THE TREE OF LIFE / L'ALBERO DELLA VITA
Performed in its original setting in the church of San Giovenale, Orvieto
with a public lecture by Dr. Mara Nerbano, historian of the religious drama in medieval Umbria (University of Florence)
February 2 - 4, 2017
The Tree of Life is the third production developed collaboratively by the Studio for Art, Faith & History and KaminaTeatro. The ongoing efforts of John Skillen and Andrea Brugnera to give new life to the rich body of sacred theater once widely popular in medieval Europe build on the foundation laid by theater director Karin Coonrod with her productions of the medieval mystery plays in the streets and piazzas of Orvieto from 2004-2007. See Coonrod’s essay here.
This new production follows closely, with additional material, the text of L’Albero della Vita found in an early 15th-century manuscript collection of the religious drama from Orvieto. The manuscript indicates an association of the play with the ancient parish church of San Giovenale – where, as scholar Mara Nerbano has shown, a confraternity (or lay devotional society) regularly performed such dramas, called Laude.
The play itself was almost certainly associated with a beautiful fresco on the entrance wall of San Giovenale that depicts the Tree of Life exactly as this image was developed in a devotional treatise by Saint Bonaventure, the first and greatest theologian of the Franciscan order, and a figure strongly associated with Orvieto because of his birthplace in nearby Cività da Bagnoregio.
Francis and Dominic: The Arts of Devotion
January 25 - February 4, 2017
Rev. Dr. Susan and Dr. John Skillen combined their interests in a pilgrimage-retreat that followed the steps of Saints Francis and Dominic. At the beginning of the 13th century, these two young men, one in Spain and one in Italy, were simultaneously drawn towards a new form of spiritual life as mendicants rather than monastics. While living in the traditional manner in small communities obedient to a shared rule of life, they cultivated a socially-engaged outward focus towards serving the needs of those in the world around them. The rapid spread of their offshoot communities brought spiritual renewal to church and society.
Orvieto has strong associations with the two theologians—one Dominican, one Franciscan—who remain towering figures in the history of the church. St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest of the scholastic theologians and philosophers, lived and taught for a number of years in the Dominican monastery in Orvieto. St. Bonaventure, born in nearby Cività da Bagnoregio, gave lasting shape to Franciscan ideals through a theology of creation and of prayer.
The focus of the retreat was on why and how the arts of painting, music, and poetry found a welcome place in the preaching, teaching, and devotional practices of the Franciscan and Dominican movements.
The Dominicans used the arts to give visual form to ideas and to cultivate intellectually rigorous forms of meditation. The Franciscans appreciated the power of the arts to arouse emotion and to strengthen the affective side of knowing and loving God and our neighbors.
Jerusalem & Athens Winter Seminar in Orvieto, Italy
December 29, 2016 to January 14, 2017
The Studio for Art, Faith & History again joined forces with the Center for Faith & Inquiry to offer a seminar that combined the great books, Socratic approach of the Center for Faith & Inquiry’s Jerusalem & Athens Forum honors program with the emphasis of the Gordon IN Orvieto semester program on experiencing great art and great books “in situ”—in their original settings.
This annual seminar opens up to a wider circle of students, alumni and adult learners the theme that gives the Jerusalem & Athens Forum (JAF) program its name: Tertullian's question, asked in the year 200, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens, the Church with the Academy?”
Each January this special Great Books/Great Sites Winter Seminar applies Tertullian’s question to an in situ study of one of the perennial topics addressed by classical and Christian thinkers and artists in the medieval/Renaissance/early modern period of European history.
The 2017 winter seminar, led by classical scholar and gifted musician Dr. Graeme Bird, studied the relation of classical musical theory and harmony to the practice of architecture and art in the medieval-Renaissance period and compares pre-modern understanding of the nature and effect of music to the understanding and practice of music in our own postmodern age. Excursions to Florence, Siena, Rome, and Arezzo focused on art and architecture of particular relevance to the theme.
The Classical Academic Press Summer Seminar
“What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?”
July 3–24, 2016, Orvieto
The Studio for Art, Faith & History has partnered with the Classical Academic Press to host two two-week study programs in Orvieto, one for students from classical-Christian academies around the United States, and the second for teachers and administrators from such schools. See the attractive program website for details, photos, and videos.
Tertullian’s question, asked around the year 200, remains as new as it is old: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”
On what terms have educated Christians over the centuries allowed the classical and the Christian—the Greco-Roman and the Judeo-Christian intellectual heritages—to mix in the same classroom?
No classical-Christian academy can avoid articulating an apologia for Why Christians Should Read The Pagan Classics—to cite the subtitle of Louis Markos’s recent book, From Achilles to Christ.
What is the Christian mind to make of the rich and sophisticated heritage of classical thought, literature and culture, so full of useful tools of learning, so astute in its exploration and analysis of nature and history, of the human psyche and the polis, of human artistic endeavors … and yet falling short of a wisdom unto salvation? Dante’s Virgil can lead the pilgrim only so far.
The historic clifftop town of Orvieto offers an inspirational setting to reflect on this theme. The town itself is an archeological-architectural palimpsest of the Etruscan, Roman, medieval, and Renaissance strata present everywhere in contemporary Orvieto. The classical is notably integrated with the Christian in the decoration of the Orvieto Duomo. One could hardly ask for a richer distillation of our theme than is found in the magnificent fresco cycle of the End Times, Last Things, and Last Judgment in the San Brizio Chapel.
Lilly Fellows Program Summer Seminar for College Teachers
June 12–July 2, 2016
Restoring Art to a Place in the Community: New Lessons from Early Renaissance Italy
The Studio for Art, Faith & History hosted the 2016 Lilly Fellows Program Summer Seminar for College Teachers at Gordon College's facilities in Orvieto, Italy. A Lilly Foundation grant funded twelve faculty members in art, art history, Biblical studies, and Christian ministries from LFP member institutions to spend three weeks in Orvieto studying a theme at the heart of the Studio's mission.
ORFEO in ORVIETO
July 2014, Palazzo Simoncelli, Orvieto
Claudio Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo dramatizes the Greek legend of Orpheus—the poet-musician who journeys to the underworld to retrieve his beloved Eurydice. First performed in 1607 in a palazzo in Mantua, Orfeo is often considered the first opera of modern European tradition. For a new production of Orfeo co-sponsored by the Studio for Art, Faith & History, artistic director Karin Coonrod (Gordon College Alumnus of the Year, 2010) capitalizes on the evocative setting both of Orvieto itself—with its hidden underworld of caves—and of the Renaissance courtyard-garden of Palazzo Simoncelli, where the Studio has its seat.
La Discesa di Cristo all’Inferno / The Drama of Christ’s Harrowing of Hell
Church of San Giovenale garden, Orvieto, June 2014
A medieval “sacra rappresentazione” revived by John Skillen and Andrea Brugnera
The idea that Jesus “descended to hell” before his Resurrection to free those people of the past who had lived in faithful hope of the coming Messiah is a belief admittedly not shared by all wings of Christendom. It is reflected in the phrase from the Apostles’ Creed, based on a number of scriptural passages and popularized in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus. The scene of Christ standing at the entrance to the cave-like hell’s mouth calling forth Adam and Eve, and King David and many other recognizable Old Testament patriarchs gained a strong foothold in medieval and Renaissance Christian consciousness. The scene is frequently included in pictorial cycles of Christ’s life and dramatized in the popular liturgical dramas of scriptural episodes performed throughout Europe, especially during the season from Easter to Corpus Christi.
Drawing on a number of early Christian and medieval sources including the version once performed in medieval Orvieto, Studio director John Skillen prepared a new version of this episode of Christ’s descent into the underworld. Actor and director Andrea Brugnera, scholar as well as performer of medieval and Renaissance Italian drama, translated Skillen’s English text into Italian, and brought together five professional Italian actors to perform this play at the mouth of the cave below Orvieto’s historic church of San Giovenale – entrance to Orvieto’s own underworld.
