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Painting the Word: Christian Pictures and Their Meanings [Hardcover]

By John Drury (Author)
Our Price $ 38.25  
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Item Number 159482  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   220
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.76" Width: 6.93" Height: 0.94"
Weight:   2.03 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Nov 30, 1999
Publisher   Yale University Press
ISBN  0300077777  
EAN  9780300077773  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
Outline ReviewPainting the Word: Christian Pictures and their Meanings by John Drury, an Anglican priest who is dean of Christ Church, Oxford, is a wise, accessible, elegant, and beautiful book about Christian art. Painting the Word presents dazzling color reproductions of masterpieces by Rembrandt, Raphael, Rubens, Velzquez, Piero della Francesca, Czanne, and others, accompanied by a text that does not merely analyze and explain these pictures but also meditates upon them, and even encourages readers to inhabit them. Drury's introduction explains his project: "This is a book about how Christian paintings convey their messages. It takes on whole paintings. It is not content with just picking symbols out of them for identification. Composition, color, contents (including architecture and landscape as well as figures) and the ways in which the paint itself is handled--all are treated as part and parcel of their religious meanings." Drury justifies his critical approach by pointing out that these pictures come from a time when western civilization and Christianity were coterminous. Contemporary spectators are visitors to this foreign world. However, Drury expertly draws us into this world in light, straightforward language. (Many of the chapters in this book began as sermons.) "Worship and looking at pictures require the same kind of attention," Drury explains, "a mixture of curiosity with a relaxed readiness to let things suggest themselves in their own good time." Put this way, paying attention becomes a calling. And as Drury describes this calling, it is hard to imagine a higher one. --Michael Joseph Gross

Product Description
In this beautifully written book an Anglican priest and theologian looks at religious paintings through the ages and presents them to us in a fresh way. John Drury shows how the Christian images in paintings by artists from Piero della Francesca to Velazquez have a universal quality that fills the works with passion, stories, and meaning, not only for audiences of the past but also for viewers today.

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More About John Drury

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! John Drury is Dean of Christ Church, Oxford.

John Drury currently resides in Oxford. John Drury was born in 1936.

John Drury has published or released items in the following series...

  1. Cambridge English Prose Texts (Paperback)

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Product Categories
1Books > Subjects > Arts & Photography > Art > Art History > Criticism   [1568  similar products]
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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Wonderfully Written but Containing some Odd Theology  Mar 22, 2006
As an ordained Anglican priest and the dean of Christ Church in Oxford, John Drury is by no means an accredited art historian but he is a trained artist and has a knowledgeable background in theology and New Testament exegesis. Depicted as "a book about how Christian paintings convey their messages" (p.ix), Painting the Word uniquely "extends" the "historically iconographical, or picture-describing, approach" to art by incorporating spiritual "meditation," in order to bring the reader through a "contemplative waiting process" of viewing Christian artwork (p. xi-xiii).

John Drury specifies that the purpose of the book is for the reader to take ownership of the paintings and receive `spiritual nourishment' from them. What originally began as `postcard sermons' describing artwork exhibited in the London National Gallery, has developed over time into the authoring of this wonderful book, which is full of photographic illustrations of European Christian paintings from the 14th to 18th century.

The author successfully brings the reader along on a spiritual journey through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Drury groups paintings under each key moment of the salvation story, starting with the Annunciation, to the Nativity, to Christ's baptism and ministry, and culminating with his death and resurrection. In this way, Painting the Word is entirely Christocentric, as it focuses on the sacrificial narrative of Jesus "from conception to resurrection" (p. xiv).

I question whether Drury successfully builds a connection between the artwork itself and the spirituality being conveyed by the artist, because Drury presents some very odd theological concepts throughout his book. I disagree with Drury's constant insinuation that the original painters understood the biblical scenes that they were depicting as "myths." For example, as Drury begins his discussion of paintings depicting the Annunciation, he states, "A dialogue between Mary and the angel follows. It can only be imaginary, but... it is held together over a respectful distance by their mutual regard" (p.41). Drury claims on the very next page that the "moment" of the Annunciation is thanks to the "imagination" of St Luke and St John. Is Drury actually insinuating that the dialogue between Mary and the angel was only a fantasy? Would the artists of the Annunciation paintings really see their portraits as depicting a mythical scene? If so, then a plethora of Christian artists from the 14th to 17th centuries must have believed that Christianity was nothing more than a "myth", as Drury repeatedly refers to sacred Tradition as "myth" throughout the book (cf. p.48, 89, 114). It is more likely that Drury is imposing his own view upon the reader rather than objectively bringing out the artist's intended spirituality.

A more detailed review is available on my website:
Glorious images, beautiful ideas  Dec 30, 2005
This book is without doubt one of the more beautifully prepared and printed books in my collection. Done by the Yale University Press in association with the National Gallery of London, virtually every page is a treasure. There are nearly two hundred full-colour-process reproductions of artworks throughout the text, and every page (not just the colour plates) are heavy bond, high-gloss stock that shows the ink and colour with vibrancy and depth.

