Fullness of Heart

“I firmly believe that the moment our hearts are emptied of selfishness and ambition and self-seeking and everything that is contrary to God’s law, the Holy Spirit will come and fill every corner of our hearts; but if we are full of pride and conceit, ambition and self-seeking, pleasure and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God. I also believe that many a man is praying to God to fill him, when he is full already with something else. Before we pray that God would fill us, I believe we ought to pray that He would empty us. There must be an emptying before there can be a filling; and when the heart is turned upside down, and everything that is contrary to God is turned out, then the Spirit will come…”

– D.L. Moody

Christ in the Wilderness, Moretto da Brescia, Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Brescia-ChristWilderness

Easter blessings to my readers. May we all walk in love, light, and understanding, each and every day.

Claudia
xoxo

Love and Grape Juice

I bet you never thought that choosing a Welch’s Grape Juice from grocery store shelves with your Mom could be a heartwarming experience. But I’m here to tell you that it can be. At 79, my mother is an extraordinarily active person. She loves to drive, travel, go to museums, socialize, and experience new things. Whenever I tease her with “old lady” jokes she’s not amused :lol: So when Mom, a few weeks ago, was afflicted with a case of the shingles, her active lifestyle and normally robust health was temporarily sidetracked.

Mom’s shingles have fortunately cleared up, but now she’s struggling with nerve pain, a common aftereffect of shingles, and it’s causing her a great deal of sadness and discomfort. One minute she’s fine, and the next minute the neuropathy flares up, causing excruciating pain. Even though it passes quickly, the constant imminent threat of a nerve attack is an unsettling way to live, especially for someone like my Mom who can’t bear the idea of being “disabled” in any way. Having her independence taken from her is Mom’s worst nightmare.

A pastel drawing by Edgar Degas:

DegasCombing

Shingles is the virus that causes chicken pox when it erupts again after lying dormant in the body for decades. I had chicken pox as a child and recall that it sucked. Shingles also sucks. But my mother is having a much harder time with the neuralgia than the shingles.

With Mom now on a steady regimen of B-Vitamins, Omega-3 oils, alpha-lipoic acid (and ibuprofen when she needs it), she’s on the path to recovery. But like the doctor said, each individual is different. For some the neuropathy goes away in four weeks, for others four months. We have no way of predicting. Mom just has to take it one day at a time.

Another pastel by Degas, Rest:

DegasRest

Mom has avoided driving alone which is understandable, so I’ve been doing her grocery shopping for her. With the exception of me picking her up and taking her to a couple of doctor’s appointments she’s been fearful of going out in public or even leaving the house. Not to the beauty parlor, not to the bank, not even to a friend’s house in the neighborhood. This is all so contrary to her nature. I’ve tried to persuade her to come with me for a little shopping, or lunch, or just running errands, but she’s consistently been saying no. Until today.

After a doctor’s appointment this morning she agreed to let me take her to Fairway Market. There we were, strolling through the aisles, Mom totally relaxed, cheerful, and leisurely pushing our shopping cart as we collected our goodies; I tossed in a box of quinoa, some swiss chard, and a one pound bag of freshly ground coffee, Mom put in some cucumbers (her favorite) and two bagels. With great happiness I watched her as she selected a piece of salmon from the fish counter, and took three small yogurts from the dairy section. And then came the moment of Welch’s Grape Juice! Remember when there was only regular Welch’s Grape Juice, for years? Today we have options; fortified with calcium, fortified with Vitamin C, organic, “Farmer’s Pick”, blended with black cherry. As I knelt down and read the choices aloud to Mom we shared a warm, lighthearted moment and were reminded of our old Armenian relative, Aunt Araxi, who lived to be 100 and attributed her longevity to, yes, a daily glass of Welch’s Grape Juice. That was her theory and she stuck with it! Hey why not? And Mom, by the way, ended up choosing the plain old Welch’s “Original”.

DegasTorso

A visit to the market doesn’t usually make for a watershed moment in a person’s life, but if you knew how tormented my mother has been lately due to pain, anxiety, and depression, you would understand the indescribable joy I felt at the sight her smiling, talking to people, and carrying out a routine activity for the first time in weeks. Mom’s comeback is underway. Oh yes it is :-)

All artworks in this post have been pastels because it’s Mom’s favorite medium, and Degas because he’s Mom’s favorite artist.

Living Water

He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills.
They give drink to every beast of the field:
He watereth the hills from his chambers:
The earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works.

– Psalm 104

On my modeling break at the 92nd Street Y the other day, I walked out of the studio into the hallway, where I filled up my water bottle from the drinking fountain. Very thirsty, I stood right there and took a few long refreshing gulps. I don’t know why I felt so dehydrated, but the cool water flowing down my throat and into my stomach felt like life being breathed back into me. Then I pushed the lever to fill my bottle again and put the cap back on. I knew I would need it for the second half of the drawing session. Just a few feet away from me was a vending machine where I could have easily purchased a bottle of SmartWater if I so chose. Or I could have dashed across Lexington Avenue to the tea shop for a lemon water. Options abound. Pull a lever; water. Turn a faucet; water. Unscrew a cap; water. Fresh clean water, all the time. It’s how we live.

