Stratford Caldecott

The Beauty of God's House - a Collection of Essays Published as a Tribute to Stratford Caldecott

51VVkjcHzPL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Readers might be interested to know of newly published book, the Beauty of God's House, which is a Festschrift for Stratford Caldecott. It is a collection of essays edited by Prof Francesca Murphy and features contributions from the Davids Schindler, Marc Ouellet, John Milbank, Aidan Nichols, Adrian Walker, Jean Borella, David Fagerburg, Nick Healy Jr, Michael Cameron, Phil Zaleski, Carol Zaleski, Derek Cross, Mary Taylor, Reza Shah-Kazemi, and myself with an afterword by his wife Leonie Caldecott. The book covers the whole range of Caldecott's interests, from poetics to politics. Anyone interested in the field of theology and the arts will find much to intrigue them. If there is a common thread that runs through them all it is, as the title suggests, Stratford's interests is in the beauty of the cosmos and how it reflects the beauty of God.

I contributed an essay on the place of the nude in Christian art in the light of JP II's Theology of the Body (and other writings including his address at the opening of the newly restored frescoes of the Sistine Chapel and his Letter to Artists). The common lore has him as a Catholic apologist for the Sixties who stripped the loin cloths and fig leaves from the Sistine Chapel. In fact he spoke very strongly against naturalistic representations of the nude and I argue that in fact he was as about as conservative in his approach to the pictorial representation of nudity as Pius IV (who had some fig leaves painted on the Sistine Chapel some years after it was first painted).

I don't explain in the essay, but the reason I wrote this arises directly from conversation with Strat and Leonie Caldecott some years ago. I was working with both at the time to organise a summer drawing school in Oxford teaching the academic method and we were looking for a model for a life drawing class that was to be included. We couldn't find one and in the end someone we all knew well volunteered, but she would not disrobe. None of us wanted her too either because we knew her and that alone made it seem inappropriate. So what we did in the end was ask her to model, elegantly dressed, for what we called a full-figure portraiture class. Realising that if I was going to establish an art school for Catholics I was going to have to address this issue head-on I decide to do some research.

At that time I had unquestioningly accepted the received wisdom that came from Catholics and non-Catholics alike that it was part of the tradition and necessary for any good training of an artist. Therefore, I was looking to find justifications for the nude and for figure drawing as a practice that I could use against what I perceived to be over puritanical Catholics. I immediately headed for JPII believing he would be my great ally here, as  well as various other authors. Strat suggested to me that I read an article that had been printed in Communio some years earlier. It was a reprint of  a piece written by a contemporary and friend of Jacques Maritain called Erik Petersen and was entitled A Theology of Dress. Here was the complementary theology to the Theology of the Body and I found that the two were founded on complete harmony of thought. As I studied these writings and the Catholic tradition of figure painting, to my surprise I came to the opposite conclusion. I felt that the place of the nude in the Catholic tradition had been greatly exaggerated latterly and also that nude figure drawing is not necessary for the training of artists. The article explains my thinking in detail.

I intend to post a review of the book when I have read the contributions of the other authors.

It is available from the publisher, Cascade Books, here.