Sunday, June 13, 2010

Millais: of Altarpieces, Dickens, and Cardinal Newman

The video podcast in the other post about Millais's painting of Christ in the House of His Parents noted the shallow depth of field in the painting, and made the parallel with Northern Renaissance paintings. The specific painting noted was Jan Van Eyck: The Madonna and Child and the Canon George van der Paele. c. 1435

What I also notice is that the shallow depth of field is typical of altarpieces, which in the 14th century were moved from in front of the altar to behind the altar, so the priest would elevate the host facing the altarpiece. Christ in the House of His Parents is in the form of an altarpiece, having a tripartite composition suggestive of a triptych altarpiece. Once I recognized the form of the altarpiece, I noticed that the door being worked on is centrally placed like a table or altar. Immediately in front of the altar in the center, Jesus stands elevating his Precious Blood, with Mary kneeling, looking at his hand. Now, Millais was Anglican (although his aesthetics drew on Catholic Renaissance painting), so I'm not sure what to make of certain elements. For example, Jesus stands facing the congregation instead of ad orientum; Mary kneels before him as would a server or a concelebrating priest; the Precious Blood is the focal point instead of the consecrated bread. Also, Joseph has one hand on Jesus's shoulder and the other on his fingers, suggestive of the priest holding the host or the chalice. I know very little about art - what do you see here?!?

I find it interesting that Charles Dickens complained about the painting being too common. Dickens himself wrote of common people, but he must have believed that Jesus had little to do with the commonness of everyday life.

Millais also painted a portrait of Cardinal Newman:

A note in the New York Times about the meeting between the painter John Millais and Cardinal Newman, when Millais painted Newman's portrait (Nov 26, 1899).
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