Friday, September 25, 2015


“Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” (Ghent Altarpiece) by Jan and Hubuert van Eyck. 1432
(St. Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Every day is a gift.
“The British Parliament: Sun in the Fog”
Claude Monet. 1904. (Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

I am a creature of habit, and a newer habit of mine is taking solitary walks on a trail behind my office. I use the time to get a little exercise, to blow off steam, to pray, to rummage through my thoughts and memories, and to enjoy The Lord’s gift of His creation. I don’t typically do this all at the same time, mind you – but you get the idea.

I was taking a walk on the path one particular summer day, and was feeling not so very special. Glancing toward a patch of Queen Anne’s lace, I saw a pair of Indigo buntings chattering among the delicate blooms. I realized this was a special gift from God – for my eyes alone – and my perception of the day instantly changed. Gifts are like that, especially the ones you don’t expect.
“The Newborn Christ”
Georges  de La Tour. c. 1645-1648.
(Musée des beaux-arts de Rennes, France.)

Today I have a few gifts for you. For months I’ve blathered on about various pieces of art for different reasons, but today I am giving you some very special treasures. I could look at this sampling all day. These are pieces that move me; that inspire me; that humble me. These are the gifts other artists left us when they were on top of their game. These are the works of those who used their God-given gifts to leave a mark on the world. In a sense, I am re-gifting them to you.

The first on my list is van Eyck’s ‘Ghent Altarpiece.’ The exquisitely masterful images of this piece have hung before me as a standard of excellence long before the altarpiece took center stage in the movie, “The Monuments Men.” It’s exacting detail and crispness of form draw the eye ever further into the piece until it seems we must press our noses through its wooden panels. Without expounding on its theological weight, I must simply admit that the Ghent Altarpiece is a rare monument to devotion and reverence.
“Emilie Flöge,” by Gustav Klimt.
1902. (The Vienna Museum)

My second gift is quite unlike the first, but wonderful nonetheless. Claude Monet’s “The British Parliament: Sun in the Fog” is from a series painted in various light during 1904. Eschewing finite details of solid form, Monet instead caught the essence of infinite light. It is at once vague and definitive. We know that quality of light, previously unclaimed by any artist until the master of Impressionism gave us this vision.

Georges de La Tour has always been near the top of my list of faves, and “The Newborn Christ” is, indeed, a Divine Gift. The modeling of simple shapes illuminated by a single, hidden candle is a trademark of de La Tour’s chiaroscuro. It is enhanced by a warm palette punctuated by deep reds. That he is able to walk a fine line between reverence and sentimentalism underscores the artist’s draftsmanship and sensitivity to subject.
“Hunters in the Snow (January),”
by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. 1565.
(Museum of Art History, Vienna)

It is easy to be taken by the Gustav Klimt’s decorative paintings. The lovely portrait of Emilie Flöge, however, gives only a gentle nod to Klimt’s more excessive pieces, and this one is gift-wrapped in blue. The decoration is a clever device in this portrait of the artist’s life-long companion – a self-made woman who was a haute couture fashion designer. Klimt’s fondness for her is evident. Emilie’s gaze warmly addresses the viewer, while her dress expresses quiet opulence and grace.

My next re-gifted painting is Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s “Hunters in the Snow.” Those of us who live in northern climes know that temperature has an effect on the look of a winter scene. Even though the ice is thick in Brueghel’s painting, the whites are warm, giving a hint of temperatures that are not so far below freezing. Had it been colder, the atmosphere would have been cast in blues. For all the bleakness in his piece, there is a sense of warmth that is heightened by workers around a fire. and the painting gives a welcome feeling of contentment.
“Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket,”
by James Abbott McNeill Whistler.
1875. (Detroit Institute of Arts)

“Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket,” by Whistler, rounds out my little collection. It is one of those odd paintings that hints more at impressionism than is probably intended. The night scene certainly follows the representational norm of Whistler’s work, but remnants of the pyrotechnic display obscure building shapes to the point of near total abstraction. The artist captures the richness of a moment frozen in time, causing us to squint in vain to catch the last glimmering spark.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trove of treasures. I also hope you remember that every day is a gift. Whether you are on top of your game, whether your heart is breaking, or whether you are on your deathbed, the Good Lord gives us His daily gifts. What we do with those gifts is another matter.

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