29 April 2009


When I told my erudite Churchwarden about the splendours on view at the V & A, from the John Baptist Chapel in the Church of S Roque in Lisbon - an apotheosis of the concept of the prefabricated building; it was commissioned by King John and made in Rome, blessed by the Pope, and then assembled in Lisbon - "I've seen it all", she remarked, "in a nice little museum in Lisbon that nobody ever visits". Well, people are coming to gawp at the exhibits now. That's what the blockbuster exhibition is all about: hype. The V & A already has a set of galleries immediately to the left of the main entrance, full of exquisite baroque exhibits. When I have a bit of time to waste in London, I drop in and have another look. Except that I don't, because it's pretty well always closed (economies) when I want to drop in. It's open now, but, of course, with lots of gaps-with-labels denoting the exhibits which have been moved upstairs to the blockbuster.

The other feature of the blockbuster is the big glossy book. What I don't like about these is that they are all full of errors. Year after year, I shake my head in disbelief at the errors in latinity and in what the 'Art Historians' write about Christianity. Of course, I am not an Art Historian. But - tell me if you can spot a gap in my logic - since in the very limited fields in which I am competent, including Latin and Liturgy, I find these volumes riddled with errors, I can only assume that the sections on subjects on which I know nothing are equally unreliable.

So I've stopped buying them. Except when I am particularly interested in what the exhibition is about. And I must confess that I do regard Baroque Liturgy as the highest point of human cultural development. So I bought the book. And my fears were, as ever, fulfilled. Particularly in the area of Liturgy. Which is pretty unforgivable, since the V & A is literally a stone's throw from the Brompton Oratory, where there must be something like a dozen clergymen who could have looked through the text and alerted the author to his mistakes.

The author in this case is a halfwit called Nigel Llewellyn. (More later.)


The Welsh Jacobite said...

I recall a private tour of an exhibition of paintings, one of which featured a village church.

The expert charged with enlightening us drew attention to the long shadows thrown by the setting sun and enlarged upon their significance, etc. etc.

I pointed out that, as a mediaeval church would (almost certainly) have been oriented, the shadows had to be those of the rising, not the setting, sun.

The "expert" simply had no idea that churches faced east.

Fr.Ogs said...

...which perhaps illustrates the aptness of the old definition of an expert as, 'someone educated beyond the level of his ability.' (feminists will forgive the masculine Pronoun, if only on the grounds that the apothegm insults males only).

Ben Whitworth said...

The Byzantium exhibition at the RA was a real shocker. The catalogue has a learned discussion of what mystery object St Stephen might be holding - it doesn't occur to them that it might be a stone. Worse still was the manuscript painting labelled as 'Virgin and Child with St Mary Magdelene'. Now, even if you can forgive them for not recognising early Byzantine episcopal dress, surely even blockbuster exhibition curators should know that neither our Lady nor the Magdalen sported a beard.

I am an art historian, as it happens, but they never consult me ...

Anonymous said...

A beard, huh?

Well...I can guess what I'll be thinking about for the rest of the day.