The Archivist’s Nook: The Encuentros – More Than Just a Meeting

June 19th, 2022 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the first Encuentro and, as it’s currently Hispanic heritage month, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on one of the events that have held an important part in shaping the modern Catholic Hispanic and Latino communities.

The word encuentro means ‘meeting’ in Spanish, but the Encuentros that have taken place periodically in the last fifty years have been far more than just a simple meeting. Leaders of the First Encuentro interpreted the word to mean a ‘coming together’ and this is exactly what they hoped to do for Hispanic and Latino Catholics. Initiated in part as a response to Vatican II reforms by a community that felt they were not being heard, the Encuentros were meant to provide a way to amplify the many voices, by combining them into one.

A liturgy celebration being held as part of the first Encuentro.

The First Encuentro (or Prima Encuentro) was held at Trinity college in 1972. Its results were encouraging. The Ad Hoc Committee charged with accessing the Encuentro document approved (at least conditionally) 50 of the 74 recommendations, with all the social concerns being accepted. According to Luis A. Tampe, “The First Encuentro viewed the Church as a work in progress and envisioned the Holy Spirit as guiding the Hispanic faithful so that the First Encuentro could be considered an expression of the sensus fidelium Hispanorum (the sense of the Hispanic faithful) and their reading of and responding to the signs of the times.”

A Poster for the second Encuentro to be held at Trinity College. The logo on this poster was used in the third Encuentro as well.

The Second Encuentro, which took place in 1977, built upon many of the themes and resolutions of the First Encuentro, while also looking for ways in which to improve and grow its vision. Some notable additions to the Second Encuentro were the creation of a Youth Panel, to address concerns of the younger generation falling out of the faith, and discussions over how to ameliorate the plight of migrant workers, who were given little to no protection from U.S. law. 

The Second Encuentro has been criticized by some as being somewhat chaotic and disorganized. However Pablo Sedillo, the head of the Secretariat of the Spanish Speaking of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, pushes back on this claim, saying of the disarray caused by so many unregistered people deciding to attend, “ I don’t attribute that to a lack of organization. I attribute that to just a community that was absolutely hungry to participate and tell [Church leaders] in a public forum how they felt about the Church. I really don’t see anything wrong with that.” Even disorganized as it was, the Second Encuentro provided an opportunity for Hispanic Catholics to have their voices heard by the Catholic Church.

An image of people demonstrating a dance as part of one of the events held at the third Encuentro.

In 1985, after many months of pre-planning, the Third Encuentro took place at Catholic University. Its focus was on growing inclusion, which sparked some fairly controversial debates. There were even discussions on whether or not women ought to be ordained. Excitement for the event sparked many other activities around which people could celebrate their faith, such as a pilgrimage to Guadalupe, which took place in 1984. Additionally, several smaller meetings were held after the Encuentro to insure that goals were being met and themes stayed relevant.

Continuing the prior themes of growing inclusion, the fourth Encuentro (or ‘Encuentro 2000’ as it was referred to due to its falling around the millennium) was designed as a means of increasing solidarity amongst other minority groups within the Catholic Church. Encuentro 2000 was as much a celebration of culture as it was a call to action.

The Encuentros are still happening; the last one was as recent as 2015. For many, they represent a unified effort for Hispanic and Latino Catholics to come together and make their voices heard. They brought out leaders in the community, and gave the people a sense of empowerment. They are a testament to a community committed to their culture and their faith, and to making sure others are admitted to it as well.

To see Encuentro materials housed in the Catholic University archives, go to the finding aid of the division of Cultural Diversity, part of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Deck, A.F., SJ (2022). The Hispanic/Latino National Pastoral Encuentro Processes: Harbingers of Pastoral Conversion and Synodality. American Catholic Studies 133(2), 97-109. doi:10.1353/acs.2022.0035.
Tampe, L.A. (2014). Encuentro Nacional Hispano de Pastoral (1972-1985): An Historical and Ecclesiological Analysis [Unpublished doctoral dissertation/master’s thesis]. The Catholic University of America. https://cuislandora.wrlc.org/islandora/object/etd%3A417/datastream/PDF/view.

Who Programmed the World’s First Modern Computer?

