The gifted and industrious artist Daniel Mitsui, a great favorite here at Korrektiv, has released the text (and illustrations) of a lecture he delivered earlier this month. The subject: Catholic religious art, and Mitsui’s approach to it as student and draftsman. This presentation is thought-provoking, edifying, and a pleasure to read. Here’s a taste, from near the conclusion:
You have undoubtedly seen [medieval 'drolleries'] in the margins of illuminated manuscripts: frolicking monkeys, marauding woodwoses, flirting peasants, anthropomorphized pigs playing bagpipes, funny monsters composed of various parts of men, birds, beasts and reptiles[...]. This grotesque, romantic, comical element is not limited to manuscript margins; it is found in almost every medium of medieval sacred art. [...]
This same element can be encountered in the worship of the medieval Church: a Festival of the Donkey honored the beast that bore the Blessed Virgin on the Flight into Egypt; during the Mass, certain responses were brayed rather than chanted. [...] Medieval sculptors and engineers introduced automation and puppetry into the church [...]. [An] example is the Boxley Rood of Grace, a crucifix whose Christ moved his arms and eyes and mouth by means of wires operated by a hidden puppeteer. For all that the Middle Ages can truly be described as a time of liturgical solemnity, monastic discipline, personal piety, scholastic disputation, crusading zeal and fleshly mortification, the faithful of those ages never lost their sense of humor or their spirit of romance.
I tend to keep the company of other traditional Catholics, and their reactions when hearing about these practices diverge; some think they are wonderful. Others are horrified, and see in them only a precedent for current liturgical abuse and artistic gimmickry. To my mind, they are very different.
To learn why Mitsui thinks they are different — and to help yourself to much more food for thought – click here for the lecture.
[Lecture link via Mr Mitsui's April 2013 newsletter, which is packed with art, including a commission for the American College of Surgeons; a preview of a forthcoming set of Stations of the Cross; and the Ecce Quam Bonum that illustrates this post.]
[For Korrektiv's previous coverage of medieval drolleries, click here.]