Andrew Vessey: Canticle for Assisi
ArtWay Visual Meditation January 22, 2023
Andrew Vessey: Canticle for Assisi
In Him All Things Hold Together
by Jonathan Evens
This painting was the fruit of a visit to Assisi by the artist Andrew Vessey (b. 1945) and his wife. They were hosted by an artist who was then working on a ‘tavola’ of St Francis, to hang in the Franciscan Church in Assisi and match one made earlier on the life of St Clare, one of St Francis’ first followers and founder of a Franciscan order for women, The Poor Clares. Through excursions and little pilgrimages made during the stay Francis was brought to life for Vessey and his wife, enabling a vision of Christ to emerge – as had inspired St Francis at nearby San Damiano – when he began a painting intended to gather up his impressions of Assisi.
Vessey has described what happened as he painted: ‘As the painting developed something wonderful began to happen. Having painted the city steps and turrets, combining elements from above, below and around the city, its olive groves and poplar trees out on the plain, it was as if the arms and body of the crucified Christ became the perfect cohesion needed to hold everything together. The stretched out body of the crucified Christ … started to emerge through the countryside, wrapping even the hills in its embrace.’
In this image Christ underlies the landscape of Assisi, emerges through it and encompasses it, expressing it in both its materiality and symbolism. The Franciscan philosopher theologian John Duns Scotus (c. 1266 –1308) developed the doctrine of the univocity of being: God is being itself and we all participate in that same being. Franciscan priest Richard Rohr writes that: ‘Only God can hold both the joy and the pain of creation in us, because our little self is just not strong enough to hold that much together and make sense out of it. The lone individual is far too fragile to bear either “the weight of glory” or the “burden of sin.” … But God in us, uniting us in One corporate Body, does it for us!’ Teilhard de Chardin (1881 –1955) expressed this same truth in Christological terms by arguing, as theologian Sr. Ilia Delio has noted, that Christ is “present in the entire cosmos, from the least particle of matter to the convergent human community.”
Such thinking derives from Colossians 1, where we read: ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together … For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.’
By depicting the Cosmic Christ in his unitive form, Vessey joins with other unitive artists, including Norman Adams, Marc Chagall, David Jones and John Reilly, in reconciling earth and heaven, time and eternity, human and divine. Vessey repeats the feat in Christ the Apple Tree, where Christ is revealed in a misshapen and spent espalier apple which, having been pruned, blossoms and buds once again.
In his poem accompanying Canticle for Assisi Vessey writes:
The scratched landscape waits,
pierced by feeble rivulet,
torn by wall and terrace-side,
shadowed by crazy poplars.
It is a white earth waiting for colour,
A barnacled mountain, carolled
under a pearling sun whose
pale fingers and warm breath
stir the olive groves that slip
in waves across these laughable hills.
There is a crackling stillness:
a splintering momentum, of a
Saviour’s resurrection shadow
by the stream which yearns for rain,
across grass yearning for green,
woodland yearning for damp
and a fervent prayer to a Creator
to awaken us from our siesta.
Andrew Vessey: Canticle for Assisi, 1995, 84 x 71 cm, oil on board.
Andrew Vessey: Christ the Apple Tree, 2015, 105 x 79 cm, oil on canvas.
Andrew Vessey (b. 1945) trained as an Art Teacher in the late 1960’s. His professional career started in Bury St Edmunds where he taught at Tollgate School and exhibited his art in the town. He later returned to Suffolk and was ordained at St Edmundsbury Cathedral in 1986 before becoming a Curate in Framlingham and Saxtead. Andrew later moved on to other clerical posts around the UK but since retirement returned once again to Suffolk, where he lives in Fressingfield. There have been many opportunities to show his work, open his studio and play a part in local church life. His work begins with familiar river valleys and coastal estuaries, captured mainly in ink, watercolour and pastel directly on location, then converting some ideas into larger more reflective paintings in gouache and oil in his studio, some of which resonate with themes that appear in scripture and biblical story. Web page: https://suffolkartists.co.uk/index.cgi?choice=painter&pid=3760
Jonathan Evens is Team Rector for Wickford and Runwell in Essex. Previously Associate Vicar for HeartEdge at St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, he was involved in developing HeartEdge as an international and ecumenical network of churches engaging congregations with culture, compassion and commerce. In that time, he also developed a range of arts initiatives at St Martin’s and St Stephen Walbrook, a church in the City of London where he was Priest-in-charge for three years. Jonathan is co-author of The Secret Chord, an impassioned study of the role of music in cultural life written through the prism of Christian belief, and writes regularly on the visual arts for national arts and church media including Artlyst, ArtWay and Church Times. He also blogs regularly at https://joninbetween.blogspot.com/.
