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Thursday Morning Roundup

THE SIGNIFICANCE WE ASSIGN A WALL: As I’ve said in previous Roundups, I like a good arts debate. And it appears another one is brewing across the pond.

Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, says a religious painting hanging in London’s National Gallery would be more at home in a church like Westminster Cathedral. The painting in question is The Baptism of Christ (above), a work dating to the 1450s by Piero della Francesca.

But the good bishop isn’t just looking for a cheap way to redecorate. Rather, he believes that the intent of the artist should be considered in relation to the work’s home.

“It is a mistake to treat it as a work of art: it is a work of faith and piety, an expression of the church’s life and a way into prayer,” he said in a discussion of religious art that was reported on by The Times of London. (You can read his full talk here.)

So, in the same way that we talked last week about the intent behind the creation of a work in regard to science photographs at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the question arises again — should the artists’ intent be taken into account when considering a work? As this painting was made in the 1450s, there is no doubt that the artist considered it as a devotional object destined for a church. You can argue that if Francesca were alive today, he’d be horrified that his painting was displayed anywhere BUT a church.

But I think in this instance, the archbishop is taking a short-sighted view. Most Christian denominations involve some level of evangelism — how many times have we heard the term “spreading the word of God?” If that painting were hanging in a cathedral, it would be preaching to the choir (literally and figuratively).

Who knows what effect it might have on someone touring the National Gallery? Maybe a formerly religious person sees it and stops to reconsider her faith? Or it’s possible that someone who has never considered himself religious sees the work and is moved by it.

We’ve all had those moments in a museum when reflecting on a piece of art has caused us to reflect on some element of our lives. So all I’m saying is: if you are in the religion business, why limit your ability to make a sale?

THE NEXT BEST THING TO BEING THERE: I had lunch with Mike Schoder, owner of the Granada Theater on Wednesday. MIke’s a true champion of local music — you could hear it in his voice as he discussed being happy to be able to hold shows at which maybe only 100 people show up to hear a new act.

And he’s doing something pretty smart with his Web site. Over at, Mike has an extensive video collection of bands performing in his venue. Whether you missed the show or you want to check out a clip of a band before seeing them, it’s a great resource.

“For every one band that says no to videoing, nine say yes,” he said.

As long as he keeps batting .900, there should be plenty of goodies over there to check out.

Photo courtesy of the National Gallery

  • Jennifer

    I agree, Stephen. It’s so important that a lot of those works (I’m thinking of the amazing gilded altar pieces, statues and frescoes I’ve seen in the big museums of Europe) are collected in museums. The musuems have the resources not only to take proper care of them (not to mention properly light them for viewing), but also to expose them to the widest audience. I do also enjoy art in situ, of course, but for those who can’t possibly visit every small church in Italy or Spain or France that has a significant piece, you can’t beat the convenience of a museum collection.

  • Bill Marvel

    Once a work leaves the artist’s hand, it pursues its own fate. Placement, ownership, interpretation are left up to the larger world outside the studio. Piero della Francesca’s painting has not lost its identity as a religious icon, but it has assumed other identities. These have become part of the “meaning” of the work.
    Nothing is lost. The good Archbishop must realize that the meaning of the Baptism of Christ is still held in the hearts of the faithful.

    • http://museaus, Tom Hendricks

      The painting problem is an easy one to solve. Simply make a duplicate copy on canvas and share the work with the church. The technology is here now. Art and Seek should talk about this new tech. One type of copy is known as Glicees. I’ve seen one painting copy that just amazed me. They are even able to recreate the 3d effect of the paint.

  • http://museaus, Tom Hendricks

    I applaud Mike Shoder helping to promote music (though I would encourage him to go outside the band bordom we are currently stuck with).
    Myspace has become the world’s biggest and best music co – and perhaps the world’s first World music company that truly covers all world music. Myspace is the Shoder for the world.

  • Sarah

    That’s great to know that the Granada is showing those videos on its Web site! I’ll hope next time that I can’t go to a show in person, I can go online and “be” there anyway.