Pretty gruesome stuff. But I found that after a second, closer look I got over my natural repulsion and was transfixed by these little details that went to making up the whole statue. And of course, it is good for us as Catholics to recognise that sin is not just some human construct, but is a real evil with very real consequences, which Jesus came to defeat in His death. This would have been a wonderful exhibition for Lent, but unfortunately it finishes January 24th. Do go if you are able - you will not regret it! I think the National Gallery should also be thanked for not portraying this devotional art as a backward culture that is to be scoffed, but showing it as a beautiful tradition that is (in the words of the exhibition's short film) part of 'a living faith.'

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