Book of the Month
Perhaps the earliest book I possessed was an atlas of the world, The New Elizabethan World Atlas Illustrated. I don’t remember the maps. The political colouration of the world is vastly different now, the great tide of red representing the British Empire has shrunk. But I do remember the illustrations. I pored over them, wondered at them. The Kronosaurus, Ichthyosaurus, and coming down to the Pleistocene Period, the Diprotodon, my favourite, which looked like a giant wombat. These images came back to me recently when the find of a giant hunting tiger was found in a cave in the Nullabor. These images came back to me fresh. This is the point. The ineradicable power of the image.
This is a sizeable book, at 350 pages, a hard back and a third again in width and height than an a 4 page and is beautifully sewn and bound. You might call it almost a coffee table set of the Gospels. Plenty of generous white space is around the text with a double spacing between each line. The paper is very good quality.
There are around 100 hundred full page, and sometimes double page, colour illustrations of events from the book. Each of the four gospels is illustrated by a different Italian illustrator. While each has a unique style, each uses a similar colour range, and a naïf style that is very touching and which I think would leave attractive and indelible marks in a child’s mind and which are also very fetching companions to an adult reader. The palette used is rich and colourful, but organic and earthy.
They are a kind of worship through colour and texture.
The faces of the participants are sympathetic caricatures. There is no attempt as in the work of someone like Rembrandt to establish the full detailed sweaty naturalistic reality of human life. In this the pictures support the story but don’t try to supplant it.
Each of the four artists depicts the crucifixion, and to compare and reflect on them is a way of moving into spiritual insights into the events.
This text of this book of the four Gospels, is Today’s English Version as published by the American Bible Society. The text is modern, honest, direct and fresh, and not over literary.
‘So when Joseph woke up, he married Mary, as the angel of the Lord had told him to. But he had no sexual relations with her before she gave birth to her son. And Joseph named him Jesus’. Mt 1:24. Joseph, on this occasion, exercise such exemplary judgement at the prompting of an angel.
In the painted Joseph dreaming scene Joseph looks comfortable and benign and manly resting his head on his knees, while the angel hovers before him in a ray of lovely golden light, but the angel herself is lost in a dream as though thereby enabled to live inside Joseph’s dream.
‘Sexual relations’, was the phrase used by Bill Clinton when he was in denial mode about entanglement with Monica Lewinsky. Yes the language is modern.
The Mathew illustrations are done by Alida Massari. The artist approaches the text with perhaps a loving child’s eye. She captures the beauty and grandeur in the complete humanity of the narratives. Massari has a diploma from the European Institute of Design in Rome and has illustrated numerous other books for a variety of publishers. The other illustrators are similarly experienced and qualified.
So much of the narrative is depicted beautifully and memorable in this book: The Flight into Egypt, The Calling of the Fishermen, The Parable of the Sower, and The Last Day, are so beautiful as to wipe from you mental data base any previous imaginings of these scenes. The father of the prodigal son hugs him passionately and the picture’s tonings range from orange ochre, to a torn and tattered burgundy. Sumptuous, and passionate.
Further samples of the naturalistic tendency of the translation is found in the following selections:
‘ In great anguish he prayed even more fervently; his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground’. Yes, simple, direct, not too exotic and reverential.
‘It was about twelve o’clock when the sun stopped shining and darkness covered the whole country until three o’clock; and the curtain hanging in the temple was torn in two. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Father! In your hands I place my spirit!’ He said this and died.’ Yes, factual. Matter of fact. Well, it happened as naturally as everything else happens. This is the message of this unburnished prose. As naturally as anything else.
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