''No one, I believe, in 1,500 years of Christian monachism has catalogued, defined
and described so clearly or so beautifully the business of the monastic life.
No writer, no sculptor, no painter, no architect has refined a distillation so pure,
so accurate, so breathtakingly clear as Roseman has done.''
"Through the centuries the monastic orders contributed greatly to the advancement of Western civilization. Nevertheless, in Western Art monastic life accounts for a small percentage of the extensive imagery on religious subject matter. From the thirteenth century there grew a popular demand for pictures of saints of the newly founded mendicant orders, which include the Order of Friars Minor, or Franciscans; Order of Friars Preachers, or Dominicans; Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, or Carmelites; and Austin Friars. Franciscan and Dominican friars were especially common to the cityscape and actively sought contact with society in contrast to those who sought the contemplative life behind the monastery walls.''
Mount St. Bernard Abbey, secluded in a part of Charnwood Forest, in Leicestershire, is a large monastic complex with an abbey church, conventual buildings, workshops, greenhouses, orchards, vegetable gardens, and farm buildings to accommodate a dairy herd which provided the monastery's main source of income.
The carpenter, a dark-haired, bearded monk named Ian, kindly provided Roseman with wood, tools, and a space in the carpentry shop to build the stretchers for his canvases. The artist's work includes beautiful portraits of Brother Raphael, a warm-hearted Irishman, (Private collection); the genial 83 year-old Scotsman Father Benedict wearing his gardener's hat as he sat for the artist on the balcony of the monks' dormitory, (Private Collection); as well as the carpenter Father Ian, whose portrait is in the Musée Ingres, Montauban, (fig. 8, below).
Stanley Roseman, who is of the Jewish faith, made the journey with his colleague Ronald Davis, of the Roman Catholic faith. Davis wrote the letters to monasteries to introduce his colleague's work, relate the artist's interest in monastic life as a subject for his paintings and drawings, and make a request for a sojourn. As neither Roseman nor Davis had sojourned in a monastery, they thought to experience monastic life for the first time in their native language. Davis initially wrote from New York to monasteries in England and Ireland. Participating in the research and in planning the itinerary, Davis organized the project, as he had done for their journey in 1976 to Lappland, where Roseman painted portraits of the nomadic Saami people. The Times, London, states: "The Saami paintings are magnificent.'' (See "Biography.'')
The first letter Davis and Roseman received from a monastery was a cordial invitation from Abbot Gilbert Jones of St. Augustine's Abbey, a Benedictine monastery on the coast of Kent and named for the sixth-century monk who was the first Archbishop of Canterbury. St. Augustine's Abbey dates from the mid-nineteenth century, with a direct lineage to the Abbey of Subiaco, founded in the sixth century by Benedict of Nursia (c.480-547), whose rule, known as the Rule of St. Benedict, is the basis for monastic observance in the Western Church.
"The drying and firing of the terra cotta needed great care, especially as I had modeled Bernard's eyeglasses as sculpted forms unto themselves. Bernard decided to slow the drying process of the sculpture over three weeks, and then instead of making the customary one firing, to make two, at increased temperatures to avoid breakage. In the interim, Ronald and I left for monasteries in Ireland with the intention to return to England at the end of August. When the terra cotta sculpture had dried, Bernard made a bisque firing at a low temperature followed by a stoneware firing at a higher temperature of 1,300 degrees centigrade in an open flame kiln.
Abbot Cyril asked Roseman to give a talk on his art as the monks expressed much interest in seeing him at work in the monastery. The Abbot reserved an evening between supper and Compline, the last office of the day. The guestmaster Father Mark with Father Bernard set up a screen for viewing slides in the scriptorium. Roseman spoke about his work on the performing arts, which included opera, theatre, dance and the circus in the United States; paintings of the nomadic Saami people of Lappland; as well as landscapes, still lifes, and portraits.
Roseman's ecumenical work, brought to realization in the enlightenment of Vatican II, depicts monks and nuns of the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran faiths. Roseman created his work in over sixty monasteries throughout England, Ireland, and Continental Europe. The artist writes:
In choir, Roseman drew the community praying and chanting the Psalms at Matins and Lauds in the early morning, at the canonical hours throughout the day, and at Vigils in the night. Psalmody, which traces its origins to the singing of the Psalms in ancient Jewish liturgical worship in the Temple and the Synagogue, is the foundation of the Divine Office, the daily round of communal prayer that is central to the monastic life.
A major part of Roseman's work on the monastic life is expressed in the medium of drawing, considered the foundation of the visual arts. The celebrated, sixteenth-century Florentine architect, painter, and author Giorgio Vasari writes in the preface to his famous series of biographies Lives of the Artists that drawing (disegno) is ''the parent of our three arts, Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting, having its origin in the intellect.''
The Monastic Life continues
with links at the bottom of this page
to the following pages:
3. On the Continent
to Belgium, the Netherlands,
4. Across the Continent
to Austria, Hungary, and Poland
5. South to Italy
and the Abbey of Subiaco
to conclude the artist's first year
of his work on the monastic life.
"With the expansion of Benedictine monasticism throughout Europe in the Carolingian Age and Cistercian monasticism in the Twelfth Century Renaissance, the monastic orders - adhering to the precept ora et labora, prayer and work - continued to encourage spiritual ideals; introduced new styles of architecture with the Romanesque and early Gothic; and furthered the development of agriculture, as did the Cistercians, in particular, by expert management in land cultivation on a large scale at a time when the feudal system was declining in efficiency. . . .
