A sketch has charm because of its truth - not because it is unfinished. -Charles Hawthorne (American artist of the early 20th century)
I spent a lovely day off at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. Warm, humid green oxygen soaked air to breath as an antidote to February in Illinois. The longest short month of the year is how it feels around here. My sketch of palms, ferns, and a marble statue somewhat hidden in the verdant abundance.
A few days ago I had a lesson in experiencing the practice of Visio Divina and learned about something completely new to me.
El Greco "The Baptism of Christ"1568
While Lectio Divina is a method of praying with scripture, Visio Divina (Latin for "divine seeing") is a method for praying with images (such as Icons). Visio Divina is a contemplative practice meant to develop ways of seeing holiness in our everyday lives. By meditating on paintings, scenes from real life, and icons, you can learn to penetrate the surface meaning and unearth what God means for you to hear and learn. The first step is to find part of an image that grabs you, that makes you stop and look again. Using a series of questions to answer as a guide to discover just what spoke to us through the images. The practice is simple: once you enter into the presence of God, you discern what the image is telling you. What is holy is what speaks to you and captures your heart.
The altarpiece painted by El Greco with the Baptism of Christ on the right.
Our workshop leader had us look at a reproduction of "The Baptism of Christ" by the late Renaissance painter El Greco. After reading several Bible passages that tell the story of Christ's baptism, and a time of contemplation, we turned away from the image by El Greco and drew our own impression of what spoke to our hearts. I have posted below my drawing which is a bit more developed than what most people would do. Okay, it's what I do, I'm not a public speaker, writer, or gifted singer, I just draw.
Traditional icon Baptism of Christ
As I looked at the painting by El Greco which I did love to see, I was cognizant of the traditional icon form of the composition. Coincidentally I have been teaching my Rhetoric and Logic art students about Byzantine Art and icons in art history. Yet what caught my eye was the figure of John the Baptist. Why is his skin darker than that of Christ's? Because he lived in the desert eating locusts and wearing animal skins? Why is the sky so turbulent? There are some odd and arresting silhouettes made by the foliage and staff that John carries. I could think of more to write but will leave this image that I drew as the moment of discernment. I ended up not drawing the figure of Christ or the angels, because I was identifying with John and the swirl of nature about him.
I appreciate the opportunity to learn about this spiritual practice, and today even more as we approach the season of Lent and contemplation. Contemplation and holiness and learning about spiritual matters does not mean I can't draw and paint. I have now learned that in fact I should give myself over more to this gift.
I am practicing the discipline of "Visio Divina". Daily episodes of beauty in small moments strike me as divine, imbued with spiritual meaning.
Contour line drawing worked from a jonquil purchased from the grocery store. It's still too early in February to see these out in nature. It is also very grey outdoors, this tiny shaft of sunlight came in the late afternoon today.
“Among the four old bridges that span the river, the Ponte Vecchio, that bridge which is covered with the shops of jewelers and goldsmiths, is a most enchanting feature in the scene. The space of one house, in the center, being left open, the view beyond, is shown as in a frame; and that precious glimpse of sky, and water, and rich buildings, shining so quietly among the huddled roofs and gables on the bridge, is exquisite". - Charles Dickens
“The student has his
Rome, his whole glowing Italy, within the four walls of his library. He has in
his books the ruins of an antique world and the glories of a modern one.” ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Our very best day in Florence, was the culmination of everything that we had found wonderful during our journey. We wandered the lovely magical ancient city, getting lost, consulting our travel map and finding new places. We finished the day with a splendid Aperitivo at a little unassuming bar on a side street. Aperitivo is an Italian version of a happy hour with bars serving a buffet of small dishes and drinks offered at one price. This particular bar was the friendliest welcoming spot we had ever found with a chatty waitress who was half British and half Italian. We were encouraged to enjoy the buffet, even going for seconds. I was amazed at the buffet spread, there were so many interesting authentic Tuscany dishes, roasted vegetables, pasta, olives, meats sliced and smoked, fruits and breads and cheeses. I had never seen anything quite like it except in haute cuisine magazine spreads or a cooking program about Tuscany food. The waitress informed us that they had a chef who loved to put out a huge spread with fresh ingredients cooked with local flavors. Sounds like a culinary hit show back in the USA.
After we enjoyed all that abundance of roasted vegetables basted in olive oil, hams and sausages, unusual bits of pastas and breads and cheeses, all that makes the Mediterranean diet so famous, we wandered a bit to walk it off. At one point I looked in my Rick Steves guidebook for a recommendation for a gelato place. Well, we just happened to be wandering past the very street where Rick said can be found the very best gelato in Florence which has the very best gelato in all Italy. So we went in and ate some of the very best gelato in all of Italy and it was all we could have wanted. I had coconut and my husband went for chocolate.
After that we wandered again but on this last night I wanted to return to the Piazza della Signorina just to look once more and to get another bottle full of that fizzy mineral water from the ancient Roman tap.
As we drew near we heard music, which happened everywhere in this city drenched in art and history. We had often stopped to enjoy sublime moments with a classical guitarist or a sweet faced opera singer giving the tourists high culture for an offering in a hat.
The music we heard was Beethoven's 7th Symphony played by a visiting orchestra from Switzerland.
As evening settled in on the Piazza, the throng of wandering tourists quieted and people just sat down on the warm pavement stones in a reverent hush to hear the music. Our favorite day and best memory remains enchanting.
My favorite quote for this by T. S. Elliot, "And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time"