 Bedouin Women Carrying Water Jars, John Singer Sargent, 1891:

Sargent-bedouin-women-carrying-water-jars-1891.jpg!HalfHD

But 700 million people around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water. That number is simply staggering. Seven hundred million. Can that be right? How does one wrap their mind around such a statistic? Many of us use our checkbooks to donate to charities, as I’ve done with Episcopal Relief and Development and their clean water programs. But the problem persists, and those of us who can fill up our water bottles to our heart’s content without giving it a second thought can’t possibly understand what it’s like for those 700 million.

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Arthur Hacker, By the Waters of Babylon:

Hacker-BytheWatersofBabylon

Of all the basic essentials for life, probably none is more taken for granted by those who have it than water. And none has been more yoked with survival – and miracles – than water. Water heals. Water nourishes. Water baptizes and bathes and purifies. In imagery, symbolism, and stone cold reality, water is the sustainer of life. Water carves out canyons. We gestate in water in our mothers’ wombs. Our houseplants shrivel up and die when watering is neglected. Hunger strikers engaging in political protests still drink water to extend their lives as long as possible. We wonder if scientists will ever discover the presence of water on other planets. Why? Because water = life. Biological life. And spiritual life. Because water is “alive”.

But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him
will never thirst: but the water that I shall give him
will become in him a fountain of water
springing up into everlasting life.

John 4:14

Moses strikes water from the rocks [fresco detail], Agnolo Bronzino, c. 1544:

Bronzino-moses-strikes-water-from-the-wall-rocks.jpg!HalfHD

I have never had to go to bed hungry. I have never had to walk 20 miles for water. I am a flawed and imperfect human being in more ways than I can count. But I try, with all my heart and soul, to never take for granted my advantages and good fortune – advantages bestowed upon me purely by “accident of birth”, as G.K. Chesterton would describe it. During this time of Lent, when so many give up something as an act of sacrifice or self-denial, people around the world experience deprivation every single day, due solely to their “accident of birth”, and not as some temporary penitential act during a holy season. It is, rather, their normalcy.

Horses at the Watering Trough, Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, 1884:

Dagnan-Bouveret

The rector at my church told our congregation that he and his wife are sponsoring a water well project in a developing country. This page from charitywater.org describes the different kinds of clean water systems. I still have trouble grasping that something so basic, so seemingly uncomplicated as water, is an issue for millions of people in the year 2015. Maybe I’m naive. I hope I’m not.

This has been my Lenten meditation. It burst into my consciousness as a result of my greedy water-guzzling at the 92nd St Y. And discussion at church. And my daily self-reminder that I am no more deserving of anything than my fellow children of God. Life without gratitude is no life at all.

I am the figure in this painting by my friend Daniel DaSilva, Second Paradise #1:

IMG952806

Enter the Harem

Hello darlings! Neither my tired art model’s body nor my dread over another impending snowstorm and frigid temperatures will stop me from presenting a Valentine to my readers on this Valentine’s Day. And it ain’t chocolates or a bouquet of flowers. That’s kid stuff ;-) For us it is the scandalous, seductive, come-hither gaze and frank nudity of Jean Auguste Dominque Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque. Painted in 1814, this iconic masterpiece of Neoclassicism predictably shocked the uptight sensibilities of the Salon art establishment. Were they shocked because it was risqué and erotic? Or because the figure is anatomically disproportional? Both actually.

Jean_Auguste_Dominique_Ingres,_La_Grande_Odalisque,_1814 In the ruthless shredding this work of art received, censorious critics concluded that the model, as concubine, was given “three vertebrae too many” and that she had “neither bones nor muscle, neither blood, nor life”. The then 34 year old Ingres was accused of ignoring anatomical accuracy and having fallen victim to his wild, erotically-charged imagination. Perhaps he did. To that we can say, “so what?”. Surely there was a method to his madness. The female body is unique in its longer lines which create visually appealing curvature. Ingres clearly took it to the next level with his elongation. Proportionally, the figure is indeed strange, with some even claiming that the particular flexure of the spine with the rotation of the pelvis is physically impossible. But as an art model I’ve done some nearly impossible poses, so I’m not so sure. Although I don’t have any extra vertebrae that I’m aware of :lol:

But Ingres had a vision in his mind and he went for it. His subject is a nubile sex slave after all, and he wanted to heighten that purpose to maximum effect. Sensuality was priority number one. I’d say he succeeded, don’t you? She’s an enticing woman and she’s on view at her permanent home in the Louvre, keeping company with the Mona Lisa.

Shinto

Shinto – Jorge Luis Borges

When sorrow lays us low
for a second we are saved
by humble windfalls
of mindfulness or memory:
the taste of a fruit, the taste of water,
that face given back to us by a dream,
the first jasmine of November,
the endless yearning of the compass,
a book we thought was lost,
the throb of a hexameter,
the slight key that opens a house to us,
the smell of a library, or of sandalwood,
the former name of a street,
the colors of a map,
an unforeseen etymology,
the smoothness of a filed fingernail,
the date we were looking for,
the twelve dark bell-strokes, tolling as we count,
a sudden physical pain.

