SIRE GALILEO & SUOR MARIA CELESTE
December 6, 2005Having studied Mathematics, Science and Art in college; having been in Italy so many times and appreciated much what Italy has to offer (thanks to my Geneseo family, especially Wes and Lynn Kennison); having been living a life of a contemplative icon painter under the teaching and guidance of my spiritual father Dom John Eudes Bamberger together with the influence of his community Abbey of the Genesee; and most of all, having been learning and struggling to live the Catholic faith, I appreciate deeply God's special gifts to us when I encountered the lives, the faith and the mutual relationship of Galileo and his daughter through Dava Sobel's books. Reflecting on the life of this genius and gifted man - a humble and faithful Catholic and of his daughter, I marveled what Sire Galileo and Suor M. Celeste have to teach me and reassure me of my faith and my gifts. Most of all, their ardent love for one another and their faith in God despite all the many challenges they suffered give such praise to God's mysterious love for His people. He who gives lives, gives them gifts and governs them all. May all honor and glory be Yours O Lord, forever and ever! Amen.
Thank you, Lord for entrusting me with this project. Thanks toGlenn McClure for commissioning this project. I thank also for all those who have encouraged and provided valuable images and feedback on my sketch study for this project. Please say a prayer for me.
May you inspire my thoughts and steady my hands O Lord. Amen.
Dear Sire Galileo and Suor M. Celeste, please intercede for me, my spirit and soul. Thank you.
I received words from my carpenter today that the panel is quite ready for me. It is 18"x21" in dimensions. I have always been pleased and happy to see the finished panels from uncle Paul's shop. They always look so perfect. They themselves always already are beautiful works of art by him.
At the meantime, I continue to work on the color study for the sketch, which I expect to finish in the next day or two. After that there is a lot of hard work to get the panel ready. The work includes the application of a layer of cheesecloth, fifteen layers of gesso and then the sanding part. I always enjoy and favor the painting process more than panel preparation. However, without doing the hard work, I would not appreciate what there are in a work of art, which is so often unknown to many viewers. To me, the artist's intense labor, creativity together with his or her spirituality, define the value and beauty of his or her work.
January 2, 2006I thank God for his wonderful gifts which he knows so well when I am ready to receive them. I thank the wonderful Mathematicians, Gary Towsley and Olympia Nicodemi who are like uncle and aunt to me for their love and generosity in offering me the new New Helfta atelier.
Today, I moved into this new studio and tried to get things ready so I could start painting this commission. I planned to get this done by the end of the month. God willing of course. The Lord sure allows the painting of this great man, Galileo and his daughter nun, Suor Maria Celeste, to be the first to be painted here in this studio in the Towsleys' honor.
As I continue to paint, I realized that the process is coming along quite slowly :-(. I forgot that there are so many details in the painting! A lesson I so often forget! Thank you Lord for not letting that realization discourage me! You sure are testing my patience. However, as a loving Father that you are, you do give me a special grace to endure it graciously. I thank you. Speaking about patience, throughout her relationship with her "Most Illustrious Lord Father", Sour Maria Celeste was constantly given the opportunities to practice this virtue. In fidelity, she carried her heavy cross faithfully as she awaited her father's news and return, especially toward the last year of her life. Her love for her "Sire" certainly proved to be worthy of her embracing the cross with patience and trust until death.
January 16, 2006I spent so many hours per day painting the details of Galileo's discoveries and inventions. The moons of Jupiter, for instance, alone took me about four hours of intensive work! I did not just focus on them alone while I painted. Rather, I had to make sure the colors and their contrast are in harmony with other objects.
The grapes and the leaves were, too, quite demanding of my attention and my time. However, because they looked so beautiful when I finished a portion of them, I was inspired to continue on. Sire Galileo enjoyed very much working in his garden, harvesting his own fruits and making his wine. I find those details very personal and refreshing since I myself, love gardening and enjoy watching the plants grow. What miracles of life we witness every minute of our life! How great and marvelous you are O Lord who give life and nourish them all!
Adding layers after layers of paints, I watched the grapes and their leaves mature and bear good fruits. Even though the details at the four corners took days to finish, I enjoyed seeing the progress made, and how the colors come together beautifully. All that you created Lord, are so beautiful, and they are so inspiring to me who try my best to imitate you, the greatest Artist!
