Films about Art II: Sister Wendy’s Complete Collection

by holditnow

Seventh-century icon of Santa Maria Nova, Rome

Seventh-century icon of Santa Maria Nova, Rome

Certain things beg repeating. Take a quick glance at your itunes library and you might be surprised at the number of times a particular song found its way into your earbuds. Books are read and then reread again until the evidence of your affections can be seen on their tired covers. Today on the occasion of my 100th blog post I decided to spend some time with an old friend. I’ve never met this person but feel as though we’ve grown close over the years. I visit with her at least once a year, sometimes only for a brief moment and on other occasions I can spend the entire day spellbound and enraptured by her stories; I’m referring to Sister Wendy Beckett.

p0166003Tapped by the BBC in 1991 to give a personalized tour of London’s National Gallery; Sister Wendy became one of the most unlikely television stars to find their way into our living rooms. When the original show was pitched by an enthusiastic admirer of her writing; the idea fell on deaf ears. At first, at least on paper, it was a hard sell. The BBC executives figured no one wanted to tune in to listen to a nun talk about art.  A screen test was reluctantly agreed upon and when the lights were finally switched on; everyone was in awe. The camera loved her and she took to it like a fish to water.

Paul Klee Fish Magic 1925

Paul Klee    Fish Magic    1925

Sister Wendy (who turned 83 this year) has lived a solitary life of meditation and prayer. Before the BBC came calling, she lived in a one room caravan (she has since upgraded to a two room trailer) surrounded by very few possessions with the exception of a collection of art books.  She spent countless hours becoming acquainted with the artists and works within the pages of her volumes. It wasn’t until she was in front of the camera that she got the opportunity to finally see these works she was so intimate with in the flesh.

Peter Paul Rubens Venus Frigida 1614

Peter Paul Rubens     Venus Frigida      1614

One of the most disarming things that came to light was Sister Wendy’s fearless approach to the subject of sex. Art history is awash with tales of carnal knowledge and artists have been representing the nude and the naked since the  first days of the garden. Sister Wendy never breaks a blush. What she does better than anyone is to shed light on the stories and myths that act as the artistic inspiration for countless museum pieces.

El Greco an allegory with a boy lighting a candle in the company of an ape and a fool 1589

El Greco An Allegory with a boy lighting a candle in the company of an ape and a fool     1589

Sister Wendy has a wonderful way of telling a story. Her observations and insights are always spot on as well as her choice of works she chooses to talk about. The artworks range from the very familiar to hidden gems. Her Story of Painting traces the evolution of painting from the caves of Lascaux to Warhol’s Marilyns. She next travels to the major art capitols of Europe  in her Grand Tour. These two programs along with a few others can be found on Sister Wendy’s Complete Collection. She is the ultimate tour guide and well worth a look. I couldn’t think of another person I’d rather spend my 100th post with.

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