Tuesday, September 01, 2020

When Emily Dickinson Heard Jenny Lind Sing, and Another Surprising Literary Juxtaposition

P.T. Barnum publicity poster

When I read the excerpt from "The Writer's Almanac" for September 1, 2020 included below, I was a bit startled to realize that Emily Dickinson heard the “Swedish Nightingale,” Jenny Lind, sing in live performance and that  Dickinson had not been as isolated as I had thought.  We are even able to read some poetic words Dickinson wrote about Lind.

Lind performed around the United States starting in 1850 in a tour arranged by circus impresario, P.T. Barnum, when Dickinson was about 20. And, come to think of it, Amherst, Dickinson' home in Western Massachusetts. is not all that far from Boston. By the 1840s, many stock companies were touring the country, and people flocked to their productions. 

"In early 1850, Dickinson wrote that 'Amherst is alive with fun this winter ... Oh, a very great town this is!'"

After reading about the surprising intersection between the lives of world-famous Jenny Lind and Emily Dickinson, who only became famous after her death, I'm experiencing something like the mental churning that had to happen before I could adjust my view of Thoreau for another reason. I read one time in a book of Minnesota history that, a few years before his death, Thoreau travelled to Minneapolis and joined an excursion boat tour in the northwest direction up the Minnesota River  to watch the women of a tribe of Ojibwe Indians play lacrosse, naked. I was shocked to see him as a tourist, like so many others, a seeker after curiosities, with money and leisure enough to travel! 

From The Writer's Almanac September 1, 2020

It was on this date in 1850 that P.T. Barnum brought Jenny Lind to New York. Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale,” was a gifted soprano who was wildly popular in Europe, and Barnum became aware of her in 1849, as she was wrapping up her third London season. He convinced her to tour the United States, even though he had never heard her sing and had no ear for music. Her reputation as a box-office draw was enough for him. Barnum offered her a thousand dollars a night, plus expenses. He usually paid artists after their performance, but Lind required the full amount for all of her 150 scheduled shows up front. Barnum mortgaged everything he had and still came up $5,000 short, so he borrowed the rest from a Philadelphia clergyman who believed that Lind would set a good moral example for American audiences. Lind was a well-known philanthropist, and was hoping to endow some schools in Sweden; she saw an American tour as a great opportunity to help others, and she distributed money to local charities everywhere she went. The public adored her.

"Barnum publicized her visit in the months leading up to the start of her tour. His first press release really emphasized her moral qualities, saying, “A visit from such a woman who regards her artistic powers as a gift from Heaven and who helps the afflicted and distressed will be a blessing to America.” Lind had been virtually unknown in the States, but Barnum created so much buzz that 30,000 fans met her ship when it docked in New York City on September 1. The tour was a huge financial success, although Lind was uncomfortable with Barnum’s publicity tactics. She ended her contract with him in 1851, but toured for another year under her own name. Emily Dickinson was in the audience for one of her performances, and wrote rapturously: “... how bouquets fell in showers, and the roof was rent with applause — how it thundered outside, and inside with the thunder of God and of men — judge ye which was the loudest; ... she has an air of exile in her mild blue eyes, and a something sweet and touching in her native accent which charms her many friends.”

Read more from "The Writer's Almanac" for September 1, 2020, here.
Emily Dickinson (1846 or 1847)

Jenny Lind (1850)


Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Love and Marriage, Babies and Missals, Jeff and Cynthia Ostrowski

This article was originally published at Regina Magazine in 2014. Since the article is no longer available in Regina's online archives, I'm posting the article here as I submitted it before editing, with a few updates. One update is that the Ostrowskis and their two children now live in Los Angeles, California, where Jeff is the choir director at St. Vitus Church, which is administered by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP).
Ama, ora, et labora, Love, pray, and work, could be the motto that governs the life of a talented young married couple in Corpus Christi, Texas. Jeff and Cynthia Ostrowki are just barely in their thirties, but the Ostrowski's collaboration with each other and with others who work with them at Corpus Christi Watershed has produced some of the most intelligently and beautifully designed liturgical aids to be found anywhere.  
Jeff and Cynthia and their coworkers bring to each project their deep understanding of the Catholic tradition in liturgy and chant, along with impressive skills in art, design, photography, videography, sound recording, book design, page layout, typography, and the typesetting of chant and polyphony. 
Corpus Christi Watershed has created and posted 8,500 scores, videos, and Mp3 recordings at their website, all of which are downloadable for free. They maintain a popular blog Views from the Choir Loft (Reflections on Sacred Music and Liturgy). But the most notable of their achievements are the highly lauded Vatican II Hymnal[ for the Ordinary Form of the Mass, which was replaced in 2018 by The Saint Jean de Brébeuf Hymnal for both forms of the Mass] and the equally well-received St. Edmund Campion Missal and Hymnal for the Traditional Latin Mass
“Have you seen the Vatican II Hymnal? . . . It's amazing… [T]he astonishing thing about it is that you could hand it to a brand new Music Director at a Novus Ordo parish and they could start doing decent music immediately. . . "And recently, in a move that seems in some respects to be even bolder than anything they've done before, CCW published a similar "all-in-one" resource... FOR THE TRADITIONAL LATIN MASS! [It’s a] gigantic triumph of a publication that is not just a hand missal—it is a text book, a treatise, a documentary.  The St. Edmund Campion Missal and Hymnal for the Traditional Latin Mass is 992-page wonderment. [I]t's from CCW, so of course the typesetting is beautiful and the layout is great and it's especially formatted to avoid page turns. Of course. We would all, at this point, expect nothing less."—An overly ecstatic ode to Jeff Ostrowski, Corpus Christi Watershed, and the Campion Missal” by Adam Wood at The Chant Café.
Even though the "overly ecstatic ode" gave credit only to Jeff, the couple actually works together on everything, along with many gifted volunteers. For example, for the first edition of the Campion Missal, Jeff edited the missal, and Cynthia directed visual arts and photography. Jeff’s sister Kristen Ostrowski gathered more than 300 pieces of line art from traditional sources, Jeff and Cynthia electronically enhanced them. They selected seventy-five of the most suitable images for use in the missal. In a trip to create photographs for the missal, the Ostrowskis took their one year old daughter along with them to Europe, where Cynthia took gorgeous photos of priests from the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter wearing antique vestments and celebrating Mass at stunningly beautiful churches. Graphic artist James Ridley created sixty illuminated letters for use at the beginnings of the chants, and Jeff re-typeset the chants for readability and beauty. 
Jeff and Daughter in Fribourg, Switzerland

More About the Hymnals and Missal

The Vatican II Hymnal was the first pew book to contain the complete Mass Propers for the Ordinary Form."

[After Saint Jean de Brébeuf Hymnal was released, the New Liturgical Movement website (6/10/2019) called the St. Brébeuf “hands down, the best Catholic hymnal ever published.” It contains hymns for both forms of the Roman rite.]

One of the challenges that faces many priests when they attempt to introduce the Extraordinary Form into their parishes is how to provide the faithful with an easy-to-follow hand missal so they can follow the prayers of the Mass. . . . Enter the St. Edmund Campion Missal and Hymnal for the Traditional Latin Mass. . . . It is a complete Sunday and Holyday Missal with all the major feasts of the year including the Easter Triduum and the Nuptial and Requiem Masses, but, in addition to that, it also contains a very robust hymnal of over 150 traditional congregational hymns.—Fr. Justin Nolan, FSSP

What Is Behind the Name Corpus Christi Watershed?

Corpus Christi means Body of Christ, and Watershed refers to the water that was shed from the wound in Christ's side.

Jeffrey M. Ostrowski: “Watershed got started in late 2006 by a group of Catholics who wanted to respond to Pope John Paul II's 'Letter to Artists.'  They had big plans.” They wanted to create “drama, painting, architecture, literature, film work,” and more, in the service of the Kingdom of God. Jeff Ostrowski started working part-time at CCW in 2007. On January 22, 2011, the board of directors elected him president of Corpus Christi Watershed.

“As time went on, God revealed to the Board of Directors that the projects bearing the most fruits were the Liturgical projects, so the Board of Directors felt called by God to focus more on Liturgical projects.” The staff is “very small.  Most of our people are generous volunteers.  We rely on donations. Currently, our average donors give $5.00 per month.  We possess no endowment, savings, or property.  Nothing. . . . Each day, we wait and see what God provides and He has NEVER let us down.  We have many volunteers who help us.

“Our website has received many millions of visitors.  Therefore, it seems that our ‘madness’ is working somehow, in a small way, to further God's Kingdom." For more about CCW, see here.

Corpus Christi Watershed is a 501(c)3 public charity dedicated to exploring and embodying as our calling the relationship of religion, culture, and the arts. This non-profit organization employs the creative media in service of theology, the Church, and Christian culture for the enrichment and enjoyment of the public. 

How the Ostrowskis Met

The couple’s ethnic origins are so diverse, that it is a bit of a wonder that they ever met, and in Texas of all places. Jeff’s parents are Irish and Polish, and after they met and married in Chicago, they moved to Kansas, where Jeff grew up. Cynthia’s parents are Filipino, and because she came from a military family, she grew up all over the world, including the Philippines. They both come from families with five children. When Jeff moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, in 2005, Cynthia’s family was living there. Jeff told this reporter, “I lived in Kansas all my life until I got sick of doing Graduate Studies in Musicology (because of all the silly ‘Gender’ musicology nonsense) and moved to Corpus Christi to accept a church job.” He became friends with Timothy O’Brien, who was very interested in the Latin Mass and had worked for Catholic Answers, and who is married to Cynthia’s identical twin sister, Christine. When the O’Brien’s invited Jeff for dinner, Cynthia was there, and Jeff and Cynthia met there for the first time. 
Jeff was too shy to talk much to Cynthia that night, but as time progressed, they fell in love and then married a few years later at a spectacular Solemn Traditional Latin Wedding Mass on April 14, 2007.  They are now parents of a three-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy. 

How They Married

Jeff and Cynthia married in 2007 in Immaculate Conception Chapel at John Paul II High School, where Jeff was teaching at the time. Their extraordinary form wedding Mass was the first Solemn Pontifical Nuptial Mass celebrated in the Extraordinary Form anywhere since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. 
The Most Reverend René H. Gracida, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi and Laredo, was the celebrant. Because he was Bishop Emeritus, it was a “Mass at the Faldstool.” Bishop Gracida wore vestments that had been the personal travel-vestments of a saint, Mexican Bishop Saint Rafael Guízar Valencia, who was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI. 
Note: A “Pontifical Solemn Mass at the Faldstool” is the most solemn form of Extraordinary Form Mass that a bishop may celebrate if he is not the Ordinary (chief bishop) of a diocese, or if he is an Ordinary but is not in his own diocese. A faldstool is a bench or small chair on which the bishop sits. 
Jeff built the High Altar against the back wall himself for the occasion, since the chapel had only a freestanding table. He had to take the altar down again within two days of the wedding to return the chapel to the school’s preferred layout for the Novus Ordo Mass. Jeff also built the liturgical lanterns that were carried by altar servers.
Bishop Gracida used a chalice fabricated by Fr. Fryar, who designed it himself and did the gold plating before he used the chalice for the first time at his own First Mass in 2004. The chalice is featured in a beautiful photo in the Campion missal.
“We wanted to make sure everyone could follow the Mass,” says Jeff. The Campion Missal didn’t exist yet, so the groom’s mother made drawings  for the Mass booklets to guide the wedding guests.
Bishop Emeritus Gracida is a revered churchman with a colorful past. Among other things, Gracida had been a tail-gunner in the 303rd Hell's Angels during World War II. As Jeff says, "He made bombing runs against the Nazis. He already fought Hitler so he is not afraid of progressives who hate him because he against abortion, and because he is for tradition." 

More About the Campion Missal

Roseanne T. Sullivan: How did you decide to produce the St. Edmund Campion Missal?
Jeffrey M. Ostrowski: I started attending the Latin Mass in the 1990s (as a child). When I first went, I thought it was the most boring thing I ever saw. But, as time went on, I began to deeply love the Traditional Mass. 
I have attended many Latin Masses over the years, and one thing that often bothered me was observing the low quality of pew books— indeed, the cheaply produced copies seem out of place with the grandeur of the ancient, traditional liturgy. Many people don’t have a Missal at Mass (or forget theirs at home) and so they just sit there the whole time. Others use a Missal lacking the Proprium [Proper prayers of the day for the Mass]. Others use missals with the incorrect Holy Week. 
Furthermore, I’d never observed a truly congregational hymnal in any of the Traditional communities. How can the congregation sing if they don’t have a book? The same three exit hymns were sung week after week. 
Some have produced hymnals for the choir, but none have been produced for the people in the pews. The hymnals for the Novus Ordo Mass cannot be used for the Latin Mass, because those books are filled with music written in a secular style, and some contain heretical lyrics. These were the primary reasons we created the Campion Missal, but there were many others, too, such as the desire to show Catholics the beautiful ancient manuscripts and beautiful poetry of the English Martyrs."

You can read more about the St. Edmund Campion Missal here. And you can read about the 3rd edition, which is being prepared, here.

The soundtrack for the video is a motet by William Byrd (+1623), from a poem composed in honor of the Jesuit martyr St. Edmund Campion soon after Campion’s martyrdom. All the parts were sung by Matthew J. Curtis.
Why doe I use my paper inck and pen, / and call my wits to counsel what to say, such memories were made for mortal men, / I speak of Saints, whose names cannot decay, an Angels trump, were fitter for to sound, / their glorious death, if such on earth were found."
"This poem, written by Henry Walpole within a month of Campion's death, was printed in the Alfield, A true reporte of the death & martyrdome of M. Campion Iesuite and preiste; the press of Richard Verstegan was seized. The manuscript [hand-written]version was disseminated widely, and set to music by William Byrd, probably within a few months, although the printed version of Byrd's setting was not published till 1588, without Campion's name being included (for obvious reasons, in Protestant England)."

Thursday, April 30, 2020

St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church

Relief at the High Altar of the Church of Santa Caterina in Magnaopoli in Rome, by Melchiorre Cafà
In the traditional calendar, April 30 is the feast of the great St. Catherine of Siena, who was declared the first woman Doctor of the Church in 1970.

St. Catherine of Siena, Virgin
Excerpt from Dom Prosper Guerangér, The Liturgical Year

How grand is the Saint whose feast comes to gladden us to-day! She is one of the most favoured of the holy Spouses of the Incarnate Word. She was his, wholly and unreservedly, almost from her very childhood. Though thus consecrated to him by the vow of holy virginity, she had a mission given to her by divine Providence which required her living in the world. But God would have her to be one of the glories of the religious state; he therefore inspired her to join the Third Order of St Dominic. Accordingly, she wore the habit, and fervently practised during her whole life the holy exercises of a Tertiary.

From the very commencement, there was something heavenly about this admirable servant of God, which we fancy existing in an angel who had been sent from heaven to live in a human body. Her longing after God gave one an idea of the vehemence wherewith the blessed embrace the Sovereign Good on their first entrance into heaven. In vain did the body threaten to impede the soaring of this earthly seraph; she subdued it by penance, and made it obedient to the spirit. Her body seemed to be transformed, so as to have no life of its own, but only that of the soul. The Blessed Sacrament was frequently the only food she took for weeks together. So complete was her union with Christ that she received the impress of the sacred stigmata, and with them the most excruciating pain.