Have you ever thought about who programmed the first modern computer? Kathy Kleiman would like to introduce us to the six women who programmed the ENIAC, the first modern computer, at the end of World War II, in her book, Proving Ground: The Untold Story of the Six Women Who Programmed the World’s First Modern Computer. Check out our other scientific works in our Popular Reading collection. Titles range from commentary, fiction, historical fiction, mystery, suspense, non-fiction, current affairs, science, social issues, and politics. Happy Autumn!

Our collection is on the first floor of Mullen Library in the Reference Reading Room.

autumn

giphy.com

Hold your cursor over the Title to see a short description of the book, or click to view the catalog record. The status of the book is shown beside the call number.

Title Author Status
Proving Ground: The Untold Story of the Six Women Who Programmed the World’s First Modern Computer Kleiman, Kathy
The It Girl Ware, Ruth
Our Unfinished March: The Violent Past and Imperiled Future of the Vote-a History, a Crisis, a Plan Holder, Eric & Koppelman, Sam
Star Wars: Shadow of the Sith Christopher, Adam
How to Raise an Antiracist Kendi, Ibram X.
Miss Aldridge Regrets Hare, Louise
Other Names for Love Soomro, Taymour
Upgrade Crouch, Blake
The Sewing Girl’s Tale: A Story of Crime and Consequences in Revolutionary America Sweet, John Wood
Gangland Hogan, Chuck
The Awoken Howes, Katelyn Monroe
Do No Harm Pobi, Robert
I’m Glad My Mom Died McCurdy, Jennette
Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe Maraniss, David
Stay Awake Goldin, Megan
Diana, William & Harry Patterson, James & Mooney, Chris
Elizabeth Finch Barnes, Julian
Mindreader: Find Out What People Really Think, What They Really Want, and Who They Really Are Lieberman, David J.
Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America’s Overdose Crisis Macy, Beth

For more great information from CUA Libraries, follow us on Facebook and Twitter: Mullen Library Facebook; @CUAlibraries

Appointment of New Lima Library Director

Provost Aaron Dominguez is pleased to announce that Livia Lopes, JD has been appointed the new Director of the Oliveira Lima Library of The Catholic University of America beginning July 1st, 2022. On August 1st, Livia’s appointment as the Director of the Institute for Latin American and Iberian Studies (ILAIS) also began. She will serve in these positions concurrently.

Livia Lopes graduated from the Rio de Janeiro State University’s Law School (Brazil) with J.D. and M.A. (summa cum laude) degrees. She also attended the University of Coimbra (Portugal) and the University of Salamanca (Spain) as a visiting student with academic distinction; the Ohio State University (USA), and Georgetown University (USA) as a visiting researcher. Before joining Catholic University, Livia served as an Assistant Director and Visiting Scholar at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs, affiliated with the Brazil/Latin American Program. She came to Catholic University in 2020 to lead the Latin American and Iberian Initiatives in the Office of Global Strategies. OGS advances academic programs, projects, and partnerships related to Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula. Livia Lopes is a Brasilianista, a researcher on Latin American and Brazilian studies, with concentrations in law, politics and public policy. 

Adopting Open Educational Resources into your Course Material: How to Begin?

Faculty are invited to join the Washington Research Library Consortium Textbook Affordability Working Group on Wednesday, September 28th for a brief introduction to open textbooks and a panel discussion featuring faculty members who teach with them. Attendees will have the opportunity to earn a $200 stipend by posting a review of an open textbook!

Register today! – https://forms.gle/5EfzTzdSHRA9bHPS9 (Zoom link will be sent the day before the event to registered attendees).

Learn more about the event and Open Textbooks at https://open.wrlc.org.

Upcoming Events

October 13th, 2022 11:00 AM Faculty Perspectives: You’ve Already Done This!: Creating and Publishing OER Courseware
November 2nd, 2022 12:00 PM Faculty Perspectives: Use Only What you Want: Adapting and Remixing OER
November 16th, 2022 12:00 PM Faculty Perspectives: Choosing a Creative Commons License for your OER: Where to Begin?
December 6th, 2022 12:00 PM Save the Date!

