Posts Tagged ‘Museum of Biblical Art’

The Museum of Biblical Art offers a true “once in a lifetime” experience

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Many opportunities are referred to as “once in a lifetime,” but most of the time, these are exaggerations. In fact, the phrase has become unreliable due to misuse.

However, the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) in Manhattan is offering an opportunity that truly is available just one time – a chance to view sculptures that were created for the Duomo, the Cathedral of Florence, Italy, in the early 15th century. These incredibly beautiful pieces have never before left Italy and are not likely to do so again. There are works by sculptors such Donatello, Brunelleschi, Nanni di Banco, Luca della Robbia and others. The name of the exhibition is “Sculpture in the Age of Donatello.”

The exhibition came about because the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (the Duomo museum) is closed and undergoing an expansion. The museum’s director, Msgr. Timothy Verdon, was able to send a selection of sculptures exclusively to MOBIA, a jewel box of a museum located in the headquarters of the American Bible Society at 61st Street and Broadway.

One of the most talked about sculptures in the exhibition is a marble Donatello statue, known as Lo Zuccone (meaning squash head because the figure is bald), but believed to be the prophet Habakkuk. The figure seems about to speak. One is almost compelled to stand and wait for it to do so. My own favorite was Abraham and Isaac, in which Abraham is holding Isaac’s hair in one hand and a knife in the other while looking away. I stood there a while trying to decide whether this was the moment before he was to strike or the moment after God’s messenger stopped him from slaughtering his son. It is hard to tell because Abraham’s grip on the knife is not tense. I am certain that everyone who comes to this exhibit and has the chance to study the works in an intimate setting will find a favorite.

So important is this exhibition that MOBIA has organized a series of public lectures, along with courses for young professionals and college/graduate school students, and seminars for all. To visit the exhibition, to see these works, and to ponder the people and events portrayed from the Old and New Testament could certainly be a Lenten meditation. The exhibition will be on until June. Check out MOBIA’s website to find all the details and preview the exhibition.

A final and distressing note. MOBIA will have to find a new home. The American Bible Society has sold its New York headquarters and is moving to Philadelphia. I hope and pray that MOBIA does find a suitable location here in New York City. After you see “Sculpture in the Age of Donatello,” you will pray, too. New Yorkers  cannot afford to lose this wonderful museum.

“From Ashe to Amen” at the Museum of Biblical Art

Monday, April 15th, 2013

The recent Tiffany exhibit at the Museum of Biblical Art on Broadway and 60th Street, in the headquarters of the American Bible Society, was enthusiastically received by New York art critics. As they say in another art form, it was tough act to follow.

However, MOBIA, as the museum is familiarly known, has come up with another  beautiful and inspiring show, this time examining the religious art of African Americans and its relationship to Sacred Scripture.  The exhibit is called “From Ashe to Amen: African Americans and Biblical Imagery” and will be open until May 26.  The term ashe is a Yoruba word from Nigeria and is familiar to Africans and African Americans; it means inspiration. However, someone else used an even more descriptive definition: an inner eye. Amen, of course, means “so be it.”

The exhibit features about 60 pieces, among which are some that especially fascinated me.  Horace Pippin’s “The Holy Mountain” appears at first to be a depiction of the peaceable kingdom in a lush green forest.  A closer examination reveals that hidden in the trees are tanks and other symbols of war and violence against people.  It is startling and disturbing. Pippin, a World War I veteran, painted this in 1945 at the close of the Second World War.

Clementine Hunter’s “Baby Jesus and the Three Wisemen” re-imagines the Magi’s visit in Louisiana.  Another piece, a magnificently carved door, also features the Magi, who are carrying gifts of a more practical nature than gold, frankincense and myrrh, but also inspired by Scripture.

Joan M.E. Graham’s “My Spiritual Family” contains over a hundred small portraits on a mixed media quilt.  Charles Alston’s “Midnight Vigil,” painted in 1936, is a deathbed scene with a community raising prayers to heaven for the dying person.

The pieces and media, including video, are so varied that it would be hard to pick a favorite but, if pressed, I might opt for a beautiful fan, the mainstay of  women in the days before churches were air conditioned. The fan features the face of the great jazz singer and song writer, Billie Holiday.