Eight million Shinto deities
travel secretly throughout the earth.
Those modest gods touch us–
touch us and move on.

Edward Hopper, A Woman in the Sun:

Hopper-woman-in-the-sun1961

Promised Land

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

– Abraham Lincoln
First Inaugural Address, March 4th 1861

Angel Among the Ruins, Pierre-Amédée Marcel-Béronneau, 1897, watercolor, pencil, and gouache on paper:

Berronneau-AngelAmongtheRuins

Crimes and Misdemeanors

If for nothing else, social media interactions can spur discoveries and offer interesting shares that one might have been unfamiliar with. Block out the irritations of the Internet and some cool stuff can come your way. The Ashmolean Museum recently posted an image to Twitter that caught my attention. It was this self-portrait by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the celebrated sculptor of the Baroque era. I’ve seen most of his self-portraits – he did quite a few – but I’d never seen this one before. He created it in black, red, and white chalk, circa 1635:

BerniniSelfPortrait

The drawing has a strange intimacy to it that intrigues me. His gaze is hard to pinpoint. Oddly, it is direct but a little preoccupied. Engaged but a little jaded. Cool but a little confused. I honestly can’t decide if he’s saying “You lookin’ at me, pal?” or “Whatever, dude”. His overall appearance is informal, with unkempt hair and a five o’clock shadow. He could almost be a young hipster barista making cappuccinos at a coffee bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn instead of the 17th century artistic wunderkind.

Bernini, the uniquely gifted sculptor who could turn marble into flesh and render stone creations with stunning action and theatricality, is a compelling and charismatic figure in art history. One cannot imagine a survey of Western art without his Ecstasy of St Teresa or Apollo and Daphne. The man himself possessed a personality which matched the intensity of his art. His notoriously hot temper was offset by his gregarious, outgoing disposition, well-roundedness (he was also an architect, poet, writer, and stage designer) and dedicated work ethic. It’s been said that he would chatter up a storm while he worked, telling jokes and sharing gossip with his assistants as he chiseled away in his studio. Like many sculptors he was physically strong and agile. And because his astonishing talents were evident to all, Bernini enjoyed a largely easy ride in terms of his career. He was showered with praise and recognition from his early years and it never waned. This, as I’m sure you all know, can be both a blessing and a curse.

Bernini was neither a sweetheart nor a monster. At only one point in his life did he go completely batshit crazy. And that one time sure was a doozy. A disturbing, mad, jealousy-infused doozy. Are you ready for the twisted soap opera? Fasten your seat belts.

In 1636 Bernini began an affair with Costanza Bonarelli, the wife of Bernini’s assistant Matteo Bonarelli. To describe it as “hot and heavy” would be an understatement. Bernini’s sculpture of her will tell us everything we need to know. She is tousled. She is lusty. She seems to be in some ravished stage of pre or post coitus. Her lips are parted, her blouse is undone. She is fleshy and earthy. She is not a proper aristocratic lady sitting decorously for a commissioned sculpture bust. She is, quite clearly, Bernini’s lover and object of his infatuation.

Bernini-Costanza

At the height of the torrid affair, Bernini was tipped off that Costanza was possibly sleeping with another man – not her husband but yet another lover. The lady got around apparently. The other man turned out to be none other than Bernini’s brother Luigi who was a rather unsavory character. Bernini, in the throes of unhinged jealousy, went ballistic. He spied on Costanza to confirm the rumor and, sure enough, spotted his brother emerging from her house. What ensued was pure madness. Bernini chased down Luigi and attacked him with an iron crowbar, breaking his ribs. He chased him again, this time with a sword, threatening to kill him. When his brother sought refuge in a church, the raging Bernini attempted to kick down the doors. But he wasn’t done with his vengeful impulses. Bernini ordered one of his servants to go to Costanza’s house and slash her face, which the man did, with a razor blade.

As for the fallout of this gruesome incident, Luigi fled to Bologna, fearing for his safety. Costanza, disfigured for life, was imprisoned for adultery. The servant who did the slashing was also sent to prison. And Bernini was issued a fine – a fine – which was eventually waived by his benefactor Pope Urban VIII, under the agreement that Bernini would marry, get his shit together, and live a respectable life. It pays to have friends in high places.

Another Bernini self-portrait:

GianLorenzo-Bernini-Autoritratto-1630ca-665x848

So Bernini went unpunished for his behavior, and Costanza paid the criminal price for adultery which the men eluded. This was, of course, 17th century Europe and a society structured in ways that baffle us. On the other hand, it’s not so baffling in that some aspects remain constant and are unlikely to ever change. Esteemed and advantaged people, like Bernini was then, receive special treatment, much like they do today. But for what it’s worth, Bernini did go on to marry, father eleven children, and live a pious life as a devout Catholic attending mass regularly. It appears he learned his lesson. Bernini suffered a stroke in his elderly years and died at the age of 82.