Tuesday, September 15
John Duncan. Saint Bride, 1913. National Gallery of Scotland.
I have yet to ascertain if this image represents an actual event from the life of St. Bridget or a literary work like the Tennyson poem about St. Cecilia that seemed more popular to the Pre-Raphaelites and their academic followers than the saint's true story. The Scottish National Gallery comments, "According to the legend of the Irish Saint Bride [St. Bridget] she was transported miraculously to Bethlehem to attend the nativity of Christ. Here two angels carry the white robed saint across the sea," which explains some of it, though not the saint's almost childlike figure--lovely and sweet and girlish, but hardly the abbess we'd expect. Indeed, she looks more like an Agnes or even a Philomena with a very good dye-job.
But it is a stunning work, combining nearly everything I find attractive in good art, and even much good liturgical art, though this particular work is not really liturgical: clever realistic detail within a hieratic, iconographic framework; bold, but not garish, color; idealised, delicate figures that nonetheless convey a sense of individual personality; and a careful and fairly detailed use of symbolism in unusual but traditional ways, specifically the elaborate biblical scenes embroidered all over the angel's garments. In a liturgical context, many of these could be further developed within the same hybrid stylistic context. My only complaint, besides the puzzling subject-matter, are that the halos don't quite sit properly around the noble heads of the angels; the center-point ought to be somewhere around the ear, or higher, to look right, and more consistent from figure to figure. Still, this is one to turn and return to.