Start the Year with a Big Bang

Ever wonder what happened before the Big Bang? Laura Mersini-Houghton, an expert on the multiverse and the origins of the universe offers a new account of the events before the Big Bang in Before the Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe and What Lies Beyond. Check out our other scientific works in our Popular Reading collection. Titles range from commentary, fiction, historical fiction, mystery, suspense, non-fiction, current affairs, science, social issues, and politics.

Our collection is on the first floor of Mullen Library in the Reference Reading Room.

(giphy.com)

Hold your cursor over the Title to see a short description of the book, or click to view the catalog record. The status of the book is shown beside the call number.

Title Author Status
Before the Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe and What Lies Beyond Mersini-Houghton, Laura
Geography Is Destiny: Britain and the World: a 10,000-year History Morris, Ian
The Hop: A Novel Clarke, Diana
An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us Yong, Ed
Butler to the World: How Britain Helps the World’s Worst People Launder Money, Commit Crimes, and Get Away With Anything Bullough, Oliver
The Divorce Colony: How Women Revolutionized Marriage and Found Freedom on the American Frontier White, April
Life Ceremony Murata, Sayaka. Trans by Ginny Tapley Takemori.
Portrait of an Unknown Woman Silva, Daniel
Rise: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now Tur, Katy
Ashton Hall Belfer, Lauren
Gun Barons: The Weapons That Transformed America and the Men Who Invented Them Bainbridge, John, Jr.
The Locked Room Griffiths, Elly
The Poet’s House Thompson, Jean
The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us Brusatte, Steve
A Way Out of No Way: A Memoir of Truth, Transformation, and the New American Story Warnock, Raphael G.
The Self-Healing Mind: An Essential Five-step Practice for Overcoming Anxiety and Depression, and Revitalizing Your Life Brown, Gregory Scott.
Sisters in Resistance: How a German Spy, a Banker’s Wife, and Mussolini’s Daughter Outwitted the Nazis Mazzeo, Tilar J.
Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation Villarosa, Linda
The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People Mead, Walter Russell
Battling the Big Lie: How Fox, Facebook, and the MAGA Media Are Destroying America Pfeiffer, Dan
Funny Business: The Legendary Life and Political Satire of Art Buchwald Hill, Michael. Foreword by Christopher Buckley.

For more great information from CUA Libraries, follow us on Facebook and Twitter: Mullen Library Facebook; @CUAlibraries

The Archivist’s Nook: Frances Nevins – Gifted Academic, Loving Wife, Carmelite Nun

Cover image, Frances Nevins: Mid-Twentieth Century Carmelite by Joan Ward Mullaney, published 2009. F Nevins Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

Our guest blogger is Sarah Zentner, a doctoral student in English at the Catholic University of America. She is researching the sacramental imagination in 19th-century British and American fiction, as well as the best chai tea latte in Washington, D.C.  

Good news for first-year students (and upperclassmen, graduate students, and faculty) who feel they don’t have their lives “figured out” just yet: you’re in good company. Frances Nevins (1930-1980), later known as Sr. Christine Marie of the Holy Spirit, OCD, lived several callings during her short life: gifted academic, loving wife, and finally, Carmelite nun. 

After Nevins’ death in December 1980, her longtime friend Joan Ward Mullaney, former Catholic University professor and Dean of the National Catholic School of Social Service, began gathering materials for a biography. But her quest to tell the story of Frances’ life didn’t end with the book’s publication in 2009. In August 2012, on the strength of the numerous personal testimonies, documents, correspondence, and spiritual writings she’d spent the last three decades collecting,  Mullaney formally opened the petition for Frances Nevins’ beatification and canonization in the Catholic Church.

F. Nevins Connecticut College Yearbook Photo, 1951. F Nevins Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

In this blog, we offer a brief sketch of the “very unusual holy person” that was Frances Nevins, as an encouragement for all those who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up.

Gifted Academic

Nevins graduated from Connecticut College for Women in 1951. Professor Edward Cranz, who supervised her honors thesis on Nicholas of Cusa, called her “the most brilliant student I encountered in a lifetime of teaching,” while the former president of the American Cusanus Society, Gerald Christianson, declared her “clearly gifted” and apt for academic life. After earning her master’s degree in 1952 from Radcliffe College at Harvard, however, Nevins ceased her academic pursuits.

