The Art Gallery in Angelos

 

St Jerome in His Study

St Jerome in His Study     featured in Angelos

Albrecht Dürer – 1514. Copperplate Engraving.

 

 

Paintings in Angelos

Behind Angelos, the second book in my fantasy series based on Schrödinger's Cat, lies a small art gallery. The first novel in the Quantum Cat series, Jerome and the Seraph, centered around two paintings — one from the fifteenth century and one from the nineteenth century. Albrecht Dürer's St Jerome in the Wilderness inspired the creation of the main characters, while Sir John Spencer Stanhope's Thoughts of the Past drove the plot forward. Several paintings are featured in the sequel, Angelos, but principal among them are William Holman Hunt's The Scapegoat (the white goat version that hangs in the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Liverpool, UK) and Salvador Dali's Christ of St John of the Cross. Like Thoughts of the Past, The Scapegoat is another nineteenth-century painting; unlike Spencer Stanhope, though, Holman Hunt was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Christ of St John of the Cross was painted almost a hundred years later by one of the twentieth century's greatest artists. Both paintings depict mortal agony — indeed the Christ hanging on His Cross may already be dead — but both, in differing measure, signify hope and new life.

At first glance The Scapegoat is a profoundly depressing painting, for we see the wretched, ill-used goat standing patiently awaiting death in the desert, his strength all gone, his hooves already sinking into the sand. When Aidan spots the picture hanging on a wall in his friary, he feels his heart ache with sympathy — with empathy — for the dying creature, for he is in a desert himself: a spiritual desert. The Lord whom he has served all his life has veiled His light, and without his Lord's light shining ahead of him Aidan can see no path in front of him, for there is nothing to illuminate his way, nothing to guide him. Barren trackless sands stretch out around him and he is stranded as hopelessly as the scapegoat and with as little hope of succor.

But as he studies the painting more closely, Aidan notices something that had escaped him before: shimmering around the horns of a half-buried ibex skull to the right of the scapegoat is a halo. Maybe the glimmering circlet has only been caused by a trick of the light, but Aidan sees it as a sign: a sign that God is signaling to him that he has not been forsaken; that, though He hasn't been visible for a while, He has been there, all the same. The Lord, Aidan realizes, doesn't do absence: He is always around — as we read in the charming limerick about the tree in the quad. In answer to the question (posed in another limerick) of whether the tree in the university quadrangle ceases to exist when there's no one there to see it, God replies that the tree most certainly continues in existence, for:
"I am always about in the quad.
And that's why the tree
Will continue to be
As observed by,
Yours faithfully,
God."

The sight of the halo glowing in the desert sands brings to Aidan the understanding that the divine light shines whether he sees it or not, and gives him the encouragement he needs to carry on with his journey through life. Having lost his sense of the presence of God, Aidan had felt his life to be meaningless. And yet, with truly existential determination, he had forced meaning into meaninglessness, purpose into purposelessness, by continuing to plod on, continuing to pray to a Lord who didn't seem to be listening, continuing to sacrifice to a Lord who didn't seem to care whether His rituals were carried out or not. Now, seeing the shimmering halo alongside the dying Scapegoat, Aidan realizes that his persistence has been rewarded: his Lord has shown His light to His servant again. God, the Eternal Observer, had been watching him, watching over him, all the time, and had chosen this moment to let him know — not by way of a lightning flash from the heavens, but in a simple play of sunlight. Aidan strides out boldly now, confident that his path will be illuminated once more and that he will soon be out of the desert. As indeed he will be: at the end of the book Aidan sees the divine halo in all its radiance.

The final scene in Angelos is based on Salvador Dali's great painting Christ of St John of the Cross. Aidan realizes he has reached journey's end when, finding himself floating in a dark sky, he sees before him Christ hanging from His cross, illuminated by a light shining on Him from above. From the blue-green tones at the base of the painting it is clear that Dali has painted the dawning of a new day. Glancing to his side, Aidan expects to find the friary cat, who had been sitting with him: in his place stands a mighty six-winged seraph — Quant/Leo in his true form. Aidan sees a halo crowning the Lord's head; as the halo brightens, Aidan, dazzled and with his heart jumping with joy, knows that this is the light he has been following: he is through the desert and out the other side. "Welcome home," says the angel.

