Culture Pop: Beato Again
Fr. WB and I re-visited the Met's Fra Angelico exhibit again over the weekend, this time on a private tour led by the exhibit's curator. It was an amazing time, revealing so much more of the detail of the works and the adventures of the acquisition process ("this praedealla was incomplete until I had dinner at X's house and found the missing panel hanging in his living room..." ...."these paintings turned up in an old drawer at Yale..." Etc)
Fra "Angelico" got his name from one of his superiors, who found the didactic insights of his work to be worthy of the apellation attached to the "angellic" doctor, fellow Dominican St. Thomas Aquinas. One visits Fra Angelico's work at S. Marco in Florence and is struck by the sheer awesomeness of his frescos; at the Met, one is struck by the tiniest, most gratuitous details in altar pieces and devotional images. The striking thing in these tiny moments is their hiddeness; why would an artist bother with such miniscule gestures of humor and shading that no-one could even see? Why would an artist renown for his virtue and the practice of his art as devotion and prayer Waste The Time?
The answer, I think, is a profound theological truth which our Protestant Work Ethic so easily avoids, to the detriment of our souls, though it is a notion inscribed into our beings with our taste buds: Our God is FUN. He rejoices. He creates and maintains purely gratuitous beauty and little jokes and functionless detail throughout the universe for His own amusement. How wonderful to walk with a happy God!
"... because no-one is happier than He, no-one more powerful, no-one more just, it follows that we ought to be such towards others..."
St. Augustine, Letter 153.