John Drury spent a career at both Cambridge and Oxford dealing in matters of theology, ecclesiology, liturgy, and art. I discovered Drury's book while attending a course at my own seminary on the church and the arts, and kept finding myself frustrated at the rapid pace we would go through topics (a frustration I know the professor teaching the course shared - how does one do justice to 2000 years of music, architecture, and art in a mere 15 sessions?). I sought out supplemental materials to help fill out the outline, and Drury's text serves the purpose in many ways.

Drury states his purpose early in the text. `This is a book about how Christian paintings convey their messages. It takes on whole paintings. It is not content with just picking symbols out of them for identification. Composition, colour, contents (including architecture and landscape as well as figures) and the ways in which the paint itself is handled - all are treated as part and parcel of their religious meanings.' This is a holy and holistic approach.

Drury adopts a kind of picture-describing approach (one that he terms `historically iconographical'). This involves absorbing details while understanding context and material. This is the same kind of attention that worship requires (and indeed, the Eastern church has always had this kind of physical artistic interplay with the tradition of use of icons for prayer, meditation and worship purposes) - it requires an openness to experience and feeling while also benefitting from understanding and guidance.

Major artists and works studied in detail in this text include the work of Tiepolo (c. 1750s), the Wilton Diptych (anonymous, c. 1390s), Titian (c. 1510-40s), Duccio (c. 1310s), Filippo Lippi (c. 1450s), Poussin (c. 1630-50s), Rembrandt (c. 1640s), Piero della Francesca (c. 1450-70s), Caravaggio (c. 1600s), Rubens (c. 1630s), Velazquez (c. 1610s), Cezanne (c. 1900s), and others. Most presentations begin by showing the whole work, then proceeding to look at individual characteristics or highlights often pulled aside in side images or isolated for greater emphasis. The text and artwork is arranged in good pattern throughout the text.

Throughout his text, Drury makes a repeated call for care, meditation and attention to be given to the artwork as well as the response to the artwork. He makes that statement that we should stay in front of the images `longer than people usually do' - noticing in museums, art shops, churches and other places that people tend to shuffle past rather than give attention to the most stunning and sublime works of art. Drury draws in history, theology, philosophy, literature, biblical references and images, and other cultural and contextual references to make the experience of these works a full and profound one. This is not a book to be read quickly or glanced over lightly.

Drury includes a narrative annotated bibliography rather than a simple list; he provides both a general bibliography for the entire text as well as a selected bibliography for each chapter/topic.

This is a wonderful book, a great gift for oneself or for others. It is particularly good for those who want a deeper experience and understanding of the way in which art has and can interact and enhance one's relationship with Christianity and its message.
A much needed visual rhetoric on Christian Themes  Oct 10, 2005
Reasoned analysis involves dissection of statements and dissection of images. The dissection is needed to detect evidence or to expose the lack thereof. The reason analysis of images is needed is that all of the images are not natural. They are iconic based on conventions (like language) and therefore Christian images are signs. The discipline to investigate them is not the neuropsychology of perception but semiotics, the science of signs. Here we have an excellent semiotic rhetoric of Christian images informing us of the meaning of the signs and the meaning behind the images given to us by an expert in both religion (John Drury is a priest) and in the history of art. The cross, the scourging pillar, the spear and the sponge on a cane -all these have meaning. Particularly interesting was Chapter three with the dissection of the different presentations of the annunciation by Duccio as compared to Lippi and Poussin and the biblical quotes that supported each artist's view of what happened and how it happened.
sharing an artists vision  Feb 18, 2004
John Drury is an art historian who uses his vocation as a priest to explain the subtlety of meaning that lies hidden in the symbolism of religious paintings in London's National Gallery.

Anyone how has looked at such a painting but not "seen" it, would do well to read this wonderful book and share the insights that the author offers. Paintings that I would have passed by with scarcely a second glance, are revealed within a context of their time, with reference to their history, the world view of the artist, the common and uncommon symbolism employed and much else besides.

It gives the possibility of sharing a visual language that we have lost and enables us to understand what it is about a picture that we sense is great, without comprehending why that might be.

It is hard to think that anyone who has ever visited an art gallery could not profit from reading this book and has certainly given me the enthusiasm to go and look at the pictures for myself.

A truly outstanding guide to Christian paintings  Oct 5, 2002
Painting The Word is a truly outstanding guide to Christian paintings and their meanings brings art and spirituality together in an inspiring coverage. More than a history of painting, Painting The Word discusses how Christian images reflected and influenced Christian civilization as a whole, with a universal quality delivering balanced messages. Color reproductions of significant classic Christian art works appear throughout.

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