Friday, 12 October 2007

Cardinal Newman

Yesterday, we received formal permission to proceed with Tom Philip's design for a mosaic of Cardinal Newman. The mosaic will be situated outside the Holy Souls' Chapel, close to the panel commemorating the Dream of Gerontius (also by Tom Philips) installed three years ago.

For the submission to the statutory committee, we provided a computer-generated image which gives an impression of what the mosaic will look like in situ. It is a fitting tribute to this great figure, and is in keeping with Cardinal Vaughan's wish that the mosaic decoration should include figures from the history of the church in England and Wales.

Tom has used a 'Victorian' palette of subdued colours, and in the background quotes from his earlier panel (also in the Holy Souls' chapel), which superimposes a cross upon a ladder as a symbol of the soul's ascent from Purgatory through the Cross of Christ. The quotation from Cardinal Newman reflects his and our strong desire that decoration in the Cathedral should not be mere commemoration, but a focus for prayer. For that reason, Tom Philips has portrayed Cardianl Newman with his eyes closed, emphasising that this is not just a portrait, but an invitiation to join the great Cardinal himself in prayer.

The design will now be rendered in mosiac by the Mosaic Workshop, and we hope that it will be in place within the year.


Anonymous said...

Bit didactic, lots of script, like a poster; very red, It will certainly draw the eye and dominate a whole area of the Cathedral.

John the organist said...

This is splendid. I am enjoying my birthday present of daily readings from the great man chosen by A.N.Wilson. The book jacket shows the fine portrait by Millais.

Anonymous said...

May this also promote prayer for his beatification!

Anonymous said...

It does look like a poster. It does not project holiness. The cross in the background is missing the man. There is nothing to suggest that cardinal is doing anything other than having a snooze. Back to the drawing board with this one I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

My last comment was not very constructive so I thought about it and maybe this might be a little more helpful.

No matter the artist's intentions are with a piece of art, the fact remains that people see what is in front of them. You can wax lyrical all you like but unless the viewer knows you or the artist they will not be able to discern your meaning to the piece of art on display.

So art should say what it wants to say - let your yes be yes and your no be no.

If you look at the piece without prior judgement you see

1) A cardinal with his eyes shut
2) He has his back to a cross
3) A statement that prayer is vital
4) His name is JH Newman
5) The bulk of his body looms the largest even though it is the closest in the visual field. Big mistake, it will look silly and unbalanced.

As Catholics we know prayer is vital so there is no problem with this. However, Catholic prayer is directed outwards, towards a trancendant reality through an imminant one. For this reason you will invariably see the saints depicted with a focus on the crucified Christ or the ressurected Christ depending on the flavour of prayer, (repentance, hope, help etc). Buddists close their eyes in blisfull mediating of nirvana within, Catholics do not. We plead and praise outward and beyond.

I have read some of JH Newmans work. He strikes me as a man of great intellectual integrity and learning. He pursued the truth and lived his life by it. He suffered for this integrity. He has left us with a great testament of written work.

So, why not let your piece tell this truth. Let him kneel in prayer because that's what Catholics do. Let his prayer be directed through the crucified Christ, not with his back to an empty cross. Let his surroundings depict his work, maybe an interrupted essay from which he is called by the Holy Spirit to prayer.

As regards the colour palette - top marks to the artist, it looks really good.

There are few men who have the opportunity as you do to care for our Father's house. This is a small thing which you do have control over. If your artist is open to Catholic Truth, he could be invaluable. If he simply wants to portray his own religious truth then he is a liability. As it stands his art is not Catholic. What are you going to do? Placate an ego, let poor art in under your watch?
I'll pray that you will have the strength to do your work. Now go and do it.

Mark Langham said...

I am grateful for these comments. The projected mosaic is a signficant work of art, deeply rooted in the theology of prayer, and of Purgatory, of Cardinal Newman.

Anonymous said...

Would it not have more impact if the portrait showed the Cardinal's hands joined in prayer, a more potent symbol than closed eyes? That would also break up the rather dominant slab of Cardinal red.