Loving Wife

F. Nevins and her husband, Paul Cawein, 1954. F Nevins Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

Frances Nevins married Paul Cawein in an Episcopal ceremony in 1953. In a 1954 letter to friend Joy Nicholson, Paul writes that “…we are very happy. I just read back over the letter you sent to me before our wedding telling me of the fine wife I was getting. When I read it the first time, I thought that you were right, but now I can only say amen.” Shortly after their marriage, however, Frances claimed the Catholic faith in which she was baptized, while Paul refused to have their marriage blessed in the Church and would not agree to raise their future children as Catholics. Citing their “irreconcilable” religious differences, the couple split in 1955. Frances sought (and was granted) a divorce and an annulment in 1958.

Carmelite Nun

F. Nevins (Sr. Christine Marie of the Holy Spirit, OCD) on the day of her final vow profession, Carmel of Schenectady, Oct. 8, 1965. F Nevins Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

Drawn more and more to the Catholic faith, Frances felt a spiritual calling to consecrate her life to God after her divorce. Thinking at first that she wanted to use her intellectual gifts in the service of others, she sought admission to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in New York, but soon realized she preferred a contemplative vocation to an active one. She entered the Schenectady Carmel in 1960 and professed her final vows in October 1965. For the next fifteen years, she lived a quiet life dedicated to prayer and the service of her community. She died on December 16, 1980, leaving behind a trove of spiritual writings that attest to a life of great virtue and love.

It may be many years before Frances Nevins is declared a Catholic saint, but in the meantime, she is a kind of “patron” for everyone who feels discouraged by a future that seems unclear, and an inspiration to those of us who still aren’t sure of what we’re called to do with our lives.

For more information, or to learn more about how to access the Frances Nevins collection, please email Special Collections at lib-archives@cua.edu. 

The Archivist’s Nook: How the Terracotta Madonna and Child Taught Me About the Renaissance

Terracotta Madonna and Child, Antonio Rosselino, 1550-70. Catholic University Special Collections.

The following is a selection from Catholic University student Alessia Pecorella’s class paper on the terracotta Madonna and Child, a piece of Renaissance-era art held by Special Collections at the University. Ms. Pecorella’s piece was submitted as an assignment for Professor Tiffany Hunt’s course ART 272: The Cosmopolitan Renaissance and edited by Special Collections Archivist Shane MacDonald. The students used art from the University collections for their papers.

Before ART 272 Cosmopolitan Renaissance, I thought the Renaissance was just a definition in my high school history textbook. But throughout the semester, I have realized there is more than meets the eye during this influential period. The object I picked to study this semester was the terracotta Madonna and Child, created by Antonio Rossellino.

The terracotta Madonna and Child, according to the Catholic University Special Collections, is a plaque of the Madonna and Child in terracotta, encased in a tabernacle frame. Antonio Rossellino created the object between 1540-70. The object’s current location is in a Curley Hall Annex stairwell chapel. According to the object’s file, Frederick Jambes donated the piece, although there is correspondence with a Miss Jessie Jebiley as the potential donor. Based on the provenance history explained in the object file there is a lot of information of how the object got to campus, but not a lot of information about how the piece made its way to America in the first place.

Antonio Rosselino

The object’s creator, Antonio Rosselino, was born in Florence, Italy and is a “notable and prolific Italian Renaissance sculptor who was the youngest brother of the architect and sculptor Bernardo Rossellino” (Encyclopædia Britannica). Rossellino’s expertise was in portraits and combining architecture and sculpting. His greatest accomplishment is the Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal in San Miniato al Monte, located outside of Florence. The figures Rosselino formed over time are recognized for their “strong form and intense characterization” (Encyclopædia Britannica) He is known for his recurring depictions of Madonna and Child, with examples displayed in museums all around the country.

Madonna and Child with Angels, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (left), and Madonna and Child, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (right).

One example is his marble Madonna and Child with Angels, located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Another is Rossellino’s marble Madonna and Child, located in the National Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. Comparing these two works with CatholicU’s terracotta piece by the same artist is fascinating, but by looking at another artist’s Madonna and Child piece, one can see the diverse and global influences on the Renaissance. An example of this can be comparing Duccio’s Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels to Rossellino’s terracotta Madonna and Child.

Duccio’s Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels.

