Lent

It is the first day of Lent, and this year I will be giving up abstinence. Well, I say, ‘this year’. To be honest, it’s a sacrifice I’ve been making for the past two decades at least, but there seems no reason to give up giving up now – so much has been given up this year already. Instead, I will perform an act of penance, which will be to write one or two paragraphs (but I hope no more!) about a single detail from a single painting every day of Lent. Inevitably this means that that your penance will be to get an email from me every day. Feel free to delete or ignore at will! As with Advent, I won’t say what it is. The painting is not as familiar, but still one I have enjoyed talking about in the past. If – and when – you recognise it, please do let me know. But try not to name it! Knowing me, it will become all too clear all too soon.

This is a columbine, or aquilegia – Aquilegia vulgaris, to give it its Latin name. It is a perennial herb from the family Ranunculaceae (the ‘buttercup’ family) which is found in the Northern hemisphere growing in meadows and woodlands. As a relatively common plant, it is regularly depicted in art: the artists painted what they knew, after all. Not only that, but it was the most common of plants which became symbolic. It was widely believed that God had made the world specifically for humans, and had also made everything in it to remind us of the fact – so there should be something to learn from everything we see. It could therefore be relevant that the two common names of this plant are both related to birds. ‘Aquilegia’ comes from ‘aquila’, or eagle, because the petals of the flowers were said to look like talons. At the other end of the ‘hawk/dove’ spectrum, ‘columbine’ means ‘dove’ – because the flower as a whole was said to look like five doves flying in formation. It is this aspect of the flower which is important: it is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

The naturalistic representation of flora and fauna in Western art became more common towards the end of the 14th Century, and is especially favoured in the 15th and early 16th Centuries (and later, of course, in still life painting), which gives us a (very) rough time frame for our painting. However, the leaves are subtly shaded, the tonal values giving us a good idea of their three-dimensional form. This degree of naturalism is seen little before the 1420s, although it does exist, but nevertheless, we should definitely be thinking about the 15th or 16th Centuries. As a reference point, Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, completed in 1432, has a plethora of spectacularly naturalistic plants. Given that the flower is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, then this could well be a religious painting (it is Lent, after all), but despite this, it could be a naturalistic detail in a portrait, or mythological painting, I suppose. Let’s face it, Titian included one in the bottom right-hand corner of Bacchus and Ariadne (1520-23), next to some horsetail (Equisetum arvense) and an iris (Iris graminea) – see below.  As for the other things we see in today’s detail (see above) – well, they don’t do well out of being removed from their context. We’ll come back to them some other time, I presume, and in future posts I’ll just ignore everything that doesn’t seem relevant!

Published by drrichardstemp

I talk about art...

20 thoughts on “Lent

  1. Dear Richard

    Well that was a lovely start to the day- thanks very much indeed! Very much looking forward to receiving a daily post – couldn’t agree more about abstinence!

    Very best wishes

    Penny

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Richard,

    Wonderful! No, I don’t recognize the painting (yet), but I look forward to my daily “penance”.

    Abstinence from what? (Something only an elderly Dutch lady dares to ask…)

    See you tonight! Looking forward to your Vermeer talk.

    Best wishes,

    Anuschka

    Van: dr richard stemp Verzonden: woensdag 17 februari 2021 09:09 Aan: afux@hetnet.nl Onderwerp: [New post] Lent

    drrichardstemp posted: ” It is the first day of Lent, and this year I will be giving up abstinence. Well, I say, ‘this year’. To be honest, it’s a sacrifice I’ve been making for the past two decades at least, but there seems no reason to give up giving up now – so much has been “

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much for this. This will be a happy way of celebrating Lent to compensate for giving up my beloved chocolate and other ways I mark the 40 days.

    I am new to your blog having ‘found’ you through your National Gallery module which I enjoyed hugely. I have now signed up for others of your talks and even inveigled a couple of friends to do likewise.

    I am sorry I missed your Advent equivalent, but hope it will be available in 2021!

    Meanwhile I just wanted to let you know how much your offerings have lifted my spirits during lockdown three. When you speak to a computer and write a blog for the ether it must be hard to get a sense of reaction and how your hard work is appreciated.

    Best wishes

    Susie Furnivall Oxford

    On Wed, Feb 17, 2021 at 8:08 AM dr richard stemp wrote:

    > drrichardstemp posted: ” It is the first day of Lent, and this year I will > be giving up abstinence. Well, I say, ‘this year’. To be honest, it’s a > sacrifice I’ve been making for the past two decades at least, but there > seems no reason to give up giving up now – so much has been ” >

    Like

  4. We looked at this a couple of weeks ago in Stories of Art from the National Gallery, not going to name it as requested, but just to make sure that I am correct (I do hope I am) it has a garden, and lots of gods in clouds.

    Fiona

    Fiona Bailey

    Simon Ward Architectural Design

    Tel: 01480 301018

    Like

  5. We studied this painting with you the other week in Stories of Art from the National gallery I believe, not going to name it…but as a teaser loved the clouds!

    Like

    1. Thank you, Barbara – it was in the back of my mind that it represented the seven gifts, but I’m hundreds of miles from my dictionary of symbols, and I’m not sure it’s even in that. But then I started applying logic: why would five florets symbolise the seven gifts? So I didn’t write it down. As the aquilegia is also in Bacchus and Ariadne, I couldn’t guarantee at this stage that the Holy Spirit has anything to do with this painting, unfortunately (although B&A is based on an Annunciation!), but we’ll see soon, no doubt!

      Like

  6. Found it…actually the edge of the robe that gave it away. Amazing to think that these plants are all commonly found today. The seeds of the Buckhorn can actually stay in the soil for years before germinating.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: