Sacred Art

The Merriest Yule to One and All!

In 1919, Ethel Parsons and Telfor Paullin made a painting that lifts hearts and souls, just by being fine art.

12.23.13 10:21 PM ET

James Salzano, Courtesy St. Bartholomew's Church, NY

In 1919, Ethel Parsons and her husband Telfor Paullin  painted this image of the Adoration  of the Magi for the south chapel of the Episcopal church of Saint Bartholomew in New York, where I came across it recently as the backdrop for a lovely series of Christmas concerts. The image is closely based on altarpieces from 15th-century Italy, by way of the Victorian pre-Raphaelites. In the context of a new church in the New World, Parsons and Paulin must have had some hope that, by revisiting the styles of an era when pictures still had real sacred powers, her Saint Bart's Adoration would become something more than a work of art. I think she was too late: By 1919, art had usurped all of most pictures' functions. But, as an atheist admiring her Adoration while sacred carols floated around it, it seemed to me that just having art be art is a pretty damn fine thing.

Good Yule to One And All, and a Happy New Year!

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