This morning a book arrived in the post, yet another book.
This is an all but weekly occurrence that whether it puzzles others, frequently puzzles me.
Whence the imperative to read, and to own and handle the word made matter?
Is it self-indulgence, or sacrament - means of survival or means of grace?
Philip Toynbee said books were his royal road to God.
Not all books that lead to God are books about God.
To confer with and consult minds other than our own.
To see what others point out to our limited sight.
To feel the impetus of those who push us beyond the restrictive horizons 0f what we know.
To revel in the intellectual humility that provides the humus out of which good learning grows.
To keep alive curiosity and pay attention to the world and listen to our own lives.
To take and read, and to wonder and ponder on goodness, beauty and truth.
To nurture imagination, refresh the wells of thought, replenish our emotional capacity.
And in that sense they are a means of grace, constant sources of new understanding, encounters with minds different from mine and no less valid.
As a matter of interest the book that arrived is an updated classic of art investigation. Beautifully written, it explores the intricacies and complexities involved in establishing the provenance and authenticity of paintings attributed to Vermeer.
But it is Gowing's analysis of Vermeer's temperament and character, and of how these inevitably influenced his technique and artistic expression, that makes this a profound study of genius. When much has been said about cultural milieu, historical context, social influences, and political background, there is still the mystery of temperament and personality, and the complex intertwining of accident, circumstance and personal intention. These may be all but insoluble, but in the attempt, much comes to light that otherwise would remain hidden. Gowing as noted above, is an impetus pushing the reader towards new horizons, teaching us to pay attention to our world, itself a sacrament of creation.
Few artists paid more detailed attention to the sacrament of the ordinary than Jan Vermeer.