And yet in the midst of all these supernatural favours, Catharine felt the keenest interest in the necessities of others. Her zeal for their spiritual advantage was intense, whilst her compassion for them in their corporal sufferings was that of a most loving mother. God had given her the gift of miracles, and she was lavish in using it for the benefit of her fellow-creatures. Sickness and death itself were obedient to her command; and the prodigies witnessed at the beginning of the Church were again wrought by the humble Saint of Siena.< Her communings with God began when she was quite a child, and her ecstasies were almost without interruption. She frequently saw our Risen Jesus, who never left her without having honoured her either with a great consolation or with a heavy cross. A profound knowledge of the mysteries of our holy faith was another of the extraordinary graces bestowed upon her. So eminent indeed was the heavenly wisdom granted her by God that she, who had received no education, used to dictate the most sublime writings, wherein she treats of spiritual things with a clearness and eloquence to which human genius could never attain, and with a certain indescribable unction which no reader can resist. But God would not permit such a treasure as this to lie buried in a little town of Italy. The Saints are the supports of the Church; and though their influence be generally hidden, yet at times it is open and visible, and men then learn what are the instruments which God uses for imparting blessings to a world that would seem to deserve little else besides chastisement. The great question, at the close of the fourteenth century, was the restoration to the Holy City of the privilege of having within its walls the Vicar of Christ, who for sixty years had been absent from his see. One saintly soul, by merits and prayers, known to heaven alone, might have brought about this happy event after which the whole Church was longing; but God would have it done by a visible agency, and in the most public manner. In the name of the widowed Rome—in the name of her own and the Church's Spouse—Catharine crossed the Alps, and sought an interview with the Pontiff, who had not so much as seen Rome. The prophetess respectfully reminded him of his duty; and in proof of her mission being from God, she told him of a secret which was known to himself alone. Gregory XI could no longer resist; and the Eternal City welcomed its Pastor and Father. But at the Pontiff's death, a frightful schism, the forerunner of greater evils to follow, broke out in the Church. Catharine, even to her last hour, was untiring in her endeavours to quell the storm. Having lived the same number of years as our Saviour had done, she breathed forth her most pure soul into the hands of her God, and went to continue in heaven her ministry of intercession for the Church she had loved so much on earth, and for souls redeemed in the precious Blood of her divine Spouse. Our Risen Jesus, who took her to her eternal reward during the season of Easter, granted her whilst she was living on earth a favour which we mention here as being appropriate to the mystery we are now celebrating. He one day appeared to her, having with him his blessed Mother. Mary Magdalen—she that announced the Resurrection to the Apostles—accompanied the Son and the Mother. Catharine's heart was overpowered with emotion at this visit. After looking for some time upon Jesus and his holy Mother, her eyes rested on Magdalen, whose happiness she both saw and envied. Jesus spoke these words to her: ‘My beloved! I give her to thee, to be thy mother. Address thyself to her, henceforth, with all confidence. I give her special charge of thee.' From that day forward, Catharine had the most filial love for Magdalen, and called her by no other name than that of mother. Let us now read the beautiful, but too brief, account of our Saint’s life, as given in the Liturgy. Catharine, a virgin of Siena, was born of pious parents. She asked for and obtained the Dominican habit worn by the Sisters of Penance. Her abstinence was extraordinary, and her manner of living most mortified. She was once known to have fasted, without receiving anything but the Blessed Sacrament, from Ash Wednesday to Ascension Day. She had very frequent contests with the wicked spirits, who attacked her in divers ways. She suffered much from fever, and other bodily ailments. Her reputation for sanctity was so great that there were brought to her from all parts persons who were sick or tormented by the devil. She healed in the name of Christ such as were afflicted with malady or fever, and drove the devils from the bodies of them that were possessed. Being once at Pisa, on a Sunday, and having received the Bread of heaven, she was rapt in an ecstasy. She saw our crucified Lord approaching her. He was encircled with a great light, and from his five Wounds there came rays, which fell upon the five corresponding parts of Catharine's body. Being aware of the favour bestowed upon her, she besought our Lord that the stigmata might not be visible. The rays immediately changed from the colour of blood into that of gold, and passed, under the form of a bright light, to the hands, feet and heart of the Saint. So violent was the pain left by the wounds, that it seemed to her as though she must soon have died, had not God diminished it. Thus our most loving Lord added favour to favour, by permitting her to feel the smart of the wounds, and yet removing their appearance. The servant of God related what had happened to her to Raymund, her confessor. Hence, when the devotion of the faithful gave a representation of this miracle, they painted, on the pictures of St Catharine, bright rays coming from the five stigmata she received. Her learning was not acquired, but infused. Theologians proposed to her the most difficult questions of divinity, and received satisfactory answers. No one ever approached her, who did not go away a better man. She reconciled many that were at deadly enmity with one another. She visited Pope Gregory the Eleventh, who was then at Avignon, in order to bring about the reconciliation of the Florentines, who were under an interdict on account of their having formed a league against the Holy See. She told the Pontiff that there had been revealed to her the vow which he, Gregory, had made of going to Rome a vow which was known to God alone. It was through her entreaty that the Pope began to plan measures for taking possession of his See of Rome, which he did soon after. Such was the esteem in which she was held by Gregory, and by Urban the Sixth, his successor, that she was sent by them on several embassies. At length, after a life spent in the exercise of the sublimest virtues, and after gaining great reputation on account of her prophecies and many miracles, she passed hence to her divine Spouse, when she was about the age of three and thirty. She was canonized by Pius the Second.

Read more here.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

What is Art? Brâncuși's Bird in Space and the Evolving Definition of Art

Bird in Space, Constantin Brâncuși, 1926
I came across this interesting story about a 1920s trial that contributed to the acceptance of non-representational art in American society when I was listening today to a BBC series titled, "The Way I See It."

That trial was notable as a turning point in our society's view of what makes an object a work of art. The way the story of the trial was told is also notable, because it is one of many examples I've come across of stories with many erroneous details that I often find repeated in many places, even though the facts are wrong.

English art critic Alastair Sooke, who told the story of the trial that got me interested, is the moderator in the "The Way I See It" series for the BBC. He interviews individuals who he refers to as, "some of the leading creatives of our age." Each of them talks about an individual work that appeals to them from the collection of New York Museum of Modern Art. In the episode titled, "Zac Posen on Constantin Brancusi's Bird in Space," in which Sooke told his version of the trial story, fashion designer Zac Posen gave his reactions to the 1928 Brâncuși sculpture titled Bird in Space. As it turns out, the Bird in Space sculpture discussed in this episode is actually only one of a series of sculptures by Brâncuși—all of which were titled Bird in Space.
Bird in Space, Constantin Brâncusi, 1928
Another Bird in Space from 1926 Launched a Legal Battle
Something of a turning point in the acceptance of modern art

This is the entertaining way Sooke tells the story about how a previous version of Bird in Space from 1926 launched a legal battle:

American photographer Edward Steichen "bought a version of Bird in Space from Brâncuși’s studio in Paris, and he wanted to bring it back to America. And when he turns up at the border and shows it to the custom’s official, the official looks at him and says, What is it? Steichen said, Well, it’s a work of art. It’s called Bird in Space. It’s a sculpture. And the customs official would not entertain the idea that a piece of metal could possibly be a work of art. And so he said, I’m sorry mate, it’s not. It counts as kitchen ware or other ordinary household utensils. And consequently he slaps a big tax onto the work which would have been exempt had it been categorized by the customs official as a sculpture. And Brancusi got involved, and he decided to fight it as a law case and he actually took it as a law case took to trial. Trial starts October 1927 and apparently lasted for four years. There were many expert witnesses, critics from the art world critics who were invited to come in and explain in a court of law how this could possibly be a masterpiece of modern art. It has a happy ending this story, because the judge was quite enlightened. And in the end, the judge ruled that Yes, it may not look like a bird but this is nevertheless a representation of flight. It is a work of art. Set's hear it for Judge J. Wait whose landmark ruling on that earlier variant of Bird in Space was something of a turning point in the acceptance of modern art."

The errors in Sooke's account I describe below are repeated elsewhere at the MOMA website and in other places I ran across in a cursory Google search.

Reality from Legal History 

Actually, as reported in Brancusi’s Bird in Space: Is it a bird or is it art?, the Bird in Space version that occasioned the law suit was one  of a shipment of works by Brancusi that were shipped in crates from Paris, on the steamship Paris, in 1926. The shipment was accompanied by perhaps the most notoriously boundary-challenging artist of his day, Marchel Duchamp, he of the signed urinal fame, and by Edward Steichen.

Protective custom laws had been set up to tax craft works at high rates—to protect U.S. artisans, and to allow fine art to enter tax free—to allow U.S. museums to purchase European art for their collections.

It seems odd now almost a hundred years later and after myriad waves of art theories have expanded the definition of art to a hitherto unimaginable extent, but the law that defined what could be brought into the U.S., until 1926, required art to be figurative.

"The witnesses for the government argued that the court should follow the precedential standard set by Olivotti: that art must represent a natural object in its true proportions. (Brancusi, 45 Treas. Dec. at *4-5)."

So, the hangup of Bird in Space at customs was due to its abstract nature, which made it doubtful as a  work of art to the customs officer's eye.

One mistake in Sooke's account is that it wasn't Brâncuși who brought the lawsuit. As the above linked article says, "Edward Steichen . . . who had purchased Bird in Space, filed an appeal funded by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, a collector and patron of the arts."  Whitney was planning to open her own museum (Whitney Museum of American Art, which opened in 1931), so the article hints she "may have had an ulterior motive when she funded the Brancusi appeal."

Another mistake in Sooke's retelling is the sculpture wasn't classified by the customs officer under household utensils.  "The Customs Official assessed the work as a “manufacture of metal,” not a piece of art, and imposed a tariff of 40% of the sales price. (Brancusi, 45 Treas. Dec. at *1)."

The reclassification happened later as described in the article, An Odd Bird:  "Under pressure from the press and artists, U.S. customs agreed to rethink their classification of the items, releasing the sculptures on bond (under "Kitchen Utensils and Hospital Supplies") until a decision could be reached. However, customs appraiser F. J. H. Kracke eventually confirmed the initial classification of items and said that they were subject to duty."

The "An Odd Bird" article reports common opinions about the work that many of us can still relate to: "several men, high in the art world were asked to express their opinions for the Government.... One of them told us, 'If that's art, hereafter I'm a bricklayer.' Another said, 'Dots and dashes are as artistic as Brâncuși's work.'" 

"The next month, Steichen filed an appeal to the U.S. Customs' decision." 

Eventually, after listening to expert witnesses, as Sooke said, Judge Wait ruled that Bird in Space was a work of art after all, even though it wasn't representational.

"[T]he court recognized . . . that a new school of art that centered around abstraction was developing at that time.  The court found significant that the work was an original production by a professional sculptor and declared that while Bird in Space did not immediately resemble a bird, it was “beautiful and symmetrical in outline” and “nevertheless pleasing to look at and highly ornamental.” AId. at *8).  Thus, the court held that Bird in Space was entitled to free entry under Paragraph 1704 of the Tariff Act as a work of art.  (Id.).
Its beauty continues to make Bird in Space in its many variations appealing, even to someone like me who believes in another definition of art that is too complex to go into there. But even a bare minimum criteria of beauty is not consistently a contemporary criteria for art.

Even in 1926,  competing theories of art were already floating around that rejected beauty. For example, Marcel Duchamp's had signed a urinal and submitted it to an art exhibition in 1917. And when I was an art student in the early 1980s in Minneapolis, I listened to a presentation by a visiting New York City "installation artist" who poured concrete on gallery floors and told us that he had to work very hard to make sure that the beautiful patterns naturally formed in the pouring of the concrete were obliterated, "to avoid the trap of beauty."

"The Way I See It"series is recommended listening for a course I'm taking about contemporary modern art that is offered for free by the Museum of Modern Art. Although I basically turned my back on modern art in disgust after my immersion in its theories and practices when I was working on a B.A. in Studio Arts in 1979, I'm taking notes from this course, which I think will bring me current in art theory. I'm motivated by a discussion I've been having with someone who thinks we should not reject what I and many others think of as often-offensive and seemingly-worthless modern art because, he says, we should first engage the artists and understand the motives of those who create these transgressive works. His assumptions are not my own, but I'm sincerely trying to understand why he thinks that way and why others I respect think what he is saying has merit.

From the New York Evening Post, several men, "high in the art world were asked to express their opinions for the Government.... One of them told us, 'If that's art, hereafter I'm a bricklayer.' Another said, 'Dots and dashes are as artistic as Brâncuși's work.'"—From An Odd Bird

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Thursday of Holy Week: Traditional Commentary and Chant

Man with the Jar of Water
   "In a particular way, make Holy Thursday a day of profound thanksgiving for the Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Priesthood, which Our Lord instituted at the Last Supper."—Cardinal Raymond Burke
Maundy Thursday
    "This is the first day of the Azymes, or Feast of the Unleavened Bread. At sunset, the Jews must eat the Pasch in Jerusalem. Jesus is still in Bethania; but he will return to the City before the hour for the Paschal supper. The Law commands this; and, until he has abrogated the Law by the shedding of his Blood, he wishes to observe its ordinances. He therefore sends two of his Disciples to get everything ready for the Pasch, without, however, telling them the great Mystery, wherewith it is to terminate. . . .

   "Jesus, who knew all things, tells them by what sign they are to know the house, which he intends to honour with his presence : they have but to follow a man, whom they will see carrying a pitcher of water. The house to which this man is going, belongs to a rich Jew, who recognises Jesus as the Messias. The two Apostles apprise him of their Master’s wishes; and immediately he puts at their disposal a large and richly furnished room. It was fitting, that the place, where the most august Mystery was to he instituted, should he something above the common. . . . In it was to be erected the first Altar for the offering up of the clean oblation, foretold by the Prophet: in it was to commence the Christian Priesthood: in it, finally, fifty days later on, the Church of Christ, collected together and visited by the Holy Ghost, was to make herself known to the world, and promulgate the new and universal Covenant of God with men. . . .
   "In a few hours, the Divine Master and his Disciples will be standing round the table, their loins girt, and staves in their hands ; and, for the last time, they will observe the solemn rite prescribed by God to his people, when they first went forth from Egypt."
The Last Supper
The Passover Meal
   The Passover meal "is followed by a feast . . .. It was the custom in the East, that guests should repose two and two on couches round the table; these have been provided by the disciple, who has placed his house at Jesus’ service. John is on the same couch as Jesus, so that it is easy for him to lean his head upon his Master’s breast. Peter is on the next couch, on the other side of Jesus, who is thus between the two Disciples, whom he had sent, in the morning, to prepare the Pasch, and who . . . represent Faith and Love. 
The Supper
   "This second repast is a sorrowful one, in consequence of Jesus having told the guests, that one of them is a traitor."
The Washing of the Apostles' Feet
Jesus Washes the Feet of the Disciples
   "As soon as the second repast was over, Jesus suddenly rises, and, to the astonishment of his Apostles, takes off his upper garment, girds himself, as a servant, with a towel, pours water into a basin, and prepares to wash the feet of the guests. . . . Jesus is about to regale his Apostles with a Divine Banquet ; he wishes to treat them with every possible mark of welcome and attention. But in this, as in every other action of his, there is a fund of instruction: he would teach us, by what he is now doing, how great is the purity, wherewith we should approach the Holy Table. He that is washed, says he, needeth not but to wash his feet ; as though he would say : ” The holiness of ” this Table is such, that they who come to it, should ” not only be free from grievous sins, but they should, ” moreover, strive to cleanse their souls from those “lesser faults, which come from contact with the ” world, and are like the dust that covers the feet of ” one that walks on the high-way.” We will explain further on, the other teachings conveyed by this action of our Lord.
   "It is with Peter, the future head of his Church, that Jesus begins. The Apostle protests; he declares that he will never permit his Master to humble himself so low as this: but he is obliged to yield. The other Apostles, (who, as Peter himself, are reclining upon their couches), receive the same mark of love: Jesus comes to each of them in turn, and washes their feet. Judas is not excepted: he has just received a second warning from his merciful Master; for Jesus, addressing himself to all the Apostles, said to them: You are clean ; but not all: but the reproach produced no effect upon this hardened heart."

   "But the Apostles little expect a third Supper, Jesus has not told them of his intention ; but he had made a promise, and he would fulfil it before his Passion. Speaking, one day, to the people, he had said: I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this Bread, he shall live for ever, and the Bread that I will give, is my Flesh for the life of the world. My Flesh is meat indeed, and my Blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my Flesh and drinketh my Blood, abideth in me, and I in him. The time has come for the fulfilment of this his loving promise. But as it was both his Flesh and his Blood that he promised us, he waited till the time of his sacrifice. His Passion has begun; he is sold to his enemies ; his life is already in their hands; he may at once, therefore, offer himself in sacrifice, and give to his Disciples the very Flesh and Blood of the Victim."

The First Eucharist

The Communion of the Apostles
   "Having finished washing the feet of the Twelve, Jesus resumes his place, side by side with John. Then taking a piece of the unleavened bread, that had remained over from the feast, he raises his eyes to heaven, blesses the bread, breaks it, and distributes it to his Disciples, saying to them: Take ye, and eat; this is my Body. The Apostles take the bread, which is now changed into the Body of their Divine Master: they eat ; — and Jesus is, now, not only with them, but in them. But, as this sacred mystery is not only the most holy of the Sacraments, but, moreover, a true Sacrifice; and as a Sacrifice requires the shedding of blood; our Jesus takes the cup, and changing the wine into his own Blood, he passes it round to his Disciples, saying to them: Drink ye, all, of this; for this is my Blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many, unto remission of sins." 