Light from Light: Photographs by Douglas Gilbert
April 2014, Convento dei Servi, Orvieto
The Studio for Art, Faith & History hosted a show of what may be the defining exhibition of photographer Douglas Gilbert’s long and distinguished career. The black and white photographs comprising Light from Light seem to testify not to something transitory and ephemeral but to the Real Presence of God. Gilbert’s career spans a long period with LOOK magazine, a body of photographs of the very young Bob Dylan, a stint in the art department of Wheaton College. His photographs are combined with commentary in four books—The Steps of Bonhoeffer; C.S. Lewis Images of his World; Flannery O’Connor Images of Grace; and Forever Young: Photographs of Bob Dylan. Light from Light is the fourth collection exhibited by the Studio in Orvieto, including Gardens of New England, and Italian Light. Visit Gilbert's website.
JULIET by András Visky
June 2012, Orvieto
The Romanian ethnic-Hungarian playwright András Visky is one of the most acclaimed contemporary writers in Eastern Europe. Juliet is a monologue spoken by the title character in near-delirium as a psalm-like cry from the heart at the seeming-end of her endurance in a labor camp with her seven young children. The play in fact dramatizes the true story of the author’s family in the 1950s and early ‘60s.
MAGNIFICAT: Installation of Bruce Herman's Triptychs
June 2009, Monastero San Paolo
The concluding event of the 2009 Festival of Art and Faith (Orvieto, June 7-13) was the festive unveiling of two large-scale triptychs painted by Bruce Herman (Lothlórien Distinguished Chair in Fine Arts at Gordon College). The installation of these paintings in the newly-refurbished chapel of monastery San Paolo was accompanied by music and dance and poetry specially commissioned for the event from theater director Karin Coonrod, composer Paul Vasile, and poet Scott Cairns.
BRANDUARDI & FRANCESCO: L'infinitamente piccolo
Orvieto Duomo, May 2008
The centerpiece of the 2008 Festival of Art and Faith--co-sponsored by the Studio--was a concert in the cathedral of Orvieto by the acclaimed Italian cross-over musician, Angelo Branduardi. Branduardi began his career in the 1970's as an Italian pop/folk singer, but turned his classical training in the direction of medieval and Renaissance music. His most recent project has been arranging texts from the primary sources about Saint Francis as a song cycle, now expanded into a mixed-media dance and theatrical performance. This work further develops his ongoing multi-disc project-–Futuro antico–in which Branduardi arranges and performs medieval and Renaissance music in a spirit that renders it timely for our own age.
TEMPO DI DIO, QUOTIDIANO DELL'UOMO: Iconie Russie
Palazza dei Sette, May 2008
Tracing the story of salvation, the icons of this show offer a meditation on how various events in the life of Jesus and of the Mother of God make visible the project of God for the redemption of humankind.
DANTE AND THE VIRGIN: strumenti a fiatto
The Wind Orchestra of Gordon College performs music futuro/antico by Robert Smith, Carol Barnett, and Michael Mailman
Orvieto Duomo, May 2008
For its concerts in Orvieto, the Gordon College Wind Ensemble, under the direction of David Rox, presented three contemporary works for wind orchestra all inspired by ancient texts written long before symphonic bands even existed.
GRACE AND VIOLENCE IN THE STORIES OF THE BIBLE: GRAZIE E VIOLENZA NELLE STORIE DELLA BIBBIA
Paintings by Edward Knippers
A show of twenty large-scale paintings by the American artist Edward Knippers was co-hosted by the town of Orvieto from May to June 2007 in its main exhibition space at the Palazzo dei Sette. The paintings interpreted a variety episodes from both Old and New Testaments, all involving relations between a man and a woman, of grace, or of sin and violence that occasioned God's work of grace: Adam and Eve, Joseph and Potiphar's Wife, Samson and Delilah, David and Bathsheba, Jesus with the Woman taken in Adultery, Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and many others.
