Two Gods, Two Mediums

This is a 2016 essay of mine on the Analysis of

“Hermes and the Infant Dionysius” and “Madonna in the Meadow”

Praxiteles was born circa 390 B.C., and died circa 332 B.C.  He was considered the greatest sculptor in Greece and was known as the “sculptor of grace” for his use of softer forms and displaying the Greek gods as humanlike and gentle instead of indignant and distant.  His work, “Hermes with the Infant Dionysus” is the only known work of art done by him that has survived.  The statue made of marble, which was Praxiteles’ choice of medium, shows softness in lines and form and humanistic style (“Hermes and the Infant Dionysos”).    

The sculpture portrays Hermes carrying baby Dionysus to the nymphs in the mountains.  The mythological story tells us that Zeus had an affair with a mortal woman named Semele.  Once he showed himself to her, she burned to death by the warm radiance he possessed as a god.  Dionysus was produced from their love, and Zeus’ wife, Hera, found out and wanted to kill the infant and anything else that reminded her of his affair.  With that, Zeus called on his messenger, Hermes, to take Dionysus and deliver him to the nymphs that live in the mountains for his safety and to raise him.  This sculpture captures the playful moment of Hermes with baby Dionysus on their journey to the nymphs.  Dionysus grew up and became the god of wine, festivity, and theater (“Hermes and the Infant Dionysos”).

The statue was most assuredly commissioned for the sanctuary, and it was, indeed, housed in the Temple of Hera at Olympia.  In 1877, German archeologists discovered the sculpture in that temple.  

Praxiteles’ work, “Hermes with the Infant Dionysus,” truly reflects the late Classical style of that era, as well as represents the Greek pagan religion at the time where many temples to the various gods and goddesses housed statues like Praxiteles’ beautiful sculptures.  

The inclusion of children/babies in Greek art is evident of Late Classical sculpture.  Praxiteles promoted a new decree of proportions, which displayed a naturalistic, thinner, softer, taller, and more intimate sculpture style that had never been seen before.  His sculpting design is more secular and worldly than depicting the divine.  It signifies social changes and predominance of secular and touching representations from then on (“Hermes and the Infant Dionysos”).

 Raphael’s oil painting on wood, “Madonna in the Meadow” was created and completed between the years of 1505 and 1507.  Raphael, whose full name was Raffaello Sanzio or Santi, was born in Duchy of Urbino, Italy, on April 6, 1483, and died April 6, 1520.  His parents, Margia di Battista Ciarla, died in 1491, and his father, Giovanni Santi, first taught him to paint, not too long before his death.  Giovanni had also exposed Raphael to humanist philosophy at the court.  The city in which Raphael had lived, Urbino, was a cultural center under the rule of Duke Federico da Montefeltro.  

Most of Raphael’s basic learning of the arts was while living in Urbino.  His talent was exceptional at barely 17 years old.  In circa 1495, Raphael went to Perugia and began his work through commissions by the Church between 1501 and 1503, through his connection to and learning from a great artist and master from Urbino named Pietro Perugino.  Perugino’s excellent style influenced Raphael, and later, also Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo’s amazing works.  He was one of their students (“Raphael”).

Raphael worked on his many paintings of the Madonna between 1505 and 1507.  In his painting, “Madonna in the Meadow,” it shows the Virgin Mary sitting on a large stone gently grasping baby Jesus and watching he and baby St. John the Baptist, who was just six months older than Jesus.  The colors used in Christian art are of great importance.  For example, the Virgin is dressed in red and blue clothing.  The red signifies her mortality or humanity and the blue, her holiness.  Raphael’s use of chiaroscuro in the painting was an influence of da Vinci, as well as by his sfumato – the use of very fine, soft shading in lieu of line/characterized forms and features.  He used aerial perspective to give the appearance that the landscape was far away.  Raphael created unique figures with round, tender faces that were not complex, but expressed basic human feeling.   His technique also elevated them to precision and peacefulness.  He strived to create a more personable style to make a popular and accessible form of visual connection (“Raphael”).

Raphael’s painting, “Madonna in the Meadow,” reflects the Renaissance period in which he lived.  There is the Classical aspect of the work reminiscent of ancient Greco-Roman Classical art, and there is the humanistic aspect of the Renaissance era, which stressed the excellence and integrity of the human being.  Christianity was still prevalent at the time, despite the troubles in the Catholic Church, the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation, and the ushering in of more reason than religious thinking.

These two artworks have many similarities. They share mystical and mythological representations.

