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Posts tagged ‘Religion’

Norms: The Saints Collection | Saint Ramon Llull of Mallorca

There is a spiritual kind of sensibility in the air which is very tangible for me at Christmas time. It has much to do with my childhood experiences of singing Christmas carols by candlelight in cold churches, the orangey smell of the Christingle mixed with candle wax, and my life changing art history course in Italy when the Catholic churches of Florence and Rome in December really came alive in my imagination. All of this means that I am at my most spiritually receptive at this time of year, particularly when it comes to admiring Renaissance and pre-renaissance gilded altar pieces and religious masterpieces. And it is for that same reason that when it comes to my own creativity, I love creating Saint Norms.

First inspired by an altarpiece I saw in the Accademia in Venice, my Saint Norms was a collection of illustrations started in early 2014. The last two I made were later that year, following our move to Mallorca. With Santa Lucia and Saint Nicholas, I laid the collection to rest…that was at least until now. For following a recent visit to the magnificent Cathedral of Palma, I became inspired by the island’s own patron saint, Ramon Llull.

Born in 1232 in the turbulent period following the reconquest of Mallorca from islamic rule, Ramon Llull was a writer, philosopher and Franciscan tertiary famous for creating what is quite possibly the first major work of Catalan literature, and for his prominent work on elections theory and computation. While he may just have been a happy-go-like writer of salacious poems, he turned towards saintliness following a continued apparition of Christ on the Cross, the likes of which first came to him as he sat writing in his Mallorquín home.

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Saint Ramon Llull Norm (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and gold paint on paper)

Such is the scene now imagined here in this latest Saint Norm sketch, which also includes all of the traditional trademarks of Mallorca craftsmanship, from the ancient zig zag frescoed ceilings, to the Mallorquín lenguas fabric cushions on his chair.

Now my latest Saint Norm is completed, I finally feel fully ready for Christmas.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

Onwards to Vienna, Part 2: The Churches

If the Ringstrasse and the palatial buildings that line it are demonstrative of Vienna’s more recent 19th century prowess (and, with the recent additions of the MuseumsQuarter, its 21st century cultural advances to boot) then its spectacular churches are demonstrative of a magnificent history which goes back yet further. For these religious monuments have truly stood the test of time, from their inception as far back ago as the 13th century, to the progressively exquisite embellishments which have since followed.

The Stephansdom inside and out

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We begun our tour of Vienna’s grandest religious spectacles with the centre point of them all, the Stephansdom cathedral. Often called the soul of the city itself, it is perhaps no coincidence that the cathedral contains a great many of the remains of some of the most historically significant of the Hapsburg rule which lorded over Vienna, and the empire which spread out around it, for centuries. But rather than begin this visit from the inside, we instead claimed the 300 or so steps of its main gothic spire, taking advantage of the aspect which is perhaps most characteristic of this building – its enormous height. There, from somewhere close to the top of the “Steffi” or spire, we were able to enjoy magnificent views not only over all of the city, but of the incredible tiled roof which contains almost a quarter of a million glazed tiles, meticulously restored after the damage inflicted towards the end of the second world war.

Vienna from the top of the Stephansdom

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Having caught our breath upon our rather perilous descent down a very narrow spiral staircase, we did not linger in the inside of the cathedral for long. This was not so much owing to a lack of content, but to both the queues for, and the price of, admission, both of which inspired us to take our leave and seek further thrills in this city of plenty.

The Stephansdom’s spectacular tiled roof

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Next on the list was the equally impressive domed Peterskirche, a romantic oval-based construct remodelled in the 18th century on St Peter’s in Rome, and by no means lacking the exuberant ostentatious interiors of its inspiration. For the interiors of Peterskirche are amazingly lavish, with an eye-catching pulpit meticulously sculpted by Matthias Steindi, and frescoes embellishing the huge dome depicting the Assumption of the Virgin by J M Rottmayr. From the extravagant altar to the richly carved pews, this was a church whose every detail was dripping in embellishment, and easily the equal of the Stephansdom up the road.

Peterskirche

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We encountered several other religious spectacles as we proceeded with our tour around Vienna, although we seldom ventured inside. One we would have liked to have explored, on the inside and out, was the last iconic church of the city, Karlskirch, sitting at one end of the central Karlsplatz. But as I bemoaned in Monday’s post, a further prohibited entrance fee found us fleeing from the tourist entrance, leaving us to appreciate this columned baroque masterpiece from the outside – an aspect which, like so many others of the magnificent buildings clambering to be admired in Vienna, could not fail to impress.

Karlskirche

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

No detail too small: the intricate spectacle of a Neapolitan Nativity

In a large number of countries the Nativity scene (Belem in Spain, Presepe in Italy) is as big a part of the Christmas festivities as the lights switch-on in London’s Oxford Street or the Christmas tree at the centre of a family home. Having gone to Catholic school as a boy, I still remember the prominence with which the Nativity set was placed in the front entrance, and how perplexed I was (and remain) that the teachers remained insistent that the Jesus figure should not be placed in the manger until Christmas Day: but this is a school I thought – who on earth is going to see it during the holidays?

Despite the fact that the tradition of setting out a nativity is centuries old in many a catholic country, the general belief is that it all began in Italy where St Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first nativity scene in 1223 at Greccio, Italy. There he is said to have recreated the birth of Christ through placing people dressed in the various nativity roles in a cave. A tradition was born, and perhaps for this reason, it is arguable that Italy has remained the predominant master of the nativity craft. This is not least in Naples where, in the famous Via San Gregorio Armeno, the entire street is given over to the craftsmen who make every intricate detail of the characters and setting of the Neapolitan presepe. 

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While last Christmas I braved the crowds who had crammed their way up the dark side streets of the Spaccanapoli to get a view of this famous Neapolitan craft, this year I have had the fortune to see their masterpieces at far closer a proximity. For here in Palma de Mallorca, but 2 minutes from my flat in an inconspicuous church on the Carrer de San Miquel, there is a Neapolitan gem of its own. Set out across a mountain plane simulated from the supple bark of a cork tree, and comprising a phenomenal range of architectural features and carefully characterised figures, this Nativity demonstrates why the Neapolitan craft remains so renowned. Not a single detail of street life has been missed, from the slimy pig’s head sold by the Butcher, to the bag of eggs swung by the old housewife. What tickles me are the gruesome details of their lined faces, and their masterful expressions – so full of personality you’d swear they were alive. 

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In fact Palma de Mallorca holds the nativity or Belem dear to its heart, with a trail tracing once fantastic Belem to another across the city. But few could deny that the real brilliance of Belem craft has been mastered by the Neapolitans, as the nativity photos above demonstrate so well. 

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 

Norms: The Saints Collection | Santa Lucia

At this festive and, for some, religious time of year, the calendar is awash with Saint’s days and festivals which make the whole Christmas period sparkle with something rather magical. Last week, I noted the passing of St Nicholas’ day, a Saint’s day of the utmost import because it is that rotund smiling fellow who will pass out the presents this December 24th, and of course because he happens to share my name. Last Saturday, another festive favourite was celebrated: St Lucy or Santa Lucia as she is perhaps more widely known, and as the bringer of light and patron saint of sight, this Saint is equally important at this sparkling, light infused time of the year.

In fact such is Santa Lucia’s renown as the bringer of light, that her Saint’s day is celebrated with gusto in the Scandinavian lands, where darkness reigns for much of the day at this time of the year, and where locals therefore gather in reverence to the Saint in the hope that St. Lucy will bring them more light to get through the winter. Apparently her connection with light stems from the fact that at the time of her death at the hands of Emperor Diocletian, her eyes were gouged out, either by order of the Emperor, or by herself in order to disuade a potential suitor from pursuing her. Either way, the story has been taken up in popular iconography, and in more recent times, Santa Lucia has been depicted holding her eyes on a platter.

