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Our Distance from God

Our Distance from God: Studies of the Divine and the Mundane in Western Art and Music

Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 220
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  • Book Info
    Our Distance from God
    Book Description:

    In this encounter between reflections on Christian theology and the history of art and music, James D. Herbert considers how specific works of art establish a relation between the divine and the earthbound audiences for whom the art was created. He looks at five case studies over four centuries: the architecture and artworks that glorified Louis XIV at Versailles, the interaction of libretto and music in Richard Wagner'sRing of the Nibelung,Claude Monet's enormous paintings of water lilies mounted at the Orangerie of Paris in 1927, the inaugural performance in 1962 of Benjamin Britten'sWar Requiemat the new Anglican cathedral in Coventry, and Robert Wilson's recent installation based on the Passion,14 Stations.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93396-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    It is as if the residence of the king had usurped the proper place of God’s own house. A view of the Versailles Palace, engraved by P. Menant during the last years of the reign of Louis XIV, records a shift in the principal object of attention at this public site, accomplished over decades by the grand monarch’s massive building campaign (Fig. 1). In medieval ecclesiastical towns (Vézelay, for example), a pilgrim would have traveled down narrow streets bustling with commerce to approach church or cathedral, normatively to the east. At Versailles following Louis’s architectural transformations, the visitor approaching the...

  6. 1 Louis XIV’s Versailles
    (pp. 19-50)

    Jean-Baptiste Martin’s view facing east from the center of the facade of Versailles Palace, painted well into the reign of Louis XIV after most of the construction on the complex had been completed, proffers much: courtiers poised for court and soldiers earnest at drill, coaches arriving from destinations afar (Plate 1). And down what impressive roads the carriages travel! The all-important Avenue de Paris claims the axis, even though the highway will need to veer left beyond this picture’s horizon to arrive at the capital. The avenues of Saint-Cloud and of Sceaux enter the broad plaza from either side just...

  7. 2 Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung
    (pp. 51-76)

    The charge bites, with the instant veracity of his best aphorisms: “All of Wagner’s heroines, without exception,” Friedrich Nietzsche quipped in his late and vicious essay of 1888,The Case of Wagner, “as soon as they are stripped of their heroic skin, become almost indistinguishable from Madame Bovary!” Yes, of course! The goddess Fricka, without her armored breastplate, shrinks down to a petty housewife, worried into fits about her philandering husband and their mismanaged household. Gods fare no better than goddesses. Wotan himself becomes hopelessly enmeshed in binding contracts and ill-conceived bargains, the standard legal vehicles of the small-time businessman,...

  8. 3 Monet’s Orangerie
    (pp. 77-102)

    By the advent of the twentieth century, the sexagenarian Claude Monet, despite an occasional voyage, had settled into his country estate at Giverny. At this point in his career—seemingly late but in fact only a bit more than halfway through his active years—Monet’s paintbrush had the touch of Midas, and he lived well in a fine manse, with gurgling red andbleu d’Auvergne. He gardened: first the expansive flower beds sloping down from the house in overgrown but orderly rows; later the pond fed by a diverted branch of the river Epte, surrounded by willows, spanned by a...

  9. 4 Spence’s Cathedral and Britten’s War Requiem
    (pp. 103-130)

    On the night of November 14, 1940, the Anglican Cathedral Church of Saint Michael in Coventry fell victim to the first heavy aerial bombardment inflicted on England during World War Two. The church dated from the fourteenth century but had not been elevated to the rank of cathedral with its own diocese until 1918. Although the factories of this industrial city of the Midlands were the obvious targets of the Luftwaffe bombers, the ancient wooden beams supporting the cathedral’s vault flared up swiftly under the inexact rain of incendiary shells. By dawn only the masonry walls and the tower remained...

  10. 5 Wilson’s 14 Stations
    (pp. 131-174)

    It is a place of omniscience: a platform extending from a higher room at the entrance to the vast gallery on the second floor of Building 5 at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), a museum that occupies an abandoned factory complex in North Adams, tucked in the Berkshire Hills at the far northwestern corner of Massachusetts. Like the perspective provided by Martin’s painting from a little above the king’s bedroom at Versailles, the viewpoint from this dais rises ten steps above what it oversees (Fig. 31). Such a lifting of viewers by the stairs begins an ascent...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 175-192)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 193-198)