HE SCULPTURE OF Saint Cecilia (figure 1) by Stefano Maderno was commissioned in 1599 when her body was discovered incorrupt. The 23-year old sculptor depicted the position of her body as she was found, showing her fingers extended to represent one God in three persons. It is a haunting figure, particularly because her face is hidden from us. It is appropriate, however, because she is destined to look upon a different world.
I LIKE TO THINK of the painting (figure 2) of St. Cecilia by John William Waterhouse (1895) as representing the moment after her death. She is just about to awake to the music of angels to find herself in a heavenly garden. As we look on, we can see that her every sense will be consoled. The flowers around her provide a delicate fragrance and someone has thoughtfully tucked pillows near her shoulders and feet. St. Cecilia’s rosy complexion affirms that she is not dead, but has merely fallen asleep in the Lord.
The contrast between the austere statue and the sumptuous painting is representative of the difference between the Baroque and Pre-Raphaelite movements. I often feel that Baroque artists emphasized the powerful presence of a supernatural reality whereas the Pre-Raphaelite artists focused on the entrancing loveliness of the supernatural world. Eternal themes can never be exhausted even when they are revisited every hundred years by a new art movement. Like the Cecilia in the midst of her slumber, I believe that today the Catholic Church is about to awaken to a revival in the arts.