Holy Spirit, Painter

Anyone like to draw? Or paint? Anyone like to go to galleries and look at beautiful paintings?

Anyone ever seen a good painting or sculpture of the Lord Jesus? Many very famous master-painters have depicted Him. Caravaggio, Leonardo Da Vinci, Velázquez, El Greco… Here’s a couple amazingly beautiful paintings I discovered recently:

Jacopo Pontormo Deposition of Christ
Jacopo Pontorno, “Deposition of Christ”
Caravaggio Crowning Thorns
Caravaggio, “Crowning with Thorns”

Can we all imagine Jesus? Can we ‘paint a picture’ of Him in our minds? Thank God, yes—I think we can.

Now, how about this: What about painting the Holy Spirit?

Not so easy. Maybe a stained-glass dove. But depicting the Holy Spirit…extremely difficult, because the Holy Spirit is…

Invisible.

Let’s turn the whole thing around. Instead of thinking about how to draw or paint the Holy Spirit, let’s recognize this: the Holy Spirit is the Great Divine Artist. He paints. He made the heavens and the earth. He made us.

God made everything, and He made everything beautiful. When we find ourselves at the beach, or on a lovely hillside or mountaintop, or anywhere where God’s creation has the chance to show us itself, we know that God made a beautiful world.

The universe does not consist solely of dust and atoms. It’s a beautiful work of art. It glows with beauty. The Holy Spirit has given it that glow.

st petersNow, of all the beautiful things that God has made for us, surely the most beautiful of them all is… A butterfly? A pony? The Grand Canyon? Monica Bellucci?

No, the most beautiful is obviously Jesus Christ. The man of pure truth and kindness. The man Who gave Himself to save those He loves. The man Who embraced death and conquered it. He rose from the dead, and He filled the world with His divine light. Nothing could excel the beauty of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.

Again, we don’t see the invisible Holy Spirit exactly, when we contemplate Christ crucified and risen. But we do, kind of, see the Spirit because: The holiness of Christ, His beauty, His luminosity: that is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit “painted” the Christ, so to speak, on the canvas of the earth. And that made the divine work of art complete.

There’s more, though. How else can we see the invisible Holy Spirit? Whenever anyone obeys God, like Jesus did. Whenever anyone allows God’s love to work through him, or through her.

We don’t exactly see the invisible Holy Spirit then, when we see a Christ-like person, but we do see the Holy Spirit’s work. We see that the Holy Spirit can and does make human spirits holy. So the Spirit of Christ still paints, still produces beauty—the beauty of kind, loving, humble, honest, fair, patient, chaste, gentle, prayerful people.

“Roadside” by Stephen Fox

Mesmerizing oil painting, tucked in a little hallway on the second floor of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, next to the bust of Benjamin Franklin at the entrance to the American galleries.

Easy to miss, in other words–unless you use the glass elevator. But don’t miss it, if you find yourself anywhere within a hundred miles of it.

Angelic Etching

St. Thomas in Sopra Minerva

I am a man of classical artistic tastes.

My favorite image of St. Thomas Aquinas is the fresco by Filippino Lippi in the Carafa Chapel in the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minverva in Rome.

Nonetheless, I have a new second-favorite image of St. Thomas: The sweet etching by Adrien Mastrangelo, above.

It reminds me of my favorite statue in town: Ivan Mestrovic’s St. Jerome on Massachusetts Ave., N.W.

Statue of St. Jerome near Sheridan Circle in Washington, by Ivan Mestrovic

More Gallery Visitation

cafeteria ladyThe Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has housed a collection of Arms and Armor for a hundred years.

In the 1920’s, art snobs complained that suits of armor do not belong in world-class museums filled with paintings by such geniuses as Pablo Picasso.

Au contraire: Many suits of armor are exquisite works of art.

One may discover this fact for oneself by visiting The Art of Power, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. It is just about the coolest museum exhibit ever.

…Back to El Greco: His most famous painting is “Burial of Count Orgaz,” which is in a church in Toledo, Spain.

One of the benefactors of the church was such a good and pious man that, when he died, Saints Stephen and Augustine came down from heaven to lay the dead man in his casket.

burial of count orgaz
(click once or twice on the picture to see it even larger)

The painting is so grand, it opens heaven up to our contemplation.

But for many of us the most excellent thing about the painting is…the vestments worn by the saintly clerics.

If you zoom in on St. Stephen’s dalmatic, you can see–right beside the little boy, who is supposedly painted to resemble El Greco’s son–a tiny little El Greco painting of the first Christian martyrdom, as embroidery on the vestment. (St. Stephen is the first martyr.)