Monday, March 21, 2016

BookPastor >> "75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know" (Terry Glaspey)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Dec 7th, 2015.


TITLE: 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film
AUTHOR: Terry Glaspey
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015, (368 pages).

A masterpiece is a great artistic achievements created by ordinary people. Like how Rembrandt's Prodigal Son painting enveloped the depths of Henri Nouwen, the author has experienced deep fascination with not just art but music, literature, stained glass, paintings, film, and many creative works like woodcut, symphony, building architecture, poems, even children's stories. The author is a writer who enjoys the beauty of God's creation and the handiworks throughout history. Beginning with his visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he describes how he was captivated by the classic and modern masterpieces. Curious about the origins and how the work was made, he becomes very impressed with the stories behind the paintings. The more things he finds, the more fascinated he becomes. In wanting to share his experience, he goes through his library of resources and experiences to inspire more people to appreciate the masterpieces. Several factors are used to decide on which masterpiece to use.  First, it has to be "universally esteemed" by both Christians and non-Christians. Second, they had to stand up well through time, that people will keep coming back as new things can always be learned from them. Third, they are timeless and can speak to people regardless of cultural background and national boundaries. Like trailers to entice people to watch movies, Glaspey starts with the paintings in the Roman catacombs, how Christian art had to go underground during the Roman persecution. He shows us how the Gregorian chant first begun and why it has enchanted the imaginations of many. The Chartres Cathedral is chosen as one with many beautiful stained windows each telling a story in themselves. He calls it a "visual book." Dante's Divine Comedy is a spiritual autobiography. Although not much is known about Andrei Rublev, who created the famous Holy Trinity icon, Glaspey is able to describe the significance of icons and the history of the controversies over their use. Michelangelo's The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel shows the famous artist more as a sculptor rather than a painter. The three central pieces of work all reflect Michelangelo's commitment to faith. Several hymns are also selected in this volume. Martin Luther's A Mighty Fortress is Our God proves to be Luther's strength as he prepares for a tense debate at the Diet of Worms in 1521. John Newton's Amazing Grace and Isaac Watts' When I Survey the Wondrous Cross are also mentioned. The great novels include Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

Each masterpiece truly deserves more than the 1-3 pages allotted. Conveniently put together in one book, readers' imaginations will be stimulated once again with fond memories of what they have seen and read. For those who have not known any of these masterpieces, it is a delicious invitation to seek them out. For those who have seen, read, or heard it, it is a fresh look at a familiar art. Indeed, the masterpieces themselves often hide the brilliance behind them. That is why this book is useful for us to appreciate the creator behind the creation. In doing so, when we start to recognize that we as created beings are masterpieces in themselves, we become more in awe with the One who created all of us, the Master of all masterpieces.

Why should we read this book? Let me provide three reasons. The first is the lack of admiration for the things before us. We live in a selfie age that tends to be concerned more about putting ourselves in the forefront of masterpieces. Go to any tourist attractions and it is common to find tourists busy trying to take pictures of themselves having been at the location of the masterpieces. The main focus seems to be the person in the picture rather than taking time to be captivated by what makes such beautiful art awesome. If we are only interested in taking pictures of the masterpiece with our phones and cameras, we miss out on the actual experiences we can have when we come face to face with the beautiful pieces. While digital technology can do wonders, it is the original that contains more mystery than the bits and bytes stored on solid state memory.

Second, we all need to be educated on how to appreciate art all over again. When art becomes a mere commodity, we lose our sense of wonder. When we are illiterate about literary art and music, poems and short stories, we lose a valuable handle on culture, history, and what it means to be human. In our technological world, many people tend to see things in terms of problems and solutions. Art is not something that is to be solved but more to be admired. Otherwise, we risk a future where people simply see life as a problem to be solved rather than a life to be lived.

Finally, we need to expand our range of senses to commune with God. For some of us, reading is motivating. For others, it can be hymns, music, or a portrait. We are all created differently and different forms of art will touch us at different levels. With this book of 75 different masterpieces, it is hoped that not only will readers be able to sense the divine presence in the familiar ones, but also to be challenged to ponder and to wonder at beauty of a masterpiece.

So next time, when we go on a holiday trip to a location where these masterpieces reside, perhaps, we would put it in our itinerary. Give ourselves a good amount of time to admire, to reflect, and to ponder at the significance of the pieces. With the background gleaned from this book, perhaps, we can learn a few more profound moments ourselves. Let ourselves be awed. Let the beauty enthral us. Be conditioned not by the movement of the clock but by the movements of the heart. Then, if appropriate, after all that is done, you can take out your phone and snap a selfie.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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