Praxiteles’ “Hermes with the Infant Dionysus” depicts two Greek gods of Greek mythology, which was the religion of the Greeks throughout the ancient and Classical Greek periods. Raphael’s “Madonna in the Meadow” displays the blessed, holy Virgin and her son, Jesus Christ, reflecting the religion of Christianity’s true God incarnate.  

The forms are sculpted and painted in soft, beautiful lines and classical beauty.  With Hermes’ weight bearing on his right leg and his left leg gently touching the ground, his sinuous body curves in an S shape.  This lack of equilibrium in the statue was a new form at that time, which was called the “Praxitelean curve” (“Hermes and the Infant Dionysos”).   

There are smooth and graceful curves in Raphael’s oil painting through the soft curves of the Madonna’s shoulders against the gentle curves of the landforms behind her.  Both pieces of art contain children in them of great importance.  Infant Dionysus is the offspring of a god, Zeus, and a mortal, Semele, and likewise, Christ is the offspring of God, the Holy Spirit, and mortal, Mary.  

Baby St. John the Baptist is a messenger from God.  His purpose on earth was to pave the way for Jesus Christ’s entrance into the world and his future ministry.  Hermes is a messenger from the god, Zeus, and in this case, he is delivering Zeus’ son, Dionysus, to the nymphs for his safety and care.  

Another similarity between the two mediums is displaying the human body nude and also donning robes or cloaks.  Both art periods honored the human body and considered it beautiful.  The oil painting and sculpture share the depiction of a protective, gentle adult caring for a child.  In the Classical Greek tradition, the naked body portrayed moral virtue and heroism (Mount).  In Raphael’s era of the Renaissance, the naked human body was also considered beautiful and revered (Sorabella).  

There are differences in the two artworks.  Praxiteles’ work is a sculpture made of marble, whereas Raphael’s work is an oil painting on wood.  “Hermes with the Infant Dionysus” depicts two Greek gods from Greek mythology, which are demigods – they produce children and have relations with mortals/humans producing children.  They share human emotions, especially jealousy and anger (“Hermes”), but this is not so for the Christian God, who does not have such emotions as jealousy.  

In Praxiteles’ sculpture, Hermes’ body is off-balance, shaped in an S curve that makes it asymmetrical, which Praxiteles brought to the Late Classical Greek art (“Hermes with the Infant Dionysus”).  In Raphael’s painting, there is a pyramidal blueprint with the position of the three subjects that gives it a sense of quality, tranquility, and symmetry that was commonly employed by Renaissance artists (“Raphael”).  In the painting, “Madonna in the Meadow,” the viewer is able to see the scenic background of the meadow through its aerial perspective and two-dimensional form, but a background isn’t shown in “Hermes with the Infant Dionysus” largely because it is sculpted in the round, which means that it is not attached to a background and can be seen from any angle.  

In conclusion, Praxiteles’ “Hermes with the Infant Dionysus” and Raphael’s “Madonna in the Meadow” share the Classical style of both their eras and portray the mystical and gentle beauty in their lines and forms, and therefore complement each other.

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Works Cited

“Hermes with the Infant Dionysus.”  Museum of Antiquities.  n.d.  Web.  3 March 2016. 

http://www.usask.ca/antiquities/our-collection-/greek/classical-greek/sculpture/hermes-with-the-infant-dionysus/index.php

“Raphael.”  Artsy.  2016.  Web.  3 March 2016.  https://www.artsy.net/artwork/raphael-

            madonna-on-the-meadow

“Hermes and the Infant Dionysos.”  Museum of Art and Archeology.  2016.  Web.  3 March

2016.  https://maa.missouri.edu/?q=collection/hermes-and-infant-dionysos

“Raphael:  Italian Painter and Architect.”  Encyclopedia Britannica.  2015.  Web.  3 March 2016.

http://www.britannica.com/biography/Raphael-Italian-painter-and-architect

Mount, Harry.  “Why Are Greek Statues Always NAKED?”  Daily Mail.  2015.  Web.  3 March

2016.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3010353/Why-Greek-statues-NAKED-

extraordinary-answer-s-laid-bare-magnificent-risque-exhibition-British-Museum.html

Sorabella, Jean.  “The Nude in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.”  The Metropolitan

Museum of Art.  2008.  Web.  3 March 2016. 

https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/numr/hd_numr.htm

“Hermes.”  GreekGods.org.  2016.  Web.  3 March 2016.  http://www.greek-gods.org/olympian-

            gods/hermes.php

What The Hell

Oil-painting-The-Hell-Fresco

If you ask people what hell means to them, you’ll get a variety of answers.

