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The Catholic Historical Review 87.4 (2001) 712-713
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A Journey into Christian Art
A Journey into Christian Art. By Helen de Borchgrave. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2000. Pp. 223; 103 color, 2 black-and-white illustrations. $35.00.)
Although it looks and feels something like a textbook, this beautifully illustrated volume has neither academic ambitions nor utility. It is more like a personal retelling of a once-standard form of art history survey, illustrating many of the same masterpieces but discussing them only in relation to their biblical content and ability to make that content come alive for the devout. In the author's own words, the goal of her book is to "stir the imagination, encourage contemplation, and stimulate wonder and praise to 'Ponder anew all the Almighty can do.'" To this end she has selected more than 100 works of art made between the fourth and the twentieth centuries, most of which are reproduced to accompany her own reflections on Christian values and the contemporary saeculum. The style is homiletic and the tone is elegiac, saturated with nostalgia for a quiet and tranquil time before the contemporary one, which is considered ruined by money, materialism, noise, and speed. Lost or threatened social traits of peaceability, harmony, and simple, black-and-white morality are equated with the essence of Christian experience, and believed to be still accessible in works of art like those presented in her book.
The book is written from an Anglo-Catholic point of view and evidently for a British audience. Protestant art and artists are acknowledged, but the book contains no Christian art from North, South, or Central America, and none from Africa or Asia. More surprisingly, there is not a single work from the European Middle Ages--not a pane of colored glass or an illuminated book page--nor any from the Christian East. The icon, arguably the most perfect vehicle for contemplation [End Page 712] and devotion ever conceived by makers of Christian art, is bypassed on the limited route of this "journey," which sticks mostly to the terrain of narrative painting from Giotto through the pre-Raphaelites and ends with excursions to some twentieth-century works in England and Poland.
Bryn Mawr College