Book Review: Pilgrimage to the Museum Man’s Search for God through Art and Time
Author: Stephen F. Auth with Evelyn Auth and Fr. Shawn Aaron, LC
Publisher: Sophia Institute Press
In my office, many topics of conversation occur daily. Recently, with summertime upon us, many people have been talking about their summer travel plans with eager anticipation. If you are one of those traveling this summer and your travel includes a trip to New York City, I suggest you stop into the Metropolitan Museum of Art or “The Met” as the author refers to it, to observe the many religious paintings, ranging from ancient times to our more modern times. Even better than stopping in on your own would be to attend a pilgrimage tour led by the author, his wife, and Fr. Shawn Aaron. As a bonus, the pilgrimage concludes with a nice dinner and wine to help the pilgrims further discuss the works of art.
On a vacation to San Antonio in 2019, I was first introduced to this author when I read his book, The Missionary of Wall Street. I remember how much I enjoyed reading that work four years ago, and much of what I read has stayed with me until today. I will admit I do not know much about art and interpreting paintings. Still, after reading his current work Pilgrimage to the Museum, I notice myself paying more attention to paintings and other visual artworks to try and understand them better. One early note from this book is that many paintings have focused on religion, especially our Christian faith, over the years.
Most of our adult reading does not involve pictures, but since sculptures and paintings are a large focus of this literary work we get to step back to our early reading “picture book” days as we search for God in new and unexpected ways. On the official Catholic Man Show technical read scale *** I rate this book at a 4 as it is a leisurely read, broken up into small sections of about 2-3 pages which allows the reader to spend some time contemplating the author’s description of the artwork presented. I found myself often thinking the next day about some of the pieces of art and was struck by the reverence that some of the paintings gave to our Lord.
A few things I have learned about art after reading this book include: a gold or blue background typically signifies heaven; as the author states, “a two dimensional figure seems disembodied and otherworldly…it brings us into the presence of God, who inhabits a spiritual realm that we are not a part of yet, but hope to be soon.” People painted in three dimensions point to those people being present on Earth, and sometimes the interpretation of the painting may be different than what was described above depending on the time in history it was painted. Many times while reading and digesting all the information, I found myself staring at these paintings and seeing a little bit of myself in each one. Some of my personal reflections were joyful and hopeful, but other times I could see my faults and errors, and I suppose that might be one point of art. It brings you out of yourself and sometimes into uncharted territory which can be at times comforting and other times frightening. Perhaps the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the purpose of art better as stated in section 2501: “Arising from talent given by the Creator and from man’s own effort, art is a form of practical wisdom, uniting knowledge and skill, to give form to the truth of reality in a language accessible to sight or hearing.”
I don’t think I could do justice in my review of this literary work without listing some of my favorite works of art. So without further delay and in no specific order here goes:
- Medallion of Christ from an icon frame, Byzantine, ca. 1100
- Giotto di Bondone, The Adoration of the Magi, ca. 1320
- Peiro di Giovanni, called “Lorenzo Monaco,” The Intercession of Christ and the Virgin, before 1402
- Botticelli, The Annunciation, ca. 1485-1492
- Antonello da Messina, Virgin Annunciate, 1476 ( impossible to avert your eyes from this painting, as the author states he, his wife, and his son stood transfixed in front of this work)
- Raphael, Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints, ca. 1504 (almost looks like a photograph)
- El Greco, The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1605-1610
- Caravaggio, The Denial of Saint Peter, 1610 (Peter’s hands and face speak volumes)
- Il Cavalier Calabrese, Pilate Washing His Hands, 1663 (Pilate is looking right at you and answering the question he is asking will haunt you)
- Diego Rodríquez de Silva y Velázquez, The Supper at Emmaus, 1622-1623
- Georges de La Tour, The Penitent Magdalen, 1640 (seems like such a simple scene, but a lot is happening in this painting)
- Giuseppe Sanmartino, Veiled Christ, Naples, Italy, 1753 (hard to believe this is a sculpture)
The artworks I have listed above are by no means all of the art presented in this work, and it is important to remember that the authors have observations about each piece that add to your reflection and bring out crucial details that one might not notice. If you’re like me, your summer plans this year may not entail a lot of travel or maybe your place to relax and reflect is at home. If that is the case, pick up a copy of this book and take your own pilgrimage, I can almost guarantee you will learn something new about yourself and your faith. On the other hand, if you do find yourself headed to New York City, then maybe a tour with the authors is in your future. Two final observations after reading this book are as follows: one, I better understand that writing is also a form of art as it often stimulates contemplation, and two the recent Catholic Man Show episode titled 21 Ways to have a Leisurely Summer pairs well with this book.
By: Kent Keithly, husband and father
***Regarding The Catholic Man Show technical read scale: A 3 out of 10 is a leisurely read that could be read in a couple of weeks, an 8 out of 10 is a more technical read which requires more time and often requires looking up definitions of words to clearly understand the author, and finally a 10/10 is an extremely technical read that requires a significant amount of time to complete the book, as well as, extra time to look up further explanations of the topic, definitions, and likely requires that some pages be read more than once to grasp the content.