Some people might say it loosely resembles the animated depictions in classic cartoons:

cartoon of hell.jpg

Other people might say it’s a cold place far away from God:

cold dark cave

Then, there are people who think hell is a myth:

myth of hades

Lastly, a few people think Heaven and Hell are one in the same:

bright light

Personally, I see hell as the latter.  Saint Isaac the Syrian (my favorite Saint) describes it beautifully:

“I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. For what is so bitter and vehement as the punishment of love? I mean that those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment. For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is sharper than any torment that can be. It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God. Love is the offspring of knowledge of the truth which, as is commonly confessed, is given to all. The power of love works in two ways: it torments those who have played the fool, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend; but it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties. Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret. But love inebriates the souls of the sons of Heaven by its delectability.”

Why do I choose to see hell in this way?  Because it makes sense to me.  God is through all and in all, and He is a consuming fire.  God is warmth and light.  So, in understanding this, the next step in my thought process is that because of free will given to us by God, we make choices daily and therefore, I choose to follow God or reject Him.  In my decisions, I decide my fate, my own judgment.  I’m the judge of my own destiny.  God honors my choice because He can’t impede on my free will.  He can’t go against Himself, as Father Thomas Hopko of blessed memory would say.

All of this is contingent on whether I truly know God or have just been told or read about Him.

Back to God being a consuming fire.  When I repose this life, I enter into His Light because He’s everywhere.  Nowhere is He not.  And the Light is bright and warm, and it brings me joy and peace if I love Him as best as I was able to truly understand and give love to Him and others.  If I knew Him intimately and chose to sever my relationship with Him, I’d feel His Light and Joy as a burning, tormenting fire.  This is why God revealed He is eternal and why the Apostles speak of those rejecting God as being eternally tormented.  He’s always there.  God loves every human who’s ever lived and will live until His Second Coming.  He wants us to be with Him.  That’s why we were created.

I made a choice to follow Him twenty-three years ago, and I hope to continue to choose Him daily until I pass this earth and am standing before Him.  I hope to hear the glorious words akin to what God told the thief on the cross:  “Truly I tell you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise,” (Lk 23:43) (NIV).

sunshine

 

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An Encounter With St. Andrew

St. Andrew the first called

 

As my family and I stepped inside the Church of St. Andrew in the town of Patras, Greece, we immediately observed its huge interior with frescos and mosaics in brilliant colors encompassing the walls and ceiling. The large space was cool, and our feet shuffling on the marble floors echoed through it. Straight ahead was the narthex, or foyer of the church, and further in, the nave. There were chairs on either side of the aisle leading up to where the marble-laden icon screen stood, beautifully ornamented with the altar in the center.   Large crystal chandeliers hung down from the lofty ceiling, where in the center, the Pantocrator (Christ – ruler of all), painted in the dome, gazed down and blessed us.

Eventually, my sons and I, along with my mother, came to the white tomb where St. Andrew’s head lay under a silver and glass enclosure. Vases with beautiful flowers were on either side of it. I kneeled on the step before the tomb and bent my head, saying nothing at first. A glorious, mystical fragrance permeated the air around me. At first, I thought it was the flowers next to me on my left and right, but I leaned over and inhaled their scent, and none of them had this wondrous aroma. The smell closely resembled flowers. Gardenias, perhaps, but it wasn’t. It was emanating from the relic below the silver and glass box covering it. Moved to tears, I struggled to swallow the lump that had formed in my throat. Just then, St. Andrew’s life and ministry flashed through my mind like a motion picture.  His pain at his crucifixion swept through me, and I caught my breath. I asked St. Andrew to pray for us , kissed the glass dome, and crossed myself.

Housed in wood and glass next to the marble sarcophagus were the original pieces of the cross on which St. Andrew was martyred. As I had done a moment ago at St. Andrew’s tomb where his head lay, I kissed the glass encasing the remnants of the wooden cross. My faith was affirmed and strengthened that day.

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This is a piece written for my Introduction to Creative Writing Class back in early 2015.  This is a true encounter I had with St. Andrew at the Cathedral named after him in Patras, Greece.  Below is a picture of my husband, sons, and I in 2010 standing in front of St. Andrew’s Cathedral on our trip to Greece in May 2010.

family in Patras, Greece May 2010

(Inside the nave of St. Andrew’s Cathedral)

St. Andrew's Cathedral

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Have you ever had encounters with Saints or the heavenly hosts?