Santa Lucia Norm (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and gold paint on paper)

Santa Lucia Norm (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and gold paint on paper)

And so, here is Santa Lucia Norm, depicted in all her glory with eyes upon a platter. No gruesome gouging here (it is Christmas after all), but just the suggestion of it. My Santa Lucia is wearing the crown of candles which is worn by celebrants of her festival in the Scandinavian celebrations which are the basis of my depiction. Those celebrations also include choirs of children wearing white gowns, conical hats and carrying candles in homage to the Saint’s light-giving powers – celebrations which are depicted here against a snowy, Christmassy Scandinavian landscape. More about those celebrations tomorrow, but in the meantime – a Merry Christmas to all!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com

Discovering Palma: The ancient and the sacred

With my mother in town this last weekend, it was time to go back to tourist status, a role I slip into particularly well having only been a fully fledged resident of Palma de Mallorca for less than a month. As such I am still very much in the discovery stages, and already I have ascertained that the sprawling and ancient old town of Palma contains as many hidden corners as it does winding multi-directional streets. And by far the most sprawling, seemingly unplanned and historically rich of all the quarters is that to be found immediately behind and to the East of the Cathedral: the old moorish heart of the city.

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With the weekend’s festivities meaning closure of many of the main sites, we began our whistlestop tour of the city with one of the attractions that was open: the old Arabic Baths. And thus began a tour which focused on the ancient, and the sacred. The Arab Baths are not as fine and complete a monument to the previous moorish rulers of Spain as, say, La Mesquita in Cordoba or the baths in Ronda, but they are still a beautiful and historically poignant monument to a bygone age. Dating back to the 11th century and containing two halls – one for hot steaming and the other a warm ante-room, today the baths are little more than a stone archive, although one can easily decipher the moorish arches whose antiquated stone is dappled with the sharp light filtering through holes built into the domed ceiling. The best part of the baths for me however is the gardens of the adjacent Can Fontirroig manor – a lush spot which looks as beautiful in the winter as in the spring, especially when graced with the sun which happily accompanied our weekend.

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Leaving the baths and unfurling one further winding street after another, we came upon the Convent of Santa Clara, a romantically austere building and church whose side chapels are filled with the gilded floats which will be paraded in the city’s Easter processions, and whose nun inhabitants bake traditional convent sweets for sale. Naturally we couldn’t resist the purchase of a marzipan, nor a bag of our favourite polverones – a fragile powdery biscuit named after the dusty nature of its constitution.

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This led us swiftly onwards to yet another of Palma’s religious hot spots: the Franciscan Monastery whose stunning baroque facade dominates the Plaça de Sant Francesc with its exquisitely detailed depiction of the immaculate conception  crowned with Saint George and the Dragon. But the Monastery’s greatest asset has to be the significant cloister set alongside the large main basilica. Drenched with sunshine, the multiple thin columns are amongst the most elegant I have seen in any of Spain’s many monasteries, and lend the cloister a special airyness which made our visit on this sunny afternoon especially hypnotic.

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Happily those sugary sweets purchased a little earlier from the nuns of Santa Clara gave us the pick me up we needed – at least until we were able to end a thoroughly illuminating day’s sightseeing with a much needed authentic chocolate stop at Can Joan de S’Aigo – surely the perfect traditional way to end our dip into Palma’s history.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved.

Transforming the Gothic – colour sensation in the Cathedral of Palma de Mallorca

Some of architecture’s most stunning successes can be found in religious buildings. The eternal repetition of the forest of pink and white marble pillars in Cordoba’s La Mesquita is one of the most enthralling sights of the ancient Islamic world, while at the centre of the Catholic world, the sheer scale and magnificence of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican makes it clear to all who come close that this place is the all powerful centre of Christianity. In Roman times, religion was the instigator of some of the most brilliant of all architectural creations, such as the ground-breaking single expanse dome of the ancient Pantheon temple in Rome, while in more modern times, it has inspired some of the most jaw-dropping creations ever made by man, such as the stunning realisation of a creative genius: Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

Nevertheless, when you think about the religious treasures of the world, you will find that proportionately few of them are gothic. The reason for this is  clear:  the gothic style is largely synonymous with austerity, with its soaring naves and high-winged buttresses leading to vast expanses of cold space; gothic churches are more often places of fear, with their grim faced gargoyles and sinister dark angels, and even Paris’s Notre Dame, surely one of the most famous examples of gothic architecture, is better associated with the haunting tale of a hunchback living within the cathedral’s inhospitable bell towers than with any illusion that the church is in any aesthetic sense a thing of beauty. Yet while this idea of the gothic has long lingered in my mind, all of my pre-held conceptions about gothic architecture were challenged last weekend when in Palma de Mallorca, capital of Spain’s Balearic Islands, I realised just how stunning the gothic can be.

La Seu’s imposing gothic exterior

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Palma’s Cathedral, known locally as La Seu, is indeed a masterpiece of the catholic gothic style. Completed in 1601, it is a soaring vast temple to christianity, with a dominant position over the waterfront of Palma, and comprising the 7th highest nave in the world. But what makes this palace of gothic architecture different from all of the other churches of the genre, enabling it to dispel the associations of dark, dank solemnity which is inherent in the gothic style, is colour. Pure, dazzling, multi-coloured samplings from every stretch of the rainbow. For in Palma’s Cathedral, there is not a single clear pane of glass. Rather, its many windows are fitted with coloured stained glass so rich in its vivacity and complexity, that when the sun shines on the outside of the cathedral (which it invariably does in Mallorca), the result on the inside is to fill every gothic stone and structure, ever eave and buttress, every flag stone and pew with the most dazzling multi-coloured light.

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The effect is astounding, and dispels every known stereotype about gothic architecture, which is utterly transformed under the warming dazzle of a hundred shades of multi-coloured light. At times, when you are looking directly into the light as it shines through one of the cathedral’s impressive stained glass windows, a moment of epiphany overcomes you, as everywhere you look you see shards of colour bouncing across the vast space. If that was the intention of the architects, it is an objective universally achieved, so that you leave the cathedral if not religiously converted then certainly spiritually touched.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Norms: The Saints Collection | St. George

Saint George and his dragon must together comprise one of the most famous icons of a saint there is, not least in England where St George is our patron saint. Yet as I was to discover only last weekend, we English are not the only country to claim him as ours. In fact St George is likewise a patron saint in Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Portugal, Ukraine and Syria to name but a few. He is also, I have now learned, the patron saint of none other than Catalonia, the autonomous region of Spain whose capital is Barcelona. And so having just spent the weekend in that very city, there seems no better time than to present the very first Saint of a new Norm sketch collection – I give you Saint George Norm.

Legend has it that St George  defeated a dragon in the far off land of Silene. This dragon poisoned the air of a village, and in order to appease him, the people regularly sacrificed a lamb and a virgin who was chosen. One day the princess of the country met this fate; George killed the dragon and freed her, with the result that the Princess and the entire population were converted to Christianity; the religion behind whose cross St George had been protected as he valiantly fought the beast.

Here is my Saint Norm doing just that, killing the pesky dragon while his rather attractive horse looks on.

St George Norm (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen, ink and gold paint on paper)

St George Norm (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen, ink and gold paint on paper)

I realised that St George was something of a prominent figure in Catalonia only when I noticed statues and icons of the saint when exploring the old gothic quarter of Barcelona on my first day there last weekend. In the tranquil cloisters of the cathedral, a trickling fountain was topped by a bronze statuette of the saint valiantly riding his horse while trampling upon the dying body of the aggressive dragon. Then, upon walking past the city hall in the Plaça St Juame, I noticed the same venerable saint carved into the stone work of the city hall facade. Subsequent investigations reveal that “Sant Jordi” has been venerated in Catalonia since the 8th century, not only in Barcelona but also in Valencia and the Balearics. And in Barcelona itself, the Saint’s presence is felt not just in the obvious iconography – some say that Gaudi himself recognised the saint when he created his dragon-scaled roof atop the famous Casa Batlló.

Cathedral fountain

Cathedral fountain

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Another cathedral homage to the dragon

Another cathedral homage to the dragon

Facade of the city hall

Facade of the city hall

Roof of the Casa Batllo

Roof of the Casa Batllo

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So with all of this in mind, I leave you to pay appropriate reverence to St George Norm in all of his golden glory, and to look also upon the Barcelona references I found to the saint. But as if by way of further appropriate reference, I also leave you with this English poster using St George as an image to encourage patriotic Englishmen to defend the nation at the outset of World War One 100 years ago. A timely reminder of the continuing power of the iconography of St George to inspire both patriotism and bravery in a time when all faith and hope appeared to have deserted mankind.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com