ART NEWS INTERNATIONAL
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STAINED GLASS IN LONDON – 24 January, 19 – 20.15, Art + Christianity online lecture: Art of Light: Stained Glass in the City, an online lecture by Alexandra Epps. Following the devastation of wartime bombing, a remarkable generation of architects, artists and craftsmen emerged to recreate the churches of the City of London in the spirit of Sir Christopher Wren. Discover the identity of the City – unique stories of people, time and place – all expressed within the fascinating post-war stained glass of many of these historic churches. https://artandchristianity.org/events/art-of-light
SOUL SISTERS – 1 February, 7pm on Zoom: Candlemas Eve Lecture in Honour of the late Dr Cathy Oakes. Art historian Dr Cecelia Dorger, who is an adjunct professor at the Mount St. Mary Seminary and School of Theology in Cincinnati, USA, will deliver an online Candlemas Eve lecture in honour of the late Dr Cathy Oakes. Her presentation, entitled "Soul Sisters: Late Medieval and Renaissance Nuns’ Devotion to the Nursing Madonna Image", will analyse the drawing entitled Seated Madonna Nursing (Uffizi Gallery) by Suor Plautilla Nelli (1524 –1588), known as the first Renaissance female painter. She will discuss the questions raised by this exquisite (but rebellious) image which hung in convents across late Medieval and Renaissance Europe. https://www.marianstudies.ac.uk/post/forthcoming-events?postId=1acf7f2e-3653-4875-a4af-bb8e745cf2a4
MORPHE ARTS CONFERENCE – Bookings are open for our annual Interface conference, 18 February, at Leith School of Art in Edinburgh. Booking and more info here. We are so excited to be back in person. To spend a day talking, eating, listening to music, and hearing from a wide range of artists/speakers. Our main speaker will be Deborah Lewer: investigating the theme of hope in art through art practices that are also about resistance, protest and satire. Deborah will begin with the Dada movement, widening her research to look at more recent contexts and works of contemporary art. https://www.morphearts.org/whats-on/interface-conference-2023
CHAGALL IN FRANKFURT – Bis 19 Februar, Schirn Kunsthalle, Römerberg, Frankfurt: Chagall, Welt in Aufruhr. Marc Chagall (1887–1985) gilt als einer der bedeutendsten Künstler der Moderne. Die SCHIRN widmet ihm nach 15 Jahren erstmals wieder eine groß angelegte Ausstellung in Deutschland: CHAGALL. WELT IN AUFRUHR beleuchtet eine bislang wenig bekannte, aber wichtige Seite seines Schaffens – die Werke der 1930er- und 1940er-Jahre, in denen sich seine farbenfrohe Palette zunehmend verdunkelt. Als jüdischer Maler war Chagall durch das nationalsozialistische Regime einer existentiellen Bedrohung ausgesetzt. Bereits in den frühen 1930er-Jahren verarbeitete er den immer aggressiver werdenden Antisemitismus und emigrierte 1941 schließlich in die USA. Sein künstlerisches Schaffen in diesen Jahren berührt zentrale Themen wie Identität, Heimat und Exil. Mit rund 60 eindringlichen Gemälden, Papierarbeiten und Kostümen zeichnet die Ausstellung die Suche des Künstlers nach einer Bildsprache im Angesicht von Vertreibung und Verfolgung nach. In der Zusammenschau ermöglicht die SCHIRN eine neue und äußerst aktuelle Perspektive auf das Œuvre eines der wichtigsten Künstler des 20. Jahrhunderts. Di – So, 10 – 19 U (Mi, Do, bis 22 U). https://www.schirn.de/ausstellungen/2022/chagall/#nl
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CALVIN SYMPOSIUM ON WORSHIP - 8 February – 10 February, Calvin University, 3201 Burton St SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Calvin Symposium on Worship. Organizers: Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and the Center for Excellence in Preaching. Presenters: James Abbington, Latifah Alattas, Jeremy Begbie, Carlos Colón, Justin Giboney, Wendell Kimbrough, Te-Li Lau, Karin Maag, Debra Rienstra, W. David O. Taylor, and many more. Description: “The Calvin Symposium on Worship is an annual conference (since 1988) that brings together people from many different denominations and traditions, from a variety of roles in worship and leadership, including pastors, worship planners and leaders, musicians, scholars, students, worship bands and teams, organists, visual artists, preachers, chaplains, missionaries, liturgists, council and session leaders, and more and encourages leaders in churches and worshiping communities of all sizes and settings.” This year’s theme is Paul’s letter to the Colossians. https://worship.calvin.edu/event-programs/2023-calvin-symposium-on-worship/contributors
ADRIENNE DENGERINK-CHAPLIN IN NEW ZEALAND - 13 February – 17 February, University of Otago, New Zealand, Dunedin campus: Christian Theology and the Arts. This one-week intensive course will explore the different ways in which art and faith can intersect by comparing two important strands within theological aesthetics, the first focusing on art as a bridge to the spiritual and transcendence, the other on the way art articulates human lived experience and embodied meaning. Students will explore what different traditions can learn from each other with a view towards developing a better understanding of the nature of art and the role of faith in religious and non-religious art. The course will be taught by Dr Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin, Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College, London, and Research Associate at the Margaret Beaufort Institute in Cambridge, UK. https://www.otago.ac.nz/continuingeducation/index.html
27 February, 19 h, Grace Vineyard Church Cafe, 111 Seaview Road, New Brighton, New Zealand: Dr Adrienne Dengerink-Chaplin will also be conducting public meetings during her stay in New Zealand. This is the first one. Further information: firstname.lastname@example.org
2 March, 19 – 21 h, Venue: Auckland, New Zealand, TBC: Why do art and artists matter? A Venn Foundation Conversation Evening with Dr Adrienne Dengerink-Chaplin. This is the second public meeting during Dr. Chaplin’s visit. Further information: email@example.com
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ARTWAY: OPENING EYES, HEARTS AND MINDS
Other recent meditations:
- February 2023: Rembrandt: Jeremiah Lamenting
- January 2023: Piet Mondrian: No. VI / Composition No. II
- December 2022: Alfonso Arana: Anunciación
- December 2022: Jusepe de Ribera: The Adoration of the Shepherds
For more Visual Meditations, see under Artists