The significant difference between these two pieces is that one is a painting, and another is a sculpture, but let us compare how Mary and Jesus are depicted in these pieces. In Duccio’s piece, Mary and Jesus, he “imitated two different tiraz textiles and the drapery of the back of Mary’s throne reflect contemporary Islamic fabrics used to furnish palaces and tents” (Mack, 2002). Tiraz is a line of Arabic calligraphy on the top sleeves of a robe or a hat. Duccio’s depiction of Mary and Jesus was rare in Italian art and caught positive attention in decades to come. While in Rossellino’s piece, Mary and Jesus are sitting in a very similar position, but their clothing is different. Their clothing has no tiraz, and it utilizes three primary colors of red, blue, and gold and is more simply draped. Mary and Jesus’ facial expressions are alike in these two pieces. Both figures express a sense of peace and calmness. Even as far as the detail of Mary looking over her left shoulder down at Jesus and Jesus looking into the distance is significant – it shows the artists may have been trying to create the same perspective. These two pieces are Renaissance art with elements of humanism and Catholicism represented, but also express the diversity of cultural influences on art in this period.

To dive even further into why The terracotta Madonna and Child is defined as Renaissance art is to explain what materials make up the piece. The object’s material is terracotta. When I initially thought of Renaissance sculptures, I thought only marble was used, but that is wrong. Various materials were used throughout the period to create beautiful sculptures. Terracotta is ceramic pottery used to make pots, pipes, bricks, and sculptures created by baking clay. The word terracotta in Italian means “baked earth”. Terracotta is thousands of years old, and one of its famous examples is the Terracotta Army in China. Classical antiquity was a favored trait of the Renaissance, and terracotta was a way to represent it. Italian sculptors in this time were known for using marble and bronze, but when demand for commissions increased, artists needed to produce artwork quicker and turned to terracotta. Specifically, Florentine artists like Rosselini were fond of utilizing this material. When using it, artists shape a three-dimensional form with their hands and instruments that is made hard and brittle when cooked in a kiln. The terracotta can be modified after drying by carving or engraving. Such works can range in color from dull ochre to a bright red, and were often painted to look like marble or bronze. These techniques traveled, and people all over Europe began to utilize terracotta for works of art.

Basilica of San Marco, Venice.

Finally, the terracotta Madonna and Child has a tabernacle frame around the sculpture. This frame’s design is one of the many details that define the terracotta Madonna and Child as a Renaissance object. A tabernacle frame is a form of an architectural picture frame that emerged in Venice and Tuscany in the fifteenth century. It was composed of a pair of pilasters that bordered the picture aperture, supported a frieze and pediment, and rested on a base. Even though tabernacle frames have similar shapes, I think the shape of the dome-like top of the tabernacle frame reminds me of the architecture of the Basilica of San Marco located in Venice. The design similarities are a connection I believe makes sense because tabernacle frames originated from Venice. In my opinion, the pillars of the frame invoke the columns of the Basilica. The tabernacle frame of the terracotta Madonna and Child is an identifiable feature of the object that connects it back to the Renaissance.

The terracotta Madonna and Child is one of the thousands of pieces of art created during the Renaissance. Through this one object, one can learn more about the Renaissance. The use of terracotta, the humanizing of Jesus and Mary, and the architecture behind the tabernacle frame all play a role in connecting this piece with the broader Renaissance. Created in sixteenth century Florence, it eventually was donated to the Catholic University in the twentieth century. And while displayed on the campus, it taught me about the Renaissance and I hope it can teach everyone else a little bit about it too.

Works Cited

“Antonio Rossellino.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Accessed March 31, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Antonio-Rossellino.

Belting, Hans, and Deborah Lucas Schneider. Essay. In Florence & Baghdad: Renaissance Art and Arab Science, 41–43. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University,2011.

Farago, Claire J. “Chapter 3.” Essay. In Reframing the Renaissance: Visual Culture in Europe and Latin America, 1450-1650, 69–70. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.

Fliegel, Stephen N. “The Terracottas of Renaissance Florence.” La Gazzetta Italiana. Accessed April 3, 2022. https://www.lagazzettaitaliana.com/history-culture/7845-the-terracottas-of-renaissance-florence.

