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The Artists of Bruges: a talk by the Bishop of St Albans at St Faith's

Following the Parish trip earlier in the summer, on Wednesday 17th September Bishop Christopher visited St Faith’s to give a talk on the Artists of Bruges.  This was also Christopher Herbert’s last visit to the Hitchin Deanery as Bishop of St Albans, before his retirement later in the year.

During the evening, Bishop Christopher gave a fascinating insight into the history of art in Bruges.  He began by providing a background on the history of the area and those with wealth and influence who helped make it a major centre for culture and the arts in Europe in the Fifteenth Century. 

We learnt that Phillip the Good, the Duke of Burgundy set up Court in Bruges, (as well as Brussels and Lille) and this attracted a number of artists, bankers and other personalities from all over Europe. 

The emergence of great masterpieces and triptychs (church art works painted on three panels) came about when those of great wealth and influence wanted to reflect their status and prominence in Bruges by commissioning artists of their choice to create paintings for them. Guilds of artists were set up in Bruges and it was common practice for the great and the good to commission paintings on a grand scale to reflect their status and role in society. 

Bishop Christopher referred to great artists of the time, such as Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling and Rogier van der Wyden.  He showed us some slides of paintings such as St Luke Drawing the Virgin’s Portrait by Hans Memling and the Virgin and Child with Canon Van der Paele by Jan van Eyck.  Others included a study of a young girl (identity unknown) and a portrait of a woman deep in thought – again identity was unknown – however, they reflected the fashion of the time in Bruges (hair scraped back from the face with a translucent veil and cap) and the detail in the paintings make them quite outstanding.

During the break we enjoyed a marvelous cake that Joy Hukin had made to mark the Bishop’s retirement (seen here with Bishop Christopher and Charmaine Sabey-Corkindale). 

Afterwards there was a session for questions and answers before it was time for Bishop Christopher to return to St Albans. 

This was a fascinating evening of culture, fellowship and an opportunity for the Hitchin Deanery to mark Bishop Christopher’s retirement and wish him well for the future. 

We were also reminded of our time in Bruges:  many of the paintings mentioned hang on display in the Groeninge museum in Bruges and a few of us had an opportunity to look round this art museum during the trip.  We look forward to going again – hopefully bringing Bishop Christopher with us!

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