Holy Father St Benedict

January 1, 2010

Pietro Annigoni, the Italian artist who died in Florence aged 78, will be remembered in this country for his two portraits of the Queen. The first, shown at the Royal Academy in 1959, was an immensely popular success, and hailed as a symbol of the Elizabethan Age.  It was a very romantic portrait, full of sparkle and confidence with just a hint of melancholy at the loneliness of being Queen. The second drew even bigger crowds when it was shown at the National Portrait Gallery in 1970; the queues went round Trafalgar Square.  But it was not so well liked by the public.  It was thought too severe, and made the Queen look older than she was. Sir Hugh Leggatt, who commissioned the portrait, said that Annigoni’s wife had died while he was painting it and that some of his own unhappiness may have crept into it.  The Queen liked it, however, and many critics preferred it to the first. It still has a place of honour in the Portrait Gallery and posterity will probably give it the palm for its grandeur and dignity. 

Annigoni also painted portraits of the Queen Mother, Prince Philip and Princess Margaret.  But he was hurt by criticism of his second portrait of the Queen, as well as rebukes from her courtiers for reporting her conversation. He was also famous for his portraits of Pope John XXIII and American Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

When he returned to Italy, he resumed a career that he had begun before the war, painting religious frescoes in churches.  He once said “I get a little bored with human vanity.  I honestly prefer these old saints of mine.” From 1968 to 1975 he covered the interior of an obscure church near Florence with scenes from the life of Christ, perilously balanced like Michaelangelo in the Sistine Chapel on some scaffolding, and more than once falling off. He then turned to the rebuilt monastery of Monte Cassino and decorated it with frescoes of the life of St Benedict, which he finished in 1981, pictured above. Note the image of Pope Paul VI at the front of the painting.

As we start this new year it is my intention to print  a section of the Holy Rule of St Benedict on this blog each day.

As you know the Rule is divided into sections so that it can be ready daily over the course of three to four months. Today the Rule starts at the beginning. Sr Aquinata Bockmann OSB offers the following reflection on the opening word of the Rule.

‘Listen. Benedict deliberately chose this word as the beginning of his Rule. It also is the first word that strikes us when the Rule is read on January 1st; and it stands as a kind of theme for every year. Benedict starts without preliminaries and addresses the person directly. The last word of this sentence forms an inclusion together with the first word: ‘Listen – fulfil!’ The entire verse describes this listening in its fullest sense. 

‘At the very beginning of the Rule, the person is confronted by a call, ultimately by the Word of God. ‘God spoke, and it came into being’ (Genesis 1, John 1:1). The Word of God addresses us. The life of every person is a special realisation of a personal divine call. The person is shown as someone whose essence it is to be called. This is our dignity and also our obligation.’

(The Monastic Way, 3.)

Prologue

LI S T E N  carefully, my child,
to your master’s precepts,
and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20).
Receive willingly and carry out effectively
your loving father’s advice,
that by the labor of obedience
you may return to Him
from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.

To you, therefore, my words are now addressed,
whoever you may be,
who are renouncing your own will
to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King,
and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.

And first of all,
whatever good work you begin to do,
beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it,
that He who has now deigned to count us among His children
may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds.
For we must always so serve Him
with the good things He has given us,
that He will never as an angry Father disinherit His children,
nor ever as a dread Lord, provoked by our evil actions,
deliver us to everlasting punishment
as wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory.

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