Mack, Rosamond. “Oriental Script in Italian Paintings.” Essay. In Bazaar to Piazza: Islamic Trade and Italian Art, 1300-1600, 56–59. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Magner, James A. Letter to Mr. Leon Medina. Washington, D.C: The Catholic University of America, January 17, 1961.

McLeod, Alice H. Letter to Mr. Leon Medina. Washington, D.C: The Catholic University of America, December 28, 1960.

Ousterhout, Robert. Journal. “Flexible Geography and Transportable Topography,” The Real and Ideal Jerusalem in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Art, 393-404. (published as Jewish Art 23-24 [1997-98])

Rosselino, Antonio. “Madonna and Child with Angels.” Metmuseum.org. Accessed April 1, 2022. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/192716.

Rossellino, Antonio. “Madonna and Child.” Art Object Page. Accessed April 1, 2022.  https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.469.html.

“Tabernacle Frame.” Oxford Reference. Accessed April 3, 2022. https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803101822637.

The Terracotta Madonna and Child. “ACUA Museum Collections New Museum Collection.” Washington D.C, 1960.

“What Is Terracotta?” Wonderopolis. Accessed April 2, 2022. https://www.wonderopolis.org/wonder/what-is-terracotta.

 

The Archivist’s Nook: Unlocking the History Behind Quentin Metsys’s (Massys) ‘Pieta’ at Catholic University

Quentin Metsys (Massys), Pieta, late 15th or early 16th century, oil on wood. Special Collections, Catholic University of America.

The following is a selection from Catholic University student Christopher Vitale’s class paper on the Pieta, a piece of Renaissance-era art held by Special Collections at the University. Mr. Vitale’s piece was submitted as an assignment for Professor Tiffany Hunt’s course ART 272: The Cosmopolitan Renaissance and edited by University Archivist William J. Shepherd. The students used art from the University collections for their papers.

I was a little anxious at being informed that I would be required to select and study an object of Renaissance art from the Catholic University Special Collections. I reflected that I am a studio art major so maybe it would be a good idea to choose an object that relates to my artistic practice. I strongly identify as a painter, and specifically as an oil painter, as it is truly my passion. I also realized the spiritual nature of this project. Before all else, I am a Roman Catholic. Expressing and engaging with my religious beliefs is both the foremost joy and the pinnacle duty of my life. A marriage between my artistic attractions and my religious objectives yielded the ultimate result of my selection: the late 15th or early 16th century Pieta by Quentin Metsys (or Massys), a stunning work of Christian-based Northern Renaissance oil on wood painting.

Letter from Arthur Connolly to Thomas J. Shahan, June 1, 1924. Special Collections, Catholic University.

The accession file from Special Collections reveals the historical information relating to the Pieta’s provenance. Of particular interest is a handwritten letter addressed to Bishop Thomas J. Shahan, the fourth rector of the University and an auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Baltimore, sent by Rev. Arthur T. Connolly on December 17, 1919. Connolly assured Bishop Shahan that he would send “the painting of the Virgin [and] dead Christ by Quentin [Metsys]” shortly. Five days later, on December 22, the Bishop’s secretary returned a letter confirming that the Bishop’s office had received Connolly’s note and would “look out for the shipments referred to.” These details help us answer fundamental questions that should accompany any inquisitive mind when viewing or thinking about a historical piece of art, such as, “Why is this Renaissance painting here? How did it get here? Where did it come from?”

Quentin Metsys (Massys), St. Anne Altarpiece, 1507-08, oil on wood, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels.

Looking more closely at those handwritten letters reveals additional clues, though it is nearly impossible to recognize every word due to Arthur Connolly’s scribbled handwriting, akin to cracking the code of ancient hieroglyphs. In a secondary letter dated June 1, 1924, Connolly explained that he would again send art objects, among these “an ivory figure of St. Ann and the Blessed Virgin, an Irish made silver crucifix and pedestal… and, interestingly, “a very fine painting of Saint Peter by Guercino” (i.e. the distinguished Italian Baroque artist Giovanni Francesco Barbieri). By encouraging Shahan to use the Pieta as a point of measurement, Connolly underscored his perception of the elevated nature of the Metsys piece and demonstrated that he was intent on presenting Shahan, and the wider University community, with ‘the cream of the crop’ in respect to historical artworks. The fact that Connolly and Shahan were writing and sending successive, handwritten notes to each other, and that Connolly addressed Bishop Shahan with affectionate language suggests that the pair were friends, which is why these sorts of objects wound up at Catholic University.

Quentin Metsys (Massys), Lamentation of Christ, 1511. Wikicommons.

After all, that is precisely what friends do-they send things to each other. Today, of course, we have text messages, phone calls, emails, and Amazon delivery services that enable us to exchange conversations, information, and gifts with one another instantaneously, but in the early 20th century, a prime way to maintain friendships was by swapping physical correspondence letters and gifting things the other might care about or which might be useful towards a more ambitious end, such as amassing a University collection. Bishop Thomas Shahan was also the founder of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, an influential American house of worship and a monumental sanctuary for religious artworks (today it holds the largest collection of contemporary ecclesiastical art in the United States). Donating art objects would fuel the archives, libraries, collections, and exhibits of the University, which in turn serve to strengthen the institution as a center for research, academic discourse, and historical preservation. It’s benefactors like Connolly who were responsible for filling the catalogs with objects and artworks which increase the University’s visibility within Academia.

Rembrandt Self-Portrait Etching. 17th Century. Special Collections, Catholic University.

Documents and memos in the accession file disclose that the painting was moved around a couple of times, it eventually found a home in Nugent Hall, which is both the private residence of the university president as well as the headquarters for his offices. It is currently displayed in a spacious and finely decorated sitting room complete with couches, armchairs, and coffee tables. Also featured in that room is a small portrait etching by Rembrandt. Since Rembrandt is among the most honored and influential figures in art history, my theory is that the Pieta functions, like the Rembrandt, to impress visitors of the president, serves as a testament to the University’s academic and historical legitimacy, and underscores both the theological roots and artistic strengths of the institution

What the object file also includes is a short biography of Metsys by Stanley Ferber from the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Art. Ferber wrote that Metsys employed “a conscious archaism, both sensitive and perceptive, which he ultimately synthesized with late-15th-century Italian developments, especially those of Leonardo.” Though the Pieta depicts a moment of violence and sorrow as a bloodied Christ has been removed from the Cross and placed in his Blessed Mother’s arms, there is an undeniable sense of peace and a visual softness in the rendering of the figures and the overall composition. This accompanies the attention to detail characteristic of Flemish art, as articulated by the three crosses on the hill far in the distance behind the Virgin, with tiny figures standing at their base, as well as the crown of thorns, the nails, and the sponge soaked in wine that appear in the foreground of the piece. In addition to helping me better conceive of the nature of Renaissance art, my research into the object and its file has allowed me to develop a deeper appreciation for the application of historical artworks in a modern context

The Archivist’s Nook: Ivory Triptych – Renaissance on Display

Ivory Triptych, France, 16th century, New Museum Collection (NMC280), Special Collections, Catholic University.

The following is a selection from Catholic University student Katie Coyle’s class paper on the Ivory Triptych, a piece of Renaissance-era art held by Special Collections at the University. Ms. Coyle’s piece was submitted as an assignment for Professor Tiffany Hunt’s course ART 272: The Cosmopolitan Renaissance and edited by University Archivist William J. Shepherd. The students used art from the University collections for their papers.

To understand the Renaissance and its global connections, one should look at a specific period object and its cultural influences. Although focused in Italy, the Renaissance encompassed cultural influences across the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Africa, and the East and involved a combination of materials, styles, and images from various cultures and artistic traditions. The Ivory Triptych found in the Catholic University Special Collections is a visual representation of important elements of this global Renaissance. It is large at 42 ¾ by 33 ⅝ inches, depicting various Gospel scenes. Special Collections notes indicates it to be one of the largest known ivory triptychs. It is made of wooden panels covered with carved ivory elements displaying scenes of Christ, Mary, and various saints. Two small side panels in the front are fastened by two locking devices to keep them shut when necessary. Metal pieces are attached on the back wood panels to attach the piece to a wall as a hanging decoration. The artist and creation date are unknown, but it has been identified sixteenth century French. The donor, Rev. Arthur T. Connolly, an avid traveler and one of the most prominent benefactors represented in Special Collections, gifted it to Catholic University on May 5, 1917.

Diptych with Scenes of the Life of Christ and the Virgin, Saint Michael, John the Baptist, Thomas Becket, and the Trinity. Special Collections, Catholic University.

The original donation remarks include a description of the figural scenes and specific symbolic representations of the Ivory Triptych. It also contains a reference to its original placement (before being collected) as part of the back of a church altar, though the church or location in France is unknown. It was meant to be viewed most often in its open state because the elaborate and skillful decoration, including all of the ivory elements, are only visible when it is fully open. Although the Ivory Triptych originally served within a faith-based context of worship as a church altarpiece, it is now an object of curiosity and instruction. Since 2001, the Ivory Triptych has been loaned out to several Catholic University faculty members and placed in campus offices where it is a decorative object. Removing a fine art object like this from its original context presents challenges to research who made it and for what purpose. Attempting to understand its original role and placement is important to know its true context within its specific historical setting.

In the sixteenth century, African ivory was particularly rare, especially within France, making it highly desirable for religious art. During the Renaissance, an increasing desire for exotic materials like ivory helped develop a strong trade network connecting Africa, Europe, and the East. Along with this, stylistic ideas spread and deepened cosmopolitan connections. Christian elites used art objects like small diptychs and triptychs in their homes for private worship. Larger ivories like the Ivory Triptych would be commissioned by the wealthy for various churches. Commissions were a vital aspect of Renaissance-era art as a way for artists to sell their work and for patrons to demonstrate their class standing. Art selected by the wealthy and displayed for the public in an open setting like a church, the Ivory Triptych would be on the altar for viewing with its imagery highlighting Gospel stories for a mass audience that was not literate.

Betrayal of Christ and Carrying of the Cross. Special Collection, Catholic University.

Other French ivory objects from the same period include plaques, diptychs, triptychs, and polyptychs. For example, the Diptych with Scenes of the Life of Christ and the Virgin, Saint Michael, John the Baptist, Thomas Becket, and the Trinity from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 1350, depict the life of Christ and various saints. Scenes of the Annunciation, Nativity, Adoration of the Magi, Presentation in the Temple, and the Resurrection are all present in the small 10 by 8 ⅚ inch diptych. The Ivory Triptych fostered a sacred atmosphere where onlookers could participate in Gospel scenes. The Adoration of the Magi and the Flight into Egypt are located in the top of the left panel. The bottom of the left panel features Christ’s Baptism and the Agony in the Garden. The top of the right panel portrays the Betrayal of Christ and the Carrying of the Cross. In the bottom right, the Entombment and Resurrection of Christ are portrayed. All of the side panels are divided into these four sections, with a column or jardiniere (floral planter) diving the section into two halves, each with a biblical story. The center of the triptych is Christ crucified with Mary directly below the cross on a pedestal. On her left are St. John the Baptist and St. Margaret of Antioch, and St. John the Divine and Mary Magdalene are on her right. Above the carved figures are ivory stars and bishops’ coats of arms. These symbols were easily recognizable to any viewer, regardless of literacy and social class.

Christ with Mary and Saints. Special Collections, Catholic University.

Symbolism within the scenes points directly to an Eastern influence as devout Christians aimed to connect with a distant land and ancient past.  Artists used symbols associated with the assumed story settings. In the Flight to Egypt the Holy Family approaches a distant setting with large palm trees in a rocky desert, symbols assumed to portray Egypt. The ornamentation on the wood and the ivory elements framing the scenes also shows a distinctly Eastern influence. On the side panels above each scene, geometric shapes in curves and points are imposed, reflecting the common use of Islamic patterns where figural imagery and depiction in a religious context were forbidden. Westerners were able to partially understand the necessary concept of ornamentation for the sake of worship and fascination with these unique styles of decoration took hold in Italy and France. By the time of the sixteenth century, Islamic decorative quality combined with French architectural tradition, can be seen in the architectural elements in the central panel of the Ivory Triptych. The detailed ornate style of the pinnacles and spires surrounding Christ are representative of the Islamic tradition of decoration and geometric elements. Along with many of the other art objects in the Catholic University collection, the Ivory Triptych points to a universality of Renaissance influence that stretched beyond Italy.

Bibliography

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