The artist is not a special kind of person. Every person is a special kind of artist. Eric Gill

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:

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



RELIGION AND CONTEMPORARY ARTReligion is becoming more visible in contemporary art and more discussable, says Jonathan A. Anderson, a postdoctoral associate in the Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts program.

CONFERENCE SQUARE HALO BOOKS – Square Halo Books publishing specialization is Christianity and the arts. The publishing firm has organized a conference for February 17–18 with poet Malcolm Guite and art historian Elissa Yukiko Weichbrodt as keynote speakers and musical guests The Arcadian Wild.

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.

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.   

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. 

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).

THE PROBLEM OF PAINTING CHRIST, VANCOUVER – 10 February, 19 h. Epiphany Chapel, Vancouver School of Theology, 6015 Walter Gage Rd, Vancouver. Online and in person: The Problem of Painting Christ: Strange Responses to the Greatest Artistic Challenge. LectureThe challenge of painting Christ is a uniquely complex one. How does one paint a figure who is fully human and fully divine in a meaningful way?  In this lecture, Dr. Chloë Reddaway explores some of the extra-ordinary artistic responses with which Italian painters in the Renaissance met this challenge, and takes a fresh look at well-known paintings of Christ, discovering how surprising and deeply ‘strange’ they can be. By confounding expectations and defamiliarising subject matter, the ambiguity and mystery of these paintings disturbs viewers’ expectations and reconnects them with the extraordinary mystery of the Incarnation. Workshop on 11 February, 10 – 12 h.

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.

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.

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:

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:

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc., click here

ArtWay is a website with resources for congregations and individuals concerned about linking art and faith.


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