The Martyrdom of Saint Andrew by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472 – 1553) by Canon Jim Foley

The Martyrdom of Saint Andrew by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472 – 1553) by Canon Jim Foley

The Martyrdom of St. Andrew by Lucas Cranach the Elder

When William Clapperton became Rector of the Scots College in Rome in 1922, he invited an eminent Italian art critic, Professor Kembo, to complete an inventory of an extensive collection of early engravings and etchings held in the Scots College archives. These had evidently been bought by a previous Rector with an interest in such things.  I distinctly remember that the collection included an entire set of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) that collectors would die for today. It would appear that such items were readily available in the many flea-markets in the Eternal City as late as 1900.

Myself, I am the proud owner of a small carriage clock I bought in Rome in 1960 from one of the many barrows off the Via Condotti.   It probably dates from about 1880.  Like all carriage clocks, it has a friendly and reassuring tick, and I have become attached to it over the years.

Pope Benedict’s Carriage Clock

There is, of course, a hierarchy of carriage clocks.   At the top of the range are the heavy-weights which stand about a foot high and can strike the hours, the half hours and even the quarters, to a variety of musical settings.   The press of a button allows the clock to strike the nearest quarter during the hours of darkness.   Some have special features, like multiple dials to indicate the days of the week and the months of the year.   Victorian technology could even make allowance for the phases of the moon.  The boxes in which such treasures were cased have become collectors items themselves!

Much further down the ranks you reach mine.   It carries only as much information as can tell you the time of day.

Pope Saint Pius X at his desk

One of the bigger and more sophisticated carriage clocks sits on the desk of the present Holy Father’s study.  That same clock is a survivor.  It can already be seen in the earliest photographs taken inside the papal apartments.  I don’t doubt that it has been there since long before the intrusion of photography, but its presence has been captured on film telling the time infallibly during the pontificates of ten Popes. As a curiosity, I have attached a photograph of my own more modest version, alongside the papal one sitting on the desk of Saint Pius X.  His desk could do with a bit of tidying up.  My clock knows its place and seems quite happy, perhaps resigned now, to sit on the desk of a parish priest.

To return to the subject in hand.   I had a glimpse of professor Kembo’s conclusion from his inventory.   He described the college collection as ‘di non mediocre valore’, which could be translated into today’s vernacular as ‘worth a fortune’.   That was in 1922.   Clapperton’s successor Philip Flanagan was persuaded, in the 1960s, to put some of these rare works of art on display in a prominent place in the College.   I took advantage of their fleeting public appearance to take a few pictures with an antique Kodak Brownie and I begin this brief reflection with one of them which never ceases to surprise.

Canon Jim Foley at his desk

It is a woodcut of the Crucifixion of Saint Andrew by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553).  Although it was Cranach’s practice to leave his works unsigned he would normally place his patron’s coat of arms somewhere in his works, sometimes hanging from a tree or hidden in a corner.   The dual coat of arms of the Elector of Saxony, his patron, is at the top left-hand corner of our engraving.   This is certainly an original wood-engraving by Lucas Cranach senior and dates from the early days of the Reformation.

Ten people and a dog are packed into the confined space of our woodcut.   There is really not enough room for them all.   With the exception of the dog, the figures almost leap out at you from the page.   The two diminutive characters at the front, one with an ugly mouth, is covered in armour, with the exception  of his bare feet, and is making a poor job of holding Andrew’s cross erect long enough for the other, wearing the ridiculous tin helmet, to secure it in its place.   The latter would appear to be left-handed and is awkwardly wielding a mallet almost as big as himself.   He may well have needed the helmet to avoid braining himself.   His clown’s shoes seem quite out of place with the rest of his fearsome gear but not out of place with his behaviour.   The other characters to the right are equally menacing; one with his sword raised high in the air ready to strike a helpless man already tied upside-down to a cross.   At his back, looking over his shoulder is a particularly pugnacious face just asking to be punched.

By contrast, the characters on the left-hand side are wearing hats fit for a fashion parade and expressions on their faces to match.   Medieval art knew the value of hats.  Those are the hats of a better class of citizen.   I suspect that the gentleman with the biggest hat that seems to be growing out of the back of his head, holds the palms of his hands outstretched in a gesture of revulsion.   He has to be in line with the centurion at Jesus’ crucifixion who rises high above the squalor around him.   The remotest figures in the background are the women who remained loyal to the end.  The tragic expressions on their faces bear witness to their grief.

The mongrel in the foreground comes as a surprise but he must be there for a purpose.  The expression on his face is one of bewilderment, as if he could not imagine how human beings could behave in such a manner.   In fact, he can’t even bring himself to look on what is happening behind his back.   He looks out at his audience as if to ask what we make of it all.   To that extent he is a spokesman for the artist himself.

The Apostle St. Andrew is well represented in pretentious paintings and sculptures in the great Roman basilicas and churches throughout the Christian world.  Lucas Cranach the Elder, with his primitive little woodcut, has taken us further than most into the complex world that was capable of visiting so much suffering on an innocent man.   Could any of the participants in this scene have imagined that one day Andrew, the upside-down apostle, would become the patron saint of Scotland?

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