Knippers is "a painter whose vision, at once deeply traditional and radically contemporary, has been central to the revival of biblical narrative in the visual arts. His paintings are dramatic tableaux, Baroque in their expressive intensity and theatrical settings; they do what many art historians have said could never be done again: make the classic biblical subjects come alive in paint. Knippers' vision restores the human body to its central place as the locus of the divine/human encounter" (IMAGE: A Journal of Religion and the Arts). As a Los Angeles Times reviewer of Knippers' work noted: "Knippers taunts us with soul-crushing questions of life and death… It is through the work's brutality that its intensity of religious fervor avoids piousness and sentimentality."
MARIA: GRAZIA E SPERANZA IN CRISTO MARY: GRACE AND HOPE IN CHRIST
An interdisciplinary and ecumenical conference on the theme, Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ (drawing on the title of the book prepared by the joint Roman Catholic and Anglican Commission), held in the town's principal conference hall in the Palazzo del Popolo. This two-day conference brought together a dozen high-ranking theologians and art historians from Italy, the U.S., and Switzerland representing Evangelical, Anglican, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic perspectives to share papers and conversation in both English and Italian languages, addressing the place of Mary in contemporary ecumenical dialogue as well as her role in the devotional life of various Christian traditions.
As art historian Mons. Timothy Verdon observes in his book, Mary in Western Art (Mondadori, 2004): "No one can doubt Mary's importance in the spiritual history of Europe: every European city has at least one grand church dedicated to this woman, and from the fifth century to the present, Christian thinkers have devoted considerable space to her in their reflections. In the visual arts, perhaps not even Christ has had so eminent a role as she, and in certain periods images of the Mother indeed outstrip those of her Son both in quantity and in creative originality. The historical identity of Europe's peoples—their self-image across time—in fact seems linked to the ways in which they have venerated, imagined and depicted Mary."
LAUDE IN URBIS: LA STRADA PER EMMAUS
June 2006, Corpus Domini
The Studio for Art, Faith & History provides a base in Italy for the Compagnia de' Colombari, an independent not-for-profit Italian-American theater company under the artistic direction of Karin Coonrod. The Company's first project is an adaptation in contemporary Italian and English of a linked set of six medieval mystery plays entitled Laude in Urbis: La Strada per Emmaus. Performed in 2004, -05 and -06 as an itinerant play in the streets and piazzas of Orvieto during the week of Corpus Domini, Laude in Urbis was highlighted in the June 2006 issue of American Theater journal featuring notable new directions in European theater. The June 2006 production was supported by a lecture by Monsignor Timothy Verdon on the interplay between the Bible, the liturgy, the visual arts and the theater in medieval and Renaissance Italy. Read Coonrod's essay about the project here.
Il CORPO SPEZZATO - THE BODY BROKEN:
Paintings by Bruce Herman
The show of twenty large-scale paintings by the American artist Bruce Herman, entitled Il Corpo Spezzato (The Body Broken) was hosted by the town of Orvieto from April to June 2005 in its main exhibition space at the Palazzo dei Sete. Herman's work has the capacity to invoke complex meditation on religious themes with the highest mastery of medium in ways that fall outside conventional expression and appropriation of "bible stories." Precisely because his work cannot be pigeon-holed or reduced to outworn pieties, the town accepted this show for its own gallery series. Il Corpo Spezzato was the most heavily attended and outspokenly appreciated art show in the town officials' memory. Read Herman's essay presented at the exhibit here.
EUCHARIST & ESCHATOLOGY: ART AND THEOLOGY IN THE ORVIETO DUOMO
During the week of Corpus Domini in May 2005, the Studio for Art, Faith & History hosted an interdisciplinary and ecumenical conference on the theme: Eucharist and Eschatology: Art and Theology in the Orvieto Duomo. This four-day conference, focusing on the two important transept chapels of the cathedral with their fresco cycles on the sacrament and the Last Judgment, brought together two dozen high-ranking art historians, theologians and historians from Italy, the U.S., Canada, Australia to share papers and conversation in both English and Italian languages, and was held in the town's principal conference hall in the Palazzo del Popolo. Many of the papers delivered at the conference were published in a book entitled Spazi e Immagini dell'Eucaristia: il Caso di Orvieto.