FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 7th – 14th MAY
I grew up just a few minutes’ walk from Kelvingrove, and visits to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum were a regular feature of my childhood. At that time the area that held most delight for me was the Natural World, and I always remember a glass case containing a stuffed otter, where the background habitat kept changing from summer, to autumn, to winter, to spring, and I was mesmerised by this. Compared to the technology nowadays it was nothing, but back then it was awesome. As a Catholic family, of course, we could never visit the Gallery without spending time looking at Salvador Dali’s Christ of St. John of the Cross, which was painted in the year of my birth, and first went on display on the eve of my 1st birthday, and so I have always felt a great connection with the painting, and I remember with horror, in 1961, when the painting was attacked and damaged by a deranged visitor – but was then thankfully restored. When it was first purchased a petition was presented against it by students at the Glasgow School of Art. The students were objecting mainly to the cost which they felt could have been better used to promote Scottish artists but it has consistently been voted Scotland’s favourite painting, by far, and the popularity of the painting has recouped the cost many times over. In fact, it cost just over £8,000, and at one time the Spanish Government reportedly offered to buy it for £80 million.
Kelvingrove has remained a place of wonder to me down through the years, frequently visited whenever I was home, enjoying the old familiar exhibits and delighting in the new ones, and, while I missed it when it was closed for refurbishment, and had to content myself with visiting the Dali in its temporary home in the St. Mungo Museum, I loved what they did with the refurbishment, and so, when I had visitors from Ireland recently, Kelvingrove was the top of the list of places that I had to take them, and how glad I am that we went.
While enjoying a coffee in the Central Hall and listening to an organ recital, I picked up a floor plan and my eye was drawn to an exhibit I had never seen before. The floor plan directed us to the “Every Picture Tells a Story” gallery and there, tucked away in a corner, in its own little private space, was a set of three paintings entitled La Faruk Madonna. The paintings were beautiful, especially the central one of the Madonna and Child, and, over some sacred music, the story was being recited of how they had been painted by an Italian prisoner of war held captive in La Faruk war camp, in what is now Somalia, during the war in North Africa. His name was Giuseppe Baldan, and he painted the scenes on old flour bags for a mud chapel in the camp, and they became a symbol of real hope for the prisoners. I can’t go in to all the story here but the painting survived because, even though the Somali soldiers destroyed the chapel and slashed the paintings on the closure of the camp, the Italian prisoners rescued the paintings and gave them to the British Officer in charge of the camp in thanks for his kind and humane treatment, and his wife later gave them to Glasgow.
The whole story is very moving and the paintings are very beautiful and uplifting, even with views of the prisoner of war camp in the background. If you get the chance, I encourage you to go and see them – you won’t be disappointed – and of course you must visit the Christ of St. John of the Cross while you are there, no matter how often you have seen it before.
Here is a quote from St. John of the Cross, whose vision inspired Dali’s painting, and who wrote this, appropriately, while he was a prisoner:
Love consists not in feeling great things but in having great detachment and in suffering for the Beloved. The soul that is attached to anything, however much good there may be in it, will not arrive at the liberty of Divine union. For whether it be a strong wire rope or a slender and delicate thread that holds the bird, it matters not, if it really holds it fast; for until the cord be broken, the bird cannot fly.