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But how the Christian spirit has been perpetuated in all truly beautiful works! Unconsciously or not, all the great painters have shown themselves to be symbolists: they have not made a duplicate of the object they have seen, they have substituted for nature something of their own imagination, that is to say, the sign of an idea: it is not by means of the subject that they move us, it is by the work itself, just as they have painted it.

Maybe the convinced naturalist - he who looks for a trompe-l’oeil and nothing else in Rembrandt's Pilgrims of Emmaus - does not exist, is a pure hypothesis, but I well know the idealist, even one of superior intellect, for whom the Bathsheba, the still-life of Chardin, and Renoir’s women remain incomprehensible. A ray of beauty shines from them which his classical prejudice will not admit. He says: this leg is badly drawn, this nude is vulgar; or again, what do flowers dying in a vase signify, a piece of fruit far from the branch which bore it! or again: try to understand how the torso of a woman is a a jumble of decomposing flesh with green and violet brushstrokes? He does not allow himself to be carried away by the pleasure of enjoying a sumptuous but restrained harmony in which luxurious sparks of light are juxtaposed with the cumbersome drawing of warm flesh (Bathsheba). Those fruits painted by Chardin, they are strokes of colour,: he refuses to see the melodious line, the admirable tonality, the tender charm, sure signs of a harmonious soul, attentive to revealing in every sort of spectacle the intimate laws of the beauty of the world. The expansiveness of youth and light which are a canvas by Renoir passes him by. It is the beauty of the model which disturbs him. He does not see the organisation of the painting, he sees only the subject.

It is in that sense that I said, agreeing in this with all true lovers of the art, that a beautiful painting is before all else a flat surface covered with beautiful colours assembled in rhythmic forms: and that thus all masterpieces are symbolist. But symbolism is a Christian theory.

Once again, in our century so preoccupied with the Divine, a reaction of the religious spirit corresponds in painting to a recovery of the Byzantine idea. Our painters such as Puvis de Chavannes or, above all, Odilon Redon (to mention only masters inspired by Christianity) acted not only on the intelligence, but also on the conscience of their time. In restoring to painting by force of audacity and genius, the logic of its essential laws, they have reconnected with the Christian tradition. They have (as Verkade has said, speaking of the Byzantines) "imitated the Creator who has made all things according to measure, number and weight, who is Himself absolute order." (17)

(17) Wisdom of Solomon, 11:20: 'You have ordered all things by measure, number and weight' (Orthodox Study Bible translation). See Desiderius Lenz: The Aesthetic of Beuron, p.16. Denis adds a note saying: 'I owe it to Fr. Willibrord Verkade, Benedictine of Beuron and painter, to rectify this passage. The school of Beuron has never held the opinion of the Byzantines which I, being ill-informed, attributed to them. The citation above, borrowed from the book of P. Didier, applies to the Egyptians and archaic Greeks. The Byzantines, according to the ideas of Beuron, represent only the decadence and corruption of an ancient tradition, which is itself a last reflection of the original Revelation.' 

Verkade, though, may be exaggerating. In The Aesthetic of Beuron, Lenz writes: 

'in fact no people found itself so well-prepared for the acceptance of Christian truth as the Egyptians, and no people worked harder and more earnestly for the external 'habitus' of the Church than the Greeks. For almost 1200 years it was they who preserved and prepared the visible radiance of the Holy Church, in virtually every art, and in sacred music besides. They were the artificers in ancient Christianity up until the Middle Ages ... 

'The Byzantines, the Christian Greeks, settled down, so to speak, at the gates of this lost city, at the grave of its departed art, and faithfully tended its assets, the relics that remained. They revered these fragments of method and technical tradition and made of them what they could – as they do to the present day.

'They preserved, as implicit in the very notion of religious art, a measuring, an apportioning, a division in space, which extends as far as the smallest ornament; a law of stability in rest, and of movement in grand vivacious lines; a fresh, naive effort of thought in the division of the parts – a division full of life and contrast, with everything, so to speak, determined by the space; a logical thinking; a choosing of means in true, uncontrived simplicity; a keeping at bay of everything hollow and pointless and not belonging to the subject. 'The Byzantines clung to all this and to the knowledge that for religious art naturalism means ruin. They have protected their inheritance against the latter down to the present day; at all times they realised that, from the moment when the living model should serve them directly, the soul of their art would be at an end.

'And the works themselves that the Byzantines achieved in their own way remain on such a level, that the sensus communis of the Christian community awards them the palm as relatively the best kind of religious art (see Klein and his successors). And indeed, almost all of the miracle-working images in the western world are offshoots or actual works of Byzantine art.'

The major work of Beuron art in the monastery itself is the Gnadenkapelle, done under the direction of Lenz's most distinguished follower, Paulus Krebs, in 1901-3 (Lenz was still alive) in a 'Byzantine'-influenced style.

Shall we ever find, as several have attempted, the laws, measures and techniques of the Byzantines and, even more so, the Egyptians? Will it be by experimentation, by the science of dynamogenics, (18) by calculation or by studying the Masters or by mysterious formulas preserved in the library of a cloister?

(18) Charles Henry distinguished between relations of lines and colours that are dynamogène or rhythmic, in accord with our human sensibility, and those which are inhibitoire, or non-rhythmic, which grate on our human sensibility.

As for me, I do not doubt that a tradition is dead which maintained through sure and certain principles, the cult of the beauty of art - and that they knew it, those unknown painters of Italian frescos, as did the stonemasons and Gothic glassmakers, whose works were assuredly more beautiful than our own.

But if such was the power of that tradition, and such the certainty of its measures, it was because in them are manifest the eternal laws of aesthetic emotion, the rules of the Beautiful, which the human mind can figure out to some extent, but which only the artist of genius can know completely.

Genius, which is presented to us as an abnormal state, is only a perfect conformity to the absolute order. All "creators of art" have created according to measure, number and weight and, in doing so, have imitated God.

There is another science, a precise one, Christian morality, whose goal is also the imitation of God - not God, artist of the universe, but a God living in humanity. But we know very well the first and last word of that science: that nothing can be done without Grace. It is the same, alas! ...with aesthetics, even the Christian sort. It is sterile without genius.

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