One of the most appealing aspects of the Museum of Biblical Art is that its size, one large gallery room, almost guarantees that every piece in an exhibition is going to be special. There’s room only for the best of the best.  A visitor can take in an exhibit during an evening after work or on a few lunch hours.  Of course, it would take more than single lunch hour to enjoy the current exhibit. Unlike most of other museums in the city, it is free.  You can read more about MOBIA and its exhibits here.


Woman’s work: art that catechizes

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012


Many of you probably recognize this image of the Annunciation. It’s a detail from a mosaic on the front of the altar in the Lady Chapel of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s a perfect example of art as catechesis, portraying Luke 1: 26-38. But did you know that it was made by a woman artist and a New Yorker at that?

The artist’s name was Hildreth Meière and you have probably seen many of her works around the city. She is represented in two of the Cathedral’s neighboring houses of worship, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church on Park Avenue and 51st Street and Temple Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue and 65th Street. You will also find her work in some of New York’s great secular landmarks, such as No. 1 Wall Street and even the Radio City Music Hall.

Meière, who was educated at Manhattan’s Convent of the Sacred Heart and studied art in the United States and Europe, worked in many media besides mosaic. She was considered one of America’s greatest mosaic artists. You can learn more about her on a website dedicated to her life and works.

Until May 20, the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA), located at 1865 Broadway at 61st Street in Manhattan, is celebrating the genius of this great artist with an exhibition titled “Walls Speak. The Narrative Art of Hildreth Meière.”

MOBIA’s mission is to “celebrate and interpret art related to the Bible and its cultural legacy in Jewish and Christian traditions through exhibitions, education and scholarship.” In other words, the museum wishes to showcase the influence that the Bible has had on culture, especially art, with exhibits like the Meière show and another that is running concurrently, “Finding Comfort in Difficult Times. A Selection of Soldiers’ Bibles.”

Upcoming exhibits include one on printmaking and the Gutenberg printing press and another on the ecclesiastical art of Louis Comfort Tiffany, who was known for his unique stained glass. The museum also maintains a remarkable permanent collection of rare Bibles.

Do try to visit the museum and in the meantime, find out more about it here.  Be sure to visit the Lady Chapel at St. Patrick’s to see the entire altar mosaic.

A Treasures on Broadway and Fifth Avenue

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Broadway at 61st Street is the site of a museum that is receiving increasing attention from lovers of religious art…and art in general: The Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) at the American Bible Society headquarters.

MOBIA’s current exhibition, which will run through June, is “Passion in Venice:  Crivelli to Tintoretto and Veronese.” It highlights a theme central to the history of Christianity and Christian art: Christ as the Man of Sorrows described in Isaiah 53. Its origins rooted in Byzantium, the figure entered Venetian art in the late Middle Ages after which it flourished locally for centuries, eventually acquiring its own name in dialect, Cristo Passo. This depiction of Christ, his head bowed down with suffering and death, was a particular devotion for Venetians.

It is truly a spiritual experience to walk through the exhibition room and take in all the representations of the Man of Sorrows. These treasures range from tempera on wood, to marble, even to a polychrome papier mâché depiction that somehow has survived for nearly 500 years.

The exhibit is not huge but it might be emotionally draining for some. On the other hand, our culture doesn’t like to look at suffering and death. Even we Catholics, who have been surrounded by crucifixes all our lives, have lost our sense of shock at the suffering Jesus endured for us. “The Man of Sorrows” might provide the jolt that we need in this season of Lent, a reminder of the Son of God who fulfilled what Isaiah said:

“…he poured out his life unto death,

and was numbered with the transgressors.

For he bore the sin of many,

and made intercession for the transgressors.”

Speaking of treasures, more than 600 catechumens from all over the Archdiocese will come with their sponsors to St. Patrick’s Cathedral this coming Sunday afternoon. In the presence of Archbishop Dolan, these catechumens will sign the Book of the Elect, another milestone in their RCIA journey to the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and First Eucharist, which they will receive in their parishes at the Easter Vigil. The following Sunday, hundreds of baptized adults seeking full initiation in the Roman Catholic Church at Easter will gather at the Cathedral and three other large churches in Orange County, Dutchess County and Staten Island for the Call to Continuing Conversion.

Isn’t it fascinating that in spite of the bleak picture the mainstream media paints of the Church, people still want to join us!