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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Glorious images, beautiful ideas, 3 Jan 2006
By 
Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Painting the Word: Christian Pictures and Their Meanings (National Gallery London Publications) (Paperback)
This book is without doubt one of the more beautifully prepared and printed books in my collection. Done by the Yale University Press in association with the National Gallery of London, virtually every page is a treasure. There are nearly two hundred full-colour-process reproductions of artworks throughout the text, and every page (not just the colour plates) are heavy bond, high-gloss stock that shows the ink and colour with vibrancy and depth.
John Drury spent a career at both Cambridge and Oxford dealing in matters of theology, ecclesiology, liturgy, and art. I discovered Drury's book while attending a course at my own seminary on the church and the arts, and kept finding myself frustrated at the rapid pace we would go through topics (a frustration I know the professor teaching the course shared - how does one do justice to 2000 years of music, architecture, and art in a mere 15 sessions?). I sought out supplemental materials to help fill out the outline, and Drury's text serves the purpose in many ways.
Drury states his purpose early in the text. `This is a book about how Christian paintings convey their messages. It takes on whole paintings. It is not content with just picking symbols out of them for identification. Composition, colour, contents (including architecture and landscape as well as figures) and the ways in which the paint itself is handled - all are treated as part and parcel of their religious meanings.' This is a holy and holistic approach.
Drury adopts a kind of picture-describing approach (one that he terms `historically iconographical'). This involves absorbing details while understanding context and material. This is the same kind of attention that worship requires (and indeed, the Eastern church has always had this kind of physical artistic interplay with the tradition of use of icons for prayer, meditation and worship purposes) - it requires an openness to experience and feeling while also benefitting from understanding and guidance.
Major artists and works studied in detail in this text include the work of Tiepolo (c. 1750s), the Wilton Diptych (anonymous, c. 1390s), Titian (c. 1510-40s), Duccio (c. 1310s), Filippo Lippi (c. 1450s), Poussin (c. 1630-50s), Rembrandt (c. 1640s), Piero della Francesca (c. 1450-70s), Caravaggio (c. 1600s), Rubens (c. 1630s), Velazquez (c. 1610s), Cezanne (c. 1900s), and others. Most presentations begin by showing the whole work, then proceeding to look at individual characteristics or highlights often pulled aside in side images or isolated for greater emphasis. The text and artwork is arranged in good pattern throughout the text.
Throughout his text, Drury makes a repeated call for care, meditation and attention to be given to the artwork as well as the response to the artwork. He makes that statement that we should stay in front of the images `longer than people usually do' - noticing in museums, art shops, churches and other places that people tend to shuffle past rather than give attention to the most stunning and sublime works of art. Drury draws in history, theology, philosophy, literature, biblical references and images, and other cultural and contextual references to make the experience of these works a full and profound one. This is not a book to be read quickly or glanced over lightly.
Drury includes a narrative annotated bibliography rather than a simple list; he provides both a general bibliography for the entire text as well as a selected bibliography for each chapter/topic.
This is a wonderful book, a great gift for oneself or for others. It is particularly good for those who want a deeper experience and understanding of the way in which art has and can interact and enhance one's relationship with Christianity and its message.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful `reading' of some great Christian paintings, 11 Nov 2011
By 
Jeremy Bevan (West Midlands, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Painting the Word: Christian Pictures and Their Meanings (National Gallery London Publications) (Paperback)
This book was everything I'd hoped it would be, and more. John Drury, Dean of Christ Church Oxford when it was written (and now chaplain of All Souls' College, Oxford) is a discerning and knowledgeable guide to Christian art. He displays an evident appreciation for the interwoven aesthetic and spiritual dimensions of the paintings he describes, and whose meanings (or some of whose meanings) he attempts to convey. He begins, helpfully, by acknowledging the difficulties we face in seeking to interpret or `see' the art of past centuries whose idea(l)s about the close juxtaposition of the spiritual and material worlds we may no longer share. To illustrate our mental distance from them, he describes, brilliantly, how the late 14th century Wilton diptych `works'. In lucid prose, aided by excellent colour illustrations, themselves supplemented by numerous close-ups showing fine detail, he goes on to lead the reader carefully through convincing interpretations of the deeper, `spiritual' meaning of paintings, both well-known and less so.

The central section of the book examines works of art (nearly all of them on display in London's National Gallery) that depict the incarnation of God in Jesus, his birth, the `sacrificial body' (images of his baptism, the Agony in the Garden, judgment and crucifixion), and the `social body'- that is, Jesus after his resurrection. Whether it's Filippo Lippi's `The Annunciation', Poussin's 1634 `The Adoration of the Shepherds' (a personal favourite of mine), Rembrandt's work on the same theme 12 years later, or Caravaggio's extraordinarily vivid `The Supper at Emmaus', Drury is always fascinating and instructive. Though works aren't treated in chronological order, closing chapters on the painting of Velázquez and Rubens give a clear sense of how the still-depicted spiritual world is, by the 17th century, beginning to recede behind the now-dominant material one. The epilogue (on Cézanne as heir to this development) was perhaps too rushed to be convincing; but that's a minor blemish on an otherwise sumptuous and visually delightful canvas.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an imortant book, 19 July 2012
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This review is from: Painting the Word: Christian Pictures and Their Meanings (National Gallery London Publications) (Paperback)
Painting the Word. I was directed to this book because of my joint interests in painting and religion. I have studied painting all my life and have spent a great deal of time in the National Gallery where all these painting are to be found
The accounts and descriptions of the paintings, their structures, colours, dynamics, are really excellent and informative. The insights into the Christian meanings are very helpful. The illustrations are also very good. If you are interested in entering the mind of the Medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation artist and spectator, religious or not, I recommend this book . A great pleasure to read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A commentary rich in awareness and interpretation, 27 July 2014
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This review is from: Painting the Word: Christian Pictures and Their Meanings (National Gallery London Publications) (Paperback)
An outstanding commentary on some of the most important religious paintings in UK collections.
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