A Journey into Christian Art

By Helen De Borchgrave | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
The Rebirth of Realism

Nobody can understand the greatness of the thirteenth century, who does
not realize that it was a great growth of new things produced by a living
thing… It was a new thrust like the titanic thrust of Gothic
engineering; and its strength was in a God who makes all things new.

G.K. Chesterton (1874–1936), St Thomas Aquinas

The magnificent cathedrals that crown cities throughout Europe are symbols of a living faith from a time when Europe was united under the banner of Christ. Artists and craftsmen, their practice controlled by guilds, worked together under the patronage of the church in an outpouring of artistic and spiritual energy. The Benedictine monks' centuries-long commitment to keep ancient culture and early Christian learning alive, by meticulously copying and illuminating manuscripts, had borne fruit.

St Dominic, St Francis of Assisi and St Thomas Aquinas were outstanding among a host of men and women who sought to make the whole fabric of society worthy of the redeemer. Sculpture, scholarship, and sainthness walked hand in hand.

In those days life moved at a natural pace. There was time to carve misericords on wooden pews, chisel fine figures of saints in stone, and embroider copes with gold and silver thread. And there was time to contemplate life and death — for poverty, political insecurity and violence also existed, as Christ warned they always would. But there was hope in God's sovereign power and mercy, and as the glory of the cathedrals lifted minds and hearts heavenwards, St Paul's words, 'to live is Christ, and to die is gain' (Phihppians 1:21), must have continued to resonate in those lofty places.

Spiritual, philosophical and artistic ideas were spread around by the constant movement of people. Rats spread pestilence. Thousands died fighting in the crusades. In the days before morphine and other panaceas, pain was an active part of life. Christ's passion and death were real, especially after the feast of Corpus Christi, which commemorated the Lord's Supper, was incorporated into the church's liturgical calendar. The sovereign Lord of the Byzantine world became the crucified redeemer of humanity and, in the churches and cathedrals, he hung on the cross above the rood screen, touching hearts, moving people to confess sins and commit their lives to him.

-27-

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A Journey into Christian Art
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Introduction 6
  • Chapter I - The Image of Christ 9
  • Chapter 2 - The Rebirth of Realism 27
  • Chapter 3 - The Humanization of Faith 45
  • Chapter 4 - The Flemish Altarpiece 69
  • Chapter 5 - Before the Body Was Broken 86
  • Chapter 6 - The Summit Unsurpassed 104
  • Chapter 7 - Inner Fervour 121
  • Chapter 8 - Two Sides of the Christian Coin 143
  • Chapter 9 - After the Age of Reason 164
  • Chapter 10 - Hidden Pearls 185
  • Epilogue 207
  • Museum and Church Listings 208
  • Bibliography 212
  • List of Illustrations 214
  • Index 217
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