The Image of
Christ in Modern Art
Church Times Bookshop £18 (Use code CT853
LORD HARRIES proved a
popular Gresham lecturer. His theological insight, poetic cast of
mind, and wide range of images, from the catacombs to the present
day, kept lunchtime audiences alert and excitable.
The last series concentrated
on the explosion of Modernism in Western art, and now forms the
background to this book, which is much more detailed than any
lantern-slide lecture allows.
At the end of the 2012
lecture series, Harries was asked why he had omitted female
artists. He provoked mild outrage when he wondered whether there
were any who were any good. Mindful of Barbara Hepworth and
Elisabeth Frink, this volume does proper justice to both.
Nevertheless, even in his
address at the book launch, he never once mentioned women artists,
although Helen Meyer was in the audience. It was left to Laura
Moffatt, in her response, to speak for, and with, the voice of
Evidently I failed to
convince him of Vanessa Bell, when we had a day out in
the South Downs, walking to the church at Berwick which she
decorated with the Bloomsbury Group. I have stopped short of
suggesting that we go to St Cosmas and St Damian, Challock, to view
the 1953 murals of Rosemary Aldridge and Doreen Lister.
But his literary imagination
and discerning mind help us to travel through a century of
suffering and pain. Indeed, the conflicts of two world wars may
well explain the preponderance of a certain type of "masculine"
art. In this, it is a pity that he has not given space to Henry
Moore's experience, and commented on the great drawings of the
Crucified from the end of his life in 1982, much as in the case of
Harries has his favourites,
as any art critic surely must: history will decide whether the
contemporary poet and painter Roger Wagner really deserves nine
pages, more than Harries accords Graham Sutherland, John Piper, or
even his favoured Ceri Richards.
He is surely right to
emphasise that much of the impetus for religious art comes from
outside the Christian tradition and outside Britain; Epstein and
Chagall are appropriately central to the discussion. Georges
Rouault is included, although his presence in England is sadly
Discovering and uncovering
artists is very much the author'smétier. For those who do not know
the Swedish mosaicist Hildegart Nicholas, the wife of an Oxford
don; Sophie Hacker, whose low relief sculptures in Winchester
Cathedral are so adroit; or the religious paintings - and now
sculpture - of Maggi Hambling, this book will provide an invaluable
More than anything else, the
book offers hope in the contemporary world. Norman Adams, Albert
Herbert, and John Reilly have all died in the past decade, but the
likes of Mark Cazalet, Peter Howson, Nicholas Mynheer, and Shirazeh
Houshiary offer an adventure in seeing art and faith in our
It is disappointing that
Ashgate still provides images that are sub-standard: the photograph
of the celebrated 1953 Supper at Emmaus by Ceri Richards
looks as if it has been photographed from a screensaver, and the
blurry illustration of Eric Gill's Christ Crowned, 1931,
for the Golden Cockerel Press, makes a travesty of Gill's careful
insistence on line and calligraphy.
The Revd Dr Nicholas Cranfield is the Vicar of All Saints',
Blackheath, in south London.