A new visitor came to the feeding station on the balcony yesterday. It was some sort of parakeet, with a plumage that seemed lit from within by golden light, like a leaf with the sun shining through it. It was so perfectly beautiful. It ate very quietly for 20 minutes or so before disappearing. It was very unlike the noisy mob of maroon and green parakeets that frequent the feeder.
When I looked it up it turned out to have the unfortunate name of “Plain Parakeet.” What an atrocity. I’ve renamed it “Glorious Sunlit-Leaf-Green Parakeet”.
That’s my blurry phone photo. Here are some professional photos and information:
Listening to a Corelli sonata after lunch it occurred to me that nothing else I listen to on a regular basis comes anywhere near that for beauty. The sound of the wrens singing at dawn is possibly second. Silence is right up there. There are some faint sounds of rain or surf drowned out by other noises during the day. At night they can be gently pleasant Most anything else is beautiful only by association (the sound of a friend’s voice, for instance), not in itself; the rest is simply unpleasant: the sounds of metal being cut, hammering, drilling, honking, wheels on cement, loud motors, the harsh voices and jangling music of advertisements, and so on.
Learning some music this morning was pretty.
But the sonatas aren’t even in the same category. What a treasure to be able to listen to something so beautiful. Here’s some example:
Some frustrations in recent years have revolved around an intense desire to make beautiful things running into a lack of skill or time to make them combined with a lack of available skilled people to pay to do them for us. Several friends and I have formed an unofficial ‘atelier’ (the common Brazilian-via-French term for an artist’s studio) where we do all sorts of little projects. The atelier isn’t even in a fixed location, though we sometimes work at each others’ houses and we share materials.
Some recent projects have included: experimenting with making arrangements of artificial flowers, painted gold, in imitation of the metal flowers found on baroque Brazilian altars; making rosaries; designing embroidery for altar linens or chasubles; sewing altar frontals; redoing the decoration on old chasubles; and making robes and dresses for religious statues.
Some of the work has been partially outsourced to shops, but there we frequently run into our own problem. The professionals are so overburdened and behind schedule that it can take many months just to hear that they haven’t yet started on your project…
Most of the professionals are family businesses, with a mom or dad being the main artisan, and the kids and spouse helping out with simpler tasks, accounting or deliveries. In other words, there’s really just one person doing all the work, and they don’t want to turn away anyone who wants work done. There’s also a tendency here to give priority to higher status people or people with urgent deadlines (ordinations, for instance) so the line is constantly being jumped by priority clients, leaving others in a never-ending tail end. Thus the desire to do it my darn self…
I then realize my own line is just as slow that of the pros. In a fantasy life I’d have a workshop full of diligent elves making all my ideas to order. It feels a bit of a shame to have a head so full of ideas and not enough hands or skill to make them.
I was startled one day to see a tree on a city street in Spain (possibly in Oviedo) that looked just like one of the stylized trees in a medieval miniature. It had been so tightly pruned that it was no more than a few meters high and had pompoms of leaves at the end of short branches. It looked almost exactly like this tree in a depiction of Moses before the Burning Bush. I’d assumed the pom-pom tree was a whimsical invention of the artist. Instead it turned out to be a depiction of a type of pruning.
Many medieval images depict scenes in towns or in gardens – domesticated landscapes. I expected there to be a lot of small, symmetrical trees there, since that’s what trees look like in that context. But what would trees look like when depicted in wilderness settings?
I was gently surprised yesterday to notice how many trees have very even, symmetrical shapes. Some are scraggly, squiggly, ziggy-zaggy, yes, but many have a species-specific crown shape that can be spotted even in a forested landscape seen at a distance. One just off to my left in that moment had a perfectly even curved crown. Another had puffs of leaves at the end of each branch; another was not just rounded on the top of the crown, but round all the way around, making a lollipop sort of shape like a child might draw. Then there are the ferny, pointy, skinny, flat and dozens of other shapes.
I thought I’d illustrate this post with some ‘trees in art’ found on wikimedia commons, but many of the paintings that resulted from that search featured dramatic trees that stood out in unusual ways – half dead, gnarly, enormous and craggy, twisted by the wind, and so on.
Here’s an example:
Or, looking back a couple centuries, to make sure it wasn’t mostly a 19th or 20th century phenomena:
I lost the original post, so am jumping ahead in what was originally a lengthier (and probably more tedious) thought process: I began to wonder if nature in and of itself, such as a featured dramatic tree, was a later development in Western art, and whether early depictions of trees in landscapes or as features would show a similar attention to dramatic trees.
So off to poke around some medieval art and see what I find. I’ll especially look for scenes that do not take place in a town or in a palace garden, to see how wild trees are depicted.
