Sunday, June 29, 2008

Saints Peter and Paul

Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco). Apostles Peter and Paul. 1587-92. Saint Petersburg.

A few years ago, on public television, was broadcast dear, sweet, and cheerfully brilliant, Sister Wendy Becket. There are few, recent, art critics, who are sensible, other than Sister Wendy, only Robert Hughes and Michael Wood come across as reliable, and, I think, Wood might have been more of a presenter. Well, anyhow, her simple, cogent, description of this double portrait, by Greco, was spot on.

We have contrasted the mellow, golden Peter, with the fiery and intense Paul. The colors of their garments and the condition of their hair detail their personæ; but most of all — their hands. Peter’s laxly at rest. In his left hand are the keys. Paul’s left hand is firmly plunged onto a book, which sits on another book, the right is about to gesticulate a point. Paul’s left arm looks muscular, he was an artisan, a leatherworker, specialising in tents. Peter as a fisherman had to mend nets, and draw them out and back, yet they do not appear gnarled.

El Greco’s gold and red are lush. The two figures are not greatly and ethereally elongated, as is his wont. The two men are, almost, in two different pictures. The right line of the long rectangle, behind them, divides the painting in halves. Peter can be cropped out, while Paul’s right hand is between and in front of Peter’s hands. Are they in contemplation? or are they looking at someone? at us?

This year would be the 2,000th for Paul. His itinerant ministry still holds. Peter still holds the keys. To-day, in years past was an holy day of obligation. To-day marks their martyrdoms in Nero’s persecutions. Peter hauled upside down to be crucified, and Paul, being a citizen, having the honor of sword decapitation.

Yesterday, at vespers, began the Pauline year. To-day palliums will be given to the 43 new metropolitan archbishops. In these services Pope Benedict will be joined by Patriarch Bartholomew.

Many churches have, these Peter and Paul, on either side of the main altar, twin sentinels and guardians of our faith. The faith of our fathers has been given to each generation.

No comments: