New Painted Works of St. Scholastica and St. Benedict

Touching back once again to some new, original painted work, I have been meaning to feature two paintings that were executed by the studio of Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs of saints Benedict and Scholastica which were destined for use within a monastery altarpiece. 

Both works appeal but of the two works I am especially impressed by the one of St. Scholastica as it incorporates a kind of representational idealization in the face that -- to my mind -- helps to detach the portrayed figure from the particular model who sat for the painting. This is a theme I touched on more than a decade ago in an article I published on New Liturgical Movement. There I asked the question of why some contemporary naturalist/representational art came off very well in the context of sacred art, while others came off as overly-familiar and contemporary. To my mind, it clearly had nothing to do with skill and rather much more with style. In that article I speculated:

...generally speaking I believe naturalistic, or representational, art can have two forms or manifestations. One is more literally naturalistic or representational, intent on capturing the particular physical features and characteristics of the person or model in question... The second approach, in which I believe we would categorize sacred art, is also representational but by contrast does not so much aim for this type of realism or naturalism as it intends to convey something deeper, something slightly idealized and in a certain sense, something slightly more abstracted. It's intent is not so much to present an utterly realistic representation of a particular figure or person [sitting before the artist] as it is to additionally represent an idea [or idealized figure] one might say; in a way, one might even say that it precisely avoids being too realistic, too naturalistic or too personal for this reason... I believe it is accurate to say that more representational forms of sacred art do have an iconic quality to them -- or should.

Turning back to the examples in question, I certainly think the example shown here of St. Scholastica especially reflects that to which I was attempting to speak in that article. When you look at the image, one is drawn out of the particular and into something more universal and symbolic; one can suspend disbelief and imagine this being saint in question; it has a certain timeless quality.

The portrait of St. Benedict isn't quite as successful in this same regard -- as I personally find myself struggling a little bit more to perceive this as the saint himself rather than a particular, contemporary man dressed as him -- but that said, I am able to get myself there if only with a little extra work on my part.

Of course, I mention this latter point less in the way of criticism and more by way of continued exploration of what makes sacred art "sacred" -- something I think we are all continuing to explore and re-learn in our contemporary age. I would also note that the study sketch, by comparison, contains the exact qualities of which I speak:

If readers would like the read a bit more about the background of the two works, the artist has published on article on her site which details how they were modeled and detailed. 

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