Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Art and Prayer: The Beauty of Turning to God

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Art and Prayer: The Beauty of Turning to God

Article excerpt

Art and Prayer: The Beauty of Turning to God. By Timothy Verdon. Brewster, Mass.: Paraclete Press, 2014. ix + 308 pp. $32.50 (cloth).

In this beautifully produced and illustrated volume, Timothy Verdon applies his years of familiarity with art and faith to an exploration of the links between the two. In seven short chapters he examines many forms and contexts of prayer: how these prayers are portrayed in art, supported by art, and become an art in themselves. The arts explored are primarily the visual manifestations with which Florence, the city he has called home for several decades, is blessed; painting, mosaic, and architecture figure prominently. Music is not neglected, though the focus is on the lyrics rather than the melodies, the poetic texts that have nourished piety for centuries: Tantum ergo, Exsultet, Stabat Mater, and at the end, Dies irae, a hymn dedicated to the "art of dying well."

Verdon brings his familiarity with scripture and classical Christian literature to his task, and the dialogue between images and texts forms a major theme of his work, especially in a chapter on lectio divina. But from the preface on, his pen is ready to dip into the patristic fountain, recalling the reflections of Gregory the Great, Augustine, and John Damascene, among dozens of others. The citations are not mere shows of erudition, but are designed to assist in placing the paintings and murals into a context, with Verdon as a docent guiding the viewer to "read" the symbolism and significance in the artworks much as a careful preacher might exegete a biblical text.

The subtitle of the volume captures a recurring theme: how art expresses, invokes, and enables coming face-to-face with the tremendous and awesome mystery of God. For example, the figure of Mary in a Paduan fresco "embodies the primordial impulse of every prayer, which is thirst, yearning, desire intense as that of the bride when 'the fig tree is forming its first figs and the blossoming vines give out their fragrance"' (p. …

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