The Scapegoat and Christ of St John of the Cross are the two paintings at the heart of Angelos. The Scapegoat underpins the plot and Christ of St John of the Cross showed me how to reveal the true nature of the mysterious quantum cat and gave me the ending for my story. Each painting contains an image of light and an image of death, and the images are explicitly bound together, with a ray of light illuminating a scene of death: in The Scapegoat, the ibex around whose horns shimmers the halo is now only a skeleton, whilst in Christ of St John of the Cross, light shines from the heavens onto the dying or dead Christ. The halo that Aidan spots in the Pre-Raphaelite picture gave me the idea of bringing a second halo into my story — Aidan sees a halo above Christ's head, though there is none in Dali's painting — and of using the halos to mark the midpoint and the endpoint of the friar's spiritual journey. Having lost sight of his Lord's guiding light during his journey of faith and suffering the torments of St John of the Cross's "dark night of the soul," Aidan suddenly finds his path lit once more when he chances to notice the pale glimmer around the ibex's horns in Holman Hunt's painting; at the end of Angelos, the central image of Dali's great painting appears before his eyes: as he sees a halo brightening about the Lord's head, Aidan knows that he has reached his journey's end.

A third painting containing a striking image of light also marks a point along Aidan's route, but whereas the Holman Hunt and the Dali are, for Aidan, paintings of discovery, Millais' The Blind Girl is more of a confirmatory fingerpost along the way, and the light effect is not that of a halo but of a rainbow: a spectacular double rainbow. The blind girl, a vagrant with a sighted companion, sits on a grassy bank after a rainfall. She is clearly appreciative of the sun's warmth but oblivious to the visual magnificence of the twin arcs in the sky. On spotting the halo in The Scapegoat Aidan had seen it as a sign of renewal: he had found the Lord's light again after having lost sight of it; and what was more, he knew that it had been shining all the time even though he hadn't, for a while, been able to see it. The Blind Girl confirms him in this conviction, for a glorious double rainbow lights the sky behind the blind girl, though it is not visible to her. But it is immaterial whether she can see it or not: the rainbow is there, all the same — just as the divine light had been shining all the time, regardless of whether Aidan had been able to see it or not.

So, during his time at the friary, Aidan's spiritual journey is marked by three paintings, each signifying a point on his route.

Brother Jerome owes his existence to Dürer's painting St Jerome in the Wilderness (see my earlier illustrated article "Paintings as Inspiration"), and two other paintings by Dürer contributed to my portrait of the brother/saint (for Brother Jerome is St Jerome reincarnated, though he does not know it — just as the cat, Quant, was the saint's lion, and most certainly knows it). In 1492 Dürer had designed a woodcut showing St Jerome removing a thorn from a lion's paw; the lion thereafter became his loyal and protective companion. Dürer's charming painting of 1495 shows Jerome praying in the desert with his lion scanning the horizon for any sign of possible danger to the saint (the painting is reproduced in the above article on my Web site); and in 1514 Dürer made a copperplate engraving of the saint sitting at a table studying, with his devoted lion lying close to him. In Angelos, I made use of this scene of St Jerome in his Study, to show Brother Jerome looking in wonder and awe at the scholarly saint hunched over his books, and totally failing, despite Quant's giggles and heavy hints, to recognize himself, though he realizes, when the lion winks at him, that the golden-eyed lion lying on the floor and the golden-eyed cat sitting beside him are one and the same and that they are, moreover, enjoying a little chronological joke at his expense. It had already dawned on Jerome that time was not quite as linear as he had thought; this episode confirms him in his belief that the cat lives in an eternal present, as if to him time, insofar as it exists, is a surface to be crossed as he pleases, in whatever direction it pleases him to go.

