Thursday, May 13, 2004

Sailing to Byzantium

There is an extensive exhibit of Byzantine art currently open at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Artuntil July 4th. It is the third in a "trilogy of broad, sweeping, historical shows at the Metropolitan" says the Spectator in a review of it not included in its on-line edition. "In the 1970s they presented the early stage in Age of Spirituality; in 1997 The Glory of Byzantium gave us the middle Byzantine period from 843 to 1261; the current show is an attempt to rehabilitate the final period, thought by many represent a historic political decline."

The reviewer, indeed, finds little evidence of a decline at all in this exhibit. ". . .this is one of the finest displays of major icons -- in most cases either remarkably preserved or at least very skilfully restored -- that I've ever seen."

The exhibit includes much more than icons. There are also "paintings, sculptures, carvings, jewellery, coins, medals, frescoes, chunks knocked off buldings, clerical vestments, amulets rolls, miraculously intact glass vases from mid 13th-century Syria, even an entire massive chandelier, dramatically hung from the Museum's ceiling. . ."

If, like me, you are the width of a continent away from the Metropolitan, there is a sizeable portion of the exhibit on view via the net at the museum's website. The exhibit begins here.

You can also see a video of "The Consecration of the Exhibit" by the Orthdox Archbishop Damianos of Sinai. Surely that doesn't happen every day?

. . . .Thee do we beseech and Thee do we entreat, O Thou Who art good and the creator of all: Hallow this exhibition of sacred icons and liturgical treasures, which we consecrate this day, recompensing and blessing abundantly those who have laboured and toiled in their attentive care of these objects, and those who, in honour of Thee, have brought the works of art here from the ends of the earth that we might behold them. And do Thou grant rest, in the tabernacles of the righteous, unto the souls of the artificers who from ages past have been well pleasing unto Thee, whose names are known to Thee alone.

For behold, precious objects of worship, and handiworks created out of veneration, are here made manifest for the common rejoicing and study: venerable icons and sacred texts, liturgical treasures and vestments, most beautiful articles of fine workmanship, whether written or painted, carved or woven, effulgences befitting the comeliness of Thy house, which our fathers wrought in their love for the beautiful, and for reason-endowed worship of Thee, whether in churches or in homes, offered in piety. All of these, becoming even an ark of Thy sanctification, bear witness to the ancestral reverence and the Christ-loving mind of Orthodox Christians throughout the whole of the ecumene, manifesting the love of the beautiful of our forefathers in Byzantium, and proclaiming clearly unto those that behold them the nourishing of comely arts by our most holy Church. . . .

It wasn't so very long ago that our own Church of Rome used to concern itself with "effulgences befitting the comeliness of Thy house, which our fathers wrought in their love for the beautiful, and for reason-endowed worship of Thee". Maybe it will again some day.