"It is of special interest to me, having created work on the monastic life, that a monk compiled the earliest extant manual in Western art on the formulas and technical processes used by artists and craftsmen for the preparation of pigments and materials. De diversis artibus (The Various Arts), a treatise divided into three books on painting, glass-making, and metalwork, was authored by a twelfth-century Benedictine monk who was himself a practicing metalworker and wrote under the pseudonym Theophilus. . . .
"Many monasteries throughout Europe in the Middle Ages were intellectual centers of renown. . . . The tradition of learning in monasteries was continued in the Renaissance, such as at Camaldoli, in the Apennines, and at the Camaldolese monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli, in Florence, where the Benedictine monks took an active part in the flourishing of Renaissance humanism. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Paris, the Abbey of St. Germain-des-Près, headquarters of the Benedictine Congregation of St. Maur, held regular gatherings of scholars and intellectuals, maintained an impressive library, and produced a copious literary output which included Dom Bernard de Montfaucon's fifteen-volume Antiquité expliquée, a forerunner to the modern study of art history. . . .
Dom Henry was acquired in 1986 by the Chief Curator of the Museums of France, François Bergot, for the renowned collection of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen, of which he was the Director. Davis, whose maternal ancestry is French, had introduced his colleague's work to the Rouen Museum.
Father Ian, Portrait of a Trappist Monk in Meditation, 1978, Mount St. Bernard Abbey, is conserved in the Musée Ingres, Montauban, (fig. 8). The Museum's outstanding collection originated with an important bequest by Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres (1780-1867) of his paintings and drawings to his hometown. The bequest includes works from Ingres' collection of the Italian schools of the 15th and 16th centuries and French schools of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The Museum's collection has since been augmented by works of modern art.
"Over several days, I sculpted a portrait of Bernard while he worked at his potter's wheel. I had asked him if he had clay with a grainy texture that would fire to a natural color, rather than the smooth, gray clay generally used for throwing pots. Bernard suggested a clay that seemed right for the portrait I intended to sculpt. I was happy with the feel of the clay in my hands, and sculpting the portrait of my friend went well. However, the density of the clay, even after the finished sculpture was hollowed out, presented a challenge for a successful firing.
The Curator of the Musée Ingres, Pierre Barousse, made the first acquisition of Stanley Roseman's work for the Museum in 1986 with the drawing entitled A Carthusian Monk at Vigils, 1982, Chartreuse de la Valsainte, Switzerland. (See page "Benedictines, Cistercians, Trappists, and Carthusians.") Father Ian, Portrait of a Trappist Monk in Meditation entered the collection of the Museum in 1987.
Dom Henry, Portrait of a Benedictine Monk, 1978, St. Augustine's Abbey, is presented at the top of the page and here, (fig. 5). The rapport between the artist and the monk is evident in Roseman's magnificent portrait of Dom Henry, who was in his early seventies when he kindly sat for the artist.
- J. Carter Brown, Director
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
The drawing of two monks bowing in prayer from Solesmes was featured in the review of Roseman's work in The Times. London, 1980, from which is the quote at the top of the page. The superlative review also presents a drawing of Brother Alberto, the cook, whom Roseman drew at the Cistercian Abbey of Poblet, in Spain, in summer of 1979; and a portrait of Don Egidio Gavazzi, Abbot Emeritus, from the Benedictine Abbey of Subiaco, in central Italy, where the artist concluded in December of 1978 the first year of his work on the monastic life.
When Roseman began painting and drawing in monasteries in the late 1970's, monastic life was little known to the general public and an unfamiliar subject for a modern artist's work. Monastic life was rarely a topic for coverage in the popular press. Unlike today, monasteries then were closed to television cameras and documentary filmmakers, and the Internet, with its vast information resources, did not exist. Roseman's work on the monastic life brought a new awareness of the centuries-old and far-reaching contemplative tradition in Western culture.
The Director of the National Gallery of Art, J. Carter Brown, cordially writes to Roseman on May 7, 1981, to say that the Museum's Board of Trustees at their meeting that day "gratefully accepted" the artist's "generous offer" to make a gift of his drawing from the Abbey of Solesmes in loving memory of his father, Bernard Roseman. The eminent Director concludes his letter of appreciation to the artist:
1. The quoted excerpts are from a text Roseman has written on monastic life and his work in monasteries to accompany his paintings and
drawings. The Oxford scholar and Benedictine monk Dom Bernard Green read a draft of Roseman's manuscript and writes in a cordial letter
to the artist: "You portray the background and the aims of life in monasteries so well, showing such a deep understanding of the monastic life.''
2. Louis J. Lekai, The Cistercians (Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1977), see Chapter 20, pp. 282-333.
3. Pierre Riché, The Age of Charlemagne (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1978), pp. 32-39.
4. New Oxford History of Music, Vol II, "Early Medieval Music up to 1300,'' ed. by Dom Anselm Hughes
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1954), pp. 290-292.
5. See Theophilus The Various Arts, translated from the Latin by Charles R. Dodwell (Oxford & New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons), 1961.
6. Charles Homer Haskins, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1927), p. 32, 33.
7. David Knowles, Great Historical Enterprises (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd, 1962), pp. 35-62.
8. Giorgio Vasari , Vasari on Technique (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1960), p. 205.
9. New Oxford History of Music, pp. 1, 93, 94.