The illumination of grace

Real light, which creates shadows, seems to turn on and off during nodal points of history.  Thus, we can speak literally of the “Dark Ages.”


If, after Judgment, a day is like a thousand years, then chronological time ceases to be the yardstick by which the events and stories of realist art are measured.  Instead, a timelessness prevails in which colors and forms can function on their own terms.  In this immensity of tranhuanman time, the traditional technique of chiaroscuro cannot be applied.  Old sources tell us that after the cataclysm the secular shadows of time yield to the “new lights of eternity.”  Nonobjective painting keeps pace with this vision: shadows cast by candles, moons, and suns vanish so that a new kind of light can emanate from within the picture’s core.


Dante’s transhumanization [in the Divine Comedy] means that he will no longer be capable of casting a shadow and will no longer yield to the law of gravity.  Finally, in Canto 33, he has the Beatific Vision and sees the Supreme Light.  Viewing the three colored circles of the Trinity and wanting to “see how the human image was conformed to the divine circle and has a place in it,” Dante needs the illumination of Grace.  St. Bernard gives him this capacity to discover human measure in the colored circles of the divine nonobjective display.  It is ironic that Italy’s highest expression of the medieval quest for transcendence resisted convincing pictorial visualization until modern art made it possible.

— Kenneth C. Lindsay and Peter Vergo, from the introduction to Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art.

By Peter

After stints as a trial lawyer and a church worker, Peter Stephens has settled in as a Virginia high school English teacher. Peter has read several books and poems. He wrote none of the posts below filed under "Passages." Click the link at the end of each post to see it in the context of the author's original post.


  1. Perhaps that’s why the image of the great illuminated manuscripts, Kells, Lindisfarne and others, glittering at the edges of the dark ages’ world is so compelling.

    1. Probably so. I remember spending two hours amazed in the British Museum’s illuminated manuscripts rooms during a visit to London years ago.

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