Sunday, April 4, 2010

Colored Eggs, Monochrome Passion

Waning light on Easter Sunday. The busiest time in the life of a university is the spring. My months of March and April are always harried ones. Partly as a result–and partly as a result of my own laziness–I never seem to get in synch with Lent. The march toward Easter is a blur, with none of the contemplative approach I associate with Advent, a liturgical season with which I seem to have more success.

Recently I came across a cache of Jack and Jill magazines from 1946 to 1957, and I scooped many of them up. Above, one of my favorite covers, credited to Rita N. Oliver. Most of the illustrators who worked for the publication during this period, its best, were women. The art direction, illustration, writing and printing are all first rate. Published by Curtis, J & J almost always satisfies. I’ll post other material as time permits. Somehow this cover captures the childlike joy of Easter, sans sugar or cloying dewy-eyed critters. Rich color, clear shape-making. (Zero line.) Warm, pleasant, happy.

On Friday I went to a Tenebrae service. Last month in New York we saw the Limbourg Brothers’ work on the Duc de Berry’s Book of Hours. The (disassembled) volume covers a surprising variety of material, including the expected Passion sequence. Most the leaves are brilliantly colored, which makes the one below surprisingly powerful in context.

A representation of the very moment of Jesus’ death, the image is an essay in murk. The sun goes dark. Fear and regret descend. A rainbow-tailed comet scorches the heavens. The landscape cracks open. And our witnesses are terrified. (Circa 1407.)

The power of the Tenebrae follows on the shallow rejoicing of Palm Sunday and the ominous tones of the Last Supper. (Two years ago, I noted the Tenebrae with a few Eric Gill engravings here.)

The persisting power of humans' celebrations of spring–which take many forms in many traditions–can scarcely be argued. This week the magnolia in our yard exploded. Things bloom. The earth reawakens.

In 1949, Rita N. Oliver did her bit to capture it.

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