Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Sabbath of History - Cardinal Ratzinger and William Congdon

Charles E. Flynn of Riverside, RI, writes:

The last place I expected to find a recent book with text by Cardinal Ratzinger was on a display shelf at the bookstore of the Rhode Island School of Design. The title is "The Sabbath of History." It combines Cardinal Ratzinger's text with reproductions of paintings by William Congdon in what the Congdon Foundation calls an "involuntary encounter." You can see a description and photograph of the cover here.

I like to call Cardinal Ratzinger one of the world's most "deeply unconfused" men.

I did some research, and provides details on the publication of the book ("In Search of Eternity" January 7, 1999):

The last painting of William Congdon entitled 'Three Trees,' was completed five days before his death. The American artist worked on the painting the whole of Good Friday, April 10. Both in the choice of the title and the theme, he was inspired by Proust's 'Recherche' and the 'Icon of the Trinity' of Andrej Rublev (1360-1430), the Russian monk and painter who left his mark on Congdon. Both in his life and in his work Congdon pursued the same objective: to humanize the sacred.

'Three Trees' is part of the exhibition "William Congdon, 1912-1998: Perspective of a XX Century Witness," been held in the Exhibition Hall of Plaza de España in Madrid until February 14.

As part of the event, 'Ediciones Encuentro' has published a book entitled "The Saturday of History" (El sabado de la historia"), which includes reflections by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the work of the American artist, as well as texts from other authors.

Catholic New York editor Anne Buckley profiles the artist ("His Disc Of Gold", June 4, 1998):

[Congdon] was born in Providence, R.I., to a prominent family, well educated and attaining fame as a sculptor when World War II broke out and he joined the American Field Service. He served with the British Eighth Army in Italy, Germany and North Africa. He was one of the first Americans to enter the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He painted suffering. And kept on searching.

It was in Assisi that he finally found his orange moon of warmth and love. He became a Catholic, and joined Pro Civitate Christiana, a lay organization founded in 1939 to make Christ known, especially in influential circles of unbelievers.

Nourished by the sacraments, he wrote, "I began to paint from love rather than from my senses."

And in William Congdon: Five Decades of Painting, by Peter Selz. Image magazine, No. 14, Summer 1996 -- a good biography beginning with this provocative quote from the artist himself:

I felt the weight of Christ on my pictures, on my very creative freedom. In those years few pictures came to birth, and they would not have come to birth—I lament—if I always had to think of Christ when I painted. When I heard that the Blessed Angelico painted with a brush in one hand and the Gospel in the other, it struck me as the most absurd nonsense. One of the greatest difficulties for the artist who offers himself to conversion is letting Christ settle in. The autonomy of art is an inviolable, untouchable mystery that, like the Spirit, "blows where and when it wills." "A collision of two mysteries," a friend said to me. One mystery the artist had already within himself. God has given it to him, and the artist will only permit God, with difficulty, to take it from him in order to have the artist accept another mystery that he neither sees nor touches, even if this latter mystery promises to recover and to regenerate the first mystery which was lost."

Related Links:

  • William Congdon (Providence, 1912 - Milan, 1998), images of Congdon's paintings online, courtesy of
  • Return to America, Traces article on the American reception of Congdon after his death via an exhibition in Providence, Rhode Island: "Fifty years ago, Life magazine hailed him as one of the most talented and successful painters in America. Then, mysteriously, he dropped out of the art world and was forgotten for more than thirty years. Three years after his death, William Grosvenor Congdon returns to his fatherland . . ."
  • "Light in the Adventure of a Stormy Sea". Communion & Liberation's Traces interviews Paolo Mangini, Congdon's friend and vice president of the Congdon Foundation.
  • Christianity and Contemporary Art. interview with philosopher Massimo Cacciari, Mayor of Venice, with a focus on Congdon. Feb. 25, 1999.

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