As I was working on the previous post I wrote about how the poetry and old language reminded me of ornament on clothing. In fact, I vaguely remembered some snippets of Scripture that refer to “variety”, with this meaning of elaborate ornament. When I went searching, I found this:
“The daughters of kings have delighted thee in thy glory. The queen stood on thy right hand, in gilded clothing; surrounded with variety.” [Psalms 44:10]
In fact, I was swept into the beauty of the beginning of that Psalm, too, which is (was) chanted at various times in the ancient liturgy of the Church, such as at the clothing of religious sisters, or at the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and other Marian feasts, and at the feasts of some Holy Virgins, such as Saint Lucy. The chant is titled Eructavit cor meum, if you wish to search further on the subject, you can use this Chant database or other online resources. It goes:
 My heart hath uttered a good word: I speak my works to the king; My tongue is the pen of a scrivener that writeth swiftly. [Eructavit cor meum verbum bonum; dico ego opera mea regi. Lingua mea calamus scribae velociter scribentis.]
 Thou art beautiful above the sons of men: grace is poured abroad in thy lips; therefore hath God blessed thee for ever. [Speciosus forma prae filiis hominum, diffusa est gratia in labiis tuis; propterea benedixit te Deus in aeternum.] (Source)
And then a bit later is the part about variety (the whole psalm is gloriously beautiful, I am struggling not to post it all!):
 Myrrh and stacte and cassia perfume thy garments, from the ivory houses: out of which [Myrrha, et gutta, et casia a vestimentis tuis, a domibus eburneis; ex quibus delectaverunt te]
 The daughters of kings have delighted thee in thy glory. The queen stood on thy right hand, in gilded clothing; surrounded with variety. [filiae regum in honore tuo. Astitit regina a dextris tuis in vestitu deaurato, circumdata varietate.] (And there’s the varietate that I was remembering.)
 Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thy ear: and forget thy people and thy father’s house.[Audi, filia, et vide, et inclina aurem tuam; et obliviscere populum tuum, et domum patris tui.] (You might recognize this as an antiphon chant often found in Marian liturgies and the Masses of Holy Virgins.)
 And the king shall greatly desire thy beauty; for he is the Lord thy God, and him they shall adore. [Et concupiscet rex decorem tuum, quoniam ipse est Dominus Deus tuus, et adorabunt eum.]
In any case, in the interest of comparison I was going to post a modern translation, too, but I was appalled to find that it is so changed that though for some scholarly purposes it may be ‘more accurate’ linguistically it destroys my relationship with the Holy Word. When centuries of chant, art, poetry, commentary, and prayer and based on a specific holy text, and millions of believers have lived and loved that text, to toss it out and replace it with something ‘more accessible’ or ‘more accurate’ completely misses the point.
In the interests of love of my Holy Mother Church, here are the two aforementioned antiphons in a variety of musical settings:
Look at the delicate dance of these not-so-foreign words, from an Anglo-Norman text. The language is a playful blend of what are now English and French. It really is near enough to be comprehensible, if one already knows the subject matter. These variations on languages remind me of the ornament of clothing with gold, lace and precious stones – something that takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary.
Here’s a small example, from the site anglo-norman.net, which includes a dictionary and a variety of texts for your enjoyment.
The first text is: “a 14th century copy of a 13th century Anglo-Norman MS. containing the Apocalypse of St. John with a commentary, followed by a dissertation on The Seven Deadly Sins. This copy, which I have called The Giffard Manuscript, exhibits the Apocalypse and Commentary in rhyming couplets…”
Rhyming couplets? Behold:
1520 ‘E li secund aungele suna sa busine, E ausi come un grant munt se encline Ardaunt de fu e est envé Deske en la mer e tresbusché, 1524 E la tierce part de la mer est fete en pou de hure Saunc, e muert la tierce part de la creature Ke aveit alme en la mer, E la tierce part des niefs i vi joe periller.’ 1528 Le businer al secund aungele e le sun Signefie ke la grant predicaciun Ke fu primes a Jueus par les apostles fete, Si en est pus de eus as paens retrete. 1532 Çoe ke li grant muntz ardaunt Est envee en la mer parfunde e graunt Signefie ke li deables orguillus, Ki est enreveres e ennuuius, 1536 Aveit leissur de nuire en ceste munde, Ke est signefié par la mer ke surunde. (Source)
Which one might be able to see is a restating of the Scripture: “And the second angel sounded the trumpet: and as it were a great mountain, burning with fire, was cast into the sea, and the third part of the sea became blood: And the third part of those creatures died, which had life in the sea, and the third part of the ships was destroyed.” (Revelations 8:8-9, from the Douay-Rheims translation, available here among other places.) And this is then followed by an interpretation, in rhyme, that goes on for a few stanzas before the next section of Scripture is recited. Especially in that it is rhymed, this seems a text intended for recitation out loud.
Reading this, and reading the introductory material (at the top of the same page) left me a bit in awe. I thought about the attention to detail and creativity and flourishing in the all the arts that have sprung from our faith over the centuries. Which also led me to a sorrow that I will comment in another post.