   "The institution of the Holy Eucharist, both as a Sacrament and Sacrifice, is followed by another, the institution of a new Priesthood. How could our Saviour have said: Except you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his Blood, you shall not have life in you? — unless he had resolved to establish a ministry upon earth, whereby he would renew, even to the end of time, the great Mystery he thus commands us to receive ? He begins it to-day, in the Cenacle. The twelve Apostles are the first to partake of it: but observe what he says to them: Do this for a commemoration of me? By these words, he gives them power to change bread into his Body, and wine into his Blood; and this sublime power shall be perpetuated in the Church, by holy Ordination, even to the end of the world. Jesus will continue to operate, by the ministry of mortal and sinful men, the Mystery of the Last Supper. By thus enriching his Church with the one and perpetual Sacrifice, he also gives us the means of abiding in him, for he gives us, as he promised, the Bread of heaven. To-day, then, we keep the anniversary, not only of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, but, also, of the equally wonderful Institution of the Christian Priesthood."

   "The Apostles drink from the sacred chalice thus proffered them; when it comes to Judas, he too, partakes of it, but he drinks his own damnation, as he ate his own judgment, when he received the Bread of Life. Jesus, however, mercifully offers the traitor another grace, by saying, as he gives the Cup to his Disciples: The hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table . . ..

   "Peter is struck by Jesus thus frequently alluding to the crime, which is to be committed by one of the Twelve. He is determined to find out who the traitor is. Not daring himself to ask Jesus, at whose right hand he is sitting, he makes a sign to John, who is on the other side, and begs him to put the question. John leans on Jesus’ breast, and says to him in a whisper : Lord, who is it ? Jesus answers him in an equally suppressed tone : He to whom I shall reach bread dipped. And having taken one of the pieces of bread that remained over from the repast, he dipped it, and gave it to Judas. 

Judas Leaves the Upper Room
   "It was one more grace offered and refused, for the Evangelist adds: And after the morsel, Satan entered into him Jesus again addresses him, saying: That which thou dost, do quickly. The wretch then leaves the room, and sets about the perpetration of his crime."

Last Words of Jesus to His Apostles

The Last Discourse
  "Jesus then turns to his faithful Apostles, and says to them : Now is the Son of Man glorified. Yes, his Passion is to be followed by triumph and glory; and the Passion has already begun, for Judas has commenced his work of betraying him.

   "Meanwhile, the Apostles . . . begin to dispute among themselves, which of them should seem to be greater. 

   "Jesus puts an end to this dispute, by giving to these future Pastors of his Church a lesson of humility. There shall, it is true, be a Head among them, but, says our Redeemer, let him that is the greater among you become as the younger; and he that is the leader, as he that serveth. He bids them look at him: he is their Master, and yet, says he, I am in the midst of you, as he that serveth? Then turning towards Peter, he thus addresses him: Simon, Simon ! behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy Brethren} This last interview is, as it were, our Saviour’s Testament; he provides for his Church, before leaving her. The Apostles are to be Peter’s Brethren, but Peter is to be their Head." 

   "Jesus, after having provided for the future of his Church by the words he addressed to Peter, thus speaks affectionately to all the eleven: Little children ! yet a little while I am with you. Love one an other. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another. Peter says to him : Lord! whither goest thou? Whither I go, answers Jesus, thou canst not now follow me; but thou shalt follow hereafter. Why cannot I follow thee now? again asks Peter: I will lay down my life for thee. Wilt thou, replies Jesus, lay down thy life for me? Amen, amen, I say to thee: the cock shall not crow, till thou deny me thrice. Peter’s love for Jesus had too much of the human about it, for it was not based on humility. Presumption comes from pride: it almost always results in a fall. In order to prepare Peter for his future ministry of pardon, as also to give us a useful lesson, God permits that he, who was soon to be made Prince of the Apostles, should fall into a most grievous and humiliating sin.

   "But let us return to the instructions contained in the last words spoken by our Jesus before he leaves his disciples. I am, says he, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If you love me, keep my commandments. I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you for ever. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you : not as the world giveth, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid. If you loved me, you would indeed be glad, because I go to the Father. I will not now speak many things with you, for the prince of this world cometh, and in me he hath not anything. But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father hath given me commandment, so do I, — arise, let us go hence. Deeply impressed by these words, the Disciples arise, and, after the hymn of thanksgiving has been said, they accompany Jesus to Mount Olivet."

The Agony in the Garden

   "Having come as far as Gethsemani, he goes into a garden, whither he had often led his Apostles and rested there with them.
My Soul Is Sorrowful Even Unto Death
   "Suddenly, his Soul is over-powered with grief; his Human Nature experiences, as it were, a suspension of that beatitude, which results from its union with the Divinity. This his Humanity will be interiorly supported, even to the very last moment of his Passion ; but it must bear everything that it is possible for it to bear. Jesus feels such intense sadness, that the very presence of his Disciples is insupportable; he leaves them, taking with him only Peter, James, and John, who, a short time before, had been witnesses of his glorious Transfiguration:—will they show greater courage than the rest, when they see their Divine Master in the hands of his enemies? His words show them what a sudden change has come over him. He whose language was, a few moments before, so calm, his look so serene, and his tone of voice so sweet, now says to them: My soul is sorrowful even unto death : stay you here, and watch with me.
   "He leaves them, and goes to a grotto, which is about a stone’s throw distant. Even to this day it exists, perpetuating the memory of the terrible event.
Grotto of the Agony
   "There does our Jesus prostrate himself, and prays, saying: Father! all things are possible to thee. Remove this chalice from me: but, not what I will, but what thou wilt. Whilst thus praying, a Sweat of Blood flows from his body and bathes the ground. It is not merely a swooning, it is an Agony, that he suffers.
Jesus Ministered to by Angels
   "God sends help to his sinking frame, and it is an Angel that is entrusted with the office. Jesus is treated as man; his Humanity, exhausted as it is, is to receive no other sensible aid than that which is now brought him by an Angel (whom tradition affirms to have been Gabriel.) Hereupon he rises, and again accepts the Chalice prepared for him. But what a Chalice!—every pain that body and soul can suffer; the sins of the whole world taken upon himself, and crying out vengeance against him; the ingratitude of men, many of whom will make his Sacrifice useless. Jesus has to accept all this, and at the very time, when he seems to be left to his Human Nature. The power of the Divinity, which is in him, supports him: but it does not prevent him from feeling every suffering, just as though he had been mere Man. He begins his Prayer by asking that the Chalice may be taken from him; he ends it by saying to his Father: Not my will, but thine be done!
You Could Not Watch One Hour With Me
   "Jesus then rises, leaving the earth covered with the Blood of his Agony: it is the first Bloodshedding of his Passion. He goes to his three Disciples, and, finding them asleep, says to them: What! could you not watch one hour with me? This was the beginning of that feature of his sufferings, which consists in his being abandoned. He twice returns to the grotto, and repeats his sorrowful, but submissive, prayer; twice he returns to his Disciples, whom he had asked to watch near him, but, at each time, finds them asleep. At length, he speaks to them, saying: Sleep ye now, and take your rest! Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man shall be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Then resuming the energy of his divine courage, he adds: Rise! let us go! Behold, he is at hand that will betray me!
The Procession of Judas
   "A numerous body of armed men enter the Garden with torches in their hands. Judas is at their head. 

Judas Betrays Jesus with a Kiss
   "The betrayal is made by a profanation of the sign of friendship. Judas! dost thou betray the Son of Man with a kiss. These piercing words should have made the traitor throw himself at his Master’s feet, and ask pardon; but it was too late: he feared the soldiers. 
Guards Falling Backwards
   "But the servants of the High Priest cannot lay hands on Jesus, unless he, their Victim, permit them to do so. With one single word, he casts them prostrate on the ground. Then permitting them to rise, he says to them, with all the majesty of a King: If you seek Me, let these go their way. You are come out, as it were against a thief with swords and clubs. When I was daily with you in the Temple, you did not stretch forth your hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness. Then turning to Peter, who had drawn and used his sword, he says to him: Thinkest thou that I cannot ask my Father, and he will give me presently twelve legions of Angels? How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled? And now, Jesus permits himself to be led. Whereupon, his Apostles run away in fear. Peter and another Disciple follow him, but as far off as they can. The soldiers lead Jesus by the same road along which he had passed on the previous Sunday, when the people met him with palm and olive branches in their hands.
The Brook Cedron
   "They cross the brook Cedron; and there is a tradition of the Church of Jerusalem, that the soldiers as they passed the bridge, threw Jesus into the water. Thus was fulfilled the prophecy of David: He shall drink of the torrent in the way.

   "They reach the City walls. The gate is opened, and the divine Prisoner enters. It is night, and the inhabitants know not the crime that has been committed. It is only on the morrow, that they will learn that Jesus of Nazareth, the great Prophet, has fallen into the hands of the Chief Priests and Pharisees. The night is far advanced; but many hours must elapse before the dawn of day. The enemies of Jesus have arranged to take him, in the morning, to Pontius Pilate, and accuse him as being a disturber of the peace: but in the meanwhile, they intend to condemn him as guilty in matters of religion! Their tribunal has authority to judge in cases of this nature, only they cannot pass sentence of death upon a culprit, how guilty soever they may prove him. They, consequently, hurry Jesus to Annas, the father-in-law of the High Priest Caiphas. Here is to take place the first examination. . . .

   "What a day is this that we have been spending! How full of Jesus’ love! He has given us his Body and Blood to be our Food; he has instituted the Priesthood of the New Testament; he has poured out upon the world the sublimest instructions of his loving Heart. We have seen him struggling with the feelings of human weakness, as he beheld the Chalice of the Passion that was prepared for him; but he triumphed over all, in order to save us. We have seen him betrayed, fettered, and led captive into the holy City, there to consummate his Sacrifice. Let us adore and love this Jesus, who might have saved us by one and the least of all these humiliations ; but whose love for us was not satisfied unless he drank, to the very dregs, the Chalice he had accepted from his Father."

Gradual: Christus factus est pro nobis 
Phil 2:8-9
Christus factus est pro nobis obœ́diens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis
V. Propter quod et Deus exaltávit illum: et dedit illi nomen, quod est super omne nomen.

Christ became obedient for us unto death, even to the death of the cross.
V. For which cause God also exalted Him and hath given Him a Name which is above all names.

  This post is part of a series titled "Traditions of Holy Week," with commentary from Dom Prosper Guéranger's The Liturgical Year, illustrations by James Tissot for The Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and chants from each day's liturgy. Unless otherwise indicated, the quotes are from Dom Guerangér's writings for each day. See also:
Note: Links will not work until the actual day.