Monday, 28 December 2009

The Sacred Made Real

To the National Gallery to view this extraordinary exhibition of Spanish religious sculpture and painting from the seventeenth century: The Sacred Made Real.

As the title suggests, the works on show are religious images - and the majority have not come from art galleries, but from the churches where they remain objects of devotion.

For me the most striking are the sculptures which, according to the rigid craft demarcations of the era, were carved by one artist and later painted by another.

The aim was to create an almost theatrical illusion of reality, which would have been enhanced by the dramatic lighting of the space for which the works were created.

And, of course, the overall intention was to evoke contemplation, awe and sympathy in the viewer, thus inviting him or her to deeper devotion.

The subject matter is uniformly dark: friars contemplate the cross, a hooded Francis of Assisi gazes at a skull, and the head of John the Baptist lies on its plate, every sinew and artery of the severed neck rendered with surgical accuracy.

And then there are the images of Christ's passion: Jesus stands flayed and bleeding; he hangs dying upon the cross; or, as shown above, he lies stark and dead.

The message, expressed with brutal clarity, is of the human, physical reality of Christ's suffering and death: Ecce Homo - behold the man.

The effect, for me, in the darkened rooms of the Sainsbury Wing, was powerful, horrifying and, well, all a bit too much.

I guess it must be to with the presentation of these fearful images in isolation from the story that led up to them - and of the subsequent' third-day' event which transfigures them.

Without the context, the show seemed oppressive, gruesome and deeply morbid - an upmarket chamber of horrors.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Wise man

A Christmas cheer for Archbishop of York John Sentamu and his forthright condemnation of proposed anti-homosexual legislation in his native country of Uganda.

No stranger to persecution, John Sentamu was imprisoned under the regime of Idi Amin.

Under the proposed legislation homosexual people could face life imprisonment. And anyone who failed to report homosexual activity could face up to three years in jail.

The word 'draconian' seems inadequate.

Merry Christmas, Blue Budgie

Mr Gnome ends the year by celebrating those seemingly random positive moments that, of themselves, may seem minimal and trivial - but which, taken together, make life more colourful, more interesting and, in short, richer.

Take Blue Budgie, for example.

My daily walk to work takes me past numerous houses, but only one of them catches the eye - and that's the one with the brightly lit window in which Blue Budgie's cage may be glimpsed en passant.

Sometimes BB, as I now think of him/her, rests peacefully inside his roomy cage. But more often than not, is to be seen at liberty, sitting atop his/her home - or perching on a finger offered by a human co-resident.

BB, perky of demeanour, is clearly a valued member of the household, with his/her cage in a prime position where BB can both see and be seen.

A recent flurry of stylish Christmas decoration has taken place chez BB, and one morning this week I found myself dismayed to notice that the cage and its colourful owner were no longer visible.

Relief all round to discover yesterday that BB has returned to his/her usual position, presiding cheerfully over a household which seems primed to relish every aspect of the festive season.

Blue Budgie: small, cheerful, colourful, positive - and in his/her small way making a big difference.

No surprise then that Mr Gnome raises a robust 'Hurrah!' for this brightly be-feathered bird.

NB The picture above of a blue budgie was gathered from the Internet. Mr Gnome naturally respects the privacy of the real Blue Budgie and his/her family.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Bill's Christmas cat

Christmas feels like Christmas now that my friend Bill Sanderson's Christmas card has arrived.

It's exactly one year since I wrote about Bill and his remarkable artwork.

This year's is a gem, I feel.

Sunday, 20 December 2009


Mr Gnome apologises to readers (if any remain) for the Trappist-like silence that has enveloped the blog in recent weeks.

As always, Mr G's human operative willingly takes the blame. But in the spirit of 'never complain, never explain', we crave your indulgence and shall try to do better in the New Year.

The current cold weather has transformed the neighbourhood into a hard-edged winter world. The canal is frozen, giving ducks an opportunity to show off their triple Salcos. Fieldfares bob about in the hedgerows.

There's a new linked blog, by the way. All about my plans for June 2010.