24 June 2018

Art Historians again. And dear Auntie Tablet

Long time readers of this blog will remember a time when, to a high degree of tedium, I used frequently to attack art historians for their treatment of the Latin language. It was not so much that I resented their ignorance of Larin; many people are ignorant of Latin and I am myself ignorant of very many very important languages. It was their illiterate belief that by picking up a Latin dictionary and thumbing through the pages, they could, in complete ignorance of Latin Grammar, cobble together a "translation". A fine example of this was (I haven't checked recently to see if the howler is still there) the label attached to a cope of Cardinal Manning, mistranslating his motto. Of all places, this is to be seen in the Treasury attached to that big Victorian-Byzantine-style Church next to Victoria Station.

I have complained less about this failing among 'professional Art Historians' in recent years because I am getting older and weaker and with a lower exhaustion threshold, and tend to do the London Exhibitions less frequently. But the Tablet provides an example in its current on-line edition.

A Relic of Pope S Clement has, happily, made its way to Westminster Cathedral, a large church in what the Victorians thought of as the Byzantine style (situated next to Victoria Station). It is labelled
Ex Oss S Clementis P M

A person described as a Deputy Keeper at the V and A explained to the Tablet that PM probably stood for Proto Martyris. This is rubbish, partly because Protomartyr is one word and not two; more importantly, because S Clement was not the Church's Protomartyr. That role fell to S Stephen.

The words stand for Ex Oss[ibus] S[ancti] Clementis P[apae] M[artyris] ('From the bones of S Clement, Pope, Martyr.')

(Conceivably, P M might be for Pontificis Maximi, but I strongly incline to Papae Martyris because that is how S Clement is described in the Calendar.)

Some years ago, the V and A had a rather good exhibition on the Baroque, which was damaged by the amazing degree of ignorance shown in the catalogue about the Catholic Religion. I commented then that the V and A staff could have strolled next door and asked the learned Oratorians of Brompton for help, accompanying this, of course, with the assurance of a proper professional fee for their expertise.

The same dearth of zimmer frames applies in this case.

And I wonder if the people at Westminster Cathedral have corrected their own howlers yet. They were informed about them by ... not me, but by others. Seems peculiar to me that a Church which boasts of being the Mother Church of English Catholicism has nobody on its staff who knows Latin, but that is another matter. Veterum Sapientia of S John XXIII is the Background Reading here.


Mulier Fortis said...

I know a miniscule amount of Latin (as I'm fond of saying, for years, the only Latin I knew in the Mass was "kyrie eleison" - the rest was all Greek to me!) But even I knew that the abbreviation P M after a saint's name means Pope & Martyr... just as E C means Bishop & Confessor... You would hope the Cathedral would be better-informed than a mere revert laywoman!

Alan said...

Not just art historians and not just Latin, Father.

Only today, in the Observer, in an article about a faux-mediaeval event in an Anglican cathedral (author one Catherine Pepinster) I find a totally spurious etymology of the term "mystery play" given by a member of the once erudite chapter of Chester.

Monteverdi's "libretti" both sacred and secular seem to give difficulties to translators. "Illa dulcis praedicata de propheta Ezechiel porta orientalis" was perceived by a translator as referring to "Ezekiel the prophet from the east". Not content with ignorance of Our Lady's titles, another translator is equally at a loss with classical mythology, and his attempt at translating "il can delle tartraree porte" is a dog's breakfast eminently suitable for Cerberus.

And I can never forget the breathless explanation by Dr Helen Castor, attended by a womanpriest, of what those strange mediaeval folk believed about baptism - strangely enough, precisely the same as Catholics and (maybe) Anglicans today. That brainy Goth, Dr Janina Ramirez, also seems to lose her bearings when confronted by religion.

It all seems very strange to me. When I was a schoolboy at a provincial grammar school, masters did not expect me to offer a bull to Jupiter, but at least they ensured I had some rudimentary knowledge of Roman religious beliefs. One would have hoped that at some point in their progress from bright schoolgirl to academic, somebody would have told Drastor and Ramirez what Christians believe.

Augustine Pinnock said...

I too was recently most irritated by the ignorance of a supposedly intelligent person on the radio. I believe I was listening to Classic FM. The people on the programme were being rather intellectual about music that belongs in a Church (Late MediƦval and Renaissance polyphony) when the host declared that a Eucharistic hymn was about the "transfiguration of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ". It would be nice if they could get their vocabulary correct.

Sprouting Thomas said...

Ex[igui] Oss[ifragi] S[ocialistorum] Clementis P[rimi] M[inistri]

William Arthurs said...

The V & A described itself in the 1980s as "an ace caff, with quite a nice museum attached." The inanity of this slogan makes it unforgettable.

In the V & A's jewellery cabinet, there is a seal on display (it may be a seal ring, I forget). It shows the impaled arms of a husband and wife, in early 16th c. style. But if you look closely at the husband's side, it isn't his arms in the heraldic sense --- it is a merchant's mark, such as would be used to brand or mark goods.

This immediately tells a story. Some local gentryman, down on his luck, wants to ensure that his daughter makes a good marriage, and is happy to overlook non-gentry status as long as the groom is prosperous. This latter, for his part, is proud of his status as a wealthy merchant, and distains the practice of purchasing or assuming a coat of arms as many novi homines did after 1485, to pretend that they were from an ancient family. This exemplifies so many aspects of English social mobility as it used to be, that one would assume the V & A "interpretation" would go to town on it.

So what does the caption actually say? "Example of 16th century seal". That's it. The idea that this artefact, if studied in detail, says anything about the society that produced it, clearly didn't occur to the curator.

Calvin Engime said...

I am reminded of Japan's persecuted Christians, who, in the absence of clergy or Bibles, retained a dim memory that the name of the man who survived a flood by building a ship was Pappa Maruji.