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The Art of Christian Reflection, by Heidi J. Hornik 

15 November 2019

Nicholas Cranfield finds fresh insight in a book of art-focused essays

PROFESSOR Heidi J. Hornik teaches art history in a Texan university. For the past 20 years, she selected images that illustrated the theme of a quarterly journal, Christian Reflection. She chose drawings, illuminated manuscripts, paintings, sculptures, and buildings to question and interrogate moral perspectives and assumptions. Now, she has distilled some of her thoughts into this handsome volume with some 80 colour photos.

The short (two- or three-page) essays are grouped into three parts. Christian habits, such as friendship, forgiveness, patience (for which she chooses Georges de La Tour’s powerful Job Mocked by his Wife), and vocation, form the first. The second and by far the longest section examines contemporary moral issues, including our attitude to peace and war, the relations of Christians with Islam, how we handle death, and our responsibility towards prisoners.

The final section covers broadly liturgical practice, writing of scripture, church membership, marriage, and the liturgical year. Although sacramental confession or penance has been covered elsewhere, it is odd to find that the index groups Roman Catholicism and monasticism, old and new, under “sacraments”.

Many of the images are so well known that it is good to interrogate them from a new perspective. The Lancashire-born artist Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of artists, painted the Massachusetts view from Mount Holyoke in 1836; it situates the discussion about our care for creation and the environment. Caravaggio’s London Supper at Emmaus not surprisingly introduces food; and Bernini’s sculpture The Ecstasy of St Teresa exemplifies mysticism.

The interior of San Apollinare in Ravenna (533-49) features twice, once in an essay on immigration, paired with the church of Sts Cyril and Methodius, Shiner, Texas, linking a well-known imperial church with a 20th-century building.

Peter Barritt/SuperStockCaravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus, 1601, in the National Gallery, London

Other images are much less readily encountered: Michele Tosini’s fresco The Marriage at Cana of 1561 is in the Strozzi chapel in the Villa Caserotta at Paolini, in Tuscany; and I wonder how many tourists traipsing round Santa Maria Novella in Florence spot the Dominican Allegory of the Church Triumphant (1366-68) in the Chapter House.

While no book can be wholly comprehensive, I was surprised that she chose not to address veganism, homosexuality, and paedophilia directly, for instance, as contemporary concerns.

Canon Nicholas Cranfield is the Vicar of All Saints’, Blackheath, in south London.

The Art of Christian Reflection
Heidi J. Hornik
Baylor University Press £47.99

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