Only weeks ago, a long-lost painting by Vincent Van Gogh was discovered in an attic. The art world gasped, then applauded. Even those with little knowledge of the Dutch master were aware that a significant piece of culture had been excavated. A lost treasure found. Van Gogh has been dead for over 120 years.
Every fall, my friend Bonnie presents the following assignment to her high school students: Choose any “cultural artifact” (term borrowed from Andy Crouch) and measure it against the 500 Year Question. Throughout the year, that assignment influences discussions about art, history, music, and a variety of creative endeavors. It becomes a lens through which culture can be viewed and assessed.
How is Van Gogh’s newly-discovered painting relevant to Bonnie’s assignment? Relevant to you?
Join us in reading Fra Angelico and the Five Hundred Year Question by Makoto Fujimura and find out:
It all started again when I visited the Fra Angelico (1395-1455) exhibit at the Met last December.
Behind the splendor of the Christmas cresche, I entered the back hall of the Met. Surprisingly, there was no line (as opposed to the van Gogh drawing exhibit – 45 minutes). But there was a hushed gathering of many, moving about in the darkly lit halls.
I entered the halls and the golden aura of a diminutive Virgin Mary painting greeted me, with her azurite robe, and the Christ child’s supple body, reflecting her humanity — a simple work full of weighty colors. Then I had to close my eyes, after a few seconds of pondering the saturated surface. I realized this was too much to behold, all at once. As I staggered about looking for a blank wall to stare at, almost feeling ashamed to be in the presence of such greatness, I had a “500 year” question pop up in my mind. (What is the 500 Year Question? Read the rest of the article here to find out.)
Take a few minutes and consider the following questions. We’d love to hear your thoughts on any or all of them. Your words will teach and encourage others.
- What ideas from the article resonate with you?
- List a few examples of music, visual art, literature (or other forms of art) that have endured the 500-year test. What are their common characteristics?
- What art, coming out of our current culture (less than 50 years old), do you think will endure the 500-year test? Does it matter? Why?
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If you’d like to learn more about Fra Agelico, Giotto, Michelangelo, or several other of the artists who have endured the 500 Year Question, consider choosing one and exploring with your family. Emily Kiser’s Picture Study Portolios are excellent, easy-to-use resources. Each kit contains the history and several full-color works of the given artist. The study only takes 15 minutes a week, and the prints are ideal for framing and displaying throughout your home. You can order Picture Study Portfolios here.
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If you missed the first few weeks of this series, you can catch up here: