11 October 2014

To Copenhagen again

Privileged, once again, to be invited to sing Mass for the Latin Mass Group in Copenhagen and to deliver a lecture (on the Fiftieth Anniversary of Unitatis Redintegratio), I again had a marvellous weekend. Danish hospitality is immensely warm; and a lead in this is given by Bishop Czeslaw. He seems to know priests and people intimately and individually, and is very much liked. I can see why. On my first visit, last year, I had breakfast with him, preceded by an invitation to celebrate the Extraordinary Form in his private Chapel ... which the Bishop served. After breakfast, he took me on a fascinating tour of some spectacular Lutheran churches. (This year, because of the timing of my flight back, we could only find time for coffee together.) He is a very nice man and a fine example of a model of episcopacy which is simple, warm, immediate, and unprelatical. He was very interested to have an update on the Ordinariate.

I was taken to see two very remarkable exhibitions which stood in fascinating counterpoint to each other (and indicate what a vibrantly international cultural centre Copenhagen is). One was funded by the Lager trade ... I jest: it was in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek ['New Carlsberg Sculpture Gallery']. It was a state-of-the-question exposition of research into the coloration of Classical Greek and Roman statues and architecture. It illustrated the literary and scientific evidence on the question, showing, side by side, original statuary and plaster casts indicating the original painted state of the original. More on this exhibition tomorrow.

The other was the permanent exhibition of the works of the great Danish Neoclassical sculptor Thorvaldsen, in its own large gallery next to the Royal Palace. So in these two exhibitions, ten minutes' walk apart, is demonstrated the contrast between the Neoclassical presentation of the Classical tradition (Thorvaldsen: pure white marble statues and temples); and our present knowledge about how things really were in Classical times (Carlsberg: statues and buildings richly painted in ways that seem almost garish). In a sense, it is the old dialogue between Venice and Florence, coloratura and disegno, Rubens and Poussin. For those who enjoy the Neoclassical, this gallery is an absolute wonderland.

Thorvaldsen lived most of his life in Rome, where he amassed enough wealth to form large collections of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman statues; paintings; and a particularly fine collection of ancient coins. On his return to his native land, he received a more-than-royal reception.

Many readers will know the collection at Petworth of neo-Classical statues by Flaxman, Westmacott, Carew. Many fewer will know the nearby Sussex village of Slindon where, unusually, there is a little Catholic village church. It was there that decades ago I first, so to speak, met Thorvaldsen, in the form of a small monument carved by him to commemorate Anthony Radclyffe, 5th Earl of Newburgh and de jure 7th Earl of Derwentwater. The Earl was a Catholic and of (ultra-)Jacobite ancestry. He died s.p. in 1814; I presume it was his widow Anne who had the plaque carved and placed in the chapel she maintained in Slindon House. She bequeathed money for the building of the church (and another in Chichester, both dedicated to S Richard) to which, apparently, the memorial to her husband was transferred. I had always wondered why an English Catholic nobleman should have been commemorated by the work of a Danish Protestant; now I understand. Thorvaldsen's extensive practice in Rome made him known to English travellers, and the Radclyffes travelled extensively before their return to Slindon. Here we have another example of an interesting phenomenon: Recusant noble and gentry families were not backwoods Squire Westons; they were sophisticated and travelled and not infrequently more cosmopolitan in their instincts and contacts than were the Whig oligarchy (although the Russells were glad to secure work from Thorvaldsen).

(Incidentally, it appears that Thorvaldsen was carving a Three Graces at almost the same time as Canova was carving the famous group so disgracefully evicted from Woburn Abbey and very nearly sold to America. I suppose this was a pure coincidence ... It would be fun to see the two together, and to muse on the respective talents and reputations of each sculptor.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Copenhagen not only has splendid Lutheran churches, but in the lutheran services on Snday morning and sometimes even at evening prayers during the week it is possible to sing wonderful lutheran hymns in large, well-trained congregation accompanied by extraordinary skilled organists, thanks to the Status of a State Church which the lutheran denominations in the northern countries enjoyed until recently. In contrast, in many genuine catholic countries like Italy or Spain, organists have no possibility to survive as church musicians because organ playing usually is not or almost not paid at all. Hopefully, the situation in the Ordinariate is better.