The cat offers him further proof of the simultaneity, rather than linearity, of time when he takes him to the scene, described in St Jerome's "Life of Paulus the First Hermit," where St Anthony of Egypt crosses the desert in search of a man holier than himself: Paulus the Hermit. I based the episode in Angelos on the painting by Velazquez, St Anthony Abbot and St Paul the Hermit. This fascinating painting shows two scenes at once, though they are chronologically separate: in the foreground St Paul the Hermit waits with outstretched hands for the raven to bring him his daily ration of bread (a whole loaf, instead of half a loaf, on this particular day, for he has a visitor to feed); while in the background is depicted a scene that takes place at a later date. St Paul, sensing he is about to die, sends Anthony to his monastery to fetch back a cloak he wishes to be wrapped in for his burial. On Anthony's return he finds Paul already lying dead, but he has no means of digging a grave for him. Two lions come running out of the desert, roar with grief and dig the grave for Paul; they then wait to be blessed by Anthony before running back into the desert. Velazquez shows the two scenes in the same painting. However, I used the combination of this painting and St Jerome's words in his history of the hermit to give me an episode in which the quantum cat enables Jerome to see the simultaneous existence of pre-Christian and Christian elements, for, according to St Jerome's narrative, Anthony, on his quest for the hermit, is guided firstly by a centaur, and then by a satyr, both of whom acknowledge the Christian Lord and, like the lions that dig Paul's grave, seek the saint's blessing before departing.

Lastly, a painting that features only very indirectly in Angelos but that was in my mind when I described the garden hut in which the Minotaur lands up after his enforced quantum leap, and from which Jerome is sent hurtling across to the labyrinth. The model for the hut in the friary orchard was that in Holman Hunt's Light of the World. The long-abandoned hut with its door blocked by weeds and its roof overhung with foliage gave me the basis for the ivy-clad shed set amidst the apple trees of the friary orchard. I borrowed the image of the hut at the door of which, in Holman Hunt's picture, Christ stands with His lantern, ready to cast light into the darkness, and made it into the present-day garden shed in which the Minotaur makes his acquaintance with twenty-first-century England and the timeless cat.

 

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St Anthony Abbot and St Paul the Hermit

St Anthony Abbott and St Paul Hermit

Diego Velázquez. c. 1635-38. Oil on canvas.

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The Blind Girl

The Blind Girl

Sir John Everett Millais. 1856. Oil on canvas.

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The Light of the World

The Light of the World

William Holman Hunt's 1851-53 painting "The Light of the World."

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The Scapegoat

The Scapegoat

William Holman Hunt's 1854 painting "The Scapegoat."

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Links

  

Artwork

button  Christ of St John of the Cross - Salvador Dali. 1951. Oil and canvas.

      Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum. Dali b. 1904 – d. 1989
      http://dali.urvas.lt/forviewing/pic20.jpg

button  St Anthony Abbot and St Paul the Hermit - Diego Velázquez. c. 1635-38. Oil on canvas.

      Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain. Velazquez b. 1599 – d. 1660.
      http://www.abcgallery.com/V/velazquez/velazquez40.html

button  St Jerome in his Study - Albrecht Dürer – 1514. Copperplate Engraving.

      Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe. Dürer, b. 1471 – d. 1528.
      http://www.abcgallery.com/D/durer/durer2.html

button  The Blind Girl - Sir John Everett Millais. 1856. Oil on canvas.

      Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, UK. Millais b. 1829 – d. 1896
      http://www.abcgallery.com/M/millais/millais8.html

button  The Scapegoat - William Holman Hunt - 1854. Oil on canvas.

      Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Liverpool, UK. Hunt, b. 1827 – d. 1910
      http://www.abcgallery.com/H/huntwh/huntwh6.html

button  The Light of the World - William Holman Hunt –1851-53. Oil on canvas over panel.

      Keble College, Oxford.
      http://www.mezzo-mondo.com/arts/mm/preraphaelites/HHW004.html

      William Holman Hunt Bibliography
      http://www.umd.umich.edu/casl/hum/eng/jonsmith/eng432/huntbib.html

Fine Art Resources

button  Artcyclopedia
http://www.artcyclopedia.com/index.html

button  CGFA - a virtual art museum.
http://sunsite.dk/cgfa/

 

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