February 15th, 1940


FROM THE ARCHIVES:Religious art, and art generally, was criticised by a curate in Dún Laoghaire, Fr Myles Ronan, prompting this editorial a day later. – JOE JOYCE

Father Myles Ronan’s unsparing comments on our national backwardness in matters artistic should shatter the complacency of those who think that since we produced the Book of Kells twelve centuries ago, nothing further can be required of us.

Among his own co-religionists many will welcome his references to the sad position which art occupies in their churches to-day. It is a matter which, save for one or two articles in little parochial periodicals, virtually has been ignored; but, now that it has been ventilated by such a distinguished ecclesiastic, interest may be quickened and at least some improvement may be made.

Up to the present “art factories” – we do not know of any other name to suit them – in Germany and Italy have done a very big trade in this country with religious pictures and statues turned out by mass production.

Stations of the Cross have been produced by teams of painters using stencils for the large masses of colour, in much the same way as different blocks are used for the colours in modern art; whatever individual touches the paintings possess have been added by a brace of artists at the end of the production line.

Statues are turned out of moulds with the expedition of concrete blocks, and painted in the same journeyman fashion as the pictures. What chance have Irish artists against mass production of this sort in a country that accepts such works as masterpieces of art.

It is not surprising to find that distinguished members of the Royal Hibernian Academy have been invited to paint a complete set of Stations of the Cross – fourteen pictures – at seventy shillings [£3.50] per picture!

That such a standard should exist anywhere in a Church which has been a patron of the arts since its inception, and has inspired the world’s greatest masterpieces, is enough to make an angel weep.

Little improvement can be expected, however, until the nation as a whole becomes art- conscious; and so far, we have seen no effort to bring about such a happy state of affairs . . .

The Central Catholic Library contains a very valuable art section gathered by Father Stephen Brown S.J., but it is not utilised as it should be by artists and all interested in art, although its use would have prevented many blunders of which Father Ronan complained.

There is, in fact, no symptom of any desire to learn on the part of the general public, and, quite clearly, little is to be expected from the Government. The people, as the reverend speaker pointed out, are content with slipshod methods and lack that true incentive to progress – the desire to seek improvements and to produce something better every year.

We fear that his advice to take up the threads of the art of our ancestors will be regarded in most quarters merely as an incentive for yet more atrocious libels on the Book of Kells, forcing all persons of artistic sensibility to echo the wish of the cynic that the precious volume never had survived.