Now that the outside details are quite close to completion, I began to work with the portraits inside the frame, the main part of the painting. I always like to leave what is more challenging but rewarding to do last. Actually, I have not added the grapevines. They will go on when everything is done. The frame that encircles the portraits, by the way, is inspired by the Galilei's family coat of arms which is very simple: a three-step ladder placed inside a frame. Here, I colored the frame and made it more three dimensional and sturdy. To prepare myself for this project, I did some readings and research on Galileo and Suor M. Celeste. I encountered many portraits of the father and only one that thought to be of the Poor Clare nun. All these were depicted in the 17th century. There are also a few images of Galileo which were done later deriving from the original likeness of him. Concerning the images which were painted separately, I was a bit disappointed for I could not help noticing that their images seem to be "apart". Perhaps, no one who has read Dava Sobel's book about Galileo's relationship with his nun daughter would not agree with me that this father and daughter of his deserve so much to be together. God's Providence made it so, as told at the end of the book. I don't want to spoil it for you, if you plan on reading it. It is a very good book! You sure will appreciate this painting more if you have some backgrounds about their lives and their relationship, in addition to being faithful Catholics who suffered greatly for their noble cross in Christ. With the mercy and love of God, I am so sure they are now together in heaven. So, here, in this painting, as the chosen artist for this job, I happily placed their images together. I trust and pray that God will help guide my heart, soul and mind as well as hands to depict what Dava has successfully written in her book: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love.
January 20, 2006When Dava Sobel's books were given to me to read to prepare for this painting project, I was also told that I might find them a bit difficult. Well, I did not have any problem understand them. On the contrary, both books were easy to understand and were very personal to me, especially the one of Suor M. Celeste's letters. I do write letters to the Genesee community. I exchange letters with my spiritual father for the last eight years, and I do exchange letters once in a while with some of the brothers as to encourage and console one another to live our vocation fruitfully which helps us in our seeking to love God. Through these means of communication, I have learned, even before I became a Catholic, how to speak the language of faith which the Poor Clare nun so often employed intimately with the dearest father she so loved. I love reading her letters, and by empathy, I could understand her quite well. Many of the things she wrote concerning some specific situations in different circumstances, I could have copied and sent to my spiritual father and he would not even know they were not mine except for her eloquent and intimate language to her father. Reading her letters, I felt as if I were constantly on her side laughing and crying with her. I felt rejoicing when she did. I suffered and grieved with her many times when she carried a heavy cross, especially concerning her father's trouble with the Church, his trials, his imprisonment and his poor health. I have learned that when we deal with someone whom God gives us to love most intimately and transcendently in the Spirit, we will learn how to recognize and embrace with peace our true cross which the Lord Jesus carried, and on it, he died to show us the way home to the Father who is love.
January 23, 2006
January 31, 2006While Galileo's reach was the vast Universe of the unknown and eternal, his daughter's world is (as many would put it: "trapped") inside a cloister of the Poor Clares. However, Suor Maria Celeste was so free to love, to live, to serve and to be all that she was made to be with her father's gifts which she inherited. I was amazed when I read all the things she did to be a loving and good sister to her community and a caring and devoted daughter to her father and his affair, especially while he was away. What is perfect freedom? According to my spiritual father, sharing a philosopher's view, it is the freedom to be able to do what is right and unable to do what is wrong. Galileo did not have that freedom. However, challenges and trials sure made him a better man who fears God, a humble and gifted human, down to earth but close to heavens.
"When I see the heavens, the work of your hands,
the moon and the stars which you arranged,
what is man that you should keep him in mind,
mortal man that you care for him?" (Psalm 8:4-5)
He was a genius, but to me what made him more admirable and favorable were his human heart, his fatherly love and relationship toward the daughter and her convent which he was a faithful patron of. After all, all gifts come from God.
"Yet you have made him little less than a god;
with glory and honor you crowned him,
gave him power over the works of your hands,
put all things under his feet." (Psalm 8:6-7)
We each are chosen uniquely to use them for the good of all. We have the right and the responsibilities to see to it that they will bear fruit and not to be abused. Inevitably, we are often tempted by pride and other vices to praise ourselves and be selfish about it. However, God always has his own ways to keep us humble for our own good. Life is an art as Rev. Father John Eudes reminds me often whenever I complain how hard it is to live and try to be a good human being. What will be the final end of everything? What else but eternal life in true happiness and peace with God through eternity. Fame and money of this world will all varnish as we go back to the earth where our mortal body came from; "for dust you are and to dust you will return." (Genesis 3:19)
February 10, 2006These days I enjoy very much working on the portraits of Sire Galileo and Suor M. Celeste even though they were a bit challenging because I have to try to capture not only their resembling, but their true spirits as well. Observing and painting from one same object, different artists will have different interpretations and ways of depicting it. Their complete works of art will be quite unique, depending on who they are made to be, and what their values are. Being who I am, and how I am called to live, I find it essential for me to try my very best in seeking to reveal the invisible genuine spirit of whom or what I depict, since everything God created is good, and, therefore, they are all exceptional. For all of us human who God made in his image, we have a divine and holy spark about us. God's transcendent and unconditional love makes all things wonderful, fascinating and best of all that is best. It obliterates all our sinfulness. It overlooks our weaknesses and failings, and most of all, it seeks to reassure us of our greatness, goodness and holiness for we exist because of our Heavenly Father, the omnipotent and almighty One who is love.
The virtues of these two souls made visible and possible by their fidelity to the cross through their suffering sustained by love inspire me to depict them the way the Spirit guides my heart, my soul and my mind. The genius Scientist, while received quite a special grace to pierce through the limitation of human naked eyes with his invention of the telescope, also was given the opportunities to be purified and sanctified by his human weakness, the shadow that always accompanies one's great gifts and talents. His humble faith and endurance seemed to contribute greatly to his victory as he fought to stay truthful to the Church.
As Church history reveals, the Catholic Church often suffers by the weaknesses of its members as Christ suffered because of our human sinfulness. Christians should know that staying faithful to Christ is to abide faithful to the Church he built which passed down to St. Peter and then his successors. The mistakes or failures of one man or men should not be the blames and excuses for them to leave Christ's Church. As my spiritual father so often reminds me that my relationship with God should not depend heavily on my relationship with others who like me are changeable!
So Galileo, despite all that he endured in both spirit and body, he humbled himself, sustained by God's grace he stayed faithfully in the Church. However, as we get to know more personally about his life and the beautiful relationship with his beloved daughter, we could see that God's greater grace given him revealed vividly through the daughter's unfailing and abiding love for her "Most Illustrious Lord Father."
This incredible daughter nun, as we read about her, was just a fragile and young girl who was "put" into the convent (as some female college students wondered why she did not get mad at her father for doing so to her. Though they failed to realize that she indeed had a vocation!) However, through poverty and hardship, she has grown to be quite a pillar of her convent and her beloved father. How many times did we hear her chide her father about his health and the way he did not take good care of himself? How often and how passionately did she console him when he needed the support which only she could give for they had such a mutual understanding and love for one another? And how fervently and faithfully did she help carry his heavy cross. Joined to him in heart and mind she helped to sustain his faith. The better do this, she offered to unite with him in doing his penance of reciting the Psalms.
O Lord! How can I depict such a soul?
This is when I thought of depicting her image more like an icon than a real portrait.
February 26, 2006I finally can convince myself that I am finished depicting the portraits. I showed my spiritual father some details and he thought I accomplished the project quite well. He himself read Dava's great book which he thought was well written and quite good. So I trusted his criticism. Knowing him, I know he would not hesitate to point out things which I still needed to work on. So praise the Lord! I too am happy with the images.
Now that all the details are complete, I have to tie them together and make the painting come to life and bear fruit! Do you recall that I left the vines undone and unconnected as I planned to depict them last?
The intertwining of grape vines signifies more than one meaning. It does not only emphasize the intimate bonding and dependency of the vines and the branches as seen in the close relationship between Galileo and his daughter, but among their extended family members, friends and community as well. And most of all, it is their mutual faith in God through the Lord Jesus that helped sustain their life and love for one another:"In the mystical vine, every branch, each member, receives its sustenance from the one living source that is Christ, and each has the promise of being united with those who are companions on the spiritual journey not only in the present but also for all eternity." -- Rev. Father John Eudes's homily "I AM THE TRUE VINE AND MY FATHER IS THE VINE DRESSER."
Another significant imagery I meditated on as I connected the branches together which I thought Rev. Father described it well here:
March 2, 2006The painting was finally finished several days before. Praised the Lord for the many hours of endurance and patience he has been there to guide and encourage me. Of course I know myself better not to boast so much about how beautiful it looks to me. I feel sure Sire Galileo and Suor M. Celeste are pleased.
Today I added the first varnishing coat onto the surface. It consists of egg white and distilled water. Then I consulted our carpenter to have the frame adjusted and fitted so that we could place the painted panel perfectly in the frame. Paul is a genius when it comes to coming up with ideas to make things work better when the original plan did not work out. In a couple of hours, he designed a back support for the frame and I painted it before it was built into the panel. Everything looks perfectly when the painting is all framed.
Many thanks for your prayer and thank you Lord for a beautiful work of art!
May 15, 2006Today, I had the privilege to meet and talk with Dava Sobel, whose books inspired me greatly and prepared me spiritually for doing this painting. I have seen and heard her talk from a distance last year when she came to Geneseo to visit and gave a slide presentation at St. Michael's Church. She was here to do some promotion for Glenn's Galileo concerts and Glenn would like me to walk her through the details of the painting and talk about them. When I entered the room where she and others were waiting for me with the painting, my first reaction was feeling very connected to her in spirit because she really introduced me to Galileo and his beloved daughter. Even though I never knew of her or met her before, and her religion is perhaps different from mine, her spirit in the books somehow got to me. Related so well with Suor M. Celeste, I feel as if I knew Dava as the Suor appreciates her for all that she did to bring the story of love and faith of her and her father to light. Some may think that I sound a bit odd or strange for having such feeling toward this wonderful author. And NO! I am not saying this because she is a famous person already! I care more or less about fame! Like the way I admire Galileo because of his person, I do the same for Dava because of her deep spirit which shows through her books I read. (To be continue...)
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