Tag Archives: art

Churches of Cusco: Art with Incan Wings, Part 1

This first morning in Cusco began with a leisurely breakfast at a hotel that was built over the foundations of an Incan palace. In fact you can see the foundation from the street.

 

 

The breakfast room overlooks a beautiful courtyard. And the bonus is that the walls of the hotel are covered with Native American Catholic art called the Cusco school. This was wonderful because photography was not allowed in churches and museum so the photos I took of the hotel walls give a person a taste of this Native American art.

 

After breakfast we began our walk to the central square called Plaza de Armas which was constructed by the Spanish around the square that was central to the Incan empire.

The cathedral was built over the palace of the Incan king and the cathedral dominates the square with an architectural bearing that is imposing indeed. The cathedral houses a treasury of altar retablos and painting and carvings by the Incan artists. The artistic skill of the native Incan artisans was cultivated by the Spanish, who brought an Italian artist whose name was Bernardo Bitti who opened a studio for the Native Americans. They studied European art but were encouraged by the church to reinterpret European art with Native American motives to promote the Catholic faith.

For example they studied Raphael’s Madonna with a Goldfinch but substitued a local bird familiar to the Incan people. The synthesis the church encouraged in the 16th century is inspiring in that they did not impose a European canon of art but let that tradition live in relation with a pre-existing culture to bring about a new tradition rooted in the artistry of the Native Americans. What an exceptional way to inculturate the gospel. In the pre-Christian Incan art angels loomed large so in the Incan Christian art angels took on that aspect with colorful wings.
    

We then proceeded to Saint Peter church and spent the morning at a lively and colorful market.

From there we went to La Merced. This church houses a fine collection of Native American Catholic art. Three pieces intrigued me. When I entered to my right I saw the largest seven silver candle sticks I had ever seen. It was a very costly work of silver and I thought to myself, “This is a menorah.” And it was! This was a gift of the local Jewish community in the 17th century to the Mercedarian order. I was not aware of a weathly Jewish community in Cusco.

Church of Mercy. Unusual baroque facade with columns with carefully wrapped grape leaves.

 

Cloister of Mercy Church

 

Cloister of Mercy Church

 

Vestments in museum

 

La Merced or the Church of Mercy contains one of the most priceless treasuries in the city. It houses a monstrance that is of solid gold and more than a meter high. The monstrance is encrusted with thousands of precious stones and has the second largest pearl in the world. This monstrance is called the Custodia.

     

The choir. Le Merced belongs to the Mercedarian Order.

One statue of a Pieta caught my eye. (Here is an image of it, from a user on Flickr). It was not large but perfectly proportioned. Our Lady looked like an Incan princess drapped in Incan cloth and Our Lord was in her arms in the same beautiful cloth with the headdress of an Incan warrior. Indeed he was a valiant warrior who confronted death and won victory through bravery and destroyed even the prince of death himself. I was overwhelmed by the skill of these Native American Indians.

Leaving the church we decided to hop on a local open-air tour bus and take an hour tour around the city. We saw more Incan ruins.

However most stunning was the statue of Christ with open arms dominating the city. It was a gift of Palestinian Christians who were dispossessed of their homes after the war in 1948 and Peru opened her arms as Christ opens his arms to receive these Palestinians. The gift touched me very deeply in that it spoke of the gratitude of these Palestinian Christians who found a new home.

The pre-Christian imagination was filled with angels so they took to angels and painted them with pre-Christian touches like colored wings.  Another unique touch was that in European art it was forbidden by the church to paint the Trinity in a way that the three Persons bore the same facial appearance. In order for the native Incans to understand the unity of three Persons in one, the canon was violated for the sake of evangelization. So the artistic rendering of the Trinity is unique.

Corpus Christi has been a major moment in Cusco every since the early 16th century and continues to this day. There were early canvases from the 16th century giving historical details of what the city looked like before the earthquake and the procession of Incan and Spanish nobility processing together. One canvas was given by an Incan benefactor so in the lower left hand corner is an Incan of noble standing with her grandson dressed in Spanish armor. The Incan nobility were also patrons of the arts.

The bishop made a comment about the chapel where his staff has Mass every Monday which is filled with filigree’d Madonnas. He spoke about the genius of this symbiosis of cultures. And the chapel had the oldest organ in America that was brought from Italy. The museum was built on the foundations of Incan buildings and those stones can still be seen. I walked away so filled with wonder and in awe of the artistic genius and skill of these Native American artists.

Museum Island

This morning [December 5] I set out with a mission to visit Museum Island and the Gemäldegalerie which is exceptional in the high quality of its collections. I had a particular interest in Botticelli’s Madonna with Angels and Albrecht Dürer’s portraits as well as Brueghel. I never made it there so I have a major reason to return.

I arrived at Museum Island when it opened and did not realize I was there until 5 pm so there was no time to go to the other museum I had my heart set on. And I still did not see everything! I visited this museum in 1976 to see the Pergamon Altar.

I was so enthralled with the ancient Etruscan and Greek and Roman collection that I lost track of time wandering through the well-ordered gallery. Then I spent much time in the Assyrian gallery and lingered around the reconstructed Gate of Miletus that Saint Paul would have seen.

Although I did not accomplish all that I set out to do I was not disappointed in all I saw. That evening I walked around Alexanderplatz and its Christmas markets and ventured into Nicolas quarter which is a small medieval section.  There is a lot more to explore in Berlin.

From an Assyrian Palace.

From an Assyrian Palace.

Assyrian processional wall, now in Berlin.

Assyrian processional wall, now in Berlin.

Ishtar Gate, now in Berlin.

Ishtar Gate, now in Berlin.

Market gate from Miletus 120 AD on the coast of Turkey. Now in Berlin.

Market gate from Miletus 120 AD on the coast of Turkey. Now in Berlin.

Facade of mshatta place from 744 AD, near present day Amman in Jordan. A palace of one of the first caliphs. Now in the Pergamon Museum.

Facade of mshatta place from 744 AD, near present day Amman in Jordan. A palace of one of the first caliphs. Now in the Pergamon Museum.

A Roman Mosaic, in Berlin

A Roman Mosaic, in Berlin

Blow the Trumphet in Sion! Proclaim a Fast! Call an Assembly!

These words of the prophet Joel will be proclaimed on March 5, Ash Wednesday. These prophetic words summon us to embrace the Lenten fast of forty days. May we embrace the Lenten Fast in the spirit of the words of the hymn, “Again we keep this Solemn fast” attributed to Pope Saint Gregory the Great: “More sparing, therefore let us make, the words we speak, the food we take.” Fasting is not an end in itself but rather a means to attain a deepening of prayer when we go to the heart room of our soul to which Jesus calls us through the Gospel of Ash Wednesday. ”But when you pray go to your inner room. Close the door and pray to your Father in secret.” (Mt. 6:6) Fasting cultivates the interior silence of our inner room, that is, our soul, so we pray to our Father that our lives bear the fruit of charity.

In the words of Saint Paul we must pray always. Lent is an invitation to deepen our life of prayer through the effort to attend daily Mass as much as possible and Stations on Friday evening. During the Lenten Fast make a good confession, which is the sacrament where we proclaim and celebrate the mercy of God incarnate in Jesus Christ. This takes discipline but then again it bears the fruit of charity. A very simple exercise would be to pray in the morning and evening the Lenten prayer of the fourth century doctor of the church, Saint Ephraim the Syrian:

O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of indifference and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter.
Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience, and love.

May Lent be our path of repentance for these 40 days as we journey to the renewal of our spirit when we will celebrate for the 50 days the joy of Paschaltide! So then may we slow down a bit during these 40 days. Consider turning off the radio or limit time on the internet and maybe be so bold as to turn off the TV or at least severely limit viewing time. This takes discipline however it gives us time to go to that inner room which is our heart and soul so we may concentrate on what is most important, which is our personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, who for our sake, “God made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

Lent is the acceptable time to examine our life in the light of our Catholic faith to reform our imagination. For example, we can take a break from manufactured entertainments in the media and look at things bearing much more meaning. As part of this I can recommend Monsignor Lane’s blog on symbolism in art. Read some of the entries and spend some time looking at the paintings. Click on most any of the paintings to get a larger version so you can see the details. You may wish to start with these:
http://neweyesonart.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/two-roads-to-calvary-bosch/
http://neweyesonart.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/mary-the-mother-of-god/

Archbishop Chaput put it so well in an article for CatholicPhilly.com, “Lent is an opportunity and a grace, not a burden. May we use the weeks of Lent this year to clean and ready our hearts so we can receive Jesus Christ this Easter, and share his life throughout 2014.”

So when we hear the trumpet blow in Sion on Ash Wednesday may we enter into the Great Lenten Fast with eagerness of faith and boldness of spirit.