Notes to Poem:
Angel with the Sudarium

Peter Y. Chou
WisdomPortal.com


Preface: My friend Steve Gould and I did our doctorate in chemistry at Cornell and our post-doctoral research at Brandeis University.
We shared a studio apartment for a year in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1970-1971). We lost in touch for many years, and around 2004,
I received an email from him "Are you the Peter Chou I had the pleasure rooming with at Porter Square in Cambridge, Mass.?" I replied "Yes" and renewed our friendship. Photos included in Steve's emails have inspired several poems: "The Universe Is Made of Stories"
(12-10-2010), "Mountains of Bliss" (4-18-2012), "Hands Holding the Void" (2-20-2013). His latest email of January 11, 2015 with a seagull atop of an angel photograph has inspired my first poem of this year— "Angel with the Sudarium".

Commentary on Poem "Angel with the Sudarium":

Enlightened masters Memling and Escher
on exhibits in Rome, and my friend Steve
is there immersed in medieval & modern art.

Portrait of a Man (1474)
Koninklijk Museum
voor Schone Kunsten

Hans Memling (1433-1494)
Adoration of the Magi (1470)
Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain

Virgin & Child with
Musician Angels
(1470)
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Mauritz C. Escher
The Bridge (1930)
M.C. Escher Gallery

M. C. Escher
Liberation (1955)
Escher Gallery
Steve's January 11, 2015 email tells about his recent 10-day holiday in Rome. They visited a Hans Memling Exhibit at Scuderie del Quirinale (Oct. 11, 2014-January 18, 2015). Memling was one of the first painters to incorporate landscape in the background of his portraits. This inspired the Italian Renaissance artists to do likewise. Steve included Portrait of a Man in his email showing the trees in the background. My favorite Memling landscape is Virgin & Child with Musician Angels at Munich's Alte Pinakothek. I love Memling's portrayal of the Virgin whose aura of serenity brings peace to the viewer. I feel Memling's inner mind has a quietude like those of the Zen monks whose portrayal of the Buddha brings a similar serenity. Another favorite is Memling's Adoration of the Magi showing all three kings with crowns off their heads. Most artists showed the kings with their crowns on except for Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Albrecht Dürer. This shows humility of the kings when they realized that the Christ Child is the essence of their gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense (solid, liquid, vapor). Steve also viewed the M.C. Escher Exhibit at the Chiostro del Bramante (Sept. 20, 2014-Feb. 22, 2015). Some of my favorite Escher works— Sky and Water I, Waterfall, and Liberation. The latter lithograph depicts our bondage to the ego and the freedom experienced when we experience our true Cosmic Self, symbolized by the freedom of birds in flight. Photo Sources: Portrait of a Man (wikiart.org); Adoration of the Magi (wikipedia.org); Virgin & Child with Angel Musicians (wikiart.org); The Bridge (wikipedia.org); Liberation (wikiart.org)

Crossing Tiber River on a pedestrian bridge,
he sees ten angel sculptures by Bernini
showing scenes from Stations of the Cross.

Ponte Sant'Angelo across Tiber River, Rome
refurbished by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1667-1671)


Angel with Thorn Crown
by Gian & Paolo Bernini

Angel with Superscription
by Gian & Paolo Bernini

Sixth Station of the Cross
Veronica wipes sweat off Jesus
On his last day in Rome, they crossed the Tiber River on the pedestrian bridge lined with Bernini statues. Googling Tiber River led me to Ponte Sant'Angelo containing the Bernini statues. Franco Mormando's biography Bernini: His Life and His Rome (2011) tells about this bridge (p. 327): "On November 7, 1671, four years of labor came to a ceremonial end on another of Bernini's much-applauded and much-beloved works, the refurbishment of the ancient Ponte Sant'Angelo, leading to the castle of that name... On that November day, Pope Clement X, with an impressive retinue of cardinals and prelates, as well as Bernini and his assistants, crossed the bridge in solemn procession to inaugurate the newly designed throughfare." Of the ten angel statues, Bernini and his son Paolo did Angel with Crown of Thorns and Angel with Superscription. These were kept by Clement IX for his own pleasure, and are now in Sant'Andrea delle Fratte church. The copies on the bridge were done by Paolo Naldini (thorn crown) and Giulio Cartari (superscription). In 1669, Pope Clement IX commissioned replacements for the aging stucco angels by Raffaello da Montelupo. This is one of Bernini's last large projects, sculpting ten angels holding instruments of Christ's Passion on the Stations of the Cross (Via Dolorosa). Shown above is the Sixth Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus with sudarium. Reading about Bernini made me realize what a great artist he was. Bernini designed the spacious St. Peter's Square with the massive Tuscan colonnades (1656-1667). Some of my favorite Bernini sculptures: Apollo and Daphne (1622-1625), Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1647-1652), and Blessed Ludovica Albertoni (1671-1674). Image Sources: Ponte Sant'Angelo (wikipedia.org); Angel with Thorn Crown (wikipedia.org); Angel with Superscription (wikipedia.org); Sixth Station of the Cross: Veronica's Veil (catholicnewsagency.com)

He sends me a photograph of a seagull
on top of the Angel with the Sudarium
or sweat cloth— it's Veronica's Veil

Seagull on top of Angel with the Sudarium
Photo: Steve Gould, Ponte Sant'Angelo, Rome

Angel with the Sudarium (1669)
by Cosimo Fancelli (1620-1688)

Saint Veronica (1640)
by Francesco Mochi (1580-1654)
Steve's email concluded with a photo of a gabbiano (seagull) perched atop of an angel, with the closing words "Enjoy the gradually lengthening days and keep the wonderful thoughts and words flowing!" I wondered which of the ten angels on Ponte Sant'Angelo did the seagull land on. Clicking on each of the angel photos, it was the Angel with the Sudarium sculpted by Bernini's assistant Cosimo Fancelli. I learned a new word sudarium is Latin for "sweat cloth". Sudarium specifically refers to two relics of the Passion of Jesus, the Sudarium of Oviedo and the Veil of Veronica. Another sudarium is found in Altmünster, Germany, and was supposedly given to Saint Bilihildis; it is locally venerated since the 15th century. In the nave of St. Peter's Basilica there is a sculpture of Saint Veronica (1640) holding her veil with the image of Jesus' face by Francesco Mochi. It was done 29 years earlier than Cosimo Fancelli's Angel with Sudarium, and has a clearer image of Jesus on the sweat cloth. Image Sources: Steve's "Seagull atop Angel" (wisdomportal.com); Angel with Sudarium (wikipedia.org); St. Veronica (wikipedia.org)

cited by Dante in Paradiso 31.104
on pilgrims going to Croatia to see
this relic bearing the image of Christ.
Dante's Paradiso XXXI: 100-108

E la regina del cielo, ond'io ardo
tutto d'amor, ne farà ogne grazia,
però ch'i' sono il suo fedel Bernardo.

Qual è colui che forse di Croazia
viene a veder la Veronica nostra,
che per l'antica fame non sen sazia,

ma dice nel pensier, fin che si mostra:
"Segnor mio Iesù Cristo, Dio verace,
or fu sì fatta la sembianza vostra?";
Dante's Paradiso XXXI: 100-108 (Mandelbaum translation)

The Queen of Heaven, for whom I am all
aflame with love, will grant us every grace:
I am her faithful Bernard. Just as one

who, from Croatia perhaps, has come
to visit our Veronica— one whose
old hunger is not sated, who, as long

as it is shown, repeats these words in thought:
"O my Lord Jesus Christ, true God, was then
Your image like the image I see now?"—

Hans Memling (1433-1494)
Veronica Holding Veil (1470)
National Gallery of Art
Allen Mandelbaum's translation of Dante's Commedia is no longer posted at Columbia's Digital Dante site. I've typed out the relevant stanzas from my paperback The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri: Paradiso (1986), A Verse Translation by Allen Mandelbaum (pp. 282-283). The Italian version is still available at Electronic Literature Foundation (ELF). Mandelbaum Notes on Paradiso XXXI:102-104 (p. 422)— “Dante contemplates St. Bernard with the same eagerness with which a pilgrim from the remote outback of Christendom might contemplate the "Veronica"— the image of Christ's face imprinted on a piece of cloth preserved in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, connected with the pious legend of the woman who wiped the face of Jesus with her kerchief as he climbed to Calvary. The term Veronica is a phrase of Greek origin: vera icona— "true likeness".” Catholics revere Veronica's Veil as much as the Shroud of Turin relic. According to some versions, Veronica traveled to Rome to present the cloth to the Roman Emperor Tiberius and the veil possesses miraculous properties, being able to quench thirst, cure blindness, and sometimes even raise the dead. Veronica's Veil is kept in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Image Source: Veronica Holding Her Veil (wikipedia.org)

Birds symbolize the soul— and this seagull
has made a wise choice landing on the head
of the angel bearing the image of truth.

Birds with Human Souls
by Beryl Rowland (1978)

Seagull on Angel's Head
Photo by Jose Kube

Seagull on Angel's Wing
Photo by Rebecca Bugge

Sudarium Held by One Angel
by Albrech Dürer (1516)
Beryl Rowland (1918-2003) wrote a book Birds with Human Souls: A Guide to Bird Symbolism (University of Tennessee Press, 1978) covering 57 birds from Albatross to Wren (plus Harpy & Siren). More than fifty illustrations from medieval manuscripts accompany her discussions on the allegorical meanings and symbolisms of these birds. "Birds symbolizing the soul" dates back to the ancient Egyptians whose hieroglyphs show Ba as a bird with a human head. Adam McLean's essay "The Birds in Alchemy": "The alchemist in observing the flight of birds, recognised in them a picture of the human soul undergoing spiritual development. The soul, aspiring upwards, flying free of the restraints of the earth bound body seeking the heavenly light... The bird symbols, in alchemy, reflect the inner experiences of soul alchemy, the soaring of the soul free from the earth bound body and the physical senses." A seagull calming my mind inspired a poem "Seagull Circus Show" (6-18-2012) that reminded me of Richard Bach's fable Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1970). It's interesting that beside Steve's photo of a seagull atop of the Angel with the Sudarium, I found two more similar photos. It seems that the seagull likes the Angel bearing the image of truth (vera icona). Dürer's 1516 etching of The Sudarium Held by One Angel shows the Angel with Veronica's Veil soaring above four other angels— "Truth above all". Image Sources: Birds with Human Souls (wisdomportal.com); Seagull on Angel's Head (depositphotos.com); Seagull on Angel's Wing (flickr.com); Sudarium Held by One Angel (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Bird whispers to the Angel— "Let's ascend
to Heaven together" and the Angel replies:
"All roads lead to Rome and this is my home.

Seagull Soaring
Photo by Luciano Mortula

Lark Ascending
Photo by John Speller

Lark Ascending to Clouds
Photo by Floyd Slip
"The Lark Ascending"
Lines 65-70 and 119-122—

For singing till his heaven fills,
'Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes.

Extends the world at wings and dome,
More spacious making more our home,
Till lost on his aĹrial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

George Meredith's poem "The Lark Ascending" (1881) has 122 lines about the song of the skylark. Siegfried Sassoon called the poem matchless of its kind, 'a sustained lyric which never for a moment falls short of the effect aimed at, soars up and up with the song it imitates.' The poem inspired the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams to write a musical work The Lark Ascending, which is now more widely known than the poem. It was originally composed in 1914 for violin and piano. This had its first public performance in 1920: in the same year the composer re-scored it for solo violin and orchestra, which premiered in 1921, and is the more frequently performed version. It is one of the most popular pieces voted #14 by KDFC Classical All-Stars 2015 (below #13 Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto #1 and above #15 Pachelbel's Canon). The seagull landing on the Veronica Angel more than the other statues on the bridge led me to speculate on their joint flight to heaven. But the Angel realized that Rome is her home, for Om (Absolute) is in the center of both words. The proverb "All roads lead to Rome" appeared in French by Alain de Lille (1175) & in English by Geoffrey Chaucer (1391).

"All Road Lead to Rome"
Photo by Heidi Parker

Rome from Saint Peter's Basilica, Vatican City
Photograph by David Iliff

Saint Peter's Basilica, Rome
uncyclopedia.wikia.com
Photo Sources: Seagull Soaring (dreamstime.com); Lark Ascending (spellerweb.net); Lark Ascending to Clouds (flickr.com); All Roads Leading to Rome (seekingsantoshanicaragua.com); Rome from Dome of St. Peter's Basilica (wikipedia.org, theglobalelite.org); St. Peter's Basilica (uncyclopedia.wikia.com)

Heaven is not up there above the clouds
but right down here on earth experienced
by those who live a pure blessèd life."

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
1854 Portrait by Samuel W. Rowse

Pablo Casals (1876-1973)
Spanish Catalan cellist and conductor

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
French painter (photo: 1894)
Jesus: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33). Those undertaking the spiritual path will experience heaven on earth more than those who live just on the physical plane. Paul Brunton's Notebooks: Para #79— "To enter into Heaven is to enter into the fulfilment of our earthly life's unearthly purpose. And that is, simply, to become aware of the Overself. This holy awareness brings such joy with it that we then know why the true saints and the real ascetics were able to disdain all other joys. The contrast is too disproportionate. Nothing that the world offers to tempt us can be put on the same level."
    Henry David Thoreau is one of my favorite writers. I compiled "Emerson & Thoreau: A Beautiful Friendship" and typed passages from his Journals. Thoreau writes in Walden Chapter 11: "Higher Laws" (1854): “If I knew so wise a man as could teach me purity I would go to seek him forthwith. "A command over our passions, and over the external senses of the body, and good acts, are declared by the Vedas to be indispensable in the mind's approximation to God." Chastity is the flowering of man; and what are called Genius, Heroism, Holiness, and the like, are but various fruits which succeed it. Man flows at once to God when the channel of purity is open.”
    The cellist Pablo Casals (1876-1973) wrote: "For the past eighty years I have started each day in the same manner. It is not a mechanical routine but something essential to my daily life. I go to the piano and I play two preludes and fugues of Bach. I cannot think of doing otherwise. It is a sort of benediction on the house. But that is not the only meaning it has for me. It is a rediscovery of the world of which I have the joy of being a part. It fills me with an awareness of the wonder of life, with a feeling of the incredible marvel of being a human being... I do not think that a day has passed in my life in which I have failed to look with fresh amazement at the miracle of nature." When Casals at age 93 was asked why he continued to practice the cello three hours a day, he replied "I'm beginning to notice some improvement." No wonder Pablo Casals was so wonderful in his craft of music.
    Like Michelangelo's last words on his deathbed at 88: "I'm still learning to paint", Pierre Auguste Renoir's last words about painting, before dying at age 78— "I think I'm beginning to learn something about it." (Renoir Quotes) Renoir's humility made him a great master as he was always learning— "I believe that I am nearer to God by being humble before this splendor of nature; by accepting the role I have been given to play in life; by honoring this majesty without self-interest, and, above all, without asking for anything, being confident that He who has created everything has forgotten nothing." (Renoir, My Father) There's a joyfulness that permeates Renoir's paintings (1, 2, 3, 4) because he lived a happy life— "Work lovingly done is the secret of all order and all happiness." (Renoir Quotes) To counter the world's negativities, Renoir's paintings were wholesome and made you feel good— "Why shouldn't art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world." (Renoir Quotes).
    I've cited a writer, musician, and painter— how their positive mental attitude led them to a joyful life as well as achieving mastery in their craft. I've met many creative people (Martha Graham, Marcel Marceau, Freeman Dyson, Dalai Lama, Robert Thurman, Paul Brunton) who have inspired me to experience heaven here & now on earth.
Image Sources: Thoreau Portrait (wikipedia.org); Pablo Casals (britannica.com); Pierre-Auguste Renoir (wisdomportal.com)

— Peter Y. Chou
    Mountain View, 1-30-2015


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