An Angel’s Angle: A discussion of perspective

Today being the commemoration of St. John the Baptist’s beheading and the feast day of St. Sabina, I was obviously torn between whose patronage I should choose for the celebration of Mass. Ultimately, since I know who the former is, I chose him. This gave me the chance to see the numerous exquisite statues and paintings in San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, which, unfortunately, could not be photographed adequately without flash. I also got to see the only modern work in the whole place, and it was quite thought provoking:



In looking at art like this, I use many of the same approaches as I do when listening to music of… “questionable orthodoxy,” shall we say: let’s start with things I can find to admire. I like the stark, barren setting; this depicts the aloneness and abandonment Christ expressed on the cross (“Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?”). The unfaltering brutality of the scene, not shying away from the violence of it all, is also moving. Finally, the constellations and deep blue backdrop are highly symbolic, showing the vastness and universality of the moment (hat tip to Eric Seith for some good discussion of this). 

Aesthetic preferences as a “conservative boy” aside, however, the one thing that sets me against this painting is that the viewer is set in the perspective of God. In a sense, I am looking down on Christ from the heavens, from the divine, a seat I obviously cannot merit and have not yet been granted. The example that jumps immediately to my head is when Marty Haugen and kind request that I sing in persona Christi (or, more often, words of God the Father).  This may come as a shock to some, but I am not, in fact, the Bread of Life, nor will I be raising anyone up on the last day. I object to this kind of art on many levels, which I’d love to discuss, but the basic point is this: Art of all kinds is powerful, and the participant’s role affects his mindset and worldview, and, simply put, I am not God. I think it’s dangerous to even approach stepping into that role.

But, I’m still contemplating this piece, and would love feedback, opinions and impressions from all my friends and followers; please leave a comment and join in the discussion!

P.S. I’ll update later about my other adventures of the day…don’t rule out poor St. Sabina quite yet!



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2 responses to “An Angel’s Angle: A discussion of perspective

  1. I think I tend to agree with you. Imagine if the piece had been more or less the same, but the perspective had been from the foot of the cross–how that would have shown Christ’s majesty even in such a humiliating situation!

    (Also: and the basilica of St. Sabina is the mother church of the Dominicans. Well worth a visit, although when I went it was taken up by a wedding.)

  2. Sophie, I’m glad to hear this! You make a very good point about the possibility of that perspective. I wanted to include with this post a photograph of a lovely painting–in the same church–of some saint or another staring up into a crucifix (those are a dime a dozen around here), but I couldn’t quite make it come out. Especially if the artist were to take the constellation theme and run with it, I think that the foot of the cross angle could be quite dramatic and powerfully symbolic.
    Thanks as well for the link to St. Sabina’s info! The church was very beautiful, and I’m glad I went.

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