PEOPLE accustomed to what is known as Repository Art are sometimes scandalised by pictorial representations by modern artists of sacred subjects. So far from this unfamiliar technique exciting devotion, they say, it does the reverse. But there is one simple test which can be easily applied.
Turn back to the statuary, the canvases or the painted windows of what are called (not without reason) the Ages of Faith, and we shall be struck with the resemblance between the medieval and the modern.
I Take for instance the representation of the Virgin with the Dead Christ, belonging to the
14th century, which was exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1919. Our first
reaction may be one of scorn for the conception as a whole and in particular for the drawing. We must remember, however, that it was not the artist's intention to give us something " picturesque " or to present us with an anatomical study but to express his devotion, And in this he has succeeded. Delicacy of feeling is in every line. The spirit pervading the work is that of profound reverence. 2 and Much the same applies to the painting of the Virgin a Child (thirteenth century) on the
wall of the Chapel in the Bishop's Palace, Chichester, This has been described as "one wall of the Chapel in the Bishop's Palace, Chichester, This has been described as "one
of the finest English medieval paintings in existence." Both the design and the colouring are much richer than in the last example, but we have again the same devout simplicity. The man who wrought this was not thinking of art critics but of people who wanted to be moved to prayer. The lavish use in the original of azure, silver and gold was his tribute to the worth of the Subject. 3 The painted glass windows in Great Malvern Priory Church, Worcester, give us numerous examples of the same spirit in a different medium, of which the Virgin and Child which bears the inscription Sancta Marla. to which is added the title Imperattlx, is an example. In keeping with the latter title, Our Lady is crowned. This does not necessarily mean that the artist liked painting crowns or that his public appreciated a glitter of
The fact t t the modern can claim
affinity with e artists of these deeply religious centuries should give us pause in estimating their work. What if it should be on account of its devotional character that we find it strange and repulsive?' It may even be that we fail to appreciate both the medieval and the modern because we are looking for the wrong thing.
The suggestion has been made that it is not the crudeness but the austerity which repels us. We ask for cheap prettiness, superficial sentiment, conventional poses, and anything but the essential qualities of a religious picture and, instead, we are given work that is so simple and direct and essentially devout that our warped tastes cannot understand it.