Wednesday, 8 October 2014

beyond words: St Bride by John Duncan

St Bride, John Duncan c.1913
Ever since I was introduced to this painting back in 1997, by the wonderful Mary Low, I have loved it.  Every time I visit the painting another detail catches my eye and makes me pause.  There's a richness of colour and movement that conveys so much without needing to resort to words, and which leaves me silent in its wake.
The subject matter is very much informed by the Celtic Revival/ Twilight movement, and my inner pedant wrestles slightly with my more romantic side because of the anachronism: St Bride being transported across the water - and through time - to Bethlehem at the birth of Christ, to act as midwife for Mary.  My mind flashes to Dr Who very briefly but, almost immediately, the beauty of the painting grabs me, and, like Bride, I too, am transported.  

At the centre, the stern face of the angel whose eyes, and indeed, whole body are focused forward upon the task and destination.  There's an immense dignity and strength, a strength seen in the angel's hands as it carries the precious cargo onward.  A suggestion of a cross with the angle of Bride's body echoing the angel's wing...Bride, the pious, who even in her sleep is seen in an attitude of prayer, and wearing white for purity.  

In contrast to the near-severity of the central angel, there's a tenderness in the leading angel's face, which turns back and looks upon Bride with care and compassion.  The richly detailed robes worn by the angels tell stories from the life of Christ.  Perhaps they also tell a story in miniature of the artist, John Duncan; on the leading angel, is the clown/ holy fool leading the procession a self-portrait of one who may have been a little mad?  Earthly creatures meet this heavenly procession.  Bobbing amidst the sea-foam, a seal crests the waves while two rather cheerful seagulls follow.  

I love how the subjects in the painting are not contained by the border: a halo, wings of angel and bird, and feet break free from the constraints that seek to impose order.  The artist perhaps thinking 'outside of the box' way before the term was coined.  

It is an odd thing, this.  Although I can describe various aspects of this painting, what I can't at all describe is how - or why - this painting moves me so, or why it is one of my favourites.  All I know is that, somewhere in the deep core of my being, the painting just strikes a chord in some way.  I could use the words 'transcendent', or 'beauty', but perhaps